Of Home, and Work, and Idols

Sermon for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Evensong YrC 2019

Hos 10:1-8,12
Gal 4:8-20

Things that enslave take us away from home

One of my earliest memories of parish ministry involved a difficult situation regarding a request for a baptism. The circumstances are now certainly immaterial, but what stuck with me was the words of the father of the child – ‘everything I do, I am doing for my children’.
He was referring to the seemingly endless hours he spent working, away from home. It is perhaps as Martin Luther put it, we sacrifice our children to our gods, or perhaps our idols. those things which ensnare us. Perhaps in the depths of our story, a story of our being alienated from home – we discover that we lose home because we want. . . we know not what . . . somehow ‘it is out there’ We leave home chasing a dream ‘to be like gods, and discover the world of ‘work’

cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread The work of Home is one that we have forgotten

Working away from Home is in many regards a powerful expression of our Modern lostness. Indeed it would perhaps not be putting it too strongly to say that ‘homelessness’ is our contemporary condition. We too readily assume that owning a house is the same as ‘being at home’. I think it not too much to contend that unless we give ourselves to the work of home making, we are all lost in every sense of the word.

This condition of our leaving home in pursuit of a delusion – is powerfully evoked in the words of Wendell Berry. Berry, for those who do not know him, and I recently heard him referred to as ‘the most important writer no-one seems to know about’ is a farmer. From his farm in rural Kentucky he looks out at the world – and writes of our modern condition. Not least on the relationship between work and Home.
Amongst his many insightful comments, Berry says that that he is unaware of any man who considered himself to be liberated because he had to leave home to find work . . . leaving home is not a good thing.
Some folk don’t have the choice, indeed much of the history of the human race is that of people being displaced – leaving home to find . . . yet Home is where we belong. The Story of God’s people is a story calling them to home, from Abraham on, and yet they are constantly lured away, not finding home beneath their feet

And I suggest that we have lost our sense of home. Certainly it is hard to think that any rational being would treat their home as we have treated the earth . . . whilst we chase after . . . what? Berry in his poem ‘The Timbered choir’ calls ‘it’ ‘the objective’ – what follows are extracts from a longer piece.

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

. . .

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, . . .

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

Looking for ‘the objective’ ‘which they did not yet perceive in the far distance, having never known where they were going, having never known where they came from . an idea, an idol . . . our hearts set on . . .

The story of GOd’s people is exactly this – of chasing after idols – and the consequence is they find themselves far from home. Enslaved in Egypt, and as we heard tonight exiled from the land . . . perhaps the perversity of our age is that we have grown so accustomed to our exile from the land? When in England I worked closely with a drug rehab centre – those most resistant to change, even thought they looked their plight full in the face were the insitutionalised, those who had spent so login prison it had become their safe place, from which they durst not emerge . . . our idols enslave, not just the drug users

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, . . .

And in leaving home, we discover a horrifying truth – the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Home now must be found in a different way

The parable of the Prodigal is this story writ small, into the story of the son who leaves home for the sake of ‘the objective’, yet ‘comes to his senses’ and sets off to discover that which he had sought was to be found in the place he had left.

The ‘solution’ is to Know God – to be known by God. St Paul as he writes to the Galatians is utterly distraught. They had it all, yet have now abandoned home in the pursuit of idols. He points out that before coming to faith in Christ Jesus, they were ‘enslaved to those things that by nature are not gods. Now however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again . . .? He goes on to speak to them of those people who only wish to use them for their own purposes, ‘They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them’ those who sought to manipulate the world to their ends, to ‘the objective’ become once more enslaved, become themselves manipulated . . . a simple contemporary example would be ‘The Screen’ to use a word which covers a wider area of devices which we thought served us, but to which we have become enslaved and distorted, not least for whilst we are in our houses, we are still at work – away from Home.

Ultimately, as Berry says quoting one of E.M. Forster’s characters, ‘it all turns on affection’. Our homelessness is the fruit of distorted Love. We do not know where we are, for we do not properly Love where we are.

Finally the Truth of our Lives is found in ourLife in God. To find our Home in Him, to Love him in all and through all and above all, is to be Home

Good News for the Rich?

Sermon for the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 2018

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 6:17-26

Is there Good News for the rich?

Some years ago – actually more than I care to remember, the then bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard produced a book entitled which caused no little stir amongst the comfortable Anglicans of England. It’s title was ‘Bias to the Poor’, and the Bishop writing from the context of one of the most impoverished cities in the country, suggested that this was indeed the case – that God was biased towards the poor. Well not long after the Bishop of the more typically leafy Oxford Diocese, Richard Harries produced a book which gives us the theme for this week. ‘Is there a gospel for the rich?’

Is there a Gospel for the Rich? Is God biased towards the poor? Well – it must be said if God is biased towards the Poor, it is not in the sense that we assume it ought to be – that is God does not seem as it were to set the system so that the poor a ‘leg up’ so to speak, and then can enjoy the comforts of the rich.
Indeed, the comforts of the rich are called into question . . .

For of course I am rather dodging the pointedness of the question of our theme, ‘Is there Good news for the Rich?’
If there is a shift in the Old and New Testaments, it seems not to lie in that hoary old distinction between the God of the Old Testament who is vengeful and judging, and the God of the New who is warm and loving and generally an indulgent elderly relative. No. A, if not the big difference is regarding material wealth – for whilst if you ignore the New Testament you can make a reasonable if not watertight case for the acquisition of wealth as a sign of God’s blessing (provided of course you avoid the prophets . . .) – there is Nothing to give such comfort in the New.

