Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Watch out for those nuns . . .

Some years ago I went to the funeral of a dear friend. It was a Requiem in an English Cathedral and followed a straightforward Common Worship liturgy. The hymns were old standards, the homily forgettable, but the atmosphere was electrifying. I do not think that either before or since has the presence of the Fire of God been so tangible in worship and I was not the only one who noted this.

Why? Well, the only visible difference between this service and any of the thousands I have attended or led, was that the building was half full of nuns, women who were immersed as my friend had been, in the life of prayer. In the midst of grief, heavens doors were torn open by these praying women.

This Lent, I am reading 'Love Unknown', The Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent book by another nun, the Carmelite, Ruth Burrows. Co-incidentally it was my friend who at what she took to be an appropriate time for me first introduced me to Ruth's writings, and I was blindsided. Expecting something 'nice and pastoral', I was exposed to a writing which challenged the very depths of my faith. Raw and uncompromising, her writings are at one time untypical of most books suggested at this season of the church's year, and also Exactly what is required. 'Love Unknown' is no exception.

Just take some time to dwell on a couple of brief excerpts.

Firstly her commentary on Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat in the midst of the storm and the disciples reproach of Him.

"Jesus deflates their high emotion with a reproach of his own. Why the panic? Where is your faith? Is he not saying, [she asks] "Does it matter if you go down if I am with you?"'

And secondly,
and worth meditating on a word at a time

"Our only real need is God"

Lent is a time for testing - for exposing the reality of our faith without bringing us to 'the time of trial'. We give time to setting other things aside, deliberately to face the question 'Is it God in whom I place all of my hope?' 'Is it true - is He all I need, do I Know this?'

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Lent course session 1 :- The Practising Church


Practices and the Life of God

Fitting Lent into a busy life?

'What are you giving up for Lent?'

For some of us at least, this may have been a regular question over the last couple of weeks. (Perhaps a dwindling number? Am I alone in thinking that a meaningful observance of Lent is diminishing as a practice amongst western Christians?)

Of course there are a goodly number who are saying 'Don't give things up for Lent! Take something up instead!' And of course this has a very favourable ring for any number of reasons. We like to do something good. Giving something up denies ourselves in a way that we get no reward from - we can see taking something up as a way of both denying ourselves And helping others. So, no more fasting, instead we can have our virtuous cake And eat it! :) BUT, generally our lives are so very busy it is very difficult to take anything new up, or at the very least - we will have to fit it in and around our lives as is convenient to us.

I was thinking recently of a church where attendance at Lent classes had fallen very low. The Vicar was scratching his head, and suggested that , 'because people are so very busy nowadays, perhaps we should just publish the material online for folk to pick up and use when was convenient to them?'. 
            This suggestion was brought to mind at our Lent Class last night, when we shared a reading from Resident Aliens, by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. In it they recount the story of a new pastor who had the bright idea of the church providing a daycare unit for the convenience of people in his parish. But a lady named Gladys spoke out against it - because the people of the parish were generally too busy to look after their children because they were continually chasing the dream of a bigger and better and bigger and better lifestyle. Two cars, lovely vacations and every material convenience - but lacked time for their children. She said she thought the church had no business supporting people in such material acquisitiveness when it so denied community and family. She said that there were families downtown, where both parents had to work, just to put food on the table, but she didn't hear her church suggesting that they were going to go and help out down there.The pastor responded to her "Gladys, with questions like the ones you are raising, we just might become a church after all."

Well the parallel isn't a straight one, but it raised for me how far we seem to go in 'fitting Lent' or indeed 'fitting church' in and around our increasingly frenetic lives.

Lent is a great gift to us and one of the greatest gifts it gives us through the strict requirements of fasting, and intensified times of prayer, and almsgiving, is that faith is not a matter of our convenience, it is not about us. God in Christ takes hold of a people, he sets them apart as his. They are called from whatever is absorbing them, to be absorbed in Him and His Life. "They left their nets and followed him" We are given a new identity when God takes hold of us. Disciples of his Son. It is not something we choose for ourselves. For all of us it is inconvenient as it means laying all our plans and hopes and dreams for our lives aside.

But it is a Glorious inconvenience - for what can be better than to be called into the realization of the Plans, Hopes and Dreams of God - the Source of all Life and Love. If we have but mustard seed faith, then even what is thought the greatest of inconveniences, becomes the instrument of Life.

What are you giving up for lent?? 
Better, what will we give up for Him?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Lent, faith, and the narrow way

Jesus loves his neighbour, like no-one else before or since 
precisely because he loves God, like no-one else, before or since

As we journey through Lent together, and with Jesus there may be something which we find a little odd. Why does Jesus need to be tested in the wilderness. Sometimes our images of Jesus get in the way of how we read the gospel accounts - we imagine him as somehow different to us in his humanity. He is a kind of 'Superman'. How many times have I pointed someone to the example of Jesus for them only to say - 'Ah, but that was Jesus - he was the Son of God!', as if his Divinity over rode his humanity, as if in those difficult moments he faced he switched Off his humanity and switched On his divinity.

This in itself might be worth pondering - does my image of Jesus deny his full humanity, that he was tempted in every way as we are . . . but got through because he was also divine? 

Jesus in his humanity has to learn faith - his Jewish heritage has taught him this. He knows that in only total dependence on God his Father can he live the fully human life he is called to, but he doesn't even go into the desert because of his own choice - no he is driven there by the Spirit. Even in going into the wilderness he has to respond in his humanity in dependence upon the spirit's guidance, in this case firm direction.

He has to learn faith.

Perhaps we might also sit with this thought for a minute or two. If Jesus had to go forty days without food in the wilderness to learn this lesson, what or where has been my wilderness of learning faith. Have I learned faith or a set of beliefs?

It was said that a disciple went to one of the fathers of the church and said, 'Abba, give me a word' The man replied - 'Go and learn what this means "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength" '. 
The disciple departed from him. Ten years later he returned and said 'Abba, I have learnt that word, please give me another' and the Father said to him, 'go and learn what this means, "love thy neighbour as thyself"', and the disciple went from him and never returned.

Faith is utter dependence upon God - it is abandonment to him - trusting utterly in his unfailing love. Loving him with all we have and all we are. Faith gives us Absolute security to Love freely as He Loves, but it is not easy to find. Hard and narrow is the way and few there are that find it. It takes time. Forty years for Israel, Ten years for the disciple and forty days for Jesus, yet it is a work worth the all we have and all we are, as it requires that of us. Lent is given to us as a means by which we might seek out that narrow way.

Through Lent we abandon our reliance on those things we too easily substitute for faith, things that have become tyrannous. We let go of our reliance on food, fasting to discover the truth that the word of God sustains us if you like, miraculously. We let go of our reliance on money, giving alms, discovering the truth that God provides. We let go of our need to rule our own lives and the tyranny of time, in praying much and learning the truth that God orders all our doings and will sustain the world.

When we learn to so trust God, then we discover that He is the source of all life and love - and thus we are set free to love as Jesus does, the one who went this way before us, giving his life over to God.

We may think of our life as a seed. We may tend to think that the key to the Christian life is somehow making ourselves grow in love - certainly that is how we seem to approach this whole question of how do we love our neighbour. We imagine it must come from within Us, but it doesn't, it Only comes from Him. If we give this seed of our lives over in abandonment to God, he plants it in good soil, where it dies . . . and yields much fruit.

A Life given to God is returned many fold to the world

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Sermon for Lent 1 - Sunday February 26th

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent 2012
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25
1 Peter 3:13-22
Matthew 4:1-11

Through Lent as the Body of Christ

“Man does not live by bread alone,
 but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”

As I sincerely hope you’ve noticed, we have re-introduced the Psalm into our morning worship. [Funnily enough, given what I’m about to say, I began by typing out ‘I have re-introduced the Psalm . . .’ J] The Psalms have been the root prayers of the people of God down through three thousand years. They are prayers that are well tested as sources of comfort and hope, as well as giving us space to vent our spleen before God should we need to do so. And there is only one safe place to vent our spleen!

On the whole, those of us who like myself grew up within the Anglican church and perhaps had little by the way of Private piety would have come across the Psalms in public worship and may well have thought that that was where they belonged – but in truth the Psalms have been used every bit as much in private devotion over the centuries, and indeed they generally read best in that regard. However, there is a small group of Psalms written precisely to be said together. You may have noticed them in your Bible, psalms 120-134 – they are called ‘The Psalms of Ascent’. They were the sequence of Psalms traditionally said in sequence as the Jewish people went on Pilgrimage up to the Temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion.

I wonder if we have the imaginative capacity to find ourselves in the scene – a group of people – going up together on this journey, three times a year, chanting these old songs of faith. A Powerful communal practise.

I want now while we hold that picture to imagine something else. Last Sunday evening, the last before Lent in many many churches something happened which I guess none of us here have experienced in our church life. As part of the liturgy everyone in church went to every other person and asks them for forgiveness for any wrong they have done them. Why do these Christians do this? Well we might say, ‘because it is good to forgive and be forgiven’ and that is very true – yet it is not something which we have practiced in our tradition, perhaps ever. Actually these Christians do this as preparation for Lent. They are Christians of the Orthodox or Eastern tradition of the church, comprising at least 1/3 of all the Christian in the world today.

I will return to the Orthodox Lent in a little while, but for now just sit for a moment or two with those two images – the community of believers going up to the Temple and chanting the Psalms and The Orthodox believers creating absolute mayhem I guess as they all make the effort to seek out everyone else to seek forgiveness. What a way to go to church, what a way to start Lent.
What both epitomize, is a Truth that many many Christians in the Western tradition have lost – that the Life of faith is Primarily something we do together. Last week when I described the idea of Covenant I took us back to one of the older covenants – where God in Covenant Love takes hold of the people of Israel in slavery in Egypt, the whole people – All of them. Our reading from Genesis speaks also of God’s covenant, this time with the whole earth “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Taking hold of Israel is awe inspiring, but the rainbow was given as a sign that God in Covenant Love took hold of All Creation. (btw I know that some folk would like me perhaps at some stage to preach on Creation and matters to do with the Environment and I shall do so – but for now I want to build some theological foundations as most sermonizing o these topics has little to do with the faith as revealed thru the prophets, Scriptures and Apostles). God takes hold of all creation.

            The writer to the Colossians says of Christ, in Him all things hold together  - people pilgrimaging together chanting Psalms – people going to everyone else to seek forgiveness – all things holding TOGETHER in Christ. All of these are ringing Rebukes not to the rampant individualism of the world, but of the rampant individualism of faith in the Western Church – For The Church, the faithful people of God are called to reveal AMONGST themselves, the truth of the penultimate Psalm of Ascents, just Before they reach the Temple , How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in Unity.

It is the Common life of the people of God which is given as a light to the nations-  YOU says Jesus are the Light of the world. And here we hit a difficulty for us, for in the English language, we cannot tell the difference between you and you, that’s not You and You, but you (singular) and you (Plural). Christ addresses his Disciples YOU are the light of the world. And it is re-inforced in other ways – Some of you May have flinched a little when I deliberately used non-inclusive language in the reading from the gospel. I very much understand what is at stake here, but unfortunately we can miss something important – there is a Very Significant difference between “Man does not live by bread alone” and “One does not live by bread alone” The former moves us towards a hearing that is corporate – the latter moves us Strongly towards a hearing that is individual. God spoke these words through Moses Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. God Leading his people 40 years in the wilderness to teach them Faith. He took Everything away – Quite literally, apart from the clothes on their back and the shoes on their feet – he taught them Faith. This was a lesson of faith, for the People, not individuals. The Life of faith is Primarily something we do together

And Now in Lent, the Lesson is the same – Learning faith is the point of Lent for the people of God as it was for Jesus in the desert. God takes his people into the wilderness for forty years, he takes Us into Lent for 40 days each year. Only One does he take alone – Matthew tells us Jesus was Led by the Spirit into the wilderness to test him, to tempt him. Henri Nouwen puts it well when he says that Jesus is tempted to be relevant, spectacular and powerful “Feed yourself!!” ‘feed the world, everyone will believe in you then – yet he feeds them and as John records they started to desert him – Do something Spectacular!! – Throw yourself down from the temple. They’ll all believe in you then – but he did not even throw himself down from the Cross – Or tempting him with Power - Worship me and I will give you all the power you need.

