Mercy – Christ the King Year C 2019

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, Year C, 2019

Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

“[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

Amen

On [not] paying attention – Trinity 21 YrC

Sermon for Trinity 21 Year C 2019

Job 19:23-27
2 Thess 2:1-5,13-17
Luke 20:27-38

‘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

The inheritance of a living faith

Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, Year C, 2019

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

‘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

Amen

Sermon for Trinity 12 – Year C 2019 – Friendship with Jesus

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Trinity – Year C 2019

Luke 14:25-33

‘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.

Amen

Sabbath: Law, or Life?

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity – Year C 2019

Isaiah 58:9-14
Luke 13:10-17

Sabbath: Law, or Life?

I wonder how many of us picked up the Christmas reference in the gospel reading?? I’ll leave that one hanging for a few moments 🙂

I guess that many folk will be told that the message of the gospel today is ‘you shouldn’t allow your religious observances to get in the way of human compassion’, after all, isn’t that the obvious? Well, no. Indeed such an interpretation only reveals how shaped by our own culture we are, and subtly suggests, as our culture is happy to suggest, the the agency of God is of little significance compared with what we do. Perhaps this is why we always argue for Martha over Mary.
Whilst there are of course instances of those who do not act with compassion, you would find few of any persuasion who would argue that compassionate action is significant, so why bring God into it?? Let’s just get on with being compassionate . . . funny that in a culture where this is ‘common sense’, so few go to church

Note that saying ‘don’t let your religious get in the way of compassion’ seems to separate out the world of our observances from the rest of the world, as if ‘Religion’ belonged in a separate box from how we are to live in the world. As if they are to a degree in conflict., and so to resolve the conflict we go out from this place and ‘into the Real World’ where we can all get on with compassionate action, whether or not we are religious . . . or so the story goes . . .

But for our purposes today, we need to see that this is not what is going on, at all. After all, how many or us in our ‘compassion’ do the things Jesus does? Feeding 5000? Making the blind see? Raising the dead even . . . or even the simple ‘compassionate act’ of laying hands on a crippled woman who then stands up straight. Notice that in order to talk in the terms of the world, we have to ignore the actual thing Jesus does! Or, to put it to one side, sideline the action of God breaking in.

Strangely enough, as is almost always the case, our world subtly ends up agreeing with Jesus; opponents. You don’t have to be religious to be a Pharisee or a synagogue ruler in attitude . . . There’s a time and a place for worship of God, keep your religion to yourself – keep talk of God out of this arena . . .

Does not the Psalmist say ‘The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul’? If we are God’s children, then we should not so easily fall into the lazy assumptions that somehow the Law of the Lord is in conflict with Life, not at all, and most especially with regard to the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is actually the first of the Commandments which we might say is to do with love of neighbour. the first three being oriented to loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength. Then Sabbath . . .

Our problem is made clear in the synagogue leaders response to Jesus’ healing the crippled woman. “There are six days when it is necessary to work; come therefore on those days and be healed, and not on the day of the Sabbath!” Thereby showing that he completely fails to understand the significance of the Sabbath . . . for the Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul . . .

As you may I hope be aware, there are two accounts of the Sabbath commandment in scripture. In order to understand the meaning and scope of the Sabbath we need to consider both of these together.

First there is the Sabbath described in terms of the fulfilment of Creation. After God has completed his work of Creation he rests, when Creation is finished. Then we enter the Rest of God, ‘when our work is done’, to pick up on the words of a prayer of Cardinal Newman. But, when is the work done – when One says ‘It is finished’ . . . The work of Creation is completed in Jesus, upon the Cross, but not just the work of Creation – the work of Redemption – of setting the oppressed free . . . ‘this woman, this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has held in bondage these 18 years’

This bring us to the second ‘Ten commandments’ text, that in Deuteronomy. Here the Sabbath is spoken of in terms of rescue from slavery. Do not forget that you were slaves in Egypt – God brought you out of slavery into His kingdom.

There is a tendency to read this in terms of work, ‘don’t be enslaved to your work!’ – and of course if we have the first Sabbath commandment working in our imagination, then we might understand it in those terms. But there is an associated emphasis – that of rescue. You were slaves, God brought you out of slavery! Or he tried . . . but they preferred their old ways. They yearned for Egypt – they didn’t want the Life of God.

