To Fix, or to Heal?
Sermon for Trinity + 6
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19
The revealing of the children of God
Each Sunday as we prepare to pray in the words that Jesus has taught us, I preface our prayer with these words ‘As our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are very bold to say . . .’
Why? Because it is true. To dare to say to God, Father – is an act of extraordinary boldness . . . after all, what if it weren’t true? And how would we know? What if we called to Jesus, Lord Lord, and he said to us, away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you . . . How do we know?
Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, most clearly in the sermon on the Mount makes it very clear how we would know
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Or as Luke puts it – ‘be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful . . .’
Like Father, like the child . . . As I say we Are Very Bold to say . . . our Father . . . Indeed the prayer presumes this for it presumes for example that we are forgiving – forgive us as we forgive others . . . Whilst there are often sermons given over agonising over forgiving, to pray the Lord’s prayer presupposes it is ‘natural’ which it is for a child of God.
No wonder as St Paul says: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19
Creation is gasping, it can’t breathe . . . it longs for the revealing of the children of God, for those who in truth call upon God as Father . . . for those who look like God . . .
Jesus did not die to make bad people good – he died so that the dead might live – that we might become Children of God. Christian existence is not a matter of moral performance, it’s a matter of a new Life – that we might become pure wheat . . .
8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Becoming Christian is not a matter of tidying up your moral performance . . . of loving and forgiving and being merciful because we have a different or better set of rules – not it is a new Life, the very life of God flowing in and through us. As Jesus says, you must be born from above – you must be born anew as God’s children, bearing his likeness and revealing him in the world . . .
Which brings us to our parable. We tend to assume that Jesus used parables of growing living things because he was a country boy, but the reality is that he used living things, for to enter the Kingdom of God was to become a Living thing . . . birds, trees, seeds, weeds, wheat . . .
Weeds or Wheat? How can you tell? And the answer is that you can’t – only God sees the heart. There are suggestions that the weeds that Jesus had in mind based on the word he used, were notoriously hard to tell apart from wheat. Perhaps he had the hypocritical pharisees in mind . . .
But how do you know? That’s none of our business!
You have to wait to find out. Good seed in Good ground produces God Life. Even good seed in the wrong soil can’t produce wheat as we heard lats week . . . But you have to wait, this is why Jesus uses the Last judgement imagery
Like the sheep and the goats, it’s only at The End that the truth of things is revealed. At The End – when the fruit is born. If these weeds were so hard to tell from wheat, it was only at The End, when they bore seed that it became clear . . .
So what should we do?? Well the answer is as old as time – every moment of every day, repent – turn towards God. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul and all of your strength – Loving the Father ‘above you’ Rise from the chaos and darkness of death into the glory and light of life . . . you must become children of God – Wheat, not weeds . . .
Which brings me to a question I am asked from time to time – What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians? (Even now that they are grown up . . .)
When faced with such a question it is tempting to come up with some ‘technical solution’. , and I’ve heard them all and seen so many try them out . . . often to no avail . . .
We try all the time to fix things – but unlike our food processor, which we managed to fix on Friday – you can’t fix growing things, you can’t fix living things – you can’t make the dead live . . . There is no technique, indeed it is evil to try and fix things like this. For we are not dealing with machines, but living breathing human beings . . . People can’t be helped by tool sets . . .
By attending to people, you can no more ‘ensure they become Christian’, than you can raise the dead . . . Only the Living can raise the dead
Can you raise the dead? I know of a bishop who wouldn’t ordain someone unless they had . . . Jesus sent out his disciples saying As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.
These are Jesus instructions to his disciples – not to ‘put the world right’, not to ‘fix the world’, but to heal and thus direct the gaze of the world to the Father in heaven . . . .
We are not created to be machine and machine fixers – a living human being is no machine – there are no tools or tricks or techniques, indeed to use such things is evil. Yet we have been trained by the world to think that everything has its technical fix, and with the right rules, the right well, the right moral behaviours, the world will be saved . . . and after all, obeying Jesus and curing the sick and raising the dead and cleansing lepers and casting out demons??? . . . it is no surprise that these things only happen in non technical societies where people haven’t the power to fix things, and we think our society advanced and spiritually it is in ICU . . .
As I suggest from time to time, the real danger of Covid 19 is not the virus – it is what our response does to our souls . . . Jesus says do not fear the one who has power only to destroy your body . . . fear the one who can destroy body and soul . . .
As I said, these times reveal the truth about us, what we really love, and certainly as a society
We are in love not with the living God, we are in love with technique, with saving ourselves . . .
How can we fix the world? Vote for the right government? What will get the desired outcome? Vote out the weeds? Vote in the wheat? Can you tell the difference?
