‘The Temple in the Gospel according to St John’
‘Who is St John (the Evangelist)?’
‘John and the Synoptic gospels – some comments’
‘Jesus and five women in John’s Gospel’
‘The Nature of Christian Life’
To be continued on Palm Sunday. See St John’s Anglican Church Dunedin on Facebook for a FB Live Study – 6:30pm NZ
Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, Year C, 2019
“[The Father] has delivered us from the power of the darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of his love’s Son. In whom we have the price of liberation, the forgiveness of sins.” Col 1:13-14 (DBH)
’Who is going to take responsibility for this?’
When we consider what it means to be human, in all its glory and its shame; when we consider our human condition, there is perhaps one thing that we need above all else. This need is hidden from our eyes by Pride – thus making it perhaps the most deadly of sins, for it hides from us our greatest need – our need for Mercy.
We live in a Creation of glorious and bewildering complexity. And we live amongst human beings, every one of whom is a mystery to themselves yet alone others as we share in relationships with one another.
I was with a friend this week who told me that he had recently lost a friend ‘and I have no idea what it was that I did or said’. I spoke to a young girl who was 5 and a half and we seemed to be getting on great together until I told her with a smile that she was very grown up for 5 and a half, and she burst into tears, and neither I nor her parents had a clue what it was about! Lord have mercy
We like to reduce the world to a scale and a simplicity that we can simply navigate and get it right. Sometimes we’re bold enough to call this ‘Christian ethics’. ‘Do the right thing!’ we say,is far from clear and then when it seems it is clear often turns out to have unwanted consequences we hadn’t seen.
Ironically we see most clearly when we ‘see’ that we don’t see clearly
I once went to a seminar on how Christian Ethics was taught in some of our Anglican high schools. During this we were set an ethical dilemma.
There is a train coming down a track. Ahead there is a junction, and you’re stood by the lever and can divert the train. If you do nothing, the train will plough into a crowd of rail workers that haven’t seen or heard it, if you divert the train it will run into a young child playing on the line . . . what do you do??
What a choice! A ‘simple choice’, yet unclear. Yet life’s choices, life itself isn’t at all like that – rather negotiating life is more like being stood at the control box of a million and one railway lines with fast trains moving here there and everywhere . . . if the beat of the wing of a hummingbird causes a hurricane over the Atlantic, what are the consequences of the many many tiny actions we take every day??
This I think is why we take refuge in reducing the world to simple moral codes, our own rules of life . . . to reduce our sense of responsibility. If only everyone was like me we think . . . Lord have mercy
The Pharisee, full of Pride, is blind to his need. The Tax-collector, the notorious sinner, knows it all too well. ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’
As I have said on several occasions, Luke makes a beautiful tapestry of threads woven throughout his gospel, and now, as we come to the Cross, one in particular, Mercy, floods into view
Mercy, of which Mary Sang in the beginning “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,” It’s there too in the Song of Zechariah “He has shown mercy promise dot our forefather, and has remembered his holy covenant”; “by the tender Mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us” The Tender mercy of our God . . . isn’t that beautiful?
These songs look out towards the coming of God in Jesus, and His Mercy
We have the tax-collector, and the blind man who call to God for mercy – and then there is the Good Samaritan.
Jesus tells this tale in respect of the lawyers question, ‘who is my neighbour’. When Jesus has finished the tale, he asks the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour’ and the lawyer answered him ‘the one who showed him mercy’.
Showing mercy makes you a neighbour. Loving your neighbour as yourself – you and every person you encounter is in need of mercy everyday of your lives, we all are.
By showing mercy we share in Life Together. And there is mutual recognition “I need mercy, you need mercy – “Hey! We’re related!!””
We recognise our common human condition, we recognise ourselves in the other in this common need for mercy.
But the Samaritan is more than just someone who recognises the person in need as his own flesh and blood, in many ways he is a revelation of Jesus himself – for he takes responsibility for the man in the ditch. He shows him mercy.
He binds up his wounds, he takes him to the inn and promises to pay all that is needed for the man’s healing. And this is called ‘showing mercy’
We’re in a mess, we need someone to heal us, to show us mercy, to take responsibility for our condition, and we’re surrounded by others ‘under the same condemnation’ and we rightly for we have conspired with the world and its allure, and we’re in trouble . . . which is why we come finally in Luke’s gospel ‘to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”’
They know not what they do . . . as we say in our confession, ‘we have sinned in ignorance’ – we have no idea of the consequences of our actions . . . ‘I never thought that would happen!’ I never thought the girl would cry – I never thought my friend would leave . . . What’s going on/ Lord have mercy.
