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

The Widows Mite

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Tear B 2018

1 Kings 17:8-16
Mark 12:38-44

“The Widow’s mite”

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself’

I started out in ministry as a parish priest in two villages in the North of England – from which we came here. One of them was a little unusual. Certainly to folk who don’t know England well, it didn’t fit the picture postcard idea of an English village. Cut in half by a busy trunk road along which thousands of vehicles a day poured – there was a great deal of poverty there, including our share of drug dealing and other aspects of life which don’t fit notions of roses round the door and thatched cottages. If it was the Shire, it was the Shire after Sharkey’s mob had got hold or it.

In ancient times it had been a very small settlement in reasonably decent agricultural land. Then the railways came. Hellifield grew up dramatically around the rail junction which was also the sight of a large auction Market, from which stock were loaded directly onto the trains. Many of the houses were railway workers terraces. It wasn’t a place of much wealth, but a place where a few people made their wealth.

When roads and trucks supplanted railways, the auction mart ran down and the village went into decline. It’s children, sons and daughters of rail workers who’d moved out from the town found trade in what we used to call blue collar occupations. It was definitely working class. Good honest folk many of them, running the various village institutions including the church, but struggling. Then came the government with a promise to build a by pass. The few older pretty properties became targets for wealthy folk from the towns. They of course being wealthy were used to being in control and the village institutions were quietly taken over by the ‘managerially competent’, who saw that ‘we could make this a lot better’. The village however continued its decline.

Then just before we went there, the auction mart was sold and a new set of ‘executive style town houses were built. The properties were priced out of reach of most of the locals and attracted people wanting to live in the countryside. Early retirees and folk happy to commute for an hour to work in one of the big cities. This group of people largely supplanted the previous generation of incomers who by now were 20 years older and had less energy . . . again, the folk who had lived there entire lives there were largely overlooked as ‘managerial competence’ was the name of the day.

Folk who sat on boards and got awards for this that and the other. Found themselves seated at the table with honour, and who expected to be greeted with respect for their manifold ‘good works’, and of course to have these duly celebrated in the media.
Finding ways to raise money, all too often from the pockets of those further down the pecking order. The Important people – as the older poorer members of the community were largely overlooked and forgotten, except to be dragooned for this or that project . . .

Of course this is an old story. When the church was built in 1906 it was by public subscription. A list was published of the major donors, who gave out of their abundance large amounts of money - i found an old copy of it. The list only included those who had given more than about £80. it was a printed list. The top five donors all gave £100 and had their names recorded or posterity. over the printed list a new name was added, and written at the top - they gave 100 guineas . . . no one remembers those who scraped in their purses for a few bob . . . 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

The widows mite . . . a few years before we went to Hellifield I was serving my curacy in a typical Northern English town. Mainly working class. The church decided it needed to re-order its building – architects were employed with their big fancy schemes coming in at $3million . . . we coughed, thanked them, and paid them handsomely for their time and thought again. Eventually we came up with something more modest – and then wondered how to raise $750 thousand.

Somebody placed a box at the back of church . . . and put a label on it ‘The Widow’s mite’. I’ve rarely felt more uncomfortable about something in a church than that box. Into it we were encouraged to put our small change – cupboards were emptied, purses searched, sofas were checked out for loose coins . . . and the box filled with coppers, many many pennies – out of our abundance. No one it must be said was running to count it – it was easier to count the £10 notes . . .

The widow’s mite wasn’t her loose change, it was ‘all she had, whatsoever, her whole livelihood’

Jesus you’ll note before he sits down to watch what’s going on in the Temple treasury tells folks to beware of the scribes . . . funnily enough he’d just commended a scribe – almost. You remember last week, the scribe asks Jesus ‘What is the first commandment?’ Jesus reply we should know by heart ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and a second is you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The scribe tells Jesus ‘you’re right!’ and recites both commandments. Jesus says ‘you’re not far from the Kingdom of God – not far. like the rich young man who stands facing Jesus . . . not far . . . but not there. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” You need to give up on your need for human affirmation and seek that which comes from God, alone.

You need to learn what it is to love God with all you have and all you are . . . like this widow here. The one everyone overlooked. A life devoted to God in its entirety is seldom seen in the world. Seldom noticed . . . like the little children whom Jesus continually places before us – what do they add to the world? Do they build fancy buildings or indulge in this or that or the other? Are they masters of ‘managerial competence’? Are the movers and shakers in the world we are focussed on?? No, but we train them up to be so . . . and all the while – not far from them is the one no one notices – wholly devoted to God. In her own way loving God with all she has and all she is . . .

As I started out by saying last week ‘The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.’ This thing that we gather together to do Sunday by Sunday is the beating heart of our life together, but more than that it is the very means by which God in Christ upholds all things. Hidden away from the gaze of the world – un-noticed, unregarded. We feed on the Word of God, which is our life – these scriptures – held in disrespect by the wider world – to their gaze irrelevant, out of date, not much use if we’re going to manage things . . .

We pray – we enter into conversation with God. Unknown to the world this love sustains all things

We then come to the Lord’s table. The place where as the body of Christ, we are in Jesus as he offers himself to the Father and the Father offers his life to us. We go away sustained by a crumb of bread, and a sip of wine. Not seen by the world, for we have learnt to live by faith in the things that are unseen, knowing as we do that the things that are seen are passing away

The Italian poet Dante takes us on a journey through the inferno, and purgatory to Paradise. Right at the very end he speaks of beholding God and understanding – my desire and will were moved already—
like a wheel revolving uniformly—by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

When our eyes and heart are fixed on God in Christ – Loving him with all we have and all we are, we become fixed points in the Universe through which the life of God pours.

