Tuesday May 26, 2015
Morning meditation on Romans 1:18-end
Lord, and what a contrast between these words of Paul's about homosexual relationships and the decision this week in the referendum in Ireland about gay marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth and what Paul wrote, his words caused untold suffering and pain down through the centuries, perhaps even more today than at any time. Given the reverence for Paul's ministry and writing, it has been very hard for the Christian community to recognise that he was wrong in so many things and left the church badly astray. Yet, if it had not been for Paul, we probably wouldn't have a church and all.
This ambiguity in Paul suggests that another example of the ambiguity that is in everything. It is in my own thinking, actions and ideas the same ambiguity appears no less than all Paul. To see it in Paul, where his gospel vision can truly inspire us, is to have the charter that the path of ambiguity is the path of the Spirit.
How, Lord, I wish to live and make our moral choices when everything is ambiguous? Part of the answer came to me after the Affirmation of Faith this morning. “You enable us to the gospel in the world." The people of Ireland, deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, were enabled to be a gospel in the world. They knew from experience that Paul is wrong and they were free to reject him on this issue while still retaining respect and reverence for much of what he said.
Friday May 22,2015
Lord, we are, all of us, driven by the myths we live by. Politically, we live by in the myths of democracy, or autocracy. Economically, we live by the myth of consumption and market capitalism. In sport, we live by the myth of achievement and winning. In personal relationships, we live by myths of love and romanticism.
As I listened to this morning's office, Lord, I heard a series of myths that I'm not able either to accept or embrace. Much as I love the Song of Zechariah, the myth of the promise of land and peace and a life free from fear, promised to Abraham, is not real either in history or a living experience. The passage from Ezekiel, even if this is original to the prophet, arose out of the myth that they had once been a Northern state of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, captured and destroyed by the Assyrian's a century and a half before. While it may be true of the Assyria captured Samaria, Samaria was never a Yahweh-believing Hebrew state as portrayed in the books of Kings. The whole idea that the faithful Hebrew people had been scattered among the nations was a myth that had no historical foundation. Then we really come to the New Testament story of Jesus casting out devils, which I think is probably yet another myth, together with the words about how blasphemy against the Spirit cannot be forgiven.
Lord, what we can make of these myths in today's world? The myth of the promise to Abraham, and the return of the scattered tribes drives the whole creation and sustenance of the state of Israel, with all of its geopolitical implications and the injustice of depriving the Palestinian people of their land and their humanity. The Song of Zechariah promotes an ideal about the future that is unrealistic and drives so much in Christianity.
The Lord led me along a path as if through a forest, the trees and ferns around me were all the tangled myths that we live by, pointing out the dead and dying myths, those that were strong and healthy, and the seedling myths that were growing up out o on f the forest floor. Scattered around the forest were great fallen trees, some long fallen and rotting, some newly fallen, wrecking destruction on all the undergrowth is an in its path. But that is the way of forests. It is the effect of wind that fells these forests giants and right now a hurricane is about to sweep through the forest and many great trees will fall. That is the way of forests: that is the way of the Spirit. But look closely, the Lord said, and you see new growth springing up all around the fallen trees. The destruction is necessary for life. The hurricane delivers life.
I, the Lord, am both the creator and the destroyer of myths. The renewal of the church to take his place at the centre of the life of the world can only come about as I destroy uncreative myths, and that is what you are witnessing: giant trees falling. Do not be afraid: this is my work.
Lord, you have ministered to me in this office and I have just listened, especially the New Testament reading of healing. But the words of power came at the end. “Let us bless Lord.” “Thanks be to God”. I affirm this with all my heart. Even in the low spirits I am experiencing, I know that grace flows freely. Even as everything breaks down, I know the healing.
So, Lord, I place myself in your hands, knowing I am secure whatever course my illness takes. Many good things, creative things, are already happening and in this I rejoice. The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want.
Thursday May 21, 2015
Lord, I have come to the point of being able to open myself to your healing grace, which I've not been able to do until now. I have been so focused on the physical state and upon maintaining my spiritual and emotional strength. Now, this morning, from a base of understanding clearly the physical nature of my condition, I now open myself to receive your healing.
It is not my way to ask anything specific of you, so or expect a sudden miracle of healing and it may take it all the time that the doctors predict, but I know that your healing power is in me and with me, and that is sufficient. To be healed is not the ultimate objective, however much I would want this. The real objective is to draw up on the riches of grace that I am experiencing is far from this illness. And those riches are abundant, as the morning Canticle so well describes.
So I continued to walk with you day by day, hour by hour, constantly giving thanks for all that you are doing in my life, including the illness. This is a time of great creativity and I celebrated it. The most wonderful gift that you are giving me at this time is the gift of time. With life stripped of external activity, I have time to think and meditate. I have the time to develop my new book beyond any expectation that I had in the past, and it is developing into a comprehensive exposition of all my thinking. My body may be weak, and I have to manage my tiredness, but my mind is overflowing. It is one of the extraordinary things about living the life of faith that we are able to find joy in the midst of distress: not just a stoic philosophic outlook, but one that rejoices in real gifts even in the midst of distress, even disaster. Only faith can deliver this, because it is rooted in the vision of God who personally and deeply loves and cares for me, and seeks my good, and enriches my ministry. This is my experience now, as it has been my experience throughout my life.
So as I look to the future, I know that this grace will be with me tomorrow and every tomorrow after that. That is hope, real hope, not wishful thinking. And I give thanks.
Tuesday May 19, 2015
Lord, you call your church to be one in love, yet we are so divided and fractured that we are not living the unity in love you call us to be. In our disunity, we are not only weak but we are failing to bring the gift of unity to humanity, a cornerstone of our salvation.
