The Gracious Invitation – John 6 part 4 – Sermon for Trinity +12 – Year B 2018

Sermon for 12 after Trinity – Year B 2018
Proverbs 9:1-6
John 6:51-58

Gracious hospitality
Where do we live?

Earlier this week we had a curious and telling juxtaposition of readings at Morning Prayer. On the one hand there was a reading from 2 Samuel where David has it in mind to build a house for God, yet through a dream the LORD speaks to Nathan the prophet, telling him, briefly, not to be so presumptuous . . . Against this we read in Acts of the martyrdom of Stephen, and his speech which led to him being stoned to death. In which he recounts this very desire to build a house for God as the culmination of his indictment of God’s people.

He concludes with words inaccessible to David – those of the prophet Isaiah – “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”

Did not my hand make all these things??

The image that comes to mind is that of a very small child receiving a lego set, and building a house for their parents to live in – but even a toddler would at some level understand that it was insufficient. David’s problem, and to a similar extent ours is – we have lost sight of where we live . . . It is not that God is too vast to live in any house we might build him, it is We who live in his house . . . we are as it were stranger, pilgrims, passing guests . . . yet you would not know. We treat it as if it is ours

If we understood that ‘The Earth is the LORD’s and all they that dwell therein’, would we have brought the house of the LORD, his creation, to the point of destruction. God provides a house for us, and we have trashed it. As we consider the growing climate chaos, with fear and trepidation, one note absent even from Christian discourse is the fear of the LORD – any deep sense that this is God’s house. The skies are my throne, the earth my footstool? What kind of house will You build for Me?? We are perhaps the AirBnB guests from the other place . . .

This failure to see where we are – to live out our lives in the light of this is our failure to Know God – manifested in our failure to Know who Jesus us – to recognise Him. As Isaiah goes on “But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.” To the one who hears and sees me – whose vision is filled with me. This is the heart of the message of repentance – ReOrient your gaze – look to God, for your life is a breath, it is all a gracious gift, and you dwell in his house

And all this comes to a focus in Jesus, and our seeing, or not seeing who he is.

As we have explored a little over the past few weeks, all of scripture is pointing in this direction and towards the person of Jesus. As John reminds us, Jesus invites us to see where He lives – the disciples follow him and ask, were are you staying, and he says, ‘Come and See’ – his first public act is precisely to do with where we live. Destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it . . . they did not understand that he was talking of the Temple of his body . . . the skies are my throne, the earth is my footstool. Life itself flows from Him.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

He Is Life! He is the Centre of all things, in Him all things hold together.

So the Words of Scripture like those bicycle wheel spokes point us towards Christ Jesus. We gather hear to hear words which direct the gaze of our hearts, that we might See Him and Love Him. Then we feed on Him in bread and wine.

As the old dialect of my home county has it – in the beginning, there were nobbut God. Nothing.

But then God, out of Love, called into existence that which was not God. The Creation. A place where he would walk in the cool of the day, and share it with all that he had made. The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever moves in the paths of the deep.

And then, in Love he bound Himself to this Creation. In Christ Jesus, through the obedience of Mary, God as it were wove himself into this Creation in Love. In Jesus the human and God share in Life together, and all who believe in Him, all who See Jesus for who he is are invited to share in the Life of God, a life manifested by the banquet Wisdom has spread.

When we come together to worship as those baptised into the Life of Jesus, God feeds us with His Life, the Life of his Son in bread and wine, and we come to live truly in His house.

So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me – God has built a house – the body of HIs Son, the Church, the body which fills all things, which rooted in the Earth yet touches heaven. the home of all the baptised

Yet God condescends – not only does he invite us to live in him, as revealed through the pregnancy of Mary, in great humility he lives in us.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me – and I in them.

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

The Judeans then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ In bread and wine. This is my body, given for you – this is my blood shed for me – come eat and drink. In bread and wine, the divine life of Jesus is woven into the Creation. this is what we call Sacrament – it is a participation of the things of the Creation in the things of the Creator

When by Grace we are born into the World, a gracious invitation is given us, it is True Hospitality. Everything is laid on. The Banquet is ready – a table is laid for guests whom God desires to make his friends. As the old cultures knew, to accept and invitation to eat together was to accept an invitation into the life of someone else.

The word hospitality in Greek actually carries the sense of making friends of strangers. through our blindness we were strangers to God – God in Christ, heals our blindness and sets a table for us, and wet by week we take up the invitation, to sit and eat with Him. To share in the life of our Divine Host

The question as always remains, will we accept the hospitality of the living God and feed on his Life in Jesus – or will we opt for self catering?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Amen

Caesar, Food and work – Sermons on John 6 (Part 2)

Sermon notes for Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Year B 2018

Work, Life, and Food

‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you’ – perhaps amongst the most challenging if not the most challenging words of Jesus . . .

Why? Well because they require us to completely change our economic order

it’s interesting that they come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, as sermon about Economics – that is how we live together, and then Jesus gets down to ‘the bottom line’ Don’t fret about that stuff everyone else is absorbed in – like what you will eat and what you will wear and what you will drink – for your father in heaven knows you need all these things – rather seek His Kingdom and his righteousness – and these things will come to you.’

Orient your life towards God, and enter His economic order

it is perhaps no surprise that Christian faith so often collides with issues of money – or it should, for money is about the world economic order . . . and it is the order of Pharaoh, or of Caesar, or of the nation state, or big business – it doesn’t really matter when we speak of this – they are all one, in their way of running things, of ordering our economy, our way of living together, which is the way they proscribe for us, in which money and food and work are inextricably linked. And its all directed towards those in power.

[As an aside – this is no clearer than in Matthew and the conversation over taxes – Caesar’s image on the Money – the link between this and ‘the mark of the beast’ in Revelation is clear -without Money, without Caesar you don’t eat, and you eat on his terms]

Well you might think that our gospel today is a world away from all of that – in a sense it is, for the whole of Chapter 6 points us away from all that, to a different economy – one entered on and drawing its life form God in Christ Jesus – but the themes are the same.

As I said last week, Scripture is like a bicycle wheel – all spokes coming together, convening on God, in Jesus Christ. All of scripture is in all of Scripture, but the focus becomes clear in the gospels, where their focus is . . . well, focussed, and most especially in John’s gospel

Some think John ‘other worldly’ a spiritual gospel, but no. It draws together all of the themes of scripture as the spokes converge.

You may remember last week – how we saw the parallels between some old testament stories and what is played out on the shores of Galilee. How Jesus feeding the 5000 on the mountain was the manifestation of that meal of Moses and the elders with God on Mount Sinai

And the event? Well if we remember, John tells us ‘and the Passover of the Jews was near . . . the Passover is near. The Passover, when God set his people apart through the blood of the Passover lamb, and rescued them from the Economics of Pharaoh.

What were those economics? Well oddly enough they had come into being through on elf God’s people. Joseph. In time of plenty he ordered that part of the harvest be put into Pharaoh’s barns. Then in times of famine, Pharaoh graciously sold it back to them, to the extent that in the end, in order to work, they sold him their labour. No longer did the people labour for their own food needs directly, they worked for pharaoh on his projects and pharaoh then would give them money to buy food from him . . . As the French say ‘plus ça change . . .’

If you want to see examples of this in the world today consider those strains of GM wheat etc which are sterile. ‘Hey! come buy our seed! but don’t get any ideas about storing some for next year, because its modified to be sterile in its second year . . . but you can always come and buy some more, at the price we set . . .’

Or Something we have become so used to – 750ml of water . . . $2.50.

The Earth is the Lord’s says the psalmist, but you wouldn’t know it – and so accustomed have we become to this story – that we spiritualise our faith. We dream of another world – after we die. Seek God’s Kingdom – Try and live life here so you get to heaven at the end of it all . . . and if we think John’s gospel is spiritual, and not about the real world, then that merely reinforces that . . .

