Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren 
Luke 1:26-38

About five months ago I used an illustration in a sermon of the electrical arc which jumps from one electrode to the other in an oil-burning furnace. Arcs don't occur when the two electrodes are touching. That would just be the normal transmission of an electrical current. Arcs take place when there is a space between the two electrodes and a gaseous medium between them (like air) which doesn't normally conduct electricity that well. There is a "medium" which is resistant and there is a "something" which defeats that resistance. In the case of the oil burner the electrical arc is hot enough to ignite the atomized fuel oil that is blown over it, the furnace heats up nicely and you are able to sit in a warm house with your book on a winter evening.

I thought again of the electrical arc when I read the interaction in this week's Gospel between the angel Gabriel and Mary. Gabriel ends his words to Mary by saying that "...nothing will be impossible with God". Mary's response to the angel is swift: 

"Here am I, the handmaid of the Lord".

We always read this exchange as if the wires were touching. The invitation of God meets the willing and immediate response of the human conversation partner with little resistance, no flash and no mess. We do not read even a moment's silence into the story between the end of the echo of Gabriel's words in whatever dwelling they were spoken and Mary's response - a silence in which both "yes" and "no" remain a possibility. Nor do we read such a pregnant pause into the majority of encounters between God and all the heroic humans of the Bible's stories. At the right side of the painting God speaks through an angel or a prophet. At the left side the object of God's discourse says simply "yes, let it be so".

God asks great things of us: That our lives as families and individuals be placed within the economy of his unfolding Kingdom; that we welcome the stranger and make provision for the poor; that we act fearlessly, graciously and sacrificially with the things that make up our substance and that we forgive even when others will not. God asks that we continue to exercise our faith in him in circumstances which would rightly rob others of a
reasonable basis for hope.

This is not nothing.
It is worth at least a pause.

Faith - mine, yours and the faith of young Mary in Nazareth - is what ventures, appropriately paused and open-eyed, across that uncertain and resistant space.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                               
John 1:6-8, 19-28

I take a certain amount of joy from the fact that I am at the older end of the age range here at Christ Church, Clermont-Ferrand.  It hasn't always been so in previous congregations although, in fairness, I was younger then.  I suppose it was inevitable that I would become an aging clergyman in some congregation.  You are mostly young enough that the Bob Dylan Song "It ain't me babe", or the more popular version by Sonny and Cher, might not have been at the top of your hit list while you were growing up in the eighties and nineties.

Last week's Gospel reading from Mark and this week's version of the same events surrounding Jesus' baptism by John show two different sides of the same coin.  We acknowledge, via Mark's account of the story, some continuation or progression of ministry beyond John to Jesus - a passing of the baton from one to the other.  John is paving the way for the mighty acts of God which arrive in the person of God's anointed son Jesus.  Many of John's disciples become, we presume, disciples of Jesus and the arrest and subsequent execution of John by Herod Antipas is often understood as a sort of "trigger event" for the public ministry of Jesus.

Lest there be any confusion, however, John's Gospel records words from John which should clear this up:  When asked point blank what sort of messianic pretensions he would reserve to himself John says that he holds on to absolutely none.  He is neither second-in-command nor is he 60% of a Messiah.  He is merely holding open the door.  He is a servant of God at this juncture of history - nothing but a herald.

"It ain't me, babe",  is what he says, more or less.

Jesus grows in the world.   John must step back.   John's own later words are these: "He must increase but I must decrease".  As one of John the Baptist's mottos it instructs us not only about what happened "back in the day" but also what we are about our ministry as heralds, evangelists and citizens of God's Kingdom.   It's not about us.  The final tally will not be based on our ability to build up our substance or to take comfort from the presence of like minded people around us or to have reinforced our boundaries.  We will be asked the degree to which we have allowed ourselves to be conduits of grace to others - to those beyond our natural horizons. 

It ain't us.  It ain't me, babe.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                           
Mark 1:1-8

"The kingdom of God barges into our lives". 