The wealthy put in large sums out of their abundance . . . and then went on to other things, to ‘Important’ occasions, in the glare of the media, making important speeches, unveiling plaques, leaving their mark – their lives full of ‘many things’.

The widow poured her whole being in – we don’t know her name – there’s no plaque. The Temple itself is no longer there – Yet it was through the widow that God moved the material universe – the love that moves the heaven and the stars.

Let those with ears to hear, hear

Of Love, and our loves . . . 23 after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 12:28-34

‘How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead observances to worship the living God! ‘
Hebrews 9:14

‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ Ephesians 5:1,2

The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.
It is in God and through God that we have life, and our worship is the rational offering of ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’ to use the words of St Paul, offering that Life continually to God as He continually offers His Life to us. The Flow of Love from God and to God is the fullest meaning of our existence, revealed to us in Jesus, who only does what he sees the Father doing. His very Life lived as the dearly loved child.
This is the entirety of Life free from sin. Truly to Love is to worship. We find an echo of that in the old marriage service where the husband is called on to worship his wife. Worship is Love set free from the distortion of Sin.

Love of God in all through all and above all is our human vocation, and for many many years we knew this. It was the clearest vision of our life in the Church. After the Psalms the most preached book in the Scriptures was the Song of Songs. The Song of the Lover to the beloved and that Love returned.

Yet, sin above all, distorts our vision, and so distorts our Love. Sin fractures, breaks apart. The word diabolo, which we use for Devil means to throw apart, to separate out. Love is thus fractured. It is not One, it breaks up and turns Love into loves. It suggests as all things diabolic do, that love is a matter for our choice, or, for it is the same thing, our power.
Do I love this? or that? or the other? Will I? This is of course to understand oneself as separated from Love. Will I take up Love, will I walk in the way of Love, as if it were an option, rather than the very essence of Life, rather than its very Flow.

Through Sin, we love what we see, or we do not. We learn to love by sight and not by faith. So this or that or the other thing, this or that or the other person captures our gaze. Depending on our decisions. Of course we might blithely assert, I love everyone! Until that everyone become the person who suggests to you that love is something you can choose, and we choose not. Love in the General, doesn’t boil down of all in all and through all. We see, but we do not See, and thus we do not love.

As we remember last week, the consummate disciple is the blind man, Bartimaeus. The one who does not see as others see – but who Beholds God in Jesus Christ. He does not see a world of things which possess his sight, captivating his eye, and thus holding him back from this Life with Jesus.
But it is those who think they See who have the problem – for our eyes are captivated by many things – we are like Martha distracted by them. They hold our attention, and thus we are held by them. Like Martha we are divided, pulled apart – the literal meaning of distracted. But this is not the Love of God. For this Love is the Love of pure freedom, Love itself Free. The One Thing Necessary.

Love’s best visible examples as so often, because of course it points us in the direction of the deepest truth, is the love of a parent for a child which becomes the free love of the child for the parent. This reveals to us the deep reality before Sin gets in the way of our Life, first loved by the Father, and then ‘loving because He loves us. In those early days before Sin distorts the picture and from time to time makes love a matter of will or choice – of our power.

Just at the moment, one of our daughters’ is learning just how Lovely she is, as our grand daughter loves nothing better than to gaze at her mum, at EVERY hour of the day and night!
How has she learnt this loving gaze? Well of course the is returning the gaze of love which she has received since the hour of her birth. As St Paul puts it, ‘there is no compulsion in Love’. Love cannot be demanded. Worship, Love is the return of that gaze of Love of the Father

In a deep sense this is why God comes to us in such unlovely form. His Love manifested in the crucified One, of whom the prophet says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him’ God does not compel us to love him, so when he appears it is in a form which we may miss. We are to Love by faith, not our distorted sight.
Thus he reveals the true nature of Love – it has nothing to do with things that are seen, but those which are unseen. ‘You did not choose me, I chose you’ Says Jesus.

Throughout Mark’s gospel to date we have noticed how over and again, the disciples fail to see for their eyes are fixed on things seen, that are passing away, not on the Eternal One. They fail to see the hidden unseen way of Jesus, and in truth fail to see Him for who he is, except very occasionally.
Finally it is the Blind Bartimaeus who reveals the nature of true discipleship, going to be with Jesus, as Jesus fills his vision, his imaginative world. The Eye of his Heart is pure and clear, and thus he is in a sense safe to see.

So they come up to Jerusalem and we have skipped a little bit of the story – Jesus has cleansed the Temple, causing a bit of a ruckus. And then he is asked a series of questions. our gospel reading is the last of those questions. As the story of Bartimaeus brings to an end the quest to reveal the true nature of the disciple, so this last question puts an end to the questions.

Briefly the other two questions, for the illuminate the final question.

First term is the familiar question of taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees ask this. There lives are tangled up in a sensitive relationship with the Roman authorities. They depend on Rome for their power and influence in Palestine, most notably in Jerusalem. They are wary of upsetting this relationship – it fills their view. We might consider this like those who spend their time on the internet, troubled by the state of the world, constantly worrying that this or that or the other will cause things to fall apart. Living in fear.