But you might say. where is Pharaoh, or his incarnation in John 6? John sets him before us as he tells the story – staring us in the face . . . as we heard last week . . . ‘Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.’

As we heard again this week – Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.

As Luke tells us ‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea . . .’

Do you want know who was truly in charge in Galilee – why they even named the lake after him, and just a few years earlier, Herod Antipas had built a city in his name . . . Pharaoh Economics, Caesar Economics . . . are in full view here. They fill the imagination of the disciples

‘When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, Jesus has one test and one alone – ‘do you see who I am? Do you Know me?? for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip [not knowing who Jesus was] answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’

Philip only knows the order of Pharaoh and Caesar – you work for money, and with money you buy food . . .

So in the centre of Caesar and Pharaoh economics, where ‘popular acclaim has built a city in the name of the one who supplies food, at a price, on the hill above the lake named after his honour – Jesus feeds the crowd . . . for free . . .

As i said, the scriptures are like spokes – directing us to this very point .. . where the word of the prophets come true

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

And so it came to pass – When they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. You just thought it was a miracle – you thought to make me your king by force because I fed you – you’ll make anyone king who feeds you – you’ll vote for anyone who will set the economy right – as long as your belly is full . . . you didn’t see that the food was pointing you to ME!!

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’

What is the food that endures for eternal life?? It is the very life of God himself – given to us in Jesus – for This we are called to labour – make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate, for broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction, to the end of life and many follow it, but hard and narrow is the way that leads to life and few they are that find it.

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ What are they asking here – ‘How do we get bread??’ Work = Money = Bread

Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

And it is a work – all of the Sciprutres testify to this – throughout God’s perplexity is expressed thus, after all I have done for you – why do you still live under the old economic order . . .?

God rescued his people from egypt – then for forty years they were applied to learning to believe in Him, to trust him – to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness – and yet as they went into the land of promise they forgot and soon looked around them at all they had and were saying – it is my work that has acquired all this for me . . . and so they were given into the hands of another pharaoh and another and another that they might learn . . .

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

Seek after him with all your heart and mind, and all these things will be given you as well – Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life – set you heart on Hgod in Jesus Christ – desire Him in through and above all things and he will satisfy you – but do not seek him because you want a full belly or an easy life – Pharaoh is happy to sell that to one or two so that the rest can imagine that that is the way – no – seek him for himself

What is the world? to believe in the one he has sent

We have oriented our worship towards God – let it not be an empty gesture. Let us desire God in through and above all things and together let us begin to live out of a different economic order where freely sharing all that God has given us is the natural order of things

in the name of the one who has come down from heaven, Jesus the bread of Life

Food and Life – Part 1 (Sermons on John 6)

Sermon notes for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Yr B 2018

John 6:1-21

Food and Life

Part 1

Sermon notes

House prices continue to say in Dunedin . . . a good sign? A healthy Economy?

Economy – a word the meaning of which has so changed that we might ask if it has completely reversed.

The health of the economy . . .

The Economic Trinity?? GDP?? No

Economy – Oikos-nomos – the law of the household – how we live together
(Econ Trin – the inner life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit)

Rising house prices a sign that how we live together is improving ???

We’ll return to this idea again and again in the coming weeks as we listen to John 6 – Jesus feeds the 5000 and what this means

What is it to live together??

Scripture is like a bicycle wheel – all the spokes necessary for it to hold together – all pointing towards the hub – God – manifested in Jesus Christ, the Anointed One . . .

So this event, this feeding has so very very many echoes in Scripture, for here we are so close to the hub of it all

Jesus comes up on the mountain – God’s people come to the mount of the LORD – as they had come before at Sinai

So the people of God met with the LORD in Sinai – following the first passover – and there’s an incident which man of us may not be aware of – Gen 24 ‘Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

they ate and drank with God on the mountain . . .

But the OT is but a shadow of the new – for at Sinai it was just the elders – Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him – not just the leaders, not just the elite – now the people are coming up the mountain

This is the Salvation of God! being enacted – Salvation – Life!
And at the heart of that Salvation – at the heart of Life is food

Another word distorted – Company.
Economy – about how we live together becomes about Work and money, so to Company

What is Company??? Latin- Com Panis – Together with Bread

When you share bread together – when we sit together at table – we share Life . . .

Note last week – I spoke of how we oriented ourselves to the Sun, to Life
It is the Same with Food – it give us Life and it points us to Life
Something happens when we face the Light of Life
Something happens when we share food

One of the prime house price drivers in Western countries is simply this – more and more people live alone . . . our relationship with food is distorted in so many ways, but perhaps no more than the fact that we eat for fuel, often alone – when Food is for our shared existence – for it is Life Shared!!

Food is Life Shared

Most especially when it is the life of another . . . So the lamb of God comes up on the mountain

And we are back in other scriptures as Abraham had come up onto the mountain of Moriah

Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

Behold the Lamb of God – upon the mountain . . .

Jesus takes the bread – blesses and breaks it, and it never runs out. Indeed it overflows! We come to this table – we sit and eat with God – and the overflow, the twelve baskets full, enough for each of the disciples, flows on out into the world

All things come from God – he invites us to His table to share in life with him – this is God’s Economy – Keeping Company with God

The Faith of The Church in an age of Personal Faith – Trinity Sunday 2018B

 

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2018
Year B

Isaiah 6:1-6
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

The Faith of the Church
in an age of Personal Faith

At a recent forum, the following question was put to a panel of priests in the Anglican Church, ‘What is your faith?’ What struck me as odd, and which disturbs me all the more, the more I think of it is this, that no one seemed to think it an odd question to put. Indeed it may be that we don’t think it an odd question to put to a priest, indeed anyone baptised into the Church . . . after all, we all have our own personal faith. Some things we choose to believe and some we choose not to, and that is ‘my faith’

We live in an age dominated by the idea that we can choose. To be free to choose is the ‘supreme good’ which we have been trained to worship. The Supermarket with its array of over 150 types of cereals, represents the Cosmos to us, it is our Temple – it places Me the shopper at the very Centre of my own personal Universe of choice, wherein we cry Glory!
Choosing tells us who we are – ‘I choose therefore I am’, and this choosing reaches even unto the most personal matters of my life, indeed of my faith. We not only shop for cereal, we even shop for churches. Is the music to my taste? What of the style of the building? Comfortable chairs or ‘traditional pews’? Is the Vicar nice? Modern emotionally moving songs with a band and a good drummer, or meaningful hymns with a robed choir and aesthetic sensibilities. The choice is yours and as to what you believe . . . If of course your Personal faith includes church going. It may be that in your faith that isn’t necessary. And who is to argue with that! Faith is after all ‘just my opinion’ – Faith on the terms you set.

We live in the Age where ‘The Consumer is King’ failing to recognise that we think this precisely because we have been trained to think that way, that we are at the centre of things with power to choose . . . Yet, Life is not something we choose – it is a Gift, not least manifested in the fact that the very thing that makes us most truly who we are, our parentage, place time of birth . . . these are things we have no choice over – yet they truly make us who we are – something we had no choice over whatsoever. Life is a Gift We are Born into it – and that is the truth of Our Faith

The Israelites cried out in their slavery and oppression in Egypt – and their cry was heard by this strange God who came and rescued them and determined that they would be his people, they would be his children, He trained and taught them his ways . . . and so we must hear the words of Jesus ‘You did not choose me, I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear lasting fruit’ . . . Our Faith – Our Life is spoken to us by Jesus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the Dark. In the Dark about Jesus. He was if you like in the womb of Faith – He thought it was all about his understanding Jesus, about his capacity to grasp what Jesus was on about, but Jesus doesn’t clarify things for Nicodemus, rather he seems to confuse him . . .

it is hardly surprising that often coming upon the Church of Jesus Christ, people are confused . . . for it is not about us grasping faith, it is about Faith grasping us!
You Must be born again! Unless a man be born again he cannot See the Kingdom of God! And Nicodemus at least gets the point that this is something outside his control – ‘but how can a man be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’

Jesus points him to the New Birth – the Work of God in Saving you from your own personal Egypt – , ‘you must be born from above, born of The Spirit’ The Wind blows wherever IT chooses . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit, they didn’t choose . . . It isn’t down to you . . . The Wond blew towards YOU, and you were caught up in this Life, this Faith – – – and this is deeply troubling to us who are children of the age of choice and being at the Centre of things . . .

