Too Good to be True? Easter 2019

Easter – 2019

Too Good to be True?

‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.”’ Revelation 1:17-18

“Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?”

For the generation which came before mine, this question always seemed to be ‘do you remember where you were that you head the news that JFK had been assassinated?’ – I remember a senior teacher at the first school I taught at giving an assembly on the 25th anniversary of that event . . . and it was obvious the shock and sorrow still lived with her . . .

For my generation it might be “do you remember where you were when you heard the news of the attacks on the World Trade Centre?” “Certainly you remember the date . . . the date we all learned to date the world as the Americans do, back to front, 9/11”

Or do you remember where you were on March 15 this year when we heard the news from Christchurch – or even this week ‘do you remember where you were when you hear the news of the fire which engulfed the Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris?’
I was sat in bed, idly reading an article on people ordering a single onion online -when the banner headline flashed across my screen – there in the midst of the utterly mundane – horror

This News, we struggle at first to find words for it, but finally we come down to the old tired and weary and too well worn words – ‘horror’ ‘Tragedy’, ‘atrocity’, ‘disaster’; ‘catastrophe’ even.

It’s interesting to note that of all Shakespeare’s plays, almost all are Tragedies.
The opposite of Tragedy was technically called a comedy . . . what that meant was ‘a story with a happy ending’, like a fairy tale. This is why Dantë’s epic poem which begin with his Inferno is called ‘The Divine Comedy – because like a fairy tale it has a Happy Ending.
Comedy, Fairy tale . . . words which seem to us to sum up the idea of escapism . . . relief from the day to day tragic nature of our existence – ‘dust you are and to dust you will return’ The Words at the beginning of Lent sum up the human tragedy . . . and so when we ask ‘do you remember where you were when you heard?’ . . . it is almost entirely tragedy, atrocity, disaster, or catastrophe . . .

The reports of the women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James as well as the other women that were with them . . . sounded like nonsense – like a fairy tale . . . this news didn’t fit the way of the world . . .

Today – The Great Feast of the Church – Our Great Feast is a Day like no other. A Day out of History – from somewhere else . It is a Day that doesn’t fit ‘the way of the World’ . . . a day that comes to us not out of the darkness which surrounds us, but a Light so great it blinds us, so accustomed as we are to the dark . . . it sounds like nonsense. To a world accustomed and resigned to tragedy – it sounds too Good to be True . . .

Too Good . . . small acts of kindness – great tragedies . . . it is interesting how our way in the World is marked by a language for which the good is Small, but the opposite looms large . . . .

Why do we for example casually say, things are ‘Too Good to be True?’ . . .

What word can we come up with to describe this Day? We have a whole lexicon of words for all those other days we remember ‘terrible’, tragic, appalling, disastrous . . . but what word will we use for something which is Terrifyingly, Shockingly, Old World denying and New Creation Announcing Good?

Perhaps this is why we heard Jesus say on his way to the cross on Good Friday, “they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.”’ So accustomed to the dark we are, that we cannot begin to cope with the Light – it is Too Good to be True . . . by our evaluation of what is True

JRR Tolkien, a man given to the world of myth and fairy tale gave much thought to this – to the end that he had to coin a new word for Something which is Shockingly Good – he called it ‘Eucatastophe’. Literally The Good Catastrophe . . . which I think sums up the Resurrection of The Crucified One – it is Catastrophic – it challenges and dismantles everything – nothing of our old way of looking at the world is left – and it is GOOD!

On Friday we considered how easy it was to be ‘Hosanna!’ ‘ Alleluia’ Christians . . . people who avoided the Cross of Jesus . . . but the Shock of Resurrection is visited on those who have seen Jesus die . . . humanly speaking all hope is extinguished at the cross – this is The End of the Old story . . . the story we are so accustomed to . . . only in following Jesus into the darkness – Seeing and understanding god’s judgement on our old tired and weary ways, of constantly trying to save ourselves, of constantly trying ourselves to build what we call the kingdom of God – Only when we see this in the dust are we finally in the place where The New Creation can WAKEN us from the sleep of death . . .

As we sleep something stirs within every human breast . . . as we look out on a tired and weary world, a voice within us, is it our voice, this voice says ‘things are not meant to be like this . . .’ deep within ourselves every human being . . . it is that voice that impels so many as it were to ‘try and build a better world . . . the voice ‘things are not meant to be like this . . .’ but it is like a form of sleep paralysis. I used to get this from time to time, I would imagine myself awake and need to get out of bed so in my sleep I’d get out of bed, only to find myself in bed and try again and again and again . . . but I was asleep – i was only when the Light of the Sun blazed through the window I experienced the shock of waking . . .

