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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are you from?

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

Amen

Epiphany Year B 2017 – The Fullness of the Glory and Wonder of the Mystery

Epiphany 2017

The Fullness of the Glory and Wonder of the Mystery . . .

So, Ella and Brett are married . . . In ancient lore, the newly wed couple leave the reception in a car from which hangs a sign saying ‘Just Married’, but as anyone with any experience will tell you you are never ‘Just’ Married – Marriage is far far more than a mechanical human agreement and contract – it is ‘a Mystery’ That is it is something which we can name, but the depths of we can only point towards – as if you saw the entire universe in a moment and everyone asked you – ‘What did you see . . .

In the same way as you are never ‘just’ married, and as I said a few weeks back, you never ‘just’ pray. Books on ‘how to pray’ as if it were a simple mechanical act strip Prayer of its ‘Mystery’ its depth, its very Life.
Our World would have us do this – I remember in my High School Biology class being told that if you added together everything that a human being was made of in terms of your chemical composition, you could be sold for about $2 . . . depending on the global price for minerals prevailing at the time . . . Defining things as ‘just’ this or that or the other, stripping them of their Mystery kills them. As the Romantic poet William Wordsworth noticed, ‘we murder to dissect’ . . . and I would say that The Modern World is an act of murder which would leave even Herod looking like a kindly grandfatherly figure in its reducing the World and the Human to ‘just’ this or that or the other . . .

The Ancients were very very wise to and alert to the danger of this ‘just’ness. They warned against ‘mere appearances’ that to live by mere appearances was to be enslaved. We of course live in an age imprisoned by appearances – Plato speaks of those imprisoned by gazing eternally upon images of images, appearances of appearances . . . He could have been prophesying the smart phone on which we gaze unceasingly at images of images . . .

And it is all too easy as Modern people to take The Christmas Story and package it in ways that lead to such imprisonment by the Gaoler ‘Just’ . . .
I always prefer to listen to the beginning of John’s gospel and at midnight, not only because his words take us beyond words, and it is in the dark and so we are on the edge of things seen and unseen . . . I prefer that than to listen to Luke on Christmas morning, when the sun is up and the story is comfortably familiar . . . For our imaginations I think have been captivated by endless images – endless nativities and children in tea towels, and the story is so far from this . . .

We often make the error of ‘simplifying’ things for children as if they had no sense of Wonder as if perhaps their Vision was less developed than ours . . . So the nativity is demystified to a children’s tail, or demystified by simplistic readings of the text

We would prefer to paddle in muddy shallows than take the risk of getting lost in the Wonder and Immensity – Yet even a little acquaintance with the times of Jesus quickly lead us into the rip tides of Mystery. Aslan is Good, but He is Not Safe . . .

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Any Jewish reader of these words is cast not into a world of Irish linen wrapped around children’s heads but into an Ocean.
The First Born Son – the Great High Priest of the Temple of God – the manger – or was it Jerusalem??? The word in Hebrew for manger, ‘ebus is almost the same as the old name for Jerusalem, j’ebus. Wrapped in cloths – the First born Son of God is clothed in garments of glory – ‘there was no room in the inn – ‘There was no Logos in the hidden place . . .’
The Christmas Story takes place in the ‘hidden place’ away from prying eyes. Kataluma, the word we translate inn and so have endless children saying ‘no room!’ sounds like ta’aluma, the Holy of Holies . . . in an age of terror, when to be a follower of Jesus would lead to your being ostracised and thrown out and possibly killed, the Gospel Authors carefully cover their tracks but leave enough signs for those who know. Better to have careless folk speaking about ‘Jesus being born into the arms of a cosy middle class family,’ beyond the kataluma, than the Great High Priest coming to the Holy of Holies, or the Garden of Eden indeed, in an animal feedtrough.
The Christmas Story is no call to sentimental childish play, nor a call to ‘social justice’ for there was no room for Jesus in the inn . . . no the Great High Priest of God comes forth and is clothed in garments of glory, not in the holy of holies in Jerusalem, but in a manger overlooked by Ox and Ass for as the prophet had foretold, Jerusalem does not know its ruler, but the ox knows its owner and the donkey its masters crib . . .

The Story is not what it appears to be, and we are caught up in something much much bigger than ourselves, something illimitably glorious, and on occasion, when we are not caught up in ‘mere appearances’ if we can look up from the lifeless ‘just’ness of things, if we dare get out of the mud pools – the Power and The Glory may for a moment ‘transport’ us, not away from here, but to here – away from ‘mere appearances’, from the world of ‘just’ this or ‘just’ that to world Transfigured by The Fullness of the Wonder of the Mystery. To live as new born children of God is to be caught up in this

And so to the Epiphany – the Unveiling, the Oh My! – the breathtaking as the magi come from Arabia – bearing gifts. I must admit, that final verse of ‘We three Kings’ Always Catches me – Glorious now, Behold him Arise, King And God and Sacrifice. It is one of those moments in worship in which one becomes tuned, resonates with Transfigured Reality

