On Discernment

Sermon for Evensong
Sunday September 16
Exodus 18:13-26
Matthew 7:1-14 [15-end]

Just back from Synod

For me, amongst many challenges of Synod, not least the anti-human mechanisms it imposes on the spirit graced body of Christ, is that of knowing when to speak and when to remain silent.

Anyone who has sat through such proceedings and coming from the C of E where Synods were an almost full time occupation, I think I have more experience of them than anyone else locally, will know that it is the failure on the part of ‘certain individuals’ to know when to speak and when to remain silent, that can often turn the tedium of such gatherings into a more or less mild form of torture. At least in England you didn’t have to be on Diocesan Synod . . .

The sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit, the gift of discernment, a Gift long birthed in Silent prayer is all but absent in these days.

One need only think of the current President of the United States and his predilection for tweeting his thoughts when and wherever it suits him . . . and before we tut and shake our heads we must remember that what finally rises to the top is the long suppressed truth about us all . . . to realise that Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is one of the lost gifts of an age when we are all ‘to have our say’, to ‘be out there’, tweeting our anger and outrage at his anger and outrage.

It seems to me that perhaps we have come at last to that age Jesus spoke of when he said ‘Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’ Luke 12:3 Everything it seems is laid bare – discretion, modesty, appropriate hiddenness as the Source of Life are alien to our culture – and thus the loss of Wisdom

Wisdom teaches us that proper discernment must always begin with ourselves. If we cannot carefully discern the motions of our own hearts, then it would be wise more often than not, indeed in almost all circumstances, to remain silent . . . and I say this as a huge caveat to understanding our readings from Scripture this evening, and hearing them truly

First, and briefly to Exodus and Moses. Poor Moses – as he would on occasion complain to God, ‘Why have you done this to me?? Look at these people . . .’ although also on occasion when the truth of the people was revealed and God threatened to break out against them, it was Moses who stood on their behalf and said, ‘you’ll have to kill me first . . .’

but Poor Moses, there he is day by day and all the people bringing their disputes to him. It is so reminiscent of my days as a Year Head having to deal with the perpetual wail – ‘Sir, she gave me a dirty look . . .’ I have great sympathy for Moses. So there he sits, day by day sorting out the disputes and judging the people . . . that is, having to pronounce judgement for one side or the other. It was in this vein that Solomon when made King asked God for Wisdom . . . insight, to discern and judge aright – for one thing we can say without fear of contradiction is that humans and their relationships with one another are messy . . .

Well Moses’ father in law, Jethro see this happening and sees Moses wearing himself out and suggests he spreads the load, by appointing judges amongst the tribes to sit over most of the cases, and only the thorny ones be brought to Moses – like an appeal to the Supreme Court . . .

Jethro says ‘You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain’ – Ah but . . . you might say, isn’t that judging them? Isn’t that what Jesus explicitly commands against in our reading from the Sermon on the Mount??

Well . . .

What does Jesus say?

We have a little problem with the way we are trained to read these words of Jesus in the Sermon, and it is particularly a problem for those who like to read their Bibles. FAR be it from me to say to anyone, ‘Do not read your Bibles!’ BUT there is a problem. Firstly of course there is the simple matter, obscured from our eyes, that Scripture, that which is written was until the invention of the printing press something almost always Heard, not read. The production of a BIble, up to that point would require the skins of over 150 calves . . . they couldn’t be obtained in bulk from Manna bookshops.

Now there are other problems with uncritically reading the Bible, that is reading it without realising that the very act of reading from a book presumes many things which may not be helpful – but I just want to focus on one aspect – that the text is broken up into chapters, and then verses, which of course if you are listening you do not hear, suggesting a fragmentary nature to the text and then to make matter infinitely more awkward, at some time in the C17, some well meaning soul added little headings here and there . . . to make it clear what Jesus was saying, so reading uncritically we absorb these headings, which are rife in the Sermon, because the well meaning person obviously thought that the Sermon was a collection of the sayings of Jesus. And therefore almost everyone who says ‘The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of the sayings of Jesus’, usually say it in part if not totally because they have been so conditioned to say it . . .

which is a problem when it comes to the words of Jesus about Judging others . . . because they are followed by words which suggest that we should judge others . . . but we miss this if we treat the words as if they were in isolation

Listen then

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

“Well there you are! Jesus contradicts himself” – Do not judge – do not throw your pearls before swine . . . Well surely if we realise they are swine, we have judged . . .

