Particles in the Cosmic Crib – Christ Mass Day

Harry's Cosmic Milk Bottle

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

There is a spine chilling moment in Goethe’s Faust where Faust, the dry as dust academic in mid life, begins the play by bewailing:

Ah! Now I’ve done Philosophy,
I’ve finished Law and Medicine,
And sadly even Theology:
Taken fierce pains, from end to end.
Now here I am, a fool for sure!
No wiser than I was before:
Master, Doctor’s what they call me,
And I’ve been ten years, already,
Crosswise, arcing, to and fro,
Leading my students by the nose,
And see that we can know – nothing!
It almost sets my heart burning.
I’m cleverer than all these teachers,
Doctors, Masters, scribes, preachers:
I’m not plagued by doubt or scruple,
Scared by neither Hell nor Devil –
Instead all Joy is snatched away,
What’s worth knowing, I can’t say,
I can’t say what I should teach
To make men better or convert each.
And then I’ve neither goods nor gold,
No worldly honour, or splendour hold:
Not even a dog would play this part!

In desperation Faust decides to rewrite his life and begins with the Gospel of John:

It’s written here: ‘In the Beginning was the Word!’
Here I stick already! Who can help me? It’s absurd,
Impossible, for me to rate the word so highly
I must try to say it differently
If I’m truly inspired by the Spirit. I find
I’ve written here: ‘In the Beginning was the Mind’.
Let me consider that first sentence,
So my pen won’t run on in advance!
Is it Mind that works and creates what’s ours?
It should say: ‘In the beginning was the Power!’
Yet even while I write the words down,
I’m warned: I’m no closer with these I’ve found.
The Spirit helps me! I have it now, intact.
And firmly write: ‘In the Beginning was the Act!’

(Goethe’s Faust Scene I &III)

At that very moment Mephistopheles the embodiment of evil, the shadow, the devil that stalks every one of us, enters the room disguised as a poodle (the very dog that Faust said wouldn’t play his part), and the game is on.  Faust will live on trying to integrate all of his being in what remains of the second half of his life that he has extended in a bargain with the devil.  All the time Faust is aware that if he fails, he stands to lose his soul.  It is a dark deal.  We know it well.  We have made in myriad ways ourselves.

Robert Johnson that great explorer of the Golden world of the unconscious mind has described Faust as, “… one of the great statements of optimism, hope, and redemption in Western Literature” (Transformation: Understanding the Three Levels of Masculine Consciousness. Johnson, Harper Collins.1991)

It would seem that the dilemma of modern humans is that, like tired Faust, we have become sceptical of words, God knows, we have produced enough of them! (This from WordPress as I write “The best of 388,445 bloggers, 608,093 new posts, 352,786 comments, & 126,353,072 words posted today on WordPress.com.”)

We also have become doubtful of the ability to act in any way that will significantly integrate and heal the world through words or even deeds.

Like Faust we come on this Christ Mass day tired of words, and exhausted from our many acts. We drag ourselves away from Turkeys and Tinsel, Egg Nog and Alka-Seltzers and stumble into church not really expecting anything to happen here that will help or change anything.

We tell ourselves we have come for the children. That they should remember “the reason for the season,”. Now there is a hackneyed cliché if ever there was! Ho Ho Ho! I know of families where children are not permitted to open presents until they have been to church. What a terrible conditional religion!

So here we sit, exactly where we sat last year, and all the Gospel seems to have to offer is more words about Word. Every fibre of our exhausted minds wants to scream with Eliza Doolittle who in My Fair Lady sang, “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you!

Do we want to rewrite things like Faust, In the beginning was the Mind, the Power, the Act?

Yet, what if we could get behind our verbage strewn present into the mind of the Gospel writer in his Hellenistic world we may discover that when he said Word(Logos), he didn’t mean the empty shells we have come to see words as, but rather understood that Mind, Power, Act and more were contained in that Logos that the Greek philosophers believed was the very core of Being in the Universe?  The Word John writes of here is not an exhausted collection of letters, it is the very core of existence.  Word(Logos) for the Greek mind was what the Higgs-Bosun (God Particle) is for ours

Could we perhaps attempt a modern day Faustian re-translation and say “In the beginning was the Life Energy”?

