A Sense of Time – Birth of John the Baptist 24 June, 2018.
The festival today is the celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist. Most saints we commemorate only their death date, which is their birth into heaven. However, the Church calendar includes not only the beheading of John the Baptist, but also his birth. The only other saint we do that is for Mary. However, this morning I am going to go off on a bit of a tangent.
The significance of today is that this is one of the old quarter days. Quarter days were once very important in rural life, being the times when rents and also tithes were due. Tithes were the sort of Church rates that people once paid to the Church to help pay the bills, a sadly long abolished practice as our treasurers will tell you. Anyway, on four days a year people paid up, on the Annunciation, 25thMarch, John the Baptist, today, the 24thJune, Michaelmas, the 29thSeptember and Christmas, which is the 25thDecember in case you have forgotten. Quarter days were part of the pattern of life that shaped how people lived. They were days of not only of payment of debts but celebrations of the passing of the year. They also coincided with the equinoxes and solstices of the solar year, for us this is the winter solstice.
Rural life and city life once moved to a different pattern to today. The seasons had enormous impact. Fresh vegetables were only available in season. Food varied depending on what was ready for harvest. People were very conscious of the changes of the seasons as it affected the whole way of living. Even the week was different. Sundays, or Sabbaths, were the only days off, and they were quiet days when hard manual work was not done. Many of you will even remember the tail end of these customs from your youth.
Even a sense of time was different. Until the mid 19thcentury people were not concerned much with exact time. Most people reckoned the time on the sun. That is why Church bells were so important – they gave notice that a service was soon to start. What changed the sense of time were the advent of the railways and the introduction of watches. Before the railways only large buildings had public clocks, which were often badly out of time. People used to give directions about time with regard to the clock, say 2 o’clock by the town clock. However, the advent of railways meant timetables, and trains need to arrive and depart in good time, and one uniform time zone for a whole country. So, railways brought the need for accurate timekeeping, and the old ways, of looking at the sun or not minding if clocks were out by half an hour, went.
Now, after that digression, the point. Today we live by clocks. We expect people to arrive when they say they will and we expect them to have an accurate watch. I start mass right on time, not just when I feel like it. Some of you may have heard about my esteemed predecessor here Fr Willoughby’s, lesson on that. We can, and therefore do, crowd our days with appointments that depend on accuracy of time. We are good at filing in our time with busyness. Time without work is seen as wasted time and we try and fill it. As a result, we no longer keep days off very well, instead we feel we must be doing things. Sundays are consumed by events and not quiet. Sport is stretched so football is staggered over several days, and parents spent the day running children around to another educational or sporting event.
The things that have been lost are a sense of time and a sense of space. We are no longer good at enjoying space, instead we are good at filling it. However, humans need a sense of time, rhythm, and space. It was not for nothing that God rested on the seventh day and told us to rest also. By losing a sense of time we lose a sense of what has been accomplished and what has been done; instead we are busy doing the next thing. No wonder people are so stressed.
Furthermore, we have denuded our calendar of a sense of time and season. Owing to modern travel and refrigeration we no longer notice the start of the fruit season. We therefore feel no need for harvest thanksgiving as the harvest never starts or stops. Midwinter passes without any difficulty or sense of time. What is left of yearly celebrations have to carry so much that they are overwhelmed and no longer enjoyment but periods of extra busyness – consider the stresses of preparing for Christmas these days.
The celebration of today of the quarter day, or winter solstice, of John the Baptist was a marking of a high point of summer or winter. It was a turning point of the year. People celebrated it and looked forward to the change that was coming. St John also says that Our Lord must increase, and he must decrease, which has been one reason why this feast is tied to the solstice, as this is when the length of sunshine changes, like John’s prediction. This festival goes back a long, long way and is tied into Christmas, which is the other solstice: and in the old Roman Calendar it is exactly six months apart, and the 24 June is six days before the calends of July, and Christmas is also six days before the calends of January. Our more modern calendars since the Middle Ages don’t count this way anymore, so we have lost the symmetry.