We live in an age when most of the western church has either disappeared or succumbed to the devils blandishments – it chases after relevance – We Must be relevant to people’s lives and so to some it seems we are like the leader of the French revolution sat at the sidewalk cafĂ© as the mob rushes by who cries – there are my people! I must follow them!! Or we must be spectacular – building mega churches, having the best technological tools, - Or we must be powerful – well by and large that one has expired J but it supposedly served the church well for over a thousand years and thus remains a deadly addiction should any opportunity arise – secretly we long for the church to be powerful again and seek ways to make it look so.

But Jesus rebukes The Satan with regard to these temptations, and what strikes me is this – he does not suggest another way – he never says, I’m not going to do it that way, I’m going to do it this – because the way of Jesus is simply Naked faith in God – this is what the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to learn as it had led the people of Israel into the desert for 40 years. So he fasts that he Might Learn it really Is True – man does not live by bread alone. Jesus discovers this truth in the Wilderness – Truth Laid bare.

Even the Son of God must learn FAITH and it takes him 40 days – it took Israel 40 years and even then they forgot.40 days for Jesus, 40 years for Israel. How easily we say, “I have faith”. Yet can I go without food for even a day? Can I sell even a tenth of my possessions and give to the poor? Can I lose a tenth of my dignity and associate with the outcasts of society and be known as their friends? Can I turn from the demands of the world – in trust that the world will continue to turn, and spend one brief hour a day in prayer? Oh how many many books are printed now to tell us how to get along on ten minutes a day because we are SO busy. But we are busy because we have little faith.

40 days – 40 days of Lent. And we look at Lent and wonder how it can help and often we do little about it  - I mean we are very well accustomed to perhaps having shared study, but that is pretty much it – we may as Individuals come up with bright ideas. How can I sustain something for 40 days, and what is more as Jesus tells us to, without looking miserable about it? Yet The Church into which we are all baptized has told us what to do in Lent – Pray, Fast and Give Alms – common practices, meant to be done together.

I said I was going to come back to the Orthodox Church. We left them last Sunday evening – gathered together for the Vespers of Forgiveness – going round forgiving and asking for forgiveness from everyone else. Imagine that as a Start to Lent. I have said a little in the week about a Joyful Lent and Lent in the orthodox church is Very joyful – BUT we might look at it and wonder – How can they be joyful when they do THAT!! Here for example is the prayer book they use in Lent – All 700 pages as the services for Every Day are set out (without all the Psalms by the way which they recite in their entirety twice a week :) ) – and then there is the fasting – this begins two weeks before Lent with a prohibition on any meat – then the Sunday before all dairy products are ruled out. In the first week – ONLY TWO MEALS, one on Wednesday and one on Friday – after that it is eased and there so you can have one uncooked meal a day J And I could go on (by the way as is the rule with all Fasting  - NEVER ON A SUNDAY!! Sunday is the day of New Creation, not the old :) ) Well we might ask, how can this be Joyful????

And the answer – because they are all in it together – praying regularly together, encouraging one another each day – they go about it Cheerfully – which is a Good Biblical Word :) Lent is Hard, if not impossible Alone – but Together it can be a journey of Joy

Through Lent as the Body of Christ. This is the title for this sermon. And so may I encourage us to recapture some of that sense of being a community of faith, sharing in faith, growing in faith, together this Lent. You may wish to come to a Lent course – we shall be exploring this theme of Life together through the Practices of faith and I hope that we shall learn far more than I have prepared through sharing our Lenten journey together.

But if you cannot make it, then there is still one thing we could Easily all do together which the Orthodox do. Every week the focus of worship is the Gospel for the coming Sunday. On your news sheet is the Gospel for next week – Let us do this one thing together – each day in preparation for next Sunday, let us read the Gospel – for this is the message of Life, for us all as the Body of Christ here. We go through Lent that we might better know Easter Joy – we go through Lent because All of Life is a preparation for Resurrection Life – and know it in our midst, together.

Praying together with Jesus, through Lent

Having said that Jesus is enough, then it follows that we must be with Him at all times and in all places.

Much in contemporary spirituality, majors on His presence with us, but as usually expressed it suggests that he tags along with us as we live our lives - a sort of spiritual first aider, always there for us to comfort and guide us as we live our lives. But in Baptism we make a fearful and glorious exchange - Our life for His. As St Paul says "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me".

As I suggested in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, Mark's gospel reveals very clearly how there is no way that Jesus can be with us except we follow him. Jesus is always on the move - they have a choice, stay put or be with him. Jesus appoints the Apostles, the seed bed of the church, to be with Him. Peter realizes that a life centered on the self, even a Christian faith centered on the self is of no avail as, when others are drifting away to find a more convenient 'god' who will be with them), "to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal Life!" We have to be with You!

So in Lent, we have to be with Him. Where is He? Out in the wilderness, praying. And what is He praying? As the One who embodies "The people of God", both past and future, he is praying the prayers of the people of God, the Psalms. These have been our prayers these past three thousand years, but they are ours because they are His.

Lent in the West, and especially in the protestant churches and parts of the Anglican church, has largely become an individualised experience. The question from the pulpit, "what will You do for Lent?" is voiced and heard in the singular, not the plural. We are presented with a plethora of courses and books and ideas for a Creative Lent, but there is little sense that we should 'do Lent together' - little by way of opportunity to gather and pray and share our joys in fasting and almsgiving.

