Salvation and the People of God

Sermon for Advent 2
Year C 2018

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Phil 1:6

Back in the middle ages, a certain set of changes in how people thought about things began to emerge from the prevalent views – largely known as ‘The classical period’. What is most significant for we who live in the Modern world was the rise of the significance of The Individual.

At the same time, the significance of communities – of shared life and existence began to wane, slowly at first, but gradually accelerating. The experience of Life as something richly shared became more and more something only experienced within first family, then nuclear family to the point where relational language disappears. I was in conversation on Friday with someone discussing the increasing prevalence of children calling their parents and other family adults by their first names . . . although there are aspects of this which might be considered a positive, if you have a very negative view of family structures, one aspect of it which we found disturbing was the absence of the language of relationship. Fewer and fewer people used relational language.
In traditional societies it is still common to use extended language to describe relational links – so for example ‘my mother’s brother’s daughter’, as opposed to the Western ‘Cousin’, a word which speaks of relationship but lacks depth.

With the rise of the individual also came the gradual erosion of the significance of the Church. The idea that to be baptised was to be brought into a community, the significance of which took up but also transcended any merely human relationships . . . increasingly took a back seat. Church increasingly became a place to which you came often to be alone. The idea that the people amongst whom you sat Sunday by Sunday were people with whom you shared in a most profound way, Life, indeed Life in all its fullness, evaporated. And the idea that broken relationships between members of the church were remotely significant was dissipated . . .

And so to our readings today

For the wilderness announcement of John, son of Zechariah, is an announcement not to individuals but to a people. The people of God. For too long they had lived as if they were not a people – the rich and poor lived cheek by jowl, yet there was no sharing in life – the announcement of the Gospel is an announcement first of all to the people of God.
The Salvation of our God is something which comes to life amongst a people and it is not an easy work.

The prophet Malachi uses the language of ‘fullers soap’ – the highly caustic soap which was used to wash cloth – to bleach it – to make it Clean and white after it has been woven – again he speaks of the refining of Gold and Silver which could only be accomplished by fire – and the goal of this work? To ‘purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’

The message is plain and clear – the people of God need straightening out . . . but why? That the glory of the Lord might be revealed, to prepare a highway for our God . . . or as Jesus puts it – ‘by this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you love one another as I have loved you, that is with the love that the Father has loved me’

It is without doubt the witness of the Scriptures to the Christian Life, that to encounter the Church is to encounter Christ himself. So St Paul as he writes to the churches, almost without exception give thanks for their shared life and its witness as the body of Christ in the world. One of the key exceptions to this is his first letter to the Corinthians where after his customary greeting he as it were draws back and goes on to challenge them saying ‘I hear that there are divisions amongst you’. Splits and schisms, intentional breaking in the Church are literally breaking up the Body of Christ, yet in the age of the individual, such language seems odd

One of Paul’s most commonly used words is Koinonia – that is Communion, or we sometimes have it translated ‘fellowship’, or today very weakly ‘sharing’. In our epistle St Paul speaks of the Koinonia in the gospel – it is a powerful phrase. We express something of this Koinonia in our liturgy. In sharing the Peace we declare – ‘We are the body of Christ, in one spirit we were baptised into one body’, and we share one bread, and all drink from one cup’

I’ll conclude with a brief reflection on what has happened to our faith over this last millennia – and it could be summed up in the words of a bishop who told me that he would have no problem ordaining someone who considered that the Resurrection of Jesus was a ‘purely spiritual matter’, that the body of Jesus lay still in the tomb.

Such thinking is commonplace – but especially in the age of the Individual – so we no longer talk in any meaningful terms of ‘The faith of the Church’.

But there are two significant, indeed fundamental problems with such a statement, not to mention the act of ordaining someone into the church who denies its Creeds, wherein we, the Church, affirm ‘the resurrection of the Body’.

First, to affirm the resurrection of Jesus as ‘purely spiritual’ simply that it suggests that The Incarnation never happened. That Spiritual and material are inseparably woven together in Jesus Christ, that you can separate out the spiritual Jesus from his material being – and as many in the church today push it even further to deny his very Koinonia in the Life of God as the Second person of the Trinity made flesh – has become the unthinking way of the world. To separate the spiritual an the physical in this way is to deny the possibility of the work of God in the material creation, indeed even in ourselves.

But secondly, in the Separation of matter and spirit you separate the Church from Christ, who is woven into us by his Spirit, we deny our Koinonia in His Life. We end up denying that The Church Is the Body of Christ in the World, and consequently that we have any shared existence, for He is our life.

This is of course convenient belief. It is easier to stand outside of the Body of Christ, not to have to go through the process of coming to birth in this body, of having to change how we live out our common life, to give priority to this shared life. It is so easy to take the Individualist line and to participate in Church as it is convenient – for genuinely sharing in life, in having to learn to love the unlovely and as the unlovely learning to be loved in return – is a hard work. It is like fullers soap, it is like a refining fire, it is like the levelling of mountains and the filling in of valleys, it is to have our crookedness straightened and our roughness ground away as if under a sandstone. And these people amongst whom we sit this morning are the soap and the fire and the sandstone

This purification, this setting straight, is the business of being the Body of Christ – that ‘the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ and that the glory of the LORD will be revealed.

Later this morning we shall have our annual Advent Pageant
During it we shall use this prayer
Let us pray

O Christ, the Master Carpenter
Who, at the last, through wood and nails,
Purchased our whole salvation.

Wield well Your tools in the workshop of Your world,
So that we, who come rough-hewn to Your bench
May here be fashioned to a truer beauty of Your hand.

We ask it for Your own Name’s sake.

Amen

‘A faith that keeps us standing . . . ?’

Sermon for Advent Sunday – Year C, 2018

1 Thess 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

‘A faith that keeps us standing . . . ?’

‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ Luke 18:8

If you’ve ever travelled to Europe and visit one of the many medieval cathedrals or churches, you may have noticed that around the walls of the nave, there are often stone benches, clearly carved to be part of the building. It is from these benches that the phrase ‘Gone to the wall’ comes from. For until the C17 in most places, the great body of the congregation would stand for the entirety of the liturgy – those who couldn’t ‘went to the wall’

Standing for the liturgy remains the practise of the Eastern Orthodox churches. There are no pews, or indeed cushioned seats . . . for why? Because we stand in the presence of God. God addresses us, and his address to us dignifies us as human beings.
When God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, he tells him to get up out of the dust – perhaps an echo of our creation from the dust of the earth – and prepare to face me! Several times in his letters, Paul speaks as one who ‘stands before God’
Jesus in our gospel for this Advent Sunday in which we begin our journey with Luke exhorts us ‘Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

Our essential posture before God is to stand – it is the posture of our faith, of our life and of our prayer.