I read that somewhere this week.  I'm a pedant - so if I read a phrase like "The Kingdom of God barges in"  I need to first double-check that the verb-phrase "to barge in" comes from the noun "barge" and not from some middle Danish verb that sounds like beuorgen with an umlaut and an "o" with a line through it,  No - that's exactly where it comes from - a barge - a not-overly-maneuverable boat with a flat bottom that isn't easily stopped on a dime and which will take out any flimsy wharf that sticks out too far from the bank.   Older sisters barge into bathrooms, brothers-in-law barge in with unsolicited political opinions at Thanksgiving Dinner.  You've got to maneuver around these folks because they're bigger than you.  They don't change direction easily.

The abruptness of the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Mark's Gospel underscores the suddenness and novelty of God's action.  The kingdom of God arrives.  It takes up space.  It is an event.  Things must change shape to accommodate its presence.

A sociologist of world religions who studied religious rituals (both within and outside of Christianity) might conclude that they are designed to stave off change.  An art historian in Florence or Venice who examined the many religious paintings which show Patron Saints and sundry Virtues surrounding the reigning prince of the day might come to the same opinion.   Religious people often demonstrate a keen investment in the present order where structures stay more or less the same.  They are forever asking God to keep things on a steady, predictable and profitable keel.                           

It is one of the furrows into which religious language and practice strangely settles - that our religious observance pleases a deity who might otherwise upset our apple cart and cause things to change around us.  If we do our bit - behave ourselves and offer appropriate worship - then God (or the gods) will do everything in his ability to retain the shape of things so that they will still be there for us when we wake up tomorrow. Both within and beyond Christianity God has often been construed as the one who ensures that the harvest provides its annual return, who ensures that the fish return each year to their streams, who Saves Our King or Queen and who underwrites the inviolability of our Republics .

Pay attention.  In teaching-miracles and in parables, throughout the Gospel accounts we will read together this year, Jesus points our attention to transformation, to opportunity and to the presence of the New Thing.  The old order?  It can provide none of these.  

God knows we don't like change or uncertainty.  Jesus, however, tells us that he will turn our worst enemy into our best hope.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Rev’d Robert Warren                                
Mark 13:24-37

“Therefore keep awake....”

At the end of a list of troubling predictions, Jesus commands his followers to “keep awake” or else they will miss out.  His predictions take the form of rich metaphors - a darkened sun and moon, stars falling from heaven and a powerful shaking of the “powers in the heavens”.    You’d think such things would prevent sleep or at least wake you up with a start.  It only takes a little thunder on the horizon and my wife’s dog is clawing at the door seeking a safe space under the covers - generally on my side of the bed.  

Jesus speaks in a apocalyptic mode which we recognize from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation.  As is the case with these books, Jesus refers to particular political and social realities of his day - foreseeing, at a stretch, the armies of Titus and Vespasian camped on the hills around Jerusalem.  The generation which heard Jesus speak would well not have completely passed away before these things took place.  A national doom was on its way - something which the great and the good thought unlikely - to their peril.  Jesus does not provide a glossary and apocalyptic language of the sort he uses here does appear to be a bit of a code.   It might even seem a nuisance.  What does it all mean, after all?

We are more than capable of sleeping through the changes which happen around us in the world.  Nations have risen and fallen in our lifetime.   We may be only dimly be aware of some of the great tragedies which have affected nations not our own.  It took place somewhere else and action from us was not immediately required.  Our friends and cousins sleepwalk into divorces because they don’t pay attention to the warning signs.  They stand idly by while their children shipwreck in the midst of less-than-stellar life choices.  Parish churches which are not awake to the challenges of God in their particular neighbourhood or situation can sleepwalk their way into redundancy.  

It’s not that our bodies rebel against us and our heads drop to our chest in literal sleep.   We are simply not paying attention.  Our minds are elsewhere.  We fib to ourselves.  We don’t care any more.  Wakefulness requires a clear intention to be awake.  As we look out the window we need to be asking questions:  What do all these things mean - my work, my family, the politics of my nation?  In light of God’s son Jesus who is bringing God’s kingdom into the world - what does it all mean?

Wakefulness does not provide all the answers.  It does pose the questions rather well.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                                 Psalm 126

"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream."

