Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Prospect

Lent 3 - Year C                                                                                                               
Exodus 3:1-15

Moses had landed on his feet.  He'd escaped a murder charge in Egypt and was now in the process of working on his pension.  He'd met a young woman in the neighbouring land of Midian, married her and had gone to work for her dad Jethro as a shepherd.   On the day in question he was following the sheep along a straight desert track toward better grazing land further up.  Jethro’s sheep would one day be his sheep.   These flocks, this country and this life would be his flocks, his country and his life.  Egypt was all behind him and even more remote was the intrigue of having been a Hebrew hidden like a guilty secret within the household of Pharaoh.  It was a complicated life this Moses had led and one filled with risks since his childhood.

In Midian, though, everything had "come up roses".

Brick fits onto brick.  That’s how the wall gets built.  Chapter is added to chapter until the apogee is reached and the story then can coast to a respectable end.  Moses needed only to keep his eye on the ball.  It was not complicated.  One foot needed to go in front of another.   Those fat sheep must be directed down the straight path. That’s all.  Nothing else.

This would be a good place as any for you to insert your *sigh*.   Do it here.  For at this moment something twinkled on the horizon as a bush spontaneously ignited into flame.   The story of Moses’ commissioning by God and the whole story of the Exodus - the pivotal chapter in Israel’s history – did not debut with God commanding Moses to take off his shoes in front of the burning bush or explaining to him how he would be sent back to Egypt to rescue his people.   It actually began a few lines earlier with Moses’ own fateful words to himself:

"I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up."

Curiosity kills the cat but it also ushers in new epochs in history.   It changes the fortunes of those who allow themselves the luxury or the lunacy of not looking straight ahead.  Were you chided by teachers, coaches and well-meaning uncles about not following the straight line?  Would you not have been further ahead if you'd refined your resources, purified and concentrated your materials?  "Straighten the lines of your progress..  Above all, don’t get distracted"! 

God constantly stands in the midst of the settled paths of prophets, patriarchs and initiates to the Communion of Saints.  Our iconography has a tendency to depict our heroes with resolute and slightly elevated gazes as they stare intently at their goals.   But - before they were ever useful to God by being resolute and unshakable they were useful to him because they could be distracted - distracted from their day jobs and unstuck from all their several necessary trajectories.   God could depend on them to shift their gaze from their desks and direct it out the window. 






Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Why it must all end in tears


Lent 2 - Year C                                                                                                       
Luke 13:31-35                                                                                    

The verb – thelo (to wish, want or desire) appears three times – twice positively and once negatively - in our short Gospel reading from Luke this Sunday.  Herod desires to kill Jesus.  Jesus desires to gather God’s people in Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen.  The residents of Jerusalem, however, have no desire to be so gathered.  It’s a bit like watching from a hillside as two cars speed towards each other along perpendicular routes.   “Stop”, you cry, “or something terrible will happen”.  There are shades of Italian opera here – Giacomo desires Lucinda, Lucinda desires Paulo and Paulo is completely uninterested or is distracted or is a fool or is simply not the marrying type.  If your high-school-aged child related a similarly connected string of unrequited love amongst her pals in class you might say to yourself:  My word, this will all end in tears.

The question of the Gospels is this:  How will God win for himself a family in the ministry of Jesus his son? 
·         The stakes, you see, are so high,
·         the power of Jesus’ enemies is so strong
·         and the hearts of the people are so cold and resistant. 

And now Jesus proposes to leave the Galilee and proceed forthwith to the city so long a source of death to prophets.  That impact at the crossroads is certain.  The result of this impossible equation of love will indeed, either by accident or design, be tears.

Have your ears have been open for the last few weeks?  We are full-steam-ahead towards the tears of Holy Week and Good Friday.  In the story of the Transfiguration, which we read together on the last Sunday of Epiphany (Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah were perceived, at either side of Jesus, by the sleepy disciples.  What they discussed was specifically what Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem which was ‘his departure’.  On the first Sunday of Lent readers were sent back to an early moment in the Gospel account (Luke 4:1-13) where Jesus deliberately set aside and rejected the very tools – safety, strength, the gift of kingdoms and acclaim – which would have prevented those tears and guaranteed his domination of the crowds and his welcome by the several hierarchies of his day.  Jesus forswore these means – one after another.  They were not his Father’s gifts.

What we must piece together from the narratives and sayings of the first three Gospels is clearly stated in the Prologue in John at the very outset:  Light [had] come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.  The remedy from the beginning will be Jesus’ self-giving unto death.  He knows himself to be part of a big story and Herod can therefore have no part in it.  Herod's ghastly desire is an empty threat.  Jesus words to him are rightly a rebuke Jesus is aware of the weakness of human beings.  They cannot be led like an army or instructed like a classroom.  His words concerning them are rightly a lament.  They are broken and he must die for them.  He will hold them in his lasting and effective love forever. 





