Sermon for Sunday July 22nd, 2012 – Making Peace

Sermon for Sunday July 22nd 2012
2 Samuel 7:1-16
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

‘the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him’

Earlier this week I was at a lecture given by our own Andrew Bradstock, who is Professor of Public Theology, about the place of theology ‘in the public square’, or about the validity or otherwise of the Religious voice when it comes to the issues of our day. Well it raised lots of issues for me, but one in particular was very pertinent to our readings today, that of the use of language.

Of course Christians have been told for a good number of years, that if they are going to be able to communicate their faith, they need to adapt their language to that of their hearers. ‘It’s no good’, we’re told, ‘using lots of religious words which mean nothing to many people’. Yet, alluring as such a statement sounds, it reveals a flawed understanding about the nature of language. For whilst too frequent a use of the word ‘propitiation’ or ‘eschatalogical’, might possibly lead to people changing the subject, and the very mention of Sin, hell and judgement may well not see you invited back to elegant dinner parties, actually the very fact that as Christians we use different words is a signifier that we are a people set apart – we are different. What we say and how we say what we say Should be a significant sign of our status as citizens of another city – in exactly the same way that all the nations of the world reveal who they are in their speech. Which is not surprising as we are all made in the image of God who is characterised as the God who speaks, and whose speech reveals his nature.

But of course we do share many words with those amongst whom we live – two thousand years of Christian life has meant that words have become part of the language of entire cultures. Thus words such as Love, as Forgiveness, as Justice, as Grace, as Mercy – and as Peace – have become words that those around us use. But herein lies the problem – for as societies have adopted words they have, as we all have a tendency to do, they have used them to their own ends, to their own purposes. In other words, we may well say the same word, but mean something very very different. That when a Christian uses the word Mercy, she has the image of Christ upon the Cross and the mercy of God in view, that when a Christian uses the word Justice, he has the Justice of God in view – revealed in Christ upon the Cross, that when a Christian uses the word Love they point to the cross and the Love of God is in view, that when we use the word ‘Peace’ . . . well you get the idea 🙂  – but such is not the meaning of these words in contemporary culture.
The language of Christians is shaped by the revelation of God in Christ Jesus, and if it is not, then it is not Christian language. [And indeed if I might digress slightly for one minute, I believe that IMMEASURABLE harm is done to the cause of the gospel by the church adopting the use that the wider society makes of words which we have bequeathed them.  In this regard, for example, I am always Extremely wary and concerned when Christians start throwing around the word Justice, both conservatives and liberals, who hijack it to their own ends – asking for either more harshness or more tolerance, using it to their own political ends in ways which are utterly divorced from that Justice of God which declares us Guilty of sin and yet Justifies us by faith in Christ]

And so it is with today’s subject – Peace. Peace, or to use the Hebrew Word Shalom as Andrew said in his lecture, is a word embodying a profound sense of human well-being, but one which can only be understood in the light of a way of life together which has God at its heart. Shalom, the Peace of the people of God which is taught in the Old Testament, is breathtaking in its scope – it transcends our understanding. I have spoken frequently about the Jubilee which Christ comes to fulfil – that Economic and Political vision which was so challenging that we cannot begin to have a degree of sympathy for the children of Israel in their failure to comprehend the word of the lord and live in obedience to it. It is an Otherworldly Peace. It is outside of our comprehension – it is as I say every week as I pronounce the blessing of God, ‘The Peace the passes all understanding’. And we find that so difficult not only to comprehend but to begin to imagine.
I remember noticing in my youth that my Vicar was obviously troubled by it and so when he pronounced the blessing he would say, the ‘The peace that passes understanding’, dropping the word ‘all’, as if to suggest that if we tried hard enough or we were intelligent enough we might perhaps get a grasp on it. But it is not just the Economic dimension of that peace that we cannot grasp, ‘that their might be no poor among you, it is also the Political, or perhaps to put it more helpfully, the Social dimension (for what is Politics if it is not the ordering of life together?). I remember once preaching on the theme of Peace, of Shalom as set forth in the Old Testament in terms of deep, rich and life giving relationships between the generations. Well I don’t know if I did a very good job – or perhaps the idea was too far fetched for one older member of the congregation came up to me afterwards and said – I’d have a lot more time for young people if they didn’t insist on playing on their skateboards on the road past my house! 🙂

Well without realising it, my brother, who was ironically a professor of linguistics, had put his finger on the problem. He was using the word Peace, in the way in which the world around us used it – he wasn’t using it Christianly. Now I don’t mean that he was being unChristian by not wanting the young people outside his house – that is not for me to judge – but that his use of the word Peace was that which our secular liberal societies hold up as the Goal – the guiding Principle of Life. That Each must enjoy the Liberty to do precisely what they want – With One restriction, that their activity must in no way impinge upon the Liberty of another. To express it in another way, that vision of Peace is that Everyone has a large enough Sound proofed room to be able to play whatever music they want at whatever volume they want. It is an ideal of peace which is hopelessly individualistic – that declares the cause of humanity to life together and to share life together to be a Hopeless pipedream, and leads to political agendas which serve one purpose alone, to prevent all conflict. No richer vision of human society than the right to do what we want provided we do not harm others – and that my friends really is an Ideallistic Utopia – for it is only possible if we are not human. So it must deny our humanity – it is not peace – it is actually a vision of Hell – of everyone keeping their distance for we cannot live together. It is a grotesque distortion of the Peace of Christ. That is the world in which we live

King David fell prey to such a misunderstanding. Mistaking absence of conflict for the Peace of God. There he was, he had taken the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites and we read “the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him” The LORD had given him rest. David confused the absence of Conflict as Peace and not Rest – he thought he’d made it – he thought he’d made it – and then he cast around and Saw “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” David had it in mind to do something for God . . . the God who owns everything – ‘the cattle on a thousand hills are mine’. It is Ludicrous when seen like that – to do something FOR God – ‘what can I give him, poor as I am?’. God asks one thing of us – Love evidenced in obedience – that we so love him that nothing delights us more than to do his will. Whereas David fundamentally misunderstands who he is and who God is ‘Go and tell my servant David:’  Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” It is not your job to make a house for me David, rather I will make a house for you – the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. David has foolishly thought that as King he was in charge – that he could do as he wished – that he could even do God a favour. And he had made a fundamental error, for the LORD had given him rest – but not yet PEACE. David might have sat back on his throne and thought ‘God is in his heaven and all is well with the world, now what can I do’ But when God is in his heaven and all is well with the world, there will be nothing unfinished – everything will be complete.

This was why the Prophets who spoke so much of the Shalom of God were always on the alert  – always alerting Israel, always denouncing its Kings for declaring their great political and economic projects, their millitary triumphs as The End, as if They ushered in the reign of God’s Peace, when there were poor in the land, when the hungry were unfed, when the blind could not see, nor the lame walk, when the dead were not raised. As God’s FInal prophet says – ‘why do you say Peace, Peace when there is no Peace?’.

I have alluded off and on to the Old Testament vision of God’s peace, Shalom. We see David himself does not recognise it and it is Nathan the prophet who speaks GOd’s words to him to keep him in his place. And here as in so many ways we Must recognise that the Life Death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. As St Paul says in our Epistle, that the peace of Christ makes us ‘members of the household of God, built upon the foundations of the Apostles and the Prophets’  That that Peace which Paul declares so beautifully in the epistle is the Fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of Peace. And, this is why the Peace of God which passes all understanding is NOT some disembodied Spiritual glow, some gnostic immaterial spirituality, only made possible because we have forgotten our roots, we have forgotten that the work of Christ is not to give us the warm fuzzies in good times and bad – NO!
HE is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups (Jews and Gentiles) into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. Our failure to recognise the peace to which we are called as the fulfillment of the Old Testament is a failure to recognise the peace of Christ – it is to re-erect the barrier of hostility, that has made that story ours and has grafted us into the rootstock of the Patriarchs and the prophets. The Peace of God, not a warm feeling – it is as concrete as the flesh of Christ, it is the Body of Christ – it is a New humanity, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets

When Jesus comes on the scene – as we read in our Gospel – things are far from that reality. The people were ‘they were like sheep without a shepherd;’ – Everyone doing their own thing – no ruler – no King, no shepherd of the flock – and so he began to teach them – to proclaim the Kingdom of God, the Peace of God. Not Yet had that peace come – but the signs of its coming in HIm continue – And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed – once more as a few weeks ago we read that Jesus and his disciples cannot get rest, they cannot eat together – that SIGN of the Peace of God – the Eschatalogical feast – Until ‘ on the night before he died’, when at last at supper with his friends he broke bread and gave it to them saying, take eat, this is my body given for you, and shared the cup of wine saying Drink this all of you, for this is my blood of the New covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Enacting the covenant by which he made Peace – making the two one – breaking down the hostility between Jew and Gentile – and between humanity and God.