For a boy who disliked maths and science courses in school, it was odd that I came to love balancing chemical equations when I later upgraded my mandatory grade twelve chemistry in a summer course prior to attending university.  The idea that what appeared on one side of an equation needed to be accounted for on the other side appealed to a highly neglected housekeeping side of my personality.  It made sense to me that the same things appeared on the right side as the left - albeit in a different and sometimes completed transformed and recombined form. 
SnO2 + 2 H2 → Sn + 2 H2O

One looked at the completed equation and said  "Yes - it's all different but everything is there"

The course of a successful human life may be charted in a similar fashion.  On the left side are the ions and the molecules we take in with us to the reaction: These might be our desires and aspirations.  These may include those things our parents and school masters told us were indispensable.  Without these things, they warned us solemnly, we wouldn't amount to a hill of beans!  We bring to the reaction, as well, our own talents and abilities, not to mention a whole list of day dreams.   We carry with us a certain number of painful gaps as well - regions of need and emptiness.   We were neglected or put down as children.  We were raised by broken people. We have emerged, ourselves, from broken relationships.  We failed at something or were badly failed by someone who should have cared for us.  We say:  whatever is on the right side of the equation had better account as well for what should have been there on the left.  The world, other people and maybe even God himself owe me that.  There will be no rejoicing unless it's all there.

In a hands-on chemistry class the students all gather to peer into the beaker after the reaction has occurred.  They evince some genuine curiosity to see what the reaction has produced.  They expect to be surprised.  Chemical equations describe actual transformation.  Where is our curiosity about our fortunes and our own personal histories?  Faithful men and women will not suppose that their ground for thanksgiving is merely the restoration of a twelve-year-old's hopes and dreams or the vindication of an angry young adult in his or her grudge against the world.  We have been stirred by the preaching of the Gospel.  As we age we look at things differently.  Our sense of entitlement itself comes into question.  What we see in the bottom of the beaker may be of a differently colour and form than what we first expected.

It's all different but, yes, everything is there.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                         
Matthew 25:14-30                                                

In the English language the word “talent” has come to refer to that reservoir of abilities and aptitudes which are innate to each one of us.  

The word began life as a weight-unit of currency.  It resembled a multi-thousand dollar banknote - useful for major transfers of wealth or for storing away safely in vaults.  A Greek Talent (26 kilograms) of silver represented 9 man-years of an artisan’s labour. King Solomon received talents of gold as a tribute from vassal monarchs (1 Kings 10).   The Greek word τάλαντον is translated into Hebrew as kikkar meaning a “cake or loaf” and so we imagine that an equivalent bullion block of silver or gold did, in fact, once exist.  By the time of the New Testament the Common Heavy Talent was more usually divided into 60 one pound silver minas for transfers of wealth.  You can find references in our reading from Matthew’s Gospel this Sunday, to a wealthy landowner leaving to each of the stewards of his various estates a talent of silver so they could show their skills as investors and builders of his wealth.   

Only line drawings of the lowly mina  have survived.  Even these smaller blocks of silver have not outlived the generations of those who once owned them.  They were broken up or melted down and their value distributed across the years to creditors, jewelers, lovers and heirs - a shame, perhaps, if you were the curator of a Museum of Ancient History and wanted one for display.  Apparently it seemed a shame as well to the cowardly and unfaithful steward in the Gospel story who buried all his minas in the ground so that they would remain intact when the landowner returned.  The point of Jesus’ parable is that, by the time the landowner comes home, the much-multiplied talents of the other, more faithful, stewards which are presented to him are made up of smaller coins because the money has been put to use in the community and has generated a return.  Only the hidden, inert and therefore useless talent of silver retains its original form.  The safest bet turns into the greatest failure.

visible lump must be invested and transform itself into the invisible good of labour, education and human energy.  The talent lives on as song, as works of art, as business and employment and produces a wealth of experience, community and energy.  They want to be invested, these talents - of any type - which we hold on to - which we are the stewards of.  They do not outlive us.  They need to be put to use.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Rev’d Robert Warren                                                        
Matthew 25:1-13

"...those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; 
and the door was shut."

