Trinity Sunday – Evensong – Great is the Mystery of Faith

Sermon for Evensong
Trinity Sunday 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
John 3:1-17

The Mystery of our faith

As the Modern age has progressed one can to a certain extent map a reduction in the explicit consciousness of God in our human affairs. Charles Taylor in his magisterial work ‘A Secular Age’ asks the question “Why, was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in say, 1500 in our western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” [check quote]

In our consciousness it is probably very fair to say that Man has grown larger and God smaller. For those who follow Jesus, it is becoming almost an embarrassment to speak of The Fear of the Lord. The sense that God is beyond our capacity, in greatness and splendour . . . has receded. We have perhaps reduced God to our own image, in our consciousness – perhaps this was why Freud was so quick to assume that god was merely some ego projection, for the God he encountered in Modern Christians was so human sized – as the human grew . . . so we are told we live in ‘the age of the Anthropocene. The Human stamp is stamped everywhere – human consciousness invades every moment of our day . . .

I speak of consciousness for in part Taylor’s question is a question not so much of belief, but of how we are aware of ourselves and the world around us. We live with forms of certainty – granted in small part by science and technology, couples with what we call ‘the power of human reason’, yet, it seems we are rapidly accelerating into a world where we realise how little we know.
As the Creation falls apart around us – I suspect we are becoming more and more conscious of a reality far greater than we had been led to believe in. That the human brain and intellect so powerfully advertised as of a complexity and power far far beyond that of super computers – turns out on the grand scale of things to be not much more advanced or indeed useful than an abacus in terms of its ability to discern the Truth of Existence.

Of course this huge and I suggest anxiety driven emphasis on Reason etc. has had a powerful impact on our faith where all too many either abandon faith or retreat to the ‘certainties’ of ‘what the bible says’. Biblical fundamentalists are the mirror image of the Dawkins of this world – being imbued with the same ratioreductionist [un]conscious approach to faith. We can see everything – nothing is hidden from our unseeing eye – perhaps we have in our own imagining become like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings?
This anxiety driven certainty creates a consciousness which has little time for mystery – perhaps this is why we are so obsessed with Safety – a flight from our inability to rationally calculate everything that might conceivably happen in a world which something somewhere suggests to us might Not be as it seems. If we increasingly limit the possibilities open to us, through for example highly developed H&S policies, then we might conceivably keep Reality from breaking in.

So too mystery and faith. My training incumbent, a thoughtful evangelical has an almost visceral response to the word ‘mystery’ and would endlessly quote Colossians 1:25-27 “I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” There! He would say “the mystery is revealed -there is no mystery . . . however he didn’t than qualify it with other words of St Paul, namely “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” And of course most of Reality is in truth mysterious

Well today is of course one of the days of great mystery in the church calendar – Trinity Sunday – the day when many right thinking, or perhaps rationalist clergy decided to take a holiday and allow someone else to have the benefit of their pulpit! God as Three in One. As the cover of our font reminds us The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit – yet the Father and the Son and the Spirit are One God . . .

And no doubt here and there people are being subjected to images of God as a clover leaf etc. Trying to make it visible . . .

And of course the hyper rational age loves the visible – where mystery is done away with. We live in the age of the image – or as the French philosopher Guy Debord calls ‘the society of the spectacle’ I’m not here going to engage with Debord’s thesis but he certainly points us towards a society where our gaze is captivated by that which we see on a screen – and of course if we see it, it must be The Truth. No mystery in what we see is there, after all?

Most tragically perhaps we might apprehend this in the deluge of pornography which is freely available. The cultural critic Naomi Wolf writes on on how this deluge has changed people. On the one hand she speaks with evident envy of a female friend who converted to Orthodox Judaism, and went about with a headscarf. When asked by Wolf why she did this, she responded, ‘my hair is for my husband’. Wolf noted a new incredible erotic charge and energy about her friend, where the sexual had become ‘mysterious’ shrouded, hidden, and thus more vividly alive – Real perhaps?
Her musings closed with a young man who was speaking about the effects of porn on himself and his friends When asked by Wolf about the mystery of sex, responded thus “Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

It is perhaps here that we see the root of the familiarity of the erotic with the deeply Spiritual. Both engage us in a deeper knowing. A knowing which cannot be rationalised, a knowing which is beyond Reason, yet somehow far more sure. A knowing perhaps which is truly Personal and hoas to do with the depths of our hearts and our Loves.
Jesus says – ‘now this is eternal life, that they might Know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ Knowledge of The Mystery takes us into the place of the powerfully personal – into the very depth of our being.

Jesus tells us ‘when you pray, go into your inner room and close the door. There, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you’ Here of course the contrast is wth those for whom – its all out there! Those who stand on street corners to pray, that they might be seen by men

And so we come to our two texts for this evening – both of which take us beyond the place of the simply rational – although we must apply our minds, if only to draw us into the mystery of our faith.

Moses alone in the desert – the place of the encounter with the depths of who you are – reminiscent of the old teaching of the church fathers, ‘stay in your cell and it will teach you anything’ It is when we close our eyes to the easy lies of the visual – when the world around us is devoid of fascination, that the vast interior spaces open up. So the wilderness – the desert.

’Nothing to see here’ yet here Moses encounters the bush ablaze yet not burning – and draws aside – it is not a thing of direct vision. It is off to one side, pretty much as this Life which comes to us from God does not apprehend us in the three dimensions with which we are so familiar but comes at us if you like perpendicular to time and space

Who are you he asks? And the answer ‘I Am what I am, I will be what I will be’ An answer that is no answer at all . . . Certainly an answer which places us in a position where we cannot use God for our own purposes, for He does not allow us to touch Him, to lay hold on Him – to Close the story so that we can simply move on – rather we are called to move towards, deeper into the unseen, yet ever near.