It is of course a little late to 'put something on' as the horse has already bolted and is fast approaching the first furlong marker, but there is one thing we might do together, and with Jesus, and that is to pray through the Psalms. The Orthodox church does this every Lent and with determination, reading through the whole corpus together, twice a week. Assuming though that perhaps such strong meat may be somewhat indigestible for our presently weakened constitutions, might I suggest we apply ourselves to read them through in their entirety over the next five weeks?

Doing this we would be together with Him. Where else might we find Life?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

"Jesus + Nothing = Everything" is the title of a book I have recently enjoyed reading. An extended meditation on the book of Colossians, written in the midst of huge personal challenges to the author, I was drawn to it by the title. At once a statement, but also a question. Is this true for me??

Lent is a season which is Given to us to test the truth of this Reality of our Faith. We follow Jesus into the Wilderness to discover whether it is yet true of us, that He is Our Sufficiency.

Through Disciplines of fasting, prayer, almsgiving and the like we are opened up to our Inner reality. The person we are when no-one is looking and our dependence or otherwise on the things of the world. Lent tests the reality of Faith. In a world where we have such an abundance Lent is Given, to reveal how much or how little that abundance is that which in reality we lean on. Would we happ'ly sell our possessions, give alms and follow him if he asked? Do we trust his promise of Heavenly treasure?

By letting go of things that we are so familiar with, that shape our world and view of it we are asked The Fundamental Question, 'Am I Enough?'

We have grown accustomed to reading the book of Job as if it is a treatise on suffering, in particular the question of Theodicy 'How can a God of Love allow suffering?'. But that reading and indeed the question itself reveal immediately how far we are from faith, that God is for us in our comfortable worlds, Not Enough. We need comfort, we need freedom from hardship strife and pain, we need good relationships and happy marriages, we need, we need . . . He is not enough for us. We don't believe that only when we have surrendered ourselves to him do we find the life we crave - we don't believe that our reality is but a shadow. For us it is still heaven and the Life of God in Christ that is the shadow. We ignore the first Word of Life, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength - the All is too much for us and we have to share our love around and we love other things more and better - He is not enough.

In reality the book of Job is much more about the reality of our faith - Job is like Jesus in the desert - everything stripped away and then the mocking questions - Does God really care? If you only pull your moral socks up!! If you are the Son of God . . .

The Life of God in Christ is Everything - substituting Anything for this Life is Death

Lent is a Vital gift in which we learn to see more clearly the truth of this

Thursday, 23 February 2012

How deep the Father's Love

An Icon

(Used with permission)

I was about to publish this photo for meditation purposes, 
and a friend posted a link on Facebook to another icon,
 a video which Beautifully amplifies the vital theme

And now a wonderful sermon on the same theme
A Fatherly week :)


At the start of Lent

The Western Church traditionally observes the Sunday before Lent by remembering the Transfiguration of Christ, as recorded in Matthew's gospel, chapter 17. There is much Wisdom in this.
As we enter a time where it is all too easy to focus out thoughts on ourselves as we apply ourselves to the disciplines of the season - traditionally fasting, prayer and Almsgiving, and more and more in the modern idiom, taking up some 'Good Work' -  it is easy to lose sight of Jesus and get caught up in all the 'virtuous' things we are doing, being at home with ourselves, rather than allowing Jesus to take us on pilgrimage  through the Wilderness, the only place where God's people learn faith.

There is a sense that the apostles felt this on the Mount of Transfiguration - "it is good for us to be here" - they are all too ready to pitch tent and stay there, but the 'lights' go out and suddenly
"they saw no one except Jesus himself alone."

No bright lights, no voice from Heaven - just Jesus. Lent is a time which asks us "Is He Enough?"

Matthew records that as soon as they come down from the mountain, the disciples find themselves floundering in the thick of the battle

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’

They are perhaps asking, What happened to that Light, the Voice - The Wonder and the Awe of the mountain - why couldn't we have stayed there?? But as Jesus tells them, they have little faith. The plain fact is that the Light, the Voice, The Wonder and the Awe are all present, but veiled in human flesh. He is still Present to them, but they have little faith, they cannot See.

Jesus has his own Mount of Transfiguration experience - his Baptism. There are signs, the Spirit, the heavenly voice. How easy it must have been to ask to pitch tent by this place of blessing. But as Mark puts it The Spirit "drives" Jesus out into the Desert. This Work is Vitally urgent for Him and it is for us too.

As we enter Lent we are called to go with Jesus, to let go of other supports, ease and food, money (as we give alms) - for it is a time of testing. But all we are doing is going with Jesus and in the path of His disciples. Lent mirrors Jesus' 40 days in the Wilderness - we do not go alone. As He was as present amongst the demoniacs and the chaos of his disbelieving disciples, he is present in our Wilderness walk

One of his disciples saw the lights going out, yet spoke faith
 - ironically for he was known as the one who doubted - 
'Let us go also, that we might die with Him'

Whilst we still long to remain comfortable, 
whilst we have yet to learn to See him when humanly speaking the lights have gone out,
we need Lent

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Blessing and the Shape of Reality

 Sermon for Evensong
Sunday 19th February 2012

Blessing and the Shape of Reality

“The Righteous shall live by faith”

This morning I spoke about forgiveness being Necessary – that we needed it – but not purely in some psychological – emotional – or even spiritual sense. ‘Spiritual sense’ always sounds a little vague to me :) No, we needed forgiveness, to forgive and be forgiven in a very Real and indeed, I believe if we Saw its impact, a Very Concrete sense. That in forgiving we are restoring the broken bonds of Love, the bonds which actually hold the whole Universe together. That in forgiving we are engaged in a construction project, the like of which the world has never seen nor comprehended.
St Paul, drawing on the story of Abraham, tells us “the Righteous shall live by faith”, but I suggest we have far too narrow a conception of what faith is, or perhaps to put it better we are content with the seed or content of faith, but seldom do we allow it to flourish and bloom from a set of beliefs into that which it is intended to be, a Perception of the World in which we live and into which we walk. Moses, we are told, By faith left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. This is the Essence of faith – walking in a new reality which God has shown to us in Christ.