Matthew brings us into this world through the story of Herod, the magi and the Star. A story Rich in more than ‘just’ – for the Ancients, nothing was ‘just’ this or that. The idea that one might speak of the stars as ‘just’ balls of gas in the sky, was as foolish to them as reducing the human to a bag of chemicals – it was to kill the world off, when in truth everything around them said the world was full of Life!! Except there is always that which seeks to destroy life to rob it of Wonder and Glory, to demystify. So the star is not just a star – it points beyond itself. Probably a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a rare and Wonderful cosmological event – lying as seen from Jerusalem over Bethlehem, and in the tradition the Sign that many hoped for, not least because of Herod, of whom one commentator wrote ‘a man of great barbarity to all men equally and a slave to his passions’ – he pronounced that his three sons would succeed him and then had them all executed before he died – early Christian tradition associated him with Wormwood, the star that fell from heaven spreading bitterness and making bitter he waters, in the Book of Revelation. Although there is no historic evidence of the slaughter of all those under two years of age in Bethlehem, this is certainly in keeping with a man who had many of the priests of the Temple killed for their prophecies of a star and the end of his reign . . . in and around the time of the birth of Jesus

Matthew pulls us into a world in which we are not in control, Vivid, at times terrifying – a time in which the heavenly bodies were signs, portents and also announcers of Great Hope.

So the wise men come to Jerusalem, where of course they should perhaps have been looking for a manger . . . and finally to Bethlehem where they laid before him three gifts – Gold Frankincense and Myrrh – much has been made of these gifts, but again old traditions linked them to The Garden of Eden. Pre-Christian stories told of Adam pleading with the angels to take the perfumed oil from the garden that he might continue to offer worship to God. Christian texts tell of Adam being buried by Seth his son along with the Gold and the Frankincense and Myrrh, having been brought them by the three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael . . . and Coptic Christians to this day depict the three magi bearing gifts as having wings . . . so the Archangels present the gifts to the Second Adam, the one who is in Himself the New Creation, Restoring the True Dwelling place of God . . .

“When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

So, what is the moral of the story? What can we take away and use? . . . In a real sense nothing. If the world is ‘just this’ or ‘just that’ or ‘just the other’ then it is less than it is – we judge it by appearances and put it to our uses. it is ‘just’ resources, dead matter – as are we, something for us to make something with and of . . .

The Epiphany is The Unveiling, that the Wold is not ‘just’ anything — It is The Manifestation of the mystery hidden from the beginning of Time – in the truest sense Mystery for it is at once True and beyond our Comprehension, beyond our Grasp to use as we will.

It is not so much something to ponder . . . .and then ‘set out to live differently’, it is something to be caught up in, carried away by, transformed and transfigured by.

Here is the Centre of the Creation – its Source, its embodiment, in Wonder, in Glory – the very Mystery of Christ Himself.

Behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice, let us dare to be caught up with the magi angels in the Worship of Christ . . . then perhaps God Himself will Do something with us . . .

Christmas ‘Knowing my Place – Home for Christmas’

Christmas

Hebrews 1:1-4
John 1:1-14

‘Finding my Place – Home for Christmas’

Home for Christmas . . . These simple words may well evoke a great deal in us – Family not least. As we get older our focus shifts. When we were small we were caught up in it all, drinking in that deep sense of home without noticing or naming it, it soaked into us.
As we grew older, then more and more it became something we began to create for those who were younger. Build a Home, a Place we hope of Trust, of Security, of Joy and Peace. Too man of us tragically know the pain of a broken Home. We have a deep sense of what Home Should be when things are Right!
A Place we Know as the Right Place for us. Preparing for Christmas is so much about getting things ready, getting everything in its right place. When we Know our True Place, or Right Place, we are Home

In the final years of my grandmothers life, I used to love to sit in her kitchen and hear her talk about her childhood Home. She grew up in the early years of the last century in a small hamlet on the far north west coast of England, in the shadow of the Lake District hills. It was a community where there was a strong sense of everyone and everything being ‘in its place’. To her last days she could tell you where everyone sat in the village church – from the Lord and Lady of the Manor with their family at the front of Church, back through the yeoman farmers – my Grandmothers family were sat here – then the tenant farmers, then at the back the labourers . . . everyone in Place, everyone Knowing their place . . . and although it is very easy for us to dismiss this, my Grandmother wouldn’t have it – for it was to her in amidst the hardship of life, a community of great security, true Social security, for everyone in knowing their public place knew also their public obligations to those around them.