‘it is not meant to be like this . . .’ As Tolkien says, the eucatastrophe of the Resurrection tells us that THIS is how things really work in The Great World for which we are made . . .

We are made for something different – completely Different – The New Creation . . .

And this is the great challenge of the Resurrection of Jesus

As we spent time at the Cross on Friday we realised that the words of Thomas were to be our words ‘Let us go with him, that we might die to him . . .’ Good Friday is the Great End of human history . . . the only way forward is to the New Creation, god History, The Life of the One who is alive for Ever. Who by his death had trampled down death . . .

We only finally walk in Easter light when we embrace good Friday Death – that is the way to Life which is Terrifyingly, Shockingly, tired Old World denying and New Creation Announcing Good. If we are his people, His resurrection is Ours . . . whoever lives and believes in me, will never die . . .

The World shattering Joy of Easter is for those who have known the Death of the World on Good Friday – By his death he has trampled down death!

Too GOOD to be True?

Christ is Risen – will we allow this Story to shape our entire being . . . that we might be Raised with Him?

Sacrifice – Maundy Thursday 2019

Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2019

‘Jesus came to Simon Peter who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him saying “you do not Know what I am doing now, but afterwards you will Know”’

One of the thoughts that has been going through my head of late is of how unaware we are of . . . well of anything. We are amazed by ‘the sum total of human knowledge’, yet the more I consider that, the more I realise that ‘the sum total of human knowledge’ is the merest drop in the vast ocean of the sum total of human ignorance’ Just consider you own life . . . there is so much which in truth we do not know . . .

For example, think of someone you know – do you know anything about what it is like to be that person? How it feels to be them? How they are feeling right now? How they will feel tomorrow? And then you multiply that by all the people you think you know, let alone those you don’t.

Or the effect you life has on others? Think of your car. Who works in the factories, what are their lives like – what are the true costs?? What about the land where the raw materials were mined? What is happening to the emissions our car makes? I like to say ‘you never just . . . do anything’ Certainly ‘you never just . . . buy a car’

The car stands as a metaphor of our life – a bubble of the things we know in which we feel secure as we go about the world, a tiny bubble with airbags and side impact protection – keeping us from the terrifying universe of our ignorance

This evening we See Jesus as he kneels to wash his disciples feet – Peter thinks he understands – but Jesus tells him that he is ignorant – ‘you do not know what I am doing now’
Peter stands for us all in our tiny bubble of understanding ‘Lord, you will never wash my feet . . .’ , but as ever we do not Know what we are saying . . . Jesus tells him ‘unless I wash your feet you have no part with me . . .’

Jesus does not teach us more lessons about life. If we come to Him hoping to as it were take away some useful nugget tonight to help expand the minuscule bubble of our ignorance. we would be missing the point. For it is not about Understanding in such terms – rather the Gospel that is Jesus Christ is about coming to Know even as we are fully Known. And that as St Paul reminds us is the End – the Goal of Love

Jesus is not teaching us in the sense of telling us things, he is teaching us by identifying himself with us, and inviting us to identify ourselves with Him. To Know Him. To Love Him. Not to Know about Him, but Know Him. Not to love abstract facts, but to Love Him

Jesus identification with us is total – and so it goes way beyond our tiny bubble of what we falsely call ‘knowledge’ . He identifies with he full reality of the Life we cannot see – we are so unaware of our lives, but Jesus assumes the entirety of the human condition . . . and he does this most deeply in terms of Sacrifice

Jesus tells us that Sacrifice is the Centre of Knowing – it is the centre of Love – ‘Greater love hath no man than this than a man lay down his life for his friends’ – Sacrifice is the expression of Love – sacrifice is the deep pattern of our existence . . . but we are a sacrifice averse people

Years ago I remember a British ‘agony aunt’ who happened to be a secular Jew, [Claire Rayner] saying that she thought the idea of a religion based on sacrifice was a terrible idea – backwards – medieval even . . . Yet in so saying she was displaying her profound ignorance of Life itself – she was a stranger to her own existence. For, for each of us, our entire way of life is one of sacrifice.
And so much we have has called forth willingly or unwillingly the sacrifice of others – from the moment of our birth and before, the Mother gives up so much of herself to bring us into the world – she relinquishes so much to bring us up . . . and then . . . and then . . . and as we go about in our ‘low emmission’ bubble of knowledge – who has sacrificed what, what lands, what lives have been laid down for our convenience? Gradually the perception grows that we may have even sacrificed the Created world for the sake of our comfort . . .

Our lives are actually sacrificial, through and through. Every decision we take, is a choice for one thing and therefore a sacrifice, a closing the door to many many other things . And each and every sacrifice involves not just us, but the lives of those around us and by extension the lives of all around them. Think of how the choices parents make affect the lives of their children . . . and these choices are driven by our desires. We sacrifice something today for the hope of something we desire tomorrow. Our desires – our loves – but our loves are distorted, for we do not See our lives and their effects, we do not understand, we do not Know.

