Sermon for Palm Sunday – 2017 Year A

SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY – 2017 YEAR A

Matthew 21:1-11

‘Tell the daughter of Zion . . . Behold!’

For me, coming to New Zealand five years ago was an odd experience – for although we all spoke the same language, culturally we were different. As Mark Twain said of America and Britain, ‘two nations divided by a common tongue’ 🙂 But English is a very problematic language and this goes much further than how we pronounce our vowels 🙂 for English makes the Scriptures quite difficult to understand, not simply because they weren’t written in English.

The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and Greek (as well as a little Aramaic). Hebrew and Greek have about 1000 or ten thousand words respectively, yet there are more words in English than pretty much any other language in the world! (Over two hundred thousand!) So when we are trying to translate the New Testament from its ‘street Greek’, there are 20 times more words than in the original – or in the Hebrew – 400 times!!

The Hebrews and the Greeks were far less ‘wordy’ people. So each word they used encompassed a Wide range of meaning. Their World was one in which all sorts of things were woven together by a single word.
Take a simple example – the word ‘ruach’ in Hebrew, means Breath, it means Wind, it means Spirit . .  . and our question is ‘but which one does it mean here or here or here . . . but that is a nonsense question to one of the Hebrews. ‘Ruach means breath/wind/spirit! you Know??’ As if perhaps Breath Wind and Spirit were somehow woven together . . . I’ll come back to that idea of a single word revealing how things are woven together at the end

A big problem of English is that in settling on one word we miss so much of the meaning – if we translate Ruach as breath we miss Wind and Spirit for example, and sometimes it leads us to missing the point completely. So today in our gospel – we all heard ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

If I said to you that the word we translate as ‘Look’ occurred over 400 times just in the gospels, and that if we add it’s Hebrew equivalent, more than 1300 times in the whole scriptures . . . we might perhaps realise that this was a very important word, perhaps the most important word in all of the Bible  . . .but you won’t find ‘look’ over 400 in the gospels, or over 1300 times in the entire scriptures. we find ‘look’, ‘See’ ‘discern’ occasionally even ‘remember’. We have so many separate words we like to use them all and so things get separate.
But older translations like the King James Bible, which came from an age before English became so very very wordy use just one word over and over again . . . Behold! Over and over again ‘Behold!’ Behold the lamb of God, ‘and behold as Jesus came up from the waters’, ‘Behold, a vast multitude non could number, ‘Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’, Behod, I am with you always, even to the end of the Age . . .

But what does Behold mean?? Well it’s like ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inpiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again. So that you were lost for words – for you could not contain it, rather It held you! Like a new born baby taking it all in and being Held. Behold!!

Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold! your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey not even a donkey a mere colt, a donkey’s foal’ . . . your King comes to you as the lowest of the low – Your King . . .

As St Paul struggles to put this beholding into words he says this
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, to make use of it,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Behold the King on a donkey’s foal, emptying himself in utter humility – making himself nothing . . . even to the point of death on a cross . . .

Behold your King? Do you see?? SO Unlike a King by our standards – in fact the complete opposite – becoming the servant of all . . . But we didn’t get it, and perhaps we still don’t. For  ‘Behold’ we built huge cathedrals, and Behold our clergy dressed in fine robes – and Behold our bishops wear purple the colour of the Emperor . . .

as we as a Diocese consider who might be out new bishop . . . I wonder if we have eyes to Behold, to See . . . or are our eyes trained to look on the surface of things?? Who on that Palm Sunday would have seen this weary, dust covered itinerant Jewish preacher and possible miracle worker as in fact the one in whom, through whom and for whom ALL things had been created?? I don’t expect the donkey was much to look at either . . .

Did they see?? Just a few days later the crowd that cried Hosanna to the Son of David stood before the stone pavement of judgement, this man stripped to the waist and flogged mercilessly and with a crown of thorns thrust onto his head – and Pilate cries out ‘Behold, The Man’. In human terms you might almost say, there is nothing to see . . . in human terms.
Pilate without realising it invites the crowd to ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inspiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again.’
Behold!’ See into the Truth. Behold The Truth . . . what is Truth Pilate asks and doesn’t behold The Truth stood in front of him . . . and now the crowd cry ‘Crucify’ They do not Behold their King . . .

As i suggest this calls into question how we look at the world, how we consider ‘what we are looking for in a Bishop’ – I must admit, I haven’t seen anything in the documentation which suggests that we are looking beyond the surface of things – we want a miracle worker no doubt . . . but Do we know how to Behold, the Deep Truth of things, the Deep truth of a person?? Or are we just looking for someone to save the Diocese?? Remember the Jewish people were looking for such a King, and when they see Jesus, they reject him . . . do we behold, Do we see??

