Friday, 6 November 2015

One Hundred Percent

GospelMark 12:38-44 


In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

  He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’


The treasury gives many the opportunity to give a great deal. There is not one but thirteen pots, shaped like upturned trumpets, some dedicated to a certain aspect of Temple necessities; care for the poor, the widow and the leper; for free will; for incense and for sacrifice. Temple money was made of brass and made a great clatter as it poured into the pots especially if someone wanted their contribution to be noticed. The Jewish canon ruled that the minimum donation was two prutah - two mites.   

The treasury was placed in the court of the women; not a place set aside for women but the limit of the Temple where women were allowed. Like many religious communities today, the Temple relied upon the unseen and unacknowledged for their upkeep. Their money welcome even if they were not. 
 
Jesus is 'people watching'- paying attention to his Father's world - and he sees her; the widow; one of the little ones; the poor ones; the ‘don’t really matter’ ones. Perhaps, as he is watching her, he is reminded of his own mother. Perhaps he is reminded of the scrimping and saving that she had to do maybe before and certainly after Joseph’s death. After all, Joseph was a labourer, long robes would have be useless to him, would have got in the way of his livelihood trying to support a wife and child. A family who should know their place; the comments of those who hear Jesus preach – ‘this is only the carpenter’s son’, ‘only Mary’s son’ – with the veiled addition of ‘who does he think he is?’

Yet his mother and father brought him up to be a good Jew; to know the traditions and responsibilities of his faith; to know them well and not always to accept how they have been acted out. The sharpness of his comments suggests past experience. Jesus teaches his disciples to be circumspect; not to be distracted by finery or assumed importance or status.

Jesus says ‘I tell you most solemnly…’ I love that phrase. It’s a ‘look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m not just  ‘one of the lads’ now’ phrase.

Because, to the ‘lads’ it will have been a little thing; a non-event. Widows give pennies every day, rich men give more – that’s the way the world is; and the world demands its pay. We are encouraged to see success and generosity in pound signs. We find it hard to appreciate that 100% of very little is still 100%.



I suppose it must have been possible for the widow to simply not pay; to avoid the Temple and the treasury itself? Surely it would be better that she had something to eat; something put aside for the rainy day?

 It is through her own integrity that she gives 'all she has'. And if the rich had had any integrity they would have seen their responsibility to take care of her.

 Charity and hospitality is not meant to be about what we can spare -whether time, commitment or money - but in doing all we can to meet need, poverty, loneliness and injustice. Our faith should be implicit in our lives -  not something we can put on or take off; not something we can pay off or be compensated for. The actions of our faith should leave us with nothing; should be all we have and all we are. 

And how often it is the unassuming ones who fulfill this vocation. The media has been discussing the recent influence of Catholic Social Teaching in British politics; aiming the morals and ethics at the directors of businesses and leaders of social organisations. The one who will arrive with 'the' car and 'the' suit and who then will tell the poor how to live. 

Catholic Social Teaching begins in the community and it move up and out from a desire to 'love your neighbour' and it is usually instigated by those who have walked the walk already. How often does Pope Francis remind us of these 'little ones' in his teaching?

 How often the church - and the world-  relies on such people who fit one more thing into their already busy lives; who don't imagine retirement as an opportunity to rest; who believe that sometimes they are the 'someone' who should sort it out. These are the people who say 'yes' far more than they ever say 'no'; who can always fit another minute in the day; another plate at the table; another stop on the way home. 

And, often,  it isn't until the job's not done that they are noticed at all. 

 It’s a compelling thought that, rather than sitting in robes of silk and enthroned in splendour at the front of a church, God actually spends His time at the back and, often, not in church at all. Like his son, he watches in the shadows, noticing all the little goodnesses, sacrifices and graces are carried out by the unassuming, unknown, undervalued ones in the community; who are, in truth,  giving all they have.

wordinthehand2015


Sunday, 5 July 2015

All talk, no action


Sunday Gospel - Mark 6:1-6
Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.


