Monday, 31 July 2017

Seeking treasure

We chase our dreams, for ever searching for that which will fulfill us and the lives we live.  Society around us holds up for us the dreams of an ephemeral nature that are here and then gone in an instant.  These are the dreams that we are conditioned by society to chase.  The hearts desire for a life of freedom through wealth, freedom through fame and freedom through power.  These are the things that society offer us.  We strive for and are induced into pathways of pain and exhaustion towards an ephemeral moment of fame, power and fortune.  Our lives are exhausted ghosts floating on the leavings of others and fleeting dreams that turn to dust as we pursue them for nought.  Faith offers us a different path, one that leads to a concrete treasure that is everlasting (Matt...).

The modern world is one that involves us in seeking out other peoples dreams and trying to live the lives of others. We very rarely sit down and take stock of where we are going or even where God is calling us.  We are led by others whose dreams appear to be more fulfilling and therefore must be better.  This path is a path to envy and the green monster is not very hard to find in our lives.  Every thing we hear on the radio is a plea to that monster to consume us.  Just think about the political and not so political stances of various societal sectors.  This group is getting more or the other group over there is going to be given a break "What about us/me?" is the cry.  If you give to them we deserve to get as much or more.  Every sector in society stands up to fight for / argue for / deserves more than the other sector of society.  We are conditioned to stand for this or that and then work for their dream.  God grants to us a gift of his love but we have to recognise that gift in our lives and when we do we need to do everything possible to keep the gift and not sully in it the wormhole of envy for what others have got.

have you found the pearl within yourself?

In discovering the true beauty of the unseen pearl that resides in our lives we discover how to live in the world.  In not allowing the greed of the everyday overwhelm us we allow the hand of God to direct our living.  This does not mean that we stop being involved in the world.  It is an achieving of a balance that allows the grace that God bestows upon us to come to the fore while dis-allowing the capricious call of our own wants to overwhelm our everyday lives.  By recognising the light of God within ourselves we are empowered to bring God's word into the everyday ordinariness of our lives.  We begin to be led away from the competitiveness of the world and bask in the glory and knowledge of God.  It is only in the recognition of the Christ within each of ourselves and the neighbour or other around us that we start to be a force for the good of God.  In owning this inner life in allowing this to rule our actions we start to see the pearl that lives within our own selves.

The parable tells of how the people concerned bury or go away before returning to the treasure.  This is something we all must do, once we have found the treasures that God gives to us through God's grace we turn away. Why?  Simply really to do the most costly thing of all, just like the people in the story. We turn away to rid ourselves of everything that draws us back into the word of ephemeral fame, power and fortune.  Only when we have sold everything, rid ourselves of our own faults, longings and desires are we ready to afford the pearl and the treasure that lies hidden within ourselves.  It is amazing how many people say "I am saved" but are still fixated on the dreams and desires of this world rather than on the offerings of God.  The evangelist who has not let go of the world is not an evangelist from or of God but of their own self indulgence.  God delights in a humble heart not necessarily one worth millions.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Future seeds or future weeds

Christ tells us stories (Matt 13.24 ff) that come from an agricultural landscape that we are probably unfamiliar with in today's world of high tech and vicarious pleasure.  As with last week, it is story set in the seasonal growth of a growing period and not the fast paced www highways that extend around the world.  It is about looking towards a future that is down the long road and not immediate, it is about looking at our fast paced lives through the eyes of God.  The human agenda is strewn with details and minuscule events that in actuality turn out to be non-entities in the bigger picture world that is the God story, the story of salvation.

We are sometimes pathetically upset by the long way round or are fascinated by the view of time held by those who work the land.  We often fail to see the driving motivation and become agitated when the result is not immediate.  Often we have moved this attitude into our modern farming productive methods because we want to have immediate results.  Unfortunately, nature and God do not really work like that no matter how much we would like it to be.  Like God we need to start to look towards the future, it may not happen in this generation but if the seeds are correctly planted no matter what the vicissitudes of life there will be a harvest at the end.  We sometimes concern ourselves overly much, like the servants and the workers in the Matthew parable, with obtaining an immediate satisfactory perfection.  This can be applied to any situation within our spiritual as well as our mundane lives.  Yes, occasionally, there is a need to act with haste and immediacy but we need to remember that there is a consequence to every hasty action we take.

Can you tell the difference?  What is wheat in God's eyes and what is a tare?

The servants and stewards in the parable want to remove the weeds immediately but it is the sagacity of the owner who reminds them that in taking out one weed the probability of taking out good plants is high and therefore likely to reduce the final yield.  We want to focus on the irritants, we want to dive in and save the day with our programmes and our schemes.  Once again we forget that God is the one who is leading us along the path to redemption and salvation. We only have to look at our hasty actions of the past (reminding ourselves about the effectiveness of hindsight) when it comes to our goals in terms of the environment and our human sustainability.  We see the immediate benefits of something and jump in to utilise that for our benefit.  In this day and age it would have been thought that we would have learnt from the hastiness of the past and be more deliberate about how we take up new things.