Nothing – Not a jot . . . James the brother of Jesus howls in protest against the infant church which is treating the rich with special deference, after all he says, it’s the rich who are hauling you into court! ‘Howl you rich he says, howl . . . and it gets worse when we come to the words of Jesus

It is odd, or perhaps it isn’t. The words of Jesus are the most ignored in the entirety of scripture – without a doubt, and perhaps in no greater sense than regarding wealth and money. I recall seeing a live interview on stage with a ‘disgraced’ TV evangelist – it is almost superfluous to use the adjective . . . in which said former TV evangelist who shall remain nameless was speaking of what he learnt from his time in prison for fraud and tax evasion.
He said, ‘I had a red letter bible with me in prison’ – that is one with the words of Jesus in red – ‘I had never realised how much Jesus said about the danger of wealth . . .’ and here was a man who read the bible . . . in order to ply his trade . . . funny what we don’t see.

And still I’m avoiding those words myself . . . the words of the Gospel . . . the words of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”

As I said last week – the encounter with Jesus is not one which confirms us in our comfortable view of the world. Blessed are you who are poor . . . Really??? Blessed are you poor?? Because I am going to change things so that you get the same as everyone else?? Perhaps that is how we might want to interpret Jesus’ words today, that He said, Blessed are you Poor, so we need to make sure that those Poor people are blessed . . . Except he didn’t say ‘Blessed will you be when finally human beings get their act together . . . indeed wasn’t it Jesus who said, ‘The Poor you will always have with you?? Blessed are you who Are poor

Of course we could and perhaps do prefer to listen to Matthew – ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit . . .’ Ah that’s better – how convenient – how we love to separate our the material and the spiritual . . . as if they were two different realms – but even if we do we have a problem . . . if Jesus says the poor in spirit are blessed, he also says the poor are blessed . . . not a message to be met with anything but incredulity. Who could take this seriously??? Really . . . come on Jesus . . . probably Luke just missed out the ‘in spirit bit’ . . . except he doesn’t stop there – Blessed are you who who are hungry now, Blessed are you who weep now . . . Blessed are you who are persecuted,

But still . . . I avoid the Gospel for the Rich – . . . ’Woe to you who are rich . . .’ Jesus really does seem to mean it. His words about the blessedness of the poor make no sense to us who are well off . . . His words to us are like a bucket of freezing cold water thrown over us, ‘If you are rich, you are in trouble . . . wake up!

Of all the words of Jesus which the church has desperately tried to avoid over two thousand years, these are the ones we’ve been most creative with. Indeed one writer suggests that ‘the Reformation, . . . —whatever else it may have been—was a movement toward a form of Christianity well suited to the needs of the emerging middle class, and to the spiritual complacency that a culture of increasing material security dearly required of its religion’

Like politicians who won’t tell hard truths to the electorate, to ensure they keep their jobs. Who don’t tell us ‘climate change means we are going to have to entirely change the way we live, we are told – we will figure something out so you don’t have to change . . . and the days get warmer – so too the church all too often has sought to water down the terrible warning in the words of Jesus

And I think that it is those words ‘material security’ which hold the key to our predicament – and if we say we believe in Jesus, then we must also believe that we Are in a predicament.
Blessed are you who are poor, and hungry. The kingdom of heaven is yours – Woe to you who are wealthy and well fed . . . Jesus’s words do not leave any wriggle room – and we are on the sharp end.

Last week you may remember I finished with this thought – ‘what if it is only those who have nothing better to do than to follow Jesus, are the one’s who really discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus’ – The nothings, the nobodies. Those with little or no say over their lives . . . so nobody were they that leaving their nets, and everything they had seemed like a good idea when Jesus came to call them to follow him.

As we know when he calls others who have riches, a solid career, and family and this and that and the other, they don’t follow.

I wonder how those disciples felt leaving everything behind. . . what did they have? Nothing!

And Jesus lifted his eyes towards his disciples and said ‘Blessed are you who are poor . . .’ well they were certainly that. ‘Blessed are you who are hungry . . .’ I guess that they may well have been that also ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted and railed for my sake . . .’ well that was still perhaps to come, but it would . . .

They were going to find their life with Jesus – those who had left everything to follow him, as Peter was fond of reminding Jesus 🙂 They had nothing, and then Jesus was crucified – they lost even Him, except for a season in which he taught them, then he left them, and like Simeon and Anna – On the Day of Pentecost, they are utterly destitute – yet giving themselves to prayer they receive the Holy Spirit – they receive, the Kingdom of God, the very life of God – were filled with it, because they had no comfort, no comforter . . .

But you who are full now. . . well you’re full . . . how can you receive anything. Your wealth has cut you off from the Life of God. Unlike the disciples you are not vulnerable – you have no space no time, you have so much else that you think it is better to do . . . you have life on your own terms . . . the life you have made for yourself.
‘Woe to you who are rich for you have received your comfort. . . . The word Jesus uses is ‘paraklesin’ . . . it is the root word he uses to describe the Holy Spirit – the paraclete – the comforter.

You have received the life the comfort you sought . . . the Life of the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit? . . . no those things which moths consume and rust destroys

What of this Good News for the Rich? Is there any?? Well of course yes there is, BUT it is a bit difficult. You see the nobodies followed Jesus at the drop of a net, so to speak, but . . . They obeyed his word and set off to follow Him . . . you see that’s all it takes, taking Jesus at his word . . . Good News for the Rich – The words of Jesus – Jesus himself is the Good News.

Give to everyone who asks of you . . .

Again we hedge and hum and her and haw . . . we come up with a million and one justifications . . . Bishop’s even write books about economic systems and capitalism and lose us in a web of abstraction to get us off the hook . . . but only at the cost of ignoring Jesus

We like to say ‘my wealth has no hook in me . . . ‘ and then Jesus says – ‘give to everyone who asks of you . . .’ Everyone – the deserving, the undeserving – we shall come back to this next week

Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say . . . Ah well, we are saved by faith not works . . . so you believe me?

Is there Good News for the Rich? Well not on the terms we’d like to have . . . but yes there is, in the same way there is the Good News for the poor. Jesus offers us life. The question is, are our hands empty to receive it?

‘Nothing better to do’ Sermon for OT5 Year C 2019

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 5:1-11

‘if there’s nothing better to do’

(Last few words missing)

The devil, they say, makes work for idle hands . . . proof were it needed of where cell phones come from 🙂 Of course children of the Protestant work ethic that we are, we tend to think that this means that if you are idle, you’ll easily get caught up in something you shouldn’t be doing, so ‘get busy!’ – but that assumes that we know what we should be doing . . . and that we haven’t just mindlessly and complacently taken on board the stories The World, and its Prince tell us . . .
You see, you could put it another way. What if there was a point to your idleness – that seeing someone watching or waiting, the Devil suggested ‘Here! Look at this! Do that! . . .’ The Devil making work for those hands that were meant to be open and ready to serve – that is is you were waiting for someone or something, you knew not what.
If you were busy, because ‘someone’ gave you ‘something better to do’, then when who or what you were waiting for came along, you would miss out. And what of those others who would miss out because you ‘had something better to do’?

I think about this a lot to do with those good people of St John’s, the ambulance people that is 🙂 I hope that all the time some if not all of them are idle, because if they are all busy, and I need them . . .

Perhaps . . . what if, more mischief is done in the world by those who are busy and ‘important’ . . . and that the truly important things that must be done are not being done, because everyone is too busy with their own stuff? Everyone has found ‘something better to do’
The World is full of stories of ‘the things you could be doing’ The Devil will happily make work for idle hands. It is difficult to look at the world around us and come to the conclusion that everyone is busy doing that which is truly the best – that perhaps we might all find something better, true better to be doing

Last week we considered two people, Simeon and Anna – very old – ‘just’ praying, ‘just’ waiting. They weren’t the movers and shakers of society as it was understood . . . of course that doesn’t mean that it was correctly understood . . . but they were waiting – at rest, Old Simeon, sufficiently at rest that the Holy Spirit could rest on Him, the Life of God could find a home in this man at rest, and similarly Anna – a widow for 84 years, into her hundreds, and she’d had nothing better to do than to pray and fast in that time, oh, and speak God’s word. For she was a prophetess.

Of course we might say, ‘well, they were old, so there was nothing better for them to do . . .’ but they’d been doing this for years. ‘Just’ watching, ‘just’ waiting, ‘just’ praying. And so both of them, people whose lives made no discernible impact on The World as we so readily think of it, were ready when God’s King came, for they had nothing better to do . . .

God’s people were waiting – they were waiting for God’s King. But most of them had in the meantime found better things to do . . . it was only Simeon and Anna, these two elderly people with ‘nothing better to do’, who saw Jesus coming to the Temple, who saw the completion of God’s Work – who Saw the Kingdom of God.

So too the disciples.

If as a Christian you’ve never been given serious pause regarding those who followed Jesus, you haven’t been paying much attention. They are as one writer called them ‘Christ’s Rabble’ A tax collector – that is a national traitor. A religious zealot, and a bunch of fishermen . . . oh, yes, and the women . . . people whom the people of the day didn’t take at all seriously. After all, they came from Galilee, which was itself pretty much beyond the pale. The boondocks, out in the styx, out where the ignorant people live . . .
A little Geography lesson. In the South, you had Jerusalem in Judea – this was the happening place – those was the Wellington and Auckland of New Zealand. This was where the people who really mattered lived and worked. The Important people.
Then North of Judea and Jerusalem, was Samaria, which was full of those terrible people, the Samaritans, and then away up to the North was rural Galilee. The people of the land, the humble poor, just scraping a living, nobodies, or indeed ‘a rabble’

When Jesus goes looking for followers he returns to his home country, Galilee, where the nobodies live, and he calls people to follow him. People with nothing better to do. People whom the world looked at askance and thought of no use to their grand projects – so people not caught up with the story about the life they are going to make for themselves, people just trying to get by.

And the fishermen are doing just that. When Jesus finds them they’re mending their nets. They’ve fished all night and caught nothing. They have nothing to do. No fish to sort or sell. Nothing. Just, well put their boat out for this wandering preacher . . . who suggests that they let down their nets, in the middle of the day when the fish would be swimming deeper down in the lake beyond the nets, ridiculous idea, but the have nothing better to do . . . and suddenly their nets are full of fish and the boats are on the point of sinking . . .

But it’s just these nobodies, with nothing better to do who see the miracle. Of course we might also point out, that like with changing the water into wine, its only those who have nothing better to do who see what has happened – who see the miracle – the little children. The ones who haven’t learnt that ‘they have better things to be doing’
[The little children whose parents haven’t filled their days with activity so that they’re not idle, so they have no space to wonder, so they have no space to wait and watch and follow Jesus.

As parents about the worst thing we can do if we want our children to follow Jesus is to fill their days with activity . . . of course, if they did follow Jesus, who knows what they might do. I think of several young women of my acquaintance who gave up good degrees, good careers etc etc to go where Jesus led . . .] I think it is fair to say that it’s hard if perhaps not impossible for the busy and important to enter the Kingdom of God, yet we all too readily direct our children in this direction.
I know far far far too many adult Christians who tragically tell me how well their children are doing in their careers, and then wonder why they are not following Jesus . . . because of course they have something which in their eyes is better to do . . . such is the challenge of Jesus to the way we see the world. As the God of Israel says, my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts not your thoughts. We should be most wary of those stories about what life is about which are so prevalent, especially when Jesus starkly contradicts them. As we journey on with Luke, we shall come up against these stories over and over again

Simon Peter is struck to the core – ‘get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’ I am a nothing in your eyes. And Jesus tells him, you’re just the sort of person I’m looking for. One who hasn’t got such a high opinion of himself, one who hasn’t got lots of plans for all the things they have to do. One who doesn’t fondly imagine he is God’s gift to the world, something we as Christians are often trained to think of ourselves as. ‘I am a sinful man’ – how can I be of use in the Kingdom. Yet it is Peter who can receive God’s gift to the World, Jesus. This is why we come with empty hands . . . not to be God’s gift to the world, but to receiver it.

