Friday, 24 May 2013

Love, Love, Love

GospelJohn 16:12-15 

Jesus said:
‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.’

There are many challenges to Faith. Some of them come from outside; from those whose only faith is in what can be proved; scientifically, mathematically, logically. 

But the challenges within are even stronger; the challenge not to rely on science, mathematics or logic. To have faith; to believe in a God that contains all that but is beyond all that; who made us in His image but who cannot be imagined. An explainable God is really not a God at all.

A God who named himself ‘I am’ (himself/herself – even our language conspires against us) and left us to imagine an Almighty Father, Creator of the Universe God ruling over us, who loved his people from some distant Paradise; an ancient Presence seemingly unconcerned with the minutiae of our lives; until Jesus....

And here we have God; a son; a brother; a friend; a storyteller; a healer. A man who loves so deeply that he will die for the least of us; who loves his Father so much that he willingly surrenders to the need for this sacrifice. A God who, having risen from a cruel death and the knowledge of the betrayal by his friends, still cannot bear to be parted from us; until the Spirit....

God alive in the world but undefined by it; except in words of fire, water and air. A God that brings gifts of Grace and Wisdom. A God that gets in your hair; in your lungs; under your skin and fills the world with Her joy and creative power. This is the God that Jesus, the storyteller, speaks to us about. God that we call the Trinity.

But wouldn’t it be as easy to believe that we were mistaken? That there isn’t just one God; that we belong to a Family of God – a mother, father and child God; it was certainly easier for the early civilisations to do this – to create even more gods to rule the elements, the hills, the trees and the waters.

Yet Jesus states clearly ‘the Father and I are One,’ that the Spirit comes through him. That the Trinity is One God; and the One God needs to be Triune. Because the One God is all about Love.Imagine God with a single face. Where would Love have come from? Self-love is dangerous; the alternative even worse. To create humanity out of loneliness is somewhat pathetic; to create humanity so as to love God is selfish and manipulative; and ill conceived - especially as we are not very good at it. 

Give God two faces and love becomes imaginable. The delightful memory for those who have been there – looking into the eyes of the One, the grace of knowing that you are also the One; a love that mirrors itself; basking in its perfection. Complete in themselves; a God with two faces would have had no need for us; no time to even consider creating distractions such as ourselves. God with three faces always has somewhere else to look; another image to gaze upon with wonder and awe; Love that grows and strains to find more to love. A love that is drawn from one to another in a pattern, a dance of Grace. This God is able to look at each other and say ‘this Love needs to be shared’. 

And so us, as children invited to the dance; to take our place, joyfully, in the mystery of faith. And to be glad that it is so big, so beyond us, that it must be God.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

To boldly go

Sunday GospelJohn 20:19-23 

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

For people who have frequented the cinema recently, an image would be in their minds of Jesus beaming into the room a la James T Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew. Rearranging the atoms and molecules that created his resurrected body would have seemed no problem at all.

If you are intending to see the film - maybe skip the next bit. Although, I don't think I am giving too much away.

In the beginning of the new Star Trek film 'Into Darkness', Kirk and co are on a mission to 'observe' a planet, home to a race of humanoid people at the very beginning of developing a culture and faith. The planet is at risk from a grumbling volcano. So, despite the rules about non-involvement with other cultures, all hands come together to rescue the planet, part of which means the 'Enterprise' rising majestically, and supernaturally, from the depths of the ocean for the whole race of 'barely invented the wheel' people to see.

Back 'home' Kirk is removed from his captaincy -not for the first time nor the last - for disobeying the Prime Directive which is meant to keep the lives of other planets at 'arms reach'. What follows is a conversation regarding rules and regulations that should make its way into many a Situation Ethics lesson in the next few months (I can't find a clip at the moment) which asks how rules made in the safety and logic of a hypothetical scenario can be applied in the raw reality of a life and death situation.  Especially when the power of life or death is very much in your hands.

This is the beginning of James Tiberius Kirk's career, although his over-confidence and his raw humanity never wanes. He has been seen; he has been chosen; he has been converted; he has been challenged. He has his people and his mission. He never learns to obey anything other than his own internal moralty (with a little influence and a lot of support from his friends)  and he never keeps anyone at arms reach. He has too much to encounter and all of Space to discover.

In the Gospel, the frontier is a lot wider; the place to be explored is 'peace'. Not the peace of the disciples, who would maybe have preferred a return to fishing; friendship and family. A peace where people didn't turn they backs; throw stones; betray a friend. A peace that rewards the worry, the work and the frustation of trying to do the right thing. A quiet space, a place of welcome.

Jesus' peace is none of these things. Jesus' peace is also a place of discovery and encounter. Jesus' peace is in the utter giving over of who he is to the Father. Jesus' peace leaves no place for fear - his most common reassurance throughout the Gospels - the desire that we need not be afraid. The mission that he passes on to us.

What does differentiate the film from the tv series is the character development of the rest of the crew. The good ship, 'Enterprise' holds a body of people each with their own place in the creative imagination.

 Our roles aren't simply as support actors either; St Paul tells us that we are not just to follow Christ but to put on Christ; to be like Christ; to be the Body of Christ. Jesus offers us the peace that paradoxically leads to the restless heart of St Augustine; searching for the resting place of God's embrace.

Jesus' 'prime directive' does not take place at arms reach. We are not to leave anyone in darkness. We are to be courageous and carelessly compassionate. The Holy Spirit empowers us to forgive. To enter into the pain and guilt of our brothers and sisters; to reconcile and restore; to bring home those who are lost.

And the retention of sins? With Jesus' peace, our eyes are opened to the ills of the world; to the greed and the exploitation. It isn't for us to look the other way; to let the world suffer and destroy itself. The Holy Spirit gives us the confidence to name the darkness so that it can hide no longer.

Occasionally, you might see James T Kirk back on his ranch, maybe the disciples took a fishing trip now and again; sometimes we find a place of retreat from the world; but that is not where we are meant to be. We are part of God's mission. In spirit and in faith, we are asked to boldly go...

Apologies to those who are not Science Fiction fans - sometimes the Gospel meets me in the strangest of places.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

Look Up

GospelLuke 24:46-53 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.
  ‘And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.’
  Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

It seems then, the disciples have got the message. The Risen Lord shows them how everything had come together; how the pieces fitted and that it was all true.

In Luke’s account the disciples seem perfectly happy with this; joyful even, as they accompany the Lord on this last walk together to the outskirts of the town. Their uncertainties have been answered; they have seen, heard, touched and ate with the Resurrected Christ. They, who have known him as man, have accepted him (in some way or another) as God.

And Luke, who is very much the plain speaking Gospel writer, records this unique event with mundane simplicity. ‘he was carried up to heaven’, as though it were any normal happening; as if he had been waved off on the next caravan going east.

Where is the fanfare, the trumpet blast? Where is the wonder of the Transfiguration when the Lord became unnaturally brilliant and transformed or even his Baptism with the visitation of the Father and Holy Spirit.

Perhaps, there is no need to impress anyone now. Perhaps it was necessary that his going was as simple as going home; to reassure his friends that they would have a home there too.
Christ is the Pathfinder; a journey from Divinity into humanity; through life; through suffering and death; through Hell and into a new life that is Divine. A path that was grown over, gated and guarded and now revealed. Through him, with him and in him, the journey home is signposted and the door is as wide open as the sky above.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Peace, perfect Peace

Sunday GospelJohn 14:23-29 

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words.
And my word is not my own:
it is the word of the one who sent me.
I have said these things to you while still with you;
but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all I have said to you.
Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give,
this is my gift to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return.
If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father,
for the Father is greater than I.
I have told you this now before it happens,
so that when it does happen you may believe.’

John reminds us again of what a great vision we can have in hindsight. In the joy and revelation of the Resurrection it must have been easy to sit around the campfire or the table of hospitality and let themselves be reminded of all those conversations with Jesus that had made no sense at all. 
Here we are introduced to the idea of God as Trinity. In one breath Jesus speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a Union that give Christians a deep assuredness of God’s presence in all of their lives. For the Jewish disciples, committed to a belief in one God, this seems the opposite of everything they were taught to believe in. No wonder it had made no sense; that Jesus regarded God as intimately as a son would love a human father was enough of a challenge. And now, the Holy Spirit – sent from both the Father and the Son to be our guardian and guide.  

God fusses over us, as Jesus reminds us, like a hen with her chicks. So much so, that even with the tragic foreboding of the end of Jesus'  earthly life, it is the spiritual wellbeing of his friends and his followers that concerns him most. Since he drew them to his side they have belonged to him; the nearness of his death elevates his sense of responsbility to that of a parent and child.  He has only just promised that he will not leave us orphans. His desire to always be among us in the everyday and the everywhere can only be fulfilled by the gift of the Holy Spirit; the Paraclete - the One who walks Beside - an eternal companion offering unconditional love, wisdom and guidance. 

Everything that Jesus has, he gives to us.

As Christians, we call on this wraparound of God’s presence with every Sign of the Cross. A Unity and a Tri-unity of loving invitation and promise.   Our lives will be anything but easy if we leave the world's claim on us and try to follow our brother Jesus as servants of compassion. The peace he offers us is not one of avoidance or retreat; it is the peace of living in God's light. Walking in Jesus' footsteps, we can rest in the holding of the Father embrace and  the watchfulness of the Holy Spirit. A peace that assures all of us that we too are part of this Family of Love.