Sermon for Secind Sunday after Easter – ‘Meals beyond words . . .’ Year A 2017

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24:13-35


‘Meals beyond words . . .’


Just a couple of weeks ago, we had guests for lunch who commented how unusual it was to sit down as family and share food together. In a world where there is much that is disturbing, perhaps there are few things as troubling as this apparently innocuous observation. For Eating Together is fundamental to our entire existence. Without Food, AND the presence of other human beings, we have no Life. Yet we have lost sight of both.
All too often nowadays we eat as if we were machines needing refuelling, as if in a pitstop – Alone. There is no sense of this being Life to us – indeed the language of refuelling is common attributed to what we used to call eating – indicating how we no longer understand it, or indeed ourselves as much more than biological machines, or dead things. There are very few things as deeply significant as a shared meal, or as troubling as their absence.

When someone comes to tell me they have a problem with someone else, sometimes I am led to ask ‘Have you sat down together to eat?’ The answer is rarely if ever ‘yes’. If our guest was correct then indeed it is true that families increasingly rarely sit to eat together. Of course, the width of your definition of family is indicated by the size of your table – to eat together is to be whanau, it is a Truth that the more we sit down together to eat, the greater is our Life – it is to acknowledge something which goes deeper than words – something powerful and intimate. If you wish as all children of God do, to make your enemies your friends, invite them to dinner – share Life with them, as Christ shares his very life with you.

That deep note of Intimacy is one of the things which comes to me through the text of this beautiful Easter story – it is the account of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus in Luke and in my mind is readily associated with Candle light, something which adds depth and atmosphere to any meal – candlelight  ‘for the day is far spent and the night is at hand’. Traditionally it was always the reading at Evening prayer on Easter Day – and it ‘Presence’ [sic] to us a profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus, not in the full light of day, but in the restrained light of evening in which shadows lend depth and a sense that mere sight is only part of the story.

It is a familiar tale – two of the disciples walking away from Jerusalem – a sense of tragic anticlimax – their eyes downcast as they talk between themselves of all that had happened, and then in their talking about Him, as Luke puts it ‘Jesus . . . came near and went with them’ a sense of appearing within their conversation, and their eyes were kept from Knowing him, for their minds are on their words, and they do not Know Him . . . ‘The Stranger’ gently interrogates them ‘What are you talking about as you’re walking along? Why so sad?’

Of course, to pick up on something we explored last week, they are ‘talking about’ Jesus. As I said we need to get away from all our talking about and learning about Jesus, as if we stood apart – as the disciples are stood, not recognising him . . .

So they recount the tale – assuming ‘The Stranger’ is an Outsider to it all – except of course at this point it is they who are the strangers to the Presence of Jesus . . . Their darkness of mind not yet illuminated by coming into the House

And they speak of their disillusionment – of how they ‘had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ . . . It is odd how we think of disillusionment as a negative thing, how we see it in a poor light – for surely as someone once said to me, ‘you can only become disillusioned if you are suffering from an illusion’
They have become disillusioned, but cannot See the Gift of it . . . and then to add to it all, the rumours of resurrection coming from the women of the group with their ‘vision of angels’ only sound like ‘an idle tale’ – indeed some of their number had checked the story out, ‘but they did not see him’ Funny, eh? Here they are standing in the presence Jesus, talking about Him, not seeing Him, recounting how earlier others reported that they ‘had not seen him’

‘How foolish you are . . .’ the word has resonances with an inability to See, to Know in depth, reinforced with another metaphor of Sight – ‘how slow of heart to believe . . .’ the Heart being the true organ of Seeing and perception, or ‘Beholding’ . . . ‘all that the prophets have declared!’

‘Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’

Now, if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said in my hearing, or indeed will in all likelihood say today ‘wouldn’t it have been great to be at that bible study!!’ I would indeed be a plutocrat 🙂 But note this – at the end of being led through the Scriptures, by Jesus himself. . . they still don’t see!! You see, The Scriptures in and of themselves are not enough . . . The Kingdom of God is not an endless Bible Study . . . the Scriptures have their place, within the whole, and as made known to us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is Jesus we are looking for, Jesus himself – His Very Life . . . He is the Pearl of Great Price, He is the treasure hidden in the field . . . as St Paul puts it writing to the Colossians ‘For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is [?], Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Well, it was a long Bible study , ‘the things about him in all the scriptures’ – and they find they have arrived, but noting the time, in an act of typical hospitality – when Jesus makes to walk on, they invite him to spend the night with them . . . and here in the gathering dark the great reversal is Revealed. Last week we spoke of The Risen Jesus as the Visitor, around whom we accommodate our lives – but now, as they sit to eat, the Guest becomes The Host [no pun intended 🙂 ], the ‘Stranger’ becomes the Very centre of their lives

He is the one who ‘took bread, blessed and broke it . . . THEN their eyes were opened and they Knew him: and he vanished from their sight’ It is Then that they recognise what was going on on the road ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking-to us on the road’ The Eye of their hearts are enlightened in this encounter at the table.
‘Remembering Him’ in the Breaking of the bread gives life and light, illuminating the opening of the Scriptures. We might well say that here is the paradigm for Christian Worship as we Open the Scriptures and Break the Bread, the opening of the Scriptures warms our hearts, developing our appetite for the Living Word, who is the Living Bread

At the Centre of our Eyes being opened to the reality of Jesus in our midst, the awakening from the illusion of the dream of life without Him, an awakening which finds us hungry to break the fast, is the breaking of the bread. He feeds us in Word and in Sacrament, and this Feeding implies a deep intimacy, He nourishes us with his very Self.
As I pondered this earlier in the week, my mind was drawn to the deep roots in all of us of that first experience we have of feeding, at our mother’s breast. As we awaken, hungry, a Life beyond words, there two things happen, we are nourished, but also we learn that Eye contact, that Seeing that is before words and goes beyond words. They Saw Him and they Knew Him . . . (‘recognised’ does not do it justice)

Jesus is The Bread of Life, he gives it for our Salvation – for our Life – for our deep integration as human beings. In so doing, in this giving of the Holy Spirit as heaven and Earth are woven together in the Sacrament, so all Life takes on a Sacramental aspect. This is the deepest root of the mystery of a shared meal – for in Him all things in heaven and earth are woven together. This Meal, feeding on Jesus gives depth to all our meals shared together. Jesus makes us his friends by feeding us. It is this action, of sharing bread which is the most human thing we ever do, the first thing we do as our eyes are opening, and coming back to it over and over through our lives – the Gift of the Table which draws us all deeper into life.

Many people I know are deeply concerned about the future of the Church and the World, but Jesus came and was unseen by his disciples then, so Now he is present, offering us Bread for the Life of the World, and enjoining us similarly to make friends by sharing bread together. In sharing Bread we build up our common life in Jesus Christ.

he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread . . . it is all we need. We have everything we need to make him known amongst us and in the world. Go and do likewise


Easter 2 – Learning Jesus

Sermon for Easter 2 -Year A 2017
Sunday April 23rd

Acts 2:22-32
John 20:19-23

‘Learning Jesus’

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’ John 15

One of the great joys for my family living here in Dunedin is the number of guests we entertain. It’s odd how many people will pass your door if you only live a few miles away, but travel to the far side of the world and suddenly everybody wants to come and stay 🙂

Of course having guests means disruption to our lives. We need to look at diaries and try as far as is possible to clear them, I may need to take time off from work, we plan meals with our visitors in mind and arrange tours and local trips. We reorient our days around what they would like to do. Of course, we can manage this . . . for a while . . . we don’t expect them to stay around for ever . . .

The Risen Jesus is The Great guest, the Great Visitor, but HE has come to stay – as he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel – Behold! (there’s that word again) ‘Behold! I am with you always even unto the very end of the age . . .’ He has come to stay, ‘at our house’, as he says to Zacchaeus – not alongside us, or above us, but within us

You see, Jesus does not merely give his life for us upon the Cross, no. As if something is going on ‘over there’ – between Jesus and His Father – No, this is Personal – He gives his Life that he might give His Life TO us. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit’ John 12:24.

So, when The Risen One greets the disciples He breathes on them and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ The breath of His Eternal Life, he breathes on and Into his disciples – that His Life might become Theirs.

Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’ – I remember many years ago, a particularly devout parishioner who did not like the modern words of the Lord’s Prayer. for as he put it, ‘We can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’ Well I never quite got to the bottom of the difference, whether we were just meant to forgive people who wandered across our garden without asking . . . but in a sense he put his finger on it. ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’

Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man – full himself of the Divine Life, Dies and is raised for His Life is eternal. And he then shares that very Life with his disciples. That which belongs to God we come to participate in, to Share in – That which God is doing in Jesus – ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them . . .’ He does Through us – I’ll return to the second clause a little later on.

Receive My Life says Jesus to his disciples, and I think that the metaphor of the Person who comes to stay is an apt one. Jesus The Guest who comes seeking a Home – your Body is a Temple of The Holy Spirit as St Paul reminds us –  let us ponder that for a moment – the guest who seeks to stay, as it were to ‘put up shop in our Living Room’ – these bodies  . . . I am coming in, to you. Put in those terms we begin to feel more of the power of it all and indeed the challenge. What of all that having a guest in our house entails – that guest who doesn’t desire to be leaving? How long before you sense that they are outstaying their welcome

If you were reading Father Stephen Freeman’s book during Lent you might remember the story of a Protestant friend of his who had had can experience of Christ which wasn’t wearing off, and it was too much for her. ‘I just can’t take it anymore, Jesus seems to be everywhere! I can’t get any work done!’ So, she finally told him, ‘Jesus please leave my kitchen and get back on your throne!” Well Fr Stephen doesn’t say, but one assumes that Jesus acceded to the request – The Holy Spirit is after all gentle as a dove and doesn’t compel us . . .’ I must admit, although I first read that with a chuckle, later I read it with a bit of a shiver . . . Really?? “Jesus please just get out of my house??”

