Behold! Christ the King!

Sermon for Christ the King, Yr A 2020

Ephesians 1:17-18

Matthew 25:31-46

‘Now you say you see . . .’

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints . . .

With the eyes of your heart enlightened.

How we see is fundamental to our lives. So much so that we talk of understanding in terms of sight ‘Oh! Now I see!’ we say. The problem is that sight, the sense which we put most trust in, is also the one most easily deceived. Think how many magic tricks depend on that, compared with your sense of smell, or hearing . . . and of course in the age of the captivating screen this deception is amplified.

Illusion in the magic sense depends on what you think you are going to see, because that is the controlling factor. We don’t talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ because we don’t expect to see the elephant in the room, because most of the time there is no elephant in the room. We have our stories about reality and without realising, we see the world as we are. Unconsciously (?) we filter out that which doesn’t fit our way of ‘looking at’ the world.

Which brings us to our parable, that of ‘the sheep and the goats’, but first we need to return to last week’s parable – of the talents. As I said last week I want to flip it on its head. Because what we see depends on how we see.

My brother was talking to a wealthy individual recently. He knew this man well and he epitomised one way of looking at the world. He looked around him at all he had and said ‘the fruit of all my hard work’. You might say he looked at the world and said, if you play by the rules, work hard, you will do well for yourself. So, he would perhaps read the parable of the talents and say, exactly! The hard workers, people like me get what we deserve, and the idlers . . . well they get what they deserve as well . . .

It’s a common enough story. But there’s another one. My brother, who is sensitive to these things remarked upon the person who cleaned for this individual. He knew that she held down three full time jobs, just to make ends meet . . . she certainly worked hard, but . . . He went on to note that this man hadn’t worked hard for a long time, rather having got a certain amount of money, his money was doing the work.

Perhaps you have enough money to buy a second house. You let it out. Now your money is making money.

Now, imagine you hear the parable of the talents and Jesus’ final words – to those who have much , much will be given, to those who have little, even the little they have will be taken away . . . first as my brother’s wealthy friend, and then as the cleaner? Perhaps not to enjoy a long happy retirement despite working her fingers to the bone to make ends meet?? To those that have will be given more . . . to those who have not, even the little they have will be taken away . . . And we look out at the world and . . . say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.

Which brings us to the second parable . . . you see those who have much, who see the world in a particular way, will hear this. The sheep are those who shared what they had, and the goats are those who didn’t. This is the way we are pretty much set up to hear this parable.

If as we do, you live in a hierarchical society then part of the story of such a society is that those at the top are supposed to help out those at the bottom – it is called paternalism. It is the way we see the world. So we hear it and think ‘I need to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit those in prison . . .’ But what if you are the one who is naked or hungry or in prison?? What then do you hear?

Regarding those in prison there is an eye opening book which I recommend called ‘Reading the Bible with the Damned. It is an extended reflection on what happened when the author started regularly to go into a high security prison amongst those on life sentences and read scripture. All of a sudden his ideas were stood on their head . . . these men saw the world very differently.

As we have been reminded these past weeks, these parables of Jesus are admonitions to his disciples to be ready for what is coming. But what Is coming? Who is shut outside? Who finds themselves in the placing of gnashing of teeth and outer darkness? Or, who finds themselves, to put it another way ‘hungry, naked, in prison’? After all, didn’t Jesus start out by saying ‘blessed are those who are poor? Those who are hungry? Those who mourn?’ Did he not say ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’

Did not Jesus himself die ‘outside a city wall’?

Why is our focus on the sheep and the goats and their fate? Are we, as those who in one sense have done well set up to ‘see’ the whole story in terms of ‘just desserts’, ‘you get what is coming to you’. Is such a way of seeing, seeing in truth or is such an interpretation simply a reinforcement of our story about the way things are – to those who have much, more will be given . . . and perhaps ‘of those who have much, much will be required’?

Our attention falls on the sheep and the goats, their actions and their fates . . . which is odd, for Jesus’ says that neither the sheep nor the goats see . . . Hearing this gospel  as a moral tale about helping those less fortunate than ourselves or else . . . copying the sheep to gain a reward or avoid ‘the other place’ is then simply the blind following the blind . . .

Neither the sheep nor the goats see, but Here’s another question – Do We?

More specifically, neither the sheep nor the goats ‘see Jesus’ . . . but do we?

You ‘see’, This parable is not the judgement of Jesus’ people, it is the judgement of the nations. The Judgement of those who have not seen him, yet, who as St Paul says will be judged according to whether they have obeyed the law written in their heart. Perhaps they have seen the people of Jesus in those days when to be Christian was to be shut out from the world’s bounty, often to be ‘hungry, naked, strange and in prison’ and so tended to Christ himself in his people.

The parable assumes that the people of Jesus are those who when Jesus sits down on the mountain are those who have come to him, those who Know Him, who See Him . . . for those who say they belong to Jesus, who Know Jesus, that is the assumption, that they See Him. For they are his and he is theirs.

We have come to the end of the church Year. Christ the King Sunday. It is the end of our year of Matthew, but if we step back from Matthew and look at it not merely as a collection of ‘bits and pieces’, but in its entirety, something stands out.