She would tell of how whenever someone was ill in the village, and perhaps unable to work and thus buy food, the Lady of the manor would be seen making her way to the house to visit with a basket of fresh fruit and vegetables – of how my grandmothers family looked after the poor of the village who had large family’s and little money with fresh milk and eggs and butter and any other produce. Everyone Knew their place – a sense of being in Place, of belonging.
Of course it wasn’t an idyll, but she could not remember anyone going hungry – for that would have brought shame on those who had responsibility in the community . . . it wasn’t an idyll – it wasn’t perfect, but like so many long standing ‘orthodoxies’ it pointed beyond itself. In the impurity, a Deep Truth lay veiled and my Grandmother knew that simply ‘doing away with the old ways’ wasn’t the answer

But her age, her generation and its Wisdom has gone . . . Now ‘Know your Place!’ is only heard in terms of shackles. We are too hasty – we throw things away – we too readily miss the treasure hidden

The other day I was at a Graduation ceremony and the speaker told the assembled graduates that they should ‘challenge the orthodoxies’ This phrase passed I guess without comment, after all isn’t that what we are supposed to do nowadays? Challenge Orthodoxies??
It must be said it didn’t entirely pass the attention of Brett who asked afterwards. ‘Challenge Orthodoxies? Doesn’t Orthodoxy mean “that which is Right”?’ Bright lad that he is, he was of course correct. Orthodox means that which is Right, that which is True in the very deepest sense – literally it means Right Glory. To Reveal the deep Truth and Beauty of existence.
As many a young child might discover after an over vigorous engagement with their new toys on Christmas day, We live in an age in which we ‘happily’ break things down, and as that same child learns to their deep sorrow – it is a lot easier to break down, than it is to heal. Think how easily a word of criticism destroys – how seemingly impossible to speak a single healing word . . .

As we might look around at the wider order of things – what which we used to call ‘The Creation’ How easy to break, to destroy – how difficult to heal . . .
The sociologists have been telling us now for many years that breaking social structures, ‘challenging orthodoxy’ we might say, seems to lead inexorably to rising mental illness, despair and a sense of meaninglessness to our existence . . . a sense of lostness, of not knowing where our healing is – where our Home is . . .

For with the breakdown of the Old Structures – we lose our sense of Place, or Home. And we note this most powerfully at Christmas, loneliness is the great curse and killer of our age . . .
Alone at Christmas, not Home for Christmas . . . deep within we know this is Wrong . . . and yet

The Christmas Story is a story of Place, indeed of Home. Joseph takes the heavily pregnant Mary to his home, to the City of Bethlehem – a Place in an imperfect world in which a Child finds a Place, a Home – in a manger, a stone feed trough for the animals. A place of Security in a world of uncertainty.

As John tells us in the opening to his Gospel, this is a story of God coming to make His Home. “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” – literally He “pitched his tent in our midst”.

The Word of God – the Greeks called it ‘the Logos of God’ – Logos, the very meaning of The Universe, the Mind of God, The Goodness of God, the Beauty of God – The Logos of God . . ; became flesh and dwelt amongst us – the One who ‘sustains all things by his powerful word’ took on our human flesh and made Home in and amongst us . . .

God made Home here – for he desires that we might have a Home ‘even the sparrow has found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she might lay her young, even thine altar O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God’ Where is this Home of God? ‘The Word became flesh and made his Home . . . here . . .’

At Christmas we usually get only half of the message. ‘God is with us! Round the world the message bring’ – it is Half of The Good News – but we Need the other half. As we Need, Truth and Beauty and Goodness and Love – we need them in their Place – Here. We are the ones who need a Home. We Need a Place where we are Known and can Know the Deep Peace and Beauty and Joy and Hope and Love for which we were made – a Place of our deepest healing in a age which only seeks to break down . . .

The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us – He finds his Home with Us, so that we might find our Home in Him . . . as Jesus says – Abide in me, as I abide in you. God in Jesus makes His Home amongst us, so may we find our true Home in Him.

A Home which is Orthodox – which reveals Right and True Glory – The Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us, and we have seen his doxa, his Glory – Full of Grace and Truth.

God has come Home to us – might we, believing in His Son, come Home to Him. Now at this Christmastide – and to the ages of ages

Amen

Mary, Motherhood, and ‘God’s Holy Law’

Advent 4
Year B 2017

Sunday 24th December

Luke 1:26-38
Mary, Motherhood, and God’s Holy Law

Life in our household is always very full on at this time of year. I try to avoid the word ‘busy’ which can seem puffed full of self importance. ‘Busy’ people are of course ‘ the people who really count!’ However this year we find ourselves more than usually working every hour that the Good God provides for us as we prepare not only for Christmas, but also for a wedding.

Both of course are hugely important, both have their traditions which MUST be observed. So it is for example that tomorrow morning, I will risk early indigestion eating home baked fruit toast with lashings of butter, washed down with orange juice. Weddings too come with ‘observances’ central to which are ‘the vows’. I was somewhat alarmed some years ago when asked ‘in my professional capacity’ ‘why we cannot make up our own vows?’ To which the simplest answer at least back in England was ‘Church law does not allow it’ – here it is a little less clear, so perhaps the more helpful ‘because the morning after you’re married, if asked to write down your vows you’d probably not be able to remember them and might want to change them’

In marriage, the man and the woman make their vows ‘in the sight of Almighty God and the presence of the congregation, and this is made clear in the vows which end ‘According to God’s Holy Law’. So, the other evening I was asked by one about to be married, ’What does that mean? “According to God’s Holy Law”’

Of course we have a tendency in this day and age to think of ‘God’s Holy Law’ in terms of what might often seem like ‘an arbitrary set of rules’, but I do not think that this is either right, nor helpful. Rather God’s Holy Law is a Revelation of God in Jesus, and the shape of form of our existence within the Creation.
To put it another way, God’s Holy Law is the Revelation of ‘The Grain of the Universe’ – in other words when we follow it we reveal something of the Nature of What Is, The Creation, and thereby also the mind of the Creator, the Mind of God.