Show us the unity you desire. I embrace Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12 as being the key insight into the unity to which you call us. But how can we translate his vision into our contemporary world, where the church is not only rent by sects but is increasingly fractured within itself, often to the point of schism and denying communion with one another. How do we reach across these divides and bring unity to the church?
The salvation of humanity lies critically with finding a common human unity in a global culture, and our calling as a church is to show the way to community, for if we as Christians cannot find and demonstrate this unity, the world will never find its way.
The keys to the unity lies in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. Regarding membership of the community of Christ, the only thing that we can look upon is our baptism. To question whether a person is in Christ or not,without looking as his or her baptism, is to act out of judgement and therefore to act out of Christ. The unity created by baptism allows for much variation and diversity in how we live out our Christian lives. Diversity in the Christian church is as important as diversity in nature. There is room for many traditions and expressions, room for many different moral and spiritual choices, room for diversity in doctrine and practice. Diversity does not mean disunity.
The sacrament of the Eucharist is the second key to our puzzle, for here in all our diversity of practice and dogma, we come together in acknowledgement of one Lord, one Spirit, one Church. When we deny communion with another baptised Christian, it is Christ we deny and place ourselves outside Christ. Community created around a common table, expressing grace that transcends all divisions, is the greatest gift we bring the world.
So, Lord, there is the challenge that faces us in this week of prayer for Christian Unity. May we answer that challenge.
Saturday May 16, 2015
From 1 Corinthians 2:” we are those who have the mind of Christ”.
Lord, do I have your mind? And what does it mean to have your mind? If there is one thing I learned from Paul's letters is that having the mind of Christ does not mean that everything we think is right or free from ambiguity.
I imaged myself as being companion of Jesus, in close and intimate relationship, sharing our minds as with a close friends. But then I had a vision of myself being absorbed into the physical body of Jesus, my being totally one with him, my mind his mind, his eyes my eyes. It was an extraordinary sense, a literalisation of the term, “Body of Christ”. What does it mean to live in Christ in such a manner?
To see through the eyes and mind of Christ does not set us free from cultural perceptions, paradigms, or ambiguity. Perhaps this was the fundamental error that Paul made in that he interpreted the mind of Christ to mean that he spoke absolute truth. It is clear to us just how wrong Paul was in so many respects and how conditioned he was culturally and religiously. Yet he undoubtedly had the mind of Christ.
Of greater importance, to see with the mind of Christ is to view the whole world through the lens of grace: to see with love and compassion, without judgement or condemnation. It is to see God in everything, everywhere. It is to see the new creation, redeemed. But such is the ambiguity of everything, that the mind of Christ also sees the evil, the distortions, the demonisation and the injustice of the world and knows that this must be confronted. There is both love and anger in the mind of Christ.
The same ambiguity, love and anger, is also in the mind of Christ as he sees the church. He knows that the church will never be perfect; it has never been perfect in the past; it will never be in our present and it will never be perfect in the future. Christ does not expect perfection of us, but does expect we reach out and accept his forgiveness.
To see with the mind of Christ is to experience revelation. We see things that are new and had been hidden: Paul describes this as “the mysterious wisdom of God” and this sense of revelation is very real. This goes to the heart of where faith is today and the key to bringing faith into the world of global culture. Perhaps the most precious gift that faith can bring to the new culture is the wisdom that springs from having the mind of Christ.
“… have pity on our weakness and give us those gifts which we are not worthy to ask... “
Lord, the words of the collect strikes deeply tonight as a new provisional diagnosis may mean a long-term, even permanent illness, bringing significant weakness. That collect assures me that you continue to care and that you will give all the gifts, beyond anything I deserve, and will transform my weakness into a ministry of power. It is as if you are challenging me to live the spirituality of living in the present, not living for the future. To live in the present is to know that you give me all I need in this moment and I lack for nothing. To live in the present is to know that in every future present, I will have everything I need and lack nothing. This is the meaning of faith and hope.
So I walk into my future with you by my side, surrounded by love and strengthened by grace. That will never change even if at the physical level the worst possible scenario eventuates. If I cannot live this way, then there cannot be any credibility in what I say. In the end, I may lose everything including my ability to think clearly and logically. But I will never lose you.
So what is happening to me may be a prophetic witness to the world that is facing a global strip down and potentially the loss of everything we call worthwhile. If that is indeed your calling, Lord, then I embrace your call with thanksgiving.
Friday May 15, 2015
Lord, the path of being a disciple often feels like walking a tightrope, an act of finding balance and it is so easy to fall off one side or the other, as I frequently do. But you are always there to pick me up, put me back on the tightrope and encourage me to continue. I have learned that every time I fell off, when I returned to the tightrope, I had gained valuable experience and that the falling off itself was a creative place. You never judged me for a fool, said I was wrong, or condemned me for trying a new path. And the other hand, you often pulled me from the tightrope or shook it so that I fell off whenever my actions did threaten to be dangerous. I learned to trust you and to experience the reality and truth behind the Lords Prayer, “Save us from the time trial and deliver us from evil."
Now, Lord, it is my sense that these years of training are leading to the real test. I have the image of the tightrope being stretched between two high buildings! The challenge that confronts us is nothing less than the re-establishment of Christian faith into the heart of global culture and the movement from one to the other is going to be a tightrope exercise. There are going to be plenty of people who will want us to fall off, and there is no safety net under this one. Christianity will live or die by whether it can make the transition.
