‘Repentance is . . .’ NOT ‘saying sorry’

More and more these past years, I have wrestled with the obvious fact that the lives of Christians and non-Christians are all but indistinguishable.

In part this is no doubt down to the Solipsisitic nature of contemporary life. Rene Descartes has won out and we are our thoughts. Thus faith is just a matter of what we consider to be true.

I was going to say that ‘it hardly needs saying that this is so far away from the Biblical conception of the life lived in the light of God as to constitute something other than Christian life’. Except it does need to be said – for if it were utterly obvious, why are we not concerned about the gulf between the life of faith revealed to us in the pages of Scripture and our own lives??

At this point the answer usually trawled out is – ‘well we are all sinners . . . ‘ Yet again, this is not the picture that the New Testament paints of the people of God, rather that we are New creatures in Christ, the ascriptiion most commonly used is Saints. Yes we do sin, but this is now revealed as a terrible contradiction of who we have been made by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it will not do to say we are sinners, rather we are saints who from time to time grievously act in contradiction to our new nature.

Of course what the old saw about us ‘being sinners’ does is frees us from any sense that we ought to be live differently from those around us. Certainly it leads us to reduce those texts which speak of us being children of light in a dark world to the point of absurdity, where we in effect deny them whilst devising clever theological schemes so that we do not. The idea that to be ‘In Christ’ is be a fundamentally different order of being from those amongst whom we live, including friends and family . . . I need not go on

What is the root of this??

Well put plainly we haven’t repented and thus received the life of Christ. The church requires above all, to use another oft ignored phrase, to be converted.

Of course most of us, if we have ‘come to faith’ later in life may well think – ‘Well I have repented! I said sorry to God. I changed my mind about Him. I acknowledged I was wrong in my thinking about Him. I changed my mind. Therefore I am converted!’

But the picture of repentance, that it is ‘saying sorry’, that it is fundamentally to have a new set of beliefs about spiritual matters – is in itself just plain wrong. As St Paul tells us, sorrow is not repentance – it leads to Repentance. It leads to changes in our behaviour which make it possible for us to receive the Life of Christ.

Put this way, to most of us this will sound very strange – but after much thought these past years, I believe it to be true.

Let us for a moment consider the forerunner, the Elijah, who comes before the LORD to prepare his way – to turn the hearts of the people of God to God. John the Baptist is just that! He is not the Life. We tend to think that John has little to do with us – yet the work he comes to do, must be done in us before we too can receive the life of Christ. Repentance is a precursor to the Life of God. We first have to turn to God, THEN we can receive his life – this new nature that he promises, that sets us apart as that which we are meant to be ‘Light of the world’.

Joseph Ratzinger – later to be Pope Benedict XVI puts it thus : As for the contents of new evangelization, first of all we must keep in mind the inseparability of the Old and the New Testaments. The fundamental content of the Old Testament is summarized in the message by John the Baptist: metanoeìte—Convert! There is no access to Jesus without the Baptist; there is no possibility of reaching Jesus without answering the call of the precursor, rather: Jesus took up the message of John in the synthesis of his own preaching: metanoeìte kaì pisteúete èn tù eùaggelíu

Repentance precedes the Life of Christ. The Baptist comes first preaching repentance – only those who respond to his message are prepared – the way made straight – to receive the Baptism of fire – of Life in Christ.

Of course we may thus so far assent – or we may not – but, we must ask, what is the content of this repentance which John preaches? Here we find no warrant for ‘saying sorry’, for a mere changing of our lives – we are called to change our lives – to bear fruit worthy of repentance. This is no mere change of mind – the Baptist puts this repentance in the clearest possible terms, and it is expressed with regard to our life with our neighbour. [Anthony of Egypt puts it thus ‘Our life and death are with our neighbour’]

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

That is the preparation for the Life that Christ brings – it is the opening of the door of our hearts to the other, to our neighbour. In its essence it is this, to live as humans with humans. When we have much and others go without, we are to supply their need. There is nothing ‘legalistic’ about this, it is not even ‘kindness’ – it should in no way be extraordinary. People starve = you have more than enough to eat. People are naked – You have more than enough clothes to wear. People are lonely – your house is full of the warmth and light of friendship. People are impoverished – you live way beyond the simple necessities of life. Love the other! Feed, clothe, invite them to your house, share your abundance with all and sundry.

