Spring is in the air, in a sense it always is, but usually we don’t recognise the signs, which as Jesus tells us is a human deficiency. But all around for those with eyes to see . . .
Many years ago, one of my parishes ran out of people to mow the grass in the churchyard. In that moment a young couple recently moved to the village from Canada, came to the Vicarage. They were interested in the idea of a ‘Living Churchyard’ They had the right skills to actively care for the grass around the gravestones, that it was restored to meadow, with wild flowers, diverse grasses, and butterflies etc. etc. (From the place of death, Life)
This required very little work from them, except a gentle care and the occasional uprooting of gorse. ‘For the grass and plants know themselves best how to grow, and the wildlife will find its place’. I foolishly mentioned this offer in the next parish magazine. Almost immediately a delegation of well meaning village folk were on my doorstep – telling me that they would mow the grass . . .
We find it very difficult as human beings just to let things be. T S Eliott wrote – ‘Teach us to care, and not to care, teach us to sit still’. Our attempts to ‘manage things’, to put the world, and of course ‘those people’ right, seems to infect us all from an early age. And so new life is smothered under our ‘care’. The Care which we are called to in Elliot’s poem is that of attentiveness, the work of Mary, of beholding. If you take time to learn this way of Seeing the world, you discover as my Canadian friends had, that Creation Knows its maker and its own way. And it requires far less of us, perhaps simply our wonder? Resurrection wonder.
The other night in a time of darkness, something Sarah told me came to mind. She had been listening to a podcast about a beck (a small river) on the Eastern edge of the English Lake District. Some years ago, well meaning folk had straightened its course. (There was money in such things from city politicians who knew nothing of the ways of a stream). As a result the water ran far more swiftly down its new (dead) straight course. (There are no straight lines in the Living World) As the water ripped along it took with it all the gravel and small pebbles, which up until this ‘improvement’ had been the spawning ground for fish. These fish knew the beck as their home, their source, the place from which they came, and to which they returned, their place of birth, death and resurrection.
Some local folk, rather like my Canadian friends, wondered if there was a way to restore the stream and thus its Life. So they set about the task of diverting the river to its old course, starting from the upstream end. They had done very little yet arduous spadework, when one night there was the sort of rain which those parts knows too well. A late summer deluge. Under the ‘improved’ course, this water would have rushed down the river and possibly flooded out a village further downstream, and the labourers woke expecting to see not only flooding down the valley, but also their small work washed away . . . but they hadn’t counted on Resurrection. We never do.
The small change they had made, enabled the deluge to open up the older course of the river. Slow, meandering. The River Knew its course . . . it was written into it In The Beginning. And over time, back came first the pebbles and gravel, and then the fish
As I pondered this, I had one of those Mother Julian moments. Light flooded into darkness, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well . . .’ Resurrection is written into the Creation, by the Logos of God, if we would just let it be so.
Our place as Christians in these days, perhaps more than ever before is Holy Saturday – to rest in the tomb. The old way of fixing things is over. This is the message of the Cross. We wait on new birth. Watch and Pray. Wait and Behold, the Glory of the Lord . . .
In the Church, in the World, and within ourselves . . . Resurrection is built in if we do but stop to See it
Interesting q. Not because of the answers, the q itself . . .
‘Earn a living’ – Why do we use such language?
Have you bought into the latest thinking in this area?
How do you spend your life . . .
The criminal must ‘pay their debt to society . . .’ I’ll return to debt shortly
Arguments ‘the bottom line is . . .’ I could go on almost ad infinitum. The language of Money is woven through our way of being . . . We work, to get money, to buy bread, to live . . . Money and Life woven together, which is a problem for us
Of course one might be very otherworldly about money
God will provide! Why is the church always talking about money, yet the next moment turn round and say ‘but you owe me an apology . . .’ This reveals in a sense that money is more than cash – it is . . . well some kind of Spiritual force – or Mammon
The mammon one way or another radically infects our language and thus our lives and indeed our faith . . .
And so it is with the issue of forgiveness – as anyone who knows presbyterianism will attest – we ask God to forgive us our debts . . . (but woe betide any customer of mine who doesn’t pay his bills . . .)
Which is odd, when you think about it for a couple of reasons.
Firstly because we live in a world where it is assumed that, you must pay your debts. I owe, I owe, its off to work I go . . .
Debt and the money system are a prison and an utterly unforgiving one – is that LIFE?
Secondly the language of debt in the prayer, takes it for granted that we can ‘owe’ God . And whether we use that language or not, the sense of ‘being in Gods debt or that of another overshadows our understanding of forgiveness . . .
Yet owing suggests a deficit in God . . . By our sinning he has lent us something and thus is diminished – so it is rooted in a wrong idea about God. For God is overflowing abundance – Life in all its fullness . . . yet we won’t have it
This approach in some respects has really kicked into gear since the Protestant reformation, although it was very alive in the church since the late middle ages – ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’ The Sale of indulgences, buying time off paying what you owed God – was one of the rampant abuses the reformers rightly railed against but unwittingly, as the man who kicked a demon out of his house found, it only made matters worse let the spirit of Mammon loose without retsraint – The Protestant work ethic and consumer capitalism are happy bedfellows . . . that anyone should get – Something for nothing . . . the underserving . . .