And so to Mary. Mary it must be said, and may the Good God have mercy upon us, has become a most uncomfortable figure for so many in the modern world. Good Protestants that we are, even if we believe the words of the Creed regarding her Virginity, we tend to think that the veneration of Mary especially within the Catholic Church is overdone!! I know that that was most definitely my own perception and after all, I Knew! I had taught in a working class Catholic High School as a very Correct Protestant, and all the excesses I was so sure were true, behold, there they were . . . there’s none so blind as those who think they can see!
My – mainly Catholic – colleagues, knew of my discomfort and would use every opportunity to tease me, not least when during some building work my immediate superior had an 8 foot high statue of The Queen of Heaven, which had to be temporarily re-sited, temporarily re-sited beside the desk in my office “where our Lady can keep an eye on you, Eric”.

Of course, if I was a Really good Protestant, I might have had more pause for thought in my self righteous judgement of Catholicism with all its nonsense, after all who was it who said “the Veneration of Mary is inscribed deep in the human heart”, but Martin Luther himself.

And well we should venerate Mary. As my spiritual director told me, when I confessed to me a troubling sense of her presence and Significance, ‘Well Eric, She Is the Mother of God’

Holy Mary, Mother of God . . . and of course we may well take a moment to ponder. One of the deepest losses of our ‘busy’ lives is that we skim over the surface of things. That we pay little or no attention to those questions which arise from the deep wells of our Existence. Last week I asked the question ‘Where are you from?’. Like the question ‘How are you?’ – it has become little more than a marker, no more than a seeking after ‘a fact’ – but How Are You? Where are you From? These are questions which take us deep if we will but let them. And there we find buried clues which point us towards The Grain of The Universe, God’s Holy Law, not least that of Motherhood . . .

One thing which every human living has in common from generation to generation, back into the depths of our lives, From The Beginning, What IS a Human, What Makes us Human? ; is that we are all ‘born of Woman’. Adam, facing life outside of the Garden, sees well the necessity of Motherhood, naming his wife Eve ‘for she was the mother of all living’ . . . True Life – eating, breathing, weeping, rejoicing, smiling, burping life even 🙂 being Born into the world of a woman

That life of which Mothers are the source – is more than ‘just’ giving ‘physical’ birth. I lose count of the number of folk who have told me that they learned their faith from their mothers, that their mothers were the ones who would teach them to pray – Motherhood is the source of Life in its Deepest Fullest Sense, From the Beginning . . . and so it is that in human terms the fulness of the Life of God comes into the world through Mary, The ‘woman, clothed with the Sun’ Revelation 12:1 – who “The Holy Spirit will come upon, and the power of the Most High will overshadow” Creating Life in its fulness in Christ Jesus

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says ‘Yes’ to the very deepest wellspring of Existence. Her Yes to God is the vehicle for Revealing of The Light of the World, The Truth of Existence. By her ‘Let it be with me’ Mary reveals to us in her flesh ‘God’s Holy Law’, the very Grain of The Universe by her consent to be the Mother of the One who sustains all things by his powerful word, The Very Creator of the World, born of Woman

As we prepare our hearts, let us not be busy. Let us not be important. Let us be open and Receptive. As Mary Our Mother has taught us, The Very Truth of our Existence is revealed in simple obedience. Our Yes to God is the Wellspring of Life

Let us not be proud but learn from her, our True Mother in Faith. Let is be with me, according to your Word . . . according to God’s Holy Law

Amen

Advent Sunday – Year B 2017

ADVENT SUNDAY

YEAR B

2017

 

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Mark 13:24-37

 

‘Eyes to See, Ears to Hear – Where and When we Are’

 

The other day, I was sat under the St John’s Oak, when I was joined by a male blackbird. He danced around on the lawn and continually chirruped – it took me several minutes for me to work out that he was talking to me 🙂

 

Now I realise that rumours of my insanity abound, but . . . when I was in England in June, I spent a day deep in the Devon woods learning about the five bird languages, the five different songs each bird has. The Blackbird’s chirrup, to which I was listening, and watching as his ruff bobbed up and down, was his ‘Contact’ call. That is the song the bird uses to establish if there are any of its own around.

 

Well the blackbird – looking at me with his beady eye – hopped closer and closer, until working out what he was doing, I replied. He didn’t recognise my feeble attempt at its contact call – and turned to the characteristic ‘Alarm’ Language as first he flew off, but then other birds in the vicinity, warned by his panic scattered, and for a few moments the air was thick with these alarm calls spreading as far as the ear could hear.