Of course the question is also a trap, but Jesus handles it with ease, for Caesar does not fill his vision. The Pharisees do not love God – they are terrified of Caesar. Yet Jesus reduces him to his place, a two bit tyrant who feels the need to stamp his image on bits of metal . . . whose image is this? What do you see? Of course the Pharisees notoriously, like us, love money. Money gives you power, you can choose how you use it – you can giver it away, or you can keep it for yourself . . . this of course is how we think of it as well. And like the Pharisees, taxes and Caesar’s loom large in our mind. We give ourselves in devotion to them out of fear . . . better get the right government, or it will all turn to custard. We are careful with our money . . . we worship it, we love it. God disappears and our neighbour disappears – we carry devices which tell us moment by moment how much money we have . . . For our vision is fragmented, we see many things, but one thing is necessary. ‘You do not love God’

Then the question from the Saducees, not seven brides for seven brothers but one bride for a succession of seven brothers . . . They do not believe in the Resurrection – Jesus tells them, ‘you do not believe in the power of God! God doesn’t fill your view! You do not Love God!
As St Paul puts it again when he is being tried ‘Why would anyone think it extraordinary that God raises the dead?’ Of course if your eyes are not on God, then it Is extraordinary. In the same way that the rich man acted in accordance with what he saw, but acted wrongly – so the belief in the Resurrection depends on whether you See the One God! But their vision is fragmented! Seven to choose from. Whom will she love?

In the same way that Bartimaeus receives the sight that in a sense he already has – his faith reveals his Sight – so the Resurrection is also Seen, by those who See God – for to See God IS Resurrection life. Barnabas, although he is blind Sees! He leaps up – he Comes to Jesus, he Comes to Life with Jesus, he throws away his funeral shroud cloak, and sets out into Life

So Jesus rebukes the Saducees – you do not know the power of God – you do not see him – you see your thorny metaphysical and theological problems – they fill your view. We could say a great deal a this juncture about the church and her obsession with this or that or the other – no Vision of God . . .

The Pharisees see Caesar – they do not See God, the Saducees see problems, they do not See God. There are so many things, so many many things which obscure our vision – holding it captive. In the church we get consumed by issues – it is as if they hold our vision – not God.
This is what it is to give up on worship, and thus our giving up on Life itself. We invest heart, soul mind and strength in this aspect of church life, or that campaign – we are consumed by it . . . when we are called to invest our all in God. To Love him with all we are – ‘that my whole being may proclaim, his being and his ways’ It is to live The Life which is from God and for god and Too God.

So the question in todays gospel is The Question. And here we find something most remarkable – Jesus is commended for his answer by the Scribe and in a sense reveals himself to be a disciple in repeating Jesus’ answer to him – revealing that he is not far from the Kingdom of God

BUT . . . it seems to us perhaps that there is a problem. The first one is simply this – we might be tempted to think that Jesus adds to the Great Commandment. That Love of Neighbour is an additional command, to Love of God. We might say ‘well the Pharisees or the Scribes were very religious but not lovers of neighbour’. Yet the two earlier questions rule that out – their problem is that they don’t love God – they fear Caesar – they do not believe that God can raise the dead. God is Small in their eyes! In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, their religion is dead observances. They observe correctly all the feasts, but their heart, soul, mind and strength are not focussed on God. They do not Love God

It’s like putting all your effort into Christmas for the sake of Christmas and not for the sake of God himself! Dead observances

But the second problem is more worth considering – ‘if I love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, what is left over for my neighbour?’

We come back to what it is this Christian Life – it is the worship of God – it is the Life of God flowing out and returning – it is that Love which moves the stars, that Love which calls everything into being and sustains them – it is the totality of Love. To Know that Love of God, to return it, is to live in Love as St John puts it, to begin to Know Love as existence and Love as something which can only be shared. We are not held captive by it, it flows – it is like a might river flowing, we share in it – as does everything and everyone else! To Know Life, to Know Love is to Know that our life is with our neighbour. For that very Love and Life which by the grace of God Is our Very Existence, is also our neighbours. My brothers Life is my Life!

To See clearly is to See the same Life in our neighbour as is in us – ‘it is to See our neighbour as ourself’, a vision made possible by the Love of God, by the Life of Worship. It is no longer to love by choice, by an effort of will – it is to become that which we love – which is the End for all of us.

We become what we love. If we love things that are passing away, we will too pass away, but if we set our hearts and minds and souls and strength on God who IS Love, we by Grace Become Love also, and thus the love of neighbour is the most natural thing in the Universe, which is how it is Created to be

Amen

‘Gone to be with Jesus’ – Sight Restored. Sermon for 22nd Sunday after Trinity – YrB2018

Bartimaeus reveals the true nature of discipleship – going to be with Jesus.

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity – Year B, 2018
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52


‘Gone to be with Jesus’


At the beginning of this past week, a friend told me of the death of Eugene Peterson, someone whose writings I’ve closely read, a most gifted pastor, but above all, in all and through all, someone who deeply loved Jesus. We Might say “he has ‘gone to be with Jesus’”, but is that really what has happened?

I was forwarded some words from his family which I think teach us something about reality as we Perceive it as Christians.
Speaking of the time of his death they said – “During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven, we overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise.”

I have to say that I wasn’t surprised – this isn’t the first time I’ve been privy to such accounts. I remember the death of a dear friend, whose last days according to those who sat with her, were given over to speaking with and encouraging those who were making the same passage.

In both cases, I knew that for these people, it would be perfectly natural for them to see things so clearly in their final hours, for they lived with a deep sense of the closeness of the realm of the eternal, indeed a vision of it.

