The Evil Eye

My mind has very much been on the parable for this coming Sunday, one of two brothers far from Home. One figuratively, and one literally – although perhaps we might get them the wrong way round??

In the English Church calendar it is of course Mothering Sunday, and that bit of ‘the old country’ still lives on in some Anglican circles here in New Zealand. In part it is founded on a Sunday halfway through Lent when servants, often girls (my great grandmother did a spell ‘in service’), were allowed home to enjoy its comforts.

Home and the heart are deeply interwoven – we might ponder Jesus’ words about ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’, in this respect. Your true Home, where you belong is found within your deep desires . . . but our deep desires are distorted and so we are homeless . . .

 

The evidence of that lostness, that distortion within us,  Jesus speaks of in terms of Sight – what our eye is set upon. Of course in so doing he does no more nor less than refer us to our shared story in The Garden, where amidst all the Goodness of God, our eye is drawn, directed even to the one thing that will bring death . . .

We might understand that as being our ability to see the speck in our brother’s eye, not something any of us is a stranger to, or at least not yet. We are surrounded by a myriad ways in which we might set our eyes on the speck . . . that is to see with the evil eye, the eye attuned to death.

 

But,  Jesus warns us about where we set our eye. ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is Good, then your whole body will be full of light, but if the ‘light’ within you is darkness, then how great is that darkness’

 

Like the brother who has the log in his eye, so cannot see to take out the speck of his brother’s eye, we believe we can see, but if our eye is set on that which is ‘wrong!’, ‘bad!’ ‘Wicked!’ – then our body has no light within it. We are full of darkness for we look at the darkness . . . which is of course Death itself manifested amongst us. We see the Sin . . . this in part is where ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’ collapses. If we truly see the Sin, we are presuming that our own hearts are full of light . . . but if our focus is on ‘what is wrong with the world’ then we are full of great darkness. Our Eye is evil

 

This is why the heart of the Christian Life is the transformation of the heart – that we might see aright. For to See aright is to See how God Sees – to look out on a fallen world as God does, full of Love and Compassion and Mercy.

Certainly this is hard. If we consider what is ‘in the papers’ and evidenced in our FB feeds etc. then we do not look on the world in this way. ‘Those people!’ ‘Those Conservatives!’ ‘Those Progressives!’ ‘That type of church!’ ‘That president!’ ‘That President’s supporters’ ‘The Brexiters!’ ‘The Remainers!’  – our eye’s seem fixed on what is hateful to us . . . and so the weary story goes on, and all we seem capable of doing is adding to the darkness, as the hate and the bile that fills our own hearts pours out, upon these ‘worthy targets of our scorn’, our eyes full of death. Lord have mercy.

 

The first Commandment is this – You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength. Set your Eye on That which is Good, Pure, Beautiful and True! Let your Eye become Good – that is the journey of Christian Transformation, through which with Jesus we pray for those who persecute us, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .’ (Of course few if any of us are being persecuted, but we seem incapable of looking with mercy even though this be the case)

Seek God! Seek to know His Love, His Mercy, be transformed by the renewal of your inner eye. Look not upon darkness for it will only fill your soul, ‘and you will surely die’

Look to Jesus. Allow His light to flood your soul – and you will become that which you were created to be, the bearer of the Light of God, Having the Heart of the Father. This is where our true Home is – within us and around us.

That way not only will you be saved, but perhaps also a few around you

 

Lent 2, 2019 YrC – Face your healing!

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year C 2019
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Face your healing

A couple of years ago, I watched Wolf Hall, the TV dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s novels about Henry the VIIIth, his first three wives and the political manoeuvring of Thomas Cromwell.
Amongst many things that stuck out from this elegant production, one thing speaks to our Scriptures today. it is when Cromwell is summoned to Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night. The King is in a terrified state. He has just had a dream in which he sees his late brother, Arthur. Henry you might remember was married firsT to Catherine of Aragon, who had . . . or perhaps had not . . . been married to his brother. Henry wishes to divorce Catherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn, and believes that the dream is a warning from God. His Spiritual destiny hangs in the balance, and He is terrified. God looms large in his dreams and thoughts.
Cromwell, ever the consulate politician of course, like the false prophets, give Henry a soothing interpretation which calms his fears, and so the die is cast.
What struck me was how unlike the age in which we live . . . I think it is not unreasonable to point out that for most if not all of us, we are far far more attentive to the state of our physical health than we are of our Spiritual situation before God! Tummy trouble may keep us awake at night, but not our eternal condition.

