Life is Sacrifice – Easter

In the last couple of days I came across a well meaning article about ‘Sacrificial Giving’. As so often such pieces – in this case written in response to a news item regarding a church – skims the surface and fails to ask any deeper questions or examine presuppositions regarding the very nature of things, or in this case questions like ‘why do we have paid ministers at all?’

The following was written over a week ago but I forgot to send it for inclusion in the Parish Magazine. What I suggested was that all giving, that is all Living involves sacrifice. Sacrifice is unavoidable, the question is ‘What is the Goal of your life?’ Your End? This determines the nature of the Sacrifice and whether or not it is Good. We all Give all the time. All Giving is Sacrificial . . . but to what End? (Which brings us back to ‘paid ministry’ and the World of what Joseph Pieper calls ‘total work’ which we inhabit and shapes our perceptions regarding work and reward and indeed ‘The Good’.) But enough of that – here is the article I wrote.

‘Death and Resurrection’

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

We continue our journey through the Easter Season. On Good Friday we heard how Jesus, the Living One, by his death on the Cross tramples down Death, and thus sets us free from the fear that death generates, free to Live his Life in obedience to his commands, which are Spirit and Life.

At Easter we heard more of how Jesus’ Death and Resurrection was not simply a three day period in a 30 year human life, but how it encompassed his entire life and ministry.

Coming from the Eternal Father into the realm of death and dying, corruption and decay in which all things are subject to moth and rust, and in which thieves break in and steal. Jesus is born into Good Friday and Death, as ikons of his birth at Bethlehem reveal; the swaddling clothes and stone feeding trough mimicking the shrouds of burial and the stone tomb.

Thus Holy Saturday in which St Peter tells us ‘He preached to the spirits who were in prison’, refers as much to his speaking words of life to us in a world bound by fear, as it does to any speculative going to ‘the underworld’. As Jesus says, ‘My words are Spirit and Life’ – spoken to us who are in the realm of Death and Sin.

Finally Easter reveals the One who is Alive for evermore, and so we live in the season in which we learn what it is to follow him in a living that looks like death to the world bound in fear of death. Letting go our fixed grasp of life, to Live.

Reflecting upon the nature of a life well lived, Jesus is surely its pattern, for all life requires sacrifice, ALL life. Sacrifice is the means by which we spend every moment of our existence, and indeed the way in which we enter the world.

A very simple illustration. Any choice we make for a certain course of action necessarily sacrifices a literally infinite number of other choices, most hidden from our eyes. Thus it is we live, by dying to other possibilities, and thus the shape of every life comes into being. I can’t help but think of the story of Michelangelo, who said that he saw his great sculpture of David within the stone, waiting to be revealed. Our lives come into being as we chip away at that which will not constitute us – in the End.

The Question that this leaves us with is this; ‘to what End’ do we live? Towards what goal? What is our Guiding Star? For we who dare to call ourselves Christian, our LIght and Life is that Known in the revelation of the Eternal Life that is in Christ Jesus.

Such a life is marked by self-forgetfulness. It is not marked by making plans for ‘the life we have always wanted for ourselves’. For a Life we live for ourselves in the End is one which moth and rust consume, and into which thieves break in and steal. A life that is rather, in the pattern of Christ, life given away for the Glory of God – is one which is revealed finally to be Life without end, rather like a river, a metaphor which Jesus himself uses and which bookends the Holy Scriptures in Genesis and Revelation.

St Paul expressed this well, I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Living by faith is Living with the eye of our heart directed towards God in Jesus Christ. It is a Contemplative Lived and Living response towards God in which God then goes to work to sculpt a Life after his image and Likeness, as Living Stones. We entrust ourselves into his hands, as Jesus did upon the cross. This brings to mind a favourite prayer of the Iona Community, returning us to the fashioning of our lives through sacrifice . . .

O Christ, the Master Carpenter,
who at the last through wood and nails purchased our whole salvation;
wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,
so that we who come rough-hewn to your work bench may be fashioned to a truer beauty by your hand.
Amen.

May we say Yes to His Life and Good purposes for us, as He shapes us in these days of Resurrection

Grace and Peace

Eric

Learning God – Week 5

Learning God – A study for Lent 2022

If we are to learn God, then we need to be as little Children and to allow God to fill our conscious imagination, and in childlike trust follow the Way of Jesus

Week 5: Matthew 6

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount can be expressed in Chapter 6 and 7, as distinct sections of Jesus teaching but each fleshing out as a whole a significant aspect of the journey so far. Therefore, before setting out on the penultimate part of our study, it might be worthwhile refreshing out memories about one or two aspects of what we have explored so far.

Firstly we recall that the wilderness brings us in a sense to a childlike state, that of utter dependence upon God. We sometime speak of such occasions as ‘coming to the end of ourselves’ (We explored this in greater detail in last years lent studies) What does such a phrase suggest to you? Is ‘coming to the end of ourself’ something we seek, or flee? In what ways does the World suggest to us that this is a state best left, until we have no choice in the matter? (Bear this in mind especially as we read Chapter 6)

Second, the Beatitudes describe such dependence – each of the ‘blessings’ is the blessedness of incompletion. If we believe ‘we have it within ourselves’ to live the Life of God, then of course we confuse ourselves for God. One of the foundational things we must learn is that we are not God. (Or perhaps in the light of Genesis 3, we need to unlearn our propensity to ‘play God’, in the negative sense, rather than the more positive light in which we imagined it in our second session).

Finally, at the end of Chapter five, we saw as it were ‘the end of all our journeying’. Remember that it is this ‘Telos’ – that is ‘Goal’, ‘End’, ‘Wholeness’ – which must inform our reading. If the journey is ‘up’ a mountain, then we need to keep the ‘ascent’ mindset before us, or as I once did on a misty day on a Scottish hill, we might spend our days going round and round the mountain in circles.

As we begin to explore Chapter 6, take time to read it through in its entirety, then read it again, having the ‘Telos’ of Chapter 6 in view throughout.

What appears to be the thread linking Jesus’ teaching in this chapter? (For once, the chapter divisions aren’t entirely arbitrary or unhelpful) What is the ‘Goal’?

We begin with Jesus’ teaching on what have become the three classic Lent disciplines; Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.

            What common theme links Jesus teaching on each of these? In what way might this appear to conflict with Jesus teaching in Chapter 5 concerning Salt and Light? In what way does Jesus prior teaching harmonise with his teaching here?

Last year we explored the notion of ‘The Kingdom of God’. Do you recall anything from that teaching which might help explain what Jesus is pointing us towards in these verses? What might Jesus mean by ‘the inner room’? Or, ‘Your Father who sees in secret’?

Notice how often the word ‘Heaven’ comes up in the Sermon. Matthew’s gospel accounts for nearly half of the occurrences of the word in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount it occurs more than in the entirety of John’s Gospel! This is a ‘heavenly minded’ Gospel and Sermon. What do we mean when we say ‘heaven’? Obviously, given the arena within which we are commanded to store up riches, it might help to consider what Jesus means . . .?

How might the teaching of Chapter 5 and its ‘Telos’ help us to understand this?

Jesus three times speaks of those who have already received their reward. Look back to Chapter 5: 43-8. It is here that Jesus first mentions ‘reward’. In what way is the reward of the Father unlike that received by those who pray ‘to be seen’? It might help again to consider the character of the ‘Blessed’.

Moving on to vs 19-21, how does the nature of reward accord with that of ‘treasure’, on earth or in heaven? What words might describe the two natures of these rewards?

Given all we have so far considered, what does this suggest about vs 22-3? (Remember the ‘headings’ put into the text were only included in the C17! Jesus doesn’t speak them ) The word ‘healthy’ carries with it the notion of ‘generous’ (perhaps ‘merciful’ 5:7) What might be the opposite of a ‘generous’ eye? How does this resonate with what we have so far read? How does it lead on naturally to vs 24? (You might also like to consider the parable of the rich fool, and how the man was not generous towards God)

So we hasten towards the end of the chapter with Jesus ‘other worldly’ teaching about ‘worry’. This begins ‘do not worry about your life’ What is ‘your life’? This teaching remember is given to his disciples, in the hearing of the crowds. How might the circumstances of the disciples differ from ours? What worries might we substitute in our condition of life?

Bearing in mind that we are commanded to pray for ‘daily bread’, how might this illuminate the final verse of the chapter? This verse is commented upon by Wendell Berry  in his essay about ‘The Future’ in a dialogue with a scientific friend. Berry dismisses ‘the future’ as a helpful notion. Certainly the idea of ‘planning for the future’ is one which is only meaningful to those who have a sense of the certainty and solidity of existence. It can cause much anguish and anger with God when our ‘plans for the future’ are thrown into chaos . . .

What does this bring up for you?

NEXT WEEK

Our final Study – when ‘the ‘future’ breaks in . . .