SERMON - DID JESUS EVER LEARN ANYTHING?

 

You’ll have had them I’m sure…

MOMENTS OF INSIGHT/INTUITION…

a sudden dropping of the penny, seeing of the light, lifting of the mist…and there…you can see it now…see what the others have been telling you about…but has hitherto seemed to pass you by…

but now…now you have it…or it has you.

 

We can be rolling along fine. Thinking we have life all figured out. We buy a newspaper that echoes and reinforces our world view…we know who fits in where…what is as it should be…and the corners of our thinking are rounded…the edges softened. We’re there.

 

And then something happens to make us look at things again…and we are unsettled…we are shaken and stirred and pretty uncomfortable about things…and we discover that the neat little box we have put life into…isn’t sufficient…lacks flexibility…we have to review our stance on this, that or the other matter…and suddenly it’s not just as simple and straightforward as we imagined.

 

Usually, those seismic shifts in our thinking have to do with people and our experiences with them…

 

·        The parents, of traditional) moral principle, whose daughter comes home and tells them she is moving in with her boyfriend…

 

·        The couple with strong views about homosexuality - whose son tells them he is gay.

 

·        The man who has always been critical of the Health Service -who finds himself in hospital and overwhelmed with kindliness and skill…

 

And the examples could go on:

·        The man who had no time for what he saw as the feckless unemployed is made redundant and can’t for the life of him get a job…

 

·        The church elder who would “never have a woman minister” finds himself with one…and she is wonderful!

 

·        The man who grumbles about all the “political correctness that makes such a fuss about disabled people and their rights…” who finds he now has to push his wife around in a wheelchair…and suddenly he sees the world differently.

 

And so on…

Time for a re-think…

 

All our hard certainties…rocked by… reality.

And we have to think again…look at things afresh. Re-assess our dogmatic stance.

We can cling onto our stubborn certainties – or learn to respond as situations arise, and as real people enter the equation.

And it often is to do with people…and the awfulness of their plight, the severity of their need, the depth of their crisis, the hard choices they make.

 

And we begin to think that sometimes, actually, it’s people first -and principles second.

--

That can be a risky road to take…who knows what accommodations, adjustments, waterings down and radical reviews it will demand

- but when the person is actually there in front of you and their need cries out…their humanity presents itself, we know instinctively where our priorities lie.

 

Theory might be one thing…but it often has to go out the window when we are dealing with real people.

Intellectual arguments are one thing…the needs of real individuals for compassion, grace and tenderness are another.

 

==

So, here’s the question…did Jesus ever change his mind about things…? Did his thinking evolve, develop, change…alter – in the light of circumstances…did he ever learn anything…have one of those moments when all his certainties had to be readjusted in the light of the need of a real person there in front of him?

 

 

The creeds of the church from the earliest times talk about Jesus as being human and divine.  That’s not an easy concept and has always left tough questions for us. 

But the early church fathers – after much study and many councils, decided it was the truth revealed in the biblical texts and the remembrance of the Christian community.

 

So, did he know everything all the time…in the light of his being God an’ all…or did he have to learn stuff the same as we did…and so, his “being divine” gave him no special advantages –

He had to learn to read and write…

He had to come to an understanding about truth and morality and what is right and wrong…

he had to learn to be a carpenter…just like any apprentice and get skelves in his fingers and rough bits on his hands…

=

And he had to deal with his cultural heritage and the strait-jacket that can be - and the certainty among his people that they were the people…and they were so chosen it hurt… and that everyone else was pretty much not worth very much …

 

And having breathed that air of prejudice and social arrogance from his early days…did he have to learn new thinking…discover new attitudes, different ways of dealing with the world?

And when and where did those tipping points come?

 

I think we read about one today.

 

The incident with the foreign woman is pretty shocking.

Jesus seems to give her short shrift –

His has other, bigger fish to fry…his mission to the people of Israel has his full commitment, and there is nothing left for the desperate woman with her need and crisis.

Because she is not a Jew, she counts for less

She is not a priority.

He has other things on his mind.

Simple. As it should be – according to the measures and manners of his time and common thinking of his people.

His words to her sound rough, harsh –ungracious impatient…shocking. Un-Christ-like.

 

He had work in hand and the people of his own culture and their blindness, their tragedy- summon him with all his resources, energy and compassion - and he seems to have nothing left for those on the fringes, on the edges…beyond the reach of his compassion.

He tells her to go away.

He sends her away.

 

But she won’t go.

She won’t take a telling.

Her persistence is relentless.

==

And then it seems to happen.

The moment comes.

The penny drops.

He sees it.

He sees her…as a person with a desperate problem, an immediate need.

And it falls into place

Compassion overwhelms cultural stereo-typing,

Old prejudices are pushed to one side by an overwhelming humanity and love…

And he sees.

He understands

And is liberated by that moment, that insight – that divine revelation

to love the whole world…

To leave no one outside the scope and compass of his compassion.

Now he is gripped by the need of the whole world

And draws that whole world to his heart.

 

American Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor (swopped) describes it this way:

-- You can almost hear the huge wheels of history turning  as Jesus comes to a new understanding of who he is and what he has been called to. He is no longer a Messiah called only to the lost sheep of Israel, but God’s chosen Redeemer of the whole world - Jews and Gentiles alike…beginning with this Canaanite woman.

==

 

That other story - of the woman taken in adultery -

whom the law said should be stoned

offers another one of those disclosure moments…

When the light dawns

And Jesus learns that people are more important than rigid legalistic attitudes…and he invites, dares his critics to share that moment of understanding…

 

“I know the Law says this.

But here in front of me is this trembling, terrified woman.

What matters most?

What does God the Father want me to allow to matter most?

Yes, who knows into what murky moral waters this decision will lead and how complex it will all become…

But the truth is ….people matter

Mercy matters

Grace is for all God’s children.

The good news is for all the world…

And if there are blurred edges…we will live with them, deal with them…”

==

And, on another occasion - when his disciples offend against the strict Sabbath regulations that have become just silly in their rigidity…another moment of clarity….

Of course, this is the truth –

that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…

Yes! That’s the right emphasis! This is what matters…

==

 

We all carry stuff around with us…simplistic assessments, ancient prejudices, caricatures of this type of person or that….and we should bless those disclosure moments, when we learn something new about truth…its capacity to unsettle, its sometimes grey areas, its challenge to our comfortable certainties.

 

If we are truly blessed we will have our moments of discovery and insight - tipping points - when the clouds of ignorance part and the sunlight of truth illuminates our story.

 

 

 

If that opens us or our message up to the charge of us “being a soft touch,” offering cheap grace, we will live with that rebuke and try to explain that grace isn’t cheap…even though it is free. Kindliness is not easy – just right.

 

And we will allow ourselves to be open to those disclosure moments when the love of God enables us to see things differently…in the midst of real encounters…not “wham bam rockets galore revelations” –but in the quiet new certainties that creep into our soul - and we discover that people matter more than us being right all the time.

 

There was a man in the early years of my ministry who gave me a torrid time…he could be difficult, negative… you say black, he’d say white … his mission seemed to be to block and stymie and make sure I never got what I wanted for the church, without a struggle. He was a pain in the neck.