One of the Saints of the our Orthodox brothers and sisters, Theophan the Recluse – a C19 Russian monk speaks of prayer in this way. ‘To pray is to stand before God, with the mind in the heart, and to go on standing before God to your last breath’ This is the posture of prayer, prayer is our life and it is our faith. Aside from prayer we are not – aside from faith we are not. And so we stand . . . or at least we used to.

As our lives have become more comfortable and less rigorous, less demanding, so has our prayer and with it our faith. Faith, Life and Prayer are of a whole. Looking at the history of our faith it is hard to escape this conclusion.

Take dogma, for example. Those teachings which are held to be at the core of our faith. The Virgin Birth and Incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the alarming teaching that this wandering Jewish Rabbi is the only begotten Son of God coming to us in flesh and blood, and in bread and wine.
Yet we live in an age when dogma, dogmatic, is an uncomfortable word. We are in our age apostles of Pilate, who has little time for hard realities of Truth, he has little need of Truth when after all we seem to be so in control of our own existence, even to deciding for ourselves about the very nature of reality . . . until of course we are not . . . until something unwanted crosses our path and crashes through the fog of our unconsciousness

Advent as a season is a case in point. As I have had cause to remind folk these past weeks its traditional uncomfortable focus and rigour has dissipated. So the theme of Advent Sundays even in my life time has turned to ‘Faith, Hope, Joy and Love’ as a preparation for an infantilised and somewhat saccharin version of the story of the Incarnation, one increasingly shorn of its jagged edges. Who after all will give time to consider the massacre of the Holy innocents this Christmas time? It is telling that there are few who remember the traditional Advent focus – on the Four Last things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.

Judgement, heaven and hell seem to have all but disappeared from the Christian lexicon. Well perhaps not heaven, but our ideas about it seem often to extend no further to playing rounds of golf for ever with old friends . . . And as for death?

Well, there is no avoiding it except we don’t give it much thought. Which is odd, because if there is one thing that is certain, it is our death. Despite the fact that every time we download or go to watch the latest Disney movie, we help Uncle Walt continue in his cryogenically preserved state, awaiting The Scientific breakthrough which will, pardon the pun, re-animate him . . . Death is something we cannot avoid yet give it little thought, until of course it intrudes into our existence. And that can wake us up.

A grown man stood weeping on my doorstep one day. A successful business man – Death had terrifyingly intruded on his plans for his own life. His son and nephew had died together in a road accident, and Mick told me how this tragedy had called into question his entire way of life up to that point. Why had he given himself to things that now seemed so unimportant, so ephemeral? No longer insulated and cosseted away from this most concrete fact, Life all of a sudden was thrown into its proper light. The Reality of death had been a light, a pitiless light and judgement on his life.

Sebastian Junger, a Journalist who went to war with US forces in Iraq spoke of the effect it had on those who fought around him. He spoke of PTSD – Post traumatic stress disorder – but of two types. One we may have expected. There were those who had lived comfortable lives before encountering a war zone found that experience traumatising.
But there were others, another form of PTSD he noted. Those who had lived in hard and difficult circumstances before joining the army found the return to civilian life hard, because it was so shallow, so insignificant. Faced with the Last Things – well three of them in Death, Judgement and the Hell of war – they had found deep significance in their existence – it had as it were made them more fully alive. Every moment was freighted with significance – It had wakened in them a quality of seriousness of existence – which evaporated upon their return to the comforts and conveniences of the modern world where so much came easily, where you depended on no one and no one depended on you. Where life was not something demanding to be negotiated on a moment by moment basis.
Coming back from a situation where Death faced them with the significance of life, to be faced by lives of apparent insignificance was too much for them and they broke down under the strain.

These things – these realities which we work so hard to keep out of our consciousness are those things which face us with the Seriousness of the business of our lives. And thus for us, the Seriousness of Prayer. The Seriousness of Faith.

Jesus as he speaks of the Last Things says this

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.

These words shake us – call us to Wake up. Given that such language was part and parcel of much of the language of the time of Jesus, and age unlike our own when folk felt very much as powerless against so much that happened around them in the world. Do we sense we have so conquered existence that these words no longer have such power. Has our own sense of matter of our own lives led us to believe ‘this will never happen to us?’ And if they did??

Jesus’ counsel Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near. Our temptation may well be not to stand up, and raise our heads, but to duck! Unless of course this is what we have always faced?

In many regards what Jesus speaks of here is The Cross. Much of what he speaks of here, he also speaks of with regard to his Crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem with which he associates it. The Cross working its way in and through the entire created order. Death and Judgement combined in one place and yet ever present if we are awake.

It is this that gives our lives as Christians an deep moral seriousness. I don’t mean that we are moralists, but the How of our lives takes on tremendous urgency confronted with the Cross of Jesus. Our lives are given us, that they might bear witness to The Truth, to Christ himself.

A simple example of how that seems to have deserted us is in a conversation I once had about a married priest who had, to use the vernacular, ‘run off with’ a member of his congregation’. I was speaking with another ordained minister who said, ‘well, the timing wasn;t ideal, he could at least have waited until he’d left the parish – but then you can’t help who you fall in love with’, as if that were the last word on the matter. Vows? The abandoned wife and children now having to come to terms with a broken home? No, you can’t help falling in love . . . How we might ask does that bear witness to the Truth? What ‘god’ looks benignly down on that smiling gently at ‘falling in love’? . . .

Stanley Hauerwas, a provocative Christian writer and thinker says – ‘The reason our age has produced no truly challenging atheists [and it hasn’t], is that the ‘god’ of the mainline churches has become so uninteresting’ Put it another way, in may respects, our faith now speaks of a ‘god’ who is not worth the effort of belief . . . and if you disagree, perhaps you might care to consider the question, ‘what compelling reason if any can we give to others to share in faith with us?’

Yes Advent does us in our preparation for the feast of the Incarnation, but it is This Jesus who comes to us, the One whose presence in the world is for judgement, is for the Last Things. It is the Incarnation, the coming to us in the Flesh of the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things. Yet it is so easy to be lulled to sleep,and as we all know the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes to wake us

Yet the Jesus who comes to us in Word and Sacrament, This Jesus calls us to alertness.

‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

In the Light of Christ Jesus, Crucified, Risen and Ascended and coming in Glory, Life takes on a seriousness which we have lost sight of. These Realities when we remain alert, held onto, hold us in place. Standing before Him.

Jesus calls us to Stand in the Presence of God, predominantly as His people in Worship, but also in private prayer and to be so disposed in each moment of our existence.

. . . and to go on standing, before God with our mind in our heart, to our last breath . . . that at the last we might stand before the Son of Man at his appearing.

