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

Christian politics – life together

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – Year C 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Luke 4:14-21

“Christian politics – Shared Life”

“we must understand that we are responsible of the sins of the whole world”

These words of St Seraphim must sound I think very strange to us, yet I think that they guide us into the way of Life in the way of Jesus Christ.

I’d like to suggest that they sound strange to us in some considerable part because we are Urban people. It may be that we live or have lived in rural areas, yet they way of how we live is increasingly homogeneous – perhaps this is why we make such a thing of diversity. And one of the key aspects of life in urban areas is its anonymity. We are surrounded by people yet our lives are not known well to them. Loneliness is far more an Urban than a rural phenomenon. One is, as they say never more alone than in a crowd. It is far more difficult to understand life as something we share in in real terms in a city – Yet now, more than half the world’s population lives in cities and cities are the centres of the media and commerce, all those things which so influence our lives, for good or ill.

Perhaps it is true that those of us who live lives shaped by an Urban environment have less sense of the way in which our lives impact on one another. And it is this interconnection of Life, that we call Love, which when it is broken we call sin. Sin is the fracturing of the bonds that join us – it is primarily relational, yet the majority of Urban people do not experience life as one of deep interconnections with those amongst whom we live, and so do not perceive its brokenness except perhaps through what they see in the papers or on TV screens, it doesn’t appear clear to us, our bonds with strangers
There are fewer and fewer places globally which are truly rural, and have not become urban in their way of living even if they are rural in location. Yet, still I think that these words of St Seraphim would be better understood by someone who had experienced life in a rural community – they might be denied, but their denial would be accompanied by shame, for the truth of them would confront you every day.

On of the gifts of my own life has been to spend about half of it living in rural contexts, and even though true rural life has all but disappeared, aspects of it still reveal themselves.
You could not live in a rural community and not share in life with others. An edit was public. Although only about 10% of folk in the village went to church regularly, when Sarah too the children to the local school she was told, ‘Oh. we know you’ve arrived’ As of course they would know if anyone else new had moved into the neighbourhood. your very presence had a discernible impact. Relationships rippled and reformed as people came to live there, and it was apparent.
Whilst we might speak of the need to build community in an Urban context, Community is a given in a rural context. Your neighbour was not some abstract person, but a particular person, the people with whom you had to share in life. You were to some extent dependent on those amongst whom you lived, and your life was part of the life of the whole community. The Community had a story of anyone who had been in the house you now were foolish enough to call your own.
The Community had a story, and it could not be discovered by the aggregation of lots of individual stories, something which is actually an overwhelming thing – too much. No you discovered the story of rural community by living there, by allowing your story become part of the whole – for in living together, going to the same school, working the same land, going perhaps to the same church (rural areas not afflicted as we are with a paralysing choice of places of worship), your lives were and to some degree still are lived together – and if one had any sensitivity you saw how your life affected things – perhaps even challenging The Story of the Community. The words of another old saint come to mind, you knew that in a meaningful sense, a visible sense, ‘your life is with your brother’.

Everything was public in a way it isn’t in towns and cities. You would go to this or that or the other village event, and it was the same people there. Life was lived amongst the people you had often known since childhood. Not least if you went to church – the whole community knew. It was a public act, not a private hidden one as in the city. you didn’t have to tell anyone you went to church. It was of course why the charge of hypocrisy was such a simple one, for apart from your church going, all your dirty washing was on public display.
One marker of this shared life for me as a Vicar was funerals. It was rare for there to be as few as 100 people present; all farming funerals would pack the church out. I still remember two funerals I conducted within three months, one of a couple of cousins killed In a road accident, another of a mother of six who had died of Cancer at the age of 49 – 750 people came. Apart from major Cathedral celebrations I have never known such large gatherings for worship. Life was shared in celebration and tragedy . . . and therefore inevitably in sin . . .

And sometimes that sin was manifested even in the church – a family split over this or that – the village took sides according to their stronger friendship bonds, and so at a church event, church may have been full – half the village sat with one side of the family on one side of the church and half on the other – but they were all there. For the division was a shared experience. No one was neutral – not even the Vicar. To be neutral would not to be part of it – to deny my role in the brokenness which was publicly displayed.