And it infected our language of faith – ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price for sin . . .’ And I as was taught regarding confession – you need to ‘keep short accounts with God . . .’
What is Peter doing in his approach to Jesus but the work of accounting.
Jesus has already told his disciples that as servants of God, their work is to seek and save the lost, to renew connection. To reconnect them to the ever flowing stream of the Life of God – To seek out the brother who sinned against you, not that your honour might be satisfied, not that they owed you, but because this is what God does – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us
But Peter is still counting – Peter lives in the small minded world of Mammon – a world with an unforgiving bottom line – world of scarcity – there’s only so much forgiveness to go around. A world in which Life runs out . . . So you wouldn’t want to waste it.
This is a world in which secretly we don’t want to forgive, as if we will thereby lose something . . . yet Peter will begrudgingly push himself if Jesus requires it – How much do you require of me Jesus?!
He guesses that Jesus might go further than the rabbis who counselled that your forgave three times only, but ‘Jesus is better’, but ‘We know the story so the Jesus story is the same’, . . .of the same mould . . . so 7 times – after all that is perfection, but Jesus isn’t interested in ‘a better version of the world’, he has something New to say, or rather something original . . from the Origin of Creation, from the heart, from the heart of God
Jesus’ teaching is from the origin . . . from the source of the river of LIfe
And his shocking words expose the world for what it is – ruled by accounting, and limitation, harsh limitation, begrudging forgivness merely to keep the rules.
This parable of Jesus is often taught like this –
A tale of two debts. One owed by the first servant, one owed to the first servant. The debt owed by the first servant is 60,000 times greater than what he is owed. So . . . we owe God an unpayable debt . . . except that is something we have made up, assuming that the world of debt is normative.
Nowhere in scripture are we told we owe God, after all, if God is your father, does your parent lend you their life, their house, do they bill you for your sheer existence?? The language of infinite debt is the infection of the faith by those who do not know God – who understand faith in terms set by the money system – serving Mammon still – and so using the language of accounting in the world of faith
And if your brother really IS your brother . . . The words of Jesus are Shocking to our world . . . forgive 7×70 times – forgive and forgive and forgive . . . ad infinitum – If money is our picture of life, then it is limited, But if God is our picture of life, then . . . boundless forgiveness is the Reality
Note that the master has pity on the slave . . . He doesn’t see the debt, he sees the person – a person in trouble. He doesn’t see someone who has sinned against him, he sees someone who has cut themselves off from life and is in trouble . . . he loves the servant. He pities him . . . and he forgives him, he connects his Life to that of his servant . . .
But the first slave goes out and although he has not been treated according to the harsh unforgiving money system – goes and implements the harsh unforgiving money system . . . he has been given Life, but chooses limitation and death . . .
He only sees the debt . . . he doesn’t see the person. He is blinded by what is owed – by the offence, and has no pity . . .
This is not a story about the debt system – it is a story about Love, or not . . .
It is about Life – or death . . . After all, the wages of sin is death . . . the Gift of God is eternal Life
In our world Mammon – holds the power of life and death, and its doctrines infect everyday life, to the last cent . . . which is why we tend to see this parable in terms of the vast amount of money and the small amount of money, and miss the pity, the love. Why would the fellow slaves be shocked by the treatment of their fellow? Because they are servants of their master – and live a life according to love. If they lived according to money they wouldn’t be shocked – their is no sense that they know what happened between the master and servant – it is ‘of the heart’s inner room . . .
Forgiveness from the heart is a different life. Life that is a never ending stream – a river.
From the heart says Jesus – as he says in John’s gospel, out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers, rivers of living water. Wells run dry, but rivers . . . they are a flow of life throughout scripture.
It really is your money or your life . . .
You can serve God, and live a life of love, or live under the system of Mammon, which has a bottom line – Death . . .
‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself . . . and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:19
I wonder if you’ve ever encountered an angel? I’ve had one fleeting encounter, and my father also, just before he died, although it was only later as my mother told the story of a strange encounter on an evening walk hours before he died, that I understood this.
One of the gifts of returning to each of the Synoptic gospels on a three year rotation is that you see things you had previously missed. This year is Matthew and this week as I have sat with today’s gospel that I have realised that Matthew is the gospel of angels. There are considerably more angels in Matthew than in Mark or Luke combined. The angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angels who separate the wheat from the chaff, the twelve legions of angels Jesus says he has at his disposal should he call on them.
But for our purposes today – two mentions are significant. One, which we may remember is to do with Jesus’ argument with the Sadducess over marriage in the Kingdom – for he says ‘in the Resurrection, they are neither married not given in marriage, but are like the angels’, and, a verse that has been important to me this past week as I have prayed over Hannah’s child – a verse from Matthew which comes a few verses before this week’s gospel reading and is part of its context.