This was there problem – they didn’t want the life of God. This is the problem of the synagogue ruler, he didn’t want the Life of God, and it is the problem of the world which says – keep your faith to yourself, it doesn’t want the life of God. Which brings us of course to Christmas – the present of the life of God . . . I wonder if you have worked out the Christmas reference in the gospel? It is in Jesus rebuke to the synagogue ruler.
‘Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger . . .’
Now of course someone might say – ‘but Luke has no ox and ass at the manger! Except he does, here 🙂 And what is more this reference is precisely to do with people wanting nothing to do with the life of God . . . from the very opening verses of the prophet Isaiah . . .

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

So from the earliest days, in the early Christmas ikons and stories, there were the ox and the ass, for they knew their masters crib . . . or manger. Jesus is saying to the synagogue ruler – remember the ox and ass?? These dumb animals recognise the life of God – you think you’re just leading them to water, but they know! But Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The ox and ass by the manger – recognising the Life of God – Knowing Jesus.

Jesus as he announces his ministry reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour! What is the Year of the Lord’s favour? It is the Jubilee year – the year in which everything was to be set straight – it was the Sabbath of Sabbaths – it was the fulfilment of the Sabbath and as Jesus walks into the Synagogue and sees the woman, the fulfilment of the Sabbath is here

If you realise that, then not only does Jesus’ healing the woman on the Sabbath make perfect sense, but also everything else Jesus says in Luke’s gospel. The Sabbath of Sabbaths, the The year of Restoration of all things. The Jubilee year in which those who had accumulated land handed it back, when those who due to misfortune or ill will, it matters not, had been enslaved, were set free. When once more all had everything they need, as everything was reditributed.

This is why Jesus speaks of this year as woe to those who have grown rich! A settlement is coming which is good news to the poor! Or ‘give to everyone who asks of you’ – ‘you cannot be my disciple unless you give up your possessions’ He is the Sabbath of Sabbaths King, the one who being in very nature God, does not cling onto equality, but made himself nothing, he emptied himself and in so doing restored all things. And so on the Cross decalres, ‘it is finished’
The Jubilee, the Sabbath of Sabbaths is the year of Restoration, made physically present in the body of Jesus. Who touches the woman – Jubilee touches the woman ‘and the people were rejoicing at all the glorious things occurring through him’
In his very being, his very presence life pours out, Sabbath Life, Healing life.

Jesus, the culmination of God’s work – it is the work that from the cross Jesus announced as complete, ‘it is finished in Him’. That is our fullest healing. In Jesus Is Sabbath – come unto me, all you who are weary and I will give your Rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn form me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls . . .

So, Sabbath: Law or Life? The answer? Sabbath – the Law of Life in its fullest. The Law of God is always away from death and towards life. Insofar as we don’t get this we can either ignore the law of god, ignoring his life giving word . . . or we can fail to see that the End of the Law -the culmination of the Law is god’s Eternal Life. For Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul – In Jesus this has come in his very being . . .

Truly when we know Jesus, when we along with the ox and the ass know our master, we can say, Amen Amen The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. Knowing Jesus, the Law is no longer alien, needing to be discarded as ‘out of date’, nor observed for it’s own sake. For everything is fulfilled in Him.

Amen

‘The prayer of Jesus’ people’ – Trinity 6 Year C 2019

Sermon for Trinity 6, Year C 2019
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

Pray your Life

I wonder what you ask for when you pray? Why do we pray for the things we pray for? What is it that causes us to pray – not what deep ‘spiritual thing’ does, but what in the world we inhabit makes us pray?
These questions which I suppose we rarely if ever give thought to – but are called to mind by our gospel and also a presentation at our clergy conference this past week.

Firstly our gospel. Jesus’ disciples are being good disciples here – they are asking their rabbi to teach them. Jesus let us never forget is our rabbi also! Our teacher. We are to listen to his words for they are Spirit and they are Life. We might say ‘they are true’ – although the idea of truth is so thin in our modern world that perhaps this isn’t the best way of putting it. Better to say with Peter that they are ‘words of eternal Life’. To Hear Jesus – to listen and allow his words to shape us, is to come alive! Just like old Lazarus – this is what the Words of Jesus do! So when we hear Jesus’ words on prayer they also if we hear them bring us to Life – to Life filled Prayer.
Or quite literally a Prayer filled Life – Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a House of prayer to use Jesus’ words. As Paul tells us – the Spirit prays within us – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. His Life giving words of prayer are perhaps the most clear form of Spirit filled prayer we can know. Well we shall return to the Holy Spirit towards the end

As with any good rabbi – what Jesus says – is pithy, short and memorable. His words are Life – they are bread for us – we need to be able to come back to them over and over again for our Eternal Life in the age that is passing away.