But let us Behold for a moment or two. ‘your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ You King coming to you if you would but Behold! Yet he comes in humility – not offering himself to those looking for the spectacular – The word ‘humble’ – again it is just one word, but in Hebrew and Greek, it is humble, earthy, humus, soil, mud, it is Ordinary . . . in other word ‘humble’ is the stuff out of which everything is made – the stuff we see around us all the time and take for granted because it isn’t spectacular – because we do not behold. I am slowly, painfully slowly learning this – I can sit and Behold a tree for hours – as it ‘comes to me’ presents itself to me in all its Wonder Full Ordinariness . . . or Soil itself??
I remember a lovely piece of writing about an old metal bucket, which stayed forgotten on a hook under a tree and over the years leaves fell in it which slowly turned to soil and moss grew in it and bugs came to live in it, and occasionally a bird found a place for a nest in it, and the nest and the broken eggs added to the soil, which grew richer and deeper, slowly, without fuss, so you’d never notice – nothing to look at – Soil. But Soil Full of Life – Like the humble Jesus Full of Life but you wouldn’t have guessed . . . It is the Ordinary things which are the fabric, the soil, the humus, the humility out of which our lives come . . . Do we see our own ‘ordinary’ lives? Do we behold them?? With their joys, but also their sorrows? Their day by day quiet habits, a short prayer here, a phonemail to someone you haven’t seen for a while, a cup of tea with a friend . . . you see our Life if we Saw it is a thing of wonder, like that bucket of soil 🙂

If there is to be a future for the Diocese, it will come from those small things, for that is where all life comes from – the humble.

And that is The Truth of Things, for the Truth, the World’s King comes to US humble, Mounted on a donkey’s foal . . . and every Sunday in this worship we are so accustomed to, nothing special or flashy, this King consents to be handed over to us in a crumb of bread, a sip of wine . . . small, ordinary, humble things . . .

Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Christ – woven together so that you cannot tell one form the other. What if we only had a word for Bread AND Body, a Word for Wine AND blood?? If we ate the Bread/body and drank the Wine/blood . . . God made flesh . . . All of creation heaven and earth woven together in Jesus, so that you cannot tell one from the other. As if in this Bread/Body and Wine/ Blood we Beheld Everything? Wind, breath, Spirit, woven together so you cannot tell one from the other, if we but had eyes to See, if we did but Behold!

Easter 2015 – ‘They fled from the tomb . . .’

christ-resurrection-icon

Sermon for Easter 2015

Acts 10:34-43
Mark 16:1-8

‘They fled from the Tomb . . .’

Glory to Jesus Christ
Glory for Ever

I have a very vivid recollection of Holy Week in 2001. Unknown to me at that time it was the last Easter I celebrated as a curate, as Sarah and I moved to Gisburn in the December of that year, moving into a community which like many others that year was suffering from a trauma the like of which few if any of us here may have known, the effects of which continue to this day.

Gisburn and Hellifield were of course rural parishes, in the midst of many farms. Gisburn a village of 400 people, was home to one of the largest stock auction markets in the North of England. And it was 2001 – the year of the Foot and Mouth epidemic. Of course my curacy was in a Northern town far from any farm apart from rather unusually, an Ostrich farm 🙂 But for all that no one could be unaware of Foot and Mouth. At the start of the year TV news bulletins carried film of burning mountains of cattle carcasses, a view so distressing that the government ordered in the army to excavate an entire disused airfield so that the tens of thousands of culled beasts could be buried rather than burnt. Access to all open countryside was closed to try and prevent the spread of the disease, so I couldn’t walk my beloved hills

But I was closer to the epidemic than that. We watched with horror as the disease seemingly unstoppable overwhelmed the village in which I‘d grown up in and the surrounding areas, a cousin was involved with the ‘veterinary’ squads who were charged with shooting all the cattle, and somehow dealing with the trauma of that. And of course my own family were farmers.
Tucked away in a very remote valley in the South West Lake District we hoped and prayed that the plague would stay away, but inexorably it inched closer. It was on the Monday of Holy Week that we had the news we’d dreaded. Foot and Mouth had been diagnosed on a farm adjacent to my uncle’s farm. Which meant that all his stock would be culled as well.

