Knowing and Knowing – Sermon for Lent 1

Sermon for Lent 1

Evensong – Sunday 21st February 2021

Year B

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Romans 5:12-19

“Have you not discriminated among yourselves, and become judges with wicked thoughts?”

James 2:4

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Why? Why does eating of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil lead to death?

Good and Evil . . . can We judge? Can we tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat?

Following the end of the Second World War, at the Nuremburg trials, the triumphant Allied forces showed a 6 hour long movie. Entitled, “The Nazi Plan”, it carefully spliced together film to show the horrors of Nazism. It was an act of judgement, of making the line between Good and Evil very clear. The official story of the war was simply that Good had triumphed over Evil. The judgement of History was clear. There must be no doubt about who the wicked people were.

Yet there was a problem with such a simplification. Rather than viewing from a great height – in ‘the great scheme of things’ – viewed up close the picture was not at all clear. As many many allied troops knew, they too had committed and been involved in atrocities. Those stories were not told. Not all of humanity was to be on trial at Nuremburg, although perhaps it should have been

Following the war in Germany, the shame of what had happened meant that the war was not spoken of, until a generation arose who did not have first hand experience of the war. They were angry when they discovered the truth. It was their parents who had been complicit – so in the 1970’s there was an attempt to wipe the slate clean. Most famous were the actions of the Bader Meinhof gang, yet they too came to a terrible realization. In condemning Nazism they had murdered people. As one former member said – “we too had become fascists . . .”

And despite many many attempts down through the years to produce Purity, the old problem remains. We have eaten from the tree and Know Good and Evil, but there is ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing’

We can ‘know about’. Or we can Know. And the difference is critical here, most particularly with respect to other human beings, but also the Creation itself.

To know about requires separation from – to know as it were from a distance. But to Know is to be woven into. “Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son”. Two lives become one, not in confusion but in Union. These are different Knowings.

To ‘Know’ Good and Evil is the human condition. Eating the apple, we take it into ourself. Yet, we are deceived. Our problem is that we confuse Knowing with knowing about . . . We set up an supposed objective distance from this or that person or act and declare them to be Good, or Evil. A curiously objective distance we even apply to ourselves . . . declaring ourselves to be Good . . . as opposed to that person or those people.

And it is that setting apart that is the root of the problem. By our distancing we think we can see properly. By judging we separate ourselves from others and indeed the world around us.

Jesus’ problem as he encountered people was with those who thought they were Good compared with others. We categorise them as ‘religious’ people, yet all people in those days were religious – it is a wrong distinction.

As some folk try to purify the world of religion, with all its attendant problems, they merely set up other versions of the same things, with sure dogmas of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. It wasn’t the Pharisees and Saducees who were entering the Kingdom ahead of the tax collectors and prostitutes, it was the other way round, and the first person to enter the fullness of the Kingdom was a thief . . . which brings us to the Cross of Christ.

To Judge is to undo the work of Jesus upon the Cross in making the two one. In his flesh uniting God and Human beings. He used the consequences of our alienation to undo the transgression of Adam, the sin of standing apart, from himself. He became a stranger even to himself. He is ashamed of his nakedness, his own being.

Now he has to cover himself. Separating himself from himself, he found himself separated from the woman – flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. He no longer recognizes himself in his fellow human. The man and the woman hide from God, and become strangers to one another. The Good Creation becomes an enemy. Estrangement rules. And Estrangement is death.

Yet Death will not have The Last Word.

In the Resurrection of Jesus, God gifts eternal Life to humanity. Not how Paul speaks of humanity as a totality in his letter – from the one man all – how much more, from the one man all. For as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Unless of course we don’t count ourselves as Christ himself did, amongst the transgressors. Amongst those people. Upon the Cross, Jesus hangs between two thieves . . .

We ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, thinking we might thereby stand as judge and jury – instead of which we found we took it into ourself – we were woven into Good and Evil.

Yet God in Christ wove himself into humanity – that we might Know not good and evil, but The Good, The Good One, and so share not in knowing about, but Knowing God

As Jesus Says. –‘Now this is eternal Life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Not know about, but Know.

Our healing from the wound of the knowledge of Good and Evil is to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Life, the body and blood of Christ and thus Know Him. That is Life

Amen

Out of Control – Sunday next before Lent. Year B 2021

Mark 9:2-9

Out of Control!

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds

‘I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it began to cry after him to return: but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, ‘Life, life, eternal life’

So begins the journey of the Pilgrim towards the heavenly city in Pilgrims progress . . .

I couldn’t help but think of this when a news item caught my eye. The newly elected MP Ricardo Menéndez who had travelled to Mexico for distressing family reasons. The powerful ehoes of the Government ‘advice’ – “Do not leave New Zealand”, yet something called him forth, and he has won few plaudits for it.

Similarly of course Sarah has left these shores to step into the thick of the current situation in the UK. Flying into a locked down country – against the stronger advice of some of her own family and to the bemusement of some here.

Stay Safe. Stay where you know. Stay in your cave. Stay where it is safe. But what if you have no choice?

Recently I’ve been in conversation with folks who are exploring a vocation to the ordained ministry of the church, both here and in the UK. There is only one failsafe test of vocation, which is having no choice. This is why I think the old ways of laying hands on people and ordaining them was far better, there was never any danger of self deception, they had no choice.

I’ve been considering those who have no choice in the world at the time of this COVID pandemic. Those who have no choice to work from home. The only choice is to go out to work or to starve. A choice between life and death, which is on the one hand no choice at all, and on the other the only ‘choice’ that matters. Those who have no choice in the world . . . Blessed are you poor – you who have no choice. For yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.

In our society, perhaps like no other time before, the idea of having no choice is understood as a bad thing. For those who are sufficiently well off we like to decide what work we will do – of course we might dignify it with the label ‘vocation’ – but in reality it is almost always our choice. We like having choice. It is a sign that ‘we are in control’ of the circumstances of our lives. To step into, or to fly into danger , in to the place where you are out of control, is seen as a form of insanity. The only people who do this kind of thing are those who have no choice . . . Something Summons them forth. LIFE calls. Follow me!

And so Peter, James and John drop the security of the life they know, the life where they have half a clue what is going on, the life they have in some respects. They left their nets and followed Jesus. Because when you hear the call of Life, you have no choice.

And so you relinquish that which choice creates, the illusion of control.

When we relinquish control we step out from our safe space, the shore of the life we make for ourselves. It is a death. It reveals itself precisely in the way people leave security because they have no choice. But as Christians we believe that it is precisely when we die that we enter Life in its fulness . . .

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves

Jesus took them. He leads them. They are not in control. They have passed through the death of relinquishing control, and enter Life.

Note Jesus words to the three disciples after this event. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

So, after he has risen for the dead, the disciples are to tell people . . . about this!

Years later as Peter writes to the infant churches, of all the things he wants them to remember of his life it is this incident.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’  We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

After the Son of Man has risen from the dead, Peter is telling people about how Jesus has led them through death to life . . .

And it was a disorienting experience. They thought they knew what life and existence was all about, yet now . . .

Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Peter is babbling. He is like a new born child – he has passed into the Kingdom of Heaven . . . This experience has undone him. Crossing the boundary does that. Your world falls apart. And one way or another our world will fall apart. Through the cracks in our lives of quiet desperation to use Thoreau’s helpful phrase, light breaks in.

It’s always light – as with Paul on the road to Damascus, so too with Peter, James and John. Light – Terrifying bright Light – we die and enter Life in response to a call which we have no choice but to follow

There is Life. And then there is Fear which keeps us from Life. We live in a world dominated by fear, and fear creates the urge to control. An urge which has no space for those with no control. Think about cars. About how they are bigger and stronger and safer . .  . but not for those who have no choice, the pedestrian.

The situation with regard to Covid only reveals this to a higher degree, the tightening grip of fear, fear which is the antithesis of life . . . And this happens in a myriad of ways. I saw something from the church officials suggesting that perhaps this was an opportunity to move to a new way of sharing the peace. Never mind that originally it was a kiss; handshakes and hugs are so yesterday in the ever so ‘Brave New World’, ushered in by those who are afraid. In which people get used to and then justify never hugging another person . . . This is not Life, it is a living death.

As our own beloved patron says, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear: for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 Jn 4:18 Put another way, as I was sharing with our Wednesday congregation, when we fear we do not know what Love is. Rather our definition of love is one which works within closed in boundaries where we feel safe. Where we are in control. When we are in control, Love is our choice . . . when we enter the life of God, Love just Is. Perfect Love casts out fear. Perfect love doesn’t merely cross the boundary, it stops seeing it. It is Life – Life, Love drives out fear

But this requires a death – a coming to the end of our life, or perhaps better, the end of our self . . . the life where we think we are in charge and in control . . . Perhaps this is needed for the church as well. I know from personal experience about how the church has become about control, about ‘we know how things are and God has left us to get on with ‘it’, that old story about God leaving us to get on with it. ‘Never will I leave you – Behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.

Control has been given over to Jesus – Jesus takes them, Jesus leads them. And they discover Heaven on Earth, because they have given up on fear and control, they have entered Life on the Holy Mountain.

When we hear that voice calling us to Life, we must go and step through the fear barrier to be Life in the World. Our life is put in God’s hands, where it belongs for now it is not our Life but His.

Heaven on Earth . . . not pie in the sky by and by.

When you know the power of life, you step through the fear barriers. Hearing its call you can but drop your nets and follow . . .

Or stay by the lake shaking your head after those who have gone . . .

Amen

Compass stuck? Second Sunday before Lent, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31

1 Cor 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

Audio Recording

What are you looking for? life or Life?

From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps reach out to grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-7

The North of England is a place of strange goings on and customs. From the obscure practices of hill farmers to old men in flat caps and whippet racing, there’s lots to confuse the merely curious.

On the outskirts of small towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire are huts, where for generations usually the male of the family in an effort to get a bit of piece has retreated to tend to his prize possessions – his racing pigeons. This is where ‘the little man’ lives his dreams, becoming the equivalent of sheiks and Rosthchilds with their thoroughbred horses.

Every few weeks a truck will collect baskets of pigeons and drive them to somewhere in Southern Europe from where they will be set free . . . and one morning the old man’s gaze will pass to the horizon where a dot becomes the prize pigeon, having flown almost unerringly home . . .

It’s thought this sense of direction is helped by magnetic particles in their beak . . . and humans are not dissimilar. We all have within us a homing instrument – the only problem we have is most people don’t know what it’s for . . .

Paul who has become all things to all people that he might by some mean save some preaches about this to those wise Athenians, saying, From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps reach out to grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

We were made to search for God. It is intrinsic to being human. As much as the pigeon, we are made to search for home. Our problem is that we don’t always realise that. We put this ‘homing instinct’ to different uses. We don’t know what it is . . .

Years ago, Sarah and I were out on the highest fells in my home, the English Lake District. It was mid-summer and the weather was, typically, cold and very wet. We’d spent the day crossing mighty Scafell with it’s rock gulleys, all ready to swallow the unwary, then onto the highest point in England, Scafell Pike. Sarah was tired and a little hypothermic, so we were making our way down the Corridor route towards Borrowdale, when we spotted two youngsters coming up the hill from the direction of Wasdale. Realising they were either foolhardy or lost, we waied for them to get to us. They were lost. They, like us were looking for Borrowdale but had descended 3000 feet into the wrong valley. After we’d ascertained that we asked to see there map so they could get safely down. ‘Map? Oh we haven’t got one, but we’ve got a compass . . .’ Proudly they brought out probably the most expensive compass I’ve ever seen, a wonderful sighting compass, extraordinarily accurate . . . but entirely useless without a map . . .

We put them on the Corridor path, told them to follow it until they reached a lake, then turn left until they reached the emergency stretcher box. Pause there and give thanks you haven’t need it, then turn right alongside the path following the outflow stream of the Lake until you come to the valley . . . Their faces which had been wracked with worry lightened and they set off, much faster than us, and we hoped not too fast . . .

We all have that compass. We are all equipped to find our way home. The problem is the compass only makes sense with a map. Someone who has made the journey, who knows the way.

The prophet Isaiah gives us the map –

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.

Has it not been told you from the beginning?
   Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
   and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
   and spreads them like a tent to live in; 
who brings princes to naught,
   and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 

Wake up to where you are, and who is with you . . . And now, God himself has come to show you the way . . .

Jesus is on the move. He knows where he is going. As he goes like a compass swinging round in the presence of magnetic rock,  that homing instinct wakens in those he encounters. First Simon Peter, Andrew, and James and John . . . following their deep instinct, not knowing why. They have to go after him.

As he goes Jesus draws a crowd. Reality – Real Life – springs into existence around him. Like those iron filings in school science experiments, the world is transformed around him, pointing people towards him. Demons come out of people. Simon Peter’s mother in law is healed. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Like a compass needle that is stuck, then freed, Her life is immediately begins to orient itself towards Jesus and those around him.

She rises from sleep to serve Jesus and his disciples. She has found her direction. In the presence of Jesus her homing instinct finds its True North. Jesus then takes his time in leisurely prayer, checking out his own orientation, his own homing instinct, his Love for the Father . . .

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Yet Simon and his companions hunted for him. How could they do otherwise? In Him they’ve found life, as Jesus has to be with the Father in prayer, so they have to be with Jesus.

When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ Of course – Everyone is created to search for God, and God has shown up.

Jesus answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 And the disciples go after him.

‘Everyone is searching for you’ We all have that compass needle. We are created to Know God – intimately. To find our home in him. But our needles get stuck. We lose contact. That Orienting instinct sets out to try and find home, but instead settles for a career, or the right education for our children, or good health, or a million and one things. That essential part of us, the spirit which is for God, gets bound up with the world, our ‘fixations’ – those things we can’t help but think about, our sins. Literally Sin means ‘missing the mark’ That compass which is given us that we might seek after God and find Him settles on something else. Something which we think is more real. We’re created for the Life which comes from God – which we call ‘Eternal’ Life – Life which isn’t bound by time and place – but we settle down, our homing compasses stuck in the wrong direction

It is only when we encounter The Real One, The Human being, Jesus that that needle is set free.

The Apostle Paul had been very sure of what life was, what religion was. He’d ascended the ranks. He was a Pharisee of the pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. His worldly religious credentials were right up there with Bishops and Archbishops . . . His needle was stuck. Until he encounters Jesus. He’d set his heart on the wrong things, but in the presence of Jesus he is unstuck, he is undone. Serious work needs to take place in Paul. Unlike Simon Peter’s mother in law, he is very very stuck. Some people are far more stuck than others. Their hearts almost set in concrete, almost . . . but never entirely. Paul needs to be freed and this takes time. He is blinded by the presence of Jesus, it will take time for him to be reset.

But set free, all that ‘religious energy’ finds it’s true home. He loses himself. He is free and thus free to become the servant of all – I am free with respect to all, I have used my freedom to make myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Paul is Free and now he lives for Jesus, his orienting beacon in whom he has found his true home. Are we similarly free? Or are our hearts and minds set on other things? What are we looking for. Are we content with life, or in the presence of Jesus have we awoken to Life and set out on the journey to where we don’t know, to never be the same, to come Home.

May we like Paul  find ourselves freed from the world’s illusions. May our homing instinct awaken to its true North, God in our midst

Amen

Back to Basics – Hearing Jesus

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after The Epiphany

Year B, 2021

Mark 1:21-28

‘Let those with ears to hear, hear!’ Matthew 13:9

Well, it’s still January. Just. Did the turn of a the year fill you with a resolution to change something about your life? New Year, New start?

For me, it was a decision to learn how to play the guitar. This may surprise some of you. For the discerning amongst you, it may well be met with the reply, ‘and not before time’.

I remember years ago taking a baptism service back in England. It was in the afternoon and my organist wasn’t available, so we sang songs accompanied by yours truly.

Following the service a fairly elderly man as he came to shake my hand said, ‘you clearly don’t know how to play a guitar’. He was of course right. I’d been found out.

I am in truth an occasionally enthusiastic self taught strummer of a guitar, and any judge would find me guilty of a duty of lack of care and abuse of a fine instrument.

Self taught, making it up as I went along, I had picked up all sorts of bad habits, and my guitar playing looked little like the real thing. So this year I took the decision to go back to basics. I’ve enrolled on a course starting from the beginning, stripping our some bad habits and hopefully make a little progress . . . To date, all I seem to have for my efforts are sore fingertips!

Stripping back to the basics.

It’s when we strip back to the essentials that we discover the true nature of our existence. Buried deep under the accretions and the years of bad habits and wrong turnings we touch on something we’d lost touch with, Life itself.

Often this stripping back happens against any will. We thought life was fine, then something terrible happens. As folk have said to me so many times, it really showed me what was important . . . We are found out. We realise we don’t know what we thought we knew. The life we’d been living was not life at all.

We realise that despite everything we thought we knew, in so many ways we are powerless. We don’t have what it takes. We are found out. Exposed before God – we are naked and ashamed . . . and all too often we pile up all those things that keep us from that life encounter. The place is too painful, too boring, too awkward, and way too uncomfortable. Too stripped back, too basic . . . well, this is year B. The Gospel for this year is Mark and Mark has no time for comfort.

His is the Back to basics gospel. There’s no fancy accretions. It is utterly unpretentious, and its strange kindness is as blunt as that man who pointed out the truth about my guitar playing all those years ago. (This was the way amongst those with whom I grew up . . .)

Mark’s Good News of Jesus Christ is angular – it has sharp corners and edges. We keep getting jolted by it. It’s repeated word is ‘suddenly’. If we are hearing the words well then they jar. You think you know where it’s going, then ‘suddenly . . .’. ‘Suddenly’ is Mark’s version of Behold! Wake up! Something is going on. Mark won’t even smooth things out for us with a post resurrection sighting of Jesus. The disciples are told that he’s gone ahead of them, we have to follow, to Galilee . . . which is where we begin. Jesus has returned.

Jesus is passing by the sea of Galilee and seeing Peter and Andrew commands them, “Follow me!” And Suddenly, Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed him . . . our gaze follows them. Further along the lake He sees James and Andrew, the sons of Zebedee, hard at work fishing. Immediately on seeing them he calls them and they too drop everything and follow him . . .

Where does our gaze go? Are we left asking about Zebedee and the hired men? Has Mark’s gospel left our pretentions to be followers of Jesus on the rocky shore of Galilee? Hey Jesus, we shout after his back, what about them . . . and he continues to move onwards . . . what about me? Where are you going? Come back! . . .

Jesus seems unconcerned. He’s on the move. We can stay put or we can follow him, but there’s not even the time to choose, for he’s not hanging around . . .

We respond or we allow the accretions to gather once more . . . “But where is he going?” Questions, questions . . . hesitations, waiting, and slowly like the bad habits on my guitar playing, our faith settles down comfortably . . . We come up with lots of answers which secure us in our existence. Like the John Bell hymn, having asked ‘will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?’, we follow up with lots of answers not to where Jesus is going – but where he has gone, answers that leave us where we are . . .

Jesus is not hanging around and as he goes on his way everything he does wakens people in astonishment. What Jesus does is calls people from the sleep of death, to Life, but as the parable of the sower teaches, we can awake and then go back to the sleep of death. Reality breaks in, and we pull the covers back over our heads for we have no root. The desire for Life doesn’t go deep enough.

I may or may not improve at the guitar, it depends if the root goes deep enough, if I am thirsty enough, if I want it enough . . . I may or may not improve at the guitar if I don’t allow many other things to get in the way . . . Far more important though , I might find out where Jesus is going if I go with him to where I don’t know . . . Seek, Jesus says, and you will find . . . but am I thirsty for what he offers . . . Must I know where he is going?

In Jesus do I see or hear something which . . . which wakens me to something worth giving up everything else for, abandoning all distractions for  . . .

The Good Shepherd comes looking for His lost sheep. The sheep follow Him because they know his voice. Knowing his voice entails following Him

Follow me, Jesus commands Peter and Andrew, James and John. Look! They go with him, where?

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Jesus speaks and things happen . . . this has never been seen since the creation of the world. God said ‘let there be light!’ And it was so! Jesus said ‘Follow me!’ and Immediately they went. Jesus words go deep. He casts his net into the depths of human hearts, to a place we didn’t even suspect existed. There we were, in charge of our own lives. Knowing what was right and what the day held before us, and where we were going . . . and then a voice. A voice from both beyond us and within us . . . We wake up! He gets his hook into us, and we go . . .

“The Scribes – well we hear them a lot, We sit around and discuss their teachings . . . What they say seems to make sense when we think about it. We can take it or leave it. It does not take hold of us.” I sometimes wonder if house groups are a bit like this . . .

We live in a world where we think it is all about us taking hold of things, grasping them, Figuring things out . . .  for ourselves. But this is not the Kingdom of God.. The KoG is about our being taken hold of. The formlessness and void of our lives apart from God are taken hold of by this Word – and leaps upwards in response. ‘he taught them as one having authority’.

Authority! Authority demands a response. We know this at one level. When you see those flashing lights in your rear view mirror, you know this is Authority demanding a response. And you pull over! You don’t drive on thinking, well I need to figure this one out for myself . . .

That is the nature of authority. As the Centurion sad to Jesus, I say come, and they come: I say go and they go! He recognizes Jesus’ authority for he knows the nature of authority. Authority makes things happen

Authority is not about sitting around and deciding for ourselves . . . Authority is about letting go of that. We can endlessly ponder the plight of Zebedee and the hired men, we can wonder if there is another way . . . and sat by the shore we will come up with lots of reasons. The moment will have passed. We have failed to recognize Authority. We have ears, but we haven’t heard. That place within us that flickered momentarily goes back to sleep, and so do we . . .

Suddenly! Immediately! Look! there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’

Stripped back to basics – hidden away, terrifying things, and in the presence of Jesus the secrets of hearts are revealed – from the heart of this man comes uncleanness . . . He is exposed before God . . .

This is what Jesus does, reveal the secrets of our hearts, things hidden even from ourselves in the depths of our being. He casts down into the depths . . .

The hidden thing is brought into the light, the man is healed . . .

When we follow, we follow from death to Life, from darkness to Light. But for some the Light is too bright, the Life is too real. We return to the world of darkness and dreams. Of comfortable illusions about ourselves, about Jesus and about God. Stories that leave us where we are. We don’t want to be found out . . .

The Guitar Judge found me out. I had to return to the beginning . . .

Jesus comes to us. God is walking in the garden in the cool of the day – We are found out . . . do we hide? Or do we respond to his voice, and his invitation to us to let go of our ideas, and to go where we don’t know . . . to trust him that whatever is revealed in us he will heal us of . . . to go where we don’t know, and never be the same

Let those with ears to hear, hear

‘Don’t just stand there, Follow Me!’ – Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

So I awake early one day this week and, unable to go back to sleep, switch on a podcast regarding the question of the body of God, as I am sure we all would  After all, Scripture speaks of the face of God, the arm of God, and when God first shows himself in Scripture he’s out for a stroll . . .

Which set me thinking. About how despite all our attempts to keep him in His place, to nail him down – or up – God is always on the move in Scripture.

God is a God who is on the move. If you’ve ever read the bewildering account of Ezekiel’s vision of the Glory of God by the Kebar river, it is if nothing else a vision of God in Motion. Creatures, Eyes, wheels, wings, moving NSEW as the Spirit commands.

Right at the beginning, when God appears in Creation He is ‘walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ – the sound of which causes the Man and the Woman to hide. They’ve just sought to secure their own existence, but God is on the move. They hide after all a moving God might disrupt their incipient ‘life on their own terms’. God is not Safe.

When God rescues Israel from Egypt, to go with Him they must go on a journey, and always ready to move. The God of the Exodus asks only for a Tabernacle, a tent. For Israel must be ready at a moment’s notice to dismantle it as the people follow the pillar of cloud and fire.

And God seems less than impressed with attempts to build a Temple for his presence in Jerusalem, to ‘domesticate’ him. To give God a place to settle down in, so we can pay attention to our own lives without wondering where he’s going. We build a place in our lives, a quiet half hour in the morning, a visit or two to church each week to visit the domesticated God. The Rest Home God . . . But God is not having anything to do with our programmes of domestication

So significant is this aspect of the Life of God, that when Paul preaches the gospel to those wise Athenians, he begins with this very point The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands . . . You and I can’t do anything for God. We can’t be busy on God’s behalf and turn up once a week to give him a progress report on everything we’ve done for him. As God rebukes King David, ‘will you build Me a house?’

And then Paul finishes off, While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent. You got God wrong. He’s not your domestic household God, or even your State God with his fine buildings, he is the dynamic Living God!

The Living God is looking for a house, but not one made of stone, but a living house, one that moves, indeed that walks. It is instructive how in Greek the verb to Live is the same as that to walk, which makes one wonder if in our sedentary age – and sitting kills you – then we are less in the image of the Living God who walks, who is always and everywhere on the move, as the wind blows wheresoever it will, not according to our whims and desires . . .

So when the tabernacle, the dwelling pace of God reappears – The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us – he is moving. ‘after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee . . .’ ‘As he passed along the Sea of Galilee . . .’

As he passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘follow me’. – literally ‘Come along after me’, walk behind me . . .

The announcement of the Kingdom of God at hand and the call for repentance is followed up by a call to move, to Follow . . . of course for God is not a stationary God.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to Go after Jesus, to Follow him?

In the early years of the Church, before the faith became domesticated it was far from respectable. And so when ‘they were first called Christians’ it was a term of abuse. In these days, it must be said, for various reasons it is again becoming less than socially acceptable to be a Christian. So some folk look for alternatives, like ‘Jesus Follower’. Cool, eh?

But what does it mean? What does that phrase summon up for you? Hearing the words ‘Follow me’?

If we are at all alert, then that question begs another question, a question asked by Thomas Lord, we do not know where you are going! How can we know the way? Follow Jesus! Yes! But where?

We’ve just sung ‘Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name’ Of course in this case Jesus doesn’t even call them by name . . . But will you? . . . Are we up for being Jesus followers?

Yet the next line . . . ‘will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same’

(Much as I appreciate the ministry of John Bell, I think that if he’d left it at that, rather than supply lots of suggestions as to where this might lead it would have been a more truthful if less popular hymn . . . after all it’s a lot easier to come up with our own definitions of what it means to follow Jesus than to follow him . . .)

Jesus said to them ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men’. Jesus has fished for men, and they have followed him, they in their own part will fish for followers who will go with them . . . but where?

Come with me, where you don’t know, and I will change who you are . . .

To follow Jesus means changing location, it means moving from where we are to somewhere else . . . but where?

To move is to change. If we go somewhere else in any meaningful sense we change. Tourists never really go to the places they visit – they think that other countries exist for their benefit, and as we know all too well here in Aotearoa, we get by by existing to fulfil the fantasies of the tourists.

But when you go somewhere to live there, to live in and become residents of another country, you change.

Our story is that of Abram who is called to leave his country for a land the Lord will show him, to Live there.

Which perhaps is why we like to keep this God fixed, in a Temple, or in some convenient idea which is pretty much the same thing, so we don’t have to go anywhere. Certainly not go somewhere we don’t know.

If we know one thing about Jesus’ disciples they don’t see where he’s going, until it’s too late . . . but they go anyway.

Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately [Behold!] they left their nets and followed him. Mark’s ‘behold!’ word is ‘immediately. After all there are these fishermen doing what they’ve always done, and What?! Without a word, they just go after him? Their action would have jarred their family and friends, woken them with a jerk. The Living God is at work. Look! They left their nets and followed him . . .

To follow Jesus entails a journey of change – to become different people. Perhaps that’s why we prefer to worship a god who is happy to be in a Temple, rather than the one who moves?

On the other hand, perhaps we too like the fishermen might go with him? And allow him to make us to become different people?

Lent is soon upon us – our study material is on precisely this movement and change – we are all invited to the journey

Amen

Christmas 2020

St Paul says – ‘We look to things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are passing away. But the things that are unseen are eternal’

We gather upon this Holy Night in the darkness of a church lit only by candles. It is moment in time for faith, for faith looks to things that are unseen. It is when the glare of so much artificiality is taken from our eyes that we can begin to adjust to a different way of seeing that is at the heart of how we experience our Christian faith.

On this Holy Night, we gather to celebrate a Light coming into the World, a Light unlike any other, a Light which shines in the darkness, a Light which the darkness cannot overcome.

All the light we see, and think we see by, is eventually overcome by darkness. The light of these candles if we leave them will expire in a few hours. The light of our own lives, as Shakepeare puts it so poignantly, ‘out, out brief candle’. The light of the Sun – even this one day will expire.

But there is a Light which no darkness overcomes – a unseen Light which paradoxically may shine all the brighter in the darkest night. For faith does not look to things seen, but to things unseen.

The Light of Christ coming into the world  – a light in the darkness. A Light which the blind see – ‘Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!’, cries out blind Bartimaeus. The man who cannot see, sees!

But those who think they see . . . who see by the lights that are overcome, those who see by simplistic explanations for the Wonder of existence, which paradoxically remove all joy, beauty, hope and of course Love, everything that we know but cannot See . . . that which comes from the Light which darkness is powerless against

And a Voice, A Word, which the deaf hear, yet in a sea of words those who think they hear fail to detect. In the beginning was the Word, before any Light and beyond any Light.

We know much of course of false lights and voices – hopes and dreams we call them. We look forward to them, we place them in front of us to show us the way as we make our plans, but then . . . well 2020 did for an uncountable number of such illumination . . . Those lights we had lit for ourselves – Yet there is Light

The Light which shines in the Darkness . . . which shines out of Darkness

Recently I’ve been giving much thought to black holes. God has not left himself without testimony in His Creation, even if you have to look in the strangest of places.

Black holes – the centre of all galaxies from which or into which spiral untold millions of stars. Apart from which they would not exist. Light with darkness at the centre. Where does this light and life come from? Where might it go? Beyond our vision, beyond our sight – A Light in the darkness, a Light out of Darkness

Black holes in a sense are not properly named, for they do emit lots of radiation, but it is not visible radiation. It is if you like a light that we do not naturally see by, but light all the same.

We say we see, but we are blind to almost all of Reality

This theme of Light we do not see repeats throughout Scripture.

Scripture seems uninterested in Proving God to us – indeed He is the God whom no one can see and live. The God of Israel does not permit images to be made of him.  He is not to be seen by our eyes, and thus subject to our control.

And He comes into the world but hidden from the glare of the false lights . . . He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He comes unseen as a babe born in an obscure part of the world, in an age lacking in mass media . . . relying on the testimony of a few unreliable and at times unsure witnesses . . .

The world came into being through him – yet the world did not know him, did not perceive him, did not see him . . . And Scripture seems unembarrassed.

Scripture lacks that passionate ardour of the evangelist – to prove it, to show us. Jesus says ‘a wicked a perverse generation asks for a sign’ – the only sign is that of Jonah, of walking into the darkness to emerge three days later.

In the darkness which grips so much of the world in these days – we would do well to listen to the voice of the angles echoing the most repeated phrase in these obscure Scriptures – Do not be afraid.

We would so well to ponder this Christmas tide the words of the prophet Isaiah who questions the people of God thus

Who among you fears the Lord
   and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
   and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
   and relies upon his God?

It is a question which all the baptised should ask, for at our baptism we are addressed with these words –  ‘you have received the Light of Christ – Walk in this light all the days of your life.

Walk in this light

The Light no darkness can overcome

Walk in this Light

which was born into our world

Walk in this light

Even at the last as your eyes close to the light of the world

Walk in this light – which passes through the darkness of suffering and even of death,

To rise to be God’s bright new dawn

Jesus, the light of the world – to paraphrase CS Lewis – not a light to be seen, but a Light by which to see. The Light shining in the darkness . . . Eternal Light, Now and Always. Amen

Sermon for Advent 4

This week I was asked to preach at another church, and to pick my own texts, always a dangerous business! Anyway, here are my thoughts on ‘Space for God’

Sermon for Advent 4

St Matthew’s, Dunedin

Luke 1:26-38

Luke 10:38-42

Space for God

My thoughts this week are on ‘Space for God’. I wonder what those words summon up within us.

Perhaps the title of a book which was very popular about twenty or so years ago – ‘Too busy not to pray!’ by Bill Hybels, and other such ideas – fitting God into our busy lives.

In the C 17 in England, near Liverpool there was a battle in the Civil War, before which one Jacob, First Baron Astley prayed before his troops, ‘Lord you know how busy I must be this day. Should I forget thee, do not thou forget me’

We have such busy lives. How to find space for God? And I guess you might be expecting me to exhort you to find more space for God, but I’m not . . .

 We are in the season of Advent and like each of the church’s seasons, it is given to us as an opportunity to remind ourselves of essential aspects of our faith. For Advent, that is ‘Waiting for God in Hope’. Contemplating the second coming of Christ. You might say that the primary way that the Church is different, that Christians are different in the world is that our minds are elsewhere

Yet, on the first day of this month I received an email from SUNZ. It’s opening was ‘ Well, it’s December 1st, so I can officially wish everyone ‘Happy Christmas’.

We ought to forgive the Prime Minister and Mike Hoskings for exchanging their Christmas presents way too early, but when the church loses touch with its own seasons? When it misses the point, but perhaps in thinking about Space for God, we too are missing the point. Perhaps there is something much more significant and life transforming hidden in that seemingly innocuous phrase?