In Mark's gospel this is Jesus' first return home. We don't have the first experience of Jesus opening the words of Isiaiah's prophecy and the wondering that followed. Jesus had left Nazareth as a son of a carpenter with a trade to 'trade'. But tales travel by many roads and the news of Jesus' healings, teachings and exorcisms must have created a community filled with anticipation to see their local hero. So then, what was the problem?

Perhaps, there in the synagogue, this time hearing the words of Isaiah brought to life there is a sense of discomfort. The scriptures, repeated over and over, discussed and argued over and over, have rarely, until now, been put into action. The rumours are proved true. The Good News is here. The son of a carpenter has set God's plan in motion. 

And now, discomforted and challenged, what is the community to do? Sell what they own and follow him? Feed the hungry and clothe the naked? Step out of their comfort zone and into the kingdom building that calls for repentance - for a change of heart? And how hard is that going to be?

Easier to play Jesus as a fool and turn their heads.

Their faith fails, not in Jesus, but in themselves. 


wordinthehand2015


Friday, 17 April 2015

Witnesses

Gospel Luke 24:35-48

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So 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.


My granddaughter often picks up a question or situation from somewhere that she likes to stew over for a bit. The questions 'why....?' are something to treasure and can come thick and fast. Often discussed in the car, or the front bench of church as we are usually impossibly early. 

Which is wonderful as, like many six year olds, she now has quite an incisive, theological mind. 

Her latest quandary was about Father Christmas and Jesus. Can you believe in both and if you stop believing in one can you still believe in the other? 

Being only six, I really wanted to leave this in her backyard. She knew that some people didn't believe in Jesus. She knew that some people didn't believe in Fr Christmas. 

We talked about what impact believing in either/both of them made on people's lives and when or why would you have to choose. 

After some discussion about faith and belief - this is her thesis - 


People have to be asleep to 'see' Father Christmas, 
but you have to be awake to 'see' Jesus. 



Enough said...

wordinthehand2015

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Too many Thomas'

Gospel of John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, 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.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.



I have always thought of this as a two sided Gospel - that the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the doubtful Thomas make a complex passage for reflection. Especially as most homilies I have heard tend to concentrate on Thomas and his unfortunate reputation. I was reminded today that whenever I have seen an either/or in the Gospels that I should look for a both/and. Thomas and the forgiveness of sins belong together.

I have to admit that my sympathies have lay more and more with Thomas over recent years. It is easy to criticise him now that we imagine we understand the Resurrection. Although I would sincerely question how we could ever truly understand the Resurrection? Perhaps we have been taught to believe, have accepted the evidence of others to give us a faith that we could never have imagined for ourselves.


I sympathise mostly because of repeated conversations, even with Confirmation candidates, when they demand proof that Jesus exists; that God exists; that heaven exists. They are studying what 'we believe' but they don't believe it - it doesn't give them answers.
Lots of Thomas' making the same demands as two thousand years ago and who, really, can blame them? They live in a world of cynicism and disbelief; they live in a world that, as far as they can tell, hasn't benefited much from the Resurrection even if it did happen. There is still suffering; bad things still happen.

Although there is a lot of bravado when challenging authority; there is something else in their challenge that wants to be comforted and proved wrong. False hope is far worse than no hope and this is what Thomas fears. As he was away from the group; it seems that he had managed to find some reason to carry on; caring for others in the community, getting supplies? However he feels inside; he has started to rebuild himself; he has put on the brave face and put away hope. A survival instinct that is not always healthy but is all too common.

His grief has sent him so far outside himself that only the physical presence of his Risen Lord will bring him back; the words of reassurance that tell him it is true.
Blessed indeed are those whose sense of God allows them to 'just know'. Although who can say if the time will come when 'just knowing' will not be enough?

An option with young people is to withdraw from the debate; to suggest that 'we have a session to finish'; that it can't be discussed now; that perhaps they should talk it over with their family. To blame them for their doubts as we so readily blamed Thomas. If I just give their doubt back to them - would this be retaining their sins; would this be keeping them from a Truth that they deserve as much as I do? Is this the link?

I saw a cartoon recently where Thomas was challenging the Twelve - 'How come you never get 'denying Peter' or 'Runaway Mark?'.

