Sunday, 31 December 2017

A New Year a new resolution

Today we face the reality of an approaching New Year with its attendant resolutions, most of which will have been broken within a 24 hour period or slightly longer.  The resolutions that we make may well be made with fervour and real striving but will fail ultimately because there will be no one around to assist or help or walk alongside as we strive for the goal.  In Isaiah the prophet is rejoicing because the possibility has been achieved because God has walked with the people (Is 61.10-11).  As a Church and a Denomination and a Parish we too need to make a resolution and each of us needs to walk with each other and with God to achieve the resolution.  If we need to make a resolution what is that going to be?  Perhaps, a fairly pointless question as each one of us will have a different resolution to put forward and it is highly unlikely that any of us will agree fully on the way forward, in the end it will be the best fit rather than the one thing everyone wants.  Adjustments have to be made to accommodate everybody and in the end this will mean that a true goal is not aimed for or reached.  Why?  Simply stated we are all political and want to attain what we as individuals see as being optimal for us as individuals.

The prophesy for Mary was as individual as they come.  Simeon starts of revealing greatness and ends with sadness (Lk. 2.28-35).  Greatness in the Saviour sadness in the heart of Mary.  If our resolution aligns with Christ and God perhaps it is inevitable that some will feel sorrow.  However, sorrow is sometimes pointing to our own inadequacies rather than to the poverty of the outcome of the resolution.  In seeking for the future, we must allow the future to embed itself within us rather than being something that we drag up from the past to make into a "future".  In allowing God's Spirit into our lives and following the will of the Spirit we open ourselves to sadness and joy.  Just as Mary is foretold to have her heart rent (Lk. 2.34b) we too will have our hearts rent.  Simply this is a result of our own wants being dashed, maybe not as drastically as Mary but in some respects in a very similar way.  Mary would have wanted her child to have a long and productive life.  Maybe even as the prophesied King or even as a favoured prophet within the Judaic way.  She certainly did not wish or want an early death let alone one upon a cross.  However, she did not cling to what she wanted but she allowed the Spirit to direct her place and her dreams so that we to could dream with Mary of a new world.
God walks with us if we allow him to but it means giving up our wants

Our inability to allow ourselves to be taken by God and shepherded by God, and companioned by God draws us backwards rather than towards the new life that God promises all his children.  We companion our children through life, some not as well as others, but if we can do it why cannot we allow God to undertake this with his children (all of us) (Gal. 4.7).  We ourselves were companioned by others as we grew up and as we entered into the workforce.  Is it only because we have been taught that spiritual reality is not a true part of life? or is it because we do not want to give up our desires for the greater good of our communities?  Reading "The Well Tempered City" by Jonathan Rose made me stop to think what we would really be like if we lived out the dreams of God in community, if we stopped to consider the rest of our community rather than just ourselves, if we actually managed to be advocates for those who are the poorest of the poor in our communities, if we had the capacity to build using the environment as a partner rather than as a usable and disposable commodity?  Perhaps, our New Years resolution is to follow the call of God and not be persuaded to follow our dreams, to put up with the sadness but to live the glory.  Only when we have become a place of peace and justice will we really understand what it means to be part of God's call.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

A peace that passes all understanding

In a year that is coming to an end that has been filled with hate, war and violence in all it's forms we wonder what is peace?  Is this concept ever going to be achievable within our lifetimes let alone the lifetime of the world?  Our conceptions of a peace that effects all people in a grandiose idea of harmony amongst the peoples of the world is a dream beyond our abilities to attain.  In saying this I realise I may be destroying a dream but in reality I am destroying an illusion that we have generated for ourselves in place of the reality that is beyond our understanding.  It is only beyond our understanding because we over complicate things rather than simplifying our lives.  If we are to understand we need to look at 2 Samuel and Luke linking them in our hearts and acting them out in our lives (2 Sam 7b.11; Luke 1.38).