I don’t mean by that that they ‘visions of heaven’, as if this was something ‘supernatural’ or ‘out of the ordinary’, but rather that their hearts and minds were naturally and in their ordinary lives set on God and the things of God. It was the natural ordinary air that they breathed - the air of the eternal woven into the temporal. In this way their lives were not only receptacles of but also pathways of Eternal Life into the world, in the pattern, in the deepest sense, of Jesus Christ, in whom heaven and earth are woven together. They lives being woven into His, the intersection of Earth and Heaven was not alien to their life. Eternal Life was something Present to them in their 

It is a matter of note that so many of Jesus healings are those of the blind – those who cannot see – for it is our Vision which needs awakening. We live day to day in the world in the way that we perceive it. How we See is fundamental to how we live. To Live the Christian Life is to See the world at the intersection between Heaven and Earth, to See the rich tapestry of the Eternal pervading the Quotidean, it is to See Jesus as Present, to the end of the Age.
If like Peterson and my friend we have Seen Him and live with eyes fixed on Him, if we perceive the world freighted with the Glory of God as revealed in Christ and Him Crucified, if we See aright, then there are times when we realise that boundaries between heaven and earth are not as concrete as we might have otherwise assumed – that is that there is little but our blinded sight which ‘separates’ them.

I don’t mean by this, to repeat myself, that we go around having ‘heavenly visions’, but rather that we know the truth of our faith that in Jesus Christ, Heaven and Earth are woven together. Put another way we learn to set our hearts and minds on Jesus . . . we learn to Love Him, in all, things through all things, and above all things.  And we see things as they really are - having left all things for Him, we discover that we have all things in Him. We discover that our life is in him and his in us - woven together. Following Jesus, we Know and Experience Real Life as that Gift coming  to us from God in each moment of time, the eternal flow of the Spirit.

This is an act of learning to see the world aright – and as I corresponded with someone regarding Peterson’s last days a description came to me, of our Christian life as a journey of learning to see – of Imaginitiation – our initiation into the Christian Imagination. For as we See, so we Live, so we Walk to use the Greek verb for Life. In the same way as our daily path in directed by our sight, so Life in its details is ‘Walked’ in accordance with our Seeing.

This put me in mind of some words I referred to when we first came here seven years ago. They are the words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Suhard.

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
We Walk according to Sight of Jesus, we Walk with Jesus

If God n Christ is always before your eyes, if we love him with heart should mind and strength then your life takes on a different direction. It doesn’t follow the well worn world weary grooves of existence ploughed by so many around us. We find our selves in more ways than one at Cross roads, at Cross purposes. Standing at the Intersection between heaven and Earth – (St Paul uses the phrase ‘standing before God’) – Where others see barriers, we See God. Where others see impossibility, we See God, where others See anything other than God, we See God. Your life takes trajectories are unthinkable to those who do not as yet See.

If we consider the gospel from a couple of weeks ago, Jesus’ encounter with the Rich man. His actions make perfect sense if he does not See God! If we don’t See Him in Jesus then the man’s failure to give up al he has and follow him makes perfect sense, it is the height of reasonableness. Perhaps this is the sting of this story for us – his behaviour is too reasonable to us who have an abundance of possessions, which possess our attention. It causes us to ask, do We See Jesus? Do we see the Eternal woven into flesh and blood?
The man sought eternal life – yet he didn’t recognise it stood in front of him . . . He just didn’t have an imagination filled with God, he didn’t in the deep sense of the word Fear God. His possessions possessed his imagination. He couldn’t See – his Stuff stole all his attention. (Some wonder if ‘demonic possession’ is real, if demons are real – they seem not to be anything we come across, yet demons don’t need waste their desperate and limited energy with possessing those who are possessed by their possessions)

As we have been journeying with Jesus in Mark’s gospel, we have constantly come across instances of the disciples failure to see. When Jesus rebukes Peter with those stinging words ‘Get behind me Satan!’ he follows up by saying ‘you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men.’ For having acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, He still doesn’t See. God doesn’t fill His vision – you do not Know Him – you only see as the world sees.

And so another encounter. Jesus has passed through Jericho – he’s not stopping there he is on his way towards Jerusalem. And as he passes by the gate, the place where in times of old the ruler of the city would sit in judgement over the cases brought to him, there sits one Looking – Looking for Mercy – the blind beggar, Bar-Timaeus.
We come here in many respects to the climax of the journey so far, the End of the continual failures of the Disciples, brought to an end by True Discipleship. As Jesus is about to go up to Jerusalem, after all the failures of his disciples to See, and to Follow – to go with Jesus in truth, here finally is a disciple.
‘One of those little ones’. A man like a child – without any power – utterly dependent on alms from passers by, uncluttered by visions of power and possessions, for all his blindness he ‘Sees’, in contrast with all those who have think they see . . .

And just as the disciples hinder the little ones being brought to Jesus, so too many people try to quieten him. You can imagine the dynamic, like the self important disciples dreaming of power – what place does this nobody have in the story? We’ve come to watch the Jesus show, Be Quiet!But that is just it! They have just come to watch – Bar-Timaeus wants in on it – He is the one who enters fully into the story, he steps into Life.

At the command of Jesus he leaps up from the ground, throwing away his cloak, his security, his cover for the night, as day light breaks in. He abandons what is in effect his life – for Real Life.
And his cry is so unlike any other made to Jesus. ‘Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me’ – not a theological question, unlike the disciples asking for seats of authority – indeed he cries out for something Only God can do.

The words of address Jesus uses to him are exactly the same as to James and John with their request for seats of power. “What do you wish that I might do for you?” James and John don’t understand Jesus or See him truthfully for what they ask of he cannot give. ‘To sit on my right or on my left is not mine to give’ You can share my cup and be baptised with my baptism, you can share my death and so share my life – for that is all I have of mine own to give, my Life, but who gets crucified along with me, well I guess that that is in the hands of the Romans.

