Good News for the Rich?

Sermon for the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 2018

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 6:17-26

Is there Good News for the rich?

Some years ago – actually more than I care to remember, the then bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard produced a book entitled which caused no little stir amongst the comfortable Anglicans of England. It’s title was ‘Bias to the Poor’, and the Bishop writing from the context of one of the most impoverished cities in the country, suggested that this was indeed the case – that God was biased towards the poor. Well not long after the Bishop of the more typically leafy Oxford Diocese, Richard Harries produced a book which gives us the theme for this week. ‘Is there a gospel for the rich?’

Is there a Gospel for the Rich? Is God biased towards the poor? Well – it must be said if God is biased towards the Poor, it is not in the sense that we assume it ought to be – that is God does not seem as it were to set the system so that the poor a ‘leg up’ so to speak, and then can enjoy the comforts of the rich.
Indeed, the comforts of the rich are called into question . . .

For of course I am rather dodging the pointedness of the question of our theme, ‘Is there Good news for the Rich?’
If there is a shift in the Old and New Testaments, it seems not to lie in that hoary old distinction between the God of the Old Testament who is vengeful and judging, and the God of the New who is warm and loving and generally an indulgent elderly relative. No. A, if not the big difference is regarding material wealth – for whilst if you ignore the New Testament you can make a reasonable if not watertight case for the acquisition of wealth as a sign of God’s blessing (provided of course you avoid the prophets . . .) – there is Nothing to give such comfort in the New.

Nothing – Not a jot . . . James the brother of Jesus howls in protest against the infant church which is treating the rich with special deference, after all he says, it’s the rich who are hauling you into court! ‘Howl you rich he says, howl . . . and it gets worse when we come to the words of Jesus

It is odd, or perhaps it isn’t. The words of Jesus are the most ignored in the entirety of scripture – without a doubt, and perhaps in no greater sense than regarding wealth and money. I recall seeing a live interview on stage with a ‘disgraced’ TV evangelist – it is almost superfluous to use the adjective . . . in which said former TV evangelist who shall remain nameless was speaking of what he learnt from his time in prison for fraud and tax evasion.
He said, ‘I had a red letter bible with me in prison’ – that is one with the words of Jesus in red – ‘I had never realised how much Jesus said about the danger of wealth . . .’ and here was a man who read the bible . . . in order to ply his trade . . . funny what we don’t see.

And still I’m avoiding those words myself . . . the words of the Gospel . . . the words of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”

As I said last week – the encounter with Jesus is not one which confirms us in our comfortable view of the world. Blessed are you who are poor . . . Really??? Blessed are you poor?? Because I am going to change things so that you get the same as everyone else?? Perhaps that is how we might want to interpret Jesus’ words today, that He said, Blessed are you Poor, so we need to make sure that those Poor people are blessed . . . Except he didn’t say ‘Blessed will you be when finally human beings get their act together . . . indeed wasn’t it Jesus who said, ‘The Poor you will always have with you?? Blessed are you who Are poor

Of course we could and perhaps do prefer to listen to Matthew – ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit . . .’ Ah that’s better – how convenient – how we love to separate our the material and the spiritual . . . as if they were two different realms – but even if we do we have a problem . . . if Jesus says the poor in spirit are blessed, he also says the poor are blessed . . . not a message to be met with anything but incredulity. Who could take this seriously??? Really . . . come on Jesus . . . probably Luke just missed out the ‘in spirit bit’ . . . except he doesn’t stop there – Blessed are you who who are hungry now, Blessed are you who weep now . . . Blessed are you who are persecuted,

But still . . . I avoid the Gospel for the Rich – . . . ’Woe to you who are rich . . .’ Jesus really does seem to mean it. His words about the blessedness of the poor make no sense to us who are well off . . . His words to us are like a bucket of freezing cold water thrown over us, ‘If you are rich, you are in trouble . . . wake up!

Of all the words of Jesus which the church has desperately tried to avoid over two thousand years, these are the ones we’ve been most creative with. Indeed one writer suggests that ‘the Reformation, . . . —whatever else it may have been—was a movement toward a form of Christianity well suited to the needs of the emerging middle class, and to the spiritual complacency that a culture of increasing material security dearly required of its religion’

Like politicians who won’t tell hard truths to the electorate, to ensure they keep their jobs. Who don’t tell us ‘climate change means we are going to have to entirely change the way we live, we are told – we will figure something out so you don’t have to change . . . and the days get warmer – so too the church all too often has sought to water down the terrible warning in the words of Jesus

And I think that it is those words ‘material security’ which hold the key to our predicament – and if we say we believe in Jesus, then we must also believe that we Are in a predicament.
Blessed are you who are poor, and hungry. The kingdom of heaven is yours – Woe to you who are wealthy and well fed . . . Jesus’s words do not leave any wriggle room – and we are on the sharp end.

Last week you may remember I finished with this thought – ‘what if it is only those who have nothing better to do than to follow Jesus, are the one’s who really discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus’ – The nothings, the nobodies. Those with little or no say over their lives . . . so nobody were they that leaving their nets, and everything they had seemed like a good idea when Jesus came to call them to follow him.

As we know when he calls others who have riches, a solid career, and family and this and that and the other, they don’t follow.

I wonder how those disciples felt leaving everything behind. . . what did they have? Nothing!

And Jesus lifted his eyes towards his disciples and said ‘Blessed are you who are poor . . .’ well they were certainly that. ‘Blessed are you who are hungry . . .’ I guess that they may well have been that also ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted and railed for my sake . . .’ well that was still perhaps to come, but it would . . .

They were going to find their life with Jesus – those who had left everything to follow him, as Peter was fond of reminding Jesus 🙂 They had nothing, and then Jesus was crucified – they lost even Him, except for a season in which he taught them, then he left them, and like Simeon and Anna – On the Day of Pentecost, they are utterly destitute – yet giving themselves to prayer they receive the Holy Spirit – they receive, the Kingdom of God, the very life of God – were filled with it, because they had no comfort, no comforter . . .

