Three (not entirely) wise monkeys . . . Sermon for OT33 Year A, 2017

Sermon for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017 Sunday November 19th
Philippians 4
Matthew 25:14-30

Three (not perfectly) wise monkeys

I have to admit in advance that rather unusually I have chosen one of our readings today, as I missed the opportunity to preach on it a few weeks ago when it came round in the Lectionary – and that is our Epistle, however it does correspond to our Gospel this week.

When I was growing up, my father was regularly absent from home, on business in the ‘oil rich’ nations of the Middle East and Africa. The company for whom he worked equipped hospitals across the gulf states and in Africa. The equipping involved everything from the latest surgical technology to gold plate taps for the personal medical suites of Saudi Royal Princes 🙂

On these trips he would always bring back a present for each of his sons and one year it was what now would be a little frowned on – three wise monkeys, carved from ebony – I still have mine, weighty enough to be an offensive weapon! For some reason mine was ‘speak no evil’, I don’t know whether it was chosen deliberately for me 🙂

Of course the council of the monkeys – hear no evil, see no evil speak no evil is not a bad council. Certainly there is great wisdom in not allowing things into our imaginative world which will only spread darkness. There is I think too little work done on the influence of violent or sexually explicit materials on our souls, perhaps of course because ‘we moderns’ no longer believe in souls. We still largely believe that we are ‘discriminating’ objective observers of the world who ‘can cope’ with watching such things, and in so doing our souls shrivel all the more.

I think in this regard even an ebony monkey is more wise than we. To pick up briefly on my theme of the last couple of weeks, we have an utterly inadequate ontology – we know not whereof we are made, We forget that we are but dust . . . we have little comprehension to use the words of Jesus, of that which makes for our peace . . .

Turning our gaze from Violence, closing our ears to gossip, and restraining the tongue (‘if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all!’ as my mother would say) is Wise council, but if our approach to the World is primarily one of saying no, of shutting it all out, then we do not apprehend the Truth of our Existence

St Paul as he writes to the Philippians exhorts us in a very different way – a way that leads us deep into the Life of God

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 1) our disposition towards life is one of Rejoicing in the Lord, not saying ‘what a terrible time we live in!’ The Christian Life is not one of complaint, it is one of Rejoicing – why? How is this possible in this world??

Well, he goes on – 2) ’Let your gentleness be known to everyone.’ Gentleness is one of the Primary virtues of Christian existence – it is the antithesis of Violence and is the fruit of Knowing that ‘The Lord is near.’ The Lord is near, The Lord, is Here, God’s Spirit is with us . . . lift up your hearts, we lift them to the Lord Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, it is right to give him thanks and praise.

We learn as Christians to live in and through the Eucharist – Christ is at hand, near, present. Anxiety has no place, therefore – Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The Always Rejoicing, Gentle, peaceful life is the Christian Life.

That Rejoicing Always is not I suggest the Happy Shouty Demonstrative Noisy – rather in the spirit of Gentleness it might be described using another forgotten word beginning with G – gladness. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah – the Servant of the Lord, Jesus himself – is the source of
‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.’

Do these things – Be Glad in the Lord, Be gentle out of non anxiety – Peace – And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Not hands over eyes, or ears or mouth, The Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds . . .

Rather than finding ourselves in a war to keep darkness out, rather that which wells up within us guards our hearts and minds in the peace of God – so Paul goes on, rather than keeping things out, focus your hearts and minds on that which brings Life – the wellspring of Life

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We might say – whatever is good and pure and beautiful and true . . .

God is Good – All the time! All the time, God is Good! Fix your heart and mind on Goodness, and your eye will find its home in the Source of all goodness – The One who is the source of Goodness, Beauty, Truth.

As St Paul counsels elsewhere don’t get all tied up in controversy, arguments about words. Go about your life in humility and trust, doing that which he gives, keeping your heart and mind fixed on Goodness – He who is the Headwaters of your Life. Do not lose sight of This Living Water – Life coming to you in Christ Jesus.

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

It is that Simple – Difficult at first for we have perhaps forgotten to so feed our eyes and ears and minds on those things which make for our health – forgetting we have souls of Eternal quality, we allow all sorts of things in. The counsel of the Gospel is ‘if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light’ Dwell on the Light, Goodness, Beauty and Truth, manifested in Jesus. Knowing Jesus our gaze is changed so that we See Goodness and Beauty and Truth coming to us in so many different ways. We Encounter the Goodness of God, and are freed from anxiety in the World.

Unlike the third of the servants to whom the master entrusts his business. In many respects it is true, we see as we are. The third servant in the parable, sees only himself when he says ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; – he accuses his master of being lazy, but of course he himself has done nothing whilst his master has been away! I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?”

The slave sees as HE Is!

With what has he filled his imagination, to ignore the work assigned to him? He does not see His Life as it were tied up in the Life of HIs Master. HE does not Know His Master – he Presumes to Know Him, but does not, for He sees no connection between his life and that of his master at one level – he does not recognise his fortunes as tied up in His Masters fortunes. And all he sees when he looks at his master is what he truly knows, himself . . . wicked and lazy . . . well if that is what you set your eyes on, that is what you become . . .

I think there is a simple warning here. That we live in a world which has little time for God – and constantly we will hear many things which are untruthful about God. Where did the Servant get his ideas about his master? Where do we get our ideas about God?

For in truth, there are many, even in the Church who have decided on the truth of God, without themselves gazing upon him in love, To Behold Him, to Know Him

Fundamentally we Know the Truth about God for we have come to See Him for ourselves

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Set your heart and mind and eye on them, and Behold!! Look!!!

The God of Peace will be with you . . .


Good Lord, Deliver us!

Sermon for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A 2017

Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 70
Matthew 25:1-13

‘Good Lord deliver us’

‘And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.’ Matthew 24:12-13

Last week we briefly considered  ‘Ontology’ – the question of ‘What Is’, of ‘What we mean when we say ‘Existence’’. And for getting into the heart of the matter, I  think that you could do far worse than talk to a farmer. Of course, coming from a farming family myself I may be biased, but Farmers are very connected to the Earth – they are grounded, we might say ‘humble’. They know far better than most modern people how dependent they are on a hundred and one factors which we pay little attention to – and know it not purely academically, they know it, because they live in it. They have a deep appreciation of Existence.

I remember well how the farmers in my old parish back in England spoke a great deal about climate change for it was affecting their rhythms and patterns of work, and I remember one particular conversation with a farmer who expressed to me his deep concern about Modern folk. That they had never lived through periods of food shortages. That as a society the folk memory of famine and want had been all but erased – for whom food shortage ‘was a thing of the past’, ‘something that happened to other people’. For not since the second war had folk experienced what it was for Everyone to know that food was short. My farmer friend thought this bode ill, that we had for too long lost sight of the importance of food security and agriculture to our daily lives, of our dependence upon the Good Earth, for history taught that famine was an ever returning aspect of the cycle . . .

In one of my churches we had a piece of furniture which was once common – The Litany Desk. On it lay a prayer book open at The Great Litany, a series of prayers with the repeated petition, ‘Good Lord deliver us . . .’ From amongst other things, ‘plague and famine and want . . . ‘

The idea that we might as a congregation pray weekly for deliverance from plague and famine and want, that we should be continually looking to God to preserve us from these things was something that in the eyes of my farmer friend and church member, something we had lost touch with – As Henry reminded me from Scripture – ‘we live in the seven years of plenty, but there are always seven of famine round the corner . . .’

Yet prayers about deliverance from plague and famine and indeed much more – seem to us to be ‘culturally irrelevant’. Would we give ourselves to pray the litany, three times a week? I must confess that in my own cultural blinkers, I removed the desk . . .

And what then of the Psalms? The prayer book of the Church as we know, but do we Know it? How much do they touch our lives , as we perceive them . . .

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’ turn back because of their shame.

Do such prayers apply to us? We who have everything we need . . . One of the hallmarks of our age and culture seems to be its easy self sufficiency. Written deep into the myth of these Islands is ‘we enjoy the good life’ I remember a few years back reading a piece in the Star asking why the entrepreneurial spirit amongst Kiwis was not as strong was in other cultures and the response was – because here you don’t have to put in too much effort for the three Bs – BMW, Boat and Bach – or if you’re from a different class, Barbie, Beer and Bach . . . The good life – sit back with a glass of chilled Savvie blanc and watch the sunset . . . And say to your soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

And in so many ways the sun is setting – certainly over the Church which is rapidly dying in these parts? Perhaps because we have no sense of our Roots, of our Earthiness – of our Dustiness – of where Life truly comes from? Of our sheer dependence on everyone and everything that surrounds us
. . . and under all, in all through all and coming to us if we did but see, the Deep wellsprings of the Life of God who in Christ sustains everything – Christ – sustains everything . . .

No one is crying out – ‘Why have you abandoned us??’ No one seems to be praying, ‘From a collapsing Church – Good Lord deliver us’. How strong is, not our doctrine or our idea of our mutual dependence on one another and God, how Strong is our Sensation, that embodied perception that Knows that the myth of Independence is a Shallow and deadly lie, that in truth it is God who is Life, who sustains our lives moment by moment. How is this Perception lived out amongst us?

Independence tells us we can do it for ourselves, that we have ‘our own lives’ and that is how we experience life in the modern world if we have a modest income. This becomes the narrative of our existence, and even the church acts as if it is more or less independent of God

Last week we pondered Jesus’ beatitudes, His startling accounting of those who were blessed. Of how his words were Emphatic – Blessed are the meek – for THEY shall inherit the Earth . . . Blessed are the poor, meek, mourning, hungry, persecuted – THEY shall inherit.

What marks out the Blessed in Jesus terms? Those who are in need, in necessity – those who do cry out day and night to the LORD, Good Lord deliver us – those who knew their dependence on kindness of others and the goodness of God, not as dry doctrine, but embodied fact – Blessed are those who know the truth of their existence . . . Blessed are those . . .

‘who cry out to God day and night will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Blessed are the un-noticed – Blessed are those who are looking for God’s coming to them . . .

Blessed are those who long for his appearing, for they will not be careless with the oil – they will be prepared – they will be ready. The parable of the wise and foolish differentiates between those who are attentive, those who know their need and their insufficiency, and those who have become careless, who consider their life is their own.
Jesus having preached several parables against the Pharisees, now warns his disciples. Your Master, your Rabbi is going on a journey – things are being put into your hands – there is a very stern warning in the verses before our parable which puts it into context – Jesus talking to his disciples says

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(As one writer wryly asks – ‘which we may ask is worse, to be cut into pieces or to be assigned a place with the hypocrites . . . 🙂 )

So we have the wise slave who attends to his masters business, who is attentive to his coming, who knows his Life is tied up with his masters, who is caught up in that Love from the Lord, and too the Lord, which is the heart of mutual existence – and the wicked slave who gets distracted, separated out. The wise bridesmaids who are ready with their oil, and the foolish who haven’t given any thought to preparations, for what would they Need??

This parable with its stern closure – ‘I do not know you’ and the previous warning to the disciples take us back to that Sermon on the Mount which begins with the beatitudes of the needy, and takes us to its closure – its ending – the wise and the foolish.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Distracted from the small works of mercy, by grandiose schemes and plans – unknown to the one who comes in smallness and humility

Then the parable of the Wise and foolish – those who hear the words of Jesus, are attentive to his word, and act on them – the Wise who build their house on the rock of the words of The Other . . . and those who don’t – those who don’t act on the words of Jesus and build their house where they see fit . . . Which house will stand in the day of the Lord’s appearing?

It is a story about an approaching storm – The Day of the Lord as spoken of by the prophet Amos. Amos the uncultured shepherd prophet, who throughout cries out words of warning to the comfortable

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

Caught up in mutual independence in our neediness and love; or Independent, thinking ourselves to have a life of our own, not anchored to anything or anyone?

I must say I Love his turn of phrase – ‘as if someone fled from a lion only to be met by a bear!’ but its message is sober and clear

The closing verses of the Psalm place us – place us within the Reality of our Life before God, who Is our Life and give us a rejoicing Hope, and Orientation towards the One who comes to us in the Name of the Lord

Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, ‘God is great!’
But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!

A storm is coming – Good Lord, deliver us!


All Saints – Incompatible Metaphysics

Incompatible metaphysics

Jesus said ‘Truly, Truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you’
John 6:53

A catchy sermon title is always helpful 🙂 I have a friend with whom I meet up all too infrequently, and when we do get together we have a common lament ‘Why is no one interested in Ontology or Metaphysics?’ because without Ontology or metaphysics, you don’t know which way is up! . . . Metaphysics, of which Ontology is a subsection, is concerned with the Question of ‘What is?’ Or to put it a little more helpfully, what is the true nature of Reality. Our conversations are usually held over large cups of coffee, but I am sure that if we are granted enough years we may well graduate to Whisky and pipes 🙂

Of course this revelation might be met either with complete incomprehension – ‘What has that go to do with anything??’ To which the answer is it has Everything to do with Everything! Or, ‘Well I’m glad someone is thinking about these things, but the rest of us just get on with it!!’ To which the only reasonable response is – What is the It with which you are getting on?’

For it must be said, if the underlying story of our existence by which we live by is wrong, then we are in trouble – and if the Western World is anything to go by, then it might be safe to assume that we have the wrong story, or The Wrong Metaphysic . . . Certainly we seem to inhabit a World which is not conducive to Life. Modern Culture is wiping out Life on Earth at a rate that were it a LOT slower we might call Alarming. Somehow the Modern Western Culture doesn’t fit ‘within The Great Scheme of Things . . . and as for the Life of the Church, it would seem that the Western World is similarly Ill disposed to the Church – some form of decline pretty much everywhere you look. The collapse of the Created Order, and the Collapse of the Church . . .

Of course, someone might say, well at least here in the West we are free to worship without fear . . . yet we must ask whether this is truly a hopeful sign? If a Culture that is destroying everything is happy to let us do what we want in this reagard, then perhaps we actually believe the same story. Perhaps we have the same Metaphysic, or ‘we’re just like all the rest’ . . .
. . . which brings us to today on which we celebrate ‘All Saints’ . . . and to be a Saint is to have a very different metaphysic, to live out of a very different story, a story which I suggest leaves us at odds with the culture in which we find ourselves . . .

Saints – Moreover the problem of being a Saint in the Modern World – And we might find ourselves on familiar ground here. Back on the ‘on the one hand, but then on the other’ ground’ The Church and the Real World, Clergy and Lay people, God and Caesar . . . Saints on one hand and then on the other, we run of the mill Christians . . . Except that isn’t true . . .

The word Saint in Greek is Hagioi – it is the direct translation of the word ‘Holy’ in the Hebrew קםש — Set apart for God.

As we heard in Leviticus last week ‘Be Holy for I am Holy’ – as Peter tells us ‘Be Holy for I am Holy’. This ‘Holy’ is not primarily a ‘moral’ word, rather it is a Metaphysical Word – it is to do with Existence – it is a form of Existence – Yet we have a problem with the word Holy which in our culture has a ‘moral’ feel to it – in Te Reo, Tapu gets closer, but then we have to translate it and when we translate any word aside from words about objects, we always mistranslate – so we might call it ‘Sacred’. But none of these really do, words that are so shaped by our World –

As Always Jesus expresses it this ‘holiness’, in HIs Being, and his Speech

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;
for [your Father in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If we go into the depths of what it means to be a Saint, one of the Holy, it is this, it is to be a Child of God. Note how Jesus expresses our action – Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good . . . This living out of the Life of The Father is the Christian Metaphysic, and is beautifully revealed in the heart of prayer, when we say The Lord’s Prayer

I was asked recently, why do I use the words ‘As our Saviour Christ has both commanded and taught us, we are bold to say’ as an invitation to pray the Lord’s Prayer. (Words which come from the prayer book of the Episcopal Church of the US) Why? Because surely it is more than a little bold to pray in such a way as to Assume a relationship, that we have been born of God? ‘Born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God’

What is more we pray out of that assumption. Forgive us as we have forgiven, ‘We have lived as your children , reflecting the Divine Image in the World, Loving our enemies, forgiving all and sundry – therefore we make a claim on you, the One from whom our Life comes, the one who is the source of the forgiveness with which we have forgiven.

To live out of the Life of the Father, in imitation of the One whom we Love with all our heart and soul and mind. Jesus is of course the First amongst the brethren, the One who only does what he sees the Father doing – His gaze is on the Father and as we set our Gaze of God in Jesus. Being Holy, Being a Saint is the same as Being a Child of God. It is knowing Life from God – it is having a different form of existence in the World


An old Saint of the church died a year or so ago. To this day I don’t know her name, but someone who was with her when she died told me a beautiful story which I think speaks to this and indeed to the whole question of Metaphysics, what we are, and why Christian metaphysics is incompatible with the story the World tells about itself, insofar as it has a story.

Shortly before she died in hospital, which itself tells us much of the World’s story, a doctor on his rounds who hadn’t met her dropped in. Making small talk . . . for without a better metaphysic what Are you going to talk about? . . . he asked her ‘Where are you from?’ And without a moments hesitation our Sister replied ‘From God’ . . .

In our Baptism, we are identified with Jesus, marked as His People, and we are granted the Gift of the Divine Life – the Life from above. This life is unlike other life in the world, although it is the source of all life in the World.
The early Christians were not seen in modern terms as ‘one religion amongst many’ Those are terms set by the Modern world with its categories and boxes, trying to manipulate things to fit in with its story. No, they were seen as a separate Race, a new humanity and such language fills the Scriptures of Course – as St Paul says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, S/he is a New Creation’ a New Creature – through the Life of God in Her, she is a foretaste of the Once and future Kingdom of God

And if we still don’t get it, this Different Metaphysic, then what of the words of Jesus? Do they speak to us of the world around us?

Blessed are the poor, the poor in Spirit, the mourners, the meek, the pure in heart, those hungering and thirsting, the persecuted for the name of Jesus . . . They are the Blessed.
Certainly we cannot see the world as Modern people and find the words of Jesus are anything but madness . . . they are incompatible with the Modern World . . . The Meek inherit the Earth? No, the Powerful, the strong etc etc It is no surprise that the words Jesus are continually being twisted and reinterpreted for in the Modern World they are Irrelevant . . . you won’t get far in the Way of the World if you take Jesus at his word. How are you going to get on in school, in your career, in getting a good standard of living etc etc with this blessed life?? Taking Jesus at his word, Jesus who Manifests This Life, finds us living out of a very different Metaphysic, a different Existence

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, that he had come from God, and was going back to God got up from the table, took off his robe and wrapped a towel round his waste. You see if You are not the Source of your own existence, if you don’t have to prove yourself, make a name for yourself, ‘get on in the World’ – then you do not have to secure your existence in the World – you don’t have to make it fit, you don’t have to make it relevant, you can just let it Be.

The story of the Modern World is that you are responsible for Your Life – You create our own life. As one writer puts it, it is hardy surprising their is such an epidemic of depression faced with the Command to Be Yourself . . . But if your life is not your own but comes as Gift from The Father, and what is more it will return to the Father, then that struggle falls away. We are Free with Jesus to be the poor in Spirit one, the mourning, meek, pure of heart one, the hungering and thirsting one . . . The Blessed One. Free to be Saints –

Whatever story the world has of those who are blessed it isn’t the Jesus story – indeed the two stories are incompatible. The story of the modern world is epitomised by the Skip which was on the lawn last week. We who are no more than a collection of atoms, mysteriously living, for we have no story about what Life itself is, beyond a chilled white wine and a nice view. . . dig dead matter out of the ground, exert our will on it, make it into something, sell it to someone, who eventually puts it in a skip and it goes back into a whole in the ground. Insofar as there is a dominant story about what it is to be human, it is veering towards a similar disposability of dead things.

It is a story moving from non existence to non existence, a story From death to death

Jesus said ‘Truly, Truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you’

We are her to remember who we are – to remember our story as Christians

Our story – the story of the Saints, the Story of The Children of God is from Life to Life – from God, To God, The Divine Life – and shedding Light and life abroad . . .