’What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians?? We are anxious, about . . . well about everything and so we are easy meat for technical solutions which promise success . . . So uproot the weeds – Clean it up! Vote for the ONE party . . . Make sure they go to ‘a bible believing church’ . . . Pray! Fast and pray! . . . What’s the technique?? What’s the fix?? Healing?? I can’t do that! Funny, Jesus disciples these simple fishermen and rag tag and bobtail didn’t say that to Jesus . . . but then they weren’t civilised like we are . . .
Yet were created to be healers not fixers – we were created to be the dwelling place of God, to have the Seed of His life in us, so that like Jesus we would heal, but that requires a struggle – a struggle to become chidden of God. For all who believe in Jesus are given the right to become Children of God
Jesus says ‘Do not worry about anything! Seek His Kingdom! Be drawn up and you will draw others up around you . . . Acquire inner peace and you will save a thousand around you – become Jesus sale in the storm! That is the upward call of God in Jesus! To be like him! SO make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate! Loving God with all you have and all you are requires your entire attention, for broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction . . .
And therein lies the answer to the question . . . Do we want our children to become Christian? We must become Christian ourselves! Wheat lives towards God with every ounce of its fibre and being . . .
You see, it is a matter of Life, of the Life of God . . . only the Living can do this, only those in whom is the life of God, because weeds beget weeds and wheat begets whea
Perhaps more than ever we need as church to realise that our faith is not a set of beliefs, or a set of morals, it is a life . . . and if the church is dying, then that life is missing . . . All over the Western world we see the same thing – folk coming up with techniques for pretty much every aspect of life . . . Like finding the right exercises to get the right abs, what do we have to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus says, leave the life you have behind . . . and follow me . . . so we go to the bookstore to find a better answer . . .
How can I ensure my children become Christians? How in the Life of the Father can we ensure anything?? Seek Him! Struggle – fight against all that wars against you soul – rise from the soil, Grow towards the Light
Make every effort to become a child of God yourself.
Life begets life. Wheat produces wheat, weeds produce . . .
Children of the Father produce the Life of the Father – for the healing of the world
The Gospel of John as the Parable of the Sower
Some thoughts . . .
The Fathers teach us about ‘logismoi’ – unhelpful thoughts. They are like birds flying about and through your head, and often like to sit on a branch of the tree. If given roosting space will drop their deposits into your soul to do their work . . . however, not all thoughts are ‘logismoi’ . . .
The Sower sows the seed . . .
Yesterdays gospel reading was ‘the parable of The Sower’, or ‘of the Seed,’ or ‘of the soil’ . . . take your pick, but you know the one I mean. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it for us, and there’s good reason.
As Jesus berates the disciples in Mark? ‘You don’t get This parable? How will you understand ANY parable??’ (ROUGH translation) As Jonathan Pageau helpfully points out, this parable is a / the (?) Meta-parable, ‘the parable of parables’. Which brings me to that seed of a thought.
Recently I have been teaching on John’s Gospel, taking a largely thematic approach. Yesterday evening I set out again to teach on ‘Believing in Jesus’, perhaps THE theme of this Gospel of The Beloved. Yet when announcing in the morning that I intended to do that, I couldn’t help add by way of a thought, ‘including the Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of John’
To be totally honest, I hadn’t entirely thought this through . . . (‘question to self – “when did you ever?”‘)
I had previously spoken on ‘Jesus and Women in John’, working a theme about which I had given much musing over the years, that of how each significant encounter of Jesus with a woman in the gospel leads to Life in Abundance. Wine from Water, White fields of disciples from Sychar, Life from Death, and as at The Beginning, Light from Darkness.
In this, the Idea of the Logos Spermatikoi – the Seed of the Word was being worked out, which reminds us that Words are Seed Like. Rather than allowing those troublesome ‘logismoi’ a home, we might open up our soul soil to receive a life giving Logos, and thus finally by grace, become the Source (Beginning) of Abundant Life (John 7:37,8), Children of The Living God.
I was, I admit, teaching on the fly. There is a link here to the recording. Yet with regard to ‘believing in Jesus, I was gently suggesting that this required total identification with Jesus. (We are after all baptised into his death) So, I had noted ahead of time Jesus words in John 12 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.
And then I saw the context . . .
The Seed falling into the ground to die – but then more, much more, at least to my mind.
In Matthew, Jesus’ words come as Judgement. Indeed his presence is understood as Judgement. The ‘Woes’ announced on Chorazin and Capernaum had come hot on the heels of Jesus revealing that John the Baptist, was ‘the Elijah’ who was to come at the end of the age, and then refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’ – the One coming on the clouds in Daniel. The End is present in Him. The judgement of the crowds on The Baptist and Jesus, is turned back on themselves, as all judgement is so turned back (Matthew 7:1)
We had excised from the RCL reading those words of the prophet which, in our supposed fragile state we could not bear:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
‘I’m teaching in parables because you don’t want to hear . . .
So back to John 12 where we read:
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’
And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,
‘He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.