The message that I would like you to consider today is how much sense of time do you have? If you are frantically trying to fit everything in, when did you last allow a sense of rest? God works in time and wants us to rest in time. God makes things happen in their own good time, like the birth of John to an elderly couple. You only will see the hand of God at work if you give time to reflect and see it. Make time to rest, see the cycles of the year and enjoy it as it passes. On this quarter day, look and see the season go by, the darkest day is past at the solstice, and life will come again. Have a sense of time passing, rest, and enjoy what passes through our hands. For what is the use of having time if we don’t relax and see its enjoyment and the hand of God.
God Working – 17 June, 2018
Now we are back to our usual green Sundays we will be working our way through this year’s Gospel, which is Mark. Now, Mark is only a short Gospel, but probably the oldest of the four. It does not worry about Jesus’s birth and childhood, it launches straight into his ministry stating from the time of his baptism by John. Today we are in chapter 4, and Jesus is teaching by the use of parables.
The first thing to consider, is what is a parable? Some translators use instead of this word, “riddle,” which helps us understand. Riddles are something we play around in our mind to find a solution. Well, parables are designed like that, to make us take a message and play around with it in our mind to get a meaning. One of the problems of teaching is that it is hard to make the lesson stick in the mind of a student. Well, parables are a great teaching tool, because we take them away to chew over them mentally, to unpack the meaning.
Think in contrast to fables. Now fables are designed to teach a clear and easy moral or practical lesson. Who doesn’t remember the lesson of “The Tortoise and the Hare” (slow and steady effort pays off) or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (honesty is the best policy)?
Parables, on the other hand, are useful when the truth you want to share is difficult – whether difficult to hear, comprehend, or believe.
Our Lord describes the coming Kingdom of God in parables because he knows the reality it introduces is unexpected and that his hearers can’t really take it in all at once. Parables are in this sense like narrative time bombs. You hear them, wonder about them, think maybe you’ve got it, and then as you walk away, or over the course of the next day or so, and all of a sudden the truth Jesus meant to convey strikes home almost overwhelming you with its implications or blinding you with its vision.
We have two parables here, both agricultural ones. I think they are put together on purpose and relate to each other. The first is how the kingdom of God is like the seed growing: it happens by itself, and eventually the harvest comes and we can take it. God works in ways we do not understand, and the harvest will come, all we have to do is put the seed and let God take care of itself. That seems easy enough.
The second one seems like this, with the mustard seed: a tiny thing that grows into a bush big enough for birds to nest in its shade. Once again you think of God mysteriously taking what is small and it turns into something big.
Both these parables use the idea of seeds being planted. Usually, when we plant the seeds, they are buried in the soil. They dwell in the darkness. While in the darkness, they may absorb nutrients and go through transformation. How long will this transformation take place? We can guess, but do not know the exact timing. What exactly occurs in the darkness? We do not know. Will anything grow from the seed? We do not know that, either. We may tend to the seed passionately, but sometimes nothing grows from it. However, we have faith that something will grow from seeds and plant them anyway.
Actually, planting is a wonderful metaphor for our spiritual journey and spiritual growth.
When we first come to know God, it probably is because someone has planted the seed in us. We go to church to worship and listen to the messages, and to study the Bible and other teachings. We may join some fellowship, enjoy hospitality, hear and see the testimony of other Christians, and slowly understand the Word and the love of Our Lord. After planting, the nurturing takes place. Eventually, some may be moved to accept God, whereas some may not. How long will this transformation take place? We do not know. There may be great preachers or good priests who inspire people and plant the seed, but most likely it is a friend’s testimony that does so. The companionship of a regular believer can nurture us along our spiritual journey.
