Trinity 11: 1 Kings 19, 4-8, Ephesians 4, 25 – 5,2 & John 6, 35 & 45-51
A quick Google search earlier this week revealed that some of the most common preoccupations include: death, sex, hand-washing, hoarding, skin and hair plucking, fear of germs, cleanliness, and the fear of the internet going down.
St. Paul’s preoccupation, as we have just heard in our reading from the epistle, is the development of Christian character. St. Paul makes it clear, that through the work of the Holy Spirit, our minds are to be ‘renewed’ and that we are to be clothed according to the very likeness of ‘God, in true righteousness and holiness.’ To be renewed, and re-clothed, is to grow into towards the full stature of God.
But, St Paul, somewhat bizarrely we might think, starts his grand exhortation with the words ‘be angry,’ which he then qualifies by saying, ‘but do not sin.’ Anger it seems can be the impetus for holiness. According to St. Paul it’s okay to be angry, but not at the cost of ‘bitterness….wrangling and slander.’ Our anger must be a Christ-like anger. So, if this is true, which I believe it to be, what should we be angry about? The obvious answer is the same things that Jesus was angry about: injustice, iniquity, hypocrisy – specifically religious hypocrisy -, tyranny, the de-humanising treatment of the poor, the outcast and the refugee and, so forth. In summary what we should always be angry about is protectionist behaviour and the abuse of power.
Christian character must always be about extending the table and widening the doors. It must be about bringing people into the fold. It must never be about building walls between people just like us, and people who are not like us. Just think for a second who Jesus extended the table for; Samaritans, women, lepers, tax collectors alongside good God fearing Jews such as Nicodemus. Just pause and think about the stories about Jesus overturning the money lenders tables and about how he esteemed and privileged the widow who gave her mite. Jesus’ ministry was largely fuelled by righteous, Godly, anger and so should ours.
This week I have been reading the biography of Beyers Naude. Naude was a prominent member of the South African Broederbond, the secret and deeply religious group, that gave such support to South Africa’s apartheid regime. He was also a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. Naude was, according, to Desmond Tutu, a ‘member of the Afrikaner aristocracy,’ and yet he came to understand that God is always on the side of the oppressed and the excluded. He came to understand that all, yes all, are made in the very image of God. For his beliefs, because of the development of his Christian character, because he refused to accept and propagate what St. Paul describes as ‘false doctrine,’ he was thrown out of the church and eventually became a ‘banned person.’ Yet, despite the appalling treatment he received he refused to become bitter or angry, for in his own words ‘I realized that if there really is a sincere love of your fellow human being, including your enemies, then that love must express itself in the willingness to at least not allow anger and aggressiveness and vindictiveness to lay claim to your life.’ Like Jesus, like St. Paul, and like Beyers Naude, we too must learn the art of Holy Anger.
But how do we do this? Well, the answer again is stunningly simple. Like Elijah in the Old Testament reading we must learn to accept that God will provide and that our first responsibility is to feed on the ‘bread of life.’ Let us as a community learn to feed off the ‘bread of life,’ through prayer, through reading the bible and through sharing in the sacrament. If we do this we will learn the art of ‘Holy Anger,’ and this in turn will equip us for mission and ministry.
I would like us, as a church, to capture the things that make us angry, so that we can pray into them and be led by the Holy Spirit into action. I am going to suggest that at the beginning of September we create a list of things we feel angry about, and that we then commit to praying about these things, always trusting in the ‘bread of life,’ and with a real commitment in our hearts that the anger we might feel should never be fuelled by aggressiveness and vindictiveness. As a community I would like us to commit to learning the art of Holy Anger, for ultimately, and paradoxically, this is a route to Holy Peace, (peace in this sense meaning Shalom: right, righteous and Godly relationships between all people),
Trinity 10: Ephesians 4, 1-16 & John 6, 24-35
Have you ever come across a person, or group of people, who really like to over complicate things? Well men and women of faith have done precisely this over the years. And we still do it. Yet, in the gospel reading we have just heard Jesus simplifies things in the most astonishing manner.
John tells us that the gospel story we have just heard takes place the day after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. If the gospel reading had started a few verses earlier we would have heard that a large number of those who had been present at the previous day’s miracles ‘got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.’ They go looking for Jesus because they want some answers to their most pressing question. Having just seen Jesus at work they want to know what they too must ‘do to perform the works of God.’ Jesus gives them a straightforward answer: ‘that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ Jesus’ answer is both straightforward and liberating. His simple, uncomplicated, response is simply this: ‘that you believe in Him, whom he (God) has sent.’
Let’s pause and reflect on this for a moment: those who have followed Jesus to pop their question have been carrying with them the assumption that God is above all interested in performance, and that they somehow need to start pulling off all manner of tricks in order to impress God. Jesus effectively says to them ‘no you are wrong, the only thing you need is faith, or belief.’ But, he also goes one step further by declaring that He is the one in whom they must believe; its a declaration that he is indeed the Messiah, the ‘bread of life.’
Now having witnessed the previous miracle’s you might think that the crowd who have been following Jesus would take him at his word, but no, they ask for further proof – more miracles. Jesus then refuses to provide them any further proof. The reason for this is obvious: if we keep seeking further proof, as a basis for faith, then we will never get to the point of straightforward belief because we will have relegated God to the status of a magician. This is the mistake that the likes of Richard Dawkins and the evangelical atheists make. Faith is much more basic and straightforward than they dare to allow.
