Waiting – Trees of Righteousness. Easter 7 (Ascension)

Sermon for Ascension Sunday (Easter 7) 2018
Psalm 1
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

‘Good things Come . . .’

“Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father”] Acts 4:4

Just this week I learned that those who control global investments of money use data downloaded from Spotify, the music streaming service to predict with uncanny precision what will happen in the money, markets. The question ‘are people going to buy things or not?’ can be answered with great accuracy, by looking at their choice of music.
When you add to this Facebook’s apparently true claim to know its users better than they know themselves, and thus their ability to control the behaviours of its users, and experiment they themselves carried out, it is worth asking the question which occupies philosophers in these days, ‘is there really anything such as free will?’ If human beings are so predictable using powerful computer algorithms, is it not the case that we are all just caught up in a machine in which we are highly manipulable and dependable cogs. It is frankly a terrifying thought, yet the Modern World is founded on such a set of assumptions, not least that the human is no more than a biological machine. And the problem with machines is that they are without Hope in any meaningful sense. What will be is what is encoded and laid down . . . where does our help come from? Where might anything New break in to change this story?

The Church is meant to be that place. God in Christ has broken into our world to reveal a Newness of which we would never have conceived. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Dead, betokens this Life of God breaking into our existence as something beyond our way of understanding, and today as we look back not only to Easter and the Ascension of Jesus into the heavens, but look forward to Pentecost is time for not only considering the Nature of this Life, as we have been doing, but also how this Life is so transmitted in the world that we might be set free from the machine life we seem inexorably to be drawn into.

What is it that might be a lifeline, bringing in Life from outside of the machine? Or is it purely a closed system? Of course it is hard to answer that if we only use the language of the machine, of closed systems and our way of speaking about the World is so Modern as to offer few clues, but perhaps our Psalm, written from the non-machine age might speak to us of how Life comes to us from outside the machine, Life which may yet preserve Life in the World and call forth a Newness to a ‘tired and weary world’ And again we are in the world of trees 🙂

Blessed is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
So the Psalm speaks of one who is Rooted in something – namely the Life of God – mediated through His Word, written and of course Lived in Christ Jesus

We might say as St Augustine suggests, their restless hearts have found their Rest in God
And they are Still, at Rest –

They are like trees
planted by streams of water,

Trees as we have been considering these past weeks are like ikons – they speak to us if we will hear, and in this case it is their fixedness which is drawn to attention – for unlike the wicked man, who is ‘like chaff that the wind drives away.’ – The Righteous man is ‘planted’ – fixed – rooted in streams of life giving water and thus

‘yields his fruit – – – in due season’

A tree, I suspect is not anxious about the future. It knows that planted by good streams, its fruit will come. It is Content – we might say, it is ‘at rest’. It is most unmachine like, not least because it doesn’t appear to be doing anything, rather it is Still. Perhaps this is why the Machine world is so at war with ‘the living world’?

It is that stillness, that restedness, that rootedness which makes all the difference. Human existence is impossible if everything is permanently on the move, as in a machine, perpetual change is literally, Radically disorienting. For something to be radically disoriented – it has to be ‘taken up by the roots’, it is rootless. Radical means just this – of the root. (It is a word which has come to mean the exact opposite of its root meaning.
To be radical nowadays is to be disconnected from time and space, from tradition, from human shared existence, it is to be isolated and cut off but we cannot live like this. Modern people with their disdain for what has gone before are cut off at the roots, they are radical in the modern sense, not the true sense.)

In the same way that trees and plants, rooted in the ground stabilise the soil and allow growth, and when they are uprooted the very soil of existence washes away – so too human society falls to pieces without those who are fixed place. If there is no-one stable, then everything is reduced to chaos. The Righteous, the Rooted ones, ‘preserve the city in peace’

We find this in the simplest ways. Children growing up without the stability of family life more often than not end up living lives of chaos. The Stability of the Mother and the Father, the Home is good soil in which the child may grow and acquire Virtue, Character, and all those things which we seem to have forgotten are important. These things are the necessary stability around which magical things may happen, the fixed points.

Today we remember the Ascension of Jesus, on the Sunday between His Ascension and Pentecost, and Jesus commands his disciples ‘not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father”. So we are in a period of waiting, but at the least, it has to be said that a society whose default state is rapid perpetual movement is not very productive of those whom might wait with a degree of contentment, at the worst, it destroys our capacity for waiting – for waiting on God.

I saw this on a committee I sat on some years ago now. every half an hour a bell rang and for two minutes we were to ‘wait’ on God. But my experience of it was that it was like being in a Formula 1 pit lane, a drive through penalty, or a tyre change. When the bell rang again, we were off! Conversation carried on as if everyone present had been fixed on that thing they were about to say, hadn’t the bell interrupted us. It wasn’t waiting, it was merely pausing. For Waiting itself has also changed its meaning, to Pausing. ‘Wait for the lights to change’ In other words, the emphasis on Go, not Wait. For wait is to attend upon to pay attention to. It is a way of existence, to be a Waiter . . . And to be a Waiter is to purely be attentive on the One whom you serve. Stood, Watching. As John Milton puts it ‘they also serve, who only stand and wait’ – yet the machine world has little time for such Wisdom, not least because it is the servant of time, driven on and on,

But We are in a period of waiting, and we have been here before. The Easter season is bookended by two seasons of waiting. One is short, one longer, but the first sets the tone for the second. The first is the time between 3pm God Friday, and early on the first day of the week – Holy Saturday if you will. This Waiting reveals the true character of waiting as Christians, waiting on God. The waiting day is the Sabbath. It is a day as it were out of time. A Day to Rest. To Be righteous, to be like that tree . . . but under the old dispensation it was of course ‘just one day in the week’, it pointed towards something which was yet to come, and even in those days many chafed at The Sabbath, at having to stop. The bell rang, the sun went down, and everything had to stop . . . yet the prophets denounced those ‘who could not wait for the Sabbath to be over’ the ‘wicked’ who wanted to ‘get on with things’ buying and selling etc. etc. The Sabbath got in the way. So too the women are up and ready at daybreak to come to the tomb. They’ve paused as it were, but not waiting, having not believed the word that Jesus had spoken that on the thirst day he would be raised. Having not believed, they hadn’t waited

