Feast of the Presentation 2018

Feast of The Presentation 2018

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 24
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

The Lord shall come to his Temple

“I could die in peace, I think, if the world was beautiful. To know it is being ruined is hard”
Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry

Today we celebrate The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Hidden from the gaze of the world, the infant Jesus is brought as the law prescribed to the Temple for the purification of Mary. Bringing with them two turtle doves, as Leviticus 12:8 ‘If she cannot afford a lamb, she shall take two turtle-doves . . .’ Of course we leap to readily to the assumption that Mary cannot afford a lamb, or maybe she does bring a lamb, or indeed the Lamb . . .

Temple worship – temple ritual and rites – it all sounds very strange to our ears, after all, we’ve moved beyond rites of purification for women after childbirth – blood is just that, blood . . . Yet if we are to recapture a Christian imagination we need as I said a couple of weeks back to get rid of the word ‘just’ from our vocabulary . . . To See where we are is to have the eyes of our heart enlightened, our Imaginative world illuminated by the Truth of our existence. Blood is not just blood, the Temple is not just a religious building in Jerusalem two millennia ago. And we’re not alone in needing our imaginations opened – even Mary and Joseph marvel at the words of Simeon and Anna the prophetess – in a sense they also do not know where they are, or who indeed is this child

Over my holiday I was reading the latest essays of Wendell Berry – the farmer, poet, essayist and novelist. Having read him for some years now, I was very aware of the how his essay writing, always excellent had developed a deep maturity as he comes towards the end of his life. He writes about our relationship with the Land, with Place, with Earth and Soil – and much of his energy has been taken up writing about the despoliation of the world brought about Modern Agriculture. He reflects upon several generations of farming by his family, of how the land bears the scars even from the days of the first settlers in his native Kentucky – before the machines came – revealing a lack of sensitivity to the Creation – and with our readings in mind and pondering Berry’s writings I couldn’t help but be drawn to almost the closing words of his finest novel.

This beautiful work is the life story of a man named Jayber Crow, told in his own words, and a story richly woven together with Nature, Place, People and very very beautifully textured. It is the story of a small town barber, woven into which is the story of a secret love – of Jayber’s love for Mattie Keith, someone he watches grow up in the township, and marry Troy Chatham.
Chatham looks at the land he inherits from Mattie’s father as ‘Resource’ – he wonders how to make more money from the land – a typically modern preoccupation. As in this Rational Scientific age we’ve stopped asking the question, ‘What Is the Land?’ We now only ask – what can I use it for. . . so he gives up on the uneconomic mules and borrows money to buy tractors,. These of course he is assured will make him a better farmer. He fells the old stands of trees which are in his way as he goes for a monoculture farming. On hills and slopes that cannot bear it. Pretty much as we imagine human beings are, he treats the Land also as Tabula Rasa, a Blank slate on which to write his own story. So All the boundaries come down, and all the woods are torn up, All except for one small wood. The best of the woods, which Mattie’s father has left to her, The Nest Egg.

Troy like so many small famers caught up in the bewildering abstract world of ‘scientific farming’ and ‘high finance’ gradually ruins all the land, until all that is left is The Nest Egg.
And then Mattie falls terribly ill, she goes to hospital where it is clear that she will die. Whilst she lies in her hospital bed, in one last desperate throw of the dice Troy sells this beautiful wood to timber men to pay off some of his debts . . . but Mattie gets to hear

At the End, Jayber goes to visit her in hospital where she is slipping away. Emaciated and wired up to the machines of Modern medicine – she senses him come into the room and tells him what he already knows “Jayber, Oh, he’s cutting the woods”, and then “I could die in peace, I think, if the world was beautiful. To know it is being ruined is hard”

And one cannot hear those words from a good Christian writer without hearing the familiar words of Simeon “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace . . .” But as the words of Jesus ask us, ‘do we know what makes for our peace?’