Bookending the gospel is The Command which calls us to Life, a command to the people of God; “Behold!”

Behold! the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’

And again, Jesus closing words to his people, even as he was taken from the sight of their eye . . .

‘Behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the Age’

And So St Paul prays for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints,

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

That whenever and in whoever Christ appears, we who Behold might recognise Him in whatever guise he is hidden from the eyes of the sheep and the goats

Put another way, give up on your stories about ‘getting just desserts’ or whatever other story you have about the world, because if we can’t see Jesus, why do we think we can see anything else??

Our Duty, and our Joy – The Parable of the Talents

Sermon for the twenty third Sunday after Trinity

Year A 2020

Matthew 25:14-30

The Fruitfulness of Joy, and of Duty

So the cry goes up – get out of bed, it’s nearly time for church! “but I don’t want to go to church!”, but you Have to go to church, Why do I have to go to church? Because you’re the Vicar!

Recently I was in conversation with the pastor of another church here in Dunedin, and he pointed out how so much in this day we are told to ‘follow our heart’, and that it was important to ‘live an authentic life, and be your real self’.

He’s right. If you follow the titles of popular books there are many on such themes . . . [individualism vs shared life] but such an approach privileges the individual over the group because it starts from the presumption that I have no necessary obligation or duty towards others.

This Zeitgeist can be ‘spiritualised’, and spiritialising things is very dangerous for us as Christians although it is rampant amongst us. We say ‘oh I have no call’, or ‘I do not sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to do this’ Without realizing what we are doing, we break the third commandment and take the name of the Lord in vain, using God to back up our often unconscious biases, or our captivation to the Spirit of the Age

Doing things out of duty seems is very much against the Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age, which is a huge problem when it comes to the Christian life for God’s commands are at least requirements. Loving your enemy and doing good to those who hate you is not something we do because we feel a sense of call.

Of course for some, the Way of God’s commands is the way of joy,  but if we are ever to discover that joy, then we have at least to acknowledge the duty, even if we don’t understand, or ‘heaven forbid’, they don’t speak to our heart

Last week we heard the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. If you remember these parables are told by Jesus in the few days between the complete breakdown of relations between himself and his opponents and the events of Holy Week. So Jesus is warning his disciples to get ready to be ready, for The Day of the Lord is Now.

The Day of the Lord is like a wedding, and last week we thought about how getting ready for a wedding involved lots of people taking their obligations seriously . . . and to be honest, it is very rare in our familie sexperience for people who had a role to play to do so out of anything less than Joy. They en ‘joyed’ serving and stepping up to help. Now perhaps there may well have been people who only turned up because they felt they had to, out of obligation or duty, but turn up they did anyway . . .

So we are not told whether the wise bridesmaids filled their lamps with oil out of a sense of duty, or joy, but they knew what was required of them and so they were ready. The foolish knew what was required but didn’t prepare. The Lord of the feast said to them when they found the door closed, ‘I do now know you’ . . .

Which takes us to our parable this week. Again we need to remember that parables of Jesus are not simple stand alone stories. This is about The Day of the Lord, and the accounting that Jesus has already warned his disciples about.

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

Again, there is a work to be done, and again we have no insight into whether or not the hearts of the servants were in the work . . . whether your heart is in it is not it seems the most important thing.

So the parable of the talents is part of this. It is not simply a story about using or not using what you have been given, it’s a story about doing what is necessary, or doing the work you have been given.

Last time this came up I remember noticing something I hadn’t seen before – that the first two servants both have an element of joy about their service.  Behold! I have made five more talents! Behold! I have made two more talents! They are excited about their work and how it has born fruit. They have served with Joy and their service has born fruit.

Again we remember that Jesus is merely reiterating his teaching from the Sermon on the mount – By their fruit you shall know them. The good bear good fruit, the wicked bear bad fruit and then tells them that bearing fruit is simply a matter of hearing the words of Jesus and doing them. Loving your enemy, doing good to those who hate you, loving one another as jesus has loved us. As Jesus says to the man trying to justify himself, ‘do these things and you will live. Whether you feel like it, or not. Whether you have a sense of call or not, if you do it it will bear fruit.

This explains the response of the master to the third servant. The third servant is clearly not interested in the work of his master. He has told himself a story about his master in order to justify his failure to do his will. Isn’t this what we do when we say ‘Oh, the Spirit has not moved me in this direction’??

He is alienated in his mind, he has become his own God, judging his master – And we do this, do we not? What we ought to do is often clear, but then we come up with a justification for not doing it . . . something along the lines of ‘oh, its not my gift . . .’, or ‘my heart isn’t in this . . .’ or some other such thing. And what we do is put ourself at the centre, not God. And when we are at the centre then we are alienated from God.

You see the master at base just asks that if for no other reason, you act out of a sense of duty. You should have put the money on deposit with the bankers . . . you work for me, you have an obligation. It seems that this grudging obedience would have been enough, but the third slave wasn’t having anything to do with his masters business, he cuts himself off from the life of his master and finds himself therefore cut off.