As I have said several times over the past few weeks, Jesus is about restoring sight to the blind and the gift of faith is intended to be a gift of sight, to see the world as God has created it and to order our lives in the reality of that vision, one which is clouded or obscure to those amongst whom we live. So we forgive at first because we hear the command of God, but as we grow in faith we begin to see – our eyes are opened to this enthralling work which God has called us to, to Participate in the healing of the very fabric of reality, that is given Concrete expression in the Word made flesh. Love incarnate.

Well tonight I’d like to add to that theme of forgiveness, that of Blessing – That Blessing is the most appropriate of actions for the people of God who pours out his blessings in abundance. Yet how slow we are to see this.

One thing that concerns me Very greatly in contemporary Christian life is the rapidly dwindling practise of Giving thanks before eating – it concerns me because actually it is an act of faith  - we come to table and there we SEE God’s blessing – and yet we do not recognize it. Failing to give thanks is a sign that our eyes have grown dim to Reality.

Tonight’s Wonderful story from the Book of Numbers is a beautiful illustration of this practise of Blessing, and throws in a talking donkey to boot for those whose attention is slipping :). Actually it is only about a ¼ of the whole story of Balaam and Balak and Israel.

To put it quickly in context – God has rescued Israel – he has chosen them to be his people and brought them out of Egypt and into a life of Blessing. He has given them daily bread in the wilderness and sustained their life. If you like he has given them a crash course in faith and like any crash course it has been a bit painful at times, but we come to the story as they have come to the plains of moab and the blessing of God means that they are quite a crowd – and as you might imagine, the locals are more than a little nervous – so we read a little earlier on . . .

Now Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw, to summon him, saying, ‘A people has come out of Egypt; they have spread over the face of the earth, and they have settled next to me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomsoever you bless is blessed,
 and whomsoever you curse is cursed.’ Numbers 22 vss 4-6

And that is the context of our reading tonight. Well the story lasts an entire chapter before Balaam sets off to see Balak. Balak keeps sending messengers to him, but God prevents Balaam from going. Eventually he does let him go but it is clear that this is not Plan A!!

We read from just before tonight’s reading

That night God came to Balaam and said to him, ‘If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you to do.’ 21So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab. 22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary.

Certainly there is a degree of ambiguity here and I’m not going to attempt to iron it out – God says to Balaam, OK, Go with the men, but only do what I tell you . . . but it seems clear that he does so with a degree of reluctance and the next morning puts a shot across Balaam’s bows – a warning if you like, against any sense that because this is commanded it is necessarily good – Be on your guard!!

And here we begin to see how there is a greater reality – perhaps Balaam really doesn’t know with whom he is dealing – he is portrayed as blind – unlike the poor donkey!! The donkey sees how things really are. He sees the angel stood in his path with a drawn sword. The donkey’s no ass! He knows what is and isn’t good for him and desperately tries to avoid the Angel.

This story sounds to our ears most fanciful – yet how many of us not only have heard but believe thoroughly in the ability of animals to See far more than we do. Certainly here in New Zealand we know of how they seem to be ahead of the game when it comes to earthquakes – why do we understand ourselves so wise and the animals so foolish? All of Creation suffers through the sin of human kind, but only humans become totally blind, and in our fury lash out, like a frustrated child who cannot have his own way

When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ 29Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!’ 30But the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you in this way?’ And he said, ‘No.’ 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face.

Cursing and anger flow form the mouth of Balaam and it is Wrong!! As James tells us :- no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,* this ought not to be so.

[A brief aside at this point, just to note that I think it mistaken to remove the cursing Psalms from the prayer book – the fact it that at times we are full of anger and cursing and it needs a safe outlet and that is directed towards God who can handle it, rather than the Creation, which it destroys. We are not yet made perfect. We are given these Psalms as a release valve and a place where we might safely reveal our hearts and find them healed in doing so.]

Balak, The King of Moab understands the power of the prophetic word – he knows that Words can build up or destroy and he is afraid of the hoard of Israel, and so calls Balaam to Curse them – over the next two chapters there is an almost comedic battle between the King who has called for cursing to destroy and the prophet who Knows that he must Not curse, he can only bless to build up.
We are more than aware of the power of sin to destroy, but we are slow to believe in the Greater power forgiveness which restores the broken bonds of love. We are so aware of how Cursing and false words destroy, we know this. But we are all to blind of the Greater power of Blessing to build up. 

Do we have any idea of the Concrete power of Blessing in the Name of the Lord?? As some of you know, I belong to a New monastic order whose mother house is in South Wales, Old South Wales, that is :) One of our disciplines is that of Blessing, not so much Being a blessing, but pronouncing blessing. It comes out of the expereince as a good friend of mine who was called to the place that became the mother house of our order. He went in faith, but VERY reluctantly. He had NO idea of what the call was about and over time became incredibly frustrated with God – and one day made an ultimatum!! ‘I cannot stay here unless you do something!!’

Later that day, as often happened, some folk turned up at the centre, curious to know what it was – Roy took them round and talked about how it was a place where the Living God changed lives – this was more an expression of what he wanted than what he had seen to that point. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the idea came to him to bless them before they left. They responded positively and Roy said to them ‘I bless you in the name of Jesus, to know God, his purpose for your life, and his blessings on you, and you family and the situations of your life. Amen’ – they were immediately overcome with the most profound sense of the presence of God they had never known, with them. 

This became a very regular practise – and lives have been changed, healed and restored in many many ways through this. Every Friday, the folk who are resident at the centre stand on the high place overlooking the valley and pronounce blessing upon the whole valley – the life of the whole area has been transformed. Cows give more milk, even in a time of economic hardship, all the local bed and breakfasts are almost continually fully booked, the tiny country school thrives and people’s lives are being dramatically changed for the good.

