God Willing

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday 17th June, 2018

Psalm 39
Jeremiah 7
Romans 9

‘God Willing’

As folk are probably aware Sarah and I are, God willing, to become grandparents twice this year.
As part of the preparation for those days, there have been of course the usual round of visits to midwives, and scans, and so it was that earlier this week Ella went to see the midwife in Balclutha – a fine way for the new Vicar’s wife to get known in a small community!
And, and my how things have changed since my day, the visit to the midwife was with the new Vicar! So it was that Brett got to listen to the little one’s [sic] heartbeat (fetus – a ghastly word for a human being – is Latin, and can be more wonderfully translated ‘little one’)
What a thrill to hear that rapid swish swish swish swish. Brett must have been excited for he even sent me a text to tell me! And the words that came instantly to mind were of that old Stevie Wonder classic – ‘Isn’t she lovely’ – although thankfully, we don’t know if the baby is a he or a she, perhaps it was a prophetic word! – that song in which Stevie sings – ‘We have been heaven blessed, I can’t believe what God has done, Through us he’s given life to one’

I can’t believe what God has done – through us He’s given life to one.

You may have noted I began by saying ‘Sarah and I are, God willing, to become grandparents’. Perhaps it sounded like a quaint throwback to a previous age? Just this week I re-read the following words from the diary of a certain Nehemiah Wallington: speaking of the safe delivery of his son, and his wife’s survival, he said “The Lord’s name be praised for it! . . . one or two weeks before, my wife fell sick, [and] I did hear of three score women with child and in childbed [childbirth] that died in one week in Shoreditch parish, and scarce two of a hundred that was sick with child that escaped death” he further noted that his own family’s survival was due only “to the great mercy of God”

A tangible mercy, constantly before the eyes of those for whom human life hung by a thread [So writes Ephraim Radner in A time to Keep, from where this account comes (p24)]

‘God willing’ – ‘what God has done’. The tangible mercy of God . . .

We may well ask, how tangible is the mercy of God in these days, at least for those of us who live at the top of the heap with regard to healthcare provision. We might say, perhaps we should, that God has been Very Willing in this regard – that we live surrounded by the manifest Goodness of God in healthcare provision. That we should give up most of our ‘busy days’ to thanksgiving and praise for the wonder of such healthy and yes, lets not be coy, wealthy lives . . . yet, it seems that we are not surrounded by such thanksgiving, indeed the sense of God’s Provision, His Mercy is perhaps at best ‘a dying note’ in our Modern World. Our Modern World

A World in which these words of St Paul to the Romans in our reading tonight might cause us to say ‘we’re glad to be shot of such a god . . .’

‘Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?’

For He says to Moses,
‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’

So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomsoever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomsoever he chooses.

That we are not the creators, but the created, By God, for the Good purposes Of God, for his Glory – as St Paul says elsewhere ‘All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.’ 2 Cor 4:15

So before we dismiss these words of Paul, let us look around, let us consider the phenomenal goodness of so much of our lives. Let us dare to assume that all that we have is the Gift of a gracious God who has had mercy on us, and not our own greedy acquisition. What Abundant mercy! How our hearts should well with gratitude . . . Yet, so readily do we give praise and thanksgiving, but rather we are given to carp and complaint.

Just the other evening I was sat with an old friend in conversation. She was deeply upset about something – yet as we pondered together we realised that there we were, warm, exceedingly well fed, drinking an exceptionally fine wine – living lives of incomparable luxury, unimaginable even to our parents generation . . . yet how readily our thoughts turned to that which we lacked? And, more, where really was God in all of this?? And how for those at the other end – with lives of unimaginable suffering and toil, a simple smile, or courtesy would cause praise and thanksgiving to light up their lives. Materially our lives are So full of light we might say, that we are blinded to it, seeing only the shadows

Is not our problem finally that insofar as we think of God at all, it is impossible to comprehend God as The Prime Mover in all existence, when to our perception, the human and human agency seems to be all but everything

As we have made life unbelievably secure in historic terms – albeit at a cost which I suggest we are only able to discern the extreme contours of – as we have barricaded ourselves against the contingencies of existence, God has become less and less present in our consciousness, but a faint note

We must agree that it is most difficult for us to accept that God is at the centre of all things – we tend, even if we believe, to imagine that somehow we are at least equal partners. How much of our so called Theological discourse uses this language of being equal partners with God . . . but even to admit that is in real terms far far too much. It is hard for us to stomach for our gaze is filled with what We have done . . .

Human life is increasingly one devoid of the view of anything except that which we like to think of as our own making – even to the life of the unborn child. It’s all down to us.
And if you happen to be religious, that is neither here nor there – the same attitude still easily prevails – we think there is little if any difference between the Christian and others in the world, except contestable ‘matters of opinion’.
As Stanley Hauerwas puts it, almost of us are in practical terms atheists . . . ‘Our’ technological prowess and powers over the Creation leaves all of us, Christian or otherwise, with the largely unconscious working model of life that it is down to us, and that God may be a comfort for those for whom life doesn’t seem to work out, but certainly no ‘use’ in the world we are making.
We laugh perhaps to readily at the old farming joke – when the Vicar stood at the gate with a farming parishioner, and exclaimed ‘My, how the Lord has blessed us with such increase’, only for the farmer to reply, ‘‘Praps’, but tha’ should’ve sen it when he had it to ‘issen . . .’

