13.3.18

Counter-counter cultural Mothering Sunday


Proverbs 3:1-12, 21-24 1My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. 2 If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. 3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. 4 Then you will find favour with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones. 9 Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. 10 Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine. 11 My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. 12 For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. 21 My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, 22 for they will refresh your soul. They are like jewels on a necklace. 23 They keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble. 24 You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly.

Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission: 16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”




Happy Mothering Sunday. (All Together worship 11.03.2118)
How inclusive is the church? How radical? How counter-cultural? 

The world marks Mother’s Day and perhaps rightly so, mothering over the centuries has failed to receive the attention it deserves; it’s a tough vocation but today the church enlarges our view of family; is boldly radical where a Mother’s Day is not. 

Ultimately, we all know the brokenness and the nurture of wonderful and also very imperfect earthly parents (I am a an imperfect mum to my two) but God fathers us with a perfect love and the church will nurture us, like a mother, into His love, if we let her, if we, as church, pray for the discernment and common sense of the book of Proverbs; as we show loyalty to our church here and are kind to one another. I love the lines about wearing loyalty and kindness around our necks like a necklace in Proverbs; about how common sense and discernment are jewels we can add there. This is why as I speak today there is an activity for the children who are invited to thread the beads you have been given so they might become reminders of today's message; that we are to build family here sure that God's love is perfect but the church, full of human beings, will often be a very imperfect kind of parent. We are the church. We are not perfect. May those beads also remind all of us that we are to simply apply here - loyalty to our church (we speak well of her and one another), kindness (which we can show to one another) and that as we grow and seek to fulfil God's mission through us, we are not being asked to do anything more, really, than use our discernment and common sense; that when the vicar seems to have a good idea, it's right to challenge that idea, that we adapt, take risks and listen to one another as we venture into the new. 

Mothering Sunday comes to re-tune our ideas about family. Jesus came to challenge our conventional views about family – kept blood family waiting outside when they made demands of him and exploited their kinship bonds. "These, who do the will of my Father, are my mother, brothers and sisters," he said and he continued to sit with the crowds. 

In that most famous of scripture for Mothering Sunday he hands John to his mother Mary and Mary to his beloved disciple John and creates a new kind of family. 

Jesus challenges convention so that our definition of family here as church might know no bounds.

The book of Proverbs educates us as children. If you haven’t read it, it is full of wise guidance in pithy sayings which can be applied to your daily life, better than any parental help book as God nurtures us, his children. 

Today, then, we are invited to think about the mothering of the church and the fathering of God. How here together as family, loved by the Father and trained by the mother church we can all grow in kindness and loyalty, in common sense and discernment. These seem like quite ordinary gifts but in many ways they are the making of a community: loyalty to our church here, kindness to one another, common sense as we journey forwards and discernment as we work out who God is calling us to become.

We are invited after Jesus to yearn to grow family, in whatever configuration we find it, by calling it home to mother church and into the love of the father and the disciples shared this yearning with us. In the New Testament Paul describes his discipling of others in terms of becoming a parent to them (1 Cor 4) – I became your parent in Christ Jesus. In Galatians 4 he speaks of being in labour awaiting our development as Christians; addresses those growing in God as my little children. In the first letter to the Thessalonians he describes how he will bring the gospel to these Christians gently as a mother might nurse her children; at other times, perhaps with a little human impatience he describes how some still need the message as formula, first foods or breast milk when really by now they should be on solids. I think if we are going to join with God in his mission to make more disciples for himself there are various strategies required, different approaches depending on the people we hope to win for him.

We continue to think through as church how we grow people new and old in God here and want to always hear your ideas. As we hear from our gospel today the first thing we do is baptise. Verses 19 and 20. This I where we understand that rather than ‘blood being thicker than water ,’ which is often what we say to sure up our familial connections with one another, instead, and to the contrary, ‘water’ might be said to be ‘thicker than blood’ – or in other words family is formed in the church by our shared 'dying to the old self and rising to the new' under the water (sprinkled over us in our denomination at baptism and usually when we are infants). Family is formed in the church through our connection, our being flooded; our sharing in the waters of life; the waters which are the life giving waters of the Holy Spirit. We all swim in the same stuff, drink from the same life-giving streams and so are connected.

The prophet Isaiah pictures Zion as a mother and Paul describes the church as a mother in Gal 4. If the church is our mother and disciples us this lifts the pressure off our each going and discipling in our own sometimes erratic and ebbing strength and it encourages us to seek out the church; this mother and help her in her purpose. We let All Saints be our discipler, our source of life – there are still places on our discipleship course The Creed course and the Alpha course – you might think of signing up.

A Christian Mothering Sunday, unlike a secular Mother’s Day, celebrates that the church is our source of nourishment; a place intent on our flourishing. 

Is church a central part of your life; your mother? 

Is this a very distinct kind of family for you, not first and foremost because of your relationships with others here, which are important but because you come here to seek nourishment and then participate in your own discipling and are nurtured into the perfect parenting of God? Can you think again today, after Jesus, about what family means in God? We are going to be helped to think this through in our prayers today too. 