If we do we might get close to an understanding that enables us to take the truth of our religion into the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and say, “Here is God’s manger” and at the same time, fly up to Hubble’s lens and sensors and say, “Look as far as you can, and you are seeing just the interior of God’s Cosmic crib”

Like you, and Eliza, I am nauseated by the surfeit of words.  So I need to stop this flow which is probably only adding to my toxic verbal footprint.
I will try to be succinct.

  • Imagine the biggest and smallest manifestations of life energy that you can.
  • Now imagine all of that appearing in the magic and mystery of a vulnerable human life.
  • Get that, and you get the greatest gift of the Christ Mass.

“The Life Energy of the Universe, became flesh just like us and camped out amongst us”

Faust spent his final years in simple joy, not writing, seldom speaking, merely reclaiming land from the sea. May all of us who come home to the indwelling Christ Word do the same.

Merry Christmas.

Channeling God -Advent 2b

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

I love words. That is why I write. Words have so many layers. They come from other words, they dance, they cascade, they evoke. Words are wonderful.
Language is such a living thing. It emerges from our primordial past. Like our genes, words carry codes that we have forgotten or were never aware of. Words carry their own grammatic history within themselves. It is an alpha-helix called etymology.
Examining the etymology of a word like etymology is a fascinating exercise. You might want to try it right now. Open Google and type etymology of etymology.
Now click the first link Google serves. You should get…
late 14c., ethimolegia “facts of the origin and development of a word,” from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly “study of the true sense (of a word),” from etymon “true sense” (neut. of etymos “true, real, actual,” related to eteos “true”) + -logia “study of, a speaking of” (see -logy). In classical times, of meanings; later, of histories. Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium. As a branch of linguistic science, from 1640s. Related: Etymological; etymologically.

Now I don’t know about you but that excites me.

Dictionaries are like microscopes. They let us examine words. They place the word on a slide and shine a light from underneath and suddenly we see a wonderland in the word. If you are able to crossover between languages it becomes even more fun.
Words are like families too. They have genealogies.
If you begin to track English words eymologically (hey that’s the word that ended the search we just did!) you will discover that most English words are descended from Latin, Greek, French and perhaps some Germanic Saxon as a catalyst.
When I began to play with the words in this Gospel for the Second Sunday in Advent I notice that Isaiah’s quoted prophecy has for the word of the Lord, “I am sending ” the Greek word appostello. Now you don’t have to be a Greek pundit to know that appostelo is the word from which we trace our word Apostle. Apostles are thos who are sent. They are emissaries. So in the Gospel the writer of Mark quotes Isaiah as saying “God is sending,…” Sending whom?

Well here is the next bit of microscope word fun. The word for messenger that we English readers see in the text is the Greek word angelon. Again you can see that it’s the word we derive “angel” from. So angels are messengers. In fact one could say they are “messengers who are sent” or apostolic angels.

These apostolic angels are to prepare the way of the Lord in the Wilderness
Another translation could be “equip a channel in the eremetic desert for God to pass along”

Now it is when playing like this with the words of a passage, that one is able to come to some interesting insights.
We who know this story well, know that it refers to the work of John the Baptist. He is the divinely appointed and sent one who prepares the way for Jesus.
But if the apostolically sent messenger angel is the one who equips a channel for God.(Please excuse the redundancy but I needed to hold the concepts in parallel) Then we are all potential John the Baptisers.

We are all sent to prepare channels for God.
Is it too much of a leap to suggest that the Christ follower is the one who is divinely charged to channel God in a bleak world?
Maybe our New Age friends have something worth considering on this score?

Who put the “i” in Surprise? – Advent 1b

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

There can be no doubt that the gospel is full of surprises.
There is the surprise of finding the Divine domain. It is a surprise treasure buried in a field that the pilgrim trips over and then goes and sells everything to possess. It is a pearl of great price that a merchant finds in a market and then gives all he has to own it. It is the surprising (not so much for us bur certainly for Bronze age people) action of the yeast that makes a batch of bread dough rise, that makes the seed grow silently, that can take an immeasurably minute mustard seed and grow it into a large bush in which birds can nest. The Kingdom of God is a surprise. Gerard Hughes was correct when he entitled his book, “God of Surprises”

There another kind of surprise in the gospels. It is less organic and natural. It is also somewhat sinister.

It is the surprise of the returning Master, Lord, Landowner, King, Son of Man. It has an energy akin to a police swoop or a special forces raid. It is the thief that breaks in when you least expect it. It is a way of presenting Jesus that modern New Testament scholarship recognises probably did come as the core of what Jesus atually taught and may in fact be the longings and projections of a later, suffering and apocalytically hopeful early church.