Easter Morning reveals the true nature of Waiting as opposed to Pausing. Waiting is not Pausing. Waiting is Watching and praying, Waiting ‘on the LORD’, to See what He will do. So Holy Saturday reveals what it is to Wait on God . . . For the Resurrection of Jesus is something which comes to pass entirely from God. It is Life come from God. But as such it sets the pattern for this second season of Waiting, and Waiting on the Lord in general
So Jesus having spent forty days, appearing to and being with his disciples, before he is taken form their sight commands them to Wait. “[Jesus] ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father” Waiting now has a different character from before. Not least in that it is no longer tied to The Sabbath. It isn’t ‘a day off the stuff that really matters’ any longer and should not be confused with it. Rather it is a new way of being in the World, in the New Creation which God in Christ has revealed, it is the way of The Waiter, the Servant who is also the friend. Ten days as it happens, but that is of no consequence. The command is to Wait, for as The LORD has done a new thing in Raising Christ from the Dead, now the disciples know that, their life being in Him, they Wait on Him and for Him.

John tells the story rather differently. He has the incident of the disciples gone back to their fishing. Without Jesus, although he had been raised, and without Him they fish all night and catch nothing, with him, they catch fish, one of every kind. Waiting for the Presence of the Spirit of Christ is revealed as fundamental. ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing’ Abide in me as I abide in you – rest in me, live in me, Wait on me, attend to me . . . and you will bear much fruit, in due season.

So the disciples Wait, in Jerusalem, ‘for the promise of the Father’ – ten whole days. We might ask, why didn’t they rush out into the market place and tell everyone as soon as Jesus had been taken from their sight? Simply because they knew that their Life was at his command, they waited on Him, they’d learned to wait, Holy Saturday when they’d had no choice taught them what happened when you waited. Now they waited joyfully in obedience, for they knew that Good things came from the father of Lights, when they waited on him.

Joyfully, prayerfully waiting . . .

I wonder if this attitude marks the Modern Church? I wonder if it marks us? Joyful, prayerful. Confident that ‘in due season’ our waiting will bear fruit. Or are we captive to the machine?

What could the disciples have done to bring about ‘The Resurrection’? Set up a working group perhaps?
What could they have done to speed the outpouring of The Holy Spirit? Establish a project!

What could they do to bring Life, to add a single day to their allotted span? There must be a way to fix the biological machine . . .

What in truth could they do to effect any of these things? Nothing

Except Wait – meditate on God’s word, delight in it. Enjoy his fellowship at table as he fed them with bread and wine. Love one another from the heart. Lay down their lives for one another, in confidence and trust. In Hope founded on the Resurrection of Christ – the deep Living Water from which we live and love. And in so doing be those trees planted by streams, whose roots spread and bind and hold things together until the day of the Lord’s appearing, for which we wait in the Hope to which we were called, through the ‘immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.’

To wait is to be people of a Hope born of the Resurrection. People in tune with Being itself, knowing who they are, and from where their life comes. Living beings in the age of machines. Unpredictable for this life comes not from any source which the Modern world Knows

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give to us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we wait upon him, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which all those who wait on him are called . . . and who knows how much life may be thus preserved

Amen

Healthy Churches – attending to the Roots

Healthy Churches – attending to the roots
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

North Island – Kauri
Majestic
Silence and Awe
Sharing in Being

But there was a deeply troubling side – Die back
And from something no-one looking up at the tree would notice – the Roots
these majestic trees were dying, from the roots

The oldest – Tane Mahuta – Biosecurity measures, to protect the roots

About 2000 years old?

Which makes me think of the Church . . .

Shortly GSTHW will gather in Hamilton, to discuss . . . anything except the health of the Church – or the Roots of the Church – the parishes, and our Life in Christ. But this is nothing new.

I clearly did something very very wrong in a previous existence for I have sat through somewhere in the region of 70 Synods – And a consistent feature of all of them has been a) their machine like quality, and b) their failure to pay any attention to the roots of the Church. We’ve been so in awe of the Tree, of its manifold branches – its structures and committees and initiatives, and strategies – so in awe of what we have done, that we have paid no attention to the root, or the source of life.

At a simple level, as I have said before this is reflected in the inattention to the life of the parishes. As I told Synod here in Dunedin last year, we shrank numerically by 15% in 2017, but no one seemed to think this worth our attention. For the first time in the history of this Diocese there less than 100,000 attendances at church in a calendar year and the fall away was dramatic . . .

So today’s readings offer us a Gift, a gift that is constantly offered to us, that of Life

Both our Epistle and our Gospel today direct us to our roots, to the true nature of the Church and the Christian, and direct us to Health, to Life

To return for a moment to The Kauri. We had a bit of a Kauri day, for we drove on from Tane MAhuta, to a Kauri grove, where we found possibly an older tree – certainly a fatter one 🙂 Te MAtua Ngahere – Father of the Forest – a breathtaking 54 feet in girth

On the way to visit the Father I stopped for a brief moment by another Kauri – perhaps a ‘mere’ 800 or so years old, based on my observations of the ancient trees and their ages. The boardwalk in going over the roots afforded the one opportunity of the day to place a hand against the trunk of this being . . . and there I spent a few moments Knowing that together we shared in what the theologians call, the First Grace – that of existence, of being, by virtue of being Created. We shared this. It is a perception that it is hard for us to appreciate in our Modern World. I can think about myself. I can thing about the Tree, I can think about the way we are both ‘living things’, I might make some tenuous connection in my mind – but to press my hand against the trunk and to Know Shared existence . . . this is a different type of Knowing. A Knowing that The West has long ago abandoned.

