Saturday, October 29, 2005

Getting it right

The 24th Sunday after Pentecost(Propert 31)
Joshua 3:7-17, Ps 107:1-9; 1 Thess 3:5-13; Matt 23:1-12

The tantalising headings
Act in faith
Moses died in sight of the Promised Land
but that did not mean God had deserted the chosen people
or had become unfaithful.
As we explored last week
God's business is unfinished
and we capture this sense today
the life of faith goes on
even when the leaders, the motivators, the giants
...we call them saints...
have died.
Indeed we treasure and name this tradition
the communion of saints.
So Joshua takes responsibility from Moses
and his first task is not to bemoan the death of Moses
but to move on in faith!.
We pick up the ark and move on,
and it is our expereinece that the life of faith
moves from one generation tot he next.
Where ever we find ourselves in the life of faith
let us note the challenge of the current generation
  • too big a job, too few resources
  • the leaders of today are not like the leaders of the past
  • things have changed
  • we can't make ends meet
and move on.
We walk, not by sight but by faith
In God,
who is faithful to us.
It is easy to give up
but this is nto the walk of faith.
Where ever you find yourself to be
I urge you to walk on
How can we thank God enough for you
Heaven knows, Paul had a lot of difficult situations to deal with.
He points the early churches to a key Christian principle
Always do things in community
Understand that we are in this together
and you will understand a key principle to the life that God has given us to share
So we read that his steadfast prayer for the Church in Thessalonika is this:
...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another
and for all, just as we abound in love you.
Gee! Those people who we try to share the community of faith with
can be tedious, difficult and boring.
They are often wrong, and plain dumb!
It will ever be so.
They no doubt say the thing about us.
So our prayer is that we may change and be kinder
and holier
and that we ourselve may be blameless.
Let us not pretend that everything will just slot into place.
We will struggle with each other
and with ourselves.
And in doing so
we will find that the promise of God is true.
Where two or three are gathered together
There am I
right amongst you.
Be faithful to the spirit of the Gospel
Finally let us recognise how easy it is
in the name of faith
to be distraced by irrelevance
...proper protocol, the right words and behaviour,...
learn what is important
and what is peripheral.
And that at the heart of it
God will be faithful to us.
So the wheel has turned full circle!
Practical implications
  • We need courage to trust God and act
this does not necessarily come easily
and will need to be prayed about and practised
  • We need to trust the community of faith that God has given us,
this too requires prayer and practice.
  • We need to develop an intuitive sense of what is good, kind, and God 's will
  • and trust God's Spirt
this too requires prayer and practice

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My hero!