So when Jesus teaches us to pray he gives us a simple prayer. Not a set of techniques – ‘Just’ Words – but these words are Spirit and Life, for they are the words of Jesus.
We learned to pray it ‘on our mother’s knee’ – although in my case it was from my father 🙂 As we were taught these Words – the Life in Jesus was handed on to us. Do you want to know how to pray? Then listen to Jesus and say these words that are Spirit and Life. As Paul reminds us, we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit pray within us. Jesus words. Life – Spirit. Within us

But back to that question of what to ask for. We are told to pray for the coming of the Kingdom – on earth as in heaven – for bread and forgiveness. That’s it!

Christian Life is a gift from God. Like Jesus – this Life is physical and relational. Bread is fundamental to our physical existence – it keeps us alive. Eugene Peterson translates this ‘keep us alive with three square meals a day’ but I think that pushes it rather. We just need bread for the day. Give us this day our daily bread. It has an immediacy to it. Tomorrow’s bread can take care of itself – we seek bread for this day. We live too much in terms of the unknown future. A place of myths and terrors or enticements. At the moment there are those amongst us who are worried about things that lie in the future – but our prayer is for daily bread. This Life flowing from God now – our Life now. We live in humble dependence on Our Father in heaven from moment to moment.
And for forgiveness, We begin the prayer – our Father – we pray as His children his offspring in the world – He is The Provider. The Life giver – the Life of His Son. Breaking relationship is death – it is intimately connected to Bread. Bread shared – is Life shared. But sharing of bread requires relationship. So broken relationship is Death. We pray for Life. Knowing that this Life comes from the Father we seek forgiveness of our sins

But it doesn’t stop there. You see life doesn’t.

Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. and the dominant picture of the Temple and the Spirit in Scripture is of water flowing out from it. In the garden – that first picture of the Temple – the Temple which we have indeed turned into a den of thieves – there are rivers flowing from it

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.

Ezekiel speaks of the water flowing from the Temple in these terms
The LORD showed me ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. . . On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’

And of course, Jesus – the Temple destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days is the source of this Water – Spirit and Life ‘whoever is thirsty let him come to me and drink, for out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers of living water’

For that for which we pray is the centre of, perhaps the entirety of the Christian active life – as Jesus fed the multitude and forgave all from the Cross, pouring out his life, so our Life is the reception of that life and the passing on of it. Share your bread with the poor, forgive others.

indeed the prayer suggests this very flow. Forgive us as we forgive others! We are asking God to replenish our lives. Feed us as we feed others. What does Jesus say – do not worry about what you will eat and drink or what will you wear do not worry about the Life coming to you— but rather seek his kingdom and righteousness and all this things will be given you

Of course as we learn, be it ever so slowly to share what we have, to share bread, to share forgiveness – this Life Of Jesus is revealed in us, amongst us and flowing from us

And so Jesus teaching on prayer concludes with a prayer that sums up the Lord’s prayer
He asks us to reflect on our lives. Do you give bad gifts? No, though you are evil you know how to give good gifts . . . how much more than will the Father [who is Goodness] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him – the gift of his Good being. The transformation of our inner being, that we are converted to temples of life giving spirit, spreading bread and forgiveness wherever we go

Do we pray each day for bread? Do we pray each day for forgiveness? Do we pray for the Life of the Holy Spirit? It is perplexing. Jesus gives us words to pray, but so many think they have moved on from this to more ‘advanced’ forms of prayer . . .

This brings me briefly to the talk at ministry conference. In it, Dr Tim Cooper spoke to us about most Christianity in the World – which is not Western. What is more it is a story of almost continuous persecution, of millions who imitated Jesus in their deaths. Millions upon millions of Christians over 2000 years who lived on the edge – not just materially but culturally. Our Western Tradition which has been at the heart of Western culture at least for the last thousand years is one which does not know what it is to be marginal, although there are some who would say that we are now discovering that. When you are on the edge – you depend on others for your life. You depend on people not killing you – you may well depend on them fro bread – and because you depend on them, relationship is key – forgiveness

If we think that The Lord’s Prayer – Words of Spirit and lIfe flowing from Jesus are not the Essence of prayer – the Essential Prayers – is it perhaps it is because we have become so self sufficient? After all – how many of us ever have to think about where our bread comes from let alone ask for it? If we can get by without close relationships with others then forgiveness isn’t part of our needs for our relationships are rarely Life or Death matters
Listen to Jesus ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God’ As his brother James says ‘Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’

When we have little or nothing we live in dependence on the goodness of others, relationships matter more because of this. Life is bared down to its essentials. We who have much are much further from the Kingdom – perhaps this is why we are so quick to come up with alternative visions of the Kingdom that better suit our lives, and different forms of prayer?
With whom are we sharing our bread, that we need to pray for Bread? With whom do we share in Life, such that broken relationship is life or death?

