The audio of a talk given in our series on The Epistle to the Hebrews
Sermon for Trinity 6, Year C 2019
Pray your Life
I wonder what you ask for when you pray? Why do we pray for the things we pray for? What is it that causes us to pray – not what deep ‘spiritual thing’ does, but what in the world we inhabit makes us pray?
These questions which I suppose we rarely if ever give thought to – but are called to mind by our gospel and also a presentation at our clergy conference this past week.
Firstly our gospel. Jesus’ disciples are being good disciples here – they are asking their rabbi to teach them. Jesus let us never forget is our rabbi also! Our teacher. We are to listen to his words for they are Spirit and they are Life. We might say ‘they are true’ – although the idea of truth is so thin in our modern world that perhaps this isn’t the best way of putting it. Better to say with Peter that they are ‘words of eternal Life’. To Hear Jesus – to listen and allow his words to shape us, is to come alive! Just like old Lazarus – this is what the Words of Jesus do! So when we hear Jesus’ words on prayer they also if we hear them bring us to Life – to Life filled Prayer.
Or quite literally a Prayer filled Life – Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a House of prayer to use Jesus’ words. As Paul tells us – the Spirit prays within us – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. His Life giving words of prayer are perhaps the most clear form of Spirit filled prayer we can know. Well we shall return to the Holy Spirit towards the end
As with any good rabbi – what Jesus says – is pithy, short and memorable. His words are Life – they are bread for us – we need to be able to come back to them over and over again for our Eternal Life in the age that is passing away.
So when Jesus teaches us to pray he gives us a simple prayer. Not a set of techniques – ‘Just’ Words – but these words are Spirit and Life, for they are the words of Jesus.
We learned to pray it ‘on our mother’s knee’ – although in my case it was from my father 🙂 As we were taught these Words – the Life in Jesus was handed on to us. Do you want to know how to pray? Then listen to Jesus and say these words that are Spirit and Life. As Paul reminds us, we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit pray within us. Jesus words. Life – Spirit. Within us
But back to that question of what to ask for. We are told to pray for the coming of the Kingdom – on earth as in heaven – for bread and forgiveness. That’s it!
Christian Life is a gift from God. Like Jesus – this Life is physical and relational. Bread is fundamental to our physical existence – it keeps us alive. Eugene Peterson translates this ‘keep us alive with three square meals a day’ but I think that pushes it rather. We just need bread for the day. Give us this day our daily bread. It has an immediacy to it. Tomorrow’s bread can take care of itself – we seek bread for this day. We live too much in terms of the unknown future. A place of myths and terrors or enticements. At the moment there are those amongst us who are worried about things that lie in the future – but our prayer is for daily bread. This Life flowing from God now – our Life now. We live in humble dependence on Our Father in heaven from moment to moment.
And for forgiveness, We begin the prayer – our Father – we pray as His children his offspring in the world – He is The Provider. The Life giver – the Life of His Son. Breaking relationship is death – it is intimately connected to Bread. Bread shared – is Life shared. But sharing of bread requires relationship. So broken relationship is Death. We pray for Life. Knowing that this Life comes from the Father we seek forgiveness of our sins
But it doesn’t stop there. You see life doesn’t.
Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. and the dominant picture of the Temple and the Spirit in Scripture is of water flowing out from it. In the garden – that first picture of the Temple – the Temple which we have indeed turned into a den of thieves – there are rivers flowing from it
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.
Ezekiel speaks of the water flowing from the Temple in these terms
The LORD showed me ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. . . On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’
And of course, Jesus – the Temple destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days is the source of this Water – Spirit and Life ‘whoever is thirsty let him come to me and drink, for out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers of living water’
For that for which we pray is the centre of, perhaps the entirety of the Christian active life – as Jesus fed the multitude and forgave all from the Cross, pouring out his life, so our Life is the reception of that life and the passing on of it. Share your bread with the poor, forgive others.
indeed the prayer suggests this very flow. Forgive us as we forgive others! We are asking God to replenish our lives. Feed us as we feed others. What does Jesus say – do not worry about what you will eat and drink or what will you wear do not worry about the Life coming to you— but rather seek his kingdom and righteousness and all this things will be given you
Of course as we learn, be it ever so slowly to share what we have, to share bread, to share forgiveness – this Life Of Jesus is revealed in us, amongst us and flowing from us
And so Jesus teaching on prayer concludes with a prayer that sums up the Lord’s prayer
He asks us to reflect on our lives. Do you give bad gifts? No, though you are evil you know how to give good gifts . . . how much more than will the Father [who is Goodness] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him – the gift of his Good being. The transformation of our inner being, that we are converted to temples of life giving spirit, spreading bread and forgiveness wherever we go
Do we pray each day for bread? Do we pray each day for forgiveness? Do we pray for the Life of the Holy Spirit? It is perplexing. Jesus gives us words to pray, but so many think they have moved on from this to more ‘advanced’ forms of prayer . . .
