Dangerous Faith

Draft notes for Sunday Sermon – Trinity +4 2020

Genesis 22

Baptism and Genesis 22

Dangerous faith

Today we have a baptism! And a reading about child sacrifice . . .

Keep Safe! . . . School holidays, Air NZ

Then Covid!

Lockdown . . .

Economy . . .

Who knows? Everyone apparently . . .

Have you had conversations about this with folk?? 

Have you even once asked – ‘where is God in all of this??’

On the planet Zog?? Is God involved?? As Christians surely that is where our focus should be, shouldn’t it? 

Yet all I hear is ‘Lockdown!’ – ‘No Lockdown!’ . . .

Thank you god for giving us a PM who kept us safe . . . Are we the elect of God???

Because where were you in the US or Italy or the UK . . .

It’s a lot more convenient not to have to think of God . . . to avoid God . . .  and if we’re ruthless honest with ourselves, this is precisely what we do, almost all of the time, and it’s why this mornings text is so terrifying – because we don’t want to pay attention to God . . . If the God we encounter in this text seems strangely alien to us . . . is it because we don’t know him??

———

As good members at St John’s we have four patron Sts – Mary, John, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis

Aslan – is he safe?? 

Good is Not the same as Safe -you have to choose – between the Good and the Safe . . . Cognitive Dissonance

Church is Aslan’s Realm – there is a Lion Loose! 

If you want to be safe – Church is not the right place!

Annie Dillard – Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

We are going to Baptise Marie today . . . We invoke the name of God . . . blithely?? 

And THEN we have this reading from Genesis . . . Child Sacrifice . . . we are not on safe ground here – and it is not comfortable . . .

But it is a move away from the Safe God story, the God avoidance story . . . It’s a move away from illusion to Reality

God draws Abraham away from all his security blankets – all that keeps him from Reality – all that keeps him Safe

Leave your country – culture – kindred – relationships – father’s house – home – and go to the land I will show you . . .

No Heir – this really Is the end of the line! Ishamel?? No . . . 

Can a child be born to a man who is 100? Can Sarah who is 99 bear a child? Oh that Ishmael might live before you . . . but no . . .

This makes no sense . . . but then, does anything? Have you got COVID figured?? 

God has promised Abram a Son, through Sarah . . . the son of the promise. Isaac

And joy of Joys, Hope beyond all hope! He is . . . and then we come to Gen 22 . . . and it is a terrifying text . . . Not Safe -YET – THIS IS CHRISTIAN LIFE . . . This is THE Exemplar of faith into which we are going to baptise Marie

After these things God tested Abraham. 

Whoa!! . . . Who trusts who? 

The question is not, can we trust God, it is can God trust us to trust him . . . after all if we are charged with living out His purposes . . .

He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 

Abraham is Alert to God

He said, ‘Take your son, 

your only son Isaac,

Just to be clear

whom you love, 

Just to make it abundantly clear what is going going on within Abraham

and go to the land of Moriah, 

and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ 

So Abraham rose early in the morning

, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 

WHAT???? NO discussion???

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ 

OK So Abraham says ‘we are coming back’ WE ARE

Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, 

He laid the Wood on his Son – pay attention here folk . . .

and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 

Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ 

Abraham is alert to God – he is alert to Isaac – he is responsive to both – he is attending to both – he loves God, He loves Isaac

Isaac said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ 

Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham Cannot see how this is going to turn out . . . none of us can . . . but he trusts God

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 

Still paying attention in the midst of it all!! He is attentive to God

He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ 

And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

God is His Life

Jesus is our Life

Meaning of Baptism

We place our life in the hands of the Lion – The one who isn’t safe – The one who Is Good . . .

Mind your language!

“let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak” James 1:19

We speak often of the power of words, too often . . . for we rarely reflect upon the nature of their power. Why do our words have such power? And more importantly why, given that our words have such power, do we speak so much and so thoughtlessly?