You cannot belong to a community and not be responsible for its sin. (There is something here about the sad retreat to ‘professionalism’ amongst increasingly mobile clergy)

And yet we live in a world where ‘I am not responsible’ is perhaps the most common, unspoken mantra. This has become easier to say. For example, ‘The Welfare State’ means ‘someone else’ will look after my neighbour. Yes, there is some sort of safety net in place, but social security is now an abstract technological thing impersonal thing, as anyone who has to struggle to find help from WINZ will readily testify. The state is not a person, even if the state servant has a human face, they play a role according to rules and training. The ethic of Love has nothing to do with it.
It isn’t Social, and very often as we know it is far from secure. Now that isn’t to say that ‘things were better back then’, people could ignore their neighbour then as now, but it wasn’t hidden. It was out there. If a family was without food and nothing done, everyone knew, everyone bore the shame of it. It was clear that “we were responsible for the sins of the whole world” or at least the world as we knew it. ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’ – St Paul’s words of rebuke are of course are written into an urban situation, the vast metropolis of Corinth – twice the size of modern Dunedin . . .

Today’s gospel will no doubt be used by many as a rallying cry for what is called ‘social justice’ – a call to be involved in ‘politics’. Our problem though is that we have largely lost sight of the meaning of politics, and justice, because we have lost sight of the meaning of social – of a shared existence. In an urbanised world, Social Justice has no face – it is a matter of fixing systems – it has nothing to do with Love of neighbour, for the neighbour is an anonymous person.
Christian politics is simply a matter of how I love those people with whom I share my life, politics being at root the matter of how we live together – not in an abstract sense, but in face to face reality.
Urban living, especially if one has sufficient financial resources to meet one’s basic needs, for food, clothing, warmth, and shelter, leads to a sense of Independence, and the deep truth of our utter interdependence on one another, and thus how we experience our responsibility for one another is increasingly no more than a thought, our active perception got it, highly atrophied . . .
The idea that we are in some mysterious way responsible for the sins of the whole community, indeed of the whole world seems at least odd, if not absurd – after all, if we just work a bit harder to fix the system . . . if those people or those people stopped behaving as they do . . . but we only understand things in these terms because we do now Know ourselves to be part of the whole, we do not recognise the sins of others as our own . . . It was the Pharisee who stood apart and said ‘I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men’. The Pharisee who did not identify himself with the sins of others -the Pharisee of course who went to the Temple, in the city of Jerusalem to pray . . . (The publican or tax-collector of course, knew he was a sinner because everyone told him that . . .)

Standing apart, in judgement is to separate yourself out from the Community. To be part of a community is to share in its joy and its sorrow, its glory and its shame. Briefly one might speak of splits within the wider church. To apprehend this with anything other than deep pain, shame and sorrow, is a failure to understand that our life is Life together, for it is the Life of Jesus. We are the body of Christ – and there is no deeper rejection of our faith than not to recognise one another or say we have no need of one another, or to set ourselves apart from one another – for it is denial of the very life of the one who reuses to do any of these things, that seeks to draw us into one. That we love one another

And so, Jesus comes to Nazareth. Jesus’ ministry is played out largely in rural areas, and he is part of this rural community. For thirty or so years Nazareth is pretty much all he has known, and Nazareth knows him, or thinks they do. He is known as Joseph’s boy, although no doubt that was perhaps a bit of a slur.
But he definitely is part of the story of Nazareth, and as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day ‘He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.’ And the words he speaks are not easy words – we cut it off slightly as usual – he has some pretty hard words to say – BUT he says them after being part of that community for 30 years . . . He Knows the community, he has known its joys and sorrows and its sin . . . he does not speak as one standing apart

Why is Isaiah declaring this? Why are God’s people in such a state – because they have abandoned life with God! And God has come in Jesus to identify with them in their brokenness that they might again share in His Life

Jesus who comes into the world and who identifies himself with the World in Love in reality, and thus as St Paul tells us ‘Became Sin for our sake’ So very deep is the identification of Jesus with us, that the one who has no Sin, refuses to stand apart in Judgement, but takes our human condition upon himself. He is under no illusion. To be human is to be identified with the Sin of humanity.