We find it close to impossible to ascribe All Things to The One who acts with infinite love mercy and compassion towards His World . . .

Yet in some respects, this view is not new – human kind has long loved to stand back and admire the work of our hands.

So earlier the prophet Jeremiah “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.”

Imagine if you will the glory of the Solomonic Temple, in all its splendour, there was nothing like it in Jerusalem – oh . . . with the exception of Solomon’s palace . . . how easy to look at this remarkable work of solid engineering, of human craft and design, and not to sense a degree of permanence and security with regards to the work of humans, indeed of humans themselves. And so we are surrounded by signs of our own power and competence . . . the cry of thanksgiving and gratitude grows more and more dim
Who now hears of a pregnancy and commits themselves to prayer for a safe delivery – after all it is all so safe nowadays . . . – yet as our psalm reminds us tonight

For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears.

and

You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
Surely everyone goes about like a shadow.
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
they heap up, and do not know who will gather.

None of this has changed. Human life hangs like a thread, in the goodness and mercy of God

Jesus reminds us more than once of our hubris in this respect – his disciples look at the Temple and ask him to consider these fine stones, and he tells them, ‘not one will be left upon another’ – he speaks of the rich fool who saw his days blissfully extended as he contemplated his full barns – “you fool, this very night your life will be required of you, and who then will get all that you have acquired”

‘Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather’

Even the faithful in these days give God little more than a passing thought when we come to those things in which we have instead placed our trust – God it seems only comes into the picture when things go awry . . .

God never intended for there to be a Temple – the thought entered David’s heart – yet the Word of the LORD came to the prophet Nathan ‘’Are you the one to build a house for me??’
David in the security and splendour of his accession to the throne, has forgotten the order of things. He thinks that He will build a hose for God! It is only a small step to forgetting God altogether, as he does later when standing on the roof of his palace – above it all – and looks down to see his nemesis – Bathsheba. His heart filled with proud thoughts, master of all he surveys, except he isn’t . . .

He never intended for their to be a Temple, for he would build a Temple for himself . . . ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up . . .’ ‘Do you not know? You are a Temple of The Holy Spirit’ ‘I can’t believe what God has done . . .’ This is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD . . .

Sheer and Abundant Gift – the Word made flesh tabernacling amongst us – that we might become the dwelling place of God! And HIs Life erupt from us in praise and thanksgiving

And so we spend our days, so busy for God, doing His work we tell ourselves . . . not knowing what it is truly to have faith and to See the world as held in each moment in God’s Gift – given for God’s good purposes. It seems that the last words you might find on our lips are those of Job ‘The LORD gives – the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.

We live in an age where the gulf between those who Bless the name of the LORD in and through all things – those who Understand the strange nature of all existence as Sheer gift – and those who whether in practise or in thought, curse God, is greater than ever.

The test is Always and everywhere Praise and Thanksgiving, for each and every day. Those Good people – who turn to anything that may lie in the future and commit it to God’s Good and Perfect will, even if often we cannot delineate its contours – accepting our finitude. May the words ‘God willing’ be often found on our lips, our lives continually oriented to The One from whom all good things come (Jas 1:17) – and our hearts be full of gratitude and praise for lives unimaginably full of blessing, from the source of all blessing. ‘For we are passing guests, aliens like all our forebears’ – yet The Temple of the Living God . . .

Amen

On Division – Trinity +2 Year B 2018

Second Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018
Genesis 3:8-15
2 Cor 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-25

Division, Judgement, and Things Eternal
‘we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.’

Today I’d like to say a few words about why I never preach on ‘hot issues’ in the Church –
Issues that Divide

Over the last few months, I’ve been introduced to the work of the Canadian Psychologist, Jordan Peterson. One of his books is on our bookstall as a result of this. Peterson has risen to global prominence in some spheres and the book is the number one best seller on Amazon. As is often the case when someone becomes ‘famous’, various groups wish either to denounce him, as ‘one of them’, or to claim him as ‘one of us’. Such is the nature of what passes for public debate in this fragmented age that the gulf between the ‘us’s’ and the ‘them’s’ is all but ‘a gulf fix-ed’.

But Peterson, wisely in my view refuses to be labelled. He is often asked ‘Are you a Christian?’, or ‘do you believe in God’ – and you can find many posts in favour of or against these points of view – but he remains resolutely silent on both matters, except to say, in his somewhat abrupt manner – ‘its none of your damn business!’ He refuses to be ‘put in a box’ for he is wise enough to know that people put people in boxes for their own ends, to buttress their own agendas – and he isn’t about to be manipulated like that.

Are you ‘one of them or one of us?’ Such is the spirit of division which seems to be the zeitgeist – the spirit of the age.