Nd we begin to explore it in the second of our two readings.

I must admit I have a degree of reticence preaching on the story of Martha and Mary, for however carefully I exposit the text, without fail someone fails to get it. You proclaim the Word, and someone is guaranteed to push back on it – on this text . . .

It seems that few people really believe Jesus when he says ‘Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her’ (I ought to add at this point that believing Jesus is Exactly what it means to ‘believe in’ Jesus. As he says in John’s gospel, ‘if you obey my words, you will abide in my love’. Jesus over and over says ‘Amen! Amen!’ ‘Truly Truly!’ I tell you . . . His word are Truth and we live by the words that come from his mouth)

So when Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, then that is the Truth . . . but somehow the world is full of apologists for Martha. People for whom books like ‘Too busy not to pray!’ were written. People like Baron Astley who has important work to be doing. I mean if your work is ‘really important’ – this story is a bit of a problem

For many many years, Martha has been held up as the example of the Active Life – ‘Busy for Jesus’. Like the car sticker says ‘Jesus is Coming! Quick look busy!’

Yet Jesus gently rebukes her – indeed he perhaps seems unimpressed by our work on his behalf –

After all, doesn’t He say ‘Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord Lord! Didn’t we do many wonderful things in your name?’  and he will respond – Away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you!

Martha lets be clear has made a good start. She has noticed Jesus come to her village and has welcomed him into her house. Classic hospitality – which in itself actually was not at all uncommon, and amongst some people groups remains common. Welcoming in the stranger.

I think that to read this well, we could say – she has welcomed him into her life, the arena of her agency, her work. Yet, that initial welcome has been set aside – for her ‘many tasks’. Martha now sees Jesus not as the honoured guest, but as a means to her ends ‘Lord! Do you not care that my sister has left me to get on with all this work on my own? Tell her to help me!’

We can be ‘busy’ for Jesus in our ‘important’ lives, or we can be imploring Jesus to sort things out for us, but in both cases, we are at the Centre.

And we are empty of Life . . . There is a busyness that at the end of the day asks ‘What Was that all about?’  A good number of years ago now, I got into such a state. Working phenomenally long hours – reminding myself continually that I was ‘doing the Lord’s Work!’, until one by one, all the wheels began to fall off . . .  After 6 months away from work, I finally awoke to the realization that it was the Lord’s Work, not mine. That I was meant to be the beneficiary of His Work of Salvation. That I couldn’t save a single soul . . . left me wondering what I had got caught up in. One can easily preach grace, but live works, not least in a culture which idolizes the self made hard working individual, who is lauded at their funeral . . .

My life was full, of me. And so those who see Martha as the one who does the work that must be done, fail to realise that Christ himself has done the Work that must be done . . . and welcomes us into his rest. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ –  and how we need to hear those words, in Truth in these days.

We get So used to our own agency, we struggle to comprehend a life of Grace, and the Church is often dominated by those who in the world’s terms make a good show, hence I suspect Martha’s many supporters, despite what Jesus says . . .

Martha welcomes Jesus into her life, but her life is full, there is no space in it. She is Pre-occupied. Her life is meant to be a space for Jesus, but it is full of her stuff. Advent is meant to be such a space, but it has become full of Christmas . . .

That’s the point. It is not that she is to make space for Jesus, Her life is meant to be a space for Jesus, indeed that is what it is created to be, Space for the Living God.

Which brings me to the other reading, and the other Mary. Oh, yes, ‘That’ Mary . . .

Not long after Sarah and I were married, we welcomed a teaching colleague to our house to spend the night. John was unmarried but had a partner. We kindly asked them to occupy separate rooms. (Actually looking back, I’m not sure how this was possible as we had a tiny house!) John actually wasn’t put out – he rather liked the idea that people had standards which they kindly asked their guests to observe. Although jokingly he called me ‘a hot prot’ 

Well this hot prot was on the end of one of many God’s practical jokes when I was appointed head of department in a large Roman Catholic High School . . . Wherein during every assembly the pupils dutifully prayed words taken from our gospel, Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death . . .’ Well they prayed it every assembly until I became a Year Dean! And then it stopped – except once a year when the Principal walked in without notice to take the assembly, and I promptly walked out – I was a Very Hot Prot in those days.

The School as it happened was an old convent. My office was one of the former bedrooms of the nuns. One year, in a much needed building reordering, some work was being done on my corridor at the end of which stood the largest statue of Mary, in her guise as The Queen of Heaven from Revelation 12. (Funny how this ‘bible believing Christian’ hadn’t made that particularly awkward connection)

Anyway, the builders needed to move the statue and when they did, the colleague who shared my office, a Liverpudlian Catholic by the name of Paddy Devlin was the only person around. ‘Where should we put this?’ they asked. ‘Oh, I know Just the place . . .’ And so it was that The Queen of heaven spent six months right beside my desk – ‘Where our lady can keep an eye on you, Eric!’

You had to admire the sense of humour – teaching this Hot Prot a thing or two . . .

It is all too common for some Christians to have a less than easy relationship with Mary – yet from the beginning of our faith she has been held in the highest esteem, and her significance is huge.

Mary, put simply is the first true disciple and model for all Christians.

She consents to be The Dwelling Place of God. Space for God in the World

Where does God live? For many years the Jewish people had of course said that God dwelt amongst them, in the Temple in Jerusalem . . .

But Jesus opened his ministry with the declaration, ‘destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it’ . . . meaning the Temple of his body.

In his humanity Jesus revealed the remarkable truth that just as He is God amongst humans, he is also, being full of the Holy Spirit. God within the human being. As AW Tozer puts it in the title of one of his little books, ‘Man, The Dwelling place of God’

As St Paul says to those in Athens, ‘God does not dwell in a house made by human hands’ No he dwells within those who believe His Son. ‘

Abide in me, says Jesus, as I abide in You. ‘Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit’

Mary in the early church was referred to as Theotokos – God bearer . . . and as The Ark of The Covenant – indeed that very imagery is at play in several places. There is an old story, form the first century, of how as an infant, Mary danced in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. In those days of course it was a vast empty space, the Ark of the Covenenant long lost. The Ark wherein and above which the Glory of God dwelt. And now a young girl who will bear the Word of God herself comes and dances in that space . . .

She becomes Space for Jesus

Space for God

I guess that hearing the phrase ‘Space for God’ we might well think of that holy ald hour we give to God, Baron Astley’s prayer – but he desires much more. He has been born into the world in his Son that he might live in it in those in who believe his Son, who Hear his words, who live by his words, His Life in them. As Mary sat at the feet of Jesus . . .

You and I by grace not work, have become the dwelling place of God . . . and that I think deserves our attention

As St Paul says in his letter to the Colossians

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Christ in you . . .

As the Body of Christ, among you because he dwells in each of you

That prayer that we twitch at – ‘Holy Mary’ – That in which God dwells is Holy

We are Holy not by our own efforts, but made so by the indwelling of God . . .

Mary reveals to us the True Christian Life that we are God bearers . . . And that is I think is worth allowing ourselves to realise during this season. That we understand the centre of our existence is the living God – that it is not about finding time to pray in our busy lives, but allowing the Holy Spirit of God to pray in and through us. To discover the wonder of who we are created to be, Space for God in the World

Amen

Simple Faith that Saves

Advent 3

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24

The Christian life is immensely simple – and paradoxically in an age of complexity, immensely difficult. We have perhaps lost sight of simplicity

The Christian life is Simple as it requires just One thing of us – that we attend to God, without distraction. That Is the Christian Life in its entirety.

Attentiveness to neighbour is simply the outflow of that life which comes to us from God in our attentiveness – as the flow of a river from its source. If we stand in the stream and look to the source, the river flows out behind us.

Jesus is the undistracted one. The Life flows from Jesus often without direct request – such as in the healing of the woman with the flow of blood . But even when it is by request it is the request of faith – which simply looks to him as the source, with nothing to give or to bring except attentiveness to Him that is Faith. Not a belief – but a direction of our life

Some understand the necessity of preparing for the return of Christ to be a call to action – Jesus is coming – Look busy!

Yet when he comes, Jesus seems unimpressed with our busyness. ‘Many will say to me on that day – Lord Lord did we not do this AND that AND the other in your name? And I will say to them – ‘Away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you’’

I never knew you

Knowing him is what it is all about and you cannot know someone unless you attend to them – or put another way, love them It is the same thing. Attention is the one constant aspect of our lives – it is love. Our true loves are revealed in what we spend our lives doing, in that to which we give our attention.

Jesus says that knowing Him is eternal Life – it is the fount of blessings and it is the source of all God’s goodness coming into the world. As we attend to God his life flows towards us and through us

So we train ourselves in that attention, by following the advice of St Paul in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica. A church going through hardship the like of which we have but little inkling. Persecuted and weak, small and struggling – all they have is faith, which is why they are the Blessed. Yet, Paul calls them to that labour once more, to the undistracted gaze upon God in Jesus Christ in simple practice

Rejoice always,

pray without ceasing,

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

These seem to us like counsels of perfection which in a sense they are – perfection properly understood is simplicity – but we might hear them and cry out ‘but what about . . . this or that or the other’ – Like those this or that or the others we would parade before Jesus in our concern to prove ourselves to him – to place ourselves at the centre of the story, and look in a mirror rather than gaze undistractedly upon God, our life coming towards us

Do not quench the Spirit.

Do not stop that flood of life by averting your gaze . . .

Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything;

hold fast to what is good;

abstain from every form of evil.

It is Simple. It is we who have woven webs of complexity for we are tempted all the time to think that life is about us, and not about God . . . yet St Paul closes these words with the reminder that it is All about God

May the God of peace himself sanctify you  – entirely;

The Work of perfecting your Life is God’s if we would turn to him in faith

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.

Just look to his appearing

In this season of Advent – we watch for his coming. This season is like every other season of the church’s year – given us to train us in our faith. So this watching for his coming is a daily, moment by moment work of our faith – it IS faith, you would truly say

And as we learn to watch for him, we learn to hear Him, ot despising the words of the prophets  – and we hear him say Lo! I am with you always even unto the end of the age. I am Always Coming towards you if you did but have faith

Amen

Call of the Wild

Sermon for Advent 2

Mark 1:1-8

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins

There is a not uncommon way of speaking of Christian faith that supposes one might lead what are considered by prevalent standards a respectable life and also follow Christ. One might accumulate money and honour in the world and still be truly one of Jesus’ flock.

However in this year of Mark’s gospel evidence for this is to say the least, scant. Mark  throws a bucket of cold water over any presumption that being a Christian is in any way in tune with ‘the ways of the world’, that it is a way of comfort. The Way of Jesus cannot be accommodated to our plans for ‘living a good life’. The paths diverge so radically in Mark that we are left with a stark choice – to face in one direction, into what the world calls darkness and in faith proclaim it as light, or to go along with the crowd bedazzled by its deceptive alure.

That is clear from its ending – Jesus last words in Mark are ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ After that we neither see him not hear him. Mark’s gospel ends in darkness which only faith can call light.

 If you’re going to get on in the world’s terms, the Way of Jesus is a bad joke. We might say that to be a successful Christian is to be marked out as a failure – certainly that is true of Jesus himself.

The gospel begins with what sounds like that joke. ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. Son of God. We are so used to hearing those words that we cannot begin to imagine how they sounded in the ears of those who heard them first. For they in all likelihood lived in Rome under the Emperor, the Son of the Divine Emperor. Son of God in Roman terms, was to be at the top of the pile, and Mark has the audacity to claim that a homeless Jew, one amongst countless others, crucified on a rubbish heap outside the walls of Jerusalem, was the Son of God.

This message most deliberately disorients us. It has the temerity to suggest that what we call ‘the world’ with all its power and the rest is an illusion. That its light, its glory is a sham, and that it is in the way of darkness that true light is known.

Mark above all the evangelists speaks of Jesus in terms of the Servant of the Lord from Isaiah and the words of Isaiah in the 50th chapter speak of Him, and of the contrast

Who among you fears the Lord
   and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
   and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
   and relies upon his God? 


But all of you are kindlers of fire,
   lighters of firebrands.
Walk in the flame of your fire,
   and among the brands that you have kindled!

So when the gospel opens it is with the call from outside of the world – away from the city, the place where we kindle our own fires, away even from the pastoral fields gold with corn and covered in flocks of sheep. It is a Voice crying in the wilderness, in the figure of the otherworldly John the Baptist, dressed as Elijah was in camel hair and with a leather belt round his waist, the one who had previously called power to account, who had declared that the LORD not King Ahab was God. Elijah who travelled deep into the wilderness before her met God. Away from the noise and the clamour, the deception of the world, where true encounter takes place. In the sound of sheer silence. The silence of God. And so

people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John the baptiser in the wilderness

The wilderness is something that has all but disappeared from our consciousness and indeed the planet. The human footprint and desolation is seen everywhere. You cannot escape from wifi, from piped music. I was in Naseby last week, 2000 ft above worry level, but the sound of the chain saw, the lawn mower and hedge trimmer still filled the air.

I remember once sharing a car with Kelvin Wright and we were speaking about this very thing and he said he longed for a place that might possibly kill him. From my own experience the wild mountains of the far North of Scotland on my own, high on rocky ridges without a rope, where a slip would be my last were my experience of that, but such places are increasingly rare as we seek to domesticate the Wild. Increasingly one met folk on the mountains as if they were on the high street as GPS gave them a sense of ‘having never left home’

Here and there a few intrepid folk can still find the wilderness. A recent TV series – was about folk who were dropped off with basic survival gear in Northern Canada, to try and survive for 100 days. But even with their wilderness skills, they were competing with wild animals for the few fat rich animals which might possibly sustain them through three months of Arctic winter. Porcupine for example. And one by one, the wilderness proved too much and they had to be rescued.

In the wilderness you come to yourself – all the ways in which we hide from reality are stripped away and you are vulnerable. In the wilderness you discover your own insignificance, and in the wilderness you might possibly encounter God. As your own ‘I am’ is reduced to its meagre frame and I AM becomes Reality.

people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem

To go out from the artificiality of the city, and it is most literally artificial, to leave even the carefully tended fields – to go beyond the boundaries of what is ‘safe’ – to go off the edge of the map hedged around with warnings ‘here be dragons’ – that is where we are to go in response to John

That is the place of repentance. There you awaken to your true vulnerability. And in that awakening, awaken to the possibility of God.

Advent is a season of this stripping back

The promise is The Holy Spirit – the life of God himself, but The World noisily intervenes and distracts. Just this week I received an email from a Christian organisation. It began – Today is December 1st so I can now officially say ‘Merry Christmas’. Even Jacinda and Mike Hoskings have exchanged ‘Christmas’ presents on air.

‘Christmas’ so called invades the space – fills any void – like the relentless playing of ‘Christmas’ music. In this seaosn of The Voice in the Wilderness when we are called away from the clamour – The World pursues us relentlessly.

But for those who like the Pilgrim in ‘Pilgrim’s progress’ put their fingers in their ears, who ignore the siren cries of the world, and respond to the Voice in the wilderness, then and there they might encounter the one who will in time come and baptise with the Holy Spirit.

Unlike those TV wilderness experts, We don’t need to be rescued from the Wild, we need to be rescued from the illusion of life which the World provides. That is we will accept it is the gift of Advent

We wait for Him – For apart from him, we know that we have no good thing

Behold! Christ the King!

Sermon for Christ the King, Yr A 2020

Ephesians 1:17-18

Matthew 25:31-46

‘Now you say you see . . .’

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints . . .

With the eyes of your heart enlightened.

How we see is fundamental to our lives. So much so that we talk of understanding in terms of sight ‘Oh! Now I see!’ we say. The problem is that sight, the sense which we put most trust in, is also the one most easily deceived. Think how many magic tricks depend on that, compared with your sense of smell, or hearing . . . and of course in the age of the captivating screen this deception is amplified.

Illusion in the magic sense depends on what you think you are going to see, because that is the controlling factor. We don’t talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ because we don’t expect to see the elephant in the room, because most of the time there is no elephant in the room. We have our stories about reality and without realising, we see the world as we are. Unconsciously (?) we filter out that which doesn’t fit our way of ‘looking at’ the world.

Which brings us to our parable, that of ‘the sheep and the goats’, but first we need to return to last week’s parable – of the talents. As I said last week I want to flip it on its head. Because what we see depends on how we see.

My brother was talking to a wealthy individual recently. He knew this man well and he epitomised one way of looking at the world. He looked around him at all he had and said ‘the fruit of all my hard work’. You might say he looked at the world and said, if you play by the rules, work hard, you will do well for yourself. So, he would perhaps read the parable of the talents and say, exactly! The hard workers, people like me get what we deserve, and the idlers . . . well they get what they deserve as well . . .

It’s a common enough story. But there’s another one. My brother, who is sensitive to these things remarked upon the person who cleaned for this individual. He knew that she held down three full time jobs, just to make ends meet . . . she certainly worked hard, but . . . He went on to note that this man hadn’t worked hard for a long time, rather having got a certain amount of money, his money was doing the work.

Perhaps you have enough money to buy a second house. You let it out. Now your money is making money.

Now, imagine you hear the parable of the talents and Jesus’ final words – to those who have much , much will be given, to those who have little, even the little they have will be taken away . . . first as my brother’s wealthy friend, and then as the cleaner? Perhaps not to enjoy a long happy retirement despite working her fingers to the bone to make ends meet?? To those that have will be given more . . . to those who have not, even the little they have will be taken away . . . And we look out at the world and . . . say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.

Which brings us to the second parable . . . you see those who have much, who see the world in a particular way, will hear this. The sheep are those who shared what they had, and the goats are those who didn’t. This is the way we are pretty much set up to hear this parable.

If as we do, you live in a hierarchical society then part of the story of such a society is that those at the top are supposed to help out those at the bottom – it is called paternalism. It is the way we see the world. So we hear it and think ‘I need to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit those in prison . . .’ But what if you are the one who is naked or hungry or in prison?? What then do you hear?

Regarding those in prison there is an eye opening book which I recommend called ‘Reading the Bible with the Damned. It is an extended reflection on what happened when the author started regularly to go into a high security prison amongst those on life sentences and read scripture. All of a sudden his ideas were stood on their head . . . these men saw the world very differently.

As we have been reminded these past weeks, these parables of Jesus are admonitions to his disciples to be ready for what is coming. But what Is coming? Who is shut outside? Who finds themselves in the placing of gnashing of teeth and outer darkness? Or, who finds themselves, to put it another way ‘hungry, naked, in prison’? After all, didn’t Jesus start out by saying ‘blessed are those who are poor? Those who are hungry? Those who mourn?’ Did he not say ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’

Did not Jesus himself die ‘outside a city wall’?

Why is our focus on the sheep and the goats and their fate? Are we, as those who in one sense have done well set up to ‘see’ the whole story in terms of ‘just desserts’, ‘you get what is coming to you’. Is such a way of seeing, seeing in truth or is such an interpretation simply a reinforcement of our story about the way things are – to those who have much, more will be given . . . and perhaps ‘of those who have much, much will be required’?

Our attention falls on the sheep and the goats, their actions and their fates . . . which is odd, for Jesus’ says that neither the sheep nor the goats see . . . Hearing this gospel  as a moral tale about helping those less fortunate than ourselves or else . . . copying the sheep to gain a reward or avoid ‘the other place’ is then simply the blind following the blind . . .

Neither the sheep nor the goats see, but Here’s another question – Do We?

More specifically, neither the sheep nor the goats ‘see Jesus’ . . . but do we?

You ‘see’, This parable is not the judgement of Jesus’ people, it is the judgement of the nations. The Judgement of those who have not seen him, yet, who as St Paul says will be judged according to whether they have obeyed the law written in their heart. Perhaps they have seen the people of Jesus in those days when to be Christian was to be shut out from the world’s bounty, often to be ‘hungry, naked, strange and in prison’ and so tended to Christ himself in his people.

The parable assumes that the people of Jesus are those who when Jesus sits down on the mountain are those who have come to him, those who Know Him, who See Him . . . for those who say they belong to Jesus, who Know Jesus, that is the assumption, that they See Him. For they are his and he is theirs.

We have come to the end of the church Year. Christ the King Sunday. It is the end of our year of Matthew, but if we step back from Matthew and look at it not merely as a collection of ‘bits and pieces’, but in its entirety, something stands out.

Bookending the gospel is The Command which calls us to Life, a command to the people of God; “Behold!”

Behold! the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’

And again, Jesus closing words to his people, even as he was taken from the sight of their eye . . .

‘Behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the Age’

And So St Paul prays for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints,

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

That whenever and in whoever Christ appears, we who Behold might recognise Him in whatever guise he is hidden from the eyes of the sheep and the goats

Put another way, give up on your stories about ‘getting just desserts’ or whatever other story you have about the world, because if we can’t see Jesus, why do we think we can see anything else??

Our Duty, and our Joy – The Parable of the Talents

Sermon for the twenty third Sunday after Trinity

Year A 2020

Matthew 25:14-30

The Fruitfulness of Joy, and of Duty

So the cry goes up – get out of bed, it’s nearly time for church! “but I don’t want to go to church!”, but you Have to go to church, Why do I have to go to church? Because you’re the Vicar!

Recently I was in conversation with the pastor of another church here in Dunedin, and he pointed out how so much in this day we are told to ‘follow our heart’, and that it was important to ‘live an authentic life, and be your real self’.

He’s right. If you follow the titles of popular books there are many on such themes . . . [individualism vs shared life] but such an approach privileges the individual over the group because it starts from the presumption that I have no necessary obligation or duty towards others.

This Zeitgeist can be ‘spiritualised’, and spiritialising things is very dangerous for us as Christians although it is rampant amongst us. We say ‘oh I have no call’, or ‘I do not sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to do this’ Without realizing what we are doing, we break the third commandment and take the name of the Lord in vain, using God to back up our often unconscious biases, or our captivation to the Spirit of the Age

Doing things out of duty seems is very much against the Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age, which is a huge problem when it comes to the Christian life for God’s commands are at least requirements. Loving your enemy and doing good to those who hate you is not something we do because we feel a sense of call.

Of course for some, the Way of God’s commands is the way of joy,  but if we are ever to discover that joy, then we have at least to acknowledge the duty, even if we don’t understand, or ‘heaven forbid’, they don’t speak to our heart

Last week we heard the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. If you remember these parables are told by Jesus in the few days between the complete breakdown of relations between himself and his opponents and the events of Holy Week. So Jesus is warning his disciples to get ready to be ready, for The Day of the Lord is Now.

The Day of the Lord is like a wedding, and last week we thought about how getting ready for a wedding involved lots of people taking their obligations seriously . . . and to be honest, it is very rare in our familie sexperience for people who had a role to play to do so out of anything less than Joy. They en ‘joyed’ serving and stepping up to help. Now perhaps there may well have been people who only turned up because they felt they had to, out of obligation or duty, but turn up they did anyway . . .

So we are not told whether the wise bridesmaids filled their lamps with oil out of a sense of duty, or joy, but they knew what was required of them and so they were ready. The foolish knew what was required but didn’t prepare. The Lord of the feast said to them when they found the door closed, ‘I do now know you’ . . .

Which takes us to our parable this week. Again we need to remember that parables of Jesus are not simple stand alone stories. This is about The Day of the Lord, and the accounting that Jesus has already warned his disciples about.

Before he starts out on the parables he tells them 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.

Again, there is a work to be done, and again we have no insight into whether or not the hearts of the servants were in the work . . . whether your heart is in it is not it seems the most important thing.

So the parable of the talents is part of this. It is not simply a story about using or not using what you have been given, it’s a story about doing what is necessary, or doing the work you have been given.

Last time this came up I remember noticing something I hadn’t seen before – that the first two servants both have an element of joy about their service.  Behold! I have made five more talents! Behold! I have made two more talents! They are excited about their work and how it has born fruit. They have served with Joy and their service has born fruit.

Again we remember that Jesus is merely reiterating his teaching from the Sermon on the mount – By their fruit you shall know them. The good bear good fruit, the wicked bear bad fruit and then tells them that bearing fruit is simply a matter of hearing the words of Jesus and doing them. Loving your enemy, doing good to those who hate you, loving one another as jesus has loved us. As Jesus says to the man trying to justify himself, ‘do these things and you will live. Whether you feel like it, or not. Whether you have a sense of call or not, if you do it it will bear fruit.

This explains the response of the master to the third servant. The third servant is clearly not interested in the work of his master. He has told himself a story about his master in order to justify his failure to do his will. Isn’t this what we do when we say ‘Oh, the Spirit has not moved me in this direction’??

He is alienated in his mind, he has become his own God, judging his master – And we do this, do we not? What we ought to do is often clear, but then we come up with a justification for not doing it . . . something along the lines of ‘oh, its not my gift . . .’, or ‘my heart isn’t in this . . .’ or some other such thing. And what we do is put ourself at the centre, not God. And when we are at the centre then we are alienated from God.

You see the master at base just asks that if for no other reason, you act out of a sense of duty. You should have put the money on deposit with the bankers . . . you work for me, you have an obligation. It seems that this grudging obedience would have been enough, but the third slave wasn’t having anything to do with his masters business, he cuts himself off from the life of his master and finds himself therefore cut off.

Jesus uses the imagery of fruitfulness a lot. We know the season is near for the fig tree is coming into fruit, I am the vine you are the branches – bear much fruit to show you are my disciples. Fruit bearing is at least a duty – may God so change our hearts that it becomes our Joy and gladness and we enter into His Joy

This is The Day! Trinity +22, Year A

Matthew 25:1-13

“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”

The Condemned man ate a hearty breakfast, we are told

On my wedding day, I ate a hearty breakfast . . . I ate a hearty breakfast because my best man, Mike, who faced a highly significant role in the day’s events, had never been to a wedding before. And he was nervous.

He was nervous because he took his responsibilities with great seriousness, as indeed he does to this day. So he couldn’t eat his breakfast

So I did . . . as well as my own

Of course a Wedding requires lots of people to show up not just in the sense of attending, but in the sense of playing their part, taking their responsibility seriously. Thus they honour the significance of the occasion. Not to do so is to fail to recognise and dishonour the significance of the day.

And the significance of the day is huge.

The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast – for to be married is to agree to die to the person you are, and to submit to the Way of love, which is to be changed. The two become one flesh. That cannot happen unless each dies to their own interests.

As we have explored from time to time, both in our evening talks and on a Sunday morning, to love is to be changed. To refuse to change is to refuse love.

So the wedding day is like a death . . . and a new birth . . . it is a day of great significance and everyone has to be ready to play the part appointed to them on that Day

Our Gospel is a Wedding Parable. Jesus has been talking about this day all along.

And now The Day has come! ‘The Rain fell, the floods came, and the winds howled and beat against the house, and the house on the . . .’ Was the house ready?? The Day will reveal it

So far in Matthew, this has been flagged up clearly in the sermon on the mount, Those who have heard his words and done them . . .’ they are ready. They are ‘The Wise’ Those who have heard his words and not done them; they are the foolish. Why? For the Day is coming

Jesus’ actions and words have drawn the attention of the Pharisees and others. They have been questioning him, over and over. By whose authority do you do these things? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? If a woman is married seven times, in the resurrection whose wife will she be? But Jesus having confounded them, then flips the tables. Whose Son is the Messiah? ‘David’s’ Really? How then does David call him Lord? ‘After this they durst ask him no more questions’

The die is cast.  We find ourselves now in a very brief window in which  Jesus prepares his disciples for what is to come, the Day fast approaching. He tells them of the destruction of the Temple, and then over and over with symbolic actions like the cursing of the fig tree, or in parables he gives them one clear message – This is Near! Be ready! You, My disciples, the day is near – it is time for you to play the part I have appointed to you . . .

Having had more than a passing role to play in weddings – there are strong parallels. The courting, the engagement, the save the date, the booking of venues, sorting out how everyone will have plenty to eat, the dress, the flowers . . .The Day is Coming! The Day is Coming!,  and all around people given roles and responsibilities. The Invitations . . . and so the day dawns, and everything is to click into gear, and it is time for those who have roles need to step up

“Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. These bridesmaids, or better ‘virgins’, have a role. They are to light the way for the bridegroom. Yet, When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them” . . . Jesus has given out this role to his disciples. 

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

This is their work – nothing else. Obedience to the teaching of Jesus. Many turn up at the end of the sermon saying, ‘Lord, Lord . . . haven’t we done all these [other] things’ He says ‘I never knew you’. So too the foolish bridesmaids – ‘Lord, Lord! Open to us.’ ‘I never knew you’

In a few moments we shall baptise Wyndelyn. Following her baptism, we shall give her a lit candle and call upon her ‘Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father’ We say to her, through Ethan and Sara, Christ has made you his own, he has made you one of his disciples, and he has given you a work

Christ gives that commission to everyone here. I am giving my Life for you, I am giving my life to you – Be full of my life – Be full of the oil of the Holy Spirit – Be full of God! To Know Him. That is your work.

It is huge. It is why we have this community the church, to encourage one another in this massive responsibility Christ has given to us. It is why we don’t baptise except into the church  – into the body of Christ.

It is where we surrender our own lives to receive His Risen Life

It is the marriage feast of the Lamb – Death for the sake of Love which rises to new life

We stand upon the great Stage – the lights are going up and the curtains are being drawn. This is the Day!

“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”

Amen

The Call – To Be Saints

Sermon for All Saints – 2020

Revelation 7:9-17
Matthew 5:1-12

The Calling

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Today is the feast of All Saints.
In a sense it foreshadows the Great Feast at the End of the Age – the collapsing of time (for to me they are alive) – when all of the Saints who from their labours rest, shall share fully in the Life of God . . . but that begs a question, who are the Saints – what does it mean to be a Saint?

Again as with last week we have a problem with language and indeed our thoughts last week on holiness fit perfectly well, for the word for Saint, could be rendered ‘Holy Ones’ . . .

Which then leads us to a further question – How does one become Holy, Become a Saint? For as Saint Paul opens more than one of his letters to the people of God, they are those who are ‘called to be Saints’. It is a Vocation, a Calling . . . Put simply it is to hear and respond to the Call of God, or as St Paul again puts it, the Upward call of God in Jesus Christ. It is to live more fully towards and into the very life of God. ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy is a Call, it is GOd’s Call towards Him, it is a, no it is The Vocation . . . God’s Call is always a call towards Him – ‘Come to me’, says Jesus . . . ’

Yes!’ You may well say, ‘but how?’ Well if you are asking that question that in itself is a hopeful sign – Hope is always directed towards the End of all things . . .

Yet in these times, one has to be very careful. We live in a world of ‘technique’, of How To . . . and as a good rule it is Wise to avoid, indeed to put into a large pile and set fire to any book on the Christian life which includes the words ‘How To’ in their title. It is a Life we are called to both individually and as a Church, there are no techniques, not ‘fail proof’ schemes in the way the world thinks of these things, except to pay attention. This is about Life – not mechanisms – So as we would be with someone we wished to know better, we only need to be attentive . . .

Or as Jesus puts it, let those with ears to hear, hear! (That is Respond! Obedience is another way of saying ‘really hear’)

Paying Attention is the great challenge of the Christian Life – no more so than in these days when everything is screaming for attention amplified by screens and literal amplifiers . . . We are surrounded by noise and images in a way unprecedented in human history, and paying attention is so difficult, especially paying attention to what is nearest to us, for Salvation, Life, healing and wholeness – or Holiness is utterly close, utterly surrounds us, and is Everywhere present . . . Just pay attention to what is present . . .

This week I was reading a powerful book on the ‘New Media Epidemic’. Written by a French Christian Orthodox Scholar, it included the following quote

When the remote gets too close, what is close becomes remote. —Gunther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man

Larchet, Jean-Claude. The New Media Epidemic (p. 47). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.

Which put me in mind of this cartoon which you may have seen . . .

When the remote gets too close, what is close becomes remote. —Gunther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man

Larchet, Jean-Claude. The New Media Epidemic (p. 47). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.

For it is our inattention to that which is nearest to us . . . that is God who is closer to us, than we are to ourselves. Perhaps this is why Jesus is called the stumbling stone?

For most of the time we spend in our ‘self-conscious’, and this is a form of remoteness, of alienation from others – and from ourself. There is no one more lonely than the self conscious individual – – –

We confuse our thoughts with our self. And you don’t have to be sat in front of a computer to do this. Have you ever, or perhaps this should be have you never had an imaginary conversation with someone, putting them right in your head? Or working though why you were so right and they were so wrong? Or or or . . . there are so many possibilities, so many ways in which we are distracted, and when we are distracted, we are as it were away from home . . . so the prodigal son is ‘living his dream’ . . . he needs to come home – the elder brother is similarly living a resentment story in his head, and is alienated from his father who is closer to him that he is to. Himself . . .

Saints, simply put, are those who know they are at home in God – those who have heard God’s call to be saints and respond are awaken to their home in God. They have come to the depths of their heart, and are learning to live from the deep wellsprings of life which flow from their, they have uncovered long neglected wells . . . wells of the very life of the one who is at the heart of all things . . .

So, the blessed are essentially the empty, those who do not have to dig deep to find God in their life, for they have little with which to hide themselves from him . . . you can think of possessions etc as fig leaves. Whatever fills our heart dan minds is God to us, for it fills the space that our lives are created to be, for God

These Blesseds of the Beatitudes are the empty, those poor in Spirit, they do not think themselves to be holy and righteous, those mourning, who have lost, those who are gentle who do not grasp to acquire, but are open to receive life as gIft, those who are pure in heart, who are not preoccupied with their many things of their busy life, those who are hungering and thirsting for this Life . . .

