Wheat and Weeds Growing Together – Pentecost 7 23 July, 2017
We are all aware that there is evil in the world. The nightly news makes that all too clear. Despite unparalleled prosperity of the last century there is still poverty, civil war and terror in the world. Even in our own suburbs people live in fear, of being cheated, or attacked.
There is very little calm as a result. Even the Church has evil within, our own sins that have tarnished our public image, or just the besetting sin of bureaucracy turning the kingdom of God into reporting agency.
So why does it happen? What do we do about evil?
The gospel today is about sin in the world. The wheat is sown, yet as it grows weeds are seen in the crop. When the servants ask the master how the weeds came, they are told that an enemy has been and thrown in the weeds.
The response to the servants is that they want to go out and collect them immediately. The problem is that the weeds are hard to tell from the wheat. So the Master says to leave it there till the harvest.
Note that the servants are not aware of how the weeds arrived. It’s the same in the world – we don’t know how the evil often arrives – we are suddenly aware of the evil in the midst, but by that time it is too late. The origin of evil is one of the mysteries of the world and of faith. Living as humans just doesn’t give us the perspective to understand the origin of evil. There is no way to understand the way evil starts. How can fully explain the origins of so much of the evil in the world today? We are left with the bland statement that it is the work of an enemy. Evil at the end cannot be explained away. All we can do is acknowledge that it is there.
The problem is to tell the difference between good and evil. In the wheat field the Master tells it is hard to distinguish wheat and weeds. So the Master says to leave both till harvest.
The servants had wanted to purge the field, but the damage they would have done would have damaged the crop. Good wheat would have been destroyed along with the weeds – good would have suffered with evil.
That’s so often the result in the world – the problem is that evil is often not clear. It’s hard to work out at times what is evil until its fruit is clear, let alone work out who is evil. The when we tackle evil we have a tendency to paint people as evil, rather than actions. We demonise people and then we react by treating the people as evil, rather than the cause. I am saddened by how people are maligning Cardinal Pell, as though he were already guilty. Yes, the system has its faults, but no matter what one thinks of the Cardinal, and I am not a fan of his, he deserves a presumption of innocence. People are demonising him.
The end result of the parable is that the Master tells people to wait, to look after the field and wait till the harvest when the weeds will be separated. It is not an easy answer. It tells us that ultimately, the separation of evil from good must be left to God.
So what to we do when we are confronted with evil? All we can do is to be clear that it is evil: to state what we believe; to distinguish between wheat and weeds. The servants watched the field and saw the weeds, in the same way all we can do is to acknowledge a weed when we see it: to look at the evil, not at the person.
Part of the reason for this is that evil has a way of being very hard to distinguish at times. We can point to evil; then it disappears until next time. In the end all we can do is to see the evil, point to it, but leave judgment to God. Never become fixated that something is evil – be prepared to let things change and good come through.
An example of this can be seen in Jesus’s ministry. Consider the disciples who would have been there while Jesus gave this parable. Judas was there as well. Yet Jesus never excludes Judas, for he too had a part to play in the story of the cross. If Jesus were in no rush to weed out Judas, then who are we to be in a rush to exclude what we see as evil. There is no such thing as a totally evil person – as long as they live they is the hope of good coming through. That is why judgment of what is good and evil belongs to God, and to the time of judgment when God will decide.
Furthermore, in ourselves we always have to recognise the presence of our own evil that lurks in us waiting for a moment to strike forth. When we see evil in others, then remember: that but for the grace of God there we could be.
Let us not be in a haste to paint people as evil. Judgment belongs to God, all we can do is to state when we believe we see evil, and try and help to allow change. That’s not an easy answer, but evil does not have an easy solution. Just trust God to work things out.
The Right Yoke – Pentecost 5, 9 July 2017
When you look at the Gospel passage today there are two themes in it that I would like you to ponder: the children in the market place and the yoke.