As a preacher I have to be something of an octopus. Gone are the days when I could listen to Karl Barth and have the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other as I preached. As a pastor now, I have to have the eBible open on one desktop with Textweek in a parallel window, Google reader open on another, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TED all waiting. I have to be up to speed on the emails and text messages coming in about pastoral needs, The Spreadsheet relflecting the church financials needs to be up to date and I still have to download the MP3’s for worship and get the PowerPoint for the sermon done.

I can truly say that I am ready, or at least my Tablet, Broadband and Mobile are. The question is will I really be surprised?
There is so little that surprises us today doesn’t it? Hubble and CERN, Google and the Genome, Jasmine revolutions, Tsunamis, quakes and tremors it’s all quite pas sé. To coin a phrase, we have “seen” there and done that. So I am not sure that a little apocalyptic action as described in today’s gospel will actually get our adrenalin pumping.

It is however this imperviousness to be surprised that is our achilles heel. For just when it seems that we have it all sorted on the outside and the world materiel is managed and measured, the inner world of dark depression and ennui infect our innards and leave us in what Ken Wilber has named Flatland.
It is then that we are ready for the Divine Domain’s real encounter.
It is not an extravaganza. It is quite boringly simple.
It doesn’t need any equipment created by that wonderful Jobs man and that has an “i” in front of it.
In fact as Martin Buber pointed out it is not the “i” in iGadget it is the “Thou” in O.M.G. that makes for a relationship of WOW and wonder.

It is is with the eye of the heart that we can rediscover the surprise of the divine domain which the mystics have always been able to glimpse even though they may not fully have grasped what they saw.

So excuse me if I don’t get all fear fired up with Apocalyptic fervour, I happen to have seen the Son of Man coming in the clouds when I watched the sunrise this morning.
Oh b.t.w. I was really , and not virtually there.

The Feast of Christ the Comrade (Christ the King/Reign of Christ A)

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I am sure it has been done, but as I think of Christ the King this Sunday, I am intrigued to look at Jesus in a category beyond the traditional Jesus of Nazareth and History and the Christ of Doctrine and Faith. There is another character in this process that I would want to call Jesus the Brother and Guide, Jesus the Comrade.
As Theology has evolved in the past few decades, we have come to an understanding which goes beyond the search for the Historical Jesus.  This Jesus of history keeps eluding  us  despite the best efforts of scholars, including the work of the Jesus Seminar.
There is also, I suggest, a need for something more experiential than the Christ of Doctrine and Faith, the Christ of the catechism or confirmation class.

More and more people are suspicious of formulaic creeds and requisite confessions of faith as the conduits of their spiritual relationships. I suppose if we had been aware of where we were going as a theological community in the seventies and eighties, we would have interpreted the shift of the Liberation Theologians from Orthodoxy (correct beliefs) to Orthopraxis (correct practices) as the harbinger of the shift that I have just described.  We need more insight into Jesus beyond history and doctrine. This is the reason for my appeal for a third dimension to this hologram of Jesus, namely the Jesus of Experience, the Jesus as Brother and Guide.  Jesus the Comrade.

Without seeming to be a survivalist, I do think the church, as always, is failing to read the writing that has been on the wall for some time. People in the West are finding it more and more difficult to access the Jesus of the literalist who speaks in red letter quotations in their King James Version bibles. More and more thinking people who are awash with information from the new “river of life”, the internet; are saying of the holy books, “How did that come to be written as it is?” The answers are no longer hidden in the Old Boys clubs of Divinity Libraries, you can read it for yourself on Wikipedia.
Similarly the question is raised about the creeds that for generations have been the unquestioned bastions of belief. “Who said so?” say we post-moderns and all the resisting and crook and mitre rattling in the world, is not going to reconstruct what has been deconstructed.

One of the most delicious things I heard Richard Rohr say in Cape Town last year was, in response to a question from a Reformed minister as to how he coped with being a free thinking priest in the Roman Catholic Church? Richard responded, “When a structure is collapsing you don’t have to push it.” When the laughter died down, he continued, “In fact, you shouldn’t even touch it, lest you be hit by the oppositional energy that is propping it up” (I am quoting from oral memory here so may not have the “red letter” version of the saying).
All this stuff and nonsense from an largely irelevant church trying to lord it over the people with dogma and decrees is at best sad, and at worst insulting! It only serves to afford the ever Evangelical Richard Dawkins with a caricature of what a person of faith looks like.
A luddite and a laggard, too frightened to read and too stubborn to really think!

