‘Thank you I’m not like Donald Trump!! . . .’

Be like the Pharisee???

Parables always catch us out . . . they are Jesus gracious invitation to find ourselves within the story . . . and thus to find our Salvation, our deepest healing.

So, ‘Lord I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee!! And neither are any of the people in my church, cos we don’t hang out with the Pharisees!!’ And of course, we all know who the Pharisees are . . .

Funny how being  a Pharisee has become a term of abuse – so ironically its ‘In’ to be a Pharisee, that is one who holds others in contempt – all pharisees🙂
He spoke this parable to those who held others in contempt . . . to those who failed to see that their life was with the other – that they had no life apart from the other, no life separate from the one they really didn’t want to have a life with

Recently we’ve spent a little bit of time exploring our current situation in the Diocese in terms of facing reality – not in terms of the narrative of ‘falling numbers and raging congregations’ There is a real sense that that is an Unreality – it is abstract. It is not to do with particular people in particular places’. Insofar as it is anything at all to do with Community, it is only in the loosest sense. We may talk of being the Diocesan family, but when we come to talk about our life together it all begins to be Impersonal, statistics, numbers, strategic plans, not people in place with a history.

In that Context of Unreality Closing Churches may be a Good Idea, in order to face us with REALITY – we won’t get to choose whom we hangout with – Urban church phenomenon

Can you imagine?? Like an atomic bomb

Bad ideas – we don’t hang out with people we don’t like hanging out with🙂

Getting Real as a church is incredibly hard, it is like setting off an atomic bomb, but can be a creative one . . . depends whether we’re pharisees or tax collectors – but you have to get CLOSE🙂 You have to stand close enough to others to see that actually you don’t want to get That close – I’ll shake hands . . . but don’t ask me to share the Kiss of peace . . . Don’t get too close . . .

Setting off an atomic bomb requires 1kg of enriched uranium – but you can’t have it all in the same place unless you want it to go off – so you have two 500g blocks – and then when you want them to go off, you push them together – easy – except . . . they don’t want to be together – the reaction starts – created by ‘getting close’ pushes them apart

And this is why Jesus says – if your brother sins against you seven times a day and comes back – you must forgive him – because we’re not about pushing apart

And this perhaps is why we MIGHT have a golden opportunity in the church – at some point we’ll be summoned to a meeting and told – ‘we have to close ten churches’

But to do this we have at least to occupy the same space. Part of the problem of Jesus’ parables is that we have so lost any sense of community, that the story falls a bit flat. It just becomes a moral story which leaves us going away feeling, Well at least I’m not like that Pharisee . . . Yet, perhaps there is more hope in the parable for the Pharisee than there is for us, For all the Pharisee won’t identify himself with the tax collector – he still has to occupy the same space. there’s only one Temple where you can go to pray – we have Heinz 57 varieties, or in Dunedin 14🙂

And of course such is the Spirit of the age that we live in we are told ‘go where you feel comfortable’ Go to the church that suits your temperament, or your worship style, or your view of the faith. We anglicans are perhaps the pre-eminent consumer brand – we have Conservative, Liberal, Anglo Catholic, Charismatic . . . pity the poor Pharisee – he has to hang out with this social pariah, this tax collector if he wants to go to worship – and this is pretty much like having to go to church with Donald Trump . . .

and What if when we are gathered together, all in our mutually defensive corners – it might become apparent that ‘The Diocesan Family’ is an unreality, or, it is no different to any other family, we don’t embody the difference the gospel makes. This is why however much we complain about structures and strategies and plans handed down from above we prefer them to the Reality of sitting together in the same room . . . Like the Pharisee we are most comfortable standing apart . . .

As I said at the beginning, Parables always catch us out . . . they are Jesus gracious invitation to find ourselves within the story . . . and thus to find our Salvation, our deepest healing. For to find ourselves within the Story of Jesus, the Story of Salvation, is to discover that we are the ones who need healing – the speck in my brothers eye, is only apparent to me, because I have a forest growing out of my own skull – I know wood when I see it🙂

Waking up to our own predilection to say ‘Lord I thank thee that I am not like other people . . . especially this tax collector . . .’ wakes us up to our need of healing – which can only bring us to the place of prayer before God.

Two prayers from the Tradition help us in this regard. The first is a prayer of recognition. The former Bishop of London, John Taylor Bradford, lived opposite the notorious Tyburn gallows, where the ‘notorious sinners’ were publicly hung (if they were lucky . . .) He was the one who gave us words of recognition which keep us from judgement, ‘There but for the Grace of God goes John Taylor Bradford . . .’ Words which remind us of the source of our life – the Grace of God.

And of course the prayer of the tax collector. ‘Jesus told this parable to those who trusted that they were righteous . . . this I suggest is the default position of us all – it keep us secure – at least I am not like that!!’ But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The Pharisee can only see himself and the tax collector, he is blind to God, the tax-collector strangely cannot look God in the face, yet the Face of God looks with love upon him.

But, here is the Hope for the Pharisee. That he is the object of the address of the words of Jesus – we need also to hear from Jesus -to understand our own tendency to Pharisaism, and to know our need of healing from it.

The Reality of our existence, in this church, in this Diocese, is that we Are in this together. We sink or swim together – to stand apart from one another – to identify others as ‘Pharisees’ or whatever label of abuse we might use, is to deny we have a life with them, and it is to deny our Life before God . . . you see, Jesus died for us all, yes, even the Pharisees. Imagine spending all eternity with THOSE people!! Of course our desire not to be with those Jesus died for is the seed of our spending all eternity in a place we’d rather not be in . . .