I’ll deal quickly with the children in the market place, because it’s a fascinating passage. The word used there, paidon, is more than little children, it can mean young adults, and what may be happening there is that they are young actors in the market, doing dramas. That’s why they are playing flutes, dancing and wailing. The significance for us is that is how some scholars think the first gospel, Mark, arose, from a market drama. It’s only a theory, but that’s how the sayings of Jesus may have first been put together as a drama piece for performance. Our Lord is making the point about people: they see life passing by, in this case the witness of John the Baptist, but they don’t enter into it, but treat it like a drama. It’s always a problem: we see the spectacle of Jesus’s life and death and life shown here week after week, but we become spectators, complacent; and don’t enter into it as life.
Anyway, then we come to the next passage I want to deal with, the line “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s a great passage that is used a lot of times. But it does capture such a bigger picture that I am going to break one of my rules and concentrate on it.
But let’s zero onto two words: “yoke” and “easy.” If you remember anything from this sermon I want you to remember these two.
Yoke is number one. Now when the old Jewish scholars talked about the Law of Moses they often called it the yoke. It’s a good word, because the old Law had a world of rules to show people how to live their lives. It gave a certainty in working out what was right and what was wrong, the ability to do things that God would want you to do. Now yokes are those wooden harnesses they like to put on oxen that allow a few bullocks to work together and pull the plough. Remember that in ancient times and in fact well into the Middle Ages most ploughing was done by oxen, not horses. When you harness oxen together you unite their strength and allow them to work as a team. So it is with the Law. By everyone following the Law we live in a society that follows God. The thing that Our Lord did not like about the Law was that it had become too full of laws that were too restrictive and finicky, the Law was no longer filled with love and freedom.
So Our Lord wants people to take on his yoke, which will give rest for our souls. Our Lord is teaching us that there are new ways to live that free us from becoming scrupulous about rules and regulations, but instead are to all about love. We are to learn from him, for Our Lord is gentle and humble in heart and we can find rest for our souls. Jesus does not want us all up tight trying desperately to be good: Jesus wants us to love and be gentle, and find rest in our lives.
Okay, that the first word of “yoke” done. Now let’s look at the second word, “easy.”
Now the first thing to learn about the word “easy” is what it is not. He does not mean that is easy like when we say a test was easy, or the road was easy. That’s not it at all. The word here is “chrestos” which means sort of good or kind. This is where you need to think like a farmer. Yokes are easy not because they are light or something like that, but because they fit well. Have you ever tried to wear a dress or shoe that is too tight? Well, that’s what’s going on here. If a yoke is made badly it’s not easy because it doesn’t fit properly, it likes trying to wear a bathing costume a size too small. A yoke is easy because it fits properly.
Now this is where we need to think what does a well-fitting yoke means. It means a yoke that is designed for us. Our Lord is telling us to look at what we are burdened down with in life. Are we having a badly fitted life, with responsibilities which we are not coping with because we are not meant to carry them? Or are we doing the opposite, not taking on responsibilities that we should? For the proper yoke is easy and the burden is light: God has made us and knows the burdens we are meant to have in life and never, never gives us more than we can bear. It’s our own silly selves that take on the wrong jobs or avoid the responsibilities that God wants us to have.
Now being a Christian is not easy, easy in the sense we normally use it. That’s why I hate the wrong use of this passage. Being a Christian can be very difficult at times. Why – because if you really believe that God has made each and every person in God’s own image you have to weep over the folly of people and the world that distort and ignore the precious gifts of souls. You have to weep over the torments that people put themselves and others through. But the only things that makes sense of it all is the belief that Our Lord has taken on this world with all it’s pain and knows and shares that pain and still loves each and every person.
The yoke is easy and the burden is light because Jesus makes it uniquely for each one of us. The only way we can work out what that yoke is for each of us is to learn to pray and listen to God. That’s why there is a little pun going on here with the word “easy.” Remember: the word in the Greek is “chrestos.” That’s a whole lot similar to “Christos,” Christ. It’s hard to listen to the difference in Greek and it’s meant to be hard: chrestos, Christos, chrestos, Christos – it’s meant to sound the same and that’s why a rather obscure word is used, in fact it’s only used a few times in the whole Gospels. The only way we find what is well fitting, easy, is Christ.
