Rambling Thoughts January-June 2015

 

                    

     

May 17th: Ascensiontide

I’m writing this just after I’ve got back from a glorious walk through the countryside. What a miracle our world is! The blue of the bluebells and forget-me-nots; the white of the May blossom and cow parsley; the fresh green of the leaves and grass; and the sight of four tiny ducklings rushing after mum and dad.

   ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ says Psalm 19. How today’s walk spoke to me of that glory of God. It spoke to me of the wonder of being alive – the aliveness of nature and the aliveness in me. We take it all so much for granted but what a miracle it is.

  I’ve been reading recently that the first ‘bible’ that was given to humankind is nature itself. The created order is the first way in which God spoke to us, and it is still one of the ways that he speaks to us. I so often think what a wonderful God to create all this beauty and all this intricacy of working together. One question another book (written by Brian McLaren asked) was: ‘if one element of creation were your only Bible, what would it tell you about God?’ I chose to think about what sleep said to me of God (probably because I’ve been feeling I need more sleep) and it’s been a fascinating exercise. It reminded me that God really cares for me when I’m asleep and can’t fend for myself or control anything. I thought how fascinating that we were designed to need sleep to restore us, rather than being 24/7 creatures. How would you answer the question? What element of creation could you ponder on?

  Perhaps think of a time when you’ve experienced the wonder of aliveness and beauty – what did it say to you of God? And let’s give thanks for the wonder of nature, our world and life itself?

 

Ascension Day 2015: May 14th

    With advancing years, I find that I sit down to watch a programme and go to sleep before the end. I never do discover whodunit or how the plot worked out.The same applies to the Big Story of Jesus. Virtually everyone knows the story of Christmas and his birth; many have gone to sleep by Good Friday and don’t get that part of the story; many are well away in the land of nod by the time of the Resurrection and so don’t know that death was not the end. Get to Ascension and Pentecost and virtually the whole audience has gone to sleep. So they have no idea of what happened, let alone the significance. Staying asleep means we are missing out – missing out on so much that God wants for us.

  So let’s see what we can do with the Ascension – what do you make of this story? I’ve heard it explained in very functional terms: Jesus ascended into heaven so that the Holy Spirit could come to everyone and Jesus would no longer be limited to a particular time and place. He had to go so that the Holy Spirit could come. In a sense that is entirely right, but it missed so much of what the Ascension could say to us. We miss the purpose of the whole story.

   And the purpose? The fulfilment of the picture of a well known icon: God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are seated round a table and the perspective is such that we the viewers are invited in – to join them in table fellowship. God’s purpose is that we might all be drawn into the very life and love of God – not just when we die but now. Have we fallen asleep before this good bit?

  We tend to assume that the divine and human are totally separate – no way that they could co-exist. Indeed we have the tendency always to separate and divide: secular and sacred; good and bad; black and white. What if, in God’s topsy-turvy world, that is not the final answer? In an old hymn, it says: “He has raised our human nature on the clouds to God’s right hand; there we sit in heavenly places, there with him in glory stand: Jesus reigns adored by angels; man with God is on the throne” Extraordinary – not talking about heaven when we die (whatever that means) but humanity at the heart of Godhead now.

   Stirred some of you up in Lent last year with talk of this divine/human mix – that just as Jesus is human and divine, so are we. We don’t believe it; can’t see it. Surely there is no way we can come anywhere near God? After all, if we are at all honest, we know that we aren’t particularly good, we have bad thoughts; we’re not over faithful and we can be very obtuse. Like all humans, we are capable of great evil.

  So we hold the picture of Jesus ‘up there’, God ‘up there’ – separate from us and at a distance. So, prayer becomes like trying to hit a distant target which we will never reach with our prayer bow and arrow. Life becomes about striving to be good in our own strength and get it right so we ‘qualify’ when the time comes.

  Yet the events of the Ascension say something very different. Jesus ascends as a human being – he doesn’t shed his human flesh and blood. He takes our human nature right into very heart of God. Our humanity in all its variety, in all its vulnerability, has been taken by Jesus into the heart of the divine life. 'Man with God is on the throne.'

  Somehow we have to let go of our view of a three decker universe with heaven up there, earth here and the other place down there. We are already at the heart of God now but there is also a not yet for the process is on going. God is closer than our heartbeat.

    Rowan Williams: “the Ascension is a celebration of the glory of humanity, the unlikely possibilities of people like you and me, the eternal potential locked up in our muddled struggling lives. And a celebration too of God's capacity, through his Holy Spirit, to reach into those parts of humanity that are so far from glorious, that are rebellious and troubled and broken, to breathe through them, to take them home, to drop them into that fire and melt them and recast them” There is nowhere that God isn’t, where Jesus cannot go and has not been. He has been on the cross, abandoned, hatred thrown at him, the worst that humans could do; he descended into hell as the creed tells us.

