Recording of my answers to questions supplied by members of our AAW group
Recording of my answers to questions supplied by members of our AAW group
Sermon notes for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018
“The Way of Jesus, and the way of the world”
‘Hi brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples will see the work that you do; For no one does something in secret and expects to be in public view; if you do these things reveal yourself to the World” for his brothers did not have faith in him’ John 7:3-5 DB-H
I once received a phone call from Buckingham Palace. (Not because the Queen wanted me to form a new government . . .)
My Church Warden had died and he had been a Lord Lieutenant of the County – the Queen’s Official Representative – so the now Lrd Lt was coming to the funeral, with Mrs Lrd Lt – and there were ‘protocols to be observed’ Special chairs at the front – I was expected as the Vicar to be on hand to show them to their seats – meanwhile the villagers had been crowding in from early to find a seat anywhere – cramped up at the back . . .
The Words of James seemed ‘other worldly’ – My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . Do you really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ . . .??
I was at a church gathering recently when someone said, ‘we must be careful here, or we will become counter cultural’ the person to my knowledge seemed to assume that this would be ‘NOT a good thing’ . . . but the way of culture is precisely to be enamoured of wealth and position . . . it is a human given, and we ought to ask why?
Perhaps an answer can be found in the temptations of Jesus, who throughout shuns the way of the World – once again we hear how he ‘ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’’ Of how after he had fed the 5000 ‘they tried to make him king by force’ . . . take power Jesus, step up! After feeding the 5000 Jesus comes into conflict with his brother
‘Hi brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples will see the work that you do; For no one does something in secret and expects to be in public view; if you do these things reveal yourself to the World” for his brothers did not have faith in him’ John 7:3-5 DB-H
Power – in so many different ways we all crave it. Even the idea that ‘if we just elect the right government . . . everything will be right’ – With Harry Secombe we all sing, ‘If I ruled the World, every day would be the first day in Spring . . .’ This narrative feeds the myth that ‘it is our place to build the Kingdom of God’, or ‘for the love to go on we must make it our song . . .’, or ‘Make America Great Again . . .’ All built from the same presupposition that ‘we can make the world a better place – If I ruled the world . . .’ After all, all of us know what’s wrong with the world, don’t we . . .
As we head into Diocesan Synod next week there is a motion to sell Selwyn College. I’ve listened long and hard to all the arguments, but they all boil down to the same sad old tired story – ‘Don’t sell! We will change the college culture!’ Do Sell, we don’t have the right people in these days to be able to . . . or, if we did obviously we would . . .’ All based on the World’s Sad tired story . . . the myth that if we only did this or that or the other, everything would be right . . . and it is a story that Jesus rejects. Turn the stones into bread . . . leap from the Temple, show everyone how amazing you are . . . only worship me and all this will be yours . . . well its pretty fair to say, it is all ours now . . .
The Way of Jesus is the way of hiddenness – it is the way of poverty in the things of the world – Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you who are poor now, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.’
We have a diocesan Prayer which says words to the effect of ‘we need to be doing our bit for the last the lost and the least . . . ‘ it never occurs to us that the people of Jesus ARE The lost, the last and the least . . . ‘Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’
The poor are the rich in faith – why, because they have no power and cannot succumb to the blandishments of control – what is the prayer of God’s children? Give us this day our daily bread . . .
Which brings us to the gospel and the collision of Jesus with the Syro-Phoenician woman and it is a collision
[Jesus] went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Jesus is once again not showing himself – indeed he has left Judea and Galilee and gone into the territory of the Greeks – Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
You can almost hear the tutting – you can imagine the shock – perhaps a Synod motion requiring that we do not hear Jesus referring to this woman in this way! And I have heard many a sermon agonising over this text . . . but Jesus is the one who relinquishes power.
Firstly Jesus treats her with enormous honour! His opening remark is exactly the way a Rabbi speaks with a disciple – there is a request, he responds with a saying – he is seeking to elicit from her faith. And she acts as a Rabbi’s disciple, she responds to him. On the one hand as someone has said ‘Jesus drops his own honour code, his own honour to respond in the first place’ but more than that he elevates the woman who knows that as a gentile woman she has no call on this Jewish man. He by putting the statement, like God responding to Job, says to her – stand before me, lets have this out . . . Here’s a saying ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ – What do you say to that? And her response is so very illuminating ‘Yes, Lord; and the dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs . . .’