You see if the guest shows no sign of leaving, then we are then confronted with a dilemma. What do we do? Do we ask them to leave?? . . . or do we carry on as if they are not there – hoping they might get the message?? . . . or do we allow our lives to be more and more changed so that they become the very centre of our existence, not just for a season but for Good – And in my text I capitalised that  – for GOOD. For if Jesus is staying he is staying for Good. Although I find some of the sentiment of ‘There is a Green Hill far away’ difficult, there is a deep truth in the line  He died to make us Good – He, The Good One, comes to dwell in us, so that our life becomes His— if we truly desire ‘the good’, not as an abstract idea, but as a lived reality then we will desire he stays and we are changed

We don’t have the screen today, so you can’t see the theme – “Learning Jesus”. In a sense its good you can’t see it as you’d perhaps be distracted – thinking ‘what does it mean “Learning Jesus”? is it about ‘Jesus the learner??’ No, not that – ‘Oh, more likely then it is a typo, Shouldn’t it be ‘learning about Jesus’?? After all isn’t that what coming to Church and Children’s Church is all about, isn’t it??’ Well no it isn’t – if we merely ‘learn about Jesus’  – indeed we perhaps need to get rid of the phrase all together for we are in danger of missing the point entirely, and so missing the Life. Jesus isn’t ‘over there’ as we ‘standing here’ give some thought to him – no!
Jesus doesn’t die to just to give his life For us, he dies that he might share his Life with us, that he might give his life to us . . . to be the guest . . . to Live in Us – to Change us

The Christian Life is not a matter of getting our thinking straightened out – to paraphrase James the brother of Jesus, it’s not a matter of right thinking, The Devil himself has got perfectly good doctrine! HE knows all about Jesus . . . he knows everything . . . No it isn’t a matter of right thinking, it is a matter of changing our lives around the Life of Jesus given to us in the Holy Spirit and weekly renewed by Grace in Word and Sacrament, as he comes to us afresh – as we pray at the end of the Eucharist – Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit! . . .

We do not learn about Jesus. No, as he comes to stay, as we day by day and week by week renew our desire to have him dwell in us, we learn Him, we learn His life in us, we learn to discern what is HIs Life in us, we learn to respond to his movements within us, to his promptings. We feel the tension when our life does not align with His – we feel it. Like Good hosts we are always looking out for our guest – what does he desire, now in this moment. We learn to be paying attention to Him at all times and in all places, and at times we notice how we have been not paying attention . . . We Learn Him and in so doing, our Lives bear witness to His Life.

As Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost to announce the Gospel to the crowds he says  – ‘This Jesus, God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.’ How are they witnesses? Because the Holy Spirit has filled them. They are full of the Holy Spirit – Their lives Naturally bear witness to Jesus – they don’t have to think about how to  – the Holy Spirit gives them words, and the Community of the Church bears it out. And so it should be for us – but we must allow Him to have that space, we must note when we are in danger of growing weary of our guest, for changing our lives is not an easy work, and his work in and amongst us is not yet complete – our lives do not as yet bear full and eloquent witness to Him – we are still learning Jesus.

It may be we once were learning him, once taking the time and the trouble, we may once have been so engaged an then it became too much, or we got distracted by many things, inattentive to our Guest – but Christ is Risen – His Spirit is present! Ask and you shall receive once more!
It may be you have never started out on the journey of ‘Learning Jesus’ paying attention to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to direct your life – even though you are baptised although you learned all about him, you’d never been taught to ‘Learn Jesus’ . . . but Christ is Risen! – His Spirit is present! ask and you shall receive.

It may be you are in the midst of the battle of learning Jesus and it is a battle, the temptation to ask him to leave you to your own devices is great, Yet – ‘do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Continue to say yes to his gentle work of transformation.’ Persist in forgiving Sins, over and over and over until your Soul is conformed to the Life of God within you. This I think is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven – not that there is a limit, but because it needs to become your first nature, you need to get over the idea that this is about you – that it is about The Life of Jesus In You –  bearing witness to the God who forgives.

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’. We need to get away from the idea that being a disciple of Jesus is anything to do with getting our ideas right – rather it is about allowing our lives to be changed – to be re oriented – shaped by the guest who has come to stay.
Allowing ourselves to be changed by desiring that change and co-operating with the Life of Jesus In us. The early Christians were mocked because they preach d aNEw Life in Christ – and as everyone knew and still knows change of Life is about The Hardest thing – a leopard doesn’t change its spots – you cant tech and old dog new tricks . . . Bt God Can change lives – Receive the Holy Spirit – Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven them – whosoever sins you retain are retained. Do you know what that means – have you so learned to forgive sins, that the Life of Jesus in you is doing it – perhaps then we might know what it is to retain them – only when we have sufficiently learned Jesus and His Life in you to forgive and to forgive might we dare to say we might possibly be able to know in fear and trembling, but only in step with the Spirit – to retain sins. Only when we forget it is about us – and come to know that it is all about Him. The Risen One, standing in our midst


Do angels burp?? . . . One Must Laugh!

 ‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ John 20:11-13


As the women came to the garden they heard the song of the birds, and what was that other strange note? With stifled laughter mixed in?? . . . but no . . .

One of the ‘joys’ of parish work in the rural North of England was the friendships I developed with our local funeral directors. Often people who had grown up in what was a family business, they brought a necessary almost medieval earthiness to their work. Of course such grace notes are less and less in demand in these mechanised days, but many of the older rural folk still see and hear things the modern world hasn’t blocked from our imaginative existence.

One director in particular had a ‘naughty’ habit which it took me a few funerals to get used to, not least because cremation was not yet, it being a rural community, the Way of Things. On those less frequent occasions the director in question would give me a lift, driving with the hearse to the crem, with the family cars in close attendance. The man, for man he is, was meticulous in public, and upon leaving the hearse walked with a steady and dignified gait and solemn countenance, tall hat with grey scarf in hand, to open the car door for the chief mourners – leaving the Priest, to whom he had just told the most wicked joke, creased up and desperately trying to compose himself for the business of also facing the family and the liturgy of the committal.

I couldn’t help think of my friend this morning as we sat in the Church in darkness, waiting for the dawn and the Liturgy of Light as we bring the newly lit paschal Candle into the building for another year. Sat in the darkness as we listen to readings from scripture – one priest to the left of the as yet unlit candle, one to the right – one at either end, sitting where just a day or so earlier a cross had been . . . and there rising up from my hungry belly, only just supressed, a burp . . .


And I wondered, that first Easter morning, was there perhaps a suppressed burp? Did one of the angels with a redeemed ‘wicked’ sense of humour tell a joke, were the angels laughing? Before those solemn moments?? ‘Quick! pull yourself together, they’re here!!’

For after all, they knew, what is more that had always known. This was The Moment in the temporary Created history when that which had always been true, would be manifested amongst mortals. Something beyond their ken, yet always present.

The association of angels and young children is an old and rightly treasured one, for it reminds us that ‘Heaven’, or life with God is Jovial, full of Joy and gladness, of happiness and delight and, if it is human at all, laughter! And one cannot but imagine these two angels, like children, in the Garden, full of Joy at the Revealing of something they have always known, that the Lamb slain since before the foundation of the world, has trampled down death by death . . . They unbound by time weren’t waiting for it to happen, there had never been a time when it wasn’t true, but Now Everyone was going to be let in on it – I doubt they could contain themselves

‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ For those who have not been let in on the great Story, for those who do not See, seems like a ludicrous question, but in the Presence of the One who is Life perhaps Not . . .

Time for laughter – Time for joy, for Christ is Risen!!!!

(and time for a bacon buttie . . .)

Christian Existence and Modern Existence 6 : Planting flowers amongst the ruins

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
6. Seeds of Hope amongst the Ruins

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4

Well, I will come to that shortly, but first let us recap.

As i suggested, the roots of our dis-ease lay in the human desire for ‘power over’. As with the First Adam in the garden, the words of the serpent seem to ring down through the ages Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But 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.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Now what is it to ‘see and to take’? Except to exert power over – to make a life for yourself – to be like God – knowing good and evil – that is with the capacity, indeed the necessity to choose. And choice itself is a fruit of the Fall, and if history teaches us anything it is that by and large we do not choose well! To take – to grasp – is to see the world as Ours to do with as we see fit. And indeed this may be said to epitomise our approach to the world in which we live.

of course this is a very old story and as such it finds its way into all human existence and it is hardly surprising that it should show up in the church, so contests of power wormed their way in and The Great Schism may well be described as the fruit of such a conquest. Pope Leo IX asserting his will (and following this amongst other things ‘the will’ became very much the focus of human consideration of God and of what it meant to be human).

To assert our will over is rather than to understand ourselves in the place of Gift – of givenness – of Grace, as those who living in Trust and Hope receive (which we are reminded of in St Paul’s injunction to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ ) – rather to see ourselves as those who take, and indeed make.

It is this perspective which I think reveals to us why we are so enamoured of Technology – for it is of our making and it gives us increasing power over. Let us be in no doubt, We have Great power over the rest of the Created order, and by We i mean especially those who inhabit ‘the Modern World’ – a world in which Power over has been increased beyond comprehension by the release of the Apocalyptic energy of fossil fuels, making us Powerful and wealthy beyond the dreams of the avarice of the most avaricious of our forebears.

A World marked by Power over evidenced in that we are those who Choose. We look out on the world as its Centre and pick from the things we see surrounding us. We choose what we will eat, what we will wear, where we will live, not only if we have a car but what model, we choose what work we shall do, we choose whom we shall marry – Stanley Hauerwas speaking of current debates on marriage in his provocative style says ‘The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony, and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from?’, and our choices go right down to which church we shall worship in, whether or not it is to our taste, we even choose our own idea of God, having become like Gods.

On this last point I am reminded of the the now sadly retired theologian Marva Dawn’s fabulous retort to a parishioner who after a service told her ‘I didn’t like any of the hymns today’ – ‘Well that’s fine and not a problem, because we weren’t worshipping you’

What is more as technical choosers we think nothing of supposing that ‘building the Kingdom of God’ is ur business, for after all we have built everything else that we can see.