And again – Jesus words leave Nicodemus drowning in incomprehension – You must be born again . . .what does this mean? Of course a faith which seeks to abandon mystery must make of this a simple formula. Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus and you will be born again – but with Nicodemus we MUST ask – but what does this mean? To repent is to reorient the eye of the heart . . . it is to turn our forgotten organ of perception, something perhaps akin to our intuition towards God, to Light, to fire, to a burning bush. It is to behold!
As I have been at pains to point out over the years, our English language often does not serve us well, in this case particularly with respect to Seeing. In Greek we have two verbs, one we might say is to see with the eye, as I see you and you I. Yet that that sense is one of the most readily deceived.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate

In our looking, we miss the Big picture -the relatedness of the apple to the provision and command of God.

The second verb is translated in older translations, Behold. This is the verb Jesus uses when he speaks with Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again he shall not Behold the Kingdom of God. Behold the Lamb of God says John the Baptist – when to the eye, all there is is a wandering dusty rabbi from Nazareth of all places! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world . . . surely in part our loss of God consciousness is our reduction of the second person of the Trinity to simply that Nazarene. The divinity of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, is largely ignored – and with it tragedy of tragedies, our own destiny shrinks

What is it to be ‘born again’? Perhaps it is to become the vessel of that uncreated Light – Wisdom – over which we have no hold – Uncreated Light . . .

One of the old fathers of the desert asked his disciples – what does the following verse mean? One after another each gave his answer – until he came to the last disciple, who answered ‘I do not know’. The Abba said ‘you have answered truthfully’

Such hiddenness, such uncertainty, such mystery is so frustrating to we Moderns, but if we are to find our way back, perhaps it is the place to start

How is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do not know

Amen

‘Away from Home’

Sermon for Lent 4

Year C 2019

The parable of the two sons

Luke 15:1-32

‘Just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.’ Gal 4:29

“Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20

‘Away from Home, in Body and Heart’

So we are half way now through Lent, and the fourth Sunday is observed in parts of the Church as Mothering Sunday. In part the roots of this are found in the practise of allowing those in service to go home to Mother for the day, and of course Mother Church.

Returning Home is the journey of the Christian Life, beginning as it does with our ‘coming to our senses’, waking up to the Reality of existence and setting out to find its beating heart.

Of course, Home doesn’t always carry positive and hopeful attributes in our minds. People run away from home. Home is where family is, and on days such as Mothering Sunday down through the years I’ve been confronted with the fact of broken homes and relationships. Mothering Sunday wasn’t universally a day of warmth and joy – and indeed returning to Church can carry similar baggage, indeed it usually does. The family of the body of Christ can be just as challenging, indeed it helps if it is . . .

As a fridge magnet we were once given by some friends put it ‘Friends are the Family we choose for ourselves’. Much as I appreciated the warmth shown by the gift, it troubled me, for of course the grounds of our salvation are not what we choose for ourselves. Our core problem is that we do not love well – so we choose poorly. Our desiring capacity is off beam, and being wrapped up in our self we tend to flock together with those we are like.

Consumers that we are trained to be – we love the idea of this – ‘have the world to your tastes’. Indeed even in the church, there are those who say we each need a church according to our own personality. Yet consciously or unconsciously to choose this path – and it is often unconscious and rationalised to suit our deep misdirected loves – to choose this path is to avoid the difficult task of renewal of our hearts and minds. Which is to avoid God himself, made known to us in Jesus.

(In this regard, as I often say, people become Vicars who have most to learn, for God puts us in a place where we don’t get to choose with whom we worship 🙂 We are given a family 🙂 )

Being a Vicar in a rural context was instructive in this regard, for there was only one (Anglican) show in town. If you were Anglican and it mattered to you, there was no choice. Indeed we were often the only church in ‘town’. And of course then we realised that as the family of the church we weren’t all with the family we’d choose for ourselves . . . as it was of course in the rest of the week. The people we didn’t want ot see on the street, then turned up in church on Sunday

Family dynamics. The Givenness of Family, the givenness of a church family – the arena for finding our way Home, the gift of God, towards the heart of God.

Confronted with the difficulty of the Command to Love those amongst whom we find ourselves – I have been told, ‘but I’m not Jesus!’ Which of course is the point. No, I am not, but to find my way Home I must grow into his likeness, to Love as God Loves, not in the partial selective way we do.
We are not well served by consumer faith, or indeed spectator faith, watching on whilst Jesus ‘does it for us’ His call is to follow, to go with Him, and to be shaped by that cross shaped journey into His Likeness.

Yes, we may well say we believe in Jesus, but to believe in Him is to Know Him – to Know His Heart – to have his heart, the heart of the Father, the heart of God. When we love God with all we have and all we are, His heart grows within us – and if it isn’t growing, we are not loving God.
Jesus said, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . . . love one another as I have loved you’ How are we to love one another? With the Love of the Father for the Son . . .

And so in this parable, a parable about our hearts, the focus is not on the ‘Prodigal Son’, it is the elder Son. We can like him be at home in Body, but far away in regard to our heart.

We know little if anything of the heart of the Prodigal – we tend to make a set of assumptions, but they are just that. Judgements of his motives as we observe him, but that is all.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. That’s it. We might say ‘he disrespected his Father!’, ‘he couldn’t wait to see his father dead!’, but the parable doesn’t say that. He simply asks for His share and His Father without hesitation gives it to him, and also btw gives it to the elder son . . . ‘he divided his property between them, a few days later the younger son gathered all he had’ . . . the elder son didn’t, but was welcome to . . .