It is a Knowing that has little or nothing to do with mental assent, it is a sharing in Life. it has a strong parallel in Marriage, in which a man Knows his Wife, and in that Knowing the fruit of Children springs forth. It is the Knowing which our beloved patron John speaks when he says ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.’ Which bring us to the Second Grace, the Second Gift – that of Redemption, or better perhaps, Theosis – through the Risen Jesus sharing in the very Life of God. Not merely the Life of Creation, but to come to Know within us the Life of the Father. To Know God. A Knowledge which brings forth the Fruit of Divine Love. Not as it were to ‘know about God’, as an idea, or to ‘know about Love’ as an idea – but to Know God and Know Love as His Life in and through us

As we hear the words of John, about Knowing, we need this radically Participative way of Knowing in the foreground – two become One in Marriage and in the fruit of marriage, the One flesh of the Child, so ‘we abide in Him, and He in Us’ and Bear Fruit in the World. This is to Know Him. So The Bridegroom abides in the Bride, Christ in His Church, to Bear fruit for the glory of God

It is we might truly say ‘natural’, in the sense we use the word. It flows naturally as water flows naturally from its source to the ocean. For it is the Divine Life which we See within the persons of the Trinity, every flowing from its Source, back to its Source

It is this simple – bluntly so – ‘If we Know God, we love one another.’ ‘If we don’t love one another, we do not Know God’ So Jesus speaks of this deeply participative Knowledge ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit’ It is in sharing in the Life of God , Knowing the Life of God in Jesus the Risen One, that we bear fruit to eternal Life

But in the same ‘natural’ way, cut off from the Source of this Life – the Life ceases to flow. ‘Apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.’ Like so much dead wood that no longer has the life flowing through it, wood that has lost connection with the Root.

John goes on in his letter – ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ If you do not love, you are not connected to God – to the Source, to the root. John goes on to make it quite clear that this Love is not something we summon up alone from within ourselves, it has a source, a Root ‘God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.’ The Initiative is Always God’s – He is the Source of this Eternal Life and Love – ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ The Initiative, the Source, the root is God’s Love for us – that we might Share in that Life and Love.

So the absence of Love, is the Absence of God. “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Hatred of a fellow Christian, is failure to recognise the shared Life – it is to say No to our being together Children of the Same Heavenly Father. Hatred of another baptised person is always a sign that we have become cut off from our roots.

Of late I have seen a tendency to speak more and more of the ‘God loves me’, rather than ‘I love God’. This is not unimportant, for all too often it masks, or fails to mask despising other Christians. ‘Those dreadful people, but I am secure in the love god has for me . . .’ well it is quite simple and plain that if we have hatred for our fellow Christians, we are cut off from the Love of God – we are in a prison of our own resentment, often Self satisfied, not troubled by the fact that we cannot abide certain people.
John is having nothing to do with this ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ To Hate and yet to claim to know the love of God is an oxymoronic way of behaviour. Such love is finally only the pitiful love of self, cut off from the source

So finally back to Health, and healthy Churches. I am the Vine and you are the branches says Jesus – to rework the imagery slightly ‘I am the Root of your Life’. Rather like Martha who is distracted by many things, the Church has lost Sight of Her Life, The Bridegroom. She is unlike Mary, not devoted to Him. Mary chooses the One necessary thing – devotion to Jesus the Christ, who is the Source of all Life and Love.

It is not natural for Churches to wither and die, however accustomed we have become to it. For the Bridegroom comes to the Bride, to woo her and to bear fruit to eternal Life.

If the Church is withering and dying it is only possibly for one reason, that we have stopped paying attention to our Roots, to the Fundamental Source of our Life and being, that is our Risen Lord.

So it is that when we attend to The Word made flesh, together wether we are physically together or not, Listening to Him in Scripture – wooing us, ‘I am your Life’ – ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ – ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’

Towards the end of Jesus great prayer he utters these words

‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’

Eternal Life is to Know God, intimately in and through Jesus, The Vine. It is to know his correction, his pruning, his cutting off all that is dead in us, that we might bear much fruit. It is to grow more and more in the way of Love which flows from the very throne room of God. It is to Live because he Lives – it is to Know His Life amongst us

Where this Love, where this Life is Known, The Church flourishes. Let us attend to the Living Word, the True Vine, present amongst us, in Word and Sacrament, and in the Love we have for one another

The Resurrection of our bodies – if we still believe in them . . . Easter 3 Yr B 2018

Sermon for Easter 2

Acts 3:12-19
Luke 24:36-48

The Resurrection of the Body

One of the ‘unusual’ delights of my work is conversation with undertakers. Many a book could be written in the occasional series ‘travels with a coffin’, for perhaps not surprisingly, all of life is present in those journeys to a cemetery.

Undertakers know the human body better than any of us – and above all, they realise that our bodies tell the story of our lives. Not so very long ago, one undertaker told me, they had discovered a new crease. Creases of course can reveal many things and as it were they were well mapped out, but as the way we live out our lives change, so do our creases. So a new crease has come to light, created as we now pay homage not to the gods, but bow in humble adoration of our mirrors, or cell phones as they are commonly described.
A new crease, and under the chin tells of this ‘development’. Facebook and Google – who benefit greatly from our cell phone addictions claim to know their users better than they known themselves – and anyone who has had an uncanny advert pop up must realise some of the truth of this – but they don’t know anything about your body . . .

The idea that we can know someone apart from their body is novel, and like novels we should perhaps be alert and questioning. For can we truly be known apart from our bodies?

The multitalented stage director, Dr Jonathan Miller is an atheist. Like all atheists he reveals his misunderstanding of Faith by his critique of it. He says ‘I cannot believe in life after death, for how would we know each other without our bodies? It is a very good question and of course for many Modern Christians it may be problematic. But Modern Christians are barely (pun intended) Christian at all.

I vividly remember arguing with some church people about the resurrection. Someone telling me that he could not believe in ‘the resurrection of the body for’- revealing some knowledge the source of which was obscure – except it is a popular perception, – ‘Life beyond the grave is a matter of pure spirit’ (pun not intended). We ‘left our bodies behind’ And I had to ask, ‘how do you know?’