Finally the Saints Cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This is a cry of realisation – their healing, their life their salvation comes from God and the Lamb – little if anything blinds their sight, they know the source of life. To Know God, To Know Jesus IS Eternal Life

We are all called to be saints – to dig deep into God – to know and to live from his life which is present in the depths of our being

Be a tree . . . Trinity +20

Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity

Leviticus 19:1,2,15-1
Psalm 1
Matthew 22:32-46

Audio of the Sermon

Being a Tree

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy.
Last week we considered the question ‘to whom do we belong’. Jesus, faced with the trap question about paying taxes to Caesar asked to see the coin for the tax. A piece of metal with the face and inscription of the Emperor. (The Pharisees who were scrupulous about ritual purity sent their disciples to handle the money, which was idolatrous)

Jesus says – well if Caesar puts his mark on the coin, give it to him, it is his. But render to God the things that are God’s. ‘The people of God’, That which God has marked as his own, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit – belong to God and are identified with him.


Perhaps this is nowhere more starkly expressed in these words which the LORD speaks to Moses, ‘speak to all my people and tell them ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.

Holiness is something which is poorly understood. Like so many things to do with God, we tend to think that it is simply an amplification of some common virtue.
So you have ‘bad’ people, and ‘Good’ people and up at the top of the tree – ‘Holy’ people. But this is not what it means – it does not mean ‘exceptionally virtuous’ in the context of God. Rather it means ‘quite unlike’ anyone or anything else. God’s ‘otherness’, the sense that He is not like us, that his ways are not human ways and his thoughts are not human thoughts, is most clearly expressed in the word ‘Holy’. When Isaiah sees the LORD high and lifted up in the Temple and the Seraphs called out ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ This Otherness of God struck Isaiah into silence. It was the fire of God which transformed him – the coal, the Spirit – The Life of God

God is powerfully ‘Other’. And so His people are not like the surrounding peoples. They are Holy. They are different – because they belong to God. Being His offspring His lIfe is their life, life which come from God and will return to God, Holy lives.

The Psalms open with a meditation upon what such people are like.

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;

Happy, or blessed, or fortunate we might say whose lives don’t just go along mindlessly with the crowds . . . as the LORD goes on in Leviticus – you shall not go around as a slanderer among your people – You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin, you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.

Don’t go around talking about others behind their back – your life is with your neighbour. Don’t harbour resentment in your heart against others, go to them and point out their fault between the two of you whilst you are alone . . . if you have an issue with someone and you do not take steps to resolve it, you will incur guilt yourself . . . This is a different life to those of the wicked and sinners and scoffers – because it is the life of God . . . It is a Life rooted in God, from God and too God. You are different – you know the nature of what it is to be truly human. You don’t talk about others behind your back. The Law of God isn’t so much prescriptive – thou must not, as descriptive, thou shalt not

but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.

As we explored a couple of weeks ago – the Way – their mediation is on The Deep pattern of existence which is The Way of God, the deep river flowing underneath, from which we are to draw our life. Our life comes not from the media – it rises up from God

The Holy are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Like Trees – drawing their life from hidden depths – the wellsprings of Life that is God himself. Drawing on Life from God and revealing His Life then as it were above ground. Rooted in the depths and reaching to the heights . . .

Trees are perhaps the most universal image of Life, the Tree of Life is known in many cultures. Both CS Lewis, in The Last Battle, and JRR Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings in different ways see cutting down trees as a mark of the end of the Age, of the end of Life on Earth. It is many long seasons since the Entwives were seen – the Age of the Tree shepherds draws to a close. Trees are cut down and the cry of the dryads which are their life fades on the wind . . .

But the Psalmist speaks of the person who draws their life form God – they are like a tree

It used to be a trope that drama classes began with ‘be a tree’ 🙂 But trees have much to teach us about our life as the people of God. Not least in these last days

In an age which is increasingly given over to and resigned to death, Trees are literally full of life

In an age which wants everything now – Trees observe full and fallow seasons – labour and rest – bearing fruit when the time is right. Trees teach us patience. Trees are not anxious

In an age of frenetic and haste and hurry, Trees are slow and even paced – they are never out of breath

In an age of mobility, homelessness and disconnectedness, Trees Know their place. They do not destroy their surroundings by moving around insensitive to where they are

In an age in which no one cares and we have to pay people to ‘pastor’ or as ‘carers’ for a job – In an age where ‘home’ means so little – Trees provide abundance shelter, home for flower and seed and bird

In an age where friendship means a wave on Facebook, Trees are always there as the most pleasant company

And in a world oppressed by the tyranny of words and noise they creation, Like God Himself trees speak only in silence

And as I wrote these words I wondered not only about us as individuals, but also as a Church . . .

Trees are Rooted in Life – The Holy ones are rooted in God

The wicked are not so,

Rooted rather in the illusory imaginings of a ‘self sufficient life’ a life which comes form nowhere and goes nowhere – a life which is not connected to the deep wells, dry and shrivelled – they

   are like chaff that the wind drives away.
They will not stand in the judgement,
   Or in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

This delighting in the law of the Lord is what it is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength – to know and to love the source of your life

And when we rest in this, all boundaries disappear.

To return briefly to the silence of trees – we often hear the trope – ‘that which unites us is so much more than that which divides us’ And this is true, but it is hidden, hidden in the deep places. The Deep and Good Earth, the Silent place. Unity is to be comfortable with others in silence, the underlying silence which unites, which is the Life of God

When our lives are rooted in the God who is Silence, we no longer see our life as our own, but coming form the same source as that of our neighbour.

To slander our neighbour is to be blind to who we are, to hate our neighbour in our heart is to hate ourself, for at root we are all one – it is only when we are disconnected from our root – our life in God that we do not connect to others

So to Love your neighbour as yourself, is not a moral effort for the one whose life is rooted in God and stretched towards God in Heaven, who knows that the life that they delight in is the same life that is in their neighbour

Blessed are all those who Know this Truth

NB We have recently updated our course on John’s Gospel – Here is the link

Questions of Healing. A sermon for St Luke’s Day

Sermon for Evensong

St Luke

On the question of healing . . .

Today the church remembers the third evangelist – St Luke

Luke’s words occupy more space in the NT than anyone except Paul and of course our own, St John. It is widely thought that his gospel and the sequel, the Acts of the Apostles were originally one, but papyrus technology being what it was, they couldn’t be put together (There is by the way an intriguing scrap of papyrus which suggests that all of St John’s writings were once bound together as one . . .)

So we have Luke start The Acts addressed to ‘most excellent Theophilus – Lover of God, ‘in my previous book . . .’

Yet due to a single phrase in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which you may well have missed, Luke is associated with healing. The phrase?  ‘Luke, the beloved physician’, or as some preachers style him, Doctor Luke.

So the Society of St Luke is a society given to the promotion of Christian healing . . . which of course is not something straightforward. It raises so many questions for us, not least when we or those we love are not healed . . .

I remember sharing with a friend accounts of spontaneous healings in a Christian community with which I have good links, and there was a veiled skepticism as she wondered why they did not allow in a team of scientists or doctors to validate these healings. ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound . . . if a person is healed and no one validates it, did it happen . . .??’

This whole area is clouded if not with controversy, at least endless questions. Why doesn’t God heal everyone? Indeed, why didn’t Jesus?? Or did he???

I want this evening to offer a different perspective on the whole question and put it into a larger frame wherein if at least we don’t get hard and fast answers, we might at least begin to understand that the questions we bring come from a very narrow perspective on the matter.

I’ll begin with a question ‘of the moment’. If we allow that everything the president of the United States is true about his recovery from COVID, is he a well man?? In other words, what does it mean anyway to be healed? We often only understand this in terms of the equivalent to the doctor prescribing a pill which cured an illness . . . but is that what Healing fundamentally is? Or is it perhaps something too large for us, something which perhaps we cannot begin to comprehend and indeed even want to seek . . .

A couple of brief comments, a very brief historical note, and then we’ll return to the theme directly.

First, in our faith, we talk of Salvation. Fundamentally this words means ‘healing’, a most profound healing. We might say perhaps that in the narrow terms we set someone was not ‘healed’, but were they in the far deeper sense, ‘saved’? The US President seems by some accounts to be healed, but is he ‘saved’? (And I DON”T mean that in the narrow somewhat fundamentalist terms by which some of his followers might suggest)

Second, there is something close to the heart of the church which gives us this same broader perspective. When a priest is inducted into his parish, the bishop in handing him his license says ‘receive this cure of souls . . .  which is both yours and mine’ The old view of the church is that of a hospital – indeed hospitals as we know them owe their existence to the medieval church . . . These communities of faith are meant to be places of profound healing, or salvation, and those charged with episcope (oversight) are to manifest that, to be people of healing, relational healing etc. etc.

Yet, the heart of our problem with respect to healing can I think be traced to those same middle ages in which hospitals came about. About that time there arose a theological controversy, one the impact of which has pretty much formed the Modern world without most of us realizing.

            Up to that period, the world was understood as a place of profound connection. You couldn’t alter any one part without altering another . . . somewhat ironically, modern science has just come to this same conclusion, about a thousand years to late . . . BUT there was a problem . . .

The word ‘couldn’t’. This seemed to therefore limit the agency of God! How could one say, God cannot . . . Now there are many threads we could pursue at this point, but time constrains somewhat, so lets just leave it at that. ‘Surely if God is God, then God can do whatever he wishes, and so God CAN change just one element in the Creation without everything else being affected’ and in a sense if the argument had stopped there, then the world would be a very different place . . .

Because, IF God can do whatever he likes without everything else being affected . . . why can’t a human being?? So arose an understanding of the world which was foundational to Science until the late years of the C19, a world where we might as it were see things in isolation and treat them as if we didn’t have to consider a multiplicity of relationships . . . except we do.

The Environmental collapse we are living through can be traced precisely to this sense. Put another way, seeing things in separation from one another we did not understand the consequences of our actions. The World is a remarkably woven together place. Just this week I read the words of an Amazonian Chief. A people who had lived for unknown years in harmony within their surroundings. She said

In all these years of taking, taking, taking from our lands, you have not had the courage, or the curiosity, or the respect to get to know us. To understand how we see, and think, and feel, and what we know about life on this Earth.

I won’t be able to teach you in this letter, either. But what I can say is that it has to do with thousands and thousands of years of love for this forest, for this place. Love in the deepest sense, as reverence. This forest has taught us how to walk lightly, and because we have listened, learned and defended her, she has given us everything: water, clean air, nourishment, shelter, medicines, happiness, meaning.

Which brings me back to the question of healing. And a question. When we think of healing, do we do so in a sort of unreal isolation . . . In other words ‘the only thing that matters is this healing’ . . . You see perhaps that is part of our problem. Certainly I think it is increasingly clear that much of our illness in so many forms has been brought about precisely because we have not realised how one thing interacts with and changes another. Or how everything affects everything . . .

And this I suggest points us towards the centre of the truest healing and indeed Salvation as manifested in Jesus

People often ponder – why did such a good man have to die? In a sense Jesus death makes no sense – after all as Scripture amply testifies ‘he went about doing good and healing many’ . . . but perhaps that is precisely the point. The world is woven together. You can’t expect such significant change and transformation just in one place, without it affecting everything. Indeed Jesus most dramatic healing, the raising of Lazarus is the event that leads directly to his death. The world moves around this event, nothing is ever the same again.

So often when we seek healing, we want things to be ‘just as they were before’ How often and in how many different ways do we want such things. How much do we want to live in a universe where nothing affects anything else, when we can simply change ‘this’ and a myriad of ‘thats’ remain in place. But the world is not like that. If the outcome of Jesus’ healings was to bring Salvation to the World at the cost of his own life, I guess the question which faces those who seek healing is that which Jesus posed to the man at the pool of Siloam, ‘do yo want to be well?’ or, put another way ‘are you prepared for nothing to be as it was before? To die to the world you think you know, in order to truly live?

Perhaps this is the faith we need if we are to be healed

To whom do you belong? Trinity + 19 Year A 2020

To whom do you belong?

Matthew 22:15-22

N-Gram – my new discovery. As a newspaper article put it, ‘there is yet another way to spend endless hours on the internet’. Simply put, it uses Google vast index of books to show how the use of words and phrases has changed over the last 500 hundred years. It came to mind for a couple of reasons – first a book inspired by the loss of words in children’s dictionaries to do with the natural world, and their replacement with words like blog, voicemail, cut-and-paste and the like. This is troubling as it speaks of a consciousness cut off from anything outside of ourselves, but second and related to it, I was interested to know about the use of the phrase ‘autonomous individual’

What is ‘an autonomous individual’? Well according to some, it is the idealised human being. The person who is entirely in charge of their own life, and since yesterday, death. Autonomous – a law unto themselves – the Sovereign self. Well this phrase is perhaps a bit more recent than we might suppose. It hardly seems to appear at all before the C20, beginning to show sings of existence eon the 1920’s and 30’s. But in the last 35 years its use in literature has increased by 350%

To whom do you belong?? The idea that we belong to someone is perhaps not a popular one, ‘I belong to my self!’ Is the Modern cry . . .

Yet it is this question which is at the heart of Jesus’ reply to those who wish to trap him.

Jesus opponents want to destroy him, and to do so they want to get him to say something which will get him in trouble with the powers that be . . . so the question about taxes – this is no mere ‘philosophical problem’ – as usual these questions are designed to put Jesus on one side of the argument or the other – a not unfamiliar decide to us in this day and age. In some senses it is a question which asks – are you one of us, or one of them?

But here the question is one which whichever way he answers Jesus is in trouble. If he says it is lawful to pay taxes, then the pious Jewish leaders – who have accommodated themselves quite comfortably to Roman Rule, will tell their fellow Jews – he’s not one of us! And if he answers in the negative – then of course they can run off to Pilate and accuse Jesus of being a threat to the state . . . Divide and Rule! Divide the world into two camps and then you are the judge . . .

But Jesus knows what they are about – he knows their hypocrisy. He knows that in all likelihood they are ‘in bed with’ the powers that be . . . so he asks to see a coin.

Whose Image is this? And whose inscription? The inscription by the way said – ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus’ – Son of God’ . . . and the Image was of the Emperor. So the answer to both questions is ‘Caesar’s’

And then Jesus makes the move about ownership – it bears his mark – it belongs to him.

Our cat marks its territory – my books, some of them have my name in them, we mark what belongs to us . . . [cf Like the number of the beast . . . to whom do you belong?]

And this is the level of Jesus’ reply . . . We get into agonies over legitimate or illegitimate government . . .

Although this text has been used over and over to justify our allegiance to civil authority, for any Jew, this was unacceptable, hence the sting in the question. Is it lawful to pay taxes – If Cesar has said ‘this coin is mine’, then give it to him . . . What is Casar’s? That which has his mark on it . . . does the coin have his mark? Give it to him. This thing, this scrap of metal . . . give to Cesar the Things that he has put his mark on . . .

We fall into this trap – the first part occupies our thoughts . . . but Jesus’ answer is dismissive of these tortured pondering – and it is his final words as always to which our attention would be drawn? Render to God what is God’s . . .

But what is God’s? . . . well, on whom has God put his mark??

Jesus as ever shows the way. Upon the Cross he render’s to God what is God – Himself

St Paul says of Jesus ‘he is the image of the invisible God’ – the question is ‘are we?’ To whom do we belong

Years ago a friend of mine stopped me for a faith conversation – brought up a Christian in a loving and devout Christian home, she had reached an impasse in her faith. Funnily enough it was at the bottom of a flight of stairs . . . ‘I’ve realised that it is all or nothing . . .’ And that is the point. There is no division – there is nothing of any consequence that belongs to Caesar, you certainly don’t . . . Jesus’ answer is simply a question, ‘To whom do you belong?’ God, or not?

Whose Image do we bear? To whom do we belong?

Resurrection? Love Knows The Way – Trinity +16, Year A 2020

Psalm 19

Philippians 3:4-14

‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ Isaiah 30:21 . . .

‘Where is your life headed?’  . . . We might well say, we do not know. But perhaps a more helpful question is – ‘towards what is your life directed?’

Knowing our Direction – to what we are directed is to know where we are headed, and it makes our life far simpler, even if often it makes it far more difficult

Most folk know of the difficult way our family is following with our daughter. Some might wonder why? They might be tempted to say, it is her ‘Christian principles’ which told her the way. But no,  the principles, the rules if you like are the manifestation of something far deeper, that is The Way. For our daughter, to see a beating heart is to know The Way . . .

Early Christians were often called ‘followers of The Way’, in Scripture far more often than ‘Christians’ which is used only once. The prophet says ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ It is deep within the fabric of existence and lies, usually buried in the depth of the human heart, for it underlies all of reality.

As CS Lewis explains Christian faith to those who might not know it, he speaks of this deep underlying Right Ordering of things using the ancient Chinese concept of The Tao.

We as the people of St John the Evangelist, know it as The Word – or as the Greeks put it – The Logos. The deep underlying Right Order of the universe. In the beginning – when God created the heaven and Earth, there it was – In the beginning was the Logos, the Tao, The Way.

As the children of Israel gather at Mt Sinai, God reveals himself, the unseen God, by revealing The Way. The ten Commandments or as they are perhaps more helpfully known in the Jewish tradition, the Ten Words, the Tao, The Logos. The Logos who is I AM reveals himself as The Way

I am, the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

These first three commandments are summed up in the Great Command we hear every Sunday – Hear, O Israel, O people of God, The Lord your God, the LORD is One and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength . . . Why does The Way begin in this Way?

We are commanded to Love the God whom we do not see so, not idols, or the gods of the nations – followers of The Way are never nationalists. Why Love the unseen God?

So that we learn the Direction of our The Way, The direction of our Life – or, for it is the same thing, the Direction of our Love. To Know this Logos, this tao, this Way is to Know the nature of Love and Life that is always and everywhere Towards.

Love is ecstatic – it is ‘Away from’. We love away from ourselves. Love flows towards – Love is not about acquiring or drawing to ourself. Love does not seek to possess – this is a tragic distortion of love. Loving that which we see all too often perverts love by reversing its direction – from away from like the flow of a River, from releasing and letting go, forgiving we might say, to eeking to possess and hold on to – to draw to ourself.

‘So and so ‘completes me’’ Oh, I saw that piece of furtniture and I just Had to have it . . . this is the perversion of Love.

We learn Love, The Way by loving that which we cannot see, so that we learn not to set our hearts on things that do not last, and so move away from life which is eternal. We learn not the false misdirected love which seeks to acquire – and we learn to love that which surrounds us as ourself.

Sin in Greek is hamartia – it means to miss the mark. Sin is misdirected love. It is against The Tao, against the Logos. Sin is to draw towards for our sake.

We are made to Love, but we are surrounded by many things which we seek to possess for our own sake. Rather than to direct our Love to the One thing necessary – the Love towards God which is the Way, the Way which orders and directs all Love.

Sin is misdirected love, for the moth and rust consume and thieves break I and steal. It is the Love that always ends in our loss, for it is the love of things that pass away, which is misdirected love.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the rich man, who had many possessions. He had loved everything he had seen – he had set his heart on them. This is idolatry. In the early church it was called the spirit of fornication, to Love as God that which was not God. It was disordered love. Yes it had a sexual expression, but the deeper disorder was the problem, the sexual aspect was merely the most clear expression of the disordered love, as it strikes most deeply into our humanity. It reveals that to love is to become joined to, we become one with . . . We are created to be united to God, the young man had become united to his possessions

The Goal of the Christian Life is simple – it is to become One with God and so to become Love – The Direction of The Way is Up – that is why Jesus says – ‘take no thought for the morrow . . .  rather seek his kingdom and his righteousness’

This is what we call Resurrection. It is where our lives are to head. Not forward in time, but upwards towards God so that within the realm of time and Space which God has called into being the Tao, the Logos, The Way is manifested. To become expressions of the Eternal in the world of things passing away

So St Paul in his letter to the Philippians

I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

In the beginning was The Logos – our Christian announcement is that the Logos, the Way has become flesh in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified. The Resurrection is the revelation of that – through dying to self, considering not the things that are passing away, but rather fixing our hearts and minds on the Eternal – God manifested in Christ (this is faith – that which we set our hearts on) – The Human is Revealed in the heart of Creation. This is the Centre of all things, the meaning of all things – it is the way through death to Life. It was for this that Christ came, to make the dead Live!! To become Love is Resurrection, it is as St John reminds us, the grounds of our hope ‘for as he is, so are we in the world’

This is to be restored to our true humanity, it is to find our life in accord with the deep pattern of the entire Creation. As I wrote in the parish magazine this month, Resurrection is written into the Creation –  a true river always finds its course – And we, if we have come to know Christ have come to know The Way.

Our daughter sees a beating heart – her heart pours out – the River finds its painful course, towards the Sea – She Knows the Way . . . Those who walk in The Way, Know the Way

Resurrection

Resurrection . . .

Spring is in the air, in a sense it always is, but usually we don’t recognise the signs, which as Jesus tells us is a human deficiency. But all around for those with eyes to see . . .

Many years ago, one of my parishes ran out of people to mow the grass in the churchyard. In that moment a young couple recently moved to the village from Canada, came to the Vicarage. They were interested in the idea of a ‘Living Churchyard’ They had the right skills to actively care for the grass around the gravestones, that it was restored to meadow, with wild flowers, diverse grasses, and butterflies etc. etc. (From the place of death, Life)

This required very little work from them, except a gentle care and the occasional uprooting of gorse. ‘For the grass and plants know themselves best how to grow, and the wildlife will find its place’. I foolishly mentioned this offer in the next parish magazine. Almost immediately a delegation of well meaning village folk were on my doorstep –  telling me that they would mow the grass . . .

We find it very difficult as human beings just to let things be. T S Eliott wrote – ‘Teach us to care, and not to care, teach us to sit still’. Our attempts to ‘manage things’, to put the world, and of course ‘those people’ right, seems to infect us all from an early age. And so new life is smothered under our ‘care’. The Care which we are called to in Elliot’s poem is that of attentiveness, the work of Mary, of beholding. If you take time to learn this way of Seeing the world, you discover as my Canadian friends had, that Creation Knows its maker and its own way. And it requires far less of us, perhaps simply our wonder? Resurrection wonder.

The other night in a time of darkness, something Sarah told me came to mind. She had been listening to a podcast about a beck (a small river) on the Eastern edge of the English Lake District. Some years ago, well meaning folk had straightened its course. (There was money in such things from city politicians who knew nothing of the ways of a stream). As a result the water ran far more swiftly down its new (dead) straight course. (There are no straight lines in the Living World) As the water ripped along it took with it all the gravel and small pebbles, which up until this ‘improvement’ had been the spawning ground for fish. These fish knew the beck as their home, their source, the place from which they came, and to which they returned, their place of birth, death and resurrection.

Some local folk, rather like my Canadian friends, wondered if there was a way to restore the stream and thus its Life. So they set about the task of diverting the river to its old course, starting from the upstream end. They had done very little yet arduous spadework, when one night there was the sort of rain which those parts knows too well. A late summer deluge. Under the ‘improved’ course, this water would have rushed down the river and possibly flooded out a village further downstream, and the labourers woke expecting to see not only flooding down the valley, but also their small work washed away . . . but they hadn’t counted on Resurrection. We never do.

The small change they had made, enabled the deluge to open up the older course of the river. Slow, meandering. The River Knew its course . . . it was written into it In The Beginning. And over time, back came first the pebbles and gravel, and then the fish

As I pondered this, I had one of those Mother Julian moments. Light flooded into darkness, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well . . .’ Resurrection is written into the Creation, by the Logos of God, if we would just let it be so.

Our place as Christians in these days, perhaps more than ever before is Holy Saturday – to rest in the tomb. The old way of fixing things is over. This is the message of the Cross. We wait on new birth. Watch and Pray. Wait and Behold, the Glory of the Lord . . .

In the Church, in the World, and within ourselves . . . Resurrection is built in if we do but stop to See it

Your Money or your Life – on debt and forgiveness . . .Trinity + 14

How do you earn a living?

Interesting q. Not because of the answers, the q itself . . .

‘Earn a living’  – Why do we use such language?

Have you bought into the latest thinking in this area?

How do you spend your life . . .

The criminal must ‘pay their debt to society . . .’ I’ll return to debt shortly

Arguments ‘the bottom line is . . .’ I could go on almost ad infinitum. The language of Money is woven through our way of being . . . We work, to get money, to buy bread, to live . . . Money and Life woven together, which is a problem for us

Of course one might be very otherworldly about money

God will provide! Why is the church always talking about money, yet the next moment turn round and say ‘but you owe me an apology . . .’ This reveals in a sense that money is more than cash – it is  . . . well some kind of Spiritual force – or Mammon

The mammon one way or another radically infects our language and thus our lives and indeed our faith . . .

And so it is with the issue of forgiveness – as anyone who knows presbyterianism will attest – we ask God to forgive us our debts . . . (but woe betide any customer of mine who doesn’t pay his bills . . .)

Which is odd, when you think about it for a couple of reasons.

Firstly because we live in a world where it is assumed that, you must pay your debts. I owe, I owe, its off to work I go . . .

Debt and the money system are a prison and an utterly unforgiving one – is that LIFE?

Secondly the language of debt in the prayer, takes it for granted that  we can ‘owe’ God . And whether we use that language or not, the sense of ‘being in Gods debt or that of another overshadows our understanding of forgiveness . . .

Yet owing suggests a deficit in God . . . By our sinning he has lent us something and thus is diminished – so it is rooted in a wrong idea about God. For God is overflowing abundance – Life in all its fullness . . . yet we won’t have it

This approach in some respects has really kicked into gear since the Protestant reformation, although it was very alive in the church since the late middle ages – ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’ The Sale of indulgences, buying time off paying what you owed God – was one of the rampant abuses the reformers rightly railed against but unwittingly, as the man who kicked a demon out of his house found, it only made matters worse let the spirit of Mammon loose without retsraint – The Protestant work ethic and consumer capitalism are happy bedfellows . . . that anyone should get – Something for nothing . . . the underserving . . .

And it infected our language of faith – ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price for sin . . .’ And I as was taught regarding confession – you need to ‘keep short accounts with God . . .’

What is Peter doing in his approach to Jesus but the work of accounting.

Jesus has already told his disciples that as servants of God, their work is to seek and save the lost, to renew connection. To reconnect them to the ever flowing stream of the Life of God – To seek out the brother who sinned against you, not that your honour might be satisfied, not that they owed you, but because this is what God does – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us

But Peter is still counting – Peter lives in the small minded world of Mammon – a world with an unforgiving bottom line –  world of scarcity – there’s only so much forgiveness to go around. A world in which Life runs out . . . So you wouldn’t want to waste it.

This is a world in which secretly we don’t want to forgive, as if we will thereby lose something . . . yet Peter will begrudgingly push himself if Jesus requires it – How much do you require of me Jesus?!

He guesses that Jesus might go further than the rabbis who counselled that your forgave three times only, but ‘Jesus is better’, but ‘We know the story so the Jesus story is the same’, . . .of the same mould . . . so 7 times – after all that is perfection, but Jesus isn’t interested in ‘a better version of the world’, he has something New to say, or rather something original . .  from the Origin of Creation, from the heart, from the heart of God

Jesus’ teaching is from the origin . . . from the source of the river of LIfe

And his shocking words expose the world for what it is – ruled by accounting, and limitation, harsh limitation, begrudging forgivness merely to keep the rules.

This parable of Jesus is often taught like this –

 A tale of two debts. One owed by the first servant, one owed to the first servant. The debt owed by the first servant is 60,000 times greater than what he is owed. So . . . we owe God an unpayable debt . . . except that is something we have made up, assuming that the world of debt is normative.

Nowhere in scripture are we told we owe God, after all, if God is your father, does your parent lend you their life, their house, do they bill you for your sheer existence?? The language of infinite debt is the infection of the faith by those who do not know God – who understand faith in terms set by the money system – serving Mammon still – and so using the language of accounting in the world of faith

And if your brother really IS your brother . . . The words of Jesus are Shocking to our world . . . forgive 7×70 times – forgive and forgive and forgive . . . ad infinitum – If money is our picture of life, then it is limited, But if God is our picture of life, then . . . boundless forgiveness is the Reality

Note that the master has pity on the slave . . . He doesn’t see the debt, he sees the person – a person in trouble. He doesn’t see someone who has sinned against him, he sees someone who has cut themselves off from life and is in trouble . . . he loves the servant. He pities him . . . and he forgives him, he connects his Life to that of his servant . . .

But the first slave goes out and although he has not been treated according to the harsh unforgiving money system – goes and implements the harsh unforgiving money system . . . he has been given Life, but chooses limitation and death . . .

He only sees the debt . . . he doesn’t see the person. He is blinded by what is owed – by the offence, and has no pity . . .

This is not a story about the debt system – it is a story about Love, or not . . .

It is about Life – or death . . . After all, the wages of sin is death . . . the Gift of God is eternal Life

In our world Mammon – holds the power of life and death, and its doctrines infect everyday life, to the last cent . . . which is why we tend to see this parable in terms of the vast amount of money and the small amount of money, and miss the pity, the love. Why would the fellow slaves be shocked by the treatment of their fellow? Because they are servants of their master – and live a life according to love. If they lived according to money they wouldn’t be shocked – their is no sense that they know what happened between the master and servant – it is ‘of the heart’s inner room . . .

Forgiveness from the heart is a different life. Life that is a never ending stream – a river.

From the heart says Jesus – as he says in John’s gospel, out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers, rivers of living water. Wells run dry, but rivers . . . they are a flow of life throughout scripture.

It really is your money or your life . . .

You can serve God, and live a life of love, or live under the system of Mammon, which has a bottom line – Death . . .

Servants of God . . . Angels . . . Trinity + 13 Year A 2020

Sermon for Trinity + 13

Matthew 18:15-20

Servants of God

‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself . . . and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:19

I wonder if you’ve ever encountered an angel? I’ve had one fleeting encounter, and my father also, just before he died, although it was only later as my mother told the story of a strange encounter on an evening walk hours before he died, that I understood this.

One of the gifts of returning to each of the Synoptic gospels on a three year rotation is that you see things you had previously missed. This year is Matthew and this week as I have sat with today’s gospel that I have realised that Matthew is the gospel of angels. There are considerably more angels in Matthew than in Mark or Luke combined. The angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angels who separate the wheat from the chaff, the twelve legions of angels Jesus says he has at his disposal should he call on them.


But for our purposes today – two mentions are significant. One, which we may remember is to do with Jesus’ argument with the Sadducess over marriage in the Kingdom – for he says ‘in the Resurrection, they are neither married not given in marriage, but are like the angels’, and, a verse that has been important to me this past week as I have prayed over Hannah’s child – a verse from Matthew which comes a few verses before this week’s gospel reading and is part of its context.

Jesus has set a child in the midst of his disciples and said, ‘unless ye repent and become like one of these, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven’ – and further “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven, their angels do always behold the face of my father in heaven”

Last week we considered the uncomfortable truth for those who think much of themselves, that God chooses the none-people to be his people . . . Put simply, it’s not about us, our talents and abilities, it is about God. Moses’s question, “who am I?” , is responded to with God’s I AM. (And we’ll consider this further this evening).

God is God of the none-people, and in most of history children have been none-people, indeed before birth they are not considered by the law of this land to be people, and in certain appalling circumstances, not after birth either.

Jesus places a none-person in front of the disciples – one whom we in the Significance and Importance of our busy meaningful lives overlook – one whom we overlook the more our lives are escapes from the vulnerability of childhood. He says, you must become like this to enter the Kingdom of my Father. Possessing nothing, and thus possessed by nothing – and those for whom it might be said, because of their vulnerability and openness, their angels always behold the face of God . . .

Last week we asked – “Who are the people of God?” This week we are confronted with a different but equally important question, “What are the people of God?” For as Jesus’ says, in the Resurrection they are like the angels . . . and Christ is Risen. We are the people of the Resurrection – as St Paul says, if anyone is in Christ, He is a New Creation, the old has gone, the new has come . . .’

Like the angels . . .

Well you may well say, “But what has that got to do with our gospel reading? After all it’s a sort of ethical injunction, isn’t it? A code of conduct for life in the church?” Well yes, but if you don’t know who and what you are, you will not understand it. Put another way, how we hear these words of Jesus are a measure of whether we have heard him at all . . .

“If your brother sins against you, go!” Jesus sends us with three levels of engagement. 1. Tell them alone, 2. Take on or two others, 3. Take it before the church . . .

“If your brother sins against you, go!” Note that this almost always works its way out the other way. Someone sins against another and if the person who is sinned against takes it badly . . . well do they go and tell the person privately? No, they go straight to Level 3 and tell Everyone!! You have no idea what this person has done to me! . . .

But here’s the question . . . Why? If another Christian signs against you, why would you go and tell them their fault . . . Why tell them their fault? Because they need to know what they’ve done wrong? Because they need to know how you are hurt? Because you have been offended? Because they are going to have to do certain things before you’ll think of trusting them again?? Because they need to say Sorry, and say it like they mean it? That they wake up to the injustice of their lives?? So that your honour, your story about the world is proved to be true? Why tell them their fault??

