Monday, 30 July 2012

Hunger

The 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Year B - Proper 13
John 6:24-35

It's fair to say that our tastes change over the years:  Witness any picture of your father or uncle at some point in the 1970s.  Where did those plaids and tartans come from?  We wouldn't be seen dead in them today and cannot imagine what aesthetic need such disasterous garments filled.
In like manner, the things we "hunger for" change as well.  With a little luck (or more properly, Grace) we begin to yearn for things which feed the soul as well as the body.  Our needs become tailored and modified.  We find ourselves responsible for a family and not merely ourselves.  We begin to occupy a position of trust within a company or a community and the needs of our own proper persons must take second place to the enterprise or the community we serve.  It is all on the trajectory of reasonable maturity.  We grasp less and give more.

But not always. We don't all mature at the same rate. 

Some people believe they were cheated (they might say) out of the things they needed when they were small.   They live into their dotage taking the lion's share of what is on offer for themselves and being miserly in their giving back to others around them.  
"A shame about so-and-so" we might say.  "He's got a hunger gnawing inside of him which just won't go away."

Even those of us - who haven't particularly made a name for ourselves by being grasping and self-gratifying - still arrive at a point where we begin to question the ends to which we have been working.  

It is not an uncommon passage for a man or woman to arrive at in their forties or fifties where they begin to wonder if they've been working for the wrong things, striving to make it to some "point" which now no longer seems to satisfy.  

It may be bread - our crust - that we're working for but it's not the True Bread.   It's a garment that may need to be hung up in a back closet somewhere - something that had its day and needs to be replaced.



Sunday, 29 July 2012

Yoost da dinks!

The 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Year B - Proper 12     
John 6:1-21                                                                         
My parents knew an old Dutch carpenter who, when you asked him if he could provide you with a particular wood screw, clamp or word-working tool, would generally say that he had "Yoost da dinks" (Just the Thing).

There are things which we all need: food, drink, safety and security or a roof over our heads. We hunger without them. Our lives become complicated because we don't have them. All things being equal we may eventually get them. We then promptly forget about these good things until the next time we find ourselves in need.

The fact that we often take the things we have for granted, or that we are largely unmoved by the fact that other people in the world don't have them, might indicate that we understand "things" but not what these things "mean".

Jesus feeds a hungry crowd with bread and fish that are fantastically multiplied in his hands.

The technical problem which the disciples encounter in having allowed such a large crowd to follow them into the wilderness without any logistical support is solved but this is not the issue. Crowds begin to grow in the future because of the possibility that they will a) see a miracle and b) be on the receiving end of a magical picnic lunch. Jesus later chides the crowds because this is not the point.

Food in the wilderness "means" that the ordinary things of life in God's hands become nourishment for the world. A small basket of bread and fish providing a banquet for so many "means" that our ordinary talents (such as they are today) and our life situation (such as it is in 2012) is sufficient raw material for a rich spiritual engagement as a member of God's Kingdom.

We don't need to be different people than we are. It's not necessary that we live in a different place with a different family or with a different set of gifts and attributes.

Where we are, and what we have in our baskets right now, is sufficient. It is, in fact, "Yoost da dinks".

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Something new and better

The 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Year B - Proper 11
Ephesians 2:11-22

The congregations Paul visited and wrote to were often quite mixed gatherings:  Those with a background in Judaism were thrown together with people from gentile backgrounds.  Wealthy (or at least comfortable) citizens in the congregation counted themselves fellow members with servants and slaves.  Foreigners mingled with locals.  The leadership of women was acknowledged to a degree which made non-Christian onlookers uncomfortable. 

In such a mix there is a tendency to quietly wonder who makes up the "core" of the church and who is "outside". Some of the controversies lurking behind the New Testament letters stem from just such an attempt on the part of one group to establish themselves as the earlier or better members of Christ's flock.

Paul's words to the Ephesians remind us that our backgrounds, our national identities, our personalities and our individual attributes are merely the raw material from which God creates something new and better.  As individuals we not as important as what we will become when we are gathered together with people from the other side of the railway tracks. 


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The critic is silenced at last


7th Sunday after Pentecost
Year B – Proper 10
Mark 6:14-29

                                                            Mark's Gospel shows us a picture of Herod Antipas as a man divided between his sin and his salvation. 

As brutal and arbitrary as any ancient ruler Herod, nonetheless, cultivates a residual place in his heart for the preaching of John the Baptist - his consistent and fiery critic - who he has imprisoned in the dungeon. One thing leads to another and Herod is forced, because of his passions and the public vows he has made, to behead John in his prison and to present the prophet's head to his stepdaughter - known to us, traditionally, as Salome.  The prophet John is finally silenced. The message he preached, however, has only begun to make itself known.
 

A painting by Peter Paul Rubens called "Herod's Feast" hangs in the National Galleries in Edinburgh. It's a ghastly rendering of the very moment when the head of John the Baptist is brought on a plate to Herod's table.  It is, I might add, a particular favourite of Edinburgh schoolboys brought on outings with their classes to the Galleries.
 

In the painting, the assembled guests look down the table to where Herod is seated as host. He, and not the severed head, is the focus of attention. On Herod's face is written the anguish of a man who is sorry that he has silenced his opposition - his small channel of grace. 

Our enemies, you see, are not always our enemies. Sometimes they are the only people able to speak the truth to us.
 

There are moments when we would do almost anything to be rid of the trouble we sense within us - the unrequited longing, the dissatisfaction and inner turmoil - or the critics around us.   Cut the head off, we might, mutter - put it out of our consciousness, forever.
 

And this would be a good and efficient thing to do unless, of course, things were seriously amiss in our households and in our souls. That nagging voice would the be the best thing about us and not the worst - a voice which we would silence at our peril.