There should be nothing extraordinary in this – but there is. If Christians took it upon themselves, merely to respond to the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, that would cause such a stir throughout the world. Who can conceive of such a thing? Yet it is no more than simple care – the basic requirement for being human.

When those simple things are done, the active love of neighbour that sees need and responds out of our wealth, then the door is opened to the ‘one who comes after me’ And without those simple things, our hearts are closed to Christ. As Cardinal Ratzinger put it ‘There is no access to Jesus without the Baptist” Repentance.

The one who lies at the breast of Christ – the beloved disciple to whom the heart of the Good News is revealed puts it thus : How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Love your neighbour, as yourself. Do you look to your own needs? Do so to others.

At the last when Jesus comes he expresses it in the most powerful of terms in the blessings and woes in Luke 6, and in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.

The gulf between the Rich man and Lazarus could easily have been crossed in life, but that which existed after the death of the rich man could not. We can only wonder at how what we must presume to have been a religious man [he calls Abraham his father] might have not seen to the needs of the man who lay at his gate? As Abraham gently tells him, his brothers have Moses and the prophets – what other warning do they need? If they do not respond to these basic needs of their brothers and sisters, knowing what simple humanity requires, how might we expect them to, even if one rises from the dead?

This gulf is exemplified in the minds of contemporary Christians who reduce faith to a thing of the mind, or indeed ‘the heart’ where that is no more than a code for the emotional life. The question is, is this gulf fixed? Have we heard the call to repentance? Are we even ready to receive the Life that comes from above?

May God grant to us all as we have need, Godly sorrow which leads to Repentance, which opens the door to Life.



Following a most helpful conversation this morning, through which I developed a far richer appreciation of the background  to the unique ‘Three Tikanga’ structure of the Anglican church here in New Zealand, I was led to think more and more about several things. Partnership, Sharing and ‘Generosity’.

It comes to me that true generosity only begins when we learn what it is to share of ourselves. In the context of most of us, this means, when we are stripped of things and money except that which is essential to our own well-being – the necessary food and clothes and shelter. Then when we share, we are giving of ourselves truly sacrificially.

There are many words we use carelessly, especially those of us who have much, and I am most definitely one of those. We speak of ‘sacrificial’ giving. But such giving is almost always out of our excess, after we have looked to our own ‘needs’, which may include such fripperies as vacations or a new car. Giving out of our abundance is not generosity as biblically understood. Christ comes amongst us divested of everything. It is out of this emptiness of possession he gives All he has, to us and to the Father.  That is Generosity.

The story of the widows mite needs to be read in the light of this ‘divested generosity’ of the Son of God.

‘Only joking . . .’

I have been thinking lately about that quality that we call ‘a sense of humour’.

For some it is thought of in terms of being a national characteristic. Something shared amongst people of a similar outlook.

A friend told me before I came to New Zealand that I would be OK here, for folk would ‘get’ my sense of humour. He went on to say that I wouldn’t go down quite so well in the USA. Indeed when I visited those shores 15 years ago or so, I was alerted to that. Things that I saw as being funny weren’t perceived so as my hosts. Sharing a meal, a place where in my life laughter has found a home, was a very different experience for me.

This isn’t to say that American’s don’t have a sense of humour!!!! [doing my level best to avoid unintentional offence!! 🙂 ]  Like most folk in the Western world, I grew up with US humour streamed into my living room via the TV. I ‘got’ ‘I love Lucy’, ‘Happy Days’, Frasier, and ‘The Simpsons’. I came to appreciate American humour because in some regards I was immersed in it over a period of many years (as you will have realised from the list of programmes (sic! 🙂 ), and learned over a long period to appreciate its particular characteristics and nuances.

Humour to ‘work’ requires relationship. It took me time to learn US humour – my long suffering congregation are gradually learning mine (not ALL humour is shared between Northern England and Southern New Zealand 🙂 ) – and my VERY long suffering family have learned to smile weakly . . .