What is happening here is an act of mutual recognition – she has seen the truth of Jesus – the one who has nowhere to lay his head – who has come into a hostile world entirely dependent on hospitality – who says to his disciples I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide’ I have no call on you, and you have no call on the world . . . we are in the same position
The disciples of Jesus go out into the world in a position of vulnerability – like the dogs under the table, living off the scraps that are thrown to them. They go out into the world in the way of Jesus. The woman Knows who Jesus is – she recognises one who lives off the scraps himself – she claims kinship with him – and he shares with her what he has – LIFE – and her daughter is healed
So again he goes back towards Galilee and in the region of The Decapolis – an area not under Herod but having some autonomy – a mixed area of Jews and Gentiles. And they brought to him one deaf and mute – and Jesus heals him – and orders them to tell no one but the more he ordered them, the more they broadcast his name – after all – if he can do this, think what he can do, and after all, hasn’t he performs those works we’d expect of the Messiah? The mute speak! The Deaf hear . . .
But Jesus will not put himself in their hands, for they are consumed by the old story – ‘here is someone to rule – here is someone to put it all right’ the old story of power, vested of course in wealth
This Old Story is pretty much the story we live by – it is woven into all our assumptions.
It is a fact little remarked that we seem unable to free the tongue of the dumb, to make the deaf hear and the blind see, let alone raise the dead . . . but is this mot perhaps because we have chosen the wrong story? For ten centuries Western culture has been dominated by the story of power over as the way to ‘make things right’ ‘to build the Kingdom of God’ if you will . . . but as the Catholic philosopher DC Schindler puts it ‘Pure power and utter powerlessness now converge into one, and man becomes the abject servant of his own limitless freedom, a passive object of active power: a slave of modern liberty’
We have so much power – and as we look out on the Creation – we are helpless
Of course, that is not the end, and as always we are offered another way – Follow Me says Jesus, who empties himself of all power, to reveal the Life of the Spirit. He comes to us in hiddenness, in words we may not wish to hear – he comes to us in a crumb . . . a crumb of bread – from where did this crumb fall? He comes to us in a crumb of bread and a sip of wine – he comes to us in powerlessness – and offers to share His Life
Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2018
Mark 7:1-8, [9-13] 14-15, 21-23
On Life and Tradition
‘If I were a rich man, Daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb’
So some of us may have gone to see Fiddler on the Roof – you’ll excuse me I hope for my none attendance, but I was privileged many years ago now to see Chaim Topol on stage in Leeds reprise his performance from the film . . . suffis!
I guess, if you know the film version of the play of Joseph Stein’s 1971 book, you may perhaps expect that in the light of Jesus words, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” I might reprise the words of the song ‘Tradition!’, and say, ‘if only Tevye had listened to Jesus . . . but I’m not going to, for frankly that would be a cheap shot and an ignorant one – not least because the story is written through the filter of Modern assumptions about the nature of reality, and Modern assumptions tend that ‘Tradition is a bad thing – we must throw off the past’
[Whenever we read modern books or films about ‘The Past – which as LP Hartley reminds us, ‘is a foreign country – they do things differently there . . .’ we need to remember we read books or see films, and the books and films are usually written through our own cultures assumptions about what is good . . . and our culture is not shot through with a Christian vision of the nature of Life . . . but like those of us who wear glasses we usually forget we have them on . . .]
Instead, of ‘Tradition!’ – my song text from the play would be L’Chaim – the Wedding blessing – To Life! It is no coincidence that our Jewish forbears sing ‘To Life!’ for the God of Israel who is The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Commands us ‘To Life!’ His Command is a call To Life!, to Life from death, to Light from darkness. ‘You Must be born again!’ . . . yet it is a command we resist.
Last week I mentioned our grand daughter Naomi, and how she like any young baby doesn’t like having clothing pulled on over her head, because Birth was traumatic enough – she doesn’t want to be born again . . .
What is birth but the calling forth at God’s Creative Command ‘To life!’
The Command of God is always ‘L’Chaim! To Life!’