Jesus identifies himself with those who will crucify him. How different to our politics of ‘them and us’. He shares his life with those who reject him, and so draws all into one. We are the body of Christ – we were baptised together into one body. We meet in his name and our Life together is to share in his Peace, won on the cross. It is a community in which we confess our sins to one another and so find healing, for the acceptance of Christ we find none another. It is the place it al becomes real.

Jesus is our pattern, Jesus is our Life, Jesus is our politics. and takes upon himself the sins of the whole world.

Becoming Theologians – EPIPHANY 2019

The Feast of the Epiphany 2019

Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

‘Becoming Theologians’

‘Seek first the Father’s Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you also’ Matthew 6:33

As we don’t have the screen this morning, I thought I’d better draw your attention to the theme of what I have to say on your pew sheet – that is ‘Becoming Theologians’. I would like to say that I’m not seeking to drum up attendance at Chris Holmes lecture courses this coming semester, although I’d never discourage that, but I do want to begin with a brief illustration of what I mean which involves a university professor. He was an Eng Lit Prof and said he was having a lot of trouble teaching his students about English literature, older than the last 50 years, because few if any of them were conversant with the Christian story as made known in the Church and through the scriptures. English literature which was not very recent, came from a culture which was underpinned by that story, and so knowing the story was a vital key to understanding the works he asked his students to read.

Well he was right, but I want to use this fairly obvious point to illustrate something far more fundamental, that to truly understand anything, we have first to become theologians. Any of the university disciplines, if they are truly going to lead us ‘into all truth’ must first be theological. Indeed if we are to begin to understand anything we start with Faith.
For The Earth is The Lord’s and all they that dwell therein. The study of anything at all is the study of that which God has Created, and so to know it, to understand it, to make true sense of it, and therefore not misuse it, we must know God . . . This was the premiss of the first universities, and so theology and then philosophy and metaphysics were considered the foundational studies, before one turned to anything else, for everything else flowed from Knowing God, because everything does come from God

And today, the Feast of the Epiphany is in a sense our door as Gentile Christians to this journey of understanding – to ‘Becoming theologians’. It is for us, our first encounter with the living God, the God of Israel, the God of the Jews who is revealed to be The God of all. As St Paul puts it ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel . . . in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’

Our entrance into the Life of God in boldness and confidence through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the One in whom all things hold together, the very centre of Creation, its beginning and its End . . . to Know Him is to begin to know and to understand the entirety of the Creation, and without knowing Him, the Truth of our existence, of our very lives is hidden from us . . .

So the Magi come to Jerusalem, and immediately we are in the language of the revealing of the deep truth of our existence – for over and again we hear the word ‘Behold!’ See the Deep Truth here – So Matthew says ‘Now, Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the Days when Herod was king, Behold! Magi arrived in Jerusalem from the East, saying “Where is the new born King of the Judeans? For we saw His star at its rising, and have come to worship him”’

Matthew grabs our attention. Behold! Look! These strange foreigners, come to seek ‘the new born king of the Judeans’ – What is happening? Pay attention! To Behold is to see ‘with the eye of the heart’. There is a surface meaning to all of this, but we are called to Behold, to Understand . . . we are called to be theologians. To ponder these things, to ask – ‘What is God doing?’

Herod of course doesn’t have a clue. He is not remotely interested in the God of Israel, just hanging on to his power under the Romans . . . the news of a new king disturbs the order of things – things aren’t as they seem. So he asks around and the chief priests and scribes tell him of the Old Story, that the Messiah, the Anointed one is to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. ‘From you will come one who will shepherd God’s people . . .’ yet here are these foreigners . . . the prophet only saw in part, now is the full revelation.

Well, we might ask, what has all this to do with becoming theologians? Well, the first step is of course to pay attention to what God is saying and doing. Why was no one keeping an eye on Bethlehem? Because they hadn’t listened to the prophets. Why were the Magi there, well they were paying attention! They were in their own limited way watching for signs, they were attentive. They were watching and waiting, and so at the appearance of the star at its rising, they set off.

