Abandon distractions . . . Behold! OT8 Year A 2017

Abandon Distractions . . . Behold!

Sermon for next before Lent – OT8 Year A
Isaiah 49:9-16
Psalm 16
Matthew 6:24-35

The words of God through the Prophet Isaiah “Behold! I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”’

Behold! The everlasting God has carved you into the palms of his hands. Behold!

Of course that was not what we heard – we heard ‘See!’ There are times when one despairs of the committees which translate our scriptures out of Hebrew and Greek. The Command ‘Behold!’ occurs more than one thousand three hundred times throughout the Scriptures. Yet the NRSV has it just 27 times outside the New Testament and not at all in the New Testament. And this translation is the most widely used now in the Western Church . . . Perhaps it is no surprise that we have lost sight of God . . .

One thousand three hundred times, behold! Behold! Behold! The first word God directly addresses to the man and the woman in the Garden? Behold! God said, ‘See!’ NO ‘Behold!, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’

We are perhaps the first culture in the history of Mankind to have all but lost this facility. So people will say – ‘oh it is an old fashioned word for looking – so we will get rid of it’ Look! See! That will do.

Looking and Seeing as we shall discover in our Lent course are ways of blindness. They reduce the World to a set of objects for our use, for manipulating for putting to our own ends – because we do not ‘Behold!’ We perhaps do not even know how to begin and after all there is SO MUCH to SEE!!
We look this way and that – we lost the facility to Behold, rather we have advanced to the highest art form the facility to create a million and one things to look at. ‘Look here!’ Look there! Did you see?? we are held captive by a blizzard of images – and we can no longer Behold the Image of God. The author Matt Crawford – a motorcycle mechanic philosopher 🙂 – argues in his book ‘The World beyond your head’ for the right ‘not to be addressed’. He is writing about the fact that everywhere you look someone is trying to grab you attention – trying to get you to buy something. A local school is ‘Recognised by Apple as a distinguished school for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.’ Recognised by Apple . . . Does no one See? Are we blind to this?? Have you ever taken time to consider their logo . . .? We have created an existence in which we are surrounded by a million and one human artefacts – look! Look! Look!

Returning from retreat at Ngatiawa on Monday I took the bus to the airport. Disoriented by the sudden blizzard of visual stimuli having spent a week in the bush –  I glanced at the screen where our route was shown – only to see the name of a stop followed by ‘alight here for Burger King’.

And our distraction leaves us open and vulnerable to everything under the sun. We are an age like no other plagued by mental health issues and anxiety disorders. A young girl comes on retreat. She wants to know ‘what is the wifi code’ and is disturbed to find that there is no wifi available.’how will I keep in touch with what is happening in the world?’

In the time of Jesus – worries were sharp and upfront and pressing – what WILL we eat? what WILL we drink? What WILL we wear? And Jesus advice sounds at first like no more than a pragmatic answer. Who by worrying can add an hour to his life??

in the movie Bridge of spies – a Russian spy played by Mark Rylance, is caught in America. As his lawyer (Tom Hanks) explains his situation to him, of how he may well face the electric chair he seems unperturbed, so he asks ‘aren’t you worried’. Rylance putting more power into three words than most can in thirty three thousand replies ‘Would it help?’ But Jesus wants us not only to wake up to the futility of worry. He desires that we ‘Behold!’ And so in the fulfilment of those words first spoken in the Garden of Eden, he says ‘Behold! The birds of the air! they neither reap nor sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.’

The gentiles worry about these things – those who do not know that they are the children of God. Who do not Know God as their Father – who do not Behold his engraved palms and see themselves there. Those are the people who worry. Your Father in heaven knows you need all these things. So strive for his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you . . .

What does this mean? to strive for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness?? It is to desire God through all, above all and in all. it is nothing new – It is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and souls and mind and strength – it is to make every effort to enter in through the narrow Gate – to Love Him above and through and In all.

As St Augustine puts it – in the words of our collect – our hearts are restless – this is a matter of our desires – Look here! Look There! Did you See? Our hearts are restless until they find there rest in you.

Jesus has been teaching this all the way through the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth – where your treasure is – there will your heart be. If you set your heart on the things of this world they will fail you – they will rust and the moths will get them – or someone will hack your bank account – or or or a thousand and one worries . . . all because our hearts are not set on God. Where your treasure is there will be your heart . . . you will be devoted . . . you will gaze longingly on it . . . and the eye is the lamp of your body – so if your eye is set on things that will decay, then so will your heart – your Life, your existence. you cannot serve two masters – you will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other

For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, the church new this – they had a strong word for distraction – they called it ‘fornication’ – it was to have as it were those adulterous eyes that look for life anywhere but to the Life giver. Eyes set anywhere but on God – looking, Seeing, but not Beholding.

There is the lovely story of a man sat in a church  – same time each week he would turn up – finally the Vicar asked what he was doing sitting there. The man gave him a beatific smile – Oh, I just sit here smiling at God and he smiles back at me . .

The Psalmist speaks of this beholding – ‘For God alone my soul in silence waits – for my hope comes from him’

A brother came for a word from the Elder. Father, give me a Word/ Love the Lord your God with al your heart and soul and mind and strength’, The brother went form his teacher. Ten years later he returned, ‘Father, I have learned that word. Give me another Word. the Elder replied ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ The young man went out from him never to return. Such I suggest is the deep work which beholding God in Silence does. This Lent, if we have begun this work, let us continue. If we have put it down, let us pick it up again. If we have not yet picked it up, do so. for truly ‘Behold! He has engraved us in the palm of his hand’ This is not one fact amongst many – it is THE Fact – It is Life – it s The living God – it is We who are found there in His hand. It is there that our True Life is to be known


Of cell phones and sins of Ignorance


Matthew 5:21-37

1 Cor 3:1-9


Father forgive them, for they know not what they do


When I was leaving the Vicar factory – I had to meet up with the man who was to be my training Vicar to consider my curacy. Whilst I was in his kitchen his teenage daughter strode in and said ‘Absolutely Ridiculous!! At youth group tonight, they said ‘being angry with someone is like murdering them.’ This was my first encounter with Naomi – and you might say it was her first encounter with the words of Jesus. . .


Jesus is the one who calls Lazarus from the grave – out of the darkness and into the blinding light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And like those mornings when someone bright and full of good cheer strides into the bedroom and flings open the curtains to let the Sun in, we want to get back under the covers and hide. The words of Jesus are like that freezing cold shower that reminds us we really do have a body – a wake up to reality call . . . and how we need it – perhaps moreso than any generation, we have surrounded ourselves with layers of unreality, almost entirely cut off from the Truth about the World and our existence. We are Unaware . . .


Technology is of course one of those ways in which we have become unaware. We place something between ourselves and the world around us – the more complex the technology, the wider the gulf between our lives and the Reality we inhabit.  Just a couple of weeks ago there was a fascinating story about the English Rugby team and a problem with technology.

They employ a coach for nearly everything so it seems and their ‘Vision and Sight coach’, a South African woman – had a bucket of cold water for them – ‘you need to get off your smart phones – your ball handling skills and Awareness of where other players have eroded in the last five years as you have started to use them all the time’ The water was even colder for England than for most rugby teams because they are sponsored by the UKs largest Telecommunications provider . . .


Smart phones have two effects – they get us even further out of our bodies, so we get less used to using them, our eyes barely move at all when using them – as if we weren’t disabled enough already – and they lessen our awareness of what is happening around us. We see this all the time – people not noticing their surroundings as the screen captures their consciousness.

And what is more these affects are cumulative and may possibly be irreversible. We are losing our awareness of our surroundings, and for we Moderns that only compounds our disconnection from our existence. We grow nothing we eat, we make nothing we use, we largely live in urban environments, totally man made, live surrounded by human artefacts – and within these environs we live in what historically speaking is total isolation from one another. Cocooned in the convenience and comfort of our illusory existence, when reality does break in, we are ill equipped to deal with it.