 

If you start to learn bird languages – Almost always, the first you would know would be the alarm language, for we pay little attention to the birds, far far less than they pay to us. Thus as we begin to learn to listen, we are still insensitive to your place in the scheme of things – we don’t know how to behave amongst birds and by default they are terrified of us. Bird watching may be a hobby for a few, but even then most of the time we pay them no heed, getting on with what we deludedly call ‘our own lives’, as if our lives had nothing to do with theirs. So we don’t live amongst them with gentleness and sensitivity – and they Flee! For we have no Sense of Where we are – of how We fit into Creation . . .

 

This is must be said is a particularly Modern failing – our Culture has very little or noo sense of our place in the scheme of things, how to live within the Creation. We may be able to give a detached ‘scientific account of it, but we do not Sense it, we do not truly Know it.

We have so much power, moreso in this age than in any other, and have used that power to separate ourselves from the wider Creation. Thus we live as an increasingly angry bull in a shop of the most delicate china. We have exacerbated this, even amongst ourselves, by dismantling so many structures and ways of living together, a sort of scorched earth policy for human existence. And all this is made worse as we have become almost an entirely Urban species, in practise if not always in location. Our sphere of the senses all but entirely taken up with human artefacts –  only seeing ourselves reflected back to ourselves. At every turn a humanly constructed environment, disconnected from The Creation, living in increasingly angry echo chamber of anti social-media. Place in Creation? – its for the birds . . . And so we are ‘homeless’

Unlike the Birds We have little or no sense of our Place in the scheme of things. Of who we are, of where we are in Place and in Time . . . Where are we? What Time is it?

 

Yet our Mother the Church in her Wisdom gives us a Place and a Time. And the Time is the beginning of our Year, Advent. This Time I given for Slowness. It is the beginning of the Year – we are called to Awaken – a time for Waking to Awareness – a time for Contemplation. This is the beginning of the Church Year and we should, despite every temptation not to, take time to Wake up to where and When we are, that we might Sense Where and When we are.

 

And indeed we Can do this. We have been given the capacity to See, to Hear, to Read the signs of the times. Jesus would not ask us to do something which he had not empowered us to do.

Last week you may remember our brother St Paul spoke to us of his prayer; that a spirit of wisdom and revelation be given us as we come to know the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory  [Eph 1:17-18] Coming to know God in Jesus Christ is the key to Seeing, to Hearing, the Key to all Knowledge and All Understanding. Knowing God in Jesus we have made Known to us who we are and where we are. Apart from knowing Him, this knowledge is hidden from us. He is the Door which allows in the light of the knowledge of all things in heaven and earth

 

 

And so as Paul opens his first letter to the Church in Corinth he does so with a reminder of our Capacity for Understanding Where and Who we are.

 

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

When we speak of reading the signs of the times – like a home owner who commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch – as Jesus says he has already told us all these things – Paul says we have been given the necessary gifts to discern as we spend time in prayer before God, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened. If these words of Jesus sound strange to our ears, perhaps it is because our spiritual senses and gifts have atrophied, as we have ignored the sense of our place in the scheme of things. And the Times . .

 

Of which there are strong echoes of our times in the words of Jesus

 

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

 

Words which speak powerfully of disorder on the Cosmic Level – affecting Everything. And what do we see around us but the collapse of the created order, and with it, woven through it, for we do have a place whether we recognize it or no, the collapse of social orders and structures. And, yet insulated by our Modern lives, Do we Truly see? After all, if we cannot walk down the drive of the Church – if indeed we do walk anywhere! – and Know our place in it within the Creation, how our lives relate and impact on all living things even at the most basic level of our relationship with the local birdlife, then how do we think we can read the signs of the times?

 

Note how Jesus so often uses the wider created order as a metaphor – consider: the lilies; the mustard seed; weeds and wheat; indeed even the humble sparrow – to whom I will return. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

 

For too long perhaps we have now lost sense of how the spiritual and the material participate in each other – this is of course the heart of our faith, that heaven and Earth are woven together in Christ Jesus – this weaving together is ‘the message of Christmas’ for which Advent is our time of preparation. Losing that sense we think Jesus is engaged in a simple metaphor, as if there were no connection except in our minds – whereas for his listeners, they had a far deeper appreciation of that woven togetherness – that the Creation told a story of Spiritual significance – for it is the Temple of the living God, the Home of God, from which in a sense he has gone away for a time . . .

Finding our place in Creation is finding our place where the material and Spiritual are woven together, inseparable  . . . it is to find our Home

 

So disconnected are we, that I wonder what Jesus might be saying to us, to get us to Wake Up!

 

As he said to Nicodemus, If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? If we do not know our place within the material order of things, and it is woven into the spiritual order in Christ, how can we know our place in the Spiritual order??

 

Well, briefly let’s try – and in our imagination sit a few yards away, under the oak. And thereof we have eyes to see – we see several things.