There are a couple of moments when we see a little deeper into the younger son. He ‘came to his senses’, sat amongst the pigs . . . a place where the senses may well be awakened 🙂 And he tells a story about himself. If we heard well, we may remember an echo of a theme we explored last week, that of shame. And how, full of shame he doesn’t See clearly and he judges his Father.

You remember? We Sin and then for shame, judging God by our standards – we imagine that God cannot forgive – and we hide. Well the younger son decides not to hide and sets off for Home, but in expectation of at the best a place as a servant in his father’s house – yet, as we heard last week ‘your ways are not my ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts’. We judge the Father incorrectly, we always do, until we have his heart, until we Know not just about His heart, but Know His heart. Until we Love Him, we shall not See Him, or Know Him

The Father’s response, to this errant Son? He runs to meet him! He has been looking out for his return ‘from afar off! He puts his arm around him and kisses him. He doesn’t seem to notice the shame ridden testimony, for that he knows as a cover, a fig leaf of shame – he rejoices to have his dearly beloved Son home. He sees deeper than the surface – he sees the Beloved Son.

He dresses him in the best robe! He orders a ring for his finger, a sign of restoration to full sonship, and sandals for his feet. And a fatted calf is prepared – this is going to be a feast, a great banquet with celebration! What a celebration – when the elder son returns from working in the field, he hears ‘music and dancing’ The word for music is ‘symphonie’ 🙂 But this isn’t like being sat in the town Hall for some high culture, which perhaps we might ‘judge’ – no, it is wild and exuberant! You Have to join in!! To share in the music, to share in the heart of the Father.

The Father is rejoicing! Like the man who found his lost sheep, like the woman who found the lost coin . . . a party is in order! And what a party . . . but someone won’t come in

As I said, we know nothing of the heart of the prodigal – just the odd glimpse, but even that open to misinterpretation – whilst the elder son is revealed. Quite simply, he does not have the Father’s heart for his brother. He does not look with love upon him. He cannot rejoice to have him back . . . and not having the heart of the Father he is estranged not only from his brother, but from his Father also. The two go together . . . we are left wondering if he will respond to the father’s plea regarding his brother . . . will he go in? Or will he shut himself out? As C.S. Lewis puts it ‘hell is locked on the inside’.

For as John says, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” The elder brother does not know the Father – he has no love for Him. He considers himself a slave, trying to earn his Father’s love . His Father has already given him all he has, but he cannot see it – his heart is closed to his brother and to His Father. He does not Love, thus he does not See, thus he does not Know.

He does not See – all he sees is the Sin the younger son bears – besmirched with Sin – that is all he sees. The younger Son is a scandal, a stumbling block to Him – his vision is filled with his judgement of his brother, and so he cannot See His Father in truth. He is blind by the Sin of his own judging.

When we judge another this is what happens – our eye is filled with what we take to be the truth of a situation and a person, but to See truthfully. We see the mote, and it is all we see. Think of how a single thing fills our mind about a person when we judge them. Apart from Love, we are blind. To Love is to see the other as God Sees . . .

To return to something we explored last week, the purpose of Judgement is to heal. This is the Cross, it is the judgement, it is the place where Sin is shown to be utterly sinful – and we get that far . . . but this is not to See the Cross in truth, for it is also the place of atonement – of Healing. We seeing only the Sin, as we observe the Prodigal, do not see the Cross as the place of healing

Only in the Light of the truth of Sin can healing come about – The Cross diagnoses and Heals! . . . but do we want to be healed? Do we want others to be healed? Do we Love God? Do we love our sister and brother? Are we children of God? Do we love as he loves us?

This is the command of Jesus and the way of Jesus . . . and the business of the church of the messy family we are born into, is to become like him. Loving as he loves us. Having the Heart of the Father.

Do we Know Jesus? Do We See Him? Do we Love Him?

Of course, we  readily enough see God in the parable . . . the Father who throws a party for the Son who has returned, but do we see Jesus?

What is the context of the parable?

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable . . .

The younger Son comes out from the Father’s house – ‘He left his Father’s throne above . . .’

He carries the wealth of the Father – ‘So free, so infinite His Grace . . .’

He squanders it seemingly carelessly to the point of notoriety – on those who don’t deserve it – prostitutes no less!!! – ‘Emptied himself of all but love  . . .’

When at the last he is emptied – he is abandoned by all – and hungers . . . then, carrying all the shame he goes to the face the judgement . . . ‘and bled for Adam’s helpless race’
the judgement – which is revealed to be the place of healing and feasting and celebration . . .

He who was dead, has come to life . . .

Do we see our sister and brother with the Father’s Love?

Do we see Jesus?

May God use this season of Lent to heal the eye of our heart, and together with our brothers and sisters, may we hear with our brother Jesus, his call to come Home.

Amen

Christian politics – life together

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – Year C 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Luke 4:14-21

“Christian politics – Shared Life”

“we must understand that we are responsible of the sins of the whole world”

These words of St Seraphim must sound I think very strange to us, yet I think that they guide us into the way of Life in the way of Jesus Christ.

I’d like to suggest that they sound strange to us in some considerable part because we are Urban people. It may be that we live or have lived in rural areas, yet they way of how we live is increasingly homogeneous – perhaps this is why we make such a thing of diversity. And one of the key aspects of life in urban areas is its anonymity. We are surrounded by people yet our lives are not known well to them. Loneliness is far more an Urban than a rural phenomenon. One is, as they say never more alone than in a crowd. It is far more difficult to understand life as something we share in in real terms in a city – Yet now, more than half the world’s population lives in cities and cities are the centres of the media and commerce, all those things which so influence our lives, for good or ill.

Perhaps it is true that those of us who live lives shaped by an Urban environment have less sense of the way in which our lives impact on one another. And it is this interconnection of Life, that we call Love, which when it is broken we call sin. Sin is the fracturing of the bonds that join us – it is primarily relational, yet the majority of Urban people do not experience life as one of deep interconnections with those amongst whom we live, and so do not perceive its brokenness except perhaps through what they see in the papers or on TV screens, it doesn’t appear clear to us, our bonds with strangers
There are fewer and fewer places globally which are truly rural, and have not become urban in their way of living even if they are rural in location. Yet, still I think that these words of St Seraphim would be better understood by someone who had experienced life in a rural community – they might be denied, but their denial would be accompanied by shame, for the truth of them would confront you every day.

On of the gifts of my own life has been to spend about half of it living in rural contexts, and even though true rural life has all but disappeared, aspects of it still reveal themselves.
You could not live in a rural community and not share in life with others. An edit was public. Although only about 10% of folk in the village went to church regularly, when Sarah too the children to the local school she was told, ‘Oh. we know you’ve arrived’ As of course they would know if anyone else new had moved into the neighbourhood. your very presence had a discernible impact. Relationships rippled and reformed as people came to live there, and it was apparent.
Whilst we might speak of the need to build community in an Urban context, Community is a given in a rural context. Your neighbour was not some abstract person, but a particular person, the people with whom you had to share in life. You were to some extent dependent on those amongst whom you lived, and your life was part of the life of the whole community. The Community had a story of anyone who had been in the house you now were foolish enough to call your own.
The Community had a story, and it could not be discovered by the aggregation of lots of individual stories, something which is actually an overwhelming thing – too much. No you discovered the story of rural community by living there, by allowing your story become part of the whole – for in living together, going to the same school, working the same land, going perhaps to the same church (rural areas not afflicted as we are with a paralysing choice of places of worship), your lives were and to some degree still are lived together – and if one had any sensitivity you saw how your life affected things – perhaps even challenging The Story of the Community. The words of another old saint come to mind, you knew that in a meaningful sense, a visible sense, ‘your life is with your brother’.

Everything was public in a way it isn’t in towns and cities. You would go to this or that or the other village event, and it was the same people there. Life was lived amongst the people you had often known since childhood. Not least if you went to church – the whole community knew. It was a public act, not a private hidden one as in the city. you didn’t have to tell anyone you went to church. It was of course why the charge of hypocrisy was such a simple one, for apart from your church going, all your dirty washing was on public display.
One marker of this shared life for me as a Vicar was funerals. It was rare for there to be as few as 100 people present; all farming funerals would pack the church out. I still remember two funerals I conducted within three months, one of a couple of cousins killed In a road accident, another of a mother of six who had died of Cancer at the age of 49 – 750 people came. Apart from major Cathedral celebrations I have never known such large gatherings for worship. Life was shared in celebration and tragedy . . . and therefore inevitably in sin . . .

And sometimes that sin was manifested even in the church – a family split over this or that – the village took sides according to their stronger friendship bonds, and so at a church event, church may have been full – half the village sat with one side of the family on one side of the church and half on the other – but they were all there. For the division was a shared experience. No one was neutral – not even the Vicar. To be neutral would not to be part of it – to deny my role in the brokenness which was publicly displayed.

You cannot belong to a community and not be responsible for its sin. (There is something here about the sad retreat to ‘professionalism’ amongst increasingly mobile clergy)

And yet we live in a world where ‘I am not responsible’ is perhaps the most common, unspoken mantra. This has become easier to say. For example, ‘The Welfare State’ means ‘someone else’ will look after my neighbour. Yes, there is some sort of safety net in place, but social security is now an abstract technological thing impersonal thing, as anyone who has to struggle to find help from WINZ will readily testify. The state is not a person, even if the state servant has a human face, they play a role according to rules and training. The ethic of Love has nothing to do with it.
It isn’t Social, and very often as we know it is far from secure. Now that isn’t to say that ‘things were better back then’, people could ignore their neighbour then as now, but it wasn’t hidden. It was out there. If a family was without food and nothing done, everyone knew, everyone bore the shame of it. It was clear that “we were responsible for the sins of the whole world” or at least the world as we knew it. ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’ – St Paul’s words of rebuke are of course are written into an urban situation, the vast metropolis of Corinth – twice the size of modern Dunedin . . .

Today’s gospel will no doubt be used by many as a rallying cry for what is called ‘social justice’ – a call to be involved in ‘politics’. Our problem though is that we have largely lost sight of the meaning of politics, and justice, because we have lost sight of the meaning of social – of a shared existence. In an urbanised world, Social Justice has no face – it is a matter of fixing systems – it has nothing to do with Love of neighbour, for the neighbour is an anonymous person.
Christian politics is simply a matter of how I love those people with whom I share my life, politics being at root the matter of how we live together – not in an abstract sense, but in face to face reality.
Urban living, especially if one has sufficient financial resources to meet one’s basic needs, for food, clothing, warmth, and shelter, leads to a sense of Independence, and the deep truth of our utter interdependence on one another, and thus how we experience our responsibility for one another is increasingly no more than a thought, our active perception got it, highly atrophied . . .
The idea that we are in some mysterious way responsible for the sins of the whole community, indeed of the whole world seems at least odd, if not absurd – after all, if we just work a bit harder to fix the system . . . if those people or those people stopped behaving as they do . . . but we only understand things in these terms because we do now Know ourselves to be part of the whole, we do not recognise the sins of others as our own . . . It was the Pharisee who stood apart and said ‘I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men’. The Pharisee who did not identify himself with the sins of others -the Pharisee of course who went to the Temple, in the city of Jerusalem to pray . . . (The publican or tax-collector of course, knew he was a sinner because everyone told him that . . .)

Standing apart, in judgement is to separate yourself out from the Community. To be part of a community is to share in its joy and its sorrow, its glory and its shame. Briefly one might speak of splits within the wider church. To apprehend this with anything other than deep pain, shame and sorrow, is a failure to understand that our life is Life together, for it is the Life of Jesus. We are the body of Christ – and there is no deeper rejection of our faith than not to recognise one another or say we have no need of one another, or to set ourselves apart from one another – for it is denial of the very life of the one who reuses to do any of these things, that seeks to draw us into one. That we love one another

And so, Jesus comes to Nazareth. Jesus’ ministry is played out largely in rural areas, and he is part of this rural community. For thirty or so years Nazareth is pretty much all he has known, and Nazareth knows him, or thinks they do. He is known as Joseph’s boy, although no doubt that was perhaps a bit of a slur.
But he definitely is part of the story of Nazareth, and as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day ‘He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.’ And the words he speaks are not easy words – we cut it off slightly as usual – he has some pretty hard words to say – BUT he says them after being part of that community for 30 years . . . He Knows the community, he has known its joys and sorrows and its sin . . . he does not speak as one standing apart

Why is Isaiah declaring this? Why are God’s people in such a state – because they have abandoned life with God! And God has come in Jesus to identify with them in their brokenness that they might again share in His Life

Jesus who comes into the world and who identifies himself with the World in Love in reality, and thus as St Paul tells us ‘Became Sin for our sake’ So very deep is the identification of Jesus with us, that the one who has no Sin, refuses to stand apart in Judgement, but takes our human condition upon himself. He is under no illusion. To be human is to be identified with the Sin of humanity.

Jesus identifies himself with those who will crucify him. How different to our politics of ‘them and us’. He shares his life with those who reject him, and so draws all into one. We are the body of Christ – we were baptised together into one body. We meet in his name and our Life together is to share in his Peace, won on the cross. It is a community in which we confess our sins to one another and so find healing, for the acceptance of Christ we find none another. It is the place it al becomes real.

Jesus is our pattern, Jesus is our Life, Jesus is our politics. and takes upon himself the sins of the whole world.

Becoming Theologians – EPIPHANY 2019

The Feast of the Epiphany 2019

Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

‘Becoming Theologians’

‘Seek first the Father’s Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you also’ Matthew 6:33

As we don’t have the screen this morning, I thought I’d better draw your attention to the theme of what I have to say on your pew sheet – that is ‘Becoming Theologians’. I would like to say that I’m not seeking to drum up attendance at Chris Holmes lecture courses this coming semester, although I’d never discourage that, but I do want to begin with a brief illustration of what I mean which involves a university professor. He was an Eng Lit Prof and said he was having a lot of trouble teaching his students about English literature, older than the last 50 years, because few if any of them were conversant with the Christian story as made known in the Church and through the scriptures. English literature which was not very recent, came from a culture which was underpinned by that story, and so knowing the story was a vital key to understanding the works he asked his students to read.

Well he was right, but I want to use this fairly obvious point to illustrate something far more fundamental, that to truly understand anything, we have first to become theologians. Any of the university disciplines, if they are truly going to lead us ‘into all truth’ must first be theological. Indeed if we are to begin to understand anything we start with Faith.
For The Earth is The Lord’s and all they that dwell therein. The study of anything at all is the study of that which God has Created, and so to know it, to understand it, to make true sense of it, and therefore not misuse it, we must know God . . . This was the premiss of the first universities, and so theology and then philosophy and metaphysics were considered the foundational studies, before one turned to anything else, for everything else flowed from Knowing God, because everything does come from God

And today, the Feast of the Epiphany is in a sense our door as Gentile Christians to this journey of understanding – to ‘Becoming theologians’. It is for us, our first encounter with the living God, the God of Israel, the God of the Jews who is revealed to be The God of all. As St Paul puts it ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel . . . in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’

Our entrance into the Life of God in boldness and confidence through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the One in whom all things hold together, the very centre of Creation, its beginning and its End . . . to Know Him is to begin to know and to understand the entirety of the Creation, and without knowing Him, the Truth of our existence, of our very lives is hidden from us . . .

So the Magi come to Jerusalem, and immediately we are in the language of the revealing of the deep truth of our existence – for over and again we hear the word ‘Behold!’ See the Deep Truth here – So Matthew says ‘Now, Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the Days when Herod was king, Behold! Magi arrived in Jerusalem from the East, saying “Where is the new born King of the Judeans? For we saw His star at its rising, and have come to worship him”’

Matthew grabs our attention. Behold! Look! These strange foreigners, come to seek ‘the new born king of the Judeans’ – What is happening? Pay attention! To Behold is to see ‘with the eye of the heart’. There is a surface meaning to all of this, but we are called to Behold, to Understand . . . we are called to be theologians. To ponder these things, to ask – ‘What is God doing?’

Herod of course doesn’t have a clue. He is not remotely interested in the God of Israel, just hanging on to his power under the Romans . . . the news of a new king disturbs the order of things – things aren’t as they seem. So he asks around and the chief priests and scribes tell him of the Old Story, that the Messiah, the Anointed one is to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. ‘From you will come one who will shepherd God’s people . . .’ yet here are these foreigners . . . the prophet only saw in part, now is the full revelation.

Well, we might ask, what has all this to do with becoming theologians? Well, the first step is of course to pay attention to what God is saying and doing. Why was no one keeping an eye on Bethlehem? Because they hadn’t listened to the prophets. Why were the Magi there, well they were paying attention! They were in their own limited way watching for signs, they were attentive. They were watching and waiting, and so at the appearance of the star at its rising, they set off.

So the first step as theologians is to pay attention. To be watching, but for what? Well they don’t really know, but they do know one thing. That they are come to worship. ‘We have come to worship Him’ they tell Herod . . .
There is nothing more fundamental to our human experience than worship. GK Chesterton, says this, ‘when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they will believe in anything!’ – So also when we stop worshipping the One True God, our fundamental need to worship, will be misdirected but it will still find a way out and we will worship anything, even our own selves . . . We are Created to be the recipients of Life from God and to enter into the flow of this gift through Praise and thanksgiving. It is fundamental to who we are – to be those who live in response to God, who know our lives As response to God . . .

Well, Herod as we know sends them on their way, and the Magi, and they step out of the darkness of his palace and immediately, Matthew says ‘behold! The Star, which they saw at its rising, went before them until it came to the place where the child was . . .’ They are the seekers after the Truth of things – that is in the depths of their being they desire to worship aright – and ‘Beholding the star they they were exultantly joyful!’

So we need to follow these leads – these movements of the depths of our heart – after paying attention and watching, these are the next steps to becoming theologians. We pay attention, we follow the lead, to Jesus. This is the sign that we have followed well, that we come to Jesus, to His Appearing, and here the journey both ends and begins, with the one who is the beginning and the end of all things, Here own Jesus our humanity finds its home in God . . .

For they beheld the child with his mother Mary. Here there is so much . . . Here we Behold the one who is born of God, but also of Woman. Here in this babe we see all babes. All of us, born of a woman. All of us Seeing Jesus, opening up to the power to become born of God . . .

This simple scene, yet this Universal scene . . .

Several times over the past couple of weeks as we moved through Advent and then Christmas we have seen Mary, perhaps we have beheld her, seeing something of the depth of who she is -and we have been invited to follow her example and ponder these things in our hearts, that they might take root. Now we see, and perhaps we behold the Magi Beholding ‘the child with his mother Mary’ . . . and we allow this picture to take root in our hearts. Certainly it is a picture that took root in our faith, so many icons depict Mary, the God bearer and the child Jesus . . .

And? ‘and falling down they worshipped Him. Now they are entering into the fundamental work of theology, of theologians. Without which there is no theology nor access to any Truth in its deep manifestation.

Becoming theologians – in truth by our being here that is what we are doing. We gather together, we worship, we pray and in the midst of this we hear the word – we allow it to take root within us – this is the first and fundamental work of theology, and it is its end that it bears fruit

One of the old saints of the church puts it most succinctly – ‘A theologian is one who prays [one who worships], and one who worships and prays is a theologian’

Theology is first faith, it is paying attention, watching for God, and then responding, and allowing al our response to be Worship and prayer. Theology does not lead us to faith, Theology is faith which is then led by the star of the Light od Life that is in Jesus. Being so led, it then seeks to understand For Faith is the centre of all understanding, it is the Centre of Knowing the Truth of all things, for in coming into the presence of ‘the child and his mother’ we have come to the very centre of all things.

Let us take a few moments now in silence, in the Centre of our worship to See with the eye of our heart – to Behold the child with its mother

Amen

‘Born of God – Born in wonder’ Christmas 1 Year C 2018

Sermon for Christmas 1

Col 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

Born of God

Well it is an unwritten rule in our household that we don’t use stories about our children to illustrate sermons, however, just this once, not least because its a story of parental incompetence and therefore I think allowable . . . as a family we can’t hear this story of Jesus being left in Jerusalem without recalling an incident which occurred some years ago in Keswick. We were there for the annual Bible convention and had gone to the local supermarket before departing for a campground with a large group of friends and family – well we hadn’t gone a couple of days walk but we had been about half an hour before we realised that Megan wasn’t with us.

Running as fast as I could I returned to the supermarket to find she had been found by some fellow campers and convention members – one of the lovely things about Keswick when the Convention is on is that the town is full to bursting with Christians 🙂 We were Mighty relieved . . and it must be said didn’t scold her as Jesus’ was scolded by his distraught Mother!

Although of course Jesus gently rebukes his mother . . . ‘“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (or about my Father’s business)

So, although we haven’t yet got to the 12th day of Christmas, Luke has moved forwards 12 years to this account of Jesus’ family – about the time of the Passover, and how he goes missing in Jerusalem, for about three days . . . surely an echo of years later when Jesus is three days in the tomb before being found in the garden . . . the scriptures are full of these allusions, of stories within stories – it reminds me of those Russian Dolls which I was always fascinated with as a child. dolls within dolls within dolls – and here stories within stories within stories – and so, to pick another incident of Jesus life with his mother Mary, we might hear the words, ‘my time has not yet come’, so Jesus does not remain physically within the Temple, but returns to Nazareth with Mary his Mother, and Joseph . . .
Yet the incident is not forgotten – Mary ‘treasured all these sayings in her heart’

This is a repeated note in the Gospel. Mary treasuring things that have been said about Jesus and now by Jesus, in her heart. She treasured them – you might say having as it were lost her son for a while, she held him in her heart through all that had been said about him and by him . . .

What is immensely clear in this story is that Mary and Joseph do not understand. If they are going to understand they will have to live with these words, these seeds in their hearts, until such time when with persistence and in a good soil, they take root and bear fruit . . .

‘I must be in my Father’s house’

I wonder, what is it that we treasure in our hearts? What finds a home in us? To pick up on the image of Russian dolls again, Jesus uses the idea of Abiding, or Living within us. Abide in me, as I abide in you. We live in Him as He lives in us, or will if we attend to Him, if we follow Mary, our Mother in faith, who for nine months says Yes to this Word of God growing within her, and bearing fruit. Who goes on even though she does not understand, for who truly can hope to fully understand, who goes on treasuring these words in her heart. As the child conceived in her comes to birth, so the Word in her comes to bear fruit in her life.

One of the things I find most odd about faith in these days is how readily we dismiss these stories, beach we do not understand. They do not make sense to us. You are not likely to find many even within the church who attest to truth of The Virgin Birth. ‘Why? This is nonsense!’
As if we understood. As if we stood in a place where all of existence and reality was beneath our feet . . . Anything which doesn’t readily fit our casual notions truth discarded, for ‘this saying is too hard’ . . . like Jesus’s words ‘Whoever eats me will live because of me’ . . . too hard. Thus the Word is snatched away and perhaps we see within the church the effect of that word being snatched away – where is the Life? – as our ‘Modern’ understanding dismisses anything we cannot fit into our own picture –

Yet if is something which fits into our picture, we may well ask, why bother with it in the first place? If it is something that we infinitely small creatures can readily comprehend – why do we consider it of worth? Do we think that the understanding of ants is rational, and truthful? On the scale of the Universe and all that is – It is as if we were ants and proudly thought we comprehended existence itself . . .

Mary, although she does not know ‘how can this be, since I am a virgin?’ does not understand, she allows the words, the announcement to find a home within her. Although she is distraught at the actions of her son which have so upset her and Joseph, actions which make no sense to her and upset her greatly, she does not dismiss them, she treasures his words in her heart. She is not proud. She blows that she doesn’t understand, but believes

We have 12 days of Christmas. Days in which we can in humility allow these words of Jesus, this story of Jesus to find a home within us – even though there is so much of it which is ‘hard to understand’, much which indeed we may find dismays us.

And I wonder what might happen were we to hear the words of Jesus and ponder them and allow them to take such root in us, that they become our words? When His life becomes ours?

‘“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ What if we became the sort of people who were so given to attending to the Word in us, that perhaps our lives became lives that perplexed others, that caused them to question, that asked questions of the very way we understand our lives in the world, that had others searching us out.
If we stopped our casual denials quoting that simple convenient ‘modern science’ or something other such thing. (It is amazing how those who so readily quote ‘Modern Science, don’t know an science, and when challenged cannot explain ‘how modern science refutes all these things) It is easier not to allow the Word to take root within us. Like Mary gives birth to the Word in patience and great labour – if we allowed that existence was at once more glorious and full of wonder than we might imagine – if we became once more little children ourselves and said YEs to God’s word.

I only do what I see the Father doing . . . I must be about my Father’s business . . . if, to quote St Paul as dearly loved children, knowing we knew very little about anything, we became imitators of our big brother Jesus, the true human, and the true God, who pours out his life for us if we would beat let it take root . . .

In the beginning of John’s gospel we read ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” To all who received him . . . who allowed his Word to sink deep into their heart, to find a home in them, to bear fruit in them . . . to become those who rise to new life each morning and say as His words become ours as we abide in Him and he in us – ‘I must be about my Father’s business, I must be in my Father’s house’.

Of course, Megan wasn’t lost in the Temple, or indeed a church, she was in the Supermarket – perhaps that has become our father’s house in these days, perhaps we have become children of the consumer age, with endless options before us, or perhaps we might again attend to the One thing necessary – hear these words of Jesus ‘Did you not know that it was necessary, – we might attend to this ‘that I must be about my father’s business’ – allow it to take root, and grow us into the fulness of Children of God

The Creation – To See Truthfully – Christmas 2018

Sermon for Midnight Mass 2018

Hebrews 1:1-4
John 1:1-14

‘The Creation’

‘For we live by faith and not by sight’

As human beings we have a problem. For our most powerful sense – Sight – is also the one most easily taken hold of and deceived. We live in an age where visual stimuli assault us at every turn, increasingly so that we can be sold things. To compound matters to a significant degree, we now carry devices with us pretty much all the time, whose power over us is rooted in this weakness to have our attention stolen, to the point that we often find ourselves looking at our cell phones for no reason whatsoever.

In this age as much as any other if not mores, our Sight needs to be returned to us, that we might See truthfully.

So as when we seek to heal someone of an unhealthy addiction, we take the desire that is distorted and for a while put it to one side. To use a Christmas metaphor, we go cold turkey 🙂 When we want to speak of things that are outside the realm of our physical seeing, indeed perhaps to remind ourselves that there are things beyond the realm of sight, or better to our Sight so that we might behold the true nature of all things – there is perhaps no better time than in the depth of night.
For as the sun hides the stars and the entire Universe from our gaze, and our cell phones seem to rob us of the ability even to see those around us – thus the created lights of the World hide from us The Light, the light of Life. The Truth of our existence.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness

The Light shines in the darkness

The Light which is the Life of all people. The Light by which we Behold the Truth of our own existence – The Light by which we See clearly, by which we Behold All things – Everything.