So, it is difficult to hear those words of Jesus ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.’ and not think that The Modern World, with its phenomenal divisions, or indeed the Anglican Church here in these Islands with its gaping wounds, will not be able to stand. For here we are ‘by schisms rent asunder and heresies distressed’; certainly if the recent General Synods and the fall out from them is anything to go by, division and taking sides is the order of the day. And everyone seems to think that Jesus is on their side, Jesus is like them, judging those ‘on the other side’
Abstract principles like ‘Truth’, or ‘Justice’ are hurled around, and Jesus is blasphemously dragged into the fray to back up one point of view or the other. I say blasphemously for the fact is that this is breaking the 3rd Commandment ‘thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain’. The name of Jesus is not to be ‘used for any purposes whatsoever’, by us, or by anyone else.

Our only hope is in the words of the Jesus whom we crucify – ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’

They know not what they do. We do not discern – we do not See. Most of all, we do not see Jesus.

This mornings gospel finds Jesus in the very midst of Conflict and Division. Of people making judgements, but not about ‘issues’, about Him, and thereby unveiling the very heart of division.

If you recall from last week, our readings on Jesus and The Sabbath, it ended with these words ’And going out the Pharisees immediately exchanged counsel with the Herodians against him, that they might destroy him.’ Mark 3:6 [DB-H trans]
Immediately before todays gospel just a few verses later we read Jesus called the twelve to be with him, including ‘Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him’. Mk 3:19

This then is the context – Mark’s gospel is barely opened and the scene is set – Jesus has chosen a betrayer to be his close companion, one with whom he breaks bread, Judas, the one who wants to use Jesus for his own ends; and throughout the religious and political leaders are bent on destroying Him.

This is Conflict of the highest order and we cannot read any part of Mark’s gospel without that front and centre of what is going on.

That elusive text ‘But no one can enter the strong man’s household and plunder his possessions unless first he should tie the strong man up, and then he can plunder his household.’ begs the question ‘who is the strong man who must be tied up? who is the plunderer? what is the household? who will be ‘tied up’ . . . so when we see Jesus ‘tied up’ and handed over to Pilate we get an inkling . . . that Jesus is on the one hand speaking of himself. For they want to destroy him, this usurper King and keep control for themselves . . . we always want to keep control for ourselves.

But of course it is ambiguous – perhaps Jesus himself is the one come to plunder the household and must bind the one who is its Prince, Satan, the strong man. Whichever way, the conflict is set up. And conflict brings with it division.

We may hear these words of Jesus from Matthew ‘ ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.’

Jesus Himself is the locus of Division. His very being divides . . .

It is hard to hear these words without returning to our gospel today

Jesus’ blood relations want to lay hands on him ‘And his relatives, hearing this, went out to seize him forcibly; for they said, “He is beside himself.”’ David Bentley Hart’s translation gets to the centre of this – They look at Him and say ‘he is beside himself’ – he is internally divided, and this judgement of Jesus continues within the house.

‘the scribes coming down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in him, and he exorcizes demons by the prince [Archon] of the demons.” Well as Jesus notes, they are accusing him also of being ‘divided within himself’ and that is a futile place to be, for were that the case then the kingdom, the house would fall – but this is your hour . . . you will have to bind the strong man . . .

Both Jesus family, and the scribes stand separate from Him – judging Him. This is what we do. When we judge someone, we pretend that they are nothing to do with us – Jesus family don’t even come into the house – they stand outside – echoing the charge they make against Jesus who they say is beside himself ‘literally ‘standing outside’ himself . . . what they see is what they are.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we see as we are – we only judge others for things we see in ourselves, setting ourselves apart from others. His family see Him as standing outside of themselves, as they stand outside of the house. The Scribes see only something which could be divided. As we know, Jesus opponents are far from being a unified bunch – they come together in political alliance to destroy the one who threatens them all

Jesus opponents see division – they See Jesus as ‘beside himself’ – they see him doing things which are the action of divided people – themselves are divided. His family are ‘beside themselves’ If nothing else this shows us that to judge others is to see ourselves . . .

But we must be careful here ourselves, for it is very easy to divide with regard to Jesus – separate Jesus from his teaching, as if he is pointing us finally to some great moral truth which can be known separately from him.

Jesus Himself is The Truth. Jesus himself is the one who judges justly. There is not Truth nor Justice that can be known apart from Him, and any that can is neither True nor Just. This is all fundamentally a conflict about who Jesus really is. They are divided about Him . . .

The question goes around and around, Who is He?

He is the One who is forming a new humanity around himself
“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And looking around at those sitting in a circle about him he says, “Behold: my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother and sister and mother.” Echoing these words of Jesus from John

‘Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.’ His teaching is from God, for He is from God

The fundamental issue is quite simply this – it is one on which all human division is finally founded – Who is Jesus? The question is not ‘Is Jesus on this side or that side?’ It is are we on His. Seeking only to do the will of God

The answer to that question is the answer to all our human questing. Jesus is the manifestation of The Image of God – the True Human – The True Humanity. In Him all things hold together

The many and diverse issues and controversies the church is mired in are all about the things that are passing away, fuelled by words in ears about ‘these people’ or ‘those people’ – words that come from where . . . ‘who told thee that thou were’t naked?’ who told you this about your brother or sister? Who told you? Strife and conflict in the church is always and everywhere rooted in a failure to See, to behold Christ himself. As St Paul puts it, the very theme of the first letter to the Corinthians is ‘failure to discern the Body – failure to See Christ. Failure to see our life is together in Him. And that failure is potentially deadly. Such things are tools of division – we have nothing to do with them. They are ‘of this passing moment’ – tomorrow they will disappear and new things and new controversies will present themselves to us, to distract us, to pull us apart, if we choose to look there, or do we choose to behold The Man, Jesus the Christ? Our gaze rather should always and everywhere be on Him – on that which is eternal

This is the root of Jesus words about ‘eternal sin’ they are not seeing that which is Eternal standing before them and listen to the words whispered in their ear ‘he is one of them . . .’ His words to us are a stark warning – don’t get caught up in this stuff, for you will end up sinning against existence itself, and there is no forgiveness for that

That is why our gaze is on the things that are eternal – like Mary we sit at the feet of Jesus to gaze on Him and to Hear His Word to us – the One thing. Not divided Martha’s with her ‘many things’

And this is why I never preach on ‘issues’

And indeed why would anyone, for Jesus is the irruption into the space and time which are passing away of eternal Life and Existence itself. Full of Beauty and Truth and Goodness. Of Peace that passes all understanding. Of Life, and Joy in the Holy Spirit. Who in their right mind would be caught up in and by anything less?

At the beginning of Pilgrim’s progress, the pilgrim runs out on his quest with his hands over his ears to the cries of the World, saying ‘look here!’ ‘look there!’ crying as he runs, ‘life, life, eternal life’. May we be a people consumed by that quest – our eyes fixed on Him who is eternal Life in our midst – our beginning and our End

The Faith of The Church in an age of Personal Faith – Trinity Sunday 2018B

 

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2018
Year B

Isaiah 6:1-6
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

The Faith of the Church
in an age of Personal Faith

At a recent forum, the following question was put to a panel of priests in the Anglican Church, ‘What is your faith?’ What struck me as odd, and which disturbs me all the more, the more I think of it is this, that no one seemed to think it an odd question to put. Indeed it may be that we don’t think it an odd question to put to a priest, indeed anyone baptised into the Church . . . after all, we all have our own personal faith. Some things we choose to believe and some we choose not to, and that is ‘my faith’

We live in an age dominated by the idea that we can choose. To be free to choose is the ‘supreme good’ which we have been trained to worship. The Supermarket with its array of over 150 types of cereals, represents the Cosmos to us, it is our Temple – it places Me the shopper at the very Centre of my own personal Universe of choice, wherein we cry Glory!
Choosing tells us who we are – ‘I choose therefore I am’, and this choosing reaches even unto the most personal matters of my life, indeed of my faith. We not only shop for cereal, we even shop for churches. Is the music to my taste? What of the style of the building? Comfortable chairs or ‘traditional pews’? Is the Vicar nice? Modern emotionally moving songs with a band and a good drummer, or meaningful hymns with a robed choir and aesthetic sensibilities. The choice is yours and as to what you believe . . . If of course your Personal faith includes church going. It may be that in your faith that isn’t necessary. And who is to argue with that! Faith is after all ‘just my opinion’ – Faith on the terms you set.

We live in the Age where ‘The Consumer is King’ failing to recognise that we think this precisely because we have been trained to think that way, that we are at the centre of things with power to choose . . . Yet, Life is not something we choose – it is a Gift, not least manifested in the fact that the very thing that makes us most truly who we are, our parentage, place time of birth . . . these are things we have no choice over – yet they truly make us who we are – something we had no choice over whatsoever. Life is a Gift We are Born into it – and that is the truth of Our Faith

The Israelites cried out in their slavery and oppression in Egypt – and their cry was heard by this strange God who came and rescued them and determined that they would be his people, they would be his children, He trained and taught them his ways . . . and so we must hear the words of Jesus ‘You did not choose me, I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear lasting fruit’ . . . Our Faith – Our Life is spoken to us by Jesus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the Dark. In the Dark about Jesus. He was if you like in the womb of Faith – He thought it was all about his understanding Jesus, about his capacity to grasp what Jesus was on about, but Jesus doesn’t clarify things for Nicodemus, rather he seems to confuse him . . .

it is hardly surprising that often coming upon the Church of Jesus Christ, people are confused . . . for it is not about us grasping faith, it is about Faith grasping us!
You Must be born again! Unless a man be born again he cannot See the Kingdom of God! And Nicodemus at least gets the point that this is something outside his control – ‘but how can a man be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’

Jesus points him to the New Birth – the Work of God in Saving you from your own personal Egypt – , ‘you must be born from above, born of The Spirit’ The Wind blows wherever IT chooses . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit, they didn’t choose . . . It isn’t down to you . . . The Wond blew towards YOU, and you were caught up in this Life, this Faith – – – and this is deeply troubling to us who are children of the age of choice and being at the Centre of things . . .