We are not supposed to be detached from our mother or grow up and away from this mother? We don’t leave home; the learning is ongoing because knowing about and knowing God is a lifetime process. The church will never stop being our mother until we come to the full measure and stature of the fullness of God as Paul tells us in Ephesians (4) and that will only happen in glory and so this is life-long. This family and this relationship, though it changes because its people change and you change, is one of constant nurturing. 

St Cyprian of the third century said “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother....” 

If that’s how Christ configures the church then we become family to one another here.

And remember you are church; you are this imperfect parent. You are ministers in God's church - this is not left to those of us robed this morning - you are also each an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher - some of you have many of those gifts and why because we are each called to equip the saints for the work of ministry - we are to school and be schooled; to shape and be shaped; to nurture and be nurtured and to disciple and be discipled. We are each to play a part to build the rest of the church up as Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Today the church thanks you for the part you’re playing in this family to befriend and to nurture. There is nothing like the church on earth, this mother that she is, this church of Jesus Christ growing God’s family. Today we give thanks for the church, our mother, and we thank her for one another: for her unique family here in God and we pray that we grow in love for her so that she might change us and shape us for the continuing adventure here at All Saints. Amen.



5.3.18

New Wine Leadership Conference 2018 "Be apostolic" by Kris Valloton




At the New Wine Leadershop Conference Harrogate 2018 Kris Valloton (here with wife Kathy, also Associate leader), is our keynote speaker. 

He is a Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California and co-founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM). 

APOSTOLIC
He begins by unpacking our call to be apostolic. He explains how Jesus didn't call his followers priests, prophets or fathers but apostles and this word has its origins in the Greek which is why we do not hear of apostles in the OT.

An apostle is one who is 'sent' and the word has its locus in the Romans wanting to take over the world by conquering cities to culturise them; sending their military generals to do this. Accompanying the military were philosophers and teachers and artists and various others so that the Roman system was replicated where ever the Romans went. Jesus takes this title for the generals and he transfers it to his disciples. We are sent to replicate Kingdom culture where ever we are sent.

DON'T LAMENT THE DARKNESS OF THE WORLD, ENLIGHTEN IT
Later Kris will expand on this point by challenging us to see that we are hiding our light under a bushel when the church grows but the light is kept within the church; the light is little use if kept within the church because it was supposed to enlighten and transform the world. True light transforms the culture around us. I am reminded of my own prayers over the years for the transformation of the cultures of the churches I serve; for God to mould us so that as we are sent we are ‘apostolic’ and witness well and bring Good News. As I reflect I realise too that our Friday group in the church I currently serve is beginning to attract a good number and that there are the beginnings of some testimonies there as regards the values we are transmitting. People are encouraged and gaining confidence in who they are. Kris helps us to see that if from within our churches we simply lament the darkness of the world but are not agents of its restoration, we are not fulfilling our purpose. Kris is quite adamant that building a church does not necessarily build up the community around that church unless that church is apostolic. Pastors gather. Apostles, on the other hand, train, equip and deploy. Pastors measure success by how many come to church but apostles by how many people become the church. 


CHANGED TO BRING CHANGE
Kris uses the idea of the pool of Bethesda in John 5 to flesh out his idea of a pastorate: where people need healing and deliverance and salvation they come to church but Ezekiel’s river, in contrast, is an image for the apostolic church where the water gets deeper the further out you are from the sanctuary and where everything which meets the water is healed. You come to the pool to be healed in Bethesda but the further you get from the church and turn outward, the more change you see when you are sent by the church confidently into the world, discipled and having an impact. We need churches made up of saints who are equipped to heal their communities. These kinds of churches create a culture where everyone has a ministry and are not communities made up of those who minister and those to whom ministry happens because this is a misnomer. All Christians are in ministry. We are sacred and our ministry goes with us where ever we go because we can do nothing without Jesus and Jesus goes with us and so where we go, we take the Kingdom. In business, in the service sector, where ever we work, people encountering us there, encounter the Kingdom if it lives in us and we apply its values. I feel encouraged that people where I do church are committing to their own discipling; attending gatherings in increasing number to learn together about what it means to be a Kingdom people; a people who take Christ with us.

CO-WORKING WITH GOD
Kris has already reminded us about what it means to bring heaven to earth based on the Lord’s prayer petition ‘Your Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven'. He unpacks this further in his book “Heavy Rain” which is a reworking of “How Heaven Invades Earth: Transform the World Around You.” See Ian Paul's analysis of Vallotton's message from that text in his reflections on Kris's presentation at New Wine. Kris Vallotton reminds us that we are seated in the heavenly places with Christ and so we are not apostolic unless we are all about bringing heaven to earth and transforming culture. Kris explains that we are not to concentrate on getting people to heaven but instead we are to spend time getting heaven into people.

Much of the secularised, inherited Christianity; the Christianity which warps and wefts with the culture, presents us with a version of Christianity which is all about individualised salvation plans for transference to heaven and away from earth at the point of death and this is the kind of thinking, which, as an Anglican minister I have frequently encountered. There is always the opportunity in funeral ministry, particularly, to carefully and gently hint to the far more transformative reality of living in the earth God is transforming now. People where I am might have even heard me use that terrible aphorism, but not without its truths: 'It is not pie in the sky when you die, but steak on the plate while you wait.' This 'waiting' is now ringing with a clunky sound.