Then there is another little thought to think about: Jesus was a carpenter. One of the jobs a carpenter would have had to do for those farmers so long, long ago was to make yokes, and a carpenter could only do that by knowing the ox and shaping and carving that yoke till it fitted properly. Well, think then of the Son of God, Jesus doing that in Galilee so many centuries ago. You know what: Jesus is still doing that now for our yokes now so that they are easy and the burdens are light.
Welcoming – Pentecost 4, 2 July 2017
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbour or family member or work colleague or politician or mother-in-law or next-door neighbour or chatty seat companion on a bus or the grocery checker or barber or the kid who hit your new car with a ball…and so on and so forth…welcomes God? We could have fun with this! But would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome? If there is an end to such a list of who is welcome, what does this mean? And if not, well- what does that mean?
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. And whoever welcomes any one of us welcomes Jesus, welcomes God.
The message we hear in this morning’s gospel reading from Matthew was important enough to Jesus and to the early church that some variation on this theme shows up in each gospel, and often more than once. Also in Matthew’s gospel from chapter 18 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” and from chapter 25 “The king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, …you did it to me.’” Mark includes similar verses. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus declares that “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” The Jesus in John’s gospel, in true poetic style, declares in chapter 13 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”
There are numerous other examples and variations throughout the New Testament record. The bottom line emphasis seems to be on inclusion, reciprocity, welcome and doing for others – all those things it takes to build up community, to include the stranger as neighbour. If we can believe the record of today’s lesson and so many other passages, Jesus and the early disciples and later apostles put a high value on welcoming and proclaiming the presence of God thereby.
Pause for a moment and think about what we’ve been hearing about the dangers of Moslems and to the present day about division, exclusion, keeping people separated, kicking people out.
There may be legitimate and compelling reasons to consider the economic impact or national safety issues in such things, but if an inhospitable, exclusive attitude goes along with these ideas, then they are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus who talked so very much about welcome, inclusion, hospitality.
Hospitality is a primary ethic of the cultures and peoples of the Middle East even now. There is joy in welcoming, there is the belief that it is desired of God, the welcoming of strangers who are strangers no longer, but beloved friends, believing that in welcoming people into one’s home they are earning their crown in heaven, doing as God would have them do in welcoming the living God among us.
Such an understanding of hospitality, of the obligation of welcome, dates back to well before the time of Jesus. It was a matter of survival and community health which translated into the religious understanding of what God wants of us. Where and how do we experience such welcome today?
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
Is this what we hear? Or do we hear, instead, words of separation, words of breaking relationship, words of opposition and repudiation?
So many of the ugly attitudes playing out on the world stage and in the evening news have spilled over into our popular culture, showing up in a variety of television shows with comments about the increase in bullying not only among children in our schools, but flowing out into our neighbourhoods, showing up in stepped-up immigration strictures, among other things.
Where is our witness to welcoming others, and thereby welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him?
Last Thursday was the celebration of the feast of Peter and Paul. They did not agree on many things, didn’t get along well at times, and went their separate ways in the proclamation of the Gospel. Peter insisted that the early believers must follow Jewish ways, must be circumcised, must hold to the Law. Paul’s vision led him to distant lands proclaiming faith in a risen Christ and urging believers to conform their lives to that faith. What they had in common, though, was the conviction that God had visited humanity in Jesus, and that Jesus had brought something new and remarkable to humankind demonstrated in a way to live, a way to relate and a way to witness to God’s love, and they both understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a place in God’s kingdom.
This week we also saw the results of the last census of last year. We are becoming a less religious society. We are also becoming more diverse as people come here not just from the UK, but India and China. Let us also ask ourselves what Jesus meant in telling us over and over again, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).
We may believe differently about the details of faith, as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians are wont to do. We may understand what being Australian is differently; we have always held a variety of opinions on things.