. . . and how much more troubling that none of the priests who were asked the question ‘What is your faith?’ answered ‘the faith into which I was baptised, the Faith to which I assented at my ordination, the Faith of the Church which confesses The One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit as he has made himself known to the Church, which is the Spirit breathed Body of His Son, Jesus Christ, and as set forth in the ecumenical creeds of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church in which by Grace and through no dessert of my own, I have been included’

A faith which displaces us from the centre, the faith in the God who reveals himself to Isaiah in the Temple – a revealed faith, given to us. A Sacred deposit – not to be tampered with according to our tastes or our moods and whims, according to the Spirit of the Age, but rather a faith which we are called upon to declare afresh to every generation, Faith in the One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the faith of the Church – it is the Faith into which each one of us was baptised – it is what makes us The Church, that community not ‘stuck in the past’ as some would have it, or ‘chasing to keep up with the modern world’, but Like a Tree Rooted, by a Stream, not the stream of history, but the Living Water of Eternity. We are a people Rooted in the Eternal God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. This God is our Life. We exist through Him and for Him. We worship only Him. This is Our Faith, flowing down from the Apostles and prophets

The Faith of the Church – Yet still a Personal faith – just not how we think of personal – and a Personal God – just not how we think of Personal . . .

I remember when God finally got hold of me and that faith into which I had been baptised suddenly sprang to life, through no doing of my own . . . what I noticed was how unbidden the cry of my heart instantly became ‘Father!’ It was to be several years before I noticed what St Paul had written ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’
Since then that cry arising within me from where I do not know, has been at times a reminder of whose child I am, and at times when I have to my everlasting shame strayed from Him, its absence has been a sharp reminder of my true identity and my loss of direction. I remember once, stumbling terribly, the memory haunts me, and realising that that cry had fallen silent, yet in response to its absence, I cried with my own voice, but it wasn’t the same until finally being found once more and taken hold of by the Father

You see it is Personal, Deeply personal – it is an encounter with the Divine Three Personed God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be baptised into the Faith is to be baptised into the very Life of God, and it is no light thing, and nothing we would choose! See! Behold the response of Isaiah in the Temp
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Who in their right minds would choose that!!

This is no carefully and comfortably, made to measure faith – we don’t get to make God up, which is to some a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Why can’t I choose the god whom I serve? Why can’t I make up a creed which suits me? And of course the answer is that nothing is stopping you, and you may have a ready answer to that question, what is your faith? But this is not The One who makes himself known to us in and through Jesus, and His body, The Church

Our Creeds set out this three personned God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every time we recite them we are reminding ourselves of The Personal Faith of The Church as carefully handed down form generation to Generation, the faith of the apostles and prophets, the Spirit breathed, Christ embodied Faith in God . . .

We all indeed may have difficulties with this faith – we are the people of God, and we are notorious for chafing at his gentle yoke, for grumbling that He doesn’t fit what we would look for in a god catalogue, but He is not a god amongst many, He is not the god of the cereal aisles – He is the One whose voice breaks the cedars;
even the cedars of Lebanon.
making Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

flashing forth flames of fire.
shaking the wilderness;
even the wilderness of Kadesh.

causing the oaks to whirl,
and stripping the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’ And all fall on their faces and worship

Our Faith, that is The Faith of the Church SHOULD disturb, for it is not about us. From time to time, perhaps even on a daily basis we will find one person or another of the Trinity troublesome to our prideful discrimination, failing to live up to what we look for in ‘a Modern god’. (conveniently forgetting that what is today Modern is tomorrow passé and out of date.)

As I have reflected on this myself, surprisingly I found that it was the Son, Jesus himself whom I find most difficult . . . I remember a priest once complaining that the words of Jesus ‘doesn’t sound like my Jesus’ and perhaps that is true of us all, that when God faces us in Jesus he doesn’t fit our agendas. That Jesus the social revolutionary, whose attitude towards women overturned so much, still ‘blind to the Patriarchy’ called us to baptise in the name of The Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . Jesus troubles me still – many of his words I’d rather not hear .’loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you’

We can’t let Jesus be who he is, and still have our own faith – that is why they killed him, they wanted a faith of their own making – happy to carve yet another golden calf . . .
but The God raised him up and so still He disturbs us – even now we have to stand before him as did Nicodemus in our Bewilderment, and either flee and decide on a faith of our own which will perish with us, or fall before Him as The Son whom the Father has sent into the World, not to condemn the World, but that the World might be saved through Him, freely giving the Spirit to raise us to all who call upon the Name of the Lord.

Amen

Pentecost Evensong – 2018 – Following Jesus all the way through death to Life

Ezekiel 36:22-28

Acts 2:22-38

‘when they heard this, they were cut to the heart’ Acts 2:37

That wise old sage, GK Chesterton once observed, ‘it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, rather it is that has been found too hard and so not tried’

We tend to think he may be overstating it, but did not Jesus say ‘ ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’
Matt 7:13-14 Suffice to say the words of Jesus mean little to us in these days of our ease . . .

As we have explored through Lent and on through the season of Easter, the seasons of the Church year are given that we might follow Jesus. Not admire him from a distance, but follow him where he goes. When we hear sermons on this topic we tent to romanticise this and ignore the literal command of Jesus – ‘follow me’ – where I am going, you cannot now come, but you will come after.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus has if you will, disappeared from the scene, taken from the sight of the disciples, but in strict obedience to him, they have waited in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on them.

As I said this morning, Pentecost is perhaps in Truth, the Easter of the Church. That is it is the Day when the people of God, following Jesus are raised from the dead. To use Paul’s language ‘you were once dead in your sins and trespasses, but God has made you alive in Christ’ Eph 2:1,5-6

So We might ask, what of us?? Why do we not see these things?? Perhaps the answer is that the Way of Jesus is too hard. For to know the Resurrection, one must have died and descended to the dead, as The Apostles Creed teaches us.

Jesus dies on the Cross – He tells us that we too must die to ourselves – he then visits Hell, and harrows it . . . but do we follow him there, or do we merely wait for Him to return?

One of the very few who have followed the hard and narrow way that leads to life, who have followed Christ into Hell, is the Russian Writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (Other examples I could name are also Russian, it is a hard land 🙂 ) Solzhenitsyn went to Hell and came to life as a Christian, quite literally

He was in his younger years an enthusiastic party member, a Communist, so when Hitler invaded his country, he joined up to ‘fight tyranny’, not realising that the tyranny he was fighting was more than mirrored by the bloody regime he fought for . . . always beware of ‘righteous causes’. The inexorable logic of the Marxists (copied by Capitalists . . .) sought to purge the state by killing the ‘class enemies’. Eventually, having killed the middle classes and the farmers who made a decent fist of things, the beast started to eat itself, and party members were accused and sent to the death camps, the Gulags. Slave camps where people were worked to death, in their tens of millions ( story of which most of us live in ignorance of ).

Of course Solzhenitsyn was at first shocked, after all, he had been a good party member and played by the rules – in his own eyes a good man and now being oppressed by the very system he had supported. He could easily slipped into resentment and hatred. Broad and easy is the way – after all, didn’t he have a right to be angry with ‘those people’? Instead he chose the hard and narrow way.

He undertook a fearless moral inventory. He went back over his entire life with a fine tooth comb, exposed everything to the light, and what he found there at first terrified him, but later became the source of his Wisdom. He realised that he was every bit as bad as those who had sent him there. He realised that radical evil flows not through particular people, it flowed through the veins of every human being. He had been in ignorance, supposing the troubles of the world were ‘those people’ – he found the very source of Hell was within himself.

Yet, thus exposed to the Light and the Truth of himself, he faced the Light, rather than fleeing it – he found a New Life, a previously unimaginable capacity. He could look even on the camp guards with Love and Compassion, for in them he saw himself as he had been. The one who looks with judgement on others, has either not known the truth of himself, or else has forgotten it, and lost that gift of Life

For one must NOT forget . . . One would think that Solzhenytsyn, having got out of the Gulag alive, in the fullest sense would have rejoiced to see the back of it – yet that isn’t his story. He carried it with him, again quite literally. For several years in the Gulag his bed had been a rough wooden cot made of old package cases – on leaving the Gulag he finally exposed the story of the Hell of ideological Marxism writing his famous work, the Gulag Archipelago. In several respects this book played a significant role in deromanticising the Left in the eyes of many in the West, and to the very end of Communism. He went to live in America and was much in demand as a speaker, giving a famous commencement address at Harvard University . . . yet the Gulag went with him. To the day he died, he slept in that same wooden cot. Its lesson was too precious to him. It was through Hell, that he had discovered Heaven. The cot a constant reminder of the Strange Gift of the Gulag

Solzhenitsyn had been resurrected. And it was no surprise that he became a Christian . . . for that is the path to becoming a Christian, it is to Know that Hell is not as Sartre puts it, ‘other people’, it is much closer than that – it is to realise that Hell lies within us – and turn in Hope to the healer, the one who has gone before and reveals the way out. It was as Carl Jung suggests, ‘that which you most truly desire is in the place you least want to go’

Of course, realising that which is within us may not lead to repentance and resurrection if we are turned in on ourselves, if we chose the path of bitterness and despair, rather than that of facing our truth. In the time between the death and Resurrection of Jesus, Judas chose that route, but Peter did not

And so having gone into Hell, it is the resurrected Peter who addresses the crowds on the Day of Pentecost and His bright Light illumined message opened wide his hearers who ‘were cut to the heart’ – the evil of their heart laid bare.

‘let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’

The evil of their hearts was laid bare – subjected to the dazzling brilliance of Truth and Light. From the darkness of death they cried out ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ and Peter replied ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

Repent . . . ‘turn away from your wickedness – turn towards the Brilliant light which has exposed you, for it is the Burning Sun of the Love of God which forgives yes, even you, for He has forgiven Me! Take your place with St Paul who also knows himself to be ‘the chief of sinners’ – and you will receive the Life beyond all human hope – the Very Life of God himself – The Holy Spirit, the Life which death itself is powerless to contain.