Jesus has set a child in the midst of his disciples and said, ‘unless ye repent and become like one of these, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven’ – and further “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven, their angels do always behold the face of my father in heaven”
Last week we considered the uncomfortable truth for those who think much of themselves, that God chooses the none-people to be his people . . . Put simply, it’s not about us, our talents and abilities, it is about God. Moses’s question, “who am I?” , is responded to with God’s I AM. (And we’ll consider this further this evening).
God is God of the none-people, and in most of history children have been none-people, indeed before birth they are not considered by the law of this land to be people, and in certain appalling circumstances, not after birth either.
Jesus places a none-person in front of the disciples – one whom we in the Significance and Importance of our busy meaningful lives overlook – one whom we overlook the more our lives are escapes from the vulnerability of childhood. He says, you must become like this to enter the Kingdom of my Father. Possessing nothing, and thus possessed by nothing – and those for whom it might be said, because of their vulnerability and openness, their angels always behold the face of God . . .
Last week we asked – “Who are the people of God?” This week we are confronted with a different but equally important question, “What are the people of God?” For as Jesus’ says, in the Resurrection they are like the angels . . . and Christ is Risen. We are the people of the Resurrection – as St Paul says, if anyone is in Christ, He is a New Creation, the old has gone, the new has come . . .’
Like the angels . . .
Well you may well say, “But what has that got to do with our gospel reading? After all it’s a sort of ethical injunction, isn’t it? A code of conduct for life in the church?” Well yes, but if you don’t know who and what you are, you will not understand it. Put another way, how we hear these words of Jesus are a measure of whether we have heard him at all . . .
“If your brother sins against you, go!” Jesus sends us with three levels of engagement. 1. Tell them alone, 2. Take on or two others, 3. Take it before the church . . .
“If your brother sins against you, go!” Note that this almost always works its way out the other way. Someone sins against another and if the person who is sinned against takes it badly . . . well do they go and tell the person privately? No, they go straight to Level 3 and tell Everyone!! You have no idea what this person has done to me! . . .
But here’s the question . . . Why? If another Christian signs against you, why would you go and tell them their fault . . . Why tell them their fault? Because they need to know what they’ve done wrong? Because they need to know how you are hurt? Because you have been offended? Because they are going to have to do certain things before you’ll think of trusting them again?? Because they need to say Sorry, and say it like they mean it? That they wake up to the injustice of their lives?? So that your honour, your story about the world is proved to be true? Why tell them their fault??
You see, all those reasons why the children of the world might tell them their fault, are all about them . . . My pride, my feelings, my offence, the wrong that has been done to me . . . and notice btw how much contemporary discourse is precisely of this nature . . . these are the reasons of the children of the world – but not the children of ‘my father who is in heaven’
But is this why Jesus tell us to go and point out their fault? And then if necessary to draw one or two people in? And then to take it to the church?? Why? To satisfy your honour? To deal with your hurt feelings??
Did Jesus cried out from the cross, “You have no idea what they have done to me!” ?? No, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .”
You see, if we don’t know who we are and what we are as the people of God, we don’t know how and why we act . . . we do not know what we are doing . . . We have lost sight of the face of our Father in heaven, who says I AM, and it’s all about us . . . but God, but God uses the none-people because, it is all about God and God’s purposes, and God’s life which he wishes to share with all.
We talk very glibly about doing the work of God . . . but unless we know who we are and where we are, we do not know what the work of God is, the work of Jesus.
St Paul puts it the work of God like this – ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself . . . and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:19 The four verses before this weeks gospel read – ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones – don’t overlook them, pay attention – ; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Therefore! If your brother sins against you . . .
The angels of the little ones, the none people – Jesus’ people always behold the face of God, and in the resurrection, they are like the angels of God in heaven . . .
So . . . to be one of God’s people is to be like an angel . . . which means??
Angels wait on God, Like Mary – they pay attention to God in Christ, and serve His purposes. They wait on his command. That is what they live for, the people of God . . . they are messengers, connection makers
Why like an angel in the resurrection? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself? He has woven together heaven and earth in his Son. Christ on the Cross is lifted up holding heaven and earth together . . . Like an angel he dwells in both places – he moves effortlessly between the two . . . He stands at the right hand of God, yet is with us always . . .
When your brother sins against you, Go! Commands Jesus, go into the world to do the work of your father which I have revealed to you – GO! seek and save the lost, to restore the relationship. They have sinned and so have broken the life giving bond – they are thus cut off and lost from the household of God. They have become a lost sheep, go find them! Bring them home.
We do not go to point out the fault of our brother or sister because of what they have done to us, in the same way that God in Christ does not seek us out to tell us how we have hurt him. God’s own self forgetfulness – your sins and iniquities I will remember no more – is the Life of the Church which has been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.
We are like the angels who dwell before the face of God. That is what we are – in ourselves weaving heaven and earth together, so that whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatsoever we lose on earth is loosed in heaven. It is only in knowing who we are, what we are and where we are that the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes plain to us and we become its self forgetful, God serving expressions . . . Only those who lose their life will find it . . .
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10
What does it mean to be ‘The people of God’?
