Take Up Thy Cross

Gospel of Mark. 8:31-38. 

 ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Intro. Alexey Vanalny and Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia professes to be a Russian Orthodox Christian but many may wonder if his actions go with his profession of faith. In contrast Alexey Navalny who recently died in prison was originally a militant atheist who converted to a Christian faith and said his new found faith made circumstances easier for him.

 There are fewer dilemmas in my life, because there is a book in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what action to take in every situation.”

In August 2020, Navalny became unwell during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. He was rushed to a hospital and later evacuated to Germany where he received treatment. The cause of his illness was determined to be a poisoning. Navalny himself accused President Putin of being behind the plot against his life. Shortly after his recovery, in January 2021, the opposition leader returned to Russia. He was promptly arrested upon his arrival at the airport.

During this court case, Navalny pointed out that the Bible text

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” was very encouraging to him. 

He called the verse “more or less an instruction to activity.” And that helped him to endure the circumstances he found himself in while being imprisoned. He added. I feel a real kind of satisfaction. Because at some difficult moments, I did as required by the instructions and did not betray the commandment.”

Alexey is now one of the modern Christian martyrs who “took up the Cross of Christ” for the good of his nation and society. 

I mention that because of our gospel reading  and Jesus’ words to the disciples and the crowd. 

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

The Way of His Kingdom for Jesus involves dying in shame and agony on a Cross but also His own disciples must be prepared for suffering to and possibly their own deaths. Jesus warning became a realty over the first 200 years of the Church’s existence and growth. First persecuted by unbelieving fellow Jews and then various Roman leaders until the reign of Constantine. Legends tell how 10 of Jesus original 12 disciples were killed because of their witness to Him, and many others of their successors. The warning to Simon and the disciples was an utter shock and we should realise how shocking it was, against their expectations. 

The disciples of Jesus were hoping for the Kingdom of God to be set up by Him but for them this was hope based on a political kingdom with Jesus as literal King over a freed Israel. But such an earthly reign that have made Jesus just part of the power structures of the world. What Jesus was and is bringing is something radically different to the realms of human politics and society. Simon Peter, the disciples and the developing Church be needed to realise the path to the K of Christ was not an easy march to glory. Instead Jesus confronts the worst realities of all human waywardness. 

There is the vast array of individual and collective selfishness and corruption of politics, society and even religious beliefs and laws. For many in the world that reality of persecution and suffering for Christ and His real Kingdom beyond the world and time and space continues. When people profess Christ and live out the realities of His love they may face opposition from the elements of leadership and society that hates what He stands for and represents. 

I do not think most of us will face that kind of opposition and danger to our lives. But if we do have to suffer in some way that is for His sake and the sake of His love, we will be in the best company of Him and all who have done so. 

So what does carrying the Cross mean today when we are not under persecution? 

Again we must think of the Kingdom of Christ that is not of this world and is at odds against all the sin filled corruption that is in us and around us. Our cross is to be part of the conflict with all that corrupts and degrades our own lives and the lives of those around us. Our Cross to carry is living the higher motives and actions of His self-giving love. the Cross is the symbol of the “I ” crossed out. 

There is a lot in the many varied historic spiritual and traditions of the Church that call us to put our selfish self and desires to death. To nail them to the cross.We recognise the selfish ways in which we may act, that cause hurt for others and seek forgives and inward reform. All the crises and suffering we see and experience can lead us think about our relationships with Christ and our inner need of change to enter into deeper unity with Him and all that He is. 

Our destiny is eternal life in union with Him but that pathway involves facing up to ourselves and what we can be. It includes imitating Him, acting in His love in every aspect of out lives. It is that path that is not only good for us personally, it is also good for the world. 

Forgiveness even when its difficult

Readings

Romans 14: 1-12

Matthew 18: 21-35

Introduction. Truth and Reconciliation 

After the long history of white minority government in South Africa came to an end there were still many historic things that caused anger and resentment

To try ate heal this legacy -July 1995 South Africa’s new parliament passed a law authorising the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The central purpose of the Commission was to promote re-conciliation and forgiveness among perpetrators and victims of past conflict. The TRC took the testimony of approximately 21 000 victims; 2 000 of these appeared in public hearings.

At the time Desmond Tutu wrote: 

“One cannot change what has happened, but one can seek to forgive and reconcile. We are in the midst of a historic week, and regardless of how you voted, we all must now find a way to heal and move forward.

I mention this because of today’s gospel reading that is about forgiveness and the story Jesus tells in answer to a question. 

“How  much should I forgive my brother”. 

The word brother could be about a family relation or even wider family cousin. 

But in relation to the Church it has far wider implications and we come to realise that we are all as human beings children of the same Heavenly Father and in that respect thew whole world are our bothers and sisters. 

The Big Debt we have 

The story Jesus tells is about cancelling debts. 

When we say the Lord’s prayer we ask for forgiveness of our sins or our “trespasses” our injuries done to our neighbours and failure ti serve God and them. That word translated as Sins or Trespasses could equally be translated as Debt and fits in with social situation in which Jesus taught. 

The story suggests  owe to God and all people our love and honour and every sin or injury is a kind of unpaid debt. Things done that are wrong or not doing the right puts us in debt to God and to them. Over a lifetime of doing wrongs or not doing the right we have huge dept to God and everyone to whom we have not given His love. 

