Friday, 24 July 2015

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren.                                                                                     Ephesians 3:14-21
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12 -Year B

The writer of Ephesians is above all a pastor. As such he has tangible dreams for his flock. He puts these hopes and imaginings forward in the form of two prayers for quite specific things:

Firstly, that the Christians at Ephesus might be strong within themselves

"..and that Christ may dwell in [their] hearts through faith, as [they] are being rooted and grounded in love." 

He prays as well that they 

"...may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God."

Pay some attention to these words, please. Do they sound a tad general? Are they, for you, the sort of religious language that sometimes washes over you without sinking in? The indwelling of Christ in a believer and the slow transformation (being rooted and grounded) of his or her life through the power of love was and remains an actual experience in the lives of Christians. Associates, family
members, former friends and enemies recognized in the lives of those whom Christ had seized that these people were being changed and were no longer who they once were. This change then led to understanding (the power to comprehend) how these inner changes were in fact consonant with what God was doing in the world and in the lives of others; there was both evidence within the believer and evidence without.

While the writer prays for specific things - the indwelling Spirit of God and growth in understanding- he finishes this small section by appealing to what he cannot possibly know or, more importantly, control: he consigns his flock to the love and care of God who 

"...by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine".

What all pastors know is that the Word goes out and is received by the senses and the emotions. It mingles with the competing loyalties and the lifestyles of the hearers. It is at once seized on and yet kept at arm's length for a time. People mull it over. It troubles them as much as it thrills them. What do pastors do? Pastors pray. They pray that God will do his work in the hearts of those to whom the Gospel has been presented. God is the gardener, after all - the one who brings in the harvest.

He is the master of the mystery of what happens when folks go home - after the sermon has been preached, the hymns sung and bread and wine have been lifted up to be taken and transformed.







Thursday, 16 July 2015

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost                                                                              Psalm 23
Proper 11 - Year B

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

What is it that we keep around for a rainy day? An awful lot of life's activity consists of collecting resources for ourselves and our families. It's always been that way. If your hobby is metal detecting you live in hope of finding one of those coin hordes which some punter, centuries ago, hid from the taxman in the fourth tree to the left of the bend in the old road.

That the teenager with the metal detector even found the coins meant that the original owner was never able to collect them back in the day. That datum, in itself, should tell you something.

As I was sitting in my office this week looking at Sunday's readings I realized two things; that the 23rd Psalm is very popular (I know at least four different ways of singing it) but that most folks would regard the sort of reliance upon God which the psalm prescribes as being a sign of personal
failure on their part.  If you are walking "through the valley of the shadow of death" then you must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. You could be reproached for that. If you are relying on God to lead you "in green pastures" or "beside still waters" or to place a cup in your hands which "floweth over", then where exactly was your brain when you were planning your life? The psalm may be popular but we take it as a big part of our life's work never to be in a place where its precepts and promises become necessary. We strive for self-reliance. We've been told that there's a science to it. With a bit of self-discipline it can be done. We don't need to rely on God.


The Church (at least in the First World and since the Second War) has often played along with this. More's the pity really. A quick side glance at world history will tell us that civilizations rise and fall. We can count ourselves merely lucky to be living where and when we do. Every second page of the New Testament seems to subvert - in parable and pronouncement - the idea that self-reliance is the normal human condition. Where such self-reliance is even possible due to accidents of history and geography, rarely is it pious. Our "great cloud of witnesses" contains all those saints (not to mention the philosophers, the aid-workers, the poets and the musicians and other sundry heroes) who forswore their place on the upward path towards "their piece of the pie" in order to embrace the beauty and the sense of a life that could only be found when uncertainty is sought out and embraced.

What makes us safe and well-equipped does not necessarily make us deep or useful. It cannot ensure that we are good.




Thursday, 9 July 2015

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost                                                                        Mark 6:14-29
Proper 10 - Year B

"When [Herod] heard [John the Baptist], he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him"

"I didn't join this church to be criticized."