These words come after Jesus has ‘departed and hidden from’ the crowds, from public ministry. He cries aloud after this, but having withdrawn John suggests to us that He is not heard. Shortly thereafter begins the chapters of the gospel, 13 through 17, in which Jesus opens up “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven“, to his disciples “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance“
In other words, John 2-12 finds the Logos being scattered, then the Words of judgement, then the ‘explanation’ to the disciples in 14-17. So it follows the pattern of the parable in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Having in his public ministry scattered the Seed of The Logos, and occasionally bring forth fruit in receptive soil, the time draws near for Jesus to enact the entirety of the parable in Himself, as The Seed which falls into the ground and dies to bear much fruit. The Life which brings forth Life towards The Father springing up from the Earth.
The Word which hovers over the waters of chaos, calling forth the Life of repentance, the Life towards God which He Is, from those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
And THAT is a parable, The Parable of the parable of parables . . .
Sermon for 5th after Trinity, 2020. Year A
Matthew 13:1-9, [10-16], 18-23
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Stories . . .
We love them. As human beings we are wired for stories – indeed when asked about our lives, we will usually speak them as story . . . Some people say that it is ‘reason’ which sets human beings apart from other creatures, and are perhaps a little disturbed to find other creatures also ‘reason’, but stories? Perhaps that is what sets us apart…
When asked about The Bible, people have all sorts of ideas. Many, many say ‘Oh its just full of rules’. Well actually it isn’t, indeed ‘rules’ as such take up a very small portion of Scripture. It isn’t a ‘book of rules’ in that sense at all. There is a lot of poetry – and indeed the words of the prophets, which fill a considerable part of the book are often rendered poetically. But its fundamental form throughout, embracing poetry and law and letters etc. is that of story, of human stories, of universal stories, or perhaps One story retold multiple times . . .
Take the story from Genesis we have just heard. Jacob ‘steals’ Esau’s birthright – or, according to the book of Hebrews, he sells it, for ‘a mess of pottage’ in the delightful turn of phrase in the AV. Like Jack selling the family y cow, which was all they had, for a handful of beans . . . Esau is famished and easily gives up what is life giving to him, for . . . a plate of stew.
And if we’re paying attention, we’ll realise that this story is one we have heard before, not just the story of Jack and the beanstalk.
Right back in the beginning, the man and the woman in the garden. As we explored a couple of weeks ago, the Garden of Eden was a mountain. At the top was a tree, the Tree of Life, the offer of ‘being like God’, but hey . . . it’s such hard work getting to the top and the Snake whispers in their ear . . . you can get what you want, here, eat this apple . . . the man and the woman not alert to what was really offered ate the apple, and lost their birthright . . . The Snake won
If you have read this in a bible with notes, you’ll know that his name means ‘deceiver’, or ‘one who grasps the heel’ . . . He knew where the point of weakness was – like Achilles, immortal but for the heel and so the deceiver strikes the heel . . . He knows Esaus weakness and buys him off . . . stories within stories within stories
As humans we are easily bought off. We prefer the easy way . . . And we are put to sleep – And that story is repeated throughout Scripture . . .
Any burglar knows, you carry a nice steak, buying the guard dog off – and lace it with sleeping pills . . . and so we are put to sleep, and as those who are put to sleep, we don’t like being woken up . . .
So much so that we even cut out those passages which might disturb our slumber from the scriptures . . . every week at the moment.
What’s missing this week? What was in danger of waking us up and spoiling our sleep?
Here we have Jesus telling the familiar parable of the sower, and then he explains it . . . but we missed the disturbing element out
Jesus tells the story of the sower, the parable, and concludes, ‘let those with ears to hear, hear!’ Well immediately we should be on our guard, after all, haven’t we all got ears to hear??
Here’s the bit we have cut out . . .
Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
WHOAH! Strong stuff there Jesus! You’re telling these things in parables BECAUSE you don’t want them to understand? You’re giving this story to those who have much? You’re telling it as a story so that ‘the little they have will be taken away??
Yes he is . . . but there’s a good reason
We read on
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
Jesus is speaking in parables precisely so that the people are confirmed in their own choice . . .
He is pronouncing the judgement that they have themselves made. They don’t want what he is offering. Like Chorazin and Capernaum before whom he made the deaf hear and the blind see and raised the dead, and were entertained and applauded, but did not respond – fundamentally they don’t want what is on offer . . . Waking up to Life. They’d rather sleep
Last week as we were talking on Sunday evening, someone asked about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But if you read the story, you will notice that time after time, God reveals himself to Pharaoh and Pharaoh hardens his own heart . . . when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he is merely confirming Pharaoh’s choice
We wake up – We realise that someone has sold us a dud and we set off to find Life . . . not many, but here and there a few – and those who seek will find . . . it is those who do not seek who do not find.
God is looking for his lost sheep, those who know they are far from home, those who have welcomed his Salvation, who love his Son
The parable is precisely told about its hearers – Most of the seed falls on ground that is no good for the seed – Some have chosen their path through life, thanks. Some are kind of enthusiastic, like the crowds who were, but when faced with the force of Imperial Rome, they call for him to be crucified – Some, well there elves are just to full of other things . . .