And it's true; their 'sins' have been forgiven -why not Thomas? Because doubt is a dangerous emotion in a group of believers; especially believers who have doubted themselves. Doubters are mirrors to our own anxieties; our own disbelief echoed back to us.

But what else can I do? What I do is try to be some sort of witness; which is difficult because that means giving them 'me' - why I believe; things that have gone wrong in my life; where God was when they happened; I have to be vulnerable to them (nerve-wracking I have to admit) - letting them have the opportunity to look at my wounds and my scars. Being as open in my faith around them as I would be with my adult church friends.

Does it get rid of the doubt? Well at least what they get is some honesty and that helps- knowing that even those who claim belief don't have all the answers. They will always need that personal experience but perhaps with gentleness and invitation they are a little nearer meeting Jesus, their Lord and their God, for themselves.

wordinthehand2015

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Breaking of fish

Easter Thursday 
Gospel - Luke 24:35-48 

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.
Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So 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.


We have trouble believing anything these days so we can't feel too badly about the disciples. Actually that's not true - we can believe in lots of rubbish - ghost TV, fortune tellers, the Da Vinci Code and so did the disciples - their world was full of shades, spirits and demons.

And if they saw the Risen Christ then this was probably what they were expecting - a possessed body, something intangible, a shiver up and down their spine. But that wasn't what appeared before them. Christ appeared from nowhere but then spoke; and not only spoke but ate - real food that was given to him, not conjured up.

I am still considering, more than halfway through Easter week now, how quietly and ordinarily Christ did this. This is the Resurrection - have you ever seen a painting or work of art that has treated this event so casually as Christ himself does? There's always light, clouds, angels, an exuberance of something - but when Christ does it - it's just him - him being the 'more than enough'.

That he then is resurrected as all he was, scars, wounds and all, still human , still Divine and can hold Time and Space in one hand, whilst eating fish with the other. Probably broken every God law that he ever made (but he's God - so that's ok). That's definitely a God thing to do - quite, quite beyond me and whilst I am inspired to spend hours meditating on it - I hope I never 'get' it.

Jesus the Nazarene is a man that I love, and I can see the God-ness in him as I can see the Charism in others. He is a teacher, a brother, someone I would love to sit by the campfire and eat with. That the Risen Christ, holds the All of Everything together yet wants to sit and eat with me?

wordinthehand2015

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Walk this Way



Gospel 


Luke 24:13-35

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.
Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’
Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread


We are not a patient people. Just a few days waiting in the garden, deciding it was all an anti-climax. The city is starting to get a bit scary now. Time to be making our way home.

Thinking about our journey of faith, everything up to Easter is the foundation - the teachings- the basics. This is what you have to know to be a Christian; informative, educational, even institutional. Whether or not YOU are a Christian depends on the next bit - the Road to Emmaus. You may 'know' it but do you believe it and do you let it change your life?

Emmaus, you may know, was a spar town, the early version of Blackpool or Las Vegas, the sort of place that you would take yourself off for for some fun; to cheer yourself up; to forget your worries. 

Jerusalem is all about the faith; responsibility; the way to Heaven. And most of us spend our time wandering between the two, depending on where we are in our lives - we will all be aware of the peaks and troughs in our faith when we 'haven't had time' for God and then needed Him to answer questions we didn't want to think about. We move back and forwards, often travelling in the wrong direction to where we should really be.

And we can't be told, oh no, we don't believe the women because it is too hard, too outrageous; too challenging. They are not reliable witnesses.

Until the stranger appears, often when we are at our lowest, our saddest, the mid-point when we don't know if we are coming or going. The time of the journey when you realise you need some direction and are ready to listen. And suddenly alongside you is Jesus, patient, loving, compassionate and it is made clear; it makes sense, the reality of the Resurrection hits home. 

The God of Always, holding together the whole cat's cradle of the Cosmos yet is here, where you are; because that's how much he loves you



wordinthehand2015

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Amazing Grace

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices with which to go and anoint him. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.
They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ But when they looked they could see that the stone – which was very big – had already been rolled back. On entering the tomb they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right-hand side, and they were struck with amazement. But he said to them, ‘There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him. But you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you.”’

