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.

9.5.16

Ubuntu

I don't know which operating system you run on, and yes, perhaps I mean that technologically and metaphorically but Henryk and I are not Windows people or Applemac people, we are Ubuntu people. 

There is a community of people who write software just for the fun of it. 
We download it free. 
Their joy is in the creating. 
Ours in the receiving.

Ubuntu is an ancient African word for community. It means 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. Desmond Tutu speaks on Ubuntu Theology and how we only know who we truly are in relationship with others.

There is no commonly recognized Hebrew word for 'self'. In the Bible 'self' is conveyed instead with words like לב (heart/mind), נפשׁ (soul), and רוח (spirit). The Bible is more interested in communal life not individual life, in communal salvation not individual salvation. It is not possible to truly know yourself devoid of the nexus of people who remind you who you are. 

In John 17 (23) Jesus' prayer explores community: ‘I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
Next Sunday we read about Philip. As we know Jesus has been appearing to his disciples over these weeks between his rising and his ascending: in a garden to Mary, in a room to Thomas, at the beach for Peter, on a certain road called Emmaus.

Whilst Jesus was still with them, Philip, whom we don't know so well, only that he had wondered if anything good could ever come out of Nazareth, said to Jesus, ‘Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied’.
Jesus says exasperated: ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14.8-10).

Christians know God the Father. We know God. 
Is that an arrogant claim? 
It can seem so in a post-modern world where it is fashionable for everything to be uncertain.
The scriptures tell us we know who the Father is because the Son has revealed him to us. We have seen the Father through the relationship lived between the Father and the Son attested to in the scriptures. We know who God the Father is, as we see him in relationship with his Son.

Similarly, we only know who we are in relationship with others.  At the beginning of the Bible we hear that it is (Genesis 2.18) not good for man [humankind] to be alone.

We need one another to know who we each are. In a network of relationships we love one another into shape.
As the saying goes, if you want to know how a man will treat you, just look at how he treats his mother. This is a little cliched but what it scratches at is some truth about how we reveal who we are through the way we live our closest relationships.

In Christ's high priestly prayer, he takes this a step further. He tells us that in our seeing the relationship lived out between the Father and his Son, we see God.

Jesus will go on to say – love one another because that is how people will know you are my disciples.

Ubuntu: I only know who I am in relationship to you. 

Holy Ubuntu: I only know who God is in the relationship he lives out with his Son.
So church? 
Why should church not just be another community venture? 
Ubuntu: community is good, right? 
Why is our strapline here at All Saints: Expressing the love of God in our community?

Why is it not just Expressing love in our community.

Well, because belonging to a God-centred, Jesus worshipping, Spirit filled community as we are, not only do we better come to understand who we are. We better come to understand WHOSE we are.

We are in horizontal relationship with one another and a vertical relationship with God.

G K Chesterton describes people who live in a small church community and how they actually live in a much larger world than those in large communities who can afford to join themselves to people just like them. That will only ever form, at best, a clique, or a club. In small communities, like this one, our companions are chosen for us.
So church – more than Ubuntu.

Church - also a body of people who study the scriptures to know God; to see there the relationship between the Father and the Son.

But Ascension and Pentecost challenge us, also, to be more than this.

Just as Philip demanded: Show us the Father and then we will be satisfied. It is often so for us. We read about Jesus, we read about God, we come to love one another with a godly love, we come to know ourselves, both 'who' and 'whose' we are in community together.
We might similarly cry: Show us the Father, show us Jesus and then we will be satisfied!! 

Well, the godhead has. 

Today we think more over about how Jesus has ascended to the Father. The early church is in a period of waiting for the coming of the Spirit.  

Come Holy Spirit is the most important invocation of the church. It is only because of his arrival at Pentecost that the ascension can be any good news at all. 

For if the Son has returned to the Father then what are we to do?

We are to receive the Holy Spirit whom they send in their place.

It is through the power of the Spirit that we are brought into all truth. 