It is strained – the building of the Rest home dropped the water table – and it is out of place, an English oak growing in alien soil, the weather too warm and dry for it – see the black fungus which decks its twigs – read the signs. We Moderns think little of place and how vital it is to health and move things around, yet everything that was given in Creation was given in a place – it thrives in its native soil – even Vicars :-). None of us are the same wherever we are – where we are is so important in the story of who we are. As humans we cannot just ‘go where we like when we like’ without doing harm to our very existence. We need roots because we need water. The roots of the Oak are wounded and yet it bleeds sap through its leaves at an alarming rate – it cannot keep on at this speed – What does it speak to us?? Out of place and hurried – a ‘metaphor’ for our Modern world – Accelerated we live in a culture of faster and harder and More . . . like the oak we will not see out our full span of years at this rate.

and perhaps for Now, for Advent? Are we Slow, Do we Know where we are?

 

 

Advent is a Gift given to us – a season in which we might yet step back, to pray, to watch to pray for the renewal of the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, of knowledge and understanding.

 

We cannot do this without Seeing the Creation, not purely as Scenery and Views, but Knowing ourselves to be woven into it – our place in it – What it Really is, and who we Really are – like the prodigal – consider, come to our senses. Use the Eyes to See and Ears to hear we have been given – heaven and Earth woven together. Advent is preparation for The Feast of the Incarnation – the woven-ness of all things – if we do not See in Advent, how will we See Christmas?

 

The Creation – It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch – we get so so tied up with the ‘how’ of Creation – Creationists vs Evolutionists, that we completely miss the point. What Has God made?

 

A place, The Place God chooses to make a Home for Himself – The Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us . . . and leaves us to watch over it

 

I close with that doorkeeper, on the watch.

Consider the birds of the air . . . If you are at all attentive to the birds, you will know the Sentinel bird which keeps watch here. No it is not the mighty eagle of St John the Evangelist – it is the humble sparrow who nests in the adjacent beech and from the early hours, sits on the corner of the roof of our house. His call is a contact call and also what we might call background song – the humble sparrow hasn’t a wide vocal range 🙂 but that call is nearly incessant, indeed if you pay too close attention to it it can drive you nearly mad 🙂 He is the Sentinel. He watched the whole patch. Usually he is the first to see a cat.  He is often the first to spread the alarm call as his cheep quickens and gets a little higher ion pitch. He knows his place. He is alert to what is going on around him . . . He reads the sign of the times . . . and others around him pay attention. We are Called by Jesus to be watchkeepers on God’s House, His home

 

Jesus says we are worth more than many sparrows. This advent, let us not be too proud to learn from Him [Let the reader understand]

 

Amen

 

Three (not entirely) wise monkeys . . . Sermon for OT33 Year A, 2017

Sermon for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017 Sunday November 19th
Philippians 4
Matthew 25:14-30

Three (not perfectly) wise monkeys

I have to admit in advance that rather unusually I have chosen one of our readings today, as I missed the opportunity to preach on it a few weeks ago when it came round in the Lectionary – and that is our Epistle, however it does correspond to our Gospel this week.

When I was growing up, my father was regularly absent from home, on business in the ‘oil rich’ nations of the Middle East and Africa. The company for whom he worked equipped hospitals across the gulf states and in Africa. The equipping involved everything from the latest surgical technology to gold plate taps for the personal medical suites of Saudi Royal Princes 🙂

On these trips he would always bring back a present for each of his sons and one year it was what now would be a little frowned on – three wise monkeys, carved from ebony – I still have mine, weighty enough to be an offensive weapon! For some reason mine was ‘speak no evil’, I don’t know whether it was chosen deliberately for me 🙂

Of course the council of the monkeys – hear no evil, see no evil speak no evil is not a bad council. Certainly there is great wisdom in not allowing things into our imaginative world which will only spread darkness. There is I think too little work done on the influence of violent or sexually explicit materials on our souls, perhaps of course because ‘we moderns’ no longer believe in souls. We still largely believe that we are ‘discriminating’ objective observers of the world who ‘can cope’ with watching such things, and in so doing our souls shrivel all the more.

I think in this regard even an ebony monkey is more wise than we. To pick up briefly on my theme of the last couple of weeks, we have an utterly inadequate ontology – we know not whereof we are made, We forget that we are but dust . . . we have little comprehension to use the words of Jesus, of that which makes for our peace . . .

Turning our gaze from Violence, closing our ears to gossip, and restraining the tongue (‘if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all!’ as my mother would say) is Wise council, but if our approach to the World is primarily one of saying no, of shutting it all out, then we do not apprehend the Truth of our Existence

St Paul as he writes to the Philippians exhorts us in a very different way – a way that leads us deep into the Life of God

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 1) our disposition towards life is one of Rejoicing in the Lord, not saying ‘what a terrible time we live in!’ The Christian Life is not one of complaint, it is one of Rejoicing – why? How is this possible in this world??