It reminds me of something said many times – to the familiar accusation ‘I don’t go to church, its full of hypocrites’ -the rejoinder, ‘but there’s always room for one more’ The beginning of our Salvation is in recognises that there is no one whom Jesus did not identify with – if we want to be healed, we have to learn that same identification, and that happens within the house of God, a place peopled by both Pharisees and tax collectors, and maybe even Donald Trump🙂 Now THERE’S a thought . . .

A Place to Live – Evensong Sermon – Sunday October 16, 2016

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday October 16th, 2016

Nehemiah 8:9-18
John 16:1-11

A Place to Live

I’ve recently started the far from straightforward journey of leaving Facebook. Back in 2008 when my acquaintance with it began, a friend, thinking that I would ‘make something of myself in the church’, counselled me to remove my political allegiance from my public profile, for it would not be read with favour by the powers that be and would undoubtedly count against me, should I look for ‘preferment’.
Which has got everyone wondering, and as the account is now deactivated, I will have to relieve your curiosity by telling you it said, ‘Ellulian Anarchist’! In any church this might be thought to be unwise perhaps, but within the established church of the state . . . Well, I believe and continue to do so, that insofar as any political ideology is consistent with the Scriptures and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Anarchy, properly understood, is closer than most. However, here is neither the time nor the place . . . and it is that notion of Place, or more correctly, ‘Somewhere to Live’, which at once calls my own anarchic purity into question, and which also weaves together our two seemingly disparate readings this evening.
My purity, which is of course always in question, is compromised because I belong to that class notorious amongst True Believers, I am a Landlord. That is, I own a house that I do not live in and take a rent from those who do. The Anarchist vision is very close to that of the Old Testament vision of the Shalom of the Kingdom of God, each man under his own vine. We are told in the First Book of Kings ‘During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.’ And the prophetic vision of Micah, foretelling the future kingdom says ‘Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.’ So not only from my ideologically pure fellow anarchists, but also from Holy Scripture, I realise that I am under judgement – as The LORD says through Isaiah ‘Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.’
My only defence is that for the last 20 years I have been constrained to live in a house that is not my own – a defence that the Tax authorities seem uninterested in, and which leaves me on the shakiest of grounds with regards to Scripture.

At the base of the scriptural critique is precisely this, that people do not need houses, a roof over their heads, they need much more than that, they need homes’. And as my anarchist friends would say, agreeing with the French anarchist philosopher ‘Property is theft’ – meaning taking up houses for your own ends and thus depriving others of a home . . . And of course in the current madness of the housing market globally we realise this. My children cannot afford their own home – for capital flooding into the land, not only in London, but of course here in New Zealand, inflates the price of properties so that increasingly they become the domain of property speculators. Fewer and fewer have a place they can call their own . . . Of course, in this respect we are only seeing the natural outcome of the shift to an industrialised society in which the most fundamental aspects of our humanity were, and continue to be eroded.

And the children of Israel in the time of Nehemiah knew this – they had been taken into exile – and now returning it was no longer their place. Somewhere to live, and where they had once lived, but no longer Their Place, no longer somewhere they could call home. As we read a little later on in the book of Nehemiah ‘Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. Its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins; they have power also over our bodies and over our livestock at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.’ This text is a powerful indictment of the outcome of our industrial / capitalist system, Slaves in their own land, someone else employs them, someone else is the landlord and takes the fruit of their labours.

And this desire for their True Home comes to a focus in this ‘Festival of Booths’ or better for us perhaps, ‘Festival of Tabernacles’. This Festival was a remembrance, a remembering of who the people were, that they were the people who had dwelt in Tabernacles, or Booths, in the wilderness of Israel. Of course they dwelt in tents following the command and instruction of God in the Law and the Festival of Booths followed on from Moses descending from the mountain (a second time) a period of repentance after all that business with the Golden Calves. And we have an echo of that, in that all the people ‘wept when they heard the words of the Law’. This act of remembering precipitated sorrow, for they realised in remembering that they had once forgotten, and that it was that forgetting whose they were that had led to their homelessness. Lack of a home, fundamentally is a lack of self.
BUT Ezra commands them not to mourn or weep, for this rediscovered festival was to be a time of restored fellowship with the LORD. “This day is holy to the LORD your God, do not mourn or weep”. To participate in a Holy Day was to participate in the Holy, to share in fellowship with God – a sign of their True Home – it was a sign of restoration and acceptance and finding their Place – culminating in the ‘Festival of Tabernacles’, which were erected everywhere throughout the land on the roofs of people’s houses and people lived in them for the seven days of the Feast – in remembrance of their dwelling with God, in tents, in the wilderness. At once in a sense without houses, but also with a home.

Of course they had always kicked against this. The LORD dwelling in their midst was not enough for so many who longed for the good old days in Egypt and did not rest in the promise of the Land which God had sworn to them. Like so many of us, like the Prodigal Son, they didn’t realise how At Home they were with the Father. It was only when they had lost it that they ‘came to their senses’ When finally they were settled in the land, they rebelled against the LORD – the rich accumulated power and possession and added house to house and field to field, until they lived in lonely isolation – and the poor were dispossessed and put to work on land that had been taken from them – or put to work in the cities. (The correlation between what had happened and the world which we find ourselves is compellingly powerful as the industrialisation of agriculture globally has meant that more people now live in urban than in rural areas – people taken out of their place – having houses but no homes, no place of historical continuity, generation to generation, but another time . . .) The people had kicked against God’s shalom and so had been taken into exile – all except the poor, the nobodies – to whom now the land once more belonged in some sense – the meek inheriting the earth.