So we need to consider what Jesus says here. Firstly Judging is a matter in this regard of ‘the eye’. Noting ever and again how The eye is the subject of things, and what is more that Jesus says that our eyes do not see clearly . . . We see the world in many ways as we are. As so often is said -if you wish to change the world, start with yourself – for so often, what we see out there is a projection of what is in here – and our way of seeing is influenced by our hearts – so ‘first take the log out of your own eye, THEN’ Jesus says ‘you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

The gift of discernment, a Gift long birthed in Silent prayer is all but absent in these days – all but absent when all we see is with the eye and we are swift to speak, and swift to anger to use the words of James’ Jesus’ brother and the one who most closely comes to the words of Jesus in his epistles.

Ian McGilchrist in his wonderful work – Master and Emissary points out how we have become more and more dominated by the left hemisphere of our brain. It’s way of seeing is precisely to see splinters – to see fragments. We see the fly but do not acknowledge or perceive the precious ointment in which it is sat. Left hemispheric thinking is also associated with anger. There is so much anger in the world today – so many pointing to the flaws in others . . . there is a sort of fundamentalism here oft unacknowledged. It seems to me that ‘Once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist’ People who once condemned ‘those people’, now turn their ire on ‘those people’, the people they were once happy to associate with. The Heart is not healed in such people – it is tragic.

Very briefly then, Jesus goes on ‘‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’ Having cleansed the eye of the heart – having learned to be still before God and learned the gentle receptiveness of the Spirit, one may ask aright. If we ask out of damaged vision, we do not see to ask aright, we do not know what it is that we are truly to ask for. It is with such healed vision that these words of Jesus become a lived reality within us.

‘In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you’ The Cleansed eye which discerns the Truth of things only sees themselves in the Other truly, not now for judgement but for Loving Service . . . but says Jesus, this is not easy. If we drift along as we are, we shall miss the way – broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction. The Work of the heart is a lifelong one, it is hard and narrow – for it has but one aim, to Know and Love God, and thus to live in and through His Life – our true healing

Jesus then goes on – following on fro our reading to speak of the discernment which is knowing a tree by its fruit – before warning of the perils of Self Deception. ‘On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you workers of evil.” how terrible self deception can be, that those who believe they are doing the work of God discover they are doing no such thing . . . we should tread lightly

So Moses seeks those who ‘fear God’ For whom God fills their Vision, whose Sight is healed and who will be able to discern the Truth of things – only the one who sees God truly sees. Such people we discern are trustworthy and hate dishonest gain. They are no longer in anything for themselves – In the Fear of God, Seeing truly the Life of their fellow. Judging properly because they Discern Well, for their eye is focussed on the Light and Love of God

Amen

‘The Way of Jesus – and the way of the world’ Trinity +14 Year B 2018

Sermon notes for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018

James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

“The Way of Jesus, and the way of the world”

‘Hi brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples will see the work that you do; For no one does something in secret and expects to be in public view; if you do these things reveal yourself to the World” for his brothers did not have faith in him’ John 7:3-5 DB-H

I once received a phone call from Buckingham Palace. (Not because the Queen wanted me to form a new government . . .)
My Church Warden had died and he had been a Lord Lieutenant of the County – the Queen’s Official Representative – so the now Lrd Lt was coming to the funeral, with Mrs Lrd Lt – and there were ‘protocols to be observed’ Special chairs at the front – I was expected as the Vicar to be on hand to show them to their seats – meanwhile the villagers had been crowding in from early to find a seat anywhere – cramped up at the back . . .

The Words of James seemed ‘other worldly’ – My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . Do you really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ . . .??

I was at a church gathering recently when someone said, ‘we must be careful here, or we will become counter cultural’ the person to my knowledge seemed to assume that this would be ‘NOT a good thing’ . . . but the way of culture is precisely to be enamoured of wealth and position . . . it is a human given, and we ought to ask why?

Perhaps an answer can be found in the temptations of Jesus, who throughout shuns the way of the World – once again we hear how he ‘ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’’ Of how after he had fed the 5000 ‘they tried to make him king by force’ . . . take power Jesus, step up! After feeding the 5000 Jesus comes into conflict with his brother

‘Hi brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples will see the work that you do; For no one does something in secret and expects to be in public view; if you do these things reveal yourself to the World” for his brothers did not have faith in him’ John 7:3-5 DB-H

Power – in so many different ways we all crave it. Even the idea that ‘if we just elect the right government . . . everything will be right’ – With Harry Secombe we all sing, ‘If I ruled the World, every day would be the first day in Spring . . .’ This narrative feeds the myth that ‘it is our place to build the Kingdom of God’, or ‘for the love to go on we must make it our song . . .’, or ‘Make America Great Again . . .’ All built from the same presupposition that ‘we can make the world a better place – If I ruled the world . . .’ After all, all of us know what’s wrong with the world, don’t we . . .

