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Advent 1: Turn Out to Be Something

December 1, 2019
Isaiah 2:1-5        Matthew 24:36-44

My daughter gave me a book of poems for my birthday written by Ashleigh Young – her MA supervisor from last year at Victoria and now her editor. One that struck me is called “Turn Out to Be Something”.

 

Turn Out to Be Something

I can wait! I can vanish from the fossil record
for twenty-five million years, as long as an amateur fossil hunter
someday finds a large and puzzling chunk of my jaw.
I can wait to become a writer
only to turn out to be a small writer
with stubby wings and a feathery appearance.
I can wait for someone to collect me from the sickbay when I’m five,
wait so long I’ll be fully recovered and grown when they come.
I can wait for a layer of sandstone to form over me
and freeze and thaw and freeze and be shattered
and be piped into the sea     as long
as that turns out to be something.

Each minute moves in a slightly different rhythm
to the others, like tiny flowers rippling at high altitude
or heads gathered around an archeological dig.
I can wait hours for the plane to come in
only for it to land and someone else’s dad to get out.
Definitely another New Zealand dad, but with
different colouration, different call.     I’m still waiting
and that’s something
though it might also be nothing.

When you say kererū I can wait for you to realise you mean kākā
only for you to carry on for the rest of your life
saying kererū when you mean kākā.
I can wait for the unkind person to turn out to be unhappy
wait for them to ask forgiveness and then
punch someone new in the throat and ask forgiveness again.
I can wait, as long as forgiveness is withheld.
I can wait at the table until my hunger turns me
into a barnacle searching for space on an overpopulated hull.
I can wait to behold the great alien snowscape
only for it to be a pile of weevily flour on the floor.
I can wait     as long as it still turns out to be something.

I can wait at the bottom of the crevasse with you
as long as the glacier shrinks back someday and we are found.
I can spend all the livelong day patting a dog that turns out to be a coyote.
I can wait years for news of a bizarre specimen washed up on the beach
only for it to turn out to be a person.
I can wait, as long as they turn out to be known to somebody.
I can wait for as long as I live, only to die
as long as this turns out to be something.

– Ashleigh Young – [from ‘How I get Ready’ (VUP, 2019)] Used with permission

One thing I like about this poem is the poet’s sense of our orientation as human beings towards the future… not just for ourselves but for the whole world we are a part of… we can wait… it somehow matters that it turns out to ‘be something’ and not nothing.

It strikes me that this is a deep Christian intuition. The world is ‘creation’ not simply because God is the reason it exists (and is not nothing). It is creation because God makes the universe to be something in the end. Creation is a moving process. Time is part of what it means. And so deep down we are creatures who can wait.

Turning to the Bible now… It’s Advent. Advent means coming. Jesus is coming (look busy!). The Bible knows that the future informs our every move. And both our bible readings have their own takes what looking to the future might mean… really different takes if you think about it.

Isaiah has this enormously positive vision of all the nations of the earth, of their own volition turning their swords into ploughshares and gathering together in peace, cancelling all military training, refusing to learn war any more. In the light of this vision Isaiah calls out ‘Of course this won’t work in practice, people’ – nah just kidding, he says, ‘O house of Jacob let us walk in the light of the Lord.’

Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel offers us quite a dark vision of the future. He imagines a time like that told about in the story of Noah’s ark, when (as Genesis says) the earth was “filled with violence.” But violence that no one really notices… in this world they are still eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage – it’s an image of business as usual, everyday life continuing on. The violence is largely hidden from sight perhaps. In this vision the coming of a Messianic figure (whether it be Noah in Genesis or The Son of Man in Matthew) is associated not with peace and joy, but with many (the large majority) being swept away like those who we caught unaware by the flood and some (a small minority) holding firm to the way of God and not being swept away, instead being ‘left behind’ (like people floating in an ark). And then he has another dark vision of a house owner drying to keep God at bay, trying to stay in control of his house and the Son of Man (the representative of God in the end – Jesus we might say) is like a thief trying to break into the house that refuses a place for God.

Two dramatically different visions of the future (positive and negative). 1. In one God is not merely welcomed. God is the joy of all people. Peace is established. 2. In the other God is a threat, a thief outside the door, or a dangerous storm, possibly symbolising the storm of violence like water behind a cracked dam (hidden from sight by business as usual). And when the dam breaks it swirls around God’s peacemakers and threatens to sweep them away also.

Which begs us to ask the question. Which is true? What is the future that should inform our actions? What is our advent? Can both of these images be true in some way? What does it mean for us to be people who like the poet… hope that our lives ‘turn out to be something’.

But first let’s go back for a moment to two dark versions of the future: the surprise-that-sweeps-you-away-like-a-flood version and the household-controlled-by-the-householder-keeping-God-outside-in-the-night version. They reminded me of the old debate between readers of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and readers of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. In one vision the world is controlled by Big Brother like the housekeeper (state, corporations). The control is external. And in the other vision the citizens are unaware of the violence that defines their life because they are drugging themselves into happiness – the control is internal. If their world collapses it will come as a total surprise – not because they don’t know where to look for the threat but because they think they live in the best of all possible worlds. They think they are fine. The control is internal (like with social media, consumerism, addictions etc). Two dark visions which look like they have found their perfect fusion in our late capitalist world.

Which leads me to another question: If that is the world we live in… What would make for Isaiah’s vision to come true? What has to happen to the world we live in for the nations of the world to be so transformed that they beat their proverbial swords into ploughshares? (talk to your neighbour)

What would make Big Brother let go of his fears and control? What would pop the bubble of self-delusion, distracting ourselves to death with various addictions and escape routes – what would open our minds to the possibility that the brave new world (American dream? nightmare) is a violent delusion?

And once you realise that something has to happen you start to realise that there is no kingdom without judgement. No heaven without temporary hells along the way. The world needs to be invaded by a thief, the world needs to be swept away as if by a flood and revealed for the unstable lie it is… before ultimately it can enter into the kingdom of peace. I think Jesus knew that. The world will need a truth that sets it free. And it may be a painful truth.