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount starts out by naming God’s people – the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty . . . that is where God starts . . . These are the Blessed for from them God will create a people for his glory
The writer Dallas Willard in his book, the Divine Conspiracy, a book about The Kingdom of God, so chokes over these words of Jesus that he has to completely rewrites them. In Willard’s picture God obviously needs competent people, skilled people, talented people. ‘If we are going to bring in the Kingdom of God! . . .’
In short people like him. So these people . . . the nothings, the non-people he . . . well he says ‘Hey when Jesus is announcing his Kingdom he says ‘it’s even for people like this!’ We competent people we are the ones charged with the business, and so doing we’ll help these non people. So Sure is he of this that he spends an entire chapter deliberately these people as losers, as non-people . . . The losers, the people no one would look to if humanly speaking they were setting out on a great endeavour, let alone ‘The great Endeavour’ . . . Humanly speaking . . . That’s the worlds story – vote in the right government and the poor will finally be looked after – This is how We will fix things . . . We the competent and powerful will help out the less blessed.
Except Jesus has named the blessed, THESE are the blessed, and there’s no ‘also’
What is perhaps a little unsettling to consider is why Willard has to do this . . . Why? Because he is working from an unexamined assumption, that he and his fellow middle class Christian friends, the Movers and shakers, the people with ‘significant’ roles and the like – are OBVIOUSLY ‘God’s people’ – The story is so pervasive we believe it – It is our job as God’s people to look after the non-people . . . But Jesus says, the non-people are God’s people. And there are no ‘alsos’ . . .
If the ‘Blessed’s of Jesus aren’t like those people Willard knows . . . and Jesus says blessed are ‘those people’ . . . what of him, what of us?? (And you might like to take a moment to reflect on how like Willard we immediately try and hold our story together . . .)
The Jesus story tips the world on its head, because it is not about human glory except as Christ and him Crucified. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, people come to Jesus saying ‘Hey Jesus, look what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved ‘in your name’’ and Jesus is less than impressed – away from me, you doers of evil. For this is not about human glory, but the glory of God.
God’s work is always a work of Creation – and he caps out the creation by Creating His Image and placing it at the Centre – so that the creation would know what the Creator was like. God creates a people Like him, He does the creation, the work is all God’s. Even Jesus says ‘I only do what I see the father doing’ and that Creation is from that which is ‘nothing’, the formless and void of the waters of the deep, he forms a people from those who were not a people. They do not make a name for themselves, there are no laudatory memorials to those people – he places his name on them
As St Paul puts it in a text that has been much on my family’s heart these past few days – God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. A child growing in her mothers womb turns our world on its head . . .
[We have a society and culture which is set up by the powerful who may or who may not do good for the weak . . . but they dominate the story. And this story is also the story which dominates the church. So Synod, reduced to just a one day zoom ‘meeting’ will debate the usual well meaning motions about ‘helping the non-people’ – top down. But ignoring our Christian Story which is that the people of God are the non-people.
You see it’s only the non-people that need God . . . the rest of us can and usually do get by very well without God. Indeed we think so much of ourselves that we say that it is our job to ‘bring in the Kingdom of God’. Faith is hard not for those who have no other hope, it is hard for those who have a thousand and one alternatives]
So God comes to the raw material of the non-people. The enslaved Hebrews
‘I will send you to Pharaoh’! If we read further on, the LORD says to Moses, I will give you words . . .
And Moses Knows he is not up to the task . . . Who am I? I am NOT . . .
I AM has sent you. And I AM brings them out and makes a people for himself, to reveal his Glory . . .
But they looked around and sought to emulate other nations. Hey we need a King! If folk are going to take US seriously . . . so they fall into the failure of the nations who do not know God. They get their king- first David, who wouldn’t lay a hand on Saul but became king by popular acclaim as the one who slew his tens of thousands . . . Then the glories of the Solomonic era, in which the liberated people were ironically enslaved to their own imperial project. Imperial projects always enslave – as anyone paying attention to their own life might notice . . . Solomon intermarried with a gusto . . . he built an amazing temple and an even more amazing palace for himself . . . and following his death as with the death of any emperor, the succession led to a bloodbath and the separation of the 12 tribes.
And one of the most pertinent facts regarding God’s people is that they are largely absent from the historical record . . . even Solomon in all his glory . . . In vain do we look for the historic record of the non people. For all their glorious past, they barely deserved a footnote in the annals of the Human story . . .
From then the story had not been good, and at the time of Jesus, God’s people are waiting for ‘the Son of David’. . . An imagined glorious past . . . how we love to live in the past and fondly remember it . . . not really a good call. The powerful amongst them are trying to hold things together. The Pharisees are not narrow minded legalists – rather they long for the return of God’s King, and understand that only when Israel perfectly keeps the law will this happen . . . but their understanding of God’s Messiah is still one built not on God’s creative acts amongst the non-people. They are looking for the movers and shakers . . . The King, The Messiah to restore ‘the good old days’
So Peter’s cry ‘this must never happen to you! Is based on that story. He has just been graced BY GOD to see that Jesus is the Messiah, the long awaited one. He didn’t figure this out for himself for this is a story about God, not about how clever Peter is . . . note by the way that the gospels do NOT exalt the disciples . . . They are very raw material . . . We note the ‘joke’ that on this rock Jesus will build his church and like Sarah we laugh! Really? Peter??? That flippy floppy nobody?? Because it’s not about Sarah or Peter, it is about God
Jesus calls the non-people . . .
Peter is allowed to see who Jesus is, and then Jesus tips Peter’s world upside down . . . he must go to Jerusalem and suffer . . . and be killed . . . and on the third day be raised. The word Suffer is passive – he becomes a non person, the target of those who have a different story, he becomes the ultimate non person by being killed . . .
So Peter when he says ‘this must never happen to you’ isn’t saying out of his deep devotion to Jesus, but because that’s not the Messiah story. The Messiah is the top down ruler who will save Israel . . . the Messiah institutes an eternal reign – He comes to make us a GREAT nation! The Messiah does not die!
But that is the way of Satan, the Prince of this world. It is designed to leave us without hope, because we think – the next government, if only we had the right ruler . . . a world of eternal despair in the human – ‘Get thee behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of Man. because we have not in mind the things of God.
It is perhaps the Great Satanic illusion which grips our hearts and minds – just get the right people at the top . . . (Which is why I have no time as a Christian for politics – its not the Jesus way, and the temptation for us is that it takes our hearts and minds off Him, and our neighbour, and through the power of the internet focusses us on false hopes . . .)
But more – if you would be my disciple, to be God’s people – you also have to give up on your story . . . Jesus takes the story back to the start – into the deep waters of death . . . it is out of that that life emerges. Our story as I said last week is Life through death, when we try and avoid that we try and solidify Our existence protecting ourselves
The disciples looked on the glory of the Temple and said, what fine stones – and Jesus destroys it. All Their hard work . . . all their self justification, all their self righteousness, because God needs raw material to form a people for himself who perfectly reflect his Glory – that is the purpose of The Image of God, to Manifest God . . . it is the vocation of the Church, the Body of Christ – but we do like our Temple building projects, those things which give us a sense of self satisfaction – of course inscribe it AMDG. – to the great er glory of God, but the glory of God is revealed in the non people
Which leaves me thinking about us, the people of St John’s
We have a long and it may well be said ‘proud’ history . . . When I came here and folk outside the parish realised who I was, they would say ‘Oh! The new Vicar of St John’s’ As I got to know some of the history I realised what they were talking about – This parish had achieved so much, but also that it had a darker side. Over the years we had let go of the small weaker churches and retreated to the high ground. During a polio epidemic in the 1930s, the Vicar sent people round the parish, not to pray for people and to share bread, but to raise funds for the church . . . The question I have is, do we cling on in hope, looking for a Messiah who fits, or are we prepared ourselves to become once more the non-people, the raw material for New Creation . . . to let go of our ‘glorious’ past??
Like Peter, and like the Pharisees we are So given to ‘clinging on’ to whatever gives us security – but God can only work with those for whom He is their security . . .
Some years ago I spoke of Two cities in Northern England – Bradford and Leeds. Bradford lived long on past glories . . . and collapsed. This seems to me to be the story of the Anglican church, at least in our Tikanga,, less so in Tikanga Maori, MUCH less so amongst our Pasifika brothers and sisters . Those who are little are by far the most vibrant and alive
We live in a time of shattered illusions. We who talk so much of ‘bubbles’ don’t realise that what COVD has shown us is that we were living in a bubble. Our technological prowess and scientific knowhow was supposed to protect Us from all of that – flee from the virus deeper into our bubbles, even more divorced form the reality of the world by burning phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels and building houses insulated against the storms they created.
To be Safe in human terms is to be separated from God. In our Scientific technical bubble we were separated from God, although he got a look in now and then, the occasional prayer, but really it was our job to ‘bring in his kingdom – We created a world – so as the creator of the world was the centre of the story – – – we became the centre of our own story – in which we, of course were going to ‘bring in the Kingdom of God’, because of course it would never occur to us that we couldn’t, after all, look at the fabulous things we humans have done!
COVID amongst other things is shaking things up – do we cling on and try and climb higher and higher up the mountain securing ourself, or do we follow Jesus into the waters of death, and allow God to raise us and reform us – do we cling on, or do we let go, let go and Let God . . .?
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19
The revealing of the children of God
Each Sunday as we prepare to pray in the words that Jesus has taught us, I preface our prayer with these words ‘As our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are very bold to say . . .’
Why? Because it is true. To dare to say to God, Father – is an act of extraordinary boldness . . . after all, what if it weren’t true? And how would we know? What if we called to Jesus, Lord Lord, and he said to us, away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you . . . How do we know?
Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, most clearly in the sermon on the Mount makes it very clear how we would know
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Or as Luke puts it – ‘be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful . . .’