The first realisation is that it is God's dream and God's will that brings the peace that we desire and that God seeks.  In placing it within the realm of humanity's striving we denigrate God's presence and dream.  It becomes all about us rather than all about God, no matter how we conceive of God.  In doing this we will never achieve peace as we will always have separate views of who/what God is and who/what God wants etc.  We cannot decide for ourselves how to worship God in our own denomination / faith let alone accept the other's view of God.  How then can we achieve peace, if all our dreams of peace are fantasies dreamt up by ourselves that devolve into our own in-fighting as to how we actually go about starting to achieve that peace?  Peace the concept is difficult to get our heads around in the first place as each person has a different notion of what peace is and here we are trying to reach out for God's peace.  Who knows what that is?  This is not for us to achieve, promote yes, achieve no as it requires God or at least Christ's presence in our midst.  Not something that we have cultivated in our lives with great relish.

Only when we let go of ourselves do we begin the process of peace

So what is the realisation that we need to take on board at this crucial time of the year (one sleep to go).  Can we achieve God's peace the one that passes all understanding?  Unlikely, as it passes all our understanding.  We limit ourselves to our conceptions.  Can we at least begin to comprehend or start the process that leads to God's peace; a peace that perhaps we yearn for but do not achieve as it is not possible through our own efforts.  How hard is this beginning for us?  It is both easy and hard a celebration and a sadness.  Mary (Lk 1.38) gets it right, perhaps in her naivety or rather in her honesty before God, Mary lets go of her life.  She lets go of control and she lets go of her wants, needs and desires.  Simple.  Straightforward. Easy.  However in doing so she gave up everything that we hold dear, which is where the sorrow comes in for us.  The unimaginable sadness of letting what we perceive to be right go without any doubts recriminations or hesitancy.  Once again the ugly head of our own reticence and selfishness rears up as we determine what it is that God asks of us to achieve a peace beyond understanding.  We want control; we want our peace; we want that which eases our souls not what eases the burden on others.

This is not the lesson to be learnt in these passages.  God's peace comes with God, for us to be participants in that peace is to be like Mary.  Mary accepts.  Even in her youthful state she is more aware of the response that is required to attain God's peace.  Even in the heartbreak of the death of her son she knows God's peace,  Even in the knowledge that life is not going to be easy she finds peace by accepting the call of God.  This is where we need to look for God's peace for it is only God who can give such peace it cannot be achieved by our own efforts, however much we strive for it.  In letting go we find God, in letting go we find God's peace beyond all our understanding.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Hope in the midst of despair

Again we hear the cry from Jordan's bank but we also hear within it the cry from further back in history, the prophet Isaiah with its classic vision of hope amidst ruin (Is 61.8-11).  Today, towards the end of a tumultuous year is perhaps the time to reflect on the hope that Christ brings.  It is perhaps to be expected that the majority of people would have a somewhat depressed view of the world and our society following the events of this year.  Threats of nuclear war, the cruelty of a government with respect to those seeking asylum from war and deprivation, the excesses of people in authority, the inability of people to accept responsibility for abuse, ... We could go on and on listing those things that were so unfavourable and unjust to the people of the world, God's people.  This is what the media play on through out the year, bad news sells, good news does not.

In such a depressive atmosphere how do we hope?  Such an elusive thing that cannot be described or held in words or thoughts but experienced in joy and love.  Yet hope for Isaiah comes in dreams and visions.  Something that we have perhaps let go of in our rational based society.  Hope cannot be captured in words or rationality it comes in springs that appear in the desert.  The desert of human empathy that occurs as a result of our manifest violence on the other.  Violence in terms of words, attitudes and actions both physical and psychological.  Violence that we bring upon ourselves or on the other either purposely or as a side product of our own ineptitude and non-empathetic way of living.  Our ineptitude at recognising the truth of God's kingdom here in this place, at this time results in our blindness to the violence we help create. We concentrate so much on the rationality of programmes that we forget that hope comes in the form of dreams and visions not in percentages and numbers.