Kris unpacks how in Rev, Chapter 2 the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven and this new creation, where God takes away every tear and there is no pain, is the new earth and we have to be a part of making that happen. God co-works with us to achieve this. The Lord’s Prayer is not about getting people into the Kingdom but about getting the Kingdom into people. I am reminded of one of the highlights of my own ministry, when using a film clip from the Bible Project about ‘God space’ and ‘Our space’ and after a 6 week summer break, my young people in church were able to remember my central point of teaching in the sessions we had had pre-vacation – that their task was to bring heaven to earth in their families and in their classrooms. It was so encouraging to hear them explain to me ways that they were doing this very consciously and with self-awareness.

Kris really wants us to understand the mandate we have been given and expands, explaining that God planted two trees in the garden and one was of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the other was the tree of Life. It was the tree of Life people were intended to eat from so that they could live forever on earth, not in heaven. He challenges us to grapple with the idea that God is not in Heaven, in actual fact, heaven is in God. The heights of heaven cannot contain God, Psalmist David reminds us. All of this he shares to reframe how we think of heaven and earth and our purpose. 


OUR POSITION
There is also more to understand about heaven – that there are three heavens. There are no principalities and powers in God’s Heaven but there principalities and powers are in the heavenly realms where battles happen but this is not where we sit as Christians. We sit where Paul explains he dwelt, in the third heaven and this is the territory into which we are born, with Christ, above the heavenly places and this is not where we are going but where we currently are.

He then encourages us on a specific trajectory and that if we can only configure a move from earth to heaven we will live a reactionary life but if, on the other hand, we can live from heaven and towards earth, then, we gain a heavenly perspective from this eternal seat where our prayers become prophecies and our prophecies become worlds and so we, with the mind of Christ, foretell and forth-tell the future.

BRING LIFE. BUILD UP.
Kris seems to want us to understand the gravitas of the spoken word and to use words for life and not death and not to complain about our communities but transform them. Repeating a hopeless commentary on your community is not prophetic but pathetic, he tells us. This appeals to the Barnabas spirit living in me, which people have always identified, that I live to call people into their potential. We must see ourselves. to use a much used phrase, as 'becomers.' I think David Runcorn first introduced me to this idea of becoming.

We must call things that ‘are not’ into what ‘they are’. There is some encouragement from Kris to name the becomers and the becoming as already manifest in the present. This is very winsome – it is that propensity in us to see tomorrow with God’s eyes and to see ourselves perfected by Christ; to see the potential which lies in everything. Kris shares a story of a heroin addict over whom he prophesied ‘You are a Holy man’ and in that moment his addiction to heroin was broken and he began to live towards that new reality. I have had a dream the night before Kris speaks in which my uncle, who is in a difficult place, has broken free from everything holding him back: his face is clean, his spirit is gentle, his voice is warm and he stands in my dream holding out his hands and speaking over and over again the same sentence of warmth and welcome until he is happy with how he is configuring and expressing it – he ‘becomes’ right in front of my eyes. I dream this dream twice over those few days. I return home and dream dreams to which I have become accustomed – houses with expanses of water, houses near the sea, houses with expanses of sand and sea in the near distance and the water is good, very good. At church on Sunday we seem to be more obviously pushing into the new. I listen to someone else preach and a testimony is shared. I sit at the back to think about how our church feels, we are interrupted by a heckler and minister to him, offering him welcome but are rejected, for now - ministry has more of a holy disorder about it like God is shaking us up and indeed the next day work begins to modify the interior of our church so that we can become more fit for the purposes I have heard about last week. Now, is a good and expanding kind of season. People are exploring their futures and discipling courses are filling up.

Kris proposes that we do not grow churches but have to plan to grow our communities and that the difference between people who do things and people who do not do things is that people who do things, DO THINGS. There is laughter. He reminds me finally, preacher, teacher and pray-er that I am, that there needs to be far more than the message and the prayers and we are to form a strategic plan. If we only send missionaries to foreign nations, our own communities are not going to change. We are then asked to stand for a commissioning. I have much cause for reflection.


Next up and coming soon: Kris Vallotton part II....

25.9.17

Great expectations Matthew 20:1-16


We have to remember something about Matthew, ex-tax collector as he was, he knew a thing or two about money. His gospel reflects this: hidden treasure, a pearl, and last week we were shocked by a debtor cleared of millions who was just beastly to some one who owed him only five months wages. We learnt something about a God who doesn't want us to live with unforgiveness. He wants us to be as lavish as he has been in setting us debtors free with the life of his very Son. He wants us to live free. Unforgiveness, even psychologists will tell you isn't healthy; isn't good. As Nicky Gumble reminds us in the Alpha course - “It's like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” We learnt something last week of the power of the Spirit as experienced by Corrie Ten Boom who had watched Nazis murder her sisters and go on to forgive one who became a Christian as he asked for her to forgive him, how it wouldn't have been something she could have done, unless the power of the Holy Spirit had not in that moment come over her and run like a current through her arm, causing her to reach out her hand to shake hands with him.