But here and there there are a few . . .
Back in England, there was a wonderful priest called Robin Gamble. He worked in a very difficult part of town, and would go into the pubs and clubs telling folk the Good News of Life in the name of Jesus. He used contemporary music – so you had, The Good News according to Abba, or The Beatles’ He used humour, a lot of it – well not ‘churchy’ – he shared the Good News with many, but few responded . . . and as he taught what he did to others he would say, out of 100 people, there are perhaps about 5 who are looking for life – the rest are just looking for entertainment. If you are going to ‘fsh for men’ you have to seek out the seekers’
He had a point . . . most people actually don’t want to know, and God after many efforts to persuade them otherwise, even raising his Son fro the dead, seems to allow us to choose.
Do we want the Life that Jesus is offering? Will we do that soul work which prepares the soil? Do we eagerly grasp each opportunity God gives us to live up towards Him? Or are we easily bought off with a pot of stew?
Which ground, which soil has this word fallen into??
A few weeks ago – on Pentecost Sunday we heard these words of Jesus – ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, for as the Scriptures say, ‘out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers of living water . . .’ Whoever is thirsty . . . whoever desires Live . . . whoever is waking up to the fact that they have been sold a dud and Seek Life – et them seek, for the father seeks after those who seek, and they will bring forth life in abundance. The question Jesus asks is – are you seeking? Are you thirsty . . .
Matthew 11:16-19,[20-24], 25-30
On a lonely road in ancient Greece there stood an inn. Far from anyone else the inn keeper lived alone, and occasionally a solitary traveler would stop for the night. If this has creepy echoes of a horror movie, then you’d be right.
Each traveler would be shown to the one guest bed. For some it was too short, for others too long. Those for whom it was too long would awaken to find they’d been put on a rack, to stretch them out to fit the bed. Those who were too long for the bed . . . well they awoke to find missing feet or more . . .
This ancient myth reveals a deep truth about human beings – that which doesn’t fit is not comfortable to us. We Know how the world is . . . so we can spot that which doesn’t fit, and deal with it. After all we have eaten from the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We Know! Get with the programme! Then we can all be comfortable . . . or perhaps dead . . . after all, that is supposed to be just a long sleep . . .
And Jesus says . . .
‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
This generation, every generation . . . Every generation with its opinion about what fits. ‘Hey look it’s a time for dancing, why are you so miserable?’ ‘It’s a time for fear, why do you live so freely?’ Here’s the bed – Get with the programme!
The spirit of Procrustes lives on . . . as Jesus found
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; Hey John,, all that camel hair shirt and Repentance stuff! Don’t be so miserable – we just want to have fun. John, he’s too moral.
Jesus . . . he’s not moral enough the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”
Of course, we are not like that are we . . . especially in respect fo Jesus. Yes, John is a bit miserable, but Jesus . . . well he’s our version of an all round good person – we wouldn’t distort his message, stretching him or cutting him to fit our comfortable Procrustean bed, would we?
He’s ‘A friend of tax-collectors and sinners’ – Just like us . . . or is he?? Who are those people? Those whom the dominant narrative declares do not fit – those who are ‘beyond the pale’.
The tax-collectors were collaborators with the brutal Roman power – Jesus hung out with them. Think of any ghastly regime you like, Stalin’s, HItler’s . . . Trump’s even, if you will. The Romans were right up there – and these Jewish people collaborated with them. Those how have thrown their lot in with the brutal oppressors?? Tax-collectors. Jesus hung out with them – why one of them was his disciple, and may even have written a gospel!
Sinners – well that’s all of us, isn’t it? But if you want to get a feel for the force of it in the ears of Jesus’ detractors – think of Hilary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ . . . everyone has them. The ‘good’ people always have their ‘nasty people’ – Those people . . . the people you wouldn’t be seen dead with? They are ‘sinners’ . . . they are the ones Jesus is hanging out with . . .
Perhaps Jesus is not moral enough for us . . .
Perhaps Jesus isn’t moral enough for us – He’s not a good fit for the Saviour we were looking for. And so here and there we trim Jesus to fit our story, and if you know Matthew Chapter 11 – you’ll realise that that’s exactly what we have done, or at least someone has done on our behalf . . .
the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’ Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds . . . What does that mean?? But we skip over the verses about the deeds of Jesus, about the vindication of Jesus, the Wisdom of God . . .
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done,
John the baptist, in prison has just asked – are you the one who is to come??
And Jesus says Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Look at my deeds!
20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done . . . because they did not repent.
Hang on there Jesus! Leave the repentance stuff to your miserable cousin! But he doesn’t seem to have heard . . .