In this respect it is worth briefly considering what seems often to be the case in the church and its curiously paradoxical position regarding Sin. There is much smoke and heat around issues of so called ‘social justice’ – often married to a theology which speaks of a benign grandfatherly God who seems rather loathe to speak of Sin . . . one wonders what some of our co-religionists think shall be The End of all those involved in social injustices, if God is so Nice? If the state of our souls, of our spiritual condition is of no import in The End? Perhaps this is nothing more nor less than a blind unbelief in God, who may or may not be there but has at the least clocked off and left us all to ‘put the world to rights’.

Whatever, the point is that we seem less than interested in our spiritual state than our physical or material state.

Lent as we aware is a time for careful reflection, but not upon the state of the world, the ghastliness of which we are all too often reminded, rather upon the state of our spiritual life – our Life before God. In the grace of the Church it is the gift of a season of 6 weeks, and given we otherwise do little in this respect, we would do well to make the best use of each and every hour of these weeks.

The Tradition of the Church offers us three disciplines, based upon Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount; Prayer, Fasting, and giving alms to the poor (over and above any we might usually give as part of our lives as Christians). Jesus, it must be said seems curiously quiet on the subject of Lent study groups . . .
Prayer fasting and almsgiving – How much? We like to know what the standard is . . . well simply all three need to be carried out until we notice them! That is we pray, fast and give around the perimeter of what we are comfortable with,until the comfortable contours of our existence are disrupted – and then notice our discomfort. We do these things until we notice that we do have a soul and a spiritual life, and perhaps they are not in the best of order.
Last week Father Hugh spoke of Jesus being tested to destruction in the wilderness – we will not go too far in the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving until the chasis of our spirit begins to shake alarmingly, the steering goes awry and bodywork starts to fall off! Certainly not forty days and nights

Indeed we may become aware of how spending more than a few minutes in prayer bores us – we might feel it to be pointless, and a hundred and one ‘more important things’ run through our heads. We thus wake up to a sense of our lack of love for God . . . The words of Jesus ring through our ears as they did those of the first disciples – ‘could you not watch with me one brief hour?’ Just one hour??

Or . . . to be honest, we prefer not to fast at all, if we are typical modern Christians; it seems to have disappeared from common practise, thus revealing we are hungrier for food than God. Jesus fasted forty days, yet at the end his hunger for God was greater than any temptation to turn stones into bread.
We may then hear our epistle as a call to wake up! For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

Our lack of desire to fast that we might sharpen our awareness of God and our Spiritual situation before Him – making us aware that perhaps our real god is our belly! Our minds are full of this and that and the other, not on things above. What does Paul say of us? We are thus marked out as those living ‘as enemies of the Cross of Christ’! That is our spiritual condition.

Or we find a hundred and one rational ways to disobey Jesus and not give to all those who ask of us . . . and discover that our hearts are far from the heart of God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked and the scheming and the malingering . . . Jesus says ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ We are exposed, we argue our way out of his commandments . . . or, more hopefully we notice ourselves doing it, and cry out to God for help

All of these disciplines can and do alert us to our deep spiritual malaise . . . if we use them, but like with respect to our physical health, we often try and avoid paying attention, perhaps until it is too late.
I Wonder how many times doctors think, even if they do not say, ‘if only you had come to see me 6 months ago . . .’

We might think that with regard to our spiritual health, Jesus is always there, when we finally get round to it. This week I was with someone who has lived into their 90s and is now dying. Suffice to say that most don’t make it that far and all too often people die unprepared. A few verses before our gospel reading today, Jesus warns us thus:

‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” . . . the grave danger of our lives is that we are so caught up in what we call ‘our’ lives that we miss The Life of God.