You see, all those reasons why the children of the world might tell them their fault, are all about them . . . My pride, my feelings, my offence, the wrong that has been done to me . . . and notice btw how much contemporary discourse is precisely of this nature . . . these are the reasons of the children of the world – but not the children of ‘my father who is in heaven’

But is this why Jesus tell us to go and point out their fault? And then if necessary to draw one or two people in? And then to take it to the church?? Why? To satisfy your honour? To deal with your hurt feelings??

Did Jesus cried out from the cross, “You have no idea what they have done to me!” ?? No, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .”

You see, if we don’t know who we are and what we are as the people of God, we don’t know how and why we act . . . we do not know what we are doing . . . We have lost sight of the face of our Father in heaven, who says I AM, and it’s all about us . . . but God, but God uses the none-people because, it is all about God and God’s purposes, and God’s life which he wishes to share with all.

We talk very glibly about doing the work of God . . . but unless we know who we are and where we are, we do not know what the work of God is, the work of Jesus.

St Paul puts it the work of God like this – ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself . . . and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:19 The four verses before this weeks gospel read – ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones – don’t overlook them, pay attention – ; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Therefore! If your brother sins against you . . .

The angels of the little ones, the none people – Jesus’ people always behold the face of God, and in the resurrection, they are like the angels of God in heaven . . .

So . . . to be one of God’s people is to be like an angel . . . which means??

Angels wait on God, Like Mary – they pay attention to God in Christ, and serve His purposes. They wait on his command. That is what they live for, the people of God . . . they are messengers, connection makers

Why like an angel in the resurrection? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself? He has woven together heaven and earth in his Son. Christ on the Cross is lifted up holding heaven and earth together . . . Like an angel he dwells in both places – he moves effortlessly between the two . . . He stands at the right hand of God, yet is with us always . . .

When your brother sins against you, Go! Commands Jesus, go into the world to do the work of your father which I have revealed to you – GO! seek and save the lost, to restore the relationship. They have sinned and so have broken the life giving bond – they are thus cut off and lost from the household of God. They have become a lost sheep, go find them! Bring them home.

We do not go to point out the fault of our brother or sister because of what they have done to us, in the same way that God in Christ does not seek us out to tell us how we have hurt him. God’s own self forgetfulness – your sins and iniquities I will remember no more – is the Life of the Church which has been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

We are like the angels who dwell before the face of God. That is what we are – in ourselves weaving heaven and earth together, so that whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatsoever we lose on earth is loosed in heaven. It is only in knowing who we are, what we are and where we are that the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes plain to us and we become its self forgetful, God serving expressions . . . Only those who lose their life will find it . . .

Amen

God of the non-people

Trinity + 12 – 2020

Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10

What does it mean to be ‘The people of God’?

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount starts out by naming God’s people – the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty . . . that is where God starts . . . These are the Blessed for from them God will create a people for his glory

The writer Dallas Willard in his book, the Divine Conspiracy, a book about The Kingdom of God, so chokes over these words of Jesus that he has to completely rewrites them. In Willard’s picture God obviously  needs competent people, skilled people, talented people. ‘If we are going to bring in the Kingdom of God! . . .’

 In short people like him. So these people . . . the nothings, the non-people he . .  . well he says ‘Hey when Jesus is announcing his Kingdom he says ‘it’s even for people like this!’ We competent people we are the ones charged with the business, and so doing we’ll help these non people. So Sure is he of this that he spends an entire chapter deliberately these people as losers, as non-people . . . The losers, the people no one would look to if humanly speaking they were setting out on a great endeavour, let alone ‘The great Endeavour’ . . .  Humanly speaking . . . That’s the worlds story – vote in the right government and the poor will finally be looked after – This is how We will fix things . . . We the competent and powerful will help out the less blessed.

Except Jesus has named the blessed, THESE are the blessed, and there’s no ‘also’

What is perhaps a little unsettling to consider is why Willard has to do this . . . Why? Because he is working from an unexamined assumption, that he and his fellow middle class Christian friends, the Movers and shakers, the people with ‘significant’ roles and the like –  are OBVIOUSLY ‘God’s people’ –  The story is so pervasive we believe it – It is our job as God’s people to look after the non-people . . . But Jesus says, the non-people are God’s people. And there are no ‘alsos’ . . .

If the ‘Blessed’s of Jesus aren’t like those people Willard knows . . . and Jesus says blessed are ‘those people’ . . . what of him, what of us?? (And you might like to take a moment to reflect on how like Willard we immediately try and hold our story together . . .)

The Jesus story tips the world on its head, because it is not about human glory except as Christ and him Crucified. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, people come to Jesus saying ‘Hey Jesus, look what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved ‘in your name’’ and Jesus is less than impressed – away from me, you doers of evil. For this is not about human glory, but the glory of God.

God’s work is always a work of Creation – and he caps out the creation by Creating His Image and placing it at the Centre – so that the creation would know what the Creator was like. God creates a people Like him, He does the creation, the work is all God’s. Even Jesus says ‘I only do what I see the father doing’ and that Creation is from that which is ‘nothing’, the formless and void of the waters of the deep, he forms a people from those who were not a people. They do not make a name for themselves, there are no laudatory memorials to those people – he places his name on them

As St Paul puts it in a text that has been much on my family’s heart these past few days – God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. A child growing in her mothers womb turns our world on its head . . .

[We have a society and culture which is set up by the powerful who may or who may not do good for the weak . . . but they dominate the story. And this story is also the story which dominates the church. So Synod, reduced to just a one day zoom ‘meeting’ will debate the usual well meaning motions about ‘helping the non-people’ – top down. But ignoring our Christian Story which is that the people of God are the non-people.

You see it’s only the non-people that need God . . . the rest of us can and usually do get by very well without God. Indeed we think so much of ourselves that we say that it is our job to ‘bring in the Kingdom of God’. Faith is hard not for those who have no other hope, it is hard for those who have a thousand and one alternatives]

So God comes to the raw material of the non-people. The enslaved Hebrews

‘I will send you to Pharaoh’! If we read further on, the LORD says to Moses, I will give you words . . .

And Moses Knows he is not up to the task . . . Who am I? I am NOT . . .

I AM has sent you. And I AM brings them out and makes a people for himself, to reveal his Glory . . .

But they looked around and sought to emulate other nations. Hey we need a King! If folk are going to take US seriously . . . so they fall into the failure of the nations who do not know God. They get their king-  first David, who wouldn’t lay a hand on Saul but became king by popular acclaim as the one who slew his tens of thousands . . . Then the glories of the Solomonic era, in which the liberated people were ironically enslaved to their own imperial project. Imperial projects always enslave – as anyone paying attention to their own life might notice . . . Solomon intermarried with a gusto . . . he built an amazing temple and an even more amazing palace for himself . . .  and following his death as with the death of any emperor, the succession led to a bloodbath and the separation of the 12 tribes.

And one of the most pertinent facts regarding God’s people is that they are largely absent from the historical record . . . even Solomon in all his glory . . . In vain do we look for the historic record of the non people. For all their glorious past, they barely deserved a footnote in the annals of the Human story . . .

From then the story had not been good, and at the time of Jesus, God’s people are waiting for ‘the Son of David’. . . An imagined glorious past . . . how we love to live in the past and fondly remember it . . . not really a good call. The powerful amongst them are trying to hold things together. The Pharisees are not narrow minded legalists – rather they long for the return of God’s King, and understand that only when Israel perfectly keeps the law will this happen . . . but their understanding of God’s Messiah is still one built not on God’s creative acts amongst the non-people. They are looking for the movers and shakers . . . The King, The Messiah to restore ‘the good old days’

So Peter’s cry ‘this must never happen to you! Is based on that story. He has just been graced BY GOD to see that Jesus is the Messiah, the long awaited one. He didn’t figure this out for himself  for this is a story about God, not about how clever Peter is . . . note by the way that the gospels do NOT exalt the disciples . . . They are very raw material . . . We note the ‘joke’ that on this rock Jesus will build his church and like Sarah we laugh! Really? Peter??? That flippy floppy nobody?? Because it’s not about Sarah or Peter, it is about God

Jesus calls the non-people . . .

Peter is allowed to see who Jesus is, and then Jesus tips Peter’s world upside down . . .  he must go to Jerusalem and suffer . . . and be killed . . . and on the third day be raised. The word Suffer is passive – he becomes a non person, the target of those who have a different story, he becomes the ultimate non person by being killed . . .

So Peter when he says ‘this must never happen to you’ isn’t saying out of his deep devotion to Jesus, but because that’s not the Messiah story. The Messiah is the top down ruler who will save Israel . . . the Messiah institutes an eternal reign – He comes to make us a GREAT nation! The Messiah does not die!

         But that is the way of Satan, the Prince of this world. It is designed to leave us without hope, because we think – the next government, if only we had the right ruler . . . a world of eternal despair in the human – ‘Get thee behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of Man. because we have not in mind the things of God.

It is perhaps the Great Satanic illusion which grips our hearts and minds – just get the right people at the top  . . . (Which is why I have no time as a Christian for politics – its not the Jesus way, and the temptation for us is that it takes our hearts and minds off Him, and our neighbour, and through the power of the internet focusses us on false hopes . . .)

But more – if you would be my disciple, to be God’s people –  you also have to give up on your story . . . Jesus takes the story back to the start – into the deep waters of death . . . it is out of that that life emerges. Our story as I said last week is Life through death, when we try and avoid that we try and solidify Our existence protecting ourselves

The disciples looked on the glory of the Temple and said, what fine stones – and Jesus destroys it. All Their hard work . . . all their self justification, all their self righteousness, because God needs raw material to form a people for himself who perfectly reflect his Glory – that is the purpose of The Image of God, to Manifest God . . . it is the vocation of the Church, the Body of Christ – but we do like our Temple building projects, those things which give us a sense of self satisfaction – of course inscribe it AMDG. – to the great er glory of God, but the glory of God is revealed in the non people

Which leaves me thinking about us, the people of St John’s

We have a long and it may well be said ‘proud’ history . . . When I came here and folk outside the parish realised who I was, they would say ‘Oh! The new Vicar of St John’s’ As I got to know some of the history I realised what they were talking about – This parish had achieved so much, but also that it had a darker side. Over the years we had let go of the small weaker churches and retreated to the high ground. During a polio epidemic in the 1930s, the Vicar sent people round the parish, not to pray for people and to share bread, but to raise funds for the church  . . . The question I have is, do we cling on in hope, looking for a Messiah who fits, or are we prepared ourselves to become once more the non-people, the raw material for New Creation . . . to let go of our ‘glorious’ past??

Like Peter, and like the Pharisees we are So given to ‘clinging on’ to whatever gives us security – but God can only work with those for whom He is their security . . .

Some years ago I spoke of Two cities in Northern England – Bradford and Leeds. Bradford lived long on past glories . .  . and collapsed. This seems to me to be the story of the Anglican church, at least in our Tikanga,, less so in Tikanga Maori, MUCH less so amongst our Pasifika brothers and sisters .  Those who are little are by far the most vibrant and alive

We live in a time of shattered illusions. We who talk so much of ‘bubbles’ don’t realise that what COVD has shown us is that we were living in a bubble. Our technological prowess and scientific knowhow was supposed to protect Us from all of that – flee from the virus deeper into our bubbles, even more divorced form the reality of the world by burning phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels and building houses insulated against the storms they created.

To be Safe in human terms is to be separated from God. In our Scientific technical bubble we were separated from God, although he got a look in now and then, the occasional prayer, but really it was our job to ‘bring in his kingdom – We created a world – so as the creator of the world was the centre of the story – – – we became the centre of our own story – in which we, of course were going to ‘bring in the Kingdom of God’, because of course it would never occur to us that we couldn’t, after all, look at the fabulous things we humans have done!

COVID amongst other things is shaking things up – do we cling on and try and climb higher and higher up the mountain securing ourself, or do we follow Jesus into the waters of death, and allow God to raise us and reform us – do we cling on, or do we let go, let go and Let God . . .?

To fix or to heal? Weeds or wheat?

To Fix, or to Heal?

Sermon for Trinity + 6
2020
Year A

Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19

The revealing of the children of God

Each Sunday as we prepare to pray in the words that Jesus has taught us, I preface our prayer with these words ‘As our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are very bold to say . . .’

Why? Because it is true. To dare to say to God, Father – is an act of extraordinary boldness . . . after all, what if it weren’t true? And how would we know? What if we called to Jesus, Lord Lord, and he said to us, away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you . . . How do we know?

Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, most clearly in the sermon on the Mount makes it very clear how we would know

I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Or as Luke puts it – ‘be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful . . .’

Like Father, like the child . . . As I say we Are Very Bold to say . . . our Father . . . Indeed the prayer presumes this for it presumes for example that we are forgiving – forgive us as we forgive others . . . Whilst there are often sermons given over agonising over forgiving, to pray the Lord’s prayer presupposes it is ‘natural’ which it is for a child of God.
No wonder as St Paul says: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19
Creation is gasping, it can’t breathe . . . it longs for the revealing of the children of God, for those who in truth call upon God as Father . . . for those who look like God . . .

Jesus did not die to make bad people good – he died so that the dead might live – that we might become Children of God. Christian existence is not a matter of moral performance, it’s a matter of a new Life – that we might become pure wheat . . .

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Becoming Christian is not a matter of tidying up your moral performance . . . of loving and forgiving and being merciful because we have a different or better set of rules – not it is a new Life, the very life of God flowing in and through us. As Jesus says, you must be born from above – you must be born anew as God’s children, bearing his likeness and revealing him in the world . . .

Which brings us to our parable. We tend to assume that Jesus used parables of growing living things because he was a country boy, but the reality is that he used living things, for to enter the Kingdom of God was to become a Living thing . . . birds, trees, seeds, weeds, wheat . . .

Weeds or Wheat? How can you tell? And the answer is that you can’t – only God sees the heart. There are suggestions that the weeds that Jesus had in mind based on the word he used, were notoriously hard to tell apart from wheat. Perhaps he had the hypocritical pharisees in mind . . .

But how do you know? That’s none of our business!

You have to wait to find out. Good seed in Good ground produces God Life. Even good seed in the wrong soil can’t produce wheat as we heard lats week . . . But you have to wait, this is why Jesus uses the Last judgement imagery

Like the sheep and the goats, it’s only at The End that the truth of things is revealed. At The End – when the fruit is born. If these weeds were so hard to tell from wheat, it was only at The End, when they bore seed that it became clear . . .

So what should we do?? Well the answer is as old as time – every moment of every day, repent – turn towards God. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul and all of your strength – Loving the Father ‘above you’ Rise from the chaos and darkness of death into the glory and light of life . . . you must become children of God – Wheat, not weeds . . .

Which brings me to a question I am asked from time to time – What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians? (Even now that they are grown up . . .)

When faced with such a question it is tempting to come up with some ‘technical solution’. , and I’ve heard them all and seen so many try them out . . . often to no avail . . .

We try all the time to fix things – but unlike our food processor, which we managed to fix on Friday – you can’t fix growing things, you can’t fix living things – you can’t make the dead live . . . There is no technique, indeed it is evil to try and fix things like this. For we are not dealing with machines, but living breathing human beings . . . People can’t be helped by tool sets . . .

By attending to people, you can no more ‘ensure they become Christian’, than you can raise the dead . . . Only the Living can raise the dead

Can you raise the dead? I know of a bishop who wouldn’t ordain someone unless they had . . . Jesus sent out his disciples saying As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.

These are Jesus instructions to his disciples – not to ‘put the world right’, not to ‘fix the world’, but to heal and thus direct the gaze of the world to the Father in heaven . . . .

We are not created to be machine and machine fixers – a living human being is no machine – there are no tools or tricks or techniques, indeed to use such things is evil. Yet we have been trained by the world to think that everything has its technical fix, and with the right rules, the right well, the right moral behaviours, the world will be saved . . . and after all, obeying Jesus and curing the sick and raising the dead and cleansing lepers and casting out demons??? . . . it is no surprise that these things only happen in non technical societies where people haven’t the power to fix things, and we think our society advanced and spiritually it is in ICU . . .

As I suggest from time to time, the real danger of Covid 19 is not the virus – it is what our response does to our souls . . . Jesus says do not fear the one who has power only to destroy your body . . . fear the one who can destroy body and soul . . .

As I said, these times reveal the truth about us, what we really love, and certainly as a society

We are in love not with the living God, we are in love with technique, with saving ourselves . . .

How can we fix the world? Vote for the right government? What will get the desired outcome? Vote out the weeds? Vote in the wheat? Can you tell the difference?

’What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians?? We are anxious, about . . . well about everything and so we are easy meat for technical solutions which promise success . . . So uproot the weeds – Clean it up! Vote for the ONE party . . . Make sure they go to ‘a bible believing church’ . . . Pray! Fast and pray! . . . What’s the technique?? What’s the fix?? Healing?? I can’t do that! Funny, Jesus disciples these simple fishermen and rag tag and bobtail didn’t say that to Jesus . . . but then they weren’t civilised like we are . . .

Yet were created to be healers not fixers – we were created to be the dwelling place of God, to have the Seed of His life in us, so that like Jesus we would heal, but that requires a struggle – a struggle to become chidden of God. For all who believe in Jesus are given the right to become Children of God

Jesus says ‘Do not worry about anything! Seek His Kingdom! Be drawn up and you will draw others up around you . . . Acquire inner peace and you will save a thousand around you – become Jesus sale in the storm! That is the upward call of God in Jesus! To be like him! SO make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate! Loving God with all you have and all you are requires your entire attention, for broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction . . .

And therein lies the answer to the question . . . Do we want our children to become Christian? We must become Christian ourselves! Wheat lives towards God with every ounce of its fibre and being . . .

You see, it is a matter of Life, of the Life of God . . . only the Living can do this, only those in whom is the life of God, because weeds beget weeds and wheat begets whea

Perhaps more than ever we need as church to realise that our faith is not a set of beliefs, or a set of morals, it is a life . . . and if the church is dying, then that life is missing . . . All over the Western world we see the same thing – folk coming up with techniques for pretty much every aspect of life . . . Like finding the right exercises to get the right abs, what do we have to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus says, leave the life you have behind . . . and follow me . . . so we go to the bookstore to find a better answer . . .

How can I ensure my children become Christians? How in the Life of the Father can we ensure anything?? Seek Him! Struggle – fight against all that wars against you soul – rise from the soil, Grow towards the Light

Make every effort to become a child of God yourself.

Life begets life. Wheat produces wheat, weeds produce . . .

Children of the Father produce the Life of the Father – for the healing of the world

Seeds . . .

The Gospel of John as the Parable of the Sower

Some thoughts . . .

The Fathers teach us about ‘logismoi’ – unhelpful thoughts. They are like birds flying about and through your head, and often like to sit on a branch of the tree. If given roosting space will drop their deposits into your soul to do their work . . . however, not all thoughts are ‘logismoi’ . . .

The Sower sows the seed . . .

Yesterdays gospel reading was ‘the parable of The Sower’, or ‘of the Seed,’ or ‘of the soil’ . . . take your pick, but you know the one I mean. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it for us, and there’s good reason.

As Jesus berates the disciples in Mark? ‘You don’t get This parable? How will you understand ANY parable??’ (ROUGH translation) As Jonathan Pageau helpfully points out, this parable is a / the (?) Meta-parable, ‘the parable of parables’. Which brings me to that seed of a thought.

Recently I have been teaching on John’s Gospel, taking a largely thematic approach. Yesterday evening I set out again to teach on ‘Believing in Jesus’, perhaps THE theme of this Gospel of The Beloved. Yet when announcing in the morning that I intended to do that, I couldn’t help add by way of a thought, ‘including the Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of John’

To be totally honest, I hadn’t entirely thought this through . . . (‘question to self – “when did you ever?”‘)

I had previously spoken on ‘Jesus and Women in John’, working a theme about which I had given much musing over the years, that of how each significant encounter of Jesus with a woman in the gospel leads to Life in Abundance. Wine from Water, White fields of disciples from Sychar, Life from Death, and as at The Beginning, Light from Darkness.

In this, the Idea of the Logos Spermatikoi – the Seed of the Word was being worked out, which reminds us that Words are Seed Like. Rather than allowing those troublesome ‘logismoi’ a home, we might open up our soul soil to receive a life giving Logos, and thus finally by grace, become the Source (Beginning) of Abundant Life (John 7:37,8), Children of The Living God.

I was, I admit, teaching on the fly. There is a link here to the recording. Yet with regard to ‘believing in Jesus, I was gently suggesting that this required total identification with Jesus. (We are after all baptised into his death) So, I had noted ahead of time Jesus words in John 12 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

And then I saw the context . . .

The Seed falling into the ground to die – but then more, much more, at least to my mind.

In Matthew, Jesus’ words come as Judgement. Indeed his presence is understood as Judgement. The ‘Woes’ announced on Chorazin and Capernaum had come hot on the heels of Jesus revealing that John the Baptist, was ‘the Elijah’ who was to come at the end of the age, and then refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’ – the One coming on the clouds in Daniel. The End is present in Him. The judgement of the crowds on The Baptist and Jesus, is turned back on themselves, as all judgement is so turned back (Matthew 7:1)

We had excised from the RCL reading those words of the prophet which, in our supposed fragile state we could not bear:

“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

‘I’m teaching in parables because you don’t want to hear . . .

So back to John 12 where we read:

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message,
   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’
And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,
‘He has blinded their eyes
   and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and understand with their heart and turn—
   and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.

These words come after Jesus has ‘departed and hidden from’ the crowds, from public ministry. He cries aloud after this, but having withdrawn John suggests to us that He is not heard. Shortly thereafter begins the chapters of the gospel, 13 through 17, in which Jesus opens up “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven“, to his disciples “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance

In other words, John 2-12 finds the Logos being scattered, then the Words of judgement, then the ‘explanation’ to the disciples in 14-17. So it follows the pattern of the parable in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Having in his public ministry scattered the Seed of The Logos, and occasionally bring forth fruit in receptive soil, the time draws near for Jesus to enact the entirety of the parable in Himself, as The Seed which falls into the ground and dies to bear much fruit. The Life which brings forth Life towards The Father springing up from the Earth.

The Word which hovers over the waters of chaos, calling forth the Life of repentance, the Life towards God which He Is, from those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

And THAT is a parable, The Parable of the parable of parables . . .

The Sower . . .

As usual – a slightly different take . . .

Sermon for 5th after Trinity, 2020. Year A

Genesis 25:19-34
Matthew 13:1-9, [10-16], 18-23

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Stories . . .
We love them. As human beings we are wired for stories – indeed when asked about our lives, we will usually speak them as story . . . Some people say that it is ‘reason’ which sets human beings apart from other creatures, and are perhaps a little disturbed to find other creatures also ‘reason’, but stories? Perhaps that is what sets us apart…

When asked about The Bible, people have all sorts of ideas. Many, many say ‘Oh its just full of rules’. Well actually it isn’t, indeed ‘rules’ as such take up a very small portion of Scripture. It isn’t a ‘book of rules’ in that sense at all. There is a lot of poetry – and indeed the words of the prophets, which fill a considerable part of the book are often rendered poetically. But its fundamental form throughout, embracing poetry and law and letters etc. is that of story, of human stories, of universal stories, or perhaps One story retold multiple times . . .

Take the story from Genesis we have just heard. Jacob ‘steals’ Esau’s birthright – or, according to the book of Hebrews, he sells it, for ‘a mess of pottage’ in the delightful turn of phrase in the AV. Like Jack selling the family y cow, which was all they had, for a handful of beans . . . Esau is famished and easily gives up what is life giving to him, for . . . a plate of stew.

And if we’re paying attention, we’ll realise that this story is one we have heard before, not just the story of Jack and the beanstalk.

Right back in the beginning, the man and the woman in the garden. As we explored a couple of weeks ago, the Garden of Eden was a mountain. At the top was a tree, the Tree of Life, the offer of ‘being like God’, but hey . . . it’s such hard work getting to the top and the Snake whispers in their ear . . . you can get what you want, here, eat this apple . . . the man and the woman not alert to what was really offered ate the apple, and lost their birthright . . . The Snake won

And Jacob?
If you have read this in a bible with notes, you’ll know that his name means ‘deceiver’, or ‘one who grasps the heel’ . . . He knew where the point of weakness was – like Achilles, immortal but for the heel and so the deceiver strikes the heel . . . He knows Esaus weakness and buys him off . . . stories within stories within stories

As humans we are easily bought off. We prefer the easy way . . . And we are put to sleep – And that story is repeated throughout Scripture . . .

Any burglar knows, you carry a nice steak, buying the guard dog off – and lace it with sleeping pills . . . and so we are put to sleep, and as those who are put to sleep, we don’t like being woken up . . .

So much so that we even cut out those passages which might disturb our slumber from the scriptures . . . every week at the moment.

What’s missing this week? What was in danger of waking us up and spoiling our sleep?

Here we have Jesus telling the familiar parable of the sower, and then he explains it . . . but we missed the disturbing element out
Jesus tells the story of the sower, the parable, and concludes, ‘let those with ears to hear, hear!’ Well immediately we should be on our guard, after all, haven’t we all got ears to hear??

Here’s the bit we have cut out . . .

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
   and you will indeed look, but never perceive.

WHOAH! Strong stuff there Jesus! You’re telling these things in parables BECAUSE you don’t want them to understand? You’re giving this story to those who have much? You’re telling it as a story so that ‘the little they have will be taken away??

Yes he is . . . but there’s a good reason

We read on

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
   and their ears are hard of hearing,
     and they have shut their eyes;
     so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
   and I would heal them.”

Jesus is speaking in parables precisely so that the people are confirmed in their own choice . . .

He is pronouncing the judgement that they have themselves made. They don’t want what he is offering. Like Chorazin and Capernaum before whom he made the deaf hear and the blind see and raised the dead, and were entertained and applauded, but did not respond – fundamentally they don’t want what is on offer . . . Waking up to Life. They’d rather sleep

Last week as we were talking on Sunday evening, someone asked about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But if you read the story, you will notice that time after time, God reveals himself to Pharaoh and Pharaoh hardens his own heart . . . when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he is merely confirming Pharaoh’s choice

We wake up – We realise that someone has sold us a dud and we set off to find Life . . . not many, but here and there a few – and those who seek will find . . . it is those who do not seek who do not find.

God is looking for his lost sheep, those who know they are far from home, those who have welcomed his Salvation, who love his Son

The parable is precisely told about its hearers – Most of the seed falls on ground that is no good for the seed – Some have chosen their path through life, thanks. Some are kind of enthusiastic, like the crowds who were, but when faced with the force of Imperial Rome, they call for him to be crucified – Some, well there elves are just to full of other things . . .

But here and there there are a few . . .

Back in England, there was a wonderful priest called Robin Gamble. He worked in a very difficult part of town, and would go into the pubs and clubs telling folk the Good News of Life in the name of Jesus. He used contemporary music – so you had, The Good News according to Abba, or The Beatles’ He used humour, a lot of it – well not ‘churchy’ – he shared the Good News with many, but few responded . . . and as he taught what he did to others he would say, out of 100 people, there are perhaps about 5 who are looking for life – the rest are just looking for entertainment. If you are going to ‘fsh for men’ you have to seek out the seekers’

He had a point . . . most people actually don’t want to know, and God after many efforts to persuade them otherwise, even raising his Son fro the dead, seems to allow us to choose.

Do we want the Life that Jesus is offering? Will we do that soul work which prepares the soil? Do we eagerly grasp each opportunity God gives us to live up towards Him? Or are we easily bought off with a pot of stew?

Which ground, which soil has this word fallen into??

A few weeks ago – on Pentecost Sunday we heard these words of Jesus – ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, for as the Scriptures say, ‘out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers of living water . . .’ Whoever is thirsty . . . whoever desires Live . . . whoever is waking up to the fact that they have been sold a dud and Seek Life – et them seek, for the father seeks after those who seek, and they will bring forth life in abundance. The question Jesus asks is – are you seeking? Are you thirsty . . .

The Saviour who doesn’t fit – Fourth Sunday after Trinity Year A 2020

As delivered – somewhat different from the text below

Romans 7:15-25

Matthew 11:16-19,[20-24], 25-30

On a lonely road in ancient Greece there stood an inn. Far from anyone else the inn keeper lived alone, and occasionally a solitary traveler would stop for the night. If this has creepy echoes of a horror movie, then you’d be right.
Each traveler would be shown to the one guest bed. For some it was too short, for others too long. Those for whom it was too long would awaken to find they’d been put on a rack, to stretch them out to fit the bed. Those who were too long for the bed . . . well they awoke to find missing feet or more . . .

This ancient myth reveals a deep truth about human beings – that which doesn’t fit is not comfortable to us. We Know how the world is . . . so we can spot that which doesn’t fit, and deal with it. After all we have eaten from the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We Know! Get with the programme! Then we can all be comfortable . . . or perhaps dead . . . after all, that is supposed to be just a long sleep . . .

And Jesus says . . .

‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
   we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

This generation, every generation . . . Every generation with its opinion about what fits. ‘Hey look it’s a time for dancing, why are you so miserable?’ ‘It’s a time for fear, why do you live so freely?’ Here’s the bed – Get with the programme!

The spirit of Procrustes lives on . . . as Jesus found

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; Hey John,, all that camel hair shirt and Repentance stuff! Don’t be so miserable – we just want to have fun. John, he’s too moral.

Jesus . . . he’s not moral enough the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”

Of course, we are not like that are we . . . especially in respect fo Jesus. Yes, John is a bit miserable, but Jesus . . . well he’s our version of an all round good person – we wouldn’t distort his message, stretching him or cutting him to fit our comfortable Procrustean bed, would we?

He’s ‘A friend of tax-collectors and sinners’ – Just like us . . . or is he?? Who are those people? Those whom the dominant narrative declares do not fit – those who are ‘beyond the pale’.

The tax-collectors were collaborators with the brutal Roman power – Jesus hung out with them. Think of any ghastly regime you like, Stalin’s, HItler’s . . . Trump’s even, if you will. The Romans were right up there – and these Jewish people collaborated with them. Those how have thrown their lot in with the brutal oppressors?? Tax-collectors. Jesus hung out with them – why one of them was his disciple, and may even have written a gospel!

Sinners – well that’s all of us, isn’t it? But if you want to get a feel for the force of it in the ears of Jesus’ detractors – think of Hilary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ . . . everyone has them. The ‘good’ people always have their ‘nasty people’ – Those people . . . the people you wouldn’t be seen dead with? They are ‘sinners’ . . . they are the ones Jesus is hanging out with . . .

Perhaps Jesus is not moral enough for us . . .

Perhaps Jesus isn’t moral enough for us – He’s not a good fit for the Saviour we were looking for. And so here and there we trim Jesus to fit our story, and if you know Matthew Chapter 11 – you’ll realise that that’s exactly what we have done, or at least someone has done on our behalf . . .

the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’ Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds . . . What does that mean?? But we skip over the verses about the deeds of Jesus, about the vindication of Jesus, the Wisdom of God . . .

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done,

John the baptist, in prison has just asked – are you the one who is to come??

And Jesus says Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Look at my deeds!

20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done . . . because they did not repent.

Hang on there Jesus! Leave the repentance stuff to your miserable cousin! But he doesn’t seem to have heard . . .

21’Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

And he doesn’t stop there – he turns his eyes much closer to home –

23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. Jesus had been living in Capernaum – he was theirs . . . the local boy . . . made good – after all the crowds were going after him and lauding him – ‘Jesus, he’s one of us . . .’
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’

More tolerable for SODOM?? Well that Stung . . . no wonder we cut THAT out. That’s not the Jesus WE know . . .

Yet – Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds . . .

But we’ve cut the miracles out, they don’t fit our advanced ‘scientific’ view of the world . . . We’ve stripped out judgement – OUR Jesus wouldn’t say ‘Woe to you and you and you and it will be better for Sodom in the day of judgement . . .’ Not the Jesus made in our image . . . (because of course we neevr judge anyone . . .

We’ve reduced Jesus to a size we can handle, we can use to justify our lives. We’ve put him on the procrustean bed of the god of our imaginations who is as Freud rightly said, merely a projection of ourselves . . . We don’t do miracles . . . so neither did Jesus. We know what is right . . . we’re the judges – just read your news feed – we don’t need Jesus to judge the world.

We want a tame god, a domesticated god, a saviour who agrees with us, whom we can believe in, who measures up – so miracles?? Fairy tales. Judgement?? Don’t be silly – we know what is right and wrong – we know who the good people are and those who are not.

We have taken Aslan and tied him on the procrustean bed of a stone table, stripped him of his claws and his teeth and tied down with a knife through his heart. Because that is the story of the World – we would be better off without THAT Jesus . . . So we crucified him

And then we wonder why a church which so often does this – to get a more respectable faith – why is it dying . . . because it has rejected its Life.

Yet Aslan is not dead. On the third day, God raised him from the dead . . . He is the One who lives – and his word to us is the same. Behold Me. Behold my works. Repent and come to feast in my kingdom

We look out at the world and see so much that is wrong – but we don’t look too close to home . . . We judge the world . . . but the church is dying . . . why? What is wrong? What is wrong with the world – or closer to home, what is wrong with the church – or closer still, what is wrong with me?

