Three (not entirely) wise monkeys . . . Sermon for OT33 Year A, 2017

Sermon for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017 Sunday November 19th
Philippians 4
Matthew 25:14-30

Three (not perfectly) wise monkeys

I have to admit in advance that rather unusually I have chosen one of our readings today, as I missed the opportunity to preach on it a few weeks ago when it came round in the Lectionary – and that is our Epistle, however it does correspond to our Gospel this week.

When I was growing up, my father was regularly absent from home, on business in the ‘oil rich’ nations of the Middle East and Africa. The company for whom he worked equipped hospitals across the gulf states and in Africa. The equipping involved everything from the latest surgical technology to gold plate taps for the personal medical suites of Saudi Royal Princes 🙂

On these trips he would always bring back a present for each of his sons and one year it was what now would be a little frowned on – three wise monkeys, carved from ebony – I still have mine, weighty enough to be an offensive weapon! For some reason mine was ‘speak no evil’, I don’t know whether it was chosen deliberately for me 🙂

Of course the council of the monkeys – hear no evil, see no evil speak no evil is not a bad council. Certainly there is great wisdom in not allowing things into our imaginative world which will only spread darkness. There is I think too little work done on the influence of violent or sexually explicit materials on our souls, perhaps of course because ‘we moderns’ no longer believe in souls. We still largely believe that we are ‘discriminating’ objective observers of the world who ‘can cope’ with watching such things, and in so doing our souls shrivel all the more.

I think in this regard even an ebony monkey is more wise than we. To pick up briefly on my theme of the last couple of weeks, we have an utterly inadequate ontology – we know not whereof we are made, We forget that we are but dust . . . we have little comprehension to use the words of Jesus, of that which makes for our peace . . .

Turning our gaze from Violence, closing our ears to gossip, and restraining the tongue (‘if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all!’ as my mother would say) is Wise council, but if our approach to the World is primarily one of saying no, of shutting it all out, then we do not apprehend the Truth of our Existence

St Paul as he writes to the Philippians exhorts us in a very different way – a way that leads us deep into the Life of God

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 1) our disposition towards life is one of Rejoicing in the Lord, not saying ‘what a terrible time we live in!’ The Christian Life is not one of complaint, it is one of Rejoicing – why? How is this possible in this world??

Well, he goes on – 2) ’Let your gentleness be known to everyone.’ Gentleness is one of the Primary virtues of Christian existence – it is the antithesis of Violence and is the fruit of Knowing that ‘The Lord is near.’ The Lord is near, The Lord, is Here, God’s Spirit is with us . . . lift up your hearts, we lift them to the Lord Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, it is right to give him thanks and praise.

We learn as Christians to live in and through the Eucharist – Christ is at hand, near, present. Anxiety has no place, therefore – Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The Always Rejoicing, Gentle, peaceful life is the Christian Life.

That Rejoicing Always is not I suggest the Happy Shouty Demonstrative Noisy – rather in the spirit of Gentleness it might be described using another forgotten word beginning with G – gladness. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah – the Servant of the Lord, Jesus himself – is the source of
‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.’

Do these things – Be Glad in the Lord, Be gentle out of non anxiety – Peace – And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Not hands over eyes, or ears or mouth, The Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds . . .

Rather than finding ourselves in a war to keep darkness out, rather that which wells up within us guards our hearts and minds in the peace of God – so Paul goes on, rather than keeping things out, focus your hearts and minds on that which brings Life – the wellspring of Life

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We might say – whatever is good and pure and beautiful and true . . .

God is Good – All the time! All the time, God is Good! Fix your heart and mind on Goodness, and your eye will find its home in the Source of all goodness – The One who is the source of Goodness, Beauty, Truth.

As St Paul counsels elsewhere don’t get all tied up in controversy, arguments about words. Go about your life in humility and trust, doing that which he gives, keeping your heart and mind fixed on Goodness – He who is the Headwaters of your Life. Do not lose sight of This Living Water – Life coming to you in Christ Jesus.

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

It is that Simple – Difficult at first for we have perhaps forgotten to so feed our eyes and ears and minds on those things which make for our health – forgetting we have souls of Eternal quality, we allow all sorts of things in. The counsel of the Gospel is ‘if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light’ Dwell on the Light, Goodness, Beauty and Truth, manifested in Jesus. Knowing Jesus our gaze is changed so that we See Goodness and Beauty and Truth coming to us in so many different ways. We Encounter the Goodness of God, and are freed from anxiety in the World.

Unlike the third of the servants to whom the master entrusts his business. In many respects it is true, we see as we are. The third servant in the parable, sees only himself when he says ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; – he accuses his master of being lazy, but of course he himself has done nothing whilst his master has been away! I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?”

The slave sees as HE Is!

With what has he filled his imagination, to ignore the work assigned to him? He does not see His Life as it were tied up in the Life of HIs Master. HE does not Know His Master – he Presumes to Know Him, but does not, for He sees no connection between his life and that of his master at one level – he does not recognise his fortunes as tied up in His Masters fortunes. And all he sees when he looks at his master is what he truly knows, himself . . . wicked and lazy . . . well if that is what you set your eyes on, that is what you become . . .

I think there is a simple warning here. That we live in a world which has little time for God – and constantly we will hear many things which are untruthful about God. Where did the Servant get his ideas about his master? Where do we get our ideas about God?

For in truth, there are many, even in the Church who have decided on the truth of God, without themselves gazing upon him in love, To Behold Him, to Know Him

Fundamentally we Know the Truth about God for we have come to See Him for ourselves

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Set your heart and mind and eye on them, and Behold!! Look!!!

The God of Peace will be with you . . .

Amen

The First and Great Commandment

The First and Great Commandment

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
Proverbs 9:10

So, if we remember, God’s relentless pursuit of his people in Jesus is coming to a head. Jesus has come into Jerusalem in triumphal procession, albeit on a donkey, he has cleansed the Temple, he has cursed a figure for mot bearing fruit and then told two parables against the Pharisees, one of the Vineyard and the other of the Wedding Banquet. One a parable of the Son being killed and one of His Marriage – The Pharisees, and the Sadducees are trying everything possible to stop him, by asking questions to do with the Law, and relentlessly the focus is drawn back to Jesus – even over the question of paying taxes to Caesar . . . Do you See? Do you recognise Me? You recognise Casar and his blasphemous claim to be the Son of God . . . but what of the one stood in front of you? Like Pilate and his question when Jesus is stood before him, ‘What is Truth?’

All the questions, testing Jesus, trying to trap him in terms of the Law and one last time they try. ‘One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”’ Which commandment . . . which reveals their problem . . . you see, for the Pharisees there were 613 commandments in Tanakh, The Law and The Prohpets – 613!! Indeed there are! And the Pharisees in their concern not to break one had added lots of interpretative laws as well – for example there were 39 specific types of work forbidden on the Sabbath . . . or the question of the neighbour – Who is my neighbour – a matter of vigorous dispute amongst the various schools in Judaism – especially for the pharisees who wanted desperately to preserve National Identity by keeping anything, or anyone unclean out. They strongly believed that as long as they did this, they were safe from God’s judgement and that therefore their uneasy peace with the Romans would be sustained. If we just keep the Law properly then we won’t end up in exile like our ancestors . . . Keeping in with the occupiers, especially when the occupiers made sport of crucifying people . . . who really can blame them??

So, which commandment, because there are so very very many – like a world of distractions, like poor Martha . . . and Jesus response is like that of the prophets before him is Simple. “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And of course the Pharisees knew this – Everyone knew it – why, one of the 613 laws was to recite these words every morning! Shema!! HEAR O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. This, says Jesus Is the First Commandment, and it Is the Greatest. “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” as for the other 612 ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

Now, we tend to think that Jesus adds ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ because we think that the Pharisees were concentrating on the First to the exclusion of the Second – except of course they weren’t. For As Jesus had already pointed out, the Pharisees cared little for God. They loved rather the praise of the people – or were afraid of the crowds – it is two sides of the same coin 🙂 And they loved money . . . As Jesus had said, ‘you can’t serve both, for you will love one and hate the other, or serve on and despise the other’ . . . No, the Pharisees problem was that they did not love God OR their neighbour. The two commands are inextricably linked – No, rather Jesus is saying, You know the First commandment,and as for the other 612 t boils down to this, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ Which is precisely how we find it described in Leviticus, of all places . . . and in precisely that form

We heard a couple of verses from the beginning of Leviticus 19 – The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Or as St Paul puts it – be imitators of God as dearly loved children 🙂

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. I must admit I shudder when I hear that one – how is it possible in the world to day to make a profit apart from by the blood of our neighbours? You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

There it is – right at the end, summing it up – you shall love your neighbour as yourself . . . if we desire to know what it is to love our neighbour as our self, here we have plenty to go on – in Leviticus. Leviticus which is perhaps the book most concerned with the right worship of God – Right in the heart of what many think to be the most important chapter in that book ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself – I am the Lord’

When we hear these two commandments we can end up with a bit of a conundrum, as if we have to choose, and the choice seems to be a tricky one – for if you love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind – what is left for the neighbour? But the answer is given in that repetitive strain – ‘I am the Lord’ It is in the face of God – with our hearts and minds and souls set upon him, that we learn to love our neighbour as our self – Loving Him with all we are and thus knowing ourselves to be loved we are set free from our own concerns. Looking always to God, like the Psalmist, whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night, our lives bear the fruit of the Life of God whom we love . . .

The other day I was pondering how to express this in practise, this Loving God with all we have and are, and how it led us to the Love of neighbour as ourselves. For surely if we Love God in all and above all and through all, we shall love truly, and with Good discernment and judgement . . . After all, we have our mind on so many things . . . Loving God, Loving neighbours – as if God and Neighbour were different things in a world of things – and I was reminded of Magic Eye pictures. Do you remember them? [Here is one] Can anyone see the picture??

The trick, so I am told, because I have never been able to do it, is to focus BEHIND the picture. To bring your gaze to rest at a point beyond . . . in heaven you might say . . . and when you do that, Then the picture leaps into life.

Fixing our heart and mind and soul upon God – letting our gaze rest on Him – we then see the World in all its clarity – Resting our gaze on God, God’s image is now not just some useful slogan but something we truly discern – and I must say we genuinely do not merely ‘think of the world differently’ – because as modern people, this is what we think ( 🙂 ) it is all about, no we truly begin to See differently – we receive the world differently as we open our eyes and let them rest on God. it is the true meaning of the contemplative life, not to hole ourselves up but to learn to rest the gaze of our heart and soul and mind on God and then to use our strength as we truly encounter our neighbour . . .

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

The Fear of the Lord, the knowledge of the Holy One, the Love of the Father – all one and the same – all opening our eyes to The Real World

Well at that point people may well say, ‘but Eric, you said last week that this was all about Jesus!’

And it is . . . ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The Pharisees were afraid above all that Jesus had come to trash everything – after all he seemed to ignore the Sabbath – they were afraid that his coming would so stir the crowds that If we shall let Him alone like this, all will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and will take away both our place and nation. – that he had come to abolish the Law and the prophets – But Jesus says , ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. At the end of all the questions – Jesus finally draws their attention to the Whole Law, for He is the fulfillment of that Entire Law – Loving God utterly, only doing what he sees the Father doing – and doing for his neighbour what as he would want them to do for him, laying down his life for them – befriending them, neighbouring them.

And so once more he asks? Do you see? Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” . . . Whose Son is He? Do we see?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind, Love your neighbour as your own life . . . and we will See

Idols – sermon for Evensong, Sunday 17th September, 2017

Those who make them will be like them . . .

The poet Annie Dillard makes the following observation about those who go to church

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

One of the great gifts of Evensong is its lectionary which ploughs through the Old Testament with an anachronistic lack of concern for our Modern sensitivities. And thus this evening , we find ourselves amidst the niceties of the English Choral Tradition listening to the words of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel. And we wonder with Annie Dillard why we didn’t bring a crash helmet.

Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob—making myself known to them in the land of Egypt—I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

 

I swore to them that I would bring them out of the Land of Egypt – from the place of slavery and death – into a land that I had searched for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious all lands – into the place of freedom and Life

God’s purposes in the election of Israel in choosing and calling them, to bring from death to life, to reveal once more the Life that is God’s purpose for his creation – that amongst all the people’s there would be a people who LIVED, who revealed the Life of the Creator in and to the Creation – that their might be the Image of God in Creation . . .

but they didn’t want it.
But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; not one of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

If we are alert to the story we know how, having been brought into the place where God, their life was revealed and made known to them in the wilderness, they just longed to go back to the country of slavery and death. ‘Oh if only we had died in Egypt . . .’ ‘‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’

Like someone roused from sleep, they just want to go back to their comfortable dreams . . . back to sleep, back to death . . . And the LORD just doesn’t get it – as he says in Ezekiel 18 – Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Why will ye die, O house of Israel?? What is it with you people??? Hear the word of the LORD, the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ – I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

God who has called a people to himself for life – desires not the death of ANYONE, but that they might turn from their wickedness and LIVE! Yet, throughout, over and over and over one particular charge is laid against this rebellious people – ‘not one of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.’

The Lectionary softens the blow a little – we miss the next 22 verses wherein we hear recounted the repetitive strain – The LORD did this . . . but not one of them cast away their detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake their idols . . .

Now let us be careful here to to fall into that lazy and blasphemous trope, beloved of all ‘sophisticates’ that ‘the God of the Old Testament and that of the New are not the same’ – Listen to the warning of our own patron, our beloved St John ‘Little Children, keep yourself with idols!’

As the Impact of the glorious gospel comes to Asia Minor, to Ephesus, the Centre of the cult of Diana – known here as Artemis – what is the great ruction, the riot caused by??
The charge laid by Paul as reported by Demetrius – ‘this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’

‘Gods made with hands are not gods’ . . . And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute . . . It is worth noting in passing that idolatry and economic security go hand in hand . . . ‘Gods made with hands are not gods’

Things that we make – that we create do not have Life in them – and thus they cannot cause us to Live. Rather when we put our hope in the work of our own hands, we become even less than we are – as the Psalmist says ‘The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. There is no Life in idols – there is no life in things we make Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.

 

Those who make them will be like them . . . We are made to be like God, possessing Eternal Life – instead we make lifeless things to give our lives meanings which we choose for ourselves . . . and become like them . . . lifeless . . .

In this age that is most clear in the devotion we give to dead technology, more broadly to machines which more or less subtly form us in their image. Just this week I was reading an article which suggested that the rise of ‘intelligent robots’ called into question the whole issue of what it meant to be human . . . the fruit of idolatry laid bare – we look at a robot and allow it to address us regarding our own nature . . . human dignity and freedom and glory reduced to a latex covered machine, an imitation of what we have come to call life, with a so called intelligence based on the horrendous assumption that our brains operate like computers . . . do you see?
We make computers, then we begin to talk of our selves as biological computers – we make robots and as we have already submitted so many of our fellow humans to work of such profound degradation that all agency and freedom is stolen from them, made them robots, and now we think we are like them . . . . And this then affects our philosophical outlook life – and we make yet another fatal, death dealing error of confusing increased sophistication in the things we make, ‘better machines’ with our progress as humans, whilst all the while leading us deeper into Death . . .

Yet it is SO easy to go with the flow – the modern technologies, and so much of what makes this world of artifice is SO seductive – we feast our eyes on it, and we wish we were as ‘clever’ as bright and shiny, as dependable as . . . insert your preferred adjective . . just Like . . . and we so love to sleep . . . to die

So as the elders of Israel gather in a mockery of obedience, ‘to consult the LORD’ – they too have a hidden desire – which as Jesus reveals the thoughts of the hearts of those around him lie exposed before the LORD

And shall I be consulted by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be consulted by you. What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’ Let us go back to Egypt, let us go back to the certainties of the things we make, let us write our own story, let us go back to sleep, let us return to the sleep of death . . .

Yet mark this – Thus saith the LORD – what is in your mind shall never happen . . . I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your ancestors. There you shall remember your ways and all the deeds by which you have polluted yourselves; and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways or corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, says the Lord God.

God will not have us make idols – He wills not that we become like the things that we make – that we make things which we then give our lives over to , that we worship the created rather than the Creator – because that way is the way of death –

Rather God wills that we become like Him, and Live. This is why the Christian Life is about being born again into a New Life – which is the Life of God –

This is the witness of all of scripture and this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . The Crucified One – when God Reveals himself amongst His people – ‘all we have is this manna to look at . . . – he does so in the Crucified One – that which appears to our blind eyes as death, is the Door of Life – the hard work of Christian Existence in the world is as St Paul puts it – that we ‘become like him in his death that we might attain LIFE. . .

yet like sleep, it is easier to die than to live.

Jesus himself lays this choice before us – ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

My little children – keep yourself from idols, for in truth, those who make them shall be like them . . . but GOD wills it otherwise and whether we choose death or Life His name will be glorified in all the Earth. If after we are done with the Creation, only the stones are left to declare the praises of God, they Will cry out in praise of their creator – even the stones know their maker . . . Let us press on to Know him for to Know Him is Life [John 17:3]

Amen

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday July 16th, 2017 – -through many persecutions . . .

Sermon for Evensong
Sunday July 16 2017

On Old things in the Modern World – Losing our way
Acts 14

‘Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’

These words of Luke in describing the life of those early disciples sound strange to our ears – a world away from our own life and experience, indeed as we may have been taught about Christian faith – no one ever said to US that ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the Kingdom of God’ Yet, did not Jesus say ‘Make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate, for hard and narrow is the way to life and few they are that find it’ Does this resonate with the faith in which we were brought up?

Well let’s try an get a bit of perspective. Preachers of course preach from 6ft above contradiction 🙂 But what about the perspective from 40000 feet? (It sounds better in feet 🙂 )

Not given as I was to much intercontinental air travel, this perspective first came to me in 2010 – when the parish flew their prospective vicar, by Emirates of course, over to NZ – Over India. As I crossed that vast sub continent, I remember watching the great clouds rising up from the baking plains below – and it struck me for the first time of the great disconnection between my experience of life and that of those ‘who toiled below’ (to pick up on the words of a well known and not entirely inappropriate hymn, for who toils below??)
As I pondered it came to me that the annual income of one who lived below me would barely pay for my ticket. Our lives were disconnected by much more than 40000 feet. My life was insulated (after all it is more than 50 degrees below zero at that altitude and the plane is flying at 1000 km an hour, fast enough truly to take my breath away were I to experience it.) Instead I sat in ‘cattle class’; ‘another bottle of wine sir? I don’t mind if I do . . .’ the warmth, the air-conditioned comfort made for a lofty perch from which to ponder existence . . . to quote someone else ‘I continue[d my] midair philosophizing on our two-level world, where the global elite fly comfortably while children of the dust fight famine and fall asleep to the sound of gunfire.’

Sayers, Mark. Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval (p. 8). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We used to call those who flew thus ‘the jet set’, lives unimaginably separated from ours, but how many of us know it now, are We not The Global Elite? Yes we may ‘look upwards the Trumps and the Gates’ etc, yet perhaps the comfort of our lives is closer to theirs, much closer than those 40000 feet below? This separation is I think an apt metaphor for Modern Life. We sit in unimaginable comfort – with a choice of wine and food, and experience the world out there, via a screen. We know at one level that in so many ways the world is a shocking place, but we do not experience it as such . . . and if we find it hard to relate to such a tragic world in our own experience, is it not reasonable to ask, ‘has our insulated experience shielded us from the very reality of God who is known in the very thick of existence and in its darkest places’, and has is suggested to us a more amenable faith than that of hard and narrow ways, or coming to the Kingdom of God ‘through many persecutions’? Surely – coming to the Kingdom of God is no more than seeing things differently . . . as if what was really at stake was no more than a set of ideas?? Insofar as we think ‘the jet set have little to teach us about real life’ perhaps also we ought to be wary of any writers and guides who enjoy such existence, myself included . . .
For as there is such a gulf between our lives and those 40000 feet below, but there is another ‘gulf fix-ed’ to use Luke’s words, between our culture and those of the past . . . and it is with regard to our understanding of ‘The Past’ I’d like to focus my comments, and especially with regard to books 🙂

Of course I always travel with books. My Son in law, rightly and gently mocked me for my ‘small library’ when I told him that ‘because it was mainly an opportunity for visiting people as opposed to study! I’d only brought ten books with me’ 🙂
But what we read, if we read, is not unimportant and that was brought home to me when I visited a friend who had had his curiosity piqued by a Modern writer on the spiritual life. He asked me what i thought of this individual and I said that I hadn’t read them closely, so he sent me away with a book for my comments – and opening it, I was reminded of CS Lewis’ rule – ‘always read ten old books for every new one you read.’ Well I had my ten books, but how many were old?
Of course its always easy to read new books, written in our culture in our time – and of course someone is always saying – ‘you really should read this or that or the other . . . one is reminded of the words of Jesus when he says ‘If they say to you Look He is Here, or Look He is there! do not believe them . . . ‘ Certainly this writer is considered something of a modern guru in ‘spiritual’ circles. So it is easy to read new books, but whatever happened to the test of time. Why should I bet remotely interested in a book written only last year??
Just as not so long ago you couldn’t go to church without singing Shine Jesus Shine, I can’t imagine it will find its way into tomorrows equivalent of Hymns Ancient and Modern, we are obsessed with things that pass away and do not last. Our obsession with the new, the up to date etc etc as if these things were automatically Better is troubling, as Lewis amongst others points out. And another voice to whom I will return shortly who warns sternly

‘If for the love of that which does not endure,
A man gives up that love which is eternal,
He well deserves to suffer without end’ Paradiso Canto XV 10-12

But Lewis had something more in mind than just the test of time,, for Lewis Diagnosed a fracture in History, readily discernible in our culture A vast shift in which to borrow LP Hartley’s phrase ‘the past [became] a foreign country’ Or to use my metaphor, we discovered the delights of the broad and easy way of mass intercontinental travel by jet.
As perhaps two of my daughters might ask – if you suddenly find yourself a long way away, who has moved?

For as Lewis pointed out in ‘the past’ people if puzzled by various aspects of one another writings understood each other. As he said Dante knew Virgil (1300 years before) – and I’ll return to Dante in a moment. But there is a great dislocation – and Lewis locates this at the turn of the C19. Although philosophically the roots of Modern life can be traced back several hundred years earlier – Lewis locates his change there in terms of shared understanding of the world at least in the West. And speaks of the coming of the age of the machine . . . it is perhaps no surprise therefore that the person who best expressed this change is perhaps Henry Ford, the man who turned men into machines in order that men might be ruled by machines. ‘History is bunk’. We may pay lip service to The Past and ‘learning from the past, but our lessons tend to be those which reinforce our idea of the superiority of the present – as Lewis puts it, we add a negative value to words which formerly were positive, for example ‘Primitive’ – which once meant merely Radical, of the Root, the fundamental – now of course its meaning has become negative – ‘we have moved on’ (and how glibly we say this)

Now what it seems to me happens in this regard is the beginning of the decline of History as the tool which teaches us who we are, to one which ‘scientifically’ teaches us who we were and thus, vaingloriously, who we are becoming – so ‘civilization [is] converg[ing] upon a new evolutionary leap?’ according to the writer my friend was anxious to commend to me

Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Kindle Location 172). Shambhala. Kindle Edition. . . .

It is as if there is a discontinuation in the story of the human. If human existence can be considered as a tree, then the Modern age saw the arrival of the conceit that leaves could live without a trunk. and of course that great machine the modern airliner reinforces our sense of separation.
‘Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’

In these Modern days, the Scriptures seem to us the stories of ‘a foreign country’ another planet even. Just this week I was at a preaching seminar where the leader asked ‘how can we relate to these words from two thousand years ago?’ as if he thought that the human was a different species then as if indeed we had evolved. Yet the question ‘what planet are you on?’ is a good one I think – in a month when 12% of the Larsen C iceshelf has collapsed, Scientists who are careful with their words tell us we are in the middle of biological annihilation of other species, we learn that if we eat fish we will incur lifetime ingest 11000 pieces of plastic in a world which makes one million plastic bottles a minute, and rumbling along, climate scientists are finally saying that a 6C temperature change is ‘within the reasonable margin for error’ . . . If we believe as modern people that we are on the cusp of a great evolutionary leap forward – all I can say is that evolution requires numberless dead ends for one advance and that humankind is looking as if it falls in the statistically highly probable category at present – Somewhere along the road we have lost the plot . . . but lets pick up with an old writer for a moment, one who doesn’t say ‘well how can I relate to Scriptures which are 1300 years old . . . Someone who realises he has lost the plot and become disconnected from reality from whom I quoted earlier

Half way along the journey we [all] have to go,
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way

This is the opening of an Old book – the basic message of which would have been as clear to those first disciples as it was to the author, both living on the far side of the great Chasm which separates us from most of History. It is known by some as the opening of the world’s greatest poem – the Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri.
Dante lived between the C13 and C14. The first part of his life was in some regards a life from 40000 feet. He was born into a noble family and rose to high estate in his native Florence, but there, he took decisions bold and difficult decisions – including exiling one of his own good friends, which made him the enemy of the Pope and led to his being sent into exile, stripped of all he possessed and the citizens of Florence being given the right to execute him on sight. So, halfway through his Life – the journey we all have to go – he finds himself lost.

And yet, and yet . . . it is from This perspective the he finds discovers himself found. In the midst of an incredibly difficult life, he finds Life, or rather Life finds him. It is in this context that Dante is shown all that it is that has separated him from God as his guide, the poet Virgil (from 1300 years earlier) takes him on a tour, first of the Inferno – or Hell, although like the outside of the airliner it is so cold that Satan who lies at the very centre is frozen in ice up to his waist.
Dante is then led up in the second part of the poem climbing the slopes of Mount purgatory, as he begins to take responsibility for his plight and undergoes the difficult healing necessary for those who would know the Divine Light of the the Kingdom of God, finally to ascend to Paradise then and only then where he need no longer the guidance of Virgil.

At the outset of the poem, discerning the Light of Paradise her tries over and again to climb to it, but his wise guide knows better, The Way Up is the Way Down – it is only through entering the turbulence and difficulty, the ambiguity and mystery, the many many things that seem to make no sense to us, that we come to realise. And here and there from time to time, others make the same discovery.

The insulation which life at 40000 feet offers, is only at great cost – it requires great energy to maintain this, like the energy needed for air conditioning – and as the literal burning of that energy comes to an end, so too here and there by God’s grace we run out of energy, we fall to earth. Dantë, like others here and there even today discovers life amongst the ruins of his self created existence. He had had it all, and he lost it, and in losing it, found it. Jesus warns us about a life we make for ourselves, the 40000 foot life, that ‘it profiteth a man nothing that he gain the whole world . . .’ for as surely as the false gains accrue, so the loss becomes eternal . . . Oscar Wilde in a fairly old book, if not old by Lewis’ standards spoke about Dorian Grey, a metaphor I think for life at 40000 feet, where all in lovely whilst the picture in the attic decays. Our Modern disconnected life requires so much energy it is costing the literal lives of so many many others – spiritual writers who glibly assert ‘civilization converges upon a new evolutionary leap’ – miss this entirely – the state of Creation is the ruined picture in our collective attic, but here and there people fall off the plane – the plane goes down – lives seemingly fall apart, and then and there in the ruins we discover the True Life

 

Jesus calls us to follow him, into the centre of existence – the Cross, the place of apparent ruin which has become for us Wisdom from God – where all thing are reconciled to God – it is a call into Life in its fullest expression and that cannot but for now encompass darkness as well as light. Put another way, suffering is part of what it is to be fully human. Whilst we cannot go seek it – some in the early church had to be dissuaded from seeking martyrdom – we do need to wake up to how our contemporary culture has disconnected us from our essential human experience, and in humility acknowledge the profound lostness of the Modern condition.
Yet it is not a journey which we are called to undertake alone – it is one in companionship with one another and our Lord as we encourage and strengthen one another. Before we can begin the journey home, the plane must land – we all need to come down to earth – and follow Christ Jesus who shows us in Truth that Life is found on the ground.

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter – ‘I Am The Gate’ – 2017 Year a

Sermon for Easter 4

Acts 2:42-47
John 10:1-10

“I am the gate”

 

[Audio and written content significantly differ]

 

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Well today, the Fourth Sunday of this season of The Resurrection is as you may know often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and our gospel reading certainly seems to point us in that direction at least so why begin with these verses?? Well it is all to do with context. If I say ‘Good Shepherd’ we may perhaps have an unhelpful image in our minds, for the words of Jesus in today’s gospel leading towards himself declaring that He is the good shepherd follow on immediately from the healing of the man born blind, and find Jesus in the midst of a dispute with the Pharisees, a dispute which leads in due course to some of them suggesting that Jesus is possessed by a demon. As always, context counts for a great deal – and the context helps us to discern a little more clearly what is going on here – what it means for Jesus to be The Good Shepherd, but also the ‘I AM’ saying in our gospel – perhaps the most obscure of these sayings for us – ‘I Am The Gate’?

Jesus seven times uses ‘I AM’ sayings in John – or 8 if we include his crying out ‘before Abraham was, I Am’
Each of them we have some sense of  – each embodies something Life giving
I am the Bread of Life – The Eucharist of course
I am the True Vine – an allusion to being the True Israel
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
I am the Resurrection and the life
I am the Light of the World
I am the Good Shepherd

but ‘I am the Gate’? The focus of this passage seems not so much to be the Shepherd as the Gate. When Jesus is justifying his claim to be The Good Shepherd, he says, ‘The one who enters by the Gate is the Shepherd of the Sheep’ – but to call himself ‘The Gate’ – In what sense is that an image of Life, indeed Life in all its fulness?? Why would Jesus use this Sacred phrase, I AM . . . The Gate??

Well if we study the scriptures, we discover that the ‘Gate’ is not so much an inanimate object as a Place, a Place of Great Significance. And of course when we think of Jesus, we might also think of him also in terms of Place – He is the Temple. ‘Destroy this Temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.’ ‘he was speaking to them of the Temple of his body’ Jesus occupies space, He is a place, The place of encounter with the Living God  or Life in all its fullness.