As we heard from Deuteronomy – ‘So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.’ . . . give heed . . . so that you may LIVE! . . .
Which is why Jesus is So angry with the Pharisees – for “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” . . . Responding to the Loving Command of God which is to Life, you reject it . . . you reject Life!
And Again we reject part of the command – the text is again butchered . . . SIGH . . .
What we didn’t hear was Jesus’ example of this – not watching hands, but the following
Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’
But you say that if a man says to father or mother, ‘Anything that might have been owed by me to you is qurban’ (that is, a consecrated offering)— then you no longer allow him to do anything for a father or mother. So you Make powerless the word of God why your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things of the same kind . . .’ [Following DBH translation]
Well this sounds strange to us, a little obscure, although the command to honour Father and Mother isn’t . . . so perhaps that’s why those who devise the lectionary excluded these words, but in reality they go right to the very heart of what Jesus is talking about
The Command of God is a Command to Life – this is why Jesus is angry with the Pharisees – they have Set aside the Command that gives life – and thus they have chosen the alternative to Life, to Existence . . . death, non existence
They have done this in two ways – firstly in not honouring Father and Mother they reject their own life!
What is your Life – where does ‘your life come from?’ Can a person truly cut themselves off from their whakapapa? . . . it is like the branch off a tree cchopping down the tree – honour your father and mother, honour your Life coming to you from God.
The Command of God is not as it were a set of obscure and arbitrary demands of a lazy and capricious deity – the Command of God is the Word which calls us into Life and Love, into Grace and Mercy and it is revealed in and amongst us. ‘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.’ What does parentage, whakapapa tell us – how does it help us to understand and See God?
Why did Moses say ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’ . . . well that’s not very loving!! But all that the law enacts is the choice you have made – not because of the law itself, but you have cut yourself off from life abusing your father and mother, abusing your own life . . . the source of your existence
And we know this – we know this as Christians for it is shown plain to us in the very centre of our faith – What do we see when we see Christ dead upon the Cross? We see the outcome of our rejection of God’s Word of Life. When the human rejects the Command of God, we die . . . there it is on the Cross . . .
Well this comes back again to what we have been considering over and again these past weeks and months – that is we direct our Lives, we Orient them towards God, Life Comes to us from God. And that flows out through us
Here is the second problem with the way the Pharisees conducted their affairs – in their turning from the life giving command of God which embodied in the person of their whakapapa, they then hoarded the life – like those Israelites who clung onto the manna – they ‘consecrated it’ – they told a story about why they couldn’t obey the common of God – they spoke a death sentence not only to themselves but to those around them
Repentance is that turning from non life, a life which denies its life and hoards – towards God in Christ who Is The Way of our Life, towards God, the Truth of our Life, as Children of God, and the very Life of our Life. A Life that enjoys all things but possess nothing knowing that it is given in order to flow through them.
James speaks of The seed of the word – which is planted. it is like a tender shoot, this life giving command of God – it must be nurtured – it needs to be placed each day in the light of the Sun and thus it grows to bear good fruit – the outflow of the heart.
What is that outflow? Again we have missing verses. Jesus tells us nothing going into us can make us unclean – it is what comes out – and he refers to what happens to food when it passes out of the body – but we perhaps are a little to sensitive to think about sewage . . . 🙂 And then speaks of the outflow of the heart – the heart which is not oriented to Light and life but to darkness and death, which does not give place to the Command L’Chaim, to Life, but which is directed towards itself and death
This Life comes to us from God – it is His command – it is embodied in our whakaapa – and James the brother of Jesus and Moses in Deuteronomy echo one another –
‘take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children . . .’
L’Chaim! To Life!
So a recent fb thread raised the old conundrum. There ‘you’ are thinking something, then ‘you’ observe ‘yourself’ thinking this thought, then ‘you’ become aware of ‘yourself’ observing . . . (well who??? ) thinking this thought, before ‘you’ wonder who is it that is aware of your awareness of observing ‘your’ thought . . . and then to spin that on its head – in what sense is it ‘you’ thinking the thought anyway??
So we chase the rabbit down the hole, in an ‘infinite regression’ [most unhelpful – see at end of piece] to . . .?
The Source . . . where does ‘it’ all come from – where do I come from? Who am I anyway?