But Bartimaeus asks according to true sight. For all he cannot see Jesus, he can See him. “What do you wish that I might do for you?”
‘Rabbouni’ he cries out. Robbouni – the cry – heard only on the lips of Mary Magdalene in the Garden on Easter morning. The word of her shocked recognition – My Teacher! My Life – Eternal Life is Seen by Mary – it is Seen by ‘Blind’ Bar-Timaeus.
Faith has been awakened in Bar-Timaeus. Rabbouni, my teacher, he Recognises Jesus – “Rabbouni! That I might see again. And in a sense all Jesus does is to name that awakened faith – he as good as says to him, ‘There is in truth nothing wrong with your Sight – you See well enough’ Your faith has healed you. Your Vision is Fine and Good 🙂 Go!

Well where do you go? You’ve left your life behind – you’ve begun the heavenly journey, where He is your Life. You follow Him, you go to be with Him . . . think of those words – ‘gone to be with Jesus’ – Oh that that became our way of speaking of the Christian life!! In the days that follow the crowds may wonder. I doubt they will have seen – they hadn’t given much consideration to him in the past. ‘Where’s he gone, that beggar? Bar-Timaeus??’ ‘Oh, I think he’s gone off to be with Jesus . . .’ He no longer fits into the imaginative life story of the World. He’s gone off into another story.
When we look to Jesus, what do we see, but the place where Heaven and Earth are woven together, the place where the Life of Heaven, the Life of God re-enters the Creation, and we go to be with him, in the between place, the woven together place. Betwixt heaven and Earth – manifested in the Cross

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [again a matter of heaven vision] let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

What do we Fix our eyes on? This is the great question of human Life and Death. In the garden our forebears, surrounded as they were by the Glory of God fixed their eyes on the apple. We fix our eyes on that which we love. What is our Love? Is is Love Himself?

The Rich man had so much that his eyes were fixed on. His vision was full of his Stuff. Bartimaeus has only his cloak. With so little between him and the heavenly vision, like the finest of gauzes, he threw his cloak, his old life away, he leaps up and comes to Jesus.

What obscures our vision of Jesus? Are our eyes fixed on him? Has our Christian image Initiation been growing? Has it begun?

Where do we fix our eyes? Eugene Peterson loves Jesus, his eyes are fixed on Him, the joining place of heaven and earth. It was not a sign of his piety that he was blessed with this encounter between places – rather it was a sign of his Loves.

To fix our eyes on him is to begin to See Heaven, to see it woven into Earth, to See the Eternal as illuminating the Temporal – it is to be initiated into Christian Imagination. It is to Go! To be with Jesus.
Amen

The Gentile rulers Lord it over them…

Some incoherent thoughts – Sermon for 21st Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018

Isaiah 53:4-12
Mark 10:35-45

‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you . . . Mark 10:42-3

A couple of weeks ago, we considered angels, guardian angels to be more precise – today I want to return to the angelic realm, but this time its less presentable aspects, that of fallen angels . . .

Jesus you may well remember in Luke’s gospel declares, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ Luke 10:18. But why does Satan fall, and indeed all his angels ‘fall from heaven’?

Well we cannot know for sure, but here and there we have hints – for example we may consider the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness – all about assuming power in one way or another, over the creation, over people, over the whole cosmos . . . change stones into bread, leap from the temple, bow down and worship me . . . When we assume power over, we separate ourselves from . . . even ‘if it is for your good’, perhaps the subtlest of diabolical temptations – for diabolic literally means to set apart . . . the diabolical angels want power – they want to be associated with a God of Power – and so they too can have power – sat at the right and left hand of God

There is a very ancient tradition in the church in this regard – that the angels fall because of their Pride, because they cannot bear not to be unimportant. God in Christ takes on human flesh, and sets his face towards the most disreputable of callings, that of a servant, and the most disreputable of deaths, that on a cross – and they cannot stomach that . . . for the angels continually see the face of God.

Put another way, they are full of pride. They want a God who fits their self image! They secretly desire to be the centre of all things! (In this respect I think it is worth considering if this is not what we all too often do when we speak of the human as ‘The image of God’ without any reference to the God of whom the human is the Image . . . All too often we veer dangerously close to the cliff of placing ourselves at the centre of things, if not indeed fall ourselves. Insofar as I understand it which is not very well, this also is the fundamental place of separation of our faith from Islam. For to the Muslim, the idea that God might assume human flesh is anathema, for God is so wholly other . . .)

This attitude, of the fallen angels – that it is all about Power. And thus to be separated out from the Creation – to Lord it over . . . Perhaps this attitude is at the heart of the disciples request, that one sit on the right and one on the left of Jesus ‘in his glory’. After all – they know that He is the Messiah. James and John have seen him transfigured on the mountain. He is the One who will be ‘in charge’ – the one who will have power, and they want a bit of that for themselves . . .

Yet what is staggering is that Jesus has just reminded them for the third time of what his mission is
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “Behold! We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” Mark 10:32-34

He is going to enter into the depths of our human condition, even death, even death on a Cross, so that he might lift it up. He shares in our Life that we might share in His. Share, not have a bit of it for ourselves, but share. Joined together – not split apart.

We may remember a couple of weeks ago, Jesus teaching on marriage. About being joined together – One flesh – and the words ‘those whom God has joined together, let no man separate’

What does Jesus say you should do to your enemies? Serve them – share what you have with them. If they are hungry, feed them. Give your life for them . . .