What are our hearts and minds full of? The practices of Lent are given to us to alert us to our Spiritual malaise – to bring us to a point of painful Realism as the penetrating Healing Light of God is thrown into the many dark and perhaps long neglected nooks and crannies of what may have become a seriously deteriorated soul . . .

Put simply, there is something gravely wrong with us – and the disease from which we suffer is called Sin. We may not have been conscious of sinning . . . or perhaps its effects, that it leads to death. When St Paul says, the wages of Sin is death, he is not saying, Death is the punishment for Sin, no! He is saying Death is the consequence of Sin.

We do not have to point at the murderous events in Christchurch to see this – indeed our concentration on them and our constant gawping at bad news stories far and wide is part of the distraction the devil uses for keeping us from seeing closer to home.
A simple example, one to which we can all possibly relate – a common or garden sin, or perhaps to use the gardening metaphor more fully a weed going up amongst the wheat – telling a lie. A simple lie. But what happens when we deceive? We cut the life giving connection between ourselves and the person we lie to. We as it were hide from them. Life stops flowing, we prefer not to be known.

Perhaps we lie because we are ashamed. So we hide. We hide from any possibility of healing, from forgiveness, from Life itself. We avoid the doctor coming to us in the shape of the person from whom we hide . . . thus is the way of Sin.

It is at root a lack of desire for the Life of God, which is in Truth a lack of desire for Life, lack of a desire to be well – which is why Jesus asks the man at the pool, ‘do you want to be well?
Sin is to use the words of one philosopher, a ‘sickness towards death’, and we are half asleep with it.

Sin is not primarily a moral problem. Think of the young man who wanted to follow Jesus – who said ‘all these commandments I have kept since my youth!’ Or St Paul who by his own admission was with respect to the law, and there were 630 of them, faultless! Yet he was exposed as neither knowing nor loving God. He loved his own life – how many of us do! We may come to the point of death saying ‘I have had a good life, yet it is not the life we have that is the point, it is the life god offered us – His Life! Materially speaking the young man Jesus met had no desire for the Life of God, as twas revealed when Jesus offered him this life, if he would only lay down his own . . .

Sin and sickness away from the Life and Light of God, towards Death.

As I have said before, Jesus does not die to make bad people good, he dies to make dead people live!

He is the Great Physician, the Great Doctor of our souls – this is why he comes healing. It is sign of his deep work . . .

So when the pharisees warn him about Herod, how does Jesus reply . . .
‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Behold!” Look! Pay Attention! See! I exorcise demons and accomplish healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Behold! I am Coming! I am Healing – setting people free from there demons! Accomplishing healings!

We are moving through Lent – we move towards the finishing of his healing work in Jerusalem.

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.

Soon his work is complete and the door closes . . .

Lent and its disciplines are given to us that we might, unlike our contemporaries, pay attention to our Life before God.
Jesus is the Great physician – he comes with healing Love! Fundamentally it is Life and Love in its fullness that we are terrified of! It is too much, yet, God is too much at one go! Yet in his Grace, and with our co-operation, the lIght of Christ can shine into our hearts, drawing our attention to our plight and binding us more anymore tightly to the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.

Why is it so very costly to follow Jesus? Because our plight is grave – yet He has the words of eternal Life. In Him is light and love and mercy and compassion. We are seriously afflicted and the remedy is nothing less than the Cross, in our lives. This is the healing for the whole world, one person at a time . . .
We look out at the world around us and bewail its condition, but watch an hour with Jesus? Go without a single meal? Give to everyone who asks of us? Simply obey Jesus . . .

Learning truly to Love him, bound to Him, we do not even avoid going to the Cross, the place where Death is confronted. our plight is fully revealed, yet bound to our Healer. In the Way that leads to the fulness of Life

May God give us the Grace to stick with our healing and our Healer these weeks. May we pray, fast and give alms; may we know the healing of the Great Physician, who brings Life, even out of Death

Amen

‘As in the days of Noah . . .’