If we just follow every distraction, every bright and shining thing, and the Devil has put the gadget for that in your hands – we will never know what it is you are really here for . . . All we can do is join Peter in his astonishment that Jesus would have anything to do with someone like us . . .

Jesus finds his followers amongst those with nothing better to do . . . what if its only those who have nothing better to do than follow Jesus, discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus . . .?

Peter, James and John and the rest of Christ’s rabble – They had nothing better to do, and discovered that in truth there really was nothing better to do – may Christ give us the grace so also to lay down our nets

Feast of the Presentation Year C, 2018

Feast of the Presentation Yr C, 2019

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

‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’

God does nothing because he needs to. There is no deficiency in God. He is complete in and of himself. He needs nothing, there is nothing he has to do. There is nothing you can give to him, nothing he needs from you or I. He scolds Israel saying ‘I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. ’
As our Psalm this morning reminds us – The Earth is the Lord’s and all they that dwell therein.

Perhaps the single way in which we are most unlike God is simply that this is not true of us, or at least that is the story we are told. There are many things that we really must be doing. And if we can’t think of any, then the World will offer them. From the ‘friends’ who tell us, ‘you must really see this play, or read that book’, to the absurd, no I correct myself ‘obscene’ idea of bucket lists. ’50 things you must, places you must go before you die’. All of this of course quietly or noisily feeding the monster of consumer capitalism that is destroying the earth – but more perniciously feeding our sense of incompleteness.

Except that we are not born with that sense. It’s a story we tell ourselves, or are told. The children in the garden are in every sense complete. They live in perfect harmony with God, who walks with them in the cool of the day. The Snake disturbs the story by telling them, ‘your lives aren’t complete until you . . .’ and so we have learnt, from the Snake, that our lives are not complete. And so, ‘if we have the money’ – and of course this is a game for people who have money, which is why we have so much credit, for if you don’t have the money, you can’t play the game – we set out to make a life for ourselves – a complete life, because of course our lives aren’t complete. And then in a bizarre religious twist try to place it before God – the finished work of our own personal project, the life we make for ourselves, because of course we were incomplete to start with . . . it is very troubling to recount the myriad forms of so called Christian folk wisdom which start with this presumption, that our lives are incomplete.

When we live with this story we start to look around, at lives that by our standards are more complete that ours, which feed the deadly thoughts of envy, or lives that by our standards are less complete than ours, which feed the deadly thoughts of pride. We begin to look at children purely in terms of ‘their potential’ and our lives are completely stressed out lest we fail to do our duty as parents to make sure our children become complete . . . because at some level we believe that they are not . . . or put another way, they are less than fully human. The idea of ‘less than fully human’ is not the preserve of racists and the like; it is part of the story we all tell, and insofar as we thing there are things we all must do, is the truth we tell about all humanity, by and large subconsciously.

And in such a world, simple communion with God, is seen as a luxury, because after all we have the job of our life project to complete. ‘Can’t hang around here too long Lord – things I must be doing because of course you realise that you didn’t give me a complete life . . .’ Prayer become a means to ‘the greater end’ of ‘my life’, not an end – or better The End, the goal, the Purpose of our lives. And as there seem to be so many much more effective ways that prayer to fill up the gaps in our personal life scrap books, it disappears.

A couple of weeks ago, folk from churches all over Dunedin met with Bishop Steven, to talk together about ‘the future’ of the church here. Such conversations trouble me greatly, they are always far to abstract and end up with the people at the top telling those at the bottom that for the greater good of all, their church will have to close . . . it’s the World’s story – for the sake for he whole, your wood is being bought up, your land taken away, your children ‘educated’ etc. etc., because someone high up is anxious and fears we are all incomplete . . . as if two or three gathering together in the name of Jesus wasn’t enough . . .

But one thing struck me, a comment towards the end of Bishop Steven’s after listening to a catalogue of ‘all the great things we were doing’, ‘I noticed that no one mentioned prayer . . .’

All of which begs a couple of questions . . . firstly what on earth is The Feast of the Presentation all about? How will it help me, how will it add to my understanding, how will it help me complete my life? And Secondly what on earth were Anna and Simeon doing?? Two old people, who have spent their entire lives ‘just’ waiting on God

Well simply, they Saw, they Understood, that the point was actually waiting on God for the Completion of His Story.

First – I want to clear up a ridiculous story that some folk are keen to tell – that is that Jesus was a comfortably middle class child – just like us 🙂 A story put about it must be said by comfortably off middle class people – First, in the time of Jesus, and indeed all thorough history until the late middle ages, there was no such thing as the middle class. Yes, Joseph was a carpenter, but he would have ground out a living in that trade working for whoever would give him work was all other workers did. Second we know because the offering they Mary and Joseph make according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’, the offering for those who couldn’t afford a lamb . . . (Of course they were offering the lamb, but that’s another story . . . )

So, they come to the Temple and there encounter Simeon, and Anna. Anna had been married for seven years, she has been a widow for 84, given the custom of the time, she was like Mary probably betrothed in her early teens, so she was as the scripture says ‘advanced in days, a great many’ . . . over a hundred years old – and how did she spend this time? not leaving the Temple night or day with fasting a praying . . .

And behold! A man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, eagerly awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

The Holy Spirit rested on Him. It is a telling phrase – here is someone who lives without anxiety – he is not hither and thither, his life caught up in a thousand distractions – perhaps he sense there is nothing in particular he lacks? That he Must be busy doing? It is hard for the Holy Spirit to rest on one who is not at rest . . .

And he communes with God – for It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. This was to be a gift to him – there was nothing he had to do to attain it, just sit still, be at rest, Wait.

