Feel the fear… and endure it. (Proper 28C / Ordinary 33C / Pentecost +25)

Luke 21:5-19

Listen to the sermon as preached (Click here)

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

It is of  interest to me that in the Lectionary, this gospel follows Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees (See The devil IS the detail). In that passage Jesus refuses to be drawn by the straw man debate of those who don’t believe in Resurrection and yet want to argue the minutiae of how relationships in heaven might be! Jesus points his hearers in that context to the reality of life that does not end, which begins when one awakens to the reality of it in the here and now. Debates about the furniture or marital relationships in heaven are non-essential in following Jesus.

In this week’s gospel, Jesus once more points to the interiority of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens.

Discussing the temple and its glory, (it must have seemed to people who had probably not travelled more than one hundred kilometres from their homes in their entire lives to be an astounding edifice) ; Jesus is not too taken with the outward appearance of the structure. As a clear and wise spirit he grasps the impermanence that is at the heart of every created thing and sees that even this fine edifice will one day be a ruin.

The incredulous listeners cannot conceive of it and so want to interrogate Jesus for the details. “When, where, how, by whom?” Notice how Jesus does not get drawn by the specifics, the curse of the literal mind. It was the British philosopher Owen Barfield who said, “Literalism is idolatry“.  Jesus knew that. As an armour against distraction, Jesus warns of the dangers and distractions to come but hidden in this passage, which literalists try to use as a map for the future, he gives four clear instructions and one final assurance.

It is these that I choose to focus on:

Beware that you are not led astray. The skilful and wise Christ follower is the one who knows that truth and light are not found “out there”. No book, Mp3, movie, programme, teaching, or guru has the answer. Not that any of these are bad in themselves. They are all fingers pointing to the moon. The person who lacks the inner eye of discernment is prey to becoming obsessed with trying to find the correct finger. I often say, that if I had spent as much time praying as I have reading books and blogs about prayer, I would be a lot closer to Jesus than I am now!

Do not go after them. It is difficult to stay focussed when the herd hurtles off somewhere in search of answers or fads to calm their fear of the present. It is here that the one who knows the secret of unending life, is able to trust their inner compass and light to keep to the path that they know leads to transformation.

Do not be terrified. Here of course is the catalytic secret to our distractions from the path. When we become fearful we become forgetful. We forget the promises, the peace, and the process that has so shaped and guided us this far, and we begin to question and doubt the veracity of simply remaining rooted in following Jesus. The ego doesn’t help because it joins the chorus of doubt that whines about needing more security and surety, which comes at the price of serenity. It needs no underlining that Fundamentalism feeds on fear and terror, and often creates conditions to cultivate those dark emotions, so that it can offer its seemingly watertight and foolproof facile “answers”. I have said it before, “Destructive religion points to certainty; Wise religion points to the mystery”

Jesus’ fourth instruction addresses our neurotic obsession for control in stressful times..So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. As I reflect on the stressful times and conflicts of my life, I realise that I have spent hours and perhaps days, planning encounters and debates with people. I have had answers and arguments loaded in my arsenal of competence, so that I may never be caught out as being at a loss for words or information. Truth be told, not one of those scenarios played out the way I had planned.

What Jesus is suggesting is that our time would be better spent, clearing the clutter and static of our ego broadcasting stations, so that we have a calm, clear channel to God which incidentally will always through our hearts and not through our heads.  Our heads are where all the static is!

By your endurance you will gain your souls. Finally after the four instructions, Jesus concludes with an observation. The spiritual life into becoming Christ, is not about having all the answers, arguments and information, it is about enduring in keeping our hearts open to the mystery of the never ending life of God within us and within the entire Universe. No temple, trend or triumphalist doctrine will stand when the demon of fear comes to steal our souls.

Camouflaged by shame

Luke 19:1-10

To hear this sermon preached click here

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

I grew up in a culture that was peppered with prejudice about all sorts of people and people groups. A product of the height of Apartheid, and a white male South African, I was fed a steady dose of all the stereotypes that went into making up our society. It may surprise you that the stereotypes weren’t all about race! Many of them were about other physical features, like, “Never trust anyone whose eyes are too close together“. I do beg your clemency for this bigoted upbringing and would offer as mitigating circumstance that I grew up deprived of “Google”. If I’d had the Internet I could have verified all these misperceptions on Wikipedia. (Yes, that lump on my face is indeed my tongue in my cheek!)

Another of these cultural biases was located around persons of short stature. Short man syndrome or a Napoleon Complex, was used to judge people of less than average height who competed aggressively with those who were taller. Behind the bias lay an unspoken principle: short people should know their place. Interesting that there isn’t a short woman syndrome, are women just expected to be small?

Coming this week to the most famous short man of the gospels, Zacchaeus, I find myself wondering if the short man syndrome was a bias in the days of Jesus? If it was, poor Zaccheaus had to face a double whammy. Short of stature, and also a tribute collector, what a difficult incarnation to carry.

All this nostalgia for the prejudicial upbringing of my past also dredged up a song from my youth. It was written by another short man and performed by his short self and his tall partner. The opening lines were, “When you’re weary , feeling small…

Are you old enough to remember “Bridge over Troubled Water“(YouTube Link) by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel? It was 1969, so you may not want to admit to that.

