Sermon for Second Sunday after Epiphany – Year B (2015)
1 Sam 3:1-10
1 Cor 6:11-20
‘Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said
“Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!”
And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel’
[which means ‘House of God’]
The TIME of heaven and earth woven together
Well, we’re just back from our family holidays – and I’m glad to say, well rested and refreshed. Which is a good thing, for our culture has a prohibition against too many holidays 🙂 Partly of course because, as a secular culture it does not know what to do with the Holy, and thus has little time for Holy Days, which is of course where the word comes from, but we have forgotten.
In the middle ages, those times which so fuelled the imagination of our great literary heroes, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein, it is estimated that the hardest working person worked for no more than half the year, for the calendar was interspersed with many many Holy Days – days for rejoicing and feasting – and whilst in the more Catholic inclined cultures, there are still relics of this – I vividly remember a family holiday when Paris ground to a halt on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary – by and large the grim culture of Protestantism has won out and our Salvation is no longer Gift but something to be worked for, despite the fact that it is the Protestants who ‘told us’ that Salvation was by faith alone – and so work displaces holidays, for Protestants of course have little time for the Holy, it being useless . . . Catholics may have been criticised for living as if one was saved by works, but their lives betrayed the sense that they knew they were saved by Grace and our culture which is profoundly shaped by the Protestantism of Northern Europe and now of course the United States is profoundly one of what Josef Pieper calls ‘total work’ – we rest in order to work, we go to school to learn how to work. Our culture is historically the most work obsessed of all in human history, and of course the most secular, apart from the Chinese, and they are similarly obsessed with work. Different ideologies but the same secularity. Work makes you Free is the motto of our age
So holidays are no longer holy days, and they must be limited or of course the world which we tell ourselves is sustained through Grace by the Word of Christ, will obviously stop. There is some talk of Life as Gift and Grace, but our lives reveal what we really believe. And not only are they not holy, there are few of them. The great genius of the Medieval synthesis, the product of 1000 years of Christian Imagination was this weaving together of the Sacramental tapestry. The weaving together of Heaven and Earth – So time was woven through with Holydays – and also Space was understood to be woven together
The SPACE of heaven and earth woven together
As we look around us at all the manufactured articles which fill our houses to overflowing, and will one day fill a hole in the ground, our medieval forebears would look on with horror. ‘Where did all this metal come from? And all this plastic? What have you done to the Good Earth in order to take these things for yourselves?’ In early to mid medieval Europe at least, the earth was not to be tilled with iron, for it was to do Violence to the Creation. The idea that the mining of ‘resources’ which is central to our lives in this age, is a violent abuse of the Created order never passes our minds – yet one need only to take a moment to look at the poisoned lakes of China, the leveled mountains of The United States, the tar fields of Alberta, the hollowing of Western Australia and, yes the state of our own rivers – to know that this is profoundly true, perhaps these poor benighted medieval folk saw more clearly than we do.
The earth was sacred, in the sense that all of Creation was participating through Grace in the Life of its Creator – Christ, the one in whom all things hold together, all things. All of Creation was Created to rejoice in the Life of its Creator. For when Jesus takes on our flesh – it is not merely about God rescuing human beings from their plight – it is about the Whole Created order. The Holy Spirit inhabits the material to Save it – all of it!
And the loss of this is seen even more clearly in the huge change in our attitudes to one another. One of the strange things about that medieval culture, which was so shot through with A Christian Imagination of existence – was how it shaped human relating so profoundly. As someone I was reading this week suggested, the loss of that view, and particularly the shift from Catholic to Protestant understanding of faith was that we completely changed our attitudes to the poor.