  Anywhere and everywhere he will be at work – strangely secretly to bring all things together in union with God. Which suggests we need to look at things differently. To see our fellow humans differently; to see the created order differently (not just something to be used); it’s to feel everything differently – not being shielded from the reality of the world in all its glory but also pain and anguish. Suggests that we need to be different – human beings willing to be open to receive the Holy Spirit, transforming us ever more into the likeness of Christ. So that we can grow in compassion, faith, hope and love because we are loved; because Jesus has compassion for us and faith and hope in us. Those who live trusting that all is in the hands of God and we can trust him

   Jesus takes all into the heart of God – all the glorious parts of our humanity but alongside the unpleasant parts. Taken into very heart of God to be healed and transfigured.

  I pray that we can wake up and see and experience the full Big Story of Jesus 

 

Good Friday 2015: April 3rd

 Mark has throughout his gospel shown Jesus who dances to a different tune from the tune of the world; shown us Jesus who calls us also to dance to a different tune.  During Lent, we’ve been looking at 1 Corinthians 13 and Jesus’ urging us to love God, neighbour and self in the same way – now we will see that love lived out in a way that is beyond anything we might really understand.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: “For the word of the Cross is stupidity to those who are on their way to destruction, whereas to us who are on our way to salvation it is the power of God. For it is written ‘I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent I will bring to nothing’. Where is the clever man? Where is the literate person? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God rendered stupid the world’s ‘cleverness’? For since – by God’s wisdom – the world did not know God through its wisdom, God was pleased to save believers through the stupidity of our proclamation. Furthermore since Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks go looking for wisdom, we for our part proclaim Christ – Christ crucified! For Jews this is an affront, for Gentiles it is stupidity. However, to those who are called, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, it is Christ, God’s power and God’s wisdom. Because God’s stupidity is wiser than human beings, and God’s weakness is stronger than human beings.”

So many facets of the mystery of the cross. I have often talked about how here Jesus says to us ‘Don’t you get it? This is how much I love you.’ Today explore a little of what Mark shows us of human power and God’s power.

We’ve had a week of learning about King Richard III, and watching his reinterment. He was a normal sort of human king of his day. He did good things and bad things. At one level, it seems he wanted to do good for his people. At another, he wanted power and was willing to do almost anything to get it, and hold on to it. This is the sort of king that the people of Jesus’ day would have understood.  The sort of king who fought on battlefields with their army – tales of valour.

And those battles resulted in the death of many soldiers and often large numbers of civilians. The battle would win victory and peace for a while, but it rarely lasted. Those who were cowed and defeated all too often would build up their strength and try to get power back; while the power of the victor tended to become corrupted by being in power with the compromises demanded of them.

Mark shows us Jesus – who dances to such a different tune, the tune of the love and power of God. As you  read the story of the Passion, you will see Jesus becoming increasingly alone and isolated – his disciples run away, Peter denies him, the religious authorities condemn him, Pilate sentences him to death, the soldiers abuse him. There is the ultimate picture of this lonely figure high on the cross – abandonment.

God’s power is so different from our ideas of power – Paul reminds us that this apparent weakness is stronger than any human power. ‘But it doesn’t look like it!’ we cry. ‘It’s not how we would do it’ (which is what convinced me many years ago that this is true). The pagans used to make gods who behaved very much like humans but on a bigger scale. We can look down on them but do we not do the same when we speak of our God? We think to ourselves all too often – ‘If I was running the world, this is what I would do if I had God’s power’; ‘why doesn’t God intervene and stop this?’ In Christ, we see God who doesn’t intervene from on high, from beyond our world but who works from the inside out – he came to the world to work from the inside out. He works in us from the inside out. On the cross, his power is from the inside out – and that for us, is mystery.

On the cross, human ideas of power are destroyed. God’s power is simply not like ours. He doesn’t use the sort of power we would in the way we would. And that confounds us.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus has told people not to speak of miracles and healings (though they always do). Perhaps he doesn’t want to be categorized simply as another healer, another teacher. He silences the evil spirits who identify him as the Son of God. Then suddenly, he declares ‘I am’ – the divine name. Not when he is at the height of his popularity but when he stands alone, forsaken, all hope of rescue gone, his opponents at height of their power. It is no longer a secret; when there is no hope left of a better ending, we have this bare statement that this figure is God.