In the Source of things, from The Beginning, we learn that Words Create Worlds, and I was reminded of that just this morning reading a Facebook conversation about what could and couldn’t be done by a priest at a ‘non-religious wedding’. [The alert reader might call on me to ‘stop right there!’ Well Done . . . but excuse me for carrying on for a few more lines before returning to that oxymoron.] In England, a member of the clergy cannot participate in a wedding which a civil Registrar conducts. There can’t be ‘religious’ elements. So, no religious stuff until the Registrar has left the building . . . See what I did there with my words?

The fact of the matter is that a marriage is not some mere material contract between two people in a universe devoid of any spiritual content. In the way we use the term, there is no such thing as ‘a secular marriage ceremony’ (one in which ‘the spiritual aspect’ is locked outside of the door). Yet we create such an illusion by our use of words, and not only do we create it, we reinforce it over and over again. The language of ‘secularism’ is just that, language, words we have created, and a world we have made built upon this tenuous edifice of words. (Language is the most powerful creator of Culture)

Now, I understand that many many folk might not be too happy to be told that ‘The Secular World’ is an illusion. After all, for those who want nothing to do with G_d . . . it’s a useful, indeed a careless contrivance. But my contention is not with them, but with we Christians.

I had thought that we follow the one through whom all things were created and in whom they have their being. (You may wish to ponder the opening of John’s gospel, or indeed the first chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, with its drumbeat of ‘all things’, ‘all things’, ‘all things’. Yes, dear postmodernist, it is a totalising metanarrative, The Totalising Metanarrative) Given the Givenness of that, something we cannot aviod by leaving the building as there is nowhere we can go from His presence, why as Christians do we so readily assume the linguitics torture of ‘secularism’? We are to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, not parrot Babylonian! (Of course anyone who knows the history of The Protestant West knows that we in our own way created Babylonioan . . .) We need to be slow to speak, because when we speak without thinking we reinforce, and verbally create the very illusory state we so rail against!

Regarding a wedding, it is in more ways than one a ‘religious’ act. Firstly, although the etymology is disputed, religio is to bind, to join together . . . so unless marriage in our society has become devoid of any explicit sense of endurance, then there is a religo(us) aspect to what the civil registrar does [with apologies to all such people, I’m sure that they’re a very fine bunch of men and women].

But there is really no escape, for our lives are materio/spiritual whether we like it or not, and nothing we can do can undo that. The Registrar may have left the building before a Priest stands up to pray, but he or she has already conducted a religious ceremony of profound spiritual content. We can only pretend otherwise, creating an illusion of separateness by what we say. And by and large we do – which acts on our own minds and thinking, and the next moment . . .

Marriage Is a Metaphysical reality, which is why we need to be Very Very Careful when we try to re-form it for we have no idea, or cannot SEE what we are doing . . .’Father forgive us for we know not what we do. Insofar as secular means what it does for so many, devoid of religious/spiritual content, Marriage has no ‘secular’ form, indeed nothing does.

We need to mind our language, and stop building that which we know to be a poweful and deeply unhealthy illusion.

Fear, Control and The Human

Do not be afraid! This is the most oft repeated injunction of Scripture. Because it is often so difficult to do, it is necessary to examine the ‘Why?’ of this Command of God, so often on the lips of Jesus . . .

Recently I’ve been feeding on various podcasts, not least those from the Ancient Faith website. Recently I came upon this one by Michael Haldas from his often excellent series ‘Sacramental Living’, entitled ‘Fear and Control’. It’s worth a listen, and I’d like to make a few additional comments.

As you will note, Michael is speaking in a daily series of talks and I suspect a little unscripted as he becomes a little contradictory, not least with respect of ‘Control’, so I offer hear a few thoughts which might possibly help direct our Spiritual Exercise in these days.

Fear and control are intimately linked

Life is full of uncertainty. If we have until now only believed that in our heads, the events of these past weeks have caused that knowledge to become Knowledge. It has moved from the head to the heart, the seat and root of our lives, and there has born much anxious fruit.

So much about the Coronavirus situation has the potential to make us fearful, and in many ways we can see that fear realised, not only within us, but also externally to us. This latter is a significant point to which I shall return in a few moments.

A short personal reflection regarding my own heart.

