Saturday, 23 November 2013

No greater Love

Sunday Gospel - Luke 23:35-43

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself’

Way back, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, Satan posed a very similar question. Not so much a question as a temptation. The devil may have considered that forty days in the desert would leave the human Jesus failing in strength, realising his weaknesses – and imagined that Jesus might use his Divinity to his own end rather than the will of his Father. And, after all, the Father has never been human; has never been hungry, couldn't know what it was really like to be one of us.

But Jesus was a strong, young man then; full of life; full of mission; full of the confidence that his Father and the Holy Spirit had blessed him with. Full with the belief that he could do this without rejecting either his humanity or his divinity. Confidence, Faith and Hope all sent the devil packing….then.

But now he’s back. And the circumstances must balance far more in his favour. He hides in humanity; in cruel mockery; in the weakness that sees us grabbing at straws to save ourselves.

The first criminal grabs at the claim of divinity but does he believe? It may seem ridiculous; but it can be easier to believe in magic than to believe in mercy.

Jesus may be no more than a charismatic prophet; a rebel leader. But there may be plans- friends conspiring to save the day and if so, why shouldn’t he be included? If Jesus can do this for himself, shouldn't he do it for everyone?

For Jesus, this time, how easy would it be to accept the challenge?

With the Mission behind him; abandoned by friends; rejected by the people he had come to save. His body stripped of all the strength and dignity of manhood; as his humanity withers away and the Father and Holy Spirit keep silent - the devil must have been rubbing his hands in glee.

If you are the Christ; you can save yourself.

Jesus is the Christ – but he can’t save himself - this is the relationship of Trinity –- mercy will have to come through the Holy Spirit and from the Father. Jesus, the Christ, must give himself up and put himself into their hands.

The sign says - This is the King of the Jews - a strange kind of king then that surrenders to the will of others. A king that places himself, not in authority but in solidarity with his people; with the lowest and most desperate of his people. Even knowing that a word, a gesture, could make this all go away; he chooses not to; he chooses to remain faithful to his humanity. After all if, at the end, he simply swept all this away then what was the point? Was it just a game- God playing Man?

Jesus proves his power by being powerless; his submission takes him out of the hands of those who jeer and tempt him leaving him in God's hands.

The other criminal speaks with sense of final honesty. He knows himself; who he is; sees some sort of justice; knows that he now has no power over his future.In his acceptance, he sees that there is a difference - Jesus' death is both execution and sacrifice. In the ultimate desire to live as his Father willed Jesus is going to die; Jesus is giving himself as sacrifice. There is something bigger here; there is something more; there is a strength and a promise that even at the end; even for a few moments the man wants to be a part of.

‘Take me with you.’

And Jesus does; 

Christ, the king who will not save himself, will save this man.


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Near at Hand

Gospel Luke 21:5-19

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you eloquence and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

Sometimes you just don’t want to hear the honest truth – or if you do – you don’t want to believe it.

Luke has style but he is a plain-speaker. After reading his Gospel you would wonder why anyone would have wanted to be a follower.

After knowing that history shows that these experiences have been part of our human experience even up to the tragedies of recent days,  you would wonder why there would be any point in being a Christian.

If the early followers thought they were living in the End Days – then where must we be?

It is passages like these that suggest that very little has changed. Man’s inhumanity to man continues, with ever evolving of weaponry and widening political and moral excuses to enter into conflict after conflict. The peace seekers are still the persecuted ones. Natural disasters see more sympathetic murmerings until charity apathy or resentment breaks in. Trying to follow the Christian message is likely to put you in the minority. Even Jesus suggests there is very little you can do about that.

Except – know that you are loved.

That’s where Jesus tells us our confidence, our endurance, our faith comes from.

In our relationship with God we have to know, in our mind, our heart and our guts, that as much as we love; we are loved so much more in return. We have to know; as the martyrs and the saints that have gone before us have known.

And how do you know?

You just do.

Have you ever loved and tried to explain it to someone else. It is a treasure stealing exercise; trying to deliver a list of qualities and experiences, attractions and commonalities that will prove a feeling that cannot be measured. Using words that sound banal once they are spoken. Making excuses for a feeling that will not be excused.

Trying to convince another person is an impossible task – even if the other is the one you love.

Parents with wayward children; partners who don’t seem to have anything in common; children with irresponsible parents tend to have the most honest answer –

I love them because I do - I love them because I cannot do otherwise.

And these are the words that Jesus puts into our mouths when we are asked to bear witness. Love is enough. Love is everything. Love is Godly.

Any other reason, excuse, debate is subject to the rule of the world; that says nothing is set in stone; that nothing is ever forever, that nothing is true. 

If the time ever comes when we are challenged or persecuted or betrayed; our confidence, our ability to stand tall will be fed by the Love that God has for us.  And if that challenge causes us pain or exile then perhaps Jesus will put his own words into our mouth.

‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’


Friday, 8 November 2013

And after all

GospelLuke 20:27-38 

Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
  Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

Belief in life after death is a matter of faith and imagination, not only does it happen or how does it happen but what would it be like? Questions that spin into the night and and are born again in the morning; all ready for a new debate.

Such challenges were common in the synagogues as the Jews literally 'chewed; their way through the words of the Torah. Combatants would justify their stance claiming the name of Moses and so it would begin. 

The 'what if?' of the Sadducees is a convoluted challenge by a group of people who do not even believe in an afterlife. So this question is simply meant to confuse matters; Jesus' answer seems to confuse matters even more.

We may find it a disturbing thought that that we won't be spending eternity with those that we love. We think of our family saints, surrounding us with their prayers and relationship; we look forward to joining with them - the promise of always -  a brand new life. 

 The Sadducees, in the world they represent, are not talking about marriage as we understand it and hope it to be. This is no loving relationship, but dutiful ownership. The widow, if she existed, would have no choice in the matter, she would be passed from one to another - as property; a legal obligation to prove adherance to the Law. 

Whose property will she be in the afterlife? 

If Jesus takes this challenge at all seriously it is only to address this one failing of humanity - the failure to love others as we love ourselves; to make caring for others an obligation rather than a privilege. 

In his reply, Jesus assures those whose lives are not their own that life in God will be a life of eternal and loving freedom. That there is no need to make contracts out of relationships; vows out of desire; obligation out of promises. That they will be reborn as the angels; as precious children of God; loved and loving; eternal and full of life.