Friday, 30 October 2015

Prospect



The Rev’d Robert Warren                                                                                                 Psalm 24                           

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.


The standard lesson on “Saints” in the churches of my youth emphasized that when the Apostle Paul wrote to the “Saints” who in any particular city in the Roman Empire he was writing to ordinary Christians.  He called them "Saints" simply because they shared the life of faith in that place.  The subtext, especially for those who were born and raised in denominations which came to be during the Reformation, was that we should spend less time thinking about particular historic Saints (Francis, Peter, Lucy, Agnes, Thecla and Anthony) and more time thinking about the saint who is sitting next to you in church this Sunday or the saint that you, with a little spit-and-polish, could become yourself someday.

It’s a fair cop.  The fellowship of saints did grow, over time, into a top-heavy Executive Committee with named saints overseeing defined areas of human activity (patron saints of weaving, soldiering, music making) or showing particular favour on this or that country, region or city.  Are Englishmen aware that they share St George with Palestinian Christians, with Serbia, Portugal, Lebanon, Malta and Gozo, Ethiopia, half the cities of Greece, the international Scouting movement and the Armor Branch of the U.S. Army?


The answer is a resounding yes, then:  You and I are the saints of God and called to be saints in our own allotment of time and space.  Saints are ordinary folks like us.

But I want to put in a plug for memory and for the witness, the sacrifice and the effort of those who came before us and upon whose foundations we build. We do not live in a vacuum and the church was not invented ten years ago.   I want to know, in my generation, that being a saint means I am a member of that same family of men and women who went about the lonely and risky work of offering their lives to God in the first century or the mid twentieth.   This they did in time of war or uncertainty.  They did it against a backdrop of moral decay or pestilence.  They did it for the sake of the truth, on behalf of outcast people and at the behest of the Holy Spirit who gave them words to speak and deeds to do which were commensurate with the needs of their generation.   The men and women, boys and girls of Christ Church, Clermont-Ferrand need the fellowship of the men and women, boys and girls who walked the very same path that today we are either actively walking or actively avoiding.    

The witness of those named saints serves to strengthen us in what we have begun.  It could well provoke us to reflect upon what we have neglected or not yet started.  Which will it be?






Thursday, 22 October 2015

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren Psalm 126
Pentecost 22 (Proper 25)
Year B


When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream

What would such a restoration of our fortunes look like? An individual winning the Euro-Millions Lottery or a like-minded community witnessing their political party restored to power? The restoration of God's people would have what sort of substance, exactly? For the people of Israel in exile in Babylon restoration meant something quite palpable - a return for them and their children to
their historic lands, the restoration of faithful Jewish worship and a safe existence behind their own walls with political and religious leaders of their own choosing. They could have written you a list - items A to F - nothing mysterious there.

The New Testament, as you know, makes no promise of land. The land as the cardinal possession of God's people pretty well disappears in the Gospels and Epistles. Christ's followers are to be sent into the whole world and are to be at home wherever the Spirit of God sends them. Jesus doesn't put a lot of stock in safety, either, or in political strength and stability. Preserving one's life, he says, can be the route to the ultimate loss of one's soul. No gain there, then. Knock these off the list. Are we left only with intangibles; an invisible sense of personal fulfillment or an inner verdict that "things aren't so bad after all"? It's a safe position. Nobody could prove us wrong (don't we all feel good sometimes?) but the promises of the Kingdom of God here are short-changed. Jesus says the Kingdom is "around us" or "within us" or "among us" but he does not say that it lacks substance or evidence. It can actually be found like a treasure in a field, or like a pearl of great price or a lost coin recovered after the homemaker's mad scramble with a broom. It is a thing and not merely a sentiment. You should be able to tell whether you're part of it or not, or at least whether you're on the right path.

So where do we start?

Jesus' words and actions point to the substance of the Kingdom. Through parables and pronouncements, healings, miracles and the lifting up of wine and broken bread, Jesus shows us what the Kingdom looks like:


  • The removal of shame and the restoration of strangers and outcast people to community.
  • The vindication of God's historic promises to humanity - that these proved true and were no lie.
  • The discovery of purpose and direction by both individuals and communities.
  • The presence of courage, perseverance, kindness and commitment as the fruits of the community's faith and repentance.
  • A willingness to follow the Spirit where it leads and the presence of that same Spirit in the heart of the community's worship.


Can this substance be found in your church, your home or your life? Give thanks if it is. If not (or if not enough) then let this first verse of Psalm 126 be for you a statement of your longing.

Write yourself a list.











Monday, 19 October 2015

The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind

Pentecost 21 (Proper 24)
Year B
Job 38:1-7


Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? ........Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.'

Have you ever been answered out of a whirlwind? You are talking to somebody on the phone. In the background you hear the tapping of a keyboard. The person you're talking to is multitasking. This bothers you. You are dragged along the hallway by a superior between his two o'clock meeting and his two-thirty as he tries and deal with the question you've asked him in the space of fifty yards of badly carpeted corridor. You feel cheated and undervalued. 

This is true. You are. 

Were you to complain he might say something like "Sorry I have a life that doesn't have only to do with you. Where were you when this project went south and the investors demanded a meeting? Where were you when the deadline got changed and it was suddenly 'all hands on deck?'"

You're right. Your complaint, question or issue is not getting the time it deserves. But then again, he is right too. The world is a big place. It contains more than just you.