But what is it for humour to work? It is surely when the joke is Shared – when there is sufficient commonality at how we look at life to see the humourous, for we both stand in a similar position. In other words it requires Love.

Thus the bully uses humour to hurt. As a school teacher I regularly heard the defence, ‘I was only joking, Sir’. Much stand up comedy it seems to me is laced with such a distant approach to its subject. So, recently, many laughs have been harvested in the UK over the death of Margaret Thatcher. In a sense one may well argue, that this is precisely what I have been suggesting is healthy. It was the common experience of those who lived through the years of her premiership that enabled the humour of the various comedians to work. Except of course it was still out of relationship – Mrs T wasn’t there to share in the laughter . . .

The best Comedy, and my favourite comics are those who observe the absurdities of our lives, in other words, those who teach us to laugh at ourselves 🙂

Which brings me to my point – before we learn to laugh with others, we need to know them, and above all we need to be honest with ourselves

Life giving humour comes from the place where we are able to laugh at ourselves, gently and kindly. Like all things that are truly life giving, humour requires us to be at peace with ourselves, which is perhaps the first step to living in peace with others.

This is a lesson I am still learning. The more God reveals to me of myself, the more I have to make a choice, either to despise myself, or to laugh at the absurdity of myself 🙂 If I choose the former path, I will still use humour to wound – but if the latter then I might learn a greater sensitivity to others – and thus discover more occasions where we can laugh together.

One of the interesting thing about scriptures is that laughter is almost entirely portrayed negatively. [Indeed if you put laugh into Oremus Bible browser there is a salutary lesson to be learned from the word in which the letters ‘laugh’ are most commonly found]. And yet this should not surprise us – so much of the Scriptures find people at war with one another and with God (literally or metaphorically). Which can only occasion harsh and derisive laughter.

Laughter is perhaps one of those things which more than most belongs to the End, one of those things which we need a lifetime’s schooling in that it might be life giving. We must Know each other and be utterly safe together, before we can laugh. I know that in my own experience, those with whom I laugh most freely are those whom I have known for many years, and yet it is Still a learning experience.

This experience is renewed each day as we look in the mirror, appreciate God’s humour – and the staggering fact that we are unreservedly loved.

Put another way – learning to be funny is at once uneccessary (look in the mirror 🙂 ), AND a lifelong task.

Holy Saturday

There are times in Priestly ministry when its representative character is thrown into starkest relief. When Black and White lose any overlap. Life and Death is the Clear choice.

Today the church observes Holy Saturday. For many of those who note this day it is a day lacking a story. Jesus is dead. Easter is not yet. But that isn’t the fullest story.

‘He descended to the dead’ we recite in the Creed. But this is no passive slumber. No, today Christ is Harrowing Hell. The One who is The Word, the Alpha and the Omega, taking our last words and trashing them. The Living One is The Last Word.

Last week I was called from the slumber of a day off and bidden to follow Christ into a hell, to proclaim Life in the midst of Death. A young man, 20 years old had died by his own hand, and the church called me to step down into the Hell that this was for his family.

On Maundy Thursday I conducted his funeral – a church packed with young people few if any conversant with Christian faith, facing something that had left them utterly numb, facing Death, nothing else. With no other story.

As I waited outside church for the family I was forcibly struck by the contrast of attire. For all these young folk, Black was the only colour on display, from black dresses for the girls, black ties, and a shed load of sunglasses to hide from the fierce late summer antipodean sun. Despite the ‘modern’ predilection for avoiding death, for ‘celebrating a life’, there was no doubt in these young people’s minds, no hope. This was about Death. It was a funeral.

‘Contrast of attire?’ I was privileged to have as many years The Reverend Christine Clarke as my spiritual director. One of the first 12 women to be ordained priest in the Church of England, I learnt far more about Christian faith and life from her than anyone else over the years, by a substantial margin. The Wisest person I have ever known.
When as a callow seminarian I trained with Christine, I asked about the suitability of her funeral robes, white cassock alb and white stole. She said, ‘what else do we have to offer as Christians but the message of the Resurrection’

I have to say it took me a while to learn this, deep down. Then as a Good Protestant, this was way off my radar. I had learned that it was my job ‘to comfort people but not to give false hope’. ‘How can you proclaim resurrection if they weren’t Christian?’ How can you? How can one proclaim Life in the midst of Death?