Looking at our political decisions in recent months it is fairly obvious that greed is the motivating force behind most decisions and not the good of the world or for the long term benefit of humanity.  Even when we consider the benefits for a country we only consider the economic benefit in the short term not the long term.  We do the same thing within the church.  We look to solve the short term issue and not look at the long term issue.  Christ shows us God's view point in this parable, a viewpoint taken up by God in the vision that Jacob had on his journey (Gen. 28.10-19).  This is not a dream of the immediate goal but a dream of a long term vision.  A dream that takes Jacob into a blessed future but one that does not suggest that there will be no hardships.  In looking to the future whether politically, spiritually or in our everyday lives we need to hold to the dream not to overcoming the small irritants and details.  They have a way of working out but not the way we either expect or necessarily want in our own minds.  Yet, they will be what God wants.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sowing seed for life

The old saying is that we reap what we sow in life.  So what is it that you sow or have sown during your life?  Looking back we often find that we have regrets somewhat like Esau, who sold his birthright (Gen 25.32-33), had later in life.  Ours may not have been as great a foolishness but looking back it often rankles and hurts.  Yet, sometimes what we perceive to be a disaster is what God is asking of us as he plants a seed to mature in the time to come.  Retrospective looks back in time are said to be 100% and that is how we learn.  Yet the ramifications from our regrets may actually be positive in the lives of others.

In the parable that Christ sets up in Matthew's gospel (13.1-), the sower does not appear to understand what it is that he is doing.  Seed appears to be scattered willy nilly all over the place.  Some falling here and other times some falling there.  Surely, one has to ask, the sower should be a little more deterministic when it comes to the scattering of the seed.  If we want a good harvest we must direct the seed into good ground.  There is no point in scattering it around.  I would have fired the sower, if it was my farm, I want a good yield not a bit of this and a bit of that (100% or nothing).  That is how we operate in today's world.  No matter what we do the expectation is that the out put of our work will be beneficial to the company for whom we work.  I suspect in earlier times the same would also be the case especially with regards to the distribution of valuable seed. In looking at the church or the parish in terms of what we do, a recent trend has been to emphasise mission based programs.  We are told you have to do this, or you must do this or this is where you will achieve growth in the church, follow this evangelistic method / program / etc.

Do we know what seed we have sown?

God does not work with programs, God works with the world the way God wants the world to be.  God calls us into difference not sameness.  Each programme of evangelism that is promoted is looking for sameness not difference.  God determines where the seed should fall, by placing all our seed into the one basket of programme evangelism we deny God access to the fruits of the seed.  Our evangelistic programme may well be scattering the seed on a well trodden path that does not allow for it to grow.  I suspect that more often than not, this is precisely what is happening; we continue to sow good seed onto the well trodden paths of human expectations only to find it trodden under foot.  It is only when we allow God to direct the sower of the seed that we begin to see the fruits of God's labour.  We talk of good and bad ground as if these were dualistic opposites.  Perhaps yesterday's poor ground maybe today's good soil as God directs the seed and the growth.

Paul reckons us to live on the level of the Spirit not on the level of what has gone before (Rom 8.5-6) when we live in Christ.  Yet we tend to live in the world and ignore Christ except as a passing whisper or throw away line.  If something has achieved good results elsewhere then surely it will achieve remarkable results here in this place all it requires is the 'minister' to put in the energy.  Or if what has worked in the past should be re-iterated, again and again and again, then we will achieve the same results now as then.  In undertaking these thoughts we actually undermine God. We are second guessing where the seed that the farmer has granted to us through grace is to be planted by our knowledge not by the farmers understanding of the fields to be sown and then reaped.  Only when we understand that it is by allowing God's hand in our work for God that we achieve the remarkable. It is not in following previous things or other programmes as these may not be what God is calling us to in the present.  In living into the Spirit we live into Christ and we allow Christ's guiding light to be ever present in our hearts.  We go where Christ wills not where we will.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

To be or not to be

Hamlet's famous question is perhaps a good place to start as we ponder our lives as Christians.  Paul writing to the Roman's enunciates this question in as weird a way as possible (Rom. 7.14-25) which leaves us wondering what it is he has actually said.  It is the reality of our struggle that Paul writes about showing us clearly the confusion in which we approach our normal lives.  We distinctly cut up our lives into a continuum of dualistic mannerisms that are constantly opposed to each other.  Not only is it our own actions but also the way we perceive the other.  Dualism is embedded into our lives from the moment we are born and yet when we come to baptism we are released from this dualistic thinking into Christ.

At baptism we are brought into the life of Christ, an initiation into the Christian faith but also an initiation into Christ-likeness.  In attempting to live our faith, not I hasten to add our religion, we are asked to embed ourselves into Christ and become like Christ.  Here is the issue for us as we divide Christ and us as being two separate things.  In doing so we create for ourselves a schizophrenic pattern that imbues the remainder of our lives.  Christian life asks us to do this but we are inclined to do that (the essence of Paul).  To be or not to be that is the question suggests Hamlet.  To live a Christian life or to not live a Christian life.  Our being is embedded into how we live, at baptism we ask the parents and godparents of the child to embed into their child a sense of Christ.  For the child the tension should not be there as they are succoured by their guides in life on the Christian way.  Yet, because we ourselves, as parents and godparents, are filled with our own doubts as to how we live as Christians so we form the dualistic thinking within the child.