He got ill. I visited him in hospital and he lay there scared and sick vulnerable …and as I looked at him- I realised that, actually, I loved him. I loved the old beggar…and that all the other stuff was nothing. He mattered and he mattered to me. It was a revelation indeed.

I’m still waiting for the other moments to come. When I can open the door to a needy individual who’s looking for money or something…and feel only compassion and never cynicism and suspicion…or when I’m able to see a beggar in the streets of Edinburgh and not be torn between helplessness anger and shame…only feel only sorrow and compassion…

 

I take some comfort from the fact that if there were things the Master had to learn, journeys and adventures of discovery he had to make…that he will understand if it’s taking me a while to get myself to where he would like me to be….where I too will know that when it all boils down to it…people, whoever they are – strong or weak, feckless or confident, gay or straight, rich or poor, fat or thin, nice or nasty, Christian or non-Christian…they are our gift, our responsibility and our blessing.

 

They matter.

 

Every one of them.

 

 

SERMON - DID JESUS EVER LEARN ANYTHING?

You’ll have had them I’m sure…
MOMENTS OF INSIGHT/INTUITION…
a sudden dropping of the penny, seeing of the light, lifting of the mist…and there…you can see it now…see what the others have been telling you about…but has hitherto seemed to pass you by…
but now…now you have it…or it has you.

We can be rolling along fine. Thinking we have life all figured out. We buy a newspaper that echoes and reinforces our world view…we know who fits in where…what is as it should be…and the corners of our thinking are rounded…the edges softened. We’re there.

And then something happens to make us look at things again…and we are unsettled…we are shaken and stirred and pretty uncomfortable about things…and we discover that the neat little box we have put life into…isn’t sufficient…lacks flexibility…we have to review our stance on this, that or the other matter…and suddenly it’s not just as simple and straightforward as we imagined.

Usually, those seismic shifts in our thinking have to do with people and our experiences with them…

•    The parents, of traditional) moral principle, whose daughter comes home and tells them she is moving in with her boyfriend…

•    The couple with strong views about homosexuality - whose son tells them he is gay.

•    The man who has always been critical of the Health Service -who finds himself in hospital and overwhelmed with kindliness and skill…

And the examples could go on:
•    The man who had no time for what he saw as the feckless unemployed is made redundant and can’t for the life of him get a job…

•    The church elder who would “never have a woman minister” finds himself with one…and she is wonderful!

•    The man who grumbles about all the “political correctness that makes such a fuss about disabled people and their rights…” who finds he now has to push his wife around in a wheelchair…and suddenly he sees the world differently.

And so on…
Time for a re-think…

All our hard certainties…rocked by… reality.
And we have to think again…look at things afresh. Re-assess our dogmatic stance.
We can cling onto our stubborn certainties – or learn to respond as situations arise, and as real people enter the equation.
And it often is to do with people…and the awfulness of their plight, the severity of their need, the depth of their crisis, the hard choices they make.

And we begin to think that sometimes, actually, it’s people first -and principles second.
--
That can be a risky road to take…who knows what accommodations, adjustments, waterings down and radical reviews it will demand
- but when the person is actually there in front of you and their need cries out…their humanity presents itself, we know instinctively where our priorities lie.

Theory might be one thing…but it often has to go out the window when we are dealing with real people.
Intellectual arguments are one thing…the needs of real individuals for compassion, grace and tenderness are another.

==
So, here’s the question…did Jesus ever change his mind about things…? Did his thinking evolve, develop, change…alter – in the light of circumstances…did he ever learn anything…have one of those moments when all his certainties had to be readjusted in the light of the need of a real person there in front of him?


The creeds of the church from the earliest times talk about Jesus as being human and divine.  That’s not an easy concept and has always left tough questions for us. 
But the early church fathers – after much study and many councils, decided it was the truth revealed in the biblical texts and the remembrance of the Christian community.

So, did he know everything all the time…in the light of his being God an’ all…or did he have to learn stuff the same as we did…and so, his “being divine” gave him no special advantages –
He had to learn to read and write…
He had to come to an understanding about truth and morality and what is right and wrong…
he had to learn to be a carpenter…just like any apprentice and get skelves in his fingers and rough bits on his hands…
=
And he had to deal with his cultural heritage and the strait-jacket that can be - and the certainty among his people that they were the people…and they were so chosen it hurt… and that everyone else was pretty much not worth very much …

And having breathed that air of prejudice and social arrogance from his early days…did he have to learn new thinking…discover new attitudes, different ways of dealing with the world?
And when and where did those tipping points come?

I think we read about one today.

The incident with the foreign woman is pretty shocking.
Jesus seems to give her short shrift –
His has other, bigger fish to fry…his mission to the people of Israel has his full commitment, and there is nothing left for the desperate woman with her need and crisis.
Because she is not a Jew, she counts for less
She is not a priority.
He has other things on his mind.
Simple. As it should be – according to the measures and manners of his time and common thinking of his people.
His words to her sound rough, harsh –ungracious impatient…shocking. Un-Christ-like.

He had work in hand and the people of his own culture and their blindness, their tragedy- summon him with all his resources, energy and compassion - and he seems to have nothing left for those on the fringes, on the edges…beyond the reach of his compassion.
He tells her to go away.
He sends her away.

But she won’t go.
She won’t take a telling.
Her persistence is relentless.
==
And then it seems to happen.
The moment comes.
The penny drops.
He sees it.
He sees her…as a person with a desperate problem, an immediate need.
And it falls into place
Compassion overwhelms cultural stereo-typing,
Old prejudices are pushed to one side by an overwhelming humanity and love…
And he sees.
He understands
And is liberated by that moment, that insight – that divine revelation
to love the whole world…
To leave no one outside the scope and compass of his compassion.
Now he is gripped by the need of the whole world
And draws that whole world to his heart.

American Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor (swopped) describes it this way:
-- You can almost hear the huge wheels of history turning  as Jesus comes to a new understanding of who he is and what he has been called to. He is no longer a Messiah called only to the lost sheep of Israel, but God’s chosen Redeemer of the whole world - Jews and Gentiles alike…beginning with this Canaanite woman.
==

That other story - of the woman taken in adultery -
whom the law said should be stoned
offers another one of those disclosure moments…
When the light dawns
And Jesus learns that people are more important than rigid legalistic attitudes…and he invites, dares his critics to share that moment of understanding…

“I know the Law says this.
But here in front of me is this trembling, terrified woman.
What matters most?
What does God the Father want me to allow to matter most?
Yes, who knows into what murky moral waters this decision will lead and how complex it will all become…
But the truth is ….people matter
Mercy matters
Grace is for all God’s children.
The good news is for all the world…
And if there are blurred edges…we will live with them, deal with them…”
==
And, on another occasion - when his disciples offend against the strict Sabbath regulations that have become just silly in their rigidity…another moment of clarity….
Of course, this is the truth –
that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…
Yes! That’s the right emphasis! This is what matters…
==

We all carry stuff around with us…simplistic assessments, ancient prejudices, caricatures of this type of person or that….and we should bless those disclosure moments, when we learn something new about truth…its capacity to unsettle, its sometimes grey areas, its challenge to our comfortable certainties.