Let’s think again about the parables here today.. The first is about sowing grain to eat, a useful and productive plant – but the second plant, mustard, is a weed. Typically, as a weed it flourishes and grows, big enough for birds to nest in the shade. If only the good plants were so easy to grow. But the weed also flourishes. The kingdom of God is being used for something useful in grain, and also in something that seems a weed, like mustard.
Yet the mustard bush is useful. The birds of the air can make nests in the shade of the mustard plant – and here we have to think again, for the nests of birds contain eggs, which are food. The growing of a weed can attract birds which supply eggs for food, so from a weed can come the food that helps the person. Also, of course, the weed does give a good seed that can be used for flavouring.
What the parables are pointing out together, is that God does not work by our ordered neat ways. We have to trust first that something will grow. But God does not only provide the grain that we need for our daily bread, but also the unexpected, the weeds that grow up that attract the birds which then give us eggs. We do not know how God will take the things we do. We may be planting the seed that produces grain, but God’s kingdom is not going to be so neat and ordered: God is also going to take the weeds and turn them into something good. Also, they just happen – they grown in the background, you just let them be and they happen.
For me these two parables talk strongly on the greatness and slow presence of God in a world that is often evil. Horrific things happen: evil people commit acts of barbarity. Yet always, in the background, is the presence of God, slowly growing, turning evil into God, healing the horrors of evil.
The same thing happens with sin in our lives: we often do the stupidest thing, or deliberate evil, that can blight ourselves or our families. The consequences at times can be devastating, not only to ourselves but to our families. Yet, after it is all done, we ask for God’s forgiveness and we are given that and his grace, and the kingdom of God creaks into action and starts to build new ways and new hopes. God is never defeated. We may hope to scatter good grain on the ground, but it may turn out to be nothing but a weed, yet God will still take that weed and turn it into good. So, with these two parables, or riddles this week, think and ponder this message – not separately, but together, God taking the good seed and the weeds and still making the Kingdom of God.
The Search for Eden – 10 June, 2018
There is something particularly beautiful about the idea of Lord God walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, at the time of the evening breeze. The story of Adam and Eve, the Serpent, and the Garden of Eden is one of the greatest of stories of the Book of Genesis. It is also ancient, and versions of the story exist in other ancient civilisations. Genesis is not a book of explaining facts and details, but is instead a book of God, explaining why things are so. The story of the Garden of Eden is about two things: why we can tell the difference between good and evil, and why we suffer in the world. The fact that these two are linked together is not a co-incidence either.
The Lord God walks among the garden of Eden in the cool of the day, and Adam and Eve hear him and hide. They hide because they have just eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God had forbidden Adam and Eve even to touch that tree, or it was threatened, they would die. The serpent, described as being more subtle or crafty, had tempted Eve to taste of the forbidden fruit. The serpent tells Eve that she will not die if she touches it: but become instead like God. So, Eve wants the fruit, and eats it, and then gives some to her husband, who also eats.
Adam and Eve, in Eden, are placed in an ideal world. According to chapter two, their duty is to till the garden of Eden, look after it. In other ancient creation stories humanity is created to be slaves to the gods but here instead the only burden in to till the ground, and find company in each other. Furthermore, God is seen as one who walks in the garden and talks directly to them.
Then the serpent tempts them. No real explanation is made about the serpent, about what it was doing in the garden of Eden in the first place. Incidentally the serpent is never described as the devil, that’s our take on it. What is being said that God never intended to leave us totally protected – even in Eden there was allowed imperfection, the serpent was allowed to exist to tempt. It teaches us that there never has been a time or place totally away from evil. What did change in Eden was our knowledge of good and evil.
For to eat the fruit was to find out about good and evil, not just experience it. There is a lot of difference. An animal can experience good done to it or evil, but it does not know it, plan about it. The responsibility that we have as humans is that we alone plangood or evil. What we do in our actions is to create good, or create evil.