There is such a quietness to Mark's Resurrection; the natural dawn - no special star or eclipse. The stone rolled away - not blasted. The God of the weak, the unwanted, the unclean, the unworthy still will not put himself above us. He is, even more so, where we are. Jesus simply came back as he left - with the humility of a servant - and he went home.

The women, faithful disciples, follow the traditions of family and community. The desire to blend their grief with love opens them up to beginnings of healing. The pragmatic concerns of how to carry out their task a counterpoint to  their regret that it had ever happened. Of course they are amazed. Who would have ever believed that life goes on?

Resurrection is seen in the willingness to begin again when hope is lost.  Jesus,  lifted from the pain, persecution and betrayal of his human life, experiences his Father's creative grace for himself. His journey to Galilee is a reasurrance and an invitation. It is the courage to seek hope out again that creates new life in us all. It is a faith found at the graveside, the sickbed, in the pacing floors of three am worries. It is not easy. It is the open hand, the welcoming hearth, the noticing gaze. It is a movement of the heart that draws the person out of darkness. It is the gift of discipleship. 

The witness of Mark places us in the distress and confusion of the mourner. The man in white is no angelic messenger. He could be any one of us. A still light in the darkness, a steadying hand, a calming voice, a guide to the place where love has made its home. 


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wordinthehand2015

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday

Magdalen Lament

I am sick.

Not the sick of an excited, shrieking, palm filled road
Not the sick of what happens next?
Not the sick of too much food, too much wine.
Not the sick of too little sleep.

This is the sick I felt lost in the market-place
This is the sick I felt sold into slavery
This is the sick I felt at a child born dead
This is the sick I felt when the demons laughed and the men spat at me
This is the sick of fear drenched, screaming desolation.

He is gone.

The one who knew me,
The one who saved me,
The one who loved me.

Oily clouds draw a veil over the night sky
Moon and stars refuse to look upon those
That condemned the Brightest One.

His light no longer in this world.

Eclipsed by the blackness of men’s hearts,
The blindness of their eyes,
The shadows of their ambition.

He is gone.

But I have a star,
Fallen from his mouth.
A promise to return.
I fear I misheard,
A demon awakened at his going
Taunts me with my loss.
For where are the others?

I have a star,
And by its light I will wait.
The garden embraces me.
My watchfulness may feed the lilies
And sparrows find a home in my hair
Yet I will not leave the place
Of his descent.

For I have a star
And I have named it Hope.



wordinthehand2009

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tipping Point

Palm Sunday 


Mark 11:1-10
Wouldn't it be lovely, just one year, not to have the horror of Good Friday looming over this event? For some paradox of time to switch the ending of the week to something less guilt-riddenOne of the hardest parts of the Gospel for me to read without shuddering at what was going to happen next. 

Ignatian Spirituality embraces the practice of imaginative meditation as well as contemplative prayer. Placing yourself in the Gospel can teach, heal and inspire. 
This year, the thought occurs to me that Pope Francis may well be joining Jesus in having a Palm Sunday moment or two. 

For both of them, all that time in the desert, the message was being passed, believed, ignored, dismissed. Until the summoning of the Spirit brings them out of the soul thirsting, dryness and the unending struggle of the darkened and dry valleys of hopelessness and poverty. 

As they teeter on the tipping point of their lives a decision is made - how am I going to do this? How do I subvert the expectations of the world.

Jesus, for the first time ever (and against the desire of the authorities) accepts a position of honour and the homage of the crowd. Pulling together prophecy and  expectationhe creates the image everyone was waiting for. And they react in kind. Rephrasing the usual pilgrim's welcome to bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord; they deafen the onlookers with their praise. The world is present in Jerusalem. The crowd, overcome by the spectacle, are giving him the clothes off their backs.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been following his Lord's example for over two years now. As Francis, he stands as a servant; with borrowed clothes and second hand jewellery; he speaks to the faiths and cultures of the world; the crowd pour blessings onto him. He feeds the hungry and provides showers and hairdressers for the homeless. He takes hospitality with him wherever he goes, for whoever he meets.  The media delights in daily discourse and uncovering one more fact or fancy. 

In the next few days for Jesus, and the following years. with God's grace,  for Francis, life is going to get much more uncomfortable. 

