Thursday, 28 May 2015

Getting God

Trinity Sunday 
Year B
John 3:1-17

Talk of the Trinity might take you back to your Confirmation Class.   You believed yourself to be quite clever then. Between fidgeting you may have asked what you thought were clever questions.   Eventually your parish priest leaned forward and said to you: "Now then.  That's just the way things are, okay?".  Over the years, Trinitarian language has often been more assented to than understood. In terms of solving mysteries the language of the Creeds might tend, rather, to deepen them.   At the Council of Nicaea, where we get the Nicene Creed we recite every Sunday, the stakes were particularly high.  It took an Emperor - in this case, Constantine himself - to lean forward, armed with the opinion of the majority and say to the dissenters: "Now then.  That's just the way things are, okay?"

The Trinity of God (that God is, at the same time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is often demonstrated with the use of diagrams and little maps. You might be forgiven for thinking that God can be learned - that once you've got this diagram in your head you've understood God - that you've "got it".  Which is a pity because the idea of the Trinity leads us to know of God that his relationship with the world is dynamic, colourful and full of novelty and movement.  The choice of Gospel readings for Trinity Sunday - Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus - takes us in an exactly opposite direction to the belief that we can capture God in a diagram.  No, Nicodemus, you don't get God - you don't draw a circle around him, he's not your possession or something which you claim in the name of your tribe.  We are not proprietors of God's Spirit.  Instead, we are the ones who follow the movement of that same Spirit. 

If anything God gets us.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Pentecost Sunday - Year B
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15                                                                   

There’s a case to be made.  Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit - whom he will send once he has ascended to his Father in heaven - as the Advocate.  It’s one translation of the Greek word Paraclete and within the reading from John’s Gospel on this Pentecost Sunday is the one that seems to make the most sense.  There is a case to be made - and a world to be “brought around” and convinced of the truth of God revealed in Jesus.  This work, it seems, will need to be carried on even amongst the saints of God and even among the disciples gathered with Jesus in the upper room doing this long discourse which we have been reading now for several Sundays.  Paraclete is sometimes translated “Comforter” or “Encourager” because the work of the Spirit of God is going on amongst us as well.  Today’s reading follows closely Jesus’ earnest plea to his disciples to remain attached to him - as closely as branches are attached to the vine.   One can become cut off and isolated.  It seems that we too are at risk of straying away.  There is a case to be made - even to us.

Do you sense it?  You have struggled with that yawning sense that there were other choices for you to make and that you have strayed from where you know you needed to be.  You read about Christ’s people being called “from” the world to a new life with all its fullness. You may look around and find that the life you’re leading right now is a pretty predictable biological progression from childhood to youth to adulthood and eventual senescence.  It was not to be that way.  How did it happen?

While all this matters very much - this state of affairs which could provoke uncertainty, tears or regret - I want you to concentrate on what Jesus is promising us in these chapters of John’s Gospel.  What Jesus promises the world and his servants in the world who find themselves at risk, is that he will not leave them alone.  The story is not over for the sheep who is lost.  It is not Christ’s will that we find ourselves shipwrecked, sidetracked, handed over to our own appetites, lost, frustrated or misled.  “I will not leave you as orphans” Jesus said to us (John 14:18).  Will he bring to mind what is painfully amiss?    Of course.  The language is one of struggle as our will and our priorities come into focus.  Be encouraged.  Be comforted.  Above all, be seized by Christ’s words and listen!   The advocate is speaking.  There is a case to be made!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                          John 15:9-17
Easter 7 - Year B

“'When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less'."

Words can mean different things when we use them in different contexts.  We love caramel, we love our national anthem, we love our dog Rex, we love the way our small children mispronounce words, we know our parents love us even when we're in a pinch and we find ourselves reassured by the promise of God's love demonstrated and expressed in the Cross of Christ.  Each one of these uses differs from the other.  Some are shown to be real because we sense a sentiment within ourselves which may or may not pass quickly when we grow out of loving something.  Our children grow into surly teenagers. We wish they'd learn to pronounce things properly if they hope to get through a job interview.

The Greek language has different words for love - more than we do in English.  They avoid some of the ambiguity and confusion by having different words for erotic love, love between friends, simple affection and the self-giving love which is Agape.  C.S. Lewis in his book "The Four Loves" describes these different definitions along a line stretching from "need love" at one end of the spectrum to "gift love" on the other.  Love can feed and build up the lover or it can feed and build up the beloved.  Which one is which is important to the children we raise, the man or woman we are married to, the community we serve or to the world which waits for the Church's offering of care and compassion.  Do they serve us or do we serve them?  Confusion here can be dreadful.  The vocation of a parish church within its community can be lost, the fabric of a marriage torn apart or children poorly served by parents when the beloved discovers that he or she was poorly loved and the lover simply replies that he or she could not generate enough feeling or sentiment within themselves.

We learn to love.   We have not all been equally loved in the course of our lives.  Some of us will need to unlearn early experiences.  How we love in our adolescence or early adulthood will be tested and reformulated as we grow older.  Love is tested by the trials of life and above all by the need to make decisions.  The difficult person, the growing child, the normal human to whom we are married, the members of the Christian community into whose presence we have been thrown by our membership in the same parish: all these will require decisions and actions which stem from our will and not merely from the reservoir of sentiment we happen to have at hand at any given moment.  Those around us will grow strong when we choose to love.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                              John 15:1-8
Easter 5 - Year B

Back in the day my father nicked the branch of a grapevine with a scythe.  Though it was early in the season, with no grapes and only the earliest indication of leaves, the vine wept copiously for weeks even though he tried to bind the wound with a tight dressing.  Off-season grape vines look like little more than dry sticks and yet the vine sends vital nourishment out to those buds with tremendous intention.  Appearances are deceiving.  The nourishment goes on subtly and quietly but the leaves and the fruit do take form.  They provide a harvest for the vintner and shade for his family in the heat of the day.

Jesus tells his disciples that he is the true vine and that they are branches.  His father is the cultivator, the one who keeps the branches pruned back and effective.  They can do nothing apart from the vine.  Life will not be fruitful and ministry ineffective.  There will be no joy - not for Jesus and not for the disciples - unless they remain connected to the source of their life.

Finding a secret source of strength might be enticing.  You could write a book about it.  People might buy it.  There's gold in those hills.   There's pirate treasure in the bay. There's oil underneath Jed Clampett's land - black gold, Texas Tea, resources and power.  Our devices will work if we plug them in - if (as per the French verb) we are branché - connected and plugged in.

But to what end do we seek to be so plugged in?  Is this mostly about us?  Is it our well-being which is the subject at hand?  After all, resources can be sucked up, used up, squandered, rejoiced in and they could in theory end with us.  No - Jesus' words make references to the fruitfulness of branches, hanging heavy with fruit because the disciples are to become lovers of others, conduits for God's grace to the world around them.  That's what the subject heading is for this whole long discourse running from John 13 to the end of chapter 17:  "...even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."  Jesus takes it for granted that the disciples desire is to remain connected with the work of the Kingdom, to feed the world around them and to extend God's friendship into it.

Are our vines weeping?  Did they get nicked when we drew a circle around our resources even if we did this for what seemed like the best of all reasons - care of self and care of our loved ones?  We are survivors - no question.  Are we disciples?  If so then we are necessarily connected to a world - a world which groans for our fellowship and which has been promised the harvest from our branches.

"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and prove to be my disciples."