Sermon for Christ the King – 2015 – Year B

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

‘Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and her redeemer, the Almighty
I am the first ad the last, beside me there is no god’
Isaiah Chapter 44 vs 6

Just this last week I resigned from x x x xx . Not because I have too much on my plate – but out of a certain frustration  x x x xx . But as I have reflected on the theme for this week, the Kingdom of God, made present to us in Jesus Christ – I have come to the realisation that my frustration came from a most unhealthy place, one I suggest which is familiar to all.

x x xx xGet the right people x x x x x and, with what is close to a majority, well surely we could do anything . . . and that my brothers and sisters is a highly dangerous temptation. That of the desire for that which belongs to God alone, Sovereignty – being in charge . . .

I remember my first ever ‘Vestry’ meeting. ‘The new Vicar’ – and round the table those elected by the parish to ‘get things done’ – and I will never forget the words of one of the people there during a conversation on ‘what needed to happen’. I can’t for the life of me remember what the point was, but she said, ‘Well, if I were the King of the jungle . . .’  Sadly I lacked the wit to retort, ‘Queen of the jungle, surely . . . ‘ which might have lightened the mood somewhat, but we had barely met and it was my first Vestry meeting. That desire to enforce our own will – to get things done – to put the world to rights – is so very very deep rooted – ‘If I were King or Queen of the Jungle . . .’, ‘If I ruled the world . . .’, ‘If I were like God . . . the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ You’ll know how to fix everything . . . very, very deep rooted temptation . . . to be God . . .

At a personal level we like to think we are right and thus more or less subtly seek to ‘do it my way’ . And of course the more money we have the easier it is at least to establish our own personal fiefdom, where things are as we would wish. As we move from the personal to the public, when it becomes about an organisation, a church, a country, or indeed the world to which we belong, we begin to seek out The Leader. The one on whom we’ll dump all our hopes and fears – the one who best reflects our own prejudices – in ages past, and in many places today – a King . . .

And so dominant is this narrative in our lives, personal, public at work, and civic in wider society, so dominant is that deep rooted story, that when we hear Jesus announce The Kingdom of God – we tend unconsciously to imagine that the ‘god’ of our imaginings is ‘the King of the Jungle’, or to use an unhelpful phrase; ‘in charge’, and if he is ‘in charge’ then frankly, to our eyes, he doesn’t seem to be doing much to fix things . . . [the unexamined presupposition over the question of God and suffering], because, “believe you me, if I was the King of the Jungle . . .” and as events in Paris this past week have revealed, it Is a Jungle . . . all we see is our own ultimate helplessness reflected back to ourselves, because we have determined what a King is and should be about . . . and thus the rush to abandon any idea of the Kingdom of God as the Reign of God in a meaningful sense, and the thought that in 7.3 billion and mutually contradictory ways ‘we’ll put it to rights’ . . . in the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that, but we are SO sure that we CAN enforce our will on the world and if ‘God’ won’t then we will . . .

And in all of this we Christians ignore OUR strange story. A people, who didn’t have a king, but were desperate for a King, because after all that’s how the World works. So because THIS people wouldn’t give up on the idea, God gave them what they wanted . . . so they had one King after another who tried to fix it, who tried in their own way to put it right, the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that  . . . eventually leading people into exile – and then endless foreign occupation and we come to the end of the road . . . and we look at this bedraggled remnant, a few Galilean fishermen, a tax collector, a nationalist zealot . . . and at their head a dusty, hungry, battered and bruised rabbi – looking as if he’s had nowhere much to lay his head . . . and we see Him stood before Pilate the representative of the Global superpower, with all its armies, the World Order, then as now . . . we see Jesus, the one who says ‘My Kingdom is not from this world . . .’ When Jesus says this, we must understand – he is not saying, my kingdom is ‘spiritual’ ethereal, otherworldly – Rather ‘My Kingdom is not like any Kingdom you know . . .
Jesus says ‘If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews, [using the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that] But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ ‘My Kingdom . . .’  The Kingdom of God, My Kingdom . . .