We can never make up for all of this failure and must rely on His promise that through Jesus and His death on the cross it is cancelled. It is  in the light of this love and cancelation of our debts to God and whole worldwide family of brothers and sisters we should think of others offences against us and then our need to forgive because we are forgiven. 

Every day we are in danger of causing hurt because of our failings. We should see each others sins against us in the same light. We may be constantly be in need of forgiveness and so we should be prepared to forgive others when they hurt us. Without forgiveness we may actually end up with even more hurting, as we have grievance about one thing it may be magnified in to all sorts of other anger and hurt against others. 

“I can’t forgive him/her”

But I have heard before “I can’t forgive him/her for what happened to me and what he/she did to me , or a someone I love” We may think of sins of violence and abuse that people may find hard to forgive. 

Back to DT and the TR Comm

So I come back to Demond tutu and the TR Committee 

He has written elsewhere about his own experiences of domestic abuse of his father and the various serious abuses in SA in its history. 

Some of the things he wrote:

When I recall my story, I realise how difficult the process of forgiving truly is. Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain. 

Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all. 

But it is still difficult. 

The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them.

No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me. But on any given day, in any given situation, in any painful life experience, this glory and goodness can be forgotten, obscured or lost. 

Remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking. 

Desmond Tutu invites us to look at out own lives and how they may have been shaped by goodness of others and try to understand why others have been shaped by violence and hatred. We may recall saying “There but for the grace of God go I”. That if God’s goodness had not shaped us in whatever good that we are we may have become like the people that hurt us and that our own anger may also lead us in bad directions. 

Finally we remember Christ Himself

Hateful and twisted religious and political motives led Him to corrupted and unfair trials, abuse, torture and death in the most vile and painful way. 

But on the Cross He did not cry out for vengeance. 

He practiced the very forgiveness He had taught.

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do

It is in communion with Him with the aid of the Holy Spirit that we may find the love for others to say the same, even in the most difficult of circumstances. 

Prayer 

Dear Lord Jesus

In the trials against you, and bearing and hanging on the cross, you suffered the most terrible injustices against you and carried all the wrong doing of the world from the beginnings of humanity, the present and future still so come .

Help me to overcome the hurts and wrongs people do against me and help me too share in your words  of forgiveness. 

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Did Jesus know everything in His earthy life? This is a copy of sermon I preached that says He did not but needed the Spirit to lead Him and His disciples to a bigger vision of what His mission was to be.

Readings 

Isaiah (56:1, 6-8) 

Romans (11.1-2a, 29-32)

Matthew (15:21-28) 

Introduction

We believe that Jesus was not just a man, a human being, but in Him was also the united presence of the Eternal and Infinite Word. He had divinity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is indeed that special union that makes Him “Son of God” in the most special way. 

That affirmation has always brought questions  about how His divine nature fitted with His human nature and how His life on earth was directed and lived. 

Today I want to share a view of this from Charles Gore who was a Church of England Bishop of Worcester, then Birmingham, and finally of Oxford.

He lived in the aftermath of Charles Darwin at a time of considerable theological controversy of Darwin, bible and the Catholic heritage of the Church of England. One thing that was quite controversial was his suggestion that although divine and human Jesus did not always know everything. Jesus was limited to most human knowledge as we are and any special knowledge or acts He did came from the Holy Spirit resting on Him at His Baptism. It was the Spirit and not His own internal presence of divine being that moved Him to do as He did, so acting and being human like all of us subject to pain and emotions and temptations. Only this way could He live a truly human life. Others before and after Gore preached and wrote similar things and today what he wrote and preached may not be so controversial. 

The idea that Jesus was limited in His knowledge but led to act by the Holy Spirit makes a lot of sense when we read some parts of the gospels and is possibly key to understand Jesus reactions to the Canaanite women in the gospel passage today. 

At first sight Jesus responses to her request may seem uncaring, rude or even worse. 

‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

What is going on here? Is Jesus being insulting to her because she is not Jewish? It would seem to us strange if He did. 

It is quite clear in gospels and other parts of the NT that Jesus was seen as the fulfilment of Israel’s Messianic hope, a Son of David, a prophet, priest and king of Israel. Even the Canaanite woman acknowledges this when she calls him “Son of David”. 

We do not know how she had come to hear of Jesus or why she thought He could help her daughter, but something had caused her to have faith and hope in Him.  We don’t know why Jesus went to that region of Israel that was so full of non-Jews. Maybe He wanted to minister to the Jews who did live there or just to get away for a few days for some recuperation. And then this non-Jew comes asking for a favour. 

His disciples also think she is just an underserving nuisance disturbing their master and their peace. Others outside of the flock of Israel may not have seemed  important to Jesus at the time.  

The New Vision 

It is here that we may see a new intervention of the Holy Spirit to reveal to Jesus and His disciples that He has bigger and more universal role in the future of all humanity. What drew this woman Jesus and what gave her faith in Jesus the Jewish rabbi and teacher? Surely it was the Holy Spirit that caused her faith and caused the encounter to take place. 

Her response to Him is both humble and startling.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”

Maybe she knows that not all of Jesus people are accepting His ministry and He is being rejected. 

Well if they don’t want Him she does!  Even a little scrap of His healing ministry can help her and her daughter. 

I think we should picture a surprise and smile on His face and a nod of approval from Jesus as He receives her answer and recognises her faith and so He grants her request.