Jesus uses the imagery of fruitfulness a lot. We know the season is near for the fig tree is coming into fruit, I am the vine you are the branches – bear much fruit to show you are my disciples. Fruit bearing is at least a duty – may God so change our hearts that it becomes our Joy and gladness and we enter into His Joy

This is The Day! Trinity +22, Year A

Matthew 25:1-13

“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”

The Condemned man ate a hearty breakfast, we are told

On my wedding day, I ate a hearty breakfast . . . I ate a hearty breakfast because my best man, Mike, who faced a highly significant role in the day’s events, had never been to a wedding before. And he was nervous.

He was nervous because he took his responsibilities with great seriousness, as indeed he does to this day. So he couldn’t eat his breakfast

So I did . . . as well as my own

Of course a Wedding requires lots of people to show up not just in the sense of attending, but in the sense of playing their part, taking their responsibility seriously. Thus they honour the significance of the occasion. Not to do so is to fail to recognise and dishonour the significance of the day.

And the significance of the day is huge.

The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast – for to be married is to agree to die to the person you are, and to submit to the Way of love, which is to be changed. The two become one flesh. That cannot happen unless each dies to their own interests.

As we have explored from time to time, both in our evening talks and on a Sunday morning, to love is to be changed. To refuse to change is to refuse love.

So the wedding day is like a death . . . and a new birth . . . it is a day of great significance and everyone has to be ready to play the part appointed to them on that Day

Our Gospel is a Wedding Parable. Jesus has been talking about this day all along.

And now The Day has come! ‘The Rain fell, the floods came, and the winds howled and beat against the house, and the house on the . . .’ Was the house ready?? The Day will reveal it

So far in Matthew, this has been flagged up clearly in the sermon on the mount, Those who have heard his words and done them . . .’ they are ready. They are ‘The Wise’ Those who have heard his words and not done them; they are the foolish. Why? For the Day is coming

Jesus’ actions and words have drawn the attention of the Pharisees and others. They have been questioning him, over and over. By whose authority do you do these things? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? If a woman is married seven times, in the resurrection whose wife will she be? But Jesus having confounded them, then flips the tables. Whose Son is the Messiah? ‘David’s’ Really? How then does David call him Lord? ‘After this they durst ask him no more questions’

The die is cast.  We find ourselves now in a very brief window in which  Jesus prepares his disciples for what is to come, the Day fast approaching. He tells them of the destruction of the Temple, and then over and over with symbolic actions like the cursing of the fig tree, or in parables he gives them one clear message – This is Near! Be ready! You, My disciples, the day is near – it is time for you to play the part I have appointed to you . . .

Having had more than a passing role to play in weddings – there are strong parallels. The courting, the engagement, the save the date, the booking of venues, sorting out how everyone will have plenty to eat, the dress, the flowers . . .The Day is Coming! The Day is Coming!,  and all around people given roles and responsibilities. The Invitations . . . and so the day dawns, and everything is to click into gear, and it is time for those who have roles need to step up

“Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. These bridesmaids, or better ‘virgins’, have a role. They are to light the way for the bridegroom. Yet, When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them” . . . Jesus has given out this role to his disciples. 

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

This is their work – nothing else. Obedience to the teaching of Jesus. Many turn up at the end of the sermon saying, ‘Lord, Lord . . . haven’t we done all these [other] things’ He says ‘I never knew you’. So too the foolish bridesmaids – ‘Lord, Lord! Open to us.’ ‘I never knew you’

In a few moments we shall baptise Wyndelyn. Following her baptism, we shall give her a lit candle and call upon her ‘Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father’ We say to her, through Ethan and Sara, Christ has made you his own, he has made you one of his disciples, and he has given you a work

Christ gives that commission to everyone here. I am giving my Life for you, I am giving my life to you – Be full of my life – Be full of the oil of the Holy Spirit – Be full of God! To Know Him. That is your work.

It is huge. It is why we have this community the church, to encourage one another in this massive responsibility Christ has given to us. It is why we don’t baptise except into the church  – into the body of Christ.

It is where we surrender our own lives to receive His Risen Life

It is the marriage feast of the Lamb – Death for the sake of Love which rises to new life

We stand upon the great Stage – the lights are going up and the curtains are being drawn. This is the Day!

“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”

Amen

The Call – To Be Saints

Sermon for All Saints – 2020

Revelation 7:9-17
Matthew 5:1-12

The Calling

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Today is the feast of All Saints.
In a sense it foreshadows the Great Feast at the End of the Age – the collapsing of time (for to me they are alive) – when all of the Saints who from their labours rest, shall share fully in the Life of God . . . but that begs a question, who are the Saints – what does it mean to be a Saint?

Again as with last week we have a problem with language and indeed our thoughts last week on holiness fit perfectly well, for the word for Saint, could be rendered ‘Holy Ones’ . . .