This week, then, workers called in shifts – first thing, at nine, at noon, at three, and five but the latest to work (working the shortest of time) given exactly the same salary packet as those labouring first thing. Page 22 in your Bibles (New Revised Standard Anglicised version NRSV), please. “The first is last and the last is first! at chapter 19, verse 30.

What is Matthew trying to tell us, here, about God?
How can it be that those clocking up such little time are paid the same as those who do so much?
Well, you might already have had a good go at working this out.

Let's look at the simplest reading.

To an extent it is about those who came later to a living faith in God? The Gentiles would be as loved and provided for as those Jews who had always known the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then come to Christ in full faith. Applicable today? Yes. The church does not ordain, licence or give responsibility to its members on the basis of the years they have clocked up. You can be in church for decades and only later invest in your own discipling. Yet, the newest converts can turn around their whole lives for Christ.

Let's look at another simple reading - you work harder for God than someone else but receive the same reward as them from the Lord of the vineyard. Is God unfair? No – he's just all grace.

This parable does teach us something about “works” and efforts and how righteousness isn't ours because somehow we have earned it or tried so hard. The Gospel, instead, tells us Jesus earned salvation for us through his work – his work on the cross to clear our debt (wiping our slates clean with his blood) so that God sees you and I perfect before him. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less. So this parable is a reminder that we do not earn God's love. Those first labourers aggrieved and in rumbling complaint would have boasted of their hard work in the scorching sun – wasn't there something more that they deserved and they thought it was, mistakenly, all about them.

So we learn God loves the new people just as much as the old.

We learn I cannot clock up brownie points with a Christian God.

But learning this there are some dangers. If the first will be last and the last will be first, I can delay my discipleship and perhaps instead give my life to God in the last ten minutes of my life, we might be tempted to think.

Or alternatively – if there's nothing I can do to make God love me any more or any less and Jesus earned my salvation – well, perhaps then I will just live as I wish.

No. This parable squarely confronts these temptations in our thinking.

Let's look to the context on page 22 (one of the reasons for the bibles in your pews). You see, Peter wonders why giving up everything doesn't earn him salvation – “Who then who can be saved- we've left everything for you?” The parable was always Jesus' way of answering that question. It's never about what I must or mustn't do. Peter is asking entirely the wrong question. And very often it's the question we ask too.

Peter is in as lamentable a place as the Rich young man who went quietly away before him (Chapter 19:vs16-26) because he was asked to give up his wealth and realised he had so much.
So - the rich man “What must I do? – I can't give it all away.”
and the poor man Peter: “What must I do – hey, I gave it all up!”
These are the responses from which Jesus comes to shake us free.

Jesus wants you to know that it is all about living with a different set of expectations about the goodness of God! It was never about you!

The first workers in that vineyard needed to have their perspective shifted because unfortunately like Peter and just like the rich young man, they had worked it all out beforehand with God, set the terms, brokered a deal and were 'all control': - “I will give you a full day's work and expect a danarius in return.” 'He made an agreement with them for their usual daily wage,' at verse 2.

We can be like this in our discipleship:

“I put in some hours for you God, I came to church, I listened and paid attention but left without what I had hoped for; it didn't meet me, didn't feed me, you didn't answer my prayers.”

This is what God challenges this morning and it is tough. Vicars are just as guilty. We think there might be something we have done or failed to do to create the right conditions for you to meet with God. We put in certain efforts and expect certain results when instead we must just trust you in your love for God and let God be God.

The later workers in the vineyard simply trusted God would do what was right at verse 4 “I will pay you whatever is right.”. This is the alternative put before us. When we let God be God and trust him and know him, he gives to us in far more abundance than our limited imaginings could have asked for. These later labourers in the vineyard just trusted in the Master's generosity – knew so much better the character of God – trusted the master to do what was right and 'this right' by our lavish God's standards was paying the workers far more than they actually deserved because this is the nature of an audacious God who redeems us with everything he has – even the life of his own Son Jesus Christ.

Those first workers with their smaller expectations are made to stand in line and simply watch... as the last workers are paid the same danarius. We are left with the image of the first workers' grumbling complaint.

Now God in his mercy still loves you even when you complain – 'the hymns aren't like they used to be, I expected to meet with God but that last one was a funny song,' (say gently with a smile, Rach!)

They all received a danarius but how much greater has been the experience of the later workers, not because they had less work to do but because they live as we are to live, as we can not help but live if Jesus lives in us – they live so overblown and so thoroughly surprised by the overwhelming love of an audaciously lavish and generous God.

When God is at work in your life, you don't just expect the ordinary, you expect the extra-ordinary lavish love of God to be at work in your life and the people around you – you see the world in new ways, you come to worship him with a different grace.

Those who expect less of God and less of other people; who only expect something right in their own eyes will receive exactly what they expect.
Those who trust instead in the goodness of God, though receiving just the same, seem to receive so much more. They know how great God is and how small they are, that he will give the Holy Spirit to them if they ask; that it is only through such a baptism in the Holy Spirit's power that we can receive at all (Luke 13:11b).

The rich young man seems to think faith has so much more to do with 'man': “Teacher, what good thing must I do in order that I might have eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Why do you inquire concerning the good thing? Only one is the Good One” (19:16, 17). It is Jesus and his Holy Spirit we are to pursue: God the Good one.

It is an openness to the one who came to baptise you in the Spirit which will open up your life with God and as a result impute to you a genuine love for everyone else. (see Matthew 3:11; Ephesians 5:18; John 3:5; Acts 2:4; Acts 19:2; Acts 1:8, Acts 11:16; Luke 3:16, Luke 24:49; Acts 19:6; Acts 19:1-6, Acts 2:1-4; Acts 4:31; Mark 1:8; John 1:33; Acts 10:44; John 20:22; Romans 8:26; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 10:44-46; Luke 11:9; Luke 11:13; Acts 11:15-16; John 14:16-17.)

So...
Jesus teaches us through this parable, then, to set our sights so much higher, to bring the whole of ourselves to worship and to sacrifice what pleases us for the sake of one another.

God will meet us as our hearts become full of him, it's not in the music or a warm and floaty feeling, where you understood the sermon or found it more encouraging – it's in your openness to him and to one another; letting God be God. It's in your expectation. 

So in many ways then, yes, it is the very hardest thing of all he asks of us. It's got more to do with our surrender and our letting God be God; not working it all out beforehand and setting limits on our reward. A simple trusting receptivity to the sheer goodness of God is what this parable teaches: –

“I trust you God to do what is right and that I am not to control that ... and as we learn else where from scripture and Ephesians verse 20 of chapter 3: He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!

27.6.16

On "Vulnerability" & "Resilience" - my talk to Deans of Women in the Church of England

Vulnerability
Jack is three and came to my house last weekend for baptism prep. He brought mum and dad and a sister and brother. He also brought cake!

Mum and Jack explored with me their journey to the 'big cake bake,' the dessert they provided for after our Sunday Roast together. Jack had broken 6 eggs. At three years old this was no traumatic thing. Just an interesting thing. And he enjoyed telling me. 
They dropped on the floor. 
They broke on the floor. 
Mummy was cross.

The cake we ate together was huge and delicious. 
The thing is mum had broken eggs too, she had broken 6 eggs – big cake! So I guess this proves that it is what we do with our brokenness that counts because our brokenness, our vulnerability is unavoidable if we're going to risk being transformed, which is what God would have for us. 

Resilience
We are told by the world that we should bounce back but I will tell you there are a couple of problems with bouncing back. Rubber eggs bounce. But there's nothing good inside of them. They are just tough. And in their tough irregularity they are unpredictable, bouncing off in all directions. We become increasingly unpredictable if all we ever do is reactively bounce back, not dealing with the things that have broken us, causing stasis to descend, freezing all that potentially good stuff inside and fixing it still. 

In reading Brene Brown on vulnerability, I was most struck by her conclusion that in our numbing our pain, we numb too our capacity for joy. We are to stay porous then, keep processing the stuff inside and allowing light in through the unavoidable cracks.  

Thinking about resilience, my mind is drawn to my garden, in which I sat with Jack during baptism preparation eating that cake. (The trampoline engages little baptism candidates as I fill out paper work with guardians about godparents.) My trampoline has resilience, Jack loved bouncing. I have less resilience. My body feels heavier now than it did when I was younger even if it isn't literally heavier, although it probably is. I am more fragile, on the inside, for all sorts of reasons that those amongst you who have had children can relate to. The trampoline floor flexes, my floor does not. I just don't bounce like I used to. I just should not bounce like I used to!

Bouncing back, then, dips as life makes its marks upon us and it can afford to as we learn lessons along the way and apply these lessons to the new situations we face. Locating the present moment in the experiences of the past and the promises of the future keeps perspective, which serves in its own way to bolster resilience. Life only makes sense backwards. Past difficulties serve a redemptive purpose for present realities if through them we have learned anything about God, other people and ourselves.  

Kristine Culp in her book on Vulnerability (2010, Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account, Westminster John Knox Press) describes this prior learning as my already having been both harmed and transformed. Like eggs or as St Paul puts it, like earthen vessels, we are susceptible both to being broken and revealing treasure inside. This being harmed and this being transformed is surely part of the human condition. Jack watched harmed eggs become transformed eggs. We ate them, messily, at my house. 

Fragile like an egg, can I learn to be okay about my own brokenness; my vulnerability? 
I believe that in its brokenness the egg can become something that can go on to nourish others. 
This incredibly creative stuff can be released and apply the right kind of heat and environment to it and somehow suddenly, or perhaps in about three minutes, depending on how you like them, there are all these different kinds of eggs. 

What kind of resilience do I need to cultivate?
A resilience that is not about bouncing back - we just aren't built for constant bouncing. 
Instead I have to know the kind of egg I was formed to be (self-aware, individuated). 
I have to trust in God's redemptive plans for all humanity and that in our brokenness we can nourish others in sharing our vulnerability: our life experiences, weaknesses, our very messy humanity. God means for us to be vulnerable, we share his image built this way (more on that later). Trusting in God helps me to hold on to the belief that if I know myself and my identity in Christ, I can be broken but not totally shattered and my being broken can serve my own life and the lives of others redemptively. 

It's not about being tough
Kristine Culp in her theological account of Vulnerability1 believes vulnerability is our 'susceptibility to being changed, for good and for ill.' 'Human creatures remain open to being damaged and open to being transformed because they remain susceptible to being changed by others...'2 

The Latin root of vulnerability points to wounds or wounding. 