So my Vicar’s daughter was being thoroughly modern as Jesus through his Word crashed into her life. ‘If you are angry with your brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement – indeed the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is the most profound assault on our sense, the Full Light of Day, when we thought we were awake, we realise that we must have been asleep. Blessed are the Who? The Meek shall inherit the Earth???!!! Blessed are those who mourn????


And so it goes on. I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire . . . Wake up!! Says Jesus


And it is such a shattering awakening that, with the disciples when the rich man turns away from Jesus, we are left asking ‘Whom then can be saved?’


Over the last few months from time to time we’ve been pondering the reality of the Eucharist – this Act of Worship – that one might say is like a river of Fire flowing from Heaven to Earth, transforming, purging, transfiguring our Existence. Do we begin to See?? Do we begin to Know what it is we share in Sunday by Sunday?


Jesus wakes us up to the Reality of fractured lives – and then urges us to live in the light of it – if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So [in the light of reality] when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.


There is an urgency to Jesus’ counsel. Come to terms and Quickly . . . This stuff is Life and Death – don’t treat it lightly. ‘You are caught up in something which you barely perceive yet which has eternal consequence . . .’


Sometimes as Anglicans I wonder if we are as poorly equipped to handle this Reality as any other Christians. We have this treasure of the Eucharist which is central to our worship – but there is something deep in our Anglican DNA which is about coming to be here to ‘do our own private business with God’ Many of us baulked when the Peace was introduced into our Worship – but if we do not come reconciled one to another, as far as that lies with us, how can we approach the table?


It is not that the Eucharist is a symbol of our life together – that the REAL thing is the meals we share etc. etc. Rather the other way round that the life we do or do not share together is a sign pointing to the reality or otherwise to us of the Eucharist. How can we approach the table?? For there is but One Bread and One cup – so we must come ‘as one body’ (And of course this was at the heart of Paul’s concerns with the Corinthian Church which explicitly was divided – one following Paul, another Apollos etc.)


But this is why we have our liturgy – In part we might answer this question ‘how CAN we approach the table?? How Can we be saved??’ with regard to our confession – those ‘sins of ignorance’ .


Our lack of awareness means that we commit many many sins of ignorance . . . as I have said before we have little or no sense of the impact of our lives upon others. Spider photo 🙂


Some months ago I was brought to my knees by the realisation that as a Modern Western person, I had used my fair share of the world’s resources by the time I was 20 . . . and now I am well on my way to my third time through.


We HAVE sinned in ignorance . . . like God’s ancient people, the Jews we make provision for this in our liturgy – they through the sacrificial system, as Job the most righteous man who ever lived made sacrifice for the possible sins his children had committed – so we ask for mercy and forgiveness for those sins which through our blindness we have committed


I turned 55 this week and I think that puts me in that most widely despised category, an old white man – and as such I am responsible for the sins of the whole world. Yet I should not complain – from of old we have been told that in some sense we are all responsible. Jesus does not take just some sin upon himself but that of the whole world, and takes it to the cross. If we are to be found in Christ, where shall we stand so that we might say ‘well at least I am not guilty in this or that respect? Stand apart – in judgement of others. As Jesus parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee humorously helps us to see – ‘Well at least I’m not like that Pharisee!!’ To stand apart in the muck and the mess of human existence is to find ourselves separated from Jesus who was the Meek and the mourning and the lowly and the humble – who emptied himself.


‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.’


When we wake up to this reality we realise that in human terms our case is hopeless. And we have one of two options  we either give in to despair – and much of contemporary culture it seems has given in in different ways to such nihilistic despair — or, in faith, we cry out Lord have mercy. In Faith


We cry out Lord have mercy in faith – for we realise our fragility, but more we realise that we cry out to the one who from the Cross cries out – Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do


The freshness of the Cold Water – shocking to our bodies is the Reviving of our hearts and souls, it is The Water of Life. The Brightness of the Son, searing our eyes, conveys the Deepest Warmth, the Passionate Love of God for his children, the objects of his Sheer mercy