I am rather fond of an internet meme which shows a couple of wealthy shoppers carrying bags with expensive fashion labels on them who are caught in a flood and rising waters – possibly reminiscent of the threat of climate destruction. And the caption is:

It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism…

We can imagine physical disasters but something which emerges as a judgement on our way of life… that we cannot imagine. We cannot imagine the end of this cultural world – like God breaking in like a thief into an expensive house…

So what does St Paul think about all this. Of the arrival of Jesus in the world – ‘second coming’ we sometimes say.

1 Corinthians 15 Paul very clearly is with Isaiah on this. God will bring the whole world into the peace of God’s life, that all will be saved… but in a complex manner.

See vs 21

“For, since death comes through a man, resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam ALL die, so also in the Anointed ALL will be given life.”

Everyone, all of humanity, not certain races, all of humanity is caught up in this destructive way of living that is ruining our world – Paul thinks of it as the dominion of death, or spiritual death. Paul has a kind of parallelism in his rhetoric. The problem effects us all, the solution will be given to us all. All who were drawn into the life represented by Adam will also be drawn into the life of Jesus the peace-King. (Like Isaiah)

But not through some magic button… judgement (the way in which our self-understanding, our ways of being are interrupted by God and reoriented) means that Paul is does not think of salvation as a simple matter like walking through a pearly gate … our bubbles need to be popped, illusions need to be shed, death needs to be tamed … So Paul describes a staged process of judgement and redemption.

“… all will be given life, each in the proper order; the Anointed [Jesus] as the first-fruits, thereafter those who are in the Anointed at his arrival [those who have been drawn into the life of Jesus as disciples], then the full completion, when he delivers the Kingdom to him who is God and Father, when he renders every Principality and every Authority and Power ineffectual. For he must reign till he puts all enemies under his feet. The last enemy rendered ineffectual is death…

…vs 28 And when all things have been subordinated to him, then will the Son himself also be subordinated to the one who has subordinated all things to him, so that God may be ALL IN ALL.”

[for further discussion of the question of universal salvation check out Robin Parry’s lecture series https://reforminghell.com/robin-parrys-hope-hell-videos/%5D

The age of peace is coming… don’t arm yourself for business as usual the violent system we live in will be disarmed… the swords we use to keep the third world in captivity will be disarmed…. etc The system will go down. Prepare yourself for the age of peace.

Judgement will not be easy… but a painful truth and a difficult transition. The bible often imagines it like burning (but purifying) flames.

Peace comes in the end. God redeems in the end. But in a kind of deep connection with that new dawn… there is a breakdown of an old system of violence controlled by death

Judgement then peace… they are two dimensions of eschatological vision. Both are true.

For in the end says St Paul, God will be all in all.

It really will turn out to be something.

Two Kinds of Scary

August 25, 2019

Hebrews 12:18-28

You know that phrase. “I decided to get my life in order.” People who get to a certain age in life (with a religious childhood) … and at some point they realise their life is going to end soon so they decide, as they often say, to get their life in order, and it sometimes means to convert to Christianity.

I often wonder about that moment of anxiety when your life suddenly seems finite? Some kind of scary hits you.

When I read today’s lectionary reading I read it as talking of ‘two kinds of scary’.

Let’s read it again. Very rich in metaphors… listen for the old kind of scary and the new kind of scary.

Other points of explanation before we read:

Hebrews – a book/letter written for Jewish Christians… all about the old temple religion, priests and sacrifices and so on… also about what is deeper than all of that… the thing called ‘faith’ or ‘faithfulness’ the trusting centre that so empowered the characters of the OT to act in heroic ways. This book Hebrews is about an old way and a new way and about courageous faith.

Today’s text talks about this old/new thing in various ways and it mentions the blood of Abel. Do you remember the story of Abel?

Second question before I read our text again: Who remembers what the two mountains are in this story? One named and one referred to indirectly?  What are the two mountains?

Close your eyes and imagine this very visual image…

[read words on screen from David Bentley Hart’s NT translation]

For you have not come to something tangible and set ablaze with fire, and to deep gloom, and to a storm, and to a trumpet’s echo, and to a voice uttering words whose hearers begged that no further word be imposed upon them, for they could not bear what was commanded: “Should even a beast touch the mountain, it must be stoned.” What appeared was so dreadful that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.”

Rather you have come to Mount  Zion and to the city of a living God, a heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, and to [a full gathering and] an assembly of the firstborn, enrolled in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to spirits of the righteous who have been perfected, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to a blood for sprinking that bespeaks something better than that of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse the one who speaks; for if they who refused the one who warned them on earth did not escape, how much less we if we turn away from the one doing so from the heavens: whose voice back then shook the earth, but now has given a promise, saying, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also heaven.”

Now this “once more” indicates the removal of things that are shaken, as things that have been made so that the things unshaken might remain. Therefore, receiving an unshakeable Kingdom, let us have grace, by which we may worship God as delights him, with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Two mountains… two kinds of scary…. Say something about the first kind of scary. (violent punishment – revenge). That’s the kind of scary associated with the first mountain – Sinai

What’s the second mountain? What does it represent?

A city… (a very social thing) more than that ‘the city of a living God’. The life of God in the form of a city. Not the physical city of Jerusalem, of bricks and mortar in Palestine… but a living community of those who are beginning to live the life of heaven, of God’s politics, they are “an assembly of first-born enrolled in heaven”, they are at the beginning of God’s new life… its a place where the spirits of those who have been perfected already are alive. And in the centre of this gathering is Jesus the one who brings a ‘new covenant’ – in NZ we might say a new treaty, a new constitution. And the Christians reading this letter, the Jewish Christians of the late first century are being told that what they have arrived at is the birth of a new civilisation, a new city with a new constitution. And what is this ‘treaty’, this defining constitution?

Jesus death (blood) defines this new civilisation. Jesus death speaks a word that defines the character of this city. What can we deduce about the word that Jesus death (or blood) speaks?

The blood of Abel calls out for violence (remember God put a mark on Cain so people wouldn’t take up the call to revenge and attack him). Hebrews tell us of a city established on the non-violent word of forgiveness spoken by Jesus death. Jesus death is political here. Jesus death creates a new form of civilisation. It is its constitution, it’s treaty.

What the Hebrew Christians are being welcomed into is a new kind of politics… the politics of Jesus. This, says the writer, is the city of Jesus, the place of peace.