When they first found oil and started burning it in engines, no one thought, ‘this will lead to catastrophic over heating of the earth’ . . . Lord have mercy
We don’t see. Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yes, the time comes, that whoever kills you will think that he does God service. Those who crucified Jesus thought they were doing God’s work – they thought they could see . . .
Physicists will tell you, if you ask, 69% of the Universe is made up of dark matter, 27% of dark energy . . . 96% of everything you cannot see! And yet we are so free with our opinions and judgements and and and . . . Lord have mercy
We don’t know, we don’t see! Jesus says this – you think you see the sin of others, but you have a log in your eye! . . . We judge and condemn others – we do not see ourselves sin them – we don’t see ourselves in need of mercy like them. It is this stance that is the thief who like everyone else rails against Jesus.
They thought they could see, so everyone rails against Jesus. The leaders of the people, the soldiers, and one of the criminals crucified with him! – If you are the Christ, Save yourself. He saved others, he cannot save himself, save yourself and us. Even one who was in the same place as Jesus, could not see . . .
Save yourself!! That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The survival instinct? . . . Judging others is our way of trying to get out of the ditch. ’I’m not responsible’.
Yet as we explored last week, Jesus told his disciples to prepare their hearts so as not to defend themselves against the accusations but to bear witness to God in the words he would give them . . . so Jesus does not Save himself – he does not defend himself. By the Spirit he bears witness to God. Father forgive them for they know not what they do . . . the Tender mercy of our God . . .
Showing mercy is not about saving yourself, it is about spending yourself, it is about spending your dignity and pride, and forgiving the unforgivable, for we see and recognise our common humanity . . . And it is thus that the other thief on the cross speaks the truth.’ ‘Don’t you see? We’re under the same condemnation, you and I and this man, and we rightly, we’re in a mess of our own making – but this man has done nothing amiss. He sees Jesus with mercy, and so becomes his neighbour ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’
We don’t identify with Jesus to signal our righteousness, we identify with Jesus because we are in a mess, we need mercy – and he then recognises us. He knows us in that moment. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me
Jesus does not judge but has mercy – he takes responsibility – he suffers the consequences of our sins committed in weakness or deliberate fault, but mainly in ignorance for we do not see . . . and like the Samaritan he pays in full what is needed for our healing.
He takes responsibility – he shows mercy to the one in distress – Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner – and so becomes a neighbour to the one in distress. Becomes Our neighbour.
We Often talk of the birth of Jesus as God coming to share our humanity – but the truth is, it is on the cross that Jesus takes on our humanity fully. He takes it on in its entirety – he takes it to the houses of healing – he shows us his mercy . . . ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’
Go and do likewise
Sermon for Trinity 21 Year C 2019
2 Thess 2:1-5,13-17
‘On (not) paying attention’
Psalm 90 – a prayer of Moses
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
[therefore] teach us to number our days, that we might acquire a heart of wisdom . . .
There is perhaps no more important virtue, than that of paying attention. It is such a rare thing that when we discover someone who pays attention to us, it is a precious gift. The gift of being present to, attentive to, and listening to another – discerning their hearts movements from careful and patient attention – is almost, like wisdom itself, as precious as rubies. In this age most definitely we might cry out ‘Attention, where is it to be found?’
We think of those modern conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder – two sides of the same thing. We are so distracted by many things, that we cannot give our attention fully to others, and they in their turn will do anything to get attention.
It is sobering to think, as one writer puts it, that many of the best minds of this age are giving their time and energy to ways in which their employers might grab your attention . . . Perhaps we might say steal it, for Attention is in your gift. And it is a most precious gift, for where you spend that gift is where you spend your life. We spend our very few days in giving attention – and in these days everything it seems is clamouring for it . . . and so our life is frittered away.
I am sure that I am not unique in fighting against my phones habit of drawing my attention. I have to discipline myself, not always successfully, against turning to look for the news when I first rise in the morning. Is this how I am going to spend my days? Is reading the news the fruit of a wise heart? When I look back, can I say I wish I’d given more attention to the news?
Teach us to number our days . . . if we realised how fleeting are our days, if we attended to the very gift of Life with which we had been entrusted for a season . . . to what would we give our attention? Are we paying attention to our lives?
Or indeed the lives of those around us? Do we give this gift of Attention to others? One of the markers of the deep disorder of our lives that I hear all too frequently from folk ‘I like to hear about people’s lives at their funerals’ . . . Actually, as I am all too often trying gently to remind folk, we never truly hear anything about a person’s life on such occasions.
Life, this gift of Presence – of Being with others – Relationship is what makes a life. People paying attention to one another. A Life cannot be spoken in absence. As anyone who has ever loved another human being knows, you cannot attend to their being when they are dead. Much of grief, I believe is to do with this sense of ‘there was so much I missed!’ You know I spent so many days and hours and months and years in the presence of this person and paid so little attention, to them. Perhaps we were caught up working on something, or we talked about this or that or the other, but paying attention to this Life that was present, and now is gone.
Paying attention is the Root of Wisdom – it is the source of Life itself. Not least because our Life is the fruit of God’s attention to us
And paying attention is another of those thread which keeps recurring in Luke’s gospel . . . from the parable of the sower, where we read of those from whom the Word is snatched away, to those where the Word is choked by the pleasures and cares, those attention thieves of Life . . . it is only those who by careful attending to their lives tend the seed of the word of life – who bring forth a harvest . . . or again the man who sees his corps have done well and not paying attention to the shortness of his days builds bigger barns . . . and his life is demanded of him.
I mentioned the deep sadness of hearing of those who do not know people when they are alive . . . another aspect of the same thing is those who as it were put off the attention to the future, only to find their life demanded of them. I think in my own family of those who died before a retirement for which there were so many plans . . . trips, holidays, barns . . .
Of course just being Christian doesn’t keep you from such distractions, such dreaming. Religious life has its own traps, its thieves of attention . . . There are religious controversies, and the Lord knows how easily our attention is consumed by those.
So St Paul warns the Thessalonians church ‘As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
They’re getting caught up in this stuff – running around like headless chickens.
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? ‘Weren’t you paying attention to what you were taught?’ he berates them. Are we paying attention to what we are taught?
‘Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels’ 2 Timothy 2:23 The body of Christ, the Church – broken over stupid and senseless controversies . . . and no one seems to notice – no one is paying attention to Life, to the Life of Jesus, Jesus our Life
Jesus who teaches us to pray and not give up – Prayer is returning God’s attention of us to Him – giving our attention to God. He uses a parable the meaning of which we might miss, so tuned are we to the word justice. He tells them that even the unjust judge gives justice . . . so do not doubt that God will give you justice, but will there be faith? Will there be lives directed towards God in prayer – Lives from God? To what are we attending? Issues? Or God?? Perhaps this is what is behind Jesus’ warning – note the personal nature of this warning. Jesus is speaking ‘pay attention’ On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not do all this stuff in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
The purpose of the teaching of the church is to focus our minds and hearts on the Life that is in Jesus . . . And so Jesus’ opponents come to him, trying to trap him in his words – first the taxes question . . . there’s a controversial one . . . the Brexit of its day – do you pay taxes to Caesar, or not – in the Roman Empire or out? But the questioners haven’t paid attention to their own existence – give the image of Caesar to Caesar – but whose image do you bear? To whom do you belong? Your Life is the fruit of God’s Attention – pay attention to your Source. Don’t get cut off from Life – distracted by many things
Then what seems a clever question about marriage from the Saducees who say there is no resurrection . . . There is a deep irony of this story. Those who would deny the Resurrection have to use a story with no life in it. This pattern of a woman marrying the brothers if her husband died without an heir, Levirate marriage, focussed on marriage as the source of Life. The fruit of the Blessing of marriage – children.
But over and again fruitless marriages, seven times over – no Life. 7 deaths, no Life springing up. The argument against Resurrection Life is framed in a story which does not see Life as life but a repetitive story of death . . . a story told in the presence of the one who is Life, Jesus himself.
Finally, not paying attention to our lives, as coming to us moment by moment from God himself, we learn to make lives for ourselves. This is what it is to take the place of God.
Listen once more to those words of St Paul – The man of lawlessness opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.
We take the place of God in the Temple of God – the Creation . . . and Life departs. For the Human cannot sustain the Earth, he cannot uphold all things by the word of his power. I will not go into the myriad details of climate collapse, of the extinction of living things . . . the helpless human seeking to order the creation as he sees fit . . . apart from God there is no life
The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living;
And we have a choice – it is a choice of attention – to attend to God and Life, or not
for to him all of them are alive.’
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, – If you give your attention to me – then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away – and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them – you give your attention elsewhere – I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life – attend to me – so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. – Those who are alive before me.
In the midst of Job’s afflictions it is his constant attention to God which gives him Hope. In the midst of death, he cries out
‘O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
May we attend – may we too Know our Life in God
Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, Year C, 2019
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
‘The Inheritance of a Living Faith’
“yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:8
These words of Jesus seem to resonate with us in this day, in a way that perhaps they didn’t in the past. In our earlier years for example, when churches seemed so much more full.
We are all aware of declining numbers across churches in the Western world (although less aware of dramatic growth in other places), and of course the growth of the ‘Nones’, those whom when asked express no religious affiliation. So perhaps we might also ask with Jesus, ‘will the Son of Man find faith when he comes?’
Which of course begs a question – what is meant by ‘Faith’? What is it that Jesus looks for upon his return? It is here that St Paul’s second letter to Timothy suggests to us something which we may not have well understood regarding the nature of faith.
This letter is without doubt the most personal of Paul’s writings as he seeks to advise his young friend from what we assume is a prison cell, where he tells us his life is now being poured out . . . Paul sees the end of his life approaching, and looking around he is deeply concerned about how things are going in the infant church. He seeks to strengthen Timothy for what he is sure will be an arduous ministry, we assume in Ephesus. Yet as I said, it is deeply personal and herein we also discover something about the nature of faith.
Paul for example dresses Timothy as ‘my true child in the faith’, and that intergenerational theme is further made explicit in the opening verses of the epistle where Paul recounts how Timothy has come to inherit faith, wherein he writes
I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
A faith that lives . . . From Paul speaking of Timothy as his child in the faith, to the passing of faith from Grandmother to mother to Timothy himself, Paul speaks of faith in a way that is perhaps alien to us . . .
Recently I was mulling over the question of how we teach the faith . . . it wasn’t long before I realised that we had become captive to a way of speaking of faith which had been stripped of this living personal aspect.
So I have heard more times than I wish to recount or recall of ‘learning styles’ – e.g. ‘some of us are visual learners and some learn better from a book . . .’. Notice what has gone missing, the teacher, the one who is passing on the faith. And assumed there is in some large part a faith that has been stripped of its Life, reached to a set of facts which it was necessary to recall and recount, as if they could exist as it were ‘in the cloud’ out there, apart from human beings . . . and yet Paul does not speak in those terms at all.
In his letter to the Galatians at one point he cries out in desperation ‘My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . .’
The handing on of Faith is understood far more as it were in terms of the passing on of life – the parallel is generative birth. As Paul addresses Timothy he sees at once that Timothy has received the Life of faith from him and also from his maternal parental line – From Lois to Eunice to Timothy
In our reading today, we may well be aware of verse 16 of the 3rd chapter of this letter – ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ , but taking it out of context, unplugs it from the Life of faith. We might know that verse off by heart, we may have memorised much scripture, but without Life, it is nothing. It can be no more than a dead letter . . . yet that is not how Paul presents this word. we began at verse 14 wherein he says ‘as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ knowing from whom you learned it . . .
The ‘from whom’ is not irrelevant in Paul’s eyes. It does matter! The Who was it who passed the faith to you . . .
Paul in prison remembers Timothy, he remembers his tears – perhaps the tears of those elders of the Ephesian church knowing they would not see him again. And he exhorts Timothy as he recalls his faith to call to mind those from whom he learned it . . . there lives were lives of faith. Lives of faith. Paul, Lois, Eunice – people for whom Faith was their beating heart, the core of their existence, and thus it is perhaps not too much to say, those from whom it was truly Natural for this faith to pass on to the next generation along with their genes and their habits and everything else that made them up – for it was their faith that made them most fully and truly alive . . . A Living faith -inseperable from its carrier . . .
From generation, to generation . . . and then it wasn’t . . . I remember in my early childhood, busses full of children for the annual Sunday School outing, and perhaps I am not alone in such a memory – and indeed I know that there are more than a few amongst us who knew that, but have not seen faith handed down through the generations . . . I remember the first echoes of this in 1979, visiting bishops from Africa coming to the Lambeth conference asking the question of us in England ‘where are your children’ . . . and yet how many ‘Rachel’s’ lamented for their children who were no more . . .
Perhaps it was our mistaken idea that faith was nothing more than a set of ideas – that it could be transmitted impersonally, that all you needed was a bible – a bible which remember none of the early Christians had – they had to learn scripture together – or a Youtube video . . . You cannot pass on that which is not Alive to you, your life blood, your heart . . . What have our children inherited from us?? In an age when people are inheriting more materially than in any time in history . . . perhaps that was it . . . in this age, where is the Life of the Spirit of God? Where is the Inheritance of Faith
Just this week as I was pondering these words of Paul – ‘knowing from whom you learned it . . .’ I started scrabbling around in my wallet – not for money, but for something which I was sure was there, and sure enough I found it and something else beside. I found a lovely prayer from one of my daughters – addressed to Our Father, giving thanks for her father – And then A scrap of paper which I found by my father’s death bed – upon it a meditation of Cardinal Newman which contains these words
“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.”
These are precious to me – they place me in a line of faith, and I see now my grandchildren beginning their journey in the life of the church with Godly parents – and that gives me hope
I wonder if we have become so alienated from the Life of Faith that we no longer pass it on, because it isn;t our life? our lives speak of that chichis deepest and innermost – our lives speak our gods . . . We can get caught up in transmitting facts but f they are not rooted in our lives, our faithless lives will speak far more clearly to those amongst whom we live, if indeed we do live amongst people in this depersonalised world.
Paul encourages Timothy in the faith and calls on his to remain to the last, doing the work of an evangelist. I must admit that I was brought up in a church culture where ‘evangleists’ were special people – but the reality is that we are all messengers of one type or another – do our lives speak Faith? or some other message?
Paul as he writes is pouring out his Life, his Life which is woven through with this Lively Faith
Our faith is founded on, it is sourced from and flows from a Life poured out – the stream of living water flowing from the side of Christ Jesus himself, who emptied himself . . .
It is returning to the Source of Life – crying out to the one who gladly gives good gifts to those who ask – for the Holy Spirit which is the Hallmark of faith, the first fruit of the Life that is eternal, of the Life that conquers death, of the Life that speaks hope even in this day
Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Trinity – Year C 2019
‘Friendship with Jesus’
‘I have called you friends’ John 15:15
Years ago I remember someone giving a sermon on today’s gospel reading which began – ‘well this reading is all about love, so I’m going to preach on 1 Corinthians 13’ . . . and that was the last we heard of the words of Jesus regarding hating our father and mother and giving away all we possess and taking up our cross . . . perhaps understandably
Looking at the title for the address today, you may be thinking that I am engaged in a similar avoidance of the words of Jesus, after all, these words of Jesus are not about friendship as we know it, but about the cost of discipleship . . . yet, I beg you bear with me for a few minutes 🙂 We shall get round to the gospel reading, directly.
A man was seen out in a coffee shop engaged in an obviously warm and affectionate conversation with a woman. When curious friends enquired ‘is there something going on between the two of you?’ they replied, ‘oh no, we’re just friends!’ Immediately of course raising suspicion 🙂 ‘Just friends? There seemed to be more to it than mere friendship . . . Yet, the fact that we so readily think in these terms reveals that in our culture we have an implicit hierarchy of relationships, and that there are higher forms of relationship than ‘mere friendship’
But, what if here we are doing a disservice to friendship, as if in the grand scheme of things friendship isn’t anything ‘that’ significant. What if in the world as we know it, one of historically unusual ease and comfort, friendship has lost its significance?
Certainly if we look back into history, from the early days before this weary age in which as it were the heavens have become impermeable to grace, Friendship was most certainly held in far higher if not perhaps even the highest honour. A form of Love which even exceeded marriage, marriage which was usually a social contract – or a arrangement between families, and often nothing more . . . Yet Abram is called God’s friend and Jesus says to his disciples ‘I have called you friends . . .’ ‘Just friends?!’
So tuned are we to read the hierarchies of love in the way in which we been trained, that people are ‘just’ friends, that we may well read scripture awry.
When Jonathan is killed in battle with his father Saul, David says of him in his eulogy ‘I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.’