21’Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
And he doesn’t stop there – he turns his eyes much closer to home –
23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. Jesus had been living in Capernaum – he was theirs . . . the local boy . . . made good – after all the crowds were going after him and lauding him – ‘Jesus, he’s one of us . . .’
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’
More tolerable for SODOM?? Well that Stung . . . no wonder we cut THAT out. That’s not the Jesus WE know . . .
Yet – Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds . . .
But we’ve cut the miracles out, they don’t fit our advanced ‘scientific’ view of the world . . . We’ve stripped out judgement – OUR Jesus wouldn’t say ‘Woe to you and you and you and it will be better for Sodom in the day of judgement . . .’ Not the Jesus made in our image . . . (because of course we neevr judge anyone . . .
We’ve reduced Jesus to a size we can handle, we can use to justify our lives. We’ve put him on the procrustean bed of the god of our imaginations who is as Freud rightly said, merely a projection of ourselves . . . We don’t do miracles . . . so neither did Jesus. We know what is right . . . we’re the judges – just read your news feed – we don’t need Jesus to judge the world.
We want a tame god, a domesticated god, a saviour who agrees with us, whom we can believe in, who measures up – so miracles?? Fairy tales. Judgement?? Don’t be silly – we know what is right and wrong – we know who the good people are and those who are not.
We have taken Aslan and tied him on the procrustean bed of a stone table, stripped him of his claws and his teeth and tied down with a knife through his heart. Because that is the story of the World – we would be better off without THAT Jesus . . . So we crucified him
And then we wonder why a church which so often does this – to get a more respectable faith – why is it dying . . . because it has rejected its Life.
Yet Aslan is not dead. On the third day, God raised him from the dead . . . He is the One who lives – and his word to us is the same. Behold Me. Behold my works. Repent and come to feast in my kingdom
We look out at the world and see so much that is wrong – but we don’t look too close to home . . . We judge the world . . . but the church is dying . . . why? What is wrong? What is wrong with the world – or closer to home, what is wrong with the church – or closer still, what is wrong with me?
‘What is wrong with the world? I am . . .’
St Paul gets this – Paul doesn’t look out at the world, he looks deeply into his own heart
21 [There] I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!
As Jesus says – ‘whoever sins is a slave to sin’
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Jesus is not the Saviour we were looking for. Indeed if we are honest, he probably isn’t the Saviour we want, BUT for the Salvation of the World – he is the Saviour we NEED
Yet . . . blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ Blessed is anyone who doesn’t try to rewrite my story in their own image – who doesn’t feel the need to fit me to their story, blessed is anyone who accepts what I say at face value, who accepts my judgement of their life. For I judge justly.
I am numbered amongst the transgressors – I hang out with ‘the deplorables’ . . . Jesus hasn’t come to call the righteous, those who are right in their own eyes – he has come to call sinners to repentance – and I will feed THEM my Life . . .
Come to Jesus’ table, accept His judgement on your Life – be numbered with the deplorables . . . Say Yes to Him – receive His Life in bread and wine . . .
Draft notes for Sunday Sermon – Trinity +4 2020
Baptism and Genesis 22
Today we have a baptism! And a reading about child sacrifice . . .
Keep Safe! . . . School holidays, Air NZ
Lockdown . . .
Economy . . .
Who knows? Everyone apparently . . .
Have you had conversations about this with folk??
Have you even once asked – ‘where is God in all of this??’
On the planet Zog?? Is God involved?? As Christians surely that is where our focus should be, shouldn’t it?
Yet all I hear is ‘Lockdown!’ – ‘No Lockdown!’ . . .
Thank you god for giving us a PM who kept us safe . . . Are we the elect of God???
Because where were you in the US or Italy or the UK . . .
It’s a lot more convenient not to have to think of God . . . to avoid God . . . and if we’re ruthless honest with ourselves, this is precisely what we do, almost all of the time, and it’s why this mornings text is so terrifying – because we don’t want to pay attention to God . . . If the God we encounter in this text seems strangely alien to us . . . is it because we don’t know him??
As good members at St John’s we have four patron Sts – Mary, John, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis
Aslan – is he safe??
Good is Not the same as Safe -you have to choose – between the Good and the Safe . . . Cognitive Dissonance
Church is Aslan’s Realm – there is a Lion Loose!
If you want to be safe – Church is not the right place!
Annie Dillard – Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
We are going to Baptise Marie today . . . We invoke the name of God . . . blithely??
And THEN we have this reading from Genesis . . . Child Sacrifice . . . we are not on safe ground here – and it is not comfortable . . .
But it is a move away from the Safe God story, the God avoidance story . . . It’s a move away from illusion to Reality
God draws Abraham away from all his security blankets – all that keeps him from Reality – all that keeps him Safe
Leave your country – culture – kindred – relationships – father’s house – home – and go to the land I will show you . . .
No Heir – this really Is the end of the line! Ishamel?? No . . .
Can a child be born to a man who is 100? Can Sarah who is 99 bear a child? Oh that Ishmael might live before you . . . but no . . .