And so ‘in the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple’ I love that phrase – his life is the life of the Spirit, how complete can you get! The Spirit brings him to this place. Is it not Life in the Spirit to which we are directed by God’s word? Not the anxious life of the flesh which is never satisfied which is never complete

And his words are words of Completion – how appropriate that they are the last words spoken at the funeral of Saints – Lord now wettest thou thy servant depart in peace – according to thy word for Yes! As you said mine eyes have seen thy salvation!’ And he speaks prophetic words to Mary – speaking of the child as a ‘Sign’. The Child is a Sign – there is no sense that ‘this child has work to do’ There is a completeness in Christ as a Child. Simeon has seen Christ – he has seen it all – He is complete – for he has seen the completion which God brings. And he has seen it, for he is one who is at rest watching and waiting for God – for God’s Salvation. He’s not interested in the project of his life – he is only interested in God, watching and waiting for Him . . . As Jesus will say later in the gospel – ‘One thing is necessary’

This is the Completion of the Work of God – The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple. The Completion of the Work of God – he placed the man in the garden. and it was very good. The Child in the Temple – A little child will lead them . . . a child – complete in and of himself, not anxious to make a life for himself, a child who knows he is the child of his father in heaven, and in this is completion and fullness. The final act of Creation is the placing of the True Human, complete in the Garden. And Simeon sees this – his waiting has led to his fulfilment. His life is Complete

Why does Simeon See? Because he is at rest – Why does Anna know this is the One, because she is constantly communing with God . . . and Bishops Steven noticed that no one mentioned prayer . . . Yet, a week last Thursday, the bishop came to his church and together we ten of us, sat and prayed in this place

May this place continue to be a house of prayer; may we ourselves be at rest; may the Holy Spirit thus find a resting place upon us as the Dove found solid ground in the flood; may we know our completion in Christ – and so be set free from the fear of death, from the fear of lives unfulfilled, from the fear of not attaining potential – may we become as Christ teaches ‘as little children’, not knowing any lack, because our Life is in the Father, the One Complete in and of Himself

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Amen

Christian politics – life together

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – Year C 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Luke 4:14-21

“Christian politics – Shared Life”

“we must understand that we are responsible of the sins of the whole world”

These words of St Seraphim must sound I think very strange to us, yet I think that they guide us into the way of Life in the way of Jesus Christ.

I’d like to suggest that they sound strange to us in some considerable part because we are Urban people. It may be that we live or have lived in rural areas, yet they way of how we live is increasingly homogeneous – perhaps this is why we make such a thing of diversity. And one of the key aspects of life in urban areas is its anonymity. We are surrounded by people yet our lives are not known well to them. Loneliness is far more an Urban than a rural phenomenon. One is, as they say never more alone than in a crowd. It is far more difficult to understand life as something we share in in real terms in a city – Yet now, more than half the world’s population lives in cities and cities are the centres of the media and commerce, all those things which so influence our lives, for good or ill.

Perhaps it is true that those of us who live lives shaped by an Urban environment have less sense of the way in which our lives impact on one another. And it is this interconnection of Life, that we call Love, which when it is broken we call sin. Sin is the fracturing of the bonds that join us – it is primarily relational, yet the majority of Urban people do not experience life as one of deep interconnections with those amongst whom we live, and so do not perceive its brokenness except perhaps through what they see in the papers or on TV screens, it doesn’t appear clear to us, our bonds with strangers
There are fewer and fewer places globally which are truly rural, and have not become urban in their way of living even if they are rural in location. Yet, still I think that these words of St Seraphim would be better understood by someone who had experienced life in a rural community – they might be denied, but their denial would be accompanied by shame, for the truth of them would confront you every day.

On of the gifts of my own life has been to spend about half of it living in rural contexts, and even though true rural life has all but disappeared, aspects of it still reveal themselves.
You could not live in a rural community and not share in life with others. An edit was public. Although only about 10% of folk in the village went to church regularly, when Sarah too the children to the local school she was told, ‘Oh. we know you’ve arrived’ As of course they would know if anyone else new had moved into the neighbourhood. your very presence had a discernible impact. Relationships rippled and reformed as people came to live there, and it was apparent.
Whilst we might speak of the need to build community in an Urban context, Community is a given in a rural context. Your neighbour was not some abstract person, but a particular person, the people with whom you had to share in life. You were to some extent dependent on those amongst whom you lived, and your life was part of the life of the whole community. The Community had a story of anyone who had been in the house you now were foolish enough to call your own.
The Community had a story, and it could not be discovered by the aggregation of lots of individual stories, something which is actually an overwhelming thing – too much. No you discovered the story of rural community by living there, by allowing your story become part of the whole – for in living together, going to the same school, working the same land, going perhaps to the same church (rural areas not afflicted as we are with a paralysing choice of places of worship), your lives were and to some degree still are lived together – and if one had any sensitivity you saw how your life affected things – perhaps even challenging The Story of the Community. The words of another old saint come to mind, you knew that in a meaningful sense, a visible sense, ‘your life is with your brother’.

Everything was public in a way it isn’t in towns and cities. You would go to this or that or the other village event, and it was the same people there. Life was lived amongst the people you had often known since childhood. Not least if you went to church – the whole community knew. It was a public act, not a private hidden one as in the city. you didn’t have to tell anyone you went to church. It was of course why the charge of hypocrisy was such a simple one, for apart from your church going, all your dirty washing was on public display.
One marker of this shared life for me as a Vicar was funerals. It was rare for there to be as few as 100 people present; all farming funerals would pack the church out. I still remember two funerals I conducted within three months, one of a couple of cousins killed In a road accident, another of a mother of six who had died of Cancer at the age of 49 – 750 people came. Apart from major Cathedral celebrations I have never known such large gatherings for worship. Life was shared in celebration and tragedy . . . and therefore inevitably in sin . . .