Like Father, like the child . . . As I say we Are Very Bold to say . . . our Father . . . Indeed the prayer presumes this for it presumes for example that we are forgiving – forgive us as we forgive others . . . Whilst there are often sermons given over agonising over forgiving, to pray the Lord’s prayer presupposes it is ‘natural’ which it is for a child of God. No wonder as St Paul says: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19 Creation is gasping, it can’t breathe . . . it longs for the revealing of the children of God, for those who in truth call upon God as Father . . . for those who look like God . . .
Jesus did not die to make bad people good – he died so that the dead might live – that we might become Children of God. Christian existence is not a matter of moral performance, it’s a matter of a new Life – that we might become pure wheat . . .
8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Becoming Christian is not a matter of tidying up your moral performance . . . of loving and forgiving and being merciful because we have a different or better set of rules – not it is a new Life, the very life of God flowing in and through us. As Jesus says, you must be born from above – you must be born anew as God’s children, bearing his likeness and revealing him in the world . . .
Which brings us to our parable. We tend to assume that Jesus used parables of growing living things because he was a country boy, but the reality is that he used living things, for to enter the Kingdom of God was to become a Living thing . . . birds, trees, seeds, weeds, wheat . . .
Weeds or Wheat? How can you tell? And the answer is that you can’t – only God sees the heart. There are suggestions that the weeds that Jesus had in mind based on the word he used, were notoriously hard to tell apart from wheat. Perhaps he had the hypocritical pharisees in mind . . .
But how do you know? That’s none of our business!
You have to wait to find out. Good seed in Good ground produces God Life. Even good seed in the wrong soil can’t produce wheat as we heard lats week . . . But you have to wait, this is why Jesus uses the Last judgement imagery
Like the sheep and the goats, it’s only at The End that the truth of things is revealed. At The End – when the fruit is born. If these weeds were so hard to tell from wheat, it was only at The End, when they bore seed that it became clear . . .
So what should we do?? Well the answer is as old as time – every moment of every day, repent – turn towards God. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul and all of your strength – Loving the Father ‘above you’ Rise from the chaos and darkness of death into the glory and light of life . . . you must become children of God – Wheat, not weeds . . .
Which brings me to a question I am asked from time to time – What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians? (Even now that they are grown up . . .)
When faced with such a question it is tempting to come up with some ‘technical solution’. , and I’ve heard them all and seen so many try them out . . . often to no avail . . .
We try all the time to fix things – but unlike our food processor, which we managed to fix on Friday – you can’t fix growing things, you can’t fix living things – you can’t make the dead live . . . There is no technique, indeed it is evil to try and fix things like this. For we are not dealing with machines, but living breathing human beings . . . People can’t be helped by tool sets . . .
By attending to people, you can no more ‘ensure they become Christian’, than you can raise the dead . . . Only the Living can raise the dead
Can you raise the dead? I know of a bishop who wouldn’t ordain someone unless they had . . . Jesus sent out his disciples saying As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.
These are Jesus instructions to his disciples – not to ‘put the world right’, not to ‘fix the world’, but to heal and thus direct the gaze of the world to the Father in heaven . . . .
We are not created to be machine and machine fixers – a living human being is no machine – there are no tools or tricks or techniques, indeed to use such things is evil. Yet we have been trained by the world to think that everything has its technical fix, and with the right rules, the right well, the right moral behaviours, the world will be saved . . . and after all, obeying Jesus and curing the sick and raising the dead and cleansing lepers and casting out demons??? . . . it is no surprise that these things only happen in non technical societies where people haven’t the power to fix things, and we think our society advanced and spiritually it is in ICU . . .
As I suggest from time to time, the real danger of Covid 19 is not the virus – it is what our response does to our souls . . . Jesus says do not fear the one who has power only to destroy your body . . . fear the one who can destroy body and soul . . .
As I said, these times reveal the truth about us, what we really love, and certainly as a society
We are in love not with the living God, we are in love with technique, with saving ourselves . . .
How can we fix the world? Vote for the right government? What will get the desired outcome? Vote out the weeds? Vote in the wheat? Can you tell the difference?
’What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians?? We are anxious, about . . . well about everything and so we are easy meat for technical solutions which promise success . . . So uproot the weeds – Clean it up! Vote for the ONE party . . . Make sure they go to ‘a bible believing church’ . . . Pray! Fast and pray! . . . What’s the technique?? What’s the fix?? Healing?? I can’t do that! Funny, Jesus disciples these simple fishermen and rag tag and bobtail didn’t say that to Jesus . . . but then they weren’t civilised like we are . . .
Yet were created to be healers not fixers – we were created to be the dwelling place of God, to have the Seed of His life in us, so that like Jesus we would heal, but that requires a struggle – a struggle to become chidden of God. For all who believe in Jesus are given the right to become Children of God
Jesus says ‘Do not worry about anything! Seek His Kingdom! Be drawn up and you will draw others up around you . . . Acquire inner peace and you will save a thousand around you – become Jesus sale in the storm! That is the upward call of God in Jesus! To be like him! SO make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate! Loving God with all you have and all you are requires your entire attention, for broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction . . .
And therein lies the answer to the question . . . Do we want our children to become Christian? We must become Christian ourselves! Wheat lives towards God with every ounce of its fibre and being . . .