So the first step as theologians is to pay attention. To be watching, but for what? Well they don’t really know, but they do know one thing. That they are come to worship. ‘We have come to worship Him’ they tell Herod . . .
There is nothing more fundamental to our human experience than worship. GK Chesterton, says this, ‘when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they will believe in anything!’ – So also when we stop worshipping the One True God, our fundamental need to worship, will be misdirected but it will still find a way out and we will worship anything, even our own selves . . . We are Created to be the recipients of Life from God and to enter into the flow of this gift through Praise and thanksgiving. It is fundamental to who we are – to be those who live in response to God, who know our lives As response to God . . .

Well, Herod as we know sends them on their way, and the Magi, and they step out of the darkness of his palace and immediately, Matthew says ‘behold! The Star, which they saw at its rising, went before them until it came to the place where the child was . . .’ They are the seekers after the Truth of things – that is in the depths of their being they desire to worship aright – and ‘Beholding the star they they were exultantly joyful!’

So we need to follow these leads – these movements of the depths of our heart – after paying attention and watching, these are the next steps to becoming theologians. We pay attention, we follow the lead, to Jesus. This is the sign that we have followed well, that we come to Jesus, to His Appearing, and here the journey both ends and begins, with the one who is the beginning and the end of all things, Here own Jesus our humanity finds its home in God . . .

For they beheld the child with his mother Mary. Here there is so much . . . Here we Behold the one who is born of God, but also of Woman. Here in this babe we see all babes. All of us, born of a woman. All of us Seeing Jesus, opening up to the power to become born of God . . .

This simple scene, yet this Universal scene . . .

Several times over the past couple of weeks as we moved through Advent and then Christmas we have seen Mary, perhaps we have beheld her, seeing something of the depth of who she is -and we have been invited to follow her example and ponder these things in our hearts, that they might take root. Now we see, and perhaps we behold the Magi Beholding ‘the child with his mother Mary’ . . . and we allow this picture to take root in our hearts. Certainly it is a picture that took root in our faith, so many icons depict Mary, the God bearer and the child Jesus . . .

And? ‘and falling down they worshipped Him. Now they are entering into the fundamental work of theology, of theologians. Without which there is no theology nor access to any Truth in its deep manifestation.

Becoming theologians – in truth by our being here that is what we are doing. We gather together, we worship, we pray and in the midst of this we hear the word – we allow it to take root within us – this is the first and fundamental work of theology, and it is its end that it bears fruit

One of the old saints of the church puts it most succinctly – ‘A theologian is one who prays [one who worships], and one who worships and prays is a theologian’

Theology is first faith, it is paying attention, watching for God, and then responding, and allowing al our response to be Worship and prayer. Theology does not lead us to faith, Theology is faith which is then led by the star of the Light od Life that is in Jesus. Being so led, it then seeks to understand For Faith is the centre of all understanding, it is the Centre of Knowing the Truth of all things, for in coming into the presence of ‘the child and his mother’ we have come to the very centre of all things.

Let us take a few moments now in silence, in the Centre of our worship to See with the eye of our heart – to Behold the child with its mother

Amen

‘Born of God – Born in wonder’ Christmas 1 Year C 2018

Sermon for Christmas 1

Col 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

Born of God

Well it is an unwritten rule in our household that we don’t use stories about our children to illustrate sermons, however, just this once, not least because its a story of parental incompetence and therefore I think allowable . . . as a family we can’t hear this story of Jesus being left in Jerusalem without recalling an incident which occurred some years ago in Keswick. We were there for the annual Bible convention and had gone to the local supermarket before departing for a campground with a large group of friends and family – well we hadn’t gone a couple of days walk but we had been about half an hour before we realised that Megan wasn’t with us.

Running as fast as I could I returned to the supermarket to find she had been found by some fellow campers and convention members – one of the lovely things about Keswick when the Convention is on is that the town is full to bursting with Christians 🙂 We were Mighty relieved . . and it must be said didn’t scold her as Jesus’ was scolded by his distraught Mother!

Although of course Jesus gently rebukes his mother . . . ‘“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (or about my Father’s business)

So, although we haven’t yet got to the 12th day of Christmas, Luke has moved forwards 12 years to this account of Jesus’ family – about the time of the Passover, and how he goes missing in Jerusalem, for about three days . . . surely an echo of years later when Jesus is three days in the tomb before being found in the garden . . . the scriptures are full of these allusions, of stories within stories – it reminds me of those Russian Dolls which I was always fascinated with as a child. dolls within dolls within dolls – and here stories within stories within stories – and so, to pick another incident of Jesus life with his mother Mary, we might hear the words, ‘my time has not yet come’, so Jesus does not remain physically within the Temple, but returns to Nazareth with Mary his Mother, and Joseph . . .
Yet the incident is not forgotten – Mary ‘treasured all these sayings in her heart’

This is a repeated note in the Gospel. Mary treasuring things that have been said about Jesus and now by Jesus, in her heart. She treasured them – you might say having as it were lost her son for a while, she held him in her heart through all that had been said about him and by him . . .

What is immensely clear in this story is that Mary and Joseph do not understand. If they are going to understand they will have to live with these words, these seeds in their hearts, until such time when with persistence and in a good soil, they take root and bear fruit . . .

‘I must be in my Father’s house’

I wonder, what is it that we treasure in our hearts? What finds a home in us? To pick up on the image of Russian dolls again, Jesus uses the idea of Abiding, or Living within us. Abide in me, as I abide in you. We live in Him as He lives in us, or will if we attend to Him, if we follow Mary, our Mother in faith, who for nine months says Yes to this Word of God growing within her, and bearing fruit. Who goes on even though she does not understand, for who truly can hope to fully understand, who goes on treasuring these words in her heart. As the child conceived in her comes to birth, so the Word in her comes to bear fruit in her life.

One of the things I find most odd about faith in these days is how readily we dismiss these stories, beach we do not understand. They do not make sense to us. You are not likely to find many even within the church who attest to truth of The Virgin Birth. ‘Why? This is nonsense!’
As if we understood. As if we stood in a place where all of existence and reality was beneath our feet . . . Anything which doesn’t readily fit our casual notions truth discarded, for ‘this saying is too hard’ . . . like Jesus’s words ‘Whoever eats me will live because of me’ . . . too hard. Thus the Word is snatched away and perhaps we see within the church the effect of that word being snatched away – where is the Life? – as our ‘Modern’ understanding dismisses anything we cannot fit into our own picture –

Yet if is something which fits into our picture, we may well ask, why bother with it in the first place? If it is something that we infinitely small creatures can readily comprehend – why do we consider it of worth? Do we think that the understanding of ants is rational, and truthful? On the scale of the Universe and all that is – It is as if we were ants and proudly thought we comprehended existence itself . . .

Mary, although she does not know ‘how can this be, since I am a virgin?’ does not understand, she allows the words, the announcement to find a home within her. Although she is distraught at the actions of her son which have so upset her and Joseph, actions which make no sense to her and upset her greatly, she does not dismiss them, she treasures his words in her heart. She is not proud. She blows that she doesn’t understand, but believes

We have 12 days of Christmas. Days in which we can in humility allow these words of Jesus, this story of Jesus to find a home within us – even though there is so much of it which is ‘hard to understand’, much which indeed we may find dismays us.

And I wonder what might happen were we to hear the words of Jesus and ponder them and allow them to take such root in us, that they become our words? When His life becomes ours?

‘“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ What if we became the sort of people who were so given to attending to the Word in us, that perhaps our lives became lives that perplexed others, that caused them to question, that asked questions of the very way we understand our lives in the world, that had others searching us out.
If we stopped our casual denials quoting that simple convenient ‘modern science’ or something other such thing. (It is amazing how those who so readily quote ‘Modern Science, don’t know an science, and when challenged cannot explain ‘how modern science refutes all these things) It is easier not to allow the Word to take root within us. Like Mary gives birth to the Word in patience and great labour – if we allowed that existence was at once more glorious and full of wonder than we might imagine – if we became once more little children ourselves and said YEs to God’s word.

I only do what I see the Father doing . . . I must be about my Father’s business . . . if, to quote St Paul as dearly loved children, knowing we knew very little about anything, we became imitators of our big brother Jesus, the true human, and the true God, who pours out his life for us if we would beat let it take root . . .

In the beginning of John’s gospel we read ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” To all who received him . . . who allowed his Word to sink deep into their heart, to find a home in them, to bear fruit in them . . . to become those who rise to new life each morning and say as His words become ours as we abide in Him and he in us – ‘I must be about my Father’s business, I must be in my Father’s house’.

Of course, Megan wasn’t lost in the Temple, or indeed a church, she was in the Supermarket – perhaps that has become our father’s house in these days, perhaps we have become children of the consumer age, with endless options before us, or perhaps we might again attend to the One thing necessary – hear these words of Jesus ‘Did you not know that it was necessary, – we might attend to this ‘that I must be about my father’s business’ – allow it to take root, and grow us into the fulness of Children of God

The Creation – To See Truthfully – Christmas 2018

Sermon for Midnight Mass 2018

Hebrews 1:1-4
John 1:1-14

‘The Creation’

‘For we live by faith and not by sight’

As human beings we have a problem. For our most powerful sense – Sight – is also the one most easily taken hold of and deceived. We live in an age where visual stimuli assault us at every turn, increasingly so that we can be sold things. To compound matters to a significant degree, we now carry devices with us pretty much all the time, whose power over us is rooted in this weakness to have our attention stolen, to the point that we often find ourselves looking at our cell phones for no reason whatsoever.

In this age as much as any other if not mores, our Sight needs to be returned to us, that we might See truthfully.

So as when we seek to heal someone of an unhealthy addiction, we take the desire that is distorted and for a while put it to one side. To use a Christmas metaphor, we go cold turkey 🙂 When we want to speak of things that are outside the realm of our physical seeing, indeed perhaps to remind ourselves that there are things beyond the realm of sight, or better to our Sight so that we might behold the true nature of all things – there is perhaps no better time than in the depth of night.
For as the sun hides the stars and the entire Universe from our gaze, and our cell phones seem to rob us of the ability even to see those around us – thus the created lights of the World hide from us The Light, the light of Life. The Truth of our existence.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness

The Light shines in the darkness

The Light which is the Life of all people. The Light by which we Behold the Truth of our own existence – The Light by which we See clearly, by which we Behold All things – Everything.

For the message of Christmas goes well beyond anything that we might care to consider – out into the depths of space and time – filling them and completing them,

Here in the depths of the night we listen to words of John, coming to us from ‘the beginning’ When John wishes to speak to us of the coming of Jesus into the world, he opens his account ‘In the beginning’ In speaking of what we like to call The Christmas Story, John wants us to pay attention to the story of Everything. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the Earth . . . and God said . . . Let there be Light, and there was light – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God . . . in Him was Life and that Life is the Light of all people

Whilst it is true in some very limited sense to speak of the birth of Jesus as occurring 2000 years ago, that is only a fragment of a much greater truth – that the birth of Jesus, the story of Bethlehem and shepherds, and Mary and Joseph, and Angelic announcements in the night, is the Revealing, the Appearing of that which is true ‘from the beginning’ and also that which is true ‘to the ages of ages’. It is the Revelation of the entire work of God in the World . . . To See truthfully, to see Truth in its entirety, to See all things, our gaze must be restricted, drawn to a single point, a pin prick of light in the Universe, in the sign that is a child lying in a manger – to recover our sight we need to begin in the darkness in order to see Jesus

If the physicists are to be believed, and being a physicist myself I guess I have to declare an interest in physicists being believed, were we able to stand outside of the universe – an impossibility – we would see all of space, and therefore all of time. We would in a moment see everything from East to West, From North to South – from its beginning to its end. All space, all time – but we do not need to take a space ship to get outside of all space and time – for to Behold the Word made flesh is to begin to See all things – to have our sight restored, that we might truly be able to see all things

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this in speaking of the coming of Jesus into the World ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

For the One born to us in the depths of this Holiest of Nights, He is the Alpha and the Omega, He is the Beginning and The End. ‘[The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.’ He is the Light that is the light of all people. He is in all and through all and above all . . . He Encompasses All things in His Being

One of the old Saints of the church says of God, ‘A circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere’ – This Word of Life which calls forth the entirety of Creation is revealed in the Centre of Creation, in the One who sustains all things

The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus we might say is the coming into the world of Centre of History, a Centre that is Everywhere and at all times. That has no boundary. A Love without borders. This is the meaning of History., the meaning of all things.

 

Amen

The Word of Life! Advent 4 – Year C – 2018

Sermon for Advent 4 – Year C 2018

Luke 1:39-45

‘The Word of Life’

And so, we come closer to the centre of the mystery of Christ, The Word of Life. Soon and very soon, we shall celebrate the great Feast of the Incarnation – Christ Mass – the Feast of the Eucharist of Christ himself. The Word made flesh – The Word of Life which John says ‘was from the beginning’ – being revealed within history.

Perhaps the most powerful story in scripture of this Word of Life at work is the account of the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus stands outside the tomb and cries out ‘Lazarus, Come Forth!’ Lazarus is summoned by the Word of Life from the non existence of death, to Life in its fullness.

As a favourite writer of mine likes to say, God in Christ did not die to make bad men good, he died to make dead men live!

So this Word, which Is Christ Jesus, is The Word of Life in the most profound sense . . . and in our Gospel Reading, again we observe this Word at work in calling forth life. We see it, and of course part of the tradition of the church is devotional art and ikons.

In ancient ikons and in the tradition of the Syriac Church, Mary is depicted as conceiving Christ, through her ear. This is a visual metaphor for what is happening.

So Mary’s response to Gabriel, ‘let it be to me, according to your word’, is much more than a simple, if breath taking obedience – rather it is the speaking forth of what is happening. It is according to the Word, the Word of Life, finding its place within her, that she will become the very bearer of God.

This is the How of the very creation. The Spirit hovers over the face of the Deep, The Word comes, Life springs forth. So the Word enters Mary and the Word of Life springs forth!

And so, as Gabriel greets Mary who has become a bearer of the Word that gives life, the heavenly Word is passed on as Mary greets Elizabeth – and there is Life! Mary comes to her cousin Elizabeth who is carrying John the Baptist

‘And it happened that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting . . . ‘And it happened . . .’ the Greek word is egeneto – the word from which we get Genesis – the Beginning – Creation language!
The baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ We can perhaps see here the coming to Life of the child in her womb, John the Baptist when addressed by The Word of Life

So, The Spirit born Word comes to Mary to be borne by her, and now Her greeting, full as she is of the Life of God, brings Life! And the language is so very physical.

How sad that our translation removes this beautiful picture from our gaze – ‘as I heard the sound of your greeting’. For Elizabeth says ‘Behold! As the sound of your greeting entered my ears . . .’

‘As the sound of your greeting entered my ears . . .’ We are called to use our imagination to See, to Behold this Word passing into the ear of Elizabeth. as you received the spoken Word of God’s messenger, the one carrying the Word from God . . . there is something tangible about this Word, it is carried, it enters the ear – the ear which the Psalmist says in the most physical of language ‘you have dug for me’ . . . God has carefully crafted us with ears to hear – the Word of Life – this is why we should if at all possible NOT look at the screen with the reading on it, I understand that this is good for the hard of hearing, but listen – Allow the Word to enter your ear – to come into you, to bring Life. ’As the sound of your greeting entered my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy!’ How often I wonder have we known our heart leap for joy as the Word enters our ear, created for this very purpose.

And how full of bliss is the one who has faith . . . I find a recent translation of this so helpful in some regards if a bit odd on the ear, for to be full of bliss is to have been filled. Something has entered into us , has filled us 🙂

This is the nature of The Word of Life – when we hear it, when it enters into us – it produces Life in fullness. We become Full of Life, Full of Grace!

For a Word is not mere sound, or rather sound is not just sound – it is the very passage of the Life of God. This is why I think it most helpful that we Listen. That we Hear the Word. Even when we read scripture alone – read aloud – Listen to the Word

The Word written, is always one step removed from the Word spoken. The Word is to be Heard. The Creation vibrates with the Energy of Life itself – to be received into us. Life coming to find a home within us in Jesus Christ

Mary of course has already allowed the Word to take root in her – as she is addressed by Gabriel we hear, “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” – Mary as we shall hear over the next few days – powers things in her heart – she allows these words to go deep into her very being

As we prepare once more to Hear the Angelic announcement – may our ears be open and our hearts prepared for this Word of life to come into our hearts, to find a home amongst us and within us.

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