If we are truly blessed we will have our moments of discovery and insight - tipping points - when the clouds of ignorance part and the sunlight of truth illuminates our story.



If that opens us or our message up to the charge of us “being a soft touch,” offering cheap grace, we will live with that rebuke and try to explain that grace isn’t cheap…even though it is free. Kindliness is not easy – just right.

And we will allow ourselves to be open to those disclosure moments when the love of God enables us to see things differently…in the midst of real encounters…not “wham bam rockets galore revelations” –but in the quiet new certainties that creep into our soul - and we discover that people matter more than us being right all the time.

There was a man in the early years of my ministry who gave me a torrid time…he could be difficult, negative… you say black, he’d say white … his mission seemed to be to block and stymie and make sure I never got what I wanted for the church, without a struggle. He was a pain in the neck.
He got ill. I visited him in hospital and he lay there scared and sick vulnerable …and as I looked at him- I realised that, actually, I loved him. I loved the old beggar…and that all the other stuff was nothing. He mattered and he mattered to me. It was a revelation indeed.
I’m still waiting for the other moments to come. When I can open the door to a needy individual who’s looking for money or something…and feel only compassion and never cynicism and suspicion…or when I’m able to see a beggar in the streets of Edinburgh and not be torn between helplessness anger and shame…only feel only sorrow and compassion…

I take some comfort from the fact that if there were things the Master had to learn, journeys and adventures of discovery he had to make…that he will understand if it’s taking me a while to get myself to where he would like me to be….where I too will know that when it all boils down to it…people, whoever they are – strong or weak, feckless or confident, gay or straight, rich or poor, fat or thin, nice or nasty, Christian or non-Christian…they are our gift, our responsibility and our blessing.

They matter.

Every one of them.


MALACHI SERMON:

INTRO;

DID YOU EVER GET A HOME READER…AT SCHOOL…

SOME BOOK THAT WAS REQUIRED READING

 SET BY THE ENGLISH TEACHER…??

--

THERE WERE SOME STRANGE CHOICES IN MY DAY…

THE WHITE COMPANY BY SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

IVANHOE BY SIR WALTER SCOTT…

NOT VERY EASY READS. NEVER QUITE GOT EITHER OF THOSE FINISHED..

NOT VERY ATTRACTIVE TO A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY.

I WAS GRATEFUL, THOUGH,

WHEN THEY MADE ME READ

GRAHAME GREENE’S

THE POWER AND THE GLORY

FOR IT GOT ME INTO GRAHAME GREENE

AND MADE ME WANT TO READ ALL HIS BOOKS…

..

THE HERO….OR ANTI- HERO - OF THE POWER AND THE GLORY

IS A FLAWED AND FAILED PRIEST –DESCRIBED THUS:

HE IS the character upon whom the novel's most important moral questions center. He spends the majority of the novel on the run from the police, friendless and homeless and searching for some sense of purpose in his life. His decadent, indulgent life as a parish priest takes place before the novel begins, but it is present in his thoughts throughout the novel as a source of deep humiliation.

He meets his daughter, the product of a secret affair with one of his parishioners, and finds that his love for her makes it impossible for him to repent the sin of conceiving her. He often chastises himself for impulses and reactions that are very normal and very human.

BLEAK STUFF!

YET IN SPITE OF HIS VERY REAL FAILURES AND INADEQUACIES

HE IS STILL ABLE TO DO “KINGDOM WORK…”

 HIS WEAKNESS OVERCOME BY THE SPIRIT

 

HE STILL DOES GOOD.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS A DOCTRINE TO COVER THIS SITUATION

TO EXPLAIN THIS LITTLE MIRACLE

EX OPERE OPERANTIS

THOSE WHO PREACH, OFFER THE SACRAMENTS

MAY BE INDIVIDUALS WHOSE HEARTS ARE HEAVY WITH

BROKENNESS AND THEIR CHARACTER RIDDLED WITH FLAWS…

BUT THE SPIRIT IS ABLE TO TRIUMPH OVER THESE WEAKNESSES

AND BLESSINGS COME…

SPIRITUAL THINGS HAPPEN!!

IN SPITE OF…

REGARDLESS OF…

THE FAILINGS OF THE PRIEST

THE GOOD STILL HAPPENS

THE MIRACLE TAKES PLACE…

I LOVED THE TV SERIES REV

AND ITS MAIN CHARACTER

THE REVEREND ADAM SMALLBONE…

I LOVED THE REALLISM OF IT

AND HOW IT DIDN’T DUCK THE DIFFICULTIES

FACED BY THIS CLERGYMAN

STRUGGLING WITH THE PRESSURES

AND THE DISAPPOINTMENTS OF HIS MINISTRY

HIS PATIENT, FAITHFUL, DEMANDING

AND  APPARENTLY UNSUCCESSFUL MINISTRY..

THEY WERE ALL ON VIEW…

REV AND HIS VULNERABLITIES

DOUBTS…WEAKNESS…

LEADING TO A CRISIS POINT

WHEN IT

FALLS APART…

HE FEELS

USELESS…USELESS…

AND TAKES TO HIS BED, TO HIS BOTTLE

HUGS HIS DEFEAT LIKE A BATTERED OLD TEDDY BEAR…

SINKS INTO MISERABLE DESPAIR AND FAILURE…

IT IS SAD DREADFUL AND HARROWING TO WATCH

BECAUSE IT’S ALL TOO POSSIBLE….

=

THEN

HE IS CALLED TO A BEDSIDE

WHERE A DYING WOMAN NEEDS MINISTRY

NEEDS HIS FALTERING BROKENBACKED MINISTRY

NEEEDS SOMEONE TO PRAY WITH HER

SIT WITH HER

WALK WITH HER THROUGH THE VALLEY FULL OF SHADOWS…

AND OUT OF HIS BROKENNESS THE WORDS OF FAITH TUMBLE

AND BRING REAL SPIRITUAL COMFORT,

AND BRING TRANSFORMING HOPE..

-

IT IS

VERY MOVING..

OFFERS A VERY COMFORTING REMINDER THAT

IT’S NOT ABOUT US…!!

IT’S ABOUT THE LORD!!

IT’S NOT ABOUT OUR FLAWS

BUT ABOUT HIS AMAZING GRACE.

--

.THE WRITER OF THE BOOK OF MALACHI

GIVES THE PRIESTS OF HIS DAY A HARD TIME

AND RIGHTLY SO…

THEY ARE VENAL AND RELUCTANT AND COMPROMISED…

BUT WORSHIP STILL HAPPENS…!!!

EX OPERE OPERANTIS…

IN SPITE OF THEIR SHORTCOMINGS AND COMPROMISES…

..

GRAEME AND I OFTEN TALK ABOUT THE STRANGE REALITY

THAT THE SERMONS WHICH OFTEN SEEM TO WORK BEST FOR PEOPLE

ARE NOT THE ONES WE RECKON ARE THE MASTERPIECES!!

THEY DON’T ALWAYS CONNECT AS WE THINK THEY WILL

WHEN WE READ THEM IN THE SAFE PLACE OF THE STUDY:

WHILE THE SERMONS THAT PERHAPS WE MIGHT RECKON TO BE

OK…NO MORE THAN OK

CAN BE THE ONES

THAT PEOPLE ARE MOST TOUCHED BY AND CHANGED BY …

.WHO KNOWS?