And sometimes that sin was manifested even in the church – a family split over this or that – the village took sides according to their stronger friendship bonds, and so at a church event, church may have been full – half the village sat with one side of the family on one side of the church and half on the other – but they were all there. For the division was a shared experience. No one was neutral – not even the Vicar. To be neutral would not to be part of it – to deny my role in the brokenness which was publicly displayed.

You cannot belong to a community and not be responsible for its sin. (There is something here about the sad retreat to ‘professionalism’ amongst increasingly mobile clergy)

And yet we live in a world where ‘I am not responsible’ is perhaps the most common, unspoken mantra. This has become easier to say. For example, ‘The Welfare State’ means ‘someone else’ will look after my neighbour. Yes, there is some sort of safety net in place, but social security is now an abstract technological thing impersonal thing, as anyone who has to struggle to find help from WINZ will readily testify. The state is not a person, even if the state servant has a human face, they play a role according to rules and training. The ethic of Love has nothing to do with it.
It isn’t Social, and very often as we know it is far from secure. Now that isn’t to say that ‘things were better back then’, people could ignore their neighbour then as now, but it wasn’t hidden. It was out there. If a family was without food and nothing done, everyone knew, everyone bore the shame of it. It was clear that “we were responsible for the sins of the whole world” or at least the world as we knew it. ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’ – St Paul’s words of rebuke are of course are written into an urban situation, the vast metropolis of Corinth – twice the size of modern Dunedin . . .

Today’s gospel will no doubt be used by many as a rallying cry for what is called ‘social justice’ – a call to be involved in ‘politics’. Our problem though is that we have largely lost sight of the meaning of politics, and justice, because we have lost sight of the meaning of social – of a shared existence. In an urbanised world, Social Justice has no face – it is a matter of fixing systems – it has nothing to do with Love of neighbour, for the neighbour is an anonymous person.
Christian politics is simply a matter of how I love those people with whom I share my life, politics being at root the matter of how we live together – not in an abstract sense, but in face to face reality.
Urban living, especially if one has sufficient financial resources to meet one’s basic needs, for food, clothing, warmth, and shelter, leads to a sense of Independence, and the deep truth of our utter interdependence on one another, and thus how we experience our responsibility for one another is increasingly no more than a thought, our active perception got it, highly atrophied . . .
The idea that we are in some mysterious way responsible for the sins of the whole community, indeed of the whole world seems at least odd, if not absurd – after all, if we just work a bit harder to fix the system . . . if those people or those people stopped behaving as they do . . . but we only understand things in these terms because we do now Know ourselves to be part of the whole, we do not recognise the sins of others as our own . . . It was the Pharisee who stood apart and said ‘I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men’. The Pharisee who did not identify himself with the sins of others -the Pharisee of course who went to the Temple, in the city of Jerusalem to pray . . . (The publican or tax-collector of course, knew he was a sinner because everyone told him that . . .)

Standing apart, in judgement is to separate yourself out from the Community. To be part of a community is to share in its joy and its sorrow, its glory and its shame. Briefly one might speak of splits within the wider church. To apprehend this with anything other than deep pain, shame and sorrow, is a failure to understand that our life is Life together, for it is the Life of Jesus. We are the body of Christ – and there is no deeper rejection of our faith than not to recognise one another or say we have no need of one another, or to set ourselves apart from one another – for it is denial of the very life of the one who reuses to do any of these things, that seeks to draw us into one. That we love one another

And so, Jesus comes to Nazareth. Jesus’ ministry is played out largely in rural areas, and he is part of this rural community. For thirty or so years Nazareth is pretty much all he has known, and Nazareth knows him, or thinks they do. He is known as Joseph’s boy, although no doubt that was perhaps a bit of a slur.
But he definitely is part of the story of Nazareth, and as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day ‘He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.’ And the words he speaks are not easy words – we cut it off slightly as usual – he has some pretty hard words to say – BUT he says them after being part of that community for 30 years . . . He Knows the community, he has known its joys and sorrows and its sin . . . he does not speak as one standing apart

Why is Isaiah declaring this? Why are God’s people in such a state – because they have abandoned life with God! And God has come in Jesus to identify with them in their brokenness that they might again share in His Life

Jesus who comes into the world and who identifies himself with the World in Love in reality, and thus as St Paul tells us ‘Became Sin for our sake’ So very deep is the identification of Jesus with us, that the one who has no Sin, refuses to stand apart in Judgement, but takes our human condition upon himself. He is under no illusion. To be human is to be identified with the Sin of humanity.

Jesus identifies himself with those who will crucify him. How different to our politics of ‘them and us’. He shares his life with those who reject him, and so draws all into one. We are the body of Christ – we were baptised together into one body. We meet in his name and our Life together is to share in his Peace, won on the cross. It is a community in which we confess our sins to one another and so find healing, for the acceptance of Christ we find none another. It is the place it al becomes real.

Jesus is our pattern, Jesus is our Life, Jesus is our politics. and takes upon himself the sins of the whole world.

Becoming Theologians – EPIPHANY 2019

The Feast of the Epiphany 2019

Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

‘Becoming Theologians’

‘Seek first the Father’s Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you also’ Matthew 6:33

As we don’t have the screen this morning, I thought I’d better draw your attention to the theme of what I have to say on your pew sheet – that is ‘Becoming Theologians’. I would like to say that I’m not seeking to drum up attendance at Chris Holmes lecture courses this coming semester, although I’d never discourage that, but I do want to begin with a brief illustration of what I mean which involves a university professor. He was an Eng Lit Prof and said he was having a lot of trouble teaching his students about English literature, older than the last 50 years, because few if any of them were conversant with the Christian story as made known in the Church and through the scriptures. English literature which was not very recent, came from a culture which was underpinned by that story, and so knowing the story was a vital key to understanding the works he asked his students to read.