Here in New Zealand, we were given about 48 hours notice of the lockdown. I noted that all of a sudden the streets were alive with cars making their way to our local supermarket. I was told that after only an hour, the queue for the checkouts went right round the store . . . of course, I wasn’t so foolish . . . yet that wasn’t quite so. As I went to shop early the next morning, I found myself pausing in the aisles and looking at certain products, and an internal nudge arose, and ‘mysteriously’ this or that ended up in my basket, despite the fact that we had some at home! I stocked up on potatoes and yoghurt starter, whilst self righteously ignoring the toilet rolls . . .

. . . so to continue in many ways we can see that fear realised, not only within us, but also externally to us. The simple fact is that we are far more alert to that external to us, than internal. The more we internally fear within our hearts, the more we See reasons to fear out there. (This is because as humans we are microcosms – tiny Worlds. We See as we are) And we are trained ot think that what we see is Reality. But Rather, what goes on within us constructs a false reality ‘out there’, because we are afraid. The internal which guides our eyes and our thinking, from fear to fear, not the external.

And our response to fear is to seek to control. Indeed Control is always a response to fear. We try to get the world ‘the way we want it’ because we are afraid, and if we have power, we exert our will on the World around us. Technology of course which is at root an instrument for exercising control over our Reality, feeds not only our sense of agency, and control, but also feeds our fear. Now of course we are afraid of what in our fear we have done to the Creation . . .

Consider the working of fear in someone who has been bullied. Because they have been bullied, often when young, they seek to protect themselves from that first fear they knew. So they exercise control over others, they themselves bully. They exercise Dominion. To a greater or lesser extent this is true of us all, but as in so many things, we only recognise it in particularly significant examples of it, Out There. Our ‘Desire to make the world a better place, to turn the people around us into our projects to improve them, are merely our attempts to make the world Safe for ourselves, so it fits how we think it should be.

This perhaps is why we know so little of the truth of prayer.

We pray and we pray, seeking God to intervene and change things Out There, so our lives can ‘return to normal’, but then God doesn’t respond . . .

YET if it really is God we seek – rather than just getting the world’s electrician, plumber, etc. to appear briefly and fix things – then God may well respond and do a far more significant work – within us. God asleep in the storm – God intervenes there through His Son Jesus and the disciples world is shattered, they’re more frightened than they were of the storm . . . Do we really want God to step in?

So often prayer is simply, “Lord I know that the world is really yours, but can you fix it so that I have it as I want it? Please can I have the life I want.” But that isn’t prayer – it’s magic . . .

These words of Father Stephen Freeman have really struck me these past days “ . . . when we seek to use the unseen in a manner that controls or directs the world around us, we have left the path of true belief and entered the world of magic and superstition. It is, oddly, the opposite of the sacramental life. In the sacraments, material things are used for the purpose of communion with the immaterial with the sole intent of communion with God. In magic and superstition, we seek to manipulate the immaterial world for the sake of controlling and managing the material world. It is actually a form of secularism – one which presumes that the material world itself is the true and final place of our existence.”

God comes to us in Jesus to give us His Life. And this requires the upending of all the tables of our lives, of many things being driven out, of a renewed Vision of what Life actually is.

To return to the theme of Control, when God steps in we have to cede control and that is the last thing we want to do, to lose our life, so it seems.

But is there no place for control?

Here I think Michael became a little confusing – for he was speaking about control as a sign of fear, but then switched ot speaking of it in healthy terms, but not defining the sphere of good control, or its home.

For there is a place where we are to exercise dominion – in our hearts. Over what rightly are we to have control? The simple, yet difficult answer is, ourselves.

It is not our place to control anything outside of the domain we have been given, our bodies, until we have mastered that which lurks within us. Michael helpfully uses the example here of God’s words to Cain ‘sin is lurking at your door, waiting to master you . . .’ Cain has no self mastery, no self control, and the rest as they say is history. Sin and death are the fruits of lives which have no self control, just self gratification, however beautifully packaged . . .