Most farming operations involving stock were not huge, industrial scale farming is still pretty much unknown in the English stock sector. And my Uncles farm was no exception. He had about 150 rough fell cattle. Semi Wild – they were  hardy and gave birth unassisted.
When he had first moved to the farm in 1970 the first calf was born – they found the mother, obviously having given birth yet they couldn’t find the calf – until late into night, walking the rough moraine landscape, my uncle saw the shape of a calf in the moonlight reflected of a small tarn. They named the cow Moonlight and they named the tarn ‘moonlight tarn’, a name which you now find on OS maps of the area.

We learned that the dreaded cull of the stock would take place on Maundy Thursday, and so it was I went to our Diocesan Chrism Eucharist with the heaviest of hearts and barely able to speak with anyone, rushing out at the end without even acknowledging the bishop. I returned home, to hear things were worse than I thought if that were possible. The stock wagons carrying the armed vets had been unable to get up my uncle’s farm track quickly enough and would be unable to carry out the cull in the space of a day as required. they were to return the next day.

Usually the vets and soldiers with them would round up the stock, but these were wild fell cattle, On Good Friday, early in the morning, my Uncle walked his land alone, to call his stock to their deaths. The oldest cow among them, 31 years old, Moonlight herself.

Good Friday – and on Easter Sunday I had been rostered to preach . . . to a church full of people most of whom had come with Easter joy and cheer . . . I think that this was the first Easter when I had come anywhere close to understanding the terrifying nature of Easter Day.

For the response of the disciples that first Easter morning was not an easy joy – rather they were troubled, they were afraid, they were amazed and terrified . . . For they had seen all their hopes, their lives destroyed. They had given up everything to follow Jesus. They had thrown in their livelihoods, they had walked away from home and family because they believed he was the one who was going to rescue God’s people. They had pinned their lives on him, and he had apparently recklessly taken that all to the Cross, where he had been brutally murdered not only before their eyes, but the eyes of everyone.

My Good Friday Story in a very real sense is nothing out of the ordinary – we live in a world where we live in fear of such things because they can and do happen, and represented amongst us and all those we know are 1001 such Good Fridays. Good Friday is nothing out of the ordinary. It was just the brutal confirmation of the way the world is – all heading inexorably one way or another towards death. Indeed the death of Jesus upon the cross is not in itself at all exceptional. The death of the innocent is a universal human theme, highlighted in brutal fashion this past few weeks in the deaths on Vanuatu and of course the crash of the German Wings plane in Southern France.

Traumatic as these events are, they do nothing to challenge our view of the world. Good Fridays are endless. But not Easter Day. Good Friday we assume to be troubling and Easter Comforting, but in a sense it is entirely the other way round. For all the horror of what my family suffered that Good Friday in 2001, life went on. They still farm there. A small fountain in the farmyard the only visible testimonial to that terrible day, although the pain of it carries on, but in many ways, in most ways, life carries on as normal. It didn’t change anything, it didn’t change the world. Similarly the disciples had seen in the death of Jesus the death of all their hopes. There was no way forward. He was their life. Without Him they were nothing and he was dead. So in a sense were they. It is perhaps not surprising that they too are found in the resurrection stories going back to life as it was, fishing by the shore of Galilee. Back to normality . . . So it is perhaps little or no wonder that they are terrified when early that Easter morning they find the tomb empty and rumours of angels telling them he is Alive.

Good Friday seemingly confirms for us ‘the way of the world’ – Easter Day demolishes it, trashes it, and says not ‘there is another way’, but That way is no way at all. We are confronted in the Risen Jesus with the terrifying realisation that  Life is not what we have been told. The Resurrection of Jesus unmasks what we call ‘our everyday existence’ as a tragic illusion, and Satan as the Father of Lies.

And I have to ask has the Resurrection of Jesus had that impact amongst us? Has it so disturbed us, because if it be true as the Church asserts that God the Father Raised Jesus from the dead, not as some ghostly spirit, but as a living breathing man who prepares breakfasts and eats bread and fish . . . then the stories the world tells us about our existence, and most if not all the stories we have built the frail fabric of our tenuous existence upon are untrue.

A couple of weeks ago, Mother Keleni visited us and warned us about our ‘familiarity’ with God . . .I think the danger of comfortable familiarity with the Easter story is just as perilous. We learn it young and for most if not all of us if that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, as it does without doubt in some, it breeds a sort of spiritual narcolepsy – its like a dream – we have not discovered its truth in our everyday existence, we have not woken up to its Reality – because if it is indeed true then nothing can ever be the same again. No wonder they fled from the tomb . . . because they were afraid. Like a child being born into the world, that which we had taken to be life, the darkness of our existence up to that point, turned out not to be life at all . . .

And we must ask ourselves and especially as the Body of Christ the Church, Have we allowed this new Reality to shake and disturb us as it so terrified the disciples??
Often if not always this is not the case – as with the Living God and Father of our Lord Jesus, we ask questions of the Resurrection without stopping to allow it to ask questions of us . . . Like Peter at the Last Supper, we don’t want Jesus getting to close, we don’t want him overturning our world, the world which in our anxiety and imprisonment we have done our best with and tried to call ‘life’

If Christ be not raised from the dead then we are playing religious games here week by week, games which the wider world has tired of – but if he be raised from the dead, then we have no business playing any religious games. His Resurrection so changes our perception of reality that we are faced with a terrifying choice, go on as we are, or start to live in the light of this New Creation that has come into being.

Indeed it is no choice at all – if Christ be raised from the dead, there is only one existence and that is Life in obedient following of Him, the Risen one who is Alive for ever more. The Resurrection of Jesus is the judgement of the whole world – how then shall we live?

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Glory to Jesus Christ
Glory for Ever

Reflection for Holy Week – Wednesday – Love and Light III

Reflection for Holy Week – Wednesday

Light and Love III

Last night, we not so much stepped back from the Cross with its Contradictions – rather we stepped through it into the Life of the Cross. The Life which is the laying down our Lives as we participate in Holy Week. Embracing Jesus’ poverty As Abundant Life and thus living with an open hand to the poor whom we See and thus serve. That which is Greater serves the ‘Lesser’

This Is the Blessed Life. John, we remember in the Only words of Jesus which John records which also are recorded elsewhere reminds us of the Deep tradition and Life of our Faith which Jesus, in giving All he has Makes Flesh. We read in Deuteronomy ‘Give liberally [to your needy neighbour] and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’ Not to do so is to incur guilt when the poor and the hungry cry out to God against the rich and well fed who ignore them.

But what is it that causes one to so live? To be truly Free? Surely it is to See who Christ Is. To behold the Crucified One – and to embrace Him in faith and let go of Our life to Live His risen Life.

The Contradictions of our faith we have explored have all been to do with How we see, whether or not we see with the eye of faith. [Surely to see Christ in our needy brother is to have such faith]. The Cross appears to be Death, Darkness and Hatred – but to the Eye of faith it is Life, Light and Love.

All those who see and judge the poor for their wastefulness, as does Judas, see Scarcity. The eye of faith sees in Jesus, Abundance. Bread for all. Life for All people.

So it is How we see, and ultimately it is What we see. What we See and What we Love. If we see in the Cross only Darkness, Death and Hatred, we will cling onto our lives refusing to give them up. If we see only scarcity and waste amongst the poor, we will fear being poor ourselves, not seeing Jesus the impoverished one, so we will cling onto that daily bread for ourselves, fearful for our futures, and stolen from the poor it will turn to maggots in our hands. The blessing of God to us is For the world. If we ignore the need of our brother, we do not see God. The blessing rots.

Seeing God – Light and Love – or Not Seeing God – darkness and hatred – is at the heart of our final reading in John’s gospel.

Jesus said ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’
Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.
This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 
And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, 
‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.
Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
To Behold Christ Crucified, the lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world, is to See the Glory of God. Light. The LIght that shines in the darkness. The Light which reveals by its presence, the darkness. For we would not know we were in darkness if Light had not come into the World. But that Light so blinds the eyes of some, that like creatures of the depths of the oceans, even when confronted with the light, they are blind. Jesus performed So may signs in their presence, but they did not believe in him. So Judas sees Jesus, his poverty, his weakness, and does Not behold the Glory of God – that Glory which Isaiah Saw! and Spoke about. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

‘I saw the Lord . . . and the hem of his robe filled the Temple.’ Last night we noted how John had ‘moved’ the annointing at Bethany. Famously also he moves Jesus cleansing of the Temple, to the very beginning of Jesus ministry. Jesus publicly appears over and again in the temple in John. He is the One who fills the Temple – not the synagogues, but the Temple.

Commentators note that there is something odd in John’s use of the synagogue for as far as we know, followers of Jesus were not thrown out of the synagogue during the time of his ministry. So John obviously uses it for illustrative purpose. We saw this a few weeks ago in the story of the man born blind. The Pharisees, blind of eye and heard of heart, drove him out of the synagogue. ‘And God separated the Light from the Darkness’ . . . and again in our reading tonight, many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
Love, and Light. Love of our life, Love of the money which secures our meagre life, love of human glory . . . all darkness.

Love of the Poor Crucified One?? Love of the Glory of God? We behold the Crucified One and with John declare – We have Seen His Glory. Judgement has come into the world, the secrets of all hearts revealed. Nothing can ever be the same again.
“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35