Thursday, 25 June 2015

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost                                                                           2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Proper 8 - Year B


Paul writes the Corinthian congregation about their involvement with the wider church - in particular the current fundraising project which the outlying churches have undertaken to support the mother Church in Jerusalem. 

"For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have."

If-then statements are meant to show how things are tied together.  If you have snow tires then you'll make it to the top of the snowy hill.  If you have a full tank of gas then you will get to Swift Current without gazing nervously at the gas gauge.  If you have the right qualifications then your job application will be received and reviewed.  If-then statements also serve to to provoke self-reflection.  Do you, in fact, have snow tires?  Did you tank up in Saskatoon?  Did you pass your Statistics course at University?  No?  Tough darts then.

Petrol, snow tires and school transcripts are easily quantified.  You have them or you don't.  You can tick the box or not.  Eagerness (and the Greek word here can be translated as zeal, readiness, energy, inclination) is less concrete but completely essential to the task. What Paul seems to be saying here is that it's not just a matter of getting the Quartermaster to do an inventory of what concrete
resources you have at hand but of asking yourself (or your community or your committee)  whether or not you (or they) are interested in doing anything at all.  Do you have that essential ingredient - the presence of which will forgive any number of shortages in concrete resources - which is the good will, the energy, the decision, the inclination and the openness of heart necessary to plug you in to the world around you and to seek after God’s Kingdom?  Yes?  No?

Without mentioning the specific teachings of Jesus anywhere in his Epistles, Paul has all the parables on his side.  The parables are chock full of under-equipped and under-resourced individuals who nonetheless have the following quality:  When they are invited to the banquet they say yes.  When they encounter the treasure in a field they will do what is necessary to make sure it becomes theirs.  They may have nothing but their hunger for righteousness, their inclination towards others, their desire to find meaning in their lives, their willingness to build community and to treasure those bonds with others.  But it's there, that spark.  They can identify it.  They can set their priorities by it.   And if, one day, that energy began to flag then they would themselves know it before anyone took them to task.

“Yes - you're right - I've been a little off recently.”

Do you have what it takes to move forward when energy, conviction and and determination are more important than concrete resources?   If not - then what are you going to do about that?  How can we help?



Thursday, 18 June 2015

Prospect


The Rev'd Robert Warren
Mark 4:35-41
Pentecost 4 - Proper 7 - Year B
                                                                   

The disciples cry out to Jesus, asleep in the boat in the midst of a furious storm

"...do you not care that we are perishing"?

These are words echoed by men and women in various degrees of necessity across the years. Sometimes they are to blame for their sufferings. They've gotten themselves into trouble because of stupidity, dishonesty or self-deception. Or they find themselves, quite innocently, at the mercy of somebody else. An enemy threatens them. Or perhaps, again, there is no ill will at all.  Nothing is askew in anybody's humanity. The wind has simply picked up and the water laps into the boat. Things fall over, the thunder booms and the lightning flashes: The wrong place at the wrong time.

Aren't we owed some safety and security? Don't we have an "in" with God? How can Jesus possibly be sleeping in the boat while the storm rages around his followers? I make no attempt to answer the age-old question in 500 words except to point you to an interesting verb in this passage from Mark: Jesus tells the storm to be silent. He does not say "Be still" or "Be calm" or "Flatten yourself". He tells the storm, literally, to shut up (perfect passive imperative tense - "be muzzled and remain so") and employs the same verb he will later use when he tells the demons to be silent - that they have no right to tell anybody's story - least of all his.

What does a disaster or the threat of a disaster tell us in words? Can the activity of impersonal forces - water, fire, rain or earthquake, dividing cells or economic downturn - be said to have a voice of some sort that might prompt the rebuke to be silent and remain so? 

It might well. We feel guilty when bad things happen to us - even when they are outwith our control. We walk away from the downsized office with our desk's contents in a cardboard box feeling like failures because our job has been moved overseas. We take our inability to protect a loved one from what could not possibly be foreseen as a personal failure. We do it all the time. We are at fault. God is at fault. It cannot simply be something which happens - it has to be a story about my failure and unworthiness or God's failure and unworthiness.

More, the disaster says to us, you are alone - all alone here in your boat.