Speaking of Christians and politics. This week I watched a new Netflix series called ‘The Family’.  Anyone seen it? It’s fascinating. I recommend checking it out.

It’s about an organisation in the US that has a distinctive take on Christian political engagement. They call themselves ‘The Family’ (used to be the Fellowship) and they are pretty secretive. They believe in going under the radar. The thing they are most famous for, at least since the book and the movie has come out, is that they are the ones who organise the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s an annual event. Goes for several days now. The Leader who died not long ago is a man called Doug Coe – has been described as “Billy Graham by stealth, the most powerful man you’ve never heard of”. They have cells all over the world centred in Washington.  The extent of their connectedness to presidents (including Trump) right back to Eisenhower and to Senators and heads of state around the world is remarkable. They trade on their influence in the US but they gain their influence by things like the prayer breakfast which draws people from both sides of the US political system and by claiming to be non-political, or at least non-partisan. Their motto is “Jesus plus nothing”. They are not interested in political parties or in church structures. Just a brotherhood of men – mainly men – they believe in the authority of men over women – whose common focus is Jesus and … wait for it … leadership. And it’s this leadership thing that defines their distinctive philosophy and theology. God’s mission begins with the leaders of the nations and they want to bring Jesus to the leaders. It’s the idea of a top down mission. God changes the world from the top down, so they go to the top. And they train men to lead. They are very fond of king David (that point in Israel’s history when they had a monarchy). They are also quite happy to admire people like Hitler and Chairman Mao for their strong leadership (this is what they say when asked about Trump). God works even through bad leaders. So their aim is to befriend the powerful of all stripes, and sell them Jesus.

And the more I watched this show the more I wondered ‘What Jesus?’

It’s a strange kind of simplicity this “Jesus plus nothing”.

The thing that struck me about this kind of politics of Jesus is that in spite of the fact that they talk about Jesus all the time – almost like a kind of shibboleth, a magic word – their politic imagination is almost the opposite of that of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus of Nazareth spent his time mostly among the poor and powerless. The defining place where Jesus was to be found, summarised in the story of the sheep and the goats, is among ‘the least’ rather than the leaders. The powerful, like the rich man, are challenged to relinquish that power by giving their wealth to the poor. The rich are the least likely to enter the kingdom of God’s politics – like a camel going through the eye of a needle. Remember the temptations of Jesus – the principle temptation that Jesus faced throughout his life, the one he resisted by choosing to be crucified, was the temptation to seek power, to seek the kingdoms of this world. That was Jesus big temptation. He abandoned it.

The Family (according to the Netflix show) makes it a virtue.

It’s disturbing isn’t it. That people who talk so much about Jesus can act with such a different politics. As if there is no Mount Zion. No new city. Just alliances to be made with the powerful of the old cities, with those who command military power according to the blood of Abel. With The Family we have business as usual on Mt Sinai. The difference is they do it in the name of Jesus.

Where in you life do you see the city? The politics of Jesus? I sat down this week and started writing about the places I had seen evidence of Mount Zion. I got to the bottom of the page and I was still going. It’s not something that hit’s you in the face like a fireworks show on Mt Sinai… but if you open yourself to it… if you take time to notice you see God at work in the lives of those around you – you can see the politics of Jesus.

In the delight of mothers in their children, and children in their mothers. In those who take time to include others in the group at a party, in friendship and respect that listens thoughtfully and humbly. In generosity that gives without anxiety. In the growth of friends as they start to follow Jesus in new ways. In people who come out from their fears and share their lives with others, who make time for others when they might be making money instead. All of these things were on my list.

But notice… although this new city is such a delight for the writer to the Hebrews. It is not without it’s own kind of scary! How would you describe this new kind of scary?

It’s the scaryness of God’s shaking. According to the writer to the Hebrews, it matters that we embrace this new city, cause in the end its the only lasting, the only sustainable city. The people with the most to fear are those who don’t want to change, those who resist the shaking of God. God will shake both heaven and earth – that’s interesting. Even the members of the new city need shaking. All of us need the crap shaken out of us by God. This is not destruction… this is transformation. Even heaven gets a shake up according to this letter. The writer concludes: Our God is a consuming fire. Not a destroying or at least not a totally destroying fire but a purifying fire… a fire that burns away all that is not sustainable. If you want to stay the same, be afraid.

Two mountains… two kinds of scary. One is pure fear. The other is all about hope. In the end God will shake the crap out of us. We shall all be healed. Thanks be to God.

Evangelism is Hard

July 14, 2019

Luke 19:41–48, Acts 28: 17-31

“And as he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, and said, ‘If you had known on this day, even you, the things that lead to peace’”

 

Can you hear the frustration in the voice of Jesus… can you hear the grief… the sense of failure… I have taught you what makes for peace… I have announced the presence of God’s kingdom among your poor and in your streets… I have showed you how to love your enemies… and I have failed.

For him its the beginning of the end… a certain kind of end, where he puts his body on the line for his people who don’t get it.

Can we sit with this frustration for a moment. Frustration for all the work that seems to have failed? …The heaven’s are silent. …The people are blind….

Our second reading from the end of Acts is a kind of fast forward from this. Things have changed, thanks to the resurrection (it appears), lots of people are persuaded. And chief among those is Paul. Paul is prison in Rome trying, in his turn, to pursuade the Jewish people of Rome about the Messiah. But he too is having a hard time communicating. He’s getting really frustrated. How do I know? I know because he resorts to this passage from Isaiah. “Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving…’” It’s pretty much a conversation stopper. You only resort to calling people ‘blind’ and ‘stupid’ when you have exhausted all other techniques of persuasion, right?

Do you ever experience these moments of communication failure? Where it’s as if you are speaking a language that cannot be heard. The context is such that you just can’t think of anything to say. The things you want to say you can’t say. And the things you can say you don’t want to. Every way you turn all you can imagine is misunderstanding.

What about when it comes to Christianity? Today I’m going to talk about the e-word – if you will pardon my French. Evangelism.

I have two theories: (1) ‘evangelism is difficult’ (2) There is something deep in the Christian mindset that knows that Christianity is not something you keep to yourself. There is something deep in the secular mindset that says that Christianity is something you should keep to yourself. Tension!