I think those opening lines would have got Zacchaeus’ attention if he had heard the song back in the day. Zacchaeus knew what it was to be weary and also what it was to feel small. In the shame based culture of his time (is there any other kind?) being a tribute collector was tantamount to being a spy and a traitor. The only difference was you were required to perform your treachery in public! Collecting the extorted tribute from the Jewish populace and then handing it over, sans your sizeable administration fee,  to the Roman oppressors would not have endeared this profession to your peers.

I can’t help wondering if the tree climbing that Luke tells us was to get a better view was not also an attempt at concealment and camouflage?

Zacchaeus knew who he was, he also knew what he had done. He saw the shame in the looks his fellow Jericho-ers, including some of his family, gave him as they looked down on him literally and in every way. Zacchaeus was quite happy to be concealed in the sycamore-fig tree that day. To catch a discreet glimpse of the travelling Rabbi, that so many were speaking of.

On the Internet there is a name for people who enter chat rooms and who never participate in the discussion. They are called “Lurkers“. Zacchaeus was a lurker. Drawn to the teacher Jesus, he didn’t believe he had anything to offer and certainly believed he was not worthy to receive anything, so he lurked in the sycamore-fig tree, the very tree that was ironically a symbol of the nation of Israel and of blessing. Knowing what we do now about the outcome of this narrative, the sycamore-fig tree was an inspired choice. Zacchaeus might not have dreamed about the blessing of Zechariah 3:10, “On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.“, but somehow he knew he had to see Jesus

When I preach on a Sunday I sometimes find myself wondering how many Zacchaeuses are in church, or even reading this blog. People who are drawn by the promise of healing and wholeness from Jesus, but who have experienced too much shame and have been looked down upon just once to many, for them to risk disclosure of their need? They lurk in the back pews, or don’t even attend church, constantly reading blogs like this trying to find some redemption from the harsh judgement they see in the eyes of others. Sadly, the most despising and diminishing looks come from the disciples of Jesus.

Here is the good news. Jesus is drawn to shame. Shame and sadness are the pheromones that attract the amazing grace of Jesus.

Just one look up the tree of shame and concealment and Jesus encounters the one who is lurking there.

It took me a while before I grasped the irony of the tribute collector hiding in the iconic fig tree of Israel and of blessing. At the risk of totally mixing metaphors, and confusing everyone may I point out that Jesus “the vine of the New Israel” calls Zacchaeus Smallman, to leave the concealment of the laws of shame and blame and also to leave his false blessing of wealth and extortion. He is called to leave that which makes him live in concealment from everyone, and “come down” to take his place as a forgiven son of Abraham.

No longer will Zacchaeus have to lurk up the tree of shame and blame, he will now be able to sit under that tree in the blessing of God. How? Because, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”

This is not merely a story for Zacchaeus. It is a call to each of us as Small-people.

Let us risk climbing from the perches of false guilt caused by prejudicial bias where we have been lurking, and leering at the world.

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Wow! Zacchaeus, how you’ve grown! You are taller down here than when you were up the tree.

Danger! Crossing Ahead. (Season of Creation 3 – Storms)

Listen to this sermon as it was preached on Archive.org

Luke 8:22-25

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

There is something inherently threatening about crossings. So many people have lost their lives crossing rivers, crossing mountains, even crossing the road!

When I first saw this topic included in the the Season of Creation themes I wondered what it could have to say about the creation.  I have realised in my reflections that storms are usually due to, and the agents of change in the natural order.  High and Low pressure systems, Tectonic plate pressure bursts, all herald a change and the crossing from one stasis to another.  As such they parallel our life journeys

Today’s Gospel is an account of such a crossing. Luke tells us that one day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said, “Let’s cross over to the other side“. A harmless intention on the surface, but as it turns out a choice that had life threatening consequences. As I have said before, if we remain stuck in the literal, lowest level meaning of this narrative we will have a good Sunday School story of which we can draw pictures and cardboard cut outs. The reality is however, that you and I are no longer seven years old and our adulthood therefore demands that we find a deeper significance in this story if we are to do justice to it.

As so often happens in the Gospel narratives, when we agree to look beyond the storyline we discover yet another metaphorical map that is of profound use for the journey into wholeness.

So let’s look a bit deeper and discern the choice, the crisis, the call, and the calm in this crossing story.

As I said, crossings can be dangerous. Any decision to cross the unknown for the sake of transformation is fraught with danger. For Jesus it was a decision to go to the foreign country of the Gerasenes, and we do well to remember that their first encounter after disembarking is with a demoniac! There are always dark energies like the Nazgul, in Lord of the Rings, who seek to suck the soul from those who wish to cross from mediocrity to higher awareness. Mental hospitals and rehab centres the world over, are filled with people who took too lightly the crises inherent in their choices. Choices that do not have the potential of life threatening crisis within them are trivial and non-transformative. A few minutes watching television advertising will give us enough examples of trivial choices that are fed to us as real transforming choices. Do we really think being “spoiled for choice” when it comes to toilet sprays is transforming?

The fact that Jesus falls asleep as they are sailing is a beautiful childlike cameo in the piece. The one’s who truly know their identity and their destiny can allow themselves to be at peace in the midst of danger. Jesus models what the Psalmist knew, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lo rd, make me lie down in safety.

For the untransformed and fragmented soul, however, the encounter with the powers of the deep; both the wind and the waves of our undigested shadow material that emerge when we decide to cross over to transformation, can be scary indeed! The disciples are overwhelmed with fear.

I have been intrigued and disturbed by the waves and winds of fear that wracked America this past week with the anniversary of 911. I am appalled at the fear mongering that is going on in my own country. Fear constricts us and paralyses us. It makes skilful fishermen doubt that they can make it in a storm on their familiar lake. The real heart of the storm of course is the fear of change. Was the storm really that bad or did the disciples just not want to go to the territory of the Gerasenes?

Finally at the height of the crisis there is the call to Jesus ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’. It is a constant prayer of mine that each person who finds themselves overwhelmed with the fears and cares of life, will have a Master sleeping in their vessel. Too many panic driven decisions to suicide, divorce, addiction and self abuse, come from forgetting to wake the Master sleeping in our battered boats.

The calm that Jesus brings is truly, the “peace that passes understanding“, isn’t it?

It is a peace that comes from the same source that enabled him to sleep through the crossing. No matter how frightening the crossing, the true hero and heroine knows that what arises also passes. It only our fear that makes us think that bad things cannot be transformed and redeemed. “O we of little faith

The disciples are of course, amazed when the storm stops and they experience the calm of post-adrenal quiet, both externally and viscerally. Bemused, they “said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

We are left to give our own answer to their question. My answer to the question is, “He is the one whom I want to become

Anyone coming with me for the ride?

Why am I so needy?

Luke 12:22-31

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

An indigent Indian poet with the musical name of Simanta Chattergee, once said to Robert Johnson, ‎”If I began thinking about needs, I would sink to the bottom of the world. If I don’t think, I get what I need

Fauna Sunday in the season of creation, is an invitation to invert our arrogant assumed dominance of the created order and to contemplate the inherent wisdom of the creation which witnesses to the provision of God far more than we, who claim to be the crown of that creation, do.

The following is an excerpt from a CNN report dated May 10, 2010 (

CNN) — The world’s eco-systems are at risk of “rapid degradation and collapse” according to a new United Nations report. The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) published by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) warns that unless “swift, radical and creative action” is taken “massive further loss is increasingly likely.” Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the CBD said in a statement: “The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history.” The U.N. warns several eco-systems including the Amazon rainforest, freshwater lakes and rivers and coral reefs are approaching a “tipping point” which, if reached, may see them never recover.

Whilst some of the extinctions can perhaps be viewed as part of the ongoing process of evolution and the natural selection process which sees the survival of the fittest, nevertheless, we cannot exonerate ourselves from being a conscious participant in the extinctions. It is important for us to note that for the first time in the history of the planet, apart from God’s role in things, evolution and extinction are being affected by a species which is aware of what we are doing, whilst we are doing it!

Some of the major human threats to species are well known but at the risk of redundancy, let me list them once again:

  • Unsustainable hunting
  • Trophy hunting of large predators
  • Introduction of exotic species
  • Habitat destruction

I am not so sure that Jesus’ prayer from the cross is applicable in this case. Remember as Jesus was being crucified, he prayed,” Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing“? I think we know exactly what we are doing but we have made a critical error of judgement. We have failed to discern our role in the vast drama of this complex and beautiful planetary play. By a cunning sleight of hand, our dominant egos have tricked us to believe that everything exists to fulfil our needs and not the other way around.

Jesus grasped it in the gospel reading for this second Sunday in the season of creation. And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

  • The nations of the world” as Jesus refers to them. Seem to be those who have not grasped the secret of God’s reign, or as someone called it, “the God first principle”.
  • Your Father knows that you need them” begs the question as to whether I like all the other created species can place my dependence on God to provide what is needed. (Am I the only one, or do you also hear a thousand arguments arise as you read this? I wonder whose voice those arguments are using? My parents, teachers, financial advisors all baulk at this concept.)
  • “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” There was a time when “seeking first the kingdom of God” meant I had to go into the world and get everyone to think and act like Christians do. I no longer believe that. I believe that Christianity as it is commonly practiced is a far from Jesus as the Pharisees were. No, striving for the Father’s kingdom has come to mean for me a radical reconsideration of what it means to form my life around following Jesus.

In that process I have had to confront my culture and all that it has indoctrinated me to believe.

That process has, in turn, taught me that striving for the Kingdom of the Father is a lifelong search for the places where nurturing and not destruction is taking place. My search for nurturing rather than destructive teachings has taken me outside of my own religion into a global community of concerned people who are together and individually searching for ways to heal and not to hurt.

For example I have learned from a maverick Japanese farmer called Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote, The One-Straw Revolution that:

To the extent that people separate themselves
from nature, they spin out further and further from the centre. At the same time, a centripetal effect asserts itself and the desire to return to nature arises. But if people merely become caught up in reacting, moving to the left or to the right, depending on conditions, the result is only more activity. The non moving point of origin, which lies outside the realm of relativity, is passed over, unnoticed.

I believe that even “returning-to-nature” and anti-pollution activities, no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to the over development of the present age. Nature does not change, although the way of viewing, nature invariably changes from age to age. No matter the age, natural farming exists forever as the wellspring of agriculture.

This wise man also said:

To disrupt nature and then to abandon her is harmful and irresponsible.

So I have learnt that ravens and lilies have a wisdom, which Jesus understood and which when grasped is liberating for the troubled human soul.

My maternal grandmother had a simple plaque that used to hang in her kitchen. It read:

Said a sparrow to another,

“I would really like to know,

Why all these human beings

Rush and scurry so?”

Said the other little sparrow

“It seems pretty clear to me

They don’t have a heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me.”