The Source. The singularity. the place where everywhere is Here and everywhere in Now. The Eternal . . . ‘outside of time and space’ . . . except this is another problem of our language as Modern Physics is suggesting.
Take for example quantum entanglement. So a pair of tiny wee particles, twins, are separated at birth, and sent in ‘space’ ships to the opposite sides of ‘The Universe’ (clue in the name, btw . . .) where we invade the personal space of one of them, and tweak it to make it spin. Instantaneously and in perfect accord, its twin, an unimaginable distance away spins identically. Perfect synchronisation across any distance is given our perception of time and space impossible. For the action to be synchronous, and identical, they would have to be in the same place. Where everywhere is Here . . . and Everywhen in Now . . . so they must be . . . so . . .
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
[BTW this is why evolutionary theory is now disintegrating into fractious communities, because 100+ years after the event biology is catching up with the physics . . .]
You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . Love the Source (in whom everywhere is Here and everywhere is Now) . . . and (then) you shall love your neighbour . . . as yourself . . .
The Old wisdom said – ‘my life is with my brother’
. . . or ‘my spin is with my twin’ – apologies for this, but it tickles me 🙂
As The Old Prayer puts it
O heavenly King, The Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere present and fullest all things
Treasury of blessings and giver of Life
Come and abide in us, cleansing us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One
The First Christians were so excited, because The Source had found them . . .
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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave 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.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
[btw – 1. we now understand that everything is made of light 2. Big Bang Cosmology is the projection of our own existence onto ‘Reality’ . Everything moving further and further away from the Singularity – the Source – We See as we are.]
This is the hopelessly [lit.] abstract language of mathematics. it is most unhelpful as it posits an idea that we can conceptualise ‘infinity’, something which relates in more ways than one to nothing, and that ‘regression’ is a very negatively value laden idea in Modernity, especially Anglophone Modernity, where ‘you don’t want to go back to . . .’ is the usual knee jerk reaction to any questioning of the way things are . . .and ‘are going’ (more value laden language – also ‘Progress’ which is a ‘good thing’)
What is six take away seven?
I have six apples – I take away seven apples – how many apples do I have . . .
‘errr . . .’
OK try this.
You have six apples
I take away the six apples
How many apples are there?
‘none of course’
No. there are still six apples – it is just that I have them and you do not. [See above on loving your neighbour as yourself . . .]
This is called the conservation of matter and it is the reason why there is no thing we can call nothing, or put another way ‘zero’ relates to no thing. It is abstract, unreal, yet modern mathematics don’t work without non existence, nor does modern science – which we allow to become our descriptors of reality . . . hence ‘we live in a meaningless universe . . .’ because its all based on ‘nothing’
This is why 6-6 is none sense [sic]
Sermon for 12 after Trinity – Year B 2018
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
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
Sermon notes for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Yr B 2018
Food and Life
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
Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2018
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.
‘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 . . .
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.
Sermon for Evensong – Sunday March 18th, 2017
‘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
Sermon for Advent 3 – Year B – 2017
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
‘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.’
Sermon for Evensong
Sunday September 16
Matthew 7:1-14 [15-end]
Just back from Synod
For me, amongst many challenges of Synod, not least the anti-human mechanisms it imposes on the spirit graced body of Christ, is that of knowing when to speak and when to remain silent.
Anyone who has sat through such proceedings and coming from the C of E where Synods were an almost full time occupation, I think I have more experience of them than anyone else locally, will know that it is the failure on the part of ‘certain individuals’ to know when to speak and when to remain silent, that can often turn the tedium of such gatherings into a more or less mild form of torture. At least in England you didn’t have to be on Diocesan Synod . . .
The sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit, the gift of discernment, a Gift long birthed in Silent prayer is all but absent in these days.
One need only think of the current President of the United States and his predilection for tweeting his thoughts when and wherever it suits him . . . and before we tut and shake our heads we must remember that what finally rises to the top is the long suppressed truth about us all . . . to realise that Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is one of the lost gifts of an age when we are all ‘to have our say’, to ‘be out there’, tweeting our anger and outrage at his anger and outrage.