Hope is dreaming of the future in the desert of despair

God's vision for us is to bring hope into the community.  A hope that we see in the incarnation of God.  Christ gives to us a hope of living in harmony and in love with all those who are other.  Christ shares with us through the Gospel story the idea and hope that all of humanity are made in God's image.  It is not just those that are part of this church or that denomination but all of humanity no matter who they are.  How they express their identity as part of God;s world is not for us to judge it is for God to condemn.  In reaching out to those who are so different from us we begin a conversation that draws us into the presence of God.  We exchange something from us for something from the stranger and we build that into our dreams, our visions for a world that is filled with hope.

Hope is elusive and hard to catch hold of that is because it cannot be encapsulated in numbers and rational statistics.  A recent article in the Spectator talks about the deniers and the panickers but in reality they are talking about the dreamers and the rationalists.  Christianity is formed in the heart of God and expressed in the visions of God's prophets.  It is not a science that we can control but a call that is weak and unassuming that plays on our hearts with visions and dreams.  WE have to be bold in the eyes of a rational society by proclaiming the dreams of God for the intangible realities of a stress free world.  A reality that is based on hope for better relationships, a dream of peace and a vision of non-violence in everything that we do.  In this manner we change the reality of the world and strive to change the rationality of our community.  We find love in despair, peace in war and conviviality in sorrow.  Hope strives for a future that is built on the clouds of dreams.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

God calls - The cry from Jordan's bank

I will always remember the opening of Godspell and John the Baptist's cry from below the balcony seats at Bournemouth theatre.  A magnificent tenor voice resounded through the auditorium as if coming from no particular place "Prepare ye the way of the Lord".  The soul wrenching sound came out of nowhere and extended an invitation that was hard to deny.  It is a call that echos throughout the world at this time of year a constant and repeated reminder of our call extending through life from the moment of baptism to our mortal final hours on this planet.  A call that is reiterated in every injustice and war that we initiate, participate or allow through our inaction in response to Gods call.  Mark repeats the call of Isaiah "prepare the way of the Lord; clear a straight path for him" (Mk. 1.3; Isaiah 40.3) and the question in our hearts must be "How are we to respond?".

At baptism for anyone young or old, we re-affirm our response to the call that God places on us.  Parents and Godparents do this for the child and as older adults we undertake the response for ourselves.  A response that places the other in front of our own wants and desires.  A response that brings to the forefront of our lives the elusive concepts of justice, peace and love.  We straighten the paths of our lives by living to the truest form of God's call.  We place behind us the concerns that beset our everyday lives to which we surrender on a daily basis. We place to the fore a concern for the person least likely to draw our attention in the work place and the social havens we inhabit.  The social outcast the one who is alone at the bar.  It is our barriers that the baptist's call breaks so that we can respond with compassion and understanding.

Can we answer God's baptismal call and walk in an other's shoes?

The breaking into our lives of the baptist call reminds us to try to grapple with the elusive concepts that we label justice, peace and love.  The call is an irritant on our lives that is expecting something from us but we are not sure what.  we strive for the elusiveness of the concepts when we see things that are abhorrent to what we find acceptable for our society.  The malfeasance of incarceration of those seeking peace and refuge.  The aberrant behaviour of a few in terms of their use of power over the innocent and how we are to grapple with the consequences.  It is at the time of failure that we see hear the insistent call of God but are unprepared to answer in truth.  We find it difficult not to dissemble and squirm our way out of blame.  The insistence of God's call from baptism onwards disarms are rational minds as everything we think of favours someone and disfavours another.  We want our lives to reflect the good but we want those who are less fortunate to obtain the privileges and rights of justice and peace.  Yet, we privilege ourselves in the battle for justice and not those who are different.