=

IN THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD, THEY HAVE A SAYING

 COINED BY THE SCRIPT WRITER WILLIAM GOLDMAN…

WHO WROTE THE SCREENPLAY FOR BUTCH CASSIDAY AND THE SUNDANCE KID….TO NAME BUT ONE…

IT WAS THE YEAR THE BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE  THE LAST BOY SCOUT

 WITH ARNOLD SCHWARNEGGER, BRUCE WILLIS AND SOME OTHER SUPERSTAR CAME OUT…

HUGE BUDGET – BIG NAME CAST…

AND IT BOMBED….LOST MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!

WHILE THE MASSIVE MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR HIT OF THE YEAR WAS

HOME ALONE…WITH A CAST NO ONE HAD HEARD OF!

=

AND THE REALITY THAT WAS NOTED BY GOLDMAN WAS

THAT

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING…

IN THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD…

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING!

=

IN THE WORLD OF PREACHING,

 IN THE CONDUCT OF WORSHIP…

NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING

EXCEPT THAT IT CAN WORK IN THE DEEPEST PARTS OF US…

AND NO ONE KNOWS HOW OR WHY…

WHICH PRAYER WILL STILL OUR HEARTS

WHICH HYMN WILL SEND OUR SPIRIT SOARING

WHICH SERMON WILL CHANGE OUR LIFE…

ALL WE DO KNOW IS THAT

THANK GOD

 THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS ABLE TO TRANSCEND THE PREACHER’S LIMITATIONS

TO SPEAK TRUTH TO OUR SOUL…

AN AMAZING, REASSURING BLESSED FACT…

-

THAT SAID…

IT’S BEST FOR THE PREACHER TO TAKE THEIR CALLING SERIOUSLY…

TO DO THEIR HOMEWORK…

TO BE THE BEST THEY CAN BE…

TO KEEP THE INTEGRITY BETWEEN WHAT THEY SAY AND WHO THEY ARE…

NOT TO HIDE BEHIND BIG WORDS AND SHOWY LANGUAGE…

IT MATTERS TO PREACHING AND THOSE LISTENING TO IT

THAT THERE IS SINCERITY AS WELL AS CLEAR THINKING…

SO THAT PEOPLE KNOW THIS IS MORE THAN

 JUST A JOB YOU HAVE TO DO…

BUT A WORD YOU BELIEVE IN –

AND BELIEVE TO BE TRUE

AND TO COME OUT OF THE VERY HEART OF THE GOSPEL..

SO, IT’S NOT ABOUT SHOWING OFF…

GOING FOR LAUGHS…

BUT BEING TRUE TO THE BIBLE AND WHAT IT MEANS…

WHAT IT REALLY IS ABOUT…

(WHICH IS ALWAYS SO MUCH MORE THAN SIMPLISTIC TRUISMS

AND BALD DECLARATIONS…)

IT MEANS ADMITTING THERE ARE DIFFERENCES OF INTERPRETATION

AND IT MEANS THAT

IF WE SUGGEST IT IS SIMPLE…

WE ARE BETRAYING THE DEPTH AND COMPLEXITY OF TRUTH…

==

OF COURSE, THIS WHOLE THING IS A TWO WAY STREET…

WHILE THE PREACHER HAS TO FULFIL THE DEMANDS OF THEIR CALLING,

THE LISTENERS HAVE TO BRING SOMETHING TO THE PROCESS…

IT HELPS IF THEY LOOK INTERESTED!!

AND BETTER STILL IF THEY ARE INTERESTED…

IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD

IF THEY COME WITH OPEN MINDS…

WILLING TO BE CHANGED…CHALLENGED…

DARED TO MOVE FROM WHERE THEY ARE… THAT IS FAMILIAR….

TO SOMEWHERE NEW THAT MIGHT FEEL A BIT THREATENNG…

OR WORSE STILL

THAT THEY MIGHT BE CALLED TO ACT IN A WAY THAT IS

UNCOMFORTABLE AND INCONVENIENT…

==

THIS IS NOT HAVING OUR EARS TICKLED

BY WORDS THAT ASK NOTHING OF US…

YOU NEED TO BE BRAVE TO “LISTEN FOR A WORD FROM THE LORD”:

BECAUSE YOU MIGHT JUST GET ONE!

==

AND SO THE ASTONISHING MIRACLE HAPPENS…

THE TRUTH GETS OUT

THE TRUTH GETS THROUGH…

..

AND THAT DYNAMIC IS NOT JUST FOR PREACHERS

BUT FOR ALL CHRISTIANS

THE GRACIOUS GIFT OF GOD THAT ALLOWS

OUR WITNESS

HOWEVER FALTERING AND HESITANT AND SHABBY

TO BE A WORK FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD

AND WE HAVE NO IDEA

·        WHAT ACT OF KINDNESS

·        WHAT CARING LISTENING

·        WHAT PRAYER OFFERED

·        WHAT WORK SPOKEN SOFTLY

IN THE NAME OF CHRIST

IS GOING TO BE THE MOMENT

THAT KICK-STARTS THE JOURNEY OF FAITH

IGNITES THE INTEREST

STOPS SOMEONE IN THEIR TRACKS AND MAKES THEM THINK…

THE SEEDS WE SOW

WILL BRING A HARVEST IN SPITE OF THE WEEDS

THE STONY GROUND

THE BIRDS OF THE AIR

THE RAGS AND TATTERS OF OUR WITNESS!

HE WILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

EX OPERE OPERANTIS…

REGARDLESS OF OUR STUMBLING, OUR FEAR,

OUR BROKENNESS

HE CAN USE US.

AND IF WE WANT HIM TO

HE WILL.

Amen.

 

 

IVANHOE BY SIR WALTER SCOTT…

NOT VERY EASY READS. NEVER QUITE GOT EITHER OF THOSE FINISHED..

NOT VERY ATTRACTIVE TO A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY.

I WAS GRATEFUL, THOUGH,

WHEN THEY MADE ME READ

GRAHAME GREENE’S

THE POWER AND THE GLORY

FOR IT GOT ME INTO GRAHAME GREENE

AND MADE ME WANT TO READ ALL HIS BOOKS…

..

THE HERO….OR ANTI- HERO - OF THE POWER AND THE GLORY

IS A FLAWED AND FAILED PRIEST –DESCRIBED THUS:

HE IS the character upon whom the novel's most important moral questions center. He spends the majority of the novel on the run from the police, friendless and homeless and searching for some sense of purpose in his life. His decadent, indulgent life as a parish priest takes place before the novel begins, but it is present in his thoughts throughout the novel as a source of deep humiliation.

He meets his daughter, the product of a secret affair with one of his parishioners, and finds that his love for her makes it impossible for him to repent the sin of conceiving her. He often chastises himself for impulses and reactions that are very normal and very human.

BLEAK STUFF!