Amen

Facing the Inconvenient Truth – Christ the King, Year B, 2018

Sermon for CHRIST THE KING
YEAR B, 2018

John 18:33-37

‘The King we didn’t choose’

The philosopher Sam Harris has a little book called ‘Lying’. It’s a brief book, but not an easy read. It’s not an easy read because its a painfully forensic analysis of why lying is a bad idea in [almost] each and every circumstance. In this analysis, without intending to, it reveals something fundamental to our human nature – we don’t like being faced with the Truth.
And it’s an uncomfortable read because most significantly we don’t like to be confronted with the truth about ourselves. As you read the book, over and again Harris exposes evasions that are pretty much common to us all, lies that is, and their unwanted outcomes.

In 2006, the former US vice president Al Gore released a film entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – it was about the impact human activity was having on the Created Order. It was and is an Inconvenient because it requires humanity to radically change the way we live together, and that is not convenient. You can’t slip it into your life as it is at present, between 3 and 5pm on a Monday, for example.
What is more it demands far more in terms of change for we wealthy westerners living in liberal democracies, than it does for so many of the world’s population. That is it is a truth that is very inconvenient for us – thus it is largely gone ignored, not just by the climate denier constituency, but pretty much by everyone else. In a sense, the truth is that we are all climate change deniers, for our lives do not bear witness to this truth.

Bearing witness to the truth in our lives is a matter of conforming our lives to the truth, and in our case as Christians, of conforming our lives to The Truth.

If small truths, like climate change are very inconvenient – The Truth is Completely Inconvenient – it requires us to change everything. Put another way, as Jesus commands, it calls us to die to our old way of existence, and to follow him . . . as we saw in the case of the rich man, this is Very Inconvenient. Put in the terms that the Scriptures put it, he was unwilling to Repent. [And if you think Climate Change is a Big truth, how recently may I ask have you been overwhelmed by the Truth of God?]

Repentance requires us to face the Truth, as the rich man did – the inconvenient truths about ourselves, irrespective of their convenience, and then act in accordance with The Truth. The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of the way of Wisdom

But we have two problems – firstly that change requires of us a degree of humility about ourselves which is all but absent in these days. We note that the truth about ourselves is the hardest to face – it is in more ways than one, too personal, as we shall see . . .

GK Chesterton’s words in a letter to the Times of London, “What is wrong with the world today? I am” are not words likely to fall from the lips of the vast majority of us. our media point us everywhere to ‘the source of our problems apart from the human heart.

Such honesty as Chesterton’s, such truth telling is as rare today as it ever has been in pretty much every sphere of life. Politics is mired in double speak – political leaders won’t speak the truth for fear of those who don’t want to face it – and it is worked out at the level of our personal lives – and that is because those whom they represent do not themselves wish to be confronted with inconvenient truths about ourselves. The Truth often embarrasses our own sense of who we are – or the person we’d like to be thought to be. Our actions before others often fall into an attempt to impress – or, put another way, to deceive

Sam Harris’ book tells the story of a friend who went to visit someone. She’d intended to take a present, but had forgotten to buy one. ‘Fortunately’ for her, the hotel she was staying in had very luxurious bathroom products in a nice bag. She picked one off them up and went to her friends - accompanied by her small child. Her friend was thrilled with the gift, and asked where it had been obtained, to which Harris’ friend replied with the name of an apartment store, only to be corrected by the child who said, ‘No mommy, you got them from the bathroom’ . Bringing a gift was meant to elevate Sam’s friend in the eyes of her friend ‘Oh how Kind, how thoughtful!’ The reality was she hadn’t been kind or thoughtful, and was exposed and such and as someone who would lie to save her own self image . . . it’s not a pretty story

Yet, honesty about who we are is rare – Groucho Marx amusingly said ‘I would never want to belong to any club that would have me for a member . . .’ – perhaps it’s an aphorism that we’d all do well to adopt.

If, the first problem with Truth, that it is Inconvenient to us, our second problem is perhaps more pernicious. For we live in an age in which it is not the words of Jesus we remember, but the words of Pilate in reply. ‘What is Truth?’ Although we say a great deal about ‘Post-Truth Society’ the reality goes much further back in time that the past few years. After all I only have to say ‘on the one hand you have scientific facts, and on the other religious opinions’ you will feel the power of this abandonment of Truth at the deepest level. Truth is relegated to ‘matters of opinion’, even within the Church.

Chesterton again puts it in terms of both ourselves and wider truth. He says that we have suffered as it were an earthquake regarding Truth – that once we took the deep Truths of our existence – say religious truths about the person of Jesus Christ, which is fundamental to our entire faith – that he is the eternally begotten Son of the Father, was born of the Virgin Mary, the Incarnation of the Divine Logos, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate and on the third day rose again – once we took such things as Truth, and questioned ourselves. Now he says we are certain about ourselves, and unsure of everything else is relegated to the arena of mere opinion.

Earthquakes as we know create liquefaction – the solid ground turns to quicksand. Much of the current malaise of the Church is that so much of what we decide in synods and the rest is built on no firmer foundation than the quicksands of public opinion. For it often seems we have given up on Truth – it being too inconvenient, not conforming itself to our lives . . .

As I said earlier, we take Pilate’s question ‘What is Truth?’ with far far greater seriousness than the words of Jesus. As if his dismissal of The Truth rested on some very firm ground indeed. Witness the ending of today’s gospel – the words of Jesus regarding The Truth. I wonder if any of us can remember them?
We All remember what Pilate said in response – ‘What is Truth?’ The tired question of someone to whom the Truth was inconvenient. The Truth is always inconvenient to those who think they are in command of their own existence – who think they are their own sovereign authority – news of another King will always destabilise the sandy foundations of our existence. If The Truth is out there, then my very existence is called into question – Jesus facing Pilate undermines him with his words

‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to The Truth. Everyone who belongs to The Truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate Must dismiss this – if The Truth is out there, then he must change and conform to it, or lose his very existence. ‘What is Truth?’ is his impoverished attempt to flee from the Truth. He tries to divert and engage in a philosophical question about Truth
when it is staring him in the face.

Pilate, the Roman, a speaker of Latin in a world where several languages would be used commonly . . . What is truth? in Latin is an anagram of ‘The One standing before you’

Jesus says

Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice . . . The Truth is not something inside our head – it is something we are to belong to, and if we belong to the Truth we listen to the voice of Jesus.