So Jesus’ response to James and John and their request to be in power – is to ask, do you want to share in my life? Can you drink the cup I drink, and be baptised with my baptism? – -We can they confidently assert – thinking perhaps that the reward is the power they seek – but the result is not that. Yes, you will share in my life, my death, but as for sitting at the right and left hand. That has already been prepared for someone . . . and of course it has, the two thieves

All we have is the request of James and John, for the seats of authority – for some of the glory, for power – to Lord it over . . .

this Way of Jesus is So strange, even to us . . . we still fall for the old deception, that one can take up Power, for Good, but to assume power over is to be separated from, it is diabolical. The Good we assume power for is always abstract, it isn’t a Real Good. For we do not know God, we do not Know the Way of Jesus

Three times he tells them, and three times they fail to understand – foreshadowing the threefold denial of Peter ‘I do not know him’ – yet it is clear that this is not so much a denial as a Confession. I don’t Get Him! I don’t Understand Him. I do not Know him. I am separated from Him – Peter does not so know Jesus as to know what he is about. Jesus’ words he does not understand . . . Jesus is God come into the world, and in the eyes of the world making himself of no reputation . . . he doesn’t come into the world in any way which suggests to us that he is God, because we are strangers to who God is . . . For we may know about, but to know about is to be separate from – to Know, to Share in the Life of God is truly to Know God. Peter doesn’t want to share in the life of this Crucified one . . . And this is a trap for us too – that what Jesus does for us he does in separation from us. So many versions of this story exist in the Church. We watch and admire Jesus from a distance – but that is not to know Him

This perhaps is why we find so many more or less ingenious ways to separate the person of Jesus from the Triune God, secretly we don’t want Him to be God, because if he is, and if we are made in His image, then His way is our way – his Life is our Life, and we who claim to know Him can only follow him by likewise making ourselves of ‘no reputation’

We are called to proclaim Jesus as LORD – the manifestation of the God of the Universe – Jesus, the Galilean peasant who dies on a Roman cross, who comes amongst us not to be served but to serve – and to give up His life as a ransom for many . . .

This is the significance of Jesus’ earlier words to the crowds “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

“Those who are ashamed of me” who cannot own this homeless bedraggled Jewish preacher as their God.

Well the Tradition tells us that some of the angels couldn’t bear it. This God wasn’t good enough for them in their pride, they were ashamed to own him and so rebelled against Him

And so when he was revealed in Glory, there were two one to his right and one to his left – two thieves . . . God on His throne

The Servant King, the God of no repute

Always the temptation is to dress this all up. For some we do it by needing good arguments to back up our faith – for those who would despise the God who reveals himself as a Servant and dies upon a cross, we seek to make it reasonable . . . but blinded by our pride it cannot be so. The rich the powerful – they find it too much and turn away . . . for to follow Him is to turn from Power to Love. From separation (the diabolical) and power over, to union, to Life with

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians drives the point home thus . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. The Power of God is the Life of the Spirit which Raises the Crucified Jesus from the Dead. It is the Life of God amongst us, the Kingdom of God amongst us. It is the weak yet Triumphant Power of Love

Jesus comes to us in weakness and humility – the lowest of the low – not one who seeks to be served, but who comes only to serve, to give hie life for others. if he is our God – if being made in the Image of God means anything at all, then it must mean that this is the posture we too are called to adopt in the world. If truly we are to Know Him.

Amen

Of Metaphysics and Marriage

Sermon for Trinity + 18, Year B – 2018

Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 1:1-9
Mark 10:1-14

‘More things in Heaven and Earth’
Of Metaphysics and Marriage’

Having listened to the gospel, it may be that our thoughts are on Jesus’ teaching on Divorce and Remarriage – just at the outset, let us remind ourselves that Jesus’  words about not entering the kingdom, are addressed to those who do not receive it like a child . . . We ignore the words about children at our peril thinking that it is the ‘Adult’ words which are Obviously more significant . . . and thinking of children directs us towards those words in Hebrews, about angels . . .

Listening to the reading from Hebrews I wonder how many of us pondered the place of Angels in the great scheme of things?
You may remember Jesus dramatic warning regarding the little ones from last week – words, I should add addressed to us all – regarding ‘causing these little ones to stumble’? If we followed these words in Matthew’s gospel we would read this ‘And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’

The role of guardian angels is a mysterious one. I know of three experiences of encounters with these creatures, one my own, but perhaps the most striking was a conversation with an elderly parishioner when I was a curate. As a young mum, perhaps suffering from post-natal depression, she had gone to take her own life, and had placed her head in her gas oven when she saw ‘two enormous feet in front of me, stood in the kitchen’ She had caught a fleeting glimpse of that which lies beyond our usual sight.

Yet Jesus speaks of what we call ‘guardian’ angels in particular with respect to children, or at least ‘little ones’. ‘their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’

Angels belong to a branch of science, largely forgotten called metaphysics. We have all heard one ‘Metaphysical question’, concerning angels, namely ‘how many angels might dance on the head of a pin’. A question which perhaps sounds ludicrous to us, but to those who asked it wasn’t unimportant – the question was essentially, do angels take up space in the world in the way we do, or could you place thousands of them in the same space, the head of a pin? What is the nature of this unseen reality which surrounds us?

Such questions are questions of metaphysics, or put another way, if we remember the famous quote from Hamlet – questions of the ‘more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio’. Questions of the very nature of our existence. Even ‘ordinary’ physics speaks of aspects of our existence which make no sense at all – are impossible to our way of understanding things.
When I trained as a physics teacher, half those training with me were Christians – perhaps as Christians we had more time for the weird world of quantum mechanics and special relativity, for the holographic nature of the universe, or the notion that every solid object is full of light . . . perhaps we were more open to the mysteries of physics, because we were comfortable with its older brother, metaphysics

Yet, as I said, Jesus speaks of guardian angels in particular with respect to children. And he speaks of children here in the context of speaking of marriage.