But I have come to see that that is precisely what we are to do, to be the church, as a priest to represent the church, to follow in the way of Christ and boldly say ‘No’ to the narratives of death.

And so amidst all the black there I was, in white, the contrast all the sharper in the blazing sun.

Several people have asked me for the sermon I preached and I attach the text.

But I ask you to read it on one condition, that if you do so, you will join with me and the people of the church I am privileged to serve, in praying for the soul of a young man named Ross, and also for his family.

I know that for some of my readers this will be way outside your comfort zone, but this is where Christ bids us go. This is Holy Saturday. Christ Harrows Hell. Let us follow him boldly in prayer, for according to The Last Word even the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.

Today as we gather in this place to remember Ross, to pay our respects, to Grieve and to mourn, to share together in our confusion and pain and loss – we do not do so alone. We are not alone.

We meet in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We gather together as a community of people knowingly or otherwise bearing the image of the God who has created us and given us life, the One who is Community in and of himself, as the Christian faith asserts God is Love. And made as we are in the image of the God who is Love, then our lives are expressions of that Love in which we are made.

Put another way, as the poet John Donne said, ‘not one of us is a Island’, and your presence here today expresses that truth, not one of us is Alone, not one. However much the dark spirit of this present age might whisper to us ‘you have to stand on your own two feet’, ‘you have to be self sufficient’, ‘no one can live your life but you’ the presence of so many here today shows these are lies. If these things were the truth about us, then there would be no-one here today. If these things were true, then there would be no pain, no grief

It is close to impossible to find anything Good to say about the circumstances in which we meet, but perhaps if when we leave this place and go out into the world, we have learnt better to deny that life is about standing on our own two feet. To say ‘No!’ when someone tells us ‘you have to be self sufficient’. To know that leaning on one another bearing one another’s burdens is not an occasional necessity in difficult circumstances, but the very fibre of what it means to be human, that to be alive is to be deeply linked to everyone we meet – to know that we are never alone – to know that we are not self sufficient – to know that we are made to lean on one another – then perhaps Good may yet come out of this

All of our lives are inextricably linked. What is joy if not shared? What is Sorrow if not shared? What is Life if not shared? To be Alive is to be joined one to another, to live in mutual dependence, to need other people, and to be gift to other people – it is the meaning of our lives – that we are created By Love, In Love and For Love. It is the fundamental Truth of our existence – as your presence here today testifies.
And so I say to Ross’s family – you are not alone – you are held in Love. And here briefly I’d like to pay tribute to Ross’s close friends who have not stayed distant but I know have expressed such love and support to Ross’ family these past days – keep it up folks – we will contnue to need each other – it is what our lives are about.

And it is because that is the Truth about us, that our lives are inextricably bound up in each others, that there is so much pain today. Because Love is the foundation of who we are, when that Love is denied, it is as though the world falls apart.

We cannot make sense of what has happened. A young man has taken his own life. Yet Ross was so full of Life – happy, spontaneous, Kind,  the one who gave a running commentary on life and scrapped with his brother in the back of the car on long journeys. None of this makes any sense. He was so alive, he was and Is so joined to so many – his Life was not a life of isolation, no life is. This makes no sense – it is a deep contradiction of Life

None of us know why Ross did what he did – we cannot know and we are not here to judge. Speculation is hopeless and ultimately despairing and we need to turn from that. What has happened has happened, but the very fact that we are all gathered here today is testament that we are refusing to allow this to be the Last word about his life – that it is not the last word about his life. The last word is that Ross Is Loved. And that the pain and the grief and the searing loss we know here today, his family most of all, is a sign of that profound Love. Here on this terrible day, this day that no-one wanted ever to see, in the midst of the darkness and the suffering, the Truth about Ross is revealed in its fulness, He Is Loved. He is Held, He is not Alone, and neither are any of us.

And not even because of who he was, he was loved, he is loved purely because of his very existence. In all the stories that we have heard, in all the words that yet will no doubt be spoken about Ross – no words can in the end describe him, for Love is the meaning of our lives and we cannot express that, we can only know that it is the fundamental truth about each one of us.

We heard a moment or two ago the words of Jesus. To many perhaps these are words we have not heard before. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me’.
In the midst of our Grief and Loss, we hear an invitation. These words of Jesus he speaks to his closest friends the night before he is cruelly put to death. He is telling them, tremendous darkness lies ahead of you – but there is one who holds you in the darkness. Love is the meaning of your life, you are held in Love – Trust in God, trust also in me.

Tomorrow is Good Friday, it is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross for the sake of Love – and Christians live through this each year and we walk on to Easter Sunday, when beyond all human hope, Christ is raised from death. Love has the final Word. He is the Way and the truth and the Life – He is the meaning of our Lives made flesh – He is Love. And Love never fails

We do not have any resources in ourselves to go through these days – No! By the Grace of God who is Love and in whose image we are created, we have resources  amongst ourselves – we have Love for one another –  let us live and lean on that Love.


God Is Love – He Really IS!!!

The message of the cross, St Paul tells us is foolishness to those who are perishing . . .

The problem many of have as Christians is that it is foolishness to us also . . .

As we considered yesterday, ‘The key element . . . that sets Christian faith apart, is its understanding of God.
As The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Michael Ramsey said, God is Christlike, in God there is no unChristlikeness as all. So as we see Jesus, we must thus reshape our understanding of God.’

Those of us who deep down want a God worthy of us, a God who is little more than a projection of what we think to be our best attributes, our strength, our power, our Careful Love given to the deserving, our Intelligence etc etc – have to deal with the awkward fact of Jesus of Nazareth, and his complete and utter humiliation upon a Roman Cross.

There are two common tricks we employ to dodge Jesus, one is the ploy of ignoring the plain teaching of the church down through 2000 years and saying in effect, when we look at him we do not see his divinity. His humanity is as it were a mask – his divinity is hidden. This is an old heresy and one which we return to in one form or another every day.

We find it all but impossible to accept that the humanity of Jesus perfectly reveals his divinity, that there is NO contradiction – we wait for The Real Jesus to step out from behind the curtain, the ‘God’ we secretly longed for.

The second trick of course is to ignore the Jesus’ way of being – how he refuses to save the world by Good Works, by not resisting evil but by allowing himself to be given over into the hands of sinful humanity.

Both ‘tricks’ are of course ways of ignoring the call of this Galilean fisherman to follow him in the way of vulnerability, in the way of Love. The way of the Cross we will leave to Jesus, he can do the dying bit and then ‘Abracadabra’ we can enjoy Easter as the Real Jesus makes himself known

When we come to Good Friday – it is good to stop there as long as possible, hour after hour after hour – to hear deep within ourselves, ‘This is your God’ – bleeding and dying, giving himself for the Love of those who hung him there.

The rush to Resurrection is a sure sign that we haven’t yet accepted that what we see in Jesus’ humanity is the perfect expression of our Strange God, that he is a stranger to us, that the way of the Cross is foolishness to Us . . .

Stabilitas – An Advent Discipline

Our modern culture worships choice and ‘freedom’
Thus it is highly mobile
The grass is by definition greener, not only on the other side of the fence, but also over the rainbow, to mix the metaphorical palette

A question therefore all for all of us called to the work of abiding and bearing fruit is, ‘do we trust the soil the gardener chooses for us?’

To stay put where we’re put?

Richard Foster in his now classic, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ says ‘The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people or gifted people, but for deep people’
The question is, can such a mobile world, one which has radically (sic) severed its connection with Place ( the Given connection, the Soil ) in favour of an overwhelming multitude of connections bearing little or no relation to geography, produce such people?

Unless we wish to discount much of the significance of the Incarnation, then I suggest that we cannot be deep if our mindful existence is independent of Place, Location, Geography. A plant cannot grow in the virtual realm.