But for us as Christian Australians or Australian Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel text asks: What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that? What does it look like in our churches, in our neighbourhoods, in our national policies, in our very attitudes? For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom, living that faith in a context of privilege and challenge.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but he pretty clearly told us to be welcoming. Like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything. And as Australians, we have to grapple with what it means to live in a country that is less Anglo-centric and less Christian.
Christian people are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. Can we at least agree on that?
As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware.
Based partly on a sermon by The Rev’d Machrina Blasdell of Park University, USA.
Sermon on the 170th Anniversary of the Consecration of Bishop Short of Adelaide
25 June, 2017
Archdeacon Emeritus Michael Whiting
Our gospel today is part of the second discourse in S. Matthew of Our Lord to his disciples concerning their mission in and to the world; a mission not just to the people of Israel but in time to the Gentiles as well… and the guiding thought of that mission? Have no fear…are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one will fall to the ground apart from your Father… so do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
If God cares for seemingly insignificant animals, Our Lord is saying, how much more so will God care for human beings. For all of us called to take our faith to others there is often a justifiable reticence and sometimes fear. This is so until we recall that at every moment we are accompanied by Our Lord. As in verse 39 of today’s gospel – Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. We are to trust, for our actions in mission can only ever be for the glory of God, and for no other purpose.
This gospel reading is most apt at this time. Next Thursday, 29 June, is the Feast of St Peter and for this Diocese a day of some significance. It will be 170 years, on that day, since the inauguration of the Diocese of Adelaide in Westminster Abbey. On the 29 June 1847 Augustus Short was ordained and consecrated as our first bishop. The creation of the new Diocese was only possible because a young heiress, Angela Burdett Coutts, donated the necessary funds.
A few months earlier, in January of 1847, on a bleak winter Saturday morning, while at breakfast, Short had received the invitation to a colonial episcopate frm Archbishop Howley of Canterbury. Short often referred to Providence in his life — the grace of God opening his path ahead – and no occasion was more unexpected, nor more intriguing, than this invitation. Providence was calling him, (as he later described in 1882); and following the principle I had previously acted on in life, viz., to follow the path opened to me rather than “choose my way”, he consented because trust in God was fundamental to his faith and its practice – I wrote to the Archbishop to accept the see of Adelaide — I prayed that I might do right & tho’ sorely tried with evil & backsliding I prevailed and have had no misgivings since — on the contrary have felt holy courage and firmness of faith in Christ & trust in God’s Providence such as I never felt before.
During the 1830s and 1840s there was much revival and reform in the United Church of England and Ireland; not least, in the rapidly changing ecclesiastical landscape, was the astonishing expansion of the British Empire. As settlers from the United Kingdom spread across the globe, the issue of church organisation and continuity became paramount. Bishop Blomfield of London led the cause for new bishops for the colonies and on that day in 1847, four new bishops were consecrated together: Augustus Short for Adelaide, Charles Perry for Melbourne, William Tyrell for Newcastle and Robert Gray for Cape Town.
This was a momentous occasion for the English Church and its colonial life, and the scene was described with some enthusiasm in the Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal (‘Consecration of Colonial Bishops’ 1847). The Abbey had been selected for this service because it was ‘decided that the Consecration should be public, and in the face of the Church’. Sixteen hundred tickets were issued thus ensuring as grand an ordination service not seen in London for generations.
It is impossible to convey the interest and the heart-stirring felt by those who witnessed it. Our strong feeling was that it was a day worth having lived to see: — to have lived to see four additional Bishops sent out to lands far off, partly by the piety of one member of the Church [a reference to Miss Burdett Coutts] — partly by the self-denial of a Prelate, himself for some years labouring in a distant colony (a reference to Bishop Broughton of Sydney who offered half his stipend for new bishoprics) — partly by the devotion and aid of the members of the Church — this was much to be thankful for. But to see these Bishops set apart for their high office in the face of sixteen hundred persons — to witness the devout earnestness and reverent attention of that great congregation, and to partake with nearly eight hundred persons of the Holy Communion — was a comfort, a privilege, and a blessing, which, as we have said, could be fully appreciated only by those who were present.