. . . and how much more troubling that none of the priests who were asked the question ‘What is your faith?’ answered ‘the faith into which I was baptised, the Faith to which I assented at my ordination, the Faith of the Church which confesses The One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit as he has made himself known to the Church, which is the Spirit breathed Body of His Son, Jesus Christ, and as set forth in the ecumenical creeds of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church in which by Grace and through no dessert of my own, I have been included’

A faith which displaces us from the centre, the faith in the God who reveals himself to Isaiah in the Temple – a revealed faith, given to us. A Sacred deposit – not to be tampered with according to our tastes or our moods and whims, according to the Spirit of the Age, but rather a faith which we are called upon to declare afresh to every generation, Faith in the One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the faith of the Church – it is the Faith into which each one of us was baptised – it is what makes us The Church, that community not ‘stuck in the past’ as some would have it, or ‘chasing to keep up with the modern world’, but Like a Tree Rooted, by a Stream, not the stream of history, but the Living Water of Eternity. We are a people Rooted in the Eternal God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. This God is our Life. We exist through Him and for Him. We worship only Him. This is Our Faith, flowing down from the Apostles and prophets

The Faith of the Church – Yet still a Personal faith – just not how we think of personal – and a Personal God – just not how we think of Personal . . .

I remember when God finally got hold of me and that faith into which I had been baptised suddenly sprang to life, through no doing of my own . . . what I noticed was how unbidden the cry of my heart instantly became ‘Father!’ It was to be several years before I noticed what St Paul had written ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’
Since then that cry arising within me from where I do not know, has been at times a reminder of whose child I am, and at times when I have to my everlasting shame strayed from Him, its absence has been a sharp reminder of my true identity and my loss of direction. I remember once, stumbling terribly, the memory haunts me, and realising that that cry had fallen silent, yet in response to its absence, I cried with my own voice, but it wasn’t the same until finally being found once more and taken hold of by the Father

You see it is Personal, Deeply personal – it is an encounter with the Divine Three Personed God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be baptised into the Faith is to be baptised into the very Life of God, and it is no light thing, and nothing we would choose! See! Behold the response of Isaiah in the Temp
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Who in their right minds would choose that!!

This is no carefully and comfortably, made to measure faith – we don’t get to make God up, which is to some a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Why can’t I choose the god whom I serve? Why can’t I make up a creed which suits me? And of course the answer is that nothing is stopping you, and you may have a ready answer to that question, what is your faith? But this is not The One who makes himself known to us in and through Jesus, and His body, The Church

Our Creeds set out this three personned God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every time we recite them we are reminding ourselves of The Personal Faith of The Church as carefully handed down form generation to Generation, the faith of the apostles and prophets, the Spirit breathed, Christ embodied Faith in God . . .

We all indeed may have difficulties with this faith – we are the people of God, and we are notorious for chafing at his gentle yoke, for grumbling that He doesn’t fit what we would look for in a god catalogue, but He is not a god amongst many, He is not the god of the cereal aisles – He is the One whose voice breaks the cedars;
even the cedars of Lebanon.
making Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

flashing forth flames of fire.
shaking the wilderness;
even the wilderness of Kadesh.

causing the oaks to whirl,
and stripping the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’ And all fall on their faces and worship

Our Faith, that is The Faith of the Church SHOULD disturb, for it is not about us. From time to time, perhaps even on a daily basis we will find one person or another of the Trinity troublesome to our prideful discrimination, failing to live up to what we look for in ‘a Modern god’. (conveniently forgetting that what is today Modern is tomorrow passé and out of date.)

As I have reflected on this myself, surprisingly I found that it was the Son, Jesus himself whom I find most difficult . . . I remember a priest once complaining that the words of Jesus ‘doesn’t sound like my Jesus’ and perhaps that is true of us all, that when God faces us in Jesus he doesn’t fit our agendas. That Jesus the social revolutionary, whose attitude towards women overturned so much, still ‘blind to the Patriarchy’ called us to baptise in the name of The Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . Jesus troubles me still – many of his words I’d rather not hear .’loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you’

We can’t let Jesus be who he is, and still have our own faith – that is why they killed him, they wanted a faith of their own making – happy to carve yet another golden calf . . .
but The God raised him up and so still He disturbs us – even now we have to stand before him as did Nicodemus in our Bewilderment, and either flee and decide on a faith of our own which will perish with us, or fall before Him as The Son whom the Father has sent into the World, not to condemn the World, but that the World might be saved through Him, freely giving the Spirit to raise us to all who call upon the Name of the Lord.

Amen

Pentecost Evensong – 2018 – Following Jesus all the way through death to Life

Ezekiel 36:22-28

Acts 2:22-38

‘when they heard this, they were cut to the heart’ Acts 2:37

That wise old sage, GK Chesterton once observed, ‘it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, rather it is that has been found too hard and so not tried’

We tend to think he may be overstating it, but did not Jesus say ‘ ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’
Matt 7:13-14 Suffice to say the words of Jesus mean little to us in these days of our ease . . .

As we have explored through Lent and on through the season of Easter, the seasons of the Church year are given that we might follow Jesus. Not admire him from a distance, but follow him where he goes. When we hear sermons on this topic we tent to romanticise this and ignore the literal command of Jesus – ‘follow me’ – where I am going, you cannot now come, but you will come after.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus has if you will, disappeared from the scene, taken from the sight of the disciples, but in strict obedience to him, they have waited in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on them.

As I said this morning, Pentecost is perhaps in Truth, the Easter of the Church. That is it is the Day when the people of God, following Jesus are raised from the dead. To use Paul’s language ‘you were once dead in your sins and trespasses, but God has made you alive in Christ’ Eph 2:1,5-6

So We might ask, what of us?? Why do we not see these things?? Perhaps the answer is that the Way of Jesus is too hard. For to know the Resurrection, one must have died and descended to the dead, as The Apostles Creed teaches us.

Jesus dies on the Cross – He tells us that we too must die to ourselves – he then visits Hell, and harrows it . . . but do we follow him there, or do we merely wait for Him to return?

One of the very few who have followed the hard and narrow way that leads to life, who have followed Christ into Hell, is the Russian Writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (Other examples I could name are also Russian, it is a hard land 🙂 ) Solzhenitsyn went to Hell and came to life as a Christian, quite literally

He was in his younger years an enthusiastic party member, a Communist, so when Hitler invaded his country, he joined up to ‘fight tyranny’, not realising that the tyranny he was fighting was more than mirrored by the bloody regime he fought for . . . always beware of ‘righteous causes’. The inexorable logic of the Marxists (copied by Capitalists . . .) sought to purge the state by killing the ‘class enemies’. Eventually, having killed the middle classes and the farmers who made a decent fist of things, the beast started to eat itself, and party members were accused and sent to the death camps, the Gulags. Slave camps where people were worked to death, in their tens of millions ( story of which most of us live in ignorance of ).

Of course Solzhenitsyn was at first shocked, after all, he had been a good party member and played by the rules – in his own eyes a good man and now being oppressed by the very system he had supported. He could easily slipped into resentment and hatred. Broad and easy is the way – after all, didn’t he have a right to be angry with ‘those people’? Instead he chose the hard and narrow way.