Another book I read was the simple and beautiful ‘I heard the Owl call my name” The story of an Anglican priest living with and amongst the Inuit in Western Canada – reading that I was haunted by the constant reminder of the Deep Sadness in the eyes of the people, as they saw all that they held dear, most especially their place within the Creation, as like so many before them they too were ripped up like trees, moved out of [sic] the land by well meaning people – all in the name of progress

Well you may ask – what on earth has any of that to do with the Feast of the Presentation? With Jesus coming as a child to the temple?
And you would not be alone. Curiously amongst the several versions of the Lectionary for this Sunday our Lectionary is unique in telling us that the Psalm set is Psalm 24, but ‘just’ verses 7-10. These verses about Lift up your head you gates, lift them high. If we were paying attention we’d note that we used the whole Psalm. but surely its just these 7 verses which are about the Lord coming to the Temple – the rest is about Creation. ‘The Earth is The LORD’S and all they that dwell therein, for it is He who has established it upon the seas, and set it firm upon the rivers of the Deep . . .’

The compilers of our lectionary would have us separate out the Creation and The Temple . . . As I have said before Temples are placed in The Temple. The Genesis account of the Creation with its seven days matches the ordering of the tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple in its sevenfold structure

You cannot separate them out . . . but we have. Temple and Creation. For example how often do we hear words like ‘Well now we must get out into the real world to do the Real Work of The Kingdom . . . what exactly have we been doing here? What holds the universe together? Our efforts? Or our prayers? Does Praying actually in some True sense ‘Do’ something?
the idea that Worship is like going to the petrol station for a fill up . . . Do we realise, do we See what we are doing when we are here? I have spoken from time to time about the movement in Space which takes place in the liturgy. Is it ‘just’ a model? ‘Just’ bread and wine? ‘Just’ words? Are those amongst whom we sit ‘just’ other parishioners? What is human being anyway?? Who are we? What are we? Where are we?

And that disconnection from a sense of the Vital livingness of Worship is mirrored in our lack of Seeing where we are beyond these walls. The Creation. Do we Realise Where we are?? I think that those Native Indians with their deep sad eyes Knew and Saw precisely where they were? Mattie Keith Saw. “I could die in peace, I think, if the world was beautiful. To know it is being ruined is hard”

To give s simple example, our rabbit sees better 🙂 I agonise I must admit over having a rabbit in a hutch(and yes I know, the Wrights let theirs run around everywhere 🙂 We are experimenting a little with free rabbit movements but where we come from there are foxes 🙂 ) Yet, here is the think, it is meticulously careful with its space – it doesn’t foul it all . . . It knows where it is, and it takes care of it and the rabbit droppings are located in a very small space.

Question? If we really Understand that we live in and are part of the Creation, the The Earth is The LORD’s, how can we possibly take it to the brink of complete destruction . . .

Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

He Sees – as he looks At The LORD coming to his Temple.

This Creation is The Temple of The LORD – as the prophet says ‘The LORD, whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple . . . but who may abide the day of His coming, and who may stand when he appears . . .

Worship Matters, The Creation Matters – but as woven together – for The Earth is The Lord’s and everything in it

It is all His

As we ponder His Coming to His Temple, we may well ask, have we Cared, have we tilled and kept? Or have we been Casual?


Jayber Crow, his life woven into the land lies down in the soil in a clearing – he became one with the [Creation] but was anything but at peace – ‘I heard the motors speeding along the roads, and [along] the rivers, the tractors in the fields, the airplanes in the sky, and always, always that chainsaw in the woods. I heard the big trees tearing and breaking their way to the ground, and the thump of little creatures run over on the road . . .

This is the World of Faith – to SEE – it is no easy antidote to the World, it is to Know its truth and our place in it . . . and it is also to See our Salvation in Christ who as the Centre of Creation gives light to all who ask. True Faith is Woven into the fabric of Creation – for Creation is God’s and cannot be known or lived in apart from God

Let us pray that the King of Glory may come in
Let us pray that we Know the things that truly make for our peace





Epiphany Year B 2017 – The Fullness of the Glory and Wonder of the Mystery

Epiphany 2017

The Fullness of the Glory and Wonder of the Mystery . . .