Like the Gulag for Solzhenitsyn, the Resurrection of Pentecost is a Strange and disturbing gift. Tongues of flame – burning truth in preaching from these unlearned Galileans.

We are faced with a question we never thought of – ‘do you wish to be raised from the dead? Is the Truth something to be fled from in the sleep of death, or faced in all its burning and healing Light?

These Strange Gifts come to us in strange readings. This morning we heard of the vision of Ezekiel – of the valley of dry bones and the question of the LORD – ‘Son of Man, can these bones live?’ A vision of a people coming to life beyond all human hope – a people who were saying “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Would they want to . . .

Tonight we hear from the same prophet, the Word of the LORD – ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’ It is that promise of Resurrection, for all those who have followed Jesus into the place where in human terms all hope is cut off, into Hell . . . we may well ask, why do we not see the promise of the Father? Is it because in truth we do not want to?

Is not this us? Beyond Hope? Perhaps we need to take Jesus at his word and follow him.

Seek the Light which exposes the heart – dare to face the Light and the Truth – and you shall be saved . . .

Easter 6 – Becoming Compost – A Society of Friends

Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B, 2018

1 John 5:1-6
John 15: 9-17

‘Becoming Compost – A Society of Friends’
[On Disappearing]

Looking at the title of today’s sermon, you may well be asking “are we to hear more on the virtues of Burial as opposed to Cremation . . . or then again “perhaps we shall be thinking about The Quakers or ‘Society of Friends’ as they are otherwise known”?

Well the answer is neither – although the allusion to the Quakers is interesting given their commitment to Pacifism, for the words of Jesus which I wish us to listen to this morning are often found in public places, carved in stone. I am of course referring to their use on War memorials.

Jesus said ‘Greater Love hath no man than this, than that a man lay down his life for his friends’ – although the fact that these are the words of Jesus are not in my experience also engraved on the memorials . . . yet perhaps there is a significant connection? Perhaps, rather like Pontius Pilate declaring ‘Behold The Man!’ those who carved those words did not realise fully how significant they were??

Jesus said ‘Greater Love hath no man than this, than that a man lay down his life for his friends’

No one here I expect knows anything about Fred and Sid Jee. Fred and Sid were brothers who lived and worked in the South West of England in the early part of the C20. In 1915 (we think), they signed up and were put into the Somerset Yeomanry, with whom they served throughout the rest of the First World War. Many years later Fred would say that they only survived because they looked out for one another – frequently hauling the other out of the quicksand of the Hole of Hell that was Western Europe. We know Fred and Sid’s story, because Fred was Sarah’s maternal grandfather.

They were rural men of the South West. Up in the North of England though the story was very different. There the working classes from whom the infantry and the rest were drawn, lived and worked in far greater density, in the northern towns and cities of England. It was not uncommon in the early days of the war for hundreds to go off together to sign up, from their place of work – The dark Satanic mills – but for all that places of deep shared existence. It was as if the hardships of life presented the opportunity for deeper forms of living together. Having worked 5 and a half days, they’d leave for the pub and then the local football ground. Shared life, together and so when it came to joining up, it was not at all unusual for them to do so together, and they were formed into the so called ‘Pals’ Regiments. The Leeds Pals, the Bradford Pals, Accrington Pals, Salford Pals . . . these names continue to haunt for as they lived and worked together, they also died together in their hundreds of thousands. The records of the Somme alone make for the hardest of reading with sometimes as many as 90 out of every hundred men, seriously wounded or killed in the space of a few days. Pals. Friends, Living together and dying together

Although the war memorials would say, for God, King and Country, that wasn’t the experience of these men once the realities of war hit home. They looked after one another, they fought and died for the sake of each other. As is often mentioned, there was a loss of the sense of the self for the sake of the whole – a sense which is continued to this day wherever people are sent into war . . . the difference being now that such people often do not come from any form of shared ‘life together’ beforehand.

The Pals – this Society of friends had already experienced Life as a shared enterprise. Even in the soul destroying factories, there was a sense of mutual shared life, and responsibility. When you used the word ‘We’, you knew who you were talking about . . . At a deep level, you experienced life as a place where you relied on and needed others. Pushed to its deepest, Fred and Sid also Knew that they needed one another, because that was what they experienced. It was the form of Knowledge of which I spoke last week – participatory Knowledge, growing up as brothers. They hadn’t been taught it as an abstract principle – it was Real.