In this respect it is sobering to consider that the absorption of the General Synod of the church in maters of sexuality over the past 25 years has been the wealthy driving the agenda, and ignoring (and I saw it happen over and again) the cries of the poor – our pasifika brothers and sisters whose lives are literally being submerged under the water, homes destroyed by tropical storms . . . but where is the church most alive in our province?
Are our lives lives Real Lives? Life flowing from God through us? Lives of Receiving and giving? Perhaps we need to hear the words of Jesus?? ‘How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him? Perhaps we who are so comfortable with our own lives, need most to pray this prayer that we be saved by His Life in and amongst us? Amen

Fat in the day of slaughter . . . Evensong

Evensong
Genesis 41
Luke 16:1-9

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. . . You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. Jas 5:1,5

One of the first things someone coming to these shores to live notes is how expensive food is here. And what is more food prices are going up. I know that this is probably a heresy to say so, but I think that that might be a good thing. Anything which disturbs our comfortable slumbers and wakes us up to the world in which we really live

Slumbers are of course the place where sometimes dreams intrude and thinking of the price of food will lead us to Pharaoh and other players, not least those who have ‘fattened their hearts on a day of slaughter’ – those whom James says must now ‘weep and howl’. And I trust that if nothing else that quotation woke us up at least a little?

A local farmer in one of my parishes told me how troubled he was that so very few people nowadays had ever known what it was to live in genuine want and shortage of food . . . he knew history and scripture well enough. The story of Pharaoh was one not unfamiliar to one who lived with the daily vagaries of the weather let alone climate collapse as the director of each days work, or his daily life . . .

Pharaoh’s dreams, were not just dreams – they were an awakening to reality. For so very long people lived knowing that there were times of feast and times of famine.
Our culture has for a season broken these natural cycles by our technology. Technology of course always separates us from reality and changes our perspective on it, but we have lost any awareness of this as our lives have become so divorced from The World of The Real. The cycle will kick in again, one way or another, and the longer we put it off the harder will be the fall . . .

Pharaoh’s dreams reveal a deep underlying anxiety – how do I cling on to what I have in a world of uncertainty. And as the collapse of the climate inexorably quickens, til we begin to feel its hot breath even on us which live divorced from the Real World – such dreams are being given fresh impetus to this day.
The nightmare of the Pharaohs of the modern world. A recent conference of what we have come to call plutocrats, people of immense wealth, was given over to consideration of how they would survive the coming famine, or to put it in their terms, ‘the inevitable collapse of civilisation which climate change is already bringing about’. One of their key questions was ‘where is best to go and hole up? Alaska, or New Zealand?’ As you may be aware several such people have already opted to make our country their bolt hole, some investing large sums in secure underground shelters. Another question, interestingly was ‘how do I keep my personal guards loyal?’ Options such as fitting them with electric necklaces were explored. After all, if things collapse, who can you trust in the world we have created for ourselves?

It is a dark irony that in the world we have created, friends and family are barely visible in comparison to previous socially rich ages. Who do you count on in a world of individuals? If the only thing you have is wealth and no tribe??
The Pater familias who had risen to ascendency through prowess in battle, like for example David -Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands as the crowds shouted – no wonder David took over at the top.
Yet in a world of individuals separated out by their money, we discover that it hasn’t the power with which we had invested it, especially when the so ‘economy, so-called, collapses. Family ties, blood, runs deep and so powerful local chiefs did not need to worry quite so much about those they pay to protect them turning on them. ‘How will we stop our personal army turning on us? the wealthy ask
The age of the individual has ushered in an age when the fabric of existence is shattered – who can I trust? This is in so many many ways a dystopian vision. James once more ‘you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money . . . weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.’

Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams – visions of skeletal livestock – led him to a programme of self protection. We miss in our following the Joseph narrative what it is that Pharaoh with the help of Joseph does – that is accumulate everything to himself. During the fat years he exacts a tax from all the people of Egypt – and during the thin years he sells the grain he has accumulated back to the people – until they have nothing left to give him but their bodies. He has grown fat in the age of slaughter – he has enslaved his people – he is an absolute ruler . . . and this will come back to bite him, as it all come back to bite all those who live for themselves.