How easy it would be to keep Jesus on his colthow easy to keep Francis up on his pedestal - letting them challenge the status quo whilst we wave our flags from the sidelines. How easy, then, to be the onlooker; the critic; the cynic; believing that these challenges are surely not made towards us. 

The authorities will have little patience now with Jesus; a threat to the spiritual and the imperial leadership, he has put his head in the lion's mouth and it is only a matter of time. Even his followers of three years will turn on him in one way or another.    

 For Francis - asked to build a living church - a different culture; a different time; a different set of values - two thousand years of faith and tradition- surely we are better prepared? The scandals of Rome are a matter of opinion. Feeding the poor, welcoming the marginalised, women on the sanctuary. 

The crowds will fade taking their memories with them; the media will pack up and go home; the flag will be used as a duster and the only people left will be those for whom the Gospel is a living truth. Those who want to destroy it and those who want to build it. 

wordinthehand2015

Saturday, 21 March 2015

In the stillness of waiting

Gospel
John 12:20-33 

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:
‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’
A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.
‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’
By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.


This Friday past was, as a young boy exclaimed on the radio, the best day of our lives. 

In truth it was a pretty 'best day', as the northern hemisphere witnessed one of the few total solar eclipses of the century. That young man will possibly have his own son on his shoulders at the time of the next one in 2026. 

Incredible how this prophesied event could tempt so many away from their Friday morning usuality. Thousands of schoolchildren took their lessons outside, squinting through special spectacles, creating pin hole cameras, and measuring the temperature of shadows. Thousands of workers risked the bosses ire by wandering towards the windows or 'needing' to go outside just at the right time, risking their phone cameras for the perfect shot. Hundreds of thousands woke with a sigh that the sky was clouded and then sighed as the drop in temperature brought about a 'reveal' of the Sun's crooked smile or even less. 

Thousands gathered at Stonehenge and other ancient sites to acknowledge the ancient understanding of the world's place in the universe, eagerly sacrificing their cynical minds for the wonder of the moment. A scientist commentating moment by moment on the Radio, went as silent as the surrounding birdsong at the climax of the event, then admitted that the scene had affected her more emotionally than she would ever have expected. 

Perhaps the ancients had it right after all. The death of a Sun is not something to be taken lightly. And even knowing that it is for no more than a degree or two in the the Earth's turning, is it not a moment worthy of witness? 

For that one moment we experience the physical separation from the Sun, from light and heat. For the one moment of withdrawal we are reminded of our fragility. Jesus' words ignite a fear of loss held so lightly below the surface of our certainty.

Life is a crystalline reality, easily broken, easily formed into something else. Death is part of that reforming. Creation needs all its little deaths in order to make things new. Even fossilised life becomes a power source or a foundation for the future. 

We despair of our poor choices, mistakes and disappointments , marking all of them as little deaths. It is the waiting in the eerie dusk of the eclipse, when hope is turned blind by failure, that it is so easy to give up. Take heart then, that with just a turning or two, there will be new life, a new beginning. 

Maybe,  even, the 'best day' of our lives. 


wordinthehand2015

Friday, 13 March 2015

How the light gets in



Gospel John 3:16-21 

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘Yes, 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.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’



Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a learned man of faith. He knows both scripture and the Law; he has lived his life by it; a teacher himself - he is a good man. But he has questions. There is something new in what Jesus says and, although the teaching is outside Nicodemus' experience, it has truth in it and he wants to understand; desperately wants to understand.

It seems a bit surreal - not the actions of a God that we are used to. 
Jesus tells of when Moses protected the Isrealites from the poisons of snakes sent by God himself. An attempt, by God,  to bring them back to him once again. 
               
Once bitten, there was only one way to save themselves from an agonizing death; they were saved by looking on the bronze serpent held high on a pole by Moses. It was 'tough with a taste of jealous' love that  worked; but with a cost. Where is the integrity in faith born from fear; from obeying the Law - or else?

Of course, this is still early days in the relationship between God and his people; still very much a learning process. But, as in many relationships, if you don't have the right understanding at the beginning, you are going to struggle. It becomes easier to ask for a set of rules; a measuring stick; a sense of either/or. But then it comes down to being 'good' and who can be 'good' enough?

I have met many people like Nicodemus who find this Love idea too good to be true. People whose idea of God is a judgemental father waiting to catch us out; reinforced by spiritual leaders who find the promise of damnation a little too attractive. People whose lives are tormented by the idea that in everything that they do they are found wanting; who can't go to Reconciliation because of the shame of being 'found out' or who constantly go to Confession because they cannot believe they have been forgiven. People who do not realise that the only one who stands in judgement of them - is them.  

Cannot believe Jesus' own words;

God so loved the world

That he gave his only Son

So that everyone who believes...may have eternal life

Not to condemn the world but to save it.

Along with every other piece of Lenten scripture this is a journey of transformation -  Nicodemus walks away under cover of night in confusion; this is a good thing, a very good thing - the crack in the armour of certainty  allows the Light to enter. And we know that this is only the beginning - Nicodemus appears again - a public supporter at the trial;  and again - a sorrowful witness at the foot of the Cross. 

We are asked to have faith but it cannot be a passive faith. Jesus asks us to be aware of what action our faith calls us to. We must struggle, like Nicodemus, with what we already believe; struggle with the ties that bind us to tradition and convention. 

Have courage to step out of the shadows and stand beside the call to love.
Allow ourselves the freedom to accept the glimpse of light; the invitation of Love; the call to truth. 

To have the compassion to take into our arms, into our lives,  a God who so loved the world that he gave us himself. 

wordinthehand2015


Saturday, 7 March 2015

What money cannot buy


Sunday Gospel

John 2:13-24

Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.

In my youth, my image of Jesus was reflected in Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus in the television series Jesus of Nazareth. Actually this image of a tall, white, ethereal gentle man, while owing nothing to the likely physical characteristics of a rural Palestinian, pretty well fits in with most of the visual images that, we in the West, have of Jesus; that he was born meek and mild, and seemed to spend his whole ministry acting like the quiet lamb who is eventually led, willingly, to the slaughter.

Well, thank goodness, that even Robert Powell's Jesus found a voice in the scene that represented this week's Gospel. It is one of the dramatic counterpoints of the series, where Jesus truly loses it with the people who are using the faith of their community and countrymen to make a quick buck. The courtyard, within the Temple grounds, was used not only by the moneychangers who made their profit exchanging Roman coin for Temple money (plus commission) but by venders who had set up stalls for the selling of birds, lambs, goats and calves to be offered in sacrifice. Doubtless there would have been other vendors selling candles, oils, incense; whatever could be sold would have been sold.

God had told his people, how many times, that His Covenant was with them. He'd made the world, he didn't need it offering back to him. He didn't drink blood or ask for sacrifice like the little idols of the other religions. Their relationship with God didn't depend on how many sacrifices they could afford. In fact the only sacrifice God did ask for, their heart and their love, was the one thing missing in the Temple market.

After the time that Jesus had been spending, living with the poor, the criminals and the unwanted and knowing their need to experience God's Love, but being denied by Temple Law, the last thing he would have wanted to see was this further barrier to his Father. If anyone has ever been in a Eastern bazaar, you can imagine the chaos that would have broken out as tables were overturned, people scrabbling to pick up money, livestock screeching and flailing, cages breaking open. It would have seemed as though one of the sand devils from the desert has hit causing pandemonium and in the midst of it Jesus, incandescent with rage.

I love that image, I love that Jesus. Because, sometimes, that is the Jesus that I need in my life - maybe not 'rage' but passion and power and energy and so alight with the Divine that his heart and his eyes shine out of his body. I need that Jesus to come into my head full of limitations and expectations and throw them all out. I need that Jesus to drag me along the path when I am feeling tired and downhearted. I need that Jesus to challenge me to do more, to be more.

How can he not have been like that? Because only when you have all that power can it mean something when you do submit to being a servant, to making the sacrifice. Jesus has that power and never uses it to his advantage, only ever to point the way to his Father. To wake us from our complacency and show us the potential of a life filled with a passionate desire for a godly life.

When you have that desire you can overturn the world's values and seek the truth.

wordinthehand2015