Sermon for Evensong – Sunday July 16th, 2017 – -through many persecutions . . .

Sermon for Evensong
Sunday July 16 2017

On Old things in the Modern World – Losing our way
Acts 14

‘Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’

These words of Luke in describing the life of those early disciples sound strange to our ears – a world away from our own life and experience, indeed as we may have been taught about Christian faith – no one ever said to US that ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the Kingdom of God’ Yet, did not Jesus say ‘Make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate, for hard and narrow is the way to life and few they are that find it’ Does this resonate with the faith in which we were brought up?

Well let’s try an get a bit of perspective. Preachers of course preach from 6ft above contradiction 🙂 But what about the perspective from 40000 feet? (It sounds better in feet 🙂 )

Not given as I was to much intercontinental air travel, this perspective first came to me in 2010 – when the parish flew their prospective vicar, by Emirates of course, over to NZ – Over India. As I crossed that vast sub continent, I remember watching the great clouds rising up from the baking plains below – and it struck me for the first time of the great disconnection between my experience of life and that of those ‘who toiled below’ (to pick up on the words of a well known and not entirely inappropriate hymn, for who toils below??)
As I pondered it came to me that the annual income of one who lived below me would barely pay for my ticket. Our lives were disconnected by much more than 40000 feet. My life was insulated (after all it is more than 50 degrees below zero at that altitude and the plane is flying at 1000 km an hour, fast enough truly to take my breath away were I to experience it.) Instead I sat in ‘cattle class’; ‘another bottle of wine sir? I don’t mind if I do . . .’ the warmth, the air-conditioned comfort made for a lofty perch from which to ponder existence . . . to quote someone else ‘I continue[d my] midair philosophizing on our two-level world, where the global elite fly comfortably while children of the dust fight famine and fall asleep to the sound of gunfire.’

Sayers, Mark. Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval (p. 8). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We used to call those who flew thus ‘the jet set’, lives unimaginably separated from ours, but how many of us know it now, are We not The Global Elite? Yes we may ‘look upwards the Trumps and the Gates’ etc, yet perhaps the comfort of our lives is closer to theirs, much closer than those 40000 feet below? This separation is I think an apt metaphor for Modern Life. We sit in unimaginable comfort – with a choice of wine and food, and experience the world out there, via a screen. We know at one level that in so many ways the world is a shocking place, but we do not experience it as such . . . and if we find it hard to relate to such a tragic world in our own experience, is it not reasonable to ask, ‘has our insulated experience shielded us from the very reality of God who is known in the very thick of existence and in its darkest places’, and has is suggested to us a more amenable faith than that of hard and narrow ways, or coming to the Kingdom of God ‘through many persecutions’? Surely – coming to the Kingdom of God is no more than seeing things differently . . . as if what was really at stake was no more than a set of ideas?? Insofar as we think ‘the jet set have little to teach us about real life’ perhaps also we ought to be wary of any writers and guides who enjoy such existence, myself included . . .
For as there is such a gulf between our lives and those 40000 feet below, but there is another ‘gulf fix-ed’ to use Luke’s words, between our culture and those of the past . . . and it is with regard to our understanding of ‘The Past’ I’d like to focus my comments, and especially with regard to books 🙂

Of course I always travel with books. My Son in law, rightly and gently mocked me for my ‘small library’ when I told him that ‘because it was mainly an opportunity for visiting people as opposed to study! I’d only brought ten books with me’ 🙂
But what we read, if we read, is not unimportant and that was brought home to me when I visited a friend who had had his curiosity piqued by a Modern writer on the spiritual life. He asked me what i thought of this individual and I said that I hadn’t read them closely, so he sent me away with a book for my comments – and opening it, I was reminded of CS Lewis’ rule – ‘always read ten old books for every new one you read.’ Well I had my ten books, but how many were old?
Of course its always easy to read new books, written in our culture in our time – and of course someone is always saying – ‘you really should read this or that or the other . . . one is reminded of the words of Jesus when he says ‘If they say to you Look He is Here, or Look He is there! do not believe them . . . ‘ Certainly this writer is considered something of a modern guru in ‘spiritual’ circles. So it is easy to read new books, but whatever happened to the test of time. Why should I bet remotely interested in a book written only last year??
Just as not so long ago you couldn’t go to church without singing Shine Jesus Shine, I can’t imagine it will find its way into tomorrows equivalent of Hymns Ancient and Modern, we are obsessed with things that pass away and do not last. Our obsession with the new, the up to date etc etc as if these things were automatically Better is troubling, as Lewis amongst others points out. And another voice to whom I will return shortly who warns sternly

‘If for the love of that which does not endure,
A man gives up that love which is eternal,
He well deserves to suffer without end’ Paradiso Canto XV 10-12

But Lewis had something more in mind than just the test of time,, for Lewis Diagnosed a fracture in History, readily discernible in our culture A vast shift in which to borrow LP Hartley’s phrase ‘the past [became] a foreign country’ Or to use my metaphor, we discovered the delights of the broad and easy way of mass intercontinental travel by jet.
As perhaps two of my daughters might ask – if you suddenly find yourself a long way away, who has moved?