But you who are full now. . . well you’re full . . . how can you receive anything. Your wealth has cut you off from the Life of God. Unlike the disciples you are not vulnerable – you have no space no time, you have so much else that you think it is better to do . . . you have life on your own terms . . . the life you have made for yourself.
‘Woe to you who are rich for you have received your comfort. . . . The word Jesus uses is ‘paraklesin’ . . . it is the root word he uses to describe the Holy Spirit – the paraclete – the comforter.

You have received the life the comfort you sought . . . the Life of the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit? . . . no those things which moths consume and rust destroys

What of this Good News for the Rich? Is there any?? Well of course yes there is, BUT it is a bit difficult. You see the nobodies followed Jesus at the drop of a net, so to speak, but . . . They obeyed his word and set off to follow Him . . . you see that’s all it takes, taking Jesus at his word . . . Good News for the Rich – The words of Jesus – Jesus himself is the Good News.

Give to everyone who asks of you . . .

Again we hedge and hum and her and haw . . . we come up with a million and one justifications . . . Bishop’s even write books about economic systems and capitalism and lose us in a web of abstraction to get us off the hook . . . but only at the cost of ignoring Jesus

We like to say ‘my wealth has no hook in me . . . ‘ and then Jesus says – ‘give to everyone who asks of you . . .’ Everyone – the deserving, the undeserving – we shall come back to this next week

Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say . . . Ah well, we are saved by faith not works . . . so you believe me?

Is there Good News for the Rich? Well not on the terms we’d like to have . . . but yes there is, in the same way there is the Good News for the poor. Jesus offers us life. The question is, are our hands empty to receive it?

‘Nothing better to do’ Sermon for OT5 Year C 2019

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 5:1-11

‘if there’s nothing better to do’

(Last few words missing)

The devil, they say, makes work for idle hands . . . proof were it needed of where cell phones come from 🙂 Of course children of the Protestant work ethic that we are, we tend to think that this means that if you are idle, you’ll easily get caught up in something you shouldn’t be doing, so ‘get busy!’ – but that assumes that we know what we should be doing . . . and that we haven’t just mindlessly and complacently taken on board the stories The World, and its Prince tell us . . .
You see, you could put it another way. What if there was a point to your idleness – that seeing someone watching or waiting, the Devil suggested ‘Here! Look at this! Do that! . . .’ The Devil making work for those hands that were meant to be open and ready to serve – that is is you were waiting for someone or something, you knew not what.
If you were busy, because ‘someone’ gave you ‘something better to do’, then when who or what you were waiting for came along, you would miss out. And what of those others who would miss out because you ‘had something better to do’?

I think about this a lot to do with those good people of St John’s, the ambulance people that is 🙂 I hope that all the time some if not all of them are idle, because if they are all busy, and I need them . . .

Perhaps . . . what if, more mischief is done in the world by those who are busy and ‘important’ . . . and that the truly important things that must be done are not being done, because everyone is too busy with their own stuff? Everyone has found ‘something better to do’
The World is full of stories of ‘the things you could be doing’ The Devil will happily make work for idle hands. It is difficult to look at the world around us and come to the conclusion that everyone is busy doing that which is truly the best – that perhaps we might all find something better, true better to be doing

Last week we considered two people, Simeon and Anna – very old – ‘just’ praying, ‘just’ waiting. They weren’t the movers and shakers of society as it was understood . . . of course that doesn’t mean that it was correctly understood . . . but they were waiting – at rest, Old Simeon, sufficiently at rest that the Holy Spirit could rest on Him, the Life of God could find a home in this man at rest, and similarly Anna – a widow for 84 years, into her hundreds, and she’d had nothing better to do than to pray and fast in that time, oh, and speak God’s word. For she was a prophetess.

Of course we might say, ‘well, they were old, so there was nothing better for them to do . . .’ but they’d been doing this for years. ‘Just’ watching, ‘just’ waiting, ‘just’ praying. And so both of them, people whose lives made no discernible impact on The World as we so readily think of it, were ready when God’s King came, for they had nothing better to do . . .

God’s people were waiting – they were waiting for God’s King. But most of them had in the meantime found better things to do . . . it was only Simeon and Anna, these two elderly people with ‘nothing better to do’, who saw Jesus coming to the Temple, who saw the completion of God’s Work – who Saw the Kingdom of God.

So too the disciples.

If as a Christian you’ve never been given serious pause regarding those who followed Jesus, you haven’t been paying much attention. They are as one writer called them ‘Christ’s Rabble’ A tax collector – that is a national traitor. A religious zealot, and a bunch of fishermen . . . oh, yes, and the women . . . people whom the people of the day didn’t take at all seriously. After all, they came from Galilee, which was itself pretty much beyond the pale. The boondocks, out in the styx, out where the ignorant people live . . .
A little Geography lesson. In the South, you had Jerusalem in Judea – this was the happening place – those was the Wellington and Auckland of New Zealand. This was where the people who really mattered lived and worked. The Important people.
Then North of Judea and Jerusalem, was Samaria, which was full of those terrible people, the Samaritans, and then away up to the North was rural Galilee. The people of the land, the humble poor, just scraping a living, nobodies, or indeed ‘a rabble’

When Jesus goes looking for followers he returns to his home country, Galilee, where the nobodies live, and he calls people to follow him. People with nothing better to do. People whom the world looked at askance and thought of no use to their grand projects – so people not caught up with the story about the life they are going to make for themselves, people just trying to get by.

And the fishermen are doing just that. When Jesus finds them they’re mending their nets. They’ve fished all night and caught nothing. They have nothing to do. No fish to sort or sell. Nothing. Just, well put their boat out for this wandering preacher . . . who suggests that they let down their nets, in the middle of the day when the fish would be swimming deeper down in the lake beyond the nets, ridiculous idea, but the have nothing better to do . . . and suddenly their nets are full of fish and the boats are on the point of sinking . . .

But it’s just these nobodies, with nothing better to do who see the miracle. Of course we might also point out, that like with changing the water into wine, its only those who have nothing better to do who see what has happened – who see the miracle – the little children. The ones who haven’t learnt that ‘they have better things to be doing’
[The little children whose parents haven’t filled their days with activity so that they’re not idle, so they have no space to wonder, so they have no space to wait and watch and follow Jesus.