 

 

The Orthodox scholar Philip Sherrard writes,

“ONE THING at least we no longer need to be told is that we are the throes of a crisis of the most appalling dimensions. We tend to call this crisis the ecological crisis, and this is a fair description in so far as its effects are manifest above all in the ecological sphere. For here the message is quite clear: our entire way of life is humanly and environmentally suicidal, and unless we change it radically there is no way in which we can avoid a cosmic catastrophe. Without such change the whole adventure of civilization will come to an end during the lifetime of many now living.

Unhappily we do yet appear to have realized the urgency of the need for such a change, and in spite of everything we continue to blunder on along our present path of devastation in a kind of blindfold nightmare enacted with all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, planning to extend our empire of sterilized artificiality and specialist methodology even further, advancing even further into our computerized or electronic wilderness, devising bigger and better banking system, manipulating the natural reproductive processes of plants, animals and human beings, saturating our soils and crops with high-powered chemicals and a variety of poisons which no sane community would allow out of a closely guarded laboratory, stripping the world of what is left of its forests at a speed which defies belief or understanding, and behaving generally in a manner which, even if we had deliberately programmed it, could not be more propitious to our own annihilation and to that of the world about us.

It is as if we are in the grip of some monstrous collective psychosis, as if in truth a huge death-wish hangs over the whole so-called civilized world.”

Philip Sherrard in ‘Human Image : World Image’, pub. 1991

 

It is, to put it at its perhaps ridiculously mildest to suggest that these are sobering words, all the more so when we consider that since 1991 we have, among many many markers of this devastation, more than doubled the sum total of man-made Carbon Dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

Hope? Well on Friday across the world, children will go on strike from school – they at least seem to be waking up to the fact that there is something monstrous occurring which calls into question their very future . . . it remains to be seen of course if they will all be walking to school from now on, however it is something . . .

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away . . . Matthew 24:38-9

‘The Timbered Choir’

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

Wendell Berry
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away . . . Matthew 24:38-9

The Freedom of God, and His children . . . Epiphany – Year C 2019

Sermon for Second Sunday before Lent OT7 YrC 2019

Luke 6:27-38

‘The Goal of Christian Existence’

Three weeks ago, we heard ‘God does nothing because he needs to. There is no deficiency in God. He is complete in and of himself. He needs nothing, there is nothing he has to do. There is nothing you can give to him, nothing he needs from you or I.’ Thus God is radically Free. God does nothing because he has to – nor does he do anything because he needs to – and what is more he does nothing because he chooses to . . .
Put simply, God purely does God. His Being, His Existence and what he does are one and the same.

‘Why does God love?’ we might ask, as if he needed a reason, but this is to seek to understand God in our terms, in the way we like to go about things. Sovereignly deciding whom we will and will not love, or indeed ‘choosing to love’.
This is the deeper import of Jesus words to us ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?’
Jesus’ words point us to the inadequacy of our language ‘If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.’ And we say, but that is what ‘lending’ means! After all, this or that or the other is mine! You can’t go lending with no expectation of receiving in return!

We look always for a return.

We learn from the world around us that if we love others we might receive love in return – if we do good to others, also, and if we lend of course we will get paid back . . . and so we restrict ourselves to those circumstances where nothing flows out from us

We might hear these words of Jesus and think that we might Choose to do otherwise . . . but that is not the nature of God. We might choose to give without seeking a return. We might choose to love those who hate . . . Again we retain our sovereignty – it is about Our Life and what we choose to do with it . . . but God does not Choose to Love – God Is Love.

Jesus says ‘he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked’ – it is not his choice, it is His nature . . .