He undertook a fearless moral inventory. He went back over his entire life with a fine tooth comb, exposed everything to the light, and what he found there at first terrified him, but later became the source of his Wisdom. He realised that he was every bit as bad as those who had sent him there. He realised that radical evil flows not through particular people, it flowed through the veins of every human being. He had been in ignorance, supposing the troubles of the world were ‘those people’ – he found the very source of Hell was within himself.

Yet, thus exposed to the Light and the Truth of himself, he faced the Light, rather than fleeing it – he found a New Life, a previously unimaginable capacity. He could look even on the camp guards with Love and Compassion, for in them he saw himself as he had been. The one who looks with judgement on others, has either not known the truth of himself, or else has forgotten it, and lost that gift of Life

For one must NOT forget . . . One would think that Solzhenytsyn, having got out of the Gulag alive, in the fullest sense would have rejoiced to see the back of it – yet that isn’t his story. He carried it with him, again quite literally. For several years in the Gulag his bed had been a rough wooden cot made of old package cases – on leaving the Gulag he finally exposed the story of the Hell of ideological Marxism writing his famous work, the Gulag Archipelago. In several respects this book played a significant role in deromanticising the Left in the eyes of many in the West, and to the very end of Communism. He went to live in America and was much in demand as a speaker, giving a famous commencement address at Harvard University . . . yet the Gulag went with him. To the day he died, he slept in that same wooden cot. Its lesson was too precious to him. It was through Hell, that he had discovered Heaven. The cot a constant reminder of the Strange Gift of the Gulag

Solzhenitsyn had been resurrected. And it was no surprise that he became a Christian . . . for that is the path to becoming a Christian, it is to Know that Hell is not as Sartre puts it, ‘other people’, it is much closer than that – it is to realise that Hell lies within us – and turn in Hope to the healer, the one who has gone before and reveals the way out. It was as Carl Jung suggests, ‘that which you most truly desire is in the place you least want to go’

Of course, realising that which is within us may not lead to repentance and resurrection if we are turned in on ourselves, if we chose the path of bitterness and despair, rather than that of facing our truth. In the time between the death and Resurrection of Jesus, Judas chose that route, but Peter did not

And so having gone into Hell, it is the resurrected Peter who addresses the crowds on the Day of Pentecost and His bright Light illumined message opened wide his hearers who ‘were cut to the heart’ – the evil of their heart laid bare.

‘let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’

The evil of their hearts was laid bare – subjected to the dazzling brilliance of Truth and Light. From the darkness of death they cried out ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ and Peter replied ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

Repent . . . ‘turn away from your wickedness – turn towards the Brilliant light which has exposed you, for it is the Burning Sun of the Love of God which forgives yes, even you, for He has forgiven Me! Take your place with St Paul who also knows himself to be ‘the chief of sinners’ – and you will receive the Life beyond all human hope – the Very Life of God himself – The Holy Spirit, the Life which death itself is powerless to contain.

Like the Gulag for Solzhenitsyn, the Resurrection of Pentecost is a Strange and disturbing gift. Tongues of flame – burning truth in preaching from these unlearned Galileans.

We are faced with a question we never thought of – ‘do you wish to be raised from the dead? Is the Truth something to be fled from in the sleep of death, or faced in all its burning and healing Light?

These Strange Gifts come to us in strange readings. This morning we heard of the vision of Ezekiel – of the valley of dry bones and the question of the LORD – ‘Son of Man, can these bones live?’ A vision of a people coming to life beyond all human hope – a people who were saying “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Would they want to . . .

Tonight we hear from the same prophet, the Word of the LORD – ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’ It is that promise of Resurrection, for all those who have followed Jesus into the place where in human terms all hope is cut off, into Hell . . . we may well ask, why do we not see the promise of the Father? Is it because in truth we do not want to?

Is not this us? Beyond Hope? Perhaps we need to take Jesus at his word and follow him.

Seek the Light which exposes the heart – dare to face the Light and the Truth – and you shall be saved . . .

Pentecost 18 – Awaiting the Resurrection of the people of God

Pentecost 2018
Ezekiel 37
Acts 2

Awaiting The Resurrection of the people of God

At Easter, reflecting on the experience of the women at the tomb who ‘fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ we were reminded that the Resurrection of Jesus dismantles, shatters and devastates all our ways of understanding the world in which we believe we live. But we should be very careful of merely reflecting, of pondering and wondering, of casual day dreaming . . . before we, getting on with our lives, before getting back to what we have become accustomed to calling ‘the real world’, and move onto the next thing. Of course we are quick to dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus, to infantilize it into a vague wish for the future and ‘a better world’ for it calls into question nothing less than our very existence
Rather we need to sit with it, to Wait on this Word of life which was from the beginning – to ask, ‘what does this mean?’ – to allow it to do its work in us. This isn’t our work – it is God’s work and we must allow that space, or ignore the Resurrection, to our eternal loss. And we have been commanded to this waiting.

Last week we considered the Lord’s command to us, to Wait! To Wait for the promise of the Father – to stay put, until we were clothed with power from on high and in the Church Year we see what happens when we are thus obedient to the LORD – the Day of Pentecost – a Day equally marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment

‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’.

Only the most casual amongst us would pretend that we understand what this means . . . indeed if we dare face the Truth, we find ourselves not amongst the disciple community, but in and amongst the crowds. Even we who unthinkingly bear the name of Christ find this beyond our Knowledge . . .

We are in the crowds who see this disciple community, declaring the mighty acts of God, each of us hearing it without any need of translation, and with the crowd we ask ’What does this mean?’

Perhaps the greatest distortion of the Christian message is to transform it into something about ‘what happens when we die’. In a sense it is, but not in the sense we have comfortably taken into our lives. Treating out faith as a pass for a nice future ‘after this life’ causes us to dismiss it entirely – it is literally a ‘grave’ deception.

If we truly seek an answer to the question ‘what does this mean’? We must go with the disciples on the Emmaus Road, and allow the Risen Christ to ‘open [our] minds to understand the scriptures’. We by baptism the people of God, have been given the Scriptures that we might know what this means. How quick we are to turn to anything except the Scriptures to come us with an explanation for ‘these things that have happened’ Perhaps we find the question all but impossible to answer from the Scriptures, for they like these things that have happened are alien to ‘life in the real world’

Of course if we are to turn to the Scriptures, we must of course first recognise who we are, the people of God, baptised into His name. That apart form Him we can do nothing, that apart from what he reveals we know nothing. That the Scriptures are not just ‘another source of wisdom we can dwell on,’ but that they are God’s gift, they are our very life support. For the answer to the question, ‘what does this mean?’ is found in the Scriptures, over and over again.

We might say, well Peter explains from the prophet Joel . . . as we have heard so many times, and become accustomed to it, yet not questioned why this Pentecost outpouring is so alien to ‘our own lives’ – so perhaps another Scripture might wake us once more. And here we come to our OT reading from Ezekiel. ‘What does this mean’?
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ Before we respond from either naive acquaintance ‘Yes of Course!, or from the cave of ‘life in the real world’ ‘no’ – we ought to pause – If the strangeness of Easter and Pentecost has taught us anything, at the very least it ought to teach us humility in the face of existence – so perhaps in humility we may respond with the Son of Man – ‘O Lord God, you know.’

Why the dry bones? What are they? Who are they? ‘Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

We are cut off completely. We have been captivated, enthralled, literally been enslaved by the lives we have made for ourselves, lives which can only wither for their source is in themselves. They are not trees by streams drawing life from beyond them. Indeed perhaps in this age unlike no other we have lost sense of life beyond us which we may draw upon

Who are they? As we have pondered often, what do we see of the church in these days? Would we not also cry out “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

It is of note that this reading is used in the Easter dawn vigil – as we wait on the resurrection of Jesus ‘early on the first day of the week’, for it concerns mot the resurrection f an individual, but that of a whole people . . . what is the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the King of God’s people the Jews, if it is not the Resurrection of the whole people?

They lie in the dust of death, through ‘ignorance and unbelief’ – choosing ‘life on their own terms’ they have not listened to the voice of the one who addresses them from heaven, that Life, and so they are dead. Dead in trespasses and sin.

‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive – together with Christ’

The disciples Wait – because they know they are dead in trespasses and sin. Dry bones do not live of their own accord – they must Wait!

There is a clue to this in what we have come to call Jesus’ restoration of Peter. Actually it is better to call it Jesus confronting Peter with his sin. Why is Peter distressed because jesus asked him the third times ‘do you love me?’ because Jesus is confronting him with his sin. Peter wants to forget, wants to think that it never happened, that he really can do it on his own, if only he is given a second chance. Jesus reveals to him that he cannot. It is the Word of Jesus to Peter – so he has nothing but the command of Jesus to rest on now, to Wait till Life comes ‘from above’, till he is norm again. That Life is the source of the tongues of flame, of the proclamation of the mighty acts of God, and of Peter’s boldness in preaching, in answering the question ‘what does this mean?’ because he himself has known what it is to be raised from the Dead. He has been there, and the Lord has lifted him up

This is the meaning of these things – the disciple community, knowing themselves to have no hope apart from Christ, knowing themselves to be dead in trespasses and sin, began the journey of obedience, Waiting for the promise of the Father, and God made them alive – together with Christ. Easter and Pentecost are one. Jesus the Obedient one is raised to life in triumph, so to his people – those who show themselves to be his people by Waiting on him

Here is the dilemma we face. A problem created by the Church year – which is a gift, but can be a hindrance. For if we are not careful, we will just move on, in part we will listen to the voice which sees the Apostles clothes in power and subtly suggests, ‘move along, nothing to see here. this is nothing to do with you . . .’

But if we are the people of God, then it is EVERYTHING to do with us.

Maybe it is precisely because this Day of Pentecost is such a day marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment,  demolishing our impoverished way of understanding, that we move so swiftly on . . .

May we be a people who WAIT. Wait like Lazarus for that voice that calls us from beyond ourselves and our the live we have made for ourselves, that calls us out of the illusion we have come to call ‘The Real World’, which is never more than our vain imaginings . . May we be a people who Know that apart from that Word we can do nothing. May we like Peter Know our condition and wait for the voice until it summons us forth until it Raises us.

The Voice of Jesus to Lazarus is also the voice of Jesus to all those called by His name in this day. A Loud Voice crying out to us from beyond the grave, the sleep of death which is the life we have made for ourselves, summoning us to something beyond our understanding, a world where Christ is all and is in all.

Amen

Do not harden your heart!

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday March 18th, 2017

Psalm 95
Exodus 7:8-24
Romans 5:12-21

‘Harden not your hearts’

As today is Passion Sunday, it is worth reminding ourselves of some words of Jesus from the cross – ‘Father, forgive them, for they now not what they do’, a saying which is echoed in our confession, ‘we have sinned in ignorance’. The reality is that we have very little idea about anything. The world is complex and subtle far beyond our imaginings. The people we live amongst, even those we think we know well, are profound mysteries to us. Not one of us has the remotest inkling what it is like to be another person, let alone a tree, or a dog, or a stone. We are phenomenally ignorant, which goes some way to explain the state of the world we inhabit – the metaphor ‘bull in a china chop’ always seems appropriate as we consider the Creation and our place in it. Strangely in an age when in a sense human knowledge has expanded hugely, it is as if this has got worse not better. The illusion that ‘we know better nowadays’ is not born out in the world as it is. Modern humans are more out of balance with the Creation than in any age in history. We know very little of what seems to matter to our very existence.

This is why the Scriptures are full of warnings. A very few, like the commandments, are explicit and clear – murdering or committing adultery, lying or failing to rest – live like this and things will turn out bad for you. But most of life is complicated beyond our capacity to comprehend, and so the Scriptures weave their deeper warnings into story – for in a sense that is precisely what we live in, Story. Reading the human story in Scripture teaches us who we are and where we are and how we should then live.

One example of these warnings is ‘beware of those things which ‘look pleasant to the eye’’ – or ‘you are not very good at judging what is good and what is not!, so learn a deeper discrimination’

So Eve ‘seeing that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, took of its fruit and ate’ . . . She saw, she grasped and she would not let go . . . and it did not turn out well

Again there is a moment in the story of Abraham where his herdsmen are falling out with the herdsmen of his nephew Lot and so they separate and Abraham gives Lot the choice of where to go – ‘Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastwards’ Despite finding himself in a short space of time in a war zone in which he and his family are taken captive and require to be rescued by Abraham, he continues to ‘sojourn in Sodom’ He sees, he grasps, and he won’t let go, and at the last when Sodom is destroyed, Lot’s wife cannot let go of this Dark place and is turned to a pillar of Salt.

Warning – beware of your ability to see well – do not grasp – choose wisely – and learn to let things go . . .

Well this evening’s Old Testament reading carries a serious warning to the one who listens, ‘who listen to the voice of the LORD’ Ps 95:8 What is the story trying to tell us, if we have ears to hear.

Pharaoh is in his own eyes ‘Lord of all he surveys’ – it is all HIs – he Possesses it and that includes the Israelites whom he has enslaved – they are his property. So when Moses and Aaron come before him with a request to ‘let go of the thing he has grasped’ he dismisses them. He will not let go and through the ensuing plagues of which we heard a little, earlier, he grasps tighter and tighter.
As the story tells us – ‘he hardened his heart’ – and Here is a very severe warning here.
If we are alert to the narrative as it goes on, repeatedly we hear ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened . . .’ It is strange that often people will not let go of something which is harming them – and the greater the harm the more we might hold on . . . it may only be a small thing – a harboured resentment perhaps, but we can all too easily cling to such a thing and its power for evil grows and grows. This is one manifestation of what the scriptures call ‘the demonic’, for all to often such things literally take on a life of their own. They become ‘the desire of our heart’

Indeed we may be able to trace something of it within our own hearts. Bitterness, greed, resentment, deception, a grudge . . . these things which we think we control, have control of us – or to use a much maligned word, Sin reigns . . . and like grasping things – it doesn’t lead us to a good place. We’ll return to Sin in a few moments, but first we need to unpack the Dire warning in the story of Pharaoh which is this

As we follow the narrative through the gradually increasing plagues we read over and over ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ but towards the end there is a terrifying change. First we read that Pharaoh hardened his [own] heart. That is it became conscious for him – to put it in the explicit and terrifyingly accurate vernacular, he says in his heart ‘I’ll be damned if I let them go . . .’

We might say that at this point, what was unconscious, knowing not what he did, became a conscious decision. After the next plague we read ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ In other words there is nothing he can now do to reverse things, his heart is ‘set as stone’ . . . and so to the denouement in Genesis 9:12 – following the plague of boils – ‘But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . .’ God gives us the true desire of our heart . . . the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . . Pharaoh will not let go and goes deeper into corruption until it is revealed that that is what he truly wants and seals the wish of Pharaoh’s heart This is one of the most terrifying verses in the Scripture . . .

As Dante sees the souls bound for perdition he sees that they curse God – no longer might they cry for mercy for they are intractably bound to that which they will not let go. It has become for them a consuming passion and leads only to death . . . and the LORD hardens their hearts. Or as CS Lewis puts it – ‘Hell is locked on the inside . . .’

So Pharaoh in all his wealth and power is set before us as a grave warning . . . What is the remedy?

BUT GOD . . . As we read in St Paul’s letter to the Romans – a remedy for Sin has been provided, in that God in Jesus, While we were yet ‘dead in sins and trespasses’ died for us . . . Paul goes on to explain how though through one man, Adam, Sin entered the world, by the death of one Man, Jesus Christ, Grace, forgiveness and righteousness abounded to many. Miracle of miracles – that which brought death to us, Sin, is overturned and Death becomes the Gate of Life . . .