Does any of this apply to poor Job in his complaint to God about a missing family, the boils on his body and his many other misfortunes? Well, frankly, no. The analogy is a poor one, were it not for the fact that the people I know who have completely valid complaints (the cancer has returned, the job has worked out badly, the kid has been caught smoking dope, the divorce papers have arrived at the hand of a burly and unpleasant bailiff) these folks do, nonetheless invariably stop paying attention to the world beyond the awful one they live in.

Can they articulate their complaint clearly? Yes, of course they can. Is it a palpable reality? Most probably, yes. Dreadful things fall on people from a height. Awful things hit the fan. Pitfalls abound.  Nonetheless...the greatest injury done to grieving people, to people besieged by troubles or stresses, is that their world shrinks to a point. And, as difficult as it might be for any such a person to conceive of being pushed beyond the circle of grief and dis-ease in which he takes his place, it is precisely that to which God points us out of the whirlwind - the great big world around us where God is stirring the pot.

Praise him.   Praise God for "...his excellent greatness." 

In our grief he brings to us something which is not us:  the world - big and beautiful and turbulent and above all - still and always - the dwelling place of God.










Thursday, 8 October 2015

Prospect

The Rev’d Robert Warren 
Mark 10:17-31                                                                                    
Pentecost 20 (Proper 23)
Year B


…he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions… Jesus said…”It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”

Fine. Here he is having another go at us. What’s this all about then - rich men and camels and the eyes of needles? One more reason to squirm at the back of church on Sunday. You wouldn’t be alone.
Any focus group gathered together to discuss the passage would think that they were being criticized for having possessions or for being born in the most prosperous hemisphere of the earth when so many other people in the world make do with less. Whatever… That same group of respondents, however, when fed a different saying of Jesus – let’s say, for example:

“Come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”

wouldn’t bat an eyelash. This is good! This is Jesus promising something to us rather than criticizing us. Burdens are bad and if Jesus wants to divest us of those burdens then we should say yes. You’ve figured out where I’m going with this: It amounts to the same thing.

In the larger story of this Sunday’s Gospel reading a young man who is pious and eager asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. After having checked the boxes of both eagerness and piety, Jesus tells him that he needs to free himself up to be a follower – and that the discipline of the Kingdom is not a party membership badge which one adds to an already completed wardrobe.

Those who follow are those who are free to follow. Many of us are burdened. Some carry the burdens that others put upon them. The mission of the Church (as it was the mission of Jesus) is not only to reassure such folks that they may be free but, through both evangelism and activism, to free the oppressed in Jesus’ name. We do something in word and act which defies the necessity of such burdens on others. Let my people go! 

Some carry their own burdens. With an eye to safety and security they make themselves prisoners. In the name of financial stability they make it nigh on impossible to say yes to anything which is “off message” or “off the beaten path”. Why have we become our own worst enemies? Do remember that repentance, generosity and service to others are acts of defiance. They defy the tendency to self-preoccupation which keeps us bound, which denies us our liberty to follow, to change and transform – to say “yes” to the big and beautiful things which come our way. Look at yourselves the way you look at another who has been unjustly burdened or enslaved.

With compassion and tenderness you might say of yourself-as-another, “What can I do to set that man or woman free?”






Thursday, 1 October 2015

Prospect

The Rev’d Robert Warren.                                                                                       Mark 10:2-16
Pentecost 19 (Proper 22)
Year B


“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

I wish he hadn’t said that. Not that way. If Jesus is this matter-of-fact on the subject where does he leave my parishioners who don’t fit the mould? For that matter where does he leave their parish priest - himself a divorced and remarried man? This came up online with my pals during the week: “What are y’all doing with the unequivocal words of Jesus about divorce and remarriage in your congregations this Sunday?" Suggestion number one from Nigel – “Preach on something else. Psalm 8 perhaps”. It’s what a former Archbishop of Canterbury did a few years back on this particular Sunday, effectively dodging the bullet. Suggestion number two from Kenny – “Nah Rob; be a Scotsman and wade right in”.

“Okay, fab, Kenny! You’re a pukka Scotsman. Is that what you’re doing?”

“No, we’ve got Harvest Thanksgiving this Sunday. Different readings, the church decorated with squash and bulrushes – ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’ and all that jazz.”

Which leaves me alone, therefore, with a Gospel reading in which I am quite explicitly named as a malefactor - as are a selection of you reading this. We resemble that remark. It does no justice to the Scripture to imply that Jesus is doing anything other than underlining the sinful state of humanity: our humanity in general - yours or mine in particular this Sunday. If there’s to be a “Yes, but…” anywhere in the sermon let it come at the end rather at the beginning. Well-aimed arrows of judgement should not simply be batted aside at the outset. It wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be true. The death of our relationships speaks volumes about our weakness and our sin. Eh, voila! There we are - standing on sinners’ corner.

Sinners’ corner is the place where we belong – all of us. It will do no good to traipse up to Jesus, as some did during his earthly ministry, to say “You didn’t specifically name me, did you Jesus? I’ve kept the rules since my youth, haven’t I?” As will be explained to any who hold such misconceptions about being off the hook; the commandment against murder can be extended to anger and the commandment against adultery even to our fleeting lusts. Those who can remember the day and the year when everything came tumbling down – those who find they’ve been named in the 10th chapter of Mark – may here be the lucky ones. You never know. Don’t count yourselves too quickly amongst the sheep. Don’t assume that you’re the only goat in the room. It took the disciples far too long to arrive at the place where they could finally exclaim “Who, then, Lord can be saved?”

They would come to understand: This was not the end of the line. It was only the starting point