This makes no sense . . . but then, does anything? Have you got COVID figured??
God has promised Abram a Son, through Sarah . . . the son of the promise. Isaac
And joy of Joys, Hope beyond all hope! He is . . . and then we come to Gen 22 . . . and it is a terrifying text . . . Not Safe -YET – THIS IS CHRISTIAN LIFE . . . This is THE Exemplar of faith into which we are going to baptise Marie
After these things God tested Abraham.
Whoa!! . . . Who trusts who?
The question is not, can we trust God, it is can God trust us to trust him . . . after all if we are charged with living out His purposes . . .
He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’
Abraham is Alert to God
He said, ‘Take your son,
your only son Isaac,
Just to be clear
whom you love,
Just to make it abundantly clear what is going going on within Abraham
and go to the land of Moriah,
and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’
So Abraham rose early in the morning
, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.
WHAT???? NO discussion???
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’
OK So Abraham says ‘we are coming back’ WE ARE
Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac,
He laid the Wood on his Son – pay attention here folk . . .
and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’
Abraham is alert to God – he is alert to Isaac – he is responsive to both – he is attending to both – he loves God, He loves Isaac
Isaac said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’
Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.
Abraham Cannot see how this is going to turn out . . . none of us can . . . but he trusts God
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’
Still paying attention in the midst of it all!! He is attentive to God
He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’
And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’
God is His Life
Jesus is our Life
Meaning of Baptism
We place our life in the hands of the Lion – The one who isn’t safe – The one who Is Good . . .
“let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak” James 1:19
We speak often of the power of words, too often . . . for we rarely reflect upon the nature of their power. Why do our words have such power? And more importantly why, given that our words have such power, do we speak so much and so thoughtlessly?
In the Source of things, from The Beginning, we learn that Words Create Worlds, and I was reminded of that just this morning reading a Facebook conversation about what could and couldn’t be done by a priest at a ‘non-religious wedding’. [The alert reader might call on me to ‘stop right there!’ Well Done . . . but excuse me for carrying on for a few more lines before returning to that oxymoron.] In England, a member of the clergy cannot participate in a wedding which a civil Registrar conducts. There can’t be ‘religious’ elements. So, no religious stuff until the Registrar has left the building . . . See what I did there with my words?
The fact of the matter is that a marriage is not some mere material contract between two people in a universe devoid of any spiritual content. In the way we use the term, there is no such thing as ‘a secular marriage ceremony’ (one in which ‘the spiritual aspect’ is locked outside of the door). Yet we create such an illusion by our use of words, and not only do we create it, we reinforce it over and over again. The language of ‘secularism’ is just that, language, words we have created, and a world we have made built upon this tenuous edifice of words. (Language is the most powerful creator of Culture)
Now, I understand that many many folk might not be too happy to be told that ‘The Secular World’ is an illusion. After all, for those who want nothing to do with G_d . . . it’s a useful, indeed a careless contrivance. But my contention is not with them, but with we Christians.
I had thought that we follow the one through whom all things were created and in whom they have their being. (You may wish to ponder the opening of John’s gospel, or indeed the first chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, with its drumbeat of ‘all things’, ‘all things’, ‘all things’. Yes, dear postmodernist, it is a totalising metanarrative, The Totalising Metanarrative) Given the Givenness of that, something we cannot aviod by leaving the building as there is nowhere we can go from His presence, why as Christians do we so readily assume the linguitics torture of ‘secularism’? We are to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, not parrot Babylonian! (Of course anyone who knows the history of The Protestant West knows that we in our own way created Babylonioan . . .) We need to be slow to speak, because when we speak without thinking we reinforce, and verbally create the very illusory state we so rail against!
Regarding a wedding, it is in more ways than one a ‘religious’ act. Firstly, although the etymology is disputed, religio is to bind, to join together . . . so unless marriage in our society has become devoid of any explicit sense of endurance, then there is a religo(us) aspect to what the civil registrar does [with apologies to all such people, I’m sure that they’re a very fine bunch of men and women].
But there is really no escape, for our lives are materio/spiritual whether we like it or not, and nothing we can do can undo that. The Registrar may have left the building before a Priest stands up to pray, but he or she has already conducted a religious ceremony of profound spiritual content. We can only pretend otherwise, creating an illusion of separateness by what we say. And by and large we do – which acts on our own minds and thinking, and the next moment . . .
Marriage Is a Metaphysical reality, which is why we need to be Very Very Careful when we try to re-form it for we have no idea, or cannot SEE what we are doing . . .’Father forgive us for we know not what we do. Insofar as secular means what it does for so many, devoid of religious/spiritual content, Marriage has no ‘secular’ form, indeed nothing does.
We need to mind our language, and stop building that which we know to be a poweful and deeply unhealthy illusion.
Do not be afraid! This is the most oft repeated injunction of Scripture. Because it is often so difficult to do, it is necessary to examine the ‘Why?’ of this Command of God, so often on the lips of Jesus . . .