YET IN SPITE OF HIS VERY REAL FAILURES AND INADEQUACIES

HE IS STILL ABLE TO DO “KINGDOM WORK…”

 HIS WEAKNESS OVERCOME BY THE SPIRIT

 

HE STILL DOES GOOD.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS A DOCTRINE TO COVER THIS SITUATION

TO EXPLAIN THIS LITTLE MIRACLE

EX OPERE OPERANTIS

THOSE WHO PREACH, OFFER THE SACRAMENTS

MAY BE INDIVIDUALS WHOSE HEARTS ARE HEAVY WITH

BROKENNESS AND THEIR CHARACTER RIDDLED WITH FLAWS…

BUT THE SPIRIT IS ABLE TO TRIUMPH OVER THESE WEAKNESSES

AND BLESSINGS COME…

SPIRITUAL THINGS HAPPEN!!

IN SPITE OF…

REGARDLESS OF…

THE FAILINGS OF THE PRIEST

THE GOOD STILL HAPPENS

THE MIRACLE TAKES PLACE…

I LOVED THE TV SERIES REV

AND ITS MAIN CHARACTER

THE REVEREND ADAM SMALLBONE…

I LOVED THE REALLISM OF IT

AND HOW IT DIDN’T DUCK THE DIFFICULTIES

FACED BY THIS CLERGYMAN

STRUGGLING WITH THE PRESSURES

AND THE DISAPPOINTMENTS OF HIS MINISTRY

HIS PATIENT, FAITHFUL, DEMANDING

AND  APPARENTLY UNSUCCESSFUL MINISTRY..

THEY WERE ALL ON VIEW…

REV AND HIS VULNERABLITIES

DOUBTS…WEAKNESS…

LEADING TO A CRISIS POINT

WHEN IT

FALLS APART…

HE FEELS

USELESS…USELESS…

AND TAKES TO HIS BED, TO HIS BOTTLE

HUGS HIS DEFEAT LIKE A BATTERED OLD TEDDY BEAR…

SINKS INTO MISERABLE DESPAIR AND FAILURE…

IT IS SAD DREADFUL AND HARROWING TO WATCH

BECAUSE IT’S ALL TOO POSSIBLE….

=

THEN

HE IS CALLED TO A BEDSIDE

WHERE A DYING WOMAN NEEDS MINISTRY

NEEDS HIS FALTERING BROKENBACKED MINISTRY

NEEEDS SOMEONE TO PRAY WITH HER

SIT WITH HER

WALK WITH HER THROUGH THE VALLEY FULL OF SHADOWS…

AND OUT OF HIS BROKENNESS THE WORDS OF FAITH TUMBLE

AND BRING REAL SPIRITUAL COMFORT,

AND BRING TRANSFORMING HOPE..

-

IT IS

VERY MOVING..

OFFERS A VERY COMFORTING REMINDER THAT

IT’S NOT ABOUT US…!!

IT’S ABOUT THE LORD!!

IT’S NOT ABOUT OUR FLAWS

BUT ABOUT HIS AMAZING GRACE.

--

.THE WRITER OF THE BOOK OF MALACHI

GIVES THE PRIESTS OF HIS DAY A HARD TIME

AND RIGHTLY SO…

THEY ARE VENAL AND RELUCTANT AND COMPROMISED…

BUT WORSHIP STILL HAPPENS…!!!

EX OPERE OPERANTIS…

IN SPITE OF THEIR SHORTCOMINGS AND COMPROMISES…

..

GRAEME AND I OFTEN TALK ABOUT THE STRANGE REALITY

THAT THE SERMONS WHICH OFTEN SEEM TO WORK BEST FOR PEOPLE

ARE NOT THE ONES WE RECKON ARE THE MASTERPIECES!!

THEY DON’T ALWAYS CONNECT AS WE THINK THEY WILL

WHEN WE READ THEM IN THE SAFE PLACE OF THE STUDY:

WHILE THE SERMONS THAT PERHAPS WE MIGHT RECKON TO BE

OK…NO MORE THAN OK

CAN BE THE ONES

THAT PEOPLE ARE MOST TOUCHED BY AND CHANGED BY …

.WHO KNOWS?

=

IN THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD, THEY HAVE A SAYING

 COINED BY THE SCRIPT WRITER WILLIAM GOLDMAN…

WHO WROTE THE SCREENPLAY FOR BUTCH CASSIDAY AND THE SUNDANCE KID….TO NAME BUT ONE…

IT WAS THE YEAR THE BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE  THE LAST BOY SCOUT

 WITH ARNOLD SCHWARNEGGER, BRUCE WILLIS AND SOME OTHER SUPERSTAR CAME OUT…

HUGE BUDGET – BIG NAME CAST…

AND IT BOMBED….LOST MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!

WHILE THE MASSIVE MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR HIT OF THE YEAR WAS

HOME ALONE…WITH A CAST NO ONE HAD HEARD OF!

=

AND THE REALITY THAT WAS NOTED BY GOLDMAN WAS

THAT

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING…

IN THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD…

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING!

=

IN THE WORLD OF PREACHING,

 IN THE CONDUCT OF WORSHIP…

NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING

EXCEPT THAT IT CAN WORK IN THE DEEPEST PARTS OF US…

AND NO ONE KNOWS HOW OR WHY…

WHICH PRAYER WILL STILL OUR HEARTS

WHICH HYMN WILL SEND OUR SPIRIT SOARING

WHICH SERMON WILL CHANGE OUR LIFE…

ALL WE DO KNOW IS THAT

THANK GOD

 THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS ABLE TO TRANSCEND THE PREACHER’S LIMITATIONS

TO SPEAK TRUTH TO OUR SOUL…

AN AMAZING, REASSURING BLESSED FACT…

-

THAT SAID…

IT’S BEST FOR THE PREACHER TO TAKE THEIR CALLING SERIOUSLY…

TO DO THEIR HOMEWORK…

TO BE THE BEST THEY CAN BE…

TO KEEP THE INTEGRITY BETWEEN WHAT THEY SAY AND WHO THEY ARE…

NOT TO HIDE BEHIND BIG WORDS AND SHOWY LANGUAGE…

IT MATTERS TO PREACHING AND THOSE LISTENING TO IT

THAT THERE IS SINCERITY AS WELL AS CLEAR THINKING…

SO THAT PEOPLE KNOW THIS IS MORE THAN

 JUST A JOB YOU HAVE TO DO…

BUT A WORD YOU BELIEVE IN –

AND BELIEVE TO BE TRUE

AND TO COME OUT OF THE VERY HEART OF THE GOSPEL..

SO, IT’S NOT ABOUT SHOWING OFF…

GOING FOR LAUGHS…

BUT BEING TRUE TO THE BIBLE AND WHAT IT MEANS…

WHAT IT REALLY IS ABOUT…

(WHICH IS ALWAYS SO MUCH MORE THAN SIMPLISTIC TRUISMS

AND BALD DECLARATIONS…)

IT MEANS ADMITTING THERE ARE DIFFERENCES OF INTERPRETATION

AND IT MEANS THAT

IF WE SUGGEST IT IS SIMPLE…

WE ARE BETRAYING THE DEPTH AND COMPLEXITY OF TRUTH…

==

OF COURSE, THIS WHOLE THING IS A TWO WAY STREET…

WHILE THE PREACHER HAS TO FULFIL THE DEMANDS OF THEIR CALLING,

THE LISTENERS HAVE TO BRING SOMETHING TO THE PROCESS…

IT HELPS IF THEY LOOK INTERESTED!!