We are called to a life of blessing – restoring through forgiveness and giving life through blessing. Paul reminds us ‘Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse’ 

I began reminding by reminding us that The Righteous will live by faith. Abraham is given to us as an example, that he reveals in his life the Blessing that comes through faith ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

If forgiveness is the way in which we heal the bonds of Love that hold the universe together, Blessing is I think the way in which we are called to Breathe the Life of God into those bonds. This is the Reality We are called to inhabit in Faith. Speak Blessing.

All Age talk - Forgiveness

Sermon for Sunday 19th February - Epiphany 7 - Ordinary time7

 Sermon for Sunday 19th February, 2012
Epiphany 7 / Ordinary 7
Isaiah 43:18-25
Psalm 41
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
   and I will not remember your sins. Is 43:25
God who is the source of all Life – who is Love in his very being – does something utterly extraordinary – something which I think should give us all pause before we say that we know what love is. In Love he inextricably binds himself to a people – he commits himself to them by unbreakable bonds. He promises Never to let them go.

God is the Centre of Everything, Everything comes from Him and to Him Everything must return. God is Love. God is Light, in Him there is no darkness at all and when he takes on flesh for our sake, it is to banish the darkness, for the glory of His Name, that Love may Triumph

When I think of this Love of God, this convenant love, I am reminded of human marriage. I have to say straight away that I am comparing the Great Perfect Love of God with the far lesser, highly imperfect and at times invisible love in a human marriage – but I will deal with the Ideal (if the reality always falls short of this) 

In the Church of England liturgy the words used are these ‘I . . . take you to be my wife’, ‘I . . . take you to be my husband’. As I frequently told couples whom I was preparing for marriage – there is no ‘I will if you will’ – for you are entering into a Covenant relationship, which is the purest form of Love – a commitment to the other which is not dependent upon the Other. God’s Love is not dependent on us, He Is Love. In other words in marriage a couple you enter into a Covenant expression of Love, a Love that expresses how God love us. And of course this metaphor of marriage is used by St Paul when he is talking of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

This Love of God for His people is the theme that runs through the whole of the Old Testament and in some respects comes to its zenith, its peak in these latter chapters of the prophet Isaiah. Here God is rhetorically arguing with his unfaithful people – reminding them of their sins, of their unfaithfulness – but over and over again saying he will do something extraordinary in response – he will save them, he will protect them, he will be a life giver to them
18 Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honour me,
   the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
   rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21   the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

 - These words of the love of God revealed in a time in the History of his people when they were being taken into Exile because they had abandoned the God who had Committed himself to them, Given himself to them, taken them to himself in Covenant Love . When, to use other prophetic language with its roots in marriage, they had been unfaithful – in the midst of this he declares - I am going to do something new – I am going to make life giving waters flow.
Then he re-iterates the argument

22 you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
   but you have been weary of me, O Israel!
23 You have not brought me your sheep for burnt-offerings,
   or honoured me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with offerings,
   or wearied you with frankincense.
 . . .
But you have burdened me with your sins;
   you have wearied me with your iniquities. 

I have not been a burden to you, but you have been a burden to me. I have not wearied you, but you have wearied me . . .
BUT your unfaithfulness will not be the last word

25 I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

 - I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Your unfaithfulness will not have the last word – My Love will – My foregiveness. God had bound himelf utterly to this people – they were His burden – he carried them – He was known as The God of Israel – if you like He was known as their National God – His identity was tied up with theirs – and so was His character - and Israel, the people of this God had besmirched themselves and so had taken God’s name with them into the mud.     
            So what does he do?? Does He cast them off?? NO! Rather he Refuses to let their Word be the Last Word – he will overcome Even Unfaithfulness, the Covenant may have meant little to Israel – but it meant everything to the God who makes Promises – He has made a Covenant – He has bound himself to these people and thus His name is being dragged through the mud? What will he do?? He will make their sins Whiter than snow!! – though they are scarlet – he will blot out their transgressions for His Names sake – He will not stoop down to their level of unfaithfulness – no He will restore them and Life them Up!!!

It is Breathtaking. To Israel’s No – he Thunders His Triumphant YES – and so one comes in whom All God’s Covenant Promises are held – In whom All His Promises are YES!! Which begins to explain what to some might be a strange puzzle in the gospel reading.

Here is Jesus – in this tightly packed house – barely room to breathe and some people bring their paralyzed friend to him – presumably to heal him?? The text is silent. So determined are they to get him to Jesus they go onto the roof and knock a hole in it. And lower him down in front of Him.

And here we see how Different is our reading of this text from those of the time of Jesus – What does Jesus do? He forgives him his sins – and his critics are thinking Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone? And we may be thinking – Hang on a minute!! He’s paralysed – can’t you see?? Why not do That First and forgive the sins later? Surely the Priority is healing him?? – and in this regard it is Very worth noting the following – Jesus heals the man to prove the point about forgiveness. Do you see??

He forgives the man. Then the scribes accuse him of blasphemy – THEN to show that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins he heals the man of his paralysis – to show that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins – Which is it easier to say ‘Son our sins are forgiven you’ Or take up your mat and walk??? Which is most important???

We look out on a world where there is So So much wrong – I used to get JWs coming to my door – I don’t know if they do the same here in NZ but in England they always began by saying- aren’t things in a terrible mess – and we LOOK OUT and have to agree with them – and so we see people with sickness – we see wars  - we see famines – we see all sorts of things. And we think that there are all these problems out there and we’re busy saying – look Here Jesus – all this forgiveness of sins stuff is . . . well of course its important but what about the Real problems . . . except the real problems all stem from sin which we do Not see because we’re all too busy looking out there. The problems are Symptoms – the root dis - ease is sin.

God is Love – he creates the world in Love, through Love, for Love – the Universe is if you like a cathedral of Love – Love holding it all together – its trellises  - its buttresses – its foundations and beautiful windows are Love -  and Sin takes a wrecking ball and smashes it up. If we go around that all that is wrong in the world today is down to sin, we might be thought idiotic – but if God is Love and Everything is an expression of Love – in other words the hard physical matter of our existence is in fact that Energy emanating from the Life of God that we call Love – then before any true healing can begin – those bonds have got to be restored. That is what holds everything together. Just what seems like a minor matter for the religiously minded becomes of literally Fundamental importance. And we might know this surely for ourselves for what is the pain we know like the pain of broken relationships – it is literally as if the fabric of our Lives is torn apart – it is that the fabric of creation is rent – love is torn.