Bishop Blomfield preached and he addressed the mission of the four men as they went forth:
Who are the men whom our Church sends out, to tend and to feed the distant corners of her fold? Are they not those, who are in the actual enjoyment of competency and comfort here, with the prospect, it may be, of a reasonable share of those rewards which the Church has to offer to the learning and piety and diligence of her ministers? And what is there to tempt them to enter the work to which they are called — that of the most arduous and responsible of all offices — invested with no dignity but that which is purely spiritual; clothed with no prerogatives but those which carry with them a preeminence of labour; endowed with no measure of this world’s goods but that which may barely suffice for a maintenance?
Augustus Short was forty-five. He and Millicent had five children, and had experienced the deaths of two others. He was a foremost scholar from Christ Church Oxford yet knew lonely a ittle of colonial South Australia. Just over two months later, on 1 September 1847, the family embarked for the sea voyage to their new world. Short’s own diary conveys a final word: 1 Sept … embarked at ½ past one. It was a serious & solemn moment but I was not moved to tears of parting. The ladies had tears in their eyes but the greatness of the cause would not let me cry. I felt even cheerful. The world was all before me & Providence my guide. On board the novelty of the situation drew my thoughts from separation — so passed the first evening at Spithead.
Bishop Short was small of stature but became a giant of South Australian history, and the Anglican Church in Australia. He laboured for an amazing thirty-four years as our bishop only retiring in his eightieth year when ill-health was taking its inevitable toll.
Short fulfilled the instructions of Our Lord in today’s gospel – he showed little fear, he held to a deep and abiding trust in God, and he did in so many ways lose his life for Our Lord’s sake, then found it anew in a mission that endures for us today – we see it in schools, churches and parishes, in a cathedral and a theological college, and in farsighted financial and organisational arrangements. He could easily, after a reasonable time, have returned to England and the comforts of the established Church. Instead he chose to lose his life `for the sake of Our Lord’s mission in South Australia, and in the process, he was to find it anew.
Augustus Short often spoke of Providence in his life. He grew to believe that his destiny revolved around obedience to God, trust in His Providence, and assurance of His love.
So now, with obedience, trust and love before the One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most justly due, all glory, majesty, authority and power, now and forever. Amen.
Seeing the Reality – Corpus Christi 18 June 2017
Things change a lot over time as we grow older. Every day when we look in the mirror and think back a few years, or decades, we are very much aware that we don’t look, or move, like we used to.
I’m also dealing with a mother at this time who is slowly suffering from dementia, and learning to live with the changes that involves. Many of you have had similar things with parents, husbands or wives, as we deal with loving a person who is no longer the same. The person changes and starts to lose memories of who I am, but we still recognise and love the person as we see past the dementia to the person we love.
Here we face the classical definition of what makes a being. We think of a person in two ways, who they are and what they look like, the substance or essence and the appearance. Both can be subject to change. Anno Domino, the course of time, will change our looks. Sometimes accidents also do, rather violently. Most of us may have suddenly been faced with a person after many years and don’t recognise the person at all. It’s only after a while, perhaps, we remember and recognise the person from who they are in their substance, their character.
Then there are the times when their substance changes: maybe through a stroke that alters the personality in some way, or through drugs. We sometimes say that they are not the person they were – yes, they look the same but we have recognised a change in whom they are as a being, in the substance. It’s often a more disturbing change, it worries us more, for we tend to count this as more integral to whom we think that person is.
Now let’s think about dealing with Our Lord. Jesus came to us and lived as one of us. He had an appearance and a character, a personality, a substance, which his friends recognised as their friend. At times they found this appearance changing, such as the transfiguration when he became whiter than everything else. Then after he was killed he appeared again, but at times they found his appearance very disturbing; they did not recognise him at first, or he appeared with wounds that had been part of his torture but did not seem to cause him pain any more. Sometime they wondered if he was a ghost, someone without a true body, so he invited them to touch him and he ate in the presence to prove he was a real body.