AND BETTER STILL IF THEY ARE INTERESTED…

IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD

IF THEY COME WITH OPEN MINDS…

WILLING TO BE CHANGED…CHALLENGED…

DARED TO MOVE FROM WHERE THEY ARE… THAT IS FAMILIAR….

TO SOMEWHERE NEW THAT MIGHT FEEL A BIT THREATENNG…

OR WORSE STILL

THAT THEY MIGHT BE CALLED TO ACT IN A WAY THAT IS

UNCOMFORTABLE AND INCONVENIENT…

==

THIS IS NOT HAVING OUR EARS TICKLED

BY WORDS THAT ASK NOTHING OF US…

YOU NEED TO BE BRAVE TO “LISTEN FOR A WORD FROM THE LORD”:

BECAUSE YOU MIGHT JUST GET ONE!

==

AND SO THE ASTONISHING MIRACLE HAPPENS…

THE TRUTH GETS OUT

THE TRUTH GETS THROUGH…

..

AND THAT DYNAMIC IS NOT JUST FOR PREACHERS

BUT FOR ALL CHRISTIANS

THE GRACIOUS GIFT OF GOD THAT ALLOWS

OUR WITNESS

HOWEVER FALTERING AND HESITANT AND SHABBY

TO BE A WORK FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD

AND WE HAVE NO IDEA

·        WHAT ACT OF KINDNESS

·        WHAT CARING LISTENING

·        WHAT PRAYER OFFERED

·        WHAT WORK SPOKEN SOFTLY

IN THE NAME OF CHRIST

IS GOING TO BE THE MOMENT

THAT KICK-STARTS THE JOURNEY OF FAITH

IGNITES THE INTEREST

STOPS SOMEONE IN THEIR TRACKS AND MAKES THEM THINK…

THE SEEDS WE SOW

WILL BRING A HARVEST IN SPITE OF THE WEEDS

THE STONY GROUND

THE BIRDS OF THE AIR

THE RAGS AND TATTERS OF OUR WITNESS!

HE WILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

EX OPERE OPERANTIS…

REGARDLESS OF OUR STUMBLING, OUR FEAR,

OUR BROKENNESS

HE CAN USE US.

AND IF WE WANT HIM TO

HE WILL.

Amen.

 

SERMON FOR TRINITY SUNDAY:

 

Ministers do it all the time.

Try to find some easy image to explain some complex truth.

It never works.

I try to encourage trainee ministers to avoid it.

 

It’s trite, inaccurate and patronising:

 “You know, boys and girls, God’s a bit like a lettuce! !”

Or an onion, or a tennis racquet!

 

 

No he isn’t!! He isn’t like anything….He always escapes the clutches of our definitions…

slips through our fingers

as well he should…who are we kidding…

 

Going back to Divinity College as I did for a period of study leave a few years ago…,

I found myself sitting in tutorials at New College

exploring the inexplicable…

speaking about the ineffable…

pitting our tiny intellects against

the mystery of a mysterious God

who created and holds everything…

Optimistic or what? Ambitious or what…?

Doomed or what…

 

Yet, just as the mystery and majesty of love transcends our attempts to describe it, still less contain it in language….

we go on trying….we persist with the folly…

and in poetry and symbol and idea and song…

we try oh so pathetically to gather its grandeur up

in our tiny hands…

as if we were attempting to cup an ocean….

 talk, and sing we do…

and we hope perhaps to catch a glimpse of the majestic truth….

perhaps sense a tremor of the truth..

==

So we also talk of God.

But we should talk in whispers.

We should allow humility to shape our attitude

And the last thing we should be is certain.

The worst thing we can be…if it’s the truth we’re after…

is be dogmatic.

As if we could ever achieve our aim

As if we could define God.

Sum up the infinity of his being in a few theological phrases….

the idea is a nonsense…

=

And yet for some those tentative quarter truths men have been prepared to die…

and worse…make other people …

who espouse different quarter truths…

or even different ways of speaking the same truth…

make them die…in the name of our truth!

Careless talk about God, historically, has cost lives…

brought shame…

been an embarrassment to the Church…

which dared to presume it had the right words

and only it had the right words

to describe the indescribable…

We won’t go there, will we?

A little bit of perspective here won’t go amiss!

 

 

Intro:

THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

So, let’s be clear: there are a lot of things we don’t understand.

 

In fact, I could say that three of the most important things in my life – the most influential factors in my life…

 I don’t really understand

 

I certainly don’t fully understand. 

This doesn’t stop them being profoundly significant: even though they lie out there, somewhere just beyond the reach of intellect.

FALLING IN LOVE?

First of all, I don’t understand the process of falling in love – how it all gelled and worked and became so fundamental and crucial.  I know with all my heart that it happened, and that it matters – but the convoluted dynamics of it are out with my grasp. Some tell me it’s just electrical impulses and I really had nothing to do with it….I beg to differ.

But explain it I cannot

CALL TO THE MINISTRY?

I also don’t really understand what being called to the ministry was all about – where the conviction came from, how it grew and would not let go. How I just knew with a certainty it was a summons that had to be followed – or I would be on the wrong track, living the wrong life for me. I recall the squirming and the struggling and the final surrender – but when you ask about how the feeling grew into something about which I was so certain – yet about which I could say so little – I am at a loss to explain it –rationalise it! All I know is, it was real for me – and it made all the difference in the world to my life. I can’t analyse it under a microscope – but I can’t deny its reality either – the fact that I am here today, doing this, is evidence enough of its reality and its significance. This intangible reality changed my life…in a profound and crucial way. But understand  it…not me!

BUILDING HIS LIFE

 

So, here is an intelligent, educated, rational person – someone who, by the way, places great store by disciplined logical thinking and coherent argument – building his whole life and happiness on two “ things” - about which he can explain very little – two decisions for which he can give hardly any fully reasoned justification – yet which seem to him – and to others looking on, to be the most reasonable things in the world.

THIRD THING – REALITY OF GOD

 

And the third huge reality in my life – about which I can only speak in mysteries and enigmas - sighs and murmurs– is the reality of God – the God whom the church speaks of as Father Son and Holy Spirit.

 

I know what is meant!  

·        I honour Our Father who is in heaven. I have that picture clear in my mind…

·        I have learned to love the Son who died for me and rose again.

·        I treasure the guidance, inspiration and inconvenient prompting of the Holy Spirit who shares the journey = whose inner voice in my soul stirs emotion, firms up faith, calls to hard often inconvenient commitments…

… all these experiences of “God”– all realities encountered in some sense along the pilgrim way –

But ask me to explain it all rationally, and I’m pretty much up a gum tree.

ANCIENT FATHERS OF CHURCH

 

The ancient Fathers of the Church, in all the heady optimism of their times, thought they could clarify and explain the mystery.

 

Tertullian of Carthage – describes the doctrine of God thus:

"We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation...[which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Adv. Prax. 23; PL 2.156-7).

 

Ok! Whatever!! Not too illuminating! Not that helpful, really…

NOT SURPRISE US…GOD IS GOD!

 

Maybe this difficulty should not surprise us very much – given that God is God and therefore, mega beyond imaginable meganess – and we are who we are  – fallen human creatures – not able to look at the Sun still less grasp its majesty –

It might, perhaps it should, seem pretty optimistic of us to think that our formulae and creeds and statements of faith could be anything more than frantic scrabblings after truth – the most approximate approximations . 

Little us trying to describe God!  I don’t think so!

Who are we trying to kid!  A bit of humility here, please!!

BUT MUST TALK!

 

But even if we talk softly - talk we must!

Just as we must acknowledge the reality of love… and talk about love – even though our best trembling poetry and most evocative songs can only hint at its sweep and wonder. 

Similarly, if we ever begin to think that our faltering religious vocabulary has any final claim on a monopoly of truth – we are most seriously lacking in a proper humility.

+++

HELPED BY DIVINE INITIATIVE

 

We are helped in some degree towards insight into the divine nature by the initiative that God takes in revealing himself to us…otherwise we might be stumbling even more chaotically in the dark! 

REVELATION IN CREATION

 

This is where we are – the people blessed with God’s revelation – certainly in Creation – where order and purpose are easily found and identified – and direction and development can be traced. 

BUT MORE THAN THIS…ISRAEL…

 

But God has not left us merely to filter knowledge of his being from the raw material of a sometimes ambiguous natural world.

 Instead, remarkably and rather shockingly, through his people Israel – his tumultuous love affair with Israel – full of pain and betrayal, dashed hopes and wonderful forgiveness – through the channel of that disobedient and faithless people – God reaches into our human story to give us glimpses of his nature…to share his vision and his justice, his devotion and his demand, with us. And to demonstrate his tender love…

AND THE PROPHETS INSPIRED INSIGHTS

 

And, in the searing challenge of the prophets, who assure us with all the fire that burns in their hearts that they have a word from the Lord –God approaches his children with the promises and the rebukes that leave us in no doubt as to the character and nature of this God who loves his children – and abhors their sometimes shallow, selfish life-styles.

DARKNESS ILLUMINED

 

So the darkness of human search for divine light is illumined with an uncomfortable brightness as the relentless word of God comes to us through the people and the word of the Old Testament.

==

UNTIL – GOD’S SON BRINGS COMPLETE REVELATION

Until – when all else fails, God’s Son brings the final complete and ultimate revelation.

Now we know. 

 

HEART?

 

What is the heart of God like? Look to the compassion of Christ! 

 

 

HYPOCRISY?

What is God’s attitude to hypocrisy?  See the tables crash to the ground as Jesus barges through the Temple courtyard on fire for God’s holy purposes.

 

CHILDREN?

What does God think of children? See Christ rebuke his disciples for presuming to turn the children away.

UNDERSTAND NOW!

Now perhaps the picture is clearing – and God’s initiative is opening things up for us. We can understand more clearly the heart of God – and we begin to sense that the summons which comes from Christ… is none other than the call of God: the word of forgiveness Christ offers, is none other than the root and branch forgiveness of God – the only forgiveness that matters, that works.

AND SALVATION FOR WORLD

 

And the salvation hammered out on Calvary is indeed salvation for the whole world.  God, in the dark and frightening mystery that is Calvary, wrenching salvation for the world from the defeats and failures that make up the human story.

SPIRIT COMES UPON YOUNG CHURCH

 

Nor does it stop there – that self-revelation of the nature of God:  for the Spirit of God bursts upon the young church – and Jesus keeps his promise and we find it is true…

·        That, somehow – where two or three are gathered in his name – he is there in the midst.  We know how that feels in the Spirit

·        That he will be with his people, always, till the end of time. We know that he is with us…wherever we are…

·        That when they are brought before the rulers and the courts, those who follow him will be given the words to say.  We know the courage beyond our own tremblings that enable us to speak when we would left to ourselves probably keep silent…

·        That when they need courage to face certain death – he will be with them for his Spirit will be in them. That has been the experience of the church across the pages of history…

 

 

 

SEARCH OVER – REALITY EMERGES

 

And there it is – the search in one sense is over – for the reality of God emerges through the Biblical account – the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.

One God – Three in One.  The reality that meets us – the mystery that baffles us.

+++

ILLUSTRATIONS TO HELP?

 

People have tried to find all sorts of illustrations to simplify that vision – always a mistake you might think – for it is all too easy to trivialise the mystery rather than actually to explain it.

But, nonetheless…

 

SHAMROCK

Patrick uses his shamrock illustration – each leaf perfect and special – yet all three needed to make the complete shamrock. Father Son and Holy Spirit – each truly God – each separate and yet one. Essential to a full and proper grasp of the character and nature of God.

And there’s -

 

 

ELECTRIC FIRE

The electric fire illustration – with the power -source – the light and the heat – all literally elements in the one reality. None meaningful without the others.

 

Or your could consider –

LIQUID ICE STEAM

The liquid - ice - and steam illustration. Each is H2O of its essence – each is water of water – nothing less than water, nothing more than water– yet we encounter each as a different reality –

Which brings us back to the

THREE LEGGED STOOL…

The three legged stool illustration – each leg needed to allow the stool to be a stool – each leg different – yet none by itself the stool. And all needed to get balance.

Blah blah blah..

APPROXIMATIONS THAT GENERATE DISTORTIONS

 

And so on and so on. But in a sense, why bother…

Why think for a minute that some trite illustration will encapsulate the reality of God…approximations that can generate distortions…and may change mystery to banality?

HOW DO YOU TALK?

 

How do you talk about the ineffable? The ineffable… which means “that which you cannot describe or talk about?”

You can only stutter and mutter.

MAJESTY NOT SUSCEPTIBLE

 

The majesty, complexity and divinity of God is not susceptible to our little definitions – we are mad to think otherwise.  What can the ant know about the workings of Einstein’s brain, or Shakespeare’s genius? No offence to the ant – but be serious!!

HUMILITY IN ORDER!

 

So a little bit of humility never goes amiss on Trinity Sunday.

From ministers and from congregations.

TALK BUT STAY ALERT!

 

This is not to duck the issue.

We do talk about God and it is natural that we should.

And we are “on alert” to identify and dismiss talk of God that requires some kind of excruciating intellectual contortions – we stay on alert in order to detect shoddy thinking and those who would demand of us some kind of suicide of the mind.

 

But that does not mean that we cannot admit to the limits of our human capacities to grasp define and circumscribe God.

IF GRASP – TOO SMALL!

 

For let’s face it – a God we could grasp would surely be too small.

++++

ACCEPT HELP BUT NOT DELUDED

 

So this Trinity Sunday we gratefully accept any illustrations that might draw us closer to the heart of the mystery that is the God revealed in the Bible and discovered by the Church – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – but we never allow ourselves to be deluded into thinking that now we have him – labelled, packaged, contained. That we certainly do not have.

 

EARLY CHURCH BY CHADWICK..

In his influential book

The Early Church,” Henry Chadwick…writes all about the first turbulent four centuries of the Church’s existence…

 

OPTIMISM AND ASSURANCE!! BRAVADO

 

And what optimism was there among the thinkers and theologians, and with what assurance they identified how many angels could dance on the head of a pin and with what bravado, they distilled, defined and described the essence of God…confidence abounded - and there was little reserve about boldly assuming as final, their account of the characteristics and nature of God.