From Cain and Abel on, sacrifice is the pattern of our existence in a fallen world. Indeed before that. We are driven from the Garden of Paradise, for we sacrifice Knowing God, in order to Knowing Good and Evil.

We sacrifice being the Image of God in our attempt to Be God . . .

‘Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do’ The Words of Jesus from the Cross . . .

And So, there at our feet, The image of God, Jesus the Anointed One, embraces all of our humanity. From the tiny plot of our pitiful knowledge, to the vast universes of our ignorance. He steps down into the deepest place, washing our feet – and we do not Know what this is.

Jesus comes as a Slave of all – he takes upon himself the entirety of our human condition – not in a superficial way – it’s true Jesus IS a first century Palestinian Jew – he has never played golf, or seen New Zealand – and we think these things are SO important, based on ‘the sum total of human knowledge’ – yet they are as nothing for we do not Know the Truth of ourselves . . .

but Jesus does Know – He Knows our humanness in a depths and dimensions we cannot begin to conceive – he binds himself utterly to the fulness of who we are – he Knows intimately and in every detail the Life of Sacrifice – He Becomes the Sacrifice. We all become what we love . . .

But Jesus Loves Truly. He is the One who Loves God with heart, soul, mind and strength and in dying for us, loves his neighbour as himself. The Cross is the revelation of Love of God and neighbour.

As we sacrificed being the image of God in order to try and be God, so God in Jesus re-enacts that sacrifice. The Image of God lays down his life in our place that that which we had thought nothing might be restored – returned to us in His total identification with us and ours by the tiny spark of faith in The New Creation, where we Know fully, even as we are fully Known

This is his identification with us, and then he invites us to identify with Him –

Take, eat, this is my body given for you – Drink This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your Sins – Love covers a multitude of sins – I am the Loving cover for your not Knowing.

‘Afterward, you will know’

Jesus The Anointed – Palm Sunday YrC 2019

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2019 Yr C

John 12:12-16

‘Jesus – The Anointed’

There are words we often use as Christians which we give little or no thought to – indeed which we may not have ever stopped to wonder what they mean. Salvation – for example. But the word we use most is caught up in the very word Christian – that is Christ. What does this word mean? The apostle Paul uses it a lot – he speaks of Christ this, Christ that, Christ the other . . . What is he talking about? He says for example ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.’ He speaks frequently of being ‘in Christ’ – but what does it mean?

Well to the early Christians it would have not been a mystery at all. For Christ was the Greek word used to translate Messiah. Jesus Christ could as well be rendered Jesus the Messiah – and both Christ and Messiah meant the same thing. The Anointed one. The Messiah was of course The King, the long awaited one – and the King was the one who when sat on his throne was Anointed with oil. Just as our own sovereign is to this day in an echo of that

So when we say Jesus Christ – what we are saying as a wonderful translation of the new Testament puts it everywhere – The Anointed. Indeed when you read a translation which uses an unexpected word in this way, you really notice how frequently it crops up. The Anointed this, The Anointed that, the Anointed the other . . . but if you picked up the book without any prior knowledge and read ‘The Anointed’, you would of course be left with a question . . . Who is ‘the Anointed’?

The modifier ‘Christ’ – points us to a person – that of Jesus of Nazareth.

The title points us to a person, and cannot be understood apart from that person. It directs us to some aspect of a particular person, but the focus is on the person. And for Paul and all the other writers of the New Testament, whenever you read ‘The Anointed’, you were directed to Jesus of Nazareth . . . but as we are so familiar with Christ as a word apart from its meaning, so often we seek to disconnect Jesus and The Anointed, or rather The Christ.

The other day a friend pointed me to a new book – a New York Times Bestseller no less – endorsed by Bono!! who said ‘I couldn’t put it down!’. It was entitled ‘The Universal Christ’ which is one might say an oxymoron. For the title The Anointed points us to a particular.

We live in a world increasingly dominated by Universal Abstract thought and the end of this always is the loss of the personal and the local. Wendell Berry speaks of this as he recounts his brother going to hospital for a difficult operation. After the operation with her husband in intensive care ‘his wife Carol was standing by his bed, grieving and afraid. Wanting to reassure her, the nurse said, “Nothing is happening to him that doesn’t happen to everybody” And Carol replied “I’m not everybody’s husband”’ None of us is . . . we are all particulars people . . . and there is only a Particular Christ, not an Everyman Christ, or a Universal Christ, but Jesus The Annointed, The Christ . . . who comes to us humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey . . .

This is the true focus of what we call ‘the scandal of particularity’ By that we often mean ‘Christian faith is right and others are wrong’ – but the Real Scandal of particularity is not an idea, but a person – Jesus is the Anointed one – He is the World’s true King! As the earliest proclamation of the Church was, when the Spirit had been poured out on the gathered disciples, ‘Jesus the Anointed is Lord!’ Not Caesar, nor any other human Ruler, but Jesus. And not any Jesus, ‘This Jesus whom you have crucified!’ . . . Not only the King of Israel, but the King of all . . .

A Jewish carpenter’s son, with his band of rough and ready devotees – as Isaiah says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him. He was nothing to look at . . . According to the eye what do we see?

Remember two weeks ago? The elder brother does not see aright, he does not see with the heart of the Father, as the Pharisees didn’t See Jesus.
So too last week Judas does not see theLove and devotion of Mary, all he sees is in an echo of the elder brother in the parable the Waste as Mary reflects the gratuitous wasteful love of Jesus back to Him . . . so Judas will continue to See wrong.

Judas is as I said last week a universal – the one who judges, calculates . . . he lives in the sea world of numbers and money . . . 300 denarii, and indeed as he looks he asks ‘what does this crowd, this rabble Jesus has gathered around him add up to’??

He sees the powers of the religious authorities, he see the might of Imperial Rome, he sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey with the band of fishermen and other assorted nobodies. The peasant teacher with his rabble band – storming the city with his donkey and filthy footed galilean hangers on! . . . and he judges, he calculates where he is going to be safest, and casts his lot with what to all intents and purposes looks like the winning side . . .

Yet . . . what do the crowds say

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’

and

Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’

The King! Your King!

but this weary, dusty hungering Galilean, with his unsophisticated band of disciples so called doesn’t look like much. His teaching on the perils of wealth and comfort don’t resonate with those whose lives are built on such things. His demand that unless we give up all we possess we cannot go his way . . . – and at the very end, what kind of a king is just another dead jew on a cross . . . as Pilate puts it ‘Here is your King’ ‘here is your Anointed!’ Here is your Christ . . .

So we find – and it must be said, entirely amongst the wealthy and comfortably off, those whom Jesus repeatedly warns – as we have been reading Luke we become aware that Jesus’ teaching is not comfortable listening for those with comfortable lives . . . Gnostic teaching is popular amongst those for whom the particularity of Jesus is too disruptive and disturbing – not the sort of king for the cultured elites, amongst whom such teaching is so popular getting to the top of the NYT best seller list and avidly read by pop stars – and this is an old story.

The early roots of Christianity are not auspicious – it was largely a movement amongst the poor and off casts of society. As we have said recently – Galileans are pretty much beyond the pail – certainly not the sort of folk you’d invite to polite Jerusalem, Judean Society . . . it grew as one of its most clear eyed critics put it as mainly a slave movement, a revolt amongst the poor.

Sometimes when we speak of sharing the Good News of Jesus with those around us, we uses the metaphor, ‘one beggar showing another where to find bread’. Well for many if not most of the first Christians that wasn’t simply a metaphor as they shared the little they had with one another, homes and food

Yet as ‘a new thing’ it attracted the curiosity of those who looked for a more ‘spiritual cast to life’, particularly amongst the Greeks, for whom the association of Christ with The Anointed Messiah of the Jews was not part of their story. There’s always a market for something spiritual but undemanding – These people – the Gnostics – were so spiritual that for them the body was insignificant, and so thus the particularity of Jesus an offence. They would be into ‘spiritual things’, ‘Spirituality’ would be a buzzword amongst them. They would be more than happy to talk about The Universal Christ, The Cosmic Christ or whatever – . . . but Jesus? Happy to patronise him . . .

Tidy him up, scrub out his awkward jewishness and of course don’t refer to him by name – don’t get into all that ‘Jesus worship stuff . . .’ Let’s just call him Christ. ’We mustn’t make the mistake of attaching too much significance to this one man . . . he is merely pointing the way – his teachings were about how we might be spiritual, and we shouldn’t take at all literally his words of judgement for the rich and comfortable . . . then as now despising the company he keeps, His body of disciples, the Church . . . “Spirituality is IN! Organised religion is OUT!” You will always find reason to criticise if you look with the eye of Judas . . . Jesus’ followers nothing to look at, and as for the man himself . . .

And so it goes on – As one very popular modern gnostic writer puts it, ‘Jesus is probably seeing at a much higher level than most of us’ and then goes on to explain why Jesus view is so restricted, and implicitly teach those who drink deep from this guru’s wells, that he sees at a higher level than Jesus . . .

The offence of the gospel in the early years as today is that it offends polite sensibilities – we want another King! But as we begin to walk through Holy Week we get closer and closer to The Cross . . . where our King, Jesus is Crucifed . . . will we go with Him?

The Evil Eye

My mind has very much been on the parable for this coming Sunday, one of two brothers far from Home. One figuratively, and one literally – although perhaps we might get them the wrong way round??

In the English Church calendar it is of course Mothering Sunday, and that bit of ‘the old country’ still lives on in some Anglican circles here in New Zealand. In part it is founded on a Sunday halfway through Lent when servants, often girls (my great grandmother did a spell ‘in service’), were allowed home to enjoy its comforts.

Home and the heart are deeply interwoven – we might ponder Jesus’ words about ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’, in this respect. Your true Home, where you belong is found within your deep desires . . . but our deep desires are distorted and so we are homeless . . .

 

The evidence of that lostness, that distortion within us,  Jesus speaks of in terms of Sight – what our eye is set upon. Of course in so doing he does no more nor less than refer us to our shared story in The Garden, where amidst all the Goodness of God, our eye is drawn, directed even to the one thing that will bring death . . .

We might understand that as being our ability to see the speck in our brother’s eye, not something any of us is a stranger to, or at least not yet. We are surrounded by a myriad ways in which we might set our eyes on the speck . . . that is to see with the evil eye, the eye attuned to death.

 

But,  Jesus warns us about where we set our eye. ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is Good, then your whole body will be full of light, but if the ‘light’ within you is darkness, then how great is that darkness’

 

Like the brother who has the log in his eye, so cannot see to take out the speck of his brother’s eye, we believe we can see, but if our eye is set on that which is ‘wrong!’, ‘bad!’ ‘Wicked!’ – then our body has no light within it. We are full of darkness for we look at the darkness . . . which is of course Death itself manifested amongst us. We see the Sin . . . this in part is where ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’ collapses. If we truly see the Sin, we are presuming that our own hearts are full of light . . . but if our focus is on ‘what is wrong with the world’ then we are full of great darkness. Our Eye is evil

 

This is why the heart of the Christian Life is the transformation of the heart – that we might see aright. For to See aright is to See how God Sees – to look out on a fallen world as God does, full of Love and Compassion and Mercy.

Certainly this is hard. If we consider what is ‘in the papers’ and evidenced in our FB feeds etc. then we do not look on the world in this way. ‘Those people!’ ‘Those Conservatives!’ ‘Those Progressives!’ ‘That type of church!’ ‘That president!’ ‘That President’s supporters’ ‘The Brexiters!’ ‘The Remainers!’  – our eye’s seem fixed on what is hateful to us . . . and so the weary story goes on, and all we seem capable of doing is adding to the darkness, as the hate and the bile that fills our own hearts pours out, upon these ‘worthy targets of our scorn’, our eyes full of death. Lord have mercy.

 

The first Commandment is this – You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength. Set your Eye on That which is Good, Pure, Beautiful and True! Let your Eye become Good – that is the journey of Christian Transformation, through which with Jesus we pray for those who persecute us, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .’ (Of course few if any of us are being persecuted, but we seem incapable of looking with mercy even though this be the case)

Seek God! Seek to know His Love, His Mercy, be transformed by the renewal of your inner eye. Look not upon darkness for it will only fill your soul, ‘and you will surely die’

Look to Jesus. Allow His light to flood your soul – and you will become that which you were created to be, the bearer of the Light of God, Having the Heart of the Father. This is where our true Home is – within us and around us.

That way not only will you be saved, but perhaps also a few around you

 

Lent 2, 2019 YrC – Face your healing!

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year C 2019
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Face your healing

A couple of years ago, I watched Wolf Hall, the TV dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s novels about Henry the VIIIth, his first three wives and the political manoeuvring of Thomas Cromwell.
Amongst many things that stuck out from this elegant production, one thing speaks to our Scriptures today. it is when Cromwell is summoned to Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night. The King is in a terrified state. He has just had a dream in which he sees his late brother, Arthur. Henry you might remember was married firsT to Catherine of Aragon, who had . . . or perhaps had not . . . been married to his brother. Henry wishes to divorce Catherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn, and believes that the dream is a warning from God. His Spiritual destiny hangs in the balance, and He is terrified. God looms large in his dreams and thoughts.
Cromwell, ever the consulate politician of course, like the false prophets, give Henry a soothing interpretation which calms his fears, and so the die is cast.
What struck me was how unlike the age in which we live . . . I think it is not unreasonable to point out that for most if not all of us, we are far far more attentive to the state of our physical health than we are of our Spiritual situation before God! Tummy trouble may keep us awake at night, but not our eternal condition.

In this respect it is worth briefly considering what seems often to be the case in the church and its curiously paradoxical position regarding Sin. There is much smoke and heat around issues of so called ‘social justice’ – often married to a theology which speaks of a benign grandfatherly God who seems rather loathe to speak of Sin . . . one wonders what some of our co-religionists think shall be The End of all those involved in social injustices, if God is so Nice? If the state of our souls, of our spiritual condition is of no import in The End? Perhaps this is nothing more nor less than a blind unbelief in God, who may or may not be there but has at the least clocked off and left us all to ‘put the world to rights’.

Whatever, the point is that we seem less than interested in our spiritual state than our physical or material state.

Lent as we aware is a time for careful reflection, but not upon the state of the world, the ghastliness of which we are all too often reminded, rather upon the state of our spiritual life – our Life before God. In the grace of the Church it is the gift of a season of 6 weeks, and given we otherwise do little in this respect, we would do well to make the best use of each and every hour of these weeks.

The Tradition of the Church offers us three disciplines, based upon Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount; Prayer, Fasting, and giving alms to the poor (over and above any we might usually give as part of our lives as Christians). Jesus, it must be said seems curiously quiet on the subject of Lent study groups . . .
Prayer fasting and almsgiving – How much? We like to know what the standard is . . . well simply all three need to be carried out until we notice them! That is we pray, fast and give around the perimeter of what we are comfortable with,until the comfortable contours of our existence are disrupted – and then notice our discomfort. We do these things until we notice that we do have a soul and a spiritual life, and perhaps they are not in the best of order.
Last week Father Hugh spoke of Jesus being tested to destruction in the wilderness – we will not go too far in the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving until the chasis of our spirit begins to shake alarmingly, the steering goes awry and bodywork starts to fall off! Certainly not forty days and nights

Indeed we may become aware of how spending more than a few minutes in prayer bores us – we might feel it to be pointless, and a hundred and one ‘more important things’ run through our heads. We thus wake up to a sense of our lack of love for God . . . The words of Jesus ring through our ears as they did those of the first disciples – ‘could you not watch with me one brief hour?’ Just one hour??

Or . . . to be honest, we prefer not to fast at all, if we are typical modern Christians; it seems to have disappeared from common practise, thus revealing we are hungrier for food than God. Jesus fasted forty days, yet at the end his hunger for God was greater than any temptation to turn stones into bread.
We may then hear our epistle as a call to wake up! For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

Our lack of desire to fast that we might sharpen our awareness of God and our Spiritual situation before Him – making us aware that perhaps our real god is our belly! Our minds are full of this and that and the other, not on things above. What does Paul say of us? We are thus marked out as those living ‘as enemies of the Cross of Christ’! That is our spiritual condition.

Or we find a hundred and one rational ways to disobey Jesus and not give to all those who ask of us . . . and discover that our hearts are far from the heart of God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked and the scheming and the malingering . . . Jesus says ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ We are exposed, we argue our way out of his commandments . . . or, more hopefully we notice ourselves doing it, and cry out to God for help

All of these disciplines can and do alert us to our deep spiritual malaise . . . if we use them, but like with respect to our physical health, we often try and avoid paying attention, perhaps until it is too late.
I Wonder how many times doctors think, even if they do not say, ‘if only you had come to see me 6 months ago . . .’

We might think that with regard to our spiritual health, Jesus is always there, when we finally get round to it. This week I was with someone who has lived into their 90s and is now dying. Suffice to say that most don’t make it that far and all too often people die unprepared. A few verses before our gospel reading today, Jesus warns us thus:

‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” . . . the grave danger of our lives is that we are so caught up in what we call ‘our’ lives that we miss The Life of God.

What are our hearts and minds full of? The practices of Lent are given to us to alert us to our Spiritual malaise – to bring us to a point of painful Realism as the penetrating Healing Light of God is thrown into the many dark and perhaps long neglected nooks and crannies of what may have become a seriously deteriorated soul . . .

Put simply, there is something gravely wrong with us – and the disease from which we suffer is called Sin. We may not have been conscious of sinning . . . or perhaps its effects, that it leads to death. When St Paul says, the wages of Sin is death, he is not saying, Death is the punishment for Sin, no! He is saying Death is the consequence of Sin.

We do not have to point at the murderous events in Christchurch to see this – indeed our concentration on them and our constant gawping at bad news stories far and wide is part of the distraction the devil uses for keeping us from seeing closer to home.
A simple example, one to which we can all possibly relate – a common or garden sin, or perhaps to use the gardening metaphor more fully a weed going up amongst the wheat – telling a lie. A simple lie. But what happens when we deceive? We cut the life giving connection between ourselves and the person we lie to. We as it were hide from them. Life stops flowing, we prefer not to be known.

Perhaps we lie because we are ashamed. So we hide. We hide from any possibility of healing, from forgiveness, from Life itself. We avoid the doctor coming to us in the shape of the person from whom we hide . . . thus is the way of Sin.

It is at root a lack of desire for the Life of God, which is in Truth a lack of desire for Life, lack of a desire to be well – which is why Jesus asks the man at the pool, ‘do you want to be well?
Sin is to use the words of one philosopher, a ‘sickness towards death’, and we are half asleep with it.

Sin is not primarily a moral problem. Think of the young man who wanted to follow Jesus – who said ‘all these commandments I have kept since my youth!’ Or St Paul who by his own admission was with respect to the law, and there were 630 of them, faultless! Yet he was exposed as neither knowing nor loving God. He loved his own life – how many of us do! We may come to the point of death saying ‘I have had a good life, yet it is not the life we have that is the point, it is the life god offered us – His Life! Materially speaking the young man Jesus met had no desire for the Life of God, as twas revealed when Jesus offered him this life, if he would only lay down his own . . .

Sin and sickness away from the Life and Light of God, towards Death.

As I have said before, Jesus does not die to make bad people good, he dies to make dead people live!

He is the Great Physician, the Great Doctor of our souls – this is why he comes healing. It is sign of his deep work . . .

So when the pharisees warn him about Herod, how does Jesus reply . . .
‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Behold!” Look! Pay Attention! See! I exorcise demons and accomplish healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Behold! I am Coming! I am Healing – setting people free from there demons! Accomplishing healings!

We are moving through Lent – we move towards the finishing of his healing work in Jerusalem.

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.

Soon his work is complete and the door closes . . .

Lent and its disciplines are given to us that we might, unlike our contemporaries, pay attention to our Life before God.
Jesus is the Great physician – he comes with healing Love! Fundamentally it is Life and Love in its fullness that we are terrified of! It is too much, yet, God is too much at one go! Yet in his Grace, and with our co-operation, the lIght of Christ can shine into our hearts, drawing our attention to our plight and binding us more anymore tightly to the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.

Why is it so very costly to follow Jesus? Because our plight is grave – yet He has the words of eternal Life. In Him is light and love and mercy and compassion. We are seriously afflicted and the remedy is nothing less than the Cross, in our lives. This is the healing for the whole world, one person at a time . . .
We look out at the world around us and bewail its condition, but watch an hour with Jesus? Go without a single meal? Give to everyone who asks of us? Simply obey Jesus . . .

Learning truly to Love him, bound to Him, we do not even avoid going to the Cross, the place where Death is confronted. our plight is fully revealed, yet bound to our Healer. In the Way that leads to the fulness of Life

May God give us the Grace to stick with our healing and our Healer these weeks. May we pray, fast and give alms; may we know the healing of the Great Physician, who brings Life, even out of Death

Amen

The Freedom of God, and His children . . . Epiphany – Year C 2019

Sermon for Second Sunday before Lent OT7 YrC 2019

Luke 6:27-38

‘The Goal of Christian Existence’

Three weeks ago, we heard ‘God does nothing because he needs to. There is no deficiency in God. He is complete in and of himself. He needs nothing, there is nothing he has to do. There is nothing you can give to him, nothing he needs from you or I.’ Thus God is radically Free. God does nothing because he has to – nor does he do anything because he needs to – and what is more he does nothing because he chooses to . . .
Put simply, God purely does God. His Being, His Existence and what he does are one and the same.

‘Why does God love?’ we might ask, as if he needed a reason, but this is to seek to understand God in our terms, in the way we like to go about things. Sovereignly deciding whom we will and will not love, or indeed ‘choosing to love’.
This is the deeper import of Jesus words to us ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?’
Jesus’ words point us to the inadequacy of our language ‘If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.’ And we say, but that is what ‘lending’ means! After all, this or that or the other is mine! You can’t go lending with no expectation of receiving in return!

We look always for a return.

We learn from the world around us that if we love others we might receive love in return – if we do good to others, also, and if we lend of course we will get paid back . . . and so we restrict ourselves to those circumstances where nothing flows out from us

We might hear these words of Jesus and think that we might Choose to do otherwise . . . but that is not the nature of God. We might choose to give without seeking a return. We might choose to love those who hate . . . Again we retain our sovereignty – it is about Our Life and what we choose to do with it . . . but God does not Choose to Love – God Is Love.

Jesus says ‘he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked’ – it is not his choice, it is His nature . . .