The Resurrection is no mere matter of ‘Life after death’ it is a New Creation, and it is bodily. The Truly shocking thing about the Christian message is the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, that having assumed mortal flesh in being born of a woman, God in Christ takes the Body through death, and raises IT!

Jesus Appears to his disciples. Although in some regards, say the Emmaus road narrative and Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the Garden, there is a strong element of not recognising Him, we must not leap to the conclusion that he was unrecognisable, for indeed who WOULD expect to see him, and we are very much trained in seeing only what we expect to see. Human beings for their own well being in some regards are adept at filtering out anything that doesn’t make sense to us, as otherwise we’d go mad! But as all the gospel writers are at pains to point out, the disciples See Jesus. He invites them to examine his body, his wounds. He makes a fire and cooks fish – he eats food in their presence.

Whilst St Paul scolds the Corinthians for getting all tangled up and probably falling out over questions about ‘the resurrection body’, what he does not in any sense deny is that the Resurrection IS about the body. That God when he created us with bodies did not regard them as mere temporary shells, separate from who we truly were. To be human is to be embodied. And so if our humanity is buried with Christ in our baptism, it is bodily raised in the resurrection. Everything that the Lord made he declared Good – our bodies as much as anything else, and though they are subject to the fall, to change and decay, having forfeited their eternal character by ‘one man’s disobedience’, ‘by the one man’s obedience’, they are taken into the ground to die, to bear the fruit of the Resurrected body.

We see this again in the emphasis on bodily healings in the gospels. The story for example of the paralysed man to which I referred last week beautiful illustrates this. The man’s friends cannot get to Jesus, because the house is too crowded, so they have to dig a hole in the roof, and lower the paralysed, immobile body down . . . he is being buried. Jesus Heals him – forgives his sins, and then restored to Life – he takes up his mat and walks! Death and Resurrection, of the body!
Today , our reading from Acts shows this same power at work in the body of Christ, the Church as Peter responds to the shock of the healing of the paralysed mann at the gat Beautiful who must be carried everywhere.

Well it may well seem that I make too much of this. ‘Of course’ people might say, ‘we believe in the resurrection of the body – of the significance of our bodies’, but we live in an age where bodily significance is seemingly everywhere denied.

The Modern World is in flight from the body, or at war with the body. Insofar as many of us ‘actively participate in the world’, it is by no more than moving our hands over keyboards
The roots of this go way back in history, but Rene Descartes famously is involved for he withdrew the human from the body. ‘I think therefore I am!’ How did he come to this conclusion? Because he distrusted his bodily senses! Literally he lost his senses in an effort to discover what was true about existence he posited a thinking thing . . . something that does not need a body . . . and so we move on and on into an age now where for example whether we are male or female is apparently nothing to do with our bodies, its about how we think about ourselves And this has not left vast swathes of the people of God unaffected
In many denominations people sit in comfy chairs, which hide our bodies from us, increasingly ‘worship’ is bodily passive. Bands sing and we watch. Preachers preach and we listen. Then we go home. Given the highly passive nature of so much contemporary so called worship – it is hardly surprising that people think that they can do it al online. You don’t even need to get out of bed, just lie there inert, plugged into your electronic device which will convey worship to you.

But orthodox Christianity requires us to stand, to kneel, to face the gospel reader, to walk to the Altar. Bodily movement is something apart from which you cannot know Worship in the Church. Speaking the liturgy requires a voice which requires a body – We even Eat and drink as part of our worship. And what is it we eat and drink – but the blood of Jesus, and his Body. For we do all these things, speaking, singing, moving, standing and kneeling, together, as one body

Jonathan Miller in a sense touches on something very important to us. We cannot be known apart from our bodies, for if in any meaningful sense we have a Life, and existence, it can only be known by others because of our bodies, and any experience we have of the world is bodily.

The true Value of our bodies is however revealed in the True Human, Jesus Christ, whom God raised BODILY from the dead. He takes all of our Life, all of who we are through the healing of Death, to the Life of Resurrection. When this Life is revealed, bodies are healed, and the dead are raised

Easter 2 – One Life

Sermon for Easter 2 – 2018

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-23

‘truly our fellowship is with The Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’
1 Jn 1:3

As I was reminded vividly last week – words change their meanings over time. We were reading the collect for Easter Day from the Book of Common prayer and it includes these words ‘We humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires’ Grace preventing us? Puts into our minds good ideas? So is God’s grace trying to stop good ideas?? Very confusing – until you realise that prevent used to mean – ‘go in front of’

Well our epistle from our beloved John, has a similar issue – or rather a word that’s meaning has weekened. When he says ‘truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’ he is pointing to something much richer and deeper than ‘we can now hang out with God as we would with a friend’ – or as a cartoon strip used to put it, ‘Coffee with Jesus’. The Deep meaning of this word is Shared Life, Participation in Life.

This is the deep meaning of the Easter mystery, that through it, we may become participants in the very life of God, or become His Children as John has it at the beginning of his gospel – we may share in his Life, the Life of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit which he has breathed upon us.
As of old God breathed into Adam in the act of Creation, so as St Paul puts it, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new Creation.’

And unless we begin to understand this and take hold of it, we never get off first base in Christian Life, for Christian Life IS the Life of Christ, crucified and risen. We are baptised into his death and raised to new life with him. Again, St Paul, ‘since you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on thing above.’ As I have been at pains to point out as we have expired the Lord’s prayer in our evening gatherings, this prayer is not as it were a firing a dart into the unknown heavens in the vague hope someone might hear it, rather it is the Expression of Christian Life.