It is time that thinking people who follow Jesus say to those who choose to represent them, in this way,”No!”
To speak to the singular, free thinking, non-aligned and consequently, quite lonely people of today, we who have the task of communicating Good News will have to do better than quoting the Bible and Patristics! (even Matristics may not be enough)

I am not so convinced that ending the Christian Year by an appeal to Christus Pantocrator, or Christ the King is that skilful or even relevant.
People today find Kings and Queens quaint. Royals are at best wonderful distractions and when they plant trees up the aisles of Wesminster Cathedral they get a giggle, but they are not going to save us in from the terrors of the night and the toppling of all that we believed would be there forever.
That is why I am appealing for a new look at this Jesus. Not Jesus the King but Jesus the Comrade.

You see the King (or Queen- except the one from “the Village” or Soho…[if you don’t get it Dora, don’t worry just read on]) Ahem, let me start again.
The Monarch, is the one who sends you into battle, who commands and demands your loyalty without ever really standing with you and alongside you. Kings have blood on their hands but it isn’t theirs. This righteous, judgemental monarch, how does he in any way resemble the Jesus whom I meet in the dark nights of my despairing?

A Comrade however is far more real to a footsoldier like me. When I am in the trenches with mud up to my knees and pee running down my pants for terror of what lies over the top, it is the hand of the Comrade that steadies me, stills my shaking, and strikes up a “lucifer to light my fag”.
That’s who I need and want with me.

If I look closely at the Gospel for this Sunday I see not a distant detached King but a Comrade who is hungry, thirsty, a stranger who is naked sick and in prison. I know of few kings or queens who have first hand experience of that.
Jesus my Comrade is the one who comes to me when I am hungry even after my lovely home cooked meal, thirsty after my bottled Evian water, a stranger in my home town, naked in my designer labels and in prison whilst speeding down the freeway.

This is the Jesus who I believe will outlive the Jesus of History and The Christ of Dogma, not because those others are not interesting but because Comrade Jesus is more relevant.
How do we meet this Comrade Jesus? Well to be sure don’t look in the palaces and cathedrals.
You might even struggle to find him in church.
He will be found in the places of need. Those places where you hurt and others hurt and you are not afraid to be with pain, in pain and to hold it all in a secret com-passionate silence.
There remains for us to rediscover, (and it is a re-discovery) because this is not new, simply neglected; the mystical reality of the Jesus-Christ encounter which is unmediated and unmitigated by Creeds or Councils and which is able quite firmly to survive Cynicism too.

I am speaking of the personal encounter that is the potential of everyone who follows Jesus’ instruction to “when you pray, pray to your father in secret, and your father who hears in secret will reward you.” and then in counterpoint to understand , ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
So as this Christian year ends, excuse me if I don’t get too excited about your Imperial Christ the King, I am only four Advent weeks away from the Crib and I can smell the straw and the dung. That’s where my Comrade calls me to be.

Are you ready to risk? Ordinary 33a

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

When working in the Gospels it is always a chalenge to know where to begin reading and where to end. The versification of the modern format of the Gospels is not helpful as some of the chapter breaks are arbitary and cut across teachings much the same way the cartogrophers pens carved across the map of Africa separating whole cultures, tribes and collective histories in the quest for Imperial lands.
We know from extant manuscripts that the written form of the gospels was very dense and even unpuntuated, let alone unversified!

Coming to these end times teachings of Jesus it is difficult to know when to begin reading before the passage to be preached from the lectionary. I find it helpful when trying to find the entry point into passages, to look for action passages, which are often the transition and comencement points.
Jesus moves to another place, Jesus enters the synagogue, Jesus crosses the lake, that kind of transition.

To find the access point for this teaching in today’s gospel, one has to backup to Matthew 24:3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things 8 happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The reply of Jesus to that request takes the form of the following teachings:

  • The Persecution of the Disciples
  • The Abomination of Desolation
  • The Arrival of the Son of Man
  • The Parable of the Fig Tree

Underpinning the teachings is the theme,”Be Ready!”
Under this sub section of being ready there are then three parables, namely:

  1. The Faithful and Wise slave who takes care of the staff of the household whilst the Master is away,
  2. The Ten Virgins, five of whom keep themselves properly resourced for the return of the Master,
  3. and finally the Parable of the talents which is the focus for this week’s preaching.

