Trinity Sunday – Evensong – Great is the Mystery of Faith

Sermon for Evensong
Trinity Sunday 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
John 3:1-17

The Mystery of our faith

As the Modern age has progressed one can to a certain extent map a reduction in the explicit consciousness of God in our human affairs. Charles Taylor in his magisterial work ‘A Secular Age’ asks the question “Why, was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in say, 1500 in our western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” [check quote]

In our consciousness it is probably very fair to say that Man has grown larger and God smaller. For those who follow Jesus, it is becoming almost an embarrassment to speak of The Fear of the Lord. The sense that God is beyond our capacity, in greatness and splendour . . . has receded. We have perhaps reduced God to our own image, in our consciousness – perhaps this was why Freud was so quick to assume that god was merely some ego projection, for the God he encountered in Modern Christians was so human sized – as the human grew . . . so we are told we live in ‘the age of the Anthropocene. The Human stamp is stamped everywhere – human consciousness invades every moment of our day . . .

I speak of consciousness for in part Taylor’s question is a question not so much of belief, but of how we are aware of ourselves and the world around us. We live with forms of certainty – granted in small part by science and technology, couples with what we call ‘the power of human reason’, yet, it seems we are rapidly accelerating into a world where we realise how little we know.
As the Creation falls apart around us – I suspect we are becoming more and more conscious of a reality far greater than we had been led to believe in. That the human brain and intellect so powerfully advertised as of a complexity and power far far beyond that of super computers – turns out on the grand scale of things to be not much more advanced or indeed useful than an abacus in terms of its ability to discern the Truth of Existence.

Of course this huge and I suggest anxiety driven emphasis on Reason etc. has had a powerful impact on our faith where all too many either abandon faith or retreat to the ‘certainties’ of ‘what the bible says’. Biblical fundamentalists are the mirror image of the Dawkins of this world – being imbued with the same ratioreductionist [un]conscious approach to faith. We can see everything – nothing is hidden from our unseeing eye – perhaps we have in our own imagining become like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings?
This anxiety driven certainty creates a consciousness which has little time for mystery – perhaps this is why we are so obsessed with Safety – a flight from our inability to rationally calculate everything that might conceivably happen in a world which something somewhere suggests to us might Not be as it seems. If we increasingly limit the possibilities open to us, through for example highly developed H&S policies, then we might conceivably keep Reality from breaking in.

So too mystery and faith. My training incumbent, a thoughtful evangelical has an almost visceral response to the word ‘mystery’ and would endlessly quote Colossians 1:25-27 “I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” There! He would say “the mystery is revealed -there is no mystery . . . however he didn’t than qualify it with other words of St Paul, namely “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” And of course most of Reality is in truth mysterious

Well today is of course one of the days of great mystery in the church calendar – Trinity Sunday – the day when many right thinking, or perhaps rationalist clergy decided to take a holiday and allow someone else to have the benefit of their pulpit! God as Three in One. As the cover of our font reminds us The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit – yet the Father and the Son and the Spirit are One God . . .

And no doubt here and there people are being subjected to images of God as a clover leaf etc. Trying to make it visible . . .

And of course the hyper rational age loves the visible – where mystery is done away with. We live in the age of the image – or as the French philosopher Guy Debord calls ‘the society of the spectacle’ I’m not here going to engage with Debord’s thesis but he certainly points us towards a society where our gaze is captivated by that which we see on a screen – and of course if we see it, it must be The Truth. No mystery in what we see is there, after all?

Most tragically perhaps we might apprehend this in the deluge of pornography which is freely available. The cultural critic Naomi Wolf writes on on how this deluge has changed people. On the one hand she speaks with evident envy of a female friend who converted to Orthodox Judaism, and went about with a headscarf. When asked by Wolf why she did this, she responded, ‘my hair is for my husband’. Wolf noted a new incredible erotic charge and energy about her friend, where the sexual had become ‘mysterious’ shrouded, hidden, and thus more vividly alive – Real perhaps?
Her musings closed with a young man who was speaking about the effects of porn on himself and his friends When asked by Wolf about the mystery of sex, responded thus “Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

It is perhaps here that we see the root of the familiarity of the erotic with the deeply Spiritual. Both engage us in a deeper knowing. A knowing which cannot be rationalised, a knowing which is beyond Reason, yet somehow far more sure. A knowing perhaps which is truly Personal and hoas to do with the depths of our hearts and our Loves.
Jesus says – ‘now this is eternal life, that they might Know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ Knowledge of The Mystery takes us into the place of the powerfully personal – into the very depth of our being.

Jesus tells us ‘when you pray, go into your inner room and close the door. There, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you’ Here of course the contrast is wth those for whom – its all out there! Those who stand on street corners to pray, that they might be seen by men

And so we come to our two texts for this evening – both of which take us beyond the place of the simply rational – although we must apply our minds, if only to draw us into the mystery of our faith.

Moses alone in the desert – the place of the encounter with the depths of who you are – reminiscent of the old teaching of the church fathers, ‘stay in your cell and it will teach you anything’ It is when we close our eyes to the easy lies of the visual – when the world around us is devoid of fascination, that the vast interior spaces open up. So the wilderness – the desert.

