Sunday, 29 June 2014

Both/And


Sunday Gospel - Matthew 16:13-19


When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’


In the Gospel it is ofte the simplest words that carry a challenging message. In most of Paul's letters, the champion of the gentiles, assures his people that they are no longer left out. They probably didn’t even know they were left out - living as they had been, oblivious to the Judaic bubble of promise.

But when the invitation comes they grasp it with both hands and hang on for dear life despite the protests of their ‘older brothers’, who consider themselves ‘there first!’But in time, for many, two became one, as Paul loves to put it, in Christ. There is no difference – all of us can, if we wish, live happily in the knowledge that Christ’s peace is our promise too.

But Paul’s writings aren’t just Paul’s words –like the rest of the New Testament, God has had a guiding hand. That’s why these words are still so relevant today. Because Christ’s peace didn’t come along just once, or for just a few; Christ’s peace is eternally creative in the world and still making both one, except now, all too often, we are the older brother - or sister.

At Caesarea Philippi When Jesus speaks of Jonah, it is a metaphorical father that Simon Peter is asked to turn away from. The 'head' and the 'tail' of that fishy story is of a man who thought he knew better than God. Who believed that he could judge those who were worthy of being saved.

And this is where simple becomes difficult. That sense of judgement that we all have - of who deserves, who doesn’t; who is better, who is not?


I may believe that I have peace through Christ

I may believe that I have peace with others who believe what I believe

I may believe that I have peace with people that I love.

Do  I have peace with people who don’t believe?

Do I have peace with those that I do not love?

I have to say not easily – in my heart I judge where that peace should be. But Jesus didn’t die for the either/or of my opinion but the both/and of his.

When Jesus died he took it all – he died for Peter and for Pilate; he died for the lepers and the Pharisees; he died for the Romans and the Jews. He died for those who threw stones and for those who wept.

Both became one – the worthy and the unworthy, the believer and the doubter, the sinner and the seemingly sinless.

The both that became one – the human and the divine – brings all humanity to the Divine peace.


wordinthehand2014

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Impossible to God?

Gospel of John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
Then the Jews started arguing with one another:

 ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

Juliana of Li├Ęge, an Augustinian nun, had visions of a full moon containing a single black spot. The Lord came to her in these visions and explained that the spot was the absence of a feast to celebrate the Blessed Sacrament. Twenty-something years later and with the approval of Bishops and Pope Urban IV and the feast day was established in 1261.

Despite the fact that we celebrate the Last Supper during Holy Week and the Eucharist itself at each Mass; by the thirteenth century the Lord seemed to think that we needed a dedicated feast day.

Pope Urban approved the solemnity after he had witnessed a consecrated host bleeding. Proof enough for him that the Consecration did bring about the changing of the bread and wine into the Real Presence.

But why had he needed this proof? The belief in the Real Presence was confirmed by the Church hundreds of years earlier.We have a strange sense of the miraculous - that it is easier to see Jesus heal the paralytic man that for us to believe his sins were forgiven. We have not learnt much from that Gospel. Why had the Pope needed a miracle to convince him? Why today, do we?

According to various polls, anything between 30 and 50% of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence as a Real presence. The celebration is a memorial; an evangelistic tool; a reminder of who we work for.

Perhaps we would do well to remember exactly who it is we do work for?

Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Person of the Trinity, Alpha and Omega, the Word made flesh. God, for whom nothing is impossible. Jesus said; 'For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.' And, as Karl Rahner pointed out if God says bread and wine is his body and blood - should we not expect it to be true.

Jesus asks us to continue his work; to be his brothers and sisters; believing that we can do what he does with less than a mustardseed of faith and the food of eternal life. St Paul tells us that this is the purpose of Eucharist - to be fed by God, with God, calling to us to be temples of God's living presence.

A presence that cannot be contained; if Jesus can give himself to us then we cannot hope to keep him just to ourselves - the Lord is not like that - remember he overfills water jars with wine and baskets with the crumbs of feeding thousands. His generosity is a challenge to us to do the same. In the early church the response to 'The body of Christ' was 'I am'.


Take me, eat me, be me, share me - what a fearsome challenge - a challenge that Jesus made to his disciples repeatedly through John's Gospel until there were only a few left. And for them his promise 'to be with you always'.

Corpus Christi - a feast day that is not meant to remind the Lord that he is the Body of Christ but to remind us that we are.

wordinthehand2014

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Seeking understanding

Gospel

     John 3:16-18

Jesus said to Nicodemus:‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of
God’s only Son.’


One of the things I love most about Jesus is that he is just as tongue-tied as the rest of us about explaining mystery. Well, maybe somewhat better than some of us,  but the 50 parables of the Gospels are no more than metaphorical tales as Jesus tries, over and over again,  to refine the statements - God is like....the Kingdom is like....Heaven is like...

But most of all, the most indescribable of all, the mystery that is Holy Trinity - that is our God. St Anselm may write that 'faith seeks understanding' but the seeking simply creates more of a need to understand what cannot be understood. 

 When I was thinking about this feast the thought came into my head that St Anselm was wrong - faith does not seek understanding - faith seeks reassurance. Asking God to find a way to let us know that it is true; that 'He' is true; that 'They' are true. 

Faith sometimes seeks ways of turning faith into proof and that is as impossible for us as it was for Jesus. It just has to happen; which is why, sometimes, it can only happen when there is nothing left; when all the 'truths' have passed us by or let us down. When we are hiding in the shadows believing ourselves lost and suddenly a shaft of light appears. Then the thought of this God of many levels and relationships becomes a need to have a parent and a family that we can belong to. Maybe we need less proof and more instinct. Heart to heart in love.

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’.

Jesus is the Gate and the Gatekeeper. And because he is both God and Man - we have been included in the mystery. As in  Rublev's Icon, the invitation has been made. The Trinity is no longer self-contained - it has a crack in it and we are meant to find our way in.

Explain mystery? Only a human would even try.

            It is like....


wordinthehand2014

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Pentecost - Let thy Kingdom come

Gospel John 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.’


The feast of Pentecost is most clearly recognised by the reading from Acts - the 'Gospel' of the Holy Spirit - it almost feels that that reading would have been enough; more than enough given the drama of the Holy Spirit's entrance.

It could feel that the Holy Spirit has ushered in a new era of faith - Jesus was always a little too human. Now here is a little of the Old Testament mystery of the Divine. Perhaps there is some rite of succession taking place as another aspect of God is revealed to take on the shepherding of humanity.

The two readings taken together show that this is not true. The Holy Spirit is not a nanny left by an exasperated teacher. It was surely always the intention that there would be a way for Jesus' influence, for the Father's grace, to remain with his followers without his humanity being comprised. 

Even if Jesus had reached his three score and ten there would have always been the risk that faith would not be stronger than death. There had to be another way and, as climactic as the Upper Room is, it doesn't all happen at once - there is the mark of the Trinity.

At the climax of the crucifixion, Jesus gives his Spirit into the Father's keeping. His essence; the part of each and every one of us that is a seed of the Divine having lived and grown in the fullness of his life, is given away in total surrender. This giving is an act of will; the last act of will of the historical Jesus.

Just before this final emptying Jesus uses his last breath to begin the transformation of his followers. He breathes on the few who have accompanied him to the cross. Knowing the 'Yes' of his mother is for all time the passing of his 'children' into her keeping is fulfilled perhaps without no more than a blink of a tear-filled eye. The bequest asks more of the disciple and so of us; to make room in our lives for Mary so that the Mother of God becomes our mother.

The reconciliation of the children to the Father is underway.

This visitation moves the relationship further - his breath is a kiss of life - a whisper of truth - to get past the fear phase they need a catalyst; they need an energy source that is outside themselves - they need Jesus' Spirit.

Jesus gives the disciples and us, the 'one thing' the tipping point for transformation - the forgiveness of sins. The option for Love. Why? Because sin keeps us from Father; it is the cause of our amnesia; our denial. It is not God but our own rejection of who we are that leaves us swineherds instead of racing home as beloved sons and daughters.

Jesus tells us we are in him and he is in the Father - what does that say other than we are already living our eternal life? 

Written on the Father's hand since the beginning; the divine spark of each and every one of us made incarnate by the 'yes' of a woman's body, moulded in the water and clay of Creation. The ending of this life a metamorphosis into a resurrection that we have not yet seen except through our brother's promise. Jesus is the first but not the last. 

The realisation of who Jesus was came to him through the midwifery of the Holy Spirit when She drove Jesus into the heat of the desert for his re-birthing. The disciples are treated more tenderly but the mission is no different. The Will of the Father; let all division cease; let Thy Kingdom come.

wordinthehand2014


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Go as you are

Sunday Gospel  - Matthew 28:16-20 


The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’

It's Matthew so it must be the (now) Eleven. It doesn't mean that only they were there, any more than only they were there at the Last Supper. But imagery is important; the infant church will begin by following in the footsteps of Jacob's sons. 

And like Jacob's sons, they remain a motley crew of eager yet nervous, unsure yet faithful followers. And if there is no other reason for reading scripture it is this one; to realise that God's people have always been a doubting, meddling, anxious, cowardly, hesitant, wrangling lot. Which is why they are God's people - knowing they wouldn't get very far on their own.

And that God wouldn't have it any other way.

It's Matthew, so there must be a mountain - a ancient meeting place of the Divine and humanity. This time there is no bright lights, no unearthly voice, no ancestral fathers, no time to make a tent. There is - only Jesus. 

And Jesus tells the disciples that that he is enough. That they can keep all their faults, their feelings and their failings because he is enough.

How subversive is that? That you are good enough to do God's work - just as you are? 

You can barely scroll through a few internet pages without getting '7 steps to success' or '5 ways of winning'  or 'Tips to the top' - all intended to create a desire for a life, lifestyle, relationships or career that is all about the better us.  

And it is a sad truth that we have churches filled -or rather not filled -  with exclusions and exceptions. That we judge others and continue to judge ourselves. And that now churches are developing marketing strategies and training people to be the 'new' face of evangelism. 

Surely, it's more important to be the 'true' face of evangelism? That it's only our hearts that matter. That it is our flaws, our vulnerability and our compassion that deny us the opportunity to look the other way. It is our love for others that offers others hope. It is our example of who we are that brings others to where they want to be. And never without Jesus.

I am often confused by people who anticipate the  second coming when we are already blessed with 'now here'. This Gospel reminds us that Jesus still maintains the present tense.That he, his Father and the Holy Spirit are the constant ones. 

In baptism, we turn to them in love,

and they are already there.

Until the end of time.


wordinthehand2014