==

NOWADAYS MORE CIRCUMSPECT!

 

Nowadays, we are a little more circumspect, and rightly so…we maybe do well to content ourselves with

·        honouring our Father in heaven…

·        pledging our allegiance to his precious Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and

·        resting on the strength and sustaining power of the Spirit of God, blowing restless through the church, wakening up the sleepy and giving heart to the hesitant.

 

As far as knowing God goes, that will do for me.

 

++++++++++++ 

SERMON;  RELIGION AND POLITICS?

 

iT'S ALWAYS GOOD TO  START WITH A QUOTATION FROM A FAMOUS AMERICAN!

It was George Washington who said

- Do not let anyone claim to be a true American if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics.

You see,

Some people love it. Some people hate it.

But the truth seems to be

You can’t keep politics out of religion

And you can’t keep religion out of politics.

=

I was up the High Street on Saturday.

And there were the representatives of all the Political parties

doing some hustling…

And among the groups – supporting and promoting every party -

there were people from the churches…

Clearly you can’t keep religious people out of politics either!!

Serious political allegiances are made by men and women of faith…

=

The two greatest influences on the course of human activity –

RELIGION AND POLITICS…

Seem unable to be kept apart.

-

Certainly, Zechariah didn’t want them kept apart.

Certainly, the Bible doesn’t want them kept apart.

=

Zechariah calls for justice…

For the people to show kindness and mercy…

For oppression to end, and the weak

Widows, orphans, vulnerable foreigners who live among the people

To be cared for…

Anyone in need

They are to be the focus of our religious endeavour.

If our religion leaves them untouched in their plight and fragility

then it’ s a religion that has lost direction

Missed the point.

A religion that forgets about the people we are called to care for and serve

is not a Biblical religion.

If it’s only about sound theology, and good liturgy,

and correct church government -

And not about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry,

housing the homeless

Defending the weak

Then it’s just talk.

==

And the only way we make a difference in these areas,

The only way we shake up the systems that oppress:

The only way we change the kind of world in which these things are acceptable

Into a different world, where these things are unacceptable

Is through political engagement.

=

The thread that reminds us

That our religion has to be more than theoretical

Runs right through the Bible.

The Old Testament Prophets are particularly vehement

That this should be how our faith is expressed…

AMOS –

The Lord says..

I hate your religious fedtivals.  Let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness that never goes dry.

EZEKIEL: 

But you have not taken care of the weak ones, healed those that are sick, bandaged those that wondered off...instead, you treated them cruelly…”

JEREMIAH

 

Just as a hunter fills his cage with birds, they have filled their houses with loot…that is why they are powerful and rich, why they are fat and well fed…they do not give orphans their rights, or show justice to the oppressed..

..

Mary in her song of revolution makes it clear that the Messiah is coming to make a difference….the kind of difference that affects out there…not just makes us feel good in here…

He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their pans

He has brought down might kings from their thrones

And lifted up the lowly

He has filled the hungry with good things…

-

Jesus assures his first listeners that he has come

to bring good news to the poor…

not just so that they will cope with their poverty

in the fine spirit of resignation…

but that things will be changed in the world that is

so loaded against them…

and justice will be done on their behalf…

-

James in his letter warns against the sheer hypocrisy of recognising need

and then thinking a kind word and a pat on the back

is going to be any good to anyone…

“Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat…what good is there in your saying to them…keep warm and eat well, if you don’t give them the necessities of life!”

 

Tonight, this Christmas Eve Candlelight service… let’s think about all the people who are cold and hungry this Christmas…

No, let’s not…let’s do something about it.

==

Zechariah is concerned that

although the Lord has made it clear what his desire is for his children,

the people who should know best

are taking refuge is some kind of pietistic escapism…

allowing themselves to think that

if they are doing the right religious rituals…

then they are doing all they need to do.

Meanwhile, the poor and the cold and the hungry are without comfort…

trapped in a hopelessly unfair world

that will not be made better by lots of nice prayers…

but will be made better by people who care 

getting involved with the issues that create the problems…

And getting involved with the issues,

 means political engagement.

It means also that the church can’t just talk about “spiritual things”

and leave changing the world to other people.

If the Bible calls us in the name of our Christian faith to see that justice is done…we have to ask…

what does that actually look like…

once you get beyond and behind the words…

what.. in fact.. will a just society involve…

FairTraid perhaps,

Amnesty International working on behalf of political prisoners…

.

If we are challenged to demonstrate,

as Zechariah would have us understand,

kindness and mercy….

how will these ideals be expressed…

how do we make actual these abstract ideals…

out there in the world we live in …

where I reckon there is more suffering and sorrow

than I have ever been aware of in the whole of my life…

How do we put flesh on those bare bones of idealism…??

Not through talking about it in vague terms -

but through action and initiatives  and sleeves rolled up,

and money given and joining in solidarity with others

who feel with the same passion that concern.

==

Given that there is probably as much oppression of the vulnerable in our time as there has been since the Second World War –

there is clearly work to be done

to defend the weakest,

support the fallen…

lift the burdens from the exhausted…

the Church can neither keep silent about these things,

nor stand helpless at the side-lines

kidding ourselves on that talking about it will be enough to change it.

If we want a just, compassionate, welcoming, free society…

then the amphitheatre in which that struggle takes place is the Coliseum of politics..

And when our sleeves are rolled up and we are getting our hands dirty ,

and when differences are being made

and the kind of country we are going to live in is being decided,

then religion and politics are unavoidably and inextricably connected.

 

So, when there is a hustings, we should look to see many church people listening, asking tough questions, finding out what the values of the politicians and those who would be politicians are…and whether they understand our commitment to the most vulnerable

 and our desire to see justice written in to the very heart our culture.

==

And all this is long before we recognise that there are particular areas of overlap between the worlds of religion and politics…

Not a day goes by but that can be evidenced,

positively and negatively

 but certainly to such a degree and with such frequency

only someone really closing their mind could miss it.

·        The Catholic Church has strong issues over abortion law…

·        France is abuzz with issues of what Muslim women can or cannot wear

·        The dangerous surge in Anti – Semitism across Europe and the concerns that the Labour party is confusing criticism of the state of ~Israel with anti-semitism

·        Issues of freedom of speech and how much someone can express their own faith stance before it becomes offensive to someone of a different faith stance…

·        Whether you can refuse to bake a cake promoting gay issues or not…

·        The rise of extremism and the religious ideologies that lie behind that extremism

·        Female Genital Mutilation

·        Forced marriages,

·        Honour killings…

All of these so called religious issues, spill over into political decision-making and the edges become blurred…

==

So Tony Blair might not do God

George Bush might think of his Gulf War as a crusade,

Christianity may be under the hammer in Modi’s India

And Pakistan may be crushing the indigenous church:

Bibles may be illegal in the Middle East

Indonesia may ban Christmas…

But religion and politics are intertwined

Because they are both about people and how you treat them

They are both about the kind of world we want to live in

And neither of them

Can hide from their responsibilities…

Let’s finish as we began…with a quotation from a famous American…Benjamin Franklin

 

He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity… will revolutionise the world.

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