The secret seems to be that when I trust God first in all things, as ravens and lilies do, I then don’t have to worry about discerning need from greed.

The words of that indigent Indian poet have is so well, ‎”If I began thinking about needs, I would sink to the bottom of the world. If I don’t think, I get what I need

Hidden in plain sight

Luke 14:1-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I am fascinated by the human mind and its abilities. One such ability, that I have yet to find a satisfactory explanation for, is the one that alerts you to the fact that you are being watched. It has happened to you, I am sure. Standing in a busy street, you become aware of something, you look up and straight into the eyes of a person who is staring at you. I of course have great fun with this the other way around. Staring at people from my coffee shop table I see how long it takes them to realise they are being watched.

In this Sunday’s gospel, it seems Jesus was under multi-scrutiny. Yet the seer who was being watched was also capable of noticing what the watchers were blind to.

Last week I reflected on how Jesus in Luke 13:10ff was able to see in the following ways:

  • He saw the person and not the condition.
  • He saw the potential and not the present manifestation.
  • He saw without prejudice.

This week there is more watching going on, and the seeing contrasts with the characteristic seeing of Jesus from last week.

Here the looking is to judge, to assess and to catch Jesus possibly committing an error. Just the kind of observation we have become so accustomed to in the church. Like internal auditors constantly in search of fraud we scan the lives of others, and also our own for the least inconsistency so that we van pounce and cry, “Fraud!

How contrasting, once again, is the seeing of Jesus. Despite being aware of being scrutinised he does not become preoccupied with that. Instead, he is able to notice the man with dropsy, whom Luke describes as, “Just then, in front of him…“. This description reads like the directions for a stage play, “Just then, in front of him…” For me this cameo is a powerful glimpse into the mindfulness of Jesus who, despite all the drama and projections around him, is able to see what is, “Just then, in front of him…

I find myself desiring to be that focussed in my own day to day dramas.

Is it possible, in the midst of others projections, evaluations, and judgements of my every move, to still be focussed on that which is “Just then, in front of me?“. Jesus shows me it is possible.

The rest of the gospel passage would seem to flow from that moment of concentrated compassionate seeing.

Jesus uses the man’s need to teach the lesson that, in the compassionate Kingdom of the Heavenly Parent, love must always override legal observance. That segment of the story seems to have a logical connection to the mindful seeing of the dropsical man. How though does the teaching on the places of privilege have bearing on contemplative, compassionate seeing?

I would suggest that Jesus is teaching that our vision is refracted through our values.

If position, privilege and power are the values that we pursue, as the wedding guests who scan the seating plan for any sign that they may have been disadvantaged by the wedding planners; to that extent we will be disabled from seeing the humility and humanity of others needs that may “Just then, be in front of us

Once again Jesus’ teaching is a real eye-opener.

The cost of values

If this was a soap opera script it would begin as follows…

“Last week on ‘Following Jesus‘”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

“…and now to this week’s episode of ‘Following Jesus'”

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Last week I was reflecting that there is a shift of mood in the gospel that we read from Luke 12:32-48. The passage begins with a beautiful theme of blessing for the crowd. The “little flock” are to be the recipients of the basilea, the reign of a parental God, (contrasted with the despotic turannis of Rome). [I have coloured that text green] I suggested that perhaps the latter half of the passage [which I have coloured red] reflected the mood of an abused and despondent church at the time Luke wrote: a church that was being abused by leaders that had lost their way and their focus.

To enter fully into this week’s passage (verses 49-56) we have to connect it to the preceding passage for it is the same dialogue, and I have coloured the text for this week to continue the mood from “last week”.

I can’t remember where it was that I first learnt of the two levels of Jesus’ teaching, so forgive me for not referencing my source. My memory is becoming a forgettery! It is however an interesting dimension to bear in mind when reading the teachings of Jesus. When he is with the crowd, strangers and foreigners, he proclaims the Good News of God’s unconditional acceptance and universal compassion. When Jesus is with the disciples, his teaching is far more demanding and often blunt. “How much longer do I have to put up with you?!“, kind of sayings. The point is that the Good News brings us to the place of commitment and discipleship, not the other way around. I am dumbfounded when I hear preaching that implies that only when we have done the “hard stuff” will we experience grace. “No! No! No!“, I want to scream, “We do the hard stuff because we have experienced grace!

Jesus is continuing, this week, to answer Peter’s question, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”. His initial response is to warn the douloi (slaves) of the Bridegroom not to become lax and abusive of their fellow servants whilst waiting for the return of the Bridegroom. (I asked last week if this was perhaps Luke’s editorialising of the narrative as he saw the abuses of the ninth century church?)

In the final part of that answer to Peter, Jesus speaks in graphic terms to the disciples about the division his proclamation will bring, and then he ends with a final challenge to the crowd.

Firstly Jesus speaks of bringing fire to the earth. Here is a possible allusion to Elijah, the conqueror of the false prophets in his day. In similar ways Jesus understands his mission to challenge and confront the lost and erroneous worship values of his day. An ironic insight comes from the Greek, where the word for fire is “Pur” could this be a etymological root in our word “purify”? None of the etymological dictionaries I consulted gave that but it’s a nice little hook for this discussion.

He goes on to talk about his baptism, his initiation. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Once again dipping into the Greek text discloses that Jesus is again using the word telesthei which is the same word he cries from the cross when “It is accomplished“, “Tetelestai” For more on this see (my blog from last week.)