The dramatic conclusion of the Modern Story is precisely this, that we have turned everything inside out – and that we have made ourselves the centre of everything. And thus I suggest all but entirely abandoned the faith. I must briefly also say that to the obvious retort, ‘well its ok for the Vicar to say that – you have things as you want them’ I can only reply that of course there is a grain of truth to that, but also that were that true as much as my fallen desires would have it, then I would have emptied the church by now – fulling it full of icons and incense and liturgies that went on of hours – like a priest I heard of recently i would insist that no one could come to the Eucharist who had not come to evening prayer the night before . . . (just to give you an insight into what would suit me 🙂 )

For all the challenges we face in the church it is This Fatal inversion of our faith which is by far the most significant – for our Life is in God. The fact that almost all of what I have said seems in so many ways to be absolutely untroubling is only a symptom of our deep sleep with regard to the Living God in our midst
OK So having set out as clearly as I can the Bad News – here’s a wee cartoon . . .

Why so Optimistic?? Well in a sense we have been here before, although perhaps without the inversion of our faith – Alistair Macintyre in his most widely read work, After Virtue, (First published in 1981 . . . ) which looks how the choosing self and thus the Self that cannot grow has positioned itself at the Centre of things says ‘If the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark age, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already ben governing us for some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting, not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.’ Benedict of course is famous for setting up monasteries, which he called ‘schools of the Lord’s Service’ Places where we learned through shared life and practices Christian existence, in much the same way that we might learn Life through engagement with others

So apart from setting up monasteries for formation in Christian Existence, what might we do? What are the seeds which we might plant? As we look out on this wasteland of ‘The Abolition of MAn’ how might we in our small way begin to plant some flowers?

First to note that planting flowers in the face of such a situation is precisely a Gospel move. Martin Luther famously said in response to the question, ‘what would you do if you knew the world was going to end tomorrow?’ said ‘Plant a tree’. Here in Holy week, we have an echo of the word of the LORD to Jeremiah – ‘buy a field’. And of course, Jesus’ words to us – ‘if you have faith the size of a mustard seed . . .’ Small things patiently done for their own sake are the heart of a way back.

So let us begin with One thing – and for a moment I want to return to Maximos and his saying which we have encountered each week and compare it with a familiar gospel story

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Now I have to say that the most kick back I ever get when I preach is when I preach on this text 🙂 And how unsurprising is this? For after all if we live in a world which we think requires us to be ‘bringing in the Kingdom of God’ then Martha rather than Mary is our patron . . . but notice the Lord’s words to Martha – you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing . . . Our forebear Adam – rather than bringing all things into One, separated that which was united . . .

Well the ‘many things are but a symptom of the collapse of the Unity of the Cruciform human. it is the deep renewal of our humanity which is always and everywhere called for. FIRST in its vertical dimension – then in the horizontal. The Order of the great Commands is entirely necessary.
Martha we might say is distracted by the horizontal – pulled apart – Jesus counsels her to follow MAry’s example. First things first.

One of the great symptoms of this age is Martha’s distraction  literally as we are distracted by many things we are pulled apart – the human disintegrates -— ‘Look at what is coming to us!’ False ‘Beholdings’. I would tend to say the first thing perhaps we might usefully do is a stop doing – a stop paying attention to news from afar. You and I are not going to influence it – ‘There will be wars and rumours of wars . . . ‘ Just the other day on FB I saw someone asking ‘So what would YOU do about Syria?’ It seemed to me to be the most ridiculous question.

In fact the What of Christian Action has never changed – Love the lord your God, with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength’  the Unifying Vision.

As Science looks at things in separation, most fatally NOT looking at the World in and Through Christ, imagining we can know anything apart from the Creator and as we have grown up in a culture entirely informed and one might say ‘created’ by that way of seeing – it is hardly any surprise that Jesus words to Mary sound ridiculous. but what is she doing – she is utterly devoted, given over to God in Jesus Christ – This is the meaning of our baptism – we no longer live for ourselves. We LIVE by Loving God above all and through all and in all. So FIRST we need a renewal of our vision – we need to be converted, the renewal of our nous – that Eye of the heart needs to be cleared. And it is only through the simple yet demanding work of the contemplation of God that that clarity might come about. Maggie Ross in her work on Silence comes close to this – it is the Deep Perceiving ‘mind’ the Silent Mind which Beholds! Which is a possibility if our Desire is thus turned, to See, to Behold God.
So the first Thing apart from which all else is a counsel of yet more distraction is the renewal of Contemplative prayer in its deepest sense – that ‘Feleing’ [sic] after God, that groping towards him, which is LOVE. And perhaps to remember that the Hebrew has no word for ‘mind’ – so when we recite the first commandment, we need to put more emphasis on the ‘heart’ which is the seat of our perception Hebrew thought.

I think that in this regard the word son St Theresa of Avila are of great benefit – ‘I do not love God, I do not even want to love God, but I do want to want to love God’. Her refreshing honesty which is the hallmark of all Saints as they Behold God and thus See the poverty of their own hearts is I think an encouragement to us

Formation in Christian existence requires unremitting attention – it is not ‘a thing’ in the midst of busy lives – it is ‘the thing’ which must permeate every moment of our existence – in other words we seek in and through everything to obey the Great commands which call us to Life – PRECISELY as the Words of Jesus called Lazarus form Death to Life. As Jesus submit to the Cross, so we submit to the Work of loving God in and through all things and our neighbour as ourself – THIS is our Vocation – it is the calling of God to us

One of the great deceits of this present age is to cloud human existence in a fog of complexity – whereas it is Simple – simple but difficult. Difficult because we allow ourselves to be distracted from our End – which is our Life in God. The Great Commands are words which call us to life. As some have noted before me, as we seek to walk in the way of these commands, they become our way of life. Using the great gifts of the disciplines built into our tradition we start by refusing to covet, until such time as ‘you shall not covet’ move from being apprehended as command, to become prophetic words about our nature.

To return to Benedict, part of his genius was to See what it was that helped people to grow into maturity. To the vows of Charity and poverty and obedience, he added famously a fourth – Stabilitas. IF we are talking about how our lives might grow, then moving around will do nothing to help. If the reality of our existence is that the material and spiritual are interwoven then our geographical location, with its attendant people is vitally important to us. We cannot grow if we are constantly being uprooted. This is why, given the right care and attention, good old fashioned parishes can become the seedbed for formation in Christian Existence. If shopping around for a church harms us by further reinforcing ourselves as the Centre of existence end not GOd, so Staying put, in a world where thanks to the motor car and indeed the airplane we are always on the move,  when faithfully practised can be the beginning of Growth towards God.

it seems to me that if we Anglicans in Dunedin merely moved to our nearest churches and put down roots there, the establishment of Christian Community might be a possibility. To quote Father Stephen in a very recent blog posting ‘we will make little headway [with formation in Christian existence] unless and until we recognize that the modern . . . life (in its many aspects) is a moral choice. Living a half-hour away from a parish, isolated from fellow believers, may very well be the most serious moral choice we make after Holy Baptism, despite how innocuous it may seem.

Closing small churches is no good – the people who are there have been there for years and years, they are  the soil in which new life can spring forth, if people who are driving a long way to ‘get their own desires seen to’ (not needs met!!!) go to church locally – then MUCH can be done by way of revitalisation of the Church. My own reading of folk who move around is that they are poorly growing, they think themselves far more mature in faith than they are. Those who are mature in faith will put up with much, they will turn even inconvenience into means to grow deeper into God. For they realise the density of our existence – they are not moving around – they feel the grit and the sand of the soil, the struggle for life. In their weakness and vulnerability they are radical open to that which is.

Which brings me to another point that this growth requires others. Community is both means and End. As St Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians. Benedict Saw this also. He has no time for those who move around to find somewhere where they can be the centre and so wither spiritually, and he demands that no one is safe to be let out alone, to pass on to the life of a solitary, unless they are first grounded in the formation of Community. It is only in and through the trials and tribulations of shared life that we gradually are formed into people who PERHAPS might be safe on their own. Without commitment to the local church we will make no progress. Today there are so so many which think they have gifts but reject the challenge of community. They are utterly unsafe.
Unless we have had to forgive many many times we cannot begin to assume we know a thing about the Life of Jesus, who is forgiving Everyone for Everything

Community brings us to the next point – everything flows form the Eucharist. The practise of shared meals is one which reinforces community and is the outworking of the Eucharist. Sharing our tables at home, reinforces the Eucharistic community making it a place of Joy and Great Faith and Hope. Inviting people to dinner can be the most counter cultural thing to do. the Eucharist as the Central sacrament of our Life together is the source of our Light and Life

Humility – small seeds are the foundation of the life of moving mountains, there are mountains that undeniably need moving but our spiritual strength has been radically attenuated these past years. Jesus comes to us in humility. HIs Weakness is the path of true power – not power over but power in and through. It is to follow Jesus in allowing our existence be shaped by those around us. Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ – in humility thinking of others as better than ourselves, but we need the constant encouragement, correction, the occasional rebuke of others to do this. This is must be said is entirely contrary to how church exists for us in these days where we are by and large isolated, the idea that another member of the church might rebuke us is alarming – we don’t come to church for THAT!! This by the way i not a license for us to rebuke others – for was we know we have logs in our own eyes, rather it is to welcome a word of correction or discipline for we know that our souls require it.

All of this – let us not forget is an old story – growing in the Virtues. Training in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity and self control.

It is submitting to the simple business of always being with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. I have said it before and will say it again, apart from constant fellowship with God’s people, our faith becomes illusory. I suffer from time to time, people who only infrequently submit to the discipline of shared life with others, because of this or that or the other slight, or worse because they think they can teach others, living illusions about this or that or the other which they think they will accomplish for God.

i’m reminded of Ananias – the man sent to Saul of Tarsus to bring the gospel to him. We only hear of him once, All we know is he was in prayer.