As we head into Diocesan Synod next week there is a motion to sell Selwyn College. I’ve listened long and hard to all the arguments, but they all boil down to the same sad old tired story – ‘Don’t sell! We will change the college culture!’ Do Sell, we don’t have the right people in these days to be able to . . . or, if we did obviously we would . . .’ All based on the World’s Sad tired story . . . the myth that if we only did this or that or the other, everything would be right . . . and it is a story that Jesus rejects. Turn the stones into bread . . . leap from the Temple, show everyone how amazing you are . . . only worship me and all this will be yours . . . well its pretty fair to say, it is all ours now . . .

The Way of Jesus is the way of hiddenness – it is the way of poverty in the things of the world – Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you who are poor now, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.’

We have a diocesan Prayer which says words to the effect of ‘we need to be doing our bit for the last the lost and the least . . . ‘ it never occurs to us that the people of Jesus ARE The lost, the last and the least . . . ‘Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’

The poor are the rich in faith – why, because they have no power and cannot succumb to the blandishments of control – what is the prayer of God’s children? Give us this day our daily bread . . .

Which brings us to the gospel and the collision of Jesus with the Syro-Phoenician woman and it is a collision

[Jesus] went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Jesus is once again not showing himself – indeed he has left Judea and Galilee and gone into the territory of the Greeks – Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

You can almost hear the tutting – you can imagine the shock – perhaps a Synod motion requiring that we do not hear Jesus referring to this woman in this way! And I have heard many a sermon agonising over this text . . . but Jesus is the one who relinquishes power.

What happens?

Firstly Jesus treats her with enormous honour! His opening remark is exactly the way a Rabbi speaks with a disciple – there is a request, he responds with a saying – he is seeking to elicit from her faith. And she acts as a Rabbi’s disciple, she responds to him. On the one hand as someone has said ‘Jesus drops his own honour code, his own honour to respond in the first place’ but more than that he elevates the woman who knows that as a gentile woman she has no call on this Jewish man. He by putting the statement, like God responding to Job, says to her – stand before me, lets have this out . . . Here’s a saying ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ – What do you say to that? And her response is so very illuminating ‘Yes, Lord; and the dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs . . .’

What is happening here is an act of mutual recognition – she has seen the truth of Jesus – the one who has nowhere to lay his head – who has come into a hostile world entirely dependent on hospitality – who says to his disciples I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide’ I have no call on you, and you have no call on the world . . . we are in the same position

The disciples of Jesus go out into the world in a position of vulnerability – like the dogs under the table, living off the scraps that are thrown to them. They go out into the world in the way of Jesus. The woman Knows who Jesus is – she recognises one who lives off the scraps himself – she claims kinship with him – and he shares with her what he has – LIFE – and her daughter is healed

So again he goes back towards Galilee and in the region of The Decapolis – an area not under Herod but having some autonomy – a mixed area of Jews and Gentiles. And they brought to him one deaf and mute – and Jesus heals him – and orders them to tell no one but the more he ordered them, the more they broadcast his name – after all – if he can do this, think what he can do, and after all, hasn’t he performs those works we’d expect of the Messiah? The mute speak! The Deaf hear . . .

But Jesus will not put himself in their hands, for they are consumed by the old story – ‘here is someone to rule – here is someone to put it all right’ the old story of power, vested of course in wealth

This Old Story is pretty much the story we live by – it is woven into all our assumptions.

It is a fact little remarked that we seem unable to free the tongue of the dumb, to make the deaf hear and the blind see, let alone raise the dead . . . but is this mot perhaps because we have chosen the wrong story? For ten centuries Western culture has been dominated by the story of power over as the way to ‘make things right’ ‘to build the Kingdom of God’ if you will . . . but as the Catholic philosopher DC Schindler puts it ‘Pure power and utter powerlessness now converge into one, and man becomes the abject servant of his own limitless freedom, a passive object of active power: a slave of modern liberty’

We have so much power – and as we look out on the Creation – we are helpless

Of course, that is not the end, and as always we are offered another way – Follow Me says Jesus, who empties himself of all power, to reveal the Life of the Spirit. He comes to us in hiddenness, in words we may not wish to hear – he comes to us in a crumb . . . a crumb of bread – from where did this crumb fall? He comes to us in a crumb of bread and a sip of wine – he comes to us in powerlessness – and offers to share His Life

To Life! The Command of God . . . and the tradition of men T+14 Year B 2018

L’Chaim

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2018

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, [9-13] 14-15, 21-23

On Life and Tradition

‘If I were a rich man, Daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb’

So some of us may have gone to see Fiddler on the Roof – you’ll excuse me I hope for my none attendance, but I was privileged many years ago now to see Chaim Topol on stage in Leeds reprise his performance from the film . . . suffis!