There is another Gentile healing incident that takes place in the gospels. It is the healing of the servant of Roman Centurion. Jesus does not show any hesitancy in that case but possible the servant is Jewish. But here again Jesus is surprised by the faith of the Centurion who says “you do not need to come to my house. Just give the word and I know my servant will be healed”

It may be the encounter with both the Centurion and the Canaanite woman that adds to Jesus own vision about what His ministry means and will mean in the future. Jesus later parables included reference to new leaders and those outside of the fold being brought in. 

He read of Him saying in gospel of John that when He is “lifted up” on the cross He will draw all people to Himself. This is a new universal vision.At the end of Matthew’s gospel the Risen Christ sends His disciples into the whole world. An old prophet promise was being fulfilled:

And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer

It became the experience of Jesus disciples that many Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah but many from many other nations came to have faith in Jesus that changed their lives. 

Inheritors of the Divine Plan 

Since most of us are not Jewish we are the inheritors of that newly revealed divine plan. We are people being brought to Jesus, coming in faith to Him that He may change our lives.  In coming to Him we are drawn to each other and to other people and no race or person is inferior. All now have the same dignity and worth and so should be treated the same no matter where they come from.

Note: There is more on the website about Charles Gore and his view of Christ under Jesus Christ: The Divine and Human union.

 

The Light of Christ and Our Light

Matthew (5:13-20)

Last week we heard of old Simeon in the temple holding the infant Jesus in his arms and rejoicing that He was to the light to the Gentiles and the glory of “thy people” Israel. 

Our gospel reading today continues that double theme of light and glory of Israel and its past laws and prophetic tradition. 

Jesus says to His disciples:

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

Jesus is the fulfilment of that past and He is the New light, and that light is to be seen in His followers too. 

I want to start with the second of those themes because Light in the disciples of Jesus is related to it.

17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

Jesus had a radical approach to the Laws of Moses and the various traditions that had flowed from it and sometimes He was accused by His Pharisee critics of going against the laws and traditions of Israel.  They had added lots of traditions of their own interpretation of the Old Laws and it was often these rather than the Law that Jesus seemed to set aside. 

We need to understand there were lots of Laws of Moses and later traditions to cover every aspect of the life of the people of Israel:

Laws of bodily functions, sickness and purification to be fit come into God’s presence

Laws related to the Sabbath and special festivals

Laws relating to family life and relations with others

Laws relating to crimes related punishments

Laws relating to treatment of slaves and “strangers” in the land

Laws relating to looking after the land and the livestock

Laws relating to offerings of thanksgiving 

Laws relating to “sin offerings” because of offences against God or neighbours 

The list goes on.. (you get the picture!) 

On another occasion answering questions Jesus simply quotes two laws that He says sum up what all the others laws of Moses are about…. 

The First- to Love God with your whole being

The Second – to love your neighbour so much that you desire as much good for them as you would want goodness done to you. 

This was what the whole of the Laws tried to do with its multiple regulations and obligations. 

In these two laws we see …

The vertical dimension- lTo direct our minds and lives to God who comes to us , 

and the horizontal dimension of our obligations of love and care to people and all the world around us. 

The gospels show that whole of Jesus own life and ministry displayed that double commitment 

and when He appeared to break laws He was often fulfilling the true essence of the Law in these two ways, even if not in exact detail for every law that existed that the Pharisees insisted on. 

Jesus also talks about the fact that the prophets of the past in their messages to Israel really point to Himself and in His life was fulfilling so many of God’s promises to Israel to be extended to the Gentile world as part of His mission to the whole world. 

His words and actions always raised up the poor and weak but troubled the proud and uncaring just like the prophets of old had.

Jesus was always the great Prophet and Finality of all the Prophets. 

In what Jesus said and did He is God’s Final Word to Israel and indeed also the Final and most important Word and revelation rest of the world, and no one can ever be greater than Him. 

Jesus is superior to very philosophy and religion. It was indeed all this that makes Jesus the Light for all the nations, to draw all things together in Himself and bring a universal unity with God. 

Our Light is His light in Us. 

Jesus also said 

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

What is this light we have that is to shown to all? 

Well it is not our own light that comes from our weak efforts of living a good life. What we have is the Light that may grow within us and expresses Jesus and Hs eternal light and glory. 

Our being Light givers is related to Him as the One True Light for the world.

It is when we are involved in our self offering to Him, we are fulling that First Command to Love God with our whole being. As we pay attention to that we become bound up in the following the Second Commandment of loving our neighbours.

And that love is not just for those close to us and who we live with and like, but extend to all people across cultures and every boundary humans selfishly make. 

In Jesus we come to be the Light because we are engaged in His way of being  Light and Hope and way for the world. 

There has been recent news of continued declines in church attendance should make us even more aware of our individual calling to be the Light of Christ for our less believing society, to be the living examples of how our society can be better, and confront the forces of selfish ideologies

We will be the Light of Christ whenever we show His unlimited loving and self sacrifice for the good. 

We will be His Light when we act in honesty, and charity , when we care for people near and far, and stand for their dignity and rights.

We will be His light when we confront the wrongs of society in His name and all call politicians and those in power to account for their policies and actions. 

We will be His lIght when we care about our world and all its people and creatures. 

And strangely when we are engaged in it, people seeing it may come to know Christ and God for themselves.    