‘I am the Good shepherd of the sheep . . . My sheep hear my voice.’ He is the Good Shepherd, the True King – those who belong to Him hear his voice . . . they respond to Him

Jesus does not merely mouth timeless truths like mottos on cereal packets or lines from self help guides – He Is the Truth – Hearing His voice, continuing in His Word we are truly his disciples; ‘and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ . . . ‘if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’ To Know Jesus Christ, is to know the Truth

The Truth is Personal. Knowing the Truth sets us Free, but the Truth is not an abstract thought, it is deeply personal – it is Jesus himself

I am the Way and the Truth and The Life

As Jesus says to Pilate – ‘Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice . . .’

We hear his voice, we listen to his voice. This is our way to Freedom from the deceptive voices both surrounding us and within us – the voice of Jesus is the Word of Truth which sets us free from the Deception of the Cosmos which binds our hearts and minds and imaginations and wills – yet it is Personal – and as I said earlier, all but too personal. Facing Jesus Christ is to face the Truth about ourselves, for he manifests the Truth of Everything, nothing is exempt or left out

Facing the Truth is truly Inconvenient – it calls us to profound Change, to deep repentance – – to orient our lives to the Life of the World, the Truth of the World, Jesus Christ, and to walk in that light, freed from deception without and within.

We have come to the end of the Church’s year. We have over twelve months heard the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing has been missed out – our picture of The Truth, embodied in Jesus is complete. He stands before us. Christ the King – Inconvenient, almost in the extreme – not one we would choose for ourselves. But then if we truly need saving, then only one we wouldn’t choose can do this. And the Church in her Grace does not let us go at this point, rather we advance next week into Advent – we do so Looking towards the One who is coming towards us

For our lives to bear witness to the Truth as He comes to us, they need to be conformed to the life of the one who is the Truth. This is the way of Repentance, of Facing The Truth and acting in accordance with it, it is the Way of Life for us all who bear the name of the one who is the Truth.

King Jesus – not a King we would choose for ourselves, for when we face the Truth we know we need a Saviour. Facing the Truth we know we’d not take the inconvenient way. Only in following the King we wouldn’t choose for ourselves are we saved.

Passing Away . . . or Eternal? Tr+25 Year B 2018

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, YrB 2018

Hebrews 10:19-25
Mark 13:1-8

‘Passing Away, or Eternal?’

Children are great truth tellers – well until they learn other ways. (One traditional reading of the story of the Garden of Eden is that through the deceptive snake, the infant humans learn to lie, and hide from the Truth)

The other day I was on the receiving end of such truth telling. I visited a couple as they were at lunch. Their three year old son who has only seen me once or twice asked who I was, and was told by his father, ‘that’s Megan’s daddy’. I smiled at the child and said ‘I’m very old’. Quick as a flash he looked me in the eye and said ‘you’re going to die!’ (I gather that they’d just been talking about death and the story had been told them that this was something that happened to old people and I had just put myself forward as a representative of ‘old people’ 🙂 )

It is Good to hear the Truth and certainly you can’t get more truthful than ‘You are going to die’ You may escape taxes, but there is one escape none of us will make! But we try to, not least in trying to leave some lasting trace of our existence upon this earth. Like Job we complain about our lot and look for a steel pencil and rock to inscribe our words on . . . yet as any visitor to an English churchyard will attest, the years rapidly do their job of making a mockery of our attempts at permanence, erasing our name from human sight.

In a world that is passing away, we seek to hold back the years. Not least by erecting great buildings – and of all the buildings in the time of Jesus, none dominated the view more than the Temple of Herod the Great. Vast and Covered in Gold, so that one could not look at it in the full glare of the sun. Surely this would stand until the end of time!!

In that light the words of Jesus ‘‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ can be understood as shocking. Reminding us of the temporariness of even the greatest buildings. Imagine if you will how the architects stood back and admired the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York as they were completed in 1973 [The Wikipedia entry for the WTC is followed by (1973-2001) – we even memorialise our building s nowadays]. . . Imagine the first St Paul’s Cathedral in London if you have ever seen a picture of it . . . Conjure up a picture of what remains of the parthenon in Athens . . . Stand for a million years?? Tower and temple fall to dust. Dust you are and to dust you will return as the words of our Ash Wednesday liturgy remind us.

The things that are seen are passing away, yet it is an affront to the sense of our own significance to face this. ‘’Behold! These great buildings?” See them, relies Jesus? . . . not one stone will be left on another . . . In the light of this, we hear the words of Jesus afresh – ’Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust, where wind and rain, and sun and frost wither away, where thieves break through and steal where armies and men of violence and fire and flood destroy . . .’ Don’t invest in dust . . . [Even Amazon – Jeff Bezzos declared this week that Amazon would eventually folk – he gave it 30 years or so . . .] Against the inevitable we try in vain to secure our existence

Yet we fail to perceive the true depth of how shocking the words are for Jesus’ disciples. They may well have replied, ‘Yes obviously we know that, but The Temple! Surely not The Temple??’

The Temple filled not only the sight but also the entire imagination of the Jewish people regarding their entire existence. It was The Marker of their Identity as the people of God, the people chosen for the dwelling place of God. From the beginning, had not God dwelt in their midst . . . if the Temple goes, what does that say?? Their entire social and religious world was built around it. Had not Jesus just shown them the widow who put her entire being into the Temple treasury? All that she had to live on? The Temple was their Life!!! Jesus just seemed to have suggested this.

If the Temple goes, we are as good as dead . . . Our sense of Security is in these stones . . . Who we are is tied up in this . . .
Yet we still do not fully comprehend the deeper sense of trauma – for The Temple was not merely about the Jewish people – the great vision of the prophets saw all peoples streaming to the Temple, for the Temple was about everyone, and everything, everywhere!

For those who knew the old stories, the Temple wasn’t Just a Jewish religious building giving meaning to a Jewish religious world. The Temple stood for the entirety of the Creation – the seven days of Creation mapped out the Temple – The Temple held everything together . . . if the Temple goes, everything collapses . . .
The destruction of the Temple would presage the collapse of everything as they saw it . . . wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines . . . the End of everything . . . Jesus’ words about the birth pangs resonate throughout the whole cosmos.

The destruction of the Temple . . . All things hold together in the Temple . . . the brutal fact was that the Temple was passing away, not merely worn away by the sands of time, it was to be destroyed . . .

We approach the end of the church’s year – we live in the last times , and our readings point towards this end. We think of Advent as the start of the New Year, yet Advent orients us towards the End of all things. We start as we mean to go on, oriented towards the End of all things.
Advent is in a sense The Church’s season. It is the season for watching and waiting, it is the season that if you like gives us our posture for the entire year ahead, waiting for the Coming of the son of Man and the revealing of the fulfilment of all things . . . in Him who is the End of all things
It is the season in which we mediate on the Last Things, Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Young Welsey’s words were a very timely reminder – I am going to die. We meditate on the our impermanence, all that is passing away – and so look to that which is eternal. Not a building built by human hands – and the destruction of a Temple built by human hands, of the human attempt to supplant the story of God, is central to all of this . . . but this is not merely about the destruction of the Temple and the Cosmos built around it . . . it is about a new Temple, a new heaven and a new Earth

The destruction of the Temple. ‘Jesus [said], ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.’