Which then leads us to a further question – How does one become Holy, Become a Saint? For as Saint Paul opens more than one of his letters to the people of God, they are those who are ‘called to be Saints’. It is a Vocation, a Calling . . . Put simply it is to hear and respond to the Call of God, or as St Paul again puts it, the Upward call of God in Jesus Christ. It is to live more fully towards and into the very life of God. ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy is a Call, it is GOd’s Call towards Him, it is a, no it is The Vocation . . . God’s Call is always a call towards Him – ‘Come to me’, says Jesus . . . ’

Yes!’ You may well say, ‘but how?’ Well if you are asking that question that in itself is a hopeful sign – Hope is always directed towards the End of all things . . .

Yet in these times, one has to be very careful. We live in a world of ‘technique’, of How To . . . and as a good rule it is Wise to avoid, indeed to put into a large pile and set fire to any book on the Christian life which includes the words ‘How To’ in their title. It is a Life we are called to both individually and as a Church, there are no techniques, not ‘fail proof’ schemes in the way the world thinks of these things, except to pay attention. This is about Life – not mechanisms – So as we would be with someone we wished to know better, we only need to be attentive . . .

Or as Jesus puts it, let those with ears to hear, hear! (That is Respond! Obedience is another way of saying ‘really hear’)

Paying Attention is the great challenge of the Christian Life – no more so than in these days when everything is screaming for attention amplified by screens and literal amplifiers . . . We are surrounded by noise and images in a way unprecedented in human history, and paying attention is so difficult, especially paying attention to what is nearest to us, for Salvation, Life, healing and wholeness – or Holiness is utterly close, utterly surrounds us, and is Everywhere present . . . Just pay attention to what is present . . .

This week I was reading a powerful book on the ‘New Media Epidemic’. Written by a French Christian Orthodox Scholar, it included the following quote

When the remote gets too close, what is close becomes remote. —Gunther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man

Larchet, Jean-Claude. The New Media Epidemic (p. 47). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.

Which put me in mind of this cartoon which you may have seen . . .

When the remote gets too close, what is close becomes remote. —Gunther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man

Larchet, Jean-Claude. The New Media Epidemic (p. 47). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.

For it is our inattention to that which is nearest to us . . . that is God who is closer to us, than we are to ourselves. Perhaps this is why Jesus is called the stumbling stone?

For most of the time we spend in our ‘self-conscious’, and this is a form of remoteness, of alienation from others – and from ourself. There is no one more lonely than the self conscious individual – – –

We confuse our thoughts with our self. And you don’t have to be sat in front of a computer to do this. Have you ever, or perhaps this should be have you never had an imaginary conversation with someone, putting them right in your head? Or working though why you were so right and they were so wrong? Or or or . . . there are so many possibilities, so many ways in which we are distracted, and when we are distracted, we are as it were away from home . . . so the prodigal son is ‘living his dream’ . . . he needs to come home – the elder brother is similarly living a resentment story in his head, and is alienated from his father who is closer to him that he is to. Himself . . .

Saints, simply put, are those who know they are at home in God – those who have heard God’s call to be saints and respond are awaken to their home in God. They have come to the depths of their heart, and are learning to live from the deep wellsprings of life which flow from their, they have uncovered long neglected wells . . . wells of the very life of the one who is at the heart of all things . . .

So, the blessed are essentially the empty, those who do not have to dig deep to find God in their life, for they have little with which to hide themselves from him . . . you can think of possessions etc as fig leaves. Whatever fills our heart dan minds is God to us, for it fills the space that our lives are created to be, for God

These Blesseds of the Beatitudes are the empty, those poor in Spirit, they do not think themselves to be holy and righteous, those mourning, who have lost, those who are gentle who do not grasp to acquire, but are open to receive life as gIft, those who are pure in heart, who are not preoccupied with their many things of their busy life, those who are hungering and thirsting for this Life . . .

Finally the Saints Cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This is a cry of realisation – their healing, their life their salvation comes from God and the Lamb – little if anything blinds their sight, they know the source of life. To Know God, To Know Jesus IS Eternal Life

We are all called to be saints – to dig deep into God – to know and to live from his life which is present in the depths of our being

Be a tree . . . Trinity +20

Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity

Leviticus 19:1,2,15-1
Psalm 1
Matthew 22:32-46

Audio of the Sermon

Being a Tree

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy.
Last week we considered the question ‘to whom do we belong’. Jesus, faced with the trap question about paying taxes to Caesar asked to see the coin for the tax. A piece of metal with the face and inscription of the Emperor. (The Pharisees who were scrupulous about ritual purity sent their disciples to handle the money, which was idolatrous)

Jesus says – well if Caesar puts his mark on the coin, give it to him, it is his. But render to God the things that are God’s. ‘The people of God’, That which God has marked as his own, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit – belong to God and are identified with him.


Perhaps this is nowhere more starkly expressed in these words which the LORD speaks to Moses, ‘speak to all my people and tell them ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.

Holiness is something which is poorly understood. Like so many things to do with God, we tend to think that it is simply an amplification of some common virtue.
So you have ‘bad’ people, and ‘Good’ people and up at the top of the tree – ‘Holy’ people. But this is not what it means – it does not mean ‘exceptionally virtuous’ in the context of God. Rather it means ‘quite unlike’ anyone or anything else. God’s ‘otherness’, the sense that He is not like us, that his ways are not human ways and his thoughts are not human thoughts, is most clearly expressed in the word ‘Holy’. When Isaiah sees the LORD high and lifted up in the Temple and the Seraphs called out ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ This Otherness of God struck Isaiah into silence. It was the fire of God which transformed him – the coal, the Spirit – The Life of God

God is powerfully ‘Other’. And so His people are not like the surrounding peoples. They are Holy. They are different – because they belong to God. Being His offspring His lIfe is their life, life which come from God and will return to God, Holy lives.

The Psalms open with a meditation upon what such people are like.

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;

Happy, or blessed, or fortunate we might say whose lives don’t just go along mindlessly with the crowds . . . as the LORD goes on in Leviticus – you shall not go around as a slanderer among your people – You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin, you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.

Don’t go around talking about others behind their back – your life is with your neighbour. Don’t harbour resentment in your heart against others, go to them and point out their fault between the two of you whilst you are alone . . . if you have an issue with someone and you do not take steps to resolve it, you will incur guilt yourself . . . This is a different life to those of the wicked and sinners and scoffers – because it is the life of God . . . It is a Life rooted in God, from God and too God. You are different – you know the nature of what it is to be truly human. You don’t talk about others behind your back. The Law of God isn’t so much prescriptive – thou must not, as descriptive, thou shalt not

but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.

As we explored a couple of weeks ago – the Way – their mediation is on The Deep pattern of existence which is The Way of God, the deep river flowing underneath, from which we are to draw our life. Our life comes not from the media – it rises up from God

The Holy are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Like Trees – drawing their life from hidden depths – the wellsprings of Life that is God himself. Drawing on Life from God and revealing His Life then as it were above ground. Rooted in the depths and reaching to the heights . . .

Trees are perhaps the most universal image of Life, the Tree of Life is known in many cultures. Both CS Lewis, in The Last Battle, and JRR Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings in different ways see cutting down trees as a mark of the end of the Age, of the end of Life on Earth. It is many long seasons since the Entwives were seen – the Age of the Tree shepherds draws to a close. Trees are cut down and the cry of the dryads which are their life fades on the wind . . .

But the Psalmist speaks of the person who draws their life form God – they are like a tree

It used to be a trope that drama classes began with ‘be a tree’ 🙂 But trees have much to teach us about our life as the people of God. Not least in these last days

In an age which is increasingly given over to and resigned to death, Trees are literally full of life

In an age which wants everything now – Trees observe full and fallow seasons – labour and rest – bearing fruit when the time is right. Trees teach us patience. Trees are not anxious

In an age of frenetic and haste and hurry, Trees are slow and even paced – they are never out of breath

In an age of mobility, homelessness and disconnectedness, Trees Know their place. They do not destroy their surroundings by moving around insensitive to where they are

In an age in which no one cares and we have to pay people to ‘pastor’ or as ‘carers’ for a job – In an age where ‘home’ means so little – Trees provide abundance shelter, home for flower and seed and bird

In an age where friendship means a wave on Facebook, Trees are always there as the most pleasant company

And in a world oppressed by the tyranny of words and noise they creation, Like God Himself trees speak only in silence

And as I wrote these words I wondered not only about us as individuals, but also as a Church . . .

Trees are Rooted in Life – The Holy ones are rooted in God

The wicked are not so,

Rooted rather in the illusory imaginings of a ‘self sufficient life’ a life which comes form nowhere and goes nowhere – a life which is not connected to the deep wells, dry and shrivelled – they

   are like chaff that the wind drives away.
They will not stand in the judgement,
   Or in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

This delighting in the law of the Lord is what it is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength – to know and to love the source of your life

And when we rest in this, all boundaries disappear.

To return briefly to the silence of trees – we often hear the trope – ‘that which unites us is so much more than that which divides us’ And this is true, but it is hidden, hidden in the deep places. The Deep and Good Earth, the Silent place. Unity is to be comfortable with others in silence, the underlying silence which unites, which is the Life of God

When our lives are rooted in the God who is Silence, we no longer see our life as our own, but coming form the same source as that of our neighbour.

To slander our neighbour is to be blind to who we are, to hate our neighbour in our heart is to hate ourself, for at root we are all one – it is only when we are disconnected from our root – our life in God that we do not connect to others

So to Love your neighbour as yourself, is not a moral effort for the one whose life is rooted in God and stretched towards God in Heaven, who knows that the life that they delight in is the same life that is in their neighbour

Blessed are all those who Know this Truth

NB We have recently updated our course on John’s Gospel – Here is the link

Questions of Healing. A sermon for St Luke’s Day

Sermon for Evensong

St Luke

On the question of healing . . .

Today the church remembers the third evangelist – St Luke

Luke’s words occupy more space in the NT than anyone except Paul and of course our own, St John. It is widely thought that his gospel and the sequel, the Acts of the Apostles were originally one, but papyrus technology being what it was, they couldn’t be put together (There is by the way an intriguing scrap of papyrus which suggests that all of St John’s writings were once bound together as one . . .)

So we have Luke start The Acts addressed to ‘most excellent Theophilus – Lover of God, ‘in my previous book . . .’