The Internet, texting etc., means we are not where we are . . . Which might in a sense question our very existence as anything other than disembodied consciousnesses. The metaphor of the fruit bearing vine is a physical one, we are not ‘winds’ – we are the planting of The Lord. Place matters

As a deep one of former times put it, ‘stay in your cell, it will teach you everything’. Or as Benedictine insisted in his rule, we cannot grow if we’re always on the move.

Do we trust the soil?

. . . your father is merciful

Just this week, this story from the UK caught my attention, if only for the stark quality of the reporting of the offences and the judgement. It’s worth reading if only to realise that we do not live in a world marked by the quality of mercy.

Chris Huhn and Vicky Price have done wrong, inarguably – ‘THEREFORE they must pay the price’.

It is the remorseless logic of this Sequitur that the Law demands. Judgement without mercy.

Recently I’ve taken much time to consider Peter. In some respects he is my patron Saint – with his at times almost comedic attempts to get it right and his lack of the classic virtues. Lent, when we look at the reality of our lives is a time I keep coming back to Peter.

Of course we all know of Peter’s gravest error, that he denies Jesus three times. The early church agonised for years over those who publicly disowned Jesus when faced with the possibility of death. Thus revealing that the denial is not to be dismissed as some adolescent overexuberance on the Chief Apostle’s part. Jesus’ restoration of Peter is no mere pat on the head, understanding ‘that we all make mistakes’. This is a Grave offence. Which reveals that Jesus’ actions towards Peter as in our terms frankly scandalous.

However much we try and psychologise the interchange between Jesus and Peter – ‘of course he had punished himself enough’- the fact is that there is NO punishment. Most interestingly Jesus does not even demote him. Jesus knows he cannot trust Peter, but then he knows what is in a man. He appointed him knowing he would fail him. And having asked ‘are you still on board? Are you still following?’ – reinstates him to his position of Chief Shepherd – he doesn’t even take away the privelege of martyrdom, which Peter has scorned.

What is clearly not central here are Peter’s quality as a leader, however much many ‘biblical sermon series on heroes of faith’ try and project our Ideals onto this and other frail humans. As has been remarked over and over again, by our criteria Jesus’ choice of those who will carry his mission into the world makes no sense at all.

WE would chose better, and having made such judgements, the price of failure, of not being what Our judgement had suggested those chosen actually were, would be demotion. What church leader, when fallen from Grace, is reinstated? The judgement of those who called him, or her, are shown to be faulty . . . the chosen one pays the price. Our failure of judgement is laid on the one we called.

No, what is central is not a quality in Peter. Jesus hasn’t seen something in Peter which we could see as well if only we tried hard enough. No. What is Central – indeed the only thing that matters is the call of Jesus. That is all. Peter IS unqualified – that is clear and only becomes more so. His only qualification that matters is the call of Jesus, and this endures after all the other ‘qualifications’ are shown to be straw.

In the case of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, there is no reinstatement for ‘the guilty pair’ – no-one says to them ‘neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin’. All there is is the remorseless logic of the law, tempered by . . . nothing. They had high office, we expected better, they must pay the price . . . Of course as the elections in the Vatican remind us, Peter’s office was even higher

At the heart of the Christian faith is a dead Jew on a Roman Cross. In just a few days now we will stand before this cross. Perhaps for the first time today, one of the most significant messages that the Cross of Christ conveys to the World struck me. That is that Judgement itself is Judged and found utterly wanting. The death of the one who had no sin, for all its metaphysical overtones, in its starkness reveals that human judgement is itself only an instrument of death. That the only one who is not worthy of death is judged to be worthy of death by the world, says everything.

Of course, if Christians started to truly treat one another with the sort of mercy that Jesus showed Peter – reinstating fallen leaders, throwing parties for Prodigals, then of course we would in all likelihood lose much if not all of our credibility in the world.

But then when you think about it, the idea that the Creator of the Universe hangs on a Cross, to reveal his utter mercy. That on the third day he rose from the dead and began the work of reinstating and restoring all those who had so publicly humiliated him – is itself not credible. Perhaps that’s why we continue to judge and so be judged. We don’t really believe, that it’s true. ‘People Do need to be punished, they must pay the price’. We don’t believe the fundamental doctrine of our faith, the Jesus has paid the price.