So, in this restoration of the festival an act of remembering took place – of remembering living with God in their midst in this Feast of the Tabernacles – each with their own Tent or Booth. But something was missing. In the days of Glory – the LORD had dwelt in the Temple, and before that his Glory, the sign of his Presence and rested on the Tabernacle i the pillar of cloud by day and find by night – the Shekinah, the Glory of the LORD was missing. For all they were back in Jerusalem, it was still as slaves under a foreign power, the land was not theres and the Presence of the LORD was, at best obscured. They lived in ‘booths’ for week each year, but where was the Shekinah, the Glory of the LORD . . .  And now there is a Long gap, a time of silence – until we get to the festival of the Tabernacles in the Gospels . . . For this festival is one we know in the New Testament also, although it too has got somewhat obscured🙂

“Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle palm and other leafy trees . . .’ Bring anything to mind??

In the Mishnah – the verbal commentary in the Torah, the book of the Law, which described the ‘rituals for [The feast of] Tabernacles in the time of Jesus: how the branches of palm, willow and myrtle were cut and tied into bundles. People carried them in procession to the Temple, while singing Psalm 118 : Hosanna, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
‘The whole bundle [of palm, willow and myrtle] was called ‘lulabh’, literally a ‘palm’’ . . .

‘The next day, a great multitude, that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees – [not to build booths, but] – to meet him . . .’ For truly ‘He inhabits the praises of his people’

A feast of the Tabernacles unlike any before, with the palms for a house for Israel’s God and King to dwell in once more. As John had already said in his magnificent prologue which we rarely hear outside the context of Christmas, ‘The Word became flesh, and [literally] ’tabernacled’ amongst us, and we have seen his Glory . . .’ The Glory, The defining sign of the Presence of [The Son of] God.

The question of where Jesus is from, and of where he is dwelling runs like a thread through John’s gospel. The first question addressed to him is ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ Where do you abide? Jesus invites them to ‘Come and see’, and they ‘abided with him’ that day . . . And now in Ch 16 we are in the midst of the great discourse of Jesus with his disciples on the night before he died. In a sense we are deep in the heart of the mystery of who Christ is as in this, at times bewildering narrative, Jesus speaks of being the Vine, of calling the disciples to dwell in him as he dwells in them . . .
‘Where Is God to be found?’ Jesus had spoken with the Samaritan woman at the well and this very question had come up. Where do we go to meet with the lIving God? You Jews say we must go to the Temple, we Samaritans go to Mt Gerizim – and Jesus said to her, ‘the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ God’s presence was no longer to be confined to the Temple, or the mount, but in and through Jesus, all who were themselves abiding in Jesus, became the place where the Holy Spirit would dwell – within the Church, not the building, but the people.

Why do we long for Home? Because we are made in the Image of God who is himself seeking a Place to dwell! And so God sought out a people amongst whom to dwell. Jesus in his humanity is that faithful people Israel, and the Holy Spirit that dwelt in him was now to abide in all who lived in him, in all those who kept his commandments.
And as I said last week, in the mutual and unreserved forgiveness amongst God’s people, that which did not place a stumbling block in front of those whom Jesus was calling and had called to himself, so His Love amongst them is set free. A new commandmentI give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. As I have forgiven, forgive, As I have loved, so love. In obedience to Him, He abides is us and we in him. Our Life in Him, His Life amongst us.

Jesus has been telling his disciples that if they abide in him as he abides in them through obedience to his commandments, so they will also share in his sufferings – As they treated me, so they will treat you, he says – I am telling you this so that when it happens you won’t fall away, you will not stumble, you will not deny the Life that is in you through me, you will not once more leave home.

Jesus Christ dies not for the immoral, but for the ungodly – not the immoral – those who do not know their true home – that it is to be found in Him – Abide i me, as I abide in you – and that He may be found in us


Ten lepers :- ‘Turning back . . . to Jesus’

Sermon for Sunday 9th October, 2016
OT 29 Year C

Luke 17:11-19

‘Turning back . . . to Jesus’

If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’ Luke 17:3-4

One of the lovely co-incidences which mad Rose’s wedding such a joy for me personally was working with one of my former colleagues in Bradford, Robin Gamble, someone for whom my respect is unbounded.

Robin is a born evangelist with a desire for people to come and know Jesus, and even at the end of the wedding service he was issuing an invitation to any who had been touched by the palpable blessing of God on our worship, that they might come and explore faith with him!

Today’s gospel reading put me in mind of Robin for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was one of his enduring complaints that in presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to children, we often distort is and water it down, and that this has an unhelpful effect when they come to encounter the church and the person of Jesus in later life. He used to put it like this ‘When people are young we inoculate them with a weak form of Christianity, so that when they get older, they are in no danger of catching the real thing!’ And of course we can see this working out in this familiar story of Jesus encountering the ten lepers.

It takes little is any imagination to hear the Sunday school teacher re-inforcing the voice of our mother ‘now then, what do you say to the kind man?’ – saying ‘Jesus wants us always to say thank you!’ But whilst giving thanks IS a Christian virtue, this bourgeois form of politeness – saying thank you to those who are kind to us, is nothing but an inoculation against Christian Gratitude – which is shockingly dangerous to our ears. As St Paul puts it, Give thanks in all circumstances . . .When you are ill, give thanks, When people assault you give thanks, When you are hungry, give thanks . .  . The perfect expression of Christian gratitude is found in the words of Job, when everything he holds dear has been taken from him – ‘Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

Although it ought to be pointed out  that the very fact that we have to be taught to give thanks surely reveals something  we’d rather not admit about our human condition, whatever this story of the ten lepers is about, we should flee any attempt to turn it into the tasteless gruel of a moral story about ‘saying thank you’, which inoculates us against the outrageous nature of Christian gratitude.