Yet due to a single phrase in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which you may well have missed, Luke is associated with healing. The phrase?  ‘Luke, the beloved physician’, or as some preachers style him, Doctor Luke.

So the Society of St Luke is a society given to the promotion of Christian healing . . . which of course is not something straightforward. It raises so many questions for us, not least when we or those we love are not healed . . .

I remember sharing with a friend accounts of spontaneous healings in a Christian community with which I have good links, and there was a veiled skepticism as she wondered why they did not allow in a team of scientists or doctors to validate these healings. ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound . . . if a person is healed and no one validates it, did it happen . . .??’

This whole area is clouded if not with controversy, at least endless questions. Why doesn’t God heal everyone? Indeed, why didn’t Jesus?? Or did he???

I want this evening to offer a different perspective on the whole question and put it into a larger frame wherein if at least we don’t get hard and fast answers, we might at least begin to understand that the questions we bring come from a very narrow perspective on the matter.

I’ll begin with a question ‘of the moment’. If we allow that everything the president of the United States is true about his recovery from COVID, is he a well man?? In other words, what does it mean anyway to be healed? We often only understand this in terms of the equivalent to the doctor prescribing a pill which cured an illness . . . but is that what Healing fundamentally is? Or is it perhaps something too large for us, something which perhaps we cannot begin to comprehend and indeed even want to seek . . .

A couple of brief comments, a very brief historical note, and then we’ll return to the theme directly.

First, in our faith, we talk of Salvation. Fundamentally this words means ‘healing’, a most profound healing. We might say perhaps that in the narrow terms we set someone was not ‘healed’, but were they in the far deeper sense, ‘saved’? The US President seems by some accounts to be healed, but is he ‘saved’? (And I DON”T mean that in the narrow somewhat fundamentalist terms by which some of his followers might suggest)

Second, there is something close to the heart of the church which gives us this same broader perspective. When a priest is inducted into his parish, the bishop in handing him his license says ‘receive this cure of souls . . .  which is both yours and mine’ The old view of the church is that of a hospital – indeed hospitals as we know them owe their existence to the medieval church . . . These communities of faith are meant to be places of profound healing, or salvation, and those charged with episcope (oversight) are to manifest that, to be people of healing, relational healing etc. etc.

Yet, the heart of our problem with respect to healing can I think be traced to those same middle ages in which hospitals came about. About that time there arose a theological controversy, one the impact of which has pretty much formed the Modern world without most of us realizing.

            Up to that period, the world was understood as a place of profound connection. You couldn’t alter any one part without altering another . . . somewhat ironically, modern science has just come to this same conclusion, about a thousand years to late . . . BUT there was a problem . . .

The word ‘couldn’t’. This seemed to therefore limit the agency of God! How could one say, God cannot . . . Now there are many threads we could pursue at this point, but time constrains somewhat, so lets just leave it at that. ‘Surely if God is God, then God can do whatever he wishes, and so God CAN change just one element in the Creation without everything else being affected’ and in a sense if the argument had stopped there, then the world would be a very different place . . .

Because, IF God can do whatever he likes without everything else being affected . . . why can’t a human being?? So arose an understanding of the world which was foundational to Science until the late years of the C19, a world where we might as it were see things in isolation and treat them as if we didn’t have to consider a multiplicity of relationships . . . except we do.

The Environmental collapse we are living through can be traced precisely to this sense. Put another way, seeing things in separation from one another we did not understand the consequences of our actions. The World is a remarkably woven together place. Just this week I read the words of an Amazonian Chief. A people who had lived for unknown years in harmony within their surroundings. She said

In all these years of taking, taking, taking from our lands, you have not had the courage, or the curiosity, or the respect to get to know us. To understand how we see, and think, and feel, and what we know about life on this Earth.

I won’t be able to teach you in this letter, either. But what I can say is that it has to do with thousands and thousands of years of love for this forest, for this place. Love in the deepest sense, as reverence. This forest has taught us how to walk lightly, and because we have listened, learned and defended her, she has given us everything: water, clean air, nourishment, shelter, medicines, happiness, meaning.

Which brings me back to the question of healing. And a question. When we think of healing, do we do so in a sort of unreal isolation . . . In other words ‘the only thing that matters is this healing’ . . . You see perhaps that is part of our problem. Certainly I think it is increasingly clear that much of our illness in so many forms has been brought about precisely because we have not realised how one thing interacts with and changes another. Or how everything affects everything . . .

And this I suggest points us towards the centre of the truest healing and indeed Salvation as manifested in Jesus

People often ponder – why did such a good man have to die? In a sense Jesus death makes no sense – after all as Scripture amply testifies ‘he went about doing good and healing many’ . . . but perhaps that is precisely the point. The world is woven together. You can’t expect such significant change and transformation just in one place, without it affecting everything. Indeed Jesus most dramatic healing, the raising of Lazarus is the event that leads directly to his death. The world moves around this event, nothing is ever the same again.