Jesus says ‘He has a Kingdom . . .’ as he announces the Kingdom of God, somehow it is His – He is the King of it. When Jesus says ‘The Kingdom of God is amongst you . . .’ he is not declaring some spiritual truth about the nature of reality which he is pointing us to beyond himself, he is pointing us to Himself. I am here, in your midst, ‘My Kingdom . . .’ is at hand . . . this is it – this is God’s answer – Jesus of Nazareth. The real world flesh and blood answer to human history, God’s King, in the flesh . . .

We live in a world in which words are routinely emptied of any meaning – and the phrase ‘The Kingdom of God’ is similarly prey to such evacuation. It gets attached as a religious label of convenience to any and every human project for ‘betterment’, for ‘putting the world to rights’, a ‘spiritual message of human well being . . .’ ‘It’s, you know, spiritual, it’s ‘out there somewhere’ if only you look . . . you know, the Truth – that which science is opening up to us, so we’ll see – it’s out there somewhere, the truth, the truth that will set you free . . . but The Truth is that which in truth we avoid . . .

ISIL claims that it was behind the terror attacks in Paris . . . and in the blink of an eye ‘France’ declares war on ISIL and goes to bomb the hell out of them, because of course ‘that will solve it . . .’ wouldn’t it be helpful if just once in a while, a Prime Minister or a President, or a King would come on TV and tell the truth? ‘I’m really sorry folks, I have no idea how we can sort out this horrific mess . . .’ but of course that would bring the whole edifice, the whole human project crashing to the ground – in five minutes they’d be out of office and replaced by someone ‘with a plan!’. Then as now, the truth is to be avoided.

Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ ‘What is Truth?? St Jerome who first translated the scriptures into Latin plays a lovely word game with this, translating ‘what is Truth’ ‘Quid est veritas?’, which is an anagram of ‘Est vir qui adept’—‘It is The man who stands before you’ [HT to Ian Paul for this insight]

And so this hapless and to our gaze hopeless wandering rabbi – who declares he has a Kingdom – stands before Pilate and declares  ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’ I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. I am the Good Shepherd – that ancient type of the King of God’s people, God himself come to be the Shepherd – My sheep hear my voice – they will not follow after another . . . I will lead them beside still waters . . . take my Yoke upon you and learn from me – the Yoke, the symbol of Kingly rule, the people under the yoke – learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart . . . Where is the Reign and Rule of God we might ask – where is this Kingdom of God? It is crucified – the world’s answer to Truth, the world’s answer to Love – but it is not overcome. Light cannot be. And God raises Jesus from the dead and sits him at his right hand . . . the place of authority of Kingly Rule – and here and there, people take him for their King, The King, The Truth, and here and there small communities form who take their authority, not from any ‘worldly ruler’, but from Jesus. And where his rule is acknowledged, there as in Galilee all those years ago – The Kingdom of God is born witness to. For this community which embodies the Rule of Jesus is his body, is the manifestation of the Rule of God in the World, in and through Jesus Christ.

The Kingdom of God takes fleshly expression – In the body of the Crucified One – and now in His body, that is, His people. A people saved by God from the consequences of their sins, to proclaim his mighty acts, revealed in Gentleness and Grace and Peace made known amongst us. The Kingdom of God is not an abstract unreal message about a world perfected by our efforts – an empty metaphor which we fill with our ultimately violent ideologies and agendas. The Kingdom of God only has reality in flesh – in the flesh of Jesus who only does what he sees the Father doing even to death upon a cross – and in the fleshly body of those who belong to the Truth who hear his voice and do not listen to another. We do not ‘build the kingdom of God’ – that phrase should be struck from our lips –
rather that we Hear His voice and obey his just and gentle rule – forgiving one another from our hearts – laying down our lives for one another – sharing all we have with one another – acting as that which we are The Body of Christ, the physical embodiment of the reign of God in Jesus, who is gentle and humble of heart.

“But will it make a difference to the world in which we live??’ you may ask. Frankly, that isn’t our problem. Our problem is living in obedience to Jesus – that is work enough. As someone once said, ‘it isn’t that Christian faith has been tried and found wanting, it has been found too difficult and so not tried’ Put another way, being the Church, Being the people of GOd requires all our energy, our imagination, our wealth, our lives. Directing our Life together with the One who comes into the World – that is our work. And we have the promise of Jesus, that in response to our obedience, the world might see and give glory to God. That is what it means to be the Church – a kingdom of priests, serving our God – to whom be glory for ever. Amen

Hear the prayer of Jesus for his Church :-
[Father] I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ Amen

Sermon for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Sermon for Sunday November 8th, 2015
32nd in Ordinary Time – Year B

From Temple to Church – Discerning the Body
(Or ‘We’re all in this together . . .’ or are we??)


Resource sharing
Tikanga Maori – Tikanga Pakeha – Treaty of Waitangi
[Pasifika???? Anybody????]
Scratching their heads
that’s not the problem –

Down a level – the Dioceses . . .
Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland . . .
Not sharing – well if the Dioceses aren’t sharing . . .

that’s not the problem

Down a level – Parishes within a Diocese
Not sharing – hanging on to their pots . . .
Not sharing – well if the parishes aren’t sharing . . .

that’s not the problem

Down a level . . .

A question I ask when I consider my recommendation for ordination is
Is this person known in their parish for opening their home
for it being a place where the church meets and eats together??

If not, then they do not discern the One Body of Christ so how can they presume to discern that body in the Eucharist – there is no way they should be stood behind the table of the LORD – they haven’t even begun the journey of this Sharing Life in Christ

Christianity 101 – sharing – not counting anything our own
If we do not share all we have with one another
Then we nullify the table of the LORD

Jesus comes to the Temple
He sees the wealthy – those totally secure in their existence
He sees the widow – barely surviving
He sees that the people of God are not sharing the Life He offers which the Temple signifies

The Temple – rather than the dwelling place of the Living God has become a human religious enterprise
Everyone told to do their bit ‘to keep it going’ – and the poor as always giving the most

And Jesus sees . . .
He sees rich people who don’t see the widow in their midst – who don’t discern the body
They’re not feeding her and sharing in Life with her

TM and TPk don’t see TP
AKL and WGT and CHC don’t see Waiapu
Parishes don’t see the their brothers and sisters
but the problem is in the root of it
The people of God are blind – they don’t see the widow

So they are deaf – they do not hear the command of the LORD – there shall be no poor amongst you . . . In the Christendom church it has become the norm –  The Eucharist is ‘the time when the Kingdom of God is revealed for the Rich and the poor – even the homeless are gathered together at the table of the LORD.’
NO!!!! That is the table of demons – why do the rich not welcome the poor to share in their homes and their lives??

And they are lame – not walking in the light of the LORD – and wondering why no one is following them

They are spiritually DEAD – playing religious games . . .
Devouring the houses of widows – money is a zero sum game – all riches come from the poor – enjoying the acclaim of others in fine clothes –
not sharing their goods with one another
They are denying their identity as the One people of God

For the people of God have ONE Life
not a religious life and another one
not a Temple life and another
Not a church life and another
Life Together – sharing all we have with one another

One Life – the Life of the Triune God
A Life given to the Body and Shared
Jesus sees
They are playing religious games
Their religion is a sham
Their teachers of the law like the acclaim
We might say
They preside at the Table of the LORD but Their table is not open to others
Their home is their castle
Their condemnation is deserved

I once heard a story which I believe to be true
He lived in a small house, with only basic furniture
and little more than the clothes he stood up in
A man was CEO of a large utility in the UK
And a follower of Jesus
He shared what he had with the poor
He had heard the gospel of Jesus
He was that what we might call unique being, a rich man who heard the gospel and followed Jesus

Just One Man

One Body

Jesus Sees the religious games

And next week we shall hear his response – remember when you hear the story of the destruction of the Temple – it is the End for Religious game playing – and it was under God’s Curse. It is the end for Church where people refuse to live in the abundance of God sharing with one another

Jesus says – Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it
Jesus destroys religious games
And that judgement is being worked out amongst the Anglican churches in ANZ

For if we do not share all we have – we have no gospel – for the Gospel is the Life of Jesus amongst His people – the Kingdom is amongst you

Not to have all things in common is to deny the Gospel
It is to deny Christ

When we pray the LORD’s prayer – we are bold enough to say – Forgive us as we have forgiven. ‘We have forgiven others – get in on the Act, G_d!’

So too, we can only receive the Life of Christ shared with us in the Eucharist – the Life God desires beyond anything to share with us – if we are sharing all WE have with others
We come to the table saying ‘We have shared your Life amongst us – Share your life with us . . .’
Otherwise it really is just bread and wine – it is a sham

The age of going to church is over
God in his merciful judgement is bringing the Temples down
The age of being the church is ever new
The Gift of Eternal Life

God gave his very Life for us
If we are his children we will share all we have with others
Then the Table of the LORD becomes a place of blessing and healing

The Door is open
All that stands between us and life is our hearts

Sermon for All Saints

Sermon for All Saints

Matthew 5:1-12

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down,
his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them”

Many years ago now, Sarah and I hosted a home group for our small church in Bradford. It was a very down to earth group with good honest down to earth members. There was Elsie – a former mill worker and clippie on the trams. She’d been ‘Born again’ in her late seventies, and glowed with the presence of Jesus – there was Sue and her husband John, who devoted their life to fostering children, and becoming so attached to them that they ended up adopting them. Sue always listened to the story of the Rich young man and said, ‘Jesus can have what he asks for, but I dread him asking me to give up my dishwasher . . .’ 🙂 John and his wife shirley. John had gone to Nicaragua on a mission trip and been so broken by what he’d seen that he never recovered. Then there was Cath. Cath who could recite the names of all the books of the bible without batting an eyelid, whose knowledge of scripture was unmatched, and had a deep gentleness of Spirit.

One year, the Vicar asked me to write some study material on Discipleship. I remember clearly the first night when I introduced the topic to the group, and Cath saying. ‘Ooohh. I’m not at All Sure . . . We’re not all called to be disciples you know . . .’ 🙂

I didn’t see the parallel at the time, but I was teaching at a Roman Catholic high school where, despite the best efforts of the RE teachers, there was a similar attitude towards ‘The Saints’ amongst the working class Irish Catholic population from whose numbers most of our students were drawn. The idea which despite all endeavours it was hard to eradicate, the idea that there was some kind of ‘spiritual elite’. That there were ‘ordinary Christians’, and then there were disciples, that there were ordinary Catholics, and then there were ‘Saints’.

For Cath, ‘Disciples’ were ‘up there’ – on a pedestal – although, looking back I wonder if she, or indeed any of us could have identified one we actually Knew . . . rather like the Saints, these were people of history and myth, many of whom in the school where I taught were literally on a pedestal, or a picture on the wall with a candle beneath.
And of course, given the prevailing understanding of heaven, the Saints were quite literally ‘up there’ . . . The Elite . . . but more than that, the myth of The Elite, produced an understanding of the Christian Life which was as it were two tier. Not only was there Heaven up there, there was Earth down here . . . of course we didn’t like to think about down there . . .  and this sort of spiritual cosmology was replicated in a sort of Spiritual Geography, a hierarchy. Ordinary Christians, and the Elite Christians, the Saints, or for my sister Cath, a lady of Strongly Protestant inclinations, ‘Disciples’ . . .

And Jesus – demolishes this idea . .  he doesn’t so much not turn on its head any ideas we have of an Elite. He calls his people to something far more challenging, something as it were out of this World.  Which brings us to The Beatitudes . . .’ So wired together into our human psyche ares the idea of an Elite and Progress – as those who have Grown Upwards ‘Onwards and Upwards’ we say [Evolutionary thinking is the way our culture names this myth]. So hard wired is it that the Beatitudes come as a terrible shock.

Blessed are the Who??? The words of Jesus are SO hard to swallow, that I know of at least one American writer who twisted himself in knots to say that Jesus – despite the text being clear, wasn’t teaching his disciples at all. How hard is it for one soaked in say American culture, which is of course the one we’re all trained to buy into, how hard is it for one so trained – to hear the Gospel announcement of the Blessed?? The poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted . . . This writer choked on this passage declared that Jesus MUST have been looking beyond the disciples, and declaring, ‘Hey! The Kingdom is for the losers as well . . .’ . . .  which is a problem as not all of Jesus words about the blessed can easily be translated as blessed are the losers . . . Blessed are the Pure in heart . . . Blessed are the peacemakers . . . BUT given that Growth MUST be upwards!!!! Then somehow we have to find a way to deny the words of Jesus . . . Certainly Jesus’ words addressed to his disciples, demolish all our ideas of Elite.