So, then we might say – why worry about the story of Pharaoh? ‘if it all turns out right in the end’? This was what Paul was accused of preaching ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in Sin that Grace may abound? By No Means! How shall we who have died to Sin live any longer in it . . .

This is the clear teaching of Jesus. in John’s gospel, twice Jesus heals and forgives and then warns the person – ‘leave your life of Sin’ – or ‘stop sining or something worse will happen to you . . .’

It is a very false reading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – to say that because Jesus died, the overwhelming love of God is revealed – and so sin no longer matters . . . but this is a fools paradise. One moments reflection on the Hell of so much of the world, and perhaps the Hell of our own hearts reveals that this is not so. Sin, like the bull in the China shop, does untold, often irreparable damage. Rather we look to what it cost God in Christ to save us from our Sin, to save us from ourselves and we resolutely set out, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, strengthening, encouraging ud, driving us forward, Comforting us in the true sense – no longer to live in Sin. We do not look back. We let go.

This failure to respond to the Saving Love of God is laid out for us in the Old Testament as well as the new. God in his Love and Mercy for Israel, rescues them from slavery in Egypt. From wretchedness and Hell – and brings them out into the wilderness that there they might learn of Life – rather like young children – having to learn that which leads to life and that which does not. ‘Eat Well!’ ‘Don’t put your hand in the fire!’ ‘Seek the Good everywhere and always,!’ ‘Shun that which is evil . . . ‘but they, although they had been the recipients of such a great Salvation, such a rescue, start to whine and complain and also harden their hearts and so do not enter the promised land . . . St Paul says ‘all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition upon whom the end of the ages has come’

So the psalmist having given glory to God – ‘Come let us sing unto the Lord . . . ‘ goes on

O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.’
Therefore in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’

Today – Hear his voice – harden not your hearts – for God in Christ approaches his Passion – to die for the Sin of the World, to bear its consequences, that Grace may abound.

Let us not neglect so great a salvation – rather let us set our hearts and minds on God’s Goodness revealed, reach out to take hold of THAT – and let go of al that would hinder us

Amen

 

Where are you from . . . Advent 3 – Year B 2017

Sermon for Advent 3 – Year B – 2017
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

‘Where are you from?’ This is a question which most of us are asked at one time or another, not least if you have a ‘foreign’ accent! The other day Sarah and I were in a local shop and the owner, who was obviously English asked us this question and we took great delight in replying ‘Roslyn’ 🙂

Of course it is in a sense a not entirely truthful answer, perhaps we ought to have said, from England, but then the more you think about it, the more we realise that ‘where are you from?’ is a very deep question – a question that ought to give us pause. Like the polite enquiry, ‘how are you?’, it requires a deeper more significant answer than we often give it . . .

Of course in a sense here in New Zealand we might be aware of a sense that there is a deeper answer, for Tangata Whenua introduce themselves in deep terms of who they are in terms of where they come from, my mountain, my river, my waka, my iwi, my whanau – a sense of ‘coming from’ or having our roots in a much bigger story than ‘where I live at the moment’, a sense of coming out from a river of human history that has a source in the deep past – a way of self understanding that is almost diametrically opposed to our Modern way of understanding, where a little like the Prodigal Son our roots are something we put little store by, where we come from is a place we are trying to get away from, to forget our Home, our Source – trying to ‘make a life for ourselves . . .’ Where are you from?

Advent, a season of preparation to receive one who is coming to us – but from Where . . . ?
When Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, who is growing increasingly panicked by the crowd but also by the silence of this Galilean prophet, he asks in his anxiety, ‘Where are you from?’ It is as if he sees something in Jesus which suggests that Jesus is ‘not from around here’ . . . and so it is with the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord whom we remember on this 3rd Sunday of the season. John, John the Baptist we are introduced to him as one sent ahead . . . but from where??

Mark in his gospel, a gospel which as Bishop Steven said last week is abrupt – it pulls us up – it lacks the niceties of the other gospels – Mark introduces John thus ‘John . . . appeared in the wilderness . . .’ Just like that! It’s as if he just pops into existence – where are you from John?

But our own John, the Evangelist gives us an answer to that question ‘There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John . . .’ This question, where are you from which is so significant to our identity is one which John answers unequivocally for his namesake – John the Forerunner is ‘sent from God’ He comes from God

A couple of weeks ago I asked if we realised where we were? If we had a sense of our place in the Creation – how we fitted in – how our existence was woven into the life of the trees and the birds. Certainly on the whole, to be a Modern person is to have lost that sense. Just in the way we move around so freely, the very idea of Home is one which is disappearing from our senses. Home of course is one way of answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ – but where is Home?

Jesus comes to ‘bring us home’ To bring us to our sense, to reveal to us who we really are, and John who bears witness to Jesus, like Jesus comes from God. John isn’t sent ‘by’ God, he is sent ‘from God’

This reminds me so strongly of a story I told just a few weeks ago of an elderly lady who was dying and who was asked by her doctor, ‘where are you from?’ To which she replied without a moments hesitation ‘From God’ – and being baptised and knowing her faith well she might have used the words which described Jesus, ‘knowing that he had come from God and was going back to God.

The ministry of John the baptist is marked by a remarkable freedom – he wears strange clothes, he eats strange food, he lives in strange places. When asked who he is, He proclaims without fear that he is ‘just’ the voice of one who cries in the wilderness – or put another way, he is the mouthpiece of God himself – that the Life in Him is the very Life of God bearing witness to that Life coming into the world in Jesus Christ – a Life that comes from somewhere else – Where are you from??

We can ourselves only bear witness to that Life of Jesus, to the Good News, if we ourselves have that same life in us, or put another way, if we know from where we have come from. If like the old lady we know we have come from God and are going to God – if our Life suggests we are from somewhere else . . . to know as Jesus says that we have been ‘born from above’

As we shall hear once more this coming week – to whoever believed in his name Jesus gives the power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. . . .

To be Christian is not as the wider world puts it, to belong to a certain religious group – no, it is to be one who has been brought home, to know who we are, and where we are and where we are from, to where we are going – it is to hear the words of Scripture as God our Father speaking to us, and to know his life flowing through us – it is to know that in this sacrament of the Eucharist, God feeds us with His Life in Christ

Home – a place of rich stories, a place of wonderful meals, a place buried deep in our human memory. As this season of the year awakens so very many memories, may we Know deep within ourselves the answer to the question . . .

Where are you from?

And so, ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.’

Amen

GOD in the everyday . . .

Sermon for Evensong
12 after Trinity
2018

Exodus 2:23 – 3:10
Hebrews 13:1-15

God in the everyday . . .

So we gather again, for the first time for a few weeks, and in the meantime we’ve missed quite a chunk of Scripture, not least successive readings from the interestingly titled ‘Epistle to the Hebrews’.