An address for Festival Evensong for the Feast of All Saints
Each of us has heroes.
In the Church we call these saints.
And because of our particular take in the Church
on the issue of humility
we often find it difficult to use
the language of hero...but heroes they are.
Psychologists who deal with with type and archetype
tell us how important heroes are.
I was intrigued to discover a few years ago
how all the stories of knights and their adventures
which I had lapped up as a boy
contained recurrent themes
which are the stuff of life.
The crusade, the slaying of the dragon,
the wounded hero,
the return with the prize, the search for the holy grail.
These are the stories of antiquity
but they are the stories of today.
This is true of these heroes we call the saints.
Whether it be ecstatic vision, the single-minded pursuit of God,
the selfless devotion to the poor or the sick, the desire to learn more of the mysteries of God,
or missionary or educational zeal.
They catch our imagination and inspire our Christian life.
St Bernard, the great teacher of the Middle Ages,
tells us that saints might inspire two desires in us:
The first is to be in their company and to try to emulate
their life and work.
This is an obvious function
and one which appeals to our natural sensibilities.
We emulate the people we admire.
We might make two comments about this,
The saints are a very diverse group of people.
In many ways it is easier to contrast them
with each other than to compare them
Some, like Francis or Mother Teresa,
inspire us because of their wholehearted desire to serve the poor.
Others inspire us because, like Gladys Aylward the missionary to China,
they are single-minded in their pursuit of their task
and do not see the obstacles that would put you and me off.
It is in this context that we often have Patron Saints,
people who particularly appeal to us,
whose way of serving Christ,
is something that we find meaningful and attractive.
You may like to think who you would take to be your patron.
There are many to choose from.
We look at their lives,
not with a view to making a photocopy of it
in our own life
but learning from their example.
Who will you take as your Patron,
and How will you let that colour your life?
The second thing that Bernard says
that inspires us about the saints
is their closeness to Christ
and that Christ, who is our life, may manifest himself to us
as he does to them.
This is not a magic formula
but rather another dimension of the first aspect.
We see in the example of these people
that their devotion to Christ
is so real that they know the closeness
with Jesus that we long for day and night.
We follow them, and associate with them
so that we may know Christ.
If we look beyond people
like St Francis, St Mary Magdalene, and St Ignatius...
we will probably find in this group of people
who are close to Christ
people called: Nana, Charlie Moncrieff, my old teacher,
my friend at church
and others who have influenced us more directly.
What attracts us to them, so often,
is that in them we see
people who could talk about Jesus
as though they knew him.
Why? Because they did.
Gather your saints
At a conference recently a speaker reminded us
that a good part of our daily prayer
was to "gather our saints"
To sit quietly and bring to mind
those whose Christian example
means something to us.
This is rather what we do at All Saints' time,
We gather our saints.
We are not worshipping them,
but rather we look to them
for some inspiration,
and some idea of how to be close to Christ.
These saints may be our patrons,
but often they will be the people
who increasingly we identify
are the ones we know to whom Christ
is genuine
and we could well follow their examples
So let us look to our heroes, the saints of old,
and the saints of today
and try to keep company with them
by seeing in the examples that apepal to us
something of value.
And let us try to earnestly know
what they know.
The reality fo the presence of Christ
from day to day

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Unfinished business

for Sunday October 23 (Proper 30)
Pentecost 23
Deut 34:1-12

There are many examples of unfinished business
Of Dickens’ unfinished last novel, a suspenseful thriller called: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Chesterton says, " Edwin Drood, the last book, was a book designed by Dickens, but ultimately filled up by others"
Dickens left this incomplete and attempts have been made at completing it
Most not entirely successful.
Schubert, of course,
left his great Unfinished Symphony(and many other composers have done likewise).
There are many more examples of people who have not been able, or who have not been bothered, to finish what they set out to do.
Most noweher near as grand as a novel or a symphony.
Whether it the garden wall, or the new kitchen
or the trip to China,
Death, circumstances, inclination all work together
to render these incomplete.
So we are not surprised to see that Moses, is not able to completely see through the task that he has been given by God.
Leading the people into the Promised Land.
This is given a spiritual explanation is a discipline for the failure to keep the holiness that God requires of his people.
It may seem a little unfair,
but says (amongst other things) that leaders have some degree of accountability
for the integrity of those they lead.
A curious twist in a dramatic story.
So Moses is able to look out, from afar,
on the entrance to the Promised Land
and dies before he gets there.
What he would have seen is curious
a semi-arid, almost uninviting land,
which nevertheless is the fulfillment of God's promise.
There is nothing of disappointment or failure
as they look out on this promise
as it nears its completion.
But, we begin to realise
that "incompleteness" is a fact of life.
We do not so much arrive as continue on the journey.
And though there may be stations on our journey
when we can stop and reflect,
we stay only for a little while
and then move on.
The language of pilgrimage
--the journey to the Promised Land--
is often the language that we use as we look at the life of the saints
and it might remind us that we journey
rather than arrive.
We look at the work of one such as Teresa of Calcutta
with a certain degree of admiration.
She achieved enormous things in her work of care for the poor
But we all know that her work goes on
and needs to go on.
It is not the end-point
but the ongoing journey
--her pilgrimage of solidarity with the poor---
that would seem to effect change.
It continues,
and it is this that is important
in the circumstances,
and in the lives of those on the journey.
For us
We may occasionally be disheartened
by the fact that not everything will be completed.
I felt my heart sink when I read this passage this week
“Will this be what my ministry is like
---a whole lot of slog, and so much incomplete--?”
Well, the answer is , ‘Yes!’
There have been stations along the way,
we can all think of special worship experiences,
of completed projects,
of special testimonies, often funerals, that tell
of the part individuals have played.
In our personal life there are milestones
in our lives, and the lives of our spouses, children, grandchildren and friends.
Sometimes though it is hard slog.
(Perhaps that is so at the moment.)
Our more mature reflection can be :
That the very nature of life is:
Journey rather than destination;
A pilgrimage rather than a place to put up our feet.
This does not always sound like good news,
BUT what sort of difference will it make to our planning, and our vision
and where we put our energies
if we realise that we are not so much planning to arrive
as to travel
Tension and optimism
There is a tension here
There will be some things that are left undone.
We can allow this to be a source of optimism rather than despair.
How easy would it have been for Moses to say:
"I failed because I didn't get there",
or for Teresa to say: "There are still poor people".
Instead they, and the others who we call saints,
give testimony that the life of faith is not essentially about Personal Achievement.
It is rather about our participation on the journey
it is about recognising that we are working together with others
and that it is essentially God's work that we are about.
God is its beginning, its middle and its completion.
In understanding this tension
we are set free to know that
it doesn't all depend on us.
While we are called to participate
...we are not simply to sit back and watch the other pilgrims...
the whole work does not depend on me
it depends on God
and God shares that work with us
(let us not let ourselves off lightly)
but we do not need to carry the burden
of how perfect the work is.
It is unfinished business
and will continue to be so
until all things are brought to their fulfillment
at the end of the age