Wind forward to the present . . . Needing one another is not something that we so experience, certainly outside of extremis situations. Modern Life suggests to us that we are individuals, that the very goal of life is not to have to rely on others. Think of how often elderly folk say ‘I don’t want to be a burden’, of how the poor find it hard to ask for help, indeed that they do need to ask for help is understood as a failing on their part – not as a symptom of a deeper malaise

From time to time we may come across people whom we say ‘have a need to be needed’. This we say is a psychological flaw. “It is a pathology, this ‘need to be needed’”. But is it? Or is it rather that we are created to live in mutual dependency and now that life is so very easy for so many, and Independence is the goal, this need to be needed is, if you will, the loose wires left over from lives of mutual interdepence. For Why might people have a ‘need to be needed’ if it were not that each of us in truth need other people. That to be human is, to use the words of St Paul, to ‘bear one another’s burdens’

The ‘need to be needed’ is what is left over when we live with the experience of not needing anyone else. Like a hanging nail – It is pathologised and we try and ‘heal’ people of this psychological throwback to ‘something in their past’. Trying to ‘heal’ people of a need to be needed is no more nor less than making them even less human that the modern world has already done, trying through psychotherapy to ‘fix’ something in their past, not recognising that it is the past of us all, and that we have perhaps abandoned that which made us most human, Shared Existence and Life.
It is of course like all Modern Stories, a story told by those who ‘have got it all together’ and tell others that they are unwell. It is a story told by those who have forgotten what it is to need others because the fortune of life has educated them in being Self Made – and we think that this is Normal, Well, Whole. Whereas it is a life that like an acorn which does not go into the soil, becomes hard and cracked and rots. Life alone.
Jesus said, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single seed’ The Greek is simpler – ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone’, or ‘it lives alone’, and so too, as we now realise, it dies alone, or of aloneness. Loneliness – all that is left when we no longer need one another – now kills us in our millions . . .

But the Gospel is of Life! Discovered in laying down our lives so that our lives are shared with one another, for it is in that Life Together that the Holy Spirit dwells

We see this shared life in the accounts of the early church, and again today in the account of the household of Cornelius. An account which flies in the face of the understanding of Christian Life, which after all is meant to be the Life of Jesus and therefore The Human Life, being something which we can know apart from others. Rather it is a life that is amongst the people of God. So although the account begins with telling us that Cornelius himself was ‘a god fearer’, who regularly prayed and gave alms, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard!
Peter doesn’t then wade in to test the truth of the faith of each individual present. No, he baptises the whole lot! (It is only in a world where we have lost sight of life as shared existence as more than simply something we know about, only in a world in which we Experience life first as individuals, that we might erroneously think ‘you have to come to your own personal faith’) Interestingly it is not unusual to hear of modern missionaries going to ‘convert the heathen’ and being faced off by a tribal chief who says, ‘no! You baptise all of us or none of us’ (see ‘Christianity Rediscovered’ Donovan) We ‘who have got it together’ have come to view our lives as independent. We’ve lost sight of our mutual dependence, we might say of Life itself. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Church withers and dies in such a context where we are taught to be individuals, and flourishes in contexts where people have to depend on the help of others, given and received – for the Life of the Church Must be shared, or it dies. Can you have a Church of individuals??

This is perhaps the greatest challenge that the Church faces, that of Shared Existence. Needing one another in an age when that is seen as a pathology, as weakness, as a failing of education or more.

I said that those mills were soul destroying. The Age of the machine has done much to destroy our humanity and with it, the Creation which depends of our loving service. Not least it has done this by reducing Churches to a collection of functions, and our Needs to anything apart from the very life of God shared amongst us.
‘We need a treasurer’, ‘we need someone to run the fair’, ‘we need a Vicar’, ‘we need someone to do the flowers and pray the prayers and operate the projector’ . . . but these needs are wants, not Needs – what we Need is each other. We need Life together. For it only in our shared existence and life insofar as it exists that Christ is manifested. ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples . . .’ ‘by your fine worship?’ ‘by your website?’ ‘by your well ordered accounts?’ [ and here as I write the sermon I have to fight with the temptation to say ‘of course we need all these things as well . . .!! Because we don’t . . .] Any Church can exist without any of these and fully manifest the Life of God. You can have them all and run like . . . well run like a machine, and be aliens to the Life that is from above. How is the Life of God revealed amongst us? In that we love one another as Christ has loved us, in that we lay down our lives to discover the Life that is from above. But this is so very very hard for us who have been trained by The World in so many subtle ways to be Individuals. It goes against the way that we are taught by the World. It goes against the driving force of wider society. It goes against the wider life of the Church which has become so institutionalised that it cannot obey Jesus without a law, a rule, a standing order or motion.

The only way to know it, to begin to lay down your life is, dare I say it in a mechanised world, to ‘waste time’, to drop our personal agendas, to give up on the story of ‘our life’. Yet what else can we do? If the Life that we share comes from the bread and wine, the Life of Christ given to us. Every Sunday. If he pours out his Life for us – how can we not let go of ‘our own (individual) lives’ and set out to discover life with one another in him

Or, to put it another way to become compost. To fall into the ground and die. Thus we truly become a Society of Friends.

We come back to the Cross. We planted our acorns . . . let us lay down our lives for one another. For this in truth is what it is to love one another. Let us learn to need one another, to learn to depend on one another, in real ways – it is of course very very hard. It is the way of the Cross. Which is the Way of Life.

Amen

Healthy Churches – attending to the Roots

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

North Island – Kauri
Majestic
Silence and Awe
Sharing in Being

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

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

About 2000 years old?

Which makes me think of the Church . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towards the end of Jesus great prayer he utters these words

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

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

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