A number of Jesus stories concern things which go wrong at weddings.  Guests don’t show up when invited.  Folks show up badly dressed and are unceremoniously tossed out of the banquet hall.  The drinks run out.  In this Sunday’s reading a group of attendant young women was given the job of welcoming the bridegroom back to his house with his new bride through a gauntlet of lighted lamps.  He was late back from the bride's family home where the marriage contract had been signed.  The girls had all fallen asleep and, when they were roused, half of them were unable to fulfill their appointed task because they had forgotten the fuel for their lamps.  Take a seasoned clergyman out for supper some day.   Ask him about strange things which occur at weddings.  You’ll be entertained.  

This Sunday’s parable leaves us none the wiser about wedding services in the ancient world.   The point is elsewhere.  Chapter 24 and 25 of Matthew’s gospel are all about events and reckonings which may take us by surprise.   They shouldn’t, though, because we ought to have been expecting them.   It looked like a nice morning but by this afternoon the gale was howling and our roof blew off.  We thought it was just an ordinary day but then the telephone rang.   Everything changed immediately.  All the jobs we were putting off were suddenly required of us - now - this instant.  Come to my office with the promised presentation prepared.   Show us your accounts and how they balance. Line up your children and have them recite the Nicene Creed.  Feed the dozen people who have just now landed on your doorstep.  You did, after all, say “Drop by any time”.  

Readiness is a virtue in the apocalyptic world of Matthew 24 and 25.  Would you prefer to live in a world where the faith of individuals and communities is an option?  Are you only aware of vague promises about, some day, changing your hardness of heart towards the people around you?  Have you taken a gamble that, eventually, you will try and figure out what the nature of your attachment to Jesus is?  

Do understand that this same Jesus, in a story framed by Matthew the Apostle, is putting the wind up you and calling into question the time you imagine you have.    How you live now tells the story of who you are now.  These things are all crucially important.  Don’t let the clock tick on.  Don't let the door shut.  

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Rev’d Robert Warren 
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

What are words after all? We might say to each other that “acts speak louder than words” when we are faced with the unpleasant truth of somebody else’s behavior - that person’s commission or omission in spite of their promises which speaks loudly of their lack of care or respect for us or for others. Some of us were raised by people who followed their words with acts - others were raised by people who had things to hide or who shielded themselves and their weakness behind a barrage of language. We might have grown up to believe that words are, at best, empty indicators of a person’s true intention.

We have been both healed and harmed by words over the years. We may have
had occasion to be disappointed by empty words and yet we are aware of their power to
both build up and tear down.

In this Sunday’s second reading Paul proclaims that “God’s at work in you believers” and here the place of the word is like that of a seed, taking root in the rich humus of the human community and, with a little care and nourishment, growing into something strong, transformative and dynamic. Paul’s community was not unlike our own - made up of busy men, women and young people. These communities were, however, planted with a word - the idea, the story, the narrative that God had entered into the fallen world through his son - described in John’s Gospel as The Word - and had forever changed the fortunes of the universe. The word about the Word - the preaching of Christ or, as Paul would put it in First Corinthians, the Word of the Cross could be depended on to interact powerfully with the believing human soul and leave in its wake a palpable change.

The Saints of old heard and believed. Were they more susceptible than we are to the power of words? Or did they not need, as well, to overcome the same hesitancy and suspicion as we might have about what was being spoken to them? Our own saints - here in France this
Sunday - will have the same opportunity to be open to God planting a word deep within them: 

A word of love and promise. If you will let it take root, it will indeed change you. If you speak it yourself it will change those around you.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Rev’d Robert J. Warren
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

In June I will celebrate my 30th year as a priest in the Church. Long enough Warren - some might say - why not go into sales while you still have your looks! We were one of the last large groups of ordinands at McGill University and the Montreal Diocesan Theological College - trudging through through first and second year Greek, Church History and Systematic Theology. Two of our number are now bishops. A few have had a little trouble over the years. The rest of us are still hip deep
in the river - greeting what flows down towards us and saying au revoir to what carries on beyond our gaze. I am just now starting to suffer occasional bouts of nostalgia as I remember a collection of old saints from previous parishes who now worship in a Greater Light and those who were at the time
small children and are now grown-ups with their own families and responsibilities.