So what might it be about? Well, I remember something else about Robin, in particular his sermons. As I have already noted, his one desire was that people might know Jesus, and his sermons reflected this. As anyone who had heard him over any period of time would attest, Robin only had three sermons – all of what he said followed one of three patterns. Either ‘Come to Jesus’, or ‘Come closer to Jesus’, or, if you have been close to Jesus but drifted away, ‘come back to Jesus’

Now its always worthwhile looking at the context for a reading to better understand it. St Luke isn’t haphazardly putting material together – he like Robin is an Evangelist – proclaiming the Evangel, the Good News, which is Jesus himself – that God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself, that Jesus Is the place of that reconciliation.

Just a few verses earlier, and curiously committed from our reading last week, we hear these words of which Brett reminded us: “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’” And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’

What is Jesus saying here? If they turn back to you seven times a day, day in and day out and say ‘I repent’, you must forgive? He is saying that you must put no obstacle between that person and Jesus. To encounter you seven times a day, to turn back to you seven times a day, mist be like turning back to Jesus himself, who forgives everyone for everything. He says ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble., therefore ‘Be on your guard! Be alert – be attentive!! Don’t forget whose servant you are!! Do not be an obstacle to them meeting ME. You Must forgive – you must not put a stumbling block in the path of your brother or sister however weak they are – you must not get in the way – if they encounter you, they must encounter my radical forgiveness.

They turn back, and they encounter Jesus, and to encounter Jesus is to encounter the Salvation of God . . . So we turn to the encounter of Jesus with the ten lepers.

We are told that Jesus was passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee. He was on the border somewhere – in an age without fences and walls and border posts, he was in that curiously undefined area – where he meets ten lepers – and of course their leprosy would have meant that they were pushed to the edges – they are even on the edge of the village in this borderland. ‘Ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’  Why ten?? Well as we shall see in a moment, matters of worship are in the background here. You will remember the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and how the conversation gets onto where you should worship. This stuff mattered hugely, and of course the lepers were excluded from the Temple, THE PLACE in Judaism where you went up to regularly to worship. They couldn’t participate in worship because they were ritually unclean. BUT they could still engage in public worship, as long as there were ten of them. Ten was if you like the quorum for worshipping together – [note how Jesus reduces the quorum to two or three gathered in his name . . .] – primarily for Public praying.

But when you are the lowest of the low, you don’t get to choose your fellows, so in order to pray together, the 9 Jewish lepers have no choice but to get together with this Samaritan for public prayer,  BUT Pray is what they do!! ‘Jesus, master, have mercy on us!’ they cry out, publicly praying! ‘Jesus, master, have mercy on us!’ The most basic of prayers, and one known well in the Tradition of the Church, the Jesus prayer. ‘Jesus, have mercy on us’ – this utterly transformative prayer which reaches deep into who we are as it reaches deep into the mystery of the Living God. ‘Jesus, master, have mercy on us’ Out of the depths we cry to you O Lord. On the edge – shut out by their disease – they get together and publicly pray, to Jesus.

And he Sees them – He is the God who sees, as Hagar, the mother of Ishmael call him, El Roi. Jesus Sees them – it is the strong Greek word which traditionally we translate, behold – he sees them and says ‘Go show yourselves to the priests  . . . and as they went, they were made clean’

Now it is worth noting here that there is a profound act of faith on behalf of all ten. Here they are, in the nomansland between Galilee and Samaria – unclean – keeping their distance . . . and Jesus tells them to go to the priests . . . and they would have known that to do so would have resulted in their rejection! For they are still leprous. Go to the priests . . . but just as when you have nothing, you have to make do with the people around you to call them friends, so also, when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose . . . still it is an act of faith, and they act in obedience to the Word of Jesus, ‘and as they went, they were made clean’. They epitomise the ‘unworthy slaves’ of whom we heard last week. They have no life of their own, so they respond to this command of Jesus the master – why not? They have no sense of their own worth or anything else and discover the wonder of a life lived in obedience to Jesus . . . and we hear nothing of them again, they are cleansed and become fit to enter the Temple once again, to worship with the crowds.
Their affliction lifted, one is now ditched, for they’ll easily make up a worship quorum now . . . their uncleanness now dealt with they are free from having to associate with the unclean Samaritan – There is one who still cannot come to the Temple, or can he??

When Jesus responds to the Samaritan ex-leper, he uses an unusual word. Now Jesus of course spoke Aramaic, but Greek was a public language. It was used widely on notices – for Jerusalem had visitors from all over as we know from the story of Pentecost, many of whom wouldn’t speak or indeed read Aramaic, but who would all know  Greek, pretty much as English is a global language at present.
Jesus said ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’  The Greek word used for foreigner is not found anywhere else in scripture, but it would be well known to any visitor to the Temple, where the very same Greek word, allogenes, was there for all to see, as in ‘No foreigners!’ Rather like post Brexit Britain, the Temple was a place where foreigners were told in no uncertain terms, keep out!