It is through the power of the Spirit that when we doubt who we are, he can gently remind us again.

It is through the power of the Spirit that we can love those who are hard to love in a community where companions are chosen for us.

Tertullian quotes the pagans and their reaction to early Christians: their common shocked response was ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ They were amazed but had no frame of reference for this power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes Christians Christian – makes Christians distinctive more distinctive than other bodies of good people gathered with intentions philanthropic.

This love is love 'so the world may believe' as we hear in this morning's Gospel. Pagans became Christians so intrigued were they by this love. Richard Burridge, Dean of King's College London, scholar of John's Gospel, says ‘In the End, we love each other not for our own sakes, nor even so that the world may believe, but because this is how we share the very life of God and come to be with him and in him for ever and ever.' (Burridge, R. (1998, 2008) John: The People’s Commentary, Abingdon: The Bible Reading Fellowship, p202). The Ascension is good news because we were given the Holy Spirit, the Spirit brings even our ascension too into the community of God. We ascend as we share in the very life of God: ‘I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one. Holy Ubuntu indeed! Amen.

14.4.16

I am

Acts 8.1b-8That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.
The Gospel is written in the book of John 6.35-40 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

I am the bread of life.

We are told by John that after Jesus has said this many of his disciples turn away and no longer walk with him. But Jesus says to them and perhaps to us all, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...”

Where else do we go? There are so many worldviews, religions and ideologies competing for our attention these days – but Christianity offers not a world view or an ideology, neither moral system nor life-improvement plan – Christianity offers us a person – Jesus, to live in us by his Spirit and to guide us by his example. Jesus offers us himself.

We could so easily be those who eat loaves and fishes forever and who do church because of what it gives us: comfort, company, places at a good school, morality, purpose and it could be that God has attracted you to himself with those things – this is just his clever way of getting your attention – what he really wants to give us is the gift of himself. We are challenged to leave the feast with Jesus after he has fed us. Five thousand watch him leave for the other side of the lake. Just as the manna ran out in the wilderness, we can not sit to simply be fed – Jesus asks that we follow him to the other side and be about his mission to the world beyond us, he doesn't give us security, he is our security and he asks us to join him in securing it not for ourselves but for others.

He says to those who sit in the grass and love him because he sorts things: you are looking for me ... because you ate your fill of the loaves. He knows this can be our tendency – to look to him for what he can do for us rather than to be in Him because of what he can be in us and through us. Jesus is an end in himself. Jesus doesn't just give bread, well, he does for a while but the people love him for that and not for him in himself and he is on to that. Jesus doesn't therefore say he will continue to give bread, he says instead that he is bread. Jesus says I am the bread of life. He says Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.

Like him our mission too must be to the other side, to pick up our cross know that He is enough. When we have been fed with him at the table we are to leave the feast nourished and become bread for the world. I first met Jesus at the Eucharist when I was seven years old with the words 'We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs from under your table' – I didn't understand then what I understand now – I had to journey into the painful but liberating truth that there is nothing I can do to make me worthy of God, that it is all his action – that he makes me worthy by becoming my living bread, by inviting me into relationship with him, to believe that he died for me, to believe that when God looks at me he sees me covered in Christ because of Christ's work on the cross for me and therefore pleasing in his sight – that I can not gather up the crumbs of my life and present them worthy to him but that he can gather up the crumbs of my life and present them worthy to the Father because he, Jesus, is worthy.

Following Jesus, this living bread – being Christian – being in Christ, is to know him in the joys and to know him in his sufferings, it is to leave for the other side of the lake and follow. It is in this following that we then hear him say I am the living bread. I am your enough. It is not about what I can do for you, it is about my being in you by my Spirit. This living bread is Jesus himself. And so what now – we are those who are fed and if this is so we are to go on to feed others, our God is always a missional God, leaving the comfort of the sun and green grass to travel a lake to the other side, to face the authorities and have them take offence at him, to push boundaries and to shake things up a bit, to bring challenge. Here we are gathered just a few, a sunny day, grass outside and not really one of us hungry – how are we to be like him - bread for the world – let's continue to pray in God's renewal through us. Amen.

Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace, to the glory of God the Father.

5.4.16

Exposure

John 3.16-21 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

We are living in interesting times and I have had cause to think about these gospel verses in recent months: all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

The Ashley Madison Agency, catering for people who are in a relationship yet want to date, with its slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair" was hacked last summer and names and addresses of its users were released into the public domain.

This week the Panama Papers leaked 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, showing the ways the rich exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders and 139 politicians, Vladimir Putin, Cameron's father, Pakistan’s prime minister; the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Iceland, who resigned yesterday are amongst those exposed.

The problem with the world-view which operates behind such dealings is exactly that which Ashley Maddison is bold enough to declare: Life is short. For Christians life is not short, it is everlasting, Jesus, as we hear in the verse John 3:16, the most quoted scripture in the Bible and the founding synopsis of our faith, came to bring us eternal life, this is a quality of life in Him that does not end when our earthly life is over, in Christ, we live for ever in God's presence and living this quality of life that the Bible describes as everlasting or eternal life begins the moment we give our lives to Christ and then continues on in him without interruption.

The problem with the Ashley Maddison claim that life is short and you should have an affair is that is completely forgets that there is something sacred about marriage, about commitment, about unions that are in fact parables of the relationship with Christ and the church, where Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride who will one day be presented to him spotless and then there will be the wedding feast that we hear about. Betrothal language is everywhere in describing God's relationship with his people. Marriage imaging this is for Christians life-long, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, which is why we make vows based on our wills not just our fleeting feelings – when asked whether you take your betrothed to be your beloved you will have answered I will rather than I do – you will to love for ever even in the times when you fall out and don't like each other too much.

Those who hide their wealth so that it not leak away on taxes forget that they are a part of the body corporate, they are that society, those citizens for whom those taxes provide hospitals and schools and pavements and sewers. For Christians our interdependence is everything and makes us distinct from the world, we are one body and when one part hurts the whole body hurts, we engage in reciprocal relationships and we honour the weaker parts, our more vulnerable members.

Our transparency as Christians, our honesty and our levels of commitment to one another and to the comon good are where we can be distinctive within a world that lives for the moment, accumulates for the moment and gratifies the moment, let this be not so for us those who will live in Him eternally. Amen.

Collect: Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.

22.2.16

What a bloody mess!

We have that curious reading in Genesis 15; animals feature across our scriptures. Animals cut in half in the Old Testament... and foxes and hens in the new. 

What's going on?

Abram in the Old Testament has a unique encounter with God which establishes truths about the relationship we all have with God. Relationship entails risk. Jesus teaches us to go to the enth degree for others even to the point of laying down our lives. When the stakes are this high we all need to hear 'Do not be afraid' – God's words to Abram. Jesus strikes us this morning as very unafraid, as he faces Jerusalem and Herod, that fox – out for his blood.

Do you sometimes think about how costly your relationship with God is? You have sacrificed so much, maybe your reputation, possibly your friends, certainly some of the world's offerings because you are obedient and compelled by the Spirit to remember the promises spoken over you by God. 

Do you know what God promises you?

Last week we saw Jesus overcome temptation in the desert from the devil who offered him everything. Jesus resisted. This week then this same Jesus, renewed and determined, turns his face towards Jerusalem to meet his fate, to lay down his life for us so our sins are swallowed up and we can enter into covenant relationship with God.

Abram has just given up the offer of riches from a foreign King and is now asking God what this is all about, this following God. Was he right to make that sacrifice? He can't see the reason at this point with no future before him; no heir and no land.

Have you ever despaired like Abram? Wondered what it is all about? Lived in that time before you knew God's promises of the glory that lies ahead. 

Maybe you are still in that time or have forgotten the promises of God.