It seems to me that perhaps we have come at last to that age Jesus spoke of when he said ‘Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’ Luke 12:3 Everything it seems is laid bare – discretion, modesty, appropriate hiddenness as the Source of Life are alien to our culture – and thus the loss of Wisdom
Wisdom teaches us that proper discernment must always begin with ourselves. If we cannot carefully discern the motions of our own hearts, then it would be wise more often than not, indeed in almost all circumstances, to remain silent . . . and I say this as a huge caveat to understanding our readings from Scripture this evening, and hearing them truly
First, and briefly to Exodus and Moses. Poor Moses – as he would on occasion complain to God, ‘Why have you done this to me?? Look at these people . . .’ although also on occasion when the truth of the people was revealed and God threatened to break out against them, it was Moses who stood on their behalf and said, ‘you’ll have to kill me first . . .’
but Poor Moses, there he is day by day and all the people bringing their disputes to him. It is so reminiscent of my days as a Year Head having to deal with the perpetual wail – ‘Sir, she gave me a dirty look . . .’ I have great sympathy for Moses. So there he sits, day by day sorting out the disputes and judging the people . . . that is, having to pronounce judgement for one side or the other. It was in this vein that Solomon when made King asked God for Wisdom . . . insight, to discern and judge aright – for one thing we can say without fear of contradiction is that humans and their relationships with one another are messy . . .
Well Moses’ father in law, Jethro see this happening and sees Moses wearing himself out and suggests he spreads the load, by appointing judges amongst the tribes to sit over most of the cases, and only the thorny ones be brought to Moses – like an appeal to the Supreme Court . . .
Jethro says ‘You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain’ – Ah but . . . you might say, isn’t that judging them? Isn’t that what Jesus explicitly commands against in our reading from the Sermon on the Mount??
Well . . .
What does Jesus say?
We have a little problem with the way we are trained to read these words of Jesus in the Sermon, and it is particularly a problem for those who like to read their Bibles. FAR be it from me to say to anyone, ‘Do not read your Bibles!’ BUT there is a problem. Firstly of course there is the simple matter, obscured from our eyes, that Scripture, that which is written was until the invention of the printing press something almost always Heard, not read. The production of a BIble, up to that point would require the skins of over 150 calves . . . they couldn’t be obtained in bulk from Manna bookshops.
Now there are other problems with uncritically reading the Bible, that is reading it without realising that the very act of reading from a book presumes many things which may not be helpful – but I just want to focus on one aspect – that the text is broken up into chapters, and then verses, which of course if you are listening you do not hear, suggesting a fragmentary nature to the text and then to make matter infinitely more awkward, at some time in the C17, some well meaning soul added little headings here and there . . . to make it clear what Jesus was saying, so reading uncritically we absorb these headings, which are rife in the Sermon, because the well meaning person obviously thought that the Sermon was a collection of the sayings of Jesus. And therefore almost everyone who says ‘The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of the sayings of Jesus’, usually say it in part if not totally because they have been so conditioned to say it . . .
which is a problem when it comes to the words of Jesus about Judging others . . . because they are followed by words which suggest that we should judge others . . . but we miss this if we treat the words as if they were in isolation
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
“Well there you are! Jesus contradicts himself” – Do not judge – do not throw your pearls before swine . . . Well surely if we realise they are swine, we have judged . . .
So we need to consider what Jesus says here. Firstly Judging is a matter in this regard of ‘the eye’. Noting ever and again how The eye is the subject of things, and what is more that Jesus says that our eyes do not see clearly . . . We see the world in many ways as we are. As so often is said -if you wish to change the world, start with yourself – for so often, what we see out there is a projection of what is in here – and our way of seeing is influenced by our hearts – so ‘first take the log out of your own eye, THEN’ Jesus says ‘you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
The gift of discernment, a Gift long birthed in Silent prayer is all but absent in these days – all but absent when all we see is with the eye and we are swift to speak, and swift to anger to use the words of James’ Jesus’ brother and the one who most closely comes to the words of Jesus in his epistles.