So, Ella and Brett are married . . . In ancient lore, the newly wed couple leave the reception in a car from which hangs a sign saying ‘Just Married’, but as anyone with any experience will tell you you are never ‘Just’ Married – Marriage is far far more than a mechanical human agreement and contract – it is ‘a Mystery’ That is it is something which we can name, but the depths of we can only point towards – as if you saw the entire universe in a moment and everyone asked you – ‘What did you see . . .

In the same way as you are never ‘just’ married, and as I said a few weeks back, you never ‘just’ pray. Books on ‘how to pray’ as if it were a simple mechanical act strip Prayer of its ‘Mystery’ its depth, its very Life.
Our World would have us do this – I remember in my High School Biology class being told that if you added together everything that a human being was made of in terms of your chemical composition, you could be sold for about $2 . . . depending on the global price for minerals prevailing at the time . . . Defining things as ‘just’ this or that or the other, stripping them of their Mystery kills them. As the Romantic poet William Wordsworth noticed, ‘we murder to dissect’ . . . and I would say that The Modern World is an act of murder which would leave even Herod looking like a kindly grandfatherly figure in its reducing the World and the Human to ‘just’ this or that or the other . . .

The Ancients were very very wise to and alert to the danger of this ‘just’ness. They warned against ‘mere appearances’ that to live by mere appearances was to be enslaved. We of course live in an age imprisoned by appearances – Plato speaks of those imprisoned by gazing eternally upon images of images, appearances of appearances . . . He could have been prophesying the smart phone on which we gaze unceasingly at images of images . . .

And it is all too easy as Modern people to take The Christmas Story and package it in ways that lead to such imprisonment by the Gaoler ‘Just’ . . .
I always prefer to listen to the beginning of John’s gospel and at midnight, not only because his words take us beyond words, and it is in the dark and so we are on the edge of things seen and unseen . . . I prefer that than to listen to Luke on Christmas morning, when the sun is up and the story is comfortably familiar . . . For our imaginations I think have been captivated by endless images – endless nativities and children in tea towels, and the story is so far from this . . .

We often make the error of ‘simplifying’ things for children as if they had no sense of Wonder as if perhaps their Vision was less developed than ours . . . So the nativity is demystified to a children’s tail, or demystified by simplistic readings of the text

We would prefer to paddle in muddy shallows than take the risk of getting lost in the Wonder and Immensity – Yet even a little acquaintance with the times of Jesus quickly lead us into the rip tides of Mystery. Aslan is Good, but He is Not Safe . . .

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Any Jewish reader of these words is cast not into a world of Irish linen wrapped around children’s heads but into an Ocean.
The First Born Son – the Great High Priest of the Temple of God – the manger – or was it Jerusalem??? The word in Hebrew for manger, ‘ebus is almost the same as the old name for Jerusalem, j’ebus. Wrapped in cloths – the First born Son of God is clothed in garments of glory – ‘there was no room in the inn – ‘There was no Logos in the hidden place . . .’
The Christmas Story takes place in the ‘hidden place’ away from prying eyes. Kataluma, the word we translate inn and so have endless children saying ‘no room!’ sounds like ta’aluma, the Holy of Holies . . . in an age of terror, when to be a follower of Jesus would lead to your being ostracised and thrown out and possibly killed, the Gospel Authors carefully cover their tracks but leave enough signs for those who know. Better to have careless folk speaking about ‘Jesus being born into the arms of a cosy middle class family,’ beyond the kataluma, than the Great High Priest coming to the Holy of Holies, or the Garden of Eden indeed, in an animal feedtrough.
The Christmas Story is no call to sentimental childish play, nor a call to ‘social justice’ for there was no room for Jesus in the inn . . . no the Great High Priest of God comes forth and is clothed in garments of glory, not in the holy of holies in Jerusalem, but in a manger overlooked by Ox and Ass for as the prophet had foretold, Jerusalem does not know its ruler, but the ox knows its owner and the donkey its masters crib . . .