Well I think that two different illustrations of the significance of the Gate as a place will begin to open this up for us,  and how it applies to us as Christians, how we encounter Jesus as ‘The Gate’

So first a line from Samuel –
‘Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.’ (19:8)

There is our Behold word, again, Behold the King, David, the Shepherd King, sitting in ‘the gate’. – and often as here it represents the Gate of the City. This was a most significant place in the Life of the people of God. For it was here that the King along with the nobles would sit and hear cases. It is a symbol of the place of judging disputes – a place of discerning – the King as the Judge – a place of discerning in a sense, who sill enter and who will not enter. The King seated in the Gate was a powerful symbol of the security of the city – as the psalmist says ‘I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there the thrones for judgement were set up, the thrones of the house of David. ‘

In the brief text from Samuel, it is precisely the Security of the people of God which is at stake. Absalom, David’s son, has usurped the throne precisely by taking David’s place at the gate and suggesting people come for him to hear their disputes. A dark story follows of the flight of David and the treachery of Joab – and Absalom is slain, and David goes into a deep mourning for his son, and disappears from the sight of the people. He has to be persuaded by Joab to  show himself for otherwise all the soldiers of the army will desert him. It is a deeply ambiguous and anxiety ridden reading, and of course the resonances with the story of Jesus where his brothers are constantly it seems telling him to ‘show’ himself before the people, and indeed ‘an army’ so to speak who deserts him . . . but Beholding The King sat in the Gate is a sign of the Stability – indeed the deep peace and prosperity of Jerusalem . . . of things being as they should be

And that symbol of the Gate as the entrance to the place of prosperity and peace finds another echo, again with strong resonances for us who seek Jesus in the familiar story of Jacob, fleeing from his brother Esau

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

The Good Shepherd, The Gate – we don’t think ‘what though is the sheepfold?’ This place of security, and abundant life – is it not the place of the presence of God? Jacob realising himself to be ‘in the house of God, the gate of heaven’ I Am the Gate

Nathanael asked [Jesus], ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

He is the Gate to the place of God’s Peace – the doorway to Heaven – the earthly Jerusalem called to be the city of peace, but not knowing what makes for its peace – Jesus, comes for judgement into the world and Is the Gate – the place – the place of Entrance into the very life of God – He is the Temple – and he is the Temple Gate – perhaps the allusion is stronger here than to the City of Jerusalem – In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . no one comes to the Father except they come through me.’ The man born blind has been thrown out, but her hears the voice of the Good Shepherd ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. ‘The sheep follow him because they know his voice’ . . . but the pharisees did not understand what he was saying to them, he did not hear them

Jesus the Good Shepherd, The King (Messiah), The Way into the presence of the fullness of Life in God . . .

And us? Isn’t this after all just my ‘talking about Jesus’? Something which I have suggested we should’t do – how do we find ourselves within the Gate?

We turn briefly to our reading from Acts – a scene set within the sheepfold . . .  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

People – responding to the Good News of Jesus, responding by entering into his Life through Baptism, and finding Life in all its fullness. The fullness of Shalom, God’s Peace, Salvation as Life is shared amongst them – having all things in common, eating together . . . and all the while the Good Shepherd calling others into the fold.

We the Church, the household of God, the flock of the Good Shepherd, come into the church by baptism, we walk in via the font – we come into the fellowship of Salvation and Life – in and through The Gate. We are baptised into his death, and thus into his life. ‘Whoever enters by me, will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . Jesus is the Gate, the Gate of Heaven, The Gate into the very presence of the Living God in whose presence there is life forevermore.

Amen

Acts 2 – City of peace – shalom, wholeness, the Church – Baptism

Psalm – lift high the gates

King of Glory king of Peace

Sermon for Secind Sunday after Easter – ‘Meals beyond words . . .’ Year A 2017

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24:13-35

 

‘Meals beyond words . . .’

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had guests for lunch who commented how unusual it was to sit down as family and share food together. In a world where there is much that is disturbing, perhaps there are few things as troubling as this apparently innocuous observation. For Eating Together is fundamental to our entire existence. Without Food, AND the presence of other human beings, we have no Life. Yet we have lost sight of both.
All too often nowadays we eat as if we were machines needing refuelling, as if in a pitstop – Alone. There is no sense of this being Life to us – indeed the language of refuelling is common attributed to what we used to call eating – indicating how we no longer understand it, or indeed ourselves as much more than biological machines, or dead things. There are very few things as deeply significant as a shared meal, or as troubling as their absence.

When someone comes to tell me they have a problem with someone else, sometimes I am led to ask ‘Have you sat down together to eat?’ The answer is rarely if ever ‘yes’. If our guest was correct then indeed it is true that families increasingly rarely sit to eat together. Of course, the width of your definition of family is indicated by the size of your table – to eat together is to be whanau, it is a Truth that the more we sit down together to eat, the greater is our Life – it is to acknowledge something which goes deeper than words – something powerful and intimate. If you wish as all children of God do, to make your enemies your friends, invite them to dinner – share Life with them, as Christ shares his very life with you.

That deep note of Intimacy is one of the things which comes to me through the text of this beautiful Easter story – it is the account of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus in Luke and in my mind is readily associated with Candle light, something which adds depth and atmosphere to any meal – candlelight  ‘for the day is far spent and the night is at hand’. Traditionally it was always the reading at Evening prayer on Easter Day – and it ‘Presence’ [sic] to us a profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus, not in the full light of day, but in the restrained light of evening in which shadows lend depth and a sense that mere sight is only part of the story.

It is a familiar tale – two of the disciples walking away from Jerusalem – a sense of tragic anticlimax – their eyes downcast as they talk between themselves of all that had happened, and then in their talking about Him, as Luke puts it ‘Jesus . . . came near and went with them’ a sense of appearing within their conversation, and their eyes were kept from Knowing him, for their minds are on their words, and they do not Know Him . . . ‘The Stranger’ gently interrogates them ‘What are you talking about as you’re walking along? Why so sad?’

Of course, to pick up on something we explored last week, they are ‘talking about’ Jesus. As I said we need to get away from all our talking about and learning about Jesus, as if we stood apart – as the disciples are stood, not recognising him . . .

So they recount the tale – assuming ‘The Stranger’ is an Outsider to it all – except of course at this point it is they who are the strangers to the Presence of Jesus . . . Their darkness of mind not yet illuminated by coming into the House

And they speak of their disillusionment – of how they ‘had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ . . . It is odd how we think of disillusionment as a negative thing, how we see it in a poor light – for surely as someone once said to me, ‘you can only become disillusioned if you are suffering from an illusion’
They have become disillusioned, but cannot See the Gift of it . . . and then to add to it all, the rumours of resurrection coming from the women of the group with their ‘vision of angels’ only sound like ‘an idle tale’ – indeed some of their number had checked the story out, ‘but they did not see him’ Funny, eh? Here they are standing in the presence Jesus, talking about Him, not seeing Him, recounting how earlier others reported that they ‘had not seen him’

‘How foolish you are . . .’ the word has resonances with an inability to See, to Know in depth, reinforced with another metaphor of Sight – ‘how slow of heart to believe . . .’ the Heart being the true organ of Seeing and perception, or ‘Beholding’ . . . ‘all that the prophets have declared!’

‘Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’

Now, if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said in my hearing, or indeed will in all likelihood say today ‘wouldn’t it have been great to be at that bible study!!’ I would indeed be a plutocrat 🙂 But note this – at the end of being led through the Scriptures, by Jesus himself. . . they still don’t see!! You see, The Scriptures in and of themselves are not enough . . . The Kingdom of God is not an endless Bible Study . . . the Scriptures have their place, within the whole, and as made known to us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is Jesus we are looking for, Jesus himself – His Very Life . . . He is the Pearl of Great Price, He is the treasure hidden in the field . . . as St Paul puts it writing to the Colossians ‘For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is [?], Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Well, it was a long Bible study , ‘the things about him in all the scriptures’ – and they find they have arrived, but noting the time, in an act of typical hospitality – when Jesus makes to walk on, they invite him to spend the night with them . . . and here in the gathering dark the great reversal is Revealed. Last week we spoke of The Risen Jesus as the Visitor, around whom we accommodate our lives – but now, as they sit to eat, the Guest becomes The Host [no pun intended 🙂 ], the ‘Stranger’ becomes the Very centre of their lives

He is the one who ‘took bread, blessed and broke it . . . THEN their eyes were opened and they Knew him: and he vanished from their sight’ It is Then that they recognise what was going on on the road ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking-to us on the road’ The Eye of their hearts are enlightened in this encounter at the table.
‘Remembering Him’ in the Breaking of the bread gives life and light, illuminating the opening of the Scriptures. We might well say that here is the paradigm for Christian Worship as we Open the Scriptures and Break the Bread, the opening of the Scriptures warms our hearts, developing our appetite for the Living Word, who is the Living Bread

At the Centre of our Eyes being opened to the reality of Jesus in our midst, the awakening from the illusion of the dream of life without Him, an awakening which finds us hungry to break the fast, is the breaking of the bread. He feeds us in Word and in Sacrament, and this Feeding implies a deep intimacy, He nourishes us with his very Self.
As I pondered this earlier in the week, my mind was drawn to the deep roots in all of us of that first experience we have of feeding, at our mother’s breast. As we awaken, hungry, a Life beyond words, there two things happen, we are nourished, but also we learn that Eye contact, that Seeing that is before words and goes beyond words. They Saw Him and they Knew Him . . . (‘recognised’ does not do it justice)

Jesus is The Bread of Life, he gives it for our Salvation – for our Life – for our deep integration as human beings. In so doing, in this giving of the Holy Spirit as heaven and Earth are woven together in the Sacrament, so all Life takes on a Sacramental aspect. This is the deepest root of the mystery of a shared meal – for in Him all things in heaven and earth are woven together. This Meal, feeding on Jesus gives depth to all our meals shared together. Jesus makes us his friends by feeding us. It is this action, of sharing bread which is the most human thing we ever do, the first thing we do as our eyes are opening, and coming back to it over and over through our lives – the Gift of the Table which draws us all deeper into life.

Many people I know are deeply concerned about the future of the Church and the World, but Jesus came and was unseen by his disciples then, so Now he is present, offering us Bread for the Life of the World, and enjoining us similarly to make friends by sharing bread together. In sharing Bread we build up our common life in Jesus Christ.

he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread . . . it is all we need. We have everything we need to make him known amongst us and in the world. Go and do likewise

Amen

Easter 2 – Learning Jesus

Sermon for Easter 2 -Year A 2017
Sunday April 23rd

Acts 2:22-32
John 20:19-23

‘Learning Jesus’

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’ John 15

One of the great joys for my family living here in Dunedin is the number of guests we entertain. It’s odd how many people will pass your door if you only live a few miles away, but travel to the far side of the world and suddenly everybody wants to come and stay 🙂

Of course having guests means disruption to our lives. We need to look at diaries and try as far as is possible to clear them, I may need to take time off from work, we plan meals with our visitors in mind and arrange tours and local trips. We reorient our days around what they would like to do. Of course, we can manage this . . . for a while . . . we don’t expect them to stay around for ever . . .

The Risen Jesus is The Great guest, the Great Visitor, but HE has come to stay – as he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel – Behold! (there’s that word again) ‘Behold! I am with you always even unto the very end of the age . . .’ He has come to stay, ‘at our house’, as he says to Zacchaeus – not alongside us, or above us, but within us

You see, Jesus does not merely give his life for us upon the Cross, no. As if something is going on ‘over there’ – between Jesus and His Father – No, this is Personal – He gives his Life that he might give His Life TO us. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit’ John 12:24.

So, when The Risen One greets the disciples He breathes on them and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ The breath of His Eternal Life, he breathes on and Into his disciples – that His Life might become Theirs.

Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’ – I remember many years ago, a particularly devout parishioner who did not like the modern words of the Lord’s Prayer. for as he put it, ‘We can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’ Well I never quite got to the bottom of the difference, whether we were just meant to forgive people who wandered across our garden without asking . . . but in a sense he put his finger on it. ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’

Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man – full himself of the Divine Life, Dies and is raised for His Life is eternal. And he then shares that very Life with his disciples. That which belongs to God we come to participate in, to Share in – That which God is doing in Jesus – ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them . . .’ He does Through us – I’ll return to the second clause a little later on.

Receive My Life says Jesus to his disciples, and I think that the metaphor of the Person who comes to stay is an apt one. Jesus The Guest who comes seeking a Home – your Body is a Temple of The Holy Spirit as St Paul reminds us –  let us ponder that for a moment – the guest who seeks to stay, as it were to ‘put up shop in our Living Room’ – these bodies  . . . I am coming in, to you. Put in those terms we begin to feel more of the power of it all and indeed the challenge. What of all that having a guest in our house entails – that guest who doesn’t desire to be leaving? How long before you sense that they are outstaying their welcome

If you were reading Father Stephen Freeman’s book during Lent you might remember the story of a Protestant friend of his who had had can experience of Christ which wasn’t wearing off, and it was too much for her. ‘I just can’t take it anymore, Jesus seems to be everywhere! I can’t get any work done!’ So, she finally told him, ‘Jesus please leave my kitchen and get back on your throne!” Well Fr Stephen doesn’t say, but one assumes that Jesus acceded to the request – The Holy Spirit is after all gentle as a dove and doesn’t compel us . . .’ I must admit, although I first read that with a chuckle, later I read it with a bit of a shiver . . . Really?? “Jesus please just get out of my house??”

You see if the guest shows no sign of leaving, then we are then confronted with a dilemma. What do we do? Do we ask them to leave?? . . . or do we carry on as if they are not there – hoping they might get the message?? . . . or do we allow our lives to be more and more changed so that they become the very centre of our existence, not just for a season but for Good – And in my text I capitalised that  – for GOOD. For if Jesus is staying he is staying for Good. Although I find some of the sentiment of ‘There is a Green Hill far away’ difficult, there is a deep truth in the line  He died to make us Good – He, The Good One, comes to dwell in us, so that our life becomes His— if we truly desire ‘the good’, not as an abstract idea, but as a lived reality then we will desire he stays and we are changed

We don’t have the screen today, so you can’t see the theme – “Learning Jesus”. In a sense its good you can’t see it as you’d perhaps be distracted – thinking ‘what does it mean “Learning Jesus”? is it about ‘Jesus the learner??’ No, not that – ‘Oh, more likely then it is a typo, Shouldn’t it be ‘learning about Jesus’?? After all isn’t that what coming to Church and Children’s Church is all about, isn’t it??’ Well no it isn’t – if we merely ‘learn about Jesus’  – indeed we perhaps need to get rid of the phrase all together for we are in danger of missing the point entirely, and so missing the Life. Jesus isn’t ‘over there’ as we ‘standing here’ give some thought to him – no!
Jesus doesn’t die to just to give his life For us, he dies that he might share his Life with us, that he might give his life to us . . . to be the guest . . . to Live in Us – to Change us

The Christian Life is not a matter of getting our thinking straightened out – to paraphrase James the brother of Jesus, it’s not a matter of right thinking, The Devil himself has got perfectly good doctrine! HE knows all about Jesus . . . he knows everything . . . No it isn’t a matter of right thinking, it is a matter of changing our lives around the Life of Jesus given to us in the Holy Spirit and weekly renewed by Grace in Word and Sacrament, as he comes to us afresh – as we pray at the end of the Eucharist – Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit! . . .

We do not learn about Jesus. No, as he comes to stay, as we day by day and week by week renew our desire to have him dwell in us, we learn Him, we learn His life in us, we learn to discern what is HIs Life in us, we learn to respond to his movements within us, to his promptings. We feel the tension when our life does not align with His – we feel it. Like Good hosts we are always looking out for our guest – what does he desire, now in this moment. We learn to be paying attention to Him at all times and in all places, and at times we notice how we have been not paying attention . . . We Learn Him and in so doing, our Lives bear witness to His Life.

As Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost to announce the Gospel to the crowds he says  – ‘This Jesus, God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.’ How are they witnesses? Because the Holy Spirit has filled them. They are full of the Holy Spirit – Their lives Naturally bear witness to Jesus – they don’t have to think about how to  – the Holy Spirit gives them words, and the Community of the Church bears it out. And so it should be for us – but we must allow Him to have that space, we must note when we are in danger of growing weary of our guest, for changing our lives is not an easy work, and his work in and amongst us is not yet complete – our lives do not as yet bear full and eloquent witness to Him – we are still learning Jesus.

It may be we once were learning him, once taking the time and the trouble, we may once have been so engaged an then it became too much, or we got distracted by many things, inattentive to our Guest – but Christ is Risen – His Spirit is present! Ask and you shall receive once more!
It may be you have never started out on the journey of ‘Learning Jesus’ paying attention to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to direct your life – even though you are baptised although you learned all about him, you’d never been taught to ‘Learn Jesus’ . . . but Christ is Risen! – His Spirit is present! ask and you shall receive.

It may be you are in the midst of the battle of learning Jesus and it is a battle, the temptation to ask him to leave you to your own devices is great, Yet – ‘do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Continue to say yes to his gentle work of transformation.’ Persist in forgiving Sins, over and over and over until your Soul is conformed to the Life of God within you. This I think is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven – not that there is a limit, but because it needs to become your first nature, you need to get over the idea that this is about you – that it is about The Life of Jesus In You –  bearing witness to the God who forgives.

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’. We need to get away from the idea that being a disciple of Jesus is anything to do with getting our ideas right – rather it is about allowing our lives to be changed – to be re oriented – shaped by the guest who has come to stay.
Allowing ourselves to be changed by desiring that change and co-operating with the Life of Jesus In us. The early Christians were mocked because they preach d aNEw Life in Christ – and as everyone knew and still knows change of Life is about The Hardest thing – a leopard doesn’t change its spots – you cant tech and old dog new tricks . . . Bt God Can change lives – Receive the Holy Spirit – Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven them – whosoever sins you retain are retained. Do you know what that means – have you so learned to forgive sins, that the Life of Jesus in you is doing it – perhaps then we might know what it is to retain them – only when we have sufficiently learned Jesus and His Life in you to forgive and to forgive might we dare to say we might possibly be able to know in fear and trembling, but only in step with the Spirit – to retain sins. Only when we forget it is about us – and come to know that it is all about Him. The Risen One, standing in our midst

Amen