Recently I’ve been feeding on various podcasts, not least those from the Ancient Faith website. Recently I came upon this one by Michael Haldas from his often excellent series ‘Sacramental Living’, entitled ‘Fear and Control’. It’s worth a listen, and I’d like to make a few additional comments.
As you will note, Michael is speaking in a daily series of talks and I suspect a little unscripted as he becomes a little contradictory, not least with respect of ‘Control’, so I offer hear a few thoughts which might possibly help direct our Spiritual Exercise in these days.
Fear and control are intimately linked
Life is full of uncertainty. If we have until now only believed that in our heads, the events of these past weeks have caused that knowledge to become Knowledge. It has moved from the head to the heart, the seat and root of our lives, and there has born much anxious fruit.
So much about the Coronavirus situation has the potential to make us fearful, and in many ways we can see that fear realised, not only within us, but also externally to us. This latter is a significant point to which I shall return in a few moments.
A short personal reflection regarding my own heart.
Here in New Zealand, we were given about 48 hours notice of the lockdown. I noted that all of a sudden the streets were alive with cars making their way to our local supermarket. I was told that after only an hour, the queue for the checkouts went right round the store . . . of course, I wasn’t so foolish . . . yet that wasn’t quite so. As I went to shop early the next morning, I found myself pausing in the aisles and looking at certain products, and an internal nudge arose, and ‘mysteriously’ this or that ended up in my basket, despite the fact that we had some at home! I stocked up on potatoes and yoghurt starter, whilst self righteously ignoring the toilet rolls . . .
. . . so to continue – in many ways we can see that fear realised, not only within us, but also externally to us. The simple fact is that we are far more alert to that external to us, than internal. The more we internally fear within our hearts, the more we See reasons to fear out there. (This is because as humans we are microcosms – tiny Worlds. We See as we are) And we are trained ot think that what we see is Reality. But Rather, what goes on within us constructs a false reality ‘out there’, because we are afraid. The internal which guides our eyes and our thinking, from fear to fear, not the external.
And our response to fear is to seek to control. Indeed Control is always a response to fear. We try to get the world ‘the way we want it’ because we are afraid, and if we have power, we exert our will on the World around us. Technology of course which is at root an instrument for exercising control over our Reality, feeds not only our sense of agency, and control, but also feeds our fear. Now of course we are afraid of what in our fear we have done to the Creation . . .
Consider the working of fear in someone who has been bullied. Because they have been bullied, often when young, they seek to protect themselves from that first fear they knew. So they exercise control over others, they themselves bully. They exercise Dominion. To a greater or lesser extent this is true of us all, but as in so many things, we only recognise it in particularly significant examples of it, Out There. Our ‘Desire to make the world a better place, to turn the people around us into our projects to improve them, are merely our attempts to make the world Safe for ourselves, so it fits how we think it should be.
This perhaps is why we know so little of the truth of prayer.
We pray and we pray, seeking God to intervene and change things Out There, so our lives can ‘return to normal’, but then God doesn’t respond . . .
YET if it really is God we seek – rather than just getting the world’s electrician, plumber, etc. to appear briefly and fix things – then God may well respond and do a far more significant work – within us. God asleep in the storm – God intervenes there through His Son Jesus and the disciples world is shattered, they’re more frightened than they were of the storm . . . Do we really want God to step in?
So often prayer is simply, “Lord I know that the world is really yours, but can you fix it so that I have it as I want it? Please can I have the life I want.” But that isn’t prayer – it’s magic . . .
These words of Father Stephen Freeman have really struck me these past days “ . . . when we seek to use the unseen in a manner that controls or directs the world around us, we have left the path of true belief and entered the world of magic and superstition. It is, oddly, the opposite of the sacramental life. In the sacraments, material things are used for the purpose of communion with the immaterial with the sole intent of communion with God. In magic and superstition, we seek to manipulate the immaterial world for the sake of controlling and managing the material world. It is actually a form of secularism – one which presumes that the material world itself is the true and final place of our existence.”
God comes to us in Jesus to give us His Life. And this requires the upending of all the tables of our lives, of many things being driven out, of a renewed Vision of what Life actually is.
To return to the theme of Control, when God steps in we have to cede control and that is the last thing we want to do, to lose our life, so it seems.
But is there no place for control?
Here I think Michael became a little confusing – for he was speaking about control as a sign of fear, but then switched ot speaking of it in healthy terms, but not defining the sphere of good control, or its home.
For there is a place where we are to exercise dominion – in our hearts. Over what rightly are we to have control? The simple, yet difficult answer is, ourselves.
It is not our place to control anything outside of the domain we have been given, our bodies, until we have mastered that which lurks within us. Michael helpfully uses the example here of God’s words to Cain ‘sin is lurking at your door, waiting to master you . . .’ Cain has no self mastery, no self control, and the rest as they say is history. Sin and death are the fruits of lives which have no self control, just self gratification, however beautifully packaged . . .