As parents about the worst thing we can do if we want our children to follow Jesus is to fill their days with activity . . . of course, if they did follow Jesus, who knows what they might do. I think of several young women of my acquaintance who gave up good degrees, good careers etc etc to go where Jesus led . . .] I think it is fair to say that it’s hard if perhaps not impossible for the busy and important to enter the Kingdom of God, yet we all too readily direct our children in this direction.
I know far far far too many adult Christians who tragically tell me how well their children are doing in their careers, and then wonder why they are not following Jesus . . . because of course they have something which in their eyes is better to do . . . such is the challenge of Jesus to the way we see the world. As the God of Israel says, my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts not your thoughts. We should be most wary of those stories about what life is about which are so prevalent, especially when Jesus starkly contradicts them. As we journey on with Luke, we shall come up against these stories over and over again

Simon Peter is struck to the core – ‘get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’ I am a nothing in your eyes. And Jesus tells him, you’re just the sort of person I’m looking for. One who hasn’t got such a high opinion of himself, one who hasn’t got lots of plans for all the things they have to do. One who doesn’t fondly imagine he is God’s gift to the world, something we as Christians are often trained to think of ourselves as. ‘I am a sinful man’ – how can I be of use in the Kingdom. Yet it is Peter who can receive God’s gift to the World, Jesus. This is why we come with empty hands . . . not to be God’s gift to the world, but to receiver it.

If we just follow every distraction, every bright and shining thing, and the Devil has put the gadget for that in your hands – we will never know what it is you are really here for . . . All we can do is join Peter in his astonishment that Jesus would have anything to do with someone like us . . .

Jesus finds his followers amongst those with nothing better to do . . . what if its only those who have nothing better to do than follow Jesus, discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus . . .?

Peter, James and John and the rest of Christ’s rabble – They had nothing better to do, and discovered that in truth there really was nothing better to do – may Christ give us the grace so also to lay down our nets

Feast of the Presentation Year C, 2018

Feast of the Presentation Yr C, 2019

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 24
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’

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. He scolds Israel saying ‘I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. ’
As our Psalm this morning reminds us – The Earth is the Lord’s and all they that dwell therein.

Perhaps the single way in which we are most unlike God is simply that this is not true of us, or at least that is the story we are told. There are many things that we really must be doing. And if we can’t think of any, then the World will offer them. From the ‘friends’ who tell us, ‘you must really see this play, or read that book’, to the absurd, no I correct myself ‘obscene’ idea of bucket lists. ’50 things you must, places you must go before you die’. All of this of course quietly or noisily feeding the monster of consumer capitalism that is destroying the earth – but more perniciously feeding our sense of incompleteness.

Except that we are not born with that sense. It’s a story we tell ourselves, or are told. The children in the garden are in every sense complete. They live in perfect harmony with God, who walks with them in the cool of the day. The Snake disturbs the story by telling them, ‘your lives aren’t complete until you . . .’ and so we have learnt, from the Snake, that our lives are not complete. And so, ‘if we have the money’ – and of course this is a game for people who have money, which is why we have so much credit, for if you don’t have the money, you can’t play the game – we set out to make a life for ourselves – a complete life, because of course our lives aren’t complete. And then in a bizarre religious twist try to place it before God – the finished work of our own personal project, the life we make for ourselves, because of course we were incomplete to start with . . . it is very troubling to recount the myriad forms of so called Christian folk wisdom which start with this presumption, that our lives are incomplete.

When we live with this story we start to look around, at lives that by our standards are more complete that ours, which feed the deadly thoughts of envy, or lives that by our standards are less complete than ours, which feed the deadly thoughts of pride. We begin to look at children purely in terms of ‘their potential’ and our lives are completely stressed out lest we fail to do our duty as parents to make sure our children become complete . . . because at some level we believe that they are not . . . or put another way, they are less than fully human. The idea of ‘less than fully human’ is not the preserve of racists and the like; it is part of the story we all tell, and insofar as we thing there are things we all must do, is the truth we tell about all humanity, by and large subconsciously.

And in such a world, simple communion with God, is seen as a luxury, because after all we have the job of our life project to complete. ‘Can’t hang around here too long Lord – things I must be doing because of course you realise that you didn’t give me a complete life . . .’ Prayer become a means to ‘the greater end’ of ‘my life’, not an end – or better The End, the goal, the Purpose of our lives. And as there seem to be so many much more effective ways that prayer to fill up the gaps in our personal life scrap books, it disappears.

A couple of weeks ago, folk from churches all over Dunedin met with Bishop Steven, to talk together about ‘the future’ of the church here. Such conversations trouble me greatly, they are always far to abstract and end up with the people at the top telling those at the bottom that for the greater good of all, their church will have to close . . . it’s the World’s story – for the sake for he whole, your wood is being bought up, your land taken away, your children ‘educated’ etc. etc., because someone high up is anxious and fears we are all incomplete . . . as if two or three gathering together in the name of Jesus wasn’t enough . . .

But one thing struck me, a comment towards the end of Bishop Steven’s after listening to a catalogue of ‘all the great things we were doing’, ‘I noticed that no one mentioned prayer . . .’

All of which begs a couple of questions . . . firstly what on earth is The Feast of the Presentation all about? How will it help me, how will it add to my understanding, how will it help me complete my life? And Secondly what on earth were Anna and Simeon doing?? Two old people, who have spent their entire lives ‘just’ waiting on God

Well simply, they Saw, they Understood, that the point was actually waiting on God for the Completion of His Story.

First – I want to clear up a ridiculous story that some folk are keen to tell – that is that Jesus was a comfortably middle class child – just like us 🙂 A story put about it must be said by comfortably off middle class people – First, in the time of Jesus, and indeed all thorough history until the late middle ages, there was no such thing as the middle class. Yes, Joseph was a carpenter, but he would have ground out a living in that trade working for whoever would give him work was all other workers did. Second we know because the offering they Mary and Joseph make according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’, the offering for those who couldn’t afford a lamb . . . (Of course they were offering the lamb, but that’s another story . . . )

So, they come to the Temple and there encounter Simeon, and Anna. Anna had been married for seven years, she has been a widow for 84, given the custom of the time, she was like Mary probably betrothed in her early teens, so she was as the scripture says ‘advanced in days, a great many’ . . . over a hundred years old – and how did she spend this time? not leaving the Temple night or day with fasting a praying . . .