It is against this background that I draw vision and encouragement from these morning lections that have been chosen to prepare us for Pentecost. From the Old Testament reading I drew the assurance that all the skills, knowledge, expertise and creativity that we will need for the task is already being provided, and that the material upon which to work has been provided. From the New Testament reading came the assurance of the power of the Spirit for as I listened to Paul's list of the fruits of this Spirit I experienced the stillness and the calm that comes from the assurance of the presence of the Spirit: that the Spirit is with us in this enterprise. We will not fall offLord, here I am in hospital once again and the final prayer of office is, “You have given us much today. Grant us also a thankful spirit.” I am struggling, Lord. My faith is challenged and I am starting to be a little scared. Then these words came in the office and I was brought back with a jolt. It came to me as a sign that you are still with me and strengthen me. As the old song goes, “I am yours and you are mine and the banner over me is love.”
Lord, here I am in hospital once again and the final prayer of office is, “You have given us much today. Grant us also a thankful spirit.” I am struggling, Lord. My faith is challenged and I am starting to be a little scared. Then these words came in the office and I was brought back with a jolt. It came to me as a sign that you are still with me and strengthen me. As the old song goes, “I am yours and you are mine and the banner over me is love.”
Tuesday May 12
Lord, the readings this morning on Deuteronomy 28 and 1 Peter 4 about coping with suffering, an issue that is becoming crucial for our world today. Lead me to understand how we are to meet and triumph over suffering in our day
So together we looked at Deuteronomy 28. These words were written, most probably, some time in the third century before Jesus, at a time when the Hebrew people were under the heels of their Hellenistic rulers, experiencing the very opposite of what the writer describes as the destiny of the people should they follow the commandments of God. The purpose of the writing was to instill in the people a profound sense of guilt about their current and past behaviour, putting the blame for their condition on their religious failure to obey their God. In other words, the oppression and misery people were experiencing was their own fault: they had been warned. There was an implicit promise that if the people now turned and obeyed God's commandments, that God would change the social and political climate and once again bring the people to prosperity, independence and power over all the rest of the world.
Lord spoke to me and said that this is illusion. The path of making people feel guilty is uncreative and helpful. This writing led the people into illusions of messianic grandeur that proved even more destructive and increased their misery. It is false religion and it remains also religion when it is echoed in our day.
Then we looked together at 1 Peter. This, too, was addressed to people who were suffering, to Christians suffering persecution and social rejection, challenging their faith. The message here is to put up with suffering in the expectation of a glorious future, free from all suffering. The Lord showed me that this, too, was an illusion, just wishful thinking. He does not call us to live for a time of future glory but to live in the present, in the midst of suffering, and find salvation now.
The Lord took me first to look at my own suffering, trivial and minor though it is, and temporary. He showed me the good and creative things that are coming out of this suffering, and how I am daily, hourly, minute by minute, given what I need to meet the demands of my situation. This is the salvation that the Gospel brings. It is in the midst of suffering that we find the power God and so find salvation. This is the creative way forward. So far as the past is concerned, it is true that past behaviour contributes to our suffering, and may wholly be the cause of our suffering, but the Lord bids us look back not with guilt but in search of wisdom and understanding, first, that we may learn important lessons, but also that we see that our past, even in our transgressions, is a treasure house of creative blessing.
We do indeed look to the future, but not with wishful thinking. We do not have any expectation of life free from suffering and ambiguity, for that indeed would be life without God. Our hope, our inalienable hope, is that God will be in our suffering in the future just as God is with us suffering in the present. We will always have what we need. We never lose our call to ministry. Life never becomes meaningless.
When I woke this morning and turned to prayer, my first prayer was of thanks, for everything, including myself as I am. This is the creative place for me: God is with me in this place and I want for nothing more.
Monday May 11
"… That we may love you with all our heart and our neighbours as ourselves.”
I focus my meditation on love. We all live our lives under the influence of myth, even if that is secular myth. At the heart of the Christian myth lies the concept that we are loved by God, love God in return, and in that love embrace all people. Everyone lives by one myth or another, but some myths are more creative than others, while some are more destructive than others. To be enduring, every myth has to have the foundation somewhere in physical reality otherwise it is pure fantasy and wishful thinking.
It is not enough for Christians to proclaim God's love: the sign of that love must be evident if it is to be believable. We need to know that love.
With my whole heart I know that love, manifest every day and in everything I do and am. God reaches down and transforms even the most negative experiences in terms to creative power. I experience forgiveness and restoration daily, for the flow of grace never stops even when my love grows dim. And my love for God finds expression in the intimacy of prayer and meditation where the relationship with God is not one of subject to distant potentate but of friends together, the awesomeness of an intimate relationship with the energy behind the entire universe. Then I look at all my fellow human beings, Christian and non-Christian alike, and know that the love of God is no less for each and every one of them as it is for me and that the intimate relationship of love is as fully open to them as it is to me. If God loves that that person is matched by the way he loves me, then my love for God binds me to that person whatever my feelings may be about him or her, and whatever a person stands for all lives for.
As we move into the realm of global culture, this is the vision and the myth that we Christians must witness to and stand for and ensure that it lies at the heart of the myth that drives the new culture. This is our calling. This is our commandment. Love one another.
Sunday May 10
The lections this morning are powerful. First there are the verses from Psalm 104, God's provision for all creatures; then the wonderful story from Ezekiel about the river proceeding from the century; then the Galilee appearance and the boat-load of fish. Together they speak of the abundance that flows from the life of faith.
As I meditate, I see the sweep of European history from its roots in the evangelisation of the continent to the immense abundance that the Western way of life has generated, even in all its ambiguity, as an out-working of these texts. We may credit the industrial revolution, science and technology, as being the generator of this abundance. We forget that all these developments had their beginning in Christian spirituality. It is such a little stream that flows from the sanctuary yet it grows into a great river renewing everything it touches and bringing abundance beyond imagining. Just think of the prophet walking down the ages from, say, the 12th century to our day and seeing the stream of renewal and abundance grow exponentially with each passing century. This is the counter to the secular vision that our abundance all comes from our own human achievement.