Our source of division is within ourselves

The child is being formed by the environment in which it is raised, so if the parent or godparent is doubting as to the purpose of Christ in their lives or the life of Christ in their lives then the child will pick this up as it grows and will be as confused or as uncertain as their parent or godparent.  This does not mean that the parent or godparent should go around quoting the bible and the scriptures and pretending to be holier than thou.  This is just to say that we as parents or godparents are just as dualistic in our thinking as any other person.  We have to undertake a real transformation within ourselves before our children can start to become less of who we are and more of who Christ is.  The Romans dilemma will always be with us, no matter who we are, until such time as we live the life that Christ gives to us.

We are hesitant to take up Christ in our time as this is counter intuitive to the world around us.  A world that is pervaded by a dualistic thinking and a view of self that is grounded in the individual.  Christ(ian) life is found in the extensive network of relationships that enhance our selves as relational people caring for the other.  This throws out all of our society's preconceived notions that the individual is greater than the community.  We regress to become more, we throw out some of ourselves to become greater; we die to sin and are born again into new life.  Our struggle with our own being is a struggle to understand ourselves and to grow towards divinity in Christ.  We are bound each day by this struggle of identity within our lives: To be Christlike or not to be Christlike that is the question!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Commitment - a way of life

Many people in today's world do not see a need to put themselves into something so thoroughly that they do not deter from the goal that has been set.  We can see that in the modern career path.  In previous generations a person chose a career and was in that career until their dying day.  Today, the likelihood is that the majority of people will have anything between 10-12 times if you are from an older generation, newer generations consider changing careers and jobs approximately every three years. We can perhaps sometimes see this within our churches and parishes if we number count.  When we do look closely at faith the journey we take is not as pliable and faith jumping or church jumping is not something we should be looking at.  Rather we have a different standard and that is the constancy of God in our lives.  If this is realised then we should be looking at a constant, persistent and committed journey not one that is looking to change direction every five minutes.  We need to look to Abraham to see this commitment worked out (Gen. 22.1-14).

We may find it wrong to think of the story of Abraham and Isaac as a good model.  How can God ask for something so horrendous as this sacrifice?  We can see all the wrong things about this but do we actually see what it is telling us about making ourselves sacred.  At the end of our service each week we offer ourselves as "living sacrifices", that is our prayer and yet we are not fully committed to this.  To be sacred is to be an offering to God, just as Abraham was asked to make of Isaac, a living sacrifice to God.  In taking up our roles as Christians we are baptised into Christ's death and resurrection, not only his death.  Yet behind this offering of ourselves and Abraham's offering of Isaac there flows on thing that we need to take cognisance of and that is the word "commitment".  Abraham has committed himself to God, he has made himself sacred in his actions.  He has laid down his wishes to take up the cross that is God's call upon his life.  God tests this vocation by demanding obedience and acknowledgment of God's presence.  If we are to shirk the command of God God is no longer with us.  If we are to make ourselves living sacrifices we must undertake all that God requires of us.

George Segal's sculpture captures the sacrifice; are we as prepared as Abraham?

Matthew tells us that Christ asks us to "receive him" (10.40) and so we receive God into our presence.  If that means we must let go something of ourselves than this is what we must do.  God gives to us more than what we have let go.  God gives us more when we let go.  It is not be grasping that we gain but by giving fully of ourselves, making a sacrifice of our lives to God.  Anyone who has seen Kung Fu Panda 3 knows what happens when we take too much.  In parish and Church life we often want more than we are prepared to give to achieve that which we think we desire.  It is only when we give of ourselves and commit to that giving do we start to see the fruit of God's grace in our lives.  In becoming leaders within our community we need to understand that we need to give before we can receive the benefits of our community's interaction with us.

Our community cannot know us unless we begin to give of ourselves.  In opening ourselves up we are offering ourselves to Christ and thus to God.  Matthew goes on to state that offering a "cup of water" to one of the little ones will not go unrewarded (Matt. 10.42).  What cups of water are we offering to the community around us?  The simplicity of the act opens us up and creates a space for sacred interaction and holiness.  It is not about our own needs but the needs of others.  We have the freedom to act on God's call or not, that is what God gives to us.  In taking and acting on God's call we should be committing ourselves to a life that is lived in Christ.  A commitment that is or should be a commitment seen in the actions of Abraham.  Even when we think that the act is going to be wrong, when we believe that the act is going to be detrimental, when we believe that the act is going to diminish us that is when we renew our commitment to God for if God calls us we need to respond.  We have offered ourselves, we have committed ourselves to becoming sacred, a sacrifice to God.