Well, he goes on – 2) ’Let your gentleness be known to everyone.’ Gentleness is one of the Primary virtues of Christian existence – it is the antithesis of Violence and is the fruit of Knowing that ‘The Lord is near.’ The Lord is near, The Lord, is Here, God’s Spirit is with us . . . lift up your hearts, we lift them to the Lord Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, it is right to give him thanks and praise.

We learn as Christians to live in and through the Eucharist – Christ is at hand, near, present. Anxiety has no place, therefore – Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The Always Rejoicing, Gentle, peaceful life is the Christian Life.

That Rejoicing Always is not I suggest the Happy Shouty Demonstrative Noisy – rather in the spirit of Gentleness it might be described using another forgotten word beginning with G – gladness. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah – the Servant of the Lord, Jesus himself – is the source of
‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.’

Do these things – Be Glad in the Lord, Be gentle out of non anxiety – Peace – And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Not hands over eyes, or ears or mouth, The Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds . . .

Rather than finding ourselves in a war to keep darkness out, rather that which wells up within us guards our hearts and minds in the peace of God – so Paul goes on, rather than keeping things out, focus your hearts and minds on that which brings Life – the wellspring of Life

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We might say – whatever is good and pure and beautiful and true . . .

God is Good – All the time! All the time, God is Good! Fix your heart and mind on Goodness, and your eye will find its home in the Source of all goodness – The One who is the source of Goodness, Beauty, Truth.

As St Paul counsels elsewhere don’t get all tied up in controversy, arguments about words. Go about your life in humility and trust, doing that which he gives, keeping your heart and mind fixed on Goodness – He who is the Headwaters of your Life. Do not lose sight of This Living Water – Life coming to you in Christ Jesus.

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

It is that Simple – Difficult at first for we have perhaps forgotten to so feed our eyes and ears and minds on those things which make for our health – forgetting we have souls of Eternal quality, we allow all sorts of things in. The counsel of the Gospel is ‘if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light’ Dwell on the Light, Goodness, Beauty and Truth, manifested in Jesus. Knowing Jesus our gaze is changed so that we See Goodness and Beauty and Truth coming to us in so many different ways. We Encounter the Goodness of God, and are freed from anxiety in the World.

Unlike the third of the servants to whom the master entrusts his business. In many respects it is true, we see as we are. The third servant in the parable, sees only himself when he says ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; – he accuses his master of being lazy, but of course he himself has done nothing whilst his master has been away! I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?”

The slave sees as HE Is!

With what has he filled his imagination, to ignore the work assigned to him? He does not see His Life as it were tied up in the Life of HIs Master. HE does not Know His Master – he Presumes to Know Him, but does not, for He sees no connection between his life and that of his master at one level – he does not recognise his fortunes as tied up in His Masters fortunes. And all he sees when he looks at his master is what he truly knows, himself . . . wicked and lazy . . . well if that is what you set your eyes on, that is what you become . . .

I think there is a simple warning here. That we live in a world which has little time for God – and constantly we will hear many things which are untruthful about God. Where did the Servant get his ideas about his master? Where do we get our ideas about God?

For in truth, there are many, even in the Church who have decided on the truth of God, without themselves gazing upon him in love, To Behold Him, to Know Him

Fundamentally we Know the Truth about God for we have come to See Him for ourselves

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Set your heart and mind and eye on them, and Behold!! Look!!!

The God of Peace will be with you . . .

Amen

Good Lord, Deliver us!

Sermon for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A 2017

Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 70
Matthew 25:1-13

‘Good Lord deliver us’

‘And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.’ Matthew 24:12-13

Last week we briefly considered  ‘Ontology’ – the question of ‘What Is’, of ‘What we mean when we say ‘Existence’’. And for getting into the heart of the matter, I  think that you could do far worse than talk to a farmer. Of course, coming from a farming family myself I may be biased, but Farmers are very connected to the Earth – they are grounded, we might say ‘humble’. They know far better than most modern people how dependent they are on a hundred and one factors which we pay little attention to – and know it not purely academically, they know it, because they live in it. They have a deep appreciation of Existence.

I remember well how the farmers in my old parish back in England spoke a great deal about climate change for it was affecting their rhythms and patterns of work, and I remember one particular conversation with a farmer who expressed to me his deep concern about Modern folk. That they had never lived through periods of food shortages. That as a society the folk memory of famine and want had been all but erased – for whom food shortage ‘was a thing of the past’, ‘something that happened to other people’. For not since the second war had folk experienced what it was for Everyone to know that food was short. My farmer friend thought this bode ill, that we had for too long lost sight of the importance of food security and agriculture to our daily lives, of our dependence upon the Good Earth, for history taught that famine was an ever returning aspect of the cycle . . .

In one of my churches we had a piece of furniture which was once common – The Litany Desk. On it lay a prayer book open at The Great Litany, a series of prayers with the repeated petition, ‘Good Lord deliver us . . .’ From amongst other things, ‘plague and famine and want . . . ‘

The idea that we might as a congregation pray weekly for deliverance from plague and famine and want, that we should be continually looking to God to preserve us from these things was something that in the eyes of my farmer friend and church member, something we had lost touch with – As Henry reminded me from Scripture – ‘we live in the seven years of plenty, but there are always seven of famine round the corner . . .’