As with everything, this abundance is highly ambiguous, the very source of threat to our existence. Even the message of abundance has been taken over by the jackal pastors of the Prosperity Gospel and made into an instrument of exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. But let us stand back from the ambiguity and the distortions and see that the stream still flows from the sanctuary of God. It may appear to us to be such a little stream, too small to be of much use to the world in its many crises, incapable of effecting a transformation. Our churches so weak that the world dismisses it. Yet this stream is what will save our world.
Sunday May 10
I came to this evening's office in a state of pain and feeling miserable. Then I was hit with the words, "Arise, shine, your light has come". I heard them as spoken to me personally and I felt their power but part of me wanted to reject them. Encapsulated in that moment is both the ambiguity of scripture and the reality behind the words, "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church”. We hear the scriptures at many levels. We hear them speaking directly to us, challenging us, directing us, building our faith and our ethical sensitivity. We also hear them as spoken in the context of their times and when seen in context the message may be quite different to what we hear when we may receive them at a personal level.
In my struggle as I heard the words addressed me personally, I switched my mind to thinking about the context in which they were first spoken. There is a striking parallel. Isaiah (let us call him that) was addressing the people of Jerusalem after their return from exile, when the reality they faced led them into disillusionment and despair. They, too, were in a collective state of pain and misery. Isaiah spoke this vision of their future greatness. And herein lies the ambiguity of the prophetic word, for at a physical level, the level after all that the words would have led them to expect, the Hebrew people never did achieve anything approaching Isaiah's vision and on the contrary, their history over the following 2500 thousand years has been one of the opposite. Yet if we scratch the surface of the prophecy, we can see that in Jesus and the Christian church the prophecy did come to fulfilment, though still ambiguous and very fragmentary.
And so I came to look again at the words that had struck home to me personally. The words then cut through my misery and see again the grace, the love, the redemptive power that is at work in me, not in spite of, but through the condition of my health. God continues to strip me down. The condition is affecting the soles of my feet in a way that makes it difficult to walk, bringing with it a further limitation. But that brings me back to one of the guiding principles of my life and ministry.
When I was a young priest, in my mid--20s, newly married and in vigourous health, I indirectly encountered another man of my own age who through a terrible accident had only the use of his head, side to side and up and down, yet he was an inspiration to all and in reality, had a more powerful ministry than anything I was able to achieve. This encounter became a model that went on to shape my entire ministry. We can be stripped down to almost nothing, lose everything that we might think is of value, and find in that very situation that our ministry becomes more, not less, powerful.
So I now draw on that model, seeing my stripping down not as limitation, but as empowerment. God is enriching, not depleting, my ministry. So truly I receive the words, “Arise, shine, your light has come”.
Saturday 9 May
Lord, can we talk about what we call you? Is “Lord” the appropriate term any longer with which to call you? We no longer live in a culture that speaks and thinks in terms of lords and servants, in terms of the obedience that a servant owes to their Lord. It is so much a part of our tradition to call you Lord but is this yet another area in which you are calling us to change?
The issue really is one of our relationship with you. Do you require obedience of us in the way Lord demands of obedience from his servants? What if our relationship very different? The situation is very ambiguous.
One of the ways in which I understand the health issue that I have at this moment is that it is a result, manifest in my physical being, of not listening to you and obeying your voice. That is very much a master and disciple relationship, and it is very real. I have placed myself in your service and it is my responsibility to do what you direct. Yet even here it is a cultural anachronism to use the terminology of Lord, when I would not use it of any other human relationship, these days not even with my bishop. There is also the dimension of the sexist language implicit in use of the word Lord, which is a very specific male term.
To call you Lord still comes most easily and naturally to my mind and therefore, in one sense, it is not an issue. But it is an issue as we seek to communicate the gospel into the world of global culture with the term that is an anachronism that creates a barrier to faith. Perhaps we should just call you “Jesus".
Implicit in calling you Jesus is a change to a more intimate relationship that is captured by the term, Lord. It is a relationship of friend and brother, of support and advocacy, of affirmation but also of wisdom and challenge. This much more nearly captures the real quality of the relationship that I know I have with you. Even the health issue is perhaps more positively interpreted as your council as friend that the path that I was taking would lead to serious outcomes, and you warned me against them. Guide my mind, Jesus.
Friday May 8 2015
Sin is inevitable. But all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well: Julian of Norwich
We tread the borderline between genuine insight and wishful thinking. At a physical level, if we take the statement seriously, it is pure wishful thinking, for it is clear that, in the physical world, all manner of things will not be well, and all is ambiguous as to whether it is well or not.
But Julian is inviting us to look at life through a different spectrum of light, the light of grace: to put a filter on our seeing.
I put on the filter and the whole of life appears utterly different. Here I see grace at work in everything, even in my current illness. Grace always springs from love and is creative and purposeful. I listened to the Affirmation of Faith with an intensity that was rare, seeing the flow of grace in present life. I see how it transforms life, even in the physical realm for from seeing in grace many consequences follow in the physical life.
First and foremost, it stills the fear, the panic, the anxiety that can so overwhelm us when confronted with events that appear so negative and destructive. We see grace that is creative within what is happening, and trust the outcome.
In the stillness and sense of peace that comes on us as we see in grace, we discover depths of wisdom that can lead to creative solutions in the physical realm.
Seeing in grace changes our perspective on events and shifts the focus from ‘woe is me’ to see that this is a place of service of others, an enrichment of ministry. There is nothing that can happen to us that takes away our ministry of service to others. We receive grace in order to be grace, grace for others. As we re-engage with the physical world, we find our focus changed from self-regard to other-regard.
Seeing in grace leads us to see meaning and purpose in everything, even the most dire circumstances. It is this meaning that we bring back to our engagement with the physical world, which inherently knows no meaning.
Seeing in grace enables us to look past the sins of others and the hurt and evil they impose on us, and see them as loved by God, even if they do not know it. It enables us to forgive. It does not matter if the oppressor does not accept or even know of our forgiveness. It is our act of forgiving that is important. Forgiveness that is genuine can only spring from the vision of grace, but it completely transforms physical life.
Seeing in grace is seeing that we are equipped with what we need, everything we really need. We lack nothing. This transforms the way we live our physical life, where we are constantly faced with restraint about resources and aware of our weakness. We now tackle our physical problems and challenges in the knowledge that we are fully equipped for what we have to face.
All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.
Tuesday May 5 2015
I always respond positively to the canticle, Great and wonderful. New every morning… Wait for the salvation of the Lord. Yet this morning I sensed a disconnect as I haven’t before, and it has to do with what I had to say in this week’s address about the strategies for the church as we move into the era of global culture. One of the three fundamental strategies is that we move from living for the future to living in the present, and for all its power and beauty, the canticle is still future orientated. It is saying to us that we should hold on to our hope that salvation will come, as surely as morning after night. We are called to wait for a salvation that is sure, but not yet realised. In the classical form of Christianity, this meant salvation after death (or at the expected return of Jesus).
This no longer connects with the world of global culture: it is not just meaningless, it is seen and experienced as illusion, as wishful thinking. This is not just a philosophical stance of an intellectual elite: it is the default position, at least in New Zealand society and increasingly is becoming the global norm.
So I sat in my hospital bed (which has a spectacular million-dollar view of the city and harbour) and let my mind dwell on salvation.
I did look to the future, something that is unavoidable when one is sick and the prospect of the future is uncertain. Salvation is not to be found in the future; but is found as I look at the future, because the power of grace strips the future of fear and anxiety, and enables us to know that whatever the future holds, it will be full of grace, and whatever the circumstances, the ability to minister, to serve, will never be taken away. Salvation is experienced now in this freedom from fear.
I looked back at the past: to so many wrong turns, opportunities squandered, sins committed: and I see both forgiveness for all, but more than forgiveness, transformation of everything into he resources that I now possess for service and ministry. I am saved from the burdens of my past. Even more potent, the past lived in God is one in which I carry no burden of anger, recrimination or desire for revenge against anyone, however great their wrong against me. Salvation is found in not only being forgiven but in forgiveness.
I look at the present and find salvation in being free of the emptiness that comes of feeling that I do not have now that which I most desire. Paradoxically, salvation is the experience of being free from traditional religion that stripped the present of value and relocated all important value in the future. It is freedom from the religion that made the attainment of spiritual perfection dependent upon obeying rules in the present. The wonder of salvation is that it is now, fully now: in this now and in every future now, even to a universe pentatrillion years from this now.
And I looked out at this world, this city I could see so incredibly from my window. It is a wonderful city, among the top half-dozen in the world: and it is full of problems, as is every city. It is, as the sermon for this week describes, messy and ambiguous, like every other city on earth. As a city close to the water, t probably won’t even survive the rising seas of the century. But salvation is found in embracing the city in all its messiness and ambiguity. God is in our midst, celebrated and served.
I looked out on global humanity, messy and ambiguous but consecrated by the Incarnation, all humanity. Salvation is found in looking at our society and seeing the wonder of the gospel manifest in its midst in so many ways, rejoicing and celebrating God with us, and knowing that this will not change as we go into our global time of trouble.
I look at myself and I know salvation. Messy and ambiguous, I am whole. Then the Lord granted me an extraordinary vision. I was sitting side by side with God as together we gazed at salvation, celebrating and rejoicing in it in total intimacy, the intimacy of a child of God. This was not a vision of a glory yet to be attained and in another world. This was now. This was as I sat on my hospital bed.
I thought that this was the end of the vision, and of the exploration of salvation, but it was not.
I looked at myself in that intimate communion with God and wondered what I was looking at. It was not just that this figure of me was whole and unmessy: it was me yet not me. Like one of those images that change in an instant so that we see something in the pattern that was is utterly different from what we thought we had been looking at, so I looked and what I saw was Jesus sitting there in that intimate communion. Flick: me. Flick, Jesus. That intimate communion with God, through the eyes of which we see salvation, is only found in this flick-flick relationship. The way to salvation lies in Jesus, by baptism into the life of Jesus. The gospel message of salvation in Jesus is as real and powerful now as ever it was. If there is another path o communion, I know nothing of it. It certainly cannot be attained by effort and law-keeping.
But wait…there is more! For when I look on the figure of Jesus in that embrace of communion with God, I see yet another layer of flick-flick. Jesus-flick; church. Not ‘church’ in abstract. My local parish, messy and ambiguous: flick-Jesus. The message of the vision is clear: salvation is into the messy, ambiguous world of the faith community. No community: no Jesus.
Salvation is always to community.
Sunday May 3 2015
Office for Sunday morning, Easter 5
I awoke this morning from a dream. It had been a dream (some might call it a nightmare, but it never felt terrifying) of global catastrophe caused by a naturally occurring thermo-nuclear explosion (the physics of which belong in dream-land), the event irradiating most of humanity so that it not only condemned all to a radiation death, but destroyed their ability to create a new generation. Yet it was not the horror of that which woke me, but rather that a pregnant woman gave birth, and the child was unharmed and whole, including its ability to procreate. I woke with a sense of joy flooding me.
Then I listened to this morning’s office and heard it as I might in the midst of such a global catastrophe. The opening canticle, with the words, ‘The Lord has appointed me to bring good news…’ had an extraordinary impact. I saw the church uttering these words into a world that had lost all hope because it had lost everything, irretrievably.