I don’t really like the term ‘evangelism’ its so loaded with different meanings. It makes me cringe just hearing it.  But what I notice in today’s readings is the way Jesus and Paul have great difficulty with their evangelism (communication struggle). I seems to me that there is something intrinsically difficult about communicating the Christian faith … (so we shouldn’t feel guilty if we struggle)? So perhaps we can get over that… and start asking why? Why is it difficult? What’s the wierdness here?

Discussion Question: Which do you find more difficult… sharing your faith or sharing the Christian gospel?

Why did I throw that question out? Because I wanted us to grapple with all the things that are connected with evangelism…  and to put those aside for a moment to consider the centre of evangelism – the thing the new testament calls the ‘evangel’ (the good news/gospel). When we think about evangelism we think about telling our story, how we came to faith… We sometimes think about our moral principles, which were also Jesus’ moral principles, love you neighbour as yourself, do unto others etc. We sometimes think about arguments about whether God exists or not. All those things are really important… BUT… they are not the centre.

My story is not the evangel (gospel… I am not the messiah ;-)). My moral principles are not the evangel (the good news). The existence of God is not the good news.

When the Bible talks about the ‘evangel’ at the centre of Jesus calling and Paul’s teaching, it’s talking about news. Back to that tension. Christianity has always thought it belongs in the ‘news section’. The secular world wants to put it in the ‘self-help section… Paul and Jesus were telling a story about something that is happening in the world. It is more like facts than instructions. Breaking news. Something has happened. Something is happening. At the heart of this awkward word evangelism… once we have dealt with all that other stuff is a story. To evangelise is to be able to tell a story… and once we are clear about that I think we realise that it is a hard story to tell and hard to believe – hard for different people in different ways, and differently hard in different times.

Each of the biographies of Jesus call themselves ‘evangels’ (gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke John) it’s a new genre a kind of news story. Mark begins ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.’ Mark early on summarises what Jesus was on about. “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom (reign) of God has come near. Repent and believe in the evangel’.” Mark is echoed in Luke when Jesus reads from Isaiah about the declaration of Jubilee in Jesus first sermon. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me (made me king) to announce good news (evangel) to the poor…”

At it’s simplest this is a message about God’s action in the world. God is doing something right now (says Jesus) in the world. Something new. Justice and liberation are invading this world and arriving for the poor first of all. Jesus captures it in his prayer. Pray he says that God’s kingdom comes, that God’s will is done… where?… on earth… (as in heaven). The life of the creator, the justice and beauty and generosity of God is entering anew into humanity and history. The news is news about a new interaction between heaven and earth. An intersection, a ‘thin place’ which must be embraced and lived in.

Jesus is not telling people what they need to do to go to heaven when they die. He is telling them that heaven is coming to earth. That’s why its news not instructions.

Paul similarly went around the Mediteranean with news. His news was: Jesus was right. God has confirmed this arrival of heaven on earth by raising Jesus from death. Through this Jesus, God is resetting the human race, Paul’s word is justifying… making just, making right, recreating us, making a new creation of us. In the world of Adam we are pretty messed up… death controls our lives. In the world established by Jesus (alive from death) we are given a gift of a new kind of life together. Breaking news, according to Paul

To communicate gospel, is to make these claims of fact, to tell a story. It’s not hard because it’s intellectual, complicated. So only the smart people will get it. It’s hard because it blows our imagination. The gospel is not so much complicated as strange.

Which is why I think we prefer to retreat back to the things to do with us and our faith and our principles… goodness knows they are hard enough to talk about… but not as hard as this strange story… God’s story, God’s faithfulness.

A story is told of the famous German theologian Karl Barth. After a sermon a man came up to him and said “Professor Barth, thankyou for your sermon. I’m an astronomer you know, and as far as I’m concerned the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’” Barth is said to have replied, “Well I’m just a humble theologian, and as far as I’m concerned the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are.’”

The astronomer had no idea about Christian gospel even though he attended church. If you asked him he would have told you it was a common wisdom about how to be a good person. That’s not difficult to communicate. You might sound a bit pompous and moralising, stating the obvious perhaps… and therefore better to remain silent and lead by example. But there is nothing difficult to communicate there, is there. No one is really going to disagree or object, they’ll just be bored.

The gospel is the story about the meeting of heaven and earth – the powerful, transformative meeting of heaven and earth. And it tells that story to people who know what a mess the earth is in because they are poor, they are it’s victims. For them earth is quite like hell a lot of the time. Heaven coming to earth is like heaven coming to hell. So not only is it a strange story to tell. It tells of a very strange presence in the middle of life as usual.

We talk a lot about freedom of speech at the moment (Israel Folau and all that). Jesus communication challenges were not from a lack of freedom. He spoke freely. It’s wasn’t like the government prevented him telling his good news (except perhaps at the end… but even then, in killing him, they gave him his greatest megaphone right?) His problem is a great gulf of imagination and hope. The people couldn’t understand ‘the things that make for peace’ – between him and everyone else. Israel Folau, on the other hand, may have a problem of freedom of speech… but it’s not because he is telling the story of heaven coming to earth. Israel Folau is not getting attention because he is telling the evangel.

Freedom of speech is a side-issue here. Our strange story is not really contained by whether we have permission to tell it. The real problem is our capacity to believe it. The main reason the story is difficult is simply because, for most people, (even for Christians sometimes) the world doesn’t look like the kingdom of God is invading it. The church doesn’t look like a new creation of human society.

If you are living in social housing and you realise there is no way you are going to get a job with your mental health the way it is and your rent has just gone up so you are seriously considering going back to sleeping on the street. It is hard to believe that heaven is coming to earth.

If you are young and realise that previous generations have stuffed up your future by overheating the planet. You are going to struggle to believe this story. It’s a wierd story.