The stress that Jesus says he is experiencing until his “baptism” is accomplished is the same word Paul uses when he writes “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14

From this point Jesus launches into a disturbing discourse about the divisions that his coming will bring about on earth. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” What does this all mean?

Firstly five is never going to divide equally. Odd numbers never do! Is this the origin of “being at odds with someone”?

Secondly, I must confess that the specific relationships Jesus points out are the ones which, in my experience, are most naturally conflicted! Think about it…

  • Father against son.
  • Mother against daughter
  • Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and vice versa

These are the classic conflict lines in families.

Note he doesn’t say :

  • Father against daughter
  • Mother against son
  • Brother against sister

These great primal and psychological bonds that are the subjects of a thousand human dramas, on and off the stage, are not part of the list. Why is this so? Why are the most common lines of conflict used by Jesus to illustrate the division he is going to bring?

Is Jesus, as reported by Luke, choosing these three examples of natural conflict very specifically to illustrate the crisis that following Jesus will bring? I think so.

Firstly in the reference to the “Father and Son” conflict Jesus is making the following clear. Conflict is natural, and the conflict between the followers of Jesus and the old order will be a natural consequence of his kingdom’s (basilea’s) reign against the turranis (despotic power) of the established political order and the cult of Emperor worship imposed by Rome. The Pariarchal power of old order dominance and oppression has no place in the kingdom of Jesus. We must never forget, especially in these perilous political times, that the first Christians were persecuted not for dogma, but for devotion. They refused to bow down to the image of the Emperor as was required of all Roman citizens and people in occupied territories.

Secondly, relating to the Mother against daughter, the conflict is not only going to be against the powers and principalities of Rome. The Jews of Jesus day had a similar opposition to Emperor worship yet they too came into conflict with the values of the Kingdom of the Heavens. That is because the kingdom crisis reaches into Matriarchal energies and strongholds. It is worth remembering that the Jews were and are, a Matrilineal culture in the time of Jesus. Matrilinearity had been developing in the Hellenistic world not from the Torah, but in the oral tradition which was codified in the Talmud by the 2nd century CE, which means it would have been active in the traditions and times of the Jesus and the early church. See Wikipedia . Having illustrated the crisis the Kingdom will be to Patriotism (you did see pater in Patriotism?) with regard to the Father- son conflict and Rome. I suggest that in the Mother-daughter conflict Jesus is now illustrating the conflict the kingdom crisis will bring for the established matrilinear religion of his day. The old evangelical adage, “God has no grandchildren” which was used to emphasize that each generation has to make their own decision for Christ, is helpful to illustrate the Mother-daughter conflict. Claiming religious lineage is not a kingdom value.

So finally the Mother-in-law / Daughter-in-law, reciprocal conflict; what can this mean? I must admit I was stumped with this one at first until I fired up ISA2 once more. [No it isn’t a NASA rocket, it is Interlinear Scripture Analyzer 2 a really useful program that makes my Greek look much better than it is.

What I discovered is that the literal words in the Greek text of Luke don’t say Mother-in-Law / Daughter-in-law. The literal words are “Matri penthera epi tein Numphein auteis”. Translating word by word, that reads “Mother mother-in-law on the BRIDE of her”. The big AHA for me was that what we translate as daughter-in-law is the word Numphein ie Nymph which literally means bride. Numphein is used only in the Gospels of Matthew Luke and John where it refers to “bride” and then in Revelation where it refers to the Bride of the Lamb, which is the church! I would suggest that in this third example of the conflict the kingdom will bring Jesus is acknowledging that his kingdom will not only bring conflict between Church and State; nor only between Church and the originating Mother of the Church, the Judaism of Jesus’ day. The mother-in-law will be in conflict with the bride. Law and grace, forever in tension.

Could it be that Jesus was teaching the disciples to be aware that within the church itself there would be division and discord caused by the crisis of the new values of the kingdom of God’s reign?

I believe he was. Simply supporting the church status quo is not a kingdom value. Self criticism and constant measurement against kingdom values is essential. As evidence of this need I would cite the following:

  • Within a few centuries the Church had acquiesced to the power of the state and the Pope was the Spiritual Emperor. The Father son conflict was papered over in a political truce that has never really worked.
  • The Patristic councils effectively expunged all Matriarchal forms of Christianity in its Gnostic formulations and with the hatchet job done on Mary Magdalene. This feminine energy has only recently been replaced by the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary promulgated in 1950 and celebrated by our Catholic friends this very Sunday. Subsequent strides in Feminist theology still strive to restore the balance within the church.
  • The Reformation and Counter-reformation were shifts and shakes in an organism that constantly has to be self-reflective and by implication self-critical.
  • In our own day the Emerging church is a form in which that self-critical assessment continues to strive for context relevance in tension with honesty and obedience to Jesus.

We would do well as church to not be afraid to constantly asses the state of the predicted Father-son, Mother-daughter and Mother-in-Law to Bride, conflicts of our day.

In conclusion Jesus turns to the crowd and accuses them of hypocrisy. He reminds them of their ability to read the weather and yet at the same time to avoid seeing the blatant truth of God’s values juxtaposed with political, religious and organizational power.

I wonder if he would say the same to us today? It seems that the values of the kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate and which he accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, are still in tension with the values of our politics, our religions and our organizations.

Are we prepared to bear the cost of Christ’s Kingdom values?

Heralding the reign of the Healing King

Luke 10:1-12,17-20

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.
‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.
‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

Having just returned from a wonderful week of leave that included a World Cup soccer game and fantastic shows at the Grahamstown National Festival of the Arts, I am a feeling just the slightest patina of rust on the homiletic tools, so let me simply highlight the phrases that grab my attention for reflection in the Gospel this week.

Seventy Two Others
I am not an expert on numerology, so I will not pretend to know the significance of the number seventy-two except to note that it is a number six times larger than the original band of apostles.  If this passage indeed teaches Jesus’ priorities for ministry as I believe it does, I as a ministerwould do well to remember that ministry should constantly be including more and more people in the work of the Kingdom.  How else will people know that the Kingdom of God is very near to them if there are not representatives of the King, touching their lives?

Ahead of him, to towns and places he was to visit.
Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus sends these “others” to the places he has yet to go? So often I find the church only wants to send “ordinary” men and women to places where Jesus has already been, (or where the professionals have been.)
I grew up in a church culture where the expert preacher or evangelist would come to the town first and lead the “revival”. Then, and only then, ordinary members would be left to do the “follow up”.  Jesus seemed to operate differently. He is the follow up after the ordinary people have gone to others and brought healing and spoken of the immanent and close kingdom.

Eat what is before you.
I wonder what happened to teaching this ministry principle in Seminary. As I look around at the culture of entitlement of so many modern ministers I begin to wonder if they have come to serve or to be served?  So few seem happy these days to “eat what is before them” rather the value seems to be, “criticise what is before you and demand something different and more expensive”!

Cure those who are sick
How different were the days when healing was a spiritual process, and healers were the spiritual leaders of a community. Our society has made the physical body engineers, the doctors, the sole custodians of the healing arts.  A few years ago I was praying with a patient behind drawn curtains in a hospital ward when the attending physician arrived and interrupted my prayer with, “Please stand aside and wait outside, I have work to do here
What is most damming in my memory of this event is that I didn’t argue or protest. Like a lamb before the wolf I aquiesced and left the ward. Was I following Jesus there?

I wonder how long it will still be before we realise the bankrupcy of trying to heal the body without reference to the dis-ease of soul that makes health break down in the first place. True wholeness comes from integration of the whole person into the whole of life as an extension of our whole God.

And say the “Kingdom of God is very near to you.”
It is when we come to the complete understanding of union with God as integration and non-duality of being at all levels of this human existence that we will begin to experience the reality described as the kingdom or reign of God.

Healing is our primary task as the enrolled and registered servants of heaven’s health.

The loneliness of the God in our image.

Staring at this image for 30 seconds creates a picture of Jesus when you then close your eyes

Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”

Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”

He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

This passage has an intriguing opening. It also is an interesting study in psychological projection.

There seems to be a contradiction in that opening statement. Jesus is praying in solitude and his disciples are with him? How could that be?

It seems to suggest an important lesson for those of us who take prayer seriously. Solitude need not mean solitary. It would seem from this cameo of Jesus’ spiritual practice that he needed to be in solitude, that essential state for the growth of spirit in Spirit and by Spirit. This of course is not new to us. The Gospel of Luke distinctively shows Jesus as often drawing aside to be in solitude. What is of note however, is that this solitude may be practiced in the presence of a community of those who are on the journey with us.

There is too much loneliness in our world. Those of us, like myself, who live alone may too easily succumb to the temptation of solipsism and think that God may only be found in absence from others. Wasn’t it John Cassian who taught that community is essential for the monk, for how can one hope to grow in grace if there is no one to challenge and irritate you?

So the distinction between solitude, and loneliness have to be carefully discerned.

That profound Jungian, (no, sadly, they are not all profound, many are merely pretentious) Robert Johnson, has written of loneliness in “Inner Gold: understanding psychological projection”

He says:

Loneliness is an interior matter… The collective unconscious often produces myths that tell us what is happening or about to happen in a culture… [One] is Der Fliegende Holländer, The Flying Dutchman. There are many variations on the story and all go something like this. A young man has committed an indiscretion, a transgression that resembles the one that caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from the Garden of Eden. He is the captain of the ship The Flying Dutchman. As punishment, he and his ship are banished to sail the storm clouds, where they must stay until someone loves him. He cannot ask anyone to love him. He has to wait. That’s the terrible thing about loneliness. You can’t ask for relief. It’s a kind of paralysis. You can only hope that someone will sense your dilemma and help.

The Flying Dutchman has been banished “above” to the stormy upper world. Loneliness is always “up there,” an abstraction. There are billions of people in the world. We do not need to feel lonely. But we alienate ourselves from ourselves and then we head up to the clouds, to the stormy aspect of loneliness. When our feet are on the ground, we feel connected to the energy of the world and don’t feel so lonely. When we connect with the lower parts of ourselves, we are in relationship with others as well. The word saunter comes from the Middle Ages, when we sainted or sanctified inanimate objects, and not just people. Even the cross was sainted, and so was the earth. The earth was called Saint Terrare, and so when we saunter, we are in contact with Saint Terrare, the sainted earth. Sauntering grounds and connects us. It is an important cure for loneliness.

Every evening, as the winds whirl around the chimneys, the villagers hear the Flying Dutchman moaning, crying out in loneliness. They all rush indoors, closing their doors and windows, to keep out this awful sound. For years the young man lives like that, up in the storm clouds, moaning in the chimney tops of northern Germany.