It's about contending, anyway, with community. Zechariah knows well, the 'wounds we gather in a house of friends (Zech 13:6).' We are not to resist community because of wounding, we are to navigate it, learn to love, be loved and live through the wounding which is never undone completely in the transforming. 
Look at Jacob, transformed but limping.
Look at Christ raised and yet punctured through his hands and side. 
Therein behold the Glory. 

Kristine Culp will not pair vulnerability with resilience, she pairs Vulnerability with Glory. She explains that we are to become attuned to the vulnerable baby-God in a manger [who] moves to glory rather than resilience.

Perhaps resilience carries too many connotations of the bouncing back that I have rejected.3  Glory better conveys the transformation possible through vulnerability. We will never bounce back into the shape we were, the shape is transformed, if through the difficulties and crises we have learned anything along the way. Even in those who seem to wound us carelessly we are to find nuggets of truth from which we can learn and transform. Finding the yolk, the good stuff gives hope the last word, turns the last word to encouragement. 

An article in Psychology Today 4 called: 'I scream, you scream, we all scream for self – esteem,' describes an experiment where samples of people to whom encouraging words had been spoken over a long period of time were then exposed to small electric shocks (don't try this at home) – fried eggs!). Those nurtured in encouragement were far less susceptible to the pain than those who had not had encouragement spoken over them. By continuing to soak ourselves and others in the words God speaks over us in his love for us in our broken moments; by becoming agents ourselves of his encouraging love, we are better preparing people to bare the unavoidable shocks of life, to have the being broken become transformative. When human beings wound us, we are to hear again the reassurance of a wounded God who loves us, knows us and can transform us. 

I made a commitment to myself, after experiences of being trained for secondary teaching, observing staff and the power of their words over students, and again, after reading the Alban Institute's 'Never call them Jerks' that I was going to hold myself to healthy responses to those who wound. Speak well of others because when there's not a lot I can control, I can control at least my own response.5 When the wounding comes, which inevitably it will in any form of corporate life, be not left also with a me I love less by not holding myself to this. This is all a part of the process of remaining self-individuated and not wounding those who wound you. 

Maintain vision, love for God, love for His Story and love for others and His vision for my identity because it is often your very identity that is being measured by those same members of that community you have been called to love. They each have their own recipe card and ideas for what you're supposed to be. It would be completely impossible to conform yourself to everyone's taste and you would lose yourself in trying to be.  

Be the egg you are supposed to be: know yourself
The interesting thing about eggs is that they are best cared for in a shape that fits them. Put into a shape too hard to adapt to and shaken around always, the egg will not last, the creative stuff will become so mixed up with the broken stuff that there will not be a lot that you can do with either. Eggs have rope-like strings called chalazae which act to anchor the yolk to the centre of the white. 

Even if we do not break completely, if we find ourselves in environments where the centre just can no longer hold, whether that be our belief in who we are or in who God is, if these become so shattered and set adrift, it is time to get out of the box.

When the centre holds, you can go on to hold that delicate and messy collection of unique people as a Christian leader. It takes time and not everyone is going to hang in there as you work out the shape of the container, its contours, weak points and strong sides.  

All the eggs in the box have their own lives and stories of how they came into being. Shell and yolk; some with centres anchored and some just hanging in there. Let time take care of the collection of eggs. Separating broken stuff from good stuff is not our job as scripture tells us elsewhere with wheat and tares, take away the broken bits and we lose something of the egg too. 'Tis always so when I pick bits out of the mixture at home! God has all the time in the world.   

Know more about who God is
In all our explorations of vulnerability and resilience we say something about God.
Does a theology of God being affected, being malleable and affected; does a theology of God being vulnerable lend itself better to a theology of our own vulnerability as those made in his image?

Elizabeth Gandolfo in her book The Power and Vulnerability of Love - captures our preoccupation with the need for a God who suffers with us, with her paraphrase: “How can a loving God remain unaffected by or invulnerably controlling a history' shot through with human suffering?6 She builds, in answer, a case for the invulnerability of God as offering vulnerable humans a necessary stability of identity.

An invulnerable God can maintain that unchanging love from which we draw in the face of life events that would otherwise break us. He's our chalazae.What human beings need from God, says Gandolfo, is not just compassion and responsiveness but a God invulnerable to the very horrors we suffer. 

With a developed theology of the Trinity we can suffer this God who doesn't suffer, because the second person of the Trinity condescends to mix himself up with the very egg of a woman, Mary, to be born in blood and pain, to be born and to die in vulnerability: Christ. The second person of the Trinity is vulnerable enough for us. 

Gandolfo explores how the Christian God comes to earth the way the rest of us do - “The bloodiness of [Mary’s] labor (sic) could have ended differently. Love incarnate did not pass into the world through Mary’s womb like a ray of light.” If ministry is also about our being perpetually born anew to the wonders of God and bringing others to birth in a similar way, why would we think that it is similarly not going to be experienced through some suffering and pain. Moses' desire had been for an encounter with the Glory of God, when that Glory comes fully it comes in the fullness of Christ in his vulnerability on a cross.