A-men

That you may believe…

Sermon on St Thomas and having faith

These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Reading: John 20:19-31)

Some years ago my wife and I went on an Aegean cruise visiting biblical sites. One of the places were stopped at was Ephesus, the –traditional place where the Apostle John is said to have settled, preached and lived with Mary the mother of Jesus. This also the place where it is said that John in his old age published the gospel written in his name. (Although some scholars think  others wrote it for him).  

The end relates to the beginning 

In our story today we see the disciples experiencing the joy of seeing Jesus alive after His horrific death. We read of Thomas missing out on first appearance and not believing what he is told by the others. But when he does see Jesus Thomas declares my Lord and my God” 

This is something new and a new revelationPreviously St Peter had declared You are the Messiah (Christ)”

Now –The disciples had finally come to see that Jesus was more than Israel’s promised Messiah and all of their experiences had led them to that understanding what John puts at the start of his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 

We also read in the gospel story  Jesus recognised by the marks that even His newly risen body bares. He will carry those marks forever as sign of who He is- The Crucified Son of God whose suffering has been for the world

There is a verse from a well know hymn

Crown Him the Lord of Love:  Behold His hands and side;
Rich wounds yet visible above   In beauty glorified:
  No angel in the sky  Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye   At mysteries so bright.

The doubts of Thomas

Back to Thomas, who is often remembered from this story as “doubting Thomas”, but that is unfair. All the disciples apart from John seem to doubted Jesus resurrection until He appeared in the room with them. 

It may be that many people today have doubts about various parts of Christian creeds. I was confirmed at about 14 yrs old but had some serious doubts about a variety things in my late teens and early 20’s. 

I remain involved with the church choir  and so remained in the church and tried to sort them out by reading about the things that concerned me. 

My reading took me on a long intellectual journey that covered things like the reliability of the bible as source of revelation, the person of Jesus and the things written about Him. It is strangely the fruits of all that investigation that led me to be trained as a Reader when I was 28 and was licensed three years later in Sep 1988

What I can affirm

Despite many apparent discrepancies in the gospel accounts they paint a real picture of Jesus and His uniqueness and the presence of God in His nature, more important than any other person in history. 

The resurrection stories tell of something that really happened and experienced by the disciples that changed their lives and their whole outlook on the world. 

There really was an empty tomb and the body of Jesus was not just brought back to life it was radically transformed. 

This transformation that happened to Jesus points to God’s intention to transform and change everything in the universe and compensate for all the suffering and evil that takes place. 

The Resurrection is not just some symbol of some heavenly existence after our death, 

it can be a symbol of how our lives can be transformed by His love for us and the world even in the present, 

It is about a great future completing of all God’s intention and purpose that was started with universe 13.7 billion years ago. 

Post-script story

Some years ago Usha and I had a visit to Kerala (South India).  It is one of the most Christian states in India.

Among the many churches are the Mar-Thomist Orthodox Christians – dating back to the first churches long before European missionaries arrived. 

These churches trace their origins to the preaching of St Thomas coming to Indian AD 52. According to some accounts he was martyred, killed by spear in AD72.  the Feast of Saint Thomas on July 3 is celebrated as Indian Christians’ Day.

The name Thomas remains quite popular among the Saint Thomas Christians of the Indian subcontinent.

So Thomas is not Thomas the Doubter, but Thomas the brave and Apostle to India. 

Jesus in the wilderness: Choices to be made

Mark 1: 9-15

Forty days and forty nights

Thou was fasting in the wild

Forty days and forty nights,

Tempted yet still undefiled

 

Marks mentions Jesus entering into the wilderness and being tempted in just three brief sentences.

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him”.

Mathew and Luke elaborate on the kind of temptations Jesus had, which were unique to Him as the Son of God. Jesus had just had the most amazing experience as He was baptised. He had confirmed to Him something He may have been partly conscious of for most of His life. What a brilliant and awesome revelation! But what would it mean for Him and what He had to do from that point on? What would it mean for Him knowing He was the Son of God with a special vocation?

Jesus had real temptations. Some may suppose that Jesus as God’s Son had it easy in resisting temptation. He had all knowledge and could never sin. But I rather to think Jesus, truly being human had to have some limitation to his knowledge and that if He really was to be one of us did have the potential to say “no” to God’s will for Him. He had real freedom of will and choice and so He could have fallen into temptation and failed.

Jesus greatness is not that He could not sin, it was that He could have sinned but did not. He knew He must follow what He felt God was calling Him to do

He was always conscious that He must be doing the business of His heavenly Father and follow the divine will.

He also became aware at various times that His commitment to His Father would lead Him into conflict with the religious and civil authorities and would lead to His arrest and death.

So, in the wilderness and at other times of His ministry, and in the Garden of Gethsemani Jesus was tempted to take the easy way out and avoid the conflict with the authorities and avoid the arrest and crucifixion. It is His greatness and glory that He always chose the will of God and not His own desires. He conquered His own desires and because He conquered them He is the power that helps us to conquer our temptations too.

This leads me to consider how we make out choices in life and how we decide to follow Christ or not in each and every day. A few years ago I came across something written by the Franciscan Philosopher John Duns Scotus as he examines what motivates people in their choices of what they may do.