At the centre of everything – at the centre of Creation was to be The Man, the human who lived loving God above and tending to all that was below. That was what was in place in the Creation Temple, but the human rather than accepting the name given to him, chose to try and build a name for himself apart from God – disconnecting the Cosmos from her Creator. Trying to turn the things that are passing away into the things that are eternal, trying to build heaven on earth, rather than being heaven’s presence on earth . . .

But at the End this is revealed as the fraud that it is.

In the Resurrection of Jesus The True Temple is established, the Temple of his body, where everything is held together, where heaven and Earth are united. It is the breaking in of eternal Life for all who believe. We are called to be his people with our eyes set on the eternal, storing up treasure in heaven, living into the eternal life of the Risen Christ, who was from the beginning the very centre of the True Creation that is not passing away.

We have a Temple, not one built by human hands – but that of his body. He is our Temple, The Human who holds heaven and Earth together in himself. Jesus’s words are very shocking, but they are as it were the blowing away of all that is passing away, and the revealing of the eternal life which ‘was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.’

And so in the words of the epistle to the Hebrews, ‘my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, Do not be alarmed, do not be led astray – for he who has promised is faithful.’

Let us look not at what can be seen but let us desire to Behold that which cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, in all through all and above all – our place of Access to God, the Centre of God’s plans and purposes. Let us not get caught out seeking to secure that which is passing away and being consumed by it as surely as it will be consumed. Let us not be distracted by wars and rumours of wars, by earthquake fire and famine. Let us fix our hearts on God, the Eternal one – let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. As we see these things come to pass . . .

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Amen

The Widows Mite

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Tear B 2018

1 Kings 17:8-16
Mark 12:38-44

“The Widow’s mite”

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself’

I started out in ministry as a parish priest in two villages in the North of England – from which we came here. One of them was a little unusual. Certainly to folk who don’t know England well, it didn’t fit the picture postcard idea of an English village. Cut in half by a busy trunk road along which thousands of vehicles a day poured – there was a great deal of poverty there, including our share of drug dealing and other aspects of life which don’t fit notions of roses round the door and thatched cottages. If it was the Shire, it was the Shire after Sharkey’s mob had got hold or it.

In ancient times it had been a very small settlement in reasonably decent agricultural land. Then the railways came. Hellifield grew up dramatically around the rail junction which was also the sight of a large auction Market, from which stock were loaded directly onto the trains. Many of the houses were railway workers terraces. It wasn’t a place of much wealth, but a place where a few people made their wealth.

When roads and trucks supplanted railways, the auction mart ran down and the village went into decline. It’s children, sons and daughters of rail workers who’d moved out from the town found trade in what we used to call blue collar occupations. It was definitely working class. Good honest folk many of them, running the various village institutions including the church, but struggling. Then came the government with a promise to build a by pass. The few older pretty properties became targets for wealthy folk from the towns. They of course being wealthy were used to being in control and the village institutions were quietly taken over by the ‘managerially competent’, who saw that ‘we could make this a lot better’. The village however continued its decline.

Then just before we went there, the auction mart was sold and a new set of ‘executive style town houses were built. The properties were priced out of reach of most of the locals and attracted people wanting to live in the countryside. Early retirees and folk happy to commute for an hour to work in one of the big cities. This group of people largely supplanted the previous generation of incomers who by now were 20 years older and had less energy . . . again, the folk who had lived there entire lives there were largely overlooked as ‘managerial competence’ was the name of the day.

Folk who sat on boards and got awards for this that and the other. Found themselves seated at the table with honour, and who expected to be greeted with respect for their manifold ‘good works’, and of course to have these duly celebrated in the media.
Finding ways to raise money, all too often from the pockets of those further down the pecking order. The Important people – as the older poorer members of the community were largely overlooked and forgotten, except to be dragooned for this or that project . . .

Of course this is an old story. When the church was built in 1906 it was by public subscription. A list was published of the major donors, who gave out of their abundance large amounts of money - i found an old copy of it. The list only included those who had given more than about £80. it was a printed list. The top five donors all gave £100 and had their names recorded or posterity. over the printed list a new name was added, and written at the top - they gave 100 guineas . . . no one remembers those who scraped in their purses for a few bob . . . 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

The widows mite . . . a few years before we went to Hellifield I was serving my curacy in a typical Northern English town. Mainly working class. The church decided it needed to re-order its building – architects were employed with their big fancy schemes coming in at $3million . . . we coughed, thanked them, and paid them handsomely for their time and thought again. Eventually we came up with something more modest – and then wondered how to raise $750 thousand.

Somebody placed a box at the back of church . . . and put a label on it ‘The Widow’s mite’. I’ve rarely felt more uncomfortable about something in a church than that box. Into it we were encouraged to put our small change – cupboards were emptied, purses searched, sofas were checked out for loose coins . . . and the box filled with coppers, many many pennies – out of our abundance. No one it must be said was running to count it – it was easier to count the £10 notes . . .

The widow’s mite wasn’t her loose change, it was ‘all she had, whatsoever, her whole livelihood’

Jesus you’ll note before he sits down to watch what’s going on in the Temple treasury tells folks to beware of the scribes . . . funnily enough he’d just commended a scribe – almost. You remember last week, the scribe asks Jesus ‘What is the first commandment?’ Jesus reply we should know by heart ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and a second is you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The scribe tells Jesus ‘you’re right!’ and recites both commandments. Jesus says ‘you’re not far from the Kingdom of God – not far. like the rich young man who stands facing Jesus . . . not far . . . but not there. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” You need to give up on your need for human affirmation and seek that which comes from God, alone.

You need to learn what it is to love God with all you have and all you are . . . like this widow here. The one everyone overlooked. A life devoted to God in its entirety is seldom seen in the world. Seldom noticed . . . like the little children whom Jesus continually places before us – what do they add to the world? Do they build fancy buildings or indulge in this or that or the other? Are they masters of ‘managerial competence’? Are the movers and shakers in the world we are focussed on?? No, but we train them up to be so . . . and all the while – not far from them is the one no one notices – wholly devoted to God. In her own way loving God with all she has and all she is . . .

As I started out by saying last week ‘The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.’ This thing that we gather together to do Sunday by Sunday is the beating heart of our life together, but more than that it is the very means by which God in Christ upholds all things. Hidden away from the gaze of the world – un-noticed, unregarded. We feed on the Word of God, which is our life – these scriptures – held in disrespect by the wider world – to their gaze irrelevant, out of date, not much use if we’re going to manage things . . .