The story is a simple narrative of a landowner who is going away and entrusts his property to his servants in differing proportions, five, two and one.
The unit of measure being termed talent is unfortunate, as it has come to be associated with skills. A talent in fact refered to a sheckel, which was the largest unit of weight in Biblical times but which scholars have not been able to find equivalency for in our modern measuring system.
The best we can do here is to say that the master divided his property into eight parts, five to the one servant, two to another and one to the last. Scripture then also goes on to comment, “According to their ability”
In the later accounting the five talents have been applied to yield another five; similarly the two talents are now four and both enteprising servants are given access to the Master’s joy. The fearful conservative slave who for fear of the Master’s harsh business methods, does nothing with his resource
is punished by losing that resource and also as a final humiloiation is excluded from the “joy of the master”

Now, if you have grown up in the church as I did, you will have heard any number of teachings on this parable, most of which will have been exhortations for you and I as individuals to use our God given talents as skilfully as we can and to achieve, achieve, achieve. After all that is the basis of the Protestant Work ethic!
There is just one problem with that approach. The individual was really not the key component of Biblical, Bronze Age culture. The group was.
Now if we consider that the church is the servant entrusted with the Divine Domain whilst Christ is visibly absent, I behoves the church to be expanding that Divine Domain’s resources through skillful engagement and even entrepreneurial action. Yet when I consider the activities of many church communities I see them acting, not in the inclusive expansive and expanding spirit of the skilfull stewards in this parable, I see rather fear based, suspicious and conserve-reactive (Conservative) laagers. It is even evident in our architecture.
The pictute at the head of this post, is of one of the newest Methodist Churches to be built in Johannesburg. Whilst I am architecturally astute enough to “read” the architect’s intention to embody the African theme, what they have unwittingly created is a fort!
Here is a British block house built by the Colonial forces in South Africa during the AngloBoer war.

A picture paints a thousand words, so let me be brief to close.
I am sadly persuaded that should the church have to give account right now,we would have to accept that the one portion we have so fearfully protected in our fear based, block house forts we call our denominations and our doctrines; would probably be taken away from us and we would lose the joy of the master.
Hey, come to think of it, that’s already happening!

“Have you come here to die?” Ordinary 22A

Matthew 16:21-28
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

I rather like the corny story from the trenches of World War I. A new recruit comes down the ladder into the muddy, rat infested swill that is to be his new home. A seasoned infantryman, a Woodbine clenched between his teeth, snarls at the recruit through the plume of smoke, “So, did you come here to Die?
Naw“, whines the cockney, “I got here yesterdaay!

It seems that Jesus our battle hardened leader is asking all of us who enlist to follow him into the trenches of transformation, “Have you come here to Die?“.
I am fully convinced despite the protestations of my Fundamentalist opponents, that Jesus did not come into this human incarnation simply to die, he came to love. However, he was not afraid of death and when it became clear, after what had happened to John the Baptiser, that the world of his day was not going to tolerate any challenges to the moral, social, political, or economic statii quo; he had to face up to the reality that death may well be the end point of his life’s direction and calling.

Now we may, as Westerners be the most death denying culture on the planet, but what Peter receives his rebuke from Jesus for is not denying death as much as trying to avoid it. I think the same is true for most of us as modern day disciples. We don’t mind the idea of death and sacrifice as much as we mind when it won’t come on our terms and in our time frames. “We will follow you Jesus, but can we negotiate the schedule?” Jesus won’t abide that negotiation.

I know we don’t cope well with the, “Get behind me Satan” part of the narrative and I for one, am happy to re-translate the words as, “Get out of the way you opposing energy” , for isn’t that really the greatest threat to our transformation into Christ? Far more real than some devilish character from Dante’s Inferno?

It is the nub of the willingness wilfulness axis isn’t it? The willingness to allow our false self to die so that the True Self, the Christ Self the archetypal constellation of all that brings divinity into every corner of the cosmos, can begin to manifest in us and our communities.

Speaking of Dante’, It’s been a hell of a week for me. Abuse of authority by clergy, money lust, rebellion by, and disappointment at the people who call themselves by that divine name of Christ. The reason it has all been so exhausting is I have seen in the outer manifestation of these oppositional energies almost identical forms of the inner infernal abuses of my own life. Lusts, rebellion and disappointments against truth. If I cannot let these wilful energies be crucified on the cross I carry daily, where will I find the willingness to surrender my satanic opposition to the Christ who wants me to become like him?