’Nothing to see here’ yet here Moses encounters the bush ablaze yet not burning – and draws aside – it is not a thing of direct vision. It is off to one side, pretty much as this Life which comes to us from God does not apprehend us in the three dimensions with which we are so familiar but comes at us if you like perpendicular to time and space

Who are you he asks? And the answer ‘I Am what I am, I will be what I will be’ An answer that is no answer at all . . . Certainly an answer which places us in a position where we cannot use God for our own purposes, for He does not allow us to touch Him, to lay hold on Him – to Close the story so that we can simply move on – rather we are called to move towards, deeper into the unseen, yet ever near.

And again – Jesus words leave Nicodemus drowning in incomprehension – You must be born again . . .what does this mean? Of course a faith which seeks to abandon mystery must make of this a simple formula. Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus and you will be born again – but with Nicodemus we MUST ask – but what does this mean? To repent is to reorient the eye of the heart . . . it is to turn our forgotten organ of perception, something perhaps akin to our intuition towards God, to Light, to fire, to a burning bush. It is to behold!
As I have been at pains to point out over the years, our English language often does not serve us well, in this case particularly with respect to Seeing. In Greek we have two verbs, one we might say is to see with the eye, as I see you and you I. Yet that that sense is one of the most readily deceived.
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

In our looking, we miss the Big picture -the relatedness of the apple to the provision and command of God.

The second verb is translated in older translations, Behold. This is the verb Jesus uses when he speaks with Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again he shall not Behold the Kingdom of God. Behold the Lamb of God says John the Baptist – when to the eye, all there is is a wandering dusty rabbi from Nazareth of all places! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world . . . surely in part our loss of God consciousness is our reduction of the second person of the Trinity to simply that Nazarene. The divinity of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, is largely ignored – and with it tragedy of tragedies, our own destiny shrinks

What is it to be ‘born again’? Perhaps it is to become the vessel of that uncreated Light – Wisdom – over which we have no hold – Uncreated Light . . .

One of the old fathers of the desert asked his disciples – what does the following verse mean? One after another each gave his answer – until he came to the last disciple, who answered ‘I do not know’. The Abba said ‘you have answered truthfully’

Such hiddenness, such uncertainty, such mystery is so frustrating to we Moderns, but if we are to find our way back, perhaps it is the place to start

How is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do not know

Amen

Waiting on God

Sermon for Easter 7 2019

Acts 16:16-34
John 17:20-26

Waiting on God

“Behold, I have come to do your will, O God”
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’ Hebrews 10 vs 7

I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of being waited on – really waited on that is, not merely someone serving you a meal and then popping back half way through to interrupt your conversation and ask if the meal is alright!

Some years ago, Sarah and I went with our family for a camping holiday in Bavaria, in the deep South of Germany. There was a very smart restaurant on the campsite and so on our final night we decided to treat ourselves to a meal. However we were a little apprehensive as our German was VERY limited, and the menu in the window was completely incomprehensible to us.

We need not have worried. Upon entering, before even opening our mouths we were passed menus, in very good English. We were then led to our seats and drink orders were taken. I enjoyed a glass of very good Wiess bier – the light wheat beer – as my eyes carefully surveyed the menu, wherein I read, ‘3 types of steak’. That sounded very much like my sort of meal, as my family all readily agreed, and so it was ordered. When the meal came, a small table was placed beside each of us and on it was placed our dishes – in my case, a large platter with the three types of steak. I turned round to notice that without my noticing, my beer glass had been refilled.

My waiter carefully loaded my plate with three types of steak and an assortment of vegetables and withdrew. It was a very leisurely meal, and whenever my plate was emptied, my waiter appeared as if by magic, and my plate was reloaded, as was my beer glass . . .

And then just before everything was finished, I noticed my plate was again empty and no waiter, so I made the cardinal error of trying to help myself – whereupon my waiter re-appeared., slightly indignant. No doubt a little embarrassed – as for a moment he hadn’t been paying attention!

One realised that throughout, the various waiters were paying close attention – we were truly being waited on.

Well our theme this morning is ‘waiting upon God’. We tend I think to consider this in terms of ‘waiting for God’ – waiting for God to show up in this or that circumstance, but as I have said, the Resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Now are baptised into the death and therefore the risen Life Jesus, who is in the words of the prophet, The Servant of the Lord. The one whom says in Hebrews ‘Behold, I have come to do you will O God . . . it is written of me in the scroll of the book’
Jesus is the One who comes to do the will of the Father. He says, ‘ I only do what I see the Father doing. He is attentive to God in each moment of his day. This is the meaning for us of ‘waiting on God’. A moment by moment prayerful attentiveness to God. We wait for God, because we are waiting On God – we live in Him, through Him and For Him – our Life in all its dimensions comes from Him.