So often when we seek healing, we want things to be ‘just as they were before’ How often and in how many different ways do we want such things. How much do we want to live in a universe where nothing affects anything else, when we can simply change ‘this’ and a myriad of ‘thats’ remain in place. But the world is not like that. If the outcome of Jesus’ healings was to bring Salvation to the World at the cost of his own life, I guess the question which faces those who seek healing is that which Jesus posed to the man at the pool of Siloam, ‘do yo want to be well?’ or, put another way ‘are you prepared for nothing to be as it was before? To die to the world you think you know, in order to truly live?

Perhaps this is the faith we need if we are to be healed

To whom do you belong? Trinity + 19 Year A 2020

To whom do you belong?

Matthew 22:15-22

N-Gram – my new discovery. As a newspaper article put it, ‘there is yet another way to spend endless hours on the internet’. Simply put, it uses Google vast index of books to show how the use of words and phrases has changed over the last 500 hundred years. It came to mind for a couple of reasons – first a book inspired by the loss of words in children’s dictionaries to do with the natural world, and their replacement with words like blog, voicemail, cut-and-paste and the like. This is troubling as it speaks of a consciousness cut off from anything outside of ourselves, but second and related to it, I was interested to know about the use of the phrase ‘autonomous individual’

What is ‘an autonomous individual’? Well according to some, it is the idealised human being. The person who is entirely in charge of their own life, and since yesterday, death. Autonomous – a law unto themselves – the Sovereign self. Well this phrase is perhaps a bit more recent than we might suppose. It hardly seems to appear at all before the C20, beginning to show sings of existence eon the 1920’s and 30’s. But in the last 35 years its use in literature has increased by 350%

To whom do you belong?? The idea that we belong to someone is perhaps not a popular one, ‘I belong to my self!’ Is the Modern cry . . .

Yet it is this question which is at the heart of Jesus’ reply to those who wish to trap him.

Jesus opponents want to destroy him, and to do so they want to get him to say something which will get him in trouble with the powers that be . . . so the question about taxes – this is no mere ‘philosophical problem’ – as usual these questions are designed to put Jesus on one side of the argument or the other – a not unfamiliar decide to us in this day and age. In some senses it is a question which asks – are you one of us, or one of them?

But here the question is one which whichever way he answers Jesus is in trouble. If he says it is lawful to pay taxes, then the pious Jewish leaders – who have accommodated themselves quite comfortably to Roman Rule, will tell their fellow Jews – he’s not one of us! And if he answers in the negative – then of course they can run off to Pilate and accuse Jesus of being a threat to the state . . . Divide and Rule! Divide the world into two camps and then you are the judge . . .

But Jesus knows what they are about – he knows their hypocrisy. He knows that in all likelihood they are ‘in bed with’ the powers that be . . . so he asks to see a coin.

Whose Image is this? And whose inscription? The inscription by the way said – ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus’ – Son of God’ . . . and the Image was of the Emperor. So the answer to both questions is ‘Caesar’s’

And then Jesus makes the move about ownership – it bears his mark – it belongs to him.

Our cat marks its territory – my books, some of them have my name in them, we mark what belongs to us . . . [cf Like the number of the beast . . . to whom do you belong?]

And this is the level of Jesus’ reply . . . We get into agonies over legitimate or illegitimate government . . .

Although this text has been used over and over to justify our allegiance to civil authority, for any Jew, this was unacceptable, hence the sting in the question. Is it lawful to pay taxes – If Cesar has said ‘this coin is mine’, then give it to him . . . What is Casar’s? That which has his mark on it . . . does the coin have his mark? Give it to him. This thing, this scrap of metal . . . give to Cesar the Things that he has put his mark on . . .

We fall into this trap – the first part occupies our thoughts . . . but Jesus’ answer is dismissive of these tortured pondering – and it is his final words as always to which our attention would be drawn? Render to God what is God’s . . .

But what is God’s? . . . well, on whom has God put his mark??

Jesus as ever shows the way. Upon the Cross he render’s to God what is God – Himself

St Paul says of Jesus ‘he is the image of the invisible God’ – the question is ‘are we?’ To whom do we belong

Years ago a friend of mine stopped me for a faith conversation – brought up a Christian in a loving and devout Christian home, she had reached an impasse in her faith. Funnily enough it was at the bottom of a flight of stairs . . . ‘I’ve realised that it is all or nothing . . .’ And that is the point. There is no division – there is nothing of any consequence that belongs to Caesar, you certainly don’t . . . Jesus’ answer is simply a question, ‘To whom do you belong?’ God, or not?

Whose Image do we bear? To whom do we belong?

Vestry Talk

Here is the recording of the address. I’d like also to add a comment regarding the story I told regarding Archbishop Winston, later in the morning. Of how his way of Knowing, deeply embedded in his context was profoundly different to ours, where we are trained to think as if we are not part of the world and look out at it. So he tried to help us by using Power point, but his way of Knowing which we might called ‘Participatory’, or ‘Knowing by Love’ cannot be translated into bullet points.

So the most Truthful aspect of a funeral eulogy are tears and silence and to a degree poetry . . .

Resurrection? Love Knows The Way – Trinity +16, Year A 2020

Psalm 19

Philippians 3:4-14

‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ Isaiah 30:21 . . .