I guess, if you know the film version of the play of Joseph Stein’s 1971 book, you may perhaps expect that in the light of Jesus words, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” I might reprise the words of the song ‘Tradition!’, and say, ‘if only Tevye had listened to Jesus . . . but I’m not going to, for frankly that would be a cheap shot and an ignorant one  – not least because the story is written through the filter of Modern assumptions about the nature of reality, and Modern assumptions tend that ‘Tradition is a bad thing – we must throw off the past’

[Whenever we read modern books or films about ‘The Past – which as LP Hartley reminds us, ‘is a foreign country – they do things differently there . . .’ we need to remember we read books or see films, and the books and films are usually written through our own cultures assumptions about what is good . . . and our culture is not shot through with a Christian vision of the nature of Life . . . but like those of us who wear glasses we usually forget we have them on . . .]

Instead, of ‘Tradition!’ – my song text from the play would be L’Chaim – the Wedding blessing – To Life! It is no coincidence that our Jewish forbears sing ‘To Life!’ for the God of Israel who is The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Commands us ‘To Life!’ His Command is a call To Life!, to Life from death, to Light from darkness. ‘You Must be born again!’ . . . yet it is a command we resist.

Last week I mentioned our grand daughter Naomi, and how she like any young baby doesn’t like having clothing pulled on over her head, because Birth was traumatic enough – she doesn’t want to be born again . . .

What is birth but the calling forth at God’s Creative Command ‘To life!’

The Command of God is always ‘L’Chaim! To Life!’

As we heard from Deuteronomy – ‘So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.’ . . . give heed . . . so that you may LIVE! . . .

Which is why Jesus is So angry with the Pharisees – for “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” . . . Responding to the Loving Command of God which is to Life, you reject it . . . you reject Life!

And Again we reject part of the command – the text is again butchered . . . SIGH . . .

What we didn’t hear was Jesus’ example of this – not watching hands, but the following

Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’
But you say that if a man says to father or mother, ‘Anything that might have been owed by me to you is qurban’ (that is, a consecrated offering)— then you no longer allow him to do anything for a father or mother. So you Make powerless the word of God why your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things of the same kind . . .’ [Following DBH translation]

Well this sounds strange to us, a little obscure, although the command to honour Father and Mother isn’t . . . so perhaps that’s why those who devise the lectionary excluded these words, but in reality they go right to the very heart of what Jesus is talking about

The Command of God is a Command to Life – this is why Jesus is angry with the Pharisees – they have Set aside the Command that gives life – and thus they have chosen the alternative to Life, to Existence . . . death, non  existence

They have done this in two ways – firstly in not honouring Father and Mother they reject their own life!

What is your Life – where does ‘your life come from?’ Can a person truly cut themselves off from their whakapapa? . . . it is like the branch off a tree cchopping down the tree – honour your father and mother, honour your Life coming to you from God.

The Command of God is not as it were a set of obscure and arbitrary demands of a lazy and capricious deity – the Command of God is the Word which calls us into Life and Love, into Grace and Mercy and it is revealed in and amongst us. ‘Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’ What does parentage, whakapapa tell us – how does it help us to understand and See God?

Why did Moses say ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’ . . . well that’s not very loving!! But all that the law enacts is the choice you have made – not because of the law itself, but you have cut yourself off from life abusing your father and mother, abusing your own life . . . the source of your existence

And we know this – we know this as Christians for it is shown plain to us in the very centre of our faith – What do we see when we see Christ dead upon the Cross? We see the outcome of our rejection of God’s Word of Life. When the human rejects the Command of God, we die . . . there it is on the Cross . . .

Well this comes back again to what we have been considering over and again these past weeks and months – that is we direct our Lives, we Orient them towards God, Life Comes to us from God. And that flows out through us

Here is the second problem with the way the Pharisees conducted their affairs – in their turning from the life giving command of God which embodied in the person of their whakapapa, they then hoarded the life – like those Israelites who clung onto the manna – they ‘consecrated it’ – they told a story about why they couldn’t obey the common of God – they spoke a death sentence not only to themselves but to those around them

Repentance is that turning from non life, a life which denies its life and hoards – towards God in Christ who Is The Way of our Life, towards God, the Truth of our Life, as Children of God, and the very Life of our Life. A Life that enjoys all things but possess nothing knowing that it is given in order to flow through them.