Then, one day, a peasant maiden hears him moaning, and because of her good heart, goes out into the yard and calls to him. She asks the Flying Dutchman to come to her, and that is all it takes. He comes down and is relieved of his loneliness. They have a love affair, and his humanity is restored. Only a peasant woman in touch with the earth has the good sense to do this.

Many of us are Flying Dutchmen, and our loneliness is unendurable. We have an insatiable need for entertainment—we moderns watch TV and other screens more than seven hours a day—and for anything that might assuage our longing, especially late at night when the howling in the chimney tops is most painful. Loneliness is on the rise, and advertisers exploit this: If you do thus and so, you’ll feel better.

There are three kinds of loneliness—loneliness for the past, loneliness for what has not yet been realized, and the profound loneliness of being close to God. The third kind is actually the solution. A good myth doesn’t leave you out on a limb. It describes the difficulty, and also offers a solution.( Pg 36-38)

Jesus, before Jung and Johnson, knew this. That is why he is praying in solitude, WITH the disciples.

So we come to the psychological projection part of the story.

Probably one of the most powerful excuses we offer when we fudge the distinction between solitude and loneliness, and want to justify our aloneness, is that when we are alone we have less conflict. With Satre we intone, “Hell is other people“. The truth is when we are alone we don’t have to account for ourselves and we don’t have to deal with the expectations of life and others.

It is rigorous to be in community with others. It is difficult to deal with the projections and the expectations. Ask any clergy-person. I mean, who on earth or should that be “who in hell?” decided that clergy should enter this already rigorous communal life with the Albatross title of “REVEREND” around their necks? If that is not begging for destructive projection then I don’t know what is. Could this simple aspect account for so much of clergy burnout, depression  and psychosis?

Healthy and whole Jesus, in the solitude of prayer in community deals with projection head on. He asks what most of us as clergy are too afraid to ask, “So who do people say that I am?”

Watch the projections happen. Individual and collective unconscious archetypes are projected onto Jesus in this passage. “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”

Jesus, sniffs but he doesn’t inhale. This is ego-intoxicating stuff. Instead he moves the question into the community. Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter offers the prophetic, priestly and papal projection, “The Christ of God.”

Now there is something for the ego to get hold of!  That trumps “Reverend”, don’t you think?

But healthy and whole Jesus, still sniffing and not inhaling,says Luke, “…rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

Instead, Jesus begins to teach about selfless service and how, losing one’s life is the only way to follow him.

I don’t know if our communities will ever be able to stop the projection onto the clergy with its terrible price. I know even less, if the clergy will ever become integrated enough to stop inhaling those projections. Certainly the young crop of clergy I see in my denomination and Synod seem hell bent on being more “Reverend” than they are on being “real”

And so the church will still never see Jesus as clearly as Jesus saw himself.

Lonely isn’t it?

(Listen to this reflection being preached on Father’s Day 2010 at Port Alfred Methodist Church.  Click here)

Steps to Sanity – Take, Thank, Break, Give (Corpus Christi)

Luke 9:11-17

When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

I am fascinated by processes. Whether it be a television programme on “How it’s Made” or a something as simple as watching a new leaf unfold on the potted plant in the sun-porch, I love to see the steps in any process.

I bring that curiosity for process to scripture and am often rewarded by seeing steps unfolding in what seemed at first to be an ordinary event in the life of Jesus

The gospel reading for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally called Corpus Christi, yields a beautiful process to my heart that is ever eager to grow into wholeness through contemplative practice.

The passage is a very well known account of the feeding of the multitude with the meagre portion of five loaves and two fish.

The narrative itself is a wonderful example of how the Holy Communion or Eucharist suffused the life of the early church, to the extent that the gospel writer has Jesus distributing the elements only after performing the Upper Room, fourfold Eucharistic action which defines the celebration, “taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd”

The fourfold actions of Jesus break down into, Took, Thanked, Broke, Gave. These actions are repeated in almost every celebration of Holy Communion by priests and ministers to this very day.

It was in contemplating the coming feast of the Corpus Christi that I realised that in this classic four step Eucharistic action of Jesus there lies aprofound process which I share for our own growth. It outlines the process of prayer and spiritual maturing which is so dependent on being nourished by our sacramental life from Jesus’ hands.

Took, Thanked, Broke, Gave…

TAKING

The starting point for most spiritual journeys begins with taking. We take our sustenance from our mother’s body. It is a scary thought that a growing foetus will leach from its mother, whatever minerals it requires and literally digests the mother for what it needs.

We begin our journey of the spirit in a foetal state. God is there for us to receive from and feed from. We will take whatever God can give and then continually ask for more. Our prayer in this stage is usually couched in self interest, preservation and God fulfilling our wants which we disguise as needs.

THANKING

As our nurturing Mother, God is happy to bless us with all that makes life rich in our hands. As we mature like little toddlers being taught to say “Taaaa” We learn the prayer of thanks. Gratitude begins to enter our life as we contemplate all that we have taken from life and loving God.

Gratitude is a major part of our worship as we lift not only our daily bread, replete with butter, jam and cream to God, but also realise with the hymn writer that, “All good things around us, are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord O thank the Lord for all his love

BREAKING

Journeying, as I have, for most of my over fifty tears of life with Jesus has taught me that life and prayer is also about breaking.

There is something very painful in the Holy Communion watching the Priest’s wafer snap, or the Minister tear the bread apart.