Jesus – the Lamb of God from before all eternity offers himself to atone for the sins of the world. What is God’s Solution to the demolition of Love? More Love – Indestructable Love declared in Glory on Easter Morn and the Way for all who have found new life in Him. What he does for the paralysed man in forgiving him his sins, he literally embodies on the cross. 

Remember last week – this faith of our is bodily and material? God who is Love takes on flesh. Jesus embodies Love and forgiveness on the cross and so the New Creation begins to spring to birth  - one which we are called to step into. This New Life of Christ is one we are all called as Christians to participate in. The Scribes are right – only God can forgive sins – but we are joined to him to become one with Him and thus enter into he work he is doing as Christ was himself one with the Father and only did what he saw the father doing. Forgiving and then healing.

This last couple of weeks I have referred to Peter and John and the healing of the lame man outside the Temple. I suggested that there was something missing in a church that could no longer say ‘Silver and Gold have I none,’ nor could it say ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth get up and walk’ – well if that seems to hard – which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, or ‘take up your mat and walk?’ We are given a simpler yet more Foundational starter. Peter and John having discovered the power of this love which refuses to be overcome even by death enter into this Life being renewed by forgiveness and so in that Life, in the Life of the Risen Christ, the Embodiment of the New Creation they engage in the works that that forgiveness, that restoration of the bonds of Love makes possible.

Forgiveness is the way in which the true ordering of the world is made new, that Love is restored and that Love is the healing of Everything.

Friday, 17 February 2012

See and Know

Photograph by kind permission of Catherine Arranger

One of the benefits of Facebook - like all benefits it has its shadow side - is making friends with people from far away through friends and friends of friends. One such friend of mine took this lovely photograph of a door, in her home town in Southern France, and then posted it on Facebook . . . as one does. 

Yet this photograph was very different from many I see there - and something she said in her posting caught my attention. She has passed this door on an almost daily basis for the last 25 years, and only Now has she photographed it.

One of the 'benefits' of Facebook, is as a place where 'we can share our lives with others' - by posting all the many photographs we have taken of family events and the like. Except we are not sharing our lives, because we weren't even there ourselves.

Many years of going to children's school productions still hasn't solved something for me - despite trying to figure this out I cannot understand something that goes on both relentlessly and increasingly at such occasions - 'Proud Parents' recording it all for posterity - OBSERVING their child through the editorial influence of a camera or Video lens - for the sake of Memory. Yet how can you remember something which you were not present at? Not fully engaged in, or not sufficiently engaged in that you could find time to take all those photos - desperate to preserve a memory, but not actually there to remember - to soak in the atmosphere - to be Present - to Participate.

My friend's photograph I thought was lovely. For 25 years she had got to know her subject - indeed until that moment she had not treated the door as such, but rather as part of the fabric, the warp and weft of her life. It had a Life that was and is part of hers - there was mutual participation.

If this is true of a door, how much more so of a person?

Photography and especially video photography are very late on the block in terms of human history. They come into our world when more than ever we live in the era of the 'Triumph' of the individual - where we have learnt to separate ourselves from others to stand alone - so that we may watch them and they us. Photography is one example of a technology that is actually revealing the truth about the world we live in, by its very existence. It is an expression of our isolation, our aloneness -  and I speak as a occasionally keen amateur photographer.

'Less sophisticated' people than us, when first encountering a camera shy away, for fear you are stealing their soul. In a sense they are very right, for our essence as human beings is not as individuals but in relationship. The Essence of Being is the God who is Love. When we abstract ourselves from relationship to stand as the dispassionate or selfish observer (just trying to get the right photo of a person for our gratification and to feed our pride) - we break the bonds of love in order to stand apart.

As with all technology, cameras should come with a relational warning - it should say on the box,
 'not to be used on subjects with whom you have not been intimately associated for at least 25 years'
It is a myth that we can extract ourselves from life at no cost to ourselves - when we extract ourselves from life for even a moment we die a little

Life requires our Presence - we are enjoined to Participation. 
Put another way you cannot hold a camera or a video and join in the dance :)

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sermon for Sunday 12th February - Epiphany 6 - Ordinary 6

 Sermon for Sunday 12th February 2010 – Epiphany 6 – Ordinary time 6
2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Cor 9:24-27
Mark 1:40-45

‘Bodily faith’


Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Last week as most if not all of you know I celebrated my 50th Birthday and enjoyed a wonderful day. As a little self indulgence I wrote a note on Facebook – you can tell it was self indulgence because No-one has responded to it :) In it I imagined that Great cricket commentator of my youth, the great Hampshireman, John Arlott describing the scene at Headingley Cricket ground as I raised my bat to the pavilion in acknowledgment of a half century.

Now you have got to know quite a bit about me these past few months, but one thing you don’t know about is my prowess as a cricketer – you didn’t know?? No? Well in my head  I m a great cricketer :) In my head!! In England there is something known as The Church Times Cricket competition. All the dioceses field teams, and after regional group stages the best teams play at Lords in the final. I played for Bradford Diocese – we were a bit thin on cricketers :) In my first match I’d been watching the test mtch on TV – I batted six – the first delivery  . . . I placed my foot down the track and struck a flawless drive through mid-off for four :) I went on to score 24, nearly all in boundaries before being undone by a slow full toss which took out my middle stump :) Unfortunately the apparent quality of the rest of my innings perseuaded the captain he had a real talent on his hands. I was promoted to open. I now probably hold the Church TImes record for consecutive first ball dismissals :) It was all in my head. In my head I was a Great Cricketer – I still am :) in my head, but not in my body.