They were excluded from the place of the worship of God. But they had their own places of worship – upon Mt Gerizim, the Holy Mountain. The big dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans was precisely this – where did you worship . . . so the nine Jewish lepers go off to find the priests at the Temple – but what of ‘this foreigner’  . . . surely he’d go off to Gerizim?? We all have our own places of worship . . .
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

Jesus Saw the ten lepers, but only one, ‘this foreigner, this allogenes’ who could not approach the Holy of holies, Sees Jesus, Sees Who he is . . . he falls on his face at Jesus’ feet in an act of worship . . . when he saw that he was healed, he turned back  . . . to Jesus . . . and there he finds the much deeper healing. ‘Get up, go on your way’, Jesus says, ‘your faith has saved you’

When Jesus commands his disconcerted disciples ‘if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’ He is saying to them, in my name, in obedience to me, you become the gateway for the deepest of all healings . . . after all, which is it easier to say? Your sins are forgiven you, or ‘take up your mat and walk. Reconciliation is the heart of what God is doing in and through Jesus. Not to be reconciled to God in Christ and through that reconciliation to be reconciled justas deeply to one another is to miss out on the Salvation Life in and through Jesus.

And what of the other nine? ‘Were not ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?’ Day after day the goodness of God is poured out upon all people – in food, and sunlight, in clothing and warmth – week after week we come to his house, to Hear the word which brings Life, to feed on the bread from heaven . . . but do we give thanks? Moreover, praising God, do we fall on our face before Jesus in Worship?

Within just a few short years, the Temple is destroyed, never to be rebuilt – for God’s Temple, God’s dwelling place was now fully established in the Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of His Son. There is Life, There is Healing, There is Salvation, In Jesus and Through Jesus and with Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And he still is that place today, now and forever, wherever two or three are gathered in his name, there He is.

A time is coming when all the places of worship will finally be closed, but the place of Salvation is always the Same, yesterday, today and forever. The Samaritan turns back to the place of healing and Life and Salvation – he turns back to Jesus. May we do likewise.

‘Heaven, and why we prefer to avoid it . . .’ Sermon for OT26 Year C, 2016

Sermon for Sunday September 25th, 2016, 18 after Trinity, OT26

Luke 16:19-31

‘when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

‘Hell’, said John Paul Sartre, ‘is other people . . .’ Now I must admit that I am a little confused trying to figure what Sartre meant by this saying. French existentialist philosophers are not always the easiest to understand, but part of what he was pointing at was in a sense something quite Christian – that the mere existence of other people places responsibilities upon us, responsibilities which are inconvenient to our lives and which we are very good at avoiding . . . even in ways to which we have become oblivious.
Like it or not, there is something deep within our fallen human psyche which leads to us avoiding those who are ‘not like us’ – even down to those beside whom we will sit on a Sunday morning🙂 And this has deep, genuinely tragic consequences for society, community, and most sadly, even the Church.

By way of example, just this last week I was reading a most disturbing article from the UK written in the wake of the success of the Paralympics. It said, ‘don’t forget in the midst of all this hype, the plight of the profoundly disabled in this country’. It was a very distressing read.
In short, government policies have led to huge reductions in the amount of care the profoundly disabled are entitled to. The article told the story of a paraplegic woman with significant needs – who had had her care hours cut from 64 hours a week, to 7 as part of the reduction to local authority budgets. She had no continence problems, yet was now required to wear incontinence pads, for under the new system she was no longer entitled to the help which would mean that she could get to the toilet when required . . . Shocking, no?

Yet, here is the rub. The council in response to her protests suggested she asked her neighbours for help . . . I wonder how many of her neighbours even know her, let alone think that somehow THEY have a responsibility towards her?

One of the reasons I am very wary of those who argue long and hard for Christian’s involvement in politics is that for the Christian, the neighbour is not an abstract or a statistic, they are our neighbour, the person in the gutter in front of us, the homeless person we encounter on the street, the families in our community who often go to bed hungry. Not a problem to be solved, but a person to be loved. Jesus, in fulfilment of the Law and the prophets sums up Torah in the Greatest and second commandment – Love the Lord your God, with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, Love your neighbour as yourself. Neighbour love can in effect be summed up in the golden rule, do to others as you would have them do to you.

If we were in need, would we want someone to be engaged in politics so people like us weren’t in need or would we want someone to come and care for you. And before we answer, well its both / and – just remember, you are the person left to sit in incontinence pads day and night whilst people fume about poor government policies – the person who has to wear incontinence pads all day, the person whose children are going to bed hungry in our city – in their place what do we want? Yes, it may well be wonderful to think that there are people out their ‘fighting for your rights’, but how long do I have to sit in my filth before the ‘unjust structures of society are fixed . . .’ Surely we want to see another human being, come to us . . . from the other side of what must seem like a gulf, fixed.
And perhaps, just perhaps, if we heard the gospel and believed it in obedience to Jesus with his command of radical neighbour love, we might find we didn’t actually need such structures, which will always be unjust . . . Whilst some criticise those Christians who speak of heaven in terms of pie in the sky when you die – a society in which each is cared for according to their need must seem a similarly, perhaps more abstract version of heaven to those who are hungry and lonely and cold, and sat in incontinence pads . . .

Political structures. Systems of ‘making sure these things don’t happen, are profoundly deceptive substitutes for human relating. Worse they contribute to our gradual distancing from our neighbour. Imagine  for a moment if we lived in that perfect state, where our neighbours had no needs that we might meet. We might be able to live our own lives as we wish. It would be Sartre’s vision of Heaven – but in truth this is the Christian vision of Hell.
The irony is – we aim at abstract versions of heaven, blind to our own biases which keep us avoiding our neighbour, and perhaps like the rich man in the parable – we may be surprised to wake up in the other place.