Yet after all this he told them he had to leave them so they could receive the Holy Spirit. Now that Spirit, by definition, was not going to be a person, a substance that they would see and touch. But he also promised them that they could eat his body and drink his blood and be part of him: physical impossibilities and also revolting. Yet he seemed to place immense importance on this; that they had to be part of his body in this way. Then, when he knew his life was coming to an end, on the very night he was to be arrested and the day before he would be killed, he took bread and wine and said that this was going to be his body and his blood and they we were to take this and do it in his memory. To make the point even clearer, on the road to Emmaus, he kept his friends from recognising him, of recognising his appearance or substance, until he took bread and broke it. Then they recognised him in the breaking of the bread (not at the breaking, but in it itself) and his physical form disappeared. The substance of how his friends recognised him was now in the bread and wine.
Now this truth on how to see Our Lord and friend Jesus is immensely important. We are challenged to learn to see him not by appearances but by the deeper reality of substance. That’s why we have this feast today, which we call Corpus Christi, the Latin for Body of Christ. It’s a time when we think on how we see our Lord Jesus. We are being asked to see the world in a different way, not to judge it and understand it just by its appearance: that’s too shallow. After all, it’s not how we deal with our friends. We really deal with people by recognising their substance. So God calls us to understand that this is the truer reality and makes this permanent sign in our midst by being presence in the substance of the wine and bread. God saying to us; don’t be taken in by appearances, don’t judge a book by its cover, all those truisms we hear. Because the reality is much deeper and stronger when we see the real presence in the substance, the spiritual reality beyond what time and matter dresses it up in our world.
Now, once we start to understand that appearances are just a passing fashion we then start to understand that we are to look more deeply into all life. We start to see Jesus in other ways, in Scripture we listen to, in the beauty of the world, in the silence of prayer, in the joy and tempo of music; all these things point to God in our midst. We also start to seek Jesus in those around us, in our families and love, in our friends, and even in the poor and misfit who teach us the tolerance we need so we understand the tolerance that God deals with us.. So many lessons await us when we start to loo beyond what things look like in appearance. But this calls for a deeper way of living, and that’s why we need our sacrament here so we become, by taking the bread and wine, eating his body and blood, part of his true body beyond any appearance.
On earth there can be nothing more precious to us than this bread and wine because it is the body and blood of Christ. That’s why we worship with all the beauty we can muster. That’s why we offer this as many times as we can, not only on a Sunday but every day. It’s the only way we can escape the delusions of appearances in the world and find the true heaven behind. That’s what we celebrate today.
Now I don’t know if my mother’s dementia will reach the stage when she no longer recognises me, but it may. But I pray that we will meet again in heaven when we will not recognise each other by what we look like as flesh and blood but as the full divine creatures God wants us to be. But until that day the only way I can learn to see the reality of what lies behind this appearance is to take this bread and sine and find in it the true presence of the body and blood of my God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The Trinity – 11 June 2017
Theology is sometimes thought to be hard, and sometimes it is. But let’s start by saying that theology is about understanding who we are at our deepest level, as children of God. But in the end theology is about living it. Consider parenting: parenting may be hard to explain but you never get a certificate to practice it, you live it out in families.
What you need to know about the Trinity is really straightforward. Revelation has shown God to be three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They instead of diving into how that all works out, go instead to think about how it holds together. The Trinity is best approached by how it moves, rather than breaking it down into parts. It’s like a car: what you see it how it moves, and for most of us we never care how it works until it doesn’t. For what holds the Trinity together is the love of each for each other: God the Father loving the Son and Spirit and so on. It’s that loving dynamic that gives movement to God and vitality. Too often we think of God as something static, some strange set of thrones sitting endlessly in heaven. But God’s all about movement, the movement of love, sometimes called the dance of life, that makes God explosive and active in pouring out love. It’s love which is the key: the love of God outpouring so much that it creates the universe and life to share that love. Evil is the two opposites: chaos or rigid uniformity, both of which we need to fear; God is instead a dynamic order, endless different and creative, that comes from the movement of the three in one.