You may have seen the theme of this sermon – Making Peace and wondered if I was ever going to talk about what we do in this regard. Firstly we must sit and ponder the error of David and the LORD’s question Are you the one to build me a house to live in? NO! One shall come from your line – He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. You are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Christ has built the house, He IS the house – He is Our Peace, we do not make That peace that passes understanding, no – what is for us as St Paul goes on to say is to ‘make every effort to Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace’ The peace that passes all understanding. This is no easy thing – for it involves us in building up our common life – in exercising all that is right and proper as the household of God, in doing Justice, Loving Mercy, Practising forgiveness, Loving one another as Christ has Loved us – holding before us Always, not the world’s view of these things, but the true meaning of these things as revealed in our crucified and risen Lord. And Living ever deeper into the reality of his Peace

This is the work of the church, these are our common disciplines that order our life together as members of the household of God, by the mercy and forgiveness and Love of God made present in Christ Jesus, the chief cornetrstone And the Dwelling place – in whom we are being built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God..

‘O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace’

The Body of Christ – a thought . . .

Just doing some preparation for our Young Disciples group (which also has taken upon itself to ‘become’ our new Youth band!!).

Was thinking about being a disciple of Jesus and following Him, but perhaps in a sense a better image, at least for our self determining age is being a member of a body of Christ. Why? Well imagine yourself as a knee, or an eye, or a mouth, or a foot – what say do you have in where you go and what you do??

Reminded me also of that thorny doctrine of election – that the root story of election is of course the rescuing of Israel from Egypt. This is the foundational metaphor for ‘becoming a Christian’ – in other words being rescued from a life that is no life, to be given a Life and a Purpose, which are not your own.

The Israelites may well have been crying out for something to happen, a rather like a baby at the point of delivery – but to be expelled into the wilderness and there discover that they have been rescued by this strange God who now calls them to a new way of life which will reveal His life in the world . . .

Becoming like a child

Being Born again

Having to learn a Life which is Not yours, from scratch . . .

Seems a pretty good metaphorical way of thinking about the Christian Journey in its beginnings and onwards

Our Bishop, Kelvin Wright, has spoken of the future of our Diocese in terms of a wilderness time. Wilderness is a place where we receive our identity. Jesus in the Wilderness having been given his identity has it tested ‘If you are the Son of God’ (x3)

Perhaps we are all like our Young Disciples, learning afresh what it is to be a part of a body – given a Life and a Purpose which is not our own?


Just a thought

Sermon for Sunday July 15th – BIBLE SUNDAY

Sermon for Sunday July 15th – Bible Sunday
2 Ki 22
Col 3:12-17

“Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly”

Well today is Bible Sunday, or at least it is here 🙂 I have to say I was slightly taken aback when I discovered this, so used was I to having Bible Sunday as the Second in Advent and the words of Cranmers collect ringing in my ears in the run up to Christmas “BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.” But disoriented as I am, I still think that it is more than worthwhile taking time to consider the place of the Bible in the church and in our faith as Christians.

And that place is not in the least insignificant – indeed I was glad to discover that St John’s was one of those increasingly rare churches where all the set scriptures were read at services, including the Old Testament, given that the move, even in those churches which call themselves ‘Bible believing’ churches is towards less and less Scripture in services. And when the Vicar reinstituted the Psalm at the morning service he wasn’t met with uproar at ‘yet more Bible’ 🙂 (Of course that could be because everyone here is just extremely nice and hospitable 🙂 ) Yet Christian faith has always been a faith rooted in Scripture. In the Koran, the Christians along with the Jews are set apart as ‘People of the Book’ – except of course that can give a false impression.