The psalm (44) is one that usually troubles me for its self-righteousness and spiritual blindness, but here it seemed a very appropriate cry that the people of the world might well identify with in such a time, and set the scene for the lections to follow.
Then the two lections, Daniel 3:16-28 and Hebrews 11:32-12:2, designed to be read together. It does not matter that the Daniel story is fiction or that the roll-call of witnesses in Hebrews is unreal and imaginary. I listened with awe to the concluding sentences of the Hebrew’s reading as words directed to me, to the church: words that could be uttered into the face of global wipe-out.
It does not matter that the faith narrative of the writer was that the hope that lay ahead was an eschatological one. This is where the conclusion of my dream came into focus. Grace works out on the plain of the physical world.
The office went on, with the Affirmation of Faith the statement that the church makes into he face of utter despair. Then to the amazing collect for the week. Imagine saying this in such a context! Today our TV images are filled with pictures of the devastation in Nepal. I saw the church in the middle of all that praying this collect.
I have a thing about dreams. Most dreams are just that, mentally and spiritually meaningless but clearly serving a physical need within our body. But some dreams, in my experience, come loaded with spiritual significance. Many, many times I wake from a dream and know instinctively that this has been an encounter with God, an encounter that, more often than not, comes as a challenge and corrective to a line of thought and action. No less this dream.
As I write this meditation, the sermon for this week is not complete, delayed by both my health and by the fact that the one time I sat down to write its text, my computer battery ran out where I was not able to resort to power. So I picked up my iPhone and dictated the rest, something I had never done before. Only, last evening, when I came to transcribe the memo, it would not play back (a problem I discovered is one that plagues the iPhone (mine is a 4). In that sermon as I had prepared it, (and will complete), I had focused in part of the spirituality of living in the present. What I hear in the dream is that I need to revisit what I had intended to say, because it has always been and remains the core of Christianity’s power that it gives hoe for the future, and that hope is undiminished even when the eschatological element is removed from our faith narrative. So I saw the hand of God restraining the completion of the sermon until I was open to a change.
Grace manifested in everything.
Saturday 2 May 2015
Lord, this morning I listened to the reading from Ephesians 6 in which Paul draws the analogy between a military battle and the spiritual battle. The spiritual enemies are the powers of evil in the universe, and the Christian needs both to know what the enemy is and them arm him/herself to successfully fight that enemy.
But, Lord, I don’t see the enemy in these terms at all. Paul’s ‘story’ of life is not my story, nor is it the story of the majority of Christians that I know. Therefore, the entire analogy is meaningless and serves only as a distraction.
Then the Lord said to me, “It is your story that the world is in everything ambiguous and in that ambiguity you have the key to answer you dilemma, which I much deeper that the difficulty you have with Paul’s analogy. You are also asking, what is ‘evil’?
“First, though, know that it is this very ambiguity that means that different people can grasp the nature of reality in different ways, and the world presents to them according to their choice. You see grace in everything, and seeing grace in everything drives out all possibility of the kind of evil powers that filled Paul’s image of the world. I come to you in the fullness of that vision and I affirm it to you, for all of life as you experience it displays grace in everything. Just take your current state of health. While it is physically debilitating and difficult for you, yet, in the resulting stripping away of so much of your busyness and forcing you to offload projects and concerns, you are rediscovering the most precious gift of all, time and, with the gift of time, being. You find grace in everything. But that is because, among all the ambiguous options for seeing what is real, this is your choice.
“Others, though, choose a different path through the ambiguity, and what is real for them is as shaped by their choice as your life is shaped by your choice. If a person chooses to see all reality as malevolent and evil, constantly attacking them, constantly turning everything they do into the path of evil, than that is how they genuinely experience the world, the universe. To them, Paul’s military image of arming themselves to fight does indeed come as a message of salvation, a very necessary gospel message. So do not despise it. Yes, it is not for you in the terms Paul describes. But for others of my people it remains a powerful message.
There is a challenge for you, however, in the text. For you, too, know that you and the whole f humanity is engaged in a fight, and it is a fight to the death. It is not with principalities and powers in the heavenly places, but it is with principalities and powers in the earthly places. The church needs to think clearly about what it means to combat these powers and what military equipment is needed for this battle. Don’t rely on Paul’s imagery, even updated. You need to think afresh, drawing on the realities of combat, if that is the imagery you want to pursue.”
Wednesday 29 April 2015
Lord, walk me through the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord showed me the opening lines.
“These open your eyes to see the world of grace. See God in and through everything. There is no ‘heaven’ as a place that is apart from the world you see. But if you see only physics you cannot see the dimension of heaven. Open your eyes to grace and you see heaven in all things, even in the midst of horror and devastation in the physical world.
To see grace is to see love, faithfulness, mercy and justice, and my calling to you is to be grace in the world. This is the calling and destiny of all humanity. Other animals show, too, the marks of grace and show them in abundance, often outshining humans. But they do it from their instinct. Grace shines through them but they are not aware of it as grace. So, too, in all communities of humans, whatever their culture and beliefs. But your calling is to chose to be grace, to be aware of grace, to consciously change the world to display grace.
Do not ever think that ‘Your kingdom come’ means that there will ever be a time when this transformation is complete or even near complete. The pursuit of such perfection in grace is not just futile, it is destructive, achieving the very opposite of grace. This is why so much religion, even in Christianity, is far from grace and the gospel. Yet, when you open your eyes to the world in grace, you see that the kingdom is there, fully formed, lacking nothing. The prayer has been answered, and in full. Know that the world you live in is the Kingdom of God. Do not wish for anything more than you have.”
Then we walked to the next line: Give us today our daily bread.