When the Lord God asks Adam what has he done, he dodges the question. Incidentally, this is the first question that God asks in Genesis. But Adam, being the first politician, blames someone else, instead of taking responsibility. He blames Eve. Eve, likewise, dodges, and blames the serpent. So, the theft is followed by lies – evil has entered the human heart. We now know the knowledge of evil.
Yet before they are driven from Eden, they also learn the knowledge of good. For the Lord God does not kill them, as threatened, instead he drives them out and, in a touching gesture, clothes them in animal skins. So, punishment is lenient, and God shows mercy, and gives them clothes. So, though they lie they learn mercy and compassion – they learn the knowledge of evil and God teaches them the knowledge of good. Adam and Eve exchange obedience for theology, as they start the quest for knowledge.
It is a common state of all civilisations that they yearn for a golden time. For us, as Christians, the story is of Eden. It is not presented as a historical fact – it is presented as a reason, in a story so we can understand. Yet we are left with the yearning in our lives for some Garden of Eden, a perfect time when we could talk to God as he walked by in the cool of the day. Some of the most ancient records we have from the dawn of writing talk about the times are not as good as they once were. It is a common thing to say that things were better when we were young. History is littered with people bemoaning the loss of the good times of youth. Literature is also replete with stories of a time long ago, a golden age. A time of Camelot and Arthur. We all have within us this strange yearning for a past age when we could see the Lord God walking by in a garden.
The story of the expulsion from Eden teaches two things – we can tell the difference between good and evil, we are not creatures who are bound by environment, and secondly, we have to take responsibility for our deeds, we can’t blame others.
At the moment the one application about this story can be seen in the debate about the dispossession of the aborigines. Whatever may have been seen as right or wrong when these deeds were done, it is clearly seen now that the deed was evil. That is the realisation of knowledge of evil. However, we do not take that guilt, for those misdeeds belong to others – we do not inherit our parents’ wrongdoings. However, we do enjoy the benefits of their deeds and we do have a duty to put deeds now seen as wrong right, as we would hope that our own children would attempt to put our own mistakes right. If we come to the knowledge that a deed done is wrong, evil, then we cannot blame others, like Adam blamed Eve, or we blame 19th century settlers – we then have a duty to try and put things right. What that means in terms of the present debate is very open. However, to continue the dispossession in any way is clearly wrong. We know, now, that wrong has been done, like Adam and Eve knowing in the garden. We therefore must try and take our responsibility to put it right.
After Eden humanity never heard the Lord God walking in the garden again, and the garden was closed. We are left with the yearning to try again to enter that garden. Yet the only way we can find that peace is by being responsible, of being like God in knowing good and evil, and acting upon it.
The Trinity – 27 May, 2018.
I love this season: sometimes we jokingly call it processiontide, as we have procession every Sunday for four weeks as we celebrate four great theological feasts: Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity and then Corpus Christi.
Each of these gives us a good dose of theology. Theology is something that gives us the reason for being and doing. That’s important. Why should we honour our bodies? Well, look to Ascension, with Our Lord accepting his body into heaven. Why should we believe we are guided into the future and trust it? Well that’s where we tackle the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. Why should we hold love and service to be given by God? Well, that’s why we are here today.
The first thing that we need to know for Trinity Sunday is that God is in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We say that this is not three gods: so they are not autonomous distinct beings, but we say they are in a lesser sense three persons in the one. Now this is immensely important as it means that within the Godhead there is a community. The foundation of our faith is therefore that this is a community, which means that there is the ability to love and love back that signifies any community. Within a family there are parents and children with the ability to love and esteem the different qualities that each member of the family brings. So you immediately start to understand the nature of the Church and why we go on so much about love being our foundation. We, as the Church, cannot exist without being a community. We mirror the nature of God, therefore we cannot be unless we take in different members and attempt to love and see their different qualities. That is why there are distinct differences in the Church as well: we are not one body with equal abilities and roles, but the nature of our diversity, with clergy and laity, bishops, priest and deacons, all signify the different persons of God and the different gifts within the Church. When you see a body that everyone has exactly the same roles run a mile very quickly as it is the deadliness of enforced unity and nothing like God and godliness.