For we are very used to holding Books, Having Books. The invention of the Printing Press led to a very rapid change in the way that The Bible was perceived, because for the first time in human history, for the first time in the 3000 year old Judaeo-Christian tradition, it became possible for people to ‘have their own bible’. Although the zeal of the infant church saw a huge explosion in the publication of Books – which is why we have so many thousands of fragments of scripture, indeed whole books of the Bible from very early times – this was as nothing compared with what happened post Gutenburg, a publishing phenomon the like of which the world has never seen and even to this day, the Bible is the most widely published of all books by orders of magnitude, so that the BIble may be put into people’s hands . . .

But therein in a sense lies a supreme irony, for it could well be argued that that move was the one which led so many people to dismiss the Bible and its significance. Poring over it for themselves many began to pronounce judgement upon it – it didn’t DO as a Holy Book. It was full of unpleasant things that they didn’t much like – the God who was portrayed in its pages seemed rather uncultured and at times capricious – or at least to their eyes. And this practise continues to this day. I remember one of my Vicars in my early years pronouncing from the pulpit that at Theological college he and his fellow students had spent much time dismissing ever increasing parts of the Bible – until as he said they had reduced all that was of any worth to a few verses in St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians – That, they had decided, was authentic Christian faith. And of course it must be said that there are many many more who have a negative view of the bible that is at best second hand. Their opinions are just those thye have absorbed from those around them – like the perpetual old saw about ‘The God of the Old Testament’, being a God you wouldn’t want to meet compared with the God of the New – who was all sweetness and light, revealed to us in Jesus – that fluffy bunny Jesus of my childhood Sunday school who always seemed to be wearing a white dress and surrounded by woodland creatures – or perhaps I’m getting him mixed up with a Disney movie. It was a long time ago :). As an Jewish rabbi once said – exasperated by his liberal Christian friends – the person who talks more about hellfire than anyone else in the Bible is actually Jesus himself. And so of course there have also been those, highly influential in many circles today, who want even to rewrite the Biblical picture of Christ. Separating out the Jesus of the Bible from the sort of Jesus we wanted – a pietistic Jesus. If you were a spiritual person you could avoid all the talk about sending the goats who didn’t feed the hungry to hell, or everlasting damnation as the Greek puts it – and if you were a nice liberal person you could ignore all the stuff about the need for repentance and being born again and taking up your cross . . . in other words you made up a Jesus to suit you. Rather like Narcissus looking into the water, all too often we looked into the BIble and saw our own reflection staring back at us. The Jesus who thinks like I do. The rather simplistic question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ being rather simply answered – he’d do what my best self would do. In other words we are the centre of it all. We come to the bible with our views – our questions. We judge it according to the former and find it fails us with the latter.

But, as I have suggested, that attitude came about in many regards because the BIble was mass printed and therefore became an object of study for all, ‘you in your small corner and I in mine’ as the old children’s song goes. And Reading it and Alone is precisely not how we should come to the Scriptures. For they were written not primarily to us as individuals but as a people, and not to be read in our heads, but Heard.

For for most of human history the BIble was not read at all. The JEwsih Scriptures were kept on huge scrolls in the synagogue and the early Christian Scriptures followed in suit although they did herald the beginning of what we would call a book. They were the possession of the community – say the Church in Collossae to whom St PAul wrote, and they were copied for wider distribution, but to own books was to show yourself wealthy. As one Father of the church rebuked another – you have taken the bread from the mouths of many poor ‘for he saw he had many books’ – and Hearing is a different thing to reading. FOr a start to hear is something that happens in that dimension of time we call Kairos. It happens – i was sat in church and I heard . . . Much like St Augustine in the story of his conversion heard the word of Scripture being recited by children in a garden. Yes the words they spoke were ‘Take it and Read’, But augustine’s approach did not come anywhere near study at the outset – rather hearing those words he opened a Bible to where it fell open and read the first words presented there ROmans 13:13-14 let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Well Given that Augustine had been making more than amplpe provision for the flesh – these words woke him up! He heard and obeyed. Indeed that is the sense in which Scripture is given, that we hear and respond. Again St Anthony of Egypt – who heard one day the words ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor and you wil have treasure in heaven and follow me” – Well St Anthony did just that and unbeknownst to him was a starting point for the preservation of the faith through the Dark Ages, his actions leading in time to the founding of the monastic movement – which amongst other things was responsible for keeping the Bible as a public possession.