And behold! A man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, eagerly awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

The Holy Spirit rested on Him. It is a telling phrase – here is someone who lives without anxiety – he is not hither and thither, his life caught up in a thousand distractions – perhaps he sense there is nothing in particular he lacks? That he Must be busy doing? It is hard for the Holy Spirit to rest on one who is not at rest . . .

And he communes with God – for It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. This was to be a gift to him – there was nothing he had to do to attain it, just sit still, be at rest, Wait.

And so ‘in the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple’ I love that phrase – his life is the life of the Spirit, how complete can you get! The Spirit brings him to this place. Is it not Life in the Spirit to which we are directed by God’s word? Not the anxious life of the flesh which is never satisfied which is never complete

And his words are words of Completion – how appropriate that they are the last words spoken at the funeral of Saints – Lord now wettest thou thy servant depart in peace – according to thy word for Yes! As you said mine eyes have seen thy salvation!’ And he speaks prophetic words to Mary – speaking of the child as a ‘Sign’. The Child is a Sign – there is no sense that ‘this child has work to do’ There is a completeness in Christ as a Child. Simeon has seen Christ – he has seen it all – He is complete – for he has seen the completion which God brings. And he has seen it, for he is one who is at rest watching and waiting for God – for God’s Salvation. He’s not interested in the project of his life – he is only interested in God, watching and waiting for Him . . . As Jesus will say later in the gospel – ‘One thing is necessary’

This is the Completion of the Work of God – The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple. The Completion of the Work of God – he placed the man in the garden. and it was very good. The Child in the Temple – A little child will lead them . . . a child – complete in and of himself, not anxious to make a life for himself, a child who knows he is the child of his father in heaven, and in this is completion and fullness. The final act of Creation is the placing of the True Human, complete in the Garden. And Simeon sees this – his waiting has led to his fulfilment. His life is Complete

Why does Simeon See? Because he is at rest – Why does Anna know this is the One, because she is constantly communing with God . . . and Bishops Steven noticed that no one mentioned prayer . . . Yet, a week last Thursday, the bishop came to his church and together we ten of us, sat and prayed in this place

May this place continue to be a house of prayer; may we ourselves be at rest; may the Holy Spirit thus find a resting place upon us as the Dove found solid ground in the flood; may we know our completion in Christ – and so be set free from the fear of death, from the fear of lives unfulfilled, from the fear of not attaining potential – may we become as Christ teaches ‘as little children’, not knowing any lack, because our Life is in the Father, the One Complete in and of Himself

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Amen

Salvation and the People of God

Sermon for Advent 2
Year C 2018

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Phil 1:6

Back in the middle ages, a certain set of changes in how people thought about things began to emerge from the prevalent views – largely known as ‘The classical period’. What is most significant for we who live in the Modern world was the rise of the significance of The Individual.

At the same time, the significance of communities – of shared life and existence began to wane, slowly at first, but gradually accelerating. The experience of Life as something richly shared became more and more something only experienced within first family, then nuclear family to the point where relational language disappears. I was in conversation on Friday with someone discussing the increasing prevalence of children calling their parents and other family adults by their first names . . . although there are aspects of this which might be considered a positive, if you have a very negative view of family structures, one aspect of it which we found disturbing was the absence of the language of relationship. Fewer and fewer people used relational language.
In traditional societies it is still common to use extended language to describe relational links – so for example ‘my mother’s brother’s daughter’, as opposed to the Western ‘Cousin’, a word which speaks of relationship but lacks depth.

With the rise of the individual also came the gradual erosion of the significance of the Church. The idea that to be baptised was to be brought into a community, the significance of which took up but also transcended any merely human relationships . . . increasingly took a back seat. Church increasingly became a place to which you came often to be alone. The idea that the people amongst whom you sat Sunday by Sunday were people with whom you shared in a most profound way, Life, indeed Life in all its fullness, evaporated. And the idea that broken relationships between members of the church were remotely significant was dissipated . . .

And so to our readings today

For the wilderness announcement of John, son of Zechariah, is an announcement not to individuals but to a people. The people of God. For too long they had lived as if they were not a people – the rich and poor lived cheek by jowl, yet there was no sharing in life – the announcement of the Gospel is an announcement first of all to the people of God.
The Salvation of our God is something which comes to life amongst a people and it is not an easy work.

The prophet Malachi uses the language of ‘fullers soap’ – the highly caustic soap which was used to wash cloth – to bleach it – to make it Clean and white after it has been woven – again he speaks of the refining of Gold and Silver which could only be accomplished by fire – and the goal of this work? To ‘purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’

The message is plain and clear – the people of God need straightening out . . . but why? That the glory of the Lord might be revealed, to prepare a highway for our God . . . or as Jesus puts it – ‘by this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you love one another as I have loved you, that is with the love that the Father has loved me’

It is without doubt the witness of the Scriptures to the Christian Life, that to encounter the Church is to encounter Christ himself. So St Paul as he writes to the churches, almost without exception give thanks for their shared life and its witness as the body of Christ in the world. One of the key exceptions to this is his first letter to the Corinthians where after his customary greeting he as it were draws back and goes on to challenge them saying ‘I hear that there are divisions amongst you’. Splits and schisms, intentional breaking in the Church are literally breaking up the Body of Christ, yet in the age of the individual, such language seems odd

One of Paul’s most commonly used words is Koinonia – that is Communion, or we sometimes have it translated ‘fellowship’, or today very weakly ‘sharing’. In our epistle St Paul speaks of the Koinonia in the gospel – it is a powerful phrase. We express something of this Koinonia in our liturgy. In sharing the Peace we declare – ‘We are the body of Christ, in one spirit we were baptised into one body’, and we share one bread, and all drink from one cup’

I’ll conclude with a brief reflection on what has happened to our faith over this last millennia – and it could be summed up in the words of a bishop who told me that he would have no problem ordaining someone who considered that the Resurrection of Jesus was a ‘purely spiritual matter’, that the body of Jesus lay still in the tomb.

Such thinking is commonplace – but especially in the age of the Individual – so we no longer talk in any meaningful terms of ‘The faith of the Church’.

But there are two significant, indeed fundamental problems with such a statement, not to mention the act of ordaining someone into the church who denies its Creeds, wherein we, the Church, affirm ‘the resurrection of the Body’.