Self Control is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit.In other words, it is Evidence of the life of God within us, the Life of Jesus, abiding in us

Jesus can speak words to the Creation ‘Be Still!’ and rightly rebuke us for our lack of faith. He alone, The Human (as Pontius Pilate will remind us), can exercise dominion over the Creation for He alone is that Life that comes from God. It is only as we allow Him in to change us that we might grow into true humanity. Only when he comes ot the Temple of our lives, or indeed stills the storm outside, and reveals the Storm within.

Only when we train ourselves to only do what we see the Father doing, moment by moment, only when our life comes to us in and through Jesus, are we in the still place from which in truth we might exercise Control, not from Fear, but from Love, Joy and Peace.

‘Give to Everyone who asks of you’ The Testing of our Faith

In these days, something remarkable is happening, the Nations are being shaken. The global economic order is being tested. God enquires of it ‘Are you fit for purpose?’

What do we mean when we say ‘Economy’, or perhaps better, for words change their meaning over the years, what at base is Economy?

For Christians with a mustard seed of theology, the word ‘Economic’ may be followed by the word ‘Trinity’. The Economic Trinity is not a description of the trading system which lies at the heart of God, rather it is our attempt to ponder, to probe the mystery of the Life of God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit. How do the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to one another within the Godhead?

So, being made in the Image of God, Economy for us should mean quite simply, how do we relate to one another? And it is here that the world economic order comes under judgement, for it has little or nothing to do with how humankind relates to one another, and nothing at all it seems to do with how the Human relates to the Creation.

For a while now we have ben watching, some with dismay, how the Creation seems to be tottering and collapsing around us, yet now in these days of global Coronavirus lockdown, our gaze is drawn to the ‘Global Economic Order’, so called. Because we have as humans invested so much in terms of our faith in the security of this order, anxiety reigns. Stock markets tumble. The powerful and wealthy rush to buy gold and government bonds . . . which will rot with them. For the weak and the powerless of course these times are so very difficult. The only work for so many for so long has been in serving this Economic System. We can see no future except somehow trying after it has all blown through, to try and rebuild what we have known.

But this ‘Economy’ is a false, a deceptive economy, not least for its promise is that everyone can have what they want, irrespective of human relating, or the relationshp between Humankind and God’s Creation. This in large part has led us down the path of individuallism, separated from the Creation, isolated from one another. Our present lockdown speaks powerfuly of this isolation, the individual circumstance manifested amongst us all.

This system is falling, and it will fall, if not now, in Time. If history teaches us anything it is that like the human humself, human empires and systems rise and fall . . . they are born and they die, for they have no life in them.

The question, the testing is to reveal what if anything lies underneath, buried in the depths of the human heart. For as this system tumbles, what will be revealed are the secrets of al hearts.

For too long we have forgotten that a Good Society is composed of people who are Good. We have thought that a Good Society required money, and competence in technical matters. We took Virtue for granted. We stopped asking, ‘what does it mean to be human?’

We have forgotten that Virtue is not something we naturally possess, but that we must be trained in it. This is what the Church taught consitently for many centuries, that for us to live towards God, the only one who Is Good, required effort. ‘Hard and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there are that find it’ says Jesus.

Which brings me, finally and briefly to the title of this blog. ‘Give to everyone who asks of you. For living in response to the words of Jesus, is Life itself, for He Is Alive!

To say that these words of Jesus – along with most of his words – are largely ignored is to state the obvious to which we have become blind

The Economy of the Trinity is a Sharing in all that they have and all that they are, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a Sharing in Life. At this beginning of Holy Week, our hearts and minds are set towards Jerusalem, where Jesus gives all that He possesses, His Life, which of course in Him alone, is all that He Is.

At this time folk will start to borrow – even, horrifically, from kith and kin, family members, love having absented itself from even the closest realtionships – though these are yet the birth pangs. The Goodness of God is not present.

This is the Terrible outworking of individualism, that Life, all we have and all we are is not shared, rather it is traded, for a time. You must repay! As if those who give and those who receive really owned what they had?

People will enter into further forms of debt slavery, working to repay that which cannot be repaid. Despite an easy theology that says Jesus paid what we couldn’t, the Reality we live by is still that of the Monetary Economy, where someone puts his hands round our neck and promises prison if we don’t repay.

