Advent Sunday – Year B 2017

ADVENT SUNDAY

YEAR B

2017

 

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Mark 13:24-37

 

‘Eyes to See, Ears to Hear – Where and When we Are’

 

The other day, I was sat under the St John’s Oak, when I was joined by a male blackbird. He danced around on the lawn and continually chirruped – it took me several minutes for me to work out that he was talking to me 🙂

 

Now I realise that rumours of my insanity abound, but . . . when I was in England in June, I spent a day deep in the Devon woods learning about the five bird languages, the five different songs each bird has. The Blackbird’s chirrup, to which I was listening, and watching as his ruff bobbed up and down, was his ‘Contact’ call. That is the song the bird uses to establish if there are any of its own around.

 

Well the blackbird – looking at me with his beady eye – hopped closer and closer, until working out what he was doing, I replied. He didn’t recognise my feeble attempt at its contact call – and turned to the characteristic ‘Alarm’ Language as first he flew off, but then other birds in the vicinity, warned by his panic scattered, and for a few moments the air was thick with these alarm calls spreading as far as the ear could hear.

 

If you start to learn bird languages – Almost always, the first you would know would be the alarm language, for we pay little attention to the birds, far far less than they pay to us. Thus as we begin to learn to listen, we are still insensitive to your place in the scheme of things – we don’t know how to behave amongst birds and by default they are terrified of us. Bird watching may be a hobby for a few, but even then most of the time we pay them no heed, getting on with what we deludedly call ‘our own lives’, as if our lives had nothing to do with theirs. So we don’t live amongst them with gentleness and sensitivity – and they Flee! For we have no Sense of Where we are – of how We fit into Creation . . .

 

This is must be said is a particularly Modern failing – our Culture has very little or noo sense of our place in the scheme of things, how to live within the Creation. We may be able to give a detached ‘scientific account of it, but we do not Sense it, we do not truly Know it.

We have so much power, moreso in this age than in any other, and have used that power to separate ourselves from the wider Creation. Thus we live as an increasingly angry bull in a shop of the most delicate china. We have exacerbated this, even amongst ourselves, by dismantling so many structures and ways of living together, a sort of scorched earth policy for human existence. And all this is made worse as we have become almost an entirely Urban species, in practise if not always in location. Our sphere of the senses all but entirely taken up with human artefacts –  only seeing ourselves reflected back to ourselves. At every turn a humanly constructed environment, disconnected from The Creation, living in increasingly angry echo chamber of anti social-media. Place in Creation? – its for the birds . . . And so we are ‘homeless’

Unlike the Birds We have little or no sense of our Place in the scheme of things. Of who we are, of where we are in Place and in Time . . . Where are we? What Time is it?

 

Yet our Mother the Church in her Wisdom gives us a Place and a Time. And the Time is the beginning of our Year, Advent. This Time I given for Slowness. It is the beginning of the Year – we are called to Awaken – a time for Waking to Awareness – a time for Contemplation. This is the beginning of the Church Year and we should, despite every temptation not to, take time to Wake up to where and When we are, that we might Sense Where and When we are.

 

And indeed we Can do this. We have been given the capacity to See, to Hear, to Read the signs of the times. Jesus would not ask us to do something which he had not empowered us to do.

Last week you may remember our brother St Paul spoke to us of his prayer; that a spirit of wisdom and revelation be given us as we come to know the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory  [Eph 1:17-18] Coming to know God in Jesus Christ is the key to Seeing, to Hearing, the Key to all Knowledge and All Understanding. Knowing God in Jesus we have made Known to us who we are and where we are. Apart from knowing Him, this knowledge is hidden from us. He is the Door which allows in the light of the knowledge of all things in heaven and earth

 

 

And so as Paul opens his first letter to the Church in Corinth he does so with a reminder of our Capacity for Understanding Where and Who we are.

 

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

When we speak of reading the signs of the times – like a home owner who commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch – as Jesus says he has already told us all these things – Paul says we have been given the necessary gifts to discern as we spend time in prayer before God, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened. If these words of Jesus sound strange to our ears, perhaps it is because our spiritual senses and gifts have atrophied, as we have ignored the sense of our place in the scheme of things. And the Times . .

 

Of which there are strong echoes of our times in the words of Jesus

 

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

 

Words which speak powerfully of disorder on the Cosmic Level – affecting Everything. And what do we see around us but the collapse of the created order, and with it, woven through it, for we do have a place whether we recognize it or no, the collapse of social orders and structures. And, yet insulated by our Modern lives, Do we Truly see? After all, if we cannot walk down the drive of the Church – if indeed we do walk anywhere! – and Know our place in it within the Creation, how our lives relate and impact on all living things even at the most basic level of our relationship with the local birdlife, then how do we think we can read the signs of the times?

 

Note how Jesus so often uses the wider created order as a metaphor – consider: the lilies; the mustard seed; weeds and wheat; indeed even the humble sparrow – to whom I will return. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

 

For too long perhaps we have now lost sense of how the spiritual and the material participate in each other – this is of course the heart of our faith, that heaven and Earth are woven together in Christ Jesus – this weaving together is ‘the message of Christmas’ for which Advent is our time of preparation. Losing that sense we think Jesus is engaged in a simple metaphor, as if there were no connection except in our minds – whereas for his listeners, they had a far deeper appreciation of that woven togetherness – that the Creation told a story of Spiritual significance – for it is the Temple of the living God, the Home of God, from which in a sense he has gone away for a time . . .

Finding our place in Creation is finding our place where the material and Spiritual are woven together, inseparable  . . . it is to find our Home

 

So disconnected are we, that I wonder what Jesus might be saying to us, to get us to Wake Up!

 

As he said to Nicodemus, If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? If we do not know our place within the material order of things, and it is woven into the spiritual order in Christ, how can we know our place in the Spiritual order??

 

Well, briefly let’s try – and in our imagination sit a few yards away, under the oak. And thereof we have eyes to see – we see several things.

It is strained – the building of the Rest home dropped the water table – and it is out of place, an English oak growing in alien soil, the weather too warm and dry for it – see the black fungus which decks its twigs – read the signs. We Moderns think little of place and how vital it is to health and move things around, yet everything that was given in Creation was given in a place – it thrives in its native soil – even Vicars :-). None of us are the same wherever we are – where we are is so important in the story of who we are. As humans we cannot just ‘go where we like when we like’ without doing harm to our very existence. We need roots because we need water. The roots of the Oak are wounded and yet it bleeds sap through its leaves at an alarming rate – it cannot keep on at this speed – What does it speak to us?? Out of place and hurried – a ‘metaphor’ for our Modern world – Accelerated we live in a culture of faster and harder and More . . . like the oak we will not see out our full span of years at this rate.

and perhaps for Now, for Advent? Are we Slow, Do we Know where we are?

 

 

Advent is a Gift given to us – a season in which we might yet step back, to pray, to watch to pray for the renewal of the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, of knowledge and understanding.

 

We cannot do this without Seeing the Creation, not purely as Scenery and Views, but Knowing ourselves to be woven into it – our place in it – What it Really is, and who we Really are – like the prodigal – consider, come to our senses. Use the Eyes to See and Ears to hear we have been given – heaven and Earth woven together. Advent is preparation for The Feast of the Incarnation – the woven-ness of all things – if we do not See in Advent, how will we See Christmas?

 

The Creation – It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch – we get so so tied up with the ‘how’ of Creation – Creationists vs Evolutionists, that we completely miss the point. What Has God made?

 

A place, The Place God chooses to make a Home for Himself – The Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us . . . and leaves us to watch over it

 

I close with that doorkeeper, on the watch.

Consider the birds of the air . . . If you are at all attentive to the birds, you will know the Sentinel bird which keeps watch here. No it is not the mighty eagle of St John the Evangelist – it is the humble sparrow who nests in the adjacent beech and from the early hours, sits on the corner of the roof of our house. His call is a contact call and also what we might call background song – the humble sparrow hasn’t a wide vocal range 🙂 but that call is nearly incessant, indeed if you pay too close attention to it it can drive you nearly mad 🙂 He is the Sentinel. He watched the whole patch. Usually he is the first to see a cat.  He is often the first to spread the alarm call as his cheep quickens and gets a little higher ion pitch. He knows his place. He is alert to what is going on around him . . . He reads the sign of the times . . . and others around him pay attention. We are Called by Jesus to be watchkeepers on God’s House, His home

 

Jesus says we are worth more than many sparrows. This advent, let us not be too proud to learn from Him [Let the reader understand]

 

Amen

 

Good Lord, Deliver us!

Sermon for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A 2017

Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 70
Matthew 25:1-13

‘Good Lord deliver us’

‘And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.’ Matthew 24:12-13

Last week we briefly considered  ‘Ontology’ – the question of ‘What Is’, of ‘What we mean when we say ‘Existence’’. And for getting into the heart of the matter, I  think that you could do far worse than talk to a farmer. Of course, coming from a farming family myself I may be biased, but Farmers are very connected to the Earth – they are grounded, we might say ‘humble’. They know far better than most modern people how dependent they are on a hundred and one factors which we pay little attention to – and know it not purely academically, they know it, because they live in it. They have a deep appreciation of Existence.

I remember well how the farmers in my old parish back in England spoke a great deal about climate change for it was affecting their rhythms and patterns of work, and I remember one particular conversation with a farmer who expressed to me his deep concern about Modern folk. That they had never lived through periods of food shortages. That as a society the folk memory of famine and want had been all but erased – for whom food shortage ‘was a thing of the past’, ‘something that happened to other people’. For not since the second war had folk experienced what it was for Everyone to know that food was short. My farmer friend thought this bode ill, that we had for too long lost sight of the importance of food security and agriculture to our daily lives, of our dependence upon the Good Earth, for history taught that famine was an ever returning aspect of the cycle . . .

In one of my churches we had a piece of furniture which was once common – The Litany Desk. On it lay a prayer book open at The Great Litany, a series of prayers with the repeated petition, ‘Good Lord deliver us . . .’ From amongst other things, ‘plague and famine and want . . . ‘

The idea that we might as a congregation pray weekly for deliverance from plague and famine and want, that we should be continually looking to God to preserve us from these things was something that in the eyes of my farmer friend and church member, something we had lost touch with – As Henry reminded me from Scripture – ‘we live in the seven years of plenty, but there are always seven of famine round the corner . . .’

Yet prayers about deliverance from plague and famine and indeed much more – seem to us to be ‘culturally irrelevant’. Would we give ourselves to pray the litany, three times a week? I must confess that in my own cultural blinkers, I removed the desk . . .

And what then of the Psalms? The prayer book of the Church as we know, but do we Know it? How much do they touch our lives , as we perceive them . . .

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’ turn back because of their shame.