I guess that the title may have escaped our attention, but perhaps it throws some light on the deep roots of our faith. As I trust we are well aware, Judaism at the time of Jesus was far from being monolithic. St Paul, you may remember skilfully uses the significant differences between the sect of the Pharisees and that of the Saducees to deflect attention from himself when they both turn up to accuse him of undermining the faith. Perhaps more difficult for us is the constant use by our own St John of the terms ‘The Jews’ throughout his Gospel. Echoes of the C20 and indeed bad blood between Christendom and the Jewish Diaspora from the middle ages might lead us to wonder if it is antisemitic. Yet, John himself is in some sense Jewish. The actual word John uses is Judeans, suggesting it is more subtle than this, and most scholars tend to the opinion that ‘the Jews’ here are the Pharisees, and perhaps some of their close allies. Certainly it is clear, reading John, you have some coalition of powerful groups, engaged with the Roman puppet Herod, who are troubled that the Jesus movement is destabilising the carefully crafted particular relationship between the Romans and those a coalition of those Jewish groups who had emerged from the Babylonian exile some centuries earlier. Holding on to life s they know it, not open to Life that comes fro above

Back to the Hebrews – the word is one which occurs early in the story of Israel, but disappears later on in the history. Are they a particular perhaps persecuted sect within the Judaism of the time of Jesus? Is Jesus himself ‘a Hebrew’? Well these are speculative questions, but one thing is clear, that the epistle to the Hebrews is quite unlike the Pauline letters, and addresses themes of the old worship of God in the tabernacle and first Temple period. Certainly there is a strong critique of the Second Temple and its cult suggested in its pages – and this comes briefly into view in our reading this evening. And of course this is also very much called into question by Jesus himself, who cleanses the Temple in all four gospels. This is not as Modern ears might have it a ‘critique of religion and religiosity’ That is to read it through lenses appropriated from the world around us.
The new language is of a cleansed Temple and another altar of sacrifice So much of Hebrews is concerned with matters which are strange to our ears, not unlike its closest relative – The Revelation of or from Jesus Christ . . . Perhaps it is both (Never forget that these words are the opening line of The Revelation – the world of early Christianity is not one with which most of us are very familiar, and popular modern notions of the faith are in many ways a world away from these deep roots, perhaps to our very significant loss)

Yet, this weeks reading has perhaps a little less of that strangeness, except the mention of angels, a significant feature of the apocalyptic aspects of the early faith – and ‘an altar of sacrifice, from which those who worship in the tabernacle have no authorisation to eat. Much of the rest speaks of a certain homeliness – of simple exhortations the sort of which we imagine as a moral code for a good life, which if we are not careful we confuse with the faith of the Church in Christ Jesus. the sort of thing that has folk saying, ‘well I live a good life and don’t believe in God, so what’s your problem’ (Of course with so many saying this, one might ask, why is the world in such a stew given that everyone claims to live a good life . . .)

This ordinariness seems almost at odds with the rest of the epistle, and even moreso with regards to our reading from Exodus – of Moses at the burning bush . . . yet I would like to suggest that it is the burning bush which alerts us to the extraordinariness of ‘ordinary life’, which awakes us to the presence of angels and indeed speaks to us deeply of another altar at which we might eat.

It is the Revelation of the strange God of the Scriptures, most fully manifested in Jesus Christ which alerts us to living in a world of which we have little cognisance – that the world is not as we had thought. And we would do well not to flee in incomprehension from these strange texts which call us out of our small lives into something infinitely greater in which we are undoubtedly caught up, did we but see, were it revealed to us . . . and that Revelation comes to us not in the midst of the myriad distractions of life, but in time spent away from these things.

Moses has had to flee from Pharaoh. He has ended up in Midian and there found a wife and is looking after the sheep of his father in law, Jethro. He is in the wilderness. Separated from his people, in a foreign land doing . . . well not doing very much at all really. Alert yes to the threat of lions and wolves and the rest, but largely unoccupied.

It is in this context of withdrawal from the world that he has this Revelation of God, much as John many many years later, is exiled to the Island of Patmos where he receives the Revelation of or from Jesus Christ. And this revelation is Essential to our faith. Apart from the encounter with the living God, we do not even begin in the way of Christ. and the place of encounter is always the Empty space, a space not full of our own beings and doings, our own at times infinite sense of self importance.

Of course one doesn’t have to be tending sheep in the desert, or exiled to an island to know such an encounter, but one does need to be at a loose end, unoccupied, not pre-occupied, not distracted by many things.

Moses we might say has attention to spare, and that indeed is a rare rare gift in our day . . . execially and perhaps most tragically for our children, whose anxious parents will not allow them to find themselves at a loose end but endlessly fill their days and provide ‘gadgets’ that they might not cry out ‘I’m bored!!’
Not one teacher of our faith whose teachings have continued to echo down the centuries would find a problem with boredom, or being unoccupied. For it is only when we have attention to spare that we might perchance allow our gaze to wander and notice a tree, or a branch, or a bud, or a lade of grass, and discover it to be ablaze with the glory of God

And so it is wth how we See Jesus Christ. In our day – we see more and more only the surface. One facet of ‘spiritual matters’ I find almost everywhere is the separation of the person of Jesus of Nazareth from the Christ. We look at ‘Jesus’ and see a carpenters son, or even a fine religious teacher, but we do not see with depth, our eyes skim the surface. And so it is not uncommon for people to speak of, on one hand, Jesus, and on the other The Christ, and fail to see the Anointed one – aflame with the Spirit of the Living God. The true Image of God – ablaze in our midst. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it in ‘Aurora Leigh’ – ‘man, the twofold creature, who apprehends the twofold manner, in and outwardly’

to See truly the nature of our ‘ordinary’ lives – we need to See to behold the one who is in all and through all. It is our meditation upon the person of God in jesus Christ which opens our eyes to the truth of our existence. It causes us not to rush away from awkward and difficult texts – rather to see in them a reflection of our own simple ignorance. and indeed it calls us to see the truth of those around us – but it is only the Love of God with all we have and are, made possible through this apprehension of God in the empty spaces which leads us to a true love of neighbour as ourself

A couple of quotes to close – one from CS Lewis

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

And to close – Barrett Browning

But man, the twofold creature, apprehends
The twofold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him,
A mere itself,

—cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And built up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God.

‘There’s nothing great
Nor small’, has said a poet of our day,
Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell:

And truly, I reiterate, nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim;
And (glancing on my own thin, veinèd wrist),
In such a little tremor of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more from the first similitude.

My we not be caught unaware

Amen

‘I have food to eat of which you do not know’ Have we come to know this food?

Sermon notes for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity

John 6:35,41-45

‘I have food to eat of which you do not know’

Do you know this food?

Food is something with which we have become obsessed – we talk about it more than ever before and eat worse than ever before.

Recently I’ve been reading a fascinating book on diet, and why generally they don’t work – because of our micro biomes – that is the trillions of immigrants our body hosts which invade from moments after we are born and take up residence all over us and in our gut especially

The book is full of interesting things, like, did you know that you can take a swab from your armpit, and make cheese form the fungus growing there?

Well I don’t wish anyone to rush out and by yet more antiseptic hand washes etc. (Which seem to do us far far more harm than good . . .) . . . but it’s interesting to note that it is unseen things which have such an impact on us, indeed to a degree controlling what we eat, how we feel, and even perhaps what we think . . .

For what we think is amazingly malleable and open to manipulation of all sorts – so you can take a particular fungus – and culture it, and tell people that the smell is a cheese, and they will respond positively, or tel them that it is sweaty socks and they will not respond so kindly. 🙂 and the truth?? It is both 🙂 the same fungus can make a particular cheese as makes that interesting odour 🙂

(Or perhaps there’s a food snob thing going on here, when we say an expensive cheese smells like sweaty socks . . . )

our sense are fooled by things we don’t see – even our vision

Advert with youth and elderly woman holding a handbag . . . he is running to steal it – we draw back – a large packing case is falling towards her – he is rushing to save her

And of course they didn’t see truthfully the one coming to save them

you’ll remember last week when I spoke of the disciples as Jesus prepared to feed the crowds – of how they could only see the world through the lens of the economics of Pharaoh, or the emperor – only those who carried the denarius, the coins for a day’s labour, which carried the mark of the Emperor, or perhaps, the mark of the Beast? – only those who had this could eat . . . and the disciples could see nothing else

So too the crowds themselves. Jesus tells them they go after him, not because they saw the sign – they only came after him because he filled their stomachs

They say “Is this man not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know’

What are they saying – they only see the man. What is more they only see him in terms of where he has come from, as far as they can see. He has come from Joseph – and we know where Joseph has come from, we know his mother and father . . . interestingly, there is no mention here of Mary, the mother of Jesus . . . but another day