Forbearance as a very necessary trait – we don’t hang around long enough with people we find difficult for the gift of that difficulty to bear fruit in us . . . Remember the story of Peter asking Jesus ‘how many times should I forgive my brother? seven times?? The Pharisees said three, but they assumed that forgiveness was something that came from their spiritual superiority. Peter needs to be woken up from this deathly way. Why no, says Jesus, Seventy times seven times – in other words . . . you keep on forgiving and forgiving, not because the other person needs it, but because you are being formed into the likeness of the one who forgives everyone for everything . . . In other words, Forgive seventy times seven Peter – go on forgiving until you forget the question – until the Image of God within you begins to bear the fruit of the likeness of God

And just simply BEING with others. our emphasis is so much on ‘ministry’ or doing things for people, that we lose the fabric of just being out of which any meaningful doing has its context. Church is not just a million and one ‘doings’ – if the only time we are with people is when we are doing things for them, then we have missed the point entirely and in this regard I think that clergy have much to learn, and those who ‘have a ministry’

A couple of further points. Firstly we must do everything in our power to uncouple ourselves from our reliance on technology which is fragmenting everything. If you only can manage to walk to the shops once a week, do it! The idolatry of technology is changing us in the words of CS Lewis into ‘Men with empty chests’ Computers have no heart, no way of perceiving God – spending time in their company is a drain on your Existence. Be with God, Be with people, Be alone. Before you ever try and ‘Be’ with a phone etc.

Secondly grow SOMETHING you eat – better grow something to SHARE. For Sharing is at the heart of our Life. koinonia. Jesus literally shares his life with us – SHARING is the heart of this Life in God. Share your table, share your food share everything God has entrusted to you. For God has shared everything he has with us.

And in every way possible go easy on the creation. As I said last time, our Power over has brought us to the point where we are on the edge of so destroying the Creation that we have no life. I am reminded that humility is a word which is all about Soil, humus, relatedness. Our basic relationship is with Creation – soil – dust you are and to dust you shall return. The loss of our humanity is paralleled by the destruction of the soil. Allow your mortal body to be food for the soil, and thereby recognise that you are part of the Creation

this earthiness, this connectedness, this koinonia is at the heart of God’s coming to us in Jesus and in every word he says – we flee from the Swmron in the Mount for it confronts us with the call to a radical vulnerability with one another. Yet it is only in such vulnerability that we discover our life, that we are open to that which is. That we might know God and thus Live.

Christian Existence and Modern Existence 5 – the Modern Subversion of our Life

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
5. How Modernity shaped and radically subverted the Church and Christian faith

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

Last time we considered technology – and the way in which we and our sense of who we are is altered by the tools that we use. The old saying, that ‘to a man with a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail’ illustrates this, or to use a particularly contemporary example regarding a hot debate in American culture, it is not true to say that it is not guns that kill people, but people who kill people, for a person with a gun is Not the same as a person without a gun and having handled on and indeed used one, I have a sense of that which I speak. So those who carry guns have an alarming but not entirely unexpected propensity to shoot other people.

So too the smart phone has changed people – with suggestions that research is revealing a dramatic loss of empathic capability amongst the generation of those who use them. Whilst it is presented to us as a means of connection, ur current understanding is that at the non conscious or deep level of our experiencing the world, the level at which our True apprehension of things is formed, they do no such thing. Hence youngsters tied to their phones are at the forefront of the modern epidemic of loneliness and loss of empathy. For none of us is our words. Purely reading a text never makes a person present. You may read these words and have no sense that I wrote them and this seems to be the way which we respond at a deep level to all text, it is at the level of Experience, radically depersonalised, explaining of course why we might say something by text we would never say to someone’s Face, or Person.

And as the Psalmist puts it, we become like that which we create Ps 115:8 – and above all we have created a culture, which is perhaps unique in human history for its tendency to unreflective self reinforcing, faced continually as we are with a World we have created in our increasingly distorted image. This huge change is in large part down to the burning of fossil fuels which has given us Promethean power over the created order. The more technical power we have acquired the more we have come to trust in it and mimic it in our day to day existence. The more technical the culture becomes the more it suggests itself to us as ‘life’ So we talk about systems of care for example – people we say need to be trained in empathy – and hardly notice that that which which seemed once to be natural to us, has become a matter of Technical prowess. As I spoke last week about the terrible Alienation of ‘paying for Spiritual direction’ – people acquiring the ‘skills’ – this surrender to technique now inhabits the realm of the Spirit. No longer does the Spirit blow where it will, for we have harnessed even the Spirit to our own ends. In this sense at least the Jesuit philosopher Tehard de Chardin was right. Even God now comes under our direction . . .
by way of example I refer to the Alpha course, wherein the Holy Spirit is asked to wait in the wings until called upon on the weekend away . . .

out technical mastery has shaped a culture so that it fits ‘us’ – yet it has also made us technical – for we cannot make that which we cannot see . . . the technical culture fits us perfectly because ‘all who make them shall become like them’ – it poses no challenge to us, and in a sense therefore we have fallen asleep. The shower is the perfect temperature, everything is so adjusted to our taste that we disappear, or fall asleep – yet Jesus is the One who wakes us up. Note our reading from John’s gospel this last Sunday.
Jesus told [his disciples], ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.

What is Jesus doing here? He is pointing out the deep truth of our existence apart from him – in separation from him – a both Martha and Mary say, ‘If you have been here my brother would not have died’ Jesus IS Life. Thus his presence awakens us from the sleep of death. He must speak to the surface of things that the disciples might begin to understand – he told them ‘plainly’ (the surface meaning) ‘Lazarus is dead’

The Anglican solitary Maggie Ross speaks of our condition thus ‘the human race is sleepwalking into extinction’ She goes on regarding our sleep ‘The list of stupidities we know about is endless; it is terrifying to ponder how many we have not recognised. Yet we continue blithely to ignore those issues we DO know about . . .and goes on to list all those things which we know are happening but to which we do not respond – as if we are asleep.’ This failure to See, to Behold, is of course also a parallel of Spiritual death, which is at the heart of the passage regarding Lazarus

And this sleep walking by those with access to the power, comes at a huge cost, caused by a radical disconnection from all that is, it amplifies that disconnection. Technical means only amplify the problem. The problem at heart is that we have become overwhelmingly technical – exerting power over that which is not us – And thus we flee anything that is discomforting, Reality – life – be it people who do not think as I do  but with whom I have no choice but to share my life, or icy wind and burning sun which I cannot flee from, or indeed God, who is radically Not Me, and for the purposes of our thinking today calls each one of us to be Changed, Calling us into that Life fully realised in the image and likeness of his Son.

For as much as some Christians like to think of themselves as ‘apart’ from the World – this I suggest is a manifest illusion, that all of us are more radically shaped by the fragmentation of Modernity than we might possibly imagine. As I have repeatedly stated I only talk of that which I know that I participate in, and I suggest that I am not alone in this. And thus the change that has all but overwhelmed the World in Modernity has also so all but overwhelmed the Western Church as well, such that Christian Existence now mirrors Modern existence in many ways

As ‘Modern’ technology, which I suggest is itself the fruit of changes in the Western philosophical systems of the Church right back in the C13, has radically shaped our perception of ourselves as human beings, so too it has radically shaped our expression of the faith, and this week we shall consider some of the broad themes of this change, but it would help first to recognise once more the true nature of Christian Existence as expressed in the Great Commandment, bearing in mind the simple description of Modernity as  a ‘culture of things in separation’.

We remind ourself of the Crucified Human – Held in place between ‘Heaven and Earth’, betwixt God and the mud of Creation – and between the neighbours.

It is worth I think especially now as we come to the Great Feast of our Faith Easter, considering how Contrary to the ‘gospel of sleep’ such existence is – such that we actually try and distance ourselves from such Christian Existence, and The Cross.  Christ we might say ‘suffered on our behalf’ BUT, if as we have explored it is in the Crucified human that we see the True Human – or the Glory of God (‘A human being fully alive’) then perhaps there is something Essential in Suffering as part of the truly human condition? Yet we employ technical means to get away from any discomfort . . . say the discomfort of our car being a couple of degrees to warm or cold.

For one who is fully healed, it is that suffering self emptying towards neighbour, and neighbour, to the care of the Earth and thus to the glory of God – for those who are being healed it is the way to this Reconciliation, this ‘participation in the wounds of Christ’ which we call Koinonia. The Suffering of Shared Life is the vehicle of Life.

To quote Father Stephen Freeman – [Koinonia] is not an argument for solving problems (it is the solution); it is not the dream of a better world (it is the willingness to live in the present one). It is family, children, sickness, weakness, kindness, sharing, prayer. It is transformative but not as political solution. {That is you cannot make this into a system . . .]
put another way the givenness of life is the Way to Life. Awkward people, and situations, these present themselves to us as a way of Growth
To refer briefly to my annual address, this is the Ordinary nature of our existence as Church – it is the fabric from which life springs. How can ‘Suffering’ thus understood be thought of as Evil?  It is only because those who wield huge power over their own existence have radically disconnected themselves from Koinonia, that suffering is thought of in this way – most especially the suffering of Christ. It is a radical flight from Participation in the Life of the World – a denial of Christ himself.

Now as this week I am reflecting on how the Modern project – initiated let us not forget by the Church – has distorted our faith – Christ and him Crucified is as good a place to pause and reflect

We seem to have two accounts of Christ and the Cross prevalent in our day.
One is to understand the Crucifixion of Jesus as some kind of private legal arrangement  between God and his son – one might call this a form of cosmic technology – God’s way of fixing things. This takes many hues, but all one way or another leave us outside of the story. God in Jesus does something in separation from us – the effect of which he then somehow ‘imputes to us’, ‘by faith’ (and let us not forget how that term has become purely a set of ideas). This is I suggest in contrast with the Deep Tradition of the Church Wherein Christ passes to us His Life, His Existence.
The other common way of understanding the Cross is to suggest, following Moltmann, that God is not alien from OUR sufferings, and chooses in this way to share in them . . . again this is problematic – for it does not posit any shared life between God and ourselves, or Koinonia. God might be understood for example as an objective observer, the unmoved mover, to whom Suffering is Alien – who steps in to help. It does not suggest that Suffering is in anyway part of the Essence of God – as if the Cross is some form of aberration. This I think is theologically Highly problematic, not least in the praxis of Care for the weak, in which we the unmoved Centres of our own lives, as a moral duty help those ‘less fortunate than ourselves’.
I will return to this next week when we consider seeds of hope – but for now, let us just say that we have a problem in the church with the Cross of Christ, which is more than troublesome, for as we know all four evangelists give most of their space up to this week in the life of Jesus.