Do such prayers apply to us? We who have everything we need . . . One of the hallmarks of our age and culture seems to be its easy self sufficiency. Written deep into the myth of these Islands is ‘we enjoy the good life’ I remember a few years back reading a piece in the Star asking why the entrepreneurial spirit amongst Kiwis was not as strong was in other cultures and the response was – because here you don’t have to put in too much effort for the three Bs – BMW, Boat and Bach – or if you’re from a different class, Barbie, Beer and Bach . . . The good life – sit back with a glass of chilled Savvie blanc and watch the sunset . . . And say to your soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

And in so many ways the sun is setting – certainly over the Church which is rapidly dying in these parts? Perhaps because we have no sense of our Roots, of our Earthiness – of our Dustiness – of where Life truly comes from? Of our sheer dependence on everyone and everything that surrounds us
. . . and under all, in all through all and coming to us if we did but see, the Deep wellsprings of the Life of God who in Christ sustains everything – Christ – sustains everything . . .

No one is crying out – ‘Why have you abandoned us??’ No one seems to be praying, ‘From a collapsing Church – Good Lord deliver us’. How strong is, not our doctrine or our idea of our mutual dependence on one another and God, how Strong is our Sensation, that embodied perception that Knows that the myth of Independence is a Shallow and deadly lie, that in truth it is God who is Life, who sustains our lives moment by moment. How is this Perception lived out amongst us?

Independence tells us we can do it for ourselves, that we have ‘our own lives’ and that is how we experience life in the modern world if we have a modest income. This becomes the narrative of our existence, and even the church acts as if it is more or less independent of God

Last week we pondered Jesus’ beatitudes, His startling accounting of those who were blessed. Of how his words were Emphatic – Blessed are the meek – for THEY shall inherit the Earth . . . Blessed are the poor, meek, mourning, hungry, persecuted – THEY shall inherit.

What marks out the Blessed in Jesus terms? Those who are in need, in necessity – those who do cry out day and night to the LORD, Good Lord deliver us – those who knew their dependence on kindness of others and the goodness of God, not as dry doctrine, but embodied fact – Blessed are those who know the truth of their existence . . . Blessed are those . . .

‘who cry out to God day and night will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Blessed are the un-noticed – Blessed are those who are looking for God’s coming to them . . .

Blessed are those who long for his appearing, for they will not be careless with the oil – they will be prepared – they will be ready. The parable of the wise and foolish differentiates between those who are attentive, those who know their need and their insufficiency, and those who have become careless, who consider their life is their own.
Jesus having preached several parables against the Pharisees, now warns his disciples. Your Master, your Rabbi is going on a journey – things are being put into your hands – there is a very stern warning in the verses before our parable which puts it into context – Jesus talking to his disciples says

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(As one writer wryly asks – ‘which we may ask is worse, to be cut into pieces or to be assigned a place with the hypocrites . . . 🙂 )

So we have the wise slave who attends to his masters business, who is attentive to his coming, who knows his Life is tied up with his masters, who is caught up in that Love from the Lord, and too the Lord, which is the heart of mutual existence – and the wicked slave who gets distracted, separated out. The wise bridesmaids who are ready with their oil, and the foolish who haven’t given any thought to preparations, for what would they Need??

This parable with its stern closure – ‘I do not know you’ and the previous warning to the disciples take us back to that Sermon on the Mount which begins with the beatitudes of the needy, and takes us to its closure – its ending – the wise and the foolish.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Distracted from the small works of mercy, by grandiose schemes and plans – unknown to the one who comes in smallness and humility

Then the parable of the Wise and foolish – those who hear the words of Jesus, are attentive to his word, and act on them – the Wise who build their house on the rock of the words of The Other . . . and those who don’t – those who don’t act on the words of Jesus and build their house where they see fit . . . Which house will stand in the day of the Lord’s appearing?

It is a story about an approaching storm – The Day of the Lord as spoken of by the prophet Amos. Amos the uncultured shepherd prophet, who throughout cries out words of warning to the comfortable

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

Caught up in mutual independence in our neediness and love; or Independent, thinking ourselves to have a life of our own, not anchored to anything or anyone?

I must say I Love his turn of phrase – ‘as if someone fled from a lion only to be met by a bear!’ but its message is sober and clear

The closing verses of the Psalm place us – place us within the Reality of our Life before God, who Is our Life and give us a rejoicing Hope, and Orientation towards the One who comes to us in the Name of the Lord

Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, ‘God is great!’
But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!

A storm is coming – Good Lord, deliver us!

 

All Saints – Incompatible Metaphysics

Incompatible metaphysics

Jesus said ‘Truly, Truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you’
John 6:53

A catchy sermon title is always helpful 🙂 I have a friend with whom I meet up all too infrequently, and when we do get together we have a common lament ‘Why is no one interested in Ontology or Metaphysics?’ because without Ontology or metaphysics, you don’t know which way is up! . . . Metaphysics, of which Ontology is a subsection, is concerned with the Question of ‘What is?’ Or to put it a little more helpfully, what is the true nature of Reality. Our conversations are usually held over large cups of coffee, but I am sure that if we are granted enough years we may well graduate to Whisky and pipes 🙂

Of course this revelation might be met either with complete incomprehension – ‘What has that go to do with anything??’ To which the answer is it has Everything to do with Everything! Or, ‘Well I’m glad someone is thinking about these things, but the rest of us just get on with it!!’ To which the only reasonable response is – What is the It with which you are getting on?’