Thursday, 11 February 2016

Prospect



The First Sunday in Lent                                                                                                   Luke 4:1-13
Year C

Sunday School children will tell you that the answer to any question is always “Jesus”.  The answer to the question “What is the story of the Temptation in the Wilderness about” is no exception.  In other words, it’s not about you.  Luke is not coaching you about chocolate, card games, red wine or exercise.  These may be issues - you’ll simply need to find another text.  In this Sunday’s Gospel reading we are observers of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry following his baptism in the river Jordan and as we go through the opening words of the episodes in Mark’s, Matthew’s and Luke’s version of the story we note a subtle difference in language

Mark:  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness…
Matthew:  Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness…
Luke:  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the spirit for forty days in the wilderness….

Matthew and Luke are the only two writers who detail the explicit events of Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness – what he came to define or discover or to show about himself and it is fitting that they express this as being at the leading of God’s Spirit.

Two questions could be asked.  What happens to Jesus in the wilderness? And what will happen in the story as it continues beyond our reading into the first verse of the next part of Luke’s account - 4:14?  Second things first, alors.  Beyond the end of our reading Jesus will emerge into his public ministry in the Galilee still very much in the power of God’s Spirit in his words and acts.  Whatever happened to him in the desert has not compromised him.  It has defined and sharpened his mission.  Back to the first question: So what happened in the wilderness?

In the wilderness Jesus lived with gaps – with things that he did not have.  He had no bread (hunger).  He had no power or public acclaim (solitude).  He had no safety (at the mercy of beasts and thieves).  The devil offered him solutions to these problems which, on one hand, might seem to better equip him for the public ministry that will follow but for which faith in God could never be credited.  Jesus said no.  The power of the Spirit remained with him.

It will take an entire Gospel to explain how God expresses his saving power through this Jesus who refuses a crown and speaks the truth powerfully from a standpoint of weakness and want.  You’d need to add the letters of Saint Paul to find out how a rag tag collection of early Christians will express that same invitation to God’s friendship.  Add to that cloud of witnesses St Francis and St Claire, every missionary to a hostile population, every Christian activist who bore witness to powerful oppressors.  It has ever been so. 




Thursday, 4 February 2016

Prospect

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                                                                Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)


The depiction of the Transfiguration by the Renaissance painter Raphael was the artist's last painting prior to his death in 1520. You'd be forgiven if you passed it in a gallery at the Vatican and
said "What the heck?" Jesus seems to float in the air above his sleepy disciples.   Moses and Elijah have been dredged up from distant history and are hovering at each side of him.  Meanwhile, at the bottom of the mountain, the characters from his next more typical healing miracle (the bracketed bits in our lectionary reading for this Sunday) appear to be waiting for things to get back to normal again once the enigmatic events on the mountainside are over. You'd return to your hotel room from the Vatican museum and you'd look the story up in Luke's Gospel to see if you could get some clarity about the events depicted in the painting.

You might not be that much further ahead.  Peter who was there on site clearly didn't understand what was going on and possibly never did.  Jesus himself told his disciples to keep the experience to themselves - this glimpse into his glory - as something which not only defied explanation but was not even meant to be explained. It just was and it was what it was.

What the heck, indeed!

Line up to the left those for whom a puzzle, a paradox or a mystery is a good thing which shows us
to be small creatures in a world which is big and rich and beautiful. We are in God's hands. He is
not in ours. That we are not in control of all the facts is to us some comfort and makes of our life
and progress a truly worthy adventure.

Line up to the right those who believe that any mystery simply means that we are not yet equipped
with the math or the software to properly run the numbers.

You can guess where I stand on this. It may be why acts of worship where we sing and process
about, tell stories, dress up and ring bells offer to us the glimpses of glory which even a
competently written sermon can merely explain. The explanation cannot hold a candle to the
experience. It's why the famous mystics can never really tell you what they've seen - their
experiences cannot easily be broken down into propositions. They will only invite you to set
yourselves to the task of applying that attention in your own lives to the presence of God within and
around you.

The frustration of not being in control of the facts - even of feeling and looking like a bit of an idiot
when the lid is taken off and we get a glimpse of God's glory in the midst of life - might be a helpful
part of the process. As Peter says, just before he then gets it wrong, "Master, It's good that we're here". That might be enough. We might want to stop applying our inferior arithmetic to the story of our lives and begin to listen to, look out for and even be nourished what we cannot yet fully understand.