‘What is wrong with the world? I am . . .’

St Paul gets this – Paul doesn’t look out at the world, he looks deeply into his own heart

21 [There] I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!

As Jesus says – ‘whoever sins is a slave to sin’

Who will rescue me from this body of death?
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Jesus is not the Saviour we were looking for. Indeed if we are honest, he probably isn’t the Saviour we want, BUT for the Salvation of the World – he is the Saviour we NEED

Yet . . . blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ Blessed is anyone who doesn’t try to rewrite my story in their own image – who doesn’t feel the need to fit me to their story, blessed is anyone who accepts what I say at face value, who accepts my judgement of their life. For I judge justly.

I am numbered amongst the transgressors – I hang out with ‘the deplorables’ . . . Jesus hasn’t come to call the righteous, those who are right in their own eyes – he has come to call sinners to repentance – and I will feed THEM my Life . . .

Come to Jesus’ table, accept His judgement on your Life – be numbered with the deplorables . . . Say Yes to Him – receive His Life in bread and wine . . .

Amen

Dangerous Faith

Draft notes for Sunday Sermon – Trinity +4 2020

Genesis 22

Baptism and Genesis 22

Dangerous faith

Today we have a baptism! And a reading about child sacrifice . . .

Keep Safe! . . . School holidays, Air NZ

Then Covid!

Lockdown . . .

Economy . . .

Who knows? Everyone apparently . . .

Have you had conversations about this with folk?? 

Have you even once asked – ‘where is God in all of this??’

On the planet Zog?? Is God involved?? As Christians surely that is where our focus should be, shouldn’t it? 

Yet all I hear is ‘Lockdown!’ – ‘No Lockdown!’ . . .

Thank you god for giving us a PM who kept us safe . . . Are we the elect of God???

Because where were you in the US or Italy or the UK . . .

It’s a lot more convenient not to have to think of God . . . to avoid God . . .  and if we’re ruthless honest with ourselves, this is precisely what we do, almost all of the time, and it’s why this mornings text is so terrifying – because we don’t want to pay attention to God . . . If the God we encounter in this text seems strangely alien to us . . . is it because we don’t know him??

———

As good members at St John’s we have four patron Sts – Mary, John, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis

Aslan – is he safe?? 

Good is Not the same as Safe -you have to choose – between the Good and the Safe . . . Cognitive Dissonance

Church is Aslan’s Realm – there is a Lion Loose! 

If you want to be safe – Church is not the right place!

Annie Dillard – Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

We are going to Baptise Marie today . . . We invoke the name of God . . . blithely?? 

And THEN we have this reading from Genesis . . . Child Sacrifice . . . we are not on safe ground here – and it is not comfortable . . .

But it is a move away from the Safe God story, the God avoidance story . . . It’s a move away from illusion to Reality

God draws Abraham away from all his security blankets – all that keeps him from Reality – all that keeps him Safe

Leave your country – culture – kindred – relationships – father’s house – home – and go to the land I will show you . . .

No Heir – this really Is the end of the line! Ishamel?? No . . . 

Can a child be born to a man who is 100? Can Sarah who is 99 bear a child? Oh that Ishmael might live before you . . . but no . . .

This makes no sense . . . but then, does anything? Have you got COVID figured?? 

God has promised Abram a Son, through Sarah . . . the son of the promise. Isaac

And joy of Joys, Hope beyond all hope! He is . . . and then we come to Gen 22 . . . and it is a terrifying text . . . Not Safe -YET – THIS IS CHRISTIAN LIFE . . . This is THE Exemplar of faith into which we are going to baptise Marie

After these things God tested Abraham. 

Whoa!! . . . Who trusts who? 

The question is not, can we trust God, it is can God trust us to trust him . . . after all if we are charged with living out His purposes . . .

He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 

Abraham is Alert to God

He said, ‘Take your son, 

your only son Isaac,

Just to be clear

whom you love, 

Just to make it abundantly clear what is going going on within Abraham

and go to the land of Moriah, 

and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ 

So Abraham rose early in the morning

, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 

WHAT???? NO discussion???

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ 

OK So Abraham says ‘we are coming back’ WE ARE

Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, 

He laid the Wood on his Son – pay attention here folk . . .

and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 

Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ 

Abraham is alert to God – he is alert to Isaac – he is responsive to both – he is attending to both – he loves God, He loves Isaac

Isaac said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ 

Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham Cannot see how this is going to turn out . . . none of us can . . . but he trusts God

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 

Still paying attention in the midst of it all!! He is attentive to God

He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ 

And 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.’

God is His Life

Jesus is our Life

Meaning of Baptism

We place our life in the hands of the Lion – The one who isn’t safe – The one who Is Good . . .

Fear, Control and The Human

Do not be afraid! This is the most oft repeated injunction of Scripture. Because it is often so difficult to do, it is necessary to examine the ‘Why?’ of this Command of God, so often on the lips of Jesus . . .

Recently I’ve been feeding on various podcasts, not least those from the Ancient Faith website. Recently I came upon this one by Michael Haldas from his often excellent series ‘Sacramental Living’, entitled ‘Fear and Control’. It’s worth a listen, and I’d like to make a few additional comments.

As you will note, Michael is speaking in a daily series of talks and I suspect a little unscripted as he becomes a little contradictory, not least with respect of ‘Control’, so I offer hear a few thoughts which might possibly help direct our Spiritual Exercise in these days.

Fear and control are intimately linked

Life is full of uncertainty. If we have until now only believed that in our heads, the events of these past weeks have caused that knowledge to become Knowledge. It has moved from the head to the heart, the seat and root of our lives, and there has born much anxious fruit.

So much about the Coronavirus situation has the potential to make us fearful, and in many ways we can see that fear realised, not only within us, but also externally to us. This latter is a significant point to which I shall return in a few moments.

A short personal reflection regarding my own heart.

Here in New Zealand, we were given about 48 hours notice of the lockdown. I noted that all of a sudden the streets were alive with cars making their way to our local supermarket. I was told that after only an hour, the queue for the checkouts went right round the store . . . of course, I wasn’t so foolish . . . yet that wasn’t quite so. As I went to shop early the next morning, I found myself pausing in the aisles and looking at certain products, and an internal nudge arose, and ‘mysteriously’ this or that ended up in my basket, despite the fact that we had some at home! I stocked up on potatoes and yoghurt starter, whilst self righteously ignoring the toilet rolls . . .

. . . so to continue in many ways we can see that fear realised, not only within us, but also externally to us. The simple fact is that we are far more alert to that external to us, than internal. The more we internally fear within our hearts, the more we See reasons to fear out there. (This is because as humans we are microcosms – tiny Worlds. We See as we are) And we are trained ot think that what we see is Reality. But Rather, what goes on within us constructs a false reality ‘out there’, because we are afraid. The internal which guides our eyes and our thinking, from fear to fear, not the external.

And our response to fear is to seek to control. Indeed Control is always a response to fear. We try to get the world ‘the way we want it’ because we are afraid, and if we have power, we exert our will on the World around us. Technology of course which is at root an instrument for exercising control over our Reality, feeds not only our sense of agency, and control, but also feeds our fear. Now of course we are afraid of what in our fear we have done to the Creation . . .

Consider the working of fear in someone who has been bullied. Because they have been bullied, often when young, they seek to protect themselves from that first fear they knew. So they exercise control over others, they themselves bully. They exercise Dominion. To a greater or lesser extent this is true of us all, but as in so many things, we only recognise it in particularly significant examples of it, Out There. Our ‘Desire to make the world a better place, to turn the people around us into our projects to improve them, are merely our attempts to make the world Safe for ourselves, so it fits how we think it should be.

This perhaps is why we know so little of the truth of prayer.

We pray and we pray, seeking God to intervene and change things Out There, so our lives can ‘return to normal’, but then God doesn’t respond . . .

YET if it really is God we seek – rather than just getting the world’s electrician, plumber, etc. to appear briefly and fix things – then God may well respond and do a far more significant work – within us. God asleep in the storm – God intervenes there through His Son Jesus and the disciples world is shattered, they’re more frightened than they were of the storm . . . Do we really want God to step in?

So often prayer is simply, “Lord I know that the world is really yours, but can you fix it so that I have it as I want it? Please can I have the life I want.” But that isn’t prayer – it’s magic . . .

These words of Father Stephen Freeman have really struck me these past days “ . . . when we seek to use the unseen in a manner that controls or directs the world around us, we have left the path of true belief and entered the world of magic and superstition. It is, oddly, the opposite of the sacramental life. In the sacraments, material things are used for the purpose of communion with the immaterial with the sole intent of communion with God. In magic and superstition, we seek to manipulate the immaterial world for the sake of controlling and managing the material world. It is actually a form of secularism – one which presumes that the material world itself is the true and final place of our existence.”

God comes to us in Jesus to give us His Life. And this requires the upending of all the tables of our lives, of many things being driven out, of a renewed Vision of what Life actually is.

To return to the theme of Control, when God steps in we have to cede control and that is the last thing we want to do, to lose our life, so it seems.

But is there no place for control?

Here I think Michael became a little confusing – for he was speaking about control as a sign of fear, but then switched ot speaking of it in healthy terms, but not defining the sphere of good control, or its home.

For there is a place where we are to exercise dominion – in our hearts. Over what rightly are we to have control? The simple, yet difficult answer is, ourselves.

It is not our place to control anything outside of the domain we have been given, our bodies, until we have mastered that which lurks within us. Michael helpfully uses the example here of God’s words to Cain ‘sin is lurking at your door, waiting to master you . . .’ Cain has no self mastery, no self control, and the rest as they say is history. Sin and death are the fruits of lives which have no self control, just self gratification, however beautifully packaged . . .

Self Control is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit.In other words, it is Evidence of the life of God within us, the Life of Jesus, abiding in us

Jesus can speak words to the Creation ‘Be Still!’ and rightly rebuke us for our lack of faith. He alone, The Human (as Pontius Pilate will remind us), can exercise dominion over the Creation for He alone is that Life that comes from God. It is only as we allow Him in to change us that we might grow into true humanity. Only when he comes ot the Temple of our lives, or indeed stills the storm outside, and reveals the Storm within.

Only when we train ourselves to only do what we see the Father doing, moment by moment, only when our life comes to us in and through Jesus, are we in the still place from which in truth we might exercise Control, not from Fear, but from Love, Joy and Peace.

‘The prayer of Jesus’ people’ – Trinity 6 Year C 2019

Sermon for Trinity 6, Year C 2019
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

Pray your Life

I wonder what you ask for when you pray? Why do we pray for the things we pray for? What is it that causes us to pray – not what deep ‘spiritual thing’ does, but what in the world we inhabit makes us pray?
These questions which I suppose we rarely if ever give thought to – but are called to mind by our gospel and also a presentation at our clergy conference this past week.

Firstly our gospel. Jesus’ disciples are being good disciples here – they are asking their rabbi to teach them. Jesus let us never forget is our rabbi also! Our teacher. We are to listen to his words for they are Spirit and they are Life. We might say ‘they are true’ – although the idea of truth is so thin in our modern world that perhaps this isn’t the best way of putting it. Better to say with Peter that they are ‘words of eternal Life’. To Hear Jesus – to listen and allow his words to shape us, is to come alive! Just like old Lazarus – this is what the Words of Jesus do! So when we hear Jesus’ words on prayer they also if we hear them bring us to Life – to Life filled Prayer.
Or quite literally a Prayer filled Life – Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a House of prayer to use Jesus’ words. As Paul tells us – the Spirit prays within us – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. His Life giving words of prayer are perhaps the most clear form of Spirit filled prayer we can know. Well we shall return to the Holy Spirit towards the end

As with any good rabbi – what Jesus says – is pithy, short and memorable. His words are Life – they are bread for us – we need to be able to come back to them over and over again for our Eternal Life in the age that is passing away.

So when Jesus teaches us to pray he gives us a simple prayer. Not a set of techniques – ‘Just’ Words – but these words are Spirit and Life, for they are the words of Jesus.
We learned to pray it ‘on our mother’s knee’ – although in my case it was from my father 🙂 As we were taught these Words – the Life in Jesus was handed on to us. Do you want to know how to pray? Then listen to Jesus and say these words that are Spirit and Life. As Paul reminds us, we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit pray within us. Jesus words. Life – Spirit. Within us

But back to that question of what to ask for. We are told to pray for the coming of the Kingdom – on earth as in heaven – for bread and forgiveness. That’s it!

Christian Life is a gift from God. Like Jesus – this Life is physical and relational. Bread is fundamental to our physical existence – it keeps us alive. Eugene Peterson translates this ‘keep us alive with three square meals a day’ but I think that pushes it rather. We just need bread for the day. Give us this day our daily bread. It has an immediacy to it. Tomorrow’s bread can take care of itself – we seek bread for this day. We live too much in terms of the unknown future. A place of myths and terrors or enticements. At the moment there are those amongst us who are worried about things that lie in the future – but our prayer is for daily bread. This Life flowing from God now – our Life now. We live in humble dependence on Our Father in heaven from moment to moment.
And for forgiveness, We begin the prayer – our Father – we pray as His children his offspring in the world – He is The Provider. The Life giver – the Life of His Son. Breaking relationship is death – it is intimately connected to Bread. Bread shared – is Life shared. But sharing of bread requires relationship. So broken relationship is Death. We pray for Life. Knowing that this Life comes from the Father we seek forgiveness of our sins

But it doesn’t stop there. You see life doesn’t.

Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. and the dominant picture of the Temple and the Spirit in Scripture is of water flowing out from it. In the garden – that first picture of the Temple – the Temple which we have indeed turned into a den of thieves – there are rivers flowing from it

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.

Ezekiel speaks of the water flowing from the Temple in these terms
The LORD showed me ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. . . On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’

And of course, Jesus – the Temple destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days is the source of this Water – Spirit and Life ‘whoever is thirsty let him come to me and drink, for out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers of living water’

For that for which we pray is the centre of, perhaps the entirety of the Christian active life – as Jesus fed the multitude and forgave all from the Cross, pouring out his life, so our Life is the reception of that life and the passing on of it. Share your bread with the poor, forgive others.

indeed the prayer suggests this very flow. Forgive us as we forgive others! We are asking God to replenish our lives. Feed us as we feed others. What does Jesus say – do not worry about what you will eat and drink or what will you wear do not worry about the Life coming to you— but rather seek his kingdom and righteousness and all this things will be given you

Of course as we learn, be it ever so slowly to share what we have, to share bread, to share forgiveness – this Life Of Jesus is revealed in us, amongst us and flowing from us

And so Jesus teaching on prayer concludes with a prayer that sums up the Lord’s prayer
He asks us to reflect on our lives. Do you give bad gifts? No, though you are evil you know how to give good gifts . . . how much more than will the Father [who is Goodness] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him – the gift of his Good being. The transformation of our inner being, that we are converted to temples of life giving spirit, spreading bread and forgiveness wherever we go

Do we pray each day for bread? Do we pray each day for forgiveness? Do we pray for the Life of the Holy Spirit? It is perplexing. Jesus gives us words to pray, but so many think they have moved on from this to more ‘advanced’ forms of prayer . . .

This brings me briefly to the talk at ministry conference. In it, Dr Tim Cooper spoke to us about most Christianity in the World – which is not Western. What is more it is a story of almost continuous persecution, of millions who imitated Jesus in their deaths. Millions upon millions of Christians over 2000 years who lived on the edge – not just materially but culturally. Our Western Tradition which has been at the heart of Western culture at least for the last thousand years is one which does not know what it is to be marginal, although there are some who would say that we are now discovering that. When you are on the edge – you depend on others for your life. You depend on people not killing you – you may well depend on them fro bread – and because you depend on them, relationship is key – forgiveness

If we think that The Lord’s Prayer – Words of Spirit and lIfe flowing from Jesus are not the Essence of prayer – the Essential Prayers – is it perhaps it is because we have become so self sufficient? After all – how many of us ever have to think about where our bread comes from let alone ask for it? If we can get by without close relationships with others then forgiveness isn’t part of our needs for our relationships are rarely Life or Death matters
Listen to Jesus ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God’ As his brother James says ‘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?’

When we have little or nothing we live in dependence on the goodness of others, relationships matter more because of this. Life is bared down to its essentials. We who have much are much further from the Kingdom – perhaps this is why we are so quick to come up with alternative visions of the Kingdom that better suit our lives, and different forms of prayer?
With whom are we sharing our bread, that we need to pray for Bread? With whom do we share in Life, such that broken relationship is life or death?

In this respect it is sobering to consider that the absorption of the General Synod of the church in maters of sexuality over the past 25 years has been the wealthy driving the agenda, and ignoring (and I saw it happen over and again) the cries of the poor – our pasifika brothers and sisters whose lives are literally being submerged under the water, homes destroyed by tropical storms . . . but where is the church most alive in our province?
Are our lives lives Real Lives? Life flowing from God through us? Lives of Receiving and giving? Perhaps we need to hear the words of Jesus?? ‘How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him? Perhaps we who are so comfortable with our own lives, need most to pray this prayer that we be saved by His Life in and amongst us? Amen

Fat in the day of slaughter . . . Evensong

Evensong
Genesis 41
Luke 16:1-9

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. . . You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. Jas 5:1,5

One of the first things someone coming to these shores to live notes is how expensive food is here. And what is more food prices are going up. I know that this is probably a heresy to say so, but I think that that might be a good thing. Anything which disturbs our comfortable slumbers and wakes us up to the world in which we really live

Slumbers are of course the place where sometimes dreams intrude and thinking of the price of food will lead us to Pharaoh and other players, not least those who have ‘fattened their hearts on a day of slaughter’ – those whom James says must now ‘weep and howl’. And I trust that if nothing else that quotation woke us up at least a little?

A local farmer in one of my parishes told me how troubled he was that so very few people nowadays had ever known what it was to live in genuine want and shortage of food . . . he knew history and scripture well enough. The story of Pharaoh was one not unfamiliar to one who lived with the daily vagaries of the weather let alone climate collapse as the director of each days work, or his daily life . . .

Pharaoh’s dreams, were not just dreams – they were an awakening to reality. For so very long people lived knowing that there were times of feast and times of famine.
Our culture has for a season broken these natural cycles by our technology. Technology of course always separates us from reality and changes our perspective on it, but we have lost any awareness of this as our lives have become so divorced from The World of The Real. The cycle will kick in again, one way or another, and the longer we put it off the harder will be the fall . . .

Pharaoh’s dreams reveal a deep underlying anxiety – how do I cling on to what I have in a world of uncertainty. And as the collapse of the climate inexorably quickens, til we begin to feel its hot breath even on us which live divorced from the Real World – such dreams are being given fresh impetus to this day.
The nightmare of the Pharaohs of the modern world. A recent conference of what we have come to call plutocrats, people of immense wealth, was given over to consideration of how they would survive the coming famine, or to put it in their terms, ‘the inevitable collapse of civilisation which climate change is already bringing about’. One of their key questions was ‘where is best to go and hole up? Alaska, or New Zealand?’ As you may be aware several such people have already opted to make our country their bolt hole, some investing large sums in secure underground shelters. Another question, interestingly was ‘how do I keep my personal guards loyal?’ Options such as fitting them with electric necklaces were explored. After all, if things collapse, who can you trust in the world we have created for ourselves?

It is a dark irony that in the world we have created, friends and family are barely visible in comparison to previous socially rich ages. Who do you count on in a world of individuals? If the only thing you have is wealth and no tribe??
The Pater familias who had risen to ascendency through prowess in battle, like for example David -Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands as the crowds shouted – no wonder David took over at the top.
Yet in a world of individuals separated out by their money, we discover that it hasn’t the power with which we had invested it, especially when the so ‘economy, so-called, collapses. Family ties, blood, runs deep and so powerful local chiefs did not need to worry quite so much about those they pay to protect them turning on them. ‘How will we stop our personal army turning on us? the wealthy ask
The age of the individual has ushered in an age when the fabric of existence is shattered – who can I trust? This is in so many many ways a dystopian vision. James once more ‘you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money . . . weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.’

Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams – visions of skeletal livestock – led him to a programme of self protection. We miss in our following the Joseph narrative what it is that Pharaoh with the help of Joseph does – that is accumulate everything to himself. During the fat years he exacts a tax from all the people of Egypt – and during the thin years he sells the grain he has accumulated back to the people – until they have nothing left to give him but their bodies. He has grown fat in the age of slaughter – he has enslaved his people – he is an absolute ruler . . . and this will come back to bite him, as it all come back to bite all those who live for themselves.

There is the irony that the plutocrats have no friends to rely on – but speak of chaining their security personnel like dogs with electric collars. This Pharaoh at least went to his gold encrusted tomb ‘in peace’ Later Pharaoh’s reaped the harvest of God’s judgement against them as we go on to read in Exodus . . .

What judgement we may well asked will soon be reaped on those who have accumulated in the day of slaughter. Think of how difficult for example it is to buy a house now if you are young? I wonder at the piles of money accumulated by the St John’s college trust board – the wealthiest theological faculty outside of Harvard – in excess of $500 million. A huge percentage of this accumulated off the back of the housing market – a ghastly monster which tips people into forms of effective slavery and wrecks family life . . . Have we not ourselves as the Anglican Church grown fat in the day of slaughter?

A year or so ago our Synod passed a motion calling on ‘those in power to do all they could to alleviate poverty.’ I suggested that perhaps we could do much with that $500 million. Oddly enough, or perhaps wearily predictably no one thought this a good idea. The poor are someone else’s problem.
We worry about the collapse of the church – but consider the mission impact of Christians actually emptying themselves for the sake of the poor? Ah well . . .

On a wider stage The Creation has paid a terrible price but our lives have been ones of unimaginable ease and comfort . . . we have had cheap food for an historically unimaginably long period – we are accustomed to it – but the Creation has collapsed as a result. Intensive farming which we live off the back of, before we go criticising the farmers, has all but ruined soil, water, plant and insect life. And some have grown fat in the day of slaughter. If we have been paying attention these past few years you will no doubt have heard of ‘disaster capitalism’ – wherever something terrible happens, there is money to be made – she even suggesting that countries have been deliberately destabilised in order that a few can make a quick billion. Brexit anyone? The vultures are readying themselves to feed of the carcass. But we are living now with disaster capitalism on the biggest stage. This is not the collapse of nation states, it is the collapse of the entire creation.

One think I have in common with The plutocrats, apart form coming to live here, is that I also have taken a close interest in the numerous indicators of the coming Judgement. I wonder if perhaps their underground bunkers are a manifestation of those calling for the mountains to fall on them . . .

———

What is the gospel in all of this? Well I have to admit to taking once more a slight liberty with the readings for there are words of Jesus which speak directly to this, which I chose for tonight.

As we read this morning ‘Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it will not be taken away from her’. The One thing as we heard was that she listened to the words of Jesus, which are Spirit and Life. The irony I pointed out was that whoever people fall to arguing over this story of Martha and Mary which are about listening to the words of Spirit and Life which fall from His lips, they always ignore the words of Jesus . . .

The reading from Luke we have heard this evening is to our ears a perplexing tale. We who have been brought up to accept ‘economic realities’ in terms of abstractions like business ethics etc are confused by Jesus using the action of someone who defrauds his boss to save his own skin. But then our idea of economics has nothing to do with God’s.
Economics literally is ‘the law of the household’ – put another way, it is how we live together, sharing in life together. it is little surprise that in the age of the individual, it has become the abstract idolatrous monster to which we must all bow down at any cost. China’s GDP falls and the world is terrified – our gods are crumbling. So to hear the words of Jesus, we need to understand that His words are Light and Life – not the latest prognostications of the economists and bankers and politicians and plutocrats.

Jesus it must be said says things that are not music to our ears – he has no time for money – which is essentially a technology of abstraction separating people from people. So he is unconcerned about financial ‘justice’ per se – as we shall hear in a few weeks time as we continue to read this gospel on Sunday mornings. Rather he is in the business of making friends. Use unrighteous mammon to make friends for yourselves, so that when the Day dawns . . .

Job says If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the orphan has not eaten from it—
for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—
if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or a poor person without covering,
whose loins have not blessed me,
and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
if I have raised my hand against the orphan,
because I saw I had supporters at the gate;
then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.

If we hoard, like the Pharaohs we will rot with your wealth, but if we live with an open hand to those around us, we will find yourselves welcomed into many homes when things fall apart. Making friends is a lengthy task – may God grant us in his mercy time for this work of Life

And if anyone things these words not fit for the delicate ears of evensong, let us not forget the song of our mother Mary – ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away . . .

Perhaps we ought to give thought once more to that $500 million stashed away under St John’s college?

Martha and Mary . . . sigh. Trinity 5 Year C, 2019

Sermon for Trinity 5 – Year C 2019

Colossians 1:15-23
Luke 10: 38-42

Are we good listeners?

Many years ago, I was asked a rather left field question at an interview. ‘What would you say if Jesus walked into the room?’ I must admit I was not however taken aback – the question had been asked of every candidate and my interview was after lunch – I had the advantage of the incredulity of my fellow interviewees at the question to prepare an answer. Ironically, I didn’t want the job. Even more ironically, I got it and in some respects it prepared me for my life as a priest.

What do we do in the presence of Jesus?

Today’s gospel recounts the familiar tale of Martha welcoming Jesus into her home in Bethany, yet ending up on the end of a gentle rebuke. I must admit ever since I preached on this text three years ago – I have wondered about this encounter.
For last time it became clear to me that every time I had preached on it, which might be as many as 8 times over the years, someone pushed back at what I said. Occasionally I do get a ‘I’m not sure’ type of response to what I’ve said, but with this gospel reading it is every time

A few nights ago – I was having trouble sleeping – I listened to a podcast which turned out to be focussed on these words of Scripture. Not for the first time I heard it told as a tussle as it were between the life of Action, embodied by Martha, and that of Contemplation, as embodied by Mary. It’s fair to say that rather like last weekends cricket it was a close call with neither side deserving to lose, but the podcaster received pushback, exactly the same as I receive every time I preach on this.
This response is summed up in the words of one of my former church wardens, a dear soul who would shake her head each time and say ‘we can’t all be Marys, Eric’

Three years ago I was actually sent a lengthy paper on why Martha gets a raw deal . . . but . . . but . . . what if the incident has nothing to do with that . . . nothing to do with ‘the active vs the contemplative life’? Being vs doing?

I must admit than in suggesting this, I am going against pretty much all of the commentary on this text through 2000 years! But . . .
Certainly I could argue that we could do with lots more Marys. Is the world collapsing around us because no one is working? Because there are far too many people sat around contemplating? Is the problem with Donald Trump that he’s sat quietly in the Oval office meditating? Is the problem with his opponents that they’re doing the same? Is Brexit the result of too much contemplation? Are the shops and airwaves empty and the economy collapsing because we have all been overtaken by a tsunami of mindfulness? I think not. So I could make a very good argument for contemplation over action . . . but what if this incident has little if anything to do with that?

What seemed to get missed on the podcast, which worked the Action vs Contemplation angle as well as I’ve heard it worked; what gets missed in every response I’ve ever had, are the words of Jesus . . . which is more than ironic, it’s genuinely tragic. And I can’t help but wonder why we don’t listen to what Jesus says, and what are the consequences

Let’s consider the story again.

Martha is of course the one who welcomes Jesus into the house. Martha had a sister called Mary who, seated at the feet of Jesus [by the way note that this is how the healed demoniac is found, in the position of the disciple] – Mary ‘listened to what Jesus was saying’.

Note that as it happens Jesus has no issue with Martha. Martha has chosen her work. Mary has chosen hers. Yet, this won’t do for Martha.
‘Martha who was distracted by all her serving,’ comes and try to use Jesus for her own ends. Jesus is speaking, but she’s uninterested in Jesus except as one who will serve her will – She rebukes him “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister left me all alone to serve?’ Apparently not. Indeed as we shall see again in a few weeks Jesus seems remarkably uninterested in all the things we can get very worked up about – our notions of justice and fairness. A man comes to him and says ‘tell my brother to share the inheritance with me’ – and we’re all with him, and Jesus isn’t interested in deed he tells the man not to be greedy, even though all he wants is what we would call his fair share. Is Jesus bothered because Mary is not helping Martha? Apparently not.

‘Tell her therefore that she should help me’.’Speak Jesus! put the world right the way I think it should be! Sort those people out! Again another theme which will come up – those who think they have a hold over others calling on God to send them to help. It was the Rich man in Hades calls to Abraham to send Lazarus to come and serve him . . .

I can’t help also thinking of the parable of the Prodigal here. We are not told, but I suspect that Mary is the younger of the two. Only because as an elder sibling I recognise myself in Martha 🙂 Thinking she’s in charge of her little sister.
She certainly acts in such a way towards her, albeit trying to manipulate Jesus. Her complaint has more than a faint echo of the complaint of the elder brother ‘All these years I have slaved away for you . . .’ ‘Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me all alone to serve?’

It is at this point that we as it were get to the nub of it all – Jesus’ words. And perhaps there is something here which we so need to hear, that it is not at all a bad thing that we come back to it every third year in the lectionary cycle – for perhaps we haven’t heard it – or better, we haven’t heard the words of Jesus . . .

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

What is The One Thing Necessary? What is the One thing which Mary has chosen?

Again let us pause and step back.

We miss what is going on so often. As I have said there are echoes of this story throughout Luke’s gospel, and if we have paid attention to the gospel so far, we should see threads coming together here.

What is the occasion? We are assuming that Martha is dealing with food here. I’ve never heard it suggested otherwise – yet just recently Jesus has fed 5000 people! Does Martha not know? Jesus will says ‘do not concern yourself with what you will eat . . . your father knows you need all these things . . .’ Those are his words
Jesus is in the house and he is speaking. Martha – do you remember the feeding of the 5000??? Why are you so stressed about the food???

Well that might help us be a bit more relaxed about getting a meal ready. [again an echo of when Jesus is teaching the disciples about the yeast of the pharisees and they take it as a rebuke for forgetting the bread. Jesus asks them to remember how he fed them in the wilderness . . .]

Then having fed the 5000 Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter and James and John and a voice from heaven says ‘This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him’

This is the very command of God – Listen to Jesus. One thing is necessary. What is Mary doing?

Mary has chosen the better part . . . She is listening to Jesus.

Man does not live by bread alone, Martha, but by every word that proceeds for the mouth of God. Here are words coming from the mouth of God! Jesus is speaking.
How ironic that we miss what he says. ‘Oh it’s all about the active vs the contemplative life!’ Jesus says nothing about that. What is the One thing necessary – what is the better part that Mary has chosen? – she is doing the will of God – listening to Jesus!’
When we start a conversation about the active Martha vs the contemplative Mary – not words that come into scripture at all (!!) we ignore the words of Jesus.

Jesus says ‘My words are Spirit and they are Life – the flesh avails nothing!’ But do we take him at his word? Do you know the deep sustaining life that comes from the words of jesus? Have you had your heart and soul and mind and strength set on fire by the words of Jesus? When Jesus rebukes . . . the devil! . . . he says ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds fro the mouth of God!’ D owe know the deep satisfaction and Life that comes to us through the Word of Jesus?

Jesus is our Life – His Words are Spirit and Life. Unless we think we have moved beyond this, above all, we need to listen to Jesus – not least because as Jesus says ‘there is only one thing necessary.’

As Jesus says in exasperation at one point – ‘why do you call me Lord Lord and do not do what I say? Did you not hear? this deafness to the words of jesus, exhibited in a failure to understand this incident is at the heart of our fallen condition

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land– not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
Amos 8:11 . . . Jesus is speaking – do we hear? Do we even want to hear?

Jesus ask yourself, what would the world look like if everyone heard Jesus?
What would your life look like? What would this church look like?

Do we recognise the Life flowing from His mouth?

Trinity 2 ‘Devoted – Your Salvation is not about you!’

Sermon for Trinity 2, Year C 2019

Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

‘Devoted – Your Salvation is not about You!’

Let the dead bury their own! You follow me!
St Matthew 8:22

I’ve always been a little puzzled by big celebrations of wedding anniversaries. Given that people are marriage is, ’til death do us part’, it seems to be a bit odd to congratulate two people for neither of them dying!
Of course to quote Bob Dylan, ‘things have changed’, and one is regularly met with astonishment should one say one has been married for over 30 years. In a sense this is because in a relationship thin world, we have come to invest so very much in finding ‘one’s souls mate’. Expectations regarding marriage are sky high as revealed in the extravagant wedding ceremonies and celbrations, where once people often did little more than turn up before a priest or at the registry office, or jump over a stick.

Ordination services too, it must be said, are extravagant affairs, where once all that happened was that a bishop laid hands on another – and the Spirit did the rest, now . . . And, in parallel with modern marriage, I think that it is beyond dispute that we have in a world where the church seems to be struggling, to invest far too much expectation in the ordained.
I remember one of my tutors expressing his unease at the implicit liturgy of ordination at a local Cathedral where the Ordination service began to the doors being flung open to reveal as he put it ‘the white robed saviours of the church’.
Those inflated ideals are all too often unexamined by the ordained who hold public services of worship celebrating the anniversary of their ordination, be it 25 years, 40 years, or in that first case, 60 years. This I have found very troubling – for it seems to re-emphasise a deep and troubling pattern within the church, that of 2 track faith. Those who were ordinary christians and those who were totally devoted. A little like the cult status that grew up around the Saints in the late middle ages. Why no special services for 90 years a baptised follower of Jesus?
And what is more it creates a comfortable division – so the idea of clergy as ‘professionals’, or people ‘doing their job’, finds a well prepared soil.