LIVES woven together
One of the effects of the Reformation was to disenchant the world, to not acknowledge our everyday lives as the place of Salvation. If as the reformers taught, salvation was ‘by faith alone’, then of course the Catholic churches tiresome emphasis on Corporal acts of mercy, Caring for the sick, sharing your bread with the hungry and the like were no longer necessary. A misunderstanding of Salvation Life opened the door to secularism, with private piety – or the world which we know. Faith as a private matter – you and your soul before God – it had no dimension of works. ‘Everyday life’ was set free from ‘burdensome obligations to the neighbour, and thus also to God. One only had to think right – and then go to work and make your profits.
But this Salvation is a Life, not an idea, not a worldview, not even a theology. Salvation is a Life . When John the Baptist asks of Jesus – ‘Are you the One, or should we look for another? – Jesus Response is ‘tell him what you see – The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’ Jesus didn’t preach a message to John, he opinted to Life breaking out around Him. Where Christ is Present these things are happening and the world is Changed. Where Salvation Life is – these things are evident. By their fruit shall you know them . . . And medieval Catholic Europe, for all its failings knew this. The poor were not looked down on as objects of pity or disdain, rather they were in some regards looked up to, for did not Jesus say ‘Blessed are you poor!’. Some, indeed many embraced voluntary poverty – living by Grace through faith in the most concrete way, and the Rich – well the rich fed them. ‘I am my brothers keeper’ was a motto writ large on the medieval consciousness, for indeed most knew that if the let the poor go hungry, they would suffer the consequences of Hell, for to turn your back on your brother was to turn your back on the Life that flowed through all of Creation in -and as we all know, Medieval Hell was a far more graphic reality then than now. As was Heaven . . . now largely they have faded from our imagination. The Word of the Lord is Rare in these days.
Salvation far from being something in which we all participated – in which we all shared – became a thing of piety – with the emphasis on the internal. Our lives fundamentally no different from those around us. Just as busy, just as rushing around, just as convinced that everything depends on us. We no longer understand our lives as participating in Creation, in the lives of one another – and fundamentally we have lost sight of the greatest Truth of all – that in Christ we are invited to become participants in the very life of God.
As everyone is aware, I’ve been going barefoot around the church these past weeks. As with many practices, it teaches you things 🙂 It started because I was woken up to something I had lost sight of – like the old priest Eli who was continually woken by Samuel, I’d forgotten that God speaks, sometimes in words that we can hear. Like Samuel, who was woken from sleep, Like Jacob who also had been dreaming, God brought me to my senses. I had lost sight of the holiness of this place. So I guess it is in part an act of repentance on my place for that loss of sense of the holiness of the place, must extend to my loss of sense of the holiness of those whom I serve, and do not shake your heads in disagreement, ‘Do you not know, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit of the Living God??’ But more than that – waking up to the Holy in this place also alerted me to how out of touch with God’s good creation I’d become. Rushing from place to place – not seeing – tied up with the importance of my life. Do you know that there is the most spectacularly beautiful clover leaf outside in the grass??
Creation is so dense with beauty that it really slows you down if we but attend. You cannot live a frenetic life in the world if you attend to it as it is – we cannot be The Church and continue to live such lives – for so many Church has become little more than a pause in a busy week – we are called to the most extraordinary participation – We are Called to know our place in Holy Time, to know our place in Sacred Space, to know what it is so to participate in Life that we know amongst ourselves the truth of loving one another ‘as we love ourselves’, . . . And why??
In Christ Everything is Woven together
Eli had forgotten that God Speaks, as the church seems to have done – Nazareth had so forgotten her vocation that the idea that Goodness might come from her that Nathaniel scoffed at the one of whom the prophets had spoken of might come from there. The idea that the Life of Christ might flow from the Church is laughable in our culture – but it is the Truth. Because in Jesus Christ, God has joined heaven and earth. Jesus said to Nathaniel “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Our Vocation is the deepest participation in Time and Space, in the lives of one another, and above all and in all and through all in the very life of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ Heaven and Earth are woven together. In Him is the fullness of Life. In Christ, the vision of Jacob comes true – Surely God is in this place. May it be said once more amongst us.