The idea that ‘there must be something in it for us’ is woven deeply into our hearts and minds as it is ‘the way of the world’. We imagine for example that if we behave in a certain way, we shall ‘go to heaven’. Or indeed ‘believe in a certain way’ . . . It is down we think to our choice – we retain control . . .
So when I ask a group of young people ‘What is the point of being a Christian, they all respond along the lines of ‘well I get this of that or the other out of it . . .’ – ‘Knowing that there is someone there for me’ is an answer I commonly hear and indeed it is an underlying account of how we often think of Christian life. So we might say ‘I don’t know how people cope who don’t have a faith’ How prevalent are such thoughts – except of course that a very substantial number of folk indeed seem to get on perfectly well without a faith.
Of course, in an age where we know less and less that there are people there for us – our lives more disconnected by the day, fewer deep acquaintances etc. etc. The Knowledge of God, Knowing God is a huge consolation – but this is not the point, or better the goal of being Christian. Indeed it might even help if we got rid of such a way of speaking about the matter. For our faith is not fundamentally a set of beliefs, or ideas – it is a form of existence in the world – it is nothing less than the very life of God in us.

Over the last few weeks we have considered first how ‘those who discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus, are the ones who discover that there is nothing better to do than follow Jesus’ Indeed it is a Life the like of which we can only begin to know as we leave our lives behind, and follow him, who Is Life. Jesus is not about fixing our lives, he is about giving us a new life. Only those who in the world’s terms do not have much of a life find it easy to accept a replacement life. Blessed are you who are poor . . . but woe to you who have the life you want . . . how can we receive the life of God if we are comforted by the life we have?

The word for comfort, is the same root word for The Comforter – the Holy Spirit! So it is the desolate poor who on the day of Pentecost with ‘nothing better to do than to pray’ receive the paraclete – the Comforter. – the Holy Spirit – the very Life and Being of God

We need to remember here that the image is not a blanket 🙂 Rather it is the one who strengthens – enlivens. Brings to Life and action. The poor receive the Life of God – the Kingdom of heaven.
(I’ll return briefly to last week’s sermon in a moment for it raised a not unexpected question for some folk about the poor and the rich. )

It is only when we recognise this that we begin to make any sense at all of Jesus’ teaching – indeed Jesus makes it quite clear, but perhaps we are so taken aback that we do not hear his explanation.
‘Love your enemies . . . that is do good to those who hate you’
‘bless those who curse you . . . that is, 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.

Now, one brief caveat – although I am very wary of giving caveats as we will try anything and everything to rationalise away the simple teaching of Jesus in this regard – but regarding turning the other cheek, I do not think for a moment that what Jesus envisages here is where someone is trapped in an abusive relationship. Jesus himself walks through a crowd threatening to kill him. What is in view here is someone who in their weakness is fully in command of themselves – who are truly themselves in a most extraordinary way.

We must remember that Jesus is not speaking here of a moral code, a set of behaviours! They may be understood as such by someone who observes them, but Jesus does not die to make bad people good, to give them a new ‘way of life’, a new code to live by – Jesus dies to make dead people live. Not merely a life beyond death – rather a new life now

Jesus tells us ‘But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.

This is the goal of Christian Life – that we become children of God. What does John say in the prologue to his gospel? ‘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.’ This is what that elusive phrase ‘born again means – that we are reborn with the very life of God – and we thought that the talk of loving those who hate you, giving to everyone who begs of you’ was challenging!

This is how God Is! It is His very being! God is we might say pure act – He is Love – Love is his essence, as much as we are flesh and blood.

So God gives and gives and gives his very Life – which is revealed to us in His Son given to us and for us. The Son proceeds from the Father and so to the Spirit – the Life of God – just pouring out. And so God is utterly free. He has no code by which he lives, he doesn’t think ‘i must keep the 10 commandments’

Those who live in that way are not free. For they are confronted by choice, they must make judgements, their lives are lives of careful calculation and to quote Henry Thoreau, quiet desperation. No one who has to choose – who has choice is at all free. For they have as it were come to themselves.

Are we free? Jesus says ‘Give to everyone who asks of you . . .’ if our hearts and minds rapidly fill with a thousand qualifications then we are not yet children of God – our life is not yet the life that comes from God. We do not know in the words of St Paul ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’

I was asked regarding ‘Blessed are you poor . . . Woe to you who are rich’ “How poor is poor, how rich is rich?’ And of course if this is a matter of calculation these things matter to us – but there is no calculation in God. No desiring something in return for his love and kindness – it is his very self.