And this is true of the church also.
Last week at Synod I perceived an example of just how the system separates us out, and how we don’t see it. Of course it had been staring me in the face for years, and I had been captured by the same blindness to the narrative as everyone else – I have been to so very many Synods – about 75? And many associated with budgets and fair share formulas, and over and again I imagined that this was somehow a Christian conversation – rather than an example of how we have been taken captive by what our own St John calls, ‘The World’. So year in year out, we try to get a fairer formula for how parishes contribute to the financial aspects of our life together . . . and then last week, after all those years, I saw what was happening

There we were and discussing the budget and the ‘fair share’ – and in a line of similar comments, someone from parish X got up and said that they couldn’t possibly pay the extra $2500 share requested as it pushed them into even more unviability. A few moments an another speaker later, the Archdeacon of Parish X stood up and said how as Archdeacon they Could be very happy with the proposals, as overall the Archdeaconry was being asked for $9000 less overall . . . yet they couldn’t support the new formula for Parish X was suffering so . . .

You see? The system, the political structure had separated us out, for management convenience and then we had not only acquiesced in that, but it had become our way of understanding the world. The idea that all the parishes in the Archdeaconry might get together and SHARE what they had with one another, to either take the pain or the gain together had not crossed their minds, and to be fair I have been in that same conversation so many times, and not seen it myself. It had taken me more Synods than even Bishop K had been at for this penny finally to drop . . . And as I have pondered this, it has become clear that in other ways, the political organisation of the diocese has actively kept us from the difficult, messy business of trying to have a genuine common life

Of course . . . it would mean sitting down together, Face to face. Could we do this without judgement? Parishes which had had their bills cut, their debts forgiven, might need to help pay the debts of others . . . I thought of our own archdeaconry and what it might be like to sit down together to begin that conversation . . . and then I thought, ‘oh, maybe the formula is a better way after all . . .’ after all, Hell is other people . . .

Love of the real neighbour is HARD, because we are sinners, and in part that means we unconsciously avoid the other – we sin in ignorance – a gulf we don’t see exists between us. In an odd sort of way, our difficulties over life together make The Kingdom of Heaven seem like the other place. Much of that gulf is found in things we don’t even see or realise. In socio political structures, in the power of money to separate us one from another. As I said, no one seemed to see that we might possibly sit down together and share out the share – it was as if it had been cast in stone that each parish must pay in separation from the others, we just need to make the share fair, but the formula will never in truth be ‘FAIR’ Such a concept is an abstract and The World delights in such abstract concepts as ‘social justice’, and ‘challenging the unjust structures of society’ – because it keeps us from the plain commands of God, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Structures, mechanisms, organisations become our way of at once seeking at once to obey the command, and avoiding it.

Our parable today shows what happens in the end when we do not cross the Actual Neighbour gulf – it gets deeper and wider and deeper and wider until in the final judgement it is fixed and we cannot pass from one side to the other. What happened at Synod made me wonder if we had reached that point, where the Judgement that Christ comes to announce is fully enacted – although there were also signs that we might not have got there quite yet.
Imagine the plight of that poor disabled woman in the North of England – she knows that fixed gulf which no one may pass over in that remark from her local authority ‘perhaps a neighbour could come and help you . . .’ Like Lazarus being told, ‘you hungry? Perhaps the rich guy next door might feed you?’ How devastating to hear this in a modern urban liberal democratic state, where we are all Individuals and community has all but disappeared . . . Yet does the rich man who might help, feel the gulf as sharply? I know that increasingly over the last couple of years, the reality of that gulf for me has become more and more apparent as my life has got tangled up in the often chaotic and dangerous lives of those who have nothing.

Jesus parable is  stark. The curtain is drawn back on ‘The World’ and its ways and everything is revealed for what it is. “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.”

If we have been paying any attention at all to Luke’s gospel these past weeks we should have seen this coming. The gospel is the announcement of the Mighty River of the Justice of God, Israel’s God, ‘coming with judgement to save us!’ Announced by Mary ‘The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. We should have seen this coming.  Following that song of vindication for the poor and the weak, along comes John the Baptist – calling people to a baptism of repentance. When the crowds ask ‘what should we do in the light of this gospel announcement’, the answer is simple. If you have two coats, share with the one who has none. If you have food, share with the one who has none. Simple – but The World has changed this. Someone who has no coat or no food becomes an abstract symbol of a failed abstract society – a gulf is coming into being, not fixed but it is there, but slowly one thing after another conspires to make the gulf deeper and deeper, We should have seen this coming. As Jesus said ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Woe to you who are rich for you have receive your reward’ ‘Use wicked mammon to make friends for yourself so that when it fails you, they will welcome you into eternal homes . . . Live this way, because surely you can see what is coming??

We know nothing about the Rich man, he is so disconnected from his neighbour, he himself has no identity, no name. He has ceased to exist in the world. we do not even know his name. Who knows, he may have been a political figure working day in day out to ‘fight for a more just and equitable society’, then driving home past the line of the hungry and the homeless, comforting himself with the thought that, ‘one day even that guy at my gate will have something to eat

The parable says, you should have seen this coming – this was what the LORD has always said would happen. The Rich man, finds his ‘social superiority’ the thing that had perhaps kept him from going to Lazarus, was now ineffective in getting Lazarus to come to him. So he calls to Father Abraham – ‘send him to my brothers and warn them!’ And Abraham says, they have the Moses and the prophets . . . they should be able to see this coming. Jesus remember comes only to fulfil the Law and the prophets – in a sense there is nothing new, except for this one thing – God’s final Victory is revealed in that he raises Jesus from the dead, and of course the gospel is addressed to those who know this – what difference does it make to us? If death itself is overcome, then what is there to fear from crossing the gulf now?