As I have said once or twice these past weeks, our habit of chopping the scriptures up into segments according to topic, destroy the fabric of the picture where themes are woven together throughout the gospels. They are a narrative, not a ‘collection of sayings’. So we might think that our gospel today we have ‘a saying of Jesus about marriage’, followed by ‘an incident with children’, as if, perhaps conveniently they were unrelated, but inconveniently perhaps, they are not. We may well sing that ‘love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage’, but perhaps at least as significant if not more so, do children and marriage.

We have noted these past weeks how there is a too and fro between the disciples and their assumptions about power, and greatness, and Jesus repudiation of such power, and over and again Jesus brings a child into their midst . . .

There is a discussion about marriage and divorce, we might say a conversation between adults as all these conversations seem to be, as if children don’t have a stake, yet ‘their angels continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.’
There is an ‘adult conversation’ going on – and then the disciples try to block the children from coming to Jesus, from getting in on this adult conversation . . . it is hard not to feel the significance of this. Adults arguing – children kept out of the picture, Those with power deciding their own lives, but not only there own lives – the powerful deciding for the powerless, and the powerless the innocent victims of it all . . .

Of course our society is full of such conversations. Recently as you will be aware there have been conversations about Euthanasia going on in our country. What sticks most powerfully in my mind when this topic is raised is the look in the eyes of elderly people . . . for this is a discussion happening amongst the powerful. Those who have control of their lives as they see it, and who want to keep it, and listening in, those who sense that the determination of some to have power of their lives over their lives will have consequences for them . . . after all, in a world dominated by money and economics, by usefulness, by ‘the working life’, what we mean by a meaningful life takes on a very different hue . . . so it is the vulnerable elderly who have good cause to fear . . . despite the ‘adults’ the powerful ones saying – ‘there there it will all be fine.’ Being powerless helps one to see much more clearly what is going on . . .

Well so too, the children. But let us first look at Jesus teaching on marriage and divorce – and again we shall turn to metaphysics. Here Jesus is confronted by the pharisees – although we have skipped a verse. The context is that Jesus is teaching the crowds – so here we have a teaching session and the pharisees use it as an opportunity to place a distance between Jesus and the teaching of the elders.

‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ Of course in the culture of Jesus, that a woman might divorce her husband was simply not a possibility . . . but where in either case are the children?
Jesus answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ . . . and Jesus replies ‘Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you.’ Because you were determined to have it your own way . . .

‘But,’ says Jesus, ‘but from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.”

Perhaps the two most powerful words in Scripture, But God . . . and then Jesus quotes from Genesis. Not only have they lost sight of the children, they have lost sight of God. Perhaps when it is issues of power we lose sight of all that seems to us powerless . . .

‘but from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

And here we come to metaphysics of marriage. This is no mere human contract between two autonomous individuals – In the joining together of the man and the woman something which is at once New, and as old as Creation itself comes into being – or something Old is revealed once more – in that the two are made one flesh as of old the one became two. Where the unseeing eye might look only at two individuals who have chosen a way of life together – what is seen to the eye of God is something He has made, a marriage.

A New thing is made - there is still the man and the woman, but now they are husband and wife - a new thing has been made, has come into existence - the one flesh, the marriage - and it is God’s Creation! Thus the metaphysical significance of the declaration at a marriage which are the very words of God himself in Jesus ‘That which God has joined together, let no man separate.’

Through the self giving of one to the other, the man to the woman and the woman to the man, God creates a marriage, God does
The couple gives their consent to the marriage – marriage must always be freely entered into – but it is God who makes the two, one

As he makes the water, the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the baptism of Jesus, as he makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, as in Christ he joins together things heavenly and things on Earth, so in the same way he makes of the man and the woman a Sacramental Union, a one flesh . . . a new creation – can a human undo what God has done?? Can one separate a child into two parts?

. . . and the blessing of that union? The one flesh fruit of it? The child. Here we might say is the visible manifestation of a marriage – Called forth from God.

As I said last week, Jesus constant reference to children lead us to sentimentalise his saying. Jesus blesses the little children, declares them blessed. The fruit of the marriage, is its blessing. But ‘in the real world’ . . . in the real world we come up against the harsh realities of life for children, of life for those whose ‘angels continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.’ The disciples, the adults, want a ‘real world conversation’ – Jesus in speaking about marriage, in speaking of divorce, in blessing the children shows them The Real World, of things which we do not see, but are so very real.

In this light we must be so grateful for the words of Jesus from the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .’ yet we need also to remember, that the words of Jesus are the very words by which worlds are created – when he declares ‘the two shall become one’, then he speaks that which is so . . .

We who are adults are so full of our stories of ‘the real world’, once more Jesus takes a little child, those whose angels continually see the face of [their] Father in heaven, and reveals the true nature of things – for Christ is Himself the fullest manifestation of the true nature of things

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

‘Making Life Difficult . . .’

Sermon for 18th Sunday after Trinity, YearB 2018

Numbers 11
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

‘Confess your sins, one to another and pray for one another that you might be healed’

On (not) making life difficult . . .

Years ago I remember a chance remark my Spiritual Director made to me about her own perspective and how it was changed. She had been visiting her own director and in a conversation about her parish said ‘well at least I’m not responsible for their salvation’ – to which her director shot back, ‘what on earth gave you that idea?’