This brings me briefly to the talk at ministry conference. In it, Dr Tim Cooper spoke to us about most Christianity in the World – which is not Western. What is more it is a story of almost continuous persecution, of millions who imitated Jesus in their deaths. Millions upon millions of Christians over 2000 years who lived on the edge – not just materially but culturally. Our Western Tradition which has been at the heart of Western culture at least for the last thousand years is one which does not know what it is to be marginal, although there are some who would say that we are now discovering that. When you are on the edge – you depend on others for your life. You depend on people not killing you – you may well depend on them fro bread – and because you depend on them, relationship is key – forgiveness
If we think that The Lord’s Prayer – Words of Spirit and lIfe flowing from Jesus are not the Essence of prayer – the Essential Prayers – is it perhaps it is because we have become so self sufficient? After all – how many of us ever have to think about where our bread comes from let alone ask for it? If we can get by without close relationships with others then forgiveness isn’t part of our needs for our relationships are rarely Life or Death matters
Listen to Jesus ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God’ As his brother James says ‘Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’
When we have little or nothing we live in dependence on the goodness of others, relationships matter more because of this. Life is bared down to its essentials. We who have much are much further from the Kingdom – perhaps this is why we are so quick to come up with alternative visions of the Kingdom that better suit our lives, and different forms of prayer?
With whom are we sharing our bread, that we need to pray for Bread? With whom do we share in Life, such that broken relationship is life or death?
In this respect it is sobering to consider that the absorption of the General Synod of the church in maters of sexuality over the past 25 years has been the wealthy driving the agenda, and ignoring (and I saw it happen over and again) the cries of the poor – our pasifika brothers and sisters whose lives are literally being submerged under the water, homes destroyed by tropical storms . . . but where is the church most alive in our province?
Are our lives lives Real Lives? Life flowing from God through us? Lives of Receiving and giving? Perhaps we need to hear the words of Jesus?? ‘How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him? Perhaps we who are so comfortable with our own lives, need most to pray this prayer that we be saved by His Life in and amongst us? Amen
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. . . You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. Jas 5:1,5
One of the first things someone coming to these shores to live notes is how expensive food is here. And what is more food prices are going up. I know that this is probably a heresy to say so, but I think that that might be a good thing. Anything which disturbs our comfortable slumbers and wakes us up to the world in which we really live
Slumbers are of course the place where sometimes dreams intrude and thinking of the price of food will lead us to Pharaoh and other players, not least those who have ‘fattened their hearts on a day of slaughter’ – those whom James says must now ‘weep and howl’. And I trust that if nothing else that quotation woke us up at least a little?
A local farmer in one of my parishes told me how troubled he was that so very few people nowadays had ever known what it was to live in genuine want and shortage of food . . . he knew history and scripture well enough. The story of Pharaoh was one not unfamiliar to one who lived with the daily vagaries of the weather let alone climate collapse as the director of each days work, or his daily life . . .
Pharaoh’s dreams, were not just dreams – they were an awakening to reality. For so very long people lived knowing that there were times of feast and times of famine.
Our culture has for a season broken these natural cycles by our technology. Technology of course always separates us from reality and changes our perspective on it, but we have lost any awareness of this as our lives have become so divorced from The World of The Real. The cycle will kick in again, one way or another, and the longer we put it off the harder will be the fall . . .
Pharaoh’s dreams reveal a deep underlying anxiety – how do I cling on to what I have in a world of uncertainty. And as the collapse of the climate inexorably quickens, til we begin to feel its hot breath even on us which live divorced from the Real World – such dreams are being given fresh impetus to this day.
The nightmare of the Pharaohs of the modern world. A recent conference of what we have come to call plutocrats, people of immense wealth, was given over to consideration of how they would survive the coming famine, or to put it in their terms, ‘the inevitable collapse of civilisation which climate change is already bringing about’. One of their key questions was ‘where is best to go and hole up? Alaska, or New Zealand?’ As you may be aware several such people have already opted to make our country their bolt hole, some investing large sums in secure underground shelters. Another question, interestingly was ‘how do I keep my personal guards loyal?’ Options such as fitting them with electric necklaces were explored. After all, if things collapse, who can you trust in the world we have created for ourselves?
It is a dark irony that in the world we have created, friends and family are barely visible in comparison to previous socially rich ages. Who do you count on in a world of individuals? If the only thing you have is wealth and no tribe??
The Pater familias who had risen to ascendency through prowess in battle, like for example David -Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands as the crowds shouted – no wonder David took over at the top.
Yet in a world of individuals separated out by their money, we discover that it hasn’t the power with which we had invested it, especially when the so ‘economy, so-called, collapses. Family ties, blood, runs deep and so powerful local chiefs did not need to worry quite so much about those they pay to protect them turning on them. ‘How will we stop our personal army turning on us? the wealthy ask
The age of the individual has ushered in an age when the fabric of existence is shattered – who can I trust? This is in so many many ways a dystopian vision. James once more ‘you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money . . . weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.’
Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams – visions of skeletal livestock – led him to a programme of self protection. We miss in our following the Joseph narrative what it is that Pharaoh with the help of Joseph does – that is accumulate everything to himself. During the fat years he exacts a tax from all the people of Egypt – and during the thin years he sells the grain he has accumulated back to the people – until they have nothing left to give him but their bodies. He has grown fat in the age of slaughter – he has enslaved his people – he is an absolute ruler . . . and this will come back to bite him, as it all come back to bite all those who live for themselves.
There is the irony that the plutocrats have no friends to rely on – but speak of chaining their security personnel like dogs with electric collars. This Pharaoh at least went to his gold encrusted tomb ‘in peace’ Later Pharaoh’s reaped the harvest of God’s judgement against them as we go on to read in Exodus . . .
