Sunday, 28 May 2017

Who is Your God?

Who is your God?

Who is your God?. 

We live in a world that has seemingly lost its sense of balance and rhythm.  Cities are awake for 24 hours a day.  The internet never stops.  Media companies vie with each other to bombard us with news, alternative news and fake news, controlling how we think, what we like or dislike, and how we are likely to vote.  Perhaps something to bear in mind as we prepare for another General Election on 8th June

I don’t know about you, but I find the internet to be a sometimes very challenging experience.  Hugely useful on the one hand – keeping up to date with the latest evidence in the world of medicine, physiotherapy and drugs would be much, much harder without access to Pubmed, Medline and things like secure emails.  I can check all the NICE guidelines at the click of a mouse, not that I would really want to look at ALL of them.

On the other side of the coin, it can also be extremely addictive.  How many people have used their computer or phone to look up something only to get distracted and end up remembering what you wanted to do only after you have turned the computer off or put the phone back in your pocket!

In those moments, do I  inadvertently lose my focus?  Has facebook, twitter, Linkedin (yes I am on ALL of them) become a god in that moment as they claim my full attention, and sometimes drag my attention from the matter at hand?

This is not to argue for an instant that the internet is bad, just that sometimes, as usual, we manage to misuse God’s gifts for our own selfish pleasure, and in so doing miss the point.

Paul in the passage from Corinthians that we heard today, was explaining to the Church in Corinth (a church with some rich members who wished to keep the riff raff at arms length), what is meant to be an apostle.  I strongly suspect that Paul didn’t mean explicitly one of the twelve here, after all he already considers himself to be one, so the term has evolved.  In fact, Paul talks of trustworthiness and in a phrase that mirrors Matthew Ch 7, he advised the church not to be caught by the trap of judging others or indeed in judging themselves.  It has become clear to Paul that this is a societal habit that only leads to trouble, where we should reflect instead that we have only one judge and that is God.

Does he mean that we shouldn’t correct error.  I don’t think so, but rather doesn’t it mean that we should bear in mind our own limitations in trying to make accurate judgements.  We can’t make an accurate judgement without having all the information, and since having all the information about someone else is not possible much less about ourselves then we ought to be extremely careful in casting judgement.  We may have misread the situation.  In the end, the best we can do is make an educated guess.  The real problem with putting ourselves in a place of absolute judgement is that perhaps without meaning to, we actually are saying to God; “We don’t need you anymore”.

Is that what we really want to say?

Matthews Gospel reading today has in many ways a similar theme.  That’s probably why it’s on the lectionary!  Jesus says that you can’t serve two masters and everyone immediately thinks of money, but Jesus immediately widens his scope out to speak of worry.  I have often thought long and hard about this passage.  Why? Because suffering with chronic anxiety, I too worry.

Perhaps the translation into the word worry isn’t the most appropriate.  If we focus on the word worry, then those of use who live with and suffer with long term anxiety, often on a daily basis can end up worrying about worrying.  So, what happens if we instead of the word worry, insert the word concern.  The word concern can mean “to worry”, it can also mean “ a matter of importance to someone”.

If our clothing, finance, health, diet, or social media presence, is so important to us that it fills our attention and we become obsessed with it, then have these creations of ours taken the place of God as our proper focus.  It is reported that Jesus said. “Strive first for the Kingdom of God”, echoed by his transliteration of Deuteronomy 6:5 into his magisterial pronunciation of the whole of the law riding on two commandments; the greatest if which was “to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul and ALL your mind”.

If we love money, or fashion, or status in such as a way that we allow it to control our time and attitude then how can we keep this commandment?

What parts of your day can’t you do without?  What are the habits that you have developed that you cannot possibly not follow?  Are they getting in the way of you living your life to it’s fullest potential? 

If this is so, then reach back and strive once more for the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness and everything that you need will be given to you as well. 

Don’t concern yourselves with what may or not happen tomorrow; focus instead on today, focus on the now, for tomorrow will have enough challenges of it’s own.