In the first place people have a will to do what they think pleases them and gives them some joy and advantage. We can call this the Self will. It includes those natural inclinations to look after ourselves, find food and home, some-one to love and love for family and various comforts in life. The problem with the Self- will is that it can become corrupted. Every action becomes that of self satisfaction, irrespective of law, or conflict with others. The worst person to live and work with is always seeking their own will to satisfy themselves. It can become a reason why marriages and partnerships fail.

But says Scotus, there is another motive for doing things. It is what we may call the will to do God’s Loving Justice. It is the impulse to do what pleases God and brings His goodness into what we do. We can have will to have God’s goodness and do God’s goodness even if we have to say “no” to our desires. We can say “yes to God’s goodness, and “no” to self. Indeed throughout our Christian spiritual journey our desires for ourselves should become the same as doing God’s goodness, as we delight in doing that above all else.

Coming back to Jesus and His temptations, Jesus always chose God’s Goodness even at the cost of persecution and hanging on the cross. Although we have not had that great experience of Jesus of His Baptism. In essence we do know that God says to us in our baptism and ever after

“You are my beloved. I have a destiny and purpose for you, I have provided for you to have a share of my Eternity and fellowship, if you will accept it”

In the light of that promise, every day we may have choices to make, to be motivated by just what pleases us or to be motivated to choose what God wills for us and to respond and do it. Each day we can choose the better will. Each day we can have as our desire to do the Will of Him who also blesses us and sends us into the world.

I began with the words of a well known Lenten hymn.

I end with two more verses

 

And if Satan vexing sore

Flesh or spirit should assail

Thou his vanquisher before

Grant that we not faint nor fail

 

Keep oh keep us Saviour dear

Every constant by thy side

That with thee we may appear

At that eternal Eastertide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Infinite becomes Finite

A meditation on the Birth of Christ.

Forget the cosy stable scenes. Christ is born into the reality of our often selfish, hurtful and nasty existence

 

Behold the wonder that we celebrate

The eternal and infinite Word from God, from before the origin of our vast cosmos billions of years ago, comes to be joined to human existence.

The great wonder of it.

So gracious and beyond our desiring, indeed even coming when we have not known or thought about it.

But why did He come?

To save us from all or our follies and brokenness and sin?

Ah yes but so much more..

For from the beginning and even before our sinful existence came to be upon the earth, He was already predestined to come and be joined to our flesh, just because of the glory such a union would be, and create a centre for the joyful union of all life that sprang from Him.

His was a Cosmic destiny that unites all that He caused to exist and loved from the beginning.

And to what sort of world did He come?

The one that we know, so broken and unjust, often nasty , selfish and hurtful

So beautiful but spoilt and degraded

Where men and women care not for those different to themselves

Where people lived in hovels while others lived in rich mansions

Where many had little to eat, while others were bloated with food and wine

Where women had less status than men, and had not the same rights as men wished for themselves.

Where people cause cruelty and death against the innocent in war and people were no more than unfortunate victims of others violence and schemes.

Yes He came to a world like ours. The Roman world just as bad as ours.

So do not think of cosy stables, with attendant donkey or cattle

Do not think for happy pictures of shepherds with their little lambs, or sages with strange gifts from afar

Think instead of a baby, wrapped in rags in makeshift cot, in a cellar in the ruins of the rubble of Alleppo

For that is the world into which the most gracious and infinite Word has come and ever comes, and sighs and cries with us

..and tries to raise our gaze to what things can be instead.

 

Charles Gore

What follows was a sermon that was part of series on “Turbulent Priests” in our church team. Charles Gore was in his time controversial but is perhaps less so when remembered today.

Some of what Gore wrote will feature in what I write about Jesus and His divinity and humanity and the nature of the incarnation. 

 

Introduction- Two books

I have at home two old second hand books by Charles Gore; “Belief in God” and “Bampton Lectures”.

The Bampton Lectures was a series of lectures on the nature of Christ and the Incarnation. I later discovered they were Controversial in their time.

More about that later..

Biographical

Charles Gore was born in Wimbledon in January 1853 and ordained as priest 1878 (aged 25 years). He was successively bishop at Worcester, Oxford and the newly created diocese of Birmingham. He founded the priestly ” Community of the Resurrection” as well as co-founded the Christian Social Union.  Interestingly I found out that Gore licensed 21 women as Lay Readers and called them the “Diocesan Band of Women Messengers”.  These were possibly the first female Lay Readers in the Church of England although full developments for women Readers nationally had to wait for many more years

So why was Charles Gore controversial and a “turbulent priest”? I want to pick out three reasons.

A modern approach to scripture

Gore was an heir to the Catholic Oxford Movement that held a high place of scriptural authority and the church as guardian of scripture and doctrine related to it. But Gore had a controversial in his critical view of scripture. He responded to what many biblical scholars were saying in European universities and he also wrote in response to scientific discoveries and in the wake of Darwin’s Evolution of Species by Natural Selection.  The Old Testament in particular showed many historical problems did not hold up to more modern scrutiny in the light of science and history.

Gore wrote:

The Anglo-Catholic movement has had to abandon the conception of the Bible in all its parts and statements as ‘the infallible book,’ and of inspiration as guaranteeing its subjects against any kind of error.  It has had to recognize that divine inspiration does not impart to the prophet scientific or historical information, but concerns only the knowledge of God and of the spiritual life: and that the divine education of men which the Old Testament records was a very gradual and progressive purpose…..

Gore also raised questions that others were saying about the New Testament including questions about the composition of the New Testament and how the gospels came to be written and he again took a quite modern critical view that he did not think damaged the content of the revelation of God in Jesus.

The Gospels made no claim to infallibility; and that some at least of the Fathers of chief authority show, in their treatment of the Bible, a singular affinity with modern ideas.

Gore’s views on critical scholarship set him at odds with many of the Evangelicals and traditional Anglo-Catholics in the church at the time. In retrospect today.  Gore was simply one leading figure among scholars and church people who was trying to make a reasonable apologetic faith in the light of history, science and critical enquiry in to the origins and functions of various parts of the bible. He is still a signpost for the kind of critical engagement between the world of scripture and the world we are coming to know through other kinds of knowledge and enquiry.

 A revised view of Jesus and His divine and human knowledge

Gore’s second clash was about how we are to see Jesus in relation to His Humanity and His Divinity. This comes out in his Bampton Lectures on the Incarnate Christ. There is a strong strand in Christian thought that Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God had all the knowledge and power of God at His disposal. Jesus quoted the OT scriptures and had all knowledge of people and things in all times and places.

But then a problem arises. Critical enquiry had shown different views on the history of the earth, and the OT was not always historically accurate. Since Jesus quoted texts that may be historically wrong Jesus how could He have been wrong if He had all God’s knowledge? Also at times in the gospels Jesus seems surprised at what people say and do. How could he be surprised by anyone if He had God’s complete knowledge of them? The question arises did Jesus truly know everything as Son of God?

Gore picks up a strand of thought I also discovered from John Duns Scotus many centuries before. It’s called “Kenotic Christology” (from the Greek word “Kenosis” = Emptied”) and comes from Phillipiians 2  We read that Jesus,

having the nature of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but “emptied himself,” and took the nature of a servant.

Gore argued that in the Incarnation the Divine Word when He took upon Himself our flesh took upon Himself the limitations of our human nature and accepted the limitations of human knowledge. The divine Word empties Himself of power and knowledge in order to come among us and be servant. Christ in His Humanity was subject to human limitations of knowledge. The Word dwells in Jesus without taking away his humanity and self-will.

Jesus could have sinned but He did not. If He could not have been really tempted to sin He could not be like us. He prayed to the Father completely as one of us. He feels fear and anguish as one of us and feels abandoned on the cross as any of us may have done. Jesus could only be our saviour if He was truly like us and suffered many of our limitations of knowledge and action.

Again what Gore said about this was quite controversial and detracted from what many people thought about Jesus. It was again part of Gore’s attempt to show a reasonable faith in the real human Jesus who was still the bearer and embodiment of God’s Eternal Word.

Social and political issues

 Gore might also be called the “a red bishop” ( a Communist) . He was also a Christian Socialist.  He had been one of the founding members of the Christian Social Union

  1. To claim for the Christian Law the ultimate authority to rule social practice.
  2. To study in common how to apply the moral truths and principles of Christianity to the social and economic problems of the present time.
  3. To present Christ in practical life as the Living Master and King, the enemy of wrong and selfishness, the power of righteousness and love.

Gore opposed what we may call “sweatshops”; work places with unacceptable working conditions; long hours for low pay. As tension increased between the British government and the Boer republics of South Africa, Gore denounced British Imperialism. He denounced the British policy of rounding up Boer civilians in detention camps, where the mortality rate was very high. He wrote a fierce letter on the subject to The Times

As a further example of his political leanings, while he was Bishop of Oxford, in 1911 a major labour dispute arose in Reading, and Gore publicly sided with the workers, giving them money, and pressing for a panel of inquiry into the living conditions of the workers. The report of the panel favoured the workers’ cause, and won for Gore a great deal of gratitude and affection among working-class people in his diocese and elsewhere.

Conclusion

Gore died in 1932 after a long trip to India what left him exhausted. He had pneumonia and lapsed into a coma.

Although considered controversial in his time Gore was some-one trying to bring the church into contact with the realities of the modern world and critical thought related to science and biblical historical research. We similarly today need to continue to think about how science and other knowledge impacts upon our view of scripture. We must seek to – maintain a reasonable and credible faith in the gospel of Jesus the light of modern knowledge.

Gore was also a socially and politically minded Catholic who wanted to see social change. For him the church is not just about individual salvation and rescue from the world. The church is to be an agency of God’s goodness in the world, a true alternative society that changes society by what it does.

May we in our own way today honour Gore’s legacy and what he tried to bring to the church for the sake of Christ and our society

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers

Thanks for Gore’s life

Bringing science and biblical scholarship together

Our witness to the humanity of Jesus- united to the Word

Our desire to see the love of Christ made active in the life of our community and nation

Rem the victims terrorist violence and the wars going on Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa. –

Our involvement in challenging politicians for creating Just peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divine Humility

Our Humility from God

Text. Luke 17:5-10

The disciples ask for more faith. Jesus tells them a parable about a slave serving the master. The story is about humility

Introduction – A question from a workmate

 A few years ago at work a few of us with gathered in the office having a tea-time chat about pay and pay rises. One of my colleagues asked

 – Why should we expect a pay rise or bonus for doing our job? We’re doing what we should do so why expect any extra for doing it?

My colleague is not a Christian, but without realising it he was asking a question related to the Christian virtue of humility. There is so much in society that assumes that some people are worth more than others, or more worthy or unworthy than others to have particular things. We live in a very competitive world and people like to be appreciated and expect rewards if they do well. People compete for recognition or promotion and higher salaries or other material rewards or status.  It can become unsettling or hurtful if we don’t get what we want or expect in our comparisons to other people. Humility challenges assumptions about rewards and status and worth and is in fact at the centre of today’s gospel reading.

Two parts to the story

There are two parts to the reading that is about faith but leading onto a story about humility. The two are related.

Firstly – “Increase our faith”

The passage opens with the disciples request “Lord increase our faith”.

It is said with some urgency, but why have they asked it? In fact there is a bit missing and we have to go back a few verses before (1-5). Jesus has been talking about brothers and sisters of faith who be a stumbling block to each other.

They may be hurt by it but must forgive, and do so seven times a day if necessary.

“if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you

.The disciples think this demand to be so forgiving over and over again is just to much and will demand a lot of faith. Hence their request to be shown how to get faith big enough to keep on forgiving. So Jesus replies that faith the size of mustard seed can uproot a tree with big roots. They only need a little faith to what may seem extraordinary, because it’s not about how much faith they have or think they need, it is about the Infinite God who is on their side and equips them to do the seemingly difficult thing of perpetual forgiveness.

What they really need is the humility that accepts they can’t do it but God can enable them to do so. The real faith is the little faith they can have in God who is some much greater than they are, and who is their Lord and constant friend, who Himself will never let them down. Their problem of “faith” is really a problem of needing a greater sense of dependency on God’s power working within them.

Unending Humble service

So then we come to what seems a demanding story of continuous labour without expectation of favours from the master.

The slave is expected to do what His master wants, with no special favours. It was probably a common scene in Jesus day. There were often no special conditions of service. You had to just get on with doing what you were supposed to do. The slave may well have food and shelter provided as part of the conditions of service, but the slave had to do what was required without anything extra.

In one way this seems to say that the master asks of us to do something and we must do it. If God calls and we obey that’s the norm that is expected. We are just asked to get on with what we must do as part of our Christian service to God and the community.

In that respect we should never expect any special rewards for doing what is right and good, either towards God or indeed in any acts of service or work. In that way this story is about a humbleness that knows our place to be people ever ready for service to God and others. It challenges every material expection of personal advancement and expected favours and rewards we think we may have earned, to be higher and more deserving than others.

However we should not take that story in isolation and I would not hold with the idea that God is the ever demanding Lord who gives us no acknowledgment or love or reward for our service. There are other sayings and parables that Jesus paints a complete role reversal. There are times when the Master serves the servants. Again in Luke, when he writes about the future reward of the faithful servants he recalls Jesus words:

It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.

We should also recall that act of Jesus Himself in John’s record of the Last Supper when Jesus washes the disciple’s feet as sign of His own love for them and the fellowship mutual fellowship they ought to have for each other. The Master stoops down in loving service to his Beloved.

 

The Humility of God

Which brings me to the next point. Humility not just a demand from God, it’s part of the divine nature.

St Francis of Assisi is credited with setting up the first Christmas Crib scene. He wanted to show the love and Humility of God, the Word Made flesh tiny and vulnerable in the straw and among the beasts in the stable. This was God stooping down into our lives in everlasting service to us. There in the straw God is so humbly for our sake.

This has become a feature of Franciscan teaching down to modern times. God’s own nature contains the virtue of Humility. God in God’s own nature is Humble Love that makes space for the whole of creation. The whole acts of creation are God being humble. God does not need creation, He does not need us, but He calls us into being out of His own Love.

But when I say “God” or “He” I mean the whole Trinity, Father, Soon and Holy Spirit. Their eternal life together has the very essence of Humble Love that is the most perfect goodness. The original production of the Son (Word) from the Father, and the production of the Spirit, breathed out before all time, is the eternal love than gives and gives. This is the nature of the divine love.

So when God asks us to be humble it is our own invitation to a share God’s own nature that is humble love. It is not something extra-ordinary or something we must do to satisfy some law or demanding morality. God invites us into a state of Humility because that’s what the everlasting divine life is about. In being humble and living in Humility we are being the likeness of God we are intended and destined to have.

 

Humility and the Cosmos

Over the last few years several authors of books and articles I have read about faith and science emphasis this link between God’s Humility and God creating the universe with its own freedom to develop and evolve. God stands back and let’s-be to give life a chance to develop of its own accord with all the possibilities. The cosmos exists as part of Gods’ Humble nature. God waits in patience for things to unfold over billions of years. Creation by evolution is a process founded upon God’s own Humble Love.

Because of that freedom in creation things go wrong and get bad and remain bad. Things remain bad and disordered because things have not yet reached completion. Yet it is into the mess and disorder and selfishness that God comes to share in the present suffering and pain of our existence, born as baby and suffering injustice and death upon the cross. That is the fullest extent of God’s humble love.

 

Humility and Forgiveness

This takes us back to the disciples request for more faith. They want more faith to deal with the disordered relationships they find around them. But God is Infinite and if we see ourselves selves in the light of God’s own Infinite and Humble love then it will be so much easier.

When we see our own lives in the light of God’s own being then everything looks different. Forgiveness becomes more possible. Humble service becomes more possible

Franciscan Principle of Humility 

So finally having talked about the Franciscan tradition I want to end with some quotes from the Society of St Francis.

We always keep before us the example of Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and who, on the last night of his life, humbly washed his disciples’ feet. We likewise seek to serve one another with humility.

 Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God

 The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism.

 We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s.

 We are ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy or incapable, we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.

 Lord Jesus, May we share in your love that is infinite and humble. A-,men

The Rainbow Connection

A modern look at Noah and the Rainbow

This is taken from a recent sermon about a possible meaning for the story of Noah today.

Texts

Genesis 8. 15- 9.17

Mark 4. 1-20

While I was thinking about today’s OT reading about the Flood I remembered a song many years ago on the Muppet Show sung by Kermit the Frog..

The Rainbow Connection..

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows?”

Actually I could only remember two songs about rainbows, Kermit’s song and Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz “Somewhere over the rainbow”. But the Rainbow Connection is what the Noah Flood story is about.

Quests for evidence of Noah’s Ark

 I was watching a TV program last year about people trying to prove evidence that they had found the final resting place of Noah’s ark and that rock formations were part of the Arks fossilised remains. I must admit that I laughed a little. I laughed because this seemed to me to be misguided attempt to prove the Ark existed. I think it mistakes the nature of the story and how the story may have arisen. The biblical story is similar to other ancient stories in the Middle East, a shared story of terrible disaster and rescue of a hero and his family. I think it is case of taking an old traditional story and reshaping it in the faith of Israel, making it a story about the Just and Good God of Israel and the cosmos.

We also have to see this story in relation to the whole history of the earth and the scientific evidence of cataclysmic events of the earth over millions of years. Several times in earth history there has been mass extinctions of nearly all life on earth followed by the repopulation of new ecosystems with new species and forms of life long before the final advent of the evolution of human beings.

Three Major themes in the Noah narrative

 1.-The cause of the great flood

The story may be compared to the older pagan stories in which the gods are merely irritated by humanity.  In the Noah story it is the sin of humanity that has corrupted the whole of creation. God regrets He even made creation and humanity and wants to start creation all over again. But God also still loves creation and does not want to destroy things utterly and wants some of creation to be spared to start again.

 

2- The good man who acts as a saviour

God looks for and finds a man and his family who can be the means of saving some of creation. God looks for the man who can be saviour of creation. He finds this in Noah. In this sense Noah is a type of Christ-like figure, a saviour of creation.

We may observe from this the fact too that God still wants people who will care for creation and try and rescue it from human corruption and misuse today.  God wants lovers of creation and not just their own lives.

2. The Divine Promise never to repeat the flood

 And so we come to today’s reading. It is the aftermath of the great flood. After Noah and the creatures have left the ark, able to walk again on dry land. Human beings are given recognition of their authority over things and able to make laws themselves and judge each other. This is a recognition of societies that we indeed make laws for ourselves and the power we seem to have in shaping the world. Of course these powers can be corrupted and often are.

But what I really want to focus on is the great Rainbow Promise. God will never send such a devastation again. But why does God make that promise? Does God expect things to be permanently better? Not so. It is despite the fact that things will still go wrong that God will patiently put up with the evil in the world in order that more people may be born and have a chance to know Him and fulfil His purposes in their lives. St Paul was later to write God waits for the revealing of the Children of God, those who will fulfil the purpose of lovers of God, other people and creation. God’s will is the continued coming to life of those we will live in His purpose and fulfil all the goodness for which they have been created.

Noah’s later failure

We find later that Noah is not so perfect after all and gets drunk on wine that he makes for himself and falls asleep naked in front of his family. It will be one of many occasions in the bible when the hero does great things but then shows he is far from perfect and lets God down. The new start is still followed by failure. The hero is fallible unlike the truest Saviour of all who is not.

In this sense we may see ourselves as people for whom God has shown His patience and His love. God is patient so that we may come to be born and capable of knowing that love and purpose for our lives and for the world. We may know ourselves as both called by God but fallible in many ways.

So we could consider also today Jesus’ parable of the Sower. Christ comes with the gift of God’s Word and purpose and many fail to respond or only partly respond. We may know ourselves to be those who have responded to the Word given to us, but we may allow the weeds of materialism and selfish concern to overpower us and fail to grown as we should.

However, although we are fallible and often unfruitful and mistaken in what we do we are still loved. Despite our failure we and are still called to be the means by which others may find that love too.

We may be good or bad in how we are but God patiently keeps calling. God keeps waiting for our willing response, giving us new opportunities to make amends and grow as He would have us be.

But what about “The Rainbow Connection”?

 Whenever we see a rainbow we just accept it as a natural event when rain and sunshine are present at the same time.  We don’t think about the rainbow as special creation by God for humanity to see. Rainbows will have occurred billions of years before human beings walked the earth.

But the writer of Genesis however would still want us to look at the rainbow and see it as a reminder God’s faithful and patient love.

A love that endues despite evil and corruption affecting the world each day

A love from God that continually waits for His Children to find Him and know Him and love Him

A love that waits for us to grown into what we are intended to be and does not give up on us.

A-men

 

 

 

 

Prayers

 

Let us recall that despite the evils of the world God is patient

 

We recall also our own individual past, where we have excelled and we have failed.

 

He comes again to summon us in His Word to a new and renewed life-

(Hymn quote “Will you come and follow me..”)