What judgement we may well asked will soon be reaped on those who have accumulated in the day of slaughter. Think of how difficult for example it is to buy a house now if you are young? I wonder at the piles of money accumulated by the St John’s college trust board – the wealthiest theological faculty outside of Harvard – in excess of $500 million. A huge percentage of this accumulated off the back of the housing market – a ghastly monster which tips people into forms of effective slavery and wrecks family life . . . Have we not ourselves as the Anglican Church grown fat in the day of slaughter?
A year or so ago our Synod passed a motion calling on ‘those in power to do all they could to alleviate poverty.’ I suggested that perhaps we could do much with that $500 million. Oddly enough, or perhaps wearily predictably no one thought this a good idea. The poor are someone else’s problem.
We worry about the collapse of the church – but consider the mission impact of Christians actually emptying themselves for the sake of the poor? Ah well . . .
On a wider stage The Creation has paid a terrible price but our lives have been ones of unimaginable ease and comfort . . . we have had cheap food for an historically unimaginably long period – we are accustomed to it – but the Creation has collapsed as a result. Intensive farming which we live off the back of, before we go criticising the farmers, has all but ruined soil, water, plant and insect life. And some have grown fat in the day of slaughter. If we have been paying attention these past few years you will no doubt have heard of ‘disaster capitalism’ – wherever something terrible happens, there is money to be made – she even suggesting that countries have been deliberately destabilised in order that a few can make a quick billion. Brexit anyone? The vultures are readying themselves to feed of the carcass. But we are living now with disaster capitalism on the biggest stage. This is not the collapse of nation states, it is the collapse of the entire creation.
One think I have in common with The plutocrats, apart form coming to live here, is that I also have taken a close interest in the numerous indicators of the coming Judgement. I wonder if perhaps their underground bunkers are a manifestation of those calling for the mountains to fall on them . . .
What is the gospel in all of this? Well I have to admit to taking once more a slight liberty with the readings for there are words of Jesus which speak directly to this, which I chose for tonight.
As we read this morning ‘Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it will not be taken away from her’. The One thing as we heard was that she listened to the words of Jesus, which are Spirit and Life. The irony I pointed out was that whoever people fall to arguing over this story of Martha and Mary which are about listening to the words of Spirit and Life which fall from His lips, they always ignore the words of Jesus . . .
The reading from Luke we have heard this evening is to our ears a perplexing tale. We who have been brought up to accept ‘economic realities’ in terms of abstractions like business ethics etc are confused by Jesus using the action of someone who defrauds his boss to save his own skin. But then our idea of economics has nothing to do with God’s.
Economics literally is ‘the law of the household’ – put another way, it is how we live together, sharing in life together. it is little surprise that in the age of the individual, it has become the abstract idolatrous monster to which we must all bow down at any cost. China’s GDP falls and the world is terrified – our gods are crumbling. So to hear the words of Jesus, we need to understand that His words are Light and Life – not the latest prognostications of the economists and bankers and politicians and plutocrats.
Jesus it must be said says things that are not music to our ears – he has no time for money – which is essentially a technology of abstraction separating people from people. So he is unconcerned about financial ‘justice’ per se – as we shall hear in a few weeks time as we continue to read this gospel on Sunday mornings. Rather he is in the business of making friends. Use unrighteous mammon to make friends for yourselves, so that when the Day dawns . . .
Job says If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the orphan has not eaten from it—
for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—
if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or a poor person without covering,
whose loins have not blessed me,
and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
if I have raised my hand against the orphan,
because I saw I had supporters at the gate;
then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.
If we hoard, like the Pharaohs we will rot with your wealth, but if we live with an open hand to those around us, we will find yourselves welcomed into many homes when things fall apart. Making friends is a lengthy task – may God grant us in his mercy time for this work of Life
And if anyone things these words not fit for the delicate ears of evensong, let us not forget the song of our mother Mary – ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away . . .
Perhaps we ought to give thought once more to that $500 million stashed away under St John’s college?
Sermon for Trinity 5 – Year C 2019
Luke 10: 38-42
Are we good listeners?
Many years ago, I was asked a rather left field question at an interview. ‘What would you say if Jesus walked into the room?’ I must admit I was not however taken aback – the question had been asked of every candidate and my interview was after lunch – I had the advantage of the incredulity of my fellow interviewees at the question to prepare an answer. Ironically, I didn’t want the job. Even more ironically, I got it and in some respects it prepared me for my life as a priest.
What do we do in the presence of Jesus?
Today’s gospel recounts the familiar tale of Martha welcoming Jesus into her home in Bethany, yet ending up on the end of a gentle rebuke. I must admit ever since I preached on this text three years ago – I have wondered about this encounter.
For last time it became clear to me that every time I had preached on it, which might be as many as 8 times over the years, someone pushed back at what I said. Occasionally I do get a ‘I’m not sure’ type of response to what I’ve said, but with this gospel reading it is every time
A few nights ago – I was having trouble sleeping – I listened to a podcast which turned out to be focussed on these words of Scripture. Not for the first time I heard it told as a tussle as it were between the life of Action, embodied by Martha, and that of Contemplation, as embodied by Mary. It’s fair to say that rather like last weekends cricket it was a close call with neither side deserving to lose, but the podcaster received pushback, exactly the same as I receive every time I preach on this.