 This is big thinking – hard thinking as it turns our thinking inside out. Yet the gospel says to us that freedom comes when we let go of human notions of power, success.  Paul says ‘no’ to seeking the applause and approval of others; ‘no’ to the spin doctors. Look at the ultimate paradox, the Cross. The miserable death of a condemned slave, which is God’s key move in the saving of the world.

The cross says: let go of your need for power, for applause, for success, for bubble reputation. There is the road to freedom. Dance to a different tune: the tune of the love and power of God.

Means it’s worthwhile to faithfully follow and serve the one who is the servant King – but oh does it challenge our ways of understanding!

 

Ash Wednesday 2015: February 18th

  I always like to suggest something special to do by way of observing Lent. Maybe you’re giving something up – chocolate, alcohol (good discipline). Maybe you’ve got a book lined up or a course. If nothing has grabbed you so far, then my suggestion is to sit with 1 Corinthians 13 and Jesus' command to love God and neighbour. To ponder God’s love for us in Jesus and our love of him and neighbour. 

     Love is difficult word in English – we have the one word whereas other languages have different words for different grades of loving. So we use love for ‘we love food’ but also the deep love of partner, child, God. It’s overworked and too easily can become all fluffy and gooey. That is not the love that Jesus came to live and show.

His love of you: read 1 Corinthians 13 and the description of love. Read it replacing the word ‘love’ with ‘Jesus’ and meditate on the fact that that is how Jesus loves you (unbelievable). Alongside that, Jesus' stating of the commandments invites us to look at our love of Him and others. How are we doing when we consider how Jesus’ loves? Probably ‘room for improvement’. This is not to make us feel guilty but to acknowledge – yes, we fall short but long to do better. Help me. 

    Let’s move on to John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. Jean Vanier writes ‘Feelings of guilt are like roadblocks: they prevent us from advancing on the road of faith and love. Jesus takes away these roadblocks and tells us ‘I do not condemn you’ Picture the events. Jesus is teaching in the Temple – round him the authorities are getting twitchy and angry. Opposition is growing. Now the opportunity comes to trap him. Commotion – men drag in woman (half naked perhaps). She’s been caught in adultery and the men challenge Jesus – the law says she should be stoned. They don’t care about the law or the woman – they’re out to get Jesus.

    Jesus has been preaching forgiveness and love – what will he do? If he says the law shouldn’t be kept, then they’ve got him! But if he says the law should be observed, then they can challenge his teaching about forgiveness. They’ve got him cornered. Either way he won’t be able to say he’s the Messiah. Jesus is silent – bends down and writes in the dust. ‘What do you say?’ they demand. ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ He bends again and writes in the dust, and gradually, the eldest first, they slip away.

Where would we place ourselves in this story? Whose side are we on? I guess the woman’s because the men are clearly the baddies in this story. Let’s look at how Jesus relates to her. She must have been full of fear and dread. She’s been caught – shamed in public. Will she be stoned? There seems no-one here who cares. Read John 3:17,  Jesus has not come to condemn. Guess this is a surprise to us – religion is the cause of much shame in us and others. Look at how he relates to her.

He is silent – no words of judgment, correction. He came to be and show love – how could he condemn? He came to draw us to the full stature of what it means to be human – not to reduce us to shamed and paralyzed people. He loves this woman so full of fear. It isn’t that Jesus is saying that adultery is OK. He wants to set her free so that she can change her ways – doesn’t want to have her grovelling in fear and guilt. Yes – acknowledge that she’s gone wrong but then discover she’s forgiven and set free from fear and guilt so she can go her way liberated. His words? ‘Neither do I condemn you’. She can be free of guilt knowing that Jesus loves her and she can go her way, changed and able to love in a new way.

  Do you, do we, need to hear Jesus saying those words to us now? Neither do I condemn you’. Where are you caught up in trap of guilt and shame? Hear Jesus say those words to you.

     But what about those men? The baddies. Interesting to see Jesus and his love for them. They appear hateful and hating – can we be like them? Yes. Suspect they are frightened men – frightened of Jesus and what he is preaching. Frightened of his popularity. Frightened of his message of love? Yes it can be terrifying to have someone come close to you in love – can be far too demanding – not all of us that good at receiving love. Frightened that his message means change – that awful word ‘change’ which few of us really want except on our own terms.

     Sin in John’s gospel is disobeying commandment to love but more specifically, refusal to welcome Jesus and to trust him. Sin is the wall we construct between us and Jesus – around our hearts and minds. Prevents us from being open to Jesus and to others. Wall is strengthened when, like those men, we refuse to come to Jesus and be healed and even want to reject him. That may be where we are now. Jesus judged them no more than he judged the woman – no harsh words for them. Holds up mirror so they see themselves but his words the same ‘neither do I condemn you’ for he wants us to set us free.