We were together for a chunk of time and in particular places. Vague ideas of Kingdom there became actual instances, in time and space, of the Kingdom’s reach and mechanism. It was as if large nets had been cast which had gathered scattered species of very different fish into a single and identifiable harvest. As local congregations we were who we became together.

The process is not lost on Paul the Apostle: “...we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

Not only is the relationship between a pastor and his flock one (potentially) of the privileged sharing of selves but the relationship among us all can be of that type and nature - if you will allow it and will permit yourself to revel in it. Within a small congregation like ours it is the richness of building bridges with other selves which endures for the longest time. It is what those of our number who are living elsewhere remember about their time with us - that they did not only hear the story of Patriarchs, Prophets, Disciples and Saints who journeyed with God in the company of fellow saints - it’s what they themselves did here, through work and school and the raising of families. They forged their own sacred histories in concert with others.

It can be done.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                              
Exodus 33:12-23

It's been a tough trek.  Stress, anger and uncertainty have been the order of the day.  Exhausted, Moses checks in with God.  Is it alright? ask Moses.  Are we still your people?  Even with the incident with the golden calf and the non-stop discord on the people's part?  Will you continue to lead us God? Moses receives affirmative answers to all these questions.  The whole reading is a bit curious.  It even appears that God is tired of being angry.  Moses proceeds, at this point, to ask a question of his own - one which is important to him alone and seems almost irrelevant to his role as the leader of this sorry band of Hebrews in the Sinai desert:  

I want to see you God.  "Show me your glory"

The earlier conversation with God is something with which we are all familiar: We lay before God our faults, we lay before him our needs, we struggle to review our situation in such a way (or to change our situation in such a manner) that we can be assured that things are alright.  We have some hope for the future.  We restore a balance.  That is frequently enough.  Moses goes further, though.  "Show me your glory" he asks.

Is this relevant?  

Yes - the knowledge of God is relevant, the enjoyment of God's presence is relevant.  It may be the most relevant thing.  The Presbyterian/Reformed catechism states that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Our relationships have a way of becoming identified with the responsibilities attached to them.  To the man or woman we love, and whose presence we enjoy, we are also husband and wife and bear certain duties and obligations.  The children we delight in also need shoes and transport.  They grumble in the back seat and argue with their sisters.  We rejoice in Christian worship and the presence of our brothers and sisters in the Church but somebody on the vestry needs to tackle the knotty problem of scheduling events and ironing out the finances of the parish. 

We might find ourselves, as Moses does in this reading, relatively exhausted by duty and desiring the mere presence of the one we love.  That, I think, would be a sign of health.  God grants Moses his desire.  He places Moses in a cleft in the rock and passes by.  Moses gets the glimpse of God's glory that he needs. 

We need that cleft in the rock.  Where will you find yours? It may need to be consciously searched out.  If you look for it you will find it.  It is a place where we are simply who we are in the presence of the one we love - that man or woman, those children - that first love.  We begin by declaring our hunger for it and reminding ourselves that our chief delight is the presence of the one we love.  While such love will always contain the structures of duty and obligation we have a right to feel the heat of the fire and to thrill in the sound of the voice.  It is completely proper to desire such things.  

Moses does well to ask.  There's more to life than a slog through the wilderness.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Rev’d Robert Warren       
Matthew 22:1-14

Many are called but few are chosen:  Hard to sort out the good news from the bad here.  On the one hand the net is cast wide and the message of invitation is sent abroad widely and comprehensively.  On the other hand there’s a narrow gate and a small and winding path which not everybody takes - to their peril, according to this Sunday’s parable..

Sermons on the passage from Matthew's Gospel which we will be reading have caused more than one sleepless night across the centuries.  Am I one of the few?  Am I on the right path?  In the words of the Tom Paxton song (sung best, of course, by Johnny Cash)

And I can’t help wonderin’ where I’m bound, where I’m bound
I can’t help wonderin’ where I’m bound.