We pray – we enter into conversation with God. Unknown to the world this love sustains all things

We then come to the Lord’s table. The place where as the body of Christ, we are in Jesus as he offers himself to the Father and the Father offers his life to us. We go away sustained by a crumb of bread, and a sip of wine. Not seen by the world, for we have learnt to live by faith in the things that are unseen, knowing as we do that the things that are seen are passing away

The Italian poet Dante takes us on a journey through the inferno, and purgatory to Paradise. Right at the very end he speaks of beholding God and understanding – my desire and will were moved already—
like a wheel revolving uniformly—by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

When our eyes and heart are fixed on God in Christ – Loving him with all we have and all we are, we become fixed points in the Universe through which the life of God pours.

The wealthy put in large sums out of their abundance . . . and then went on to other things, to ‘Important’ occasions, in the glare of the media, making important speeches, unveiling plaques, leaving their mark – their lives full of ‘many things’.

The widow poured her whole being in – we don’t know her name – there’s no plaque. The Temple itself is no longer there – Yet it was through the widow that God moved the material universe – the love that moves the heaven and the stars.

Let those with ears to hear, hear

Of Love, and our loves . . . 23 after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 12:28-34

‘How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead observances to worship the living God! ‘
Hebrews 9:14

‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ Ephesians 5:1,2

The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.
It is in God and through God that we have life, and our worship is the rational offering of ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’ to use the words of St Paul, offering that Life continually to God as He continually offers His Life to us. The Flow of Love from God and to God is the fullest meaning of our existence, revealed to us in Jesus, who only does what he sees the Father doing. His very Life lived as the dearly loved child.
This is the entirety of Life free from sin. Truly to Love is to worship. We find an echo of that in the old marriage service where the husband is called on to worship his wife. Worship is Love set free from the distortion of Sin.

Love of God in all through all and above all is our human vocation, and for many many years we knew this. It was the clearest vision of our life in the Church. After the Psalms the most preached book in the Scriptures was the Song of Songs. The Song of the Lover to the beloved and that Love returned.

Yet, sin above all, distorts our vision, and so distorts our Love. Sin fractures, breaks apart. The word diabolo, which we use for Devil means to throw apart, to separate out. Love is thus fractured. It is not One, it breaks up and turns Love into loves. It suggests as all things diabolic do, that love is a matter for our choice, or, for it is the same thing, our power.
Do I love this? or that? or the other? Will I? This is of course to understand oneself as separated from Love. Will I take up Love, will I walk in the way of Love, as if it were an option, rather than the very essence of Life, rather than its very Flow.

Through Sin, we love what we see, or we do not. We learn to love by sight and not by faith. So this or that or the other thing, this or that or the other person captures our gaze. Depending on our decisions. Of course we might blithely assert, I love everyone! Until that everyone become the person who suggests to you that love is something you can choose, and we choose not. Love in the General, doesn’t boil down of all in all and through all. We see, but we do not See, and thus we do not love.

As we remember last week, the consummate disciple is the blind man, Bartimaeus. The one who does not see as others see – but who Beholds God in Jesus Christ. He does not see a world of things which possess his sight, captivating his eye, and thus holding him back from this Life with Jesus.
But it is those who think they See who have the problem – for our eyes are captivated by many things – we are like Martha distracted by them. They hold our attention, and thus we are held by them. Like Martha we are divided, pulled apart – the literal meaning of distracted. But this is not the Love of God. For this Love is the Love of pure freedom, Love itself Free. The One Thing Necessary.

Love’s best visible examples as so often, because of course it points us in the direction of the deepest truth, is the love of a parent for a child which becomes the free love of the child for the parent. This reveals to us the deep reality before Sin gets in the way of our Life, first loved by the Father, and then ‘loving because He loves us. In those early days before Sin distorts the picture and from time to time makes love a matter of will or choice – of our power.

Just at the moment, one of our daughters’ is learning just how Lovely she is, as our grand daughter loves nothing better than to gaze at her mum, at EVERY hour of the day and night!
How has she learnt this loving gaze? Well of course the is returning the gaze of love which she has received since the hour of her birth. As St Paul puts it, ‘there is no compulsion in Love’. Love cannot be demanded. Worship, Love is the return of that gaze of Love of the Father

In a deep sense this is why God comes to us in such unlovely form. His Love manifested in the crucified One, of whom the prophet says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him’ God does not compel us to love him, so when he appears it is in a form which we may miss. We are to Love by faith, not our distorted sight.
Thus he reveals the true nature of Love – it has nothing to do with things that are seen, but those which are unseen. ‘You did not choose me, I chose you’ Says Jesus.

Throughout Mark’s gospel to date we have noticed how over and again, the disciples fail to see for their eyes are fixed on things seen, that are passing away, not on the Eternal One. They fail to see the hidden unseen way of Jesus, and in truth fail to see Him for who he is, except very occasionally.
Finally it is the Blind Bartimaeus who reveals the nature of true discipleship, going to be with Jesus, as Jesus fills his vision, his imaginative world. The Eye of his Heart is pure and clear, and thus he is in a sense safe to see.

So they come up to Jerusalem and we have skipped a little bit of the story – Jesus has cleansed the Temple, causing a bit of a ruckus. And then he is asked a series of questions. our gospel reading is the last of those questions. As the story of Bartimaeus brings to an end the quest to reveal the true nature of the disciple, so this last question puts an end to the questions.

Briefly the other two questions, for the illuminate the final question.

First term is the familiar question of taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees ask this. There lives are tangled up in a sensitive relationship with the Roman authorities. They depend on Rome for their power and influence in Palestine, most notably in Jerusalem. They are wary of upsetting this relationship – it fills their view. We might consider this like those who spend their time on the internet, troubled by the state of the world, constantly worrying that this or that or the other will cause things to fall apart. Living in fear.

Of course the question is also a trap, but Jesus handles it with ease, for Caesar does not fill his vision. The Pharisees do not love God – they are terrified of Caesar. Yet Jesus reduces him to his place, a two bit tyrant who feels the need to stamp his image on bits of metal . . . whose image is this? What do you see? Of course the Pharisees notoriously, like us, love money. Money gives you power, you can choose how you use it – you can giver it away, or you can keep it for yourself . . . this of course is how we think of it as well. And like the Pharisees, taxes and Caesar’s loom large in our mind. We give ourselves in devotion to them out of fear . . . better get the right government, or it will all turn to custard. We are careful with our money . . . we worship it, we love it. God disappears and our neighbour disappears – we carry devices which tell us moment by moment how much money we have . . . For our vision is fragmented, we see many things, but one thing is necessary. ‘You do not love God’

Then the question from the Saducees, not seven brides for seven brothers but one bride for a succession of seven brothers . . . They do not believe in the Resurrection – Jesus tells them, ‘you do not believe in the power of God! God doesn’t fill your view! You do not Love God!
As St Paul puts it again when he is being tried ‘Why would anyone think it extraordinary that God raises the dead?’ Of course if your eyes are not on God, then it Is extraordinary. In the same way that the rich man acted in accordance with what he saw, but acted wrongly – so the belief in the Resurrection depends on whether you See the One God! But their vision is fragmented! Seven to choose from. Whom will she love?