James speaks of The seed of the word – which is planted. it is like a tender shoot, this life giving command of God – it must be nurtured – it needs to be placed each day in the light of the Sun and thus it grows to bear good fruit – the outflow of the heart.

What is that outflow? Again we have missing verses. Jesus tells us nothing going into us can make us unclean – it is what comes out – and he refers to what happens to food when it passes out of the body – but we perhaps are a little to sensitive to think about sewage . . . 🙂 And then speaks of the outflow of the heart – the heart which is not oriented to Light and life but to darkness and death, which does not give place to the Command L’Chaim, to Life, but which is directed towards itself and death

This Life comes to us from God – it is His command – it is embodied in our whakaapa – and James the brother of Jesus and Moses in Deuteronomy echo one another –

‘take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children . . .’

L’Chaim! To Life!

On Reality – Some thoughts

On the self, The Source and what is

Going down the rabbit hole

So a recent fb thread raised the old conundrum. There ‘you’ are thinking something, then ‘you’ observe ‘yourself’ thinking this thought, then ‘you’ become aware of ‘yourself’ observing . . . (well who??? ) thinking this thought, before ‘you’ wonder who is it that is aware of your awareness of observing ‘your’ thought . . . and then to spin that on its head – in what sense is it ‘you’ thinking the thought anyway??

So we chase the rabbit down the hole, in an ‘infinite regression’ [most unhelpful – see at end of piece] to . . .?

The Source . . . where does ‘it’ all come from – where do I come from? Who am I anyway?

The Source. The singularity. the place where everywhere is Here and everywhere in Now. The Eternal . . . ‘outside of time and space’ . . . except this is another problem of our language as Modern Physics is suggesting.

Take for example quantum entanglement. So a pair of tiny wee particles, twins, are separated at birth, and sent in ‘space’ ships to the opposite sides of ‘The Universe’ (clue in the name, btw . . .) where we invade the personal space of one of them, and tweak it to make it spin. Instantaneously and in perfect accord, its twin, an unimaginable distance away spins identically. Perfect synchronisation across any distance is given our perception of time and space impossible. For the action to be synchronous, and identical, they would have to be in the same place. Where everywhere is Here . . . and Everywhen in Now . . . so they must be . . . so . . .

 

“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.”

 

[BTW this is why evolutionary theory is now disintegrating into fractious communities, because 100+ years after the event biology is catching up with the physics . . .]

 

You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . Love the Source (in whom everywhere is Here and everywhere is Now) . . . and (then) you shall love your neighbour . . . as yourself . . .

The Old wisdom said – ‘my life is with my brother’

. . . or ‘my spin is with my twin’  – apologies for this, but it tickles me 🙂

 

As The Old Prayer puts it

O heavenly King, The Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere present and fullest all things
Treasury of blessings and giver of Life
Come and abide in us, cleansing us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One

 

The First Christians were so excited, because The Source had found them . . .

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, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But 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.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

[btw – 1. we now understand that everything is made of light 2. Big Bang Cosmology is the projection of our own existence onto ‘Reality’ . Everything moving further and further away from the Singularity – the Source – We See as we are.]

 

On why ‘Infinite Regression’ is ‘most unhelpful’

This is the hopelessly [lit.] abstract language of mathematics. it is most unhelpful as it posits an idea that we can conceptualise ‘infinity’, something which relates in more ways than one to nothing, and that ‘regression’ is a very negatively value laden idea in Modernity, especially Anglophone Modernity, where ‘you don’t want to go back to . . .’ is the usual knee jerk reaction to any questioning of the way things are . . .and ‘are going’ (more value laden language – also ‘Progress’ which is a ‘good thing’)

 

On the falsity of (modern) mathematics

What is six take away seven?

‘Minus one?’

I have six apples – I take away seven apples – how many apples do I have . . .

‘errr . . .’

OK try this.

You have six apples
I take away the six apples
How many apples are there?

‘none of course’

No. there are still six apples – it is just that I have them and you do not. [See above on loving your neighbour as yourself . . .]

This is called the conservation of matter and it is the reason why there is no thing we can call nothing, or put another way ‘zero’ relates to no thing. It is abstract, unreal, yet modern mathematics don’t work without non existence, nor does modern science – which we allow to become our descriptors of reality . . . hence ‘we live in a meaningless universe . . .’ because its all based on ‘nothing’

 

This is why 6-6 is none sense [sic]

 

 

 

 

 

The struggle to believe in Jesus – to be born again. Trinity +13 Year B, 2018

Sermon for Trinity+13
Year B 2018

Joshua 24:1-25
John 6:56-71!