As James says ‘My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.’ . . . ‘confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’

James the brother of Jesus seems clear enough on this responsibility for one another’s Salvation life, yet, starting from Cain, humankind has tended to ask over and again ‘Am I my brothers’ keeper’, and if we listen we might hear the Lord reply, ‘his blood cries out to me from the ground’. Our lives are intimately woven together – we ignore this at our great peril, indeed the challenges we face in the world in this hour are deeply rooted in this loss of consciousness amongst us.

We are responsible for the life amongst us. And our lives can either assist the flow of this Salvation Life, or impede it, and sheer ignorance of our responsibilities in this regard lead us far more often to the latter, rather than the occasional ‘accidental’ moment when by the Grace of God, our lives intersect those of others in a way which causes faith to spring up . . .

The prophet says of Jesus ‘He grew up before the LORD like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ Easy to miss, easy to pass over, easy, all too easy to crush as Jesus keeps reminding his disciples, yet they seem not to get the message.

Last week we considered character of the Servant – and prime amongst the characteristics of the Servant is gentleness – Wisdom from above comes to us in humility and gentleness and it is easy, tragically easy to crush it, by following the way of power.

As we have said Jesus follows the way of powerlessness, in the way we understand it, in the way we use it without reflection. But as I was reminded by someone on the way out last week,’but we have the power of the Spirit!’ To which Yes, and Amen! The power of the spirit, gentle as a dove . . . all too easy to impede. All too easy to make life difficult . . .

We continue our readings in Mark’s gospel and the narrative of powerlessness, and of following the path of gentleness with the disciples again getting it wrong. Jesus has just put a child amongst them, he has said – ‘he who welcomes one such welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me’ Jesus comes amongst us in many ways as a little one, as a child, yet John seems not to get it. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”

Perhaps one of them was a disciple on the edge of the group, seemingly unimportant to the apostle John, who after all has recently been on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, so OBVIOUSLY is a Very Important Disciple – and he throws his weight around . . . like all those who think themselves important – the irony is that having come down from the mountain they come across some of the disciples who can’t cast out demons! So here is someone who can and they are stopping him . . . Making life difficult – opposing the power of God . . . Perhaps the one casting out demons who John stopped is literally a child – after all isn’t this what children do? They See Jesus casting out demons, and they copy him . . . in simple faith

Jesus commands them not to stop such as these, for if they are channels for the life of God, they will soon know the one from whom that life comes . . . done as it is in the name of Jesus.

But Jesus goes on to issue a warning – ‘If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.’ Those who have any sensitivity to matters of faith in Jesus Christ know how very very easy it is to crush it . . . the words of Jesus are the starkest of reminders of our responsibilities towards those young in faith, both children and adults . . . we can permit the gentle work of the Spirit space, we can refrain from laying heavy burdens, we can seek always to encourage ad to build up . . . or we can do the other, and we are responsible. When Jesus says ‘great millstone’ he’s talking about one that a donkey would have turned . . . it is so easy to make Life difficult

What is more e often do this in a way that makes out we are helping . . . we get in the way. Often we might do this by seeking to please a third party. Why after all does John tell Jesus what he has done? The subtext is, ‘we knew you wouldn’t like this so we put a stop to it . . .’ It’s a stark warning not to act on behalf of others, especially to please them

It is so easy to snuff out this Gentle work of the Spirit – God does not impose himself. I remember speaking with a doctor friend about some wonderful healings I knew of that were taking place. She was a little sceptical – she wondered if those who claimed such things would open them up to ‘scientific’ testing . . . not understanding that this was entirely contrary to the hidden small work of the Spirit . . . Not realising that she was asking God to bow to her command . . . which is of course what is going on . . .

Finally there are Jesus’s stark words about cutting off hands and feet and gouging out eyes . . . It is so very easy to get in the way of the Spirit in the lives of others, to crush the tender shoot – and it is very easy in ourselves. If carelessly crushing the work of God in a child or young disciple bears such consequences that it would be better we were thrown into the depths without hope of return, then we need to do all in our power Not to do it – for our lives are woven together,

Jesus’ words on cutting off feet, and hands and gouging out eyes come into focus when we realise the huge responsibility we bear for one another, not putting obstacles in the life of Grace in them for the consequences for us of doing so are terrible for them – and us. This only makes sense when we see our lives are woven together

The word translated Hell here, is Gehenna – it is the name of a valley close by Jerusalem – it was until the time of King Josiah a place of Child sacrifice – although the story goes that to put a stop to it, he turned it into the rubbish tip, so the imagery of fires and worms would be very clear to the disciples.
What is Jesus saying here? That in ignoring the work of the Spirit, amongst the least of these, amongst the children and those new to faith – you would be in danger of going to the very place where at one time all the nobodies were sent for sacrifice. The announcement of the Justice of God is one of the great reversal. In the words of Mary our Mother – He hath cast down the mighty from their seat and raise up the humble and meek He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Jesus is saying you are so casual about getting in the way of others, but equally casual about your own sin! You should take great great care over both! Yes, we are responsible for our own Salvation and for that of those around us. The two are intimately woven together.

For everyone will be salted with fire – here the idea of Salting is that associated with purification in the old rites of Israel – the refiners fire of Malachi. Don’t lose that purifying salt in your life, for how can you result salt? Keep Salt within yourselves and be at peace with one another

The words of James point us to this peace. Peace which is no simple absence of conflict – that is no different to death! No Peace in the Scriptures is Rich fullness of Good Life, Shared life – and how is it achieved? Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. This is how we know God’s life amongst us

Like cutting off hand or foot or gouging out eye it sounds hard, but in truth it is the way to healing and wholeness – putting our lives in the hands of those amongst whom we share in Christ’s life – like Christ, allowing ourselves to be handed over

Amen