The idea that ‘there must be something in it for us’ is woven deeply into our hearts and minds as it is ‘the way of the world’. We imagine for example that if we behave in a certain way, we shall ‘go to heaven’. Or indeed ‘believe in a certain way’ . . . It is down we think to our choice – we retain control . . .
So when I ask a group of young people ‘What is the point of being a Christian, they all respond along the lines of ‘well I get this of that or the other out of it . . .’ – ‘Knowing that there is someone there for me’ is an answer I commonly hear and indeed it is an underlying account of how we often think of Christian life. So we might say ‘I don’t know how people cope who don’t have a faith’ How prevalent are such thoughts – except of course that a very substantial number of folk indeed seem to get on perfectly well without a faith.
Of course, in an age where we know less and less that there are people there for us – our lives more disconnected by the day, fewer deep acquaintances etc. etc. The Knowledge of God, Knowing God is a huge consolation – but this is not the point, or better the goal of being Christian. Indeed it might even help if we got rid of such a way of speaking about the matter. For our faith is not fundamentally a set of beliefs, or ideas – it is a form of existence in the world – it is nothing less than the very life of God in us.

Over the last few weeks we have considered first how ‘those who discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus, are the ones who discover that there is nothing better to do than follow Jesus’ Indeed it is a Life the like of which we can only begin to know as we leave our lives behind, and follow him, who Is Life. Jesus is not about fixing our lives, he is about giving us a new life. Only those who in the world’s terms do not have much of a life find it easy to accept a replacement life. Blessed are you who are poor . . . but woe to you who have the life you want . . . how can we receive the life of God if we are comforted by the life we have?

The word for comfort, is the same root word for The Comforter – the Holy Spirit! So it is the desolate poor who on the day of Pentecost with ‘nothing better to do than to pray’ receive the paraclete – the Comforter. – the Holy Spirit – the very Life and Being of God

We need to remember here that the image is not a blanket 🙂 Rather it is the one who strengthens – enlivens. Brings to Life and action. The poor receive the Life of God – the Kingdom of heaven.
(I’ll return briefly to last week’s sermon in a moment for it raised a not unexpected question for some folk about the poor and the rich. )

It is only when we recognise this that we begin to make any sense at all of Jesus’ teaching – indeed Jesus makes it quite clear, but perhaps we are so taken aback that we do not hear his explanation.
‘Love your enemies . . . that is do good to those who hate you’
‘bless those who curse you . . . that is, pray for those who abuse you.’
‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Now, one brief caveat – although I am very wary of giving caveats as we will try anything and everything to rationalise away the simple teaching of Jesus in this regard – but regarding turning the other cheek, I do not think for a moment that what Jesus envisages here is where someone is trapped in an abusive relationship. Jesus himself walks through a crowd threatening to kill him. What is in view here is someone who in their weakness is fully in command of themselves – who are truly themselves in a most extraordinary way.

We must remember that Jesus is not speaking here of a moral code, a set of behaviours! They may be understood as such by someone who observes them, but Jesus does not die to make bad people good, to give them a new ‘way of life’, a new code to live by – Jesus dies to make dead people live. Not merely a life beyond death – rather a new life now

Jesus tells us ‘But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.

This is the goal of Christian Life – that we become children of God. What does John say in the prologue to his gospel? ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.’ This is what that elusive phrase ‘born again means – that we are reborn with the very life of God – and we thought that the talk of loving those who hate you, giving to everyone who begs of you’ was challenging!

This is how God Is! It is His very being! God is we might say pure act – He is Love – Love is his essence, as much as we are flesh and blood.

So God gives and gives and gives his very Life – which is revealed to us in His Son given to us and for us. The Son proceeds from the Father and so to the Spirit – the Life of God – just pouring out. And so God is utterly free. He has no code by which he lives, he doesn’t think ‘i must keep the 10 commandments’

Those who live in that way are not free. For they are confronted by choice, they must make judgements, their lives are lives of careful calculation and to quote Henry Thoreau, quiet desperation. No one who has to choose – who has choice is at all free. For they have as it were come to themselves.

Are we free? Jesus says ‘Give to everyone who asks of you . . .’ if our hearts and minds rapidly fill with a thousand qualifications then we are not yet children of God – our life is not yet the life that comes from God. We do not know in the words of St Paul ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’

I was asked regarding ‘Blessed are you poor . . . Woe to you who are rich’ “How poor is poor, how rich is rich?’ And of course if this is a matter of calculation these things matter to us – but there is no calculation in God. No desiring something in return for his love and kindness – it is his very self.

We might better say, if we simply give freely and gladly to all who ask of us, without a moments thought or consideration, if we love without discrimination, – if we do it because of who we have become – then our poverty or riches in terms the world judge is immaterial! We are becoming what we were created to be, children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Not calculating whether to love, not even choosing, indeed having made the final choice – to relinquish our choice and thus know true freedom

May we, with Jesus, only do what we see our beloved Father doing. May we know His Life in and amongst us

Amen