You see, it is a matter of Life, of the Life of God . . . only the Living can do this, only those in whom is the life of God, because weeds beget weeds and wheat begets whea
Perhaps more than ever we need as church to realise that our faith is not a set of beliefs, or a set of morals, it is a life . . . and if the church is dying, then that life is missing . . . All over the Western world we see the same thing – folk coming up with techniques for pretty much every aspect of life . . . Like finding the right exercises to get the right abs, what do we have to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus says, leave the life you have behind . . . and follow me . . . so we go to the bookstore to find a better answer . . .
How can I ensure my children become Christians? How in the Life of the Father can we ensure anything?? Seek Him! Struggle – fight against all that wars against you soul – rise from the soil, Grow towards the Light
Make every effort to become a child of God yourself.
Life begets life. Wheat produces wheat, weeds produce . . .
Children of the Father produce the Life of the Father – for the healing of the world
The Fathers teach us about ‘logismoi’ – unhelpful thoughts. They are like birds flying about and through your head, and often like to sit on a branch of the tree. If given roosting space will drop their deposits into your soul to do their work . . . however, not all thoughts are ‘logismoi’ . . .
The Sower sows the seed . . .
Yesterdays gospel reading was ‘the parable of The Sower’, or ‘of the Seed,’ or ‘of the soil’ . . . take your pick, but you know the one I mean. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it for us, and there’s good reason.
As Jesus berates the disciples in Mark? ‘You don’t get This parable? How will you understand ANY parable??’ (ROUGH translation) As Jonathan Pageau helpfully points out, this parable is a / the (?) Meta-parable, ‘the parable of parables’. Which brings me to that seed of a thought.
Recently I have been teaching on John’s Gospel, taking a largely thematic approach. Yesterday evening I set out again to teach on ‘Believing in Jesus’, perhaps THE theme of this Gospel of The Beloved. Yet when announcing in the morning that I intended to do that, I couldn’t help add by way of a thought, ‘including the Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of John’
To be totally honest, I hadn’t entirely thought this through . . . (‘question to self – “when did you ever?”‘)
I had previously spoken on ‘Jesus and Women in John’, working a theme about which I had given much musing over the years, that of how each significant encounter of Jesus with a woman in the gospel leads to Life in Abundance. Wine from Water, White fields of disciples from Sychar, Life from Death, and as at The Beginning, Light from Darkness.
In this, the Idea of the Logos Spermatikoi – the Seed of the Word was being worked out, which reminds us that Words are Seed Like. Rather than allowing those troublesome ‘logismoi’ a home, we might open up our soul soil to receive a life giving Logos, and thus finally by grace, become the Source (Beginning) of Abundant Life (John 7:37,8), Children of The Living God.
I was, I admit, teaching on the fly. There is a link here to the recording. Yet with regard to ‘believing in Jesus, I was gently suggesting that this required total identification with Jesus. (We are after all baptised into his death) So, I had noted ahead of time Jesus words in John 12 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.
And then I saw the context . . .
The Seed falling into the ground to die – but then more, much more, at least to my mind.
In Matthew, Jesus’ words come as Judgement. Indeed his presence is understood as Judgement. The ‘Woes’ announced on Chorazin and Capernaum had come hot on the heels of Jesus revealing that John the Baptist, was ‘the Elijah’ who was to come at the end of the age, and then refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’ – the One coming on the clouds in Daniel. The End is present in Him. The judgement of the crowds on The Baptist and Jesus, is turned back on themselves, as all judgement is so turned back (Matthew 7:1)
We had excised from the RCL reading those words of the prophet which, in our supposed fragile state we could not bear:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.”
‘I’m teaching in parables because you don’t want to hear . . .
So back to John 12 where we read:
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.
These words come after Jesus has ‘departed and hidden from’ the crowds, from public ministry. He cries aloud after this, but having withdrawn John suggests to us that He is not heard. Shortly thereafter begins the chapters of the gospel, 13 through 17, in which Jesus opens up “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven“, to his disciples “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance“
In other words, John 2-12 finds the Logos being scattered, then the Words of judgement, then the ‘explanation’ to the disciples in 14-17. So it follows the pattern of the parable in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Having in his public ministry scattered the Seed of The Logos, and occasionally bring forth fruit in receptive soil, the time draws near for Jesus to enact the entirety of the parable in Himself, as The Seed which falls into the ground and dies to bear much fruit. The Life which brings forth Life towards The Father springing up from the Earth.
The Word which hovers over the waters of chaos, calling forth the Life of repentance, the Life towards God which He Is, from those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
And THAT is a parable, The Parable of the parable of parables . . .
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Stories . . . We love them. As human beings we are wired for stories – indeed when asked about our lives, we will usually speak them as story . . . Some people say that it is ‘reason’ which sets human beings apart from other creatures, and are perhaps a little disturbed to find other creatures also ‘reason’, but stories? Perhaps that is what sets us apart…
When asked about The Bible, people have all sorts of ideas. Many, many say ‘Oh its just full of rules’. Well actually it isn’t, indeed ‘rules’ as such take up a very small portion of Scripture. It isn’t a ‘book of rules’ in that sense at all. There is a lot of poetry – and indeed the words of the prophets, which fill a considerable part of the book are often rendered poetically. But its fundamental form throughout, embracing poetry and law and letters etc. is that of story, of human stories, of universal stories, or perhaps One story retold multiple times . . .