This life I am trying so hard to preserve is the life of an unwilling rebel who needs to die. No wonder St. Francis of Assisi called his body, “The Donkey!” The life Jesus wants to transform me into is a willing sacrificially giving conduit of compassion and that is the very thing my selfish Satan energy opposes at every turn

So yes I have come here to Die. Just like yesterdaay, and every daay!

Jesus sweeps the corridors of power – Proper 16A

Matthew 16
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

I loved visiting America in the 1990’s. It was such a beautifully naive and robust life. Impenetrably defended, and financially dominant it was a halcyon time. I have also just remembered in the midst of my reverie that Triazolam (called halcyon) is a sleeping pill! America from where I sit at the bottom of the continent of Africa, seems to have been rudely awakened despite the halcyon. There are no impenetrable defences, there is no such thing as financial security, (it’s an oxymoron), there also seems to be no Presidential messiah. Y
Yet back in the 1990’s my dear American friends were so proud to show me their Capitol. I was confused at first, as I was miles from Washington, until I realised that every state seems to have one. Beautiful architecture strong and robust. White marble abounding. A manifestation in stone of the brave and the free spirit of that great nation. Those beautiful Capitol buildings and of course the unequalled one on the hill in Washington are modern day equivalents of the Caesarea Phillipi where Jesus is located in this Sunday’s gospel.

Caesarea Phillipi was an ancient site further developed by the Greeks and eventually annexed in 20BC to the Kingdom of Herod the Great when the Greeks crumbled. Associated with the God of desolate places, Pan Herod set about about beautifying the place known mainly for its copious spring which bubbled through the limestone and fed the Huela marshes. Herod built a temple of white marble also in 20BC. Later, Phillip the Tetrarch (trans Big Deal Guy) built his administrative capital there. Nice temple, good water. Politician that he was he also named the place Caesarea to honour Caesar. The bible refers to the place as Caesarea Phillippi to distinguish it from Casarea Maritima on the coast. There was more than one politician and more than one Capitol! Get the picture?

Jesus is here in a Capitol. You may picture anyone: the British Houses of Parliament, the Kremlin, South Africa’s Union Buildings, it doesn’t really matter. Here in the shadow of political might and majestic military confidence he asks his disciples, “So guys, what do folks say about me?” A flustering groups of tourist/disciples bluster the names of prophets and law givers. It’s a bit like an early approval rating report. “Uh, Elijah? Mmmm, Moses?…” Jesus turns up the heat, “But who do you say that I am?
I would love to know why he asked that question, in that place, at that time? There in the shadow of Imperial power and prestige, there with the Greek god Pan in central focus, there with the mysterious desert spring, there he asks for an opinion from his disciples.

Peter replies, “You are the redeemer, the Son of the living God” Not the Emperor Caesar, Not the God Pan. You are the rock that brings living water. You are the fountain of life.

Jesus then affirms Peter, before he silences all of the disciples and commits them to the mysterious messianic secret, “Don’t tell anyone…YET!”

In that affirmation the simple Jewish Rabbi from backwater Nazareth, overshadowed by the capitals of the Capitol, competing with foreign gods, dares to suggest that he is going to build something himself. Not a temple or a palace made of stone but a building made of flesh and spirit. Not an Imperial regime to dominate and enslave with brutish power and law. (Mmmm we seem get confused about that one now and gain) Rather Jesus is going to build a church an ecclesia, a gathering of citizens called by a herald to discuss the matters of a Free State.

A risky endeavour in the shadow of such power. An even riskier dream when one considers the quality of the “rock” that Jesus had to work with. Peter was definitely not white marble, he was far more like crumbly clay. But Jesus can work with less than perfect materials. He did it with Peter and the other ten, except of course resplendently righteous and granite Judas.

Jesus has been working with crumbly clay Christians since the beginning. It’s a simple low key project. It doesn’t make it into the news, and the television stations that purport to represent it don’t seem to really understand the plan.
But here’s the thing, Caesarea Phillipi lies in ruins, Pan is all but forgotten, the waters no longer flow freely from the limestone spring, yet Jesus the water of life, and his flawed and fractured stones continue to be the ecclesia gathering of God! Now there is something to marvel at.