In the same way that Bartimaeus receives the sight that in a sense he already has – his faith reveals his Sight – so the Resurrection is also Seen, by those who See God – for to See God IS Resurrection life. Barnabas, although he is blind Sees! He leaps up – he Comes to Jesus, he Comes to Life with Jesus, he throws away his funeral shroud cloak, and sets out into Life

So Jesus rebukes the Saducees – you do not know the power of God – you do not see him – you see your thorny metaphysical and theological problems – they fill your view. We could say a great deal a this juncture about the church and her obsession with this or that or the other – no Vision of God . . .

The Pharisees see Caesar – they do not See God, the Saducees see problems, they do not See God. There are so many things, so many many things which obscure our vision – holding it captive. In the church we get consumed by issues – it is as if they hold our vision – not God.
This is what it is to give up on worship, and thus our giving up on Life itself. We invest heart, soul mind and strength in this aspect of church life, or that campaign – we are consumed by it . . . when we are called to invest our all in God. To Love him with all we are – ‘that my whole being may proclaim, his being and his ways’ It is to live The Life which is from God and for god and Too God.

So the question in todays gospel is The Question. And here we find something most remarkable – Jesus is commended for his answer by the Scribe and in a sense reveals himself to be a disciple in repeating Jesus’ answer to him – revealing that he is not far from the Kingdom of God

BUT . . . it seems to us perhaps that there is a problem. The first one is simply this – we might be tempted to think that Jesus adds to the Great Commandment. That Love of Neighbour is an additional command, to Love of God. We might say ‘well the Pharisees or the Scribes were very religious but not lovers of neighbour’. Yet the two earlier questions rule that out – their problem is that they don’t love God – they fear Caesar – they do not believe that God can raise the dead. God is Small in their eyes! In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, their religion is dead observances. They observe correctly all the feasts, but their heart, soul, mind and strength are not focussed on God. They do not Love God

It’s like putting all your effort into Christmas for the sake of Christmas and not for the sake of God himself! Dead observances

But the second problem is more worth considering – ‘if I love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, what is left over for my neighbour?’

We come back to what it is this Christian Life – it is the worship of God – it is the Life of God flowing out and returning – it is that Love which moves the stars, that Love which calls everything into being and sustains them – it is the totality of Love. To Know that Love of God, to return it, is to live in Love as St John puts it, to begin to Know Love as existence and Love as something which can only be shared. We are not held captive by it, it flows – it is like a might river flowing, we share in it – as does everything and everyone else! To Know Life, to Know Love is to Know that our life is with our neighbour. For that very Love and Life which by the grace of God Is our Very Existence, is also our neighbours. My brothers Life is my Life!

To See clearly is to See the same Life in our neighbour as is in us – ‘it is to See our neighbour as ourself’, a vision made possible by the Love of God, by the Life of Worship. It is no longer to love by choice, by an effort of will – it is to become that which we love – which is the End for all of us.

We become what we love. If we love things that are passing away, we will too pass away, but if we set our hearts and minds and souls and strength on God who IS Love, we by Grace Become Love also, and thus the love of neighbour is the most natural thing in the Universe, which is how it is Created to be

Amen

‘Gone to be with Jesus’ – Sight Restored. Sermon for 22nd Sunday after Trinity – YrB2018

Bartimaeus reveals the true nature of discipleship – going to be with Jesus.

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity – Year B, 2018
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52


‘Gone to be with Jesus’


At the beginning of this past week, a friend told me of the death of Eugene Peterson, someone whose writings I’ve closely read, a most gifted pastor, but above all, in all and through all, someone who deeply loved Jesus. We Might say “he has ‘gone to be with Jesus’”, but is that really what has happened?

I was forwarded some words from his family which I think teach us something about reality as we Perceive it as Christians.
Speaking of the time of his death they said – “During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven, we overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise.”

I have to say that I wasn’t surprised – this isn’t the first time I’ve been privy to such accounts. I remember the death of a dear friend, whose last days according to those who sat with her, were given over to speaking with and encouraging those who were making the same passage.

In both cases, I knew that for these people, it would be perfectly natural for them to see things so clearly in their final hours, for they lived with a deep sense of the closeness of the realm of the eternal, indeed a vision of it.

I don’t mean by that that they ‘visions of heaven’, as if this was something ‘supernatural’ or ‘out of the ordinary’, but rather that their hearts and minds were naturally and in their ordinary lives set on God and the things of God. It was the natural ordinary air that they breathed - the air of the eternal woven into the temporal. In this way their lives were not only receptacles of but also pathways of Eternal Life into the world, in the pattern, in the deepest sense, of Jesus Christ, in whom heaven and earth are woven together. They lives being woven into His, the intersection of Earth and Heaven was not alien to their life. Eternal Life was something Present to them in their 

It is a matter of note that so many of Jesus healings are those of the blind – those who cannot see – for it is our Vision which needs awakening. We live day to day in the world in the way that we perceive it. How we See is fundamental to how we live. To Live the Christian Life is to See the world at the intersection between Heaven and Earth, to See the rich tapestry of the Eternal pervading the Quotidean, it is to See Jesus as Present, to the end of the Age.
If like Peterson and my friend we have Seen Him and live with eyes fixed on Him, if we perceive the world freighted with the Glory of God as revealed in Christ and Him Crucified, if we See aright, then there are times when we realise that boundaries between heaven and earth are not as concrete as we might have otherwise assumed – that is that there is little but our blinded sight which ‘separates’ them.

I don’t mean by this, to repeat myself, that we go around having ‘heavenly visions’, but rather that we know the truth of our faith that in Jesus Christ, Heaven and Earth are woven together. Put another way we learn to set our hearts and minds on Jesus . . . we learn to Love Him, in all, things through all things, and above all things.  And we see things as they really are - having left all things for Him, we discover that we have all things in Him. We discover that our life is in him and his in us - woven together. Following Jesus, we Know and Experience Real Life as that Gift coming  to us from God in each moment of time, the eternal flow of the Spirit.