All of them revealing that the Word of God was meant to be heard – as Creation responded to the Voice of God – so we too the Creatures were created to respond to God speaking to us through the scriptures – to hear and to obey. The Word is Given that we might respond, and the word Obedience means ‘to have Heard’. Jesus in his teaching makes this very plain – the one who builds his house on the rock is the one who hears these words of mine and acts on them’. Now imagine how different it is if on the one hand we hear the Scripture say but once a week as we gather for worship – that is an Instant, a moment – what do we do? Well me may of course forget, but then we may not, we may respond. What the word does not allow is that we will go away and think ‘Shall I respond to this word or not?’ for that is to be as it were Master of the Word.

So like King Josiah – the young King – he is in the midst of a great Temple rebuilding project when if you like the Bible is found – quite possibly the book of Deuteronomy The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.’ When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, ‘Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.’ Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.’ Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.
When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.’ In the Instant the rebuilding of the Temple grinds to a halt – God has spoken – The Word has gone forth. Josiah realises that he must respond.
It seems to me that in this age when so many have bibles and supposedly read them, the Response that the Word calls for is far more muted than in times past when people were like the young King Josiah cut to the heart by the Word. It is worth asking, when did we last change our ways because of what we read in the Scriptures or heard in church?
But that last point – in church brings me to the second way in which ‘having our own BIbles’ distorts how the word is received. The printing press in putting the bibles into everyones hands also led in no small part to the individualism of our age, where every person became there own authority. It is no small surprise that Protestantism is so phenomenally fractured as each person comes up with their own interpretation and so creates their own Church – ultimately the church of the alone, the church of the one.
When St Paul counsels the Colossians ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ he is asking us to ponder the word – chew it  – inwardly digest it as the collect has it – but together. Perhaps the Greatest and most significant loss in translating the bIble into English, and this is a modern problem for older forms of English did not suffer this lack, is that in the Scriptures, the word You, is almost always Plural, throughout the Scriptures. That we are addressed Primarily as the People of God through the Scriptures – so it is much better to render ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly’ as ‘Let it dwell among you richly’ as is clear from the whole context – teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. The Word is given to the Church – The Word of God Written Gathers and indeed constitutes the Church – we are a people shaped and formed by this Amazing narrative. It shapes our liturgy and it is given to shape our common life together as do these words of St Paul  As God’s chosen ones, As his people holy and beloved, Declared Holy by his Word – not by our actions – it is all gift clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. There is no harmony singing alone – All of it about our Common life – what is the command to Love if it is not to do with our Common life – but how frequently in our self centered age it has all become about loving ourselves And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. HEaring the Word of God together – we become the Peaceful community. The Peace of Christ is not some existential feeling – rather it is the product of his word going forth into the hearts and minds of his people, who are called to the mutual forebearance, foregiveness and Love that creates the Peace of Christ.
We are to Hear the words of the Bible and that together. Perhaps there is no more significant way in which we can grow and develop in our common life as the people of God  than by together hearing the Word and responding to it, as His people have done all through the ages


Sermon for Sunday 8th July 2012 – Weakness and life

Sermon for Sunday July 8th, 4th After Trinity


2 Samuel 5:1-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

‘Truly I tell you, unless you are converted and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’

Just this last week I attended a symposium on Mental Health and theology at the University where amongst others, our own Jo and Jubilee were presenting papers. One of the wonderful things about it was spending time with folk who whilst not parading their struggles with depression and the like, did not hide them either. This admission of weakness quickly opened the door in conversation, and with complete strangers we were rapidly talking about deep issues of life and faith, rather than the usual topics with strangers – ‘the weather, where are you from and, what do you think of the new rugby stadium :)’ There was a tremendous and unusual openness – not sharing our difficulties in a sort of shared therapy session, but actually a deeper sharing of life made possible by the acknowledgement of weakness.