People are always a surprise:  Those who seem weak demonstrating great strength in the end and those who appeared most apt and capable giving up and caving in.  I have no meter to measure anybody around me in terms of their final destination and how the Master of the Feast sorts us out at the end.  As the song says in its opening line:  “It’s a long and dusty road”.   There is hope in every instant.

What I am most aware is that we are all being sorted out right now - in the process of living the lives we do and keeping our eyes on the prize in the midst of a world filled with both the best and the worst of charms and inclinations.  Something is being looked for in us - the turning of one out of a crowd of ten healed persons who returns with thankfulness to the healer, the young men who leave their father’s business to follow the Rabbi, the one hand in the crowd which is raised, the one who says “Me, Lord, that’s me.  I’m the one who wants it, I’m the one who’ll stray off the main road and who’ll stick to the narrow path”.  

I would suggest that teachers and priests, coaches, trainers and mentors all have their eyes open for that one moment when a man or woman breaks from the crowd because what pushes them from the inside becomes stronger than what holds them back or returns them unchanged yet again to the common lump.

If you’ve been “...wonderin’ where you’re bound” then you know and have felt the question which Jesus poses as he sorts us out in the midst of this life.  It doesn’t bear repeating here.  You may even know what you need to do. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                               
Matthew 21:33-46

This Sunday’s parable is one of the “hard teachings” within the Gospels.  I’ve seen it used aggressively in congregations where established historic congregations fail to take stock of the changing face of the neighborhood or where older traditional leadership in congregations have failed to reach out the younger families looking for ministry and welcome in their local church.  It’s often used badly by young clergy.  They practice “ferocious” in the full length mirror at the Rectory as they rehearse the final lines in their sermon.  Like any edged implement it needs to be taken carefully off the shelf.  It has its purpose primarily to heal and improve - not to cut and bash.  

The setting is that of a middle eastern vineyard which forms part of the estate of a non-resident owner.  He has hired it out to tenants whose job it is to till the soil, trim the vines, and effect a reliable harvest.  The master is here a circumlocution for God.  The vineyard is Israel - a chosen nation filled with the promise of bearing the message of God’s desire to reconcile the whole world to himself.  The vineyard is fruitful and God is at work there.  Vines grow even in the poor and rocky soil - grapes are produced which would be a source of blessing for the surrounding community.  In the parable, though, the controversy centers around this fact: The vineyard is both the master’s vineyard with a particular purpose within the master’s mind and also the place where the tenant farmers live - where they raise their children and put their nameplate on the door.  

It is mine - says the Master.  
It is ours - say the tenants.

I will not be preaching this Sunday.  I’m off the hook.  

A wise preacher would encourage his or her congregation to fulfill their task of cultivating this vineyard aggressively with an eye to the richest possible harvest but to develop, above all, some genuine excitement about sharing the fruits widely.  Such preachers would encourage wistfulness and realism about keeping a light touch upon our possession of the work in the Kingdom.  Ripe grapes or heavy-headed grain late in the season - they are there to be given away, to enrich others, to feed communities and to be something beyond the bounds of our natural communities.  The vineyard may be a source of blessing to us and to our families.  It does not end with us.  If we force the issue, God will find a way around us.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Proper 21 - Year APentecost 16
Matthew 21:28-32

In Sunday's Gospel reading Jesus explains that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are getting into heaven before the Pharisees and the Scribes because they have seen the light and changed their ways.

I was staying with former parishioners from Montreal in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  They were out and I was reading a book.  A  campaign robocall came in on the telephone and was picked up by the answering machine.  An election of some sort was going on.  The candidate's recorded message was clear about the shortcomings of his opponent.  There were the usual over-the-top assaults on character but I particularly remember that opposing Candidate X had also offended by "flip-flopping" on Proposition Ten or Twelve or something.  I have no idea what the issue was but it was clear that flip-flopping, in itself, was a very bad thing.

Flip-flop.  Verb.  Je flip-flop, vous flip-floppez, il faut que nous flip-floppions.  Once upon a time, Candidate X had an opinion.  Now he has another.  He is not the man he was before.  I, on the other hand, have not changed my mind. Vote for me.