First, to affirm the resurrection of Jesus as ‘purely spiritual’ simply that it suggests that The Incarnation never happened. That Spiritual and material are inseparably woven together in Jesus Christ, that you can separate out the spiritual Jesus from his material being – and as many in the church today push it even further to deny his very Koinonia in the Life of God as the Second person of the Trinity made flesh – has become the unthinking way of the world. To separate the spiritual an the physical in this way is to deny the possibility of the work of God in the material creation, indeed even in ourselves.

But secondly, in the Separation of matter and spirit you separate the Church from Christ, who is woven into us by his Spirit, we deny our Koinonia in His Life. We end up denying that The Church Is the Body of Christ in the World, and consequently that we have any shared existence, for He is our life.

This is of course convenient belief. It is easier to stand outside of the Body of Christ, not to have to go through the process of coming to birth in this body, of having to change how we live out our common life, to give priority to this shared life. It is so easy to take the Individualist line and to participate in Church as it is convenient – for genuinely sharing in life, in having to learn to love the unlovely and as the unlovely learning to be loved in return – is a hard work. It is like fullers soap, it is like a refining fire, it is like the levelling of mountains and the filling in of valleys, it is to have our crookedness straightened and our roughness ground away as if under a sandstone. And these people amongst whom we sit this morning are the soap and the fire and the sandstone

This purification, this setting straight, is the business of being the Body of Christ – that ‘the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ and that the glory of the LORD will be revealed.

Later this morning we shall have our annual Advent Pageant
During it we shall use this prayer
Let us pray

O Christ, the Master Carpenter
Who, at the last, through wood and nails,
Purchased our whole salvation.

Wield well Your tools in the workshop of Your world,
So that we, who come rough-hewn to Your bench
May here be fashioned to a truer beauty of Your hand.

We ask it for Your own Name’s sake.

Amen

‘A faith that keeps us standing . . . ?’

Sermon for Advent Sunday – Year C, 2018

1 Thess 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

‘A faith that keeps us standing . . . ?’

‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ Luke 18:8

If you’ve ever travelled to Europe and visit one of the many medieval cathedrals or churches, you may have noticed that around the walls of the nave, there are often stone benches, clearly carved to be part of the building. It is from these benches that the phrase ‘Gone to the wall’ comes from. For until the C17 in most places, the great body of the congregation would stand for the entirety of the liturgy – those who couldn’t ‘went to the wall’

Standing for the liturgy remains the practise of the Eastern Orthodox churches. There are no pews, or indeed cushioned seats . . . for why? Because we stand in the presence of God. God addresses us, and his address to us dignifies us as human beings.
When God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, he tells him to get up out of the dust – perhaps an echo of our creation from the dust of the earth – and prepare to face me! Several times in his letters, Paul speaks as one who ‘stands before God’
Jesus in our gospel for this Advent Sunday in which we begin our journey with Luke exhorts us ‘Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

Our essential posture before God is to stand – it is the posture of our faith, of our life and of our prayer.

One of the Saints of the our Orthodox brothers and sisters, Theophan the Recluse – a C19 Russian monk speaks of prayer in this way. ‘To pray is to stand before God, with the mind in the heart, and to go on standing before God to your last breath’ This is the posture of prayer, prayer is our life and it is our faith. Aside from prayer we are not – aside from faith we are not. And so we stand . . . or at least we used to.

As our lives have become more comfortable and less rigorous, less demanding, so has our prayer and with it our faith. Faith, Life and Prayer are of a whole. Looking at the history of our faith it is hard to escape this conclusion.

Take dogma, for example. Those teachings which are held to be at the core of our faith. The Virgin Birth and Incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the alarming teaching that this wandering Jewish Rabbi is the only begotten Son of God coming to us in flesh and blood, and in bread and wine.
Yet we live in an age when dogma, dogmatic, is an uncomfortable word. We are in our age apostles of Pilate, who has little time for hard realities of Truth, he has little need of Truth when after all we seem to be so in control of our own existence, even to deciding for ourselves about the very nature of reality . . . until of course we are not . . . until something unwanted crosses our path and crashes through the fog of our unconsciousness

Advent as a season is a case in point. As I have had cause to remind folk these past weeks its traditional uncomfortable focus and rigour has dissipated. So the theme of Advent Sundays even in my life time has turned to ‘Faith, Hope, Joy and Love’ as a preparation for an infantilised and somewhat saccharin version of the story of the Incarnation, one increasingly shorn of its jagged edges. Who after all will give time to consider the massacre of the Holy innocents this Christmas time? It is telling that there are few who remember the traditional Advent focus – on the Four Last things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.

Judgement, heaven and hell seem to have all but disappeared from the Christian lexicon. Well perhaps not heaven, but our ideas about it seem often to extend no further to playing rounds of golf for ever with old friends . . . And as for death?

Well, there is no avoiding it except we don’t give it much thought. Which is odd, because if there is one thing that is certain, it is our death. Despite the fact that every time we download or go to watch the latest Disney movie, we help Uncle Walt continue in his cryogenically preserved state, awaiting The Scientific breakthrough which will, pardon the pun, re-animate him . . . Death is something we cannot avoid yet give it little thought, until of course it intrudes into our existence. And that can wake us up.

A grown man stood weeping on my doorstep one day. A successful business man – Death had terrifyingly intruded on his plans for his own life. His son and nephew had died together in a road accident, and Mick told me how this tragedy had called into question his entire way of life up to that point. Why had he given himself to things that now seemed so unimportant, so ephemeral? No longer insulated and cosseted away from this most concrete fact, Life all of a sudden was thrown into its proper light. The Reality of death had been a light, a pitiless light and judgement on his life.

Sebastian Junger, a Journalist who went to war with US forces in Iraq spoke of the effect it had on those who fought around him. He spoke of PTSD – Post traumatic stress disorder – but of two types. One we may have expected. There were those who had lived comfortable lives before encountering a war zone found that experience traumatising.
But there were others, another form of PTSD he noted. Those who had lived in hard and difficult circumstances before joining the army found the return to civilian life hard, because it was so shallow, so insignificant. Faced with the Last Things – well three of them in Death, Judgement and the Hell of war – they had found deep significance in their existence – it had as it were made them more fully alive. Every moment was freighted with significance – It had wakened in them a quality of seriousness of existence – which evaporated upon their return to the comforts and conveniences of the modern world where so much came easily, where you depended on no one and no one depended on you. Where life was not something demanding to be negotiated on a moment by moment basis.
Coming back from a situation where Death faced them with the significance of life, to be faced by lives of apparent insignificance was too much for them and they broke down under the strain.