This is an act of learning to see the world aright – and as I corresponded with someone regarding Peterson’s last days a description came to me, of our Christian life as a journey of learning to see – of Imaginitiation – our initiation into the Christian Imagination. For as we See, so we Live, so we Walk to use the Greek verb for Life. In the same way as our daily path in directed by our sight, so Life in its details is ‘Walked’ in accordance with our Seeing.

This put me in mind of some words I referred to when we first came here seven years ago. They are the words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Suhard.

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
We Walk according to Sight of Jesus, we Walk with Jesus

If God n Christ is always before your eyes, if we love him with heart should mind and strength then your life takes on a different direction. It doesn’t follow the well worn world weary grooves of existence ploughed by so many around us. We find our selves in more ways than one at Cross roads, at Cross purposes. Standing at the Intersection between heaven and Earth – (St Paul uses the phrase ‘standing before God’) – Where others see barriers, we See God. Where others see impossibility, we See God, where others See anything other than God, we See God. Your life takes trajectories are unthinkable to those who do not as yet See.

If we consider the gospel from a couple of weeks ago, Jesus’ encounter with the Rich man. His actions make perfect sense if he does not See God! If we don’t See Him in Jesus then the man’s failure to give up al he has and follow him makes perfect sense, it is the height of reasonableness. Perhaps this is the sting of this story for us – his behaviour is too reasonable to us who have an abundance of possessions, which possess our attention. It causes us to ask, do We See Jesus? Do we see the Eternal woven into flesh and blood?
The man sought eternal life – yet he didn’t recognise it stood in front of him . . . He just didn’t have an imagination filled with God, he didn’t in the deep sense of the word Fear God. His possessions possessed his imagination. He couldn’t See – his Stuff stole all his attention. (Some wonder if ‘demonic possession’ is real, if demons are real – they seem not to be anything we come across, yet demons don’t need waste their desperate and limited energy with possessing those who are possessed by their possessions)

As we have been journeying with Jesus in Mark’s gospel, we have constantly come across instances of the disciples failure to see. When Jesus rebukes Peter with those stinging words ‘Get behind me Satan!’ he follows up by saying ‘you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men.’ For having acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, He still doesn’t See. God doesn’t fill His vision – you do not Know Him – you only see as the world sees.

And so another encounter. Jesus has passed through Jericho – he’s not stopping there he is on his way towards Jerusalem. And as he passes by the gate, the place where in times of old the ruler of the city would sit in judgement over the cases brought to him, there sits one Looking – Looking for Mercy – the blind beggar, Bar-Timaeus.
We come here in many respects to the climax of the journey so far, the End of the continual failures of the Disciples, brought to an end by True Discipleship. As Jesus is about to go up to Jerusalem, after all the failures of his disciples to See, and to Follow – to go with Jesus in truth, here finally is a disciple.
‘One of those little ones’. A man like a child – without any power – utterly dependent on alms from passers by, uncluttered by visions of power and possessions, for all his blindness he ‘Sees’, in contrast with all those who have think they see . . .

And just as the disciples hinder the little ones being brought to Jesus, so too many people try to quieten him. You can imagine the dynamic, like the self important disciples dreaming of power – what place does this nobody have in the story? We’ve come to watch the Jesus show, Be Quiet!But that is just it! They have just come to watch – Bar-Timaeus wants in on it – He is the one who enters fully into the story, he steps into Life.

At the command of Jesus he leaps up from the ground, throwing away his cloak, his security, his cover for the night, as day light breaks in. He abandons what is in effect his life – for Real Life.
And his cry is so unlike any other made to Jesus. ‘Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me’ – not a theological question, unlike the disciples asking for seats of authority – indeed he cries out for something Only God can do.

The words of address Jesus uses to him are exactly the same as to James and John with their request for seats of power. “What do you wish that I might do for you?” James and John don’t understand Jesus or See him truthfully for what they ask of he cannot give. ‘To sit on my right or on my left is not mine to give’ You can share my cup and be baptised with my baptism, you can share my death and so share my life – for that is all I have of mine own to give, my Life, but who gets crucified along with me, well I guess that that is in the hands of the Romans.

But Bartimaeus asks according to true sight. For all he cannot see Jesus, he can See him. “What do you wish that I might do for you?”
‘Rabbouni’ he cries out. Robbouni – the cry – heard only on the lips of Mary Magdalene in the Garden on Easter morning. The word of her shocked recognition – My Teacher! My Life – Eternal Life is Seen by Mary – it is Seen by ‘Blind’ Bar-Timaeus.
Faith has been awakened in Bar-Timaeus. Rabbouni, my teacher, he Recognises Jesus – “Rabbouni! That I might see again. And in a sense all Jesus does is to name that awakened faith – he as good as says to him, ‘There is in truth nothing wrong with your Sight – you See well enough’ Your faith has healed you. Your Vision is Fine and Good 🙂 Go!

Well where do you go? You’ve left your life behind – you’ve begun the heavenly journey, where He is your Life. You follow Him, you go to be with Him . . . think of those words – ‘gone to be with Jesus’ – Oh that that became our way of speaking of the Christian life!! In the days that follow the crowds may wonder. I doubt they will have seen – they hadn’t given much consideration to him in the past. ‘Where’s he gone, that beggar? Bar-Timaeus??’ ‘Oh, I think he’s gone off to be with Jesus . . .’ He no longer fits into the imaginative life story of the World. He’s gone off into another story.
When we look to Jesus, what do we see, but the place where Heaven and Earth are woven together, the place where the Life of Heaven, the Life of God re-enters the Creation, and we go to be with him, in the between place, the woven together place. Betwixt heaven and Earth – manifested in the Cross

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [again a matter of heaven vision] let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

What do we Fix our eyes on? This is the great question of human Life and Death. In the garden our forebears, surrounded as they were by the Glory of God fixed their eyes on the apple. We fix our eyes on that which we love. What is our Love? Is is Love Himself?

The Rich man had so much that his eyes were fixed on. His vision was full of his Stuff. Bartimaeus has only his cloak. With so little between him and the heavenly vision, like the finest of gauzes, he threw his cloak, his old life away, he leaps up and comes to Jesus.

What obscures our vision of Jesus? Are our eyes fixed on him? Has our Christian image Initiation been growing? Has it begun?

Where do we fix our eyes? Eugene Peterson loves Jesus, his eyes are fixed on Him, the joining place of heaven and earth. It was not a sign of his piety that he was blessed with this encounter between places – rather it was a sign of his Loves.

To fix our eyes on him is to begin to See Heaven, to see it woven into Earth, to See the Eternal as illuminating the Temporal – it is to be initiated into Christian Imagination. It is to Go! To be with Jesus.
Amen