“The prayer is answered. You have your daily bread. You lack nothing that you need to sustain you.” Yes, Lord, I can say that of myself. But what of the people in Nepal right now? What of the suffering people of Syria? How can you say that their bread has been given? The Lord looked into my eyes. “You know,” he said, “that even for yourself there is physical suffering, loss and pain. Grace does not promise freedom from this: that is wishful thinking. It is one manifestation of being grace that we care for others, even at the cost of our own lives, but however we pay the price, there will always be physical suffering. There will always be death. But to see grace is to see the power of life, of resilience, of transforming love even in the midst of the worst of times. The people of Nepal need physical help, and much of it: but most of all they need hope, and that hope is what will save them.
Forgive us… “Again, the prayer is already answered. You are forgiven, and forgiven totally. You carry no burden of your past into your relationship with me. That is evident in our being together as we are, for being with me is being with God. There is no condemnation, no recrimination, no remembrance of your sins and failings of the past. There is no barrier of memory between us.
“Only, if you do not live the grace of forgiveness, you cannot be open to this relationship, and therefore you do not experience being forgiven. Of all the destructive forces that prevent humanity living in grace, holding memories of offences is the most powerful and destructive. Salvation is to be found in community, and only in and through community. It is not an individual thing. If you live divided by hostility to another, whether individual or community of church, you stand outside the house of forgiveness, and it does not matter how religious you think you are. It is not that I withhold forgiveness from you: it is that you cannot receive what I hold out to you if you do not forive others as completely as I have forgiven you.”
Deliver us from evil…. “This is your armory against all fear and anxiety about the future. It is not a promise of freedom from physical pain and death or any other form of physical suffering. It is not a promise of prosperity and peace. All that is wishful thinking and destroys real faith. You must always hear these words as coming through the cross for that is the path I took and that is the path I show to you as the way of salvation. The promise to you is that, whatever the future holds, you will never lack your ‘daily bread’ and you will never pass beyond being forgiven. You can never cease to be in my love and care, even if you turn your back on me. And this I do promise: that grace will always triumph over evil for even evil does not exist outside the realm of grace. There is no power in heaven or on earth, to use the old language, that can destroy your life in grace, and, though this is a mystery to you, not even death itself. Have no fear of the future, in anything, of anything, through anything.
“This prayer I give you is whole and complete. Everything is here. If you never uttered any other prayer than this, you pray everything you need to pray for. It is all in these words.”
Monday 27 April 2015
Lord, why Yahweh? Back in the seventh century BC, you could have taken any of the many gods of the Hebrews as the one to cloth yourself in. You could have chosen Asteroth, Baal, Astarte, or even one of the multitudes of Babylonian deities. Yet from all the options, your chose the Hebrew god of battle, Yahweh, to be your Name and character in the world. Why? Why, of all tings, a god of battle, of violence. Moreover, Yahweh, was a god just of Palestine. Wouldn’t have been more sensible to have chosen one of the gods recognised throughout the region and worshipped by all? And then, the ultimate indignity, this Yahweh failed to be an effective god of battle, succumbing meekly and weakly to the power of Babylon. He couldn’t even protect his little band of people. All the grandiose puffery that the scriptures pour out about how victorious was Yahweh was just wishful thinking and selective memory. Surely you could have done better to have chosen one of the other gods to be the bearer of your name?
The Lord’s first word to me was rebuke. How dare I question divine judgement! Yet there is not condemnation in the rebuke, but a gentle answer.
It is for the very reasons you evoke as objections that I chose as I did. It was a difficult enough task to reshape the small Hebrew nation. Imagine if the challenge had been to change the entire region. The god Yahweh had to undergo defeat and destruction, for only down that pathway could I pave the way for the definitive revelation through the defeat and destruction of the cross. Only down that pathway could it be possible to prepare your generation for what is to come, yet know the power of faith to bring new life from death.
There is more, too. Yahweh, as god of battle, was a line that embraced action, not passivity, a god who enlists an army of humans to work alongside of the god, an always unpredictable god, because the outcome of battle is rarely predictable. Furthermore, battle, conflict, tension and discord are universal human experience. As Yahweh, despite being a narrowly Palestinian god, I could be related to universal human experience.
My name is not Yahweh. This was why the tradition came to shroud the name in mystery and, until modern times, was never uttered aloud. Even now, you only guess at how to pronounce this name. The only name I have among humanity is the name, Jesus. But I respond to all the many names by which I am addressed. Call me anything but, Hey, you…
Thursday 23 April
On the surface, I don’t resonate to the words of the psalmist’s distress. Yet deep down I know that I do, or at least they reflect the growing despair in the Christian community at its decline, at the prospect of its disappearance, of the powerlessness of ‘spiritual’ influence in our society.
But then the palmist resorts to his story of God, a story of the dramatic and powerful actions of God in days of old, most especially in the escape from Egypt and the manifestations that accompanied the story. This is the psalmist’s God, a God whose power is as real and great in his own day as in that time of old. So the psalmist restores his faith by claiming that power to be manifest in his own day, in the midst of the troubles of his people.
Except his story is false, and that is the heart of the problem. The events he holds on to as demonstrating the nature of God’s power for his own day never happened. The faith that the recounting of the story instills is a faith in something that not only never happened but also will not be manifest in his or any other time. Telling a false story leads to expectations about the present and the future that will not be fulfilled and leads only to disillusionment and ever deeper despair.
Yet the psalmist’s perception was right. The answer to coping with the challenge to faith lies indeed in story. That was true for him: it is true for us.
Lord, what is our story? What do we tell when we look back on the past to see your hand that has brought us to this point? The story that will take us into the future with faith in our hearts?