The Christian way of making the world a better place is living as if heaven is already here, breaking in amongst us and sharing that news with those around us, that in Christ God is breaking down every barrier between us – reconciling that greatest gulf between God and the human and thus making the bridge across we might walk to the neighbour, sharing in what we have with one another. Revealing the Life of the Risen one amongst us – amongst us . . .
And this is where it starts . . . As I said, at Synod we were challenged to talk together about the simple matter of our parish shares and how together we might help one another as parishes. For if we cannot do this simple thing, do we truly believe the LORD will entrust us with the treasure of The Holy Spirit, the Life of the Kingdom? Again – it may come as news to folk that Diocesan Council has decided that ten out of 14 church buildings will close in Dunedin by 2020 . . . a political answer to a problem of our common life. Surely if the gospel is true we might as the Anglicans in the city come together to think, pray and share with one another what wisdom we might have. It is not as though there are all that many of us! What vision is there that the LORD grants us? Or do we in truth believe Sartre? Hell is other people, we’ll allow the politicians to fix things between us, to fix the gulf in place.

Are we unable to do even this little thing, this small act of crossing the gulf set up between us in our separated parishes? Do we really have a gospel to proclaim?

God is coming with judgement . . . coming with judgement to Save his people – we of all people should be able to see this coming.

Sermon for Evensong – John 7

Sermon for Evensong
Sunday September 18th, 2016

John 7:14-39

The First and Great Commandment . . .
Life Giving

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. Matthew 22:34-38

Trees have a great deal to teach us. It is perhaps a symptom of the stupidity of our age that we do not attend to them to listen, and so readily cut them own, because they are ‘in our way’ CS Lewis spoke of Dryads, spiritual creatures which inhabited trees and which died as trees were felled, most notably in the sombre, ‘Last Battle’.

I don’t know how well you know our trees? The trees on this section of land, nearly all of them I am glad to say, protected (and how sad that we should have to protect trees . . .) The Beech by the road is especially worthy of contemplation, not least for her wondrous roots, which extend on the surface nearly fifty feet from the trunk. (My apologies (?) for using feet,  I have no conception of one 297 millionth of the distance light travels in a second, but I have feet . . .) Her roots are a thing of wonder and there is an incredible solidity to that tree in particular, not as tall as the others, but strangely almost permanent, as if she has been and will be there for ever, and with such wondrous roots, for of course the Life of the tree is utterly dependent upon her roots.
Roots anchor us, fix us in place. It is perhaps no surprise that the mark of the age in which we live with its relentless change and movement, which we assume must be progress, surely ?? . . . the mark of this age is the cutting down of its trees to make way for our own fleeting lives. Rootlessness is a particular feature of modern existence, and of course with so many spending so much time in virtual existence, neither here nor there, not fixed in space or indeed in time, trees are an affront to our unlimited desires – with no suggestion that perhaps Life eternal might perhaps be found just under our feet.

And that rootlessness extends to ideas and words. Take the word ‘Orientation’ which as I have explained has to do with to our standing before God. it is a word about human beings in relation to God, for Churches were ‘Oriented’, pointing East to Jerusalem, in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead. Now the word has lost any external reference, it has become a subjective word, the dimension of the other lost, it has no external reference, it has become uprooted. Or the phrase, ‘Image of God’. A phrase which is lazily thrown around in the church having lost all connection with its original meaning, that is ‘the one to whom is given Dominion under God’, the One whose life is fruitful and multiplies, finding its source in God, and its fullest expression in Jesus whom the Apostle Paul tells us is ‘The Image of the Invisible God’. For Christians ‘Image of God’ means Jesus, the one who has been given Dominion and all authority in heaven and earth. It is only descriptive of us insofar as we are by grace through faith included in Christ by the Sacrament of Baptism, and then only in our life submitted to him in obedience. It is a phrase which can only be understood in terms of the person whose life is oriented towards God, who is Jesus. And unsurprisingly therefore, we might note how rootless our use of the name of Jesus has become.
Finding this first Century Palestinian Jew somewhat of an embarrassment. He comes from such a primitive time! We know so much more nowadays. His Historical Rootedness becomes something we avoid or get around – as we redefine him to suit our own image. Subtly ‘killing him’ . . . and the crowds answered him saying ‘you have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?’ We are as befuddled as Jesus’ first hearers at the accusation that by our trying to redefine him, we are ‘seeking to kill him’. As someone said a few years ago now on reading one of the Gospels, ‘Oh My Jesus would never say such a thing . . .’ So, we do away with Jesus

So we make a new Jesus, in our own image and thus become self oriented having lost touch with our roots . . . our deepest roots, and of course when the Church loses touch with her deepest roots, she withers and dies – for in truth, the church has no life apart from her Lord.
And thus we ourselves, losing touch with The Human become ourselves dehumanised. For all the talk that the Diocese is its people and clergy, the papers for our Synod were I think most telling, for the Diocese as Institution was fully on show if close to death, but as far as the life of the parishes?? A set of statistics on the back page. Having lost touch with The Human, even  the Church becomes radically dehumanised – something which we have to manage – a set of accounts, some committees –  and its people?? A set of statistics . . . all in the name of one who on the last and great day of the feast stood up in the temple precincts and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, as the scriptures have declared, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.

No one dare suggest that the Church is in the state she is, because she has lost touch with her Roots, her source of Life . . . where is that living water?? Well Jesus gives us our answer – ‘He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water . . .’