Jesus asks us to believe that he is the ‘bread of life,’ and that by trusting in him, praying through him, reading about him, and being fed by him in the Eucharist our deepest cravings and desires will be met. When all is said and done that is our faith in its simplest form; and thank God it really is that straightforward, because I for one haven’t got the intellectual capacity to test whether other so-called proofs really do point the way towards God.
So what might the consequences of a such a straightforward belief be, where this belief is underpinned by a commitment through prayer, reading the bible and sharing together in the Eucharist be? I think St. Paul nails this for us when he says that the fruit of an active faith will be ‘maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’
When we approach this level of maturity something truly amazing happens: we stop worrying about ourselves, our status and our needs and, instead, become concerned with how we may serve others through the use of our God given gifts. When we reach this level of maturity the miracle is that we find real freedom and liberty; our lives, to pick up again on that one word from the gospel, cease to be a performance.
The genius of our faith is this: all we have to do is truly believe and allow ourselves together, in community, to be fed by him who is truly the ‘bread of life.’ It is the only true way to freedom, liberty and maturity. The alternative is mere performance.
Let us pray:
Loving and gracious Lord, help us to simply believe; feed and sustain us through word and sacrament that we, your people, may grow in to full measure of Christ, in Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Trinity 9: John 6, 1-21
I wonder if you know anyone who's a bit obsessive; who keeps going on and on about a particular topic or issue?Well, in some ways I am that person, for today, I do want to talk, once more, about our the three H’s, our aspirations: hospitality, healing and holiness. I want to do so because I am totally convinced that they are our keys to mission and evangelism. I also think that today’s gospel reading speaks to all three of our H’s.
Let’s start with hospitality. John tells us that Jesus that Jesus saw a ‘great multitude coming towards him’ and that Jesus’ first instinct to feed them. Surely, the first instinct of the church should also be to feed people? After all Jesus also, later on, repeatedly told Peter, the rock on which the church was to be built, to ‘feed my flock.’
But, we should also note, that Jesus is indiscriminate in his hospitality: he doesn’t rank, categorize, or, indeed, make any prior judgements about people’s worthiness or righteousness. Neither should we, for the thing about Christian hospitality is that it really is wild, extravagant, and totally inclusive.
The really good news is that if our hospitality is wild, extravagant, and all inclusive it will be blessed and the effects will be multiplied. Jesus you see hasn’t given up on the idea of feeding the multitudes, he just expects us to play our part. In fact, if I had to define holiness I would suggest that it might be reducible to the three words I have just used ‘play our part.’
In the story of the feeding of the 5000 two seemingly minor characters do just this: they play their part. The young lad and Andrew. The young lad encouraged by Andrew offers his meagre rations to Jesus. In fact he offers all that he has; it might not be much, but it is in fact everything. He does what he can do, and doesn’t worry about what he can’t do. He also doesn’t seem to worry about what will happen to his loaves and fish. He, like Andrew, seems to have a naive level of trust about him. Can we develop such holy naivety and the confidence to simply offer to God, for blessing, our own meagre rations? I would want to suggest that if we develop the holy arts of trust and generosity we can legitimately leave the rest up to God in the full expectation that he brings abundance out of scarcity. Abundance from scarcity is God’s particular skill.
So what of healing? Well to understand what this might mean for us we need to consider the second part of the gospel story where Jesus walks on the water to meet his disciples. Let’s listen again to Jesus’ opening words: ‘It is I, do not fear.’ Fear is, I suspect, one of the great diseases of our time. Many people are paralysed by ‘what if syndrome.’ What if syndrome always projects the worst into any situation, it plays on our fears; it takes them and extrapolates them. What if syndrome plays on our fears that we aren’t quite worth it, or that we aren’t good enough. What if syndrome invites us to build inauthentic lives, it invites us to believe that happiness comes through wealth and status. What if syndrome isn’t real. The secular world seeks to help us manage the symptoms of what if syndrome but never gets to the cause. The cause is of course our sense of insecurity and fear. This sense of insecurity and fear, for many of us, me included, can be at its worst when life is stormy, and when all around us seems dark. It is when we experience insecurity and fear that we are most in need of healing: God’s healing. Like Jesus’ disciples we too need to hear Jesus saying to us ‘it is I, do not fear.’ But, how do we do this? How do we open ourselves up to Jesus’ healing touch? Well, once more, and sorry for banging on, well I am not sorry really, the only way I know is prayer, the simple act of coming before God and talking to God, telling him your fears and letting him speak back to you.
As an aside I am so concerned about fear (as well as depression and anxiety – the diseases of our time) that I am currently writing a short liturgy which I hope will allow people to live with, through and beyond anxiety, depression and fear. I hope to introduce it in the autumn. I think that if we are to take seriously our aspiration to be a healing church we must take fear, insecurity, anxiety and depression seriously.
So there you have it, I have been banging on again about hospitality, holiness and healing. I hope that over the next few years we will grow into a deeper understanding of what these might mean for us. Can I ask you to think about this and pray about this? Can I also ask you to take home with you today’s gospel reading and let it penetrate your very soul, let it teach you more and more about hospitality, holiness, and healing,
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