We might better say, if we simply give freely and gladly to all who ask of us, without a moments thought or consideration, if we love without discrimination, – if we do it because of who we have become – then our poverty or riches in terms the world judge is immaterial! We are becoming what we were created to be, children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Not calculating whether to love, not even choosing, indeed having made the final choice – to relinquish our choice and thus know true freedom

May we, with Jesus, only do what we see our beloved Father doing. May we know His Life in and amongst us

Amen

Of Home, and Work, and Idols

Sermon for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Evensong YrC 2019

Hos 10:1-8,12
Gal 4:8-20

Things that enslave take us away from home

One of my earliest memories of parish ministry involved a difficult situation regarding a request for a baptism. The circumstances are now certainly immaterial, but what stuck with me was the words of the father of the child – ‘everything I do, I am doing for my children’.
He was referring to the seemingly endless hours he spent working, away from home. It is perhaps as Martin Luther put it, we sacrifice our children to our gods, or perhaps our idols. those things which ensnare us. Perhaps in the depths of our story, a story of our being alienated from home – we discover that we lose home because we want. . . we know not what . . . somehow ‘it is out there’ We leave home chasing a dream ‘to be like gods, and discover the world of ‘work’

cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread The work of Home is one that we have forgotten

Working away from Home is in many regards a powerful expression of our Modern lostness. Indeed it would perhaps not be putting it too strongly to say that ‘homelessness’ is our contemporary condition. We too readily assume that owning a house is the same as ‘being at home’. I think it not too much to contend that unless we give ourselves to the work of home making, we are all lost in every sense of the word.

This condition of our leaving home in pursuit of a delusion – is powerfully evoked in the words of Wendell Berry. Berry, for those who do not know him, and I recently heard him referred to as ‘the most important writer no-one seems to know about’ is a farmer. From his farm in rural Kentucky he looks out at the world – and writes of our modern condition. Not least on the relationship between work and Home.
Amongst his many insightful comments, Berry says that that he is unaware of any man who considered himself to be liberated because he had to leave home to find work . . . leaving home is not a good thing.
Some folk don’t have the choice, indeed much of the history of the human race is that of people being displaced – leaving home to find . . . yet Home is where we belong. The Story of God’s people is a story calling them to home, from Abraham on, and yet they are constantly lured away, not finding home beneath their feet

And I suggest that we have lost our sense of home. Certainly it is hard to think that any rational being would treat their home as we have treated the earth . . . whilst we chase after . . . what? Berry in his poem ‘The Timbered choir’ calls ‘it’ ‘the objective’ – what follows are extracts from a longer piece.

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

. . .

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, . . .

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

Looking for ‘the objective’ ‘which they did not yet perceive in the far distance, having never known where they were going, having never known where they came from . an idea, an idol . . . our hearts set on . . .

The story of GOd’s people is exactly this – of chasing after idols – and the consequence is they find themselves far from home. Enslaved in Egypt, and as we heard tonight exiled from the land . . . perhaps the perversity of our age is that we have grown so accustomed to our exile from the land? When in England I worked closely with a drug rehab centre – those most resistant to change, even thought they looked their plight full in the face were the insitutionalised, those who had spent so login prison it had become their safe place, from which they durst not emerge . . . our idols enslave, not just the drug users

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, . . .

And in leaving home, we discover a horrifying truth – the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Home now must be found in a different way

The parable of the Prodigal is this story writ small, into the story of the son who leaves home for the sake of ‘the objective’, yet ‘comes to his senses’ and sets off to discover that which he had sought was to be found in the place he had left.

The ‘solution’ is to Know God – to be known by God. St Paul as he writes to the Galatians is utterly distraught. They had it all, yet have now abandoned home in the pursuit of idols. He points out that before coming to faith in Christ Jesus, they were ‘enslaved to those things that by nature are not gods. Now however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again . . .? He goes on to speak to them of those people who only wish to use them for their own purposes, ‘They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them’ those who sought to manipulate the world to their ends, to ‘the objective’ become once more enslaved, become themselves manipulated . . . a simple contemporary example would be ‘The Screen’ to use a word which covers a wider area of devices which we thought served us, but to which we have become enslaved and distorted, not least for whilst we are in our houses, we are still at work – away from Home.