   What stops us receiving the love – believing the message of forgiveness? Whole raft of things possibly. Message that have to be successful. Childhood stuff – our child’s heart is often wounded. We have learnt shame and lost our trust.

   We've learnt that we mustn’t show weakness. Frightened of admitting that we’re a mess. Try to prove our own worth. All have reasons why we try to keep love of Jesus at distance.Can we open ourselves just a bit more to that Love that is Jesus through Lent?

   It makes not only make a difference to our lives but those who are loved can love, those who are forgiven can forgive.‚Äč

February 8th 2015

I find myself still with the song I wrote about on January 1st: Lord where have we left you? Lord you never leave us. Today's gospel was the great passage John 1:1-14 - how can a poor preacher add to the glory of that passage? But we do, and I did, this morning.

  I was reminded of the saying 'Jesus came to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable'. Where are we disturbed and needing comfort? Where have we grown comfortable and need disturbing? I guess we're all a mixure of the two.

  So comfort for the disturbed? We have John 1:14: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" Or, the Greek translates into "pitched his tent among us". "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood" (The Message). Here is the heart, centre, beginning and end of the gospel. God, Creator of everything, presented in terms of Light and Life becomes like us a vulneratble, mortal human being.

  Redemption lies already for us in the incarnation; we see it at greater depth at the cross and it becomes more intimate at Pentecost - God in Christ reconciling us to himself. John writes of seeing his glory - glory that God is not set apart and distant, glory that will be at its greatest on the cross.

  We are loved this much. Not because we deserve it, not because we have earned it, not because we are good. We are his children by his grace. God's choice, his grace.

  Can I take that on board? Not really if I'm honest - it's a lifetime's work. Lord you never leave us.

   Disturbing the comfortable? Perhaps the reverse of the coin to what I've just written is that, actually, a God who comes this close is a bit uncomfortable. Do I really want His light shining in my dark places? It might be easier if he stayed at a distance? He was very uncomfortable to many people in his earthy ministry, and still is today.

  He will disturb us. He wants to lead us from behind barriers of fear, of indifference, of blindness, of guilt. This is disturbing as too often we humans tend to prefer the known to the unknown, even if, strangely, the known isn't that great. Machiavelli wrote: "There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to institute a new order of things"

   Yet that is precisely the work of Jesus in the power of His Holy Spirit, and it's not always comfortable. The pattern of birth, death and resurrection that we see in Jesus' life is not just for Jesus' life and time (in the past). It is the pattern of our world with the seasons, of our own lives and the lives of our churches. That is not comfortable to us - we would rather build up our success stories. Our empires. Birth, death and resurrection doesn't necessarily sound that great. But is it the pattern that following Jesus gives us?

   I don't know what in each of our lives needs disturbing, but let's be open and dare to be disturbed and take down our barriers.

January 1st 2015: New Year's Day

  It's unbelieveable that a week ago today it was Christmas Day with carol singing and feasting still in full swing. As I went out this morning, it seemed to me that the Christmas decorations now look a bit tired and have lost their excitement factor. We're now on to New Year and fireworks; next week it's back to normal at work and school.

  It feels like the manger gets packed up and the baby born at Bethlehem forgotten for another year. Christmas is over. In what other circumstances is the birth of a baby treated in this way - forgotten the minute they are born? No, family and friends have to work out what the birth of the baby means - to relationships and to sleep patterns. Why do we treat the birth of Jesus Christ differently and forget the baby once Christmas Day has been and gone?

  The church calendar means that we do spend until the beginning of February pondering the mystery of God made man and born at Bethlehem, pondering what the birth of this baby means to us today. However, I am reminded of a lovely haunting song from the Iona community in Scotland. It starts like this:

Lord, where have we left you - Somewhere far away, Remote and in the manger, A stranger, still in hay?

Lord, where have we left you - Somewhere out of range, Divorced from thoughts that matter, That shatter, cheat or change?

Food for thought in those words to last many weeks but then the song concludes:

Lord, you never leave us, Though you're left behind. To where you call and need us, Now lead us and our kind. Lord, you never leave us.

Wonderful!

 


Rector's Ramblings
Webpage icon Rector's Ramblings: What is your world view?
Webpage icon Rector's Ramblings: The Holidays 2016
Webpage icon Rector's Ramblings: post referendum
Webpage icon EU referendum result
Webpage icon Rector's Ramblings: Spring 2016
Webpage icon Rector's ramblings: Advent Sunday 2015
Webpage icon Rector's Ramblings July 2015