For it must be said, if the underlying story of our existence by which we live by is wrong, then we are in trouble – and if the Western World is anything to go by, then it might be safe to assume that we have the wrong story, or The Wrong Metaphysic . . . Certainly we seem to inhabit a World which is not conducive to Life. Modern Culture is wiping out Life on Earth at a rate that were it a LOT slower we might call Alarming. Somehow the Modern Western Culture doesn’t fit ‘within The Great Scheme of Things . . . and as for the Life of the Church, it would seem that the Western World is similarly Ill disposed to the Church – some form of decline pretty much everywhere you look. The collapse of the Created Order, and the Collapse of the Church . . .

Of course, someone might say, well at least here in the West we are free to worship without fear . . . yet we must ask whether this is truly a hopeful sign? If a Culture that is destroying everything is happy to let us do what we want in this reagard, then perhaps we actually believe the same story. Perhaps we have the same Metaphysic, or ‘we’re just like all the rest’ . . .
. . . which brings us to today on which we celebrate ‘All Saints’ . . . and to be a Saint is to have a very different metaphysic, to live out of a very different story, a story which I suggest leaves us at odds with the culture in which we find ourselves . . .

Saints – Moreover the problem of being a Saint in the Modern World – And we might find ourselves on familiar ground here. Back on the ‘on the one hand, but then on the other’ ground’ The Church and the Real World, Clergy and Lay people, God and Caesar . . . Saints on one hand and then on the other, we run of the mill Christians . . . Except that isn’t true . . .

The word Saint in Greek is Hagioi – it is the direct translation of the word ‘Holy’ in the Hebrew קםש — Set apart for God.

As we heard in Leviticus last week ‘Be Holy for I am Holy’ – as Peter tells us ‘Be Holy for I am Holy’. This ‘Holy’ is not primarily a ‘moral’ word, rather it is a Metaphysical Word – it is to do with Existence – it is a form of Existence – Yet we have a problem with the word Holy which in our culture has a ‘moral’ feel to it – in Te Reo, Tapu gets closer, but then we have to translate it and when we translate any word aside from words about objects, we always mistranslate – so we might call it ‘Sacred’. But none of these really do, words that are so shaped by our World –

As Always Jesus expresses it this ‘holiness’, in HIs Being, and his Speech

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;
for [your Father in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If we go into the depths of what it means to be a Saint, one of the Holy, it is this, it is to be a Child of God. Note how Jesus expresses our action – Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good . . . This living out of the Life of The Father is the Christian Metaphysic, and is beautifully revealed in the heart of prayer, when we say The Lord’s Prayer

I was asked recently, why do I use the words ‘As our Saviour Christ has both commanded and taught us, we are bold to say’ as an invitation to pray the Lord’s Prayer. (Words which come from the prayer book of the Episcopal Church of the US) Why? Because surely it is more than a little bold to pray in such a way as to Assume a relationship, that we have been born of God? ‘Born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God’

What is more we pray out of that assumption. Forgive us as we have forgiven, ‘We have lived as your children , reflecting the Divine Image in the World, Loving our enemies, forgiving all and sundry – therefore we make a claim on you, the One from whom our Life comes, the one who is the source of the forgiveness with which we have forgiven.

To live out of the Life of the Father, in imitation of the One whom we Love with all our heart and soul and mind. Jesus is of course the First amongst the brethren, the One who only does what he sees the Father doing – His gaze is on the Father and as we set our Gaze of God in Jesus. Being Holy, Being a Saint is the same as Being a Child of God. It is knowing Life from God – it is having a different form of existence in the World

…..

An old Saint of the church died a year or so ago. To this day I don’t know her name, but someone who was with her when she died told me a beautiful story which I think speaks to this and indeed to the whole question of Metaphysics, what we are, and why Christian metaphysics is incompatible with the story the World tells about itself, insofar as it has a story.

Shortly before she died in hospital, which itself tells us much of the World’s story, a doctor on his rounds who hadn’t met her dropped in. Making small talk . . . for without a better metaphysic what Are you going to talk about? . . . he asked her ‘Where are you from?’ And without a moments hesitation our Sister replied ‘From God’ . . .

In our Baptism, we are identified with Jesus, marked as His People, and we are granted the Gift of the Divine Life – the Life from above. This life is unlike other life in the world, although it is the source of all life in the World.
The early Christians were not seen in modern terms as ‘one religion amongst many’ Those are terms set by the Modern world with its categories and boxes, trying to manipulate things to fit in with its story. No, they were seen as a separate Race, a new humanity and such language fills the Scriptures of Course – as St Paul says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, S/he is a New Creation’ a New Creature – through the Life of God in Her, she is a foretaste of the Once and future Kingdom of God

And if we still don’t get it, this Different Metaphysic, then what of the words of Jesus? Do they speak to us of the world around us?

Blessed are the poor, the poor in Spirit, the mourners, the meek, the pure in heart, those hungering and thirsting, the persecuted for the name of Jesus . . . They are the Blessed.
Certainly we cannot see the world as Modern people and find the words of Jesus are anything but madness . . . they are incompatible with the Modern World . . . The Meek inherit the Earth? No, the Powerful, the strong etc etc It is no surprise that the words Jesus are continually being twisted and reinterpreted for in the Modern World they are Irrelevant . . . you won’t get far in the Way of the World if you take Jesus at his word. How are you going to get on in school, in your career, in getting a good standard of living etc etc with this blessed life?? Taking Jesus at his word, Jesus who Manifests This Life, finds us living out of a very different Metaphysic, a different Existence

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, that he had come from God, and was going back to God got up from the table, took off his robe and wrapped a towel round his waste. You see if You are not the Source of your own existence, if you don’t have to prove yourself, make a name for yourself, ‘get on in the World’ – then you do not have to secure your existence in the World – you don’t have to make it fit, you don’t have to make it relevant, you can just let it Be.