Thursday was the feast of the Ascension – I am very aware that we tend to miss it, because it is a mid week Feast day. Jesus is taken from our sight. And we are commanded to wait until we are clothed with power from on High.
We wait for God to send His Holy Spirit upon His people – so we wait on Him. It is a time if you like where we practise the posture of our new existence, ahead of the Gift of His Life. This posture is a posture of prayer ( We will explore this much more fully on Trinity Sunday)
So this season of ten days when Jesus is taken from our sight is a time of readjusting our perception – of learning to wait on God in prayer. of listening to His Word in Scripture and seeking always to do His will in and through everything.
It is a time of tuning our hearts and minds to the life of God, that as I said last week our lives might resonate with His Life, as the air in a guitar resonates in accordance with the plucking of a string. As, if you have ever found yourself humming in a small room, you might notice that at certain notes, the air resonates. You are in tune with your surroundings. Well, as St Paul tells us, ‘you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God’. So our lives are to resonate with our new surroundings, the heavenly Life. Our lives as instruments of the Life of God our heavenly Father.

This is a most intimate relationship. Listen to the words of Jesus in prayer.
”Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’
Intimately woven into the Life of God with Jesus – Lives which cannot be known in separation from the Life of God

Our existence the Gift of God. When we live in a way that is illuminated and enlivened by our intimacy with God the Giver, then our lives Resonate – they vibrate, they become luminous. Jesus is the light of the world – and he tells his disciples, those who share His Life – ‘let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven’.
Put another way, lives that are lived in tune with God, reveal God. That is now our Life. Baptised into the death of Jesus we live with him, learning the ways of the life of heaven and revealing them in the world.

And people see this.

As Paul and his companions are in Philippi, they are pursued by a woman with a spirit of Divination. She could see things that others didn’t, and she was enslaved by her owners who used her to make money from this gift. She cried out as she followed the disciples, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ And that is what they were, indeed it is a term often used by the apostles, ‘slaves of God’. To us perhaps it is – well I don’t know – perhaps an undignified or distasteful thing. We may prefer the term servant – but that doesn’t quite get it. A servant has if you like, a life of their own. Even on Downton Abbey, the servant get a day off, they don’t belong to their master. But we belong to God, we are his treasured possession, and we live to serve him, It is our reason for being – indeed you might say that it is our very existence. That we might say with Jesus ‘I have come to do your will O God, it is written of us in the scroll of our book . . .

I suppose I cannot emphasise enough what an extraordinary calling this is. In a beautiful passage from the letter to the Ephesians, St Paul says ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’ This is what we are created for – the word workmanship is poiema in Greek – his poem. His musical instrument – we are created to be tuned to God.

So for this we need to be attentive, to wait upon God – to live for his direction – as dearly loved children who know our life is from Him, through Him and to Him. Loving God with all we have and all we are, in our Lord and brother Jesus, being vessels of His Life into the world.

And notice how that life flows out. As Paul and Silas are in prison, the Resurrection Life breaks forth. Even in prison their life is from and towards God and they are praying and singing hymns to God, when there is a mighty earthquake and all the chains fall off! New Life, Freedom in God.
And their jailer asks – what must I do to be saved and Paul tells him – believe on the Lord Jesus – and you shall be saved, ‘you and all your household’ Paul knows that this new life just flows, and will pass on to others. The stream so flipping water of which Jesus spoke, the Life of God, flows from one who believes. As we hear that the manned al his household are baptised, ‘and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.’

As i said last week – these ten days between Ascension and Pentecost are days of prayer. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls us to pray that people become Christian – and what a good prayer that is – but note, it is only because this ‘Christian Life’ is in Paul and Silas that it can flow to the jailer and then from his to his entire household.
Similarly for years we have prayed in these days for the Unity of the Church – but listen to the words of the Good Shepherd – listen to Jesus

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The glory – clothed with power form on high – our unity is based on the One Spirit. It is only by virtue of sharing in the Life of God that we know our unity. So again we need that Life, and then we are one. It has nothing at all to do with denominations trying to agree with one another. As I say in this months magazine, our unity is the One Life of Jesus – this is why we all drink form the same cup. Our Unity is the life of the Spirit.

I remember years ago going to a most special bible study, still I think by far the best I’ve ever been in – where the lady who took it preface her remarks by saying – you can always tel when you re with other Christians. She said no more, but there Is a bond where the Holy Spirit is flowing between believers . . .

Perhaps as we gather this morning, this may sound strange – perhaps we’ve never known this Life, this Resurrection life. Perhaps you don’t have this deep instinctual knowledge of shared life with other Chrsitans.
Again, Jesus asks, ‘do you want to be made well?’ His offer is there. Then this week, wait on God – Ask. ‘How much more will the your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’, says Jesus.

Perhaps it all may sound like a voice of long ago – we may remember those days when before the weed and thorns gradually began to get in our way, the cares and troubles of life strangled this life of God, days when Yes we knew what it was to live by the Spirit of God. So Pray – wait on God afresh

But whatever you do – remember this – Jesus has ascended and sits at the right hand of the throne of God the Father interceding for us – ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.’ These words of Jesus are his eternal words, the words he prays for us – for all those who would be well – who would walk in the fulness of life as his servants. Waiting on God moment by moment, and this being vessels of his life in the world – to the Glory of God the Father.

Amen