Saturday, 19 September 2015

Trinity 16 Mark 9.30-37 20th September 2015

This morning’s sermon is expository, it will expound, bring out the meaning as best the preacher can of a particular passage, and it’s our Gospel reading of Mark 9.30-37, which is why the verses are left in so you can follow me through. Follow me though, as always in Church, with both heart and mind.
It’s the middle section of Mark’s gospel we’ve been following in Year B of the liturgical cycle since Advent 2014. It’s a Gospel you can read in a hurry of a Jesus in a hurry – the shortest Gospel of a man with a mission! When you pick up Mark – and there are some free copies at the back – you see he’s no time for genealogies and birth narratives, angels, shepherds and wise men. For Mark on p1 its straight in – this is the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Repent and believe! It’s real and it matters.

Today engaging with that reality we’ve moved from p1 to p27, half way through the 52 pages of the paperback Mark’s Gospels on offer at the back, the ninth of the 16 Chapters and verse 30 which you could read aloud with me on p… of the eucharist booklet.

After leaving the mountain 30 Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;

·         Move forwards with Jesus from the Transfiguration to Calvary: Jesus the great trail blazer making human beings a joyful path to God.
·         Crowd falls back to leave Jesus with disciples: ’true discipleship’ Value of the Jesus Prayer.
·         Marcan secrecy: one commentator: humility to not wish a great fanfare about his obviously successful ministry. His directives to silence about his great accomplishments may be no more than an example to the faithful not to blow their own horns. It proves the reliability of the Gospel as it’s hard to imagine a made up story of Jesus with such emphasis.

31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

·         First  chapters show us who Jesus is. Now, moving into why God sent him and what it means to us as disciples we have a second prediction of the passion following last Sunday’s in Chapter 8 that we missed to keep St Giles.

·         Paradoxes – things that contradict in logic to be held together in experience. Creation (out of nothing ), Trinity (Unity) founded on life (through death) = Son of Man (Son of God).
·         Jesus not a physically compelling Messiah but a suffering servant morally compelling Saviour. A sign of contradiction – the disabled people who spoke out to help defeat the Assisted Dying Bill two weeks back.
·         'Without God's Word as a lens, the world warps’ Ann Voskamp ‘I wear the lens of the Word and all the world transfigures into the beauty of Christ’.
      33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’

·         Post-Transfiguration jealousies set disciples against one another
·         Jesus sees into their and our hearts- can show up what’s needful
·         Village plan jostling of self interest with altruism
·         Alexander Schmemann - the signs of pride are: the absence of joy, complexity and fear. Signs of humility: joy, simplicity, trust
·         Those who serve others have a joy about them, they are the greatest
·         How do we get there? ‘Know yourself, love yourself, forget yourself’ (the discipline of Christian meditation which takes us out of ourselves in contemplation – drop by Church and use prayer sheet )

36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
       Paradox of child centred society cf ancient culture and many other cultures which gave or give children no legal rights. Christian legacy.
·         Striking act of Jesus to take the most powerless and exalt them
·         Who are the powerless around us? Who are those most in need of our help? The half million who supported Jeremy Corbyn whatever we make of that – do we have 2nd class citizens? We do. Those without money – no holidays (FSW Give a Child a Holiday). Those who can’t leave room or home through age or disability. Those refugees. The young struggling for a job.
·         Last verse shows Jesus before us in the powerless: Whoever welcomes one such my name welcomes me. Cf Matthew 25 Jesus ‘in the least ’
      To see this we need the insight, or spectacles of holy scripture: 'Without God's Word as a lens, the world warps’
·         We need the sense of Jesus before us that the eucharist schools us in.

·         Blessed and praised be Jesus Christ upon his throne of glory, in the holy scriptures, in the most holy sacrament of the altar, in the hearts of the needy and in the hearts of all his faithful people.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Trinity 14 (23B) Poverty of spirit 6 September 2015

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  James 2:5

There’s an obvious link between today’s Old Testament and Gospel reading about the unsealing of the ears of the deaf – it’s about Our Lord fulfilling the Old Testament as Messiah, the promised one who comes to help people hear the word of God.

I felt God lead me though to the reading that stands rather on its own – the epistle of James Chapter 2 which speaks of the blessings of poverty. It seems as if James’ church had rather forgotten what Jesus said about the poor since the rich were getting the best seats in church!

At any rate the apostle makes a striking point that it’s those who are poor according to the world…God chose to be rich in faith.

What do we make of this? Or for that matter of the blessing Jesus himself announces upon the ‘poor in spirit’ in his Sermon on the Mount.