These things – these realities which we work so hard to keep out of our consciousness are those things which face us with the Seriousness of the business of our lives. And thus for us, the Seriousness of Prayer. The Seriousness of Faith.

Jesus as he speaks of the Last Things says this

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.

These words shake us – call us to Wake up. Given that such language was part and parcel of much of the language of the time of Jesus, and age unlike our own when folk felt very much as powerless against so much that happened around them in the world. Do we sense we have so conquered existence that these words no longer have such power. Has our own sense of matter of our own lives led us to believe ‘this will never happen to us?’ And if they did??

Jesus’ counsel Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near. Our temptation may well be not to stand up, and raise our heads, but to duck! Unless of course this is what we have always faced?

In many regards what Jesus speaks of here is The Cross. Much of what he speaks of here, he also speaks of with regard to his Crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem with which he associates it. The Cross working its way in and through the entire created order. Death and Judgement combined in one place and yet ever present if we are awake.

It is this that gives our lives as Christians an deep moral seriousness. I don’t mean that we are moralists, but the How of our lives takes on tremendous urgency confronted with the Cross of Jesus. Our lives are given us, that they might bear witness to The Truth, to Christ himself.

A simple example of how that seems to have deserted us is in a conversation I once had about a married priest who had, to use the vernacular, ‘run off with’ a member of his congregation’. I was speaking with another ordained minister who said, ‘well, the timing wasn;t ideal, he could at least have waited until he’d left the parish – but then you can’t help who you fall in love with’, as if that were the last word on the matter. Vows? The abandoned wife and children now having to come to terms with a broken home? No, you can’t help falling in love . . . How we might ask does that bear witness to the Truth? What ‘god’ looks benignly down on that smiling gently at ‘falling in love’? . . .

Stanley Hauerwas, a provocative Christian writer and thinker says – ‘The reason our age has produced no truly challenging atheists [and it hasn’t], is that the ‘god’ of the mainline churches has become so uninteresting’ Put it another way, in may respects, our faith now speaks of a ‘god’ who is not worth the effort of belief . . . and if you disagree, perhaps you might care to consider the question, ‘what compelling reason if any can we give to others to share in faith with us?’

Yes Advent does us in our preparation for the feast of the Incarnation, but it is This Jesus who comes to us, the One whose presence in the world is for judgement, is for the Last Things. It is the Incarnation, the coming to us in the Flesh of the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things. Yet it is so easy to be lulled to sleep,and as we all know the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes to wake us

Yet the Jesus who comes to us in Word and Sacrament, This Jesus calls us to alertness.

‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

In the Light of Christ Jesus, Crucified, Risen and Ascended and coming in Glory, Life takes on a seriousness which we have lost sight of. These Realities when we remain alert, held onto, hold us in place. Standing before Him.

Jesus calls us to Stand in the Presence of God, predominantly as His people in Worship, but also in private prayer and to be so disposed in each moment of our existence.

. . . and to go on standing, before God with our mind in our heart, to our last breath . . . that at the last we might stand before the Son of Man at his appearing.

Amen

Facing the Inconvenient Truth – Christ the King, Year B, 2018

Sermon for CHRIST THE KING
YEAR B, 2018

John 18:33-37

‘The King we didn’t choose’

The philosopher Sam Harris has a little book called ‘Lying’. It’s a brief book, but not an easy read. It’s not an easy read because its a painfully forensic analysis of why lying is a bad idea in [almost] each and every circumstance. In this analysis, without intending to, it reveals something fundamental to our human nature – we don’t like being faced with the Truth.
And it’s an uncomfortable read because most significantly we don’t like to be confronted with the truth about ourselves. As you read the book, over and again Harris exposes evasions that are pretty much common to us all, lies that is, and their unwanted outcomes.

In 2006, the former US vice president Al Gore released a film entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – it was about the impact human activity was having on the Created Order. It was and is an Inconvenient because it requires humanity to radically change the way we live together, and that is not convenient. You can’t slip it into your life as it is at present, between 3 and 5pm on a Monday, for example.
What is more it demands far more in terms of change for we wealthy westerners living in liberal democracies, than it does for so many of the world’s population. That is it is a truth that is very inconvenient for us – thus it is largely gone ignored, not just by the climate denier constituency, but pretty much by everyone else. In a sense, the truth is that we are all climate change deniers, for our lives do not bear witness to this truth.

Bearing witness to the truth in our lives is a matter of conforming our lives to the truth, and in our case as Christians, of conforming our lives to The Truth.

If small truths, like climate change are very inconvenient – The Truth is Completely Inconvenient – it requires us to change everything. Put another way, as Jesus commands, it calls us to die to our old way of existence, and to follow him . . . as we saw in the case of the rich man, this is Very Inconvenient. Put in the terms that the Scriptures put it, he was unwilling to Repent. [And if you think Climate Change is a Big truth, how recently may I ask have you been overwhelmed by the Truth of God?]

Repentance requires us to face the Truth, as the rich man did – the inconvenient truths about ourselves, irrespective of their convenience, and then act in accordance with The Truth. The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of the way of Wisdom

But we have two problems – firstly that change requires of us a degree of humility about ourselves which is all but absent in these days. We note that the truth about ourselves is the hardest to face – it is in more ways than one, too personal, as we shall see . . .

GK Chesterton’s words in a letter to the Times of London, “What is wrong with the world today? I am” are not words likely to fall from the lips of the vast majority of us. our media point us everywhere to ‘the source of our problems apart from the human heart.