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rights of ownership

Matthew 22:15-22 Tribute to Caesar
Jesus is asked a trick (and potentially politically damning) question
"Should we pay taxes to the occupying army?"
And he points out to us by the use of a coin
to whom we should pay taxes
"Whose head is on this coin?"
The answer, of course is" "Caesar's"...or the State's
The Church Father Tertullian(1) makes the poetic connection
that just as Caesar's head is on the coin, and so it belongs to him,
so we are stamped with the image of God
and we belong to God.
Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.
We might, and no doubt do, admire Jesus for his particular skill
and political savvy.
But we need also to note, as it were,
the other side of the coin.
If we think that some how this story
is going to tell us how to deal with difficult political situations
then we are definitely mistaken.
We are left at the end of this encounter with more questions
than we had at the beginning.
Though Tertullian's bow
.... the parallel he draws between the coin
being the Emperor's property
and the human being bearing the imprint of God....,
is a long one.
Tertullian is stretching the imagery.
Nevertheless, the point is valid.
This story does not so much
tell us the answer to the trick question....should we pay tribute to Caesar
It rather tells the Christian.
That we should render to God the things that are God's.
Matthew, writing to a church under persecution,
is reminding the early Christians
that there is need for commitment
for enthusiasm and courage.
The tribute to Caesar
can be solved relatively easily
obey the law and do your duty
we may not like it but it is straightforward.
But what is more demanding
is the tribute we offer to God.
It is the tribute of faith.
We give ourselves to God
because that is what we choose to do.
For all the saints
As we think about the holy saints of God
during these weeks
we see women and men
who got a handle on what it means
to be committed.
Whether it is Francis caring for the poor,
or our first Bishop Augustus
building up a church where there was not one,
or someone who saw the challenge to be faithful in worship
or to care for the sick.
Whether it was like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maximilian Kolbe
to stand up to the injustice of Nazis.
None of us will escape the reality
that we are called to render to God the things that are God's.
It is interesting to note that the one's who ask Jesus this "trick question"
go away unmoved by his clever answer.
They see no need to do anything.
It is not so with us.
Tertullian's point is well made
it is easy to fulfill our civil obligations
the point is what tribute will we offer to God.
We are called to be faithful
we are called to be healers, to care for the poor,
to worship faithfully and well, to pray earnestly
Render to God the things that are God's.
The tribute required for God
demands of us commitmet.
[Remember last week the man who tried to sneak into the wedding
the point is the same
If you are going to participate
then commitment requires just that
Bonhoeffer who I just referred to
tells us there is no such thing as Cheap Grace
"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."

He is making the point of this story and the same point
that Tertullian makes.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...
but let us not play games with God
and really give ourselves to God.

(1)Paragraph 12 of De Fuga in Persecutione (The Flight from Persecution)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Who gets to be a saint? (ii)

For Sunday October 9, 2005 - Matthew 22:1-14

No sermon I have heard about saints in the last 50 years
has failed to remind the modern Christian
that "We are all saints"
As we look at this parable (Matt.22:1-14) of the wedding feast
(read it online here)
We might ask ourselves what Jesus says
in this in answer to the question
"Who gets to be a saint?"

I do
In many ways the last line of this parable reminds us of the inescapable reality
"Many are called!"
God does not hold back on his offer of fulness of life.
So, as we ask, Who gets to be a saint?
We can at least answer:
Everyone gets the opportunity.
"Many are called!"
I am fortunate in that I can recognise
that there has never been a moment of my life
when that has not been true.
Less than a month old, I was walked across the road
to St Peter's Church, Kells
and I was baptised.
Baptism, in this sense, is a reply to the wedding invitation
that this parable is talking about.
The invitation to participate in a relationship
with the living God
which is called "eternal life"
(I sometimes think we understand that term better
if we say fulness of life or abundant life)
This gift is so abundant and free is truly gracious, freely offered...
that we can and should say
Many are called...perhaps we could add
available for all
What we also need to remember and add
is that this version ends with the words
Few are chosen
This process of selection
is not a sort of
whimsical game that God plays with us
it is, as these parables demonstrate,
also a process of self-selection
They do
The invitation is extended
but some, even many,
choose to not come
Two things happen
as a consequence:
those who have heard the invitation
but who choose not to come
are excluded!
And those who we don't think are the ones
who should be chosen
actually get the chance.
In historical terms
Jesus might be addressing
his own people
Pharisees and Saducees
who hear his teaching and yet
they fail to turn back to God.
We see then he turns
to social outcasts
poor tradespeople
fishermen, and anxious young men.
More than that
there are the tax collectors, the lepers
and the prostitutes.
These people with empty, desperate lives
are the ones who hear
and receive Jesus gladly.
As we reflect on religious history
this sort of pattern has often repeated itself.
In our terms (as of old)
it is the people who have always known
the Gospel
whose parents walked them over the road
to be baptised.
They have heard
and in many cases
This parable might remind us
that we have to live with that
as a reality.
It might also remind us that
when we try to focus our energies
at bringing people in
it is to the highways, and the byways
we should be going.
Can we honestly critique our parish life
and say
We are geared to welcoming
those who are usually rejected?
I think not

I don't
There is then
a salutary warning for those of us who are "in"
it is not a game.
It is a genuine invitation
which requires a genuine response.
If we think it will be about -game playing-
dressing up, social nicety or pretense
then we are mistaken.
We are to be clothed properly.
We are to set about our job.
It is this that we see the saints doing in their different ways.
Whether it be through faithful hours spent caring for the poor,
or a diuligent devotion to bringing up children,
it may be simply a commitment to live
a decent and honourable Christian life
as best we can.
It is not particularly about coming to church,
it is about how we live our life.
This is a serious mistake we often make
with these parables of the kingdom.
We some how seem to think
that they are about our involvement in church.
That is not the case.
It is about how we choose to live life.
Not about how oftyen we receive communion
but whether we practice forgiveness
and care for the poor.
Not about how much we give
but about our relationship with God
Will our life show that we take this invitation seriously?
Take some stock this week,
ask a telling question...
you know one of those tricky ones..
if I was on trial for being a christian
would there be enough evidence to convict me
Would the jury find love, mercy, forgiveness.
Reaching out to the poor, standing alongside the weak,
caring for the sick and the lonely.
It is not a game.
Do we say yes to the invitation
to eternal life?
Do we say no, to the hypocrisy of pretence?
Nothing less will do.