God’s invulnerability can hold within it the incarnate Lord’s necessary vulnerability. Christian resilience is found then in drawing strength from the unchanging essence of an eternally loving God, vulnerably experiencing my wounds in the woundedness of Jesus Christ. Perhaps capturing a sense of this Trinitarian invulnerable but 'oh so vulnerable' God is found in a letter written to the editor of Christian Century.

'Both the manger birth and the cross express that truth... that the "essence of God is power directed by vulnerable love....The danger of our modern… culture is the division between those who see God as loveless power, which has given us… 9/11 [and atrocities ever since] and those who see God as powerless love, which has given us a rapidly shrinking... church. The God of the New Testament is hardly powerless, as the story of the resurrection proclaims. [We have a] God whose essence is power directed by vulnerable love to wipe away every tear. A powerless God cannot do that.7

Over the years, reading the scriptures, I become more attuned to my own na├»ve idealism and how this is not supported in the scriptures by the stories of human dealings. Christian resilience is bolstered too in meditating on the stories of the human condition in the Gospel, the sheer grittiness, the simple displays of human weakness and error and God's faithful and loving pursuit of such unendearing beings. Conflict is very much at the heart of scripture's converting and transforming narrative and peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of God. An over-realised eschatology might not serve me or others well. The Kingdom is really not here yet and there's much work to be done – God has work to do in me. Kristine Culp says 'Christian' (and I would say human) 'communities are necessarily ambiguous mixtures of creativity and destruction, holy and demonic, good and ill, true and false.' 

Egg shell and yolk.

'Faith emboldens us to resist diminishment and to persevere against fear, to enjoy and share life as a gift of God, to dare and dwell in a sturdier justice and a widening love. Forgiveness releases the burden of failures and faults, enabling us to straighten our backs, as it were... Love lifts us, binding us to God and one another, to the well-being of neighbors (sic) and strangers; it turns us around in reverence...'8 

And so the bible tells us: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed and you know the rest (2 Cor 4 vv. 7-12).


Developing self and other awareness, praying more keenly for relationship with an invulnerable but oh so vulnerable God can prepare us for a life poised somewhere between vulnerability and resilience as we 'are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor 3:18).


Written by priest, Dave Bookless, when he was at theological college, Dave used this poem he wrote which I believe to be poignant to my writing here:

Cracks

There are cracks in my world
I noticed them one day and now they are everywhere:
Sinister hairline cracks that start and finish out of sight
cracks that grow and gape and laugh at my certainties
My world has been declared unsafe

I have tried to paper them over,
paint them out,
move the furniture to hide them,
but they always return,
cracks that hang like  question marks in my mind.
And now I begin to think:
why do the cracks appear?
from where do they come?
They have made my room unsafe
BUT

They have thrown it open to new horizons
drawn back the curtains
raised long closed shutters.
One day I looked and crack had become a window.
Step through it said, what have you to fear?
Do you wish to stay in your crumbling room?

And then I remembered a childhood dream.
Watching the egg of some exotic bird
oval and perfect, spotted blue and cream
I wished to hold that egg and keep it on a shelf
BUT

As I watched it, cracks appeared.
Tiny fissures spread like zigzag ripples.
It broke in two and life struggled to its feet,
Wet and weak and blinking at the world.

Without those cracks that egg could hold
no more than rotting stagnant death

without its cracks my world would be
a room without a view
Cracks maybe uncomfortable, disturbing gaps
BUT

Could it be that I need them?
Do you believe in cracks?
Because I keep searching for God in the room
and find he is hiding in the cracks.

Dave Bookless   




1 Kristine A. Culp, 2010, Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account, Westminster John Knox Press.
2 Kristine A. Culp, 2010, Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account, Westminster John Knox Press, p.120
3 Culp supports my wonderings here proposing that in much of the literature in the field 'definitions of vulnerability point to the risk of harm from hazards, epidemics, and disasters; [and] the contrasting term is resilience. In other words, damage has a force of inevitability, and the main questions are how to prevent it and, if and when hazards are met, whether persons, communities, and environments will be able to resist and rebound from it. p.2
4 Psychology Today. Mar/Apr 93, Vol. 26 Issue 2, p22. 2p.
5 Never Call Them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behaviour by AP Boers, Alban Institute, 2000
6 Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo, The Power and Vulnerability of Love: A Theological Anthropology, Fortress. p.188
7 Kristine A. Culp, 2010, Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account, Westminster John Knox Press.
8 Kristine A. Culp, 2010, Vulnerability and Glory p.104 - 120

12.5.16

Vocation and the Church of England

The day when the Church of England takes down an advert advertising for a Young Vocations Adviser from any belief background, Willesden clergy, on Inset, listen to Jane Williams on vocations. Surely, a Vocations Officer for Christian Vocations needs to be a Christian. They have since created a new advert. 


Vocation at the beginning

Jane asks that we see the church as carrying the human vocation: we are made in God's image. Being made in God's image is an unusual word to apply to the whole of humanity. Ancient near Eastern literature might have held this as possible only for kings etc. 

Genesis paints a picture of the human shaping of the potential hidden in the earth. We are to work with God to bear fruit, to promote flourishing. Interdependence is written into the story of creation in that the productivity of one day is grounded in what has come before. Human beings are an extension of God's care of the universe and are to respond to God as they 'image' God. 