The notion of a two track Christian life is anathema. That there is a High Road and a Low Road, not to Scotland but to the heart of God, is a detestable idea. Yet it runs deep. The idea of being devoted to the service of God, given over to God is one which one finds in writing about ordained ministry, but not baptism . . .

Yet, as I will say this until they bury me, “what counts is our baptism”. Baptism is about the totality of our being. It is the total work which cannot be added to. And any understanding of ordained ministry which however unintentionally suggests otherwise, is to be shunned. In Baptism we are totally consecrated to, devoted to the Living God.
(It always struck me as a little odd that those who had concerns over the baptism of infants often had their children ‘dedicated’ – in the background was the offering of Samuel to live with Eli the priest. I never found any of these dedicated babies being left behind, dedicated as they were to God. it was most muddle headed)

No. No one Christian is more baptised than another – we become in the words of St Paul ‘living Sacrifices’. Not, that is sacrifices that got away with just donating a leg or a hand and so are still living, but Sacrifices who having died, Live! Again St Paul, ‘as dying, yet behold we live!’ Priests are called amongst the community of the church to teach this, to bear witness to this, the faith of Christ’s body in it’s totality, the Church, that we might live it out together as ‘a Kingdom of Priests’. To be a visible reminder us that we are a people, a body of Christ – given over in love and service to Him, This is Our Life. And thus, this is our Salvation. Devoted to God.

But what does it mean ‘to be devoted to’ in this regard?

I remember the same college lecturer working through with us to find a suitable metaphor for the priesthood, and his words have stuck with me – they are first in the line at the Coliseum. First in the line – OK maybe they get a certain benefit, the starving lions are likely to make much swifter work of the first meal of the week 🙂 but not that priests ‘go in place of’ . . . they lead the way that all must follow . . . there is One Lord, One faith, One church, One Baptism . . . One Way of Jesus.

We might speak of our Salvation of ‘the assurance of ‘going to be with Jesus’, or the assurance that ‘Jesus is with me’, but that is not the picture revealed in the gospels – which turn it on his head, to wit – Salvation is to go with Him. We might say ‘so and so has gone to be with Jesus’, but that is the language of those outside the Church. For going to be with Jesus is at once our death – you have been crucified with Christ as St Paul puts it – I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. He becomes our Life as the Church. If the Church has any Life at all, it is the Life of the crucified and Risen One.

Which brings us to our gospel reading today – and seemingly two Jesus’s. One who rebukes James and John (not the Evangleist by the way, that’s another John . . . but another time) – the kind Jesus, and then the Jesus who tells thos who’d follow him to leave the dead to bury their own .  . Will the real Jesus stand up?

The clue is in the fire . . . Jesus reveals to his disciples that the fire must come down not on the hapless Samaritans, but on them! Certainly hearing his words, sears and scorches

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Are we going to be with Jesus?

To another Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

Jesus does not die to make bad people good. No, he dies that in Him the dead may live!
‘Let the dead bury their own!’ What do you have to do with the culture of death? You are for Life! Jesus command to follow is a call to Life – don’t return to the place and ways of death – as the angels ask the bemused disciples ‘what are you doing looking for the living amongst the dead?’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

To be with Jesus is to identify with Him as our life – which is to be devoted to God . . . to be living sacrifices

Jesus is at one and the same time God giving his life to human beings, AND the human giving his life to God. As we are devoted to God, we become God’s gift to the world. This is Salvation, and Salvation is not for your own sake.
Jesus is devoted to God his Father – it is his total self giving we call to remembrance – we awaken to afresh Sunday by Sunday. His Body and Blood, Bread and wine are offered to God, and God comes upon them by the Holy Spirit and they become His Life given to us. Every Sunday we are at the Cross, we are at the empty tomb, we are at Pentecost – that Life might flow from us. The fruit of the Holy Spirit. We put aside our life that we might be temples of HIs Life flowing from us. This is what it is to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit. One where a life is laid down, and a life flows out in response.

To return briefly to the Coliseum – our forebears in the faith knew this well. As St Ignatius – an early Chrstian was on his way to his death, he urged people not to prevent it – that he ‘might become pure bread ground in the teeth of the wild animals’ As Life, blood and water flows from Jesus’ side, so Life flows from those who witness to Jesus in Life and Death.

There are many stories of Salvation, but this one is unlike any other. Some of them pass as Christian. become a Christian and you will go to heaven when you die!’ It’s subtly, all about you. Many modern churches act as therapists for troubles souls in these days . . . and of course the idea that God loves you . . . whilst there are grains of truth in all of these things, they are not the essence of Salvation – which is Life poured out for the sake the world. We enter into the work of Jesus by laying down our lives in all respects – together, all the baptised, priests and people.

And a suitable metaphor is that of fire – as the sacrifices were consumed by fire, so the fire of God is at work in devotion to God. Living Sacrifices consumed by the Fire [as incidentally Luke will go on to recount in the account of Pentecost . . .]

Just recently I came across these words which speak of this devotion in the way of Jesus

At the very first moment you decide to turn to God, your heart begins to be warmed by the action of the Holy Spirit. [hopefully we have all known something of this] Your heart is kindled with the divine flame that will transform you. This flame will consume you completely, and will melt everything of a fallen nature within you. Once this flame of divine love has been actualized within your heart, do nothing that would allow it to be extinguished. Cooperate with the Fire of God, and let it completely consume you. [That is Devotion]

In Christ Jesus, together with Him, as His Body, we offer ourselves to the refining fire of God, until God resides completely within and amongst us – and His Life flows out for the Salvation of the entire Cosmos

So our writer concludes : Put all your effort into this spiritual transformation that is beginning in your heart. Let nothing else take centre stage over this action by God that is meant to save you, and make you complete. From a little flame, this fire will burn in your heart, and nothing of your fallen nature will be able to withstand it. This flame will transform your whole being, for the action of the Holy Spirit will take you into God’s Kingdom, which resides within you.

As one of the elders of the church said – if you will, you can become all flame. That is our calling, our path, our Way. This is the Life of Jesus. Becoming a sacrifice for the sake of the whole world

Amen

Clothed and in his right mind – Trinity 1 Year C 2019

Sermon for Trinity 1 – Year C – 2019

Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

‘Clothed and in his right mind’

‘And this is the judgement: that the light has come into the world,

and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were wicked’ John 3:19

Whatever it is we encounter when we encounter the Life of Jesus, it is most definitely not business as usual. Our gospel today recounts the second of two consecutive incidents in which this life is manifested. Jesus has suggested to his disciples that they cross the lake, during which a great storm kicks up, which he orders to be quiet, and it is quiet, and the disciples are afraid – more afraid than they were of the storm.

Upon reaching shore, Jesus is confronted by the demon possessed man. Luke’s description is itself terrifying – this is not a bedtime story for small children!

As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

In the same way that we find the disciples more afraid of Jesus calming the storm than of the storm, we find a similar response to Jesus’ work.
The populace of the region when they came to Jesus, found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

As we explored during the season of Easter, the Life of Jesus, Resurrection Life, Life of the Ages of Ages explodes our categories regarding ‘business as usual’ – or ‘everyday life’. We considered how we needed to find new words to begin to speak of such things – like Tolkien’s word ‘Eucatastrophe’ – the Good Catastrophe. We can see the eucatastrophic breaking in here – something which calls to us and invites us to Goodness, Life itself. It calls from beyond because we are held captive by the safety of the known, ’business as usual’.

What do I mean by that?

Well let me ask a question . . . what is the opposite of a disease?

There is perhaps no word in our language which is, which does the opposite of a disease. What does a disease do? It takes that which we call ‘well’ or ‘healthy’ and reduces it – makes us less well, less healthy . . . But what is our word for that which takes what we call healthy, normal, usual, wellness and improves on it??

Disease, change and decay is part of the story of ‘business as usual’ of course. At best we hope to stave off decline and ill health . . . but that there might be something which surpasses this human ideal of staying well as the world knows it – is an alien concept to us . . .

Somehow we are concerned to stave off that which is not Good – disease – but to genuinely welcome the Good? Famously here of course we might remember our brother Jack Philips and his admonition to his grandchildren when in true Kiwi fashion they told him they were ‘good’, replied, ‘you’re not good, you are well!’ But what is wellness? Is it no more than the absence of disease??

We try in many ways to stave off the ill – H&S for example – or keeping fit – or 101 other things we ought to be doing . . . but these are all examples of keeping change and decay at bay. And there are many many more examples of this which operate in far subtler ways.
Consider for example our habit of demonising others . . . what are we doing? Separating ourselves from others – casting the illness onto them . . . We can call it ‘virtue signalling’, but at root it is a way of confirming our sense of ‘being in the right’ by damning others. Demonising them

We live in an era when it might be said ‘through the agency of the internet, demonisation has gone viral . . .’ Interesting that we use a word to do with disease to explain the rapid spread of something ‘going viral’ a ‘pandemic’ . . . We have no alternative Good word

James the brother of Jesus chides us – ‘The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell . . . no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.’

Well James is writing before the internet – before Facebook and Twitter – where ‘good’ people go to town demonising those made in the likeness of God – we seem to need to have ‘enemies’ whom it is socially acceptable to damn . . . Donald Trump anyone?
How many ‘good people’ do you and I know who regularly take to the ethereal internet to damn others? Individuals and groups? And then this or group demonises back, and to use James terrifying phrase, the circle of nature is set on fire . . . by hell itself.

And in our culture this is ‘business as usual’. It is socially acceptable to demonise . . . Respectable members of society, the church even, Lord have mercy, damning left right and centre and no one considers this evil . . . ? ‘Business as usual’
I wonder how much of our discourse – of our conversation with others about ‘the pressing matters of the age’ reveal us to be full of Life and Light and how many reveal our lives to be merely the purveyors of socially acceptable demonisation?

Where do demons come from? They seem to wander around until they find a home. They seem in my experience to find a home in and between people, people who in the world’s eyes are good and respectable people, who then force them onto others.
I have never come across of acute demonic activity which wasn’t tied up with human relationships. That which is means to be light and Life and Love – is infested with darkness and death and hate. So we try to deal with the disease and come up with the demonised . . .
He dwells in the place of the dead, amongst the tombs – far from home – rejected even by his family familial rejection is a common aspect of this. ‘The black sheep of the family’ anyone? And then Jesus comes and brings one back from the dead. The Demonised is sat, clothed and in his right mind. This clearly is not simply about simply restoring someone to society – for it is the society which is complicit in the demons within the man. Rather Jesus performs what is a powerful evocation of the harrowing of Hell. Brings back a man from the place of the dead.

And the people do not see that his healing calls them to their own healing, would they had it. They are still living in fear. Terrifying Goodness has broken out and they can’t stand it. Life, business as usual is revealed as something which happens in the shadows – the Light of Life is too bright – and they asked Jesus the Light to depart from them.

It is not uncommon to hear people argue that Jesus’ healings etc. are contrary to the natural order. They offend for example against Science . . . of course we might ask what is a science that has no place for Goodness beyond goodness? Yet their real disturbance goes much much deeper than that, pressing down into the deep reality of our very existence . . . shocking and terrifying Goodness. Revealing to us the utter brokenness of what we call ‘the natural order, ‘business as usual’
He Manifests Health beyond health. Salvation beyond Safety. The formerly demon possessed man is as it were at peace. As Jesus had stilled the storm on the lake, so the agonising storms within the man have been calmed. He is Saved. Profoundly healed, inside and out. And this is not business as usual . . .

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. To use Marks phrase. The man is free to return home – internally and externally healed. Not least in the area of his relationships. He leaves the people who need a demon possessed man in order to maintain ‘business as usual’ and goes out to proclaim the mighty acts of God

Clothed and in his right mind. The presence of the man resonates with the presence of Jesus. In our epistle St Paul says As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ

Clothed with Christ – in our right minds – the eye of our heart – we are to be clothed and in our right minds. Sitting at the feet of Jesus (by the way this is where Mary is in the story of Martha and Mary) . . . this is our vocation as children of the resurrection – to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness, to have nothing to do with ‘business as usual’.
At peace with one another and within ourselves. Clothed with Christ. Such lives stand out – and are light in the World, full as they are of the light of the World, but they may not be welcomed, for they remind the world that it’s end is not business as usual

You may even, indeed I hope you do, form time to time recognise this. You make a simple offer to someone – something which speaks of the reality that is the life of Christ within you. But it is too much for the person – and it is refused. ‘I couldn’t possibly’ . . .

To accept the gift would call the person into a Life beyond life as they have known it. It is too much. And a chasm of separation opens up between you and the person. The Life in you has been too challenging

Whatever else the Christian Life is, it is not ‘business as usual’. It is the Life of God

Amen

Trinity Sunday – Evensong – Great is the Mystery of Faith

Sermon for Evensong
Trinity Sunday 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
John 3:1-17

The Mystery of our faith

As the Modern age has progressed one can to a certain extent map a reduction in the explicit consciousness of God in our human affairs. Charles Taylor in his magisterial work ‘A Secular Age’ asks the question “Why, was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in say, 1500 in our western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” [check quote]

In our consciousness it is probably very fair to say that Man has grown larger and God smaller. For those who follow Jesus, it is becoming almost an embarrassment to speak of The Fear of the Lord. The sense that God is beyond our capacity, in greatness and splendour . . . has receded. We have perhaps reduced God to our own image, in our consciousness – perhaps this was why Freud was so quick to assume that god was merely some ego projection, for the God he encountered in Modern Christians was so human sized – as the human grew . . . so we are told we live in ‘the age of the Anthropocene. The Human stamp is stamped everywhere – human consciousness invades every moment of our day . . .

I speak of consciousness for in part Taylor’s question is a question not so much of belief, but of how we are aware of ourselves and the world around us. We live with forms of certainty – granted in small part by science and technology, couples with what we call ‘the power of human reason’, yet, it seems we are rapidly accelerating into a world where we realise how little we know.
As the Creation falls apart around us – I suspect we are becoming more and more conscious of a reality far greater than we had been led to believe in. That the human brain and intellect so powerfully advertised as of a complexity and power far far beyond that of super computers – turns out on the grand scale of things to be not much more advanced or indeed useful than an abacus in terms of its ability to discern the Truth of Existence.

Of course this huge and I suggest anxiety driven emphasis on Reason etc. has had a powerful impact on our faith where all too many either abandon faith or retreat to the ‘certainties’ of ‘what the bible says’. Biblical fundamentalists are the mirror image of the Dawkins of this world – being imbued with the same ratioreductionist [un]conscious approach to faith. We can see everything – nothing is hidden from our unseeing eye – perhaps we have in our own imagining become like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings?
This anxiety driven certainty creates a consciousness which has little time for mystery – perhaps this is why we are so obsessed with Safety – a flight from our inability to rationally calculate everything that might conceivably happen in a world which something somewhere suggests to us might Not be as it seems. If we increasingly limit the possibilities open to us, through for example highly developed H&S policies, then we might conceivably keep Reality from breaking in.

So too mystery and faith. My training incumbent, a thoughtful evangelical has an almost visceral response to the word ‘mystery’ and would endlessly quote Colossians 1:25-27 “I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” There! He would say “the mystery is revealed -there is no mystery . . . however he didn’t than qualify it with other words of St Paul, namely “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” And of course most of Reality is in truth mysterious

Well today is of course one of the days of great mystery in the church calendar – Trinity Sunday – the day when many right thinking, or perhaps rationalist clergy decided to take a holiday and allow someone else to have the benefit of their pulpit! God as Three in One. As the cover of our font reminds us The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit – yet the Father and the Son and the Spirit are One God . . .

And no doubt here and there people are being subjected to images of God as a clover leaf etc. Trying to make it visible . . .

And of course the hyper rational age loves the visible – where mystery is done away with. We live in the age of the image – or as the French philosopher Guy Debord calls ‘the society of the spectacle’ I’m not here going to engage with Debord’s thesis but he certainly points us towards a society where our gaze is captivated by that which we see on a screen – and of course if we see it, it must be The Truth. No mystery in what we see is there, after all?

Most tragically perhaps we might apprehend this in the deluge of pornography which is freely available. The cultural critic Naomi Wolf writes on on how this deluge has changed people. On the one hand she speaks with evident envy of a female friend who converted to Orthodox Judaism, and went about with a headscarf. When asked by Wolf why she did this, she responded, ‘my hair is for my husband’. Wolf noted a new incredible erotic charge and energy about her friend, where the sexual had become ‘mysterious’ shrouded, hidden, and thus more vividly alive – Real perhaps?
Her musings closed with a young man who was speaking about the effects of porn on himself and his friends When asked by Wolf about the mystery of sex, responded thus “Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

It is perhaps here that we see the root of the familiarity of the erotic with the deeply Spiritual. Both engage us in a deeper knowing. A knowing which cannot be rationalised, a knowing which is beyond Reason, yet somehow far more sure. A knowing perhaps which is truly Personal and hoas to do with the depths of our hearts and our Loves.
Jesus says – ‘now this is eternal life, that they might Know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ Knowledge of The Mystery takes us into the place of the powerfully personal – into the very depth of our being.

Jesus tells us ‘when you pray, go into your inner room and close the door. There, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you’ Here of course the contrast is wth those for whom – its all out there! Those who stand on street corners to pray, that they might be seen by men

And so we come to our two texts for this evening – both of which take us beyond the place of the simply rational – although we must apply our minds, if only to draw us into the mystery of our faith.

Moses alone in the desert – the place of the encounter with the depths of who you are – reminiscent of the old teaching of the church fathers, ‘stay in your cell and it will teach you anything’ It is when we close our eyes to the easy lies of the visual – when the world around us is devoid of fascination, that the vast interior spaces open up. So the wilderness – the desert.

’Nothing to see here’ yet here Moses encounters the bush ablaze yet not burning – and draws aside – it is not a thing of direct vision. It is off to one side, pretty much as this Life which comes to us from God does not apprehend us in the three dimensions with which we are so familiar but comes at us if you like perpendicular to time and space

Who are you he asks? And the answer ‘I Am what I am, I will be what I will be’ An answer that is no answer at all . . . Certainly an answer which places us in a position where we cannot use God for our own purposes, for He does not allow us to touch Him, to lay hold on Him – to Close the story so that we can simply move on – rather we are called to move towards, deeper into the unseen, yet ever near.

And again – Jesus words leave Nicodemus drowning in incomprehension – You must be born again . . .what does this mean? Of course a faith which seeks to abandon mystery must make of this a simple formula. Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus and you will be born again – but with Nicodemus we MUST ask – but what does this mean? To repent is to reorient the eye of the heart . . . it is to turn our forgotten organ of perception, something perhaps akin to our intuition towards God, to Light, to fire, to a burning bush. It is to behold!
As I have been at pains to point out over the years, our English language often does not serve us well, in this case particularly with respect to Seeing. In Greek we have two verbs, one we might say is to see with the eye, as I see you and you I. Yet that that sense is one of the most readily deceived.
So when the woman saw 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, she took of its fruit and ate

In our looking, we miss the Big picture -the relatedness of the apple to the provision and command of God.

The second verb is translated in older translations, Behold. This is the verb Jesus uses when he speaks with Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again he shall not Behold the Kingdom of God. Behold the Lamb of God says John the Baptist – when to the eye, all there is is a wandering dusty rabbi from Nazareth of all places! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world . . . surely in part our loss of God consciousness is our reduction of the second person of the Trinity to simply that Nazarene. The divinity of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, is largely ignored – and with it tragedy of tragedies, our own destiny shrinks

What is it to be ‘born again’? Perhaps it is to become the vessel of that uncreated Light – Wisdom – over which we have no hold – Uncreated Light . . .

One of the old fathers of the desert asked his disciples – what does the following verse mean? One after another each gave his answer – until he came to the last disciple, who answered ‘I do not know’. The Abba said ‘you have answered truthfully’

Such hiddenness, such uncertainty, such mystery is so frustrating to we Moderns, but if we are to find our way back, perhaps it is the place to start

How is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do not know

Amen

All too much? Easter 2 – 2019

Sermon for Easter 2 2019

‘All too much?’

CS Lewis in his stunning allegory – ‘The Great Divorce’ – suggests that the reason we do not seek the True Life of ‘The Great World we are made for’ is that it is too Real, Too much for us.

In this he imagined Hell not as fire and torment, but dark and somewhat dismal – like a Northern English industrial town on a rainy afternoon in winter. In his story, every day a bus left Hell to go to Heaven and anyone could make the journey, and anyone could stay in Heaven should they so wish, but Heaven was too Real, it was too much. Almost everyone got back on the bus to return to their lives of quiet desperation – Too Good to be True – Too Good to bear . . . perhaps their lives had not prepared them to bear the beams of Reality, to bear the beams of divine Love as william Blake puts it . . . for our lives here are meant to prepare us to Life in the fulness of the Reality of the Great world for which we are made. Each day an opportunity to grow deeper into the Life that is Life in its fullness

Here we have an echo of our suggestion of last week, that we struggle with the Resurrection of Jesus, because it is Too Good to be true . . . how can anything be Too Good? Yet if Goodness is Too much for us when we encounter it? Unbelievable – and we all too readily shape our lives to comfortable mediocrity and our perception of heaven is to say the least vague and nothing we set our hearts on – The Good. God Himself. Our struggle to believe something Too Good to be true is a sign of our alienation from the One who is Good.

And the early days after the Resurrection find the disciples struggling to come to terms with the Good Reality, to use Tolkien’s word – the Euchatastophe – the good Catastrophe – that has come crashing in , like bright sunshine rousing us from comfortable slumbers.

Yet the idea of a catastrophe, can this be Good? Can’t we keep things just as they are? Ok? Nice? Safe even? Safety having become the secular version of the Good – there is no room for Aslan in New Zealand for Aslan is not Safe . . . which means there is no place for the Good!

I think perhaps we are so insulated here – we struggle really to comprehend the Good. Evil breaks in and we cannot comprehend, but good also.

My primary school headteacher, whose class I was in – had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk railed against the word ‘nice’ – and I guess anyone who had survived such an ordeal – a Life and Death Reality, would want something more Real, Awake, Alive! from what we wrote.

The Reality of the Resurrection of Jesus being Too Good to be true may be in no small part the product of our desire not to believe, for if it is true, it is the announcement that the world is not as we thought – our lives don’t fit a World shaped by the Resurrection. And we have two choices, to remain as we are or to begin the long hard work of reconfirming our lives to fit the new reality.

The Resurrection calls forth from us is a life that is we had not known – New Life, in Jesus. Now and again I hear this phrase but not for some years now.

Is it just easier to doubt and hope that things will turn out ok? That the Resurrection in its Catastrophic nature isn’t true?
Is it not an avoidance of the Responsibility of walking through the door to a new life which the Resurrection of Jesus holds open to us? Perhaps when one is growing old, new life is not something we readily desire . . . I remember one of my former bishops railing against ‘it’ll see me out-ism’. He would visit dying churches and all folk could say was ‘it’ll see me out . . .’ Just leave us as we are . . . don’t disturb us with tales of New Life in Jesus

Yet if the Resurrection of Jesus is True, then like things being ‘nice’, this is a failure to walk in the new Life, to receive the Gift, a failure to take Responsibility, to Believe and not doubt

Of course here we have an echo of the words of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the dark, at night . . . and Jesus’ telling him that unless he is born again, born from above, born of God he cannot See the Kingdom of God’ But Nicodemus is getting on in years – ‘‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? . . .’

Being born is the greatest catastrophe – it is a Good Catastrophe – it has happened to all of us, but we forget it. There we are in the comfort and the warmth, food on tap, we don’t even have to think about it, no responsibilities, we are the centre of our own universe, everything is nicely arranged – and then the catastrophe takes place and we’re forced out into light and a place where after a time we discover that we’re not the centre of things, and then seemingly try and get back, to construct the world as it was in the womb when we knew no better . . . Too much effort, all that change. Don’t bother us with your promises of sharing in the Eternal Life of God . . .

So New Birth is highly appropriate as a means of describing the Good catastrophe that is the Resurrection of Jesus, that in Him we are raised to a New Life. A life which calls us into the full stature of our humanity – a life of Responsibility. A Life in which fear has no part, for Death itself has been trampled down. A Life that can only be lived from the clean wellsprings of faith, not doubt. A Life which comes from and is directed towards God . . . and perhaps it is too much?

So this week Jesus comes to his disciples – their door locked for fear of the Judeans. And says the most earth shattering thing to them . . . What had they said? ‘Only God can forgive sins!’ If we push it onto God, then we can cary on not forgiving because it’s God’s job not ours, and Jesus breathes on them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit – whosoever sins you loose, they are loosed, and whosoever sins you hang onto, they are hung onto . . .
There is a starkness in these words – We have the responsibility – We are now by the Life of God in us Sent into the World, as Jesus was sent by the Father – do do God’s work of forgiveness. But we are responsible . . . This is why He gives us his Life! That we might do what he does . . .
but in freedom, so the door always lies open to return to the sleep of death and sin – to hang onto sin and not release . . .

We are Sent – sent into the World as the Father sent the Son, so Jesus the Son sends us – to do the Father’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation . . . And Sent in Faith of the Risen One

Which brings us to Thomas . . . frequently over the last couple of weeks I have recounted how Thomas is badly done by. He believes in Jesus far more than the rest of the disciples – ‘Let us go with him that we might die with Him!’ He is the one who asks Jesus What is the Way you are going? He identifies with Jesus – there is no ‘I do not know him’ as with Peter. He sees Jesus as his Life . . . and he has seen that Life go . . . is it any surprise he struggles at this point?

He Loves Jesus . . . Jesus who said ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall See God’ To be pure of heart is to Love truly. Thomas Loves Jesus, and now he Sees Him for who He is. ‘My Lord and My God!’ John has thought his gospel kept the true identity of Jesus open to differing interpretation – but not now. Thomas declares the Risen Christ Jesus to be LORD, and God . . .

it is because of who he is that we go out – He has passed through death – He calls us from Death to Life – all authority is given to him and he sends us to responsibly carry that into His World. Forgiving Sins and pointing all to the Centre of Life – God, manifested to us in Jesus Christ, the one who has trampled down death by death. He is Risen indeed! Or is it all too much?

Sacrifice – Maundy Thursday 2019

Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2019

‘Jesus came to Simon Peter who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him saying “you do not Know what I am doing now, but afterwards you will Know”’

One of the thoughts that has been going through my head of late is of how unaware we are of . . . well of anything. We are amazed by ‘the sum total of human knowledge’, yet the more I consider that, the more I realise that ‘the sum total of human knowledge’ is the merest drop in the vast ocean of the sum total of human ignorance’ Just consider you own life . . . there is so much which in truth we do not know . . .

For example, think of someone you know – do you know anything about what it is like to be that person? How it feels to be them? How they are feeling right now? How they will feel tomorrow? And then you multiply that by all the people you think you know, let alone those you don’t.

Or the effect you life has on others? Think of your car. Who works in the factories, what are their lives like – what are the true costs?? What about the land where the raw materials were mined? What is happening to the emissions our car makes? I like to say ‘you never just . . . do anything’ Certainly ‘you never just . . . buy a car’

The car stands as a metaphor of our life – a bubble of the things we know in which we feel secure as we go about the world, a tiny bubble with airbags and side impact protection – keeping us from the terrifying universe of our ignorance

This evening we See Jesus as he kneels to wash his disciples feet – Peter thinks he understands – but Jesus tells him that he is ignorant – ‘you do not know what I am doing now’
Peter stands for us all in our tiny bubble of understanding ‘Lord, you will never wash my feet . . .’ , but as ever we do not Know what we are saying . . . Jesus tells him ‘unless I wash your feet you have no part with me . . .’

Jesus does not teach us more lessons about life. If we come to Him hoping to as it were take away some useful nugget tonight to help expand the minuscule bubble of our ignorance. we would be missing the point. For it is not about Understanding in such terms – rather the Gospel that is Jesus Christ is about coming to Know even as we are fully Known. And that as St Paul reminds us is the End – the Goal of Love

Jesus is not teaching us in the sense of telling us things, he is teaching us by identifying himself with us, and inviting us to identify ourselves with Him. To Know Him. To Love Him. Not to Know about Him, but Know Him. Not to love abstract facts, but to Love Him

Jesus identification with us is total – and so it goes way beyond our tiny bubble of what we falsely call ‘knowledge’ . He identifies with he full reality of the Life we cannot see – we are so unaware of our lives, but Jesus assumes the entirety of the human condition . . . and he does this most deeply in terms of Sacrifice

Jesus tells us that Sacrifice is the Centre of Knowing – it is the centre of Love – ‘Greater love hath no man than this than a man lay down his life for his friends’ – Sacrifice is the expression of Love – sacrifice is the deep pattern of our existence . . . but we are a sacrifice averse people

Years ago I remember a British ‘agony aunt’ who happened to be a secular Jew, [Claire Rayner] saying that she thought the idea of a religion based on sacrifice was a terrible idea – backwards – medieval even . . . Yet in so saying she was displaying her profound ignorance of Life itself – she was a stranger to her own existence. For, for each of us, our entire way of life is one of sacrifice.
And so much we have has called forth willingly or unwillingly the sacrifice of others – from the moment of our birth and before, the Mother gives up so much of herself to bring us into the world – she relinquishes so much to bring us up . . . and then . . . and then . . . and as we go about in our ‘low emmission’ bubble of knowledge – who has sacrificed what, what lands, what lives have been laid down for our convenience? Gradually the perception grows that we may have even sacrificed the Created world for the sake of our comfort . . .

Our lives are actually sacrificial, through and through. Every decision we take, is a choice for one thing and therefore a sacrifice, a closing the door to many many other things . And each and every sacrifice involves not just us, but the lives of those around us and by extension the lives of all around them. Think of how the choices parents make affect the lives of their children . . . and these choices are driven by our desires. We sacrifice something today for the hope of something we desire tomorrow. Our desires – our loves – but our loves are distorted, for we do not See our lives and their effects, we do not understand, we do not Know.

From Cain and Abel on, sacrifice is the pattern of our existence in a fallen world. Indeed before that. We are driven from the Garden of Paradise, for we sacrifice Knowing God, in order to Knowing Good and Evil.

We sacrifice being the Image of God in our attempt to Be God . . .

‘Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do’ The Words of Jesus from the Cross . . .

And So, there at our feet, The image of God, Jesus the Anointed One, embraces all of our humanity. From the tiny plot of our pitiful knowledge, to the vast universes of our ignorance. He steps down into the deepest place, washing our feet – and we do not Know what this is.

Jesus comes as a Slave of all – he takes upon himself the entirety of our human condition – not in a superficial way – it’s true Jesus IS a first century Palestinian Jew – he has never played golf, or seen New Zealand – and we think these things are SO important, based on ‘the sum total of human knowledge’ – yet they are as nothing for we do not Know the Truth of ourselves . . .

but Jesus does Know – He Knows our humanness in a depths and dimensions we cannot begin to conceive – he binds himself utterly to the fulness of who we are – he Knows intimately and in every detail the Life of Sacrifice – He Becomes the Sacrifice. We all become what we love . . .

But Jesus Loves Truly. He is the One who Loves God with heart, soul, mind and strength and in dying for us, loves his neighbour as himself. The Cross is the revelation of Love of God and neighbour.

As we sacrificed being the image of God in order to try and be God, so God in Jesus re-enacts that sacrifice. The Image of God lays down his life in our place that that which we had thought nothing might be restored – returned to us in His total identification with us and ours by the tiny spark of faith in The New Creation, where we Know fully, even as we are fully Known

This is his identification with us, and then he invites us to identify with Him –

Take, eat, this is my body given for you – Drink This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your Sins – Love covers a multitude of sins – I am the Loving cover for your not Knowing.

‘Afterward, you will know’

Jesus The Anointed – Palm Sunday YrC 2019

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2019 Yr C

John 12:12-16

‘Jesus – The Anointed’

There are words we often use as Christians which we give little or no thought to – indeed which we may not have ever stopped to wonder what they mean. Salvation – for example. But the word we use most is caught up in the very word Christian – that is Christ. What does this word mean? The apostle Paul uses it a lot – he speaks of Christ this, Christ that, Christ the other . . . What is he talking about? He says for example ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.’ He speaks frequently of being ‘in Christ’ – but what does it mean?

Well to the early Christians it would have not been a mystery at all. For Christ was the Greek word used to translate Messiah. Jesus Christ could as well be rendered Jesus the Messiah – and both Christ and Messiah meant the same thing. The Anointed one. The Messiah was of course The King, the long awaited one – and the King was the one who when sat on his throne was Anointed with oil. Just as our own sovereign is to this day in an echo of that

So when we say Jesus Christ – what we are saying as a wonderful translation of the new Testament puts it everywhere – The Anointed. Indeed when you read a translation which uses an unexpected word in this way, you really notice how frequently it crops up. The Anointed this, The Anointed that, the Anointed the other . . . but if you picked up the book without any prior knowledge and read ‘The Anointed’, you would of course be left with a question . . . Who is ‘the Anointed’?

The modifier ‘Christ’ – points us to a person – that of Jesus of Nazareth.