Ian McGilchrist in his wonderful work – Master and Emissary points out how we have become more and more dominated by the left hemisphere of our brain. It’s way of seeing is precisely to see splinters – to see fragments. We see the fly but do not acknowledge or perceive the precious ointment in which it is sat. Left hemispheric thinking is also associated with anger. There is so much anger in the world today – so many pointing to the flaws in others . . . there is a sort of fundamentalism here oft unacknowledged. It seems to me that ‘Once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist’ People who once condemned ‘those people’, now turn their ire on ‘those people’, the people they were once happy to associate with. The Heart is not healed in such people – it is tragic.
Very briefly then, Jesus goes on ‘‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’ Having cleansed the eye of the heart – having learned to be still before God and learned the gentle receptiveness of the Spirit, one may ask aright. If we ask out of damaged vision, we do not see to ask aright, we do not know what it is that we are truly to ask for. It is with such healed vision that these words of Jesus become a lived reality within us.
‘In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you’ The Cleansed eye which discerns the Truth of things only sees themselves in the Other truly, not now for judgement but for Loving Service . . . but says Jesus, this is not easy. If we drift along as we are, we shall miss the way – broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction. The Work of the heart is a lifelong one, it is hard and narrow – for it has but one aim, to Know and Love God, and thus to live in and through His Life – our true healing
Jesus then goes on – following on fro our reading to speak of the discernment which is knowing a tree by its fruit – before warning of the perils of Self Deception. ‘On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you workers of evil.” how terrible self deception can be, that those who believe they are doing the work of God discover they are doing no such thing . . . we should tread lightly
So Moses seeks those who ‘fear God’ For whom God fills their Vision, whose Sight is healed and who will be able to discern the Truth of things – only the one who sees God truly sees. Such people we discern are trustworthy and hate dishonest gain. They are no longer in anything for themselves – In the Fear of God, Seeing truly the Life of their fellow. Judging properly because they Discern Well, for their eye is focussed on the Light and Love of God
Sermon for Trinity+13
Year B 2018
The struggle to believe . . . in Jesus
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.’ Luke 6:27-30
Well, as too often happens, those who choose the lectionary readings have decided to treat us as infants and cut out words of Scripture that are too challenging for us . . . the particular irony this week is that the two verses are words of Jesus, at the end of a passage about people deserting Jesus because he confronted with them with ‘difficult teaching. who can accept it’ . . . so in a passage about people deserting Jesus because his teaching is too hard to accept, we cut out two verses which are to hard to our ears
We heard Verse 68 – 69. As Jesus sees many of his disciples deserting him he turns to ‘the twelve’ and asks them ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ To which Simon Peter replies “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
So we backed out of the conversation on a high note, but we did not listen for Jesus’ response to Peter’s confident assertion – “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Put another way, ‘so, you think you’re a follower of Jesus? But are you Judas . . .’ Of course the link to Judas is not unexpected in this regard. Judas is in with the powers that be, that wish to keep the Emperor and his money economy sweet, who want spirituality, but one that can easily be accommodated in their world order. Who don’t want for example to consider that camels go more easily through needle’s eyes than rich people go into heaven – or that if someone takes your goods, you shouldn’t ask for them back . . . or any of the other hard teachings of Jesus.
They want a Jesus-lite, a pocket size Jesus. Certainly not one who is going to turn over all the tables of comfortable existence . . . perhaps that is why the early Jesus movement caught on so rapidly amongst those who had nothing – for a while, it really was Good News to the poor, but has been reduced over the years to spiritual consolation for the wealthy and a drip feed for the poor
Since arriving here seven years ago, my bookshelves have become increasingly disordered – so these last few weeks, I have been reordering them, and coming face to face with a book I didn’t really want to read again, but can’t let go of. It is ‘To believe in Jesus’ by the Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows. You may remember her – she is the one who tells the story of faith as being ascending a mountain with a beautiful vase – our life – which we wish to present to God, but when we get to the top of the mountain we realise we are in the wrong place – he’s not at the end of our Life. To find God we have to let go of our life, of wanting to control it, and descend a steep and perilous path in the mist – we cannot take the vase with us.
Well these nuns can be pretty on the nose with this whole Christian life thing. Burrows book ‘To believe in Jesus’, almost leaves you despairing, for she shows us just how hard it is, to take Jesus at his word. For to take him at his word is to acknowledge who he really is and thus to do what he says, everything.