Our lives are given in the Image of the Triune God, as an outworking of that mutual Interdependence upon which eevrything rests, the Life of God.

Now comes the test. Are we Alive to God? Are our hands open to give? Has our sharing of what we have with others revealed the Life of God in us, or have we hoarded for ourselves. Are we Alive to the God whose life is Sharing, or just to a collapsing economic order? The Saints of old rejoiced to see the fall of Babylon the Great – the Economic order which had destroyed life and the Creation. The Judgement of God had come. The Testing of Faith.

The rain falls, the floods rise, and the winds beat against that house, and the house on the . . .

A Course on The Gospel according to St John

Part 1

‘The Temple in the Gospel according to St John’

Part 2

‘Who is St John (the Evangelist)?’

Part 3

‘John and the Synoptic gospels – some comments’

Part 4

‘Jesus and five women in John’s Gospel’

Part 5

‘The Nature of Christian Life’

To be continued on Palm Sunday. See St John’s Anglican Church Dunedin on Facebook for a FB Live Study – 6:30pm NZ

Following the disruption caused by the COVID pandemic – several of the talks were moved to our parish Facebook page – St John’s Anglican Church, Roslyn. Recordings can be found there as live videos

Part 12

John’s gospel as ‘the parable of the sower’

Part 13

The Wedding at Cana and ‘The Ethics of Beauty’

Part 14

Debt, Forgiveness, Money and the Cleansing of The Temple

This is only the first half of the evening – there were a couple of helpful ‘questions for clarification’ They can be seen on our parish facebook page – a Live Video entry on Sunday August 23rd

Here is a very rough transcript of the conversation that followed for those who can’t access the FB Live video

Further questions and comments from the talk

Comment

“This way of looking at things is so different that we can hardly visualise it!”

Question

My problem is that there are always people who are take-take-take in a system where it is give-give-give . . . what of the drug addict who constantly asks for money to fuel there addiction?

Response

First point – it is interesting how our captivation to the Mammon self preservation system makes this our default response and objection.

But what is at stake here is healing. This is not a question of fulfilling people’s unhealed and wrongly oriented loves and desires – but of healing them at a deeper level. So no, we don’t give the money because that isn’t healing – (of course the request supposes that we have so much more money in the first place!)

The goal is restoration of relationship and in a very individualised society, the first thing is to get to know people. The Money system separates us and makes us far more anxious about our own existence. Much mental anxiety is down to our having lots of material possessions and little by way of shared life. Also that we are not meant to respond as individuals but as community – but money is a means by which we avoid shared life.

We have money which means we don’t have to love. The Mammon system is an anti-God system

In the fulness of time there is no trading, because trading is the fruit of disconnected life

And of course in the Mammon system people take and take and take – but it isn’t so much the poor addict, it is those who have much money. The system works by taking money as the powerful who are the most anxious – having the most to lose – take the most. (Drug addicts of course give their money to those who have far more that you do!)

We do not understand the nature of the world in which we live and don’t see it! So the TV evangelist who went to prison for cooking the books – and in prison he sat with a red letter edition of the bible – and until then “I never realised how much Jesus said about the danger of money.” Because it is an anti God System – one may very well say, Satanic as it deceives us.

We live in a money salvation system – ‘if people have enough money . . . ‘ but we never name it as such

The money system is demonic – it is always hungry and never satisfied

2 or 3 looking for opportunities to live differently – mustard seeds of the Kingdom is the way

Contrast Acts 3 – Peter and John on the way to the Temple. ‘Silver and Gold have I none!’ But money isn’t the issue! What do people really need?? What Really is Salvation? Literally Healing!
Not a debt that we cannot pay! We are enthralled to the money story and turn the salvation story into a Mammon story. We don’t charge family!

We have substituted the Mammon Salvation story for the God Salvation story

CF Mark 2 and John 5 – the man in John 5 has no friends! He is in the Mammon story – ‘stop sinning’ – why does he have no friends?? Isolation and Sin – stop breaking relationship friends will help! This is how Love works

[NB there is next to no mention of money in John, except we are meant ot understand it re Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple]

Part 16 – ‘What is Truth?’ Questions of Knowing in John