Wednesday, 25 June 2014

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

The reading from Genesis 22 - the Akedah or “Binding of Isaac” - is a deeply disturbing piece of Scripture.   The powers-that-be down at Lectionary Central have even graciously provided your Rector with an alternative - should he so desire.  It’s from the Book of Jeremiah and I was tempted to use it since, otherwise, that would make two weeks in a row of heart-rending Patriarchal family politics with potential victims (Hagar - Ishmael - Isaac) seemingly put in harm’s way by God and then rescued in the nick of time.  

The emphasis in our story this Sunday is that God intervenes once again to preserve life. This is true. 

That he first colluded in the expulsion of Hagar and her son Ishmael from Abraham’s camp and that he initially commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah is, however, highly problematic.  Soren Kierkegaard wrote an entire essay on the Binding of Isaac (Fear and Trembling) in which he retold the story four different times in order to try and unwind the condundrum with only limited success.

Another point of emphasis is that what we have we have received in this life is all gift.  It all belongs to God.  It can be given back.  This also is true.

But what of the godly origins of the love which should tie us unequivocally to our children, to our communities and to the vulnerable within them.  Is our ethics and our capacity for loyalty something of merely human origins which God would dispense with in the name of religion - as a quotable example of faith?

I must, of course, refuse to spare you from struggling with this text.  Jesus points back to the Abraham story.  So does St Paul.  It contains motifs of faith, obedience and sacrifice which are the building blocks of the Christian faith and cannot simply be expunged in favour of something more uplifting.  Explaining it neatly away would be a lie.   

I didn’t want to be the sort of clergyman who turns hard readings into pabulum.  And so - between now and Sunday - I will struggle to make sense of a difficult text.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Pentecost 2 
Year A - Proper 21
Genesis 21:8-21

Among the hymns of my childhood was the one where:

God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets his tender view;
If God so loves the little birds,
I know he loves me too.

As a boy I filed this one in the envelope marked "God is very big and can do all sorts of things at the same time" because, while it seemed very good of God to take care of the sparrows of Winnipeg, it was certainly not the BIG STORY which God seemed most concerned about which was obviously the family of Abraham and his descendants - the whole biblical epic which culminated in the ministry of Jesus and then beyond to the evangelization of the world, foreign missions, etc, etc.  

Sparrows were, at best, a sideline.

You remember the story of Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Abraham's wife Sarah?  She was given to Abraham as a surrogate when Sarah was unable to conceive a child.  She was given to him so that the BIG STORY would continue in spite of Sarah's barrenness.  And then Sarah, miraculously, becomes pregnant herself and so Hagar and Ishmael, her son by Abraham, are cast out of the camp.  The scene in Sunday's reading is poignant: alone and without support, food or water, Hagar lays her boy beneath a tree and retires to a distance so that she will not need to witness the boys death.  She lifts up her voice and weeps.  And God hears her.  He points her to the immediate satisfaction of her needs - a well of water - and to a future which had not existed prior to his intervention.

You've been there.  So have I.  

Our particular desperate corners - our crises, our illnesses, our family problems - do not appear to be part of the BIG STORY.  God has more than one script, however and when things appear to be lost, the game to be over and our goose well and truly cooked, we may be heartened by the fact that the testimonies of countless thousands across the history of the Christian faith begin at precisely there - at that moment of imminent or certain loss.  We cry out to the only one who can save us.  Grace is shown to what is small and cast away.  The sparrow.  The marginalized servant woman.  You.  Me.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                            
Matthew 28:16-20

The Great Commission, where Christ directs his disciples to: 

    "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." 

contains the word "therefore" and should then direct us to what he has just finished saying which is that :

    "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me".  

The disciples are messengers.  They are not pioneers.  Perhaps they lived and died heroically.  The stained glass representations of their persons might well include the instruments of their martyrdom.  We must never forget, however, that the purpose of Christ's Incarnation, life, death and resurrection is not the creation of an "A Team" on a hillside prior to his ascension into heaven.  The men and women of this first generation were to go out into the world, in a strength which was not their own, to proclaim the message of what God, through Christ, had done for the world.  As hostile as that world might seem it was, nonetheless, a world which Christ had effectively conquered through his death and resurrection.  

The Great Commission is ours as well.  We have a call to minister beyond our own circles.  September is around the corner - we will have said goodbye to a few beloved families and will be welcoming others.  There is an immediate task of mission for our parish.

The Church is not our possession.  It is our launching pad. Christ has conquered the world in which we live and he extends the possibility of friendship with God to men and women, boys and girls - like us or unlike us - who are not yet part of any Christian fellowship.  He asks us to move beyond our habitual circles, our clans and our cultures.  It behooves us to be organized and intentional in our approach to mission and outreach.  We must be rigourous about communicating our presence and easing access to our Christian family for newcomers to Clermont-Ferrand.  

It would be a grave mistake, however, if we came to think that this was about us.  The Church is bigger than us.  The Kingdom of God is bigger than us.  The Spirit will lead us into the world to speak of what Christ has done for the world.  

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Fr Robert Warren                                                                                                
Acts 2:1-21

How do we change the world?  Or do we ever change it?  Maybe the world is a big stony thing which just "is" the way it is.  We adapt to it.  We wiggle around it.  At our worst moments we don a pair of rose colored spectacles and delude ourselves about it.

The Day of Pentecost was a world changing moment for the early Church.  The manifestations of the Spirit's movement - an audible sound of rushing wind and something like tongues of fire which appeared on the heads of each of the praying disciples - were matched by a change within them as they were suddenly equipped to minister within a world which had not, outwardly speaking, changed at all.   Yet threat had now turned immediately to opportunity.  The tendency to keep to themselves and protect the centre was now transformed.  They turned to the world around them - a field ready for the harvest.

The world may be the way it is but the people who live in it can change.  

They can come to themselves.  They can undergo transformation.  They can repent and be restored.  They can renew their commitments.  They can have epiphanies.  

It is the experience of the Universal Church across the centuries that men and women who have been touched by an experience of God do transform the world around them.  Much of what we now take for granted, in terms of structures of care within our societies, began with the spiritual changes which took place in individuals and communities whom God had touched and changed.  The stone dropped into the pond made ripples.  The wind moved the branches.  There was an effect.  It is my pastoral experience as a priest of the Church that the stony and immoveable world is a very different place when people develop a sense of purpose and develop a capacity to reach out to it in love.   

The lives of those Pentecost disciples were rarely easy in the years which followed the events recounted in the Book of Acts.  

The world, however, has never been the same.