Certainly as far as the world understands it, the poor, the mourners, the meek, the persecuted are not those ‘who have made it’, but Jesus says, those who have made it are the poor, meek, mourners – those persecuted for righteousness sake . . . but surely we might argue, isn’t Jesus setting up a different idea of Elite??? Isn’t he purely reversing the direction and those who ‘make it’ make the best fist of ‘downward mobility’?? after all, didn’t he say ‘The first shall be last and the last first – whoever would be chief amongst you must become the servant of all – whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel shall find it . . . Isn’t it still all about some form of achievement by downwards progress??? After all, aren’t the Saints pictures to us of deepest humility, as opposed to Pride, or Poverty as opposed to Riches?? As if these things were to be understood on a continuum and all we have to do to understand Jesus is to tip things upside down??

Our difficulty I think comes from a misunderstanding of ‘Saint’. It’s a misunderstanding that we’ve been happy to live with – pertly because it fits our understanding of the world as we know it – a simple parallel between Worldly success, and Spiritual success, even if in opposite directions. But we may also be happy to accept this simple story of reversal,  because the actual meaning of Saint is far more shocking than any simple reversal of values which we might try to live out.
Christians, are not people with as it were a set of values which are simply ‘downward’ instead of ‘upward’ mobility – rather they are a people with a completely different form of existence, a New Life. Not an improvement on the old – not the old life with the bad bits taken out – not the old life tipped on its head, but a New Life.

‘Saint’ comes from the word for ‘Holy’ . . . well so far, so not useful – there we go again, another elite word. Holy we generally take to mean in terms of ‘at the top of the virtue scale’ As it were the opposite end of the spectrum from ‘Evil’. As if everything were some from of sophisticated moral gradation. Not just Good people and Bad people, we know that that is too simplistic . . . but Evil people through bad, through naughty, through rough diamonds, through good, right up . . . (there we go again with the up down language) Right up to Saints, the ‘holy’. But That is the meaning that we have given to ‘Holy’ – it is not the meaning that the Scriptures give.
‘Holy’ means ‘Set apart’. The things associated with the worship of God were Holy, but that was as it were a signifier, that The people of God were as set apart as the Holy Things. The people of God from the call of Abraham, a landless wanderer, through the calling of Israel, a people called to a land, to the disciples – were to be a people – are to be a people – set apart for the Glory of God. So set apart that they were not to be like the surrounding nations with their Kings – for God was to be their Shepherd King. A people with a land, but not like any other, that God might be glorified in and through them. And so The King comes and calls his people to separate themselves and gather round Him.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down,
his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them

Jesus sees the crowd, he sees Everyone, but those whom he has called to be with Him, his disciples, come out of the crowd – they come to Him, stood before Him and separated from the Crowd – they are set apart – and he teaches Them. He teaches them about the nature of their existence, their New life in and with Him. A life which in its Otherness, would be Light to the World, which is dark. Jesus tells them, your life as the poor in spirit, mourning, meek, persecuted, pure in heart, peacemaking, your Life Is Salt of the Earth, Light to the World. A Life which is radically for the World, but not of the World. A life in which their identity is completely bound up with Him. Set Apart – Holy – Saints.

To be Baptised is to become part of a people, the body of Christ set apart entirely for the purposes of God and the Glory of God. To be a disciple, to be a Saint. Not Better than the World, not to be a brighter light in the world, but to be different, to be The Light of the World. Not each in his various callings, you in your small corner, and I in mine, but Together as the community of the Saints, those called apart for the Glory of God and for the sake of the World.

Christendom, as we have been recalling, subverted that. There were those whom everyone said were ‘called into the Church’ – I must admit that I choked upon my ordination at a card from a colleague of a Catholic persuasion ‘upon the occasion of your ordination into the Church of Christ’. Denying that we are a Kingdom of Priests, together.     Then there were for my sister Cath, those special ones, the ‘disciples’, denying that there is only one form of Christian existence, which is to be with Jesus and taught by Jesus, to be a disciple, and of course The Saints . . .

And so St Paul as he writes to the churches of Asia minor and further afield writes ‘To the Saints who are in Ephesus’ or ‘To those called to be Saints . . .’ Those called to be with  Jesus, Together . . .

The call into Christian existence is not a call to huge moral effort – it is far far more challenging than that – to hear the call of Jesus is to belong to a people set apart for the Glory of God in the world. There is an old name for that people, an old name but a truthful one, The Communion of Saints. We are all called to be Saints