This response is summed up in the words of one of my former church wardens, a dear soul who would shake her head each time and say ‘we can’t all be Marys, Eric’
Three years ago I was actually sent a lengthy paper on why Martha gets a raw deal . . . but . . . but . . . what if the incident has nothing to do with that . . . nothing to do with ‘the active vs the contemplative life’? Being vs doing?
I must admit than in suggesting this, I am going against pretty much all of the commentary on this text through 2000 years! But . . .
Certainly I could argue that we could do with lots more Marys. Is the world collapsing around us because no one is working? Because there are far too many people sat around contemplating? Is the problem with Donald Trump that he’s sat quietly in the Oval office meditating? Is the problem with his opponents that they’re doing the same? Is Brexit the result of too much contemplation? Are the shops and airwaves empty and the economy collapsing because we have all been overtaken by a tsunami of mindfulness? I think not. So I could make a very good argument for contemplation over action . . . but what if this incident has little if anything to do with that?
What seemed to get missed on the podcast, which worked the Action vs Contemplation angle as well as I’ve heard it worked; what gets missed in every response I’ve ever had, are the words of Jesus . . . which is more than ironic, it’s genuinely tragic. And I can’t help but wonder why we don’t listen to what Jesus says, and what are the consequences
Let’s consider the story again.
Martha is of course the one who welcomes Jesus into the house. Martha had a sister called Mary who, seated at the feet of Jesus [by the way note that this is how the healed demoniac is found, in the position of the disciple] – Mary ‘listened to what Jesus was saying’.
Note that as it happens Jesus has no issue with Martha. Martha has chosen her work. Mary has chosen hers. Yet, this won’t do for Martha.
‘Martha who was distracted by all her serving,’ comes and try to use Jesus for her own ends. Jesus is speaking, but she’s uninterested in Jesus except as one who will serve her will – She rebukes him “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister left me all alone to serve?’ Apparently not. Indeed as we shall see again in a few weeks Jesus seems remarkably uninterested in all the things we can get very worked up about – our notions of justice and fairness. A man comes to him and says ‘tell my brother to share the inheritance with me’ – and we’re all with him, and Jesus isn’t interested in deed he tells the man not to be greedy, even though all he wants is what we would call his fair share. Is Jesus bothered because Mary is not helping Martha? Apparently not.
‘Tell her therefore that she should help me’.’Speak Jesus! put the world right the way I think it should be! Sort those people out! Again another theme which will come up – those who think they have a hold over others calling on God to send them to help. It was the Rich man in Hades calls to Abraham to send Lazarus to come and serve him . . .
I can’t help also thinking of the parable of the Prodigal here. We are not told, but I suspect that Mary is the younger of the two. Only because as an elder sibling I recognise myself in Martha 🙂 Thinking she’s in charge of her little sister.
She certainly acts in such a way towards her, albeit trying to manipulate Jesus. Her complaint has more than a faint echo of the complaint of the elder brother ‘All these years I have slaved away for you . . .’ ‘Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me all alone to serve?’
It is at this point that we as it were get to the nub of it all – Jesus’ words. And perhaps there is something here which we so need to hear, that it is not at all a bad thing that we come back to it every third year in the lectionary cycle – for perhaps we haven’t heard it – or better, we haven’t heard the words of Jesus . . .
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
What is The One Thing Necessary? What is the One thing which Mary has chosen?
Again let us pause and step back.
We miss what is going on so often. As I have said there are echoes of this story throughout Luke’s gospel, and if we have paid attention to the gospel so far, we should see threads coming together here.
What is the occasion? We are assuming that Martha is dealing with food here. I’ve never heard it suggested otherwise – yet just recently Jesus has fed 5000 people! Does Martha not know? Jesus will says ‘do not concern yourself with what you will eat . . . your father knows you need all these things . . .’ Those are his words
Jesus is in the house and he is speaking. Martha – do you remember the feeding of the 5000??? Why are you so stressed about the food???
Well that might help us be a bit more relaxed about getting a meal ready. [again an echo of when Jesus is teaching the disciples about the yeast of the pharisees and they take it as a rebuke for forgetting the bread. Jesus asks them to remember how he fed them in the wilderness . . .]
Then having fed the 5000 Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter and James and John and a voice from heaven says ‘This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him’
This is the very command of God – Listen to Jesus. One thing is necessary. What is Mary doing?
Mary has chosen the better part . . . She is listening to Jesus.
Man does not live by bread alone, Martha, but by every word that proceeds for the mouth of God. Here are words coming from the mouth of God! Jesus is speaking.
How ironic that we miss what he says. ‘Oh it’s all about the active vs the contemplative life!’ Jesus says nothing about that. What is the One thing necessary – what is the better part that Mary has chosen? – she is doing the will of God – listening to Jesus!’
When we start a conversation about the active Martha vs the contemplative Mary – not words that come into scripture at all (!!) we ignore the words of Jesus.
Jesus says ‘My words are Spirit and they are Life – the flesh avails nothing!’ But do we take him at his word? Do you know the deep sustaining life that comes from the words of jesus? Have you had your heart and soul and mind and strength set on fire by the words of Jesus? When Jesus rebukes . . . the devil! . . . he says ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds fro the mouth of God!’ D owe know the deep satisfaction and Life that comes to us through the Word of Jesus?
Jesus is our Life – His Words are Spirit and Life. Unless we think we have moved beyond this, above all, we need to listen to Jesus – not least because as Jesus says ‘there is only one thing necessary.’