For as Lewis pointed out in ‘the past’ people if puzzled by various aspects of one another writings understood each other. As he said Dante knew Virgil (1300 years before) – and I’ll return to Dante in a moment. But there is a great dislocation – and Lewis locates this at the turn of the C19. Although philosophically the roots of Modern life can be traced back several hundred years earlier – Lewis locates his change there in terms of shared understanding of the world at least in the West. And speaks of the coming of the age of the machine . . . it is perhaps no surprise therefore that the person who best expressed this change is perhaps Henry Ford, the man who turned men into machines in order that men might be ruled by machines. ‘History is bunk’. We may pay lip service to The Past and ‘learning from the past, but our lessons tend to be those which reinforce our idea of the superiority of the present – as Lewis puts it, we add a negative value to words which formerly were positive, for example ‘Primitive’ – which once meant merely Radical, of the Root, the fundamental – now of course its meaning has become negative – ‘we have moved on’ (and how glibly we say this)

Now what it seems to me happens in this regard is the beginning of the decline of History as the tool which teaches us who we are, to one which ‘scientifically’ teaches us who we were and thus, vaingloriously, who we are becoming – so ‘civilization [is] converg[ing] upon a new evolutionary leap?’ according to the writer my friend was anxious to commend to me

Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Kindle Location 172). Shambhala. Kindle Edition. . . .

It is as if there is a discontinuation in the story of the human. If human existence can be considered as a tree, then the Modern age saw the arrival of the conceit that leaves could live without a trunk. and of course that great machine the modern airliner reinforces our sense of separation.
‘Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’

In these Modern days, the Scriptures seem to us the stories of ‘a foreign country’ another planet even. Just this week I was at a preaching seminar where the leader asked ‘how can we relate to these words from two thousand years ago?’ as if he thought that the human was a different species then as if indeed we had evolved. Yet the question ‘what planet are you on?’ is a good one I think – in a month when 12% of the Larsen C iceshelf has collapsed, Scientists who are careful with their words tell us we are in the middle of biological annihilation of other species, we learn that if we eat fish we will incur lifetime ingest 11000 pieces of plastic in a world which makes one million plastic bottles a minute, and rumbling along, climate scientists are finally saying that a 6C temperature change is ‘within the reasonable margin for error’ . . . If we believe as modern people that we are on the cusp of a great evolutionary leap forward – all I can say is that evolution requires numberless dead ends for one advance and that humankind is looking as if it falls in the statistically highly probable category at present – Somewhere along the road we have lost the plot . . . but lets pick up with an old writer for a moment, one who doesn’t say ‘well how can I relate to Scriptures which are 1300 years old . . . Someone who realises he has lost the plot and become disconnected from reality from whom I quoted earlier

Half way along the journey we [all] have to go,
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way

This is the opening of an Old book – the basic message of which would have been as clear to those first disciples as it was to the author, both living on the far side of the great Chasm which separates us from most of History. It is known by some as the opening of the world’s greatest poem – the Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri.
Dante lived between the C13 and C14. The first part of his life was in some regards a life from 40000 feet. He was born into a noble family and rose to high estate in his native Florence, but there, he took decisions bold and difficult decisions – including exiling one of his own good friends, which made him the enemy of the Pope and led to his being sent into exile, stripped of all he possessed and the citizens of Florence being given the right to execute him on sight. So, halfway through his Life – the journey we all have to go – he finds himself lost.

And yet, and yet . . . it is from This perspective the he finds discovers himself found. In the midst of an incredibly difficult life, he finds Life, or rather Life finds him. It is in this context that Dante is shown all that it is that has separated him from God as his guide, the poet Virgil (from 1300 years earlier) takes him on a tour, first of the Inferno – or Hell, although like the outside of the airliner it is so cold that Satan who lies at the very centre is frozen in ice up to his waist.
Dante is then led up in the second part of the poem climbing the slopes of Mount purgatory, as he begins to take responsibility for his plight and undergoes the difficult healing necessary for those who would know the Divine Light of the the Kingdom of God, finally to ascend to Paradise then and only then where he need no longer the guidance of Virgil.

At the outset of the poem, discerning the Light of Paradise her tries over and again to climb to it, but his wise guide knows better, The Way Up is the Way Down – it is only through entering the turbulence and difficulty, the ambiguity and mystery, the many many things that seem to make no sense to us, that we come to realise. And here and there from time to time, others make the same discovery.