As I’ve been at pains to point out these past few weeks, the words of Scripture all direct us if we follow their path to the person of Jesus. Joshua – who has the same name – is a manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament – his speech to the Twelve – the twelve tribes is uncannily similar to Jesus conversation with the twelve. They say they will serve God, Joshua tells them they are not up to it. Peter says ‘you have the words of eternal life – Jesus tells the twelve – one of you is a devil.
As the spokes of the wheel find their focus, there is a density to Jesus that is hard to take.
So Jesus says, “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, 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.
Pardon the pun, but this is hard to swallow – ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you??’
Which is why so often we keep our distance. We come up with different versions of Jesus to suit our agendas and our lives. Jesus, the Social Justice Warrior! Jesus the teacher of Wisdom, except where we try and modify his words to allow us to go on as we always did – after all there was a gate called the eye of the needle and heavily packed camels couldn’t get through it, unless their loads were removed. Except there was no such gate. And then there’s all that loving your enemies stuff, and doing good to the people who hate you . . . Well my Jesus understands that I can’t do that . . . We allow Jesus to go to the cross for us, but we keep our distance – won’t follow him. In other words, we don’t believe in Him . . . ‘Our Jesus’, or as a priest once lamented in public ‘my Jesus’ isn’t like the Jesus of the gospels. After all wasn’t it Jesus who said ‘you need to be careful around money – you can use it well, but it might take you over . . .’ well I’ve heard many a sermon trotting out that assertion . . . except he didn’t say that he said ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon’ – to take the words of Jesus as embodied in Joshua ‘Choose today whom you will serve’
Interestingly of course, or perhaps instructively a church that loves money has cut out the rebuke of Jesus to the twelve, amongst whom is Judas, whom like the Judea’s loved money. the money lovers will betray Jesus . . . well this is a difficult teaching, who can accept it?
You see our problem isn’t with the Jesus we have in our heads, its with the Jesus whom we encounter in Scripture, the Real Jesus.
And this is where its helpful to consider love of enemies. Jesus, interestingly never commands us to ‘love everybody’, but to love our neighbour, to love your fellow Christian – the one you know, the one you encounter . . . A member of a church had fallen out with another member -‘I love everybody! was their mantra, but their problem wasn’t some abstract ‘everybody’ – it was this particular friend who had become an enemy . . .
It’s easy to have warm feelings in our heart about everybody, but our faith doesn’t deal in our warm feelings but the reality of the other. It’s to love the person we can see no reason to love, but this is to be confronted with our own inner nature, our incapacity to truly love – to love THIS person. To See Jesus in Reality, not as a nice idea to keep us comfortable. Is there not an incredible powerful parallel between our desire not to love the enemy, and not to take Jesus at his word? Is it not rooted in exactly the same place in our heart, the place where we cling on to our life, and so cannot take hold of the life that is eternal?
Peter, for all his failings does see things. Jesus declares him blessed for his confession of Christ, if in the next moment he calls Peter Satan. Again all the spokes come together – Did I not call you, the Twelve, yet one of you is a devil . . .BUT Peter is still right. ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
The words of Jesus are words of eternal Life, for He himself Is eternal Life. Living Water flows from his mouth. To believe in Jesus is a struggle – to say yes to Him and his words will always be hard until his work in us is complete. We believe in him, because we have encountered life in Him – we desire that life – we desire Him, but it is hard – it requires coming to birth
Recently Ben, our son in law discovered what those of us more experiences in these matters have know for a long time, young babies don’t like having garments pulled on over their heads – after all being born is a terrible trauma . . . perhaps this is why the business of being born again is one we flee from – preferring the comfort and warmth of the dark womb, where we can have sweet dreams of reality but not be faced with it . . .
We like Peter stumble and fall – we do watch Jesus go to the cross. But is it for us . . . or ahead of us . . . Finally of course Peter does follow Jesus who has gone ahead of him. There is no avoiding the cross, no standing at a distance. May god in his unlimited grace and mercy give us the grace to give us an unquenchable desire him in all and through all, and above all. To have our eyes opened to Life in Christ – to say whatever befall, where else can I go.
Surely, this struggle is the struggle of birth – of coming to life
As Jesus says, ‘you must be born again’
Sermon for Evensong
12 after Trinity
Exodus 2:23 – 3:10
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.
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