One writer describes this as ‘an intense love between these two men that went well beyond friendship.’ – yet that implicitly assumes that there is a higher form of love than friendship. And that is our assumption too, living in a world where we become ‘friends’ by the click of a button on a keyboard . . .
Yet, let us think for a moment about David and Jonathan. Two young men who meet and spend much of their lives in the thick of almost continuous warfare, in which Jonathan dies.
And then think of the silent eyes of veterans at the cenotaph on ANZAC day . . . Anyone who can still remember conversation with those who lived through war, know that bonds were forged there in the furnace of suffering, bonds which transcended blood links with relatives and yes marriage itself. When a brother from the days of the war was in need, everything else was dropped. A friend in need. A Friend in deed.
And again how readily we accept the reading of Peter’s words to Jesus, Lord you know that I love you, where he uses the word for Friend Love . . . as if Peter couldn’t make the higher love Jesus called him to. Yet Jesus had recently called his disciples his friends . . . Peter is saying’ You know that I love you – that I Friend you!’ Peter is matching Jesus’ declared love for his disciples!
What does Jesus say? ‘Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends . . .’ While in war memorials we like to abstract these words to mean dying for ‘the common good’, or some suchlike abstract phrase, for those who read the words with silent eyes, having fought alongside these men, they know the truth of the Greater Love of True friendship. They know who their fiends are.
Friends go through Life Together . . .
And so we come to these words of Jesus to the crowds following him . . . ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’
Perhaps it is because the idea of friendship has become so emptied of meaning that spirituality fills the place of following Jesus to the cross. We like the idea of Jesus being there for us, in that sense being our friend, but that is not in question – Jesus after all even calls Judas ‘friend’ – that Jesus befriends us is not what is in view here.
The question Jesus with which Jesus challenges us in our Gospel is ‘are we Jesus friends?’ – are you coming with me? Are you going to lay aside your life in order to be with me . . . in the very thick of it?
Perhaps this is why a dear friend of mine from many years ago – someone who knew the scriptures well once surprised our little home group with the assertion that ‘I don’t think Jesus expects us all to be disciples’ . . . Yet this is what it is to call ourselves friends of Jesus . . .
When Peter dares to call Jesus his friend, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you as a friend’ Jesus immediately follows up by ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) That’s what happens to those who are my friends . . .
Which brings it down to us . . . Recently someone commented to me, ‘it is so hard to make friends here . . .’ a comment which I have heard more than once. Whilst it is easy to do a cultural critique of a highly secular and mechanistic society – I think rather that in a society of ease we know little of true friendship – which is why perhaps this whole business of being the church, of life together is so apparently difficult.
As Jesus will point out in the gospel in a couple of weeks time, we need friends, now and in eternity. Marriage is ’til death do us part’, Friendship is eternal. Something which unknowingly perhaps my duaghters’ friends reveal with their BFF logos on cards and letters. Yet the way to friendship lies through the Cross, through the thick of it – sharing in all of life’s vissiscitudes.
And this is what it means to be Church. To be people formed together in one body by the Cross as St Paul puts it, and we see that this is perhaps no mere abstract theological idea, but a theological reality. Friendship through Fire – yet in a society of relative ease, we are perhaps strangers to the way of the Cross amongst ourselves?
Of course this is not the case on a global stage – throughout history and perhaps more so in this age than any other. Most Christians have known the cross. Just this last week I was speaking with a member of the persecuted church who told me of 200 police coming into their church to disrupt their gathering and ban their association. The person told me of how at first this caused the church to shrink – as when Jesus first reveals the way of the cross, the church all but disappears . . . yet now it has grown from the original 200 members to 800, meeting in secret in small house fellowships . . . as the church which saw the Way of Jesus’ friends was the cross and the blood of the martyrs because the seed bed of the church . . . being known as a friend of Jesus is to be open to the way of the cross
The church if it is to be the body of Christ, to reveal Christ and Him Crucifed amongst us – is to use the Quaker’s phrase, a Society of friends . . . the body of the friends of Jesus, it is a community which gladly leaves everything aside for one another and goes with him where he goes ahead of us . . . If we are to share in the Life of Christ, that must be worked out as much amongst ourselves – we must move from being friends in the sense the world hands to us, and live into being Friends in the Way of Jesus. That is the work of the Cross amongst us – that is how when we are friends of Jesus, Jesus our friend is revealed in our midst.