Another way to think of the Trinity is by a dance: not one of those dances where everyone bobs up and down by oneself, but one of those folk dances where everyone holds hands and goes round and round. The dance is made by everyone together, not by individuals. Or another way from St Bonaventure, a mediaeval Franciscan, is that of the water wheel. The wheel, carrying three buckets, fills and empties, fills and empties unto eternity. There is the constant emptying of the God-self and the constant filling up, world without end, Amen.
Now that we have done the hard bit, let’s look at the consequences: how does the Trinity affect who I am and how I pray? This is far more immediate. There is a great gap between how we look at our spirituality and how we often approach the rest of the concrete world. If you are going to do the shopping you get organised: you have a list and transport. If you are going to train or go to the gym, you have goals: better health and less weight perhaps. But in our day-to-day life we set goals and tests to achieve what we want to do.
When we come to spirituality, however, we are often aimless. Many people never have a disciplined life of prayer, a regular time to pray, because they can’t see the purpose of it. The reason why people don’t pray is because they don’t see the need. But instead, let’s think what is the purpose of having a spiritual life and prayer. Now we can give many reasons: we can say the purpose of prayer is to make us more like the person God wants us to be. That’s a mouthful. But let’s just think about that in terms of the Trinity and god. If the core of action in God is love, then the purpose of prayer is to make us more loving.
Now this is a good test: for often we get caught in other patterns of life: to be wealthier, to achieve more, to look better. But, if the real test of who we are, is the test of the Trinity, then we have to ask ourselves: how am I better showing God’s love? How does love pour out from me I the manner that love pours out from the Trinity?
Then we get a reason for spending time in prayer every day. We start by loving God, the basis of any prayer, to just think about God. Prayer always has to start with God. Then how have we failed that test of God, how have we failed in love? That makes confession obvious. How have we not loved God and our neighbours. Then we can start to bring people to God in love: those on our hearts; our families; our friends in need; our departed ones. Prayer is always about love, that core of the Trinity. But prayer is also an active thing, which is what God is about.
But another point about spirituality: it’s not about us. The nature of God being Trinity is that God is three persons in love. In the same way, prayer is all about building our love for others, for building that relationship of love that mirrors that of the Trinity. Then you start to see how prayer transforms itself into action: it’s not good enough just to sit there and pray, eventually we have to take our love out and do something with it. This means service, helping the poor, fighting evil. It’s all about action, which is all about God. That’s why it’s important to think of the Trinity in not the terms of what it is, but what holds it together. It you concentrate on the love of God then you start to have a dynamic way of infusing your spirituality.
So prayer is just the working out the essence of the Trinity: that we are to live more deeply in the love of God and show that love. We show it by seeing how we have fallen short of love, bringing those we love to God, and bringing that love we have to others in action. It’s all about love, which is all about the trinity, which is why we are here today. So we don’t need to worry about how God the Father relates to God the Son and God the Spirit nor the controversies about if the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or just the Father. That’s all the mechanics. It’s like a light globe: you can find out how it works with electrons or you can just turn it on and enjoy its light. Well that’s the secret of the Trinity as well: don’t get bogged down in how it works: just let its love light you up.
Pentecost – 4 June 2017.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, which by its name points to something to do with 50. Well, it is the 50th day of Easter, and it celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the foundation of the Church.
However, when we hear the reading from Acts, it is clear that the day is not a new creation, like Christmas, but an already established festival in the Jewish calendar. In the Jewish calendar it the week of weeks, that is, the completion of seven times seven plus one, making of course fifty. It starts with the Passover, when the lamb is offered in remembrance of the passing over of the angel of death, and for us Good Friday, the offering of the spotless lamb Jesus. The Passover was also the offering of the first barley at the start of the harvest, when the barley is beaten and made into the first bread. Then for Pentecost the Jews celebrate two things again: the giving of the Law by God to Moses on Sinai and the completion of the barley harvest. So the third layer of meaning, that we celebrate, the giving of the Holy Spirit, is built upon the foundations of the giving of the Law and the conclusion of the barley harvest.