The insulation which life at 40000 feet offers, is only at great cost – it requires great energy to maintain this, like the energy needed for air conditioning – and as the literal burning of that energy comes to an end, so too here and there by God’s grace we run out of energy, we fall to earth. Dantë, like others here and there even today discovers life amongst the ruins of his self created existence. He had had it all, and he lost it, and in losing it, found it. Jesus warns us about a life we make for ourselves, the 40000 foot life, that ‘it profiteth a man nothing that he gain the whole world . . .’ for as surely as the false gains accrue, so the loss becomes eternal . . . Oscar Wilde in a fairly old book, if not old by Lewis’ standards spoke about Dorian Grey, a metaphor I think for life at 40000 feet, where all in lovely whilst the picture in the attic decays. Our Modern disconnected life requires so much energy it is costing the literal lives of so many many others – spiritual writers who glibly assert ‘civilization converges upon a new evolutionary leap’ – miss this entirely – the state of Creation is the ruined picture in our collective attic, but here and there people fall off the plane – the plane goes down – lives seemingly fall apart, and then and there in the ruins we discover the True Life

 

Jesus calls us to follow him, into the centre of existence – the Cross, the place of apparent ruin which has become for us Wisdom from God – where all thing are reconciled to God – it is a call into Life in its fullest expression and that cannot but for now encompass darkness as well as light. Put another way, suffering is part of what it is to be fully human. Whilst we cannot go seek it – some in the early church had to be dissuaded from seeking martyrdom – we do need to wake up to how our contemporary culture has disconnected us from our essential human experience, and in humility acknowledge the profound lostness of the Modern condition.
Yet it is not a journey which we are called to undertake alone – it is one in companionship with one another and our Lord as we encourage and strengthen one another. Before we can begin the journey home, the plane must land – we all need to come down to earth – and follow Christ Jesus who shows us in Truth that Life is found on the ground.

Come to Me – the invitation to be with Jesus – OT Yr A 2017

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-end

“And he chose twelve, that they might be with him . . .” Mark 3:14

Being with Jesus Is the Christian Life – it Is Christian life. Through Baptism we respond to His call to be with Him, He is our food in Scripture and Eucharist, we are with Him as our teacher that at the last we might be with Him. Being with Jesus is the beginning, the middle and the end of our faith.

Yet we tend to think of ‘being with Jesus’ as purely the End – as something for afterwards – not for ‘the time of this mortal life’, as the old prayer book it. In the time of this mortal life we tend to think almost exclusively in terms of ‘Jesus being with us’. And of course it is true, He is with us according to his promise, now and to the end of the age, but he is with us because we are with him. His coming to be with us, as at the first with the disciples, was that they might be with Him. And the two are not the same. If we think of being with Jesus in terms of His being with us, then where we go, he goes. But this is not the life of discipleship, it is not the Christian life. That Life is to go where he goes. To seek Him that we might be with Him, to only want to be where he is. ‘The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ We do not know where Jesus is going, but we know that we want to be with him, so where he goes, we go also [cf John 14]
Jesus comes to us, that we might be with Him, alongside Him, as his disciples, learning from Him. In Eugene Peterson’s memorable paraphrase, to ‘learn the rhythms of unforced grace’, that way of Life that is Rest.

But the problem is this, that our lives are so fixed. It is far easier we think, more convenient to us and our lives that he is with us and goes where we go. Our schedules after all are full of ‘Important things’ . . . all these things we have to do, that we must do, that we should and ought to do . . . we find it hard to think of any life but our own and so the idea of leaving our life that we might be with him seems ridiculous, and so we may stay fixed and stuck.

“To what will I compare this generation.” John comes, the forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord. He seems harsh and austere – playing his dirge – we don’t mourn our sins and those things which keep us from their Kingdom he announces. He comes neither eating nor drinking and – not given to fasting and repentance we say he has a demon. ‘Lighten up, John!’.

Then comes the king, Full of that Life which repentance prepares us for. Jesus comes playing a flute, but Our life is a series business, no time for dancing, we can’t leave our nets – all that feasting – Who has time for partying with the world the way it is?? Neither hot or cold – Lukewarm

Jesus calls us to Life in its fulness, to be with Him, to Go with Him, to Learn from Him and perhaps to our ears it is too much. Dante in the Divine Comedy says that those who enter purgatory need to rest for they are too weak as yet to enter the fulness of God’s presence . . . and so, the world carries on in the way it always has and we search around looking for the culprits . . .

On the evening of June 3rd, I was in London. Walking with Rose and Andy, in the lowering sun on the millennium bridge, the footbridge which crosses the Thames in London from the Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral, it was a `Beautiful’ evening. It was warm, crowds of people were just enjoying the view, having a relaxed time.
The following morning I returned to St Paul’s the 8am Eucharist – but now the mood was far from relaxed. About 90 minutes after we’d been on the Millennium bridge, just a couple of hundred yards away some men had driven into the crowd in a van and leapt out with knives. Before they were finally shot dead by armed police, they had killed eight people, several of them visitors – who knows, perhaps people we’d been walking with earlier. ‘Ah!! Goes the media and we join in – there are the culprits . . . if only we deal with people like that! but what is the Gospel of Jesus for ‘people like that’
Well at the eucharist, The Dean of St Paul’s, David Ison, who had once been my spiritual director, answered that question. Speaking to a congregation made up in large part of visitors, he reminded us of all that we were gathered on a site where Christian worship had taken place for 1400 years. It had seen famine, plague, fire, it had been bombed by the Luftwaffe. And yet it still stood as testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He then made reference to an earlier attack, in Egypt, where 24 Christian pilgrims, men women and children on their way to a monastery were taken off their bus at gunpoint, called to renounce their faith and shot when they refused. In response the European Bishop of the Coptic Church had written a letter in which he said he had often addressed his words to those who were the victims of such atrocities, and their widows and bereaved families, but he said, and I quote ‘This time however, I feel a need to address those who perpetrate these crimes.

You are loved. The violent and deadly crimes you perpetrate are abhorrent and detestable, but YOU are loved.

You are loved by God, your Creator, for He created you in His Image and according to His Likeness, and placed you on this earth for much greater things, according to His plan for all humankind. You are loved by me and millions like me, not because of what you do, but what you are capable of as that wonderful creation of God, Who has created us with a shared humanity. You are loved by me and millions like me because I, and we, believe in transformation.’ ‘You are loved by me and millions like me, because we believe in transformation’

The gospel of Jesus Christ is about the transformation of the world – a different story for a world given over to death and despair. Life and Hope in the Name of Jesus. But that story only takes root and becomes visible in the world as people let go of their stories and go to be with Jesus. People who have gone to be with Jesus bear a witness to this different Story, the Truth of our existence.

We look out at the world, seeing it needs to change, it’s as plain as the nose on your face – but do we recognise that if the world is to change, we cannot stay the same. If there is no community which bears witness to this other life, perhaps it is no surprise the world doubts that there is any alternative? Perhaps this is why when John announces the coming King and calls us to prepare ourselves and change, and when the king comes – we are curiously unmoved. Jesus is close to incredulous. He goes on, “ Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! If my miracles and been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they’d have repented in a flash! And as for you Capernaum – did you not see anything??? I tell you that Sodom, yes even Sodom would have had a change of heart if it had seen what you saw”

The Call to change comes first not to those far away, not to those who are strangers to the message – it comes to a people who should know, God’s people. This generation, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum . . . God’s people – ‘He came to those who were his own and his own knew him not . . .’ God’s people did not recognise their King, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey . . .

Unbelief. Well not all of them. These things were hidden in the gracious will of the Father from the wise and intelligent and were revealed to to infants – to those whom the Father chooses to reveal the Son. There were some who went to be with Him, but to be frank they weren’t much to look at in the eyes of the world. Like their bedraggled King, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt the foal of donkey, they didn’t look out of place.

At the heart of the rejection of the Christian message in the early days two things stood out and in different ways continue to stand out making it unique

A dead Jew on a cross wasn’t sophisticated or intelligent enough for the Greeks and was an abomination to the Jews. It didn’t fit in with the way people saw the world . . .

And secondly, no one believed that human hearts could be changed. ‘ We need new laws!’ ‘Society must be changed!’ but human hearts??
The gospel proclaimed the ultimate miracle, the transformation of the human heart . . . and let’s be clear, we have trouble believing it ourselves. After all, who felt the deep truth of the words of the Coptic Bishop?? You people, who killed innocent men women and yes, children, you are loved . . . and we say this because we believe in transformation. Perhaps it is no wonder the world laughs

Well I told the first part of this story on Wednesday at the Eucharist and promised I’d conclude it today, so for those who have been patiently waiting, here was the end to David’s sermon. ‘We as Christians believe in the transformation of the human heart. We gather today in a building dedicated to St Paul, the first great evangelist of the Church, who spread the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ across so much of the then known world. St Paul let us not forget first comes to our attention because he gives assent to the murder of the first Christians and is converted on his way to Damascus, ‘still breathing out threats and murder . . .’ St Paul is a murderer who is transformed – by being with Jesus. It is how we are all changed, by accepting the invitation to be with Jesus – close with Jesus. Taking his yoke and learning from him

Come to me . . . all you who are weary and heavy laden . . . worn down by the effort of trying to live what you call your own life, weary of that internal conflict which Paul knew so well ‘So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ . . . Hear the words of Jesus – Come to me and I will give you rest. Learn from me. To learn Jesus is to learn Rest. It is to move from the exhausting business of trying to have life on our own terms, trying to fix the world – to simple obedience to him, learnt as we accept the gift of His yoke. it would be a familiar picture to Jesus first hearers. The young untrained ox, yoked to the older experienced one. So that the young one might learn from their elder brother.
Yoked to the one who only does what he sees the Father doing – it is a rather intimate picture. Imagine yourself as that young ox, joined to the Older one – you smell it, you feel its warmth, you hear its breath, perhaps even breathing it in yourself as you sense its strength, the yoke transmits its movements, from time to time you feel the yoke as you are still learning, but the affection grows and the rhythms of unforced grace are slowly learned. You grow to love the Yoke of obedience for you Love the one who has yoked himself to you. This is what it is like to be with Jesus, profound intimacy, learning from Him, day by day and being transformed into his likeness, feeling Him, knowing Him.

This intimacy of friendship, made possible through the Cross where God was reconciling the world to himself – the World which kills Him, the World which kills His people. In the flesh of Jesus, God takes that awkward sinful flesh with which Paul is so familiar, which seems determined to go the hateful and wrong way, and transforms it into the body and blood of the One who only does what he sees the Father doing. From the chaotic shapeless Stress and Strain and Hurt and Pain, to the rhythms of unforced grace.

John in his gospel, the one who lies close to Jesus at supper, hearing his breath and the beat of his heart puts it like this ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.’ He has called us His friends – he makes us his friends and invites us to be with Him

Take my yoke – learn from me – for I am gentle and lowly of heart – and you will find rest for your souls – and the world will see its true King. Amen

‘Who do we See?’ Sermon for Easter 6 – Year A 2017

Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter – Year A 2017

John 14:15-21

‘Who do you see?’

Over the years I have engaged in many many bible studies, but one in particular has always stuck out as by a margin the very best. It was given by Margaret Barker, a former President of the Old Testament Society and a scholar of not only the Scriptures but also many other writings which were  well known in the time of Jesus, and indeed some of which the Church continued to refer to until about the fourth century.

I don’t remember much of the content, except that it was about ‘Covenant’, yet I remember being enthralled by her Wisdom and insight. But One thing did stick with me, a comment she made in her opening remarks, ‘you always know when you are in the presence of another Christian’ And I must admit my spirit leapt at this, for it was something I had myself noted. Indeed it is a comment that could only be made by someone who was a Christian – for only a Christian would know this recognition or identification with another which spoke in this particular respect.
For myself I think back to my retreat this year at Ngatiawa and the instant bond which was present in my conversations with the Rumanian Orthodox family I met there, despite problems of language and culture – there was Something which was ‘between us’, and which created a deep Understanding.

But what is it that we See, when we experience this? Or rather Who??

I think the scripture which helps us in this regard is the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Reading from Luke’s gospel – you will remember that the angel Gabriel has just announced that Mary will bar God’s Son – ‘In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.’

‘As soon as I heard the sound of your greetings the child in my womb leapt for joy’! Something Living within me, identifies with something Living within you – and it is an occasion of Joy. And this indeed it how it is to meet with another Christian – even before a word has been exchanged, but often shortly hereafter – there is a bond of Life tangibly present in conversation – a deep agreement which goes far beyond ideas or words.

These past couple of weeks we have been focussing in on Jesus as The Gate and then Jesus as the Temple, the House of God – and last time we heard from the apostle Peter, exhorting us to be built ‘as living stones’ ourselves into a dwelling place for the most High God . . . which brings us to our gospel for today – these beautiful words of Jesus to his Church.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

Now the first thing is to note that the Instigator of this is Jesus himself – “I will not leave you orphaned, I am not abandoning you! Far from it, ‘I am coming to you!’ When we are open to the presence of Jesus, he comes to us – ‘Behold!’, he commands us – ‘Behold ! I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.’

Then having made that promise he goes on – ‘in a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me’ The word See is of course as I am sure you may now guess ‘Behold!’ The world will no longer Behold me, for ‘the world cannot receive him (The Spirit of Truth) for it neither Beholds him, nor knows him’. But, ‘if you Love me’ that is if you are in your heart and mind directed towards me, as a plant is to the Sun, Loving its warmth and Light, then you will keep my commands and ‘you will see me’

‘Because I live, you also will live’ to use the flower analogy again, the Light of the Sun is the Life of the plant. Because the Sun shines, the plant lives. Because Jesus Lives, his Light and Life are available to all who turn to him, and they shall See him . . .

Now Seeing and Beholding are ties up with Knowing, Believing – they are woven together is a rich tapestry of meaning. the old saying is true, ‘to See is to Believe.’ Or ‘to Behold is to Know’

Seeing me, Jesus says “On that day you will Know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”  I am in my Father, and you [are] in me, and I [am] in you. As St Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, ‘the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’

It is this mystery, which is the Essence of that mutual recognition of Christians one for another, that we ‘recognise’ at a level of deep intuition, we Behold Christ in one another . . . which is the Source of the Reverence which we have for one another.

But many things cloud our vision – things within us. Perhaps we are angry with a person, a fellow Christian. It is as if we cannot see – we talk of ‘the red mist descending’. Not to See Christ in one another we then do not revere the other – we do not treat them as we would Christ. All of the Passions, Anger, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Envy and the like are the things that prevent us from Seeing Christ. As of course Jesus had his biggest problems with the Pharisees, those who were Self Rightesous, Righteous in their own eyes, so to our sense of ‘being in the right!’, or ‘being unjustly treated’ blinds us. We become Spiritually blind. Here again the counsel of St Paul is apt ‘in humility think of [ALL] others as better than yourself’ – I have added ALL to the text, I admit, but I think this is Paul’s meaning, otherwise, being righteous in our own eyes we would pick and choose – we might judge others ourselves as to whether they were Christian or not – that ‘Objective judgement’ has nothing to do with ‘knowing when you are in the presence of another Christian, for it cannot be seen, or judged, it can only be a matter of beholding, with the Pure Heart. For as Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for They shall Behold God’

Who do we see? What blinds us?

As many of you know, I love to cook curry and so one of my favourite shops in Dunedin is the Indian food shop on St Andrew’s Street. If you have visited you will know that it is owned by a member of the Sikh Community here in Dunedin. (Sikhism by the way developed out of Christianity in India) Whenever I go in – we reverence the other as is his custom. A simple bow and joining of the hands. This most sadly is utterly remarkable in our Culture which knows nothing of such reverence for the other, purely in our humanity, let alone as Brothers and Sisters of one another in Jesus Christ. We might well say that this is the clearest evidence of our not being n any sense a ‘Christian society’ – for often if not always there is little more than a ‘Hi! How are you?’ with no expectation whatsoever that we might say how we really are . . . it is increasingly rare for Men to honour Women in their midst, as Bearers of Life in our world, by holding doors, or standing as they come into the room. And this lack of Reverence extends sadly to the Church.

I think if there were one simple practise which might help us better to see Christ in one another, it might be to extend that which happens at the altar, to the whole people of God, that we gently bowed to one another on meeting. Certainly it would give us pause, to hold back from all ‘those important things we HAD to say to the other’ to be together in Christ First and foremost, and there forget ourselves for there is little in little more lovely in life than those incredibly special moments when something leaps for Joy within us at the meeting with another Christian – for it is indeed an encounter with our Own True Life – the Life of Christ in and amongst us – the Life which is eternal.

Amen

‘My Father’s House . . .’ Sermon for 5th Sunday of Easter – Year A 2017

Sermon notes

 

 

Although I have a house, I do not live in it

Father’s house – Dwelling place of God!

Last Week – The Gate – Jacob’s dream – Angels ascending and descending

Nathaniel – Jesus directly quotes Genesis

‘Israelite in whom no deceit’

cf Jacob ‘the Deceiver’

not only the Gate – but also ‘the House of God – Beth’el’ Gen 28:17

But More!

Gen 28:18-19

Pillow becomes Pillar

‘And he poured oil on it’

Pouring Oil over – Consecration – of kings cf. Saul and David in 1 Samuel

Image of Consencration – Crowning – associated word

Nāzîr – Nēzer

Back to Nathanael

Philip – We have found the one Moses spoke about – Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth

Nathanael doesn’t understand ‘Can anything good . . .’

Wordplay – nzr – Jesus coming from his annointing!

At His baptism John declared – ‘I saw the Spirit descend form heaven and Abide on him’

Spirit – Anointing – Oil

Nathanael Recognises Jesus as the Annointed one – Son of God, You are the King of Israel

Last week – Jesus the Gate – this week, Jesus the House of the Father – The Dwelling place of GOd

‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it’

Jesus tells his disciples – ‘Do you not believe, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’ John 14:10

But what of us? 1 Pet 2:4-5

The house starts with the cornerstone – Peter – ‘Come to him a living stone . . .’

(Y’all) Be built into a spiritual house – Temple of the Living God

Christ is the cornerstone – his body is the dwelling place of God

All the hoopla over a bishop – if only we knew what we were? Imagine the drama of baptism as another stone becomes a living stone, as the Father’s house grows . . .

 

 

 

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter – ‘I Am The Gate’ – 2017 Year a

Sermon for Easter 4

Acts 2:42-47
John 10:1-10

“I am the gate”

 

[Audio and written content significantly differ]

 

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Well today, the Fourth Sunday of this season of The Resurrection is as you may know often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and our gospel reading certainly seems to point us in that direction at least so why begin with these verses?? Well it is all to do with context. If I say ‘Good Shepherd’ we may perhaps have an unhelpful image in our minds, for the words of Jesus in today’s gospel leading towards himself declaring that He is the good shepherd follow on immediately from the healing of the man born blind, and find Jesus in the midst of a dispute with the Pharisees, a dispute which leads in due course to some of them suggesting that Jesus is possessed by a demon. As always, context counts for a great deal – and the context helps us to discern a little more clearly what is going on here – what it means for Jesus to be The Good Shepherd, but also the ‘I AM’ saying in our gospel – perhaps the most obscure of these sayings for us – ‘I Am The Gate’?

Jesus seven times uses ‘I AM’ sayings in John – or 8 if we include his crying out ‘before Abraham was, I Am’
Each of them we have some sense of  – each embodies something Life giving
I am the Bread of Life – The Eucharist of course
I am the True Vine – an allusion to being the True Israel
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
I am the Resurrection and the life
I am the Light of the World
I am the Good Shepherd

but ‘I am the Gate’? The focus of this passage seems not so much to be the Shepherd as the Gate. When Jesus is justifying his claim to be The Good Shepherd, he says, ‘The one who enters by the Gate is the Shepherd of the Sheep’ – but to call himself ‘The Gate’ – In what sense is that an image of Life, indeed Life in all its fulness?? Why would Jesus use this Sacred phrase, I AM . . . The Gate??

Well if we study the scriptures, we discover that the ‘Gate’ is not so much an inanimate object as a Place, a Place of Great Significance. And of course when we think of Jesus, we might also think of him also in terms of Place – He is the Temple. ‘Destroy this Temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.’ ‘he was speaking to them of the Temple of his body’ Jesus occupies space, He is a place, The place of encounter with the Living God  or Life in all its fullness.

Well I think that two different illustrations of the significance of the Gate as a place will begin to open this up for us,  and how it applies to us as Christians, how we encounter Jesus as ‘The Gate’

So first a line from Samuel –
‘Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.’ (19:8)

There is our Behold word, again, Behold the King, David, the Shepherd King, sitting in ‘the gate’. – and often as here it represents the Gate of the City. This was a most significant place in the Life of the people of God. For it was here that the King along with the nobles would sit and hear cases. It is a symbol of the place of judging disputes – a place of discerning – the King as the Judge – a place of discerning in a sense, who sill enter and who will not enter. The King seated in the Gate was a powerful symbol of the security of the city – as the psalmist says ‘I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there the thrones for judgement were set up, the thrones of the house of David. ‘

In the brief text from Samuel, it is precisely the Security of the people of God which is at stake. Absalom, David’s son, has usurped the throne precisely by taking David’s place at the gate and suggesting people come for him to hear their disputes. A dark story follows of the flight of David and the treachery of Joab – and Absalom is slain, and David goes into a deep mourning for his son, and disappears from the sight of the people. He has to be persuaded by Joab to  show himself for otherwise all the soldiers of the army will desert him. It is a deeply ambiguous and anxiety ridden reading, and of course the resonances with the story of Jesus where his brothers are constantly it seems telling him to ‘show’ himself before the people, and indeed ‘an army’ so to speak who deserts him . . . but Beholding The King sat in the Gate is a sign of the Stability – indeed the deep peace and prosperity of Jerusalem . . . of things being as they should be

And that symbol of the Gate as the entrance to the place of prosperity and peace finds another echo, again with strong resonances for us who seek Jesus in the familiar story of Jacob, fleeing from his brother Esau

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

The Good Shepherd, The Gate – we don’t think ‘what though is the sheepfold?’ This place of security, and abundant life – is it not the place of the presence of God? Jacob realising himself to be ‘in the house of God, the gate of heaven’ I Am the Gate

Nathanael asked [Jesus], ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

He is the Gate to the place of God’s Peace – the doorway to Heaven – the earthly Jerusalem called to be the city of peace, but not knowing what makes for its peace – Jesus, comes for judgement into the world and Is the Gate – the place – the place of Entrance into the very life of God – He is the Temple – and he is the Temple Gate – perhaps the allusion is stronger here than to the City of Jerusalem – In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . no one comes to the Father except they come through me.’ The man born blind has been thrown out, but her hears the voice of the Good Shepherd ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. ‘The sheep follow him because they know his voice’ . . . but the pharisees did not understand what he was saying to them, he did not hear them

Jesus the Good Shepherd, The King (Messiah), The Way into the presence of the fullness of Life in God . . .

And us? Isn’t this after all just my ‘talking about Jesus’? Something which I have suggested we should’t do – how do we find ourselves within the Gate?

We turn briefly to our reading from Acts – a scene set within the sheepfold . . .  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

People – responding to the Good News of Jesus, responding by entering into his Life through Baptism, and finding Life in all its fullness. The fullness of Shalom, God’s Peace, Salvation as Life is shared amongst them – having all things in common, eating together . . . and all the while the Good Shepherd calling others into the fold.

We the Church, the household of God, the flock of the Good Shepherd, come into the church by baptism, we walk in via the font – we come into the fellowship of Salvation and Life – in and through The Gate. We are baptised into his death, and thus into his life. ‘Whoever enters by me, will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . Jesus is the Gate, the Gate of Heaven, The Gate into the very presence of the Living God in whose presence there is life forevermore.

Amen

Acts 2 – City of peace – shalom, wholeness, the Church – Baptism

Psalm – lift high the gates

King of Glory king of Peace

Sermon for Secind Sunday after Easter – ‘Meals beyond words . . .’ Year A 2017

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24:13-35

 

‘Meals beyond words . . .’

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had guests for lunch who commented how unusual it was to sit down as family and share food together. In a world where there is much that is disturbing, perhaps there are few things as troubling as this apparently innocuous observation. For Eating Together is fundamental to our entire existence. Without Food, AND the presence of other human beings, we have no Life. Yet we have lost sight of both.
All too often nowadays we eat as if we were machines needing refuelling, as if in a pitstop – Alone. There is no sense of this being Life to us – indeed the language of refuelling is common attributed to what we used to call eating – indicating how we no longer understand it, or indeed ourselves as much more than biological machines, or dead things. There are very few things as deeply significant as a shared meal, or as troubling as their absence.

When someone comes to tell me they have a problem with someone else, sometimes I am led to ask ‘Have you sat down together to eat?’ The answer is rarely if ever ‘yes’. If our guest was correct then indeed it is true that families increasingly rarely sit to eat together. Of course, the width of your definition of family is indicated by the size of your table – to eat together is to be whanau, it is a Truth that the more we sit down together to eat, the greater is our Life – it is to acknowledge something which goes deeper than words – something powerful and intimate. If you wish as all children of God do, to make your enemies your friends, invite them to dinner – share Life with them, as Christ shares his very life with you.

That deep note of Intimacy is one of the things which comes to me through the text of this beautiful Easter story – it is the account of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus in Luke and in my mind is readily associated with Candle light, something which adds depth and atmosphere to any meal – candlelight  ‘for the day is far spent and the night is at hand’. Traditionally it was always the reading at Evening prayer on Easter Day – and it ‘Presence’ [sic] to us a profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus, not in the full light of day, but in the restrained light of evening in which shadows lend depth and a sense that mere sight is only part of the story.