Just one more thought, reflecting on the traumatic events in Manchester at the beginning of this week.  Jesus, with his death and resurrection, announced the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on Earth.  If we say the Kingdom of God is here, then how is it that such atrocities continue to occur, how is it that big business can all too easily lie there way to financial success, how is it that the most powerful country in the world can’t sign up to an accord on climate change? 
It’s worth asking those questions, because it is only be allowing ourselves to be deeply challenged that we might then hear the voice of God amidst the war and the strife.  I would say this, The Kingdom of God is here amidst all that is happening, but those that have had their power usurped at Calvary, though beaten will still push back.  The limited power that we see in their push back, just shows the extent of God’s ultimate victory.  God has done the part that only God could do; it is now down to us with the help of the Holy Spirit – God him/herself, to continue the work of growing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.  It will involve pain and struggle, and will be cross shaped, let there be no doubt about that, but it is not a war to be fought with weapons, we are called to fight this war in ways of peace, love and mercy.  It is those weapons that the adversary has no answer to.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Trust in God, Trust also in me

Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me (NRSV) John 14:1, that’s is how today’s reading starts.

This is a tough reading to get to grips with, it’s often a reading that is read at funerals, as I guess it seems to offer comfort to people that Jesus is saying that he has prepared a place for us.  However it contains much more than comfort, and is as powerful for the now as it is for comforting for the future.  I think to fully understand what is happening here one needs to look at what has happening.  Chapter 14 is part of the four chapters long farewell discourse by Jesus at the last supper.  For John the last supper is a key event in Jesus’ life, otherwise why would we get as much as four chapters.  

So, we are at the last supper; Jesus has just washed everyone’s feet, showing them that they were to emulate a style of leadership and living that was at odds with the world around them.  Indeed, Jesus’ actions and message echoes that given in Matthew Ch 20 when after James and John request special status and cause a rumpus amongst the rest of the twelve, Jesus has to call them all together to tell them that their view of leading is totally at odds with his.  They are not to follow the example of the gentile (Roman) leaders who lord it over their people by bully tactics.  Rather whoever wants to be great among them would need to become like a slave.

Perhaps this was the last straw for Judas as it’s after the footwashing in John’s Gospel that Jesus announces that one of them will betray him while also then informing Peter that he won’t do too well on the loyalty front either.  Talking of Judas, just how is it that no-one realised what he was up to other than Jesus?  John has Jesus clearly earmarking Judas as the person he is giving the bread to, and yet the others somehow still think he is taking money for the poor.  Perhaps it is an indication of the mood and the nature of the evening.  Perhaps no one was thinking straight.  It is no wonder then that their hearts might be troubled.  Jesus had told them that their leader was in danger, that there was no turning back at this point, but never mind Jesus says just trust in me.

Is it any surprise that Thomas and Philip press Jesus with questions trying to pin him down.  What do you mean you are going somewhere?  Where? How can we now the way?   At least they are asking questions, I wonder what the others are up to.  We know about Judas, was Peter nursing his hurt pride?  Early manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel paint a picture of everyone talking at once.  This is a moment of crisis.  Either way, it seems to me that people weren’t listening too well.

Jesus is not of course talking about physical mansions or dwelling places for his apostles or for us. He is talking more about being with him.  He means being joined with him in some way and therefore also joined to the Father.  Jesus is the way, because Jesus and the Father are somehow sides of the same coin.  This explains why Jesus responds in the way he does to Philip when Philip wants to see the Father.  Philip, Jesus reminds him, does not have to see the Father physically because he has already seen Jesus.  To know Jesus therefore, to experience Jesus in to know, to become part of, that relationship that exists at the very heart of the Trinity.  John actually develops this train of thought further with his representation of Jesus prayer for others in Ch 17.

So it is a this point with the darkness of chaos looming and the disciples facing the decimation of their movement, their lives to which that had given everything; Jesus turns and says to them something like this.  “Look it’s all going to go wrong in the next few hours.  But keep on trusting in me even when it looks as thought all hope is gone because what you are about to see as failure is actually the coronation of God as King of this world.  It’s the beginning of a new age.”

When, therefore, Jesus goes on to say that he will do anything we ask in his name, it is really important that we don’t forget the context within which this is being said.  It doesn’t mean that Jesus will provide the much needed money for a new Church Roof or a failing church; that might happen of course, who knows, but it isn’t what this is about.  Rather Jesus is saying that he will grant us life, true life, that is relationship with him, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  If we are in the Godhead, and the Godhead is in us then what else really matters.

I’m sure that many people here have experienced dark and challenging times; and chances are that you will again.  It is not my place to make the world sound like a Disneyland fantasy.  All I will say is to listen to Jesus’ own words in the midst of the imminent destruction of his own life and potentially that of his group.  “Keep trusting in God and keep trusting in me.”

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit