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

The Gracious Invitation – John 6 part 4 – Sermon for Trinity +12 – Year B 2018

Sermon for 12 after Trinity – Year B 2018
Proverbs 9:1-6
John 6:51-58

Gracious hospitality
Where do we live?

Earlier this week we had a curious and telling juxtaposition of readings at Morning Prayer. On the one hand there was a reading from 2 Samuel where David has it in mind to build a house for God, yet through a dream the LORD speaks to Nathan the prophet, telling him, briefly, not to be so presumptuous . . . Against this we read in Acts of the martyrdom of Stephen, and his speech which led to him being stoned to death. In which he recounts this very desire to build a house for God as the culmination of his indictment of God’s people.

He concludes with words inaccessible to David – those of the prophet Isaiah – “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”

Did not my hand make all these things??

The image that comes to mind is that of a very small child receiving a lego set, and building a house for their parents to live in – but even a toddler would at some level understand that it was insufficient. David’s problem, and to a similar extent ours is – we have lost sight of where we live . . . It is not that God is too vast to live in any house we might build him, it is We who live in his house . . . we are as it were stranger, pilgrims, passing guests . . . yet you would not know. We treat it as if it is ours

If we understood that ‘The Earth is the LORD’s and all they that dwell therein’, would we have brought the house of the LORD, his creation, to the point of destruction. God provides a house for us, and we have trashed it. As we consider the growing climate chaos, with fear and trepidation, one note absent even from Christian discourse is the fear of the LORD – any deep sense that this is God’s house. The skies are my throne, the earth my footstool? What kind of house will You build for Me?? We are perhaps the AirBnB guests from the other place . . .

This failure to see where we are – to live out our lives in the light of this is our failure to Know God – manifested in our failure to Know who Jesus us – to recognise Him. As Isaiah goes on “But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.” To the one who hears and sees me – whose vision is filled with me. This is the heart of the message of repentance – ReOrient your gaze – look to God, for your life is a breath, it is all a gracious gift, and you dwell in his house

And all this comes to a focus in Jesus, and our seeing, or not seeing who he is.

As we have explored a little over the past few weeks, all of scripture is pointing in this direction and towards the person of Jesus. As John reminds us, Jesus invites us to see where He lives – the disciples follow him and ask, were are you staying, and he says, ‘Come and See’ – his first public act is precisely to do with where we live. Destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it . . . they did not understand that he was talking of the Temple of his body . . . the skies are my throne, the earth is my footstool. Life itself flows from Him.

“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.”

He Is Life! He is the Centre of all things, in Him all things hold together.

So the Words of Scripture like those bicycle wheel spokes point us towards Christ Jesus. We gather hear to hear words which direct the gaze of our hearts, that we might See Him and Love Him. Then we feed on Him in bread and wine.

As the old dialect of my home county has it – in the beginning, there were nobbut God. Nothing.

But then God, out of Love, called into existence that which was not God. The Creation. A place where he would walk in the cool of the day, and share it with all that he had made. The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever moves in the paths of the deep.

And then, in Love he bound Himself to this Creation. In Christ Jesus, through the obedience of Mary, God as it were wove himself into this Creation in Love. In Jesus the human and God share in Life together, and all who believe in Him, all who See Jesus for who he is are invited to share in the Life of God, a life manifested by the banquet Wisdom has spread.

When we come together to worship as those baptised into the Life of Jesus, God feeds us with His Life, the Life of his Son in bread and wine, and we come to live truly in His house.

So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me – God has built a house – the body of HIs Son, the Church, the body which fills all things, which rooted in the Earth yet touches heaven. the home of all the baptised

Yet God condescends – not only does he invite us to live in him, as revealed through the pregnancy of Mary, in great humility he lives in us.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me – and I in them.

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

The Judeans then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ In bread and wine. This is my body, given for you – this is my blood shed for me – come eat and drink. In bread and wine, the divine life of Jesus is woven into the Creation. this is what we call Sacrament – it is a participation of the things of the Creation in the things of the Creator

When by Grace we are born into the World, a gracious invitation is given us, it is True Hospitality. Everything is laid on. The Banquet is ready – a table is laid for guests whom God desires to make his friends. As the old cultures knew, to accept and invitation to eat together was to accept an invitation into the life of someone else.

The word hospitality in Greek actually carries the sense of making friends of strangers. through our blindness we were strangers to God – God in Christ, heals our blindness and sets a table for us, and wet by week we take up the invitation, to sit and eat with Him. To share in the life of our Divine Host

The question as always remains, will we accept the hospitality of the living God and feed on his Life in Jesus – or will we opt for self catering?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Amen

Jesus our Sabbath – First after Trinity Year B 2018 – OT9 – P+2

First Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Ps 139:1-6
2 Cor 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Sabbath existence

So over the last couple of months we have been exploring The Lord’s Prayer each Sunday evening. And the way we have been doing this is exploring it as the Way Jesus gives us to Live before God in the God’s Creation.

This is to live with that consciousness which our Psalm invites us to – ‘Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you discern my thoughts from afar . . . even before the word comes to my consciousness you know it entirely, you hem me in behind and before . . . I am utterly known and surrounded by you . . .’ this God whom Isaiah saw in the Temple, high and lifted up. So we are taught to pray, and to pray continually – with our heart mind body and strength always and everywhere turned towards the Light and Life of God in Jesus Christ thorough the prayer he has both commanded and taught us to pray

And so it is perhaps no coincidence that we have circles back on occasion to The Sabbath – for what Is the Sabbath? The Jewish scholar and rabbi, Abraham Heschel says ‘[The Sabbath] is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world’

a day on which we are called to share in what is eternal in time . . . I’ll return to this shortly

When I was at Vicar school, I remember one Old Testament lecture in particular – it was the one on the Ten Commandments, in which we were asked to write them down, from memory. And of course this did cause a little consternation, not least because not all of us remembered al ten . . . but also because there are two different accounts of the Ten Words as they are perhaps better named, and in particular the fourth, the Sabbath commandment. There is a shift in emphasis between the Exodus command – which harks back to creation and God’s Rest on the Seventh Day – and that which Moses recites in Deuteronomy which we heard today, which is given in the light of Israel’s failure to live out the Sabbath – going out to gather manna when there was none. It has a harder edge, and the emphasis is not so much on rest, but on not working. It is as if The LORD is saying, well you seem determined not to share in my rest, so at the very least stop working – which means do not make anyone work. The command is given to those at the top of the pile so to speak. When those at the top of the pile don’t rest, neither does anyone else.

of course in this day and Age, Mammon is at the top of the pile. The international markets never sleep – As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day, Tokyo closes and Frankfurt opens and then the Dow – nor dies the sound of exchange away . . . no one must be prevented from making a profit and so it is those at the bottom who are made to work . . . Certainly if any age Needed a break from work, then it is ours – yet that is to misinterpret the Sabbath. It is not ‘a day off’ – a term which I find very difficult to understand from my own perspective – it seems Worng somehow. Except to say that would be to suggest that I am enslaved to my work – yet this is to miss the point. Rest and Work are not related in this way. Saying ‘you must have a day off’ has nothing to do with Sabbath and nothing I think to do with being a Christian – but our failure to understand this is a failure to understand Jesus

As I said, the Deuteronomy command is one that restrains Evil, but it does not direct us to share in the Rest of God. Certainly those who oppose Jesus over The Sabbath, have Deuteronomy, rather than Exodus in mind. In Deuteronomy the emphasis is ‘you were slaves, don’t enslave others!’ It is negative. In Exodus it is ‘you were slaves, you are no longer slaves – not least slaves to work! . . .enter my Rest . . .’

So in Deuteronomy – any sign of Work is stamped on – because Work is not allowed on the Sabbath, not because Rest is to be enjoyed. And so it is today – Sabbath has nothing to do with Work! We do not rest in order to work – for that would leave work a the highest good, but it is very clear that it is not, for it is only the Sabbath Day in all of Time which is Holy – and here at least the Deuteronomy command echoes Exodus. This Day is Holy – the Day of Rest is a day of participation in the Life of the Holy One. It is ‘a day on which we are called to share in what is eternal in time’.

Briefly we are reminded of something we pondered last week, that The Church is not rooted ‘in time’ – her Calling, her Life is not to be ‘endlessly chasing after the present, trying to ‘keep up to date’ – that is to be enslaved by time. Nor is it to be ‘stuck in the past’, that too is to be chained and bound by time. No, The Church is that Community which is rooted in the Eternal Life of The One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. It is a Community of The Eternal, in time and Space – we might say to use the words of one author a ‘Colony of Heaven’

Which brings us back to Jesus and the Sabbath . . . and how easy it is to misunderstand what is going on here. This is NOT a passage which pits Jesus against ‘the religious people’ – rather it is simply a Revealing of the Life of God, resisted by both the religious pharisees, but also the politically minded Herodians – resisted because it threatens the very nature of what they have come to call Time – it is the inbreaking of the Eternal into All Space and Time . . . The Pharisees enslaved by the law, do not See God, nor do the Herodians whom we might think stand for the modern forces of Total Work

In all four gospels, what occasions the plot to destroy Jesus? In every gospel it is Jesus’ treatment of the Temple, of which He startlingly claims Absolute Ownership – ‘destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it’ His Claiming Authority over all Space— And The Sabbath! Jesus claiming his Authority over All Time! All Authority – over All Space and All Time
Both themes are worked in these incidents

Jesus disciples are walking through those fields, white unto harvest! They are collecting and eating the grains. The Pharisees protest ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ – but listen again to Jesus’ reply ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ And we may think? That’s an odd answer to give. The question is about the Sabbath Day – Jesus’ answer? . . . Jesus is drawing their attention to The King – David – going into what stood then for the Temple ‘the house of God’ – and acting as The High Priest – ‘he ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’[This of course is the Hidden manna of Revelation 2] For us, this directs US to the Eucharist. King Jesus, the Great High Priest, gives us Himself, the Bread of the Presence of God . . . For us All of Space is The Temple – the Body of Christ – We are in Him! Eternal Space . . .

But also eternal Time. In the healing of the man with the withered hand – He directs our gaze to the Kingdom present in Him where there is no sickness or pain . . . Heavenly Time is breaking in – the Eternal Time is coming to us as The Son, The Great High Priest comes to us, ushering us into HIs Life, His Time and HIs space. Here and Now

This is made perfectly clear in Matthew where we have the same Sabbath conflict and the same outcome preceded by These familiar words ‘Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I will! Not eventually, not in heaven, as it was some infinitely prolonged ‘day off’ but Now, and Here!

I am the Temple – I am Sabbath. Here and Everywhere – Now and Always. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and I will find rest for your souls’
Learn My Sabbath Work – my Eternal Work – the Word which is rooted in The Work the Father is doing . . .

Well, we might ask – what of our Work? Well, that’s a good question!

If you read at all about Sabbath and Sabbath practices, you will pretty much without fail read either a Jewish account, or a Protestant one. Before the Reformation there seems to be no account of it, hardly at all. Of course it was the Protestants who gave us ‘the work ethic, and in some sense ushered in the age of what one writer calls ‘total work’. It is perhaps not surprise that we should find a resurgence of interest in Sabbath in such areas – a practise of rest geared to justify our work – but the Work of God requires no human justification

Work now, in The Church, amongst God’s people, in God’s TIME, in Godspace – in Christ Jesus, the King and High Priest, in whom and through whom and for whom all things were made, in whom all things hold together – this Work is The Rest Full Work of The King ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Small work, in the terms of the World, insignificant, hidden work, the soil, the compost, certainly not work that has any relationship with Money . . . the hidden Kingdom, The Work which is Rest, fed by the hidden Manna, a bread to eat which we are only coming to know – the bread of the Presence.

The Pharisees and The Herodians kill Jesus because His Kingdom is a Total takeover of everything. Jesus call to us is the same as it is to them – Repent – Orient yourself towards the The Eternal Life, The Eternal Time and Space which Jesus ushers in. Feed on Him – The Bread of the Presence – Live before God in every moment of your existence, train yourself in this, this food this presence . . . and one day you will wake up walking with him in perfect obedience and true Sabbath Freedom

‘There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest . . .’ Here, and Now

Amen