The Lord asks Abram to count the stars because there is an almighty huge project that God is going to begin in Abram. Do you ever stop to remember you're a part of the God project too? Jesus' death and resurrection secured your status as an adopted child of God, filled by his Spirit, empowered by his love, you are part of his project to reclaim his world back from the foxes. 
Are you joining in?

Abram and Jesus are both obedient out of faith to the God who makes covenants in the very life-stuff of blood. This ritual in Genesis this morning points forward to the covenant that Jesus makes with us through his blood on the cross which is remembered at the Eucharist – Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Blood carries life, there is no life without blood. The animals laid down, broken in Abram's ritual point to Christ's broken body on the cross. The torch and the fire-pot that pass down these halves, that mediate, that 'go-between' the carnage in Abram's vision is that same Shekinah glory of God that appeared as a star to guide wise men, as cloud and fire to guide God's people to their Land of Promise, that appeared as a rainbow in the sky in a covenant made with Noah. 

In Jesus the divine is a 'Go-between' God.

In verse 18 the word 'made,' 'made a covenant' is cut. You would cut a covenant. This is perhaps similar to our cutting a deal. In the Ancient Near East, agreements were sealed with the cutting of animals, to say, in a very graphic way, if I do not keep my word, may this happen to me – death and judgement – as horrible as this. God takes this on in Christ on our behalf, pays dearly for the relationship he initiates with us, enters viscerally and really with everything he has into a relationship that cost him the lot, the life of his son.

God, in his shekinah Glory, walks through the shadow of death that descends on Abram – we are told that as the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram and a deep and terrifying darkness descended. God commits himself even in this moment to the later moment of the cross, to entering that terrifying darkness to secure for us what we can not secure for ourselves, to send his Son to secure life for us, everlasting life, to send his Son to be savaged by a fox, savaged by all the cunning and crafty work of the devil: sin and death though he, Jesus, is the hen who seeks to protect his people, you and me, and shelter us under his wings, which he achieves with our freedom.

God passes through the pieces, the dead animals, in the Old Testament, God himself comes down into the muck and the mess then, in Genesis, in this bloody and messy ritual with Abram, just as he does in Jesus, taking on flesh and entering our messed up world as a baby born for a cross, our mucky every day, which he fills with His Spirit though it's still savaged by foxes. God will go through death to secure life for us as Jesus, mother Hen, saves us chicks from being being hunted down by cunning sin and crafty death.

Sin and death are conquered by Christ's mockery of them in his resurrection from the cross. In Colossians we hear that 'he disarmed the powers... and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.'

Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox [Herod] for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’” Jesus knows the stakes, understands the deal, anticipates his cut. 

If you are familiar with what happens when a fox gets into a hen house, you know the mother hen herds her chicks under her wings for protection and bares her breast so the fox must kill her first before it can get to the chicks.

This is the image that Jesus chose to bring us,  God’s very son bore his breast for us. Jesus walked for us into the terrifying darkness which descended, but only for a while, over the whole of the earth, at his death. But by being raised from the dead, he overcame death and promises that we will too. 
What is it that Jesus promises anyway? 
Why have you become Christians?
It isn't the way to a comfortable life!
That was never the deal. Foxes exist but death and sin are undone. 
God fulfilled his promise to Abram, taking on darkness and sin and death for us and did so again in his Son, Jesus Christ. 
These are the greater promises he covenants to, for you.

So this is how broken animals and foxes and hens make sense.
When we received the cross of ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of our vulnerability to sin and to death. 

As Christians, we are made for more than just deals that gain us fleeting assurance. We are called to covenant and to sacrifice after our very earthy God, to putting our faith in him who has secured everything for us, who has walked out all our pain to secure our resurrection, our outwitting of the fox. 

We are to trust in a God who fulfils his promises, who entered all our bloody messes, so that he could secure us the promises of Covenant love. 

‘Do not be afraid,' he says again today, 'I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ Amen.

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.