This disconnection (‘Modern’) leads many to ignore the Cross altogether – and indeed it may well be seen to be absent in many contemporary accounts of Christian faith. Somehow we might assert it is about God’s Love, but so in love are we with being asleep –  that how Love is revealed in the blood and sweat and broken sinews and bones of the crucifixion of a first century Palestinian Jew is quite beyond us – that the Cross might Truly be the revelation of the true nature of our lives seems the most ludicrous assertion. That the Way of the Cross might actually be the Way of Love

This leads us on then to the centre of the distortion. As we have considered, ‘Modernity’ which is now several hundred years old, effectively takes the Human down from the cross. No longer for our existence do we need consider our neighbour, or the Creation, or God. To say that this is an illusion and a most powerful one at that may go without saying, but I think we must recognise that these are the non-conscious assumptions underlying most of our lives. We can and do talk of the importance of ‘Economic Independence’ without realising that this is an oxymoron. That the Oiko-nomos, ‘Way of the Household’ is one of shared existence.

The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the Consumer goods by which we are consumed, the land which was exploited to produce them, the people who made them . . . these are now hidden from us, and we may well believe that we are ‘independent individuals’ – Not held in place by Deep and Essential mutual Obligation – which we dare to call Love (which has come to mean little more than a vague sensation, like a pleasant form of heartburn . . .).

This disconnection from God, neighbour and Creation, this Alienation, has led to a collapse of the Soul into the Self. No longer held in place we collapse into ourselves and look out at the world as ‘objective’ observers’ of life. Understanding ourselves as at the Centre of things, looking out. A few weeks ago in conversation with some Christian young people I asked – ‘what is the point of being a Christian. Their universal answer mimicked that of much contemporary Christian faith and indeed increasingly its apologetics, ‘I know that there is someone their for me . . .’ In other words, their self perception is of being at the centre of their existence, or, put another way utterly comfortable and imagining God as the one who confirms them in that comfort. ‘There for me’

– and this has had radical implications not only for our world but indeed for our faith which has become a matter of ‘changing the world’ rather than the hard work of as we are able, changing ourselves. For one looking out on a world of things, the temptation to rearrange, to fix, is all but impossible to resist. Of course the lack of Power over things prior to the widespread availability of energy from fossil fuels held us in place, but the philosophical, abstract wheels had begun to turn and we were leaning that our life was not with the other.

The idea that We look out on the world and are empowered to change it is a modern conceit, largely brought about by the huge yet temporary energy supplied by burning fossil fuels – which for those who have access to them, suggests the idea that we can indeed do anything! (Yet ignoring the vast cost to all those un named unknown human beings who are enslaved to the Promethean projects of the Modern world)

And so we hear almost all the time ‘We are building the Kingdom of God!’ or ‘we need new strategies for church growth’, or ‘this is how we will fix the Diocese’ . . . Or we tinker with liturgy or songs – fixing things ‘out there’ so that they conform to what is ‘in here’, because of course, God likes things the way I like them as well 🙂

I remember someone once telling me what sort of music we should have in church today, because ‘that is what young people like’ – the person of course was expressing their own preference 🙂

This theme of ‘Power over’ has its roots of course in The Great Schism. Which was a matter of assertion of Power. For Pope Leo IX to assert not only that he was ‘primus inter pares’, but instead pontifex maximus – Supreme Over the church – led to the human radically asserting Power over, which requires a separation from in abstraction. It requires us to judge the other, though we cannot know them, It requires us to imagine that things are ours, rather than God’s. The idea that we might hold all things in trust for the good of the Earth and for others is to say the least far from our minds on a day to day basis, yet it is the truth of our being in the World

And this move to Power Over tore the fabric of the Creation. We were as it were back in the garden making the oldest mistake – making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to [us] in our constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united.
One can only assert power over when one loses sight of Life Together – that our Life is with our Brother – and that we have no life apart from the breath of God manifested in the winds and the waves – and the mud of the Earth . . . That is the Sacramental nature of our existence.

As you may recall in Week one we explored briefly how the Great Schism had led almost immediately to the doctrine of transubstantiation – and here we may note how language plays an important role within faith and how we See. To step back from the Eucharist – if this is possible – for a moment. As I have mentioned once or twice – the move to separation on things also leads to changes in languages. So to take but one example which is very significant to us, the Hebrew word  ר֫וּחַ ‘ruach’ We might translate this ‘Wind’, or ‘Spirit’ or ‘breath’. It is language which assists us in Sacramental imagination – yet we might ask – ‘which do you mean? Wind or Spirit or Breath?’ To have but one word is to assert the provisionality of language in speaking the Truth – a provisionality which in humility assents to the hidden Truth.
So we see how the issue regarding the Sacrament is about demanding that something hidden reveal itself. Is it Bread and Wine, or is it the body and blood of Christ is the question of an imagination which believes in the Power of language over Creation. [noting briefly that Adam’s naming of the animals needs to be understood as the functioning of his prelapsarian Sight – he can See – he Beholds the Truth of things and so can name]
And so we began a move away from a Sacramental perception of Creation – which led in time to our loss of reverence for it – that when our power over Creation increased, so we destroyed that which had been given to give us Life.

This shift is of First Order significance that our faith – our faith is a matter of materiality. our embodied existence. Disconnection from the soil and the labour of Work also disembodied us and our faith which increasingly became a thing of only the conscious mind. In a sense this is the root of what we call the secular world, with Religious faith’ relegated to the world of ‘private opinion’, but of course this was only exacerbated by the increased move to urbanisation away from the Land. But also the role of the body in Christian existence became less and less apparent. Last week as we studied Father Stephen’s book and read about Ikons we were reminded of how prostration before an Icon was quite unexceptional in Orthodoxy, which we found at best odd, yet perhaps it was sobering to reflect how little our bodies were any longer necessary to our worship – or indeed we might think the bodies of others as here and there ‘virtual church’ sprang up where only were

So embodied was early Christian existence that it was the Christians who turned the Romans from their universal practise of cremation with its inherently violent posture towards the body. I remember myself sharing with a former teaching colleague how my visit as a seminary student to a Crematorium and my observation of the process had led me to reconsider my own insouciant disregard in this respect. To my saying ‘I can no longer wholly accept such a practise as Christian’ he replied as I would have done only a few months previously – ‘but its only a shell for your soul . . .’ Becoming alert to how modernity had shaped our understanding so radically, I turned to his wife who had grown up in rural Zambia. ‘Akfuna,’ I asked, ‘your people don’t think of things in this way do they?’ ‘They most certainly do not!’ she replied, and thus a gulf in world view opened up, but I suggest a very critical one. our bodies are as it were the realm of our faith, that place indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God and of course that which is the seed of the resurrection body. the destruction of bodies in flame was universally condemned as a practise of the Gentiles, the nations amongst whom Israel found herself, but never her practise.

it is interesting in this respect the comment of the british playwright Dr Jonathan Miller regarding life after death, ‘ I cannot believe in it, for how would we know one another apart from our bodies?’ Thereby revealing the modern Western approach, and yet acknowledging the importance of our bodies, that we ARE our bodies. or rather that the Soul is a composite of Body Mind and Spirit, or if you like our very being is Sacramental, woven together.

One brief further point I think it is worth pondering in this regard – although in a moment we shall consider the shift to words ahead of silence – one form of ‘wording’ has largely gone by the board which is that of Confession. As on the one hand we have become more wordy, more god like in our creating a world out of words within the church, we have become perhaps less able to truly grow into our Gifted participation in god’ life because of our failure to comprehend what it is to confess our sins one to another that we might be healed. Spoken confession to another Christian was from the first seen as a primary form of healing, The collapse of the Cruciform self into The Self has led to a sense that there is nothing to be confessed, that we do not in any sense need to be healed.
My own experience in this area has brought me to consider this again as a very embodied thing. If we consider the ‘physical form’ of demons, anyone who has attentively confessed their sins will not a certain driving out that which is ‘named’

Anyway, all of this I suggest leaves us with a very significant question, What if our faith is in reality, no more and no less than an embodied argument about the very nature of Reality and Existence in the World. As Pilate says ‘Behold! The Man!’ humanity Revealed in Jesus in his essential [sic] embodied humanity, so too the Church, the Body of Christ is called to be such a Revealing . . .

The shift in the perception away from the sacramental also led to a move away from the Church as being the visible body of Christ. Now the Sacrament was ‘magicked’ into the Real visible body of Christ, rather than sacramentally present in bread and wine, the visible sign of christ – the community of is disciples, became less significant and by the time of the Reformation – against the abuses of the Institutional church which it was hard to see and consider as The Body of Christ, the Reformers would talk of ‘the invisible’ the true church. As faith had become a thing in the mind and thus all but disembodied, so to the Church was no longer understood in bodily terms.

Two further changes took place in different ways associated with the loss of the Sacramental understanding of the Eucharist. Firstly the role of the priests was elevated above the laity. A gulf which to be frank persists to this day. No one who has been ordained will be unaware from their own side of how this changes the dynamic. Whilst ways have been suggested to ‘empower’ the laity – usually by emphasising their ministry in the world, this has been to the detriment of the understanding of the priesthood of all believers, because we no longer have an understanding of the office and work of a priest, except increasingly as a church manager. IF the church is as the apostle states, a kingdom of priests, then perhaps we need to consider again what this might mean for the Church. Secondly, as the Reformers had reacted against the power of the priests, so too they did against the Eucharist. It became an object of suspicion regarding any form of devotion towards this, the life blood of the church in earlier ages. And so today it is not uncommon for some Christians never to partake of the body and blood of Christ, yet if ours is a material faith then perhaps we might take Jesus’ words on this matter with a degree more seriousness ‘Whoever eats me will live because of me’.

Power over and separation as we have already noted was encouraged by and led to ‘more words’. As our faith in the hidden Life available to us in the Eucharist was diminished, so we looked to things seen, or rather heard. The written words of the Scriptures seemed to offer that assurance which and The Bible as a separate artefact took the place of Tradition in its deepest sense. Father more this led to an ever increasing wordiness vs Silence. Words it was felt made things sure. Those who have had to endure the endless liturgical reform movement have been most aware of this. The drive to ,ake things mentally clear. The idea that words had a necessary provisionality to them lost in the demand for the certainty of literalism, something which we have explored in our book studies. Of course as faith was reduced to mental concepts and words then ‘arguments about words’ which St Paul himself warned Timothy ‘Remind others about these things, and warn them before God not to argue over words. Arguing does not do any good but only destroys those who are listening.’

How many ‘bible believing churches’ have been set up precisely in flagrant disbelief of the words of the apostle . . . And so a multiplicity of churches, the initial schism leading to schism upon schism in the search for certainty.

And I suggest to a complete inversion of the faith – from God being the Centre who is paradoxically everywhere present and filling all things, or as the saints of old had it, the Circle whose centre is everywhere and cisrumference nowhere – we have become the centre of faith – it seems to me to be a total perversion of that which was given for our salvation.

We are SO tuned to Looking out at a world of things – as the Centre – and our great power over creation trains us in seeing that outside of ourselves as that which we might manipulate. So it has become the Christian vocation not to change ourselves but to seek to change what is out there – the world. But The Way has been that as we are changed the world is saved – Seraphim of Sarov – acquire inner peace and a ten thousand around you will be saved.

but I think, more than this has been the loss of the perception of Christian Existence itself. Jesus words about eternal life, having become so disembodied, and dissociated from The Cross, have led us to fail to comprehend the deep significance of Life, Now. Not in the sense of ‘the significance of our lives, but a radical apprehension of the meaning of Christian Life. The ‘message of salvation has taken two turns in the wrong direction, either making OUR lives the centre of a this world existence, or understanding the meaning of faith to lie primarily outside of the span of our mortal years, rather than the growing into the full stature of Christ’s existence in the here and now. It is about the LIFE which Jesus gives to us NOW

A moments thought i think will reveal some of the truth of this – think for a moment how we are given to understand ourselves as choosing this that or the other for ourselves, free from constraints of almost anything – we chose where we will live, our work, with whom we will and will not share our lives, we chose whether or not we will have children, we choose what we eat, what we wear. Soon without doubt we shall have total freedom also to choose when we die. Choice is the benchmark of ‘Good’ in the world we inhabit, so free are we from constraint. So too we choose which church we will attend, indeed we are encouraged to choose that which best fits our personality type – thereby assuring us that we will be surrounded only by circumstances congenial to us, and thus in a Deep and paradoxical Sense rendered utterly passive, either truly acting nor being acted upon.

In what contrast to Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but rather emptied himself. Jesus did not look out and grasp, take hold of, as the First Adam had, rather he poured himself out, and ‘being found in human nature as a slave (no freedom there, became obedient to death, even the death of the cross . . .

Sermon for Palm Sunday – 2017 Year A


Matthew 21:1-11

‘Tell the daughter of Zion . . . Behold!’

For me, coming to New Zealand five years ago was an odd experience – for although we all spoke the same language, culturally we were different. As Mark Twain said of America and Britain, ‘two nations divided by a common tongue’ 🙂 But English is a very problematic language and this goes much further than how we pronounce our vowels 🙂 for English makes the Scriptures quite difficult to understand, not simply because they weren’t written in English.

The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and Greek (as well as a little Aramaic). Hebrew and Greek have about 1000 or ten thousand words respectively, yet there are more words in English than pretty much any other language in the world! (Over two hundred thousand!) So when we are trying to translate the New Testament from its ‘street Greek’, there are 20 times more words than in the original – or in the Hebrew – 400 times!!

The Hebrews and the Greeks were far less ‘wordy’ people. So each word they used encompassed a Wide range of meaning. Their World was one in which all sorts of things were woven together by a single word.
Take a simple example – the word ‘ruach’ in Hebrew, means Breath, it means Wind, it means Spirit . .  . and our question is ‘but which one does it mean here or here or here . . . but that is a nonsense question to one of the Hebrews. ‘Ruach means breath/wind/spirit! you Know??’ As if perhaps Breath Wind and Spirit were somehow woven together . . . I’ll come back to that idea of a single word revealing how things are woven together at the end

A big problem of English is that in settling on one word we miss so much of the meaning – if we translate Ruach as breath we miss Wind and Spirit for example, and sometimes it leads us to missing the point completely. So today in our gospel – we all heard ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

If I said to you that the word we translate as ‘Look’ occurred over 400 times just in the gospels, and that if we add it’s Hebrew equivalent, more than 1300 times in the whole scriptures . . . we might perhaps realise that this was a very important word, perhaps the most important word in all of the Bible  . . .but you won’t find ‘look’ over 400 in the gospels, or over 1300 times in the entire scriptures. we find ‘look’, ‘See’ ‘discern’ occasionally even ‘remember’. We have so many separate words we like to use them all and so things get separate.
But older translations like the King James Bible, which came from an age before English became so very very wordy use just one word over and over again . . . Behold! Over and over again ‘Behold!’ Behold the lamb of God, ‘and behold as Jesus came up from the waters’, ‘Behold, a vast multitude non could number, ‘Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’, Behod, I am with you always, even to the end of the Age . . .

But what does Behold mean?? Well it’s like ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inpiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again. So that you were lost for words – for you could not contain it, rather It held you! Like a new born baby taking it all in and being Held. Behold!!

Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold! your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey not even a donkey a mere colt, a donkey’s foal’ . . . your King comes to you as the lowest of the low – Your King . . .

As St Paul struggles to put this beholding into words he says this
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, to make use of it,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Behold the King on a donkey’s foal, emptying himself in utter humility – making himself nothing . . . even to the point of death on a cross . . .

Behold your King? Do you see?? SO Unlike a King by our standards – in fact the complete opposite – becoming the servant of all . . . But we didn’t get it, and perhaps we still don’t. For  ‘Behold’ we built huge cathedrals, and Behold our clergy dressed in fine robes – and Behold our bishops wear purple the colour of the Emperor . . .

as we as a Diocese consider who might be out new bishop . . . I wonder if we have eyes to Behold, to See . . . or are our eyes trained to look on the surface of things?? Who on that Palm Sunday would have seen this weary, dust covered itinerant Jewish preacher and possible miracle worker as in fact the one in whom, through whom and for whom ALL things had been created?? I don’t expect the donkey was much to look at either . . .

Did they see?? Just a few days later the crowd that cried Hosanna to the Son of David stood before the stone pavement of judgement, this man stripped to the waist and flogged mercilessly and with a crown of thorns thrust onto his head – and Pilate cries out ‘Behold, The Man’. In human terms you might almost say, there is nothing to see . . . in human terms.
Pilate without realising it invites the crowd to ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inspiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again.’
Behold!’ See into the Truth. Behold The Truth . . . what is Truth Pilate asks and doesn’t behold The Truth stood in front of him . . . and now the crowd cry ‘Crucify’ They do not Behold their King . . .

As i suggest this calls into question how we look at the world, how we consider ‘what we are looking for in a Bishop’ – I must admit, I haven’t seen anything in the documentation which suggests that we are looking beyond the surface of things – we want a miracle worker no doubt . . . but Do we know how to Behold, the Deep Truth of things, the Deep truth of a person?? Or are we just looking for someone to save the Diocese?? Remember the Jewish people were looking for such a King, and when they see Jesus, they reject him . . . do we behold, Do we see??

But let us Behold for a moment or two. ‘your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ You King coming to you if you would but Behold! Yet he comes in humility – not offering himself to those looking for the spectacular – The word ‘humble’ – again it is just one word, but in Hebrew and Greek, it is humble, earthy, humus, soil, mud, it is Ordinary . . . in other word ‘humble’ is the stuff out of which everything is made – the stuff we see around us all the time and take for granted because it isn’t spectacular – because we do not behold. I am slowly, painfully slowly learning this – I can sit and Behold a tree for hours – as it ‘comes to me’ presents itself to me in all its Wonder Full Ordinariness . . . or Soil itself??
I remember a lovely piece of writing about an old metal bucket, which stayed forgotten on a hook under a tree and over the years leaves fell in it which slowly turned to soil and moss grew in it and bugs came to live in it, and occasionally a bird found a place for a nest in it, and the nest and the broken eggs added to the soil, which grew richer and deeper, slowly, without fuss, so you’d never notice – nothing to look at – Soil. But Soil Full of Life – Like the humble Jesus Full of Life but you wouldn’t have guessed . . . It is the Ordinary things which are the fabric, the soil, the humus, the humility out of which our lives come . . . Do we see our own ‘ordinary’ lives? Do we behold them?? With their joys, but also their sorrows? Their day by day quiet habits, a short prayer here, a phonemail to someone you haven’t seen for a while, a cup of tea with a friend . . . you see our Life if we Saw it is a thing of wonder, like that bucket of soil 🙂

If there is to be a future for the Diocese, it will come from those small things, for that is where all life comes from – the humble.

And that is The Truth of Things, for the Truth, the World’s King comes to US humble, Mounted on a donkey’s foal . . . and every Sunday in this worship we are so accustomed to, nothing special or flashy, this King consents to be handed over to us in a crumb of bread, a sip of wine . . . small, ordinary, humble things . . .

Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Christ – woven together so that you cannot tell one form the other. What if we only had a word for Bread AND Body, a Word for Wine AND blood?? If we ate the Bread/body and drank the Wine/blood . . . God made flesh . . . All of creation heaven and earth woven together in Jesus, so that you cannot tell one from the other. As if in this Bread/Body and Wine/ Blood we Beheld Everything? Wind, breath, Spirit, woven together so you cannot tell one from the other, if we but had eyes to See, if we did but Behold!

Christian Existence and Modern Existence 4. ‘The medium is the message – Technology and the changed human’

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
4. ‘The Medium is the Message’
How our lives are shaped by the tools we use – and yes, I did say that . . .
Community, Economy, Technology, and Creation

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

In today’s talk I’m going to examine the significance of Technology for this question of human existence, especially with respect to the role it plays in our ‘Modern’ existence. In particular I shall consider five technologies most of which are so embedded in our everyday existence that we barely give them a moment’s thought. Indeed if I asked about our relationship with technology. they are the sort of things we might not even label as technologies, but technologies they are . . . So in due course we shall consider the technologies of ‘Money’, of the ‘Light bulb’, the ‘Clock’, the ‘Motor Car’, and ‘the cell phone’ (so at least one there which we might use the label technology for)

But in saying that we might not call them ‘technologies’ I suggest that we have become blind to the nature of the reality of our existence. In keeping with the tone of our previous talks on Community and The Economy, I am not here to praise these things in our lives, but to try if not bury them, at least help us to understand that there is no such thing as a neutral technology, and that all these seemingly innocuous aspects of our everyday existence carry deeply inhuman implications.

Now in speaking this way, I am opening myself up to the charge of ‘being a Luddite’ and of course to be a ‘Luddite’ in today’s world is to render oneself either the object of ridicule, or, perhaps worse, to suggest that anything one has to say can instantly be dismissed. (Of course this is one of the ways we use, or are used by one of our primary technologies, language – and language and technology are closely related . . . but perhaps another time.)

Actually if you wish to label me a Luddite, then I gladly accept what you may perceive to be an insult – for the Luddites are people who would speak to us and cal into question our blind acquiescence with regard to Technology, and their critique would I suggest speak directly to our primary concern, this matter of Christian Existence.

Let us rehearse this again – Christian Existence which is I suggest the Truth of our Human Existence is revealed in The Great Commandments – to in our condition of ‘of the earth’ to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourself. To know that our life can only be known with respect to the Creation, in all its Wonder, our neighbours – people with whom we share in Life, and God. And that that existence is perfectly Manifested in the World in the Crucified Man-God, Jesus Christ.

Well, The Luddites I suggest got this. The Story of the Luddites opens up to us significant evidence of the way in which our Life Together, this Koinonia which is the Goal of all things in Christ Jesus, is radically subverted if not completely destroyed.

The Luddites so named were a loose affiliation of ‘machine wreckers’, specifically knitting machines. People who found that their skills were no longer required for the particular task of knitting stockings. As before wealthy and powerful people found ways to increase their profits by removing at least in part the human from the picture. The introduction of such machines left those with the human skills and crafts to knit stockings without work, in the same way that in the rural context the turning over of land first to sheep, but later following the development of tractors etc. turned people off the land, and disconnected us from a direct and mutual relationship with the Creation. Of course many of those who turned to various crafts as knitting and weaving were the descendants of those who had once lived on the land.
So as a protest against what was happening – gangs of ‘machine wreckers’ would break in to factories at dead of night to do violence to the direct cause of their unemployment. There was no violence against the person until the powers that be stepped in and opened fire in 1812 on a group of wreckers, it having become a capital offence to destroy a machine (and we may well ask what understanding of the human is operative in that decision) By hanging and various punishments the movement was after a period of years quelled.
What was really was at stake here is disputed. The movement was dispersed with no recognisable leader, named after the first machine wrecker, Nedd Ludd.
Were ‘they’ against Technology per se? This is unclear they had no voice as such. Certainly part of the complaint of the Luddites was that the stockings so produced by the new machines were of an inferior quality. And of course we might say that they were not against technology in and of itself, after all, did they not use tools??
Here there is a very significant point to be made about the difference between tools and machines – and more particularly how human beings relate to them, and the language of relationship is not inappropriate. For to follow an argument by Hannah Arendt in xxxxx (See Nick Cage) ‘tools serve humans, extending their capabilities, but humans serve machines’, and we Might say that machines Also extend human capabilities – but we Must note that Alienation has crept into the picture. That same Alienation which is implicit in the division of our Existence into Public and private PSheres, or The Economy. Certainly machines largely do not serve the particular humans who for want of employment must serve them – and become radically deskilled in the process. The dignity of a machine operator who ‘pushed buttons’ on a machine which makes a table is a very much lesser thing than the engagement of a craftsman who wield his tools to make the same table. The human as Agent in the world, as Actor is radically diminished – and with the loss of Agency comes also the lack of ‘Responsibility’. Also implicit is the theory that the ends justify the means – within a machine economy. If the end is to produce a million identical tables, then machines are the most effective, cheapest way to do so – and the consequent loss of meaningful work, or unemployment, or loss of trades and skills built up often over millennia is a loss we are told we must bear.
It is worthy of note that at the same time as the Luddites, in France, in the name of ‘Freedom, Equality, and kinship’ the Terror was unleashed. Ends justifying means, in an increasingly abstract milieu.

Also briefly worthy of note are a community who have successfully withstood the technological determinism of our age, namely the Amish community of Pennsylvania in the United States. They too this day ask a key question of any technology before they permit its use, namely – ‘what will this do to our community?’ It is a think a Good question. If the goal is Koinonia – mutual flourishing in community, then perhaps the story implicit in the technology might work against that. So as we consider the use of all the technologies we shall consider is highly limited in Amish society, if not outright banned.

How we might ask do the Amish get away with this, where the Luddites did not? Simply this. Living on the land they can and do feed themselves . . . living in English cities, all manufacturing workers could always be, and often were, starved into submission . . . for the good of course of ‘The Economy’. Separated out from the Land which is given to sustain the Human, the human becomes a slave (this is one way certainly of reading the Egypt narrative) But what is more, being still of the land, their perception of things is I suggest deeper – they see more clearly what is going on around them – so they would not be prone to say ‘it’s not the technology that is the issue, it is the use we put it to . . .’ as so many are prone to do, for they see technologies in the whole – Actually in reality it is nearer to the truth to say that technologies use us . . .
[See Michael Leunig Cartoon]

Much as our lives are largely controlled by the narratives of ‘The Economy’, so too all technologies come with an implicit agenda, an account of what it means to be a human being – they shape and define our existence . . . It is a neurological necessity to at least have a sense that we are in control of our existence – the truth of the matter is far more troubling, at least to a Modern disconnected person

The Catholic philosopher and writer Albert Borgmann who has a particular interest in this area writes about what he calls ‘The Device Paradigm’ – that is the set of ideas which are embodied in technologies and helpfully uses the example of something dear to the heart of New Zealanders . . . (the unfortunately named) Central heating 🙂 Well it IS a case of ‘be careful of what you wish for’ . . .
So consider a house which is centrally heated – the first this we might notice of course is that is it ALL warm, or can be – but we may find it difficult to find a place where people gather. Rather like the story of how the Manor House became a place of non-shared space – so if everyone’s room is warm, then no one has to be, or indeed IS in the same space . . .

Some years ago I took a short course and we had ‘ice-breaker’ questions [it is interesting to note how frosty our relating is suggested to be by this ‘arbitrary’ choice of words  . . .] One of which was – what image does ‘warm place’ conjour up for you? Most people spoke about gathering around the family fire or Aga – Certainly in the house we lived in before coming to New Zealand the kitchen was the warm centre of the room because we had an Aga there . . . the heating was truly Central . . . Central heating, so called does suggest that it is a matter of indifference whether or not people gather together . . . but as Borgmann also says, this is not all

In the days when wood had to be cut etc. it was one of a number of shared household chores – and cutting wood was one which might fall to the boys of the family, but only after an apprenticeship in ‘the ways of the axe’ from their father. This is one significant expression of ‘true economy’ to pick up on the comments form our talk last week. Intergenerationality was built into a more embodied way of being in the world (something which is a topic worth much further consideration – that dis-embodied existence is profoundly non-intergenerational – but another time) And also labour was a form of engagement with the world. Think now how we speak of ‘exercise’ as a thing amongst many things – the Modern World, rather than ‘Work’ which found its place as inseparable from Existence.

And so to our five technologies

And a reminder about Technologies. No Technologies are neutral – they all come with a story of what it means to be human – but if we pay no attention to that – which as I suggest we cannot as we have lost our sense of what it is to be human, then indeed we may use them far too readily . . .

Money if a profound form of Alienating Abstraction. It reduces people and other aspects of the Creation to often highly arbitrary ‘values’. It is also a tool used for the diminishment of our human specificity.

Money gets between. This is one of the hallmarks of all technologies from the simplest tools, and it is worth noting that there is a critique of tools in the Scriptures, to the most complex of machines or computer systems, (or their humanoid equivalent, bureaucracies) , Tools intervene creating space between the humankind and the creation. So too, money and where force of circumstance, say people being cleared from the land on which they might grow food, creates separation, money readily fills the gap, and with it an impersonalisation. The Price is the Price. It is you might say radically disinterested, for it is oblivious to your need or your ability to pay the price.

it is also alienating for it disconnects you from your labour. Your work in a money economy becomes something separate from you, in that you might sell it, in effect give it away or perhaps even more truthfully give yourself away, for money.
This point perhaps needs a slight qualification, that it assumes a degree of choice on the part of the one who so offers their labour. If one has no choice because the circumstances of the money economy demand you need money to eat, then of course the association of the person and their work becomes tighter, or better, more apparent – ‘Wage slavery’

Money only has any import where Koinonia is unknown. In the realm of shared life, a shared economy in the sense of ‘The Way of the House’, our lives are bound together in mutual provision and reception – Life in its fulness we may perhaps say

which is why, Jesus ‘in whom al things hold together’, apart from whom we cannot know what it is to be human or to be part of the Creation notoriously wouldn’t touch it, a fact lost on man of Money’s disciples. ‘You cannot serve . . .’ note again that theme of serving which is intimately associate with worship. Jesus wouldn’t touch Money – he touched people.

Well there is a lot more we might say about money – about how it denies human difference – it is no respecter of persons. If your labour can be exchanged for the same amount of money as that person’s labour, then you are reduced to identical units of Economic production . . . in this regard, to take perhaps a slightly contentious note it is worth considering the question of ‘Equality’ That men and women should be paid the same for the same work is in a sense utterly inarguable – yet note what has happened. Any note of difference has disappeared – Male/Female distinctions are irrelevant to The Economy – which may be perhaps why more and more people start talking about Gender as if in reality it doesn’t exist?? But also note that That way of looking at equality, A) Serves Money – it takes Money as the God which must determine our worth, and B) has taken both men and Women away from the oikos, the Home, which used to be a place of shared existence and labour. It is no longer just the prodigal Son who has demanded his right to leave home, he has been joined by his sister, and both are equally liberated to eat the scraps which feed the pigs . . .

The Motor Car
I have already alluded to the way in which Wendell Berry saw the arrival of the motor car into Rural community. Now all of a sudden ‘you could go where you liked’ Or so the story goes. A few years ago I had a peculiar sensation sat in what is now ‘Copper’ by the mAori Hill roundabout. The strangest thought went through my head – as hundreds of cars wen through the interchange over a period of an hour, every single one went down one of three routes off the roundabout – with a car you cannot go where you want to go, you can only go where someone else has built a road . . .

now this rather odd thought I think illustrates something which I should perhaps have touched on last time, that is the demonic myth of ‘economic independence’ – the sense that we are ‘Kings and Queens of all we survey’. This I suggest is a double blind. Firstly as the example of the roads illustrate we do not have absolute freedom of choice – rather we are corralled into ways of being in the world – which may well explain to a level why there is so much dissatisfaction and mental illness – we are supposed to ‘have it all’ yet if this is IT?? IT doesn’t seem worth the candle, so to speak 🙂

But secondly  – our (mythical) independence comes at a huge cost to so many others. As people use their cars to go where they want, from of association based on Shared life collapsed. People no longer constrained to ‘make their own entertainment amongst themselves’ are now drawn away to the movies – a largely passive experience which next to no shared content. How infrequently for example will a crowd at the cinema even stand to applaud? (Or sing the National anthem 🙂 ) Those who had no cars were left behind – and note how ‘public transport’ is always for the poor . . . those who cannot afford to participate in The Economy.

But also that our ‘independence’ comes at a huge cost to others, the people who live by the Aluminum smelter, the ludicrous energy costs of producing Aluminium, the rivers and air polluted by the oil products that coat and fuel the car, the people cleared off land that was theirs for generations by corporations ‘for the Common Good . . .’ by common laws, as St Thomas More told us last week.

The biggest cause of pedestrian deaths . . . the motor car
The creation of a space which is all may own – away from the world, as cars are made ever more quiet – more and more disengagement. You don’t even have to shovel coal into the boiler . . . This is a good illustration of how technologies shape the way in which we encounter the world and this how we begin to ‘see’ the world, and finally how we begin to create the world. So now we have our own personalised musical experience brought to us, at a price, by Spotify . . .

The Light bulb –

There is lovely story I believe to be true, told about the introduction of electric light – something I doubt many if any of us remember. In the late 1950’s the electric supply companies finally reached the remote upper Yorkshire Dales. Up there on the moors, not far from Bronte Country in the Pennines, there are a number of very remote dwellings, in which lived an old country woman, all alone, tending her few animals.

A few months after the installation of the supply and the obligatory electric lights, she was visited by someone sent to read her meter – who noted she had used but a couple of units. Somewhat puzzled he asked if she had been using her new lights, ‘Oh yes’ she replied,’ I find them most useful. Now when it gets dark I can switch a light on for a couple of moments which makes finding my matches much more easy!’ 🙂

Well this amusing tale of course features someone who isn’t against technology per se, but only in so far as it makes a meaningful difference to her existence. A solitary Amish we might say 🙂

Recently on retreat I studied and slept in a cabin which had no electric light – I relied on candles at night and I can tell you, you need a lot of tea lights to provide enough light to read by! The Electric light bulb radically altered human existence and more, human consciousness. Before that there were candles which were limited in their capacity to provide light, and which thereby provided a rhythm to the day – there were times for labour and study, and times for other activities which it might be said better engaged aspects of our being not accessed in the full glare of the sun – for example prayer and contemplation. [Jesus had a habit of rising to pray whilst it was yet dark – we take this to mean that ‘he had a busy day ahead of him, yet might it rather be that the dark is more conducive to prayer??]

If your evenings are perhaps given to knitting or quiet contemplation, then electric light isn’t of significnace. But if as we have repeatedly said, you do not have an account of human existing, a defining story, and a shared story at that, then of course technologies lead us into paths which perhaps may well not be to our benefit. Certainly if this old lady were typical then electrical supply would not be the big business it is today!

And again we come upon the theme of Alienation – in a sense the heart of ‘The Fall’ – Cutting us off from the Creation. Let us consider shift work, for example, Now it is not the Church unceasing as the world turns which rests not day nor night, it is the economic machine, with only deleterious effects on the people who work through the night. Various studies about such massive disruption to our inbuilt rhythms only show negative outcomes for health and well being. On the one hand this is good news though, of it shows that actually the human IS limited, IS at some level a creature of Creation, given to Evening and morning, but at what cost?

The Clock

One lament which may go up in response to these talks is, ‘well you cannot turn the clock back’ One understanding of our existence which the clock brings with it is an implication that Time is somehow going somewhere – the myth of human progress. Yet it is a myth which ironically misses out ‘the Human’ – for let us suggest for a moment that there was a catastrophic collapse in the water supply system? We would surely find the clock going back very rapidly indeed. As one of my former mentors would put it – you think human beings are civislied and advanced beyond ‘cave men’? Cut of the water supply and in three days people will be killing one another for a bottle of water’ [Another example of the madness of ‘The Economy’]

As we started this survey regarding the modern World, I made it clear that it was changes in the Church which triggered this – and so to with regard to time and its accurate measurement. As the disconnection of Rome from the East, of the Sacramental Unity of bread and Wine with the body and blood of Christ was ruptured, so too everything was broken into smaller and smaller divisions, and along with that there was a growing development of Law, of imposing the will upon nature and our fellow man which had a direct impact on the church.
Clocks after all are incredibly useful for getting monks out of bread for their prayers. How can you ‘Regulate’ (lay down the law about) prayer ‘better’, but by the clock . . . yet this technology itself had a deleterious effect on the wider world, most especially under the press of the Industrial revolution, for in the Machine, Time found a perfect partner in the business of dehumanisation. The measurement of time became one of the prime ways of determining the value of work.

In the early days, where workers had been used to producing a set number of units in a day. the introduction of the clock had a beneficial effect -[Kallenberg] for having speeded up their work and produced the daily units, the workers went off to fish or read, or generally recreate 🙂 But factory managers thought this a travesty! So work came by the hour, so workers then completed their work and then idled in the factories until home time – so then of course the number of units required was increased – more bricks, and this time without straw . . . The mechanisation of labour led increasingly to the mechanisation of the person as labour was increasingly measured and determined by the clock.

And of course the clock, as with the light bulb further disconnected the human form the Creation – for after all, as with money where a dollar is a dollar is a dollar, so too the clock, an hour is an hour be it first thing in the morning, or indeed he middle of the light.

Nothing has turned us more into machines than the clock – until now –

Cell (smart) phones
Every other form of technology we have considered has come in relatively slowly, yet from out of nowhere, Cell phones are almost universally present. We cannot be with other people and not either have our conversation interrupted, or indeed largely ignore each other because of the cell phone – which is now, only a little over a decade a reality, a ubiquity.

Just the other day I walked down George Street and out of interest checked out smart phone use – between 35 and 40 percent of the people I counted were visibly carrying smart phones

And they are changing the way we relate to one another at an extraordinary rate. It is not uncommon for me for example to receive a text containing information which should be relayed face to face, for example – but it is affecting us bodily – we all now know that a human being looks like this {cell phone pose} and several years ago now I was informed by one of our local undertakers that people’s bodies had a new crease, under the chin. So our post mortem appearance tells a story. A story which is true of all technologies from the simplest tools to the most complex devices – that we at some level become one with the device – we lose our sense of otherness with regard to it. So a master craftsman whilst attending to the care of his tools, will in the act of crafting something lose conscious perception of the tool, rather knowing his material in and through a fusion of himself with the tool, so too we become unaware of our fusing with our smart phones. How many of us for example have food ourselves looking at the screen without consciously thinking ‘I ought to get out my phone’? And its highly impersonal way of communicating becomes our way of communicating. Words are the least personal form of communicating, arising as they do in the Left hemisphere of our brains, the one which deals in abstractions. As a word is not the thing to which is refers but our reaching towards the thing, perhaps with regard to having power over ‘it’, so text cannot convey a person.

What we know of language and its development is that the more complex a spoken language, the more abstract and disconnected from the reality of our existence it becomes. Our deep dependence on the technology of language reveals in a sense our deep discomfort with one another. In Truth it is only those who sit in companionable silence without the need to speak who might be said to be approaching an understanding of one another.

This is revealed in neurological research. Our for want of a better word, and it is a poor word, ‘primitive’ brain structures, are those best attuned to the presence of another, even to the point of recognising the presence of someone without seeing hearing or touching them. The natural response to the presence of another, measurable by electrical means, diminishes by 70% in response to the voice of another apart from their physical presence. It disappears completely if all we ‘see’ is text. (hence it is pure conceit to say that you can Know another person through their writing, for all you have access to is an abstraction.)

Of course earlier generations knew this well. The use of the word ‘know’ for sexual relations was not a euphemism. it pointed to the depth of engagement. Something which has disappeared in our word obsessed culture as ‘sex’ becomes pure ‘thing’ in a world of things – made entirely explicit as is we could ‘see it all’ we are blind to one another and to true Knowledge. As we are aware this is happening around us all the time in so many ways. The shift to a smart phone existence has already led to dramatic losses in empathy, the ability to truly acknowledge that which is not you – and of course a corresponding increase in narcissism. The Objectification of others in their words and in pictures of them has radically depersonned us

What is more the cell phone is so ubiquitous that we can see the rapid change in people’s lives as the lat few places globally out of their reach is conquered. So a friend who ministers in The Solomon Islands is watching with horror as people’s lives change overnight with the adoption of cel phones – he is watching deep attentiveness disappearing as people become fixated on screens, he is seeing how the Community collapses and ‘private space takes over’ as for example pornography, previously unknown becomes a Live issue out of nowhere as people can access it with their phones . . .

Also education – and the Apple approved school – despite a) no account of what a human is b) no account of what ‘education’ is or is for, based of course on no account of what a human being is as they take over and transform education from a form of apprenticeship and learning, to an accumulation of facts, as if people came themselves with ‘pre-installed’ software which enabled them to choose – of course they are also being educated in reading texts for ‘sterotypes and gender issues . . .

The Luddites
Something deeper, not picked up in any accounts but I think a human/Christian perspective – we become like that which we serve – or worship . . . Jesus directs us to the service of God and our fellow, that we might grow more and more into HIs Likeness through mutual love and praise – machines call for our service, worship either enforced or freely given. Is it not possible that somewhere deep in the heart of the Luddites was the apprehension that the technological age was an inappropriate arena of service for the human?