Baptism calls us to break the cycle of privilege and reiterate the call for justice.  A quiet insistent voice that calls us into acts of defiance to highlight the plight of the disadvantaged.  It is quaint to champion our own doubts and terrors but it is powerful when we fully engage in / with the plight of those caught in a cycle of deprivation and poverty. What is it in this community that calls to us from our baptism?  What is it in the world community that calls to us from our baptism?  As young people it should be the concerns expressed in the conversations of our parents and godparents turn us to address the reality of life and find an answer to God's call on us.  It is when the future breaks in upon the older generation through the love and wonder expressed by the younger that we begin to create that which God calls us to do.  It is not generated by the old for the young but by the young for the experience of the old to craft.  So let us listen to the young who are closer to God's call as they have not privileged themselves by their prejudices and fears. In doing so we respond to the future that comes to us in Christ, incarnated and as judge.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent - A new year begins

Yes, it is here, a new liturgical year for us to begin.  We know the signs of the times, decorations in the shops, Merry Christmas signs, trees and tinsel.  Christmas bargains, mince pies, Christmas puddings, etc.  Is this really what we need to be caught up in.  These are the signs of our times but are they the signs of our faith lives.  A repetitive round of festivities that culminate in Midnight Mass or some other Christian service to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Is this what the liturgical year is about a never ending show for the Christian that turns up at church?  A show that the critics can argue about throughout the year if it is not to their liking; it is not fulfilling my needs!!  However much we dress it up our faith journey must be more than this.  Isaiah says it "we are the clay, you the potter" not "you are the clay to be moulded to our wants" (Is. 64.8).

If we are to be moulded by God we need to respond to God's call as disciples under discipline and under instruction from God.  This is a sacrificial following of God / Christ as we leave our own lives behind, not just for an hour each Sunday for the satisfaction of proclaiming our religiosity (Bonhoeffer would say that this is cheap grace) but rather to understand what Christ is asking of us in sacrifice.  At the start of our year we ought to be looking to our future in faith.  We should be looking at the signs around us to help us discern the path of sacrifice that Christ is asking of us in this day and age.  Just like looking for signs of new growth in the plants around us (Mk 13.28) we need to be looking for and discerning the patterns of new service and sacrifice that God is calling us to.  It is easy for us to hark back to what has been done rather than to discern new life.  This repetition of thinking does not bring about newness of life but rather like a decaying orchard left to its own devices it soon produces bitter inedible fruit.

Do we think of ourselves as the pot or the potter?

Good stewardship and responsible discipleship tells us that we need to clear away the invasive weeds and choking growth that prevents our own following of Christ.  That may look like severe bleeding to us as plants are hacked away and damage appears to be done to the surroundings that have grown comfortable and comforting.  This is costly to us and often required in response to God's call.  We, of course, do not want to undertake the next bit of rejuvenation.  It means that we have to get down and dirty and dig the soil.  The roots of the tree need to be fed.  Even if we feed it concentrated manure we still have to dig it in and that takes effort.  Effort for ourselves as we attend to God's word and the food that is given to us.  We may think that the food being ladled out is not good for us or else we do not want to dig it in or else the offering appears to be extremely rich and rarefied.  Unfortunately neglect means that we have to make even greater efforts for ourselves and for those around us.  It is not helpful when soul food is offered and we just allow it to pile up to rot because we cannot make the effort.

Lastly, having started to understand the feeding and having cleared away the growth we still need to prune.  Dead branches and poor growth needs to be cut away so that new shoots can appear.  This means we have to allow new understanding in and not block it with old branches.  The Church finds it easy to repeat what has occurred but is not good at seeking pathways to new growth.  When we do we often allow the growth to be stifled by old branches that have not been pruned.  In our understanding, in our governance and in our outreach we allow old growth models to stifle new ways.  In looking for new growth we have to allow the potter to mould us into the pot that the potter requires or the orchardist to prune away old branches and allow light and nutrients to bring new shoots that are unencumbered by the old.  At the start of this year are we ready to allow the potter to mould us and the orhardist to prune us so that we can become as Christ to God's people?