Such honesty as Chesterton’s, such truth telling is as rare today as it ever has been in pretty much every sphere of life. Politics is mired in double speak – political leaders won’t speak the truth for fear of those who don’t want to face it – and it is worked out at the level of our personal lives – and that is because those whom they represent do not themselves wish to be confronted with inconvenient truths about ourselves. The Truth often embarrasses our own sense of who we are – or the person we’d like to be thought to be. Our actions before others often fall into an attempt to impress – or, put another way, to deceive

Sam Harris’ book tells the story of a friend who went to visit someone. She’d intended to take a present, but had forgotten to buy one. ‘Fortunately’ for her, the hotel she was staying in had very luxurious bathroom products in a nice bag. She picked one off them up and went to her friends - accompanied by her small child. Her friend was thrilled with the gift, and asked where it had been obtained, to which Harris’ friend replied with the name of an apartment store, only to be corrected by the child who said, ‘No mommy, you got them from the bathroom’ . Bringing a gift was meant to elevate Sam’s friend in the eyes of her friend ‘Oh how Kind, how thoughtful!’ The reality was she hadn’t been kind or thoughtful, and was exposed and such and as someone who would lie to save her own self image . . . it’s not a pretty story

Yet, honesty about who we are is rare – Groucho Marx amusingly said ‘I would never want to belong to any club that would have me for a member . . .’ – perhaps it’s an aphorism that we’d all do well to adopt.

If, the first problem with Truth, that it is Inconvenient to us, our second problem is perhaps more pernicious. For we live in an age in which it is not the words of Jesus we remember, but the words of Pilate in reply. ‘What is Truth?’ Although we say a great deal about ‘Post-Truth Society’ the reality goes much further back in time that the past few years. After all I only have to say ‘on the one hand you have scientific facts, and on the other religious opinions’ you will feel the power of this abandonment of Truth at the deepest level. Truth is relegated to ‘matters of opinion’, even within the Church.

Chesterton again puts it in terms of both ourselves and wider truth. He says that we have suffered as it were an earthquake regarding Truth – that once we took the deep Truths of our existence – say religious truths about the person of Jesus Christ, which is fundamental to our entire faith – that he is the eternally begotten Son of the Father, was born of the Virgin Mary, the Incarnation of the Divine Logos, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate and on the third day rose again – once we took such things as Truth, and questioned ourselves. Now he says we are certain about ourselves, and unsure of everything else is relegated to the arena of mere opinion.

Earthquakes as we know create liquefaction – the solid ground turns to quicksand. Much of the current malaise of the Church is that so much of what we decide in synods and the rest is built on no firmer foundation than the quicksands of public opinion. For it often seems we have given up on Truth – it being too inconvenient, not conforming itself to our lives . . .

As I said earlier, we take Pilate’s question ‘What is Truth?’ with far far greater seriousness than the words of Jesus. As if his dismissal of The Truth rested on some very firm ground indeed. Witness the ending of today’s gospel – the words of Jesus regarding The Truth. I wonder if any of us can remember them?
We All remember what Pilate said in response – ‘What is Truth?’ The tired question of someone to whom the Truth was inconvenient. The Truth is always inconvenient to those who think they are in command of their own existence – who think they are their own sovereign authority – news of another King will always destabilise the sandy foundations of our existence. If The Truth is out there, then my very existence is called into question – Jesus facing Pilate undermines him with his words

‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to The Truth. Everyone who belongs to The Truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate Must dismiss this – if The Truth is out there, then he must change and conform to it, or lose his very existence. ‘What is Truth?’ is his impoverished attempt to flee from the Truth. He tries to divert and engage in a philosophical question about Truth
when it is staring him in the face.

Pilate, the Roman, a speaker of Latin in a world where several languages would be used commonly . . . What is truth? in Latin is an anagram of ‘The One standing before you’

Jesus says

Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice . . . The Truth is not something inside our head – it is something we are to belong to, and if we belong to the Truth we listen to the voice of Jesus.

‘I am the Good shepherd of the sheep . . . My sheep hear my voice.’ He is the Good Shepherd, the True King – those who belong to Him hear his voice . . . they respond to Him

Jesus does not merely mouth timeless truths like mottos on cereal packets or lines from self help guides – He Is the Truth – Hearing His voice, continuing in His Word we are truly his disciples; ‘and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ . . . ‘if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’ To Know Jesus Christ, is to know the Truth

The Truth is Personal. Knowing the Truth sets us Free, but the Truth is not an abstract thought, it is deeply personal – it is Jesus himself

I am the Way and the Truth and The Life

As Jesus says to Pilate – ‘Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice . . .’

We hear his voice, we listen to his voice. This is our way to Freedom from the deceptive voices both surrounding us and within us – the voice of Jesus is the Word of Truth which sets us free from the Deception of the Cosmos which binds our hearts and minds and imaginations and wills – yet it is Personal – and as I said earlier, all but too personal. Facing Jesus Christ is to face the Truth about ourselves, for he manifests the Truth of Everything, nothing is exempt or left out

Facing the Truth is truly Inconvenient – it calls us to profound Change, to deep repentance – – to orient our lives to the Life of the World, the Truth of the World, Jesus Christ, and to walk in that light, freed from deception without and within.

We have come to the end of the Church’s year. We have over twelve months heard the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing has been missed out – our picture of The Truth, embodied in Jesus is complete. He stands before us. Christ the King – Inconvenient, almost in the extreme – not one we would choose for ourselves. But then if we truly need saving, then only one we wouldn’t choose can do this. And the Church in her Grace does not let us go at this point, rather we advance next week into Advent – we do so Looking towards the One who is coming towards us

For our lives to bear witness to the Truth as He comes to us, they need to be conformed to the life of the one who is the Truth. This is the way of Repentance, of Facing The Truth and acting in accordance with it, it is the Way of Life for us all who bear the name of the one who is the Truth.

King Jesus – not a King we would choose for ourselves, for when we face the Truth we know we need a Saviour. Facing the Truth we know we’d not take the inconvenient way. Only in following the King we wouldn’t choose for ourselves are we saved.

Passing Away . . . or Eternal? Tr+25 Year B 2018

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, YrB 2018

Hebrews 10:19-25
Mark 13:1-8

‘Passing Away, or Eternal?’