There is the irony that the plutocrats have no friends to rely on – but speak of chaining their security personnel like dogs with electric collars. This Pharaoh at least went to his gold encrusted tomb ‘in peace’ Later Pharaoh’s reaped the harvest of God’s judgement against them as we go on to read in Exodus . . .

What judgement we may well asked will soon be reaped on those who have accumulated in the day of slaughter. Think of how difficult for example it is to buy a house now if you are young? I wonder at the piles of money accumulated by the St John’s college trust board – the wealthiest theological faculty outside of Harvard – in excess of $500 million. A huge percentage of this accumulated off the back of the housing market – a ghastly monster which tips people into forms of effective slavery and wrecks family life . . . Have we not ourselves as the Anglican Church grown fat in the day of slaughter?

A year or so ago our Synod passed a motion calling on ‘those in power to do all they could to alleviate poverty.’ I suggested that perhaps we could do much with that $500 million. Oddly enough, or perhaps wearily predictably no one thought this a good idea. The poor are someone else’s problem.
We worry about the collapse of the church – but consider the mission impact of Christians actually emptying themselves for the sake of the poor? Ah well . . .

On a wider stage The Creation has paid a terrible price but our lives have been ones of unimaginable ease and comfort . . . we have had cheap food for an historically unimaginably long period – we are accustomed to it – but the Creation has collapsed as a result. Intensive farming which we live off the back of, before we go criticising the farmers, has all but ruined soil, water, plant and insect life. And some have grown fat in the day of slaughter. If we have been paying attention these past few years you will no doubt have heard of ‘disaster capitalism’ – wherever something terrible happens, there is money to be made – she even suggesting that countries have been deliberately destabilised in order that a few can make a quick billion. Brexit anyone? The vultures are readying themselves to feed of the carcass. But we are living now with disaster capitalism on the biggest stage. This is not the collapse of nation states, it is the collapse of the entire creation.

One think I have in common with The plutocrats, apart form coming to live here, is that I also have taken a close interest in the numerous indicators of the coming Judgement. I wonder if perhaps their underground bunkers are a manifestation of those calling for the mountains to fall on them . . .

———

What is the gospel in all of this? Well I have to admit to taking once more a slight liberty with the readings for there are words of Jesus which speak directly to this, which I chose for tonight.

As we read this morning ‘Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it will not be taken away from her’. The One thing as we heard was that she listened to the words of Jesus, which are Spirit and Life. The irony I pointed out was that whoever people fall to arguing over this story of Martha and Mary which are about listening to the words of Spirit and Life which fall from His lips, they always ignore the words of Jesus . . .

The reading from Luke we have heard this evening is to our ears a perplexing tale. We who have been brought up to accept ‘economic realities’ in terms of abstractions like business ethics etc are confused by Jesus using the action of someone who defrauds his boss to save his own skin. But then our idea of economics has nothing to do with God’s.
Economics literally is ‘the law of the household’ – put another way, it is how we live together, sharing in life together. it is little surprise that in the age of the individual, it has become the abstract idolatrous monster to which we must all bow down at any cost. China’s GDP falls and the world is terrified – our gods are crumbling. So to hear the words of Jesus, we need to understand that His words are Light and Life – not the latest prognostications of the economists and bankers and politicians and plutocrats.

Jesus it must be said says things that are not music to our ears – he has no time for money – which is essentially a technology of abstraction separating people from people. So he is unconcerned about financial ‘justice’ per se – as we shall hear in a few weeks time as we continue to read this gospel on Sunday mornings. Rather he is in the business of making friends. Use unrighteous mammon to make friends for yourselves, so that when the Day dawns . . .

Job says If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the orphan has not eaten from it—
for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—
if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or a poor person without covering,
whose loins have not blessed me,
and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
if I have raised my hand against the orphan,
because I saw I had supporters at the gate;
then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.

If we hoard, like the Pharaohs we will rot with your wealth, but if we live with an open hand to those around us, we will find yourselves welcomed into many homes when things fall apart. Making friends is a lengthy task – may God grant us in his mercy time for this work of Life

And if anyone things these words not fit for the delicate ears of evensong, let us not forget the song of our mother Mary – ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away . . .

Perhaps we ought to give thought once more to that $500 million stashed away under St John’s college?