Seeing all those refugees puts in your mind eye how faced with the need to flee what would you take with you, or even, less emotively, faced as we often are with short breaks what not to take!  That sort of review touches on a key feature of spiritual poverty, the call to detachment which goes alongside confidence we should have as children of God in Our Father to provide for us in all circumstances. God bless those many migrants who are fellow Christians with such confidence and provision.

There’s a school of Christian faith that speaks of abandonment to providence. Jesus is said by St. Paul to have ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’ in his abandonment to God’s will. It is this sort of poverty that’s in Christ himself that’s spurred on his Saints all through the ages. St Francis of Assisi is the great example, casting even his clothes to one side to belong wholly to the church as servant of God! There’s a story of how the Bishop of Assisi one day said to Francis: ‘Your way of life without possessions of any kind seems to me very harsh and difficult’. ‘My Lord’, Francis answered, ‘If we had possessions we should need arms for their defence. They are a source of quarrels and lawsuits, and are usually a great obstacle to the love of God and one’s neighbour. That is why we have no desire for temporal goods’. There’s wisdom there! The migrants on TV again speak of this!

The wealth of the rich is their strong city we read in Proverbs 18:11-12, in their imagination it is like a high wall…but humility goes before honour. The ‘high wall’ riches can literally raise up can all too easily put worldly honour before humility. This ‘honour’ is the ultimate evil of materialism which we are brain washed into day by day – the valuing of people by what they possess rather than for who they are as those loved by God and bearing his image!  I am appalled that European leaders can repel the needy on account of non-Christian faith, in contrast to others who are reminding us Christ’s way is hospitality.

What does it mean to be ‘poor in Spirit’? It means to have a true knowledge of God for who he is and of ourselves as who we are. To know God in his infinite grandeur is to know oneself as a nothing and a less than nothing through sin.

We all want progress writes C.S.Lewis but if you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back on the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. To be poor in spirit is to be progressive in that you go further when you’re travelling light. When you repent of ‘seemingly little sins’ and turn back from an alluring path you’re not regressing on your spiritual journey but progressing. You’re seeing all sins are great and you’re moving forward in the knowledge of God as the great God he is.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know!

Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place? Job 38:4,5,12

Words from God provided through the poetry of the book of Job. If you’re ever feeling self-satisfied pick up your Bible and turn to Job 38 – it puts you in your place more than any other passage I know and moves progress for you in the sense we’re examining!

What must he be like who made the earth, who provides the dawn new every morning? Who stretches out the stars above? Who can tell the greatness of the Lord? 

From this village we enjoy some splendid views, of the South Downs and Ashdown Forest especially. What must he be like who designed such grandeur?

If he is the ground of all being we are as nothing compared with him – and worse than nothing in our ingratitude for all he gives us! Nothingness deserves nothing – this is the ground of humility.

When James warns that being ‘rich in faith’ means poverty according to the world this must be at the heart of his concern – that a true knowledge of God in his infinite grandeur brings with it a recognition of one’s self as an utter nothing!

If only we were but ‘nothings’! Our capacity to do harm shows the opposite even if it’s balanced by the capacity to do beautiful things too.

As someone put it, our poverty is like that of a song compared to the singer. We are like a song of the Lord – he is the singer, we are the song. How can the ‘song’ compare itself to the singer?

Yet it is our privilege to be able to live in the praise of God! Here at the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving sacrifice of the Church we can admit this truth – all things come of God and of his own do we give him… through, with and in Jesus Christ!

If poverty of spirit is about detachment, abandonment to providence and humility it is also a whole sphere where we find Christ in this world. In Matthew 25 Our Lord’s picture of the Last Judgement portrays the poor as manifesting his own hidden presence. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink God says to the blessed. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.

As C.S.Lewis again wrote, next to the Blessed Sacrament your neighbour should be to you the most sacred object on the earth. We are to welcome Jesus in a moment in the Blessed Sacrament. God in the material order, hidden in bread and wine. As we welcome him here, may he open our spiritual eyes to see him elsewhere in the material order - particularly in the run of our lives in the coming week - that we may encounter him in the needy. The needy in body, mind and spirit - those who are enduring personal ordeals and badly in need of attention - our attention, our time, our money if needs be. Those who invite our action through the collection of clothes, tents, pots and pans for the Calais refugees

God free us to travel lighter in our Christian pilgrimage with deeper detachment from material things, abandoned more and more to his purposes. The Lord deepen our confidence in his provision and also our humility. We need both confidence in him and humility before him to serve him and his world aright.

As we own up more and more to our own spiritual need and poverty may we see Jesus – Jesus on his throne in glory, Jesus in the sacrament of the altar and Jesus in the hearts of the materially poor and the poor in spirit!   

Blessed, praised and hallowed be Our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne of glory, in word and sacrament and in our hearts now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.