Well he was right, but I want to use this fairly obvious point to illustrate something far more fundamental, that to truly understand anything, we have first to become theologians. Any of the university disciplines, if they are truly going to lead us ‘into all truth’ must first be theological. Indeed if we are to begin to understand anything we start with Faith.
For The Earth is The Lord’s and all they that dwell therein. The study of anything at all is the study of that which God has Created, and so to know it, to understand it, to make true sense of it, and therefore not misuse it, we must know God . . . This was the premiss of the first universities, and so theology and then philosophy and metaphysics were considered the foundational studies, before one turned to anything else, for everything else flowed from Knowing God, because everything does come from God

And today, the Feast of the Epiphany is in a sense our door as Gentile Christians to this journey of understanding – to ‘Becoming theologians’. It is for us, our first encounter with the living God, the God of Israel, the God of the Jews who is revealed to be The God of all. As St Paul puts it ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel . . . in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’

Our entrance into the Life of God in boldness and confidence through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the One in whom all things hold together, the very centre of Creation, its beginning and its End . . . to Know Him is to begin to know and to understand the entirety of the Creation, and without knowing Him, the Truth of our existence, of our very lives is hidden from us . . .

So the Magi come to Jerusalem, and immediately we are in the language of the revealing of the deep truth of our existence – for over and again we hear the word ‘Behold!’ See the Deep Truth here – So Matthew says ‘Now, Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the Days when Herod was king, Behold! Magi arrived in Jerusalem from the East, saying “Where is the new born King of the Judeans? For we saw His star at its rising, and have come to worship him”’

Matthew grabs our attention. Behold! Look! These strange foreigners, come to seek ‘the new born king of the Judeans’ – What is happening? Pay attention! To Behold is to see ‘with the eye of the heart’. There is a surface meaning to all of this, but we are called to Behold, to Understand . . . we are called to be theologians. To ponder these things, to ask – ‘What is God doing?’

Herod of course doesn’t have a clue. He is not remotely interested in the God of Israel, just hanging on to his power under the Romans . . . the news of a new king disturbs the order of things – things aren’t as they seem. So he asks around and the chief priests and scribes tell him of the Old Story, that the Messiah, the Anointed one is to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. ‘From you will come one who will shepherd God’s people . . .’ yet here are these foreigners . . . the prophet only saw in part, now is the full revelation.

Well, we might ask, what has all this to do with becoming theologians? Well, the first step is of course to pay attention to what God is saying and doing. Why was no one keeping an eye on Bethlehem? Because they hadn’t listened to the prophets. Why were the Magi there, well they were paying attention! They were in their own limited way watching for signs, they were attentive. They were watching and waiting, and so at the appearance of the star at its rising, they set off.

So the first step as theologians is to pay attention. To be watching, but for what? Well they don’t really know, but they do know one thing. That they are come to worship. ‘We have come to worship Him’ they tell Herod . . .
There is nothing more fundamental to our human experience than worship. GK Chesterton, says this, ‘when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they will believe in anything!’ – So also when we stop worshipping the One True God, our fundamental need to worship, will be misdirected but it will still find a way out and we will worship anything, even our own selves . . . We are Created to be the recipients of Life from God and to enter into the flow of this gift through Praise and thanksgiving. It is fundamental to who we are – to be those who live in response to God, who know our lives As response to God . . .

Well, Herod as we know sends them on their way, and the Magi, and they step out of the darkness of his palace and immediately, Matthew says ‘behold! The Star, which they saw at its rising, went before them until it came to the place where the child was . . .’ They are the seekers after the Truth of things – that is in the depths of their being they desire to worship aright – and ‘Beholding the star they they were exultantly joyful!’

So we need to follow these leads – these movements of the depths of our heart – after paying attention and watching, these are the next steps to becoming theologians. We pay attention, we follow the lead, to Jesus. This is the sign that we have followed well, that we come to Jesus, to His Appearing, and here the journey both ends and begins, with the one who is the beginning and the end of all things, Here own Jesus our humanity finds its home in God . . .

For they beheld the child with his mother Mary. Here there is so much . . . Here we Behold the one who is born of God, but also of Woman. Here in this babe we see all babes. All of us, born of a woman. All of us Seeing Jesus, opening up to the power to become born of God . . .

This simple scene, yet this Universal scene . . .

Several times over the past couple of weeks as we moved through Advent and then Christmas we have seen Mary, perhaps we have beheld her, seeing something of the depth of who she is -and we have been invited to follow her example and ponder these things in our hearts, that they might take root. Now we see, and perhaps we behold the Magi Beholding ‘the child with his mother Mary’ . . . and we allow this picture to take root in our hearts. Certainly it is a picture that took root in our faith, so many icons depict Mary, the God bearer and the child Jesus . . .

And? ‘and falling down they worshipped Him. Now they are entering into the fundamental work of theology, of theologians. Without which there is no theology nor access to any Truth in its deep manifestation.

Becoming theologians – in truth by our being here that is what we are doing. We gather together, we worship, we pray and in the midst of this we hear the word – we allow it to take root within us – this is the first and fundamental work of theology, and it is its end that it bears fruit

One of the old saints of the church puts it most succinctly – ‘A theologian is one who prays [one who worships], and one who worships and prays is a theologian’

Theology is first faith, it is paying attention, watching for God, and then responding, and allowing al our response to be Worship and prayer. Theology does not lead us to faith, Theology is faith which is then led by the star of the Light od Life that is in Jesus. Being so led, it then seeks to understand For Faith is the centre of all understanding, it is the Centre of Knowing the Truth of all things, for in coming into the presence of ‘the child and his mother’ we have come to the very centre of all things.