Take the story from Genesis we have just heard. Jacob ‘steals’ Esau’s birthright – or, according to the book of Hebrews, he sells it, for ‘a mess of pottage’ in the delightful turn of phrase in the AV. Like Jack selling the family y cow, which was all they had, for a handful of beans . . . Esau is famished and easily gives up what is life giving to him, for . . . a plate of stew.
And if we’re paying attention, we’ll realise that this story is one we have heard before, not just the story of Jack and the beanstalk.
Right back in the beginning, the man and the woman in the garden. As we explored a couple of weeks ago, the Garden of Eden was a mountain. At the top was a tree, the Tree of Life, the offer of ‘being like God’, but hey . . . it’s such hard work getting to the top and the Snake whispers in their ear . . . you can get what you want, here, eat this apple . . . the man and the woman not alert to what was really offered ate the apple, and lost their birthright . . . The Snake won
And Jacob? If you have read this in a bible with notes, you’ll know that his name means ‘deceiver’, or ‘one who grasps the heel’ . . . He knew where the point of weakness was – like Achilles, immortal but for the heel and so the deceiver strikes the heel . . . He knows Esaus weakness and buys him off . . . stories within stories within stories
As humans we are easily bought off. We prefer the easy way . . . And we are put to sleep – And that story is repeated throughout Scripture . . .
Any burglar knows, you carry a nice steak, buying the guard dog off – and lace it with sleeping pills . . . and so we are put to sleep, and as those who are put to sleep, we don’t like being woken up . . .
So much so that we even cut out those passages which might disturb our slumber from the scriptures . . . every week at the moment.
What’s missing this week? What was in danger of waking us up and spoiling our sleep?
Here we have Jesus telling the familiar parable of the sower, and then he explains it . . . but we missed the disturbing element out Jesus tells the story of the sower, the parable, and concludes, ‘let those with ears to hear, hear!’ Well immediately we should be on our guard, after all, haven’t we all got ears to hear??
Here’s the bit we have cut out . . .
Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
WHOAH! Strong stuff there Jesus! You’re telling these things in parables BECAUSE you don’t want them to understand? You’re giving this story to those who have much? You’re telling it as a story so that ‘the little they have will be taken away??
Yes he is . . . but there’s a good reason
We read on
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.”
Jesus is speaking in parables precisely so that the people are confirmed in their own choice . . .
He is pronouncing the judgement that they have themselves made. They don’t want what he is offering. Like Chorazin and Capernaum before whom he made the deaf hear and the blind see and raised the dead, and were entertained and applauded, but did not respond – fundamentally they don’t want what is on offer . . . Waking up to Life. They’d rather sleep
Last week as we were talking on Sunday evening, someone asked about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But if you read the story, you will notice that time after time, God reveals himself to Pharaoh and Pharaoh hardens his own heart . . . when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he is merely confirming Pharaoh’s choice
We wake up – We realise that someone has sold us a dud and we set off to find Life . . . not many, but here and there a few – and those who seek will find . . . it is those who do not seek who do not find.
God is looking for his lost sheep, those who know they are far from home, those who have welcomed his Salvation, who love his Son
The parable is precisely told about its hearers – Most of the seed falls on ground that is no good for the seed – Some have chosen their path through life, thanks. Some are kind of enthusiastic, like the crowds who were, but when faced with the force of Imperial Rome, they call for him to be crucified – Some, well there elves are just to full of other things . . .
But here and there there are a few . . .
Back in England, there was a wonderful priest called Robin Gamble. He worked in a very difficult part of town, and would go into the pubs and clubs telling folk the Good News of Life in the name of Jesus. He used contemporary music – so you had, The Good News according to Abba, or The Beatles’ He used humour, a lot of it – well not ‘churchy’ – he shared the Good News with many, but few responded . . . and as he taught what he did to others he would say, out of 100 people, there are perhaps about 5 who are looking for life – the rest are just looking for entertainment. If you are going to ‘fsh for men’ you have to seek out the seekers’
He had a point . . . most people actually don’t want to know, and God after many efforts to persuade them otherwise, even raising his Son fro the dead, seems to allow us to choose.
Do we want the Life that Jesus is offering? Will we do that soul work which prepares the soil? Do we eagerly grasp each opportunity God gives us to live up towards Him? Or are we easily bought off with a pot of stew?
Which ground, which soil has this word fallen into??
A few weeks ago – on Pentecost Sunday we heard these words of Jesus – ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, for as the Scriptures say, ‘out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers of living water . . .’ Whoever is thirsty . . . whoever desires Live . . . whoever is waking up to the fact that they have been sold a dud and Seek Life – et them seek, for the father seeks after those who seek, and they will bring forth life in abundance. The question Jesus asks is – are you seeking? Are you thirsty . . .