The Story is not what it appears to be, and we are caught up in something much much bigger than ourselves, something illimitably glorious, and on occasion, when we are not caught up in ‘mere appearances’ if we can look up from the lifeless ‘just’ness of things, if we dare get out of the mud pools – the Power and The Glory may for a moment ‘transport’ us, not away from here, but to here – away from ‘mere appearances’, from the world of ‘just’ this or ‘just’ that to world Transfigured by The Fullness of the Wonder of the Mystery. To live as new born children of God is to be caught up in this

And so to the Epiphany – the Unveiling, the Oh My! – the breathtaking as the magi come from Arabia – bearing gifts. I must admit, that final verse of ‘We three Kings’ Always Catches me – Glorious now, Behold him Arise, King And God and Sacrifice. It is one of those moments in worship in which one becomes tuned, resonates with Transfigured Reality

Matthew brings us into this world through the story of Herod, the magi and the Star. A story Rich in more than ‘just’ – for the Ancients, nothing was ‘just’ this or that. The idea that one might speak of the stars as ‘just’ balls of gas in the sky, was as foolish to them as reducing the human to a bag of chemicals – it was to kill the world off, when in truth everything around them said the world was full of Life!! Except there is always that which seeks to destroy life to rob it of Wonder and Glory, to demystify. So the star is not just a star – it points beyond itself. Probably a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a rare and Wonderful cosmological event – lying as seen from Jerusalem over Bethlehem, and in the tradition the Sign that many hoped for, not least because of Herod, of whom one commentator wrote ‘a man of great barbarity to all men equally and a slave to his passions’ – he pronounced that his three sons would succeed him and then had them all executed before he died – early Christian tradition associated him with Wormwood, the star that fell from heaven spreading bitterness and making bitter he waters, in the Book of Revelation. Although there is no historic evidence of the slaughter of all those under two years of age in Bethlehem, this is certainly in keeping with a man who had many of the priests of the Temple killed for their prophecies of a star and the end of his reign . . . in and around the time of the birth of Jesus

Matthew pulls us into a world in which we are not in control, Vivid, at times terrifying – a time in which the heavenly bodies were signs, portents and also announcers of Great Hope.

So the wise men come to Jerusalem, where of course they should perhaps have been looking for a manger . . . and finally to Bethlehem where they laid before him three gifts – Gold Frankincense and Myrrh – much has been made of these gifts, but again old traditions linked them to The Garden of Eden. Pre-Christian stories told of Adam pleading with the angels to take the perfumed oil from the garden that he might continue to offer worship to God. Christian texts tell of Adam being buried by Seth his son along with the Gold and the Frankincense and Myrrh, having been brought them by the three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael . . . and Coptic Christians to this day depict the three magi bearing gifts as having wings . . . so the Archangels present the gifts to the Second Adam, the one who is in Himself the New Creation, Restoring the True Dwelling place of God . . .

“When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

So, what is the moral of the story? What can we take away and use? . . . In a real sense nothing. If the world is ‘just this’ or ‘just that’ or ‘just the other’ then it is less than it is – we judge it by appearances and put it to our uses. it is ‘just’ resources, dead matter – as are we, something for us to make something with and of . . .

The Epiphany is The Unveiling, that the Wold is not ‘just’ anything — It is The Manifestation of the mystery hidden from the beginning of Time – in the truest sense Mystery for it is at once True and beyond our Comprehension, beyond our Grasp to use as we will.

It is not so much something to ponder . . . .and then ‘set out to live differently’, it is something to be caught up in, carried away by, transformed and transfigured by.

Here is the Centre of the Creation – its Source, its embodiment, in Wonder, in Glory – the very Mystery of Christ Himself.

Behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice, let us dare to be caught up with the magi angels in the Worship of Christ . . . then perhaps God Himself will Do something with us . . .