So what shall we do? We are moving past the news, past the weather, past the self-help section … to the ‘God help us’ section. Some suggestions from me (bold bullet points on ppt)

  1. Keep it strange: don’t try and tell a story that makes sense in the parameters of contemporary imagination. What God is and can do will always be strange
  2. Trust God’s persuasive power: Remember that the kingdom is ALSO coming to earth in the minds and understanding of those hearing the strange story. As a teller of the story, you will never have enough persuasive power. God brings the story home. Something will happen in people’s lives to turn a corner, turn on a light. Maybe through your life. God will give this strange story plausibility to folk when you least expect it.
  3. Don’t abandon words: Evangelism is more than storytelling, but never less. Rather seek to do a better job at ‘speaking Christian’, become more fluent in Te Reo Christian – thinking Christianly letting your imagination and reasoning be reshaped by the good news. We know well how to speak secular. We need to be bilingual. We need to up our skills at speaking Christian. Just because only God will give the story plausibility doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn to tell it. Too often, in my opinion, we hear the words of William Booth. “Preach the gospel at all times… if need be use words.” Neither Jesus nor Paul believed that. The words and the actions were like two sides of the one coin. Not least   because the good news touches all the things we think and     talk about… when heaven comes to earth it comes to history, it is comes to economics, it is comes to politics, it is comes to the natural world and the challenge of sustainability. All of these things we engage in both words and actions. Our story must be told here too
  4. Build consistency between your good news and your life. Paul says in Romans 12

“I emplore you… to present your bodies as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God, your rational worship; and do not be configured to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of the intellect…” (put your bodies on the line – its the rational response – and your minds too so that they are transformed)

  1. Be prepared to fail (and to succeed) when you least expect it.

Liberation from Debt

June 9, 2019

Nehemiah 5:3-7, Luke 4: 16-19; Matt 18:23-34

After I wrote last weeks sermon on Daily Bread I went and reread David Bentley Hart’s famous essay on the Lord’s Prayer. He wrote it after translating the New Testament. In that essay he argues that the Lord’s Prayer was a prayer intended for those Jesus lived with (and prioritised). It was a prayer to be prayed by the poor. That’s the context.

If he’s right (and I think he is) then there was a major problem with last week’s sermon…  cause last week I jumped out of that original context… among the poor and went straight on to apply it to us today  – to us who are not poor, who have disposable income. I jumped from physical survival to the wider question of consumption – how we consume.

By way of repentance, today I want us to spend time in the original context. Let’s listen to this quite literal translation of Matthew’s version of the prayer.

Give us our bread today, in a quantity sufficient for the whole of the day. And grant us relief from our debts, to the very degree that we grant relief to those who are indebted to us. And do not bring us to court for trial, but rather rescue us from the wicked man.

What strikes you about this translation? (financial)

Today I want to focus on the problem of debt… the poor of Jesus day desperately needed debt relief. And just so you know that I have been doing my homework for this sermon you should know that I have been reading this tome “Debt: The First 5000 Years” for the last few weeks. It’s quite an astonishing book for the vast scale of research that the anthropologist David Graeber draws on.

What I think this book did for me is it put the biblical situation in context. Ever since human beings began to calculate and measure their obligations to each other (which is what debt is)… long before money was invented but when we started measure our obligations there were enormous social problems and violence associated with debt.

The obvious thing that becomes possible when you start to calculate what is owed… is that the wealthy can start to charge interest… with the advent of money you can start to make money off money. In effect, as economists know well, the difference between the rich and the poor pretty much the same as the difference from the difference between creditors and debtors. It’s interest that allows the rich to keep the poor poor.

And at the time the Bible was written… in what is sometimes called the Axial Age… this is perhaps the big issue …  how do deal with the dangers of money and debt – how to deal with debt slavery. We know this was a problem because every so often the great emperors of Sumeria and Babylonia instituted a ‘blank slate’ cancellation of debt. The classicist Moses Finley often liked to say, ‘in the ancient world, all revolutionary movements had a single program: “Cancel the debts and redistribute the land”.

The Hebrews took up this cause most famously of all.  The Law of Moses prohibited charging interest on loans. Usury was illegal. More than that the Jewish Law set up a system where every seventh year was a Sabbath year (a shmita) a fallow year (the earth rested) and debts between Israelites were to be cancelled. And then on the seventh seventh year, the Sabbath of Sabbath-Years, the Year of Jubilee, in which all debts were excused and all slaves granted their liberty, so that everyone might begin again.” (rebooting the world). So the gap between creditors and debtors (rich and poor) could be (at least, for a time) taken away, and a kind of “equitable balance” restored.” In our reading from Nehemiah that Jeanne read we learn of the problems of debt slavery in Israel and in the passage that follows Nehemiah instituted one of these ‘blank slate’ (Sabbath) moments.

And then a few hundred years later Jesus turned up in Nazareth about the time that people were expecting a year of Jubilee (7×7)… In the era of Roman occupation their expectation was focussed on the arrival of a new liberating king commonly referred to as a Messiah. But tensions were high and Jesus dropped his bombshell from the book of Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me (messiahed me) to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

It is a declaration of revolution. Jubilee talk.

Hart says

 “…it was a world of exorbitant debt. The Galilean peasantry to whom Christ first brought his good tidings had suffered for years under the taxes exacted by Herod the Great; many whose taxes had fallen into arrears had been reduced from freeholders to bound tenants by expropriations of their already meager estates, or by securing loans they could not repay with their lands and goods. The tax collectors, the creditors, and the courts had long conspired to make rural peoples and the disenfranchised of the towns and cities into captives of their debts. And at times, of course, the only way those debts could be resolved was by the sale of debtor families into slavery.”

That’s scary! Having to sell your wife, or daughter… or if worse comes to worse yourself into slavery. The usual way to become a slave (apart from through war) was by getting into debt. Slavery meant losing your status as a person in the community. That’s what’s at stake when the poor pray for relief from debt.

What we don’t always realise is that in Jesus time main reason that the courts existed was to settle claims of debt (usually in favour of the creditors). Have you noticed how much of his teaching is about trials, about being dragged to the judge by officers of the court, by unmerciful creditors who want to secure a coat or cloak, by scribes who ‘devour the homes of widows’, and the parable of the unjust steward we read earlier. Jesus deeply engaged with the gap between rich and poor (creditors and debtors) … about the slavery of the poor to the rich. That’s the everyday reality that shapes their prayer.