Well, this may well be news to some of us. Certainly it is not the prevalent understanding of Christianity which is that Christians are people who ‘believe certain things to be true, and then try and live by their beliefs – more or less successfully and if unsuccessfully can be set up as ‘hypocrites’’.
Just this past weekend I read the annual article on ‘how can anyone believe what Christians believe’ – as if it was assent to a set of facts that made you Christian – rather than that to be Christian is to be born anew, to be a participant in the Life of God, to have a share in this Life of God manifested in Jesus. But then, maybe it is just easier to believe in the fact of the resurrection, and get on with your life . . .
This Life we see manifested in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles ‘Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ in other words, they had but One Life – the Life of the Risen Christ – breathed into them. We may well be struck by what follows ‘no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common’. And we might read that as ‘they thought sharing what they had was a good idea’ which of course it is, but that is missing the point. This is simply the same thing – they had one life. Not one of them had part of their life which was separated out from the other. The Life was Shared – there was just one life amongst them – that of the Risen Jesus.

And look at what happened! ‘With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’ Well of course their testimony had power – that Life was evident to anyone who looked at the Church – they had fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ – one in heart and soul – just One Life – the Life of the Risen Lord. In looking at the church you saw the Risen Christ!

This episode is followed by one of the least preached on passages in the New Testament. The story of Ananias and Sapphira – where they both drop dead! Why? Well they sell a field to help out with things, but keep some of the proceeds back. They act as if they have a life separate from the Life of the Church, separate from the Life of the Risen Jesus. And so it comes to pass. They don’t participate in this new life, and to cap it all, they lie about it. The Life isn’t evident – it isn’t manifested in them, for they have cut themselves off from Fellowship, from sharing in the Life of God in the Church. They cut themselves off from Life – they die.

All of which brings us to Thomas – whom I dare to call a model disciple. Again – we have a problem with words – for we are so drilled in the way of understanding ‘belief’ in terms of ‘facts’ and doubt in those terms also.
As if they were something separate from Jesus’ We believe these things ‘about Jesus’ we might say . . . but that is not ‘belief’ in Jesus – for Belief in Jesus is to identify ourselves with Him, with His Life.
Thomas does not need to touch and feel – he purely needs an encounter with The Life . . . which was from the beginning.
And he moves in true terms from ‘unbelief’ or Death – that is ‘not identifying his life with that of Jesus’ – to Belief, to Life – ‘My Lord and My God’. He declares Jesus to be His Life – for this is the meaning of those words. Our Lord – the One whom we take our direction from – our God – that is The Very centre of our existence. He has passed from darkness of unbelief, to the lIght of Life in Christ – and let us never forget that it is this same Thomas who goes out into the World to spread the message of Christ -and establishes perhaps the oldest still existing manifestation of that Life -the Church which bears his name in India – where he is eventually martyred. I
t is in many regards a travesty that Thomas bears the moniker ‘doubting’ – rather we might say he is the first true convert to this Life of Christ.

Like the other disciples he has been in the presence of Jesus but not seen. He says to Jesus ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus answers ‘I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except they come through me’ – no one can know the Life of the Father unless they share in my life for I AM the Way. Not ideas about me, or facts about me, I AM.

And again Philip goes on ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘all this time I AM with you, Philip, and you do not know me?’ To become a disciple of Jesus is to move from unbelief to belief, from not knowing him (as Peter declares three times) that is not sharing in his Death and Life – to Knowing Him. To sharing in his death and Life.

Briefly to digress – these words Jesus to Philip might be addressed to the Church today. I think of our young people who told me that ‘being a Christian’ we knowing someone was there for them. But that is not it at all – rather we are for God. Does not Jesus perhaps say to us – ‘all this time I AM with you, and you do not Know me?’ Do not share in my life, because you still think it is all about your life?

Thomas moves from not Knowing Jesus, to Knowing Him and as he himself prophesied before Jesus raised Lazarus, ‘let us go with Him, that we might die with Him’
————
Thomas I think is very like the two women who went to the tomb on Easter morning. They had pinned their lives on him and he had taken their lives to the Cross. So Thomas seemed to know that following Jesus would lead to his death. What he did not see, what he could not believe, was that following Jesus to his death would eventuate in being raised with Jesus to newness of Life – to sharing in the Life of Jesus, to Knowing Him, in the deepest sense . . . Life with Him is all that is Left –

Yet – Knowing Jesus in this sense is not a message about having ‘a personal relationship with God in Jesus’. As if it is about ‘knowing he is there for us’. No, It is about becoming part of His body in which his life resides. It is about knowing that Life which is shared around HIs body, for we do not have it for ourselves. We can only know it in fellowship with God and with one another – loving him with all we have and are AND our neighbour as ourselves. There is no such thing as an unchurched Christian. We only Know Jesus, His Life as part of His body

Note how often John uses the first person plural . . .

this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and [we have] heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship [our life, our very existence] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Our readings leave us with the question – ‘Do we Know this Life, amongst us?’ ‘Do We Know God in Christ – not you or you or you, or me – but do we know this life amongst us?’ Is an encounter with us an encounter with the Living God for in truth his Life is Ours? Can we speak in truth about our life? Can we proclaim with confidence the resurrection of Jesus, because this Life is manifested amongst us?

This is what our beloved patron Saint, John, calls us to, as Thomas is called – from unbelief to belief, from death to Life – from lives in separation, calling things our own – to Life shared and flowing between us, manifesting the very lIfe of God in our midst . . .

. . . for ‘these things written so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in his name.

May we in Truth say ‘‘truly our fellowship is with The Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’

May we with Thomas declare ‘My Lord and My God’

Amen

Do not harden your heart!

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday March 18th, 2017

Psalm 95
Exodus 7:8-24
Romans 5:12-21

‘Harden not your hearts’

As today is Passion Sunday, it is worth reminding ourselves of some words of Jesus from the cross – ‘Father, forgive them, for they now not what they do’, a saying which is echoed in our confession, ‘we have sinned in ignorance’. The reality is that we have very little idea about anything. The world is complex and subtle far beyond our imaginings. The people we live amongst, even those we think we know well, are profound mysteries to us. Not one of us has the remotest inkling what it is like to be another person, let alone a tree, or a dog, or a stone. We are phenomenally ignorant, which goes some way to explain the state of the world we inhabit – the metaphor ‘bull in a china chop’ always seems appropriate as we consider the Creation and our place in it. Strangely in an age when in a sense human knowledge has expanded hugely, it is as if this has got worse not better. The illusion that ‘we know better nowadays’ is not born out in the world as it is. Modern humans are more out of balance with the Creation than in any age in history. We know very little of what seems to matter to our very existence.