Ultimately, as Berry says quoting one of E.M. Forster’s characters, ‘it all turns on affection’. Our homelessness is the fruit of distorted Love. We do not know where we are, for we do not properly Love where we are.

Finally the Truth of our Lives is found in ourLife in God. To find our Home in Him, to Love him in all and through all and above all, is to be Home

Good News for the Rich?

Sermon for the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 2018

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 6:17-26

Is there Good News for the rich?

Some years ago – actually more than I care to remember, the then bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard produced a book entitled which caused no little stir amongst the comfortable Anglicans of England. It’s title was ‘Bias to the Poor’, and the Bishop writing from the context of one of the most impoverished cities in the country, suggested that this was indeed the case – that God was biased towards the poor. Well not long after the Bishop of the more typically leafy Oxford Diocese, Richard Harries produced a book which gives us the theme for this week. ‘Is there a gospel for the rich?’

Is there a Gospel for the Rich? Is God biased towards the poor? Well – it must be said if God is biased towards the Poor, it is not in the sense that we assume it ought to be – that is God does not seem as it were to set the system so that the poor a ‘leg up’ so to speak, and then can enjoy the comforts of the rich.
Indeed, the comforts of the rich are called into question . . .

For of course I am rather dodging the pointedness of the question of our theme, ‘Is there Good news for the Rich?’
If there is a shift in the Old and New Testaments, it seems not to lie in that hoary old distinction between the God of the Old Testament who is vengeful and judging, and the God of the New who is warm and loving and generally an indulgent elderly relative. No. A, if not the big difference is regarding material wealth – for whilst if you ignore the New Testament you can make a reasonable if not watertight case for the acquisition of wealth as a sign of God’s blessing (provided of course you avoid the prophets . . .) – there is Nothing to give such comfort in the New.

Nothing – Not a jot . . . James the brother of Jesus howls in protest against the infant church which is treating the rich with special deference, after all he says, it’s the rich who are hauling you into court! ‘Howl you rich he says, howl . . . and it gets worse when we come to the words of Jesus

It is odd, or perhaps it isn’t. The words of Jesus are the most ignored in the entirety of scripture – without a doubt, and perhaps in no greater sense than regarding wealth and money. I recall seeing a live interview on stage with a ‘disgraced’ TV evangelist – it is almost superfluous to use the adjective . . . in which said former TV evangelist who shall remain nameless was speaking of what he learnt from his time in prison for fraud and tax evasion.
He said, ‘I had a red letter bible with me in prison’ – that is one with the words of Jesus in red – ‘I had never realised how much Jesus said about the danger of wealth . . .’ and here was a man who read the bible . . . in order to ply his trade . . . funny what we don’t see.

And still I’m avoiding those words myself . . . the words of the Gospel . . . the words of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”

As I said last week – the encounter with Jesus is not one which confirms us in our comfortable view of the world. Blessed are you who are poor . . . Really??? Blessed are you poor?? Because I am going to change things so that you get the same as everyone else?? Perhaps that is how we might want to interpret Jesus’ words today, that He said, Blessed are you Poor, so we need to make sure that those Poor people are blessed . . . Except he didn’t say ‘Blessed will you be when finally human beings get their act together . . . indeed wasn’t it Jesus who said, ‘The Poor you will always have with you?? Blessed are you who Are poor

Of course we could and perhaps do prefer to listen to Matthew – ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit . . .’ Ah that’s better – how convenient – how we love to separate our the material and the spiritual . . . as if they were two different realms – but even if we do we have a problem . . . if Jesus says the poor in spirit are blessed, he also says the poor are blessed . . . not a message to be met with anything but incredulity. Who could take this seriously??? Really . . . come on Jesus . . . probably Luke just missed out the ‘in spirit bit’ . . . except he doesn’t stop there – Blessed are you who who are hungry now, Blessed are you who weep now . . . Blessed are you who are persecuted,

But still . . . I avoid the Gospel for the Rich – . . . ’Woe to you who are rich . . .’ Jesus really does seem to mean it. His words about the blessedness of the poor make no sense to us who are well off . . . His words to us are like a bucket of freezing cold water thrown over us, ‘If you are rich, you are in trouble . . . wake up!

Of all the words of Jesus which the church has desperately tried to avoid over two thousand years, these are the ones we’ve been most creative with. Indeed one writer suggests that ‘the Reformation, . . . —whatever else it may have been—was a movement toward a form of Christianity well suited to the needs of the emerging middle class, and to the spiritual complacency that a culture of increasing material security dearly required of its religion’

Like politicians who won’t tell hard truths to the electorate, to ensure they keep their jobs. Who don’t tell us ‘climate change means we are going to have to entirely change the way we live, we are told – we will figure something out so you don’t have to change . . . and the days get warmer – so too the church all too often has sought to water down the terrible warning in the words of Jesus

And I think that it is those words ‘material security’ which hold the key to our predicament – and if we say we believe in Jesus, then we must also believe that we Are in a predicament.
Blessed are you who are poor, and hungry. The kingdom of heaven is yours – Woe to you who are wealthy and well fed . . . Jesus’s words do not leave any wriggle room – and we are on the sharp end.

Last week you may remember I finished with this thought – ‘what if it is only those who have nothing better to do than to follow Jesus, are the one’s who really discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus’ – The nothings, the nobodies. Those with little or no say over their lives . . . so nobody were they that leaving their nets, and everything they had seemed like a good idea when Jesus came to call them to follow him.

As we know when he calls others who have riches, a solid career, and family and this and that and the other, they don’t follow.

I wonder how those disciples felt leaving everything behind. . . what did they have? Nothing!

And Jesus lifted his eyes towards his disciples and said ‘Blessed are you who are poor . . .’ well they were certainly that. ‘Blessed are you who are hungry . . .’ I guess that they may well have been that also ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted and railed for my sake . . .’ well that was still perhaps to come, but it would . . .

They were going to find their life with Jesus – those who had left everything to follow him, as Peter was fond of reminding Jesus 🙂 They had nothing, and then Jesus was crucified – they lost even Him, except for a season in which he taught them, then he left them, and like Simeon and Anna – On the Day of Pentecost, they are utterly destitute – yet giving themselves to prayer they receive the Holy Spirit – they receive, the Kingdom of God, the very life of God – were filled with it, because they had no comfort, no comforter . . .

But you who are full now. . . well you’re full . . . how can you receive anything. Your wealth has cut you off from the Life of God. Unlike the disciples you are not vulnerable – you have no space no time, you have so much else that you think it is better to do . . . you have life on your own terms . . . the life you have made for yourself.
‘Woe to you who are rich for you have received your comfort. . . . The word Jesus uses is ‘paraklesin’ . . . it is the root word he uses to describe the Holy Spirit – the paraclete – the comforter.

You have received the life the comfort you sought . . . the Life of the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit? . . . no those things which moths consume and rust destroys

What of this Good News for the Rich? Is there any?? Well of course yes there is, BUT it is a bit difficult. You see the nobodies followed Jesus at the drop of a net, so to speak, but . . . They obeyed his word and set off to follow Him . . . you see that’s all it takes, taking Jesus at his word . . . Good News for the Rich – The words of Jesus – Jesus himself is the Good News.

Give to everyone who asks of you . . .

Again we hedge and hum and her and haw . . . we come up with a million and one justifications . . . Bishop’s even write books about economic systems and capitalism and lose us in a web of abstraction to get us off the hook . . . but only at the cost of ignoring Jesus

We like to say ‘my wealth has no hook in me . . . ‘ and then Jesus says – ‘give to everyone who asks of you . . .’ Everyone – the deserving, the undeserving – we shall come back to this next week

Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say . . . Ah well, we are saved by faith not works . . . so you believe me?

Is there Good News for the Rich? Well not on the terms we’d like to have . . . but yes there is, in the same way there is the Good News for the poor. Jesus offers us life. The question is, are our hands empty to receive it?