So, let us attend to Jesus – let us cry out to him, ‘Lord I believe, have mercy on us and help thou our unbelief’ let us come back to the Lord and learn from him – and ponder two questions with  which our reading from our beloved patron St John, is concerned

Firstly – ‘where does all his teaching come from?’

About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. The Jews were astonished at it, saying, ‘How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?’ Let us remember that this is not the first time that Jesus has astounded people in the Temple, even at the age of 12 he is found in the Temple Courts – you will remember the story – everyone sets of back to Nazareth and after a days journey . . . Mary and Joseph realise that he isn’t with the party and go back to look for him “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’”

‘all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers, and then again in our reading ‘The Jews were astonished at it, saying, ‘How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?’ This unlearned wandering teacher – there is no record of anyone ever teaching him anything – he is not known as the disciple of anyone, but from his youth, he know that he must be in his fathers house – ‘I must be in my Father’s house’ And we have our answer ‘ ‘My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. . . . ‘Father glorify you name . . . and a voice came from heaven saying, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’

Jesus’ teaching comes from the Father, and he seeks only the glory of the Father – and anyone who resolves to do the will of God will discover the truth of this – Jesus speaks the Words of God and living in obedience to these words of Jesus is the source of Life.

So his teaching comes from God – you will remember perhaps the little incident when Jesus’ opponents try to catch him by asking him ‘by what authority he does his miracles’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ If Jesus’ teaching is from heaven, from God the Father . . . clearly only one course is open to us, and it is not for us to pick and choose

Secondly Given that his teaching comes from God the Father – where does Jesus come from  – ‘Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’ Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, ‘You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.

Jesus himself comes from God the Father – according to the flesh it is known from whence he comes, he is the son of Mary and Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth – an unlearned man – whose teaching comes from God the Father, from whom according to his divinity he comes – he proceeds from the Father – His Life is rooted in the very being of the Life of God and so he becomes the source of the Living Water of the Holy Spirit to all who believe in Him. And his humanity and his divinity are in perfect harmony in Him. So he is The Human who perfectly loves the Father with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, even from his youth he has been sinking his roots deep deep into the Life of God His Father. He Is the righteous one of Psalm 1 who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; for even from his youth his delight has been in the life giving law of the Lord, and on his law he has meditated day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Jesus loves the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and mind – and thus and only thus becomes the one who loves his neighbour as himself, even the neighbour who is his enemy, even the one who would have him killed – loving us more than he loves his own life.

We call such a person Holy – Their Life is in deeply rooted in God  – anchored deep in God – and from Him flows streams of Living Water.

We live in a spiritual wasteland – wandering in the wilderness far from those springs of living water – we have chosen life on our own terms. The Church, separated from her roots is now withering and dying. Like the chaff, it is blown away – As the money in which it had trusted in for so long runs dry, it becomes clear where her life really was.

Yet, the Church that is deeply rooted in the life of God in Jesus can neither wither nor perish, it may like any tree suffer the gales and storms of this life, it may, indeed it will suffer the wounds and the hatred of the World, but it Will bear fruit, and it will inherit eternal life

Prayer of Saint Aidan

One of my patrons. Spent several hours conversing with him in his church on Lindisfarne during my Sabbatical . . . it was a very wet day!

Eclectic Orthodoxy

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.

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A taste of home in the midst . . .


Just this morning I received a message from home. An old friend posted on Facebook about a near miss on the motorway far from her home. She escaped safe but her car may well be a write-off. Fortunately the collision with a truck happened in a speed restricted area of the route. She mentions the kindness of several who helped, not least someone charged with watching the traffic cameras, who made her a ‘cup of Yorkshire Tea’. For someone who Knows this wonderful part of Northern England, it was a taste of home, a deep connection. In the midst of the trials and tribulations, something solid and real with deep associations.

Our family are just back in New Zealand from Yorkshire, equipped with (not nearly enough) Yorkshire Tea. A reminder of home that goes past just the visual, with which we are obsessed in our culture, but enters in, and speaks to us more deeply. (Any accusation of over egging this will be met with the gentle rebuke ‘Get Real’🙂 )


To change tack, or perhaps better, to sail more directly into the Wind, I was recently startled and graced by a request for ‘a taste of home’ Someone was visiting me and asked towards the end of our conversation, ‘Do you have any reserved sacrament to hand? I haven’t had the eucharist for a few days’ (A Davidic request for the bread of the Presence – 1 Samuel 21)

Startled, for such a request is so ‘from another place’, indeed in many respects in the church in the west it is tragically from another time, an anachronism.

Graced for when two are present, Jesus is in the midst.

Stanley Hauerwas is well known for his observation that in our age we are functional atheists. To use this idea, we may well have a fine doctrine of the Eucharist, but we are not physically hungry for it. If we are hungry for Jesus, it is usually at a far less embodied level of our existence, little more than a vapour – we have lost most if not ‘all sensitivity’ to His presence in bread and wine. We might have a theology of The Real Presence, but practically we are on the whole ultra Zwinglians – memorialists of the most naked variety. For us, we only know ‘Jesus’ – we have perhaps forgotten Him in the flesh, the one who is the way Home . . . When we Commune in the Communion we participate in Home

Are we are so home in the world as it is for we have lost a taste for Home, the bread which came down from heaven . . .


Our mundane taste for the things of home, Yorkshire tea, my grandmother’s fly pie,  Cumberland Sausage . . . (I could go on🙂 ) is itself a sacrament, an echo in the creation, distorted though it is, of a deeper taste. The Eucharist is Food sent from Home (As the Father has sent me . . .) In the midst of the trials and tribulations, something solid and real . . .

O TASTE and SEE that the Lord is Good!!