What has candidate X done?  Has he read a few more books on the subject?  His bright young intern has brought along the latest research on the topic to the morning meeting.  Candidate X has talked to his constituents and realized the economic and political consequences of Proposition Ten.  His changing opinions have even strained his relations with members of his own party.  A good Democrat or a good Republican would be the sort to believe in something like Proposition Ten.  Candidate X, though, has changed his mind.  He now believes Proposition Ten to be a complete dog.  It should be opposed.  

Bring on the flip-flopper, I say.  There's someone I can trust.  Where did we get this belief in the immutability of opinion or in the goodness of people behaving like Newtonian solids traveling through space in never-ending straight lines?  Biographers are forever trying to present consistent pictures of their subjects.  The greatness of the man and woman was somehow present in embryo from the earliest years.  In the words of Dylan Thomas

The oak is felled in the acorn
and the hawk in the egg kills the wren.

You have the right to change your mind.  Jesus is asking men and women to change their minds.  Evidence of such would be that you no longer do quite so well as the men and women you were before.  Your opponents will have a heyday.  Your wineskin no longer fits.  Those who love you will worry.  Your children may regard you with uncertainty.  But it is no weakness on your part.  It may be your greatest strength and the source of your (and others') liberation.

Why have you not changed your mind?  Are you simply not listening?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Exodus 16:2-15 

The Old Testament readings from the Book of Exodus have been quite fruitful these last three weeks.  This week’s reading is no exception.  The topic is the anxiety which the Israelites feel in the midst of their wanderings through the desert after a dramatic escape from Egypt. Moses and Aaron are feeling the full weight of the individual and familial angst. The task of leadership becomes difficult as hitherto forbidden questions begin to be asked: Was the life we led as slaves back in Egypt really that bad?  Was there not bread back home - occasionally even meat in the pot?  We might die out here in the desert.  It could all go so wrong.  

We might recognize an undercurrent of anxiety in our community here in Clermont-Ferrand.  Topic headings might well include:   

- The distance from family members - both young and old - who must face life transitions far away and without us.  
- The loss, in some cases, not only of an income but frequently the vocational world of one spouse who must retool and mourn the loss or suspension of one of the things upon which his or her self-worth was based.  
- Places which were strange, foreign or incomprehensible were once seen on television or in National Geographic.  Now they are all around us.  Our children’s education is in a different mode, perhaps even in a different language.  We don’t understand how the bureaucracy works or even, for that matter, how the shops are set out.  How are we going to find what we want to eat? 

And so there are a few (slightly stretched) analogies between the way some of our lives feel and those of the people of Israel in the desert.  What the heck are we doing here, anyway?  Do we know if it’s even going to work out?    

In Sunday's passage from Exodus the challenge is addressed by Moses and Aaron.  Recourse is made to faith in what God promises: The people will eat both bread and meat because God can provide even in out-of-the-way places.  The second point is a challenge: The people will need to change their diet.  Quails and Manna is the plat du jour.    

God is faithful.  We will have enough.  God provides, but the people must learn to delight in the food which he gives. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren
Exodus 14:19-31

God has rights of salvage on us. Our life is not our own.

There is a story deep within us. Ask your children about the crossing of the Red Sea - they know the story well. The people of God emerge on the other side - safe and owing their salvation to God who brought them to the far shore. The events of the crucifixion and resurrection take place at the time of the Jewish feast of Passover which looks back to the Exodus events. Jesus might have needed to raise his voice at the Last Supper what with the noises of crowded Jerusalem streets below filled with
Passover pilgrims.

“This is my body. This is my blood”.

God is our deliverer. He brings his people from death to life. Because it’s a familiar story, we tend to think of it as our own: The Exodus is Israel’s defining story. Easter is the Christian beginning. But it’s a story that has made strangers of us as well. Our life has been granted to us. We are not its builders. Like all who might flop on to the shore after a narrow escape we see with clarity, for a little while,
what could have been our lot. We are thankful - for a while. The yearly celebration of the Passover meal in Judaism had, as its purpose, the regular reminder that we are still that same people - eating their meal in haste so that they could be moved by God when they needed to be moved. The weekly
celebration of the Christian Eucharist reaffirms this same fact - that we do not belong to ourselves - we are a saved people, rather than an accomplished people.