Let us take a few moments now in silence, in the Centre of our worship to See with the eye of our heart – to Behold the child with its mother

Amen

‘Born of God – Born in wonder’ Christmas 1 Year C 2018

Sermon for Christmas 1

Col 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

Born of God

Well it is an unwritten rule in our household that we don’t use stories about our children to illustrate sermons, however, just this once, not least because its a story of parental incompetence and therefore I think allowable . . . as a family we can’t hear this story of Jesus being left in Jerusalem without recalling an incident which occurred some years ago in Keswick. We were there for the annual Bible convention and had gone to the local supermarket before departing for a campground with a large group of friends and family – well we hadn’t gone a couple of days walk but we had been about half an hour before we realised that Megan wasn’t with us.

Running as fast as I could I returned to the supermarket to find she had been found by some fellow campers and convention members – one of the lovely things about Keswick when the Convention is on is that the town is full to bursting with Christians 🙂 We were Mighty relieved . . and it must be said didn’t scold her as Jesus’ was scolded by his distraught Mother!

Although of course Jesus gently rebukes his mother . . . ‘“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (or about my Father’s business)

So, although we haven’t yet got to the 12th day of Christmas, Luke has moved forwards 12 years to this account of Jesus’ family – about the time of the Passover, and how he goes missing in Jerusalem, for about three days . . . surely an echo of years later when Jesus is three days in the tomb before being found in the garden . . . the scriptures are full of these allusions, of stories within stories – it reminds me of those Russian Dolls which I was always fascinated with as a child. dolls within dolls within dolls – and here stories within stories within stories – and so, to pick another incident of Jesus life with his mother Mary, we might hear the words, ‘my time has not yet come’, so Jesus does not remain physically within the Temple, but returns to Nazareth with Mary his Mother, and Joseph . . .
Yet the incident is not forgotten – Mary ‘treasured all these sayings in her heart’

This is a repeated note in the Gospel. Mary treasuring things that have been said about Jesus and now by Jesus, in her heart. She treasured them – you might say having as it were lost her son for a while, she held him in her heart through all that had been said about him and by him . . .

What is immensely clear in this story is that Mary and Joseph do not understand. If they are going to understand they will have to live with these words, these seeds in their hearts, until such time when with persistence and in a good soil, they take root and bear fruit . . .

‘I must be in my Father’s house’

I wonder, what is it that we treasure in our hearts? What finds a home in us? To pick up on the image of Russian dolls again, Jesus uses the idea of Abiding, or Living within us. Abide in me, as I abide in you. We live in Him as He lives in us, or will if we attend to Him, if we follow Mary, our Mother in faith, who for nine months says Yes to this Word of God growing within her, and bearing fruit. Who goes on even though she does not understand, for who truly can hope to fully understand, who goes on treasuring these words in her heart. As the child conceived in her comes to birth, so the Word in her comes to bear fruit in her life.

One of the things I find most odd about faith in these days is how readily we dismiss these stories, beach we do not understand. They do not make sense to us. You are not likely to find many even within the church who attest to truth of The Virgin Birth. ‘Why? This is nonsense!’
As if we understood. As if we stood in a place where all of existence and reality was beneath our feet . . . Anything which doesn’t readily fit our casual notions truth discarded, for ‘this saying is too hard’ . . . like Jesus’s words ‘Whoever eats me will live because of me’ . . . too hard. Thus the Word is snatched away and perhaps we see within the church the effect of that word being snatched away – where is the Life? – as our ‘Modern’ understanding dismisses anything we cannot fit into our own picture –

Yet if is something which fits into our picture, we may well ask, why bother with it in the first place? If it is something that we infinitely small creatures can readily comprehend – why do we consider it of worth? Do we think that the understanding of ants is rational, and truthful? On the scale of the Universe and all that is – It is as if we were ants and proudly thought we comprehended existence itself . . .

Mary, although she does not know ‘how can this be, since I am a virgin?’ does not understand, she allows the words, the announcement to find a home within her. Although she is distraught at the actions of her son which have so upset her and Joseph, actions which make no sense to her and upset her greatly, she does not dismiss them, she treasures his words in her heart. She is not proud. She blows that she doesn’t understand, but believes

We have 12 days of Christmas. Days in which we can in humility allow these words of Jesus, this story of Jesus to find a home within us – even though there is so much of it which is ‘hard to understand’, much which indeed we may find dismays us.

And I wonder what might happen were we to hear the words of Jesus and ponder them and allow them to take such root in us, that they become our words? When His life becomes ours?

‘“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ What if we became the sort of people who were so given to attending to the Word in us, that perhaps our lives became lives that perplexed others, that caused them to question, that asked questions of the very way we understand our lives in the world, that had others searching us out.
If we stopped our casual denials quoting that simple convenient ‘modern science’ or something other such thing. (It is amazing how those who so readily quote ‘Modern Science, don’t know an science, and when challenged cannot explain ‘how modern science refutes all these things) It is easier not to allow the Word to take root within us. Like Mary gives birth to the Word in patience and great labour – if we allowed that existence was at once more glorious and full of wonder than we might imagine – if we became once more little children ourselves and said YEs to God’s word.

I only do what I see the Father doing . . . I must be about my Father’s business . . . if, to quote St Paul as dearly loved children, knowing we knew very little about anything, we became imitators of our big brother Jesus, the true human, and the true God, who pours out his life for us if we would beat let it take root . . .

In the beginning of John’s gospel we read ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” To all who received him . . . who allowed his Word to sink deep into their heart, to find a home in them, to bear fruit in them . . . to become those who rise to new life each morning and say as His words become ours as we abide in Him and he in us – ‘I must be about my Father’s business, I must be in my Father’s house’.

Of course, Megan wasn’t lost in the Temple, or indeed a church, she was in the Supermarket – perhaps that has become our father’s house in these days, perhaps we have become children of the consumer age, with endless options before us, or perhaps we might again attend to the One thing necessary – hear these words of Jesus ‘Did you not know that it was necessary, – we might attend to this ‘that I must be about my father’s business’ – allow it to take root, and grow us into the fulness of Children of God