Jesus says "shut up" as much to the disciples as to the storm. We are not alone. In his Incarnation, Jesus comes to join us and not to leave us. The words which course through the disciples' heads - words about abandonment, loneliness and the inadequacy of both man and God are a lie - worthy of being muzzled and remaining so. In this world, where we will continue to be subject to our own weakness, to the wiles of others and to the power of lake water at 2204 pounds per cubic meter of wave, faith can and must and will be found. Jesus is there with us on that shifting ground and there his Kingdom can be discovered.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Pentecost 3 - Year B
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Israel had to argue for its right to be ruled by a king like all the other nations. "Don't confuse yourself with other nations" says God, through the prophet Samuel.  "You are different. A king will not make you great or a major player or a big fish. You are unique - ruled as you are by judges and informed by prophets"

Nonetheless Israel's desire to be like all the other nations prevails. God relents and lets them have their king. The Reign of Saul is Israel's first stab at being completely ordinary and it is a resounding failure. Saul is rejected by God and his fate is sealed. Samuel is instructed to anoint a new king from
among the sons of Jesse. He arrives at Jesse's house. The boys are led in one at a time from the greatest to the least. Good strong boys they are, too. Each time Samuel the prophet sees one of them he is reassured that they have King written all over them. And each time God tells the prophet "No, not this one."

He finally has to ask if there are other boys that he hasn't met and Jesse admits that the youngest has been left off the list. He's been sent out to take care of the flocks while his brothers are being admired for their natural aptitudes - their ease of speech - their leadership potential. These were the boys fit to be presented to a prophet. Not the youngest. He was left off the list. David is sent for and Samuel anoints him as King.

The adjectives "big" and "little" are some of the first things we learn. We're told to think big, we can hardly wait to be big. We are attracted to big ideas, big houses, big cars and big ambitions and we will need to deal with the fact that we miss out rather a lot because of that obsession. That's the way of the world - that's the way the world thinks. We too are a unique people and we give up that uniqueness all too quickly. Our history of faith, contained in the salvation history covering the two Testaments of the Bible, is filled with stories of world changing events taking place in out-of-the-way locations and with quite ordinary people initiating those events at the behest of God's voice. The stone which the builders rejected becomes the capstone of the arch. Tiny mustard seeds grow into great and commodious plants within the garden - in whose branches the birds of the air can make their nests. Suffering becomes victory. Weakness proves to be strength.

The ordinary logic of the world does not explain what happens in the life of faith.

Think again. "Big" and "little" just don't cover it

Friday, 5 June 2015


Prospect
The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                         2 Corinthians 4:13-15:1

When you're threatened enough you'll look around for something heavy or pointy enough to throw overhand at whatever opponent stands in your path. If you receive a large and unexpected bill in the post you'll dig out the bank statements to see what sort of liquid resources you have to pay your way out of trouble. You put your trust in the Bank of England, or in the reliability of a good diesel engine or maybe in Smith & Wesson. Please insert here whichever tool or resource you choose which you believe will ensure that you make it to the next point in your journey. You are strong and able. You can list the resources you have at hand to keep yourself on the top step. It may be a long list.

Anytime we generalize about the state of human beings around the world or across time and use a term like, say, "the human condition" we are usually referring to where humans find themselves when their strength runs out and when their natural goodness reaches its limit. Even calling it "the human condition" pretty well lets the secret out, doesn't it? We are not really that strong. If we are strong we tend to be strong for a season only. There is something illusory or at least temporary about the visible tools and structures with which we ensure our future.

You can't take it with you, we say.

Saint Paul wants the members of the Church in Corinth (or in Clermont-Ferrand) to look beyond what they can see and touch and to find the ground of their confidence in what God is building, invisibly, in and among and around them.

"...we look not at what can be seen
but at what cannot be seen;
for what can be seen is temporary,
but what cannot be seen is eternal.."

Paul is not writing to impractical people. He is writing to a mixed community of urban Christians - many of whom are well-equipped with earthly resources - and he is telling them that the building blocks of faith, hope, love and perseverance will build them a home. Their worship will create a
world. What the skeptic might deny has, for them, the greatest and the most enduring reality. God is making them a home which surpasses any ability they may have to fend for themselves. The strong and the well equipped are not as safe as they think they are. The weak may well not be so weak.

Learn this. Teach it to your children. Let it be a part of your discourse as Christians. It is nothing other than what Jesus taught us in the Parables of the Kingdom - that God provisions his people in ways that the world neither sees nor understands. The smallest seeds can become the greatest shrubs in the garden.