One of the gifts of the day was to listen to Mike Noonan – Mike is a member of the L’Arche movement, established by the Catholic Priest Jean Vanier. L’Arche communities are communities of the mentally and physically able, and the mentally and physically impaired. Of course those who are ‘able’ for want of a better word, serve the needs of those who are not – but the Essence of L’Arche is that this is a true community, where all are understood to be gift to the other – all have contributions to make and indeed that it is often those who on the surface look most to have their lives together who have most to learn from those whose disabilities may mean that they can do nothing for themselves. That those who are utterly dependent actually profoundly serve those who are utterly competent. To follow on a little from last weeks theme, those who seem to have it all, have nothing and those who seem to have nothing, have it all.

Well Mike didn’t give a paper – rather he told stories and one stuck particularly in my mind, a tale about the gift of weakness and how that invited others into a new understanding of life. A group of folk from L’Arche were going to Israel on pilgrimage. Whilst they had been airborne there had been a major security alert and so when the plane put down on the tarmac of Tel Aviv Airport, the passengers were ‘Welcomed’ by the sight of massed ranks of the Israeli army, wielding rifles, pointed towards them. One of their number, Graham, was severely learning impaired. As he walked off the steps from the plane, Graham, to the consternation of the community rushed towards all these guns trained on him – pushed them aside and began vigorously shaking the hands of the soldiers. For Graham looked at the world through the eyes of a child – he didn’t see that he was faced with hostility and fear – all he saw was a group of people who had obviously come to welcome him to Israel and he was happily expressing his joy at their welcome.

I wonder what the Israeli soldiers would have made of it, how they would have felt. Whether any were changed by the encounter with the childlike Graham and perhaps put down their rifles and their fear for good. Of course they like us are very well trained in fear and defense, unlike the one who is like a child. Indeed we are very fearful of such vulnerability. Childlike vulnerability scares us.  I remember not long after I’d had a period of being ill, meeting a very fearful individual, someone who was well known for using her strength and ability, to mask her own fears. She said of my time of disability ‘Ah Well – I guess that which doesn’t break you, makes you stronger’ – I bit my tongue, but actually what I wanted to say in response was – ‘Actually I’m beginning to understand that it is that which makes us stronger, that kills us in the end’

That human pathology, that is afraid of weakness, is what makes Jesus’ saying about becoming like a little child so terrifying to us. And Yet, Life being born again – another way of becoming like a Child. Graham, who was in many people’s terms a child in the body of a an adult, could see the Kingdom in a way most of us couldn’t being faced with a gun. He had no sense of shame or embarrassment – He was Perfectly himself – others may have been embarrassed by his action, but not him  – and in that moment, faced with unembarrassed humility, those who watched on and the Israeli soldiers were challenged to lay down their defenses – challenged out of weakness. And i many ways that is the ky challenge of the gospel to us who are Strong, Rich, Healthy – that it is in our weakness that the power of God is revealed. Graham in his action revealed a way of being in the world that unmasked its reality and challenged all those who looked on. Yet we are afraid of such vulnerability, of nakedness, of weakness – and our response is often one of embarrassment.

Which often extends to  the way we express our faith – I have spoken of our pathological need to mimic the world in terms of whom we appoint to positions of leadership, how it makes us feel safe to have those who are proven track leaders in the wider world, who have a line of glittering academic achievements behind them. One of the great challenges of the appointment of Bishop Justin to some is that his way of being in the world does not fit with what we have been led to expect – and indeed there are a good number who are privately fearful of the possibility that he will lead his flock into similar situations of vulnerability that he himself has walked this past 20 years.

All too often our embarrassment proves too much for us and we cover up – take for example in our reading from 2nd Samuel this morning. You will not be aware but the lectionary had taken a pair of scissors to the text of the story of David taking Jerusalem from the Jebusites – the text that someone was too embarrassed to allow us to hear was this  “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back” —thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. 8David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” As has been pointed out by many detractors from the faith there are many stories and words in the scripture which you wouldn’t want your elderly spinster aunt to hear, lest she be overcome by a fit of the vapours. The Bible, our ‘Sacred text’, the Word of God – is full of Murder, Rape, theft and politically unacceptable attacks on the lame and the blind (actually I typed blond here – and I’m sure you’d find something against blond people too if you were looking for it 🙂 ). For some reason or other these verses have been taken out of the text you heard. Now I think that this is just Wrong. For it assumes a) most Christians are biblically illiterate and won’t notice – b) that we have a right to change the story to fit our own petty morals and c) that our faith is actually NOT about the real world at all, that our faith is to do with a world where such things do not happen. We want a Nice and a Respectable faith – not one associated with embarrassing texts