This is why the Scriptures are full of warnings. A very few, like the commandments, are explicit and clear – murdering or committing adultery, lying or failing to rest – live like this and things will turn out bad for you. But most of life is complicated beyond our capacity to comprehend, and so the Scriptures weave their deeper warnings into story – for in a sense that is precisely what we live in, Story. Reading the human story in Scripture teaches us who we are and where we are and how we should then live.

One example of these warnings is ‘beware of those things which ‘look pleasant to the eye’’ – or ‘you are not very good at judging what is good and what is not!, so learn a deeper discrimination’

So Eve ‘seeing that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, took of its fruit and ate’ . . . She saw, she grasped and she would not let go . . . and it did not turn out well

Again there is a moment in the story of Abraham where his herdsmen are falling out with the herdsmen of his nephew Lot and so they separate and Abraham gives Lot the choice of where to go – ‘Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastwards’ Despite finding himself in a short space of time in a war zone in which he and his family are taken captive and require to be rescued by Abraham, he continues to ‘sojourn in Sodom’ He sees, he grasps, and he won’t let go, and at the last when Sodom is destroyed, Lot’s wife cannot let go of this Dark place and is turned to a pillar of Salt.

Warning – beware of your ability to see well – do not grasp – choose wisely – and learn to let things go . . .

Well this evening’s Old Testament reading carries a serious warning to the one who listens, ‘who listen to the voice of the LORD’ Ps 95:8 What is the story trying to tell us, if we have ears to hear.

Pharaoh is in his own eyes ‘Lord of all he surveys’ – it is all HIs – he Possesses it and that includes the Israelites whom he has enslaved – they are his property. So when Moses and Aaron come before him with a request to ‘let go of the thing he has grasped’ he dismisses them. He will not let go and through the ensuing plagues of which we heard a little, earlier, he grasps tighter and tighter.
As the story tells us – ‘he hardened his heart’ – and Here is a very severe warning here.
If we are alert to the narrative as it goes on, repeatedly we hear ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened . . .’ It is strange that often people will not let go of something which is harming them – and the greater the harm the more we might hold on . . . it may only be a small thing – a harboured resentment perhaps, but we can all too easily cling to such a thing and its power for evil grows and grows. This is one manifestation of what the scriptures call ‘the demonic’, for all to often such things literally take on a life of their own. They become ‘the desire of our heart’

Indeed we may be able to trace something of it within our own hearts. Bitterness, greed, resentment, deception, a grudge . . . these things which we think we control, have control of us – or to use a much maligned word, Sin reigns . . . and like grasping things – it doesn’t lead us to a good place. We’ll return to Sin in a few moments, but first we need to unpack the Dire warning in the story of Pharaoh which is this

As we follow the narrative through the gradually increasing plagues we read over and over ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ but towards the end there is a terrifying change. First we read that Pharaoh hardened his [own] heart. That is it became conscious for him – to put it in the explicit and terrifyingly accurate vernacular, he says in his heart ‘I’ll be damned if I let them go . . .’

We might say that at this point, what was unconscious, knowing not what he did, became a conscious decision. After the next plague we read ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ In other words there is nothing he can now do to reverse things, his heart is ‘set as stone’ . . . and so to the denouement in Genesis 9:12 – following the plague of boils – ‘But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . .’ God gives us the true desire of our heart . . . the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . . Pharaoh will not let go and goes deeper into corruption until it is revealed that that is what he truly wants and seals the wish of Pharaoh’s heart This is one of the most terrifying verses in the Scripture . . .

As Dante sees the souls bound for perdition he sees that they curse God – no longer might they cry for mercy for they are intractably bound to that which they will not let go. It has become for them a consuming passion and leads only to death . . . and the LORD hardens their hearts. Or as CS Lewis puts it – ‘Hell is locked on the inside . . .’

So Pharaoh in all his wealth and power is set before us as a grave warning . . . What is the remedy?

BUT GOD . . . As we read in St Paul’s letter to the Romans – a remedy for Sin has been provided, in that God in Jesus, While we were yet ‘dead in sins and trespasses’ died for us . . . Paul goes on to explain how though through one man, Adam, Sin entered the world, by the death of one Man, Jesus Christ, Grace, forgiveness and righteousness abounded to many. Miracle of miracles – that which brought death to us, Sin, is overturned and Death becomes the Gate of Life . . .

So, then we might say – why worry about the story of Pharaoh? ‘if it all turns out right in the end’? This was what Paul was accused of preaching ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in Sin that Grace may abound? By No Means! How shall we who have died to Sin live any longer in it . . .

This is the clear teaching of Jesus. in John’s gospel, twice Jesus heals and forgives and then warns the person – ‘leave your life of Sin’ – or ‘stop sining or something worse will happen to you . . .’

It is a very false reading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – to say that because Jesus died, the overwhelming love of God is revealed – and so sin no longer matters . . . but this is a fools paradise. One moments reflection on the Hell of so much of the world, and perhaps the Hell of our own hearts reveals that this is not so. Sin, like the bull in the China shop, does untold, often irreparable damage. Rather we look to what it cost God in Christ to save us from our Sin, to save us from ourselves and we resolutely set out, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, strengthening, encouraging ud, driving us forward, Comforting us in the true sense – no longer to live in Sin. We do not look back. We let go.

This failure to respond to the Saving Love of God is laid out for us in the Old Testament as well as the new. God in his Love and Mercy for Israel, rescues them from slavery in Egypt. From wretchedness and Hell – and brings them out into the wilderness that there they might learn of Life – rather like young children – having to learn that which leads to life and that which does not. ‘Eat Well!’ ‘Don’t put your hand in the fire!’ ‘Seek the Good everywhere and always,!’ ‘Shun that which is evil . . . ‘but they, although they had been the recipients of such a great Salvation, such a rescue, start to whine and complain and also harden their hearts and so do not enter the promised land . . . St Paul says ‘all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition upon whom the end of the ages has come’

So the psalmist having given glory to God – ‘Come let us sing unto the Lord . . . ‘ goes on

O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.’
Therefore in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’

Today – Hear his voice – harden not your hearts – for God in Christ approaches his Passion – to die for the Sin of the World, to bear its consequences, that Grace may abound.

Let us not neglect so great a salvation – rather let us set our hearts and minds on God’s Goodness revealed, reach out to take hold of THAT – and let go of al that would hinder us

Amen

 

‘Of Trees and snakes, of Life and Death’ Lent 4 Year B 2018

 

Sermon for 4th Sunday in Lent Year B 2018

Numbers 21:4-9

Eph 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

Directing the gaze of our heart

(‘Of trees and snakes, of Life and Death’)

Years ago I remember listening to a haunting recording of Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ prelude – it was played on a reel to reel tape recorder, and a small spool of tape. This was the Christmas letter from a school friend of my father – named John Bennifield. It was haunting because John had recorded his Christmas letter because he was going blind, and could no longer see to write. Thinking back, he can only have been in his mid-forties as my Father was at that time.

John came to mind this week as I pondered our readings, not least our readings from the book of Numbers, because of his occupation. John lived in what was then Rhodesia, and he was in charge of the Snake education Programme – something certain to draw the interest of a young teenage boy – but indeed anyone. I remember him talking about Black Mambas and how they would hang around in trees and drop on you!

Snakes are universally feared – it is wired deep into us . . . and the association between Snakes and Trees – say the Serpent in the Garden and the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, or, the Tree of Life is obvious if you look carefully at a tree . . .

Tree roots are deeply suggestive in this respect and if like us all you are as it were wired to be on the look out for snakes, then the association with trees is clear! And here is a picture form an ancient Scandinavian tradition making it explicit – those of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now.

 

 

 

Trees in all imaginations Present Life to us – so the Snakes which are associated with Death are at the roots working away at the source of Life. (For more on this and the Fatherhood of God, come to tonight’s talk on The Lord’s Prayer )

So to our reading from the book of Numbers and we find the Israelites doing what they like to do. Having been rescued from Egypt, brought from the place of death to the place of Life, they are complaining about their rations. (At one point in the narrative they dream of Egypt as a place of cucumbers and melons – forgetting that it was a place of Slavery and death. Perhaps in our 40 days of Lent, we too are a little weary of our rations?)

But this is a complaint against God, against Life itself and so their soul being weary of the bread, weary of Life, they encounter death in the form of the Snakes.

And God saves them through the agency of the Bronze snake. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. [Picture]

What is going on here? First we are reminded that Sin leads to death. When we live in contradiction to the deep Goodness of things, perhaps with grumbling rather than gratitude as in the case of the Israelites, things go bad. The 10 Commandments as we heard last week are given ‘that we might Live before God’ As I said then, it’s not arbitrary, its written into the fabric of Creation – murder, commit adultery, dishonour your parents, fail too rest, worship the work of your hands – aim at anything apart from the highest Good, that is the Life of God, and things will not turn out well for you.

As St Paul puts it – the wages of Sin is Death . . . and God is constantly perturbed by Israel – the prophet Ezekiel declares the words of God -‘Oh Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ Sin is perverse, it makes no sense . . . Death itself epitomises this meaninglessness. So come the snakes, death reigns.

But what is it with the bronze snake? Well the snake is dead! Death is revealed for what it is – meaning less and empty! Death itself is symbolised as Dead – and so you live. This is the meaning of the Bronze snake, the destruction of death. And so they live.

Which brings us of course to our Gospel reading – ‘just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up‘, The one without sin submits himself to the consequences of Sin – Not Punishment – Consequences which we who were sold in slavery to Sin could not bear

 

. . . that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. to believe is to identify ourselves with Jesus – to be baptised into that death which he suffers . . .
For what do we see here, but The one who cannot die submits himself to death, so that we who are In Him who otherwise can and will die – Might Live! The only one who cannot die submits himself to death – so we join ourselves to him to make a journey we could not make

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’

God in himself – in his fruit – in His Son – in Love opened the door to Life from Death – all that look upon him . . .

Believing in Jesus is to have the eyes of our heart, to direct the gaze of our heart and allow it to rest upon him – as St Paul said in our epistle last week ‘we proclaim Christ and him crucified’ – as he says elsewhere in the same letter ‘ I determined to know nothing amongst you except Christ and him crucified – the Wisdom of God – and the power of God‘. that we who were dead in Sin, might be raised to newness of Life in him

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world,– NOT to punish the world in Jesus for its sinfulness – but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned;

but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. . . . and still we see the perversity – that we may still choose to direct the gaze of our hearts elsewhere. Yet –  before there was no choice where we looked – now, Light floods in and we may Live in the Light of his Saving Love. Still God calls people to Repentance – to turn from wickedness and Live . . .

Lent is our time for such repentance – preparing our hearts for the Joy of Easter

As we prepare our hearts for Easter – let us gaze unflinchingly upon Christ Crucified – Mystery of mysteries, Joy of Joys, Wonder of Wonders – The one without sin submits himself to the consequences of Sin – The one who cannot die submits himself to death

And so may we be ready to sing the Easter Hymn with Joy –
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!

‘The Secret Place’ – Sermon for Ash Wednesday – Year B 2018

Sermon for Ash Wednesday
Year B 2018

Matthew 6:1-21

Treasures in the hidden place

So today Lent begins. I wonder what we are giving up for Lent? Let me ask a different question, ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ Rule Number 1 – Never tell anyone what you are giving up for Lent! I will come back to ‘Why?’ in a moment.

I wonder what We are giving up for Lent? Let us give up telling people what we are giving up for Lent . . . either face to face, or if we are too frightened to look at real people, on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever shouts at the world ‘Look at me!’

Of course if we belonged to one of the older traditions of the church, say we were Catholic or Orthodox, I wouldn’t have any temptation to tell anyone what I was giving up. After all, we’d all be giving up the same thing, and if you [s.] think you [s.] are giving up a lot, then I suggest you go and check out ‘Orthodox fasting Lent’ on Google after this service. If anything else it will stop you virtue signalling your sacrifice of chocolate, or it would if we understood the way of humility.

So, then should we abandon the whole ‘giving something up for Lent idea’? After all, what’s the point if I can’t tell someone I’m doing it?? ( and if you think that that isn’t your [s.] problem, then why are you telling Everyone on FB??)

Lent is a season of self denial. It is a season in which we go with Jesus into the wilderness. This is what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. As he says to his disciples, ‘where I am going you cannot now come, but you will follow afterwards’ So as Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested, we newborn in the Spirit go out into the wilderness to be tested.

And as we heard on Sunday, He went there to learn to say no, no to anything, or anybody who would keep Him from the Father’s will, no to anything or anybody which would quench the work of the Holy Spirit in which he had been baptised, that Spirit which brings light and life and healing and goodness, even life from the dead, ‘for as the scriptures say ‘out of the heart of everyone that believes shall flow rivers of living water’’.

So we go there too, to learn to say no. For if we can’t even say ‘no’ to a bag of chips or a piece of chocolate, how on earth [lit.] can you say anything of value? How can you say Yes to Life? How can Life flow from us?

As we considered Jesus is being tested all the time, not only in the wilderness, but all the time. Give us a sign! Show us you are the Messiah! If you are the Son of God . . . until finally he faces the greatest Temptation of all. He was in the Desert forty days and literally starving, ‘If you are the Son of God, turn the stones into bread’. ‘No! – Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that flows form the mouth of God’ . . . But that is as nothing – it is preparation for The Great Trial.

Finally in the excruciating agony of Good Friday – this is of course what Lent is about, preparing us to face Jesus, the one we follow, on the Cross – every sinew in agonising pain, gasping for breath, his body wracked, wrecked, comes the Final Test – ‘If you are the Son of God, Come down from the Cross . . .’ and of course it is a Terrible temptation, because he could, he could stop the pain, pain beyond our comprehension, Everything within him cries out to stop the pain – he could say Yes to the Tempter. Worship Him and it would all be his, except it wouldn’t. He could Prove it . . .

and everything would be lost’ You can have everything . . . on the Devil’s Terms. Public terms – and everyone will see you get what you want – But Jesus says No to the Temptation to go public, and The Salvation of the World is hidden from our eyes

And he commands the same of us – we are following him. We are his disciples. In this testing, in the disciplines of Lent – we are commanded to hide it, to keep it secret.

Our gospel reading embraces the three basic disciplines of the Christian life – Almsgiving, giving to the poor – Prayer – and Fasting. These three are the foundational disciplines of the Christian life – they are how we bring the testing and learning of the desert, of Lent into our daily lives beyond Lent – and the instructions of Jesus, our teacher, are the same for all three. Do it in secret.
When you give alms – ‘do not [even] let your left hand know what your right is doing’ – do not do it publicly and if a all possible . . . hide it from yourself

When you pray – go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place . . .

When you fast – do not put on a show – keep it secret – ‘do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place’

Jesus shows us the importance of saying no. Only a True No can give rise to a Life giving Yes. As we consider the poverty of the Church in the Western World, is it rooted in our lack of self denial? our inability to say no to anything? And so to say a life-giving ‘Yes’? Healing no one, not even ourselves?

And he ties this saying no, discovered where but in secret in the Desert, to being in secret – not to ‘going public’, not ‘letting it all hang out there’. As we cannot say no even to ourselves, we live in an age where everything is screaming at us ‘Show us! Prove it! Tell us all what you are giving up’ ‘Tell the world what you are going through’ Everything is laid bare, quite literally – there is nothing that you cannot see – there is nothing hidden . . . perhaps it is the final judgement when all the sins of the world are laid out for everyone to see . . . Having the form of religion, but denying its power – like a car tyre – we just opened the valve and let it all out, and we wonder why the Church is so weak?

But . . . in the grace and mercy of God, perhaps not yet. Not while a few persevere, and in obedience which comes from even a mustard seed of self control, say no to ‘going public’ and yes to the hidden way . . . for the power of God is revealed in apparent weakness. His ultimate Power over death itself revealed in the shattered body of Jesus, who would not come down from the Cross, but instead entered the most holy place, once and for all . . .

The Holy place, the secret place – the place hidden from our eyes.

‘Do not store up for yourself treasure upon the earth, where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break through and steal – don’t advertise to everyone what you are doing for Lent, for then you will have received your reward – whatever you get out of ‘putting it out there’ that will be your lot. Rather store up for yourself treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, where thieves do not break through and steal . . . treasures in heaven – in the secret place

In the Temple in Jerusalem, much went on hidden form the eyes of many – but at the centre was The Most Holy Place – the Holy of Holies, and only one person ever went there. Each year the high Priest would go in to offer the Sacrifice of atonement. For what was the Holy of Holies? It was the very centre of the Temple – it was the place where resided the Ark of the Covenant, and over the Ark was the place where God dwelt between the cherubim – it was, for want of a better phrase, heaven on Earth. The secret and hidden place . . .

And so Jesus before the gaze of the public – says no – and rather goes into the hidden place, the secret place, to offer the one perfect sacrifice for the sin of the whole world

So Jesus goes and we follow him. This is what it is to be a disciple.

So let us own our sin in the ash upon our forehead, repent and believe the Good News, the Strange News of Yes through No. Of Truth through secrecy. Of Life from Death – Let us believe on Jesus.