Children are great truth tellers – well until they learn other ways. (One traditional reading of the story of the Garden of Eden is that through the deceptive snake, the infant humans learn to lie, and hide from the Truth)

The other day I was on the receiving end of such truth telling. I visited a couple as they were at lunch. Their three year old son who has only seen me once or twice asked who I was, and was told by his father, ‘that’s Megan’s daddy’. I smiled at the child and said ‘I’m very old’. Quick as a flash he looked me in the eye and said ‘you’re going to die!’ (I gather that they’d just been talking about death and the story had been told them that this was something that happened to old people and I had just put myself forward as a representative of ‘old people’ 🙂 )

It is Good to hear the Truth and certainly you can’t get more truthful than ‘You are going to die’ You may escape taxes, but there is one escape none of us will make! But we try to, not least in trying to leave some lasting trace of our existence upon this earth. Like Job we complain about our lot and look for a steel pencil and rock to inscribe our words on . . . yet as any visitor to an English churchyard will attest, the years rapidly do their job of making a mockery of our attempts at permanence, erasing our name from human sight.

In a world that is passing away, we seek to hold back the years. Not least by erecting great buildings – and of all the buildings in the time of Jesus, none dominated the view more than the Temple of Herod the Great. Vast and Covered in Gold, so that one could not look at it in the full glare of the sun. Surely this would stand until the end of time!!

In that light the words of Jesus ‘‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ can be understood as shocking. Reminding us of the temporariness of even the greatest buildings. Imagine if you will how the architects stood back and admired the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York as they were completed in 1973 [The Wikipedia entry for the WTC is followed by (1973-2001) – we even memorialise our building s nowadays]. . . Imagine the first St Paul’s Cathedral in London if you have ever seen a picture of it . . . Conjure up a picture of what remains of the parthenon in Athens . . . Stand for a million years?? Tower and temple fall to dust. Dust you are and to dust you will return as the words of our Ash Wednesday liturgy remind us.

The things that are seen are passing away, yet it is an affront to the sense of our own significance to face this. ‘’Behold! These great buildings?” See them, relies Jesus? . . . not one stone will be left on another . . . In the light of this, we hear the words of Jesus afresh – ’Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust, where wind and rain, and sun and frost wither away, where thieves break through and steal where armies and men of violence and fire and flood destroy . . .’ Don’t invest in dust . . . [Even Amazon – Jeff Bezzos declared this week that Amazon would eventually folk – he gave it 30 years or so . . .] Against the inevitable we try in vain to secure our existence

Yet we fail to perceive the true depth of how shocking the words are for Jesus’ disciples. They may well have replied, ‘Yes obviously we know that, but The Temple! Surely not The Temple??’

The Temple filled not only the sight but also the entire imagination of the Jewish people regarding their entire existence. It was The Marker of their Identity as the people of God, the people chosen for the dwelling place of God. From the beginning, had not God dwelt in their midst . . . if the Temple goes, what does that say?? Their entire social and religious world was built around it. Had not Jesus just shown them the widow who put her entire being into the Temple treasury? All that she had to live on? The Temple was their Life!!! Jesus just seemed to have suggested this.

If the Temple goes, we are as good as dead . . . Our sense of Security is in these stones . . . Who we are is tied up in this . . .
Yet we still do not fully comprehend the deeper sense of trauma – for The Temple was not merely about the Jewish people – the great vision of the prophets saw all peoples streaming to the Temple, for the Temple was about everyone, and everything, everywhere!

For those who knew the old stories, the Temple wasn’t Just a Jewish religious building giving meaning to a Jewish religious world. The Temple stood for the entirety of the Creation – the seven days of Creation mapped out the Temple – The Temple held everything together . . . if the Temple goes, everything collapses . . .
The destruction of the Temple would presage the collapse of everything as they saw it . . . wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines . . . the End of everything . . . Jesus’ words about the birth pangs resonate throughout the whole cosmos.

The destruction of the Temple . . . All things hold together in the Temple . . . the brutal fact was that the Temple was passing away, not merely worn away by the sands of time, it was to be destroyed . . .

We approach the end of the church’s year – we live in the last times , and our readings point towards this end. We think of Advent as the start of the New Year, yet Advent orients us towards the End of all things. We start as we mean to go on, oriented towards the End of all things.
Advent is in a sense The Church’s season. It is the season for watching and waiting, it is the season that if you like gives us our posture for the entire year ahead, waiting for the Coming of the son of Man and the revealing of the fulfilment of all things . . . in Him who is the End of all things
It is the season in which we mediate on the Last Things, Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Young Welsey’s words were a very timely reminder – I am going to die. We meditate on the our impermanence, all that is passing away – and so look to that which is eternal. Not a building built by human hands – and the destruction of a Temple built by human hands, of the human attempt to supplant the story of God, is central to all of this . . . but this is not merely about the destruction of the Temple and the Cosmos built around it . . . it is about a new Temple, a new heaven and a new Earth

The destruction of the Temple. ‘Jesus [said], ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.’

At the centre of everything – at the centre of Creation was to be The Man, the human who lived loving God above and tending to all that was below. That was what was in place in the Creation Temple, but the human rather than accepting the name given to him, chose to try and build a name for himself apart from God – disconnecting the Cosmos from her Creator. Trying to turn the things that are passing away into the things that are eternal, trying to build heaven on earth, rather than being heaven’s presence on earth . . .

But at the End this is revealed as the fraud that it is.

In the Resurrection of Jesus The True Temple is established, the Temple of his body, where everything is held together, where heaven and Earth are united. It is the breaking in of eternal Life for all who believe. We are called to be his people with our eyes set on the eternal, storing up treasure in heaven, living into the eternal life of the Risen Christ, who was from the beginning the very centre of the True Creation that is not passing away.

We have a Temple, not one built by human hands – but that of his body. He is our Temple, The Human who holds heaven and Earth together in himself. Jesus’s words are very shocking, but they are as it were the blowing away of all that is passing away, and the revealing of the eternal life which ‘was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.’

And so in the words of the epistle to the Hebrews, ‘my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, Do not be alarmed, do not be led astray – for he who has promised is faithful.’

Let us look not at what can be seen but let us desire to Behold that which cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, in all through all and above all – our place of Access to God, the Centre of God’s plans and purposes. Let us not get caught out seeking to secure that which is passing away and being consumed by it as surely as it will be consumed. Let us not be distracted by wars and rumours of wars, by earthquake fire and famine. Let us fix our hearts on God, the Eternal one – let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. As we see these things come to pass . . .

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Amen