The struggle to believe . . . in Jesus

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.’ Luke 6:27-30

Well, as too often happens, those who choose the lectionary readings have decided to treat us as infants and cut out words of Scripture that are too challenging for us . . . the particular irony this week is that the two verses are words of Jesus, at the end of a passage about people deserting Jesus because he confronted with them with ‘difficult teaching. who can accept it’ . . . so in a passage about people deserting Jesus because his teaching is too hard to accept, we cut out two verses which are to hard to our ears

We heard Verse 68 – 69. As Jesus sees many of his disciples deserting him he turns to ‘the twelve’ and asks them ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ To which Simon Peter replies “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So we backed out of the conversation on a high note, but we did not listen for Jesus’ response to Peter’s confident assertion – “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

Put another way, ‘so, you think you’re a follower of Jesus? But are you Judas . . .’ Of course the link to Judas is not unexpected in this regard. Judas is in with the powers that be, that wish to keep the Emperor and his money economy sweet, who want spirituality, but one that can easily be accommodated in their world order. Who don’t want for example to consider that camels go more easily through needle’s eyes than rich people go into heaven – or that if someone takes your goods, you shouldn’t ask for them back . . . or any of the other hard teachings of Jesus.

They want a Jesus-lite, a pocket size Jesus. Certainly not one who is going to turn over all the tables of comfortable existence . . . perhaps that is why the early Jesus movement caught on so rapidly amongst those who had nothing – for a while, it really was Good News to the poor, but has been reduced over the years to spiritual consolation for the wealthy and a drip feed for the poor

Since arriving here seven years ago, my bookshelves have become increasingly disordered – so these last few weeks, I have been reordering them, and coming face to face with a book I didn’t really want to read again, but can’t let go of. It is ‘To believe in Jesus’ by the Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows. You may remember her – she is the one who tells the story of faith as being ascending a mountain with a beautiful vase – our life – which we wish to present to God, but when we get to the top of the mountain we realise we are in the wrong place – he’s not at the end of our Life. To find God we have to let go of our life, of wanting to control it, and descend a steep and perilous path in the mist – we cannot take the vase with us.

Well these nuns can be pretty on the nose with this whole Christian life thing. Burrows book ‘To believe in Jesus’, almost leaves you despairing, for she shows us just how hard it is, to take Jesus at his word. For to take him at his word is to acknowledge who he really is and thus to do what he says, everything.

As I’ve been at pains to point out these past few weeks, the words of Scripture all direct us if we follow their path to the person of Jesus. Joshua – who has the same name – is a manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament – his speech to the Twelve – the twelve tribes is uncannily similar to Jesus conversation with the twelve. They say they will serve God, Joshua tells them they are not up to it. Peter says ‘you have the words of eternal life – Jesus tells the twelve – one of you is a devil.

As the spokes of the wheel find their focus, there is a density to Jesus that is hard to take.

So Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

Pardon the pun, but this is hard to swallow – ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you??’

Which is why so often we keep our distance. We come up with different versions of Jesus to suit our agendas and our lives. Jesus, the Social Justice Warrior! Jesus the teacher of Wisdom, except where we try and modify his words to allow us to go on as we always did – after all there was a gate called the eye of the needle and heavily packed camels couldn’t get through it, unless their loads were removed. Except there was no such gate. And then there’s all that loving your enemies stuff, and doing good to the people who hate you . . . Well my Jesus understands that I can’t do that . . . We allow Jesus to go to the cross for us, but we keep our distance – won’t follow him. In other words, we don’t believe in Him . . . ‘Our Jesus’, or as a priest once lamented in public ‘my Jesus’ isn’t like the Jesus of the gospels. After all wasn’t it Jesus who said ‘you need to be careful around money – you can use it well, but it might take you over . . .’ well I’ve heard many a sermon trotting out that assertion . . . except he didn’t say that he said ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon’ – to take the words of Jesus as embodied in Joshua ‘Choose today whom you will serve’

Interestingly of course, or perhaps instructively a church that loves money has cut out the rebuke of Jesus to the twelve, amongst whom is Judas, whom like the Judea’s loved money. the money lovers will betray Jesus . . . well this is a difficult teaching, who can accept it?

You see our problem isn’t with the Jesus we have in our heads, its with the Jesus whom we encounter in Scripture, the Real Jesus.

And this is where its helpful to consider love of enemies. Jesus, interestingly never commands us to ‘love everybody’, but to love our neighbour, to love your fellow Christian – the one you know, the one you encounter . . . A member of a church had fallen out with another member -‘I love everybody! was their mantra, but their problem wasn’t some abstract ‘everybody’ – it was this particular friend who had become an enemy . . .

It’s easy to have warm feelings in our heart about everybody, but our faith doesn’t deal in our warm feelings but the reality of the other. It’s to love the person we can see no reason to love, but this is to be confronted with our own inner nature, our incapacity to truly love – to love THIS person. To See Jesus in Reality, not as a nice idea to keep us comfortable. Is there not an incredible powerful parallel between our desire not to love the enemy, and not to take Jesus at his word? Is it not rooted in exactly the same place in our heart, the place where we cling on to our life, and so cannot take hold of the life that is eternal?

Peter, for all his failings does see things. Jesus declares him blessed for his confession of Christ, if in the next moment he calls Peter Satan. Again all the spokes come together – Did I not call you, the Twelve, yet one of you is a devil . . .BUT Peter is still right. ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’

The words of Jesus are words of eternal Life, for He himself Is eternal Life. Living Water flows from his mouth. To believe in Jesus is a struggle – to say yes to Him and his words will always be hard until his work in us is complete. We believe in him, because we have encountered life in Him – we desire that life – we desire Him, but it is hard – it requires coming to birth

Recently Ben, our son in law discovered what those of us more experiences in these matters have know for a long time, young babies don’t like having garments pulled on over their heads – after all being born is a terrible trauma . . . perhaps this is why the business of being born again is one we flee from – preferring the comfort and warmth of the dark womb, where we can have sweet dreams of reality but not be faced with it . . .

We like Peter stumble and fall – we do watch Jesus go to the cross. But is it for us . . . or ahead of us . . . Finally of course Peter does follow Jesus who has gone ahead of him. There is no avoiding the cross, no standing at a distance. May god in his unlimited grace and mercy give us the grace to give us an unquenchable desire him in all and through all, and above all. To have our eyes opened to Life in Christ – to say whatever befall, where else can I go.

Surely, this struggle is the struggle of birth – of coming to life

As Jesus says, ‘you must be born again’

GOD in the everyday . . .

Sermon for Evensong
12 after Trinity
2018

Exodus 2:23 – 3:10
Hebrews 13:1-15

God in the everyday . . .

So we gather again, for the first time for a few weeks, and in the meantime we’ve missed quite a chunk of Scripture, not least successive readings from the interestingly titled ‘Epistle to the Hebrews’.

I guess that the title may have escaped our attention, but perhaps it throws some light on the deep roots of our faith. As I trust we are well aware, Judaism at the time of Jesus was far from being monolithic. St Paul, you may remember skilfully uses the significant differences between the sect of the Pharisees and that of the Saducees to deflect attention from himself when they both turn up to accuse him of undermining the faith. Perhaps more difficult for us is the constant use by our own St John of the terms ‘The Jews’ throughout his Gospel. Echoes of the C20 and indeed bad blood between Christendom and the Jewish Diaspora from the middle ages might lead us to wonder if it is antisemitic. Yet, John himself is in some sense Jewish. The actual word John uses is Judeans, suggesting it is more subtle than this, and most scholars tend to the opinion that ‘the Jews’ here are the Pharisees, and perhaps some of their close allies. Certainly it is clear, reading John, you have some coalition of powerful groups, engaged with the Roman puppet Herod, who are troubled that the Jesus movement is destabilising the carefully crafted particular relationship between the Romans and those a coalition of those Jewish groups who had emerged from the Babylonian exile some centuries earlier. Holding on to life s they know it, not open to Life that comes fro above

Back to the Hebrews – the word is one which occurs early in the story of Israel, but disappears later on in the history. Are they a particular perhaps persecuted sect within the Judaism of the time of Jesus? Is Jesus himself ‘a Hebrew’? Well these are speculative questions, but one thing is clear, that the epistle to the Hebrews is quite unlike the Pauline letters, and addresses themes of the old worship of God in the tabernacle and first Temple period. Certainly there is a strong critique of the Second Temple and its cult suggested in its pages – and this comes briefly into view in our reading this evening. And of course this is also very much called into question by Jesus himself, who cleanses the Temple in all four gospels. This is not as Modern ears might have it a ‘critique of religion and religiosity’ That is to read it through lenses appropriated from the world around us.
The new language is of a cleansed Temple and another altar of sacrifice So much of Hebrews is concerned with matters which are strange to our ears, not unlike its closest relative – The Revelation of or from Jesus Christ . . . Perhaps it is both (Never forget that these words are the opening line of The Revelation – the world of early Christianity is not one with which most of us are very familiar, and popular modern notions of the faith are in many ways a world away from these deep roots, perhaps to our very significant loss)