It is a familiar tale – two of the disciples walking away from Jerusalem – a sense of tragic anticlimax – their eyes downcast as they talk between themselves of all that had happened, and then in their talking about Him, as Luke puts it ‘Jesus . . . came near and went with them’ a sense of appearing within their conversation, and their eyes were kept from Knowing him, for their minds are on their words, and they do not Know Him . . . ‘The Stranger’ gently interrogates them ‘What are you talking about as you’re walking along? Why so sad?’

Of course, to pick up on something we explored last week, they are ‘talking about’ Jesus. As I said we need to get away from all our talking about and learning about Jesus, as if we stood apart – as the disciples are stood, not recognising him . . .

So they recount the tale – assuming ‘The Stranger’ is an Outsider to it all – except of course at this point it is they who are the strangers to the Presence of Jesus . . . Their darkness of mind not yet illuminated by coming into the House

And they speak of their disillusionment – of how they ‘had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ . . . It is odd how we think of disillusionment as a negative thing, how we see it in a poor light – for surely as someone once said to me, ‘you can only become disillusioned if you are suffering from an illusion’
They have become disillusioned, but cannot See the Gift of it . . . and then to add to it all, the rumours of resurrection coming from the women of the group with their ‘vision of angels’ only sound like ‘an idle tale’ – indeed some of their number had checked the story out, ‘but they did not see him’ Funny, eh? Here they are standing in the presence Jesus, talking about Him, not seeing Him, recounting how earlier others reported that they ‘had not seen him’

‘How foolish you are . . .’ the word has resonances with an inability to See, to Know in depth, reinforced with another metaphor of Sight – ‘how slow of heart to believe . . .’ the Heart being the true organ of Seeing and perception, or ‘Beholding’ . . . ‘all that the prophets have declared!’

‘Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’

Now, if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said in my hearing, or indeed will in all likelihood say today ‘wouldn’t it have been great to be at that bible study!!’ I would indeed be a plutocrat 🙂 But note this – at the end of being led through the Scriptures, by Jesus himself. . . they still don’t see!! You see, The Scriptures in and of themselves are not enough . . . The Kingdom of God is not an endless Bible Study . . . the Scriptures have their place, within the whole, and as made known to us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is Jesus we are looking for, Jesus himself – His Very Life . . . He is the Pearl of Great Price, He is the treasure hidden in the field . . . as St Paul puts it writing to the Colossians ‘For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is [?], Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Well, it was a long Bible study , ‘the things about him in all the scriptures’ – and they find they have arrived, but noting the time, in an act of typical hospitality – when Jesus makes to walk on, they invite him to spend the night with them . . . and here in the gathering dark the great reversal is Revealed. Last week we spoke of The Risen Jesus as the Visitor, around whom we accommodate our lives – but now, as they sit to eat, the Guest becomes The Host [no pun intended 🙂 ], the ‘Stranger’ becomes the Very centre of their lives

He is the one who ‘took bread, blessed and broke it . . . THEN their eyes were opened and they Knew him: and he vanished from their sight’ It is Then that they recognise what was going on on the road ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking-to us on the road’ The Eye of their hearts are enlightened in this encounter at the table.
‘Remembering Him’ in the Breaking of the bread gives life and light, illuminating the opening of the Scriptures. We might well say that here is the paradigm for Christian Worship as we Open the Scriptures and Break the Bread, the opening of the Scriptures warms our hearts, developing our appetite for the Living Word, who is the Living Bread

At the Centre of our Eyes being opened to the reality of Jesus in our midst, the awakening from the illusion of the dream of life without Him, an awakening which finds us hungry to break the fast, is the breaking of the bread. He feeds us in Word and in Sacrament, and this Feeding implies a deep intimacy, He nourishes us with his very Self.
As I pondered this earlier in the week, my mind was drawn to the deep roots in all of us of that first experience we have of feeding, at our mother’s breast. As we awaken, hungry, a Life beyond words, there two things happen, we are nourished, but also we learn that Eye contact, that Seeing that is before words and goes beyond words. They Saw Him and they Knew Him . . . (‘recognised’ does not do it justice)

Jesus is The Bread of Life, he gives it for our Salvation – for our Life – for our deep integration as human beings. In so doing, in this giving of the Holy Spirit as heaven and Earth are woven together in the Sacrament, so all Life takes on a Sacramental aspect. This is the deepest root of the mystery of a shared meal – for in Him all things in heaven and earth are woven together. This Meal, feeding on Jesus gives depth to all our meals shared together. Jesus makes us his friends by feeding us. It is this action, of sharing bread which is the most human thing we ever do, the first thing we do as our eyes are opening, and coming back to it over and over through our lives – the Gift of the Table which draws us all deeper into life.

Many people I know are deeply concerned about the future of the Church and the World, but Jesus came and was unseen by his disciples then, so Now he is present, offering us Bread for the Life of the World, and enjoining us similarly to make friends by sharing bread together. In sharing Bread we build up our common life in Jesus Christ.

he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread . . . it is all we need. We have everything we need to make him known amongst us and in the world. Go and do likewise

Amen