As Jesus says in exasperation at one point – ‘why do you call me Lord Lord and do not do what I say? Did you not hear? this deafness to the words of jesus, exhibited in a failure to understand this incident is at the heart of our fallen condition
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land– not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
Amos 8:11 . . . Jesus is speaking – do we hear? Do we even want to hear?
Jesus ask yourself, what would the world look like if everyone heard Jesus?
What would your life look like? What would this church look like?
Do we recognise the Life flowing from His mouth?
Sermon for Trinity 3
‘Inconsequential Life? Inconsequential God’
‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all they that dwell therein’ Ps 24:1
Just the other evening I was conversing with Sam about football, and of course the off-side law, because it is impossible to talk about football without taking about off-side . . . when he switched sports on me and asked if I remembered the England try, late in the last game against the All Blacks, which was turned down for off-side?
Eventually I dug it up from the foggy mire of my memory – and then was regaled with a deep irony. The season previous England had played italy, and Italy had used a loophole in the offside law to stifle England’s attacking game. After the match, the England coach Eddie Jones complained bitterly to the powers that be, and the law was changed. If it hadn’t been changed, the England try against the All Blacks would have stood.
Things come back to bite us – Life has consequences – but all too often we live in ignorance of them – they are hidden from our eyes.
Sarah and I come to serve here at St John’s – consequence, we have children and grandchildren separated by 12,000 miles . . . consequences – unforeseen, often unwanted when they manifest themselves. Each and every action of our lives bears weight beyond imagining – often the small things we do regularly without thought have greater significance.
One consequence Sarah and I have had to face is of course long haul air travel – with all its problems and then last week by the city council declare a Climate Emergency. Long haul air travel – still advertised as glamorous and ‘jet setting’, but in an age of Climate Emergency? Consequences . . . coming home to roost.
We still await the consequences of this high profile declaration. The call goes out ‘do something!’, but what if the council does things we don’t like?? What if we can’t live the lives we wanted to live?
I must admit that hearing of this declaration of an emergency I half expected to awake to find troops on the streets and police going around with loud hailers telling us what emergency measures were being brought in. But life went on as usual . . . Here’s my suggestion for what it’s worth.
Only cars with initial letters in the first half of the alphabet may be driven on odd numbered days, and only those with letters from N and after on even numbered days . . . Admittedly that slightly benefits the A-M crowd – by seven days a year – wait for the howls of protest!
One of the basic principles of liberal democracy , one of the foundations of how we have become happily accustomed to live , is that individuals should be free to live life as they see fit, especially to do what they want with their property – thank you John Locke.
Telling people they can and cannot do what they want with their cars!!! Cars which epitomise our Individual status, and lives. Go where I want when I want! It is an erosion of freedom! That is why I think that declarations of climate emergencies don’t get very far. We are so very used to our historically unprecedented individual liberties – and cars as I have said before, epitomise that freedom. Care free Freedom, Life without consequences – except of course that ain’t so.
Freedom – Life without boundaries – life without consequences. But Life without consequences is literally an inconsequential life. Which leads to the creation of ‘an inconsequential god’ . . .
After all, if we want lives of absolute freedom to live as we want, then it helps if we make a god in our image who does no more than smile benignly on, a god who is inconsequential. And it’s hard to attend to our own culture and suggest that God is of any consequence to us.
Those parts of scripture which suggest that our lives are matters of deep moral seriousness – that the Judgement of God is a Reality we might wish to strike from the record, and make ourselves a more inconsequential god.
Considering the Climate emergency, we may well wish to strike out Revelation 11
‘The nations raged, but your wrath has come, the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.’
God’s judgement on those who destroy the earth . . . or is it of no consequence?
It seems that both on the Left and the Right Christians live in a world of no consequences. There are those who say ‘it’s all going to burn up, but we are going to heaven’, who seem to me to be rather like a clergy person who confronted with the announcement of the judgement of God on the destruction of the Creation seemed to say, ‘but it doesn’t matter. God loves you’
In both cases there are no consequences – no consequences because ‘you’re a Christian and so will go to heaven’ or no consequences because ‘God loves everyone and all this talk of judgement is so yesterday . . .’ With such a lack of consequence – it is perhaps not surprising that few take Christian faith seriously. Why should they? It’s so inconsequential . . .
Both our Old Testament reading and Gospel today have been doctored to be less consequential, but I’ve taken the liberty of adding the missing portions. So you may well have been somewhat startled to hear those closing words of the reading from Isaiah . . . and then of course Jesus himself
Luke’s gospel, after the stories of Jesus’ birth move on to John the Baptist – the one ‘preparing the way of the Lord. Who calls people to repent for the Kingdom is at hand – to change their way of living – ‘you have two coats. your neighbour has no coat – give your neighbour your coat’. ‘You have food, your neighbour has no food, share your food’ for the Kingdom is at hand!
But isn’t my coat mine to do with as I wish? . . . Surely this is all up to the individual? . . . but the time for prevarication has run its course
The Kingdom has come in the person of Jesus. As John has prepared the way, now the King’s heralds go out. Have the people to whom they go responded to John’s words? Have they taken them to heart? Will the disciples who go out into the world without any sustenance, “no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic” – will they who go in need be given shelter and food, as the Kingdom requires, or will they be sent away hungry . . . The consequences of their hearing or not hearing the warning of the Baptist are being worked out in real time, for Good . . and ill
Where they are welcomed and fed, Life breaks out. “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”’ Healing comes with Kingdom sharing. It is perhaps to surprising that in an age when we all have ‘our own’ of this that and the other, we see so little in the way of Healings . . .
Yet not all have responded to John’s call to ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord “ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Well if we’d heard the gospel today as it was shortened, we’d merely have thought, well that’s a shame . . . but God loves you anyway 🙂
But that isn’t Jesus’ response.
I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. Sodom, byword for evil and lack of hospitality will get off lightly compared to those towns which reject the disciples
Jesus says – ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
A life wherein we demand absolute freedom free from consequences is finally an inconsequential life. To declare the kingdom of God as ‘something nice to think about, but hey if you don’t fancy it, that’s ok’ Is to declare an inconsequential life, and of course, an inconsequential God. A God who doesn’t care, who just wrings his hands, and wishes the world was different . . .
But what of the consequences of our lives?
You and I, the baptised – the disciples of Jesus? How consequential are our lives?
Jesus says this ‘‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ That is the significance of the baptised person. Our Life is in Him – He is our Life.
Our words are to be no more and no less than the oracles of God, and announce the presence of the King of the Kingdom. Jesus himself. If someone welcomes your message and the announcement of the King, they are welcoming the King. If they do not they are rejecting Him.
Perhaps this is why we are so slow to do such things . . . perhaps it is too much. We would hope for quieter lives, lives of less significance, lives of less consequence? But such a wish, such a desire is in vain. We are who we are – the body of Christ in the World. And that is not inconsequential . . .
Sermon for Trinity 2, Year C 2019
‘Devoted – Your Salvation is not about You!’
Let the dead bury their own! You follow me!
St Matthew 8:22
I’ve always been a little puzzled by big celebrations of wedding anniversaries. Given that people are marriage is, ’til death do us part’, it seems to be a bit odd to congratulate two people for neither of them dying!
Of course to quote Bob Dylan, ‘things have changed’, and one is regularly met with astonishment should one say one has been married for over 30 years. In a sense this is because in a relationship thin world, we have come to invest so very much in finding ‘one’s souls mate’. Expectations regarding marriage are sky high as revealed in the extravagant wedding ceremonies and celbrations, where once people often did little more than turn up before a priest or at the registry office, or jump over a stick.
Ordination services too, it must be said, are extravagant affairs, where once all that happened was that a bishop laid hands on another – and the Spirit did the rest, now . . . And, in parallel with modern marriage, I think that it is beyond dispute that we have in a world where the church seems to be struggling, to invest far too much expectation in the ordained.
I remember one of my tutors expressing his unease at the implicit liturgy of ordination at a local Cathedral where the Ordination service began to the doors being flung open to reveal as he put it ‘the white robed saviours of the church’.
Those inflated ideals are all too often unexamined by the ordained who hold public services of worship celebrating the anniversary of their ordination, be it 25 years, 40 years, or in that first case, 60 years. This I have found very troubling – for it seems to re-emphasise a deep and troubling pattern within the church, that of 2 track faith. Those who were ordinary christians and those who were totally devoted. A little like the cult status that grew up around the Saints in the late middle ages. Why no special services for 90 years a baptised follower of Jesus?
And what is more it creates a comfortable division – so the idea of clergy as ‘professionals’, or people ‘doing their job’, finds a well prepared soil.
The notion of a two track Christian life is anathema. That there is a High Road and a Low Road, not to Scotland but to the heart of God, is a detestable idea. Yet it runs deep. The idea of being devoted to the service of God, given over to God is one which one finds in writing about ordained ministry, but not baptism . . .
Yet, as I will say this until they bury me, “what counts is our baptism”. Baptism is about the totality of our being. It is the total work which cannot be added to. And any understanding of ordained ministry which however unintentionally suggests otherwise, is to be shunned. In Baptism we are totally consecrated to, devoted to the Living God.
(It always struck me as a little odd that those who had concerns over the baptism of infants often had their children ‘dedicated’ – in the background was the offering of Samuel to live with Eli the priest. I never found any of these dedicated babies being left behind, dedicated as they were to God. it was most muddle headed)
No. No one Christian is more baptised than another – we become in the words of St Paul ‘living Sacrifices’. Not, that is sacrifices that got away with just donating a leg or a hand and so are still living, but Sacrifices who having died, Live! Again St Paul, ‘as dying, yet behold we live!’ Priests are called amongst the community of the church to teach this, to bear witness to this, the faith of Christ’s body in it’s totality, the Church, that we might live it out together as ‘a Kingdom of Priests’. To be a visible reminder us that we are a people, a body of Christ – given over in love and service to Him, This is Our Life. And thus, this is our Salvation. Devoted to God.
But what does it mean ‘to be devoted to’ in this regard?
I remember the same college lecturer working through with us to find a suitable metaphor for the priesthood, and his words have stuck with me – they are first in the line at the Coliseum. First in the line – OK maybe they get a certain benefit, the starving lions are likely to make much swifter work of the first meal of the week 🙂 but not that priests ‘go in place of’ . . . they lead the way that all must follow . . . there is One Lord, One faith, One church, One Baptism . . . One Way of Jesus.