Yet, this weeks reading has perhaps a little less of that strangeness, except the mention of angels, a significant feature of the apocalyptic aspects of the early faith – and ‘an altar of sacrifice, from which those who worship in the tabernacle have no authorisation to eat. Much of the rest speaks of a certain homeliness – of simple exhortations the sort of which we imagine as a moral code for a good life, which if we are not careful we confuse with the faith of the Church in Christ Jesus. the sort of thing that has folk saying, ‘well I live a good life and don’t believe in God, so what’s your problem’ (Of course with so many saying this, one might ask, why is the world in such a stew given that everyone claims to live a good life . . .)

This ordinariness seems almost at odds with the rest of the epistle, and even moreso with regards to our reading from Exodus – of Moses at the burning bush . . . yet I would like to suggest that it is the burning bush which alerts us to the extraordinariness of ‘ordinary life’, which awakes us to the presence of angels and indeed speaks to us deeply of another altar at which we might eat.

It is the Revelation of the strange God of the Scriptures, most fully manifested in Jesus Christ which alerts us to living in a world of which we have little cognisance – that the world is not as we had thought. And we would do well not to flee in incomprehension from these strange texts which call us out of our small lives into something infinitely greater in which we are undoubtedly caught up, did we but see, were it revealed to us . . . and that Revelation comes to us not in the midst of the myriad distractions of life, but in time spent away from these things.

Moses has had to flee from Pharaoh. He has ended up in Midian and there found a wife and is looking after the sheep of his father in law, Jethro. He is in the wilderness. Separated from his people, in a foreign land doing . . . well not doing very much at all really. Alert yes to the threat of lions and wolves and the rest, but largely unoccupied.

It is in this context of withdrawal from the world that he has this Revelation of God, much as John many many years later, is exiled to the Island of Patmos where he receives the Revelation of or from Jesus Christ. And this revelation is Essential to our faith. Apart from the encounter with the living God, we do not even begin in the way of Christ. and the place of encounter is always the Empty space, a space not full of our own beings and doings, our own at times infinite sense of self importance.

Of course one doesn’t have to be tending sheep in the desert, or exiled to an island to know such an encounter, but one does need to be at a loose end, unoccupied, not pre-occupied, not distracted by many things.

Moses we might say has attention to spare, and that indeed is a rare rare gift in our day . . . execially and perhaps most tragically for our children, whose anxious parents will not allow them to find themselves at a loose end but endlessly fill their days and provide ‘gadgets’ that they might not cry out ‘I’m bored!!’
Not one teacher of our faith whose teachings have continued to echo down the centuries would find a problem with boredom, or being unoccupied. For it is only when we have attention to spare that we might perchance allow our gaze to wander and notice a tree, or a branch, or a bud, or a lade of grass, and discover it to be ablaze with the glory of God

And so it is wth how we See Jesus Christ. In our day – we see more and more only the surface. One facet of ‘spiritual matters’ I find almost everywhere is the separation of the person of Jesus of Nazareth from the Christ. We look at ‘Jesus’ and see a carpenters son, or even a fine religious teacher, but we do not see with depth, our eyes skim the surface. And so it is not uncommon for people to speak of, on one hand, Jesus, and on the other The Christ, and fail to see the Anointed one – aflame with the Spirit of the Living God. The true Image of God – ablaze in our midst. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it in ‘Aurora Leigh’ – ‘man, the twofold creature, who apprehends the twofold manner, in and outwardly’

to See truly the nature of our ‘ordinary’ lives – we need to See to behold the one who is in all and through all. It is our meditation upon the person of God in jesus Christ which opens our eyes to the truth of our existence. It causes us not to rush away from awkward and difficult texts – rather to see in them a reflection of our own simple ignorance. and indeed it calls us to see the truth of those around us – but it is only the Love of God with all we have and are, made possible through this apprehension of God in the empty spaces which leads us to a true love of neighbour as ourself

A couple of quotes to close – one from CS Lewis

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

And to close – Barrett Browning

But man, the twofold creature, apprehends
The twofold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him,
A mere itself,

—cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And built up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God.

‘There’s nothing great
Nor small’, has said a poet of our day,
Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell:

And truly, I reiterate, nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim;
And (glancing on my own thin, veinèd wrist),
In such a little tremor of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more from the first similitude.

My we not be caught unaware

Amen