In the Orthodox church the priest has a special knife which he uses to cut the bread into pieces during the prayers of Intercession. So as the congregation witnesses the tearing of the body of Christ it intercedes for the brokenness of all creation.

Sometimes the breaking is joyful when I break through into new understanding and insight.

Oft times the breaking is sorrowful as I break down from my unworkable strategies, scenarios or structures with which I have scaffolded and enmeshed my life.

Jesus in the Upper room taught his proto-church that there is no growth in insight without breaking. Is that not why the Emmaus disciples only saw who Jesus really was when the bread was torn? Tearing bread, tearing veils in the holy of holies, we have to experience breaking if we are going to mature in this journey to wholeness.

GAVE

There is a circular dance of growth and spirit I see in this process as I grow from Taking, then Thanking, and through Breaking learn that there is nothing I need to cling to and I am able at last to give it all away.

Faced with a demanding multitude it must have been a daunting moment when Jesus gave those first few scraps of fish and bread away.

It is just as daunting for you and me, when we come to the resting place of resignation and renunciation. To come to know that “In God we live and move and have our being” is the place of deep sanity and safety that is often most deeply grasped by the world’s poor who have nothing to Take, Thank or Break.

The ultimate sign of being one with God, Jesus taught is to be able to give it all up into the providence of God. Like the lonely grain of wheat that only grows when it has been released from the Sower’s hand. Like the bloody but unbowed corpus on the Cross that commits his spirit into the hands of a Parental God who has always been there, when there was taking, when there was thanking and even in the desolation of breaking.

There is enough for every tribe’s basket. Let’s not be afraid to give ourselves into the hands of this loving Lord, who through his gracious fourfold action in our lives will use us as the sustenance of this hungry world.

(By clicking here you can hear how these thoughts sounded when preached the next Sunday)

The call of the Slaughtered Shepherd

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Once again I come to this passage from John’s gospel remembering that John never says anything that is not significant. Parchment was too rare and expensive to waste on non-essentials. Every word and phrase has power in John’s hands. It was John who gave us that chilling four word phrase just after Judas has departed the upper room, “… and it was night“. In that endline all the horror of what is happening is captured.

So I come expectantly, to this passage from John and he hits me with another of those phrases.

First he tells me that it was the time of the Festival that had been set up by the Maccabeans in 126BCE to commemorate the re-consecration of the temple in Jerusalem, the festival of the Dedication. He then hits me with, “It was winter”. A barren season when there is little sign of life. He is in the re-consecrated temple yet I wonder if John is suggesting that consecrating a building without consecrating one’s heart is a cold and fruitless ritual?

It is in this bleak architectural and calendar space that Jesus is questioned as to whether he is the Xristos, the Messiah.

I can almost hear the sigh in his voice as he replies,” “I have told you, and you do not believe.” Jesus has been performing many restorative acts of resurrrection, healing, forgiving. Restoring people’s food security, in raising men for vulnerable widowed homes. Countering bad shame blame theology by healing Canaanite children, Roman children, and even Synagogue leader’s children like Jairus’ daughter, to show that bad things do not only happen to bad people. If all of my works of restoration do not show you that God’s Xristos is here, then what will?

Remember, word economic John has located Jesus very precisely. All that is missing are the GPS co-ordinates and we could reference the spot on Google Earth! Jesus is standing in Solomon’s portico.

Solomon’s portico that abutted the court of the Gentiles, where all the sheep trading and money changing was going on.

  • Can you hear the haggling of the priests and the pilgrims?
  • Can you hear the clinking of the coins as they drop onto the tables that Jesus will overturn next time he comes to town?
  • I am sure Jesus heard all these sounds too.
  • But it was another sound that gave him the metaphor he needed for this Good News moment.
  • If we listen carefully you and I can hear it too.

Do you hear the bleating of the sheep and the silence of the lambs?

These are not calm and pastoral flocks, these are the fuel for the bloodthirsty religious machine that the temple has become, and it is the fear and dislocated cries of the scapegoated sheep that Jesus uses to teach us this Shepherd Sunday.

You don’t trust that I am the Messiah, because you don’t recognise my voice above the noisy screams of your own conflicted lives. If you were my sheep, this call to life, love, compassion and community would not be strange to you, and you would follow me. But as it is now, all you have is this beautiful building and a winter-blighted religion in which your frozen hearts cannot care less about the desperation of the pilgrims who need to know God’s life.

That is why I have come. I have not come for fancy porticoes and friezes, nor for festivals and feasts. Of all your laws I will keep only one rule, that you love God and each other. And of your rituals I will retain only a piece of broken bread and Elijah’s cup of wine from the Passover meal. The rest is as dead as these poor bleating sheep soon will be. There is no salvation in all this sacrifice. That is why I have never once spoken of myself as a sacrifice. No I am a Shepherd.

A shepherd whom your laws declare to be permanently unclean, because I work with blood and dung.

Yet, despite who you judge me to be, those who need life and love, compassion and community, come to me. Their belief is not some doctrinal and ethical veracity, it is simple trust. Trust that opens their eyes to glimpse God, in me and in themselves. In that union of my Father and me they come to share in a life that will last forever.

These sheep of mine will become, by grace, one flock with one shepherd. This flock will be struck and scattered across the face of the earth, for it is winter now, a cold and barren time.

But one morning the sun will rise, the hearts of ice will melt, and the Shepherd will repeat his eternal call once more. “Follow me.”

You may slaughter sheep but you cannot kill a shepherds love.

Not in winter, in fact not ever!”