If it really IS true however that the Chosen one pays the Price – then perhaps we might see the world differently. If the punishment Has really been laid on Him, then Jesus’ re-instatement of Peter is actually not the most incredible thing – rather the Divine Sequitur of mercy is the only possible response. It’s all that’s left. The price has been paid.

Loving the hated

It strikes me that there is a tension within the scriptures, indeed evident within the words and actions of Jesus, a tension not well navigated in the life of the church.

And that is between ‘holiness’, for want of a better word, and mercy. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount preaches what many treat as an impossible ethic, to live out the life of God, to be the light of the world. Yet also he associates with those who manifestly – externally at least – do not reveal that life, notorious sinners. Furthermore amongst his disciples we see little of this Life manifest, and Peter must be restored after denying Christ.

This restoration in particular is most significant, for Peter is restored to his position as the lead disciple, the one called to feed the sheep. Jesus does not say to him, ‘of course you are forgiven, but having failed so appallingly, you can no longer feed my sheep’, which is the almost uniform response of the church to those who fall from Grace, sometimes quite horribly.

Of course the one to be restored needs ‘a penitent, lowly and obedient heart’, but then so do we all, and perhaps here is the true challenge for us all.

Peter would not have been restored in the church in these days, it seems to me.

James, the brother of Jesus, whose voice often sounds to me closest to that of The Lord, tells us that ‘Mercy triumphs over judgment’. It strikes me that this aspect of the Life of God we would do well to ponder in our shared life.

[with thanks to Jill Hopkinson for providing the stimulus for these thoughts in the sentiment expressed here]

You need to lose your mind

‘When Jesus bids us come, he bids is come and die’ Bonhoeffer

In our world where faith has been reduced to no more than a set of ideas, and ‘The Truth’ to a rational, usually Scientific, understanding of the world, this means that Christianity in almost all forms, Conservative and Liberal alike, equates to changing our mind, or dying to old ways of thinking.

Never for a moment does it seem that Jesus actually meant saying no to our life and our plans, and following him.

Of course ‘a change of mind’ is needed, but only the realisation that we don’t know anything, and they only in laying down our lives, and following ‘The Truth’, will we find it.

‘go into your room, and close the door’

For all the talk that people are increasingly spiritual, which from the point of view of Christian faith is neither here nor there, it is evident both statistically and in the reality of church life, that we pray less than ever before.

There is something about prayer which goes entirely contrary to the Spirit of this Age. Of course it also went against each and every previous zeitgeist, but it is this age that has seen such precipitate decline in prayer (along with public worship, generosity in giving alms and of course fasting as a central discipline of the the faith).

Jesus counsel on prayer, in Matthew 6 should really be seen not as a simple instruction, but rather as a disposition of the Life that is eternal – that from our perspective, it is hidden.

This is something which our age, perhaps above all others cannot bear. From every corner, we are exhorted to be ‘Out there’, to ‘Express ourselves’. Through Twitter and Facebook, through talk shows, and endless opinion polls – we are ‘extroverted’. Our own sense that our lives are of Significance, indeed of Ultimate significance is remorselessly fed and so we ‘put ourselves out there in many ways’ . . . and yes that does include blogging.

But this apparent ‘excuvatus’, is no more or less than the massive projection of ourselves, the paradoxical evidence that we are ‘incurvatus se’, turned in ourselves, self obsessed, thinking that our lives are of such interest to others that we must detail them for the sake of our ‘friends’.

Jesus is frequently, conversely, hiding – the source of his life is not himself – public exposure is shunned – rather He is Revealed. He goes secretly to the feast after his brethren have exhorted him to ‘‘Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’

“No one who wants to be widely known acts in secret.” In our age it is the height of wisdom – and it is Revealed in scripture as unbelief.

We are exhorted by Paul, to pray continually – it is the call to the inner room – the call which Orients us to the Truth that our Life is no longer our own, but His. Insofar as it is Seen, it is Revealed, it does not need to be paraded. Indeed it is not ours to parade.

To go into our room and close the door is The disposition of Life.

If we are to know Life in ourselves and the church, this is perhaps The Lesson we most need to learn.