The title points us to a person, and cannot be understood apart from that person. It directs us to some aspect of a particular person, but the focus is on the person. And for Paul and all the other writers of the New Testament, whenever you read ‘The Anointed’, you were directed to Jesus of Nazareth . . . but as we are so familiar with Christ as a word apart from its meaning, so often we seek to disconnect Jesus and The Anointed, or rather The Christ.

The other day a friend pointed me to a new book – a New York Times Bestseller no less – endorsed by Bono!! who said ‘I couldn’t put it down!’. It was entitled ‘The Universal Christ’ which is one might say an oxymoron. For the title The Anointed points us to a particular.

We live in a world increasingly dominated by Universal Abstract thought and the end of this always is the loss of the personal and the local. Wendell Berry speaks of this as he recounts his brother going to hospital for a difficult operation. After the operation with her husband in intensive care ‘his wife Carol was standing by his bed, grieving and afraid. Wanting to reassure her, the nurse said, “Nothing is happening to him that doesn’t happen to everybody” And Carol replied “I’m not everybody’s husband”’ None of us is . . . we are all particulars people . . . and there is only a Particular Christ, not an Everyman Christ, or a Universal Christ, but Jesus The Annointed, The Christ . . . who comes to us humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey . . .

This is the true focus of what we call ‘the scandal of particularity’ By that we often mean ‘Christian faith is right and others are wrong’ – but the Real Scandal of particularity is not an idea, but a person – Jesus is the Anointed one – He is the World’s true King! As the earliest proclamation of the Church was, when the Spirit had been poured out on the gathered disciples, ‘Jesus the Anointed is Lord!’ Not Caesar, nor any other human Ruler, but Jesus. And not any Jesus, ‘This Jesus whom you have crucified!’ . . . Not only the King of Israel, but the King of all . . .

A Jewish carpenter’s son, with his band of rough and ready devotees – as Isaiah says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him. He was nothing to look at . . . According to the eye what do we see?

Remember two weeks ago? The elder brother does not see aright, he does not see with the heart of the Father, as the Pharisees didn’t See Jesus.
So too last week Judas does not see theLove and devotion of Mary, all he sees is in an echo of the elder brother in the parable the Waste as Mary reflects the gratuitous wasteful love of Jesus back to Him . . . so Judas will continue to See wrong.

Judas is as I said last week a universal – the one who judges, calculates . . . he lives in the sea world of numbers and money . . . 300 denarii, and indeed as he looks he asks ‘what does this crowd, this rabble Jesus has gathered around him add up to’??

He sees the powers of the religious authorities, he see the might of Imperial Rome, he sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey with the band of fishermen and other assorted nobodies. The peasant teacher with his rabble band – storming the city with his donkey and filthy footed galilean hangers on! . . . and he judges, he calculates where he is going to be safest, and casts his lot with what to all intents and purposes looks like the winning side . . .

Yet . . . what do the crowds say

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’

and

Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’

The King! Your King!

but this weary, dusty hungering Galilean, with his unsophisticated band of disciples so called doesn’t look like much. His teaching on the perils of wealth and comfort don’t resonate with those whose lives are built on such things. His demand that unless we give up all we possess we cannot go his way . . . – and at the very end, what kind of a king is just another dead jew on a cross . . . as Pilate puts it ‘Here is your King’ ‘here is your Anointed!’ Here is your Christ . . .

So we find – and it must be said, entirely amongst the wealthy and comfortably off, those whom Jesus repeatedly warns – as we have been reading Luke we become aware that Jesus’ teaching is not comfortable listening for those with comfortable lives . . . Gnostic teaching is popular amongst those for whom the particularity of Jesus is too disruptive and disturbing – not the sort of king for the cultured elites, amongst whom such teaching is so popular getting to the top of the NYT best seller list and avidly read by pop stars – and this is an old story.

The early roots of Christianity are not auspicious – it was largely a movement amongst the poor and off casts of society. As we have said recently – Galileans are pretty much beyond the pail – certainly not the sort of folk you’d invite to polite Jerusalem, Judean Society . . . it grew as one of its most clear eyed critics put it as mainly a slave movement, a revolt amongst the poor.

Sometimes when we speak of sharing the Good News of Jesus with those around us, we uses the metaphor, ‘one beggar showing another where to find bread’. Well for many if not most of the first Christians that wasn’t simply a metaphor as they shared the little they had with one another, homes and food

Yet as ‘a new thing’ it attracted the curiosity of those who looked for a more ‘spiritual cast to life’, particularly amongst the Greeks, for whom the association of Christ with The Anointed Messiah of the Jews was not part of their story. There’s always a market for something spiritual but undemanding – These people – the Gnostics – were so spiritual that for them the body was insignificant, and so thus the particularity of Jesus an offence. They would be into ‘spiritual things’, ‘Spirituality’ would be a buzzword amongst them. They would be more than happy to talk about The Universal Christ, The Cosmic Christ or whatever – . . . but Jesus? Happy to patronise him . . .

Tidy him up, scrub out his awkward jewishness and of course don’t refer to him by name – don’t get into all that ‘Jesus worship stuff . . .’ Let’s just call him Christ. ’We mustn’t make the mistake of attaching too much significance to this one man . . . he is merely pointing the way – his teachings were about how we might be spiritual, and we shouldn’t take at all literally his words of judgement for the rich and comfortable . . . then as now despising the company he keeps, His body of disciples, the Church . . . “Spirituality is IN! Organised religion is OUT!” You will always find reason to criticise if you look with the eye of Judas . . . Jesus’ followers nothing to look at, and as for the man himself . . .

And so it goes on – As one very popular modern gnostic writer puts it, ‘Jesus is probably seeing at a much higher level than most of us’ and then goes on to explain why Jesus view is so restricted, and implicitly teach those who drink deep from this guru’s wells, that he sees at a higher level than Jesus . . .

The offence of the gospel in the early years as today is that it offends polite sensibilities – we want another King! But as we begin to walk through Holy Week we get closer and closer to The Cross . . . where our King, Jesus is Crucifed . . . will we go with Him?

‘Away from Home’

Sermon for Lent 4

Year C 2019

The parable of the two sons

Luke 15:1-32

‘Just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.’ Gal 4:29

“Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20

‘Away from Home, in Body and Heart’

So we are half way now through Lent, and the fourth Sunday is observed in parts of the Church as Mothering Sunday. In part the roots of this are found in the practise of allowing those in service to go home to Mother for the day, and of course Mother Church.

Returning Home is the journey of the Christian Life, beginning as it does with our ‘coming to our senses’, waking up to the Reality of existence and setting out to find its beating heart.

Of course, Home doesn’t always carry positive and hopeful attributes in our minds. People run away from home. Home is where family is, and on days such as Mothering Sunday down through the years I’ve been confronted with the fact of broken homes and relationships. Mothering Sunday wasn’t universally a day of warmth and joy – and indeed returning to Church can carry similar baggage, indeed it usually does. The family of the body of Christ can be just as challenging, indeed it helps if it is . . .

As a fridge magnet we were once given by some friends put it ‘Friends are the Family we choose for ourselves’. Much as I appreciated the warmth shown by the gift, it troubled me, for of course the grounds of our salvation are not what we choose for ourselves. Our core problem is that we do not love well – so we choose poorly. Our desiring capacity is off beam, and being wrapped up in our self we tend to flock together with those we are like.

Consumers that we are trained to be – we love the idea of this – ‘have the world to your tastes’. Indeed even in the church, there are those who say we each need a church according to our own personality. Yet consciously or unconsciously to choose this path – and it is often unconscious and rationalised to suit our deep misdirected loves – to choose this path is to avoid the difficult task of renewal of our hearts and minds. Which is to avoid God himself, made known to us in Jesus.

(In this regard, as I often say, people become Vicars who have most to learn, for God puts us in a place where we don’t get to choose with whom we worship 🙂 We are given a family 🙂 )

Being a Vicar in a rural context was instructive in this regard, for there was only one (Anglican) show in town. If you were Anglican and it mattered to you, there was no choice. Indeed we were often the only church in ‘town’. And of course then we realised that as the family of the church we weren’t all with the family we’d choose for ourselves . . . as it was of course in the rest of the week. The people we didn’t want ot see on the street, then turned up in church on Sunday

Family dynamics. The Givenness of Family, the givenness of a church family – the arena for finding our way Home, the gift of God, towards the heart of God.

Confronted with the difficulty of the Command to Love those amongst whom we find ourselves – I have been told, ‘but I’m not Jesus!’ Which of course is the point. No, I am not, but to find my way Home I must grow into his likeness, to Love as God Loves, not in the partial selective way we do.
We are not well served by consumer faith, or indeed spectator faith, watching on whilst Jesus ‘does it for us’ His call is to follow, to go with Him, and to be shaped by that cross shaped journey into His Likeness.

Yes, we may well say we believe in Jesus, but to believe in Him is to Know Him – to Know His Heart – to have his heart, the heart of the Father, the heart of God. When we love God with all we have and all we are, His heart grows within us – and if it isn’t growing, we are not loving God.
Jesus said, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . . . love one another as I have loved you’ How are we to love one another? With the Love of the Father for the Son . . .

And so in this parable, a parable about our hearts, the focus is not on the ‘Prodigal Son’, it is the elder Son. We can like him be at home in Body, but far away in regard to our heart.

We know little if anything of the heart of the Prodigal – we tend to make a set of assumptions, but they are just that. Judgements of his motives as we observe him, but that is all.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. That’s it. We might say ‘he disrespected his Father!’, ‘he couldn’t wait to see his father dead!’, but the parable doesn’t say that. He simply asks for His share and His Father without hesitation gives it to him, and also btw gives it to the elder son . . . ‘he divided his property between them, a few days later the younger son gathered all he had’ . . . the elder son didn’t, but was welcome to . . .

There are a couple of moments when we see a little deeper into the younger son. He ‘came to his senses’, sat amongst the pigs . . . a place where the senses may well be awakened 🙂 And he tells a story about himself. If we heard well, we may remember an echo of a theme we explored last week, that of shame. And how, full of shame he doesn’t See clearly and he judges his Father.

You remember? We Sin and then for shame, judging God by our standards – we imagine that God cannot forgive – and we hide. Well the younger son decides not to hide and sets off for Home, but in expectation of at the best a place as a servant in his father’s house – yet, as we heard last week ‘your ways are not my ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts’. We judge the Father incorrectly, we always do, until we have his heart, until we Know not just about His heart, but Know His heart. Until we Love Him, we shall not See Him, or Know Him

The Father’s response, to this errant Son? He runs to meet him! He has been looking out for his return ‘from afar off! He puts his arm around him and kisses him. He doesn’t seem to notice the shame ridden testimony, for that he knows as a cover, a fig leaf of shame – he rejoices to have his dearly beloved Son home. He sees deeper than the surface – he sees the Beloved Son.

He dresses him in the best robe! He orders a ring for his finger, a sign of restoration to full sonship, and sandals for his feet. And a fatted calf is prepared – this is going to be a feast, a great banquet with celebration! What a celebration – when the elder son returns from working in the field, he hears ‘music and dancing’ The word for music is ‘symphonie’ 🙂 But this isn’t like being sat in the town Hall for some high culture, which perhaps we might ‘judge’ – no, it is wild and exuberant! You Have to join in!! To share in the music, to share in the heart of the Father.

The Father is rejoicing! Like the man who found his lost sheep, like the woman who found the lost coin . . . a party is in order! And what a party . . . but someone won’t come in

As I said, we know nothing of the heart of the prodigal – just the odd glimpse, but even that open to misinterpretation – whilst the elder son is revealed. Quite simply, he does not have the Father’s heart for his brother. He does not look with love upon him. He cannot rejoice to have him back . . . and not having the heart of the Father he is estranged not only from his brother, but from his Father also. The two go together . . . we are left wondering if he will respond to the father’s plea regarding his brother . . . will he go in? Or will he shut himself out? As C.S. Lewis puts it ‘hell is locked on the inside’.

For as John says, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” The elder brother does not know the Father – he has no love for Him. He considers himself a slave, trying to earn his Father’s love . His Father has already given him all he has, but he cannot see it – his heart is closed to his brother and to His Father. He does not Love, thus he does not See, thus he does not Know.

He does not See – all he sees is the Sin the younger son bears – besmirched with Sin – that is all he sees. The younger Son is a scandal, a stumbling block to Him – his vision is filled with his judgement of his brother, and so he cannot See His Father in truth. He is blind by the Sin of his own judging.

When we judge another this is what happens – our eye is filled with what we take to be the truth of a situation and a person, but to See truthfully. We see the mote, and it is all we see. Think of how a single thing fills our mind about a person when we judge them. Apart from Love, we are blind. To Love is to see the other as God Sees . . .

To return to something we explored last week, the purpose of Judgement is to heal. This is the Cross, it is the judgement, it is the place where Sin is shown to be utterly sinful – and we get that far . . . but this is not to See the Cross in truth, for it is also the place of atonement – of Healing. We seeing only the Sin, as we observe the Prodigal, do not see the Cross as the place of healing

Only in the Light of the truth of Sin can healing come about – The Cross diagnoses and Heals! . . . but do we want to be healed? Do we want others to be healed? Do we Love God? Do we love our sister and brother? Are we children of God? Do we love as he loves us?

This is the command of Jesus and the way of Jesus . . . and the business of the church of the messy family we are born into, is to become like him. Loving as he loves us. Having the Heart of the Father.

Do we Know Jesus? Do We See Him? Do we Love Him?

Of course, we  readily enough see God in the parable . . . the Father who throws a party for the Son who has returned, but do we see Jesus?

What is the context of the parable?

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable . . .

The younger Son comes out from the Father’s house – ‘He left his Father’s throne above . . .’

He carries the wealth of the Father – ‘So free, so infinite His Grace . . .’

He squanders it seemingly carelessly to the point of notoriety – on those who don’t deserve it – prostitutes no less!!! – ‘Emptied himself of all but love  . . .’

When at the last he is emptied – he is abandoned by all – and hungers . . . then, carrying all the shame he goes to the face the judgement . . . ‘and bled for Adam’s helpless race’
the judgement – which is revealed to be the place of healing and feasting and celebration . . .

He who was dead, has come to life . . .

Do we see our sister and brother with the Father’s Love?

Do we see Jesus?

May God use this season of Lent to heal the eye of our heart, and together with our brothers and sisters, may we hear with our brother Jesus, his call to come Home.

Amen

Lent 2, 2019 YrC – Face your healing!

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year C 2019
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Face your healing

A couple of years ago, I watched Wolf Hall, the TV dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s novels about Henry the VIIIth, his first three wives and the political manoeuvring of Thomas Cromwell.
Amongst many things that stuck out from this elegant production, one thing speaks to our Scriptures today. it is when Cromwell is summoned to Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night. The King is in a terrified state. He has just had a dream in which he sees his late brother, Arthur. Henry you might remember was married firsT to Catherine of Aragon, who had . . . or perhaps had not . . . been married to his brother. Henry wishes to divorce Catherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn, and believes that the dream is a warning from God. His Spiritual destiny hangs in the balance, and He is terrified. God looms large in his dreams and thoughts.
Cromwell, ever the consulate politician of course, like the false prophets, give Henry a soothing interpretation which calms his fears, and so the die is cast.
What struck me was how unlike the age in which we live . . . I think it is not unreasonable to point out that for most if not all of us, we are far far more attentive to the state of our physical health than we are of our Spiritual situation before God! Tummy trouble may keep us awake at night, but not our eternal condition.

In this respect it is worth briefly considering what seems often to be the case in the church and its curiously paradoxical position regarding Sin. There is much smoke and heat around issues of so called ‘social justice’ – often married to a theology which speaks of a benign grandfatherly God who seems rather loathe to speak of Sin . . . one wonders what some of our co-religionists think shall be The End of all those involved in social injustices, if God is so Nice? If the state of our souls, of our spiritual condition is of no import in The End? Perhaps this is nothing more nor less than a blind unbelief in God, who may or may not be there but has at the least clocked off and left us all to ‘put the world to rights’.

Whatever, the point is that we seem less than interested in our spiritual state than our physical or material state.

Lent as we aware is a time for careful reflection, but not upon the state of the world, the ghastliness of which we are all too often reminded, rather upon the state of our spiritual life – our Life before God. In the grace of the Church it is the gift of a season of 6 weeks, and given we otherwise do little in this respect, we would do well to make the best use of each and every hour of these weeks.

The Tradition of the Church offers us three disciplines, based upon Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount; Prayer, Fasting, and giving alms to the poor (over and above any we might usually give as part of our lives as Christians). Jesus, it must be said seems curiously quiet on the subject of Lent study groups . . .
Prayer fasting and almsgiving – How much? We like to know what the standard is . . . well simply all three need to be carried out until we notice them! That is we pray, fast and give around the perimeter of what we are comfortable with,until the comfortable contours of our existence are disrupted – and then notice our discomfort. We do these things until we notice that we do have a soul and a spiritual life, and perhaps they are not in the best of order.
Last week Father Hugh spoke of Jesus being tested to destruction in the wilderness – we will not go too far in the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving until the chasis of our spirit begins to shake alarmingly, the steering goes awry and bodywork starts to fall off! Certainly not forty days and nights

Indeed we may become aware of how spending more than a few minutes in prayer bores us – we might feel it to be pointless, and a hundred and one ‘more important things’ run through our heads. We thus wake up to a sense of our lack of love for God . . . The words of Jesus ring through our ears as they did those of the first disciples – ‘could you not watch with me one brief hour?’ Just one hour??

Or . . . to be honest, we prefer not to fast at all, if we are typical modern Christians; it seems to have disappeared from common practise, thus revealing we are hungrier for food than God. Jesus fasted forty days, yet at the end his hunger for God was greater than any temptation to turn stones into bread.
We may then hear our epistle as a call to wake up! For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

Our lack of desire to fast that we might sharpen our awareness of God and our Spiritual situation before Him – making us aware that perhaps our real god is our belly! Our minds are full of this and that and the other, not on things above. What does Paul say of us? We are thus marked out as those living ‘as enemies of the Cross of Christ’! That is our spiritual condition.

Or we find a hundred and one rational ways to disobey Jesus and not give to all those who ask of us . . . and discover that our hearts are far from the heart of God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked and the scheming and the malingering . . . Jesus says ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ We are exposed, we argue our way out of his commandments . . . or, more hopefully we notice ourselves doing it, and cry out to God for help

All of these disciplines can and do alert us to our deep spiritual malaise . . . if we use them, but like with respect to our physical health, we often try and avoid paying attention, perhaps until it is too late.
I Wonder how many times doctors think, even if they do not say, ‘if only you had come to see me 6 months ago . . .’

We might think that with regard to our spiritual health, Jesus is always there, when we finally get round to it. This week I was with someone who has lived into their 90s and is now dying. Suffice to say that most don’t make it that far and all too often people die unprepared. A few verses before our gospel reading today, Jesus warns us thus:

‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” . . . the grave danger of our lives is that we are so caught up in what we call ‘our’ lives that we miss The Life of God.

What are our hearts and minds full of? The practices of Lent are given to us to alert us to our Spiritual malaise – to bring us to a point of painful Realism as the penetrating Healing Light of God is thrown into the many dark and perhaps long neglected nooks and crannies of what may have become a seriously deteriorated soul . . .

Put simply, there is something gravely wrong with us – and the disease from which we suffer is called Sin. We may not have been conscious of sinning . . . or perhaps its effects, that it leads to death. When St Paul says, the wages of Sin is death, he is not saying, Death is the punishment for Sin, no! He is saying Death is the consequence of Sin.

We do not have to point at the murderous events in Christchurch to see this – indeed our concentration on them and our constant gawping at bad news stories far and wide is part of the distraction the devil uses for keeping us from seeing closer to home.
A simple example, one to which we can all possibly relate – a common or garden sin, or perhaps to use the gardening metaphor more fully a weed going up amongst the wheat – telling a lie. A simple lie. But what happens when we deceive? We cut the life giving connection between ourselves and the person we lie to. We as it were hide from them. Life stops flowing, we prefer not to be known.

Perhaps we lie because we are ashamed. So we hide. We hide from any possibility of healing, from forgiveness, from Life itself. We avoid the doctor coming to us in the shape of the person from whom we hide . . . thus is the way of Sin.

It is at root a lack of desire for the Life of God, which is in Truth a lack of desire for Life, lack of a desire to be well – which is why Jesus asks the man at the pool, ‘do you want to be well?
Sin is to use the words of one philosopher, a ‘sickness towards death’, and we are half asleep with it.

Sin is not primarily a moral problem. Think of the young man who wanted to follow Jesus – who said ‘all these commandments I have kept since my youth!’ Or St Paul who by his own admission was with respect to the law, and there were 630 of them, faultless! Yet he was exposed as neither knowing nor loving God. He loved his own life – how many of us do! We may come to the point of death saying ‘I have had a good life, yet it is not the life we have that is the point, it is the life god offered us – His Life! Materially speaking the young man Jesus met had no desire for the Life of God, as twas revealed when Jesus offered him this life, if he would only lay down his own . . .

Sin and sickness away from the Life and Light of God, towards Death.

As I have said before, Jesus does not die to make bad people good, he dies to make dead people live!

He is the Great Physician, the Great Doctor of our souls – this is why he comes healing. It is sign of his deep work . . .

So when the pharisees warn him about Herod, how does Jesus reply . . .
‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Behold!” Look! Pay Attention! See! I exorcise demons and accomplish healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Behold! I am Coming! I am Healing – setting people free from there demons! Accomplishing healings!

We are moving through Lent – we move towards the finishing of his healing work in Jerusalem.

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.

Soon his work is complete and the door closes . . .

Lent and its disciplines are given to us that we might, unlike our contemporaries, pay attention to our Life before God.
Jesus is the Great physician – he comes with healing Love! Fundamentally it is Life and Love in its fullness that we are terrified of! It is too much, yet, God is too much at one go! Yet in his Grace, and with our co-operation, the lIght of Christ can shine into our hearts, drawing our attention to our plight and binding us more anymore tightly to the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.

Why is it so very costly to follow Jesus? Because our plight is grave – yet He has the words of eternal Life. In Him is light and love and mercy and compassion. We are seriously afflicted and the remedy is nothing less than the Cross, in our lives. This is the healing for the whole world, one person at a time . . .
We look out at the world around us and bewail its condition, but watch an hour with Jesus? Go without a single meal? Give to everyone who asks of us? Simply obey Jesus . . .

Learning truly to Love him, bound to Him, we do not even avoid going to the Cross, the place where Death is confronted. our plight is fully revealed, yet bound to our Healer. In the Way that leads to the fulness of Life

May God give us the Grace to stick with our healing and our Healer these weeks. May we pray, fast and give alms; may we know the healing of the Great Physician, who brings Life, even out of Death

Amen

‘As in the days of Noah . . .’

 

 

The Orthodox scholar Philip Sherrard writes,

“ONE THING at least we no longer need to be told is that we are the throes of a crisis of the most appalling dimensions. We tend to call this crisis the ecological crisis, and this is a fair description in so far as its effects are manifest above all in the ecological sphere. For here the message is quite clear: our entire way of life is humanly and environmentally suicidal, and unless we change it radically there is no way in which we can avoid a cosmic catastrophe. Without such change the whole adventure of civilization will come to an end during the lifetime of many now living.

Unhappily we do yet appear to have realized the urgency of the need for such a change, and in spite of everything we continue to blunder on along our present path of devastation in a kind of blindfold nightmare enacted with all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, planning to extend our empire of sterilized artificiality and specialist methodology even further, advancing even further into our computerized or electronic wilderness, devising bigger and better banking system, manipulating the natural reproductive processes of plants, animals and human beings, saturating our soils and crops with high-powered chemicals and a variety of poisons which no sane community would allow out of a closely guarded laboratory, stripping the world of what is left of its forests at a speed which defies belief or understanding, and behaving generally in a manner which, even if we had deliberately programmed it, could not be more propitious to our own annihilation and to that of the world about us.

It is as if we are in the grip of some monstrous collective psychosis, as if in truth a huge death-wish hangs over the whole so-called civilized world.”

Philip Sherrard in ‘Human Image : World Image’, pub. 1991

 

It is, to put it at its perhaps ridiculously mildest to suggest that these are sobering words, all the more so when we consider that since 1991 we have, among many many markers of this devastation, more than doubled the sum total of man-made Carbon Dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

Hope? Well on Friday across the world, children will go on strike from school – they at least seem to be waking up to the fact that there is something monstrous occurring which calls into question their very future . . . it remains to be seen of course if they will all be walking to school from now on, however it is something . . .

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away . . . Matthew 24:38-9

‘The Timbered Choir’

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

Wendell Berry
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away . . . Matthew 24:38-9

Becoming Theologians – EPIPHANY 2019

The Feast of the Epiphany 2019

Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

‘Becoming Theologians’

‘Seek first the Father’s Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you also’ Matthew 6:33

As we don’t have the screen this morning, I thought I’d better draw your attention to the theme of what I have to say on your pew sheet – that is ‘Becoming Theologians’. I would like to say that I’m not seeking to drum up attendance at Chris Holmes lecture courses this coming semester, although I’d never discourage that, but I do want to begin with a brief illustration of what I mean which involves a university professor. He was an Eng Lit Prof and said he was having a lot of trouble teaching his students about English literature, older than the last 50 years, because few if any of them were conversant with the Christian story as made known in the Church and through the scriptures. English literature which was not very recent, came from a culture which was underpinned by that story, and so knowing the story was a vital key to understanding the works he asked his students to read.

Well he was right, but I want to use this fairly obvious point to illustrate something far more fundamental, that to truly understand anything, we have first to become theologians. Any of the university disciplines, if they are truly going to lead us ‘into all truth’ must first be theological. Indeed if we are to begin to understand anything we start with Faith.
For The Earth is The Lord’s and all they that dwell therein. The study of anything at all is the study of that which God has Created, and so to know it, to understand it, to make true sense of it, and therefore not misuse it, we must know God . . . This was the premiss of the first universities, and so theology and then philosophy and metaphysics were considered the foundational studies, before one turned to anything else, for everything else flowed from Knowing God, because everything does come from God

And today, the Feast of the Epiphany is in a sense our door as Gentile Christians to this journey of understanding – to ‘Becoming theologians’. It is for us, our first encounter with the living God, the God of Israel, the God of the Jews who is revealed to be The God of all. As St Paul puts it ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel . . . in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’

Our entrance into the Life of God in boldness and confidence through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the One in whom all things hold together, the very centre of Creation, its beginning and its End . . . to Know Him is to begin to know and to understand the entirety of the Creation, and without knowing Him, the Truth of our existence, of our very lives is hidden from us . . .

So the Magi come to Jerusalem, and immediately we are in the language of the revealing of the deep truth of our existence – for over and again we hear the word ‘Behold!’ See the Deep Truth here – So Matthew says ‘Now, Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the Days when Herod was king, Behold! Magi arrived in Jerusalem from the East, saying “Where is the new born King of the Judeans? For we saw His star at its rising, and have come to worship him”’

Matthew grabs our attention. Behold! Look! These strange foreigners, come to seek ‘the new born king of the Judeans’ – What is happening? Pay attention! To Behold is to see ‘with the eye of the heart’. There is a surface meaning to all of this, but we are called to Behold, to Understand . . . we are called to be theologians. To ponder these things, to ask – ‘What is God doing?’

Herod of course doesn’t have a clue. He is not remotely interested in the God of Israel, just hanging on to his power under the Romans . . . the news of a new king disturbs the order of things – things aren’t as they seem. So he asks around and the chief priests and scribes tell him of the Old Story, that the Messiah, the Anointed one is to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. ‘From you will come one who will shepherd God’s people . . .’ yet here are these foreigners . . . the prophet only saw in part, now is the full revelation.

Well, we might ask, what has all this to do with becoming theologians? Well, the first step is of course to pay attention to what God is saying and doing. Why was no one keeping an eye on Bethlehem? Because they hadn’t listened to the prophets. Why were the Magi there, well they were paying attention! They were in their own limited way watching for signs, they were attentive. They were watching and waiting, and so at the appearance of the star at its rising, they set off.

So the first step as theologians is to pay attention. To be watching, but for what? Well they don’t really know, but they do know one thing. That they are come to worship. ‘We have come to worship Him’ they tell Herod . . .
There is nothing more fundamental to our human experience than worship. GK Chesterton, says this, ‘when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they will believe in anything!’ – So also when we stop worshipping the One True God, our fundamental need to worship, will be misdirected but it will still find a way out and we will worship anything, even our own selves . . . We are Created to be the recipients of Life from God and to enter into the flow of this gift through Praise and thanksgiving. It is fundamental to who we are – to be those who live in response to God, who know our lives As response to God . . .

Well, Herod as we know sends them on their way, and the Magi, and they step out of the darkness of his palace and immediately, Matthew says ‘behold! The Star, which they saw at its rising, went before them until it came to the place where the child was . . .’ They are the seekers after the Truth of things – that is in the depths of their being they desire to worship aright – and ‘Beholding the star they they were exultantly joyful!’

So we need to follow these leads – these movements of the depths of our heart – after paying attention and watching, these are the next steps to becoming theologians. We pay attention, we follow the lead, to Jesus. This is the sign that we have followed well, that we come to Jesus, to His Appearing, and here the journey both ends and begins, with the one who is the beginning and the end of all things, Here own Jesus our humanity finds its home in God . . .

For they beheld the child with his mother Mary. Here there is so much . . . Here we Behold the one who is born of God, but also of Woman. Here in this babe we see all babes. All of us, born of a woman. All of us Seeing Jesus, opening up to the power to become born of God . . .

This simple scene, yet this Universal scene . . .

Several times over the past couple of weeks as we moved through Advent and then Christmas we have seen Mary, perhaps we have beheld her, seeing something of the depth of who she is -and we have been invited to follow her example and ponder these things in our hearts, that they might take root. Now we see, and perhaps we behold the Magi Beholding ‘the child with his mother Mary’ . . . and we allow this picture to take root in our hearts. Certainly it is a picture that took root in our faith, so many icons depict Mary, the God bearer and the child Jesus . . .

And? ‘and falling down they worshipped Him. Now they are entering into the fundamental work of theology, of theologians. Without which there is no theology nor access to any Truth in its deep manifestation.

Becoming theologians – in truth by our being here that is what we are doing. We gather together, we worship, we pray and in the midst of this we hear the word – we allow it to take root within us – this is the first and fundamental work of theology, and it is its end that it bears fruit

One of the old saints of the church puts it most succinctly – ‘A theologian is one who prays [one who worships], and one who worships and prays is a theologian’

Theology is first faith, it is paying attention, watching for God, and then responding, and allowing al our response to be Worship and prayer. Theology does not lead us to faith, Theology is faith which is then led by the star of the Light od Life that is in Jesus. Being so led, it then seeks to understand For Faith is the centre of all understanding, it is the Centre of Knowing the Truth of all things, for in coming into the presence of ‘the child and his mother’ we have come to the very centre of all things.

Let us take a few moments now in silence, in the Centre of our worship to See with the eye of our heart – to Behold the child with its mother

Amen

Our End, and Our Beginning

Following Jesus – Finding the Space for God. Lent Course 2021

PART 2

Following Jesus—Finding the space for God

PART 2

Our end, and our beginning . . .

‘Lucy stayed behind because she thought it would be worthwhile trying the door of the wardrobe even though she felt almost sure it would be locked. To her surprise it opened quite easily, and two moth-balls dropped out’ C.S. Lewis – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardobe

As we begin our journey, I’d like to suggest an idea. That there are unexplored dimensions to us. That within us are hidden places . . . perhaps even something not unlike Narnia?

Initially as Lucy explored the wardrobe, nothing of significance seemed to drop out. I guess she could have left it there, gone no further. ‘Nothing to see here! Pass along now!’ the door could have remained closed, but Lucy opened it and entered in. (And eventually, others followed her lead)

But where is this going. After all, only a fool thinks that there is a door to another world inside an old wardrobe, or indeed a small child. As Miraz, the King of Narnia says to Prince Caspian ‘That’s all nonsense, for babies . . . Only fit for babies do you hear? You’re getting too old for that sort of stuff . . .’. You may well say that even in Narnia, people don’t believe in Narnia . . .)

Yet didn’t Jesus say that we had to become like a small child to enter his Kingdom?

Indeed didn’t he Jesus say something about seeking the Kingdom of God?

But what does that mean? Pause a moment and see what arises?

Is there a call there for you?  Have you been seeking the Kingdom of God? What does it mean?

Houses serve as metaphors of our lives at all sorts of levels. I know that when I am puzzling over a question, often I will dream of searching the corridors of large old houses that I have known.

If we are fortunate, we live in a house . . . although the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head . . . perhaps there is an invitation there? To step outside of the boundaries of our house, of what we call ‘our life’? To explore a little? Perhaps our life has neglected rooms, hidden realms? Perhaps we haven’t really entered into it at all?

For example, considering not just our life but The kingdom of God; are we on the inside looking out, or the outside looking in . . .

Jesus after all has a habit of turning things inside out and upside down. “The meek shall inherit the earth!” “The first shall be last . . . and the last first” When Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom of God, there are gates and doors. Some who thought they were in, find themselves on the outside and those whom are thought to be outside enter ahead of them. (Matthew 21:31) Indeed the first person to follow Jesus to the very end, is a common criminal . . . (Luke 23:43)

Follow me!

As we were reminded last week, The Gospel begins with an invitation to follow Jesus. So let us consider how this happens in the gospel of our patron, St John.

Perhaps as those who worship under his patronal care should we ask for it, we especially may find something here . . .

Jesus’ ‘call’ in John is unlike that of the other gospels. Jesus doesn’t call disciples in John, rather folk are drawn to him. Intrigued by him. Nicodemus looks for Jesus in the dark, the Samaritan woman at the well is led to seek after who he is. Shortly after he raises Lazarus from the dead it is suggested that ‘all the world has gone after him’, as some Greeks request “to see Jesus’’.  In John we first encounter disciples looking for Jesus.

John the Baptist twice draws his disciples attention to Jesus. ‘Behold! The Lamb of God!’ The second time, their curiosity aroused, two of his disciples set out after Jesus. Perhaps we might follow with them?

Jesus turns and sees us following, and says, ‘What are you looking for?’

Take a while. Pause . . . Are you following him? Why? What are you looking for?

The disciples’ answer is typical of conversations with a rabbi. Jesus asks a question to which the disciple responds with a question of their own. (What question might you ask Jesus in response?)

The disciples asked him ‘Rabbi, where do you live?’  . . . houses again. He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’  Jesus calls and invites us to follow him. Away from where we are. To where he is.

Away from where we are . . .

To where he is . . .

Perhaps we might want to stay where we are – to stay home. Perhaps if we wait long enough he will come to us. Or perhaps we are meant to go to him? If we think we know what it means ‘to go to be with jesus’, perhaps we’re in no hurry . . .

Take a moment to pause . . . Stay home? But where is home?

Home is one of the most powerful foundational images we know of as human beings. ‘Homelessness’ is not a Good thing. Being lost likewise. The story of scripture is one which from the beginning concerns our home . . .

“In the beginning”, two stories are told. One is somewhat like watching a construction project, the construction of a theatre stage for the drama which is to follow. Evening and Morning, the first day, the second day . . . elements of the stage are put in place. Light, Lights, water, dry land. It is well ordered. It is declared Good. Finally the Actor is put in place . . . and God rests form all his work in Creation . . .

Then the play begins. There is music, there is in the dramatic scene setting. The stage is a garden and water flows from it. It is intimate and lively in a way perhaps the first story isn’t. God encourages the actor into his role and sees what he will name all the animals. The actor seems at home on the stage, until tragedy strikes. He misreads his cue. He freezes. He hides . . . and finds himself outside of the garden, unable to get in, surrounded by thorns and weeds and with a flashing sword set in the Space which would give entry . . .

But something else shifts in the story. He is no longer lost in the role. Like an actor who forgets his lines, he becomes self-conscious. ‘He saw that he was naked . . . ‘ there is perhaps no more powerful expression of self-consciousness!

Nakedness. It is the most powerful metaphor of feeling ‘out of place’. All the eyes are on you. You want to be somewhere else, you want to hide . . . What are YOU doing here?  And without any clothes on?! For shame we hide away . . .

In the story as the human becomes self-conscious, a form of alienation sets in. Is God telling him he is out of place? Or is he telling himself?? Things become confused. He has lost his bearings. Wherever he looks he finds his life as one of alienation, somehow shut out.

For many if not all of us, the Christian story is in some sense about finding our way home. Usually, and this is the reigning assumption in many ways, we talk about ‘life after death’, and ‘going to heaven when we die’

Take a moment to pause . . . Going to heaven when I die? But what does that mean?

Perhaps we are not hearing correctly.  After all didn’t Jesus say that we had hearing problems? In the same way he goes around healing the blind, suggesting to us that we don’t see right, he also heals the deaf . . . Perhaps they are signs, but perhaps we have taken the in one way when they are meant in another?

Do we assume too much? Is it perhaps easier to think we know what Jesus means? Isn’t it always the way? We know what it is all about . . . After all, if we are certain about that we don’t have to trouble ourselves about it, and just get on with our lives . . .

Like the Garden, we discover ourselves to be outside of somewhere. Let us call it Heaven. That is the name we usually give it. But where is it? Who knows the way?

Jesus has come to take us home – to where he lives. That is why he tells us to follow him, to come and see.

Times and Places

Following Jesus – Finding the Space for God. Lent Study 2021

Part 3

Questions . . . questions open doors. Perhaps they come through these doors?

We’ve been encouraged to sit with questions in silence. The best way to do this is to let the question sink into the silence. Perhaps nothing will come to you. That’s fine. An answer you construct is never as valuable as an answer that comes to you. Perhaps at the end of your time sat with the material, nothing seems to have come up, yet perhaps as you’ve gone about your everyday work something has occurred to you? Do you notice how sometimes in the midst of our going hither and thither, something suggests itself to you? What do you do when that happens? And where did it come from?

Jesus has come to take us home – to be with him where he lives. That is why he tells us to follow him.

Last week as you thought about following Jesus. I wonder what came up? Did it require you go somewhere? ‘Following’ . . . If so, where? And indeed when? If Jesus has gone to heaven, then do we follow him when we die?

I wonder if you recall what that phrase, ‘Finding the Space for God’, summoned up when you explored it in week one? Prayer?

Prayer

Lent comes to us as an opportunity to make space for God, and prayer obviously comes to mind in response. Prayer is one of the three classic disciplines associated with Lent; fasting and almsgiving being the other two. (The Ash Wednesday gospel comes from Matthew 6 where Jesus speaks about these three ways. Reflecting on these verses Chapter 6 verses 19-21 may prove helpful)

‘How is your prayer life?’ How might you answer this?

Recently I met with another minister. He was telling me how much he needed to carve out more time in his day for prayer. Someone else told me how they were struggling to find someone who wasn’t so busy that they could pray with them.

Have you ever felt that way? Do these not uncommon concerns find resonance with you?

Does it feel like there is a conflict, between your lives and your desire to pray?

On Sunday 23rd of October 1642, at Edgehill in Warwickshire, England, one of the first battles of the English Civil war was waged. The Royalist infantry was led by Baron Astley of Reading.

Immediately before the battle he prayed, and his prayer was recorded by his biographer, thus: ‘[He] made a most excellent, pious, short and soldierly prayer: for he lifted up his hands and eyes to heaven, saying “O, Lord! Thou knowest how busy I must be this day: If I forget thee, do not thou forget me.” And with that he rose up crying out, “March on boys!”’

Do you ever pray like this? Does your prayer and your life feel like this sometimes?

Perhaps we succeed at carving out time for prayer. We may have a regular discipline. We find the time – we settle down for our special time with God, yet when we do things aren’t always easy . . .

The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Gisburn – one of the churches I looked after in England – has seen a lot of history. It stands at the centre of the village on an ancient cross roads. (Well not exactly, the two routes were slightly offset, but both passed through the small village) Built long ago – we weren’t sure when, but there had been a Vicar there in 1124 – its solid oak doors, and castellated ridges and tower suggested it had been built not least as a place of defence. It was a place everyone would use, for many different activities. It had housed the village fire wagon, markets in older days, and more.

On the night of 16th August 1648, it had stabled the horses of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces as he made his way to fight the Royalists at the battle of Preston, a little further down the Ribble Valley, and a little later in the same Civil War.

It was said that a peculiar notch on one of the churches pillars was the result of someone letting off a musket in the building . . .

Perhaps Space for God is as much about a place as carving out time? But a space with whinnying war horses and guns going off?

The other church in the team had been built in the early years of the 20th Century. It has never seen such profane use. There were other places in the village which might be used for such things. This was ‘a space for God!’. Set off to one side of the village, church was for Sundays, and funerals and weddings, the God space.

Do you know such spaces?

How does the description of each church match your idea of prayer? A place of refuge and defence? A place of  metaphorical whinnying horses and gunfire? A place set apart from the rest of life?

How does each speak to your life? To your faith? What else do they suggest?

———

Think again about that question of the disciples to Jesus. Where are you living? And his response, ‘Come and see’. His command to seek and enter the Kingdom . . .

As we considered a few weeks ago as we heard the account of Jesus calling the fishermen, God is on the move. Yet we often try and keep him in one place. We carefully make a time . . . but its rather an odd idea, isn’t it? After all if you really want to see someone, say the doctor, don’t you ask them when they can see you?  Do you suggest to your doctor that you’ve managed to carve out 20 minutes, and will be in a certain place at a certain time, and expect her to turn up?

Or we make a special place, with just the right chair and candles . . . Yet, God had dwelt in a tent in the desert. When He moved, the Israelites just had to ‘up sticks’ and follow. But then things settled down. Life and faith in the promised land became domesticated, and perhaps so did their view of God?

David sought to build a space for God, a space in which God lived, a space where he xcould be sure God would turn up. In a sense it is rather a charming idea – like a little child inviting its parents to live in the house he has built for them under the kitchen table . . . God asks David, ‘You are going to make a house for me?’ ‘Are you sure we have this the right way around?’

Do we??

‘God is always there for me. He walks alongside me through my life’

‘I walk with God . . .’

Which of these phrases comes closest to describing how you relate to God? The content of your prayers?

The Carmelite nun, Ruth Burrows speaks of entering into relationship with God, entering His Kingdom in a challenging parable which I paraphrase here . . .

The Kingdom of God is as if a great king had set an examination for three of his subjects. He told them that it was impossible, and that they would be unable to answer the questions put to them, but that his Son would appear at some point by the city gate and instruct them.

The first subject thought this faintly ridiculous. If the king’s Son knew the answers, then he was sure he would also, and anyway there was so much to be doing.  Roll on exam day!

The second subject had a slight sense of unease and would turn up at the gate from time to time, but never found the Son there when he went. The third subject pitched his tent by the city gate. In fair weather and foul to the bemusement and occasional ridicule of passers by, he waited on The Son . . . He passed the exam.

Remember the gospel from a few weeks ago? The one about following Jesus. Jesus said ‘Follow me!’ and they just went. Dropped their nets – never a ‘by your leave’ – and if we  stayed by the shore, they’d disappear from our sight. Gone to be with Jesus . . .

The disciples put me in mind of a little known character in the Scriptures. Enoch. We know  little about him, although writings bearing his name were very important to the first Christians. All we know of him from Scripture is that  – ‘he walked with God, and was not . . .’

Follow Jesus. But where? Find the space for God? But where? Perhaps we have to follow Jesus to find the answers? But it may not be easy . . .

Following Jesus – Finding the Space for God

Where creature stops, God begins to be. Now all God wants of you is for you to go out of yourself in the way of creatureliness and let God be within you. The least creaturely image that takes shape in you is as big as God. How is that? It deprives you of the whole of God. As soon as this image comes in, God has to leave with all his Godhead. But when the image goes out, God comes in. God desires you to go out of yourself (as creature) as much as if all his blessedness depended on it. My dear friend, what harm can it do you to do God the favour of letting Him be God in you? Go right out of yourself for God’s sake, and God will go right out of Himself for your sake! When these two have gone, what is left is one and simple.

Master Echkart

Introduction

My hope is that something in our Lent Study will open a door for you; or rather that Jesus will open a door for you, and invite you to explore what lies within.

You may well find it helpful to keep a notebook and pen handy. If you are not used to journalling, perhaps now might be a time to start. In any case, each session leaflet has some spare paper for notes . . . but don’t allow this to be ‘just another Lent course’. Not because in one sense it is ‘just another lent course’, but because every word from God is that which we live by, and is an invitation to walk further into Life. We never come to the end of it  . . .

A word on this study material

‘Study’ Sounds a bit heavy, no?

‘Study’ originally meant to have an affectionate attention towards. In this old sense it is different from what we might call ‘scientific’, or ‘objective’ study. True study risks losing itself in its subject for the sake of Love, for the sake of Knowing the Truth which might therefore set us free.

This material can be used in a group, but should first be used alone. The questions are given to lead us into silence and waiting on God and your own truth and within the confines of a set time this isn’t possible.

The material isn’t given as it were to be ‘kicked around’ in conversation and ‘many words’ [Matthew 6:6,8].  Often study, even amongst Christians becomes ‘analysis’ – literally taking apart.

But we are in the business of Life, and Life will not allow herself to be ‘judged’ in such a way.

When we analyse, we are rather like a child who having seen a toy taken apart to find how it works, decides to apply the same idea to the family cat! (We murder to dissect – as Wordsworth said of the spirit of analysis)

Imagine this Life, this Truth as something delicate, humble, not wishing to parade herself and not given to ‘show herself off for our inspection and judgement’ [Matthew 16:4, John 7:1-10].

It will come to you in its own time if you are patient and desire it. If however we just want answers to our questions, then it will not show itself. (Perhaps the book of Job is in part a warning about ‘easy answers’?). There is a Knowing, the goal of our Christian Life, which does not know, and is quite content.

If you are part of a group make sure you leave plenty of time in the week to sit with the material.

It may be that you find it difficult to share some of the things you discover. Seek out someone who can listen to you if that is the case.

Jesus says ‘when two or three gather in my name, there I am in their midst’, not ‘when twenty or thirty . . .’ Intimacy with one another is where we find Jesus amongst us . . . Beyond a certain number that intimacy becomes impossible. Indeed Jesus himself had an inner circle of three disciples with whom he shared the most intimate things, and warned against great disclosures to those whom we do not know well.

A word on ‘not carrying on’

There may be moments when you want to stop. Do.

Although these studies have a direction and I hope will help us deeper into the life that is offered to us in Jesus, it may be that God has another agenda with you at this time. If a question sends you on a different journey, then take time to pursue that.

This study is about the beginning and the end, but it is not the beginning and the end.

A word on Silence.

‘to have the wellspring of silence inhabit us is the source of true happiness’ Maggie Ross (Anglican Solitary)

“Stay in your room, in the silence of your heart, and it will teach you everything” Saying of the Desert Fathers

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” 

Blaise Pascal

Silence is the wellspring of Life. Yet in our mechanical age Silence is so very hard to find. Silence can seem strange, threatening even. Which means we can always find reasons not to avoid her. God is Good. If our desire is for Him, then there is nothing to fear from any thought that arises within us.

Perhaps further questions. Challenges maybe. Things we wish we hadn’t noticed. Trust God in silence. Even, perhaps especially it is the difficult things which are shown us for his good purposes with us. (Luke 5:31) Eternal Life springs up, when we are silent.

On the use of scripture.

Try as we might, we world we inhabit trains us in reading scripture off the surface, literally. Some folk demand that the truth of scripture is the literal truth, others who may be uncomfortable with this, find difficulty with scripture precisely because they read it literally.

Throughout this study scriptures will be found, but in an older way. Indirectly. If we will allow, Scripture is not given as an answer book to our questions; rather, as God appears to Job, Scripture questions us.

Remember what we said about Study and Love? Love is rich beyond imagining, and it is two way. Scripture can speak to us in ways we never imagined, as long as we allow it. Like the one who speaks through it, it is also gentle and humble of heart, not displaying itself . . .

Finally, just to say that both Lisa and myself are available for conversation throughout. Sunday evenings in Lent – 3rd Sundays aside – will be given over for those who are seeking help with the material.

But enough. It is time to open the door . . .

PART 1 –Hide and Seek

“Seek God’s Kingdom . . .”

Jesus

We shall not cease from exploration

 And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Elliott – Little Gidding

“Shortly after that, they looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door. There was nothing else in the room at all except a dead blue bottle on the window sill”

C.S. Lewis, The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

Long ago, do you remember? When you were a child? Playing ‘Hide and Seek’? This may evoke many memories.

 For myself, several are centered around my Grandfather’s farm in what was then North West Lancashire. In particular the large old farmhouse was a scene of much play with my brothers and cousins, when we weren’t being rebuked and chased outside ‘on such a lovely day!’.

The farmhouse, Bolton Manor, was splendid as its name suggests. Downstairs the entrance was though a narrow corridor into a spacious kitchen. The entrance to the pantry was on the left down some steps into the cool earth, and was surrounded by slate tables for the preparation of meats etc. (I can smell it to this day)

On through the kitchen, one stepped into a huge ‘living room’, the scene of many a New Year’s party, and full of furniture behind which one might hide. A particularly fine old oak Grandfather Clock stood in one corner. The door from that room led out to the right into a hallway, with other rooms leading off, and an oak paneled stairway above which loomed a brooding gilt framed copy of Landseer’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’.

It was up those stairs that so often we’d go to hide, in one of the many bedrooms or side rooms. The whole upper floor seemed to be pervaded by the musty smell of old horse tack, the days of working horses even then more than a generation in the past.

You could find many places to hide away in these rooms, some suffering from an air of neglect . . .

Take a moment to pause . . . enter your own childhood memories. Did you know such ‘Hide and Seek’, and perhaps a neglected room? What was the feel of that room?

C.S. Lewis opens a door to the hidden world of Narnia. A door through a wardrobe in a remote room in a large house. It is the children who find it, the adults long having abandoned it as the ‘real world’ demands crowd out time and space for anything else. Time and space for journey and adventure, for hiding and seeking.

When did you last give time to journey and adventure?

Do those words in anyway reseonate with your faith?

Perhaps in Lent, if we are not too ‘serious’, too ‘grown up’, we might give some time and space to such a diversion? After all, we are given permission to do something different at this season in the Church calendar.

A suggestion

Whether or not we have such memories of large houses to play in in our childhood, all of us have such a door close to home. As we take time in study this Lent, perhaps we might seek out the room, and find the door, and enter into . . .  well where? Lewis was by his own description, a Christian Platonist [1]. That is that ‘the real world’ partially obscures ‘The Real World’. Not that they are utterly different, but that as we allow our focus to lengthen, we might ‘gaze through’ the things that are seen. As St Paul puts it, ‘we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are passing away, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ 2 Cor 4:18 [2].

Put another way, For Lewis, Narnia is The Real World. A world everywhere present and at the same time, hidden away from the casual gaze of an adult or indeed a child who doesn’t pause to wonder . . .

The title of this study may seem a little odd. As if it is two different studies: one on ‘Following Jesus’; the other on “Finding the space for God”.

Take a moment to pause . . . What does each title suggest to you? What questions?

Each of the gospels in different ways begins with disciples following Jesus. In Matthew, Mark and Luke this following follows a direct command of Jesus to the fishermen by Galillee. In John it is the curiosity of the disciples who evoke Jesus’ invitation.

Furthermore, in Matthew and Luke there is a suggestive echo of that game of hide and seek. Jesus says ‘Ask, and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you’

Take a moment to pause . . . Ask for what? Seek? For what? What will be opened if I knock?

No answer is provided, just questions . . . Rather like an old wardrobe in the corner of a neglected room, something addresses us, with questions. Questions are like the door in the back of the wardrobe, they allow us to enter into a wider space. Answers close the door, Questions invite us in

Perhaps before rushing to many words, we might go into our room and wait for something to suggest itself . . . Matthew 6:6


[1]
“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” Digory Kirke

The Last Battle, CS Lewis 

[2] See also Hebrews 11:3

Hide and Seek

“Following Jesus and Discovering the Space for God”.

Lent study 2021

Introduction and Part 1

Where creature stops, God begins to be. Now all God wants of you is for you to go out of yourself in the way of creatureliness and let God be within you. The least creaturely image that takes shape in you is as big as God. How is that? It deprives you of the whole of God. As soon as this image comes in, God has to leave with all his Godhead. But when the image goes out, God comes in. God desires you to go out of yourself (as creature) as much as if all his blessedness depended on it. My dear friend, what harm can it do you to do God the favour of letting Him be God in you? Go right out of yourself for God’s sake, and God will go right out of Himself for your sake! When these two have gone, what is left is one and simple.

Master Echkart

Introduction

My hope is that something in our Lent Study will open a door for you; or rather that Jesus will open a door for you, and invite you to explore what lies within.

You may well find it helpful to keep a notebook and pen handy. If you are not used to journaling, perhaps now might be a time to start. In any case, each session leaflet has some spare paper for notes . . . but don’t allow this to be ‘just another Lent course’. Not because in one sense it is ‘just another lent course’, but because every word from God is that which we live by, and is an invitation to walk further into Life. We never come to the end of it  . . .

A word on this study material

‘Study’ Sounds a bit heavy, no?

‘Study’ originally meant to have an affectionate attention towards. In this old sense it is different from what we might call ‘scientific’, or ‘objective’ study. True study risks losing itself in its subject for the sake of Love, for the sake of Knowing the Truth which might therefore set us free.

This material can be used in a group, but should first be used alone. The questions are given to lead us into silence and waiting on God and your own truth and within the confines of a set time this isn’t possible.

The material isn’t given as it were to be ‘kicked around’ in conversation and ‘many words’ [Matthew 6:6,8].  Often study, even amongst Christians becomes ‘analysis’ – literally taking apart.

But we are in the business of Life, and Life will not allow herself to be ‘judged’ in such a way.

When we analyse, we are rather like a child who having seen a toy taken apart to find how it works, decides to apply the same idea to the family cat! (We murder to dissect – as Wordsworth said of the spirit of analysis)

Imagine this Life, this Truth as something delicate, humble, not wishing to parade herself and not given to ‘show herself off for our inspection and judgement’ [Matthew 16:4, John 7:1-10].

It will come to you in its own time if you are patient and desire it. If however we just want answers to our questions, then it will not show itself. (Perhaps the book of Job is in part a warning about ‘easy answers’?). There is a Knowing, the goal of our Christian Life, which does not know, and is quite content.

If you are part of a group make sure you leave plenty of time in the week to sit with the material.

It may be that you find it difficult to share some of the things you discover. Seek out someone who can listen to you if that is the case.

Jesus says ‘when two or three gather in my name, there I am in their midst’, not ‘when twenty or thirty . . .’ Intimacy with one another is where we find Jesus amongst us . . . Beyond a certain number that intimacy becomes impossible. Indeed Jesus himself had an inner circle of three disciples with whom he shared the most intimate things, and warned against great disclosures to those whom we do not know well.

A word on ‘not carrying on’

There may be moments when you want to stop. Do.

Although these studies have a direction and I hope will help us deeper into the life that is offered to us in Jesus, it may be that God has another agenda with you at this time. If a question sends you on a different journey, then take time to pursue that.

This study is about the beginning and the end, but it is not the beginning and the end.

A word on Silence.

‘to have the wellspring of silence inhabit us is the source of true happiness’ Maggie Ross (Anglican Solitary)

“Stay in your room, in the silence of your heart, and it will teach you everything” Saying of the Desert Fathers

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” 

Blaise Pascal

Silence is the wellspring of Life. Yet in our mechanical age Silence is so very hard to find. Silence can seem strange, threatening even. Which means we can always find reasons not to avoid her. God is Good. If our desire is for Him, then there is nothing to fear from any thought that arises within us.

Perhaps further questions. Challenges maybe. Things we wish we hadn’t noticed. Trust God in silence. Even, perhaps especially it is the difficult things which are shown us for his good purposes with us. (Luke 5:31) Eternal Life springs up, when we are silent.

On the use of scripture.

Try as we might, we world we inhabit trains us in reading scripture off the surface, literally. Some folk demand that the truth of scripture is the literal truth, others who may be uncomfortable with this, find difficulty with scripture precisely because they read it literally.

Throughout this study scriptures will be found, but in an older way. Indirectly. If we will allow, Scripture is not given as an answer book to our questions; rather, as God appears to Job, Scripture questions us.

Remember what we said about Study and Love? Love is rich beyond imagining, and it is two way. Scripture can speak to us in ways we never imagined, as long as we allow it. Like the one who speaks through it, it is also gentle and humble of heart, not displaying itself . . .

Finally, just to say that both Lisa and myself are available for conversation throughout. Sunday evenings in Lent – 3rd Sundays aside – will be given over for those who are seeking help with the material.

But enough. It is time to open the door . . .

Part 1. “Hide and Seek

“Seek God’s Kingdom . . .”

Jesus

We shall not cease from exploration

 And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Elliott – Little Gidding

“Shortly after that, they looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door. There was nothing else in the room at all except a dead blue bottle on the window sill”

C.S. Lewis, The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

Long ago, do you remember? When you were a child? Playing ‘Hide and Seek’? This may evoke many memories.

 For myself, several are centered around my Grandfather’s farm in what was then North West Lancashire. In particular the large old farmhouse was a scene of much play with my brothers and cousins, when we weren’t being rebuked and chased outside ‘on such a lovely day!’.

The farmhouse, Bolton Manor, was splendid as its name suggests. Downstairs the entrance was though a narrow corridor into a spacious kitchen. The entrance to the pantry was on the left down some steps into the cool earth, and was surrounded by slate tables for the preparation of meats etc. (I can smell it to this day)

On through the kitchen, one stepped into a huge ‘living room’, the scene of many a New Year’s party, and full of furniture behind which one might hide. A particularly fine old oak Grandfather Clock stood in one corner. The door from that room led out to the right into a hallway, with other rooms leading off, and an oak paneled stairway above which loomed a brooding gilt framed copy of Landseer’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’.

It was up those stairs that so often we’d go to hide, in one of the many bedrooms or side rooms. The whole upper floor seemed to be pervaded by the musty smell of old horse tack, the days of working horses even then more than a generation in the past.

You could find many places to hide away in these rooms, some suffering from an air of neglect . . .

Take a moment to pause . . . enter your own childhood memories. Did you know such ‘Hide and Seek’, and perhaps a neglected room? What was the feel of that room?

C.S. Lewis opens a door to the hidden world of Narnia. A door through a wardrobe in a remote room in a large house. It is the children who find it, the adults long having abandoned it as the ‘real world’ demands crowd out time and space for anything else. Time and space for journey and adventure, for hiding and seeking.

When did you last give time to journey and adventure?

Do those words in anyway reseonate with your faith?

Perhaps in Lent, if we are not too ‘serious’, too ‘grown up’, we might give some time and space to such a diversion? After all, we are given permission to do something different at this season in the Church calendar.

A suggestion

Whether or not we have such memories of large houses to play in in our childhood, all of us have such a door close to home. As we take time in study this Lent, perhaps we might seek out the room, and find the door, and enter into . . .  well where? Lewis was by his own description, a Christian Platonist [1]. That is that ‘the real world’ partially obscures ‘The Real World’. Not that they are utterly different, but that as we allow our focus to lengthen, we might ‘gaze through’ the things that are seen. As St Paul puts it, ‘we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are passing away, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ 2 Cor 4:18 [2].

Put another way, For Lewis, Narnia is The Real World. A world everywhere present and at the same time, hidden away from the casual gaze of an adult or indeed a child who doesn’t pause to wonder . . .

The title of this study may seem a little odd. As if it is two different studies: one on ‘Following Jesus’; the other on “Finding the space for God”.

Take a moment to pause . . . What does each title suggest to you? What questions?

Each of the gospels in different ways begins with disciples following Jesus. In Matthew, Mark and Luke this following follows a direct command of Jesus to the fishermen by Galillee. In John it is the curiosity of the disciples who evoke Jesus’ invitation.

Furthermore, in Matthew and Luke there is a suggestive echo of that game of hide and seek. Jesus says ‘Ask, and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you’

Take a moment to pause . . . Ask for what? Seek? For what? What will be opened if I knock?

No answer is provided, just questions . . . Rather like an old wardrobe in the corner of a neglected room, something addresses us, with questions. Questions are like the door in the back of the wardrobe, they allow us to enter into a wider space. Answers close the door, Questions invite us in

Perhaps before rushing to many words, we might go into our room and wait for something to suggest itself . . . Matthew 6:6


[1]
“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” Digory Kirke

The Last Battle, CS Lewis 

[2] See also Hebrews 11:3

Following Jesus – Finding the Space for God

Preface and Invitation

The seed idea for this came about several months ago in conversation about ‘Space for God’. Since then, in the midst of so much, and with so much in the midst of me, it has proven to be one of those ideas which has born much fruit, not least in my own walk with Jesus.

As I’ve been preparing, words from a John Bell hymn go round and round in my head. Will you come and follow me?

Will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same?

An invitation from Jesus?

Perhaps The invitation from Jesus 

Perhaps it has been the last year which in so many ways has thrown the world into radical uncertainty, as foundations were tested and many have failed. Perhaps it has been the unknowns my family has faced in many ways. Yet it is in this moment, when things fall apart, dimly glimpsed, light comes through the cracks.

In this moment the gentle light of an invitation pierces the wall of noise and confusion, of fear and uncertainty. In this moment the sound of a silent voice breaks the glare of a million screens with their incessant demands –  ‘Look Here!’ ‘Look There! ‘This is what you need to pay attention to  . . .’  –  that sound of sheer silence – ‘Follow me, where you do not know, and never be the same’

Will we go where we don’t know? In the midst of so much ‘uncertainty’ this perhaps sounds like an invitation to ‘the last journey we want to make’; or perhaps it’s an invitation to discover something in the last place we’d think of looking . . . In a sense it is both

And never be the same? We look outwards towards what we call ‘the world’ and see so much that needs changing, and of course so much in so many ways is changing. Some people have called this age that of The Great Acceleration

All of this reminds me of the hobbits in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. They leave a place they know so well. A place marked above all by comfort and familiarity, a place they know and love. They embark on a journey, they know not where, and upon their return to The Shire, they are so changed that they are almost unrecognisable.

I wonder. If they had known what lay ahead of them, would they have ever set out? The Shire. Comfortable and Familiar. Change . . . hmmmm . . . Yet it is precisely unsettling stories from around the edge of their idyllic world which summon them forth on the journey. The world is not as they understand it to be.

Where are we in our journey of faith? Are we surrounded by the comfortable and familiar? Or perhaps do we look around in anxiety? ‘Fewer people these days . . .’ – ‘things don’t seem the same’ Jesus says ‘Follow me’, but do we anxiously cling to the known?

Jesus walks on. Do we let go and go with him?

We love to hear the words ‘God is with us!’, and ‘The Lord is Here!’, yet the God we meet in Jesus is perhaps less than comfortable? He calls us away from the familiar place to . . . Where? “Follow me!”, but where?

Vaya con Dios – ‘Go with God!’ is a Spanish blessing . . . and an invitation. There is perhaps a whole world of difference between ‘Jesus walks with me’, and ‘I walk with Jesus’

As I’ve pondered the material emerging in front of me, I’ve noticed more than once that phrases can have subtly different meanings. ‘Will you go where you don’t know?’ This might suggest ‘an invitation to an unknown place’, or it might further suggest a place where we find we don’t have the answers.

Life can present us with this, and it’s not a place in which we feel comfortable. Perhaps especially as Christians, ‘not having the answer’ can be an uncomfortable place, yet is our Christian life about having the security of answers?

We like answers. Having ‘The Answers’ keeps us secure, but like hobbits, if we step out on a journey beyond the borders of the Shire, beyond the borders of the familiar, beyond the borders of our own understanding . . . there are perhaps more questions than answers, many more. And perhaps also a sense that it is not our questions of God and the World that are remotely as significant as some other questions.

A friend once went to live as a hermit high in the French Alps. After a while the solitude and quiet and boredom got to him. He had expected a rich spiritual time with God, and cried out into the void ‘Who are you?’ only to hear the question echo back to him, ‘Who are YOU?’

Who Are you?

You might like to sit with that question in Silence

Silence has a special role to play in our lives. Without it words would be just a meaningless string of noise. Silence, space between words brings them to life. Thinking about this for a moment suggests ‘God’ to me . . .

Without the Silence, nothing can be distinguished from anything else. In a world dominated by noise, and endless words do we find confusion, or the delightful order and harmony which sprung from the Silence of God?

So there is much silence, and perhaps this material might draw us deeper into silence. But what about groups? As you may be aware, I have struggled to communicate how this material might work with groups—which we tend to meet in for Lent  🙂

Journeying alone, together.

Jesus goes ahead of us, alone. He went on a journey at Passiontide, and upon his return his disciples had trouble recognizing him.

Lent is a season when in preparation for the Passion of Jesus we make a little space for God in the midst of our busy lives.

Often this has been through studies in groups. I wonder how many of these we might have participated in over the years. How many questions we might have answered together and how many words spoken? How were we changed? How did our groups change?

Not long after I arrived here, someone said to me, ‘oh, we don’t talk about ‘that’ here’. ‘That’ was an issue which has proved to be divisive in the wider Church. 

Perhaps what it has done for the wider church has revealed that our sense of unity was mere words. But is there a different Unity which is not frightened by disagreement, which does not need the security of ‘being right’

Difference and Uniqueness . . .

From time to time I’ve found myself in situations in the church where those who desire unity will lament, ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’ Yet, when asked to say what it is that unites us, often little if nothing of substance seems to emerge.

Making the journey, following Jesus, we might discover how vast is that which unites us, and how little which divides us. We are far more alike than we tend to think in a world which values diversity. We have a tendency to confuse ‘Difference’ and ‘Uniqueness’. We are at the same time each utterly unique, yet also the same . . .

Insofar as a group will assist in the study it is largely in sharing silence, and yet also having the gentle courage to share from what arises within us. Not ‘what we think about the material. But what thoughts arise . . .

We think ‘about’ and talk ‘about’ a lot. But this is all ‘about’, it is indirect. Do we seek something which comes directly towards us out of the depths of Being?

 ‘Deep cries to Deep’ says the Psalmist

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

I haven’t set out where this course leads, not out of a sense of trying to be clever, but because in truth I don’t know. The material has sort of emerged over the past few months. Where it leads for each one of us, where it leads for us as a local body of Christ, I don’t know. All I know is that God is Good, and if we Follow Jesus we will find the Space for God

Eric