We might speak of our Salvation of ‘the assurance of ‘going to be with Jesus’, or the assurance that ‘Jesus is with me’, but that is not the picture revealed in the gospels – which turn it on his head, to wit – Salvation is to go with Him. We might say ‘so and so has gone to be with Jesus’, but that is the language of those outside the Church. For going to be with Jesus is at once our death – you have been crucified with Christ as St Paul puts it – I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. He becomes our Life as the Church. If the Church has any Life at all, it is the Life of the crucified and Risen One.
Which brings us to our gospel reading today – and seemingly two Jesus’s. One who rebukes James and John (not the Evangleist by the way, that’s another John . . . but another time) – the kind Jesus, and then the Jesus who tells thos who’d follow him to leave the dead to bury their own . . Will the real Jesus stand up?
The clue is in the fire . . . Jesus reveals to his disciples that the fire must come down not on the hapless Samaritans, but on them! Certainly hearing his words, sears and scorches
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Are we going to be with Jesus?
To another Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
Jesus does not die to make bad people good. No, he dies that in Him the dead may live!
‘Let the dead bury their own!’ What do you have to do with the culture of death? You are for Life! Jesus command to follow is a call to Life – don’t return to the place and ways of death – as the angels ask the bemused disciples ‘what are you doing looking for the living amongst the dead?’
Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
To be with Jesus is to identify with Him as our life – which is to be devoted to God . . . to be living sacrifices
Jesus is at one and the same time God giving his life to human beings, AND the human giving his life to God. As we are devoted to God, we become God’s gift to the world. This is Salvation, and Salvation is not for your own sake.
Jesus is devoted to God his Father – it is his total self giving we call to remembrance – we awaken to afresh Sunday by Sunday. His Body and Blood, Bread and wine are offered to God, and God comes upon them by the Holy Spirit and they become His Life given to us. Every Sunday we are at the Cross, we are at the empty tomb, we are at Pentecost – that Life might flow from us. The fruit of the Holy Spirit. We put aside our life that we might be temples of HIs Life flowing from us. This is what it is to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit. One where a life is laid down, and a life flows out in response.
To return briefly to the Coliseum – our forebears in the faith knew this well. As St Ignatius – an early Chrstian was on his way to his death, he urged people not to prevent it – that he ‘might become pure bread ground in the teeth of the wild animals’ As Life, blood and water flows from Jesus’ side, so Life flows from those who witness to Jesus in Life and Death.
There are many stories of Salvation, but this one is unlike any other. Some of them pass as Christian. become a Christian and you will go to heaven when you die!’ It’s subtly, all about you. Many modern churches act as therapists for troubles souls in these days . . . and of course the idea that God loves you . . . whilst there are grains of truth in all of these things, they are not the essence of Salvation – which is Life poured out for the sake the world. We enter into the work of Jesus by laying down our lives in all respects – together, all the baptised, priests and people.
And a suitable metaphor is that of fire – as the sacrifices were consumed by fire, so the fire of God is at work in devotion to God. Living Sacrifices consumed by the Fire [as incidentally Luke will go on to recount in the account of Pentecost . . .]
Just recently I came across these words which speak of this devotion in the way of Jesus
At the very first moment you decide to turn to God, your heart begins to be warmed by the action of the Holy Spirit. [hopefully we have all known something of this] Your heart is kindled with the divine flame that will transform you. This flame will consume you completely, and will melt everything of a fallen nature within you. Once this flame of divine love has been actualized within your heart, do nothing that would allow it to be extinguished. Cooperate with the Fire of God, and let it completely consume you. [That is Devotion]
In Christ Jesus, together with Him, as His Body, we offer ourselves to the refining fire of God, until God resides completely within and amongst us – and His Life flows out for the Salvation of the entire Cosmos
So our writer concludes : Put all your effort into this spiritual transformation that is beginning in your heart. Let nothing else take centre stage over this action by God that is meant to save you, and make you complete. From a little flame, this fire will burn in your heart, and nothing of your fallen nature will be able to withstand it. This flame will transform your whole being, for the action of the Holy Spirit will take you into God’s Kingdom, which resides within you.
As one of the elders of the church said – if you will, you can become all flame. That is our calling, our path, our Way. This is the Life of Jesus. Becoming a sacrifice for the sake of the whole world
Sermon for Trinity 1 – Year C – 2019
‘Clothed and in his right mind’
‘And this is the judgement: that the light has come into the world,
and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were wicked’ John 3:19
Whatever it is we encounter when we encounter the Life of Jesus, it is most definitely not business as usual. Our gospel today recounts the second of two consecutive incidents in which this life is manifested. Jesus has suggested to his disciples that they cross the lake, during which a great storm kicks up, which he orders to be quiet, and it is quiet, and the disciples are afraid – more afraid than they were of the storm.
Upon reaching shore, Jesus is confronted by the demon possessed man. Luke’s description is itself terrifying – this is not a bedtime story for small children!
As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
In the same way that we find the disciples more afraid of Jesus calming the storm than of the storm, we find a similar response to Jesus’ work.
The populace of the region when they came to Jesus, found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
As we explored during the season of Easter, the Life of Jesus, Resurrection Life, Life of the Ages of Ages explodes our categories regarding ‘business as usual’ – or ‘everyday life’. We considered how we needed to find new words to begin to speak of such things – like Tolkien’s word ‘Eucatastrophe’ – the Good Catastrophe. We can see the eucatastrophic breaking in here – something which calls to us and invites us to Goodness, Life itself. It calls from beyond because we are held captive by the safety of the known, ’business as usual’.
What do I mean by that?