When we are commanded to give and to love and to forgive, why should we? Do we have no right of possession? Do we not have a right to reasonable boundaries? Have we no justifiable grudges?
There is a story, deep within us. It's a story which defines us in terms of something other than the retention of our rights and comforts. With the waters of the sea restored calmly behind us, our life remains a new enough thing - enough of a gift - that it can be placed at the service of others and made available for the purposes of God - for mercy and forgiveness, courage and self-sacrifice.

"Should you not have I had mercy on you?"

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Rev’d Robert Warren  
Ezekiel 33:7-11

There was a choice of Old Testament readings this Sunday and the Rector’s eye fell upon Ezekiel 33 as somehow being “just the ticket”.  Oh, here we go:  wickedness, sin and death.  Clergy are a jolly lot, aren’t they? As the 10:30 AM services at the Royat chapel kick off again for the year might we suspect that a new era of fiery preaching (in a tasteful Episcopalian mode bien sur ) is about to begin?  

Know this, first of all: The passage relates to a growing self-awareness on the part of the people that all is not well with them.  The preaching of the prophet in troubled times has hit a nerve.  They say “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?”

They have come to believe there is no remedy for what ails them.  

God’s question to them - through the words of the prophet Ezekiel - is this:  Why should you die in your sins?  It is not necessary.  It is not the pleasure of God that men and women should find no remedy.  

So it usually goes with the people of Israel in their lower moments.  Life is Egypt as slaves,  life under the occupation of foreign oppressors, life lived with a corrupted religious life or under the leadership of violent and corrupt Kings - it’s just the way it is.  It’s their lot in life.  They’ve made their beds somewhere along the way and now need to lie in them.  Bring on, then, successive and eternal chapters of the same damned thing.

And the question - “why” - well, it’s a child’s question, isn’t it?  Our kids ask it from the back seat of the car with the innocence of believing that one can always redraw a picture if it’s no good.  

Still, it’s a tantalizing question.  The question that God asks the people through the prophet Ezekiel might even nag us.  What is it that ties us down to weakness, failure, sin and unhappiness?  Do we not know of a better way?

“Why’ does it need to be the way it is?  

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren      
Exodus 3:1-15                                               
Matthew 16:21-28

Moses got distracted.

It might have been recommendable to keep to the path. With a comfortable marriage and a looming inheritance all Moses needed to do, to ensure a comfortable future for himself, was to put one foot in front of the other.   He could have meandered into late middle age and a respectable dotage.  

A bush suddenly leaps into flame on a distant horizon and the twinkling catches Moses' eye.  He utters the fatal words:

"I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt".

Significantly, I believe, God waits until he sees Moses turn aside from following his father-in-law's sheep.  When he sees him do this, God speaks to him, and the story of the Exodus begins.

We have all taken our eye off the ball at some time.  We might reproach ourselves for a misspent youth or a series of bad decisions as young adults.  When we were small and we looked out the window we had a blackboard brush thrown at us by a teacher.  Somebody might have insisted that we pare down our social, cultural or sports activities in order to concentrate on the three subjects most likely to give us the greatest purchase on a stable future. 

When the local minister joined the school for weekly Assembly there might have been a truly remarkable agreement between him and the Head Teacher or school Principal that regular habits of work and stable progress towards a goal were "just the ticket".  Funny how that works.

We will talk this Sunday about risk and uncertainty.  Both the first reading from Exodus and the Gospel reading from Matthew's Gospel throw a wrench into the idea of the stable life gained by increments being the be-all and end-all.  There are things worth wrenching your life apart for. 

Moses heads off to talk to God.  He loses the life he has built for himself in Midian.  Jesus declares his intention to leave the Galilee and to undergo great suffering in Jerusalem.  The reaction of his disciples is conservative and predictable: Heavens no - stay safe and consolidate what we have begun here.  His words to them extend beyond them to us: 

"...whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I look forward to speaking with you about this on Sunday.  We'll see you there.