We live in a world and culture where we think so much of the body and fear its loss of power. People are consumed by body image – by being slender, or muscular, or athletic – we are warned at every corner about the perils of mistreating our body through unhealthy diet or the like  - and when we express aging and our fears for the future, it is nearly always the body we refer to – I cannot do what I once wanted to – I am afraid of losing my physical ability – we feel very threatened by old people who have lost control of their bodies. YET for all we think of the body, we actually think very little of it in temrs of our identity – we do not think ‘I am my body’ we understand the self in a psychological/emotional/ spiritual sense – like the Greek idea of the Soul a persons essence – but to say ‘I am also my body’ comes as a strange idea – obsessed with the body but denying we are our bodies – AND we think very little if Anything of its place in our faith. We hear these words of St Paul, ; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified,  and we either fail to comprehend what he is going on about, or, probably after that dismiss him as some strange ascetic. What after all has Faith to do with the body?? As long as he keeps faith he will be ok, surely? How can the body threaten his own salvation??? Surely faith is a matter of thinking the right things?? What has faith got to do with the body. Dismissing St Paul – psychologising him and finding ways to write him off has been popular for a number of years – we always try to dismiss what we don’t understand . . . to our great loss

One of the earliest battles the church had to fight doctrinally was the denial of the Real humanity of Christ – his embodiedness. Indeed the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was not fought for because as we might like to think it was miraculous and therefore divine, rather that it Proved Jesus was Flesh and blood!! Early Christianity grew up in a body denying Greek culture, that is why we speak of the soul although such an idea is hard to find in Scripture, certainly as we think of it. Body denying. Finally the battle was won, but then forgotten and the demon sneaked in through the back door finding the house empty and swept clean – and nowadays it is rare to say the least to hear anything of the VITAL necessity of the body in faith – so we can dismiss Paul


The Word became Flesh . . . and we have seen his glory

John REFUSES point blank to allow us to disconnect the flesh and blood Jesus of Nazareth with ‘the Christ of faith’ which has implications for us which I haven’t got time to go into now – but for him and for the early church the embodiedness of Christ was Essential.

Listen again

We declare to you what was from the beginning (LOGOS), what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed – they TOUCHED the LIFE

Last week I used the story of Peter and John at the Temple to dramatically illustrate how in the Christendom church we have substituted the Life of God for idols, silver and gold, education, buildings, things which look impressive to the world. But they looked at Peter and John and said – these are uneducated men – they said of Paul – his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible – it was said about Christ ‘there was nothing in his appearance that we should desire him’. Paul was physically spent spreading the gospel throughout the gentile world – and there is something in that story of the healing of the lame man that I am sure we may think of no account : Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

Why take him by the hand? Why mention that? Why didn’t Peter just command him to get up?? Surely faith is enough?? And Yes faith is enough – but the Body is the vehicle of faith. If you examine all the accounts of Jesus healing people – what are exceptional are those healings where Jesus does NOT touch, and in Every single case where he does Not touch there is something else at stake – without Exception. His glory is revealed in the body and by His body. His Glory is inseparable from His body for in his humanity, it is The Glory of the First Adam before he chose to hide.
His glory is revealed in the body - A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. – Jesus Stretched out his hand and touched him – his body the vehicle of Life.

Lepers were cut off – they were cut off because of fear – fear that their disease was infectious – but actually that cutting off from society was a broader manifestation of their condition. Leprosy is a bacterially caused condition which afflicts the sensory nervous system so you cannot feel – the disfigurment of leprosy is brought about in part because if you cannot feel your skin is damaged. We have little inkling of how awful life would be if we could not feel, of how quickly our skin would be damaged and we would be disfigured. In a sense we too have lost touch with our bodies.

Recently I’ve taken to walking barefoot a lot and also doing a little running barefoot. What you rapidly realize is how sensitive the foot is and how shoes numb you to your surroundings. Following the advice of leaders in the field I’ve tried not to avoid sharp gravel, but rather let it re-educate my feet. Remembering things they had forgotten. Encased in shoes feet become weak and lost touch. So similarly enclosed in understanding of faith which doesn’t require the sensitivity of the body or sensitivity to the body we too, you might say have become lepers. Cut off. Having a disembodied faith – not recognizing the VITAL role a body has to play.

Jesus’ glory is revealed in the body and by the body - and that is How God’s glory is to be revealed in us.

We cannot be present to someone without our bodies – we cannot be a vehicle of God’s Life without our bodies – and in the customs of the church we still have a memory of this, but do we realize it is Essential??? – we still ordain through the laying on of hands, but do we realise that we have to in order to be vehicles of God’s power? – we still lay hands on the sick although less than we did because of ( I suggest mistaken ) concerns over vulnerability. Do we realize that this is Essential??? That this is No Mere comfort – it is No mere symbol – Faith is Enacted in and through the body – faith is not ideas, is is Eternal Life and human Life is utterly identified with the body.

Lent is fast approaching. A season of Discipline and there are several in which the body is most clearly involved – most obviously Fasting. Fasting is a discipline which I think has almost fallen into universal disuse throughout the Western Church. Very few books are written on it, none when put in comparison with prayer and other aspects of Christian disciplines. Yet it is The Discipline that most rapidly reconnects our faith to our body. The Christendom church learnt to live on the bread of silver and gold, of education, of buildings – and forgot that it’s true bread was the Power of god present amongst us. The individual likewise has forgotten that man lives not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God and so as St Paul warns, our stomachs are all too often our gods, in other words our bodies have become dominated by that which should not dominate them. We have been overpowered – Fasting sharply reminds us of that. We find neat theological sounding excuses for not fasting as we do with other commands of God.
Fasting is a gift - It’s like walking barefoot – all of a sudden we become sharply aware of how out of touch with our bodies we have become –Bodies which are Vital to our faith. We begin to reconnect the two

Perhaps in Lent we might revisit this – for the Word became Flesh – and the Word hungered in the desert – and the Word learnt obedience in the body – and Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, took that body and broke it for the sake of the world.

May we again learn the true power of Life that dares take on Flesh.