Yet prayers about deliverance from plague and famine and indeed much more – seem to us to be ‘culturally irrelevant’. Would we give ourselves to pray the litany, three times a week? I must confess that in my own cultural blinkers, I removed the desk . . .

And what then of the Psalms? The prayer book of the Church as we know, but do we Know it? How much do they touch our lives , as we perceive them . . .

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’ turn back because of their shame.

Do such prayers apply to us? We who have everything we need . . . One of the hallmarks of our age and culture seems to be its easy self sufficiency. Written deep into the myth of these Islands is ‘we enjoy the good life’ I remember a few years back reading a piece in the Star asking why the entrepreneurial spirit amongst Kiwis was not as strong was in other cultures and the response was – because here you don’t have to put in too much effort for the three Bs – BMW, Boat and Bach – or if you’re from a different class, Barbie, Beer and Bach . . . The good life – sit back with a glass of chilled Savvie blanc and watch the sunset . . . And say to your soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

And in so many ways the sun is setting – certainly over the Church which is rapidly dying in these parts? Perhaps because we have no sense of our Roots, of our Earthiness – of our Dustiness – of where Life truly comes from? Of our sheer dependence on everyone and everything that surrounds us
. . . and under all, in all through all and coming to us if we did but see, the Deep wellsprings of the Life of God who in Christ sustains everything – Christ – sustains everything . . .

No one is crying out – ‘Why have you abandoned us??’ No one seems to be praying, ‘From a collapsing Church – Good Lord deliver us’. How strong is, not our doctrine or our idea of our mutual dependence on one another and God, how Strong is our Sensation, that embodied perception that Knows that the myth of Independence is a Shallow and deadly lie, that in truth it is God who is Life, who sustains our lives moment by moment. How is this Perception lived out amongst us?

Independence tells us we can do it for ourselves, that we have ‘our own lives’ and that is how we experience life in the modern world if we have a modest income. This becomes the narrative of our existence, and even the church acts as if it is more or less independent of God

Last week we pondered Jesus’ beatitudes, His startling accounting of those who were blessed. Of how his words were Emphatic – Blessed are the meek – for THEY shall inherit the Earth . . . Blessed are the poor, meek, mourning, hungry, persecuted – THEY shall inherit.

What marks out the Blessed in Jesus terms? Those who are in need, in necessity – those who do cry out day and night to the LORD, Good Lord deliver us – those who knew their dependence on kindness of others and the goodness of God, not as dry doctrine, but embodied fact – Blessed are those who know the truth of their existence . . . Blessed are those . . .

‘who cry out to God day and night will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Blessed are the un-noticed – Blessed are those who are looking for God’s coming to them . . .

Blessed are those who long for his appearing, for they will not be careless with the oil – they will be prepared – they will be ready. The parable of the wise and foolish differentiates between those who are attentive, those who know their need and their insufficiency, and those who have become careless, who consider their life is their own.
Jesus having preached several parables against the Pharisees, now warns his disciples. Your Master, your Rabbi is going on a journey – things are being put into your hands – there is a very stern warning in the verses before our parable which puts it into context – Jesus talking to his disciples says

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(As one writer wryly asks – ‘which we may ask is worse, to be cut into pieces or to be assigned a place with the hypocrites . . . 🙂 )

So we have the wise slave who attends to his masters business, who is attentive to his coming, who knows his Life is tied up with his masters, who is caught up in that Love from the Lord, and too the Lord, which is the heart of mutual existence – and the wicked slave who gets distracted, separated out. The wise bridesmaids who are ready with their oil, and the foolish who haven’t given any thought to preparations, for what would they Need??

This parable with its stern closure – ‘I do not know you’ and the previous warning to the disciples take us back to that Sermon on the Mount which begins with the beatitudes of the needy, and takes us to its closure – its ending – the wise and the foolish.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 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 evildoers.’

Distracted from the small works of mercy, by grandiose schemes and plans – unknown to the one who comes in smallness and humility

Then the parable of the Wise and foolish – those who hear the words of Jesus, are attentive to his word, and act on them – the Wise who build their house on the rock of the words of The Other . . . and those who don’t – those who don’t act on the words of Jesus and build their house where they see fit . . . Which house will stand in the day of the Lord’s appearing?

It is a story about an approaching storm – The Day of the Lord as spoken of by the prophet Amos. Amos the uncultured shepherd prophet, who throughout cries out words of warning to the comfortable

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

Caught up in mutual independence in our neediness and love; or Independent, thinking ourselves to have a life of our own, not anchored to anything or anyone?

I must say I Love his turn of phrase – ‘as if someone fled from a lion only to be met by a bear!’ but its message is sober and clear

The closing verses of the Psalm place us – place us within the Reality of our Life before God, who Is our Life and give us a rejoicing Hope, and Orientation towards the One who comes to us in the Name of the Lord

Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, ‘God is great!’
But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!

A storm is coming – Good Lord, deliver us!