The story of the Modern World is that you are responsible for Your Life – You create our own life. As one writer puts it, it is hardy surprising their is such an epidemic of depression faced with the Command to Be Yourself . . . But if your life is not your own but comes as Gift from The Father, and what is more it will return to the Father, then that struggle falls away. We are Free with Jesus to be the poor in Spirit one, the mourning, meek, pure of heart one, the hungering and thirsting one . . . The Blessed One. Free to be Saints –

Whatever story the world has of those who are blessed it isn’t the Jesus story – indeed the two stories are incompatible. The story of the modern world is epitomised by the Skip which was on the lawn last week. We who are no more than a collection of atoms, mysteriously living, for we have no story about what Life itself is, beyond a chilled white wine and a nice view. . . dig dead matter out of the ground, exert our will on it, make it into something, sell it to someone, who eventually puts it in a skip and it goes back into a whole in the ground. Insofar as there is a dominant story about what it is to be human, it is veering towards a similar disposability of dead things.

It is a story moving from non existence to non existence, a story From death to death

Jesus said ‘Truly, Truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you’

We are her to remember who we are – to remember our story as Christians

Our story – the story of the Saints, the Story of The Children of God is from Life to Life – from God, To God, The Divine Life – and shedding Light and life abroad . . .

‘Look to the Rock’ – Jesus and The Church

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Trinity

The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 2017

 

‘Look to the Rock’

Jesus and The Church

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 6:20

 

Jesus Christ and his body the Church is the joining place of heaven and Earth. It is the link between the life of God the Creator and His Creation. It is the Sacrament of Sacraments, it is the Door of the Water of Life flowing into the Creation, and it is Obscure. It does not readily yield itself to human gaze or enquiry. Frankly if we are looking for a likely people on whom to rest our hopes, then the people of God down through the ages do not leap off the pages of history as likely candidates – and if we are looking for a likely Saviour, then Jesus of Nazareth – an obscure Jewish Rabbi of sorts, although he hardly fits the bill even within the Jewish Rabbinic tradition, who lived two thousand years ago in a remote corner of the then ‘global’ Roman empire, whom we are told died on a cross and some crazies assert rose from the dead – well put like that He seems the unlikeliest of Saviours.

No wonder that Paul speaks of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified as ‘foolishness to the Greeks’. Looking for a sophisticated message about the true meaning of your life? Nothing to see here . . . at least for the Sophists . . .

 

What is more, given all that, it is perhaps no surprise that the church speaks less and less of Jesus Christ, Son of God. It is easier and more in the keeping with the vague spiritual notions of an age which has lost its way to go on at length about ‘The Mystery of God’ – not that the chrsitian Tradition has ever been in denial about the mystery of God, but has insisted to the embarrassment even of those called to proclaim this faith, on Jesus of Nazareth as the only entry point into the Mystery of the existence of God – and the Door for the Life of God to be manifested in the world . . . albeit in obscurity. For facing the Crucifed One all our images of God as we would wish Him to be lie shattered and in ruins.

The notion of God as the one made in our image, shoring up our insecurities by triumphantly improving the world, in tune with the spirit of our age finds no referent in Christ and him crucified. It is easier by far to posit Jesus as a teacher of Wisdom, as yet another guru of The Human Potential Movement, telling us how fabulous we are if we only knew it – if only he had associated with the right people . . . If only God picked his representatives better it would be plain and obvious . . . if only God didn’t join himself to an obscure people as the vehicle of his Redemption . . .

 

 

Of course flesh and blood cannot reveal to Peter the truth about Jesus – who would have guessed?

 

And as her God is obscure and hidden so too are the people of God, although rather like the Wizard of Oz we like to puff ourselves up

Have Important Meetings

Build mighty cathedrals

But God in his mercy brings us low once more – directs our attention to the Rock

 

Look to the Rock! The prophet cries out ‘Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you’

Look to the rock from which you were hewn!! Abraham??

 

Abraham and Sarah? We remember that Sarah  laughed at God’s promise. God makes promises which we laugh at, and we join Sarah in her laughter  – We forget that Abraham laughed first. Abraham couldn’t see the Salvation of God, it took many years journeying before he began to learn to believe

 

Isaac, Son of laughter is the fruit of a man and woman who laughed at God’s promises. The first fruit of that promise – which grew into the people of God . . . who continued not to get it. Who are far from a picture of steadfast maturity in faith

Look to the rock from which you were hewn . . .

 

We do our children no good when we feed their imaginations with stories of ‘the heroes of faith’; airbrushed characters who subtly suggest to us that our salvation lies within ourselves, and that if we only pulled our socks up and generally tidied ourselves up, we could save the world

 

And Peter . . . The Rock . . . and now it is we who are laughing. Peter, the Rock???

Of course those revisionists of the history of the people of God get round Peter’s failings – his betrayal. His speech at Pentecost is the straw at which we clutch – suggesting to us that being a spiritual superhero is on the cards . . .

 

Again we airbrush the history

We conveniently forget if we ever knew, that years down the road, in Galatia, Peter is at it again, saving his own skin. Siding with those who think this whole Christianity business is a matter of what we do, of correct religious observances – not to do with God

 

‘Guilty by association’ we say – the God who associates himself with such as these, He cannot be The God . . . so we remodel. We move the Jew, Jesus away from the Centre and thus His Body The Church also. Lord knows we have more than enough reasons to do that . . . I mean, what can you say about a supposed Saviour who would hang around in such company??