We are the descendants even of the heavens and earth with the same word being used here to describe generational relationality. 

Genesis 2 builds on the big picture of Genesis 1 and takes a closer focus on humanity. Differences are now seen, God speaks everything into existence but human beings are made out of God's breath and out of something that already exists: the dust; the earth. We are earthly and heavenly; a bridge. 

Genesis 2:15 tells us we are to til and keep the earth. Earth is not in a state of perfection, it is dependent upon our care. Til and keep are those farming words also extended to our care of the temple in later scriptures. They are vocational activities. Holy work and daily work interconnect. Tilling and keeping is at this point, a joy. Only after rebellion does it become a challenge. 

The animals are brought to the human creature to be named. The human creature is naming and more importantly defining the creatures, exercising dominion, helping to create the creatures' reality. 

The human creature becomes two human creatures. No return to the dust but an act of recreation to form Eve, coming forth from Adam there is that sense of dependency again: connectedness. (Jane does not use the names Adam and Eve, she uses instead 'human creature, human being from which come two beings.)

"One creature broken into two to make a partner."

This is a theology of interconnectedness. The Fall breaks connectedness. All things were able to delight in their interdependence but after this 'relationship' breaks. This brokenness manifests itself in idolatry. 

'Turning created existence into an ultimate point of reference, is the form that the fall takes, but what lies behind it is that man refuses to refer created being to communion with God. In other words, viewed from the point of view of ontology, the fall consists in the refusal to make being dependent on communion.' (J Ziziolas Being as Communion p.102). 

Disconnected from God we become discouraged with one another. The fall is that state of broken relationships.

At the Fall we have the cunning and uppity animal (the snake). People in the image of God should not be told what to do by an uppity animal! They named it and therefore made it what it is. Now it exerts dominion over them. The order is cascading into reversal and now the God who calls the human creatures to walk with him in the communal walk through the garden, hide from him. They notice now their differences from one another which were once perfect in complementarity. The differences between them are now so frightening they are to be hidden. Tilling is now not delighted in, neither is procreation. "This is not God's punishment or curse." It's the story of the reversal of the good order; a descent into ignoring that we are 'gift' to one another, out of God's gift of communion. Babel highlights a mass disordering of peoples; a mass disordering which Pentecost comesto undo, setting us into good order again through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Vocation through family

God calls Abraham. 

God begins to restore human relationships. Abraham has to return to dependence on God who will create Abraham's new reality. Abraham had created a reality for himself and that is sacrificed now and given over to God. The word for land is 'earth' - synedochal. Abraham is 'type.' Here we have scripture working on its figurative and literal levels. 

Moses has to take people into dependence again on God. It took 40 years to have this people become community and depend on Him again. 

We now have to be told in the ten commandments how to live with each other because we've lost the original vocation through the Fall. The prophets then call people back to their original imaging in God. 

Our truthfulness in terms of our identity is inseparable from our loving one another and our attention to those weaker members amongst us. This is holiness. God renames people as he reconfigures them. It's God's invitation. You are to take your time over it. Human calling is to relate all things to God through our own relationship to God. 

Vocation through the Church

The church, as we hear in Ephesians, is to be the new humanity. To be those who know ourselves to be gift and to gift ourselves to others is the purpose of Church.  Jesus' vocation is to demonstrate utter dependence on the Father, he is the beginning of the new creation, this is what the 'Our Father' prayer makes us  - brothers and sisters and children. "Church is a school for the new humanity." it's hard work because we have to til and keep our relationships, community is hard work because community is broken.

Jesus is always going to insist on his relatedness to the Father. The disciples are encouraged to find their relatedness to the Father. Jesus is the true human being so that even the miracles show that order is coming back again, a right interrelatedness begins to break in through him (the Kingdom). Through human vocation (and divine intent) the miracles occur, nature cooperates again with humanity.

Vocation through the Spirit

The vocation Christ gives to us through the Spirit is that reversal of Babel: community. We are chosen before the foundation of the world and destined for adoption. The mystery is revealed: the intent to gather everything together in Jesus, restoring interconnectedness. There is the bringing together of all peoples. How we are to be family needs instruction (one of Paul's aims in his letters). Building the bond of peace through the unity of the Spirit is essential God-work because unity is not natural to us any more.

The Spirit calls us to be brothers and sisters. He prays in us, adopts us.

"The Holy Spirit makes you a connecting place for the people of God, to restore human beings into relationship with one another and with God."

The Church is to help people discern vocation. We accidentally assume that vocation is built in church but it is to be nurtured in the spaces God places people. People crave connection and community, but are often passive about it, this is problematic - why? Because we were built to til and to keep - this is our great purpose. 

"The ordained vocation is to serve this greater calling of helping others find their vocations."

Churches are to be places where we learn how to be 'gift' to others and to the world.
We are to delight then, offering praise, proclaiming the Gospel. We are to delight in the beauty of the church. "Creation was quite weird too!"

We are to sustain others through the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
"Not your flesh but Christ's flesh."
"Not your words, but God's words," (else you exhaust yourself).
We are to always point away from ourselves.
By this too may we be sustained. Amen.

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions