Sunday, February 23, 2014
There are there some very real phobias that some suffer from, that to some others seem irrational. For example:
Peladophobia: fear of baldness and bald people.
Aerophobia: fear of drafts.
Porphyrophobia: fear of the colour purple.
Chaetophobia: fear of hairy people.
Auroraphobia: fear of the northern lights.
Calyprophobia: fear of obscure meanings.
Thalassophobia: fear of being seated.
Odontophobia: fear of teeth.
Graphophobia: fear of writing in public.
Phobophobia: fear of being afraid.
Fear and things we worry about don’t have to be irrational - they can be very real. Standing up and being counted, confronting our fears and worries takes guts.
During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. Once, as he reproached Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. "You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?”
"Who said that?" roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why.”
We all live with fears. Our waking and sleeping hours are interrupted with worries. For some it will be work related - have I done this, what needs to be achieved, the people, the climate and culture. But for others it will be far more practical - about food and shelter.
27 of the 43 bishops of the Church of England (including our own) drew us into sharp focus of this worry for many thousands in our own nation this week. In a letter published in the Daily Mirror, in which they remind the Government that since last Easter, half a million people have visited and used a food bank and some 5,500 people were admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition. There are people in our own neighbourhoods are not worrying about the rat-race, but what to and how to eat. These figures and this situation is a scandal - a political and social scandal…
But then Jesus wanders into our consciousness, calling, no, commanding us not to worry and reminding us that this is a spiritual scandal too.
The section of Matthew’s Gospel that we hear as our Gospel reading this morning is preceded by a verse about the power of money - it provides a means to provide for our everyday needs. But we mustn’t fall foul to the belief that having a Wayne Rooney sized pile of money will be the answer to all life’s problems. Even with that excessive amount - money is fickle and finite. Once we decide money grants security, then we are ushered immediately into a world of counting, tracking, and stock piling. No wonder we worry - in a world of scarcity, there is simply never enough.
The alternative vision that Jesus offers is to enter into a relationship with God. It’s not that He doesn’t get the daily struggle of 1st and 21st century living for some - today has enough worries and troubles of it’s own - but in the same way that God provides food for the birds and beauty for the lilies - Jesus infers that the provision of food and clothing are a spiritual matter. But God is not bound by the finite presence of things, like money. His love for us in infinite. Love operates in a different economy that money and possessions. When we had our Ben and Peter, I didn’t love Matthew any less. In fact my love grew! Love, and especially God’s love, cannot be counted or stockpiled. When you enter it means that you enter a realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment. Suddenly, in this world -- Jesus calls it the "kingdom of God" -- in that context, not worrying actually becomes an option.
It’s hard to believe in this world of abundance that Jesus proclaims, this world that invites us to trust God's faithfulness like a flower does spring or sail upon the currents of God's love like a bird does the air. This is why, in the end, Jesus dies - not to somehow pay for our sins (there we go tracking and counting again), but because those in power were so invested in the world of scarcity that God’s provision of love in abundance becomes down right frightening, even threatening. Scarcity creates fear, and fear creates devotion to those who will protect you. Love in abundance, on the other hand, produces freedom and life.
Friends, God doesn't operate from scarcity; God operates out of an abundance of love. God does not, in fact, keep track of what we do or don’t do, He doesn't look for payment, or hoard power with which to destroy the us; instead, God resurrects - the ultimate act of abundant love: creating something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life in us to what is so often dead.
This is the world that Jesus invites us into: a world of abundant love, generosity, and new life. But it is also a world of fragility, trust, and vulnerability. Lilies and birds, after all, can't defend themselves, but they rely on God's providence and love. And so must we in all things and for all things. But, if we enter into that relationship of love, we find our capacity for loving expanded to work together with Him to see that provision of abundant love and trust realised politically, spiritually and practically in the lives and homes, cupboards and wardrobes of others. Beyond that, everything else will take care of itself. Or, to summarize Jesus, God will deal with the rest.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
We all get angry. When I do it feels like it enters into me from outside - invading my soul - seeking an escape route from every pore and especially my mouth. I wish I could catch myself escalating to that uncontrolled eruption, just so I could try to get myself to look at what is going on from the outside because I am transformed from being me to being someone else that I do not like.
And afterwards, I'm left feeling dazed, exhausted and ashamed - shocked at the way I have reacted. And we all do it from time to time. I am left needing to make up - with myself, the whoever I’ve got angry with, with the world at large and with God. I need to get myself back into kilter. To restore, to renew.
Anger changes us. We become different people. It dehumanises us from a world of liberal, ethical well-thoughtout reasoned choices, to the boiling hot treacle of gut-wrenching emotion - sticky, dangerous, fight or flight stuff.
When we react from that place something dies. I don’t necessarily mean what some call righteous anger - borne out of a passion for what is just - I mean where we exercise power and control often accompanied by gun shot words. In those instances an instinct to survive kills (even for only a few moments) our civility and humanity. Murder in the kitchen, in the bedroom, the car.
This morning we hear Jesus, speak some hard words to us. Getting angry is akin to murder; ‘sticks and stones my break my bones’ but insulting will result in the judgement of God; thinking ‘I’d like a bit of that’ is akin to adultery… and so on. And His suggested preventative measure - to pluck out eyes and to chop off limbs. Really? I mean REALLY??
In these shocking words, Jesus is not speaking about keeping or breaking the letter of the law, but He is reminding us about the centrality and importance of our relationships. But in so doing He also addressing our inward disposition over our outward actions with an ideal standard of the Kingdom of God that no-one meets.
Jesus wants us to be people of integrity, people who are faithful to our promises, people who have no need to swear that they are telling the truth because we are truth-tellers. We should be people who honour our commitments in marriage and who respect the commitments of others. The women in our midst are not people to be used and abandoned at will, but fellow disciples. They are among the ones who are now blessed by God’s reign. For the church to claim Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom come, it must strive to be the kind of place that reflects God’s reign in all places and in all relationships at every level.
Jesus reminds us that God isn’t simply a spiritual guide or the director of divine karma. Rather, our God cares about all our relationships -- cares deeply and passionately - that is, about how we treat each other because God loves each and all of us so much.
But we reduce our shared humanity when we label others as somehow ‘less than human’ because they are black or white or straight or gay or fat or ugly and in so doing we reduce our capacity to build relationships of love.
Before you condemn me as peddling some liberal agenda about all relationships being of equal value to God, I believe that they are because we are all made in the image of God - but to take it a bit further, in the this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus casts and recasts what relationships in the kingdom should look like in the most surprising ways: where the meek inherit everything, where the poor receive the riches of the Kingdom, where those who demand of us should not be kept account of but when asked we should give and give and give again, and where our enemies and persecutors are loved and prayed for. It’s a radical kingdom - not just full of people ‘like us.’
But in acknowledging the centrality of our relationships to God (chopping limbs and plucking eyes just magnifies that sense), I don’t hear Jesus doing away with the received Law either, rather He fulfils and broadens it:
• It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.
• It is not enough to avoid physically committing adultery. We should also not objectify other people by seeing them as a means to satisfy our physical desires by lusting after them.
• It is not enough to follow the letter of the law regarding divorce. We should not treat people as disposable and should make sure that the most vulnerable -- in this culture that often meant women and children -- are provided for.
• It is not enough to keep ourselves from swearing falsely or lying to others. We should speak and act truthfully in all of our dealings so that we don’t need to make oaths at all.
Jesus invites us this morning to look at all human relationships in a new way. For behind the prohibition lies a vision of a restored and renewed humanity in the coming kingdom.
Call to mind one of the relationships in your life that is most important to you. One that is healthy and whole and good and sustains them regularly. Think about what makes that a good relationship, about why it’s so important. Give God thanks for that person and the relationship they share.
2. Call to mind another relationship that is important to you but that has suffered some damage. You don’t need to figure out who was to blame for the hurt, but rather hold that person and relationship in prayer. To offer that broken relationship to God as an offering and as an arena of God’s help and healing. Think about what action you can take to move that relationship to greater health. Pray that God would continue to use both God’s law and God’s gospel to heal and restore our relationships.
Sunday, February 02, 2014
We have a grandfather clock which stands in our dining room. I have wondered at and wound that clock over many years. It belonged to my grandfather and I knew that one day it would belong to me.
It was made in Glasgow in the early to mid 1800s. I often dwell on who has watched the minutes slip by on it’s face and heard the hours fall away to it’s chimes.
At the moment it has stopped and remains unwound, hands caught at 9.15.
The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple which we keep today, is not about the life of Christ stuck at a particular time or point. The Orthodox know today as The Meeting or The Encounter for it centres on the meeting of Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna, but in the drama of what unfolds in those conversations and liturgical rites, the miracle of Christmas, the Incarnation, God amongst us is affirmed in a meeting of Heaven with Earth and Earth with Heaven.
As Christ is presented in the Temple, our humanity is offered to God with Him. That’s all of our humanity, not just the Sunday bits. And God takes all of what it means to human seriously. As we formally conclude our Christmas celebrations today we remember that in the Incarnation, God regards the impoverished, mundane, everyday material of humanity with such a generous love that he He is born amongst us, as one of us, as we are. In other words, God loves us, not as who we will be, or who we will become in His sight, but as we are now. He loves those whom we find it hard to love, those who we are probably too afraid or ashamed to admit we don’t - the homeless, the drug or drink addled, gay, straight or bi. God loves you regardless of which way you vote, or whether you are up to your eyeballs in debt, whether you are tattooed or pierced… And before you start wondering if this is becoming a sort of universalist ‘it’s all about love love love’ sort of a sermon - yes it is - God loves us universally and unconditionally, but…
Neither am I saying that it’s high time that the church moved the hands on the clock and dragged itself into the modern era and green-lighted every lifestyle choice or political ideology…
Traditionally at this service, candles for the year for use in people’s homes and in worship were blessed so that the light of Christ could shine. We will have a resonance of that ourselves at the end of our worship this morning.
What we remember today, is the hinge that binds crib and the Cross together - a link between what we celebrated at Christmas, with all that is to come at Palm Sunday, Good Friday and on to Easter Sunday. Our focus moves away from the crib beneath the altar to the font - the place where our much-loved humanity is affirmed with the kiss of love that is Christ’s cross, and accepting a commission to live our lives for Him.
Candlemas reminds us of the love of God for each of us, but of a love that transforms us, that heals us, that makes us to be more and more than we are or thought we ever could be. That love redeems us out of old habits, renews our drives and motives and offers us the ridiculous, seemingly unobtainable hope that we can become the people that both we and God long for us to be. For as Christ is presented to God in the Temple, He offers back to us a hope of the Divine life of God for us and with us and in us, yes even us.
The hands of time have not stopped, but continue to move on and God encounters us in Christ in many unexpected places and on many occasions and in many unlikely people.
At the end of the service of Baptism, a candle is given and a charge to each baptised person is made to ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’ That charge is not about our light shining, our agenda being heard, our ideologies or preferences being pushed to the fore, but His. Whilst He loves unconditionally and eternally, He calls us to love Him and others that way too - with a love that surprises and transforms.
God’s call to us to love isn’t stuck at some interpretation of social acceptability of a former time or era.
But surely you can’t mean that I am called to love them are you? (Whoever they may be.) As soon as the finger points, as soon as the question forms on our lips - is the light shining? And who did Jesus love - the leper, the tax collector, the prostitute, the unclean, the Samaritan, the socially dubious, the religious outcast - yes them - and His love transformed their lives - the light shone and dispersed the darkness…
As candles were taken from Church today in former times into people’s homes and work places, it was a reminder of the light of the World shining on them and in them even there, dispelling darkness with transforming light and love.
That light still needs to be taken into the impoverished, mundane, everyday material of life, dispelling darkness with transforming light and love; our world still so often seemingly filled with the darkness of hatred and fear towards those made in God’s image and loved by Him; the humanity that we share, that God took on Himself needs His light and hope more than ever and it may only come through you.