‘Where is your life headed?’  . . . We might well say, we do not know. But perhaps a more helpful question is – ‘towards what is your life directed?’

Knowing our Direction – to what we are directed is to know where we are headed, and it makes our life far simpler, even if often it makes it far more difficult

Most folk know of the difficult way our family is following with our daughter. Some might wonder why? They might be tempted to say, it is her ‘Christian principles’ which told her the way. But no,  the principles, the rules if you like are the manifestation of something far deeper, that is The Way. For our daughter, to see a beating heart is to know The Way . . .

Early Christians were often called ‘followers of The Way’, in Scripture far more often than ‘Christians’ which is used only once. The prophet says ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ It is deep within the fabric of existence and lies, usually buried in the depth of the human heart, for it underlies all of reality.

As CS Lewis explains Christian faith to those who might not know it, he speaks of this deep underlying Right Ordering of things using the ancient Chinese concept of The Tao.

We as the people of St John the Evangelist, know it as The Word – or as the Greeks put it – The Logos. The deep underlying Right Order of the universe. In the beginning – when God created the heaven and Earth, there it was – In the beginning was the Logos, the Tao, The Way.

As the children of Israel gather at Mt Sinai, God reveals himself, the unseen God, by revealing The Way. The ten Commandments or as they are perhaps more helpfully known in the Jewish tradition, the Ten Words, the Tao, The Logos. The Logos who is I AM reveals himself as The Way

I am, the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

These first three commandments are summed up in the Great Command we hear every Sunday – Hear, O Israel, O people of God, The Lord your God, the LORD is One and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength . . . Why does The Way begin in this Way?

We are commanded to Love the God whom we do not see so, not idols, or the gods of the nations – followers of The Way are never nationalists. Why Love the unseen God?

So that we learn the Direction of our The Way, The direction of our Life – or, for it is the same thing, the Direction of our Love. To Know this Logos, this tao, this Way is to Know the nature of Love and Life that is always and everywhere Towards.

Love is ecstatic – it is ‘Away from’. We love away from ourselves. Love flows towards – Love is not about acquiring or drawing to ourself. Love does not seek to possess – this is a tragic distortion of love. Loving that which we see all too often perverts love by reversing its direction – from away from like the flow of a River, from releasing and letting go, forgiving we might say, to eeking to possess and hold on to – to draw to ourself.

‘So and so ‘completes me’’ Oh, I saw that piece of furtniture and I just Had to have it . . . this is the perversion of Love.

We learn Love, The Way by loving that which we cannot see, so that we learn not to set our hearts on things that do not last, and so move away from life which is eternal. We learn not the false misdirected love which seeks to acquire – and we learn to love that which surrounds us as ourself.

Sin in Greek is hamartia – it means to miss the mark. Sin is misdirected love. It is against The Tao, against the Logos. Sin is to draw towards for our sake.

We are made to Love, but we are surrounded by many things which we seek to possess for our own sake. Rather than to direct our Love to the One thing necessary – the Love towards God which is the Way, the Way which orders and directs all Love.

Sin is misdirected love, for the moth and rust consume and thieves break I and steal. It is the Love that always ends in our loss, for it is the love of things that pass away, which is misdirected love.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the rich man, who had many possessions. He had loved everything he had seen – he had set his heart on them. This is idolatry. In the early church it was called the spirit of fornication, to Love as God that which was not God. It was disordered love. Yes it had a sexual expression, but the deeper disorder was the problem, the sexual aspect was merely the most clear expression of the disordered love, as it strikes most deeply into our humanity. It reveals that to love is to become joined to, we become one with . . . We are created to be united to God, the young man had become united to his possessions

The Goal of the Christian Life is simple – it is to become One with God and so to become Love – The Direction of The Way is Up – that is why Jesus says – ‘take no thought for the morrow . . .  rather seek his kingdom and his righteousness’

This is what we call Resurrection. It is where our lives are to head. Not forward in time, but upwards towards God so that within the realm of time and Space which God has called into being the Tao, the Logos, The Way is manifested. To become expressions of the Eternal in the world of things passing away

So St Paul in his letter to the Philippians

I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

In the beginning was The Logos – our Christian announcement is that the Logos, the Way has become flesh in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified. The Resurrection is the revelation of that – through dying to self, considering not the things that are passing away, but rather fixing our hearts and minds on the Eternal – God manifested in Christ (this is faith – that which we set our hearts on) – The Human is Revealed in the heart of Creation. This is the Centre of all things, the meaning of all things – it is the way through death to Life. It was for this that Christ came, to make the dead Live!! To become Love is Resurrection, it is as St John reminds us, the grounds of our hope ‘for as he is, so are we in the world’

This is to be restored to our true humanity, it is to find our life in accord with the deep pattern of the entire Creation. As I wrote in the parish magazine this month, Resurrection is written into the Creation –  a true river always finds its course – And we, if we have come to know Christ have come to know The Way.

Our daughter sees a beating heart – her heart pours out – the River finds its painful course, towards the Sea – She Knows the Way . . . Those who walk in The Way, Know the Way

Resurrection

Resurrection . . .

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