Well let me ask a question . . . what is the opposite of a disease?
There is perhaps no word in our language which is, which does the opposite of a disease. What does a disease do? It takes that which we call ‘well’ or ‘healthy’ and reduces it – makes us less well, less healthy . . . But what is our word for that which takes what we call healthy, normal, usual, wellness and improves on it??
Disease, change and decay is part of the story of ‘business as usual’ of course. At best we hope to stave off decline and ill health . . . but that there might be something which surpasses this human ideal of staying well as the world knows it – is an alien concept to us . . .
Somehow we are concerned to stave off that which is not Good – disease – but to genuinely welcome the Good? Famously here of course we might remember our brother Jack Philips and his admonition to his grandchildren when in true Kiwi fashion they told him they were ‘good’, replied, ‘you’re not good, you are well!’ But what is wellness? Is it no more than the absence of disease??
We try in many ways to stave off the ill – H&S for example – or keeping fit – or 101 other things we ought to be doing . . . but these are all examples of keeping change and decay at bay. And there are many many more examples of this which operate in far subtler ways.
Consider for example our habit of demonising others . . . what are we doing? Separating ourselves from others – casting the illness onto them . . . We can call it ‘virtue signalling’, but at root it is a way of confirming our sense of ‘being in the right’ by damning others. Demonising them
We live in an era when it might be said ‘through the agency of the internet, demonisation has gone viral . . .’ Interesting that we use a word to do with disease to explain the rapid spread of something ‘going viral’ a ‘pandemic’ . . . We have no alternative Good word
James the brother of Jesus chides us – ‘The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell . . . no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.’
Well James is writing before the internet – before Facebook and Twitter – where ‘good’ people go to town demonising those made in the likeness of God – we seem to need to have ‘enemies’ whom it is socially acceptable to damn . . . Donald Trump anyone?
How many ‘good people’ do you and I know who regularly take to the ethereal internet to damn others? Individuals and groups? And then this or group demonises back, and to use James terrifying phrase, the circle of nature is set on fire . . . by hell itself.
And in our culture this is ‘business as usual’. It is socially acceptable to demonise . . . Respectable members of society, the church even, Lord have mercy, damning left right and centre and no one considers this evil . . . ? ‘Business as usual’
I wonder how much of our discourse – of our conversation with others about ‘the pressing matters of the age’ reveal us to be full of Life and Light and how many reveal our lives to be merely the purveyors of socially acceptable demonisation?
Where do demons come from? They seem to wander around until they find a home. They seem in my experience to find a home in and between people, people who in the world’s eyes are good and respectable people, who then force them onto others.
I have never come across of acute demonic activity which wasn’t tied up with human relationships. That which is means to be light and Life and Love – is infested with darkness and death and hate. So we try to deal with the disease and come up with the demonised . . .
He dwells in the place of the dead, amongst the tombs – far from home – rejected even by his family familial rejection is a common aspect of this. ‘The black sheep of the family’ anyone? And then Jesus comes and brings one back from the dead. The Demonised is sat, clothed and in his right mind. This clearly is not simply about simply restoring someone to society – for it is the society which is complicit in the demons within the man. Rather Jesus performs what is a powerful evocation of the harrowing of Hell. Brings back a man from the place of the dead.
And the people do not see that his healing calls them to their own healing, would they had it. They are still living in fear. Terrifying Goodness has broken out and they can’t stand it. Life, business as usual is revealed as something which happens in the shadows – the Light of Life is too bright – and they asked Jesus the Light to depart from them.
It is not uncommon to hear people argue that Jesus’ healings etc. are contrary to the natural order. They offend for example against Science . . . of course we might ask what is a science that has no place for Goodness beyond goodness? Yet their real disturbance goes much much deeper than that, pressing down into the deep reality of our very existence . . . shocking and terrifying Goodness. Revealing to us the utter brokenness of what we call ‘the natural order, ‘business as usual’
He Manifests Health beyond health. Salvation beyond Safety. The formerly demon possessed man is as it were at peace. As Jesus had stilled the storm on the lake, so the agonising storms within the man have been calmed. He is Saved. Profoundly healed, inside and out. And this is not business as usual . . .
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. To use Marks phrase. The man is free to return home – internally and externally healed. Not least in the area of his relationships. He leaves the people who need a demon possessed man in order to maintain ‘business as usual’ and goes out to proclaim the mighty acts of God
Clothed and in his right mind. The presence of the man resonates with the presence of Jesus. In our epistle St Paul says As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ
Clothed with Christ – in our right minds – the eye of our heart – we are to be clothed and in our right minds. Sitting at the feet of Jesus (by the way this is where Mary is in the story of Martha and Mary) . . . this is our vocation as children of the resurrection – to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness, to have nothing to do with ‘business as usual’.
At peace with one another and within ourselves. Clothed with Christ. Such lives stand out – and are light in the World, full as they are of the light of the World, but they may not be welcomed, for they remind the world that it’s end is not business as usual
You may even, indeed I hope you do, form time to time recognise this. You make a simple offer to someone – something which speaks of the reality that is the life of Christ within you. But it is too much for the person – and it is refused. ‘I couldn’t possibly’ . . .
To accept the gift would call the person into a Life beyond life as they have known it. It is too much. And a chasm of separation opens up between you and the person. The Life in you has been too challenging
Whatever else the Christian Life is, it is not ‘business as usual’. It is the Life of God