Go and engrave that on the steps of the Capitol!

Faith like a Dog’s Breakfast – Ordinary20A

 Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


Have you ever, like me, felt in desperate need of Divine help, but hesitated even to ask due to the choir of voices in your head singing verses like : “Who am I that God would care?”, “After all I have been and done it would be a cheek.”, “I really don’t have enough faith to make this happen!”

This week the gospel tells of a non-Jewish woman who nonetheless had the chutzpah not only to ask, but also to challenge Jesus to think again about his perceptions of her.
Jesus was away from his familiar territory. He was still processing the reality of John the Baptizer’s death. He was in controversial discussion with religious leaders. I am speculating here, but his initial unresponsiveness could possibly have come from sheer exhaustion, (Oh no not another demand!) or cultural bias (Men don’t speak to strange women, especially from another culture!). Whatever motivated Jesus lack of response, he was about to be taught faith and determination from the most unlikely teacher.

It isn’t lost on me that as I write this, here in South Africa, today is a public holiday celebrating Women’s Day.What a wonderful, gutsy, Gospel woman to inform this celebration day.

The interchange between the woman and Jesus is almost clinical in its brevity.
The woman calls for help for her tormented daughter.
Jesus is non-responsive.
The disciples want to chase her away.
She continues to plead.
Jesus, when he answers, specifies that she is outside the sphere of his vision and mission. He has only come for a certain group, the people of Israel.
The woman kneels in front of Jesus. A simple, respectful plea on her lips.
Jesus, again dismisses her with a rather crude simile for third millennial sensibilities. Dogs (the Canaanites) don’t deserve the food that belongs to the Jewish children of God.

Then comes the clincher in the conversation. This is the tipping point where orthopraxis (correct action) overrules orthodoxy(correct doctrine).
Chutzpah, temerity, guts, desperation; what it was we will never know, but this woman in the dust at Jesus’ feet winkles into a crack in his argument and unlocks the Master’s heart, with both fierce logic and evocative need. “Dogs can live off scraps.

Jesus’ response is almost an expletive. “MEGALE’ sou e’ pistis”. “Great is your faith” “It’s MEGA-FAITH WOMAN!!!”
Am I forcing the narrative when I hear triumph mixed with celebration and some relief, in that declaration of Jesus? At last here is someone who gets it!
The wrong person, of the wrong culture, in the wrong place, speaking with the wrong accent. It should be all wrong, but don’t you know, it’s actually all right.

At the start of this reflection I asked you remember when you and I felt we shouldn’t or couldn’t pray, ask or even plead.
Today this foreign woman scales the xenophobic orthodox walls of religion and says to you and to me. Go on ASK! You might feel like a dog’s breakfast, but that’s enough to unlock the heart of Jesus.

Start walking by standing still


Matthew 14:22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Finally Jesus gets the rest and retreat he came to this shore of the lake to find. That is before he was accosted by the needy crowd on whom he had compassion and who he fed with the five loaves and two fish.  At last evening has come.  He has sent the disciples off to the other side of the Lake, perhaps back to the place that they left when Jesus had heard the John the Baptiser had been beheaded? En route, one of the notorious squalls on Lake Gennesaret blows up and the disiples are in fear of their lives.

Jesus having finished his prayers round  three am in the morning, comes to the disciples walking over the sea. Matthew tells us, “…when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified...”. It is interesting for me that the word that the Greek uses for terrified is tarasso which referes to water that is agitated. One could say that the disciples seeing Jesus walking on the agitated sea become agitated themselves, because they think it is a ghost (Greek = phantasma).

Notice the sequence, Jesus does nothing about the outer storm and agitation of the sea, but rather, addresses the agitation of the disciples’ minds. “Take heart” or “take courage” he says. The same word he uses in John 16:33, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!

Peter then wants to put this courage to the test, hops overe the side at the invitation of Jesus, strides out over the waves, but the moment he allows his fear of the outer agitation to once again get inside him and agitate his mind, he sinks!  Jesus responds, “You of small trust, why did were you uncertain?
Jesus leads them both to the boat and only then does the outer storm abate.

Now I am not sure of the physics of this event. I can’t explain the science of walking on water or of calming storms at sea, for I have experienced neither. What I have experienced and can speak of is the psychology and spirituality of this event.