For the message of Christmas goes well beyond anything that we might care to consider – out into the depths of space and time – filling them and completing them,

Here in the depths of the night we listen to words of John, coming to us from ‘the beginning’ When John wishes to speak to us of the coming of Jesus into the world, he opens his account ‘In the beginning’ In speaking of what we like to call The Christmas Story, John wants us to pay attention to the story of Everything. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the Earth . . . and God said . . . Let there be Light, and there was light – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God . . . in Him was Life and that Life is the Light of all people

Whilst it is true in some very limited sense to speak of the birth of Jesus as occurring 2000 years ago, that is only a fragment of a much greater truth – that the birth of Jesus, the story of Bethlehem and shepherds, and Mary and Joseph, and Angelic announcements in the night, is the Revealing, the Appearing of that which is true ‘from the beginning’ and also that which is true ‘to the ages of ages’. It is the Revelation of the entire work of God in the World . . . To See truthfully, to see Truth in its entirety, to See all things, our gaze must be restricted, drawn to a single point, a pin prick of light in the Universe, in the sign that is a child lying in a manger – to recover our sight we need to begin in the darkness in order to see Jesus

If the physicists are to be believed, and being a physicist myself I guess I have to declare an interest in physicists being believed, were we able to stand outside of the universe – an impossibility – we would see all of space, and therefore all of time. We would in a moment see everything from East to West, From North to South – from its beginning to its end. All space, all time – but we do not need to take a space ship to get outside of all space and time – for to Behold the Word made flesh is to begin to See all things – to have our sight restored, that we might truly be able to see all things

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this in speaking of the coming of Jesus into the World ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

For the One born to us in the depths of this Holiest of Nights, He is the Alpha and the Omega, He is the Beginning and The End. ‘[The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.’ He is the Light that is the light of all people. He is in all and through all and above all . . . He Encompasses All things in His Being

One of the old Saints of the church says of God, ‘A circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere’ – This Word of Life which calls forth the entirety of Creation is revealed in the Centre of Creation, in the One who sustains all things

The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus we might say is the coming into the world of Centre of History, a Centre that is Everywhere and at all times. That has no boundary. A Love without borders. This is the meaning of History., the meaning of all things.

 

Amen

The Word of Life! Advent 4 – Year C – 2018

Sermon for Advent 4 – Year C 2018

Luke 1:39-45

‘The Word of Life’

And so, we come closer to the centre of the mystery of Christ, The Word of Life. Soon and very soon, we shall celebrate the great Feast of the Incarnation – Christ Mass – the Feast of the Eucharist of Christ himself. The Word made flesh – The Word of Life which John says ‘was from the beginning’ – being revealed within history.

Perhaps the most powerful story in scripture of this Word of Life at work is the account of the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus stands outside the tomb and cries out ‘Lazarus, Come Forth!’ Lazarus is summoned by the Word of Life from the non existence of death, to Life in its fullness.

As a favourite writer of mine likes to say, God in Christ did not die to make bad men good, he died to make dead men live!

So this Word, which Is Christ Jesus, is The Word of Life in the most profound sense . . . and in our Gospel Reading, again we observe this Word at work in calling forth life. We see it, and of course part of the tradition of the church is devotional art and ikons.

In ancient ikons and in the tradition of the Syriac Church, Mary is depicted as conceiving Christ, through her ear. This is a visual metaphor for what is happening.

So Mary’s response to Gabriel, ‘let it be to me, according to your word’, is much more than a simple, if breath taking obedience – rather it is the speaking forth of what is happening. It is according to the Word, the Word of Life, finding its place within her, that she will become the very bearer of God.

This is the How of the very creation. The Spirit hovers over the face of the Deep, The Word comes, Life springs forth. So the Word enters Mary and the Word of Life springs forth!

And so, as Gabriel greets Mary who has become a bearer of the Word that gives life, the heavenly Word is passed on as Mary greets Elizabeth – and there is Life! Mary comes to her cousin Elizabeth who is carrying John the Baptist

‘And it happened that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting . . . ‘And it happened . . .’ the Greek word is egeneto – the word from which we get Genesis – the Beginning – Creation language!
The baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ We can perhaps see here the coming to Life of the child in her womb, John the Baptist when addressed by The Word of Life

So, The Spirit born Word comes to Mary to be borne by her, and now Her greeting, full as she is of the Life of God, brings Life! And the language is so very physical.

How sad that our translation removes this beautiful picture from our gaze – ‘as I heard the sound of your greeting’. For Elizabeth says ‘Behold! As the sound of your greeting entered my ears . . .’

‘As the sound of your greeting entered my ears . . .’ We are called to use our imagination to See, to Behold this Word passing into the ear of Elizabeth. as you received the spoken Word of God’s messenger, the one carrying the Word from God . . . there is something tangible about this Word, it is carried, it enters the ear – the ear which the Psalmist says in the most physical of language ‘you have dug for me’ . . . God has carefully crafted us with ears to hear – the Word of Life – this is why we should if at all possible NOT look at the screen with the reading on it, I understand that this is good for the hard of hearing, but listen – Allow the Word to enter your ear – to come into you, to bring Life. ’As the sound of your greeting entered my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy!’ How often I wonder have we known our heart leap for joy as the Word enters our ear, created for this very purpose.

And how full of bliss is the one who has faith . . . I find a recent translation of this so helpful in some regards if a bit odd on the ear, for to be full of bliss is to have been filled. Something has entered into us , has filled us 🙂

This is the nature of The Word of Life – when we hear it, when it enters into us – it produces Life in fullness. We become Full of Life, Full of Grace!

For a Word is not mere sound, or rather sound is not just sound – it is the very passage of the Life of God. This is why I think it most helpful that we Listen. That we Hear the Word. Even when we read scripture alone – read aloud – Listen to the Word

The Word written, is always one step removed from the Word spoken. The Word is to be Heard. The Creation vibrates with the Energy of Life itself – to be received into us. Life coming to find a home within us in Jesus Christ

Mary of course has already allowed the Word to take root in her – as she is addressed by Gabriel we hear, “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” – Mary as we shall hear over the next few days – powers things in her heart – she allows these words to go deep into her very being

As we prepare once more to Hear the Angelic announcement – may our ears be open and our hearts prepared for this Word of life to come into our hearts, to find a home amongst us and within us.

Amen