One name particularly associated with this whole movement towards intellectual unembarrassment was the German theologian Frederick Shleiermacher. He grew up in an atmosphere of religious skepticism, and desired to express a faith in terms that were acceptable to what he called the ‘cultured despisers’. We may ourselves think this reasonable, but we ought to take more careful note of what was going on – for actually Schleiermacher’s project was in essence to create a faith which He himself could accept, having as a young man rejected orthodox Christian beliefs. His ‘cultured despisers’ were in fact a projection of his own inner rejection of faith.

In regard to all this fleeing from weakness and embarrassment, the Apostle Paul is a stinging rebuke. His entire agenda with the church in Corinth seems to be heading towards the passage we read from earlier, where he says “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul’s consistent theme throughout the letters to Corinth is that humanly speaking he could boast in many many things – as many have noted for example, his letters often display a man of Exceptional intellect – here in our passage he alludes to the fact that he could allude to Spiritual experiences I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. Generally it is accepted that Paul is probably talking about himself, but he puts this into the third person – I am not going to boast about that – what will I boast about? So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, I will boast of that which the world in all its sophistication, and remember that cultured despisers of the gospel have Always been around – ‘I will boast of my weakness – so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ Unless you become like a little child . . .

Paul rejoices in the vulnerability of faith in Christ Crucified and refuses to know anything else except this disturbing image of a dead naked Jew, nailed to a Roman Cross as being the entire meaning of human Life and existence – so that Nothing gets in the way of his proclamation of Christ – as he says right at the beginning of his first letter to Corinth, trying to cajole them into fuller faith  Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: Remember who you were – not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But 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,  In the way Graham reduced to nothing the fear and histility of those Israeli soldiers. Remember your weakness – not many powerful, not many wise, not many of noble birth – by and large nothing, like the child, but CHOSEN. Why is Christian faith So counter cultural? Because we do not choose it – we are chosen – as we are, in foolishness and weakness, to reveal the life of Christ – for our faith is not about us – it is about Christ – he is the heart of our faith, and his life is its outworking – it is not about us – and Paul challenges us ‘Is Christ enough?’ – Or must we dress our faith up – seek to make it intellectually respectable – cover up the unmentionable parts, and in so doing obscure Christ, who comes to us in unmentionable childlike vulnerability.

But Simple faith and trust in him is actually not the easiest thing – it is not the refuge of the lazy or the thoughtless as some might make out – it requires us to be like children and That , for those of us who have spent years building our careful defences against vulnerability and weakness, is the hardest thing of all – because it leaves us as exposed as he was.

I don’t know if you noticed, but the gospel contains some very scary words – Jesus has returned to Nazareth and there he is confronted by the village community who look at him and say “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Just like Paul and the Corinthians, they had heard his reputation, but in the flesh?? This is just Mary and Joseph’s lad – who does he think he is – he has got above himself!! The people of Nazareth more than anyone knew the Human reality of Christ – perhaps apart from on the cross, he was never more vulnerable than before them – and then those Very Scary words “He could do no deed of Power because of their unbelief” Jesus, helpless. Jesus himself – the little child – Jesus, vulnerable – Jesus Himself – naked and unembarrassed – nothing in the eyes of those who knew him.

This is essence of lived faith and the meaning of the way of the Cross – that it is all about God, that no-one may boast – that Faith is Not a magic bullet – and that that is made clear as Jesus is with his own – He could do no deed of power. The way of weakness is not a formula for a successful life, but it is how the life of Christ is revealed amongst us. The Life of Christ For it is not about us – not about our lives – not about our achievements, not about our wisdom or strength – it is about Christ – and the power of Christ cannot rest in or on us – unless we let go of our own

Our faith really Is ‘All about God’ – we have no business trying to put anything in the way of his power, but in the face of human unbelief we understand the double side of what it means to be a child. We are invited to be like Graham – to a disarming vulnerability  and openness, but with no guarantee the world will lay down its weapons. Graham’s story could have worked out Very differently. ‘If anyone would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me’