Self Control is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit.In other words, it is Evidence of the life of God within us, the Life of Jesus, abiding in us
Jesus can speak words to the Creation ‘Be Still!’ and rightly rebuke us for our lack of faith. He alone, The Human (as Pontius Pilate will remind us), can exercise dominion over the Creation for He alone is that Life that comes from God. It is only as we allow Him in to change us that we might grow into true humanity. Only when he comes ot the Temple of our lives, or indeed stills the storm outside, and reveals the Storm within.
Only when we train ourselves to only do what we see the Father doing, moment by moment, only when our life comes to us in and through Jesus, are we in the still place from which in truth we might exercise Control, not from Fear, but from Love, Joy and Peace.
In these days, something remarkable is happening, the Nations are being shaken. The global economic order is being tested. God enquires of it ‘Are you fit for purpose?’
What do we mean when we say ‘Economy’, or perhaps better, for words change their meaning over the years, what at base is Economy?
For Christians with a mustard seed of theology, the word ‘Economic’ may be followed by the word ‘Trinity’. The Economic Trinity is not a description of the trading system which lies at the heart of God, rather it is our attempt to ponder, to probe the mystery of the Life of God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit. How do the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to one another within the Godhead?
So, being made in the Image of God, Economy for us should mean quite simply, how do we relate to one another? And it is here that the world economic order comes under judgement, for it has little or nothing to do with how humankind relates to one another, and nothing at all it seems to do with how the Human relates to the Creation.
For a while now we have ben watching, some with dismay, how the Creation seems to be tottering and collapsing around us, yet now in these days of global Coronavirus lockdown, our gaze is drawn to the ‘Global Economic Order’, so called. Because we have as humans invested so much in terms of our faith in the security of this order, anxiety reigns. Stock markets tumble. The powerful and wealthy rush to buy gold and government bonds . . . which will rot with them. For the weak and the powerless of course these times are so very difficult. The only work for so many for so long has been in serving this Economic System. We can see no future except somehow trying after it has all blown through, to try and rebuild what we have known.
But this ‘Economy’ is a false, a deceptive economy, not least for its promise is that everyone can have what they want, irrespective of human relating, or the relationshp between Humankind and God’s Creation. This in large part has led us down the path of individuallism, separated from the Creation, isolated from one another. Our present lockdown speaks powerfuly of this isolation, the individual circumstance manifested amongst us all.
This system is falling, and it will fall, if not now, in Time. If history teaches us anything it is that like the human humself, human empires and systems rise and fall . . . they are born and they die, for they have no life in them.
The question, the testing is to reveal what if anything lies underneath, buried in the depths of the human heart. For as this system tumbles, what will be revealed are the secrets of al hearts.
For too long we have forgotten that a Good Society is composed of people who are Good. We have thought that a Good Society required money, and competence in technical matters. We took Virtue for granted. We stopped asking, ‘what does it mean to be human?’
We have forgotten that Virtue is not something we naturally possess, but that we must be trained in it. This is what the Church taught consitently for many centuries, that for us to live towards God, the only one who Is Good, required effort. ‘Hard and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there are that find it’ says Jesus.
Which brings me, finally and briefly to the title of this blog. ‘Give to everyone who asks of you. For living in response to the words of Jesus, is Life itself, for He Is Alive!
To say that these words of Jesus – along with most of his words – are largely ignored is to state the obvious to which we have become blind
The Economy of the Trinity is a Sharing in all that they have and all that they are, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a Sharing in Life. At this beginning of Holy Week, our hearts and minds are set towards Jerusalem, where Jesus gives all that He possesses, His Life, which of course in Him alone, is all that He Is.
At this time folk will start to borrow – even, horrifically, from kith and kin, family members, love having absented itself from even the closest realtionships – though these are yet the birth pangs. The Goodness of God is not present.
This is the Terrible outworking of individualism, that Life, all we have and all we are is not shared, rather it is traded, for a time. You must repay! As if those who give and those who receive really owned what they had?
People will enter into further forms of debt slavery, working to repay that which cannot be repaid. Despite an easy theology that says Jesus paid what we couldn’t, the Reality we live by is still that of the Monetary Economy, where someone puts his hands round our neck and promises prison if we don’t repay.
Our lives are given in the Image of the Triune God, as an outworking of that mutual Interdependence upon which eevrything rests, the Life of God.
Now comes the test. Are we Alive to God? Are our hands open to give? Has our sharing of what we have with others revealed the Life of God in us, or have we hoarded for ourselves. Are we Alive to the God whose life is Sharing, or just to a collapsing economic order? The Saints of old rejoiced to see the fall of Babylon the Great – the Economic order which had destroyed life and the Creation. The Judgement of God had come. The Testing of Faith.
The rain falls, the floods rise, and the winds beat against that house, and the house on the . . .