Jesus is indignant about the situation of economic oppression that enslaves his people. Remember the parable about the unmerciful servant. Remember the dishonest steward. Jesus praises the guy who dishonestly reduces the debts of his master’s debtors…  (even though he may only be acting out of self-interest).

This theme of debt release goes deep in Jesus teaching. He’s practically an economic anarchist right.  “Give to anyone who asks you…”… even if they take it from you… “Lend without any desire for return”. And if they take you to court… give the plaintiff what he wants… settle out of court. Whatever you do don’t get stuck in the court system and the mammon of injustice. Jesus hates the economic oppression of his people. The writer of the Letter of James captures the spirit of Jesus indignation: “Do not the rich oppress you, and haul you into law courts as well? Do they not blaspheme the good name that has been invoked upon you?” (Jas 2:6-7)

So the prayer that we pray every Sunday is a prayer first of all for debt relief. Hart (the translator) writes

“ὀφειλήματα are not “transgressions,” but “debts”; nor are they “debts” in a metaphorical sense—they are not sins that require some penance or recompense on our part—but are in fact quite literally the crushing burden of financial obligations under which the poor labor and suffer and die, to the advantage of the most merciless of their creditors.”

Just as debts are not sins that might need to be ‘paid for’ by penance or something, Hart goes on to argue, the word here is sometimes translated ‘forgive’ is not moral pardon. It’s release from something much more concrete – from financial debt backed up by military force. Jesus followers are praying for Jubilee. Although Jesus refused to bring it in by violent revolution… he prayed for it nevertheless.

Getting that out of the way (the original context) we can now think about what it means for us to use those prayer in our time and situation.  Hart is provocative. He says, effectively, we are not really poor. It’s not really ours to pray. I disagree. But I hear the challenge.

  1. You see if we really are followers of Jesus then following Jesus means going with him to his place with the disenfranchised and most powerless in our society. We might not be exactly poor. But discipleship calls us to some kind of solidarity with the poor. So we will be learning to pray with the poor. Learning to see our society from the perspective of its victims. And this is difficult because in another sense we all are poor. Most of us have mortgages that means we need two incomes … and we are so busy paying the banks we don’t have time to live with the poor who have no capital. Our time poverty prevents us spending time with those whose social poverty and financial and health poverty leaves them on the fringes of the world, disenfranchised and angry. The prayer might not be intended for us in the first place but we need to learn to pray it anyway.
  2. Like Jesus we cannot simply accept the way the world works. We can never adopt a pose of tragic resignation. Like Jesus we believe that God is present . Economics and politics can never be exhausted by some kind of abstract analysis of how self-interested individuals will operate. As bad as things might be the world is not just the domain of human power it is also the domain where the Spirit is being poured out. We should expect not just to see self-interest… we expect also to see love and sharing. Not everyone will be a good capitalist – thank God. So we hope and pray for the undoing of oppressive economic situations and we look out for the signs of the economics of God’s kingdom in our communities.
  3. Following on from this. We cannot just write off this prayer and Jesus teachings about debt as if they are unrealistic. Our prayer for liberation from oppressive systems of debt hinges on us also being people who practice forgiveness of debt in our own lives. In the midst of a society that keeps count of everything… even puts a dollar value on human life. We need to be people who build into our common lives habits of not keeping count. What mother keeps count of the debt her children owe her? What would it mean to pay your mother back? You never can… and that’s how it should be.

I am struck how cigarette economy works among smokers. If you’ve got smokes and someone asks for one you always give. You know they will probably give you one sometime later, but you don’t keep count. It’s a gift because it’s not immediately cancelled out by payment. The relationship is more important than the dollar value. There are ties that bind. Like a family.

Let’s strengthen our human economies … so that the financial one doesn’t dominate our every moment.

  1. .. and this picks up from last week’s talk about consumption… as we become aware of our our own economy is built on the back of slave labour and poverty in what we used to call the 3rd world this challenges us to be even more attentive to what products we consume… so that we can reduce our reliance on other people’s debt bondage… release us from debt as we release those who are indebted to us.

To conclude I want to go back to what I called human economies (actually I stole the term from David Graeber). I think Paul understood this idea. He has this vision of a community which is like a body. If one part hurts the other parts also hurt. So others reach out to help alleviate the hurt. Its not something we keep count of. Measuring what people owe separates people from the bonds of community. Each has different gifts to offer – unlike money the gifts are as different as the people are different. And they must offer their gift to the human economy. From each according to their ability to contribute. To each according to need. And so God creates spaces where relationships are of more interest than the measureable value of things exchanged. Perhaps this is what relief from debt and debt’s bondage means.

Bread for the Day Ahead

June 9, 2019

Ezekiel 34: 17-20, Proverbs 24:13, 25:16, 1 Jn 3: 16-17

 

We think we know what prayer is. The disciples of Jesus didn’t. So they asked: Lord teach us to pray. For them there was a big question around how to pray. If they thought of prayer as ‘just another chat about what’s on top’ they wouldn’t have asked. They know that it makes no sense to think about God like a chat with another person, even an invisible person with special powers. They know that if God can be considered a person at all it is very different from any thing we know of as a person. So prayer is very different from anything we might think of as a conversation.

To pray is to be needy and to know it. To pray is to be dependent on God and to know it. And to bring that dependence before God.

In answer to their question Jesus gives them a template for prayer. And this template spans six areas of our life, six domains of our existence. He asks us to bring these six domains of neediness to God

Let’s quickly go through those domains before we turn to today’s section.

We need to know God’s name, God’s character and identity. A distorted God-imagination is a distorted life. Hallowed be your name. We need to know what God is doing in the world. It shapes all we do. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth…. [skipping over todays lesson]. We need to have our broken and distorted relationships healed. Forgive us. We need to be led into our own way of following Jesus, our own vocation. Lead us… (not into temptation) lead us on the narrow less travelled, hard-to-find way. And finally, we need to be set free from the power of evil in our world and our lives. Deliver us. Deliver us. from one kingdom into another.

So today is “Give us this day our daily bread”. I think it is best translated “Give us today, bread for the day ahead”. So just to get us thinking… let’s turn to our neighbours in two or maybe threes and discuss together what word or phrase (two or three words) or idea would best summarise this domain of need in the model prayer.

Material world… physical needs… food… consumption … trusting

This is the part of the prayer where we consider the material world and material needs. We have a later prayer for our relational needs… later in the prayer we talk about our vocational needs, even our socio-political needs. This section call us begin with what is in one sense basic (we may not live by bread alone, but we can’t live without it). We begin with the need to consume, and to consume well, to live in a good relationship to the material world we are part of, the world we need to live in. Let’s talk and pray about consumption in this world (on earth as it is in heaven). Let’s talk about consumption in a world of ‘consumerism’. Jesus wants us to pray about how we consume.

Let’s talk about it now. At a time when we have nearly consumed this planet to death. Jonathan Cornford summarised the situation perfectly when he wrote.

“At the deepest level we have become a consumer society. No longer is the purpose of the economy to produce things for the good of the people; rather, the purpose of people is to consume things for the good of the economy.” (p. 61)

In biblical terms ‘consumption’ has become an idol. We have come to measure human well-being in terms of GDP. The greater the GDP the greater our social well-being. The more the better. Consumption has become our spirituality.

We need to consume. Jesus doesn’t ask us to stop consuming. He asks us to pray about it. Give us today our basic consumer needs for the day ahead.

And one of those key needs is to know the difference between what we need (symbolised in the bible by bread) and what we want. I am reminded of the contrast between Jesus’ prayer and the famous phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette as the poor of the revolution are storming her castle in hunger ‘let them eat cake’. Jesus was in touch with the real material situation of his friends. Ours is not so desperate. And so for us knowing the difference between needs and wants is perhaps the most difficult matter for our prayer life. After all in a world where unlimited consumption is a duty the marketeers have to create new wants and make us think they are needs. It’s not rocket science (or maybe it is at one level)… but we all know how advertising works… images of a better world, an perfect world create dissatisfaction in us, a sense of inadequacy in us… they prod our vulnerabilities and we will quickly run to the shops or online to find healing. A lot of prayer is required to know the difference between needs and wants. Especially if you have some disposable income. If you live in the third world it might be different. Enough for today might be a matter of survival. Living in the Council flats with mental health challenges you might be struggling to get through today with enough drugs to medicate your illness. It might be a matter of survival. But for the rest of us… what will it mean for us to pray for the bread for the day ahead. What will it mean for us who are not desperately poor  to live as consumers on this fragile planet.

This little prayer is enormous… And so often we put it in the too hard basket. I was talking to my friend Dave recently. He told me he had decided to go Vegan. There were lots of reasons, but some were simple enough. The three or four top things , according to the experts, that we can do to reduce our destructive consumer impact on this planet include: 1. Stop eating red meat, 2. stop eating dairy, 3. stop eating food that comes to NZ by plane. Easy… and yet so hard. Much prayer will be required to go vegan. So pray for Dave and others who are taking up this challenge. Pray for yourself and the process of reflecting on how you consume. When you pray for others… don’t just focus on their psychological comfort pray about their consumption. That’s how Jesus wants us to pray.

Pray about reducing your consumption. Give us bread enough for the day ahead. Tomorrow is another day, more bread. Jesus wants us to trust now. These are complex and difficult matters. That’s why we need to have focussed and deep prayer. That’s why we need time before God. Can we leave the future in God’s hands… or will we need to earn more money just to be safe. We might have less time to use for the needy in our lives. But the pressure to pay off the larger mortgage, the pressure to secure things against disaster… that little nervousness that doesn’t really trust God for the future, that worries about more than the day ahead. That’s the hardcore centre of this little prayer.

Jesus thinks we should be more worried about having too much than about having too little. According to Jesus being rich is dangerous… dangerous because it stops us participating in God’s kingdom.

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!… It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mk: 10: 23-35)

… woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:24)

And it’s not just me as an individual that needs ‘bread for the day ahead’. It’s us as a society. Give US, this day, bread for the day ahead. Israel knew that responsibility of thinking about enough for all members of society. Their prophets called them to let the land lie fallow every seven years to ensure its sustainability and future productivity. They called them to leave aside enough for those who were on the margins in poverty. The true Israelite prayed for daily bread for the all the people, not just himself… indeed for the whole ecosystem.

Praying about consumption changes the way we think about things we want and consume. Recently one of our residents at Granville Flats offered his skills to set up a Fixery each week. People come along with things that are broken and take time to fix them and to learn how to fix them. It’s therapeutic we often say, to take the time.

It sends a little challenge to the religion of consumerism. Every time you buy a new thing it sends a message to the market. Make more of these! Extract more resources! If you buy it second-hand or fix it, you don’t send that signal. You reduce the waste pile. You feel ok about the rough and ready second-hand things that you used to feel embarrassed about.

We could think about ethical shopping… credit cards….

We could think about constraining our means… earning less… a sure-fire method of reducing our consumption. Less disposable income… more time.

There are many in this congregation who think a lot more about this than I, including my wife. People who could share their insights about how to consume well. Results of their own prayerful living.

Imagine if we took this dimension of the Lord’s prayer seriously in our time and place!

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to allow the dimensions of the problem, the scale of the task to become an excuse to do nothing. Life is exhausting enough when you are working long hours in the vicious cycle of consumerism… to also have to think about what to cook for tea, what containers it comes in, how your shoes were made, whether you really need a spare pair… and so on .

That’s why it’s a matter for prayer – rather than worry. By prayer we mean not just using words, not just asking, but really taking the need before God, taking time before God on this. Taking it before God in a way that opens our eyes to God’s serendipitous grace… to new possibilities we would never see if we did not pray.

Abba God, May your generous name be known… may your sustainable kingdom come… may we consume responsibly and generously… so that your healing would spread through our relationship and lives to the healing of our often oppressive and at times evil society.

Beware gratitude!

March 8, 2019
tags:

Give us a prophet

 

The cosmos is a battlefield

a prophet will be king

The dark hills harbour villages

where none but the downs boy sings

 

The southerly it comes and goes

shivering the mountain spine

we hold our hats and turn away

to catch the five past nine

 

the wind embraces trees in sway,

the wandering wounded wait

a Dick Smith pamphlet passes by

takes flight to heaven’s gate.

 

If we can’t find the bugger soon

the rumours might attack

and pierce our burdened barricades

when no one has our back

 

Defend us now from kindness

let the trumpet pierce the grey

for the angels have been sleeping

at the heating of the day

 

If the prophet is not willing

give us hoods and let us brood

lest the smell of bread unleash for us

a flood of gratitude

Who are you? (sermon at IBPC)

February 17, 2019

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Tegel prison

1 Corinthians 1:12-30      1 Peter 3:8-18

You know when you go to a party and you meet new people. There’s this kind of strange process you go through. Each trying to find out who the other person is. To portray a certain image of ourselves… for those good at it who are also extroverts … a real buzz. But for those not so good at it, or socially anxious, its something to be avoided (This is where beer comes in handy). For the introverts fun for a time but exhausting.. For those a little younger and driven by hormones, maybe not so exhausting.

Once upon a time it might have been easy to go quickly to questions like ‘what do you do? But nowadays it’s a tricky to define yourself by your job. You gotta start with small talk but you can’t stay there forever.

I think Millenials know better than earlier generations that there are more important questions than your job and even your status in society…. These things don’t really answer the question ‘who are you?’

This year started interestingly in the flats… There was this meeting in Rintoul St Flats (up the hill a bit further away from Island Bay than Granville Flats). It didn’t quite go as planned. The agenda went out the door. Underlying conflicts surfaced quickly as they do in the flats. One woman had clearly been thinking about what she wanted to say and she looked straight at me. “The thing that has been bothering me,” she declared, “is that we don’t know who YOU are…. You haven’t been properly introduced. We think of this place like a marae and among maori we have a proper powhiri process.”

I took a deep breath. I was a bit taken aback at first… we’d chatted and I’d been introduced informally… but she was right…  We hadn’t been properly introduced. The powhiri is a powerful way of binding people together, hearing who people are, breathing in their breath, sharing the air and the life of another person.

I realised in that moment that this was a gift … a God-moment even … The outcome of the meeting was that we all agreed to set up an event for proper introductions.

Granville Flats is like a second home to me now – whānau. But Rintoul Street Flat’s have been different. Some people I know really well. For others I’m still an outsider. There are a lot more underlying tensions and strains in Rintoul Street. The peace of Rintoul Street is a fragile one at best.

We had our introductions event on Monday. Alongside myself (and Sara and Ange from youth group and Nathan and Nanu), the Urban Vision Team led by Dave and Maria introduced themselves. They are even more newcomers than I am. The new leader of the Wellington City Council Housing Team introduced herself.

We tried to answer the deeper questions. Not just what are your names and jobs? But why are you here? What are you on about?

It’s a tricky question when you put it like that… almost a challenge. What right do you have to be here? What significance to you have? What authority do you act with? What is your agenda?

Jesus was asked this question all the time. … Everyone wanted to know which of the existing boxes he fitted in. And of course, the beautiful thing was, he didn’t.

In Rintoul Street it’s like… Are you some kind of a spy? Are you a police mole? a council agent? Are you a priest or a minister or vicar (or somesuch)? I get the feeling that Ministers are a kind of known category… but Community Minister? What kind of a beast is that? … Are you a social worker? A chaplain? Are you a white middle-class do-gooder?

That last one really catches me. Because there is too much truth in it for comfort. Maybe I am, in some ways

How was I to give an honest non-evasive non-defensive answer?  Rather than call on a title, or fall back on ‘institutional legitimacy’, I found myself turning the question back on myself. “Who are you?” becomes “Who am I?”

Our second reading today has the Epistle of Peter telling us to “be prepared to make your defence to anyone who asks you for an account of the hope that is in you.” That’s interesting in moments of challenge, often what people see is ‘hope’, not just theories but hope that is deep within someone, hope that motivates. They want to know about that.  Hope shines in dark places. Hope is not just talk. People will see hope in you when they see perseverance.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison and about to be killed he wrote a poem entitled Who am I? In spite of his upper-middle class cultured confidence he discovered he needed to ask himself this question. And when he did he discovered two people, the person before others and the person alone. And both were not a pretty sight. Let me read it.

“Who am I?  They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as through it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, O God, you know I am yours.”

For Bonhoeffer, the secret in not being paralysed when challenged –in spite of the mess he discovered in his soul – the secret is to know that you are not your own person. When other people saw Bonhoeffer they saw confidence. When he saw himself he knew fear in his bones. But fear is not the opposite of hope.

This week I’ve been listening to a song by Lana Del Ray which has the line ‘Hope is a dangerous thing… for a woman like me’. You get a sense of why that might be from the rest of the song… so its a bit depressing. But then it ends with a kind of twist… ‘But I have it’.

In the end of the day… it’s not that I’ve got it together. It’s that God has got a grip on me somehow.

It’s so counter intuitive. We are taught to spend all our life learning to be our own person. And then with our faith we discover that we are not our own person.

To be a Christian means that you have been captured in your heart and imagination, in your sense of purpose, in your sense of moral calling by the wisdom and power and beauty of God that fills and shines out in the life of Jesus from Nazareth. As Paul writes in today’s lesson, it means that you belong to Christ. You belong to the strange Christ, the crucified Christ. The embarassment in the world. The foolishness which is God’s wisdom.

It’s easy to say it, to say we belong to Christ. What if rather than merely saying it, out of duty… what if I take the time to discover it in myself .

If you do, then I believe you are on a journey of learning to trust God deeply. It doesn’t happen instantly

And in fact you only really go on that journey if you face challenges, challenges to your identity, your place in the world. It’s when you go through dark times, when you ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen to me here’… and in asking that question you might just discover that you know in your heart that God is the God of Jesus… that even in that worst thing, God will bring good out of it and bring you and others you love to something good, in this life and in the next.

In the end of the day you can serve others without paralysis if you don’t need to fit, if you belong elsewhere. You don’t belong to any of the tribes that want your loyalty. You don’t have to decide whose side your are on. Like Jesus you are on the side of those who suffer the most.

What you have seen is that the most powerful thing in the world, the thing that is saving the world from itself, is suffering love, the love that goes to its death rather than indulge in violence and warfare. This wisdom of God which is foolishness to nations and philosophies is now your calling, your place in the world. You rest, you find your sabbath, on the power of God which is the power of the cross.