As Jesus says elsewhere – you do not see me, you do not know me, because you do not know my Father. Only the one from God has seen the Father – but those who listen to the Father see who I am

As I have said over the last few weeks – the Scriptures can be thought of as spokes on the wheel of a bicycle – on their own, not seen with respect to the whole, they are unremarkable and can point anywhere. Indeed this is often how we use scriptures – but they form a coherent whole like the spokes of a wheel, when put together and we stand back and we see. they point to Christ Jesus himself. ‘The Scriptures testify about me’ Jesus himself says . . . like the photo of the young man and the elderly woman, it is only when we stand back that we see the saviour

These spokes come to a focus in the gospels, and I would like to suggest, the gospels come to their focus in John. listening to the words of the crowd – “Is this man not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know’ we may well be thinking ‘didn’t we have this reading recently? Yes and no, we listened recently to Mark’s gospel, chapter six, where the people of Nazareth said – he is the carpenters son. His mother and brothers are here – and so seeing purely in human terms they fail to see who he is. So the crowds here in John focus on Jesus known humanity, whilst and do not perceive where he is from – ‘How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven”’ they do not See

The gospels come to a focus here in John, perhaps in these very chapters for Who Jesus is is the key theme of these chapters. Here in Chapter 6 we get everything coming together and it is revealed in the language of the gospel. There are powerful negatives – I am the bread of life – who comes to me will most assuredly will never, will not, will not hunger, they will not, will not thirst – and then – over and over again ‘Truly, Truly I say to you’ Four times within these few verses – Amen, Amen – a Solemn and binding statement. ‘Amen Amen – I say to you, the one who has faith has eternal life. I am the bread of Life”

I wonder if your remember the old J Arthur Rank films – at the beginning someone came out and stuck an enormous Gong – Most assuredly not! Amen, Amen. Boom, Boom Boom – Everything is resonating as we come towards the very truth of lIfe itself – found in Jesus Christ.

Which begs a question – have we found this life in Christ Jesus for ourselves. Here and now – in and amongst us? No one can come to me, Jesus says, unless the father draw him – everyone who listens to the Father and takes instruction from him, comes to me . . . and then Jesus starts to talk of himself as this food . . .

I think that we can know in a sense that we have seen Jesus for who he is – that we have come to know Him, if for example in our reading of the Scriptures we find a deep hunger satisfied – if they lead us into worship of God in Christ. If we can say out of our depths with St Thomas, My Lord and my God.

I recently heard a bishop complain that some of the clergy only read scripture in order to prepare for Sunday – I could hear what he was getting at – if their only focus was to write a sermon – but the riches of Christ are such that if we have come to know an love him, even a single word from his lips feeds us over and over, it is enough.

If we have discovered with Christ Jesus and in him the truth that ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. if we have discovered that deep satiation on reading these Scriptures which attest to Jesus Christ

This is Eternal Life – the Life of God breaking into our life, that our hunger now is for God himself in Christ. Thus we know that we have been drawn by the Father into his life, that we feed on it, in word, and as we shall see next week and the week after, in the Sacrament

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

Ad Orientem – Trinity +8 YrB 2018

Sermon notes – Sunday July 22nd, 2018
8 after Trinity – Year B

Making the two one – One Body – One Direction

Return after trip to UK – doubly jet lagged!

Where am I? What time is it? Profoundly Dislocated and Disoriented

Out of touch with existence – those things which properly locate us in the world – Tim and Space

End of June this year – Fb posts celebrating Anniversaries – a place in time. Profoundly ordinary, except, they were from folk celebrating the 20th anniversary of their ordination . . . And this I found troubling -indeed I always have.

England – two colleagues celebration services for 40 years of ordained ministry – whilst a curate – the Revd John Vipond – 70 years!

But no one celebrating the years since their baptism . . . That which Unites all Christians – their baptism. gives us a Place – in One Body. The celebration of that which divides??

Church docs – you’d think they had this right – but no. GSTHW16 clergy care – “being under Holy Orders in an ecclesiastical office is a claim by God on the whole of the life of ordained persons. Ordination changes the relationship between the ordained person, God and the rest of the body of Christ. Through ordination they enter a place of responsibility within the Church that is accountable to God.”
This had me screaming, NO!! Baptism does this!! Not ordination

Oh for the day when the church makes as much fuss over a baptism as it does over an ordination . . .

We believe in the priesthood of all believers – this goes back to Exodus – first the people are declared to be ‘a kingdom of priests’, Then you have the specific priestly order within Israel, the Aaronic priesthood – which reveals the character of the whole people. But we have at once elevated the ministry of the ordained Over the whole body – and minimised baptism . . . to the cost of us all

St Paul – For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. – Jew and Gentile – Jews Clean – Gentiles unclean. Two classes – out of them he makes a Holy Temple, his One body.

The separation of lay and ordained is contrary to God’s work in Christ

anniversaries, Time

Space?

The difference has been exacerbated in our lifetime by liturgical changes, in the shape of the Eucharist

Before going to the UK we were exploring this true nature of Space and the flow of Gods Grace, from Goe, through the people of God who look to him for Life itself – and then out into the world. This was modelled at the Eucharist. The liturgical shape embodied the spiritual reality – everyone face East. East towards the Sun, that which in the Creation speaks to us of the eternal.

At baptism, you faced west to renounce the devil and all his works, and then you faced East towards the rising Sun, to be oriented to God, that God might have a total claim on your life
At the Eucharist we have the great thanksgiving – offered to ??? God! By??? the whole people of God!! We are to be directed all of us to God – but back in the last century, the clergy started to face the people – put another way, the Church in the West turned in on itself. We faced one another, and it is perhaps no surprise that the rapid decline in the life of the church dates from around the same time . . .

Rather we should all face the same way – towards that Life that is the bread from heaven, with which the LORD feeds his people.

Time and space are Created Realities, they are given us to embody the KoG amongst ourselves in our worship. They Matter, because they are part of the Creation which St Paul says “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” So supremely the invisible Logos, the Word of God, takes on flesh, the unseen becomes seen, the eternal shares in our temporality – and thus all creation is revealed as a manifestation of His glory

Last time, I recounted how we were a people Eternally oriented – towards the Father in our life together – and so oriented as eternal within time, so also in space – we turn together to God in worship

The Flow of Grace – touching the eternal

Sermon notes
Sunday – Five after Trinity – YrB 2018

Psalm 8
2 Cor 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

The Flow of Grace – touching the Eternal

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

Metaphysics – and ontology
The Science of Faith

Our Father – Orients us

Psalm 8 – places us

Such thinking was very common but is something we have lost – to our detriment

All good and perfect gifts come from the father of lights

Jesus is perfectly oriented to the Father – this is what it means when we say ‘Christ Jesus is the Image of the invisible God – the firstborn over all creation’

So Life Flows through Him
the kingdom comes from heaven to earth Through him

I only do what I see the Father doing

How interesting that it is this poor woman from whom her life has quite literally been flowing these 12 years who has faith in Jesus. She recognises the flow of Grace, of Life. She doesn’t just have ‘some medical condition’ – literally her Life is flowing out of her body

And Jesus is immediately ‘knew in himself that power had gone out from him’ – The flow of Life, of Grace, of Goodness – New Creation – Literally the Kingdom of God comes Through Him. Through His body!

The Human placed betwixt heaven and Earth – the conduit of the Life of God – the Life that is Eternal

Jesus is always giving his life away to those who look to the heavens – The Cross is the fullest expression of the Image of God – pouring out His Life for the sake of the world.

This is why we are called to repentance – to orient ourselves towards The Heavenly One
To be conduits of Eternal Life

The Giving of Which Paul speaks is utterly natural to those who know the truth of the Kingdom – the Grace of God which is to flow through us. We do not carefully calculate – we give to all who ask of us. This Life is the eternal life – it is the daily manna from heaven – it is the Life of Christ In Us

this is why we pray our Father, and often.