"I didn't get married in order to become the object of criticism."

"I never anticipated that having children would result in the withering criticism of me which they sometimes dish out."

"When I agreed to manage this part of the company the last thing I expected was a delegation of employees with a document critical of my management style."


Critics. We've all got 'em. The more we do and the greater the risks we take the higher our degree of vulnerability to such criticism. If we play safe, though, we are criticized for that too. 

Critics - blast them! Why don't they leave me alone?

Herod Antipas (a Roman client-governor based on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee) was a curious fellow with an odd love-hate relationship to his greatest critic - John the Baptist.  The Baptist had zeroed in on improprieties in Herod's family life - most especially his marriage to Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip Antipater. Whenever John preached, though, Herod would always listen. He was both "perplexed" (set back, troubled or confounded) by the Baptist's critical preaching and yet, at the same time, strangely compelled to pay attention. Aren't we most angered by those words of criticism which resound somewhere within us?  We worry that they might be true. We find that they mirror what others have said about us before. Those ultimately caught in a significant fault by their critics will say it was something they knew themselves all along. It didn't come as a surprise.

You'll hear the whole story this Sunday: Herod is tricked by Herodias and her daughter into beheading the Baptist as part of a rash and injudicious wager which the ruler has made. Herod does what he knows he ought not to have done.

What would happen to you if you got your wish? What if your critic could be silenced?  It could be the voice of some other person - an enemy or a meddling friend. It might be something within your own self - the voice of your own troubled conscience. It might be some word of Scripture which cut straight to the bone of what ails you.  

It's not impossible to turn such a voice off - it can always be done.

You will distance yourself from a meddling friend. You can destroy your enemy. You might school yourselves that the voice within you is just some neurotic nagging force which is best not-listened-to. You could avoid those Scriptures which trouble you. It happens all the time.

Would you be better off, though?  The face of Herod Antipas, when he is presented with the head of John the Baptist on a platter, is often depicted by artists as being the face of a man facing the horrifying truth that he is now suddenly and entirely alone.

There can be no road now out of the hole he's dug for himself - no one left to shake the branch he's sitting on.



Thursday, 2 July 2015

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                     Mark 6:1-13
Proper 9 - Year B                                                                 


"He left that place and came to his hometown...."

What is it about your home town that allows you to blend in so easily when you go back? You're bound to bump into somebody who'll think you've never been away and assumed you'd simply been lying low and keeping to yourself. The pendulum in your head swings back and forth several times between "Yes, this is where I belong"and "No, this is certainly no longer who I am". Some of you have recently been repatriated to the U.S. after a number of years in France. Many of us will return to our home countries for holidays at some point in the summer and will find ourselves reconnected to
family members or old friends. It may prove a challenge.

We should not stretch this passage out of shape by relating it too swiftly to ourselves. This is not a passage about us. This story is about Jesus. The words at the beginning of Mark's Gospel had indicated to the reader that Jesus is one who belongs to God: "You are my beloved Son...", declares the voice from heaven at the Jordan. The townsfolk in Nazareth, though, state that Jesus belongs to them and that he is dead ordinary: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary...". What is more significant here is that they "took offense at him".  Belonging to them meant staying where he had been - nailed into place within the bounds set by elders. Jesus had stepped beyond the life set down for him by his community. God has greater plans that that.

The worthies of Nazareth do not understand what the reader of Mark's Gospel will have understood: In God's hands, the humanity, the origins, the language and culture, the village education and even the intimate family connections of Jesus of Nazareth are a means God will use to move out beyond limits, to move the goal markers, to cross boundaries, to speak truth within a particular religious tradition in order that truth might be spoken within other cultures and religious traditions. Empires are overturned and subverted. The poor are given hope and the captives released. The particularity of Jesus' origins are not discarded even if he breaks the bonds of small town prejudice, even if he moves on, even if he leaves his village behind.

Take no offense at humble origins. God speaks to the world with a Galilean accent.