As one who has been drawn to and has practiced contemplative prayer, silence and meditation in various forms as something of a perpetual beginner; I do know just how fluid and fickle the human mind is. The Sea of Galillee as a metaphor for the mind is so very appropriate.   Just like that inland lake, my inner stae of mind and being can be beatifically calm one moment and cyclonically agitated in the next nano second. I have also learnt, with great difficulty, that the state of my inner being determines how I am able to deal with, manage and cope with, the outer squalls of life.

A great eastern teacher Ajahn Chah titled a booklet on meditation, “A still forest pool” . In the eastern traditions they speak of meditation bearing the fruit of “tranquility and insight” in that order. There can therefore be no insight if tranquility has not been established. It is a process the Psalmist describes as, “Be still, and know…” Peter discovered that for himself.  As his agitated mind flooded his body with fear and he sank into the deep agitation of the sea.   Jesus, as always, gives the contrast. He has just come from a night of prayer and communion with his Abba and so is able to literally rise above the outer conditions confronting him, “walking over the sea“.

Peter the seafaring fisherman has to learn to navigate the inner ocean of his fears, before he will be able to be the “fisher for people” he was called to be.  Jesus the rabbi will teach him practically: in storms, in sleepy gardens of Gethsemane, at fearsome firesides in moments of denial, and one day in the not too distant future, back here on the shores of this very lake. “Peter do you realy love me more than everything?”

Walking on water is not the great achievement of this narrative. Having a still and trusting mind is the real miracle.

Too tired to care?

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

There is a lot written about ministerial burnout and depression. Simply Google the bolded phrase and see what you get. I am not going to overwhelm you with statistics here. I am however going to remind you, as I remind myself, that part of depression and burnout prevention, in all helping professions, is to have a clear sense of boundaries and to maintain them. Having and holding those clear lines of what is our “Journey Inward” time for self restoration and replenishment, so that we can be at our best for our “Journey Outward” time is an essential skill for ministry. We are trained and experienced boundary keepers and we can tell horror stories from our own and others lives of the times when we have allowed those fence lines to slip or be overrun. Depression, disillusionment, acidie, and at worst suicide are the bitter harvest that await, should we not defend ourselves.

As a trained and experienced minister I know the things I have just been talking about, and that is why I find the story of Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel so disturbing. It seems the Lord I follow, the Master and Mentor I serve, is a very unskilful boundary keeper!

Or is there perhaps a secret that Jesus knew that my trainers and mentors in the ministry didn’t pass on to me?

There can be no doubt that Jesus was tired and distraught. The news he had just heard was of the bizarre murder of John the Baptiser at the whim of Herod’s wife. Jesus’ withdrawal “to a deserted place” it seems, can only be understood as an self preservation strategy. My ministerial training approves. “When the going gets tough, the wise go on a retreat!” A boat trip to a desert location, lots of sleep and rest, some journalling and reading. Regather and refocus. This is all good, so far. Textbook stuff.

The insatiable crowds motivated by multiple needs and interests, however, follow Jesus, and Our Lord, if he had any sense, would have sent his disciples (there were no secretaries then) to tell the crowd that the Master was not available and could they please reschedule?

It is at this point in the narrative, in what happens next, that I think I may have found the secret of Jesus’ life and ministry. A secret I wasn’t taught in seminary.

Matthew says, “ he had compassion for them and cured their sick” and again when the disciples (read secretaries) act very professionally and want to send the crowd home so that they can close the office for the day, are told by Jesus, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Can you hear the protests… I imagine they would have sounded like an Thai “tuk tuk taxi, “But,but,but,but, but…!”

Am I forcing the narrative if I read that Jesus’ deep human need for self preservation was sublimated here by his deeper motivation and core value of always living from a place of compassion?

Let’s not get too caught up in the mechanics and mysteries of how five loaves and two fish feed five thousand men and their families, with twelve baskets (one for each tribe of Israel) left over. I want to suggest that the actual feeding is the second miracle.

The primary miracle, as I read it from the demands and exhaustion of pastoral ministry, is that a human being endangered by a head hunting king, in grief over John’s death, exhausted by an itinerant ministry; can find the compassion in the midst of all this to care about healing and feeding those needy crowds.

Could it be that compassion practised self-sacrificially can cure exhaustion? Is is just possible that compulsive boundary keeping and safe scheduling protects and preserves the false self, and keeps me from finding my true self in compassionate care?

My pastoral care manuals say “NO!”

My master says, “Follow me!”