However, to make things even more complex, Luke in the Acts of the Apostles clearly builds upon a number of stories from the Book of Genesis, and in the passage today one underlying reference is to the story of the Tower of Babel. Now in that story the peoples of the earth come together to make with one language to make a name for themselves, in contrast to the name of God, who then confuses their language and to stop them making all things possible. Two of the stories in Genesis have the theme of God stopping humans becoming gods – the first, the expulsion from Eden least they eat the fruit of the tree of life, and here, at the Tower of Babel, least they make their own name and stop at nothing. The story of the Tower of Babel is about humanity wanting to become gods, to have their own name and be in rivalry to God.
However, Luke, the master storyteller, is also touching upon another theme from Genesis. When the world was created the spirit hovered over the face of the deep, and when man and woman were created from the dust of the earth God breathed into them the breath of life. Breath and wind are the same words in the Greek. So the coming of the spirit refers back again to the story of creation in Genesis.
But Luke does not stop there, the whole passage is full of references. Mary is present, as a symbol of the Ark of the covenant, for as David leapt before the Ark in the Old Testament so did John the Baptist leap before her in the womb of Elizabeth – the word is the same in Greek. The House is filled with fire, and the Temple is usually referred to the house. The tongues of fire are divided upon them, an odd word in Greek but refers to a prophecy of Zechariah. It goes on and on, and shows that a fulfilment of prophecy has been accomplished. The Spirit that comes is the Advocate, who reveals the old prophecies as a truth that points to the new way.
So with all these references echoing we come to the story of the first Christian Pentecost today. Those group of frightened disciples, the eleven and others, including Mary, in a locked room are filled with the Spirit, and go out with courage and conviction and change the world. Creation breaks forth again with a new breath, the new law is given to them in the Spirit and Babel is undone – a common understanding of tongues reverses the fragmentation of that tower of mythic memory.
When I reflect upon Pentecost I think we need to do a bit of linguistics. Pentecost was a time, an event, in History. But we, as Christians, need to think of Pentecost as a verb. We need to be pentecosted. That’s what happened in that locked room so long ago.
Like the disciples, we the church can sometimes crave the safety of locked doors, locked hearts, and locked minds. Behind locked doors, we can find comfort in the familiar, but if we truly seek to follow Jesus, we know that no locked doors will keep him from appearing in our midst and compelling us out in the world. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” are words of promise if we are open the moving of the Spirit in our lives, in our church, in our world: if we are pentecosted we can change and say, “Come Holy Spirit.”
Being pentecosted is dangerous because it means that we must be open and vulnerable, willing to be challenged and changed so that we can seek and find Jesus in the ones we serve. “Come Holy Spirit” means that we must become open to the transforming power of God in our lives. It means that we will find ourselves standing with those on the margins, on the edges, on the outs.
Our simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit,” is the first step towards saying “yes” to God’s desire in our life, to being pentecosted.
But do we really want to be pentcosted? Jesus, after his Baptism, found himself driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness, where things happen, where we are forced to face ourselves laid bare. Do we really want to be filled with that Spirit? The Holy Spirit makes things happen, compels us out into the world to find Jesus present in our sisters and brothers. She opens our eyes to more clearly see Jesus in those we would rather keep at arm’s length, the ones we are more comfortable serving from a distance, from behind the security of locked doors and the safety of a comfortable life.
Now I don’t know how God is calling you, how God wants each of you to be pentecosted. But I do know this: God never gives up on any person, and is continually calling us and moving us from safe places to God’s places. The continual calls of prayer and forgiveness are hard lessons we will be called to listen to as we are pentecosted. We can refuse and walk away. God always gives us the choice. Or we can listen.