Look to the Rock . . . Look To Abraham, and Sarah in their unbelief, Look to Peter in his cowardice, Abraham in his deception, Peter in his Arrogant presumption, Peter in his deceit, Abraham in his trying to do God’s work for Him, and what about the Church, do we not all have many reasons to reject the centrality of this body in the purposes of God . . .

The point is this – simply put the people of God down through the ages are, well they are sinners . . . because God in Jesus Christ doesn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners in need of repentance. Given that we believe in One who hung out with those at whom the world looked in askance, why do we suggest he has now changed? That he would now disassociate himself from those the world mocks?

Flight from the God who makes himself know to us in the obscurity of God’s sinful failing, lying and deceiving people – people who occasionally have flashes of brilliance, whom hear the word of God and speak it, but often are asleep to this Great Salvation – Flight from such a God who makes himself known in the obscurity of Jesus – is a flight from the reality of our human condition making us prey to ‘other gospels’  – disembodied gospels out there – if we don’t have to deal with the supremely messy people of God and their obscure Saviour hanging dead on a Roman Cross . . .

Trying to speak of God apart from the messy and often shameful history of God’s people, and apart from the scandalous particularity of our faith – that God was in Christ Jesus,  Reconciling the World to himself in a tortured twisted and broken body upon a Roman Cross, for the sake of a bunch of sinners – is to disconnect God from our Life – it is to break the Sacramental connection by which God takes hold of us – it is in and through this mess and obscurity that God takes hold of us and loves us and blesses us, and finally heals us from our Sin. It is the Way of the blessing of God

Look to the Rock! Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many

Look to Peter and how in the presence of Jesus the Truth flows from the Father into the World You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God! Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

Finally look to Jesus, the Christ, this broken Messiah, the Rock which Moses in his anger struck in the Wilderness, and that Rock was Christ – we look to Jesus the Rock for He associates with us – we sinners

The Rock on whom we feed in a sip of wine and a scrap of bread

Nothing to look at – obscure. Like his people once more in this age, nothing about Him that we might desire him – our Life – His Life in our hands at this table he has set for us

The one in whom our Father in heaven has made known to us – the Christ, The Son of the living God. The One in Whom heaven and Earth are joined in and through his body – His Church. And therein is not only our hope but the Hope of the whole world, foolish as it may well seem

Amen

Sermon for Evensong – 10th Sunday after Trinity – OT20A 2017 – Encountering Grace and God

Sermon for Evensong – 10th Sunday after Trinity – OT20A 2017

2 Kings 4:1-7
Acts 16:6-34

Encountering Grace – Encountering God

‘Grace to you, and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ’

I always head my sermons with a biblical text – and usually a reference – but in the case of these words, the references would be too long – for the Apostle Paul opens every single one of his 12 letters in the scriptures with this very same greeting. ‘Grace to you, and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ’. Even his letter to the Galatians, which dispenses with all of the standard courtesies of saying how much he is praying for them etc. has these words. Grace, Grace and Peace to you, From God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

And there is a temptation to skip over them – to move on to the meat of the theology of Paul’s message – a bit like when you are graced . . . with the receipt of a letter, we skip over ‘Dear . . .’ not least because most letters we receive continue ‘Sir or Madam’ – from strangers who do would not call us dear to our face.
‘Dear’ an address which like so much of our language has lost its density, we just tag it on out of custom – we write back to the bank, or we did, even our writing has now been reduced to typing and that on an all but frictionless keyboard . . . ‘Dear Sir, or Madam’ and what follows the ‘Dear’ expressed precisely why we don’t mean ‘Dear’ Words without weight – no Density

But we should not pass over Grace to you, and Peace . . . For Paul these words are words from the stuff of his life as a disciple of Jesus – they express his being taken hold of by the Living God – they are not mere words. Paul’s culture unlike ours knows no such thing as ‘mere words’. By his Word, God created the heavens and the Earth. Words speak Matter – they are concrete. Paul speaks out of his Encounter, and his words are words of encounter. Grace TO you, Peace TO you, FROM God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. May you be apprehended by Grace – may it come to you, and so with Peace also . . . but that’s another sermon, or 50

Grace is a very familiar word to us as Christians – we sing Amazing Grace, one of the best selling Christian books of recent years has the title ‘What’s so amazing about grace?’ (many of you I know have read it) – but our Faith is in the Word made Flesh. Words in Our dictionary have form, density, materiality always guiding us into the encounter with this Grace which comes to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ – who is Grace in the Flesh.

It was John Wesley – that fine Anglican 🙂 – who added to the somewhat cerebral three legged stool of ‘Scripture, Tradition, and Reason’ a fourth leg – and an indispensable one – Experience. The heart of the Evangelical faith, is faith in the Evangel, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, who comes to us from God the Father . . . it is in this encounter that Grace moves from being a concept, a nice word, to an experienced dense reality.

That move is the move to the Faith of the Apostles – the Density of Faith. Embodied. We can in our conceptual terms come up with a dictionary definition of Grace – but ultimately you cannot put it into words because Grace is the WORD. But where is Grace to be found? Rather like, or indeed very very like Wisdom, it eludes our searching. Rather Grace finds us, where Jesus is – in the very depths of our existence, in the deep places.

A widow has her husbands creditor banging down the door – demanding her two sons as slaves to settle the debts . . . Grace comes to find her in the person of Elisha (a prophetic figure of Christ) . . in the midst of her distress . . . Oil . . . the symbol of Life – Grace. John Newton in the depravity of his life as a trader in human cargo – in the utter shame of an inhuman life – is apprehended by Jesus. Grace

I think of a couple of encounters this week. With a woman who has an extraordinary ministry as an evangelist . . . but her husband is dying of cancer. She is called to speak at a conference but there is no place for him at the hospice and she doesn’t want to leave him anyway for she fears she may not see him again, and then as she told me, at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, the hospice ring, there is a place, he can go, and she can go and in faith she goes – literally between her home in Auckland and the conference in Wellington she has three encounters – three people encounter Jesus in her and through her, they are converted, they become Christian. As she put it to me, ‘it is Absolute Glory, in the midst of total Hell’ . . . Grace . . . On the Edge of death – Christ who tramples down death – Harrows Hell . . . the earthquake rips the doors of the jail away . . . those long imprisoned in darkness are brought blinking into the bright light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God in Jesus Christ. Someone else who in the hell of a divorce is apprehended by an angel . . . Grace TO you, FROM God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

So, Paul. When he writes ‘Grace to you, and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ’ – he knows what he is talking about. KNOWS. In the biblical sense (a phrase which always raised a titter when I was at school 🙂 ) For in the Bible the Only Knowing is the Knowing of encounter. It is deep and rich and messy – often it is bewildering for we are caught up in something much much bigger than ourselves. We have been sleep walking through life, and then Grace takes hold of us – throws us up – to use a wonderful word, it discombobulates us – throws all our categories up in the air. Paul has the world figured – he sets out to deal with this Jesus sect, and encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus. The vision is so bright and terrifying – he is apprehended by the Grace that has come looking for him, and he sets out on the journey of living by and out of that grace. All other bets are off – Grace has taken hold of him

So we find him living by Grace. Paul and his companions are swimming deep in Grace – attentive to its currents in the depths – ‘forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia – the Spirit of Jesus preventing them going into Bythinia – in Troas a vision, a call to Macedonia. Living by Grace as vehicles of that Grace – and finding Grace . . . going to the place of prayer, a rich woman – Lydia – a worshipper of God – in amongst the crowd, Grace finds her
On the way to her house they meet a slave girl trapped by a spirit of divination – her chains fall off – Grace. So Paul and Silas are thrown into prison – Grace is not always well received – but in the midst, they Know the Grace of God. They’re Deep Deep in its flow – singing hymns – full of Joy even in the dark place. They know the truth of God’s promise of Treasures of darkness, and the earthquake strikes – but why run off? Their freedom is to remain – Grace does this. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who returns to Germany from England. Grace sets you free to live as free even though in chains. And free people are the only ones who can free people and so the jailer becomes a free man and the Grace spreads to his whole family . . . but what of us? When we sing ‘Amazing Grace’ do we Know that Grace?

 

A man is walking his dog alongside a lake. Absentmindedly he throws a stick into the water for his dog, which calmly walks across the water to bring back the stick. Rubbing his eyes in disbelief he repeats the stick throwing, . . . both times the dog walks across the water and brings back the stick. Thinking he is going mad he calls someone over – ‘Look at this!’ he cries and throws the stick out once more. The dog once more walks across the water and brings back the stick. ‘Amazing!’ the onlooker cries out – your dog!!! He can’t swim!!!

We may well see Jesus walking across the waves, but if you are going to walk on the water, you first have to learn the density of the water – how it will hold you up . . . it is the same with Grace. If we haven’t learnt to swim in it. At the turn of the C17 an otherwise unknown French Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote a short book. most people know it by its modern name, one which is light and spiritual and unchallenging. ‘The Sacrament of the Present moment’ – I have to say the original title ‘Abadonment to Divine Prividence’ far better sums up its thoughts. We Know grace – it comes to find us when we abandon ourselves to God’s goodness and mercy. it is so so so tempting and indeed easy no to do this, to plan for tomorrow and next month and next year – rather than to Seek his Kingdom and allow Him to bear us up.
If we haven’t found the incredible density of the Grace of God, have we even stepped off the side of the lake? Are we mere onlookers to this Grace? is it just a word, like the ‘Dear’ at the opening of a letter? Have we begin to paddle in the shadows, or have we found ourselves away from the shore, swimming in it – as our natural surrounding our true home? Can we bear witness to being borne by Grace

Often people will say – I just found myself in a situation where I had no choice but to rely on the Grace of God . . . to which it seems reasonable to ask ‘but why did you stop doing that?’ St Paul would say ‘why do anything else?’

For most of the churches existence bodily difficulty and hardship was known as a sure way to encounter the healing power of Christ. ‘To share in his sufferings’ as St Paul puts it. Today the physical and the spiritual are in our world all but ‘put asunder’, and we have lost sense that it is in the depths of the darkest experience that Grace meets us. The deeper we go in the life of Christ, the denser it is – and often the harder. For Christ went down into the very depths – he redeems and transforms from the bottom up. That is where he is – and we have to learn to let go and find our true weight, our true density, our Existence as embodied life in the Ocean of Grace From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen

 

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity – OT20A – 2017 – Fresh Water

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity – OT20A – 2017

Matthew 15:10-20

Fresh Water

‘Create in me a pure heart O God and renew a right Spirit within me’
Psalm 51:10

There is perhaps not graver danger to our Life before God than confusing what counts for a respectable life in wider society with that Life that comes from God.

As human beings grow ever greater in their own eyes – as wealth and technological developments lead them ever deeper into the deception that our lives are in our own hands, to be presented before God on the last day, if we indeed believe we will have to stand before God to give and account of ‘our life’ – more and more the words of older liturgies sound close to offensive.

Take for example the collect for Ash Wednesday

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Worthily lamenting our sins . . . ‘I’ve done nothing wrong – I am a fine upstanding member of the community

Acknowledging our wretchedness . . . ‘come now, I’m not wretched!’

Or indeed the words of the 1662 confession . . .

‘We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed.’

. . . and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable . . .

Well pardon me, but is anyone losing sleep over the intolerable burden and remembrance of their sins?? When outwardly our lives look so good and fine – when many fine folk will no doubt bear witness at our funerals to ‘what a fine fellow – or fellowess’ we once were . . .

So of course our modern liturgies catch up with the prevailing mood – One of our liturgies says ‘God forgives you, forgive others, forgive yourself’ or as several folk have put it to me – ‘get over it, it isn’t that big a deal’. Of course if we live in and amongst people who are paragons of comfortable middle class morality – then of course we may well feel we can write such an insipid so called ‘absolution’ . . . but here and there, often amongst those whose lives are not so insulated from the reality of the lives of others, that is not the case – here and there a soul cries out to God in the night time – have mercy on me o lord, for you are justifiably angered by my sins . . .

Jesus of course lives as we do amongst such human beings – he associated with the lost sheep – those who Knew their sin and acknowledged their wretchedness. ‘as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ The Scribes and the Pharisees – those whose society looked up to – criticising Jesus for the company he keeps – for he has not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance . . .

For God looks not at ‘the public record’ – the plaques of attainments – he looks at the heart and Jesus is not unaware of ‘what is in a man’s heart’ The pharisees he called ‘white washed tombs’ For on the surface, as far as their friends and neighbours were concerned they were upright religious people – but on the inside they were dead. Outwardly righteous, inwardly dead – not even alive enough to notice their – evil intentions, murder (hatred of others), adultery (lust for others), fornication, theft, false witness (lies), slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

One writer puts it like this – “The nature of sin can be easily overlooked in a “merely” moral approach to the Christian life. The “dead men’s bones” that lie beneath the moral surface were obvious to Christ. “We do not have a legal problem,” I have written, “We have a death problem.” “Dead men’s bones” are the result of the . . . corruption that is the very heart of sin. And the deepest and most corrupt sinners among us can also appear to be the most moral. If the morality of your life does not reach beneath the surface and into the depths of the corruption that is at work there, then your life is indeed an expression of moral futility.

An equally great tragedy rises from this untended inner corruption. The assurance of moral rectitude is fortified by the unwillingness to rightly acknowledge and bear the inward shame of sin. This dries up the well of compassion that should mark the soul. A gulf grows between the “morally” competent and those who are clearly and visibly broken by sin. True compassion would require the recognition of a kinship of shame.”

The writer here speaks of that separation between those whom society deems acceptable and those whom it calls unacceptable – the equivalent in our culture of the Pharisees on one hand and ‘sinners’ on the other When our sense of our moral rectitude separates us from others, it separates us from where Jesus is, who comes to seek and save the lost – he is with those who Know their inner state is a matter of shame.

I remember years ago a man who had had long experience of sharing the Good news of forgiveness of Sins in Jesus name – and for those who live with the shame of their inner state, it is THE Good News. He said how much easier his work was amongst the poor of London, for assuredly they didn’t need telling that they were sinners – the way they were ostracised reminded them daily of their need, and the news of a God who loved them and came to find them in their lostness and indeed heal their condition was to them glorious Good News

And what is God’s remedy? It is as the prophet Ezekiel says – a New heart – a New Life. Whitewashed tombs are full of death. those who are not alert to their inner desperate state as expressed in the confession and collect we began with are as St Paul puts it ‘dead in sin’. Jesus in dying for us, does not merely enact some legal transaction – he gives his life so that we might have it. He replaces that life of Sin with His life. To use a very timely metaphor for us here in Dunedin, he gives us a clean water supply, from one that brings death, to one that brings life.

A couple of points to close – firstly we began with liturgy, and our liturgy CAN be a reminder of this Gospel – the words of our opening Collect express this so well. Almighty God, before whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden – We come before God acknowledging that He is Looking at our hearts and Sees everything that is in them, and we do that because we seek his healing – so we ask ‘Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts’ week by week it is our prayer, let us not as it were come here, mutter these words and then go out and forget that prayer, ‘Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts’. How? ‘By the inspiration of thy holy spirit . . .’ by taking in the life giving water of the Life of God, the Life of the Spirit of Jesus. and the result ‘That we might perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name.

If we are obsessed with our own lives, with our outer state – there is little gratitude for one who is only concerned with the state of our heart – but if we are open and honest about our hearts and our need for healing – there is only love and worship for the one who comes to us in our distress with healing in his wings.

So we come, week by week, seeking the mercy of the great healer, and receiving his life. Finally we come to the heavenly banquet where we feast on his life. In bread and wine Jesus makes solid the medicine for our condition. As we come to receive communion, let us not do so unworthily, distractedly, let us not do so absent mindedly, but as those who know the state of their hearts, their need for deep healing, their inability to heal themselves – let us come to His table, for the medicine of Christ himself, the one who will save our Souls. The Good One

 

Amen