The Lord said, You do have a story and you do know the story. But remember that your story is and will never be more true than that of the psalmist. Do not despise the story he tells for that was my story to him, my word to him that was for him a saving story in his time. I have told many stories over many generations, to many people of many lands and many religions. They have all been my stories and they have been saving stories for those people and those times.
Now I tell a new story, and it will be a saving story for you and your times. Tell the story. You may tell it to new generations to come, but I will always be taking the story and making it anew for each new generation. Embrace it for yourself, but do not make it a fixture that demands that the new generations tells the story as your tell it.
Wednesday 22 April 2015
I am writing this meditation in the middle of the night, with a sense of awe that would not allow me to wait until the morning. It has been a day in which neither morning nor evening meditation appeared to take me anywhere, my mind preoccupied with tasks and my body sub-par in health. So I lay down to sleep with the mantra, Be our light in the darkness… generating only conventional images that contained no inspiration.
Then I dreamed. It was a dream about a footballer, an Islamic footballer, incredibly talented and playing in an English league. It was an incredibly detailed dream, though I have no idea how ‘real’ was the clash of culture and religious sensibilities that the dream revealed may be to actual life, yet in the dram every detail was both vivid and played out in drama. Two things were strange, though. The first was that the dream continued to unfold in all its dramatic intensity after I became conscious that I was lying in my bed; that I was at least partially awake and conscious of my physical surroundings. It also played out as if I was revisiting a familiar scene where I had been before, yet I know, as I survey the dream, the details of which remain vivid, that nothing remotely like it I have never witnessed in either real life or in fiction, screen or book.
The dream took me into a place of impossible darkness, of two utterly incompatible ways of living that could not possibly be resolved. In my dream, people did try to find compromise and resolution but the incompatibilities were too great and everything broke down. Darkness.
But then, at the conclusion of the dream – for unlike most dreams, it reached a resolution – light flooded everything. Unlike the remainder of the dream, the nature of the dramatic resolution was hidden what had me in awe, for I was now fully awake even as the dram was continuing, is that the light that resolved came from within the Islamic community and was authentic to them. It was clear to me that this was not a case of Islam seeing a light from outside, from the ‘Christian camp’, but a light that was within their own community and faith.
Be our light in the darkness…. The awe I experience as I write this is the global light it sheds on his time of tension and discord between Christian and Islamic worlds. I cannot even begin at this moment to comprehend where this may lead. What I know is that the light of Christ floods the world and chases away darkness, a darkness that is to be found in all societies and all religions not exempting ourselves.
Monday 20 April
In the beginning -- except there is no beginning. Yes, there is a beginning of space and time, but ‘being’, manifest now in and as universe, is eternal. Our story has no beginning, nor an end. We live in the eternal. That is the supreme gift we possess as human forms of being: we of all creatures on earth see the eternal, the eternal to which we give many names, but which name we give above all others, God.
The Eternal which we name God is in everything, of everything, through everything. Not as something other than physical reality or a super-additive to physical reality, but is all reality. It all depends upon the spectrum of light we use to see with. If we use ‘normal’ spectrum we see only normal physics. If we see with the spectrum of faith, we see only God, in all.
We have a story to tell, a powerful and wonderful story. It is a story of stars and galaxies forming and dying, of an earth shaped by gigantic forces or water, ice, volcanoes and cataclysms: of life shaped over eons: but all this a purpose and an end, not a meaningless tumble of chance. For our story centres upon Jesus, the self-revelation of the Eternal to humans, from within humanity itself. That self-revelation opened the eyes of humanity to recognise the Eternal as loving, as grace, as caring: a caring not just for ‘everything’ as a mass but for every minute detail, every atom, every bird, every human.
So our story stretches back in time before Jesus. It embraces the story of the Hebrew people, though we see that story very differently from the outward account the Hebrews had created of themselves. Our story embraces the presence of the Eternal in all other human societies leading up to Jesus, for Jesus is of all humanity and for all humanity.
But our story is not a tale of the past: it is the saving message to the present and the future. For now all humanity faces its time of greatest trial, threatening its very existence as has never been before. We tell the story of the past so that we can be armed to face the present and the future. The story we tell is of two great crises that overwhelmed and apparently annihilated the community of faith. The first event in the story is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, destroying the Hebrew nation and the nascent line of faith: yet from that destruction the Eternal shaped a whole new community and a radically new faith. The second event was the destruction of Jesus and the nascent community of faith around him. From that destruction, the Eternal raised up a new community and a radically new faith. The witness of the story to us is that, whatever we face in our present and our future, the Eternal will raise up new life, new community, new faith. That is the seeing that is revealed to us when we use the spectrum of grace to see with. Our hope is inextinguishable because it rests on the foundation of the Eternal.
Evening Meditation (Deuteronomy 7:7-13)
Jesus, I am looking again at Deuteronomy. When last we looked, you said it painted a false picture, yet it draws me to it. There is much I resonate with this passage…. We walk together into the time it was written. It is a time when the whole Hebrew tradition and its identity as a nation is under threat from the swamping power of Hellenism brought by Alexander’s conquest. The long centuries of Persian rule had allowed the Hebrews to live in peace, their life revolving around the temple and its sacrificial system, the raw power of the prophetic era largely forgotten. Now the power of a new cultural influence, alien to the Hebrew way, was sweeping all that away. The visionaries of the era reached into the past realm of stories, created during the years of exile in Babylon, and fashioned a new and compelling faith story designed to change the direction of the Hebrew spirituality away from the fragile security of a religion of temple sacrifice to the road of law governing every aspect of their lives, a spirituality that would work at the local level of synagogues invulnerable to the pressures on the temple. It was a survival strategy: and it worked.
Then the Lord walked me through the long history of faith, starting with Jeremiah and the prophets of the exile, the temple spirituality of the Persian era, the apocalyptic of the era le