The next point to remember is that the Godhead holds together in love and service. The three are equal. Now this is important – it is not that we have God the Father ruling over God the Son who sends out God the Spirit as some sort of menial servant. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal. As they are equal the only way their love works is by continual service to each other. That is why the Church tries continually to make the point that we exist only to serve, not to dominate. Jesus makes the point time and time again to his disciples, that we show our love by service and not by lording over other people. Now we know that the church has laity and clergy, but clergy are not here to lord it over the laity, but rather to serve those around. Yves Congar, the Dominican theologian of the late 20thC, pointed out that there are levels of service we can see. As Christ served his disciples, so the clergy serve the laity within the Church. But then this goes onto another level, as the Church then must serve the world in the same way. The church exists as the bride of Christ, and as the bride we show Our Lord’s love and service in the world. That is why the Church must always in every age be where the needy are, whether that be the sick, the insane, the prisoners, the poor, the lonely. God does not give up on anyone, and neither must the Church give up on any person as well. Love and service holds the Trinity together and is the core of how we act in the world.
The last point I would like to state is that within God there is timelessness and change. Now, this seems somewhat of a contradiction: how can an eternal god have change, for change for us often signifies error and decay. Yes, God is eternal, and lives outside time, always present always loving. Yet at the same time God enters into time and changes. God sent the Son, Jesus, into the world to live as a human, subject to all the change and aging of who we are. So subject to it, that he let himself even die in pain and refused to escape from the cross. Therefore, although we deal with a timeless God we will continually learn the depth of revelation of what that means: the Church will change over time as it learns the riches of God. St Frances is meant to have said (and poor man he is credited with a lot of things he never said) that Scripture is like a lot of seeds that bear their fruit and flowers at different times. Therefore the Church shows forth the love of God eternally, but the means it will do this will change as it brings forth the fruit of its love and history in different ways.
So the three points you need to remember: God exists as one God in three persons, so we also exist in diversity but as one community. The Godhead is held together in love and service, so we as the Church exist by learning always the hard lessons of love and service with each other and the world. The last point is that God is eternal and yet changing so the way we see God is never complete, but always changing. So we get the answers of why we love and why we serve as Christians by Trinity Sunday theology.
Pentecost – Whose Miracle? – 20 May, 2018.
A long, long time ago, over 2,500 year, the Jews were in serious trouble. Their Temple, the centre of their kingdom and their religion had been burnt and they had been exiled to other regions of their conquerors and oppressors, the Babylonians. As the psalm put it, they sat down and wept in a strange land. There, in this time of exile, they had to define what it meant to be Jewish without a Temple. It was during this time, scholars believe, that they put together the final form of Genesis, the ancient collection of the legends of their race.
One story they recounted in Genesis was the story of why the human race had many languages. They told the story of how humanity, tired of trusting in God and honouring God’s name (which they were not particularly good at doing anyway) decided to make a name for themselves and build a tower, a tower that would be the greatest thing on earth. Perhaps they were thinking of the huge ziggurats that the Babylonians had made in their cities, great temples reaching up to heaven to proclaim their gods. But the God of Genesis scatters the people who had made this tower in their pride, and gives them instead a commotion of tongues, a babel (in the Hebrew) of tongues, as a sly reference to their overlords, the Babylonians. There, dispersed and suspicious of each other and full of misunderstanding, they would continue their wars and divisions.
Now let’s return to the readings, this time the story in Acts, this time only nearly 2,000 years ago: here are the frightened disciples, waiting fifty days after Jesus’s death. It’s also the great feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses so long, long ago on Mount Sinai and the presentation of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and it’s a festival time in Jerusalem. As one of the three great Temple feasts the place would be crowded with everyone from everywhere.
Then, in that room, the power of the Spirit comes, and changes everything. The disciples leave that room behind, and go out into the crowd, who is wondering what is happened. What the crowd hears is a strange thing: everyone can hear the language that person knows: Latin and Greek and Parthian and a score of other languages that we stumble over their very names.
On that day in Jerusalem the curse of Babel was undone: not by the imposition of one tongue for all the people, not by having everyone speak the same language, but by the ability of everyone to hear. The miracle is not just a giving of tongues to the disciples, but a miracle of the ability to listen on the crowd. Everyone can hear.
Now this is important. Too often Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit is seen as a miracle of the Church. We celebrate it as our birthday, the day when the church started. But we often emphasises it as God’s gift to us, the believers. It’s part of a mentality that sees God working through us, the believers, who hold the truth and must teach it to the world.
But the truth of God, the truth of Jesus Christ, is that Our Lord came to save all people. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not just a gift to believers: it was a gift to the world. Everyone in the crowd on the Pentecost heard their native tongue. The giving of the Spirit was a gift to the whole diverse world and a sign that God would work and change everyone, not just the believers.
One of our great weaknesses as a Church is that we become too much of a citadel, too alarmed about the role of the world. Yes, there is great evil in the world, times of cruelty and indifference that can shock us to the core. Yet God still works in those dark moments. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not limited to an elect few. The idea that only a holy few exist undermines terribly our sense of God working in the world. We start to judge people in terms of worthiness and purity. God often works best not because we are perfect and holy, but through our brokenness. Where we have sinned and known evil is the meeting of the Spirit who gives us the grace that can change and transform us. Remember always the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a citadel of the perfect.
So where do we find the Holy Spirit today? – as at Pentecost, in the diversity of the world and our talents. We find the Spirit in the joy and presence of God in our midst, our prayer life and worship here at Church, our illumination of Scripture and the beauty of being. The Spirit moves still amongst us, giving us the insights and power and love and grace that we need for our lives and work.
Yet at the same time we are questioning like never before where the Spirit is leading the Church here in Australia. I’m just back from a meeting in Wangaratta last week, where we are wondering why we have no professions for our Benedictine community, but the Spirit is still calling oblates. Here in Adelaide we are seeing the collapse of the Anglican Church: just around this parish I can name Emmanuel at Wayville, St Benedict’s at Glenore, St Wilfred’s at Torrens Park, All Saints at Colonel Light Gardens that have all disappeared in the last twenty years. The list goes on and on the further you move away. People also tell me that they are not religious, but other people tell me they are spiritual. There is no easy answer to what future we have, where the Spirit is calling the Anglican Church. All we can say is that what we have known is passing away: what we will be is not yet clear.
We can deal with this with pessimism or with hope. The Jews sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept, but the shape of the Old Testament was born. The original Pentecost meant the end of the Jewish synagogue but the birth of the Church and a new way of being that was bigger than just being Jews. We must be careful not to become a frightened citadel, judging history by our limited understanding of the past and projecting our fears into the unknown future. But the Spirit still touches us and warms us to have hope in the Lord of history, our Saviour Jesus Christ, who knowns us and loves us.
Up, Up and Away – Ascension 12 May, 2018.
I watched recently again the film on Margaret Thatcher, called the Iron Lady. It’s a moving film, looking at her in old age struggling with dementia. At one stage she has to go to the doctor about some problem, and this very nice doctor askes her how she is feeling about the problems she is facing with her age. She gives a big sign and then launches into how she isn’t really interested about feelings. What interests her, she says, are ideas, that is what fascinates her, not what people feel, ideas are what engage her. But everyone wants to know feeling these days, not the ideas.
It’s an interesting reflection, and I understand she never is meant to have said those words. But it is interesting. We can become lost in empathy and forget the challenge and excitement of ideas. Well the next few weeks are about ideas in many ways. Today is Ascension, next week is Pentecost, then it’s Trinity, then it’s Corpus Christi. You need to put on your thinking caps for the next few weeks because this is where we tackle some good food of theology.
Today, I can give you what I am going to say in two sentences. The message is:
- God became human so we could become divine.
- What is not ascended is not healed.
Never let it be said that your Rector is not deterred by simple challenges of reducing the insight of the saints and theology of the church over the 2000 years to a Manuel of Christianity for dummies.
When we say God became human, we touch on what theologians call the incarnation: that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, becomes a fully human person. It is not that God appeared to be human, like some spirit, God was human, and was subject to our condition, of aging, hunger and all the demands of human life. But by dying, rising and ascending, Jesus finishes the great journey of God; he takes our humanity into God. This makes the point: our humanity is not a burden, but blessed. If God were willing to take on our human nature, then it makes the great affirmation, that humanity, in its physicality, is worthy of God: it is the great gift to us. But more than that: Jesus changes our humanity, he creates a new mutant: we are now no longer solely beings who live and die; he infuses outside time eternity with our lives. We are now creatures who are offered eternal life; our Lord’s divinity is mixed with our humanity to make us a new creature.
The Ascension here is an important event that we celebrate not just as a historical event. We don’t just celebrate the event of our Lord’s life as history: that belittles God. If we did that we would have things like the Sunday celebrating his first tooth and other idiocies. That’s not about faith; that is why the gospels just skip so much of our Lord’s life. What is important is the why of God, the theology. The Ascension makes the ending of the physical life of our Lord here. But the body is not discarded as a useless shell; it is taken into heaven, in the inadequate phrase of the gospels, where he seats at the right hand of God. What they are trying to get across to us poor limited beings is that he takes his humanity with him and it still exists in the Godhead. God takes our humanity with him, so that it is continually honoured by God and what we are is honoured as well. We are not a religion that can look as the body as a piece of evil: instead, we look on it as something honoured and accepted and part of God and changed by God.
Now the second point is that what is not ascended is not healed. In a sense this is the great warning of the ancient church. We live in a world that is imperfect and has evil. Our continual urge is to quarantine sections of our lives and societies as imperfect, evil, or sinful. Once we do that, we ghetto them, we can ignore them, or even worse try to eradicate them. It’s also called scapegoating, blaming something for all that is wrong. We do it with people, like the Nazis scapegoated the Jews, or we can do it with ourselves: if only I had not been mistreated I could have achieved so much, or if only I had been six foot two I could have led a wonderful life. There are much more relevant examples I assure you, how people choose some aspect to lay a blame. But we are warned: what is not ascended is not healed. What that means is that we have to take everything to God, if we seek healing for our sins and failings. God is interested in everything. So whenever we start to scapegoat, our Lord has the nasty habit of reminding us that he was the scapegoat for all time, and God will be with the victim. God will be with those persecuted. Furthermore, as long as we blame part of ourselves with our failures, we will not find healing. Awful things may happen in our lives: but God wants us to find in them his own presence so we can find healing. God is with our tears, and not just our joys.
That is why the second point is that what is not ascended is not healed. If we want healing, we have to let God take up us in all our failures and hurts. God does not expect us to come to him perfect: that’s missing the whole point: God wants us to come with all our imperfections because God loves us without preconditions. It’s love, not standards that God is all about. If we want healing, we have to let God take it all up: it all has to be ascended.
That’s why the Gospels make two points about Jesus after his resurrection several times: one that he is still human, you can touch him and he eats, and secondly that he still has the wounds, they are just not fatal. He is the living walking wounded healed God, all those contradictions in one. If you can get that all into your head in one go, you are getting there, but that should take a lifetime of contemplation and more to understand that.
So if you can’t get that in one go then just remember: God became human so we could become divine; and, what is not ascended is not healed. Or if that is too hard, and you have missed the whole sermon and just woken up, then just take the sound bite: today we celebrate that God has gone up to heaven, and we are riding on his coattails.