Friday, 17 June 2016

A man in his right mind

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)
Year C
Luke 8:26-39

We’ve all seen the advertisements - for diet or beauty products, exercises or fitness machines - which present the reader with two photographs, generally marked “before” and “after”.  In a similar “before and after” story in Luke’s Gospel, a young man sits calmly at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind”.  At the beginning of the story, the man was raving, naked and self-isolating.  I did a reflection on this passage yesterday morning at a meeting of the local protestant clergy here in Clermont-Ferrand.   I think I prefer the French translations in the TOB and the Louis Segond (making reference to "reason" and "good sense") to the English translation we’re going to read on Sunday.

...habillé, et revenu à la raison (TOB)
...vêtu, et dans son bon sens (LS)

I mean what is, after all, your right mind?   In what way “right”?  

Is the young man’s mental map now what it ought to be, or what the village thinks it should be or even what Jesus has told him it should be?  What is clear is that the young man was formerly unable to be a part of village life.  He caused chaos when he was there and had even been physically restrained.  If he escaped those chains or was allowed to flee, he would wander in the wilderness with beasts as his only companions.  This is no longer the case.  We are now presented with the “after” photograph.  The crisis is over.  The Greek word used by the evangelist for this young man’s latest state speaks of a restored capacity for discernment and most importantly judgement.  In the second photograph he can now choose where before he was a victim of forces he could not control: Reason and good sense have returned.

At the end of our story this Sunday Jesus convinces the man that his mission is to enjoy his restoration to the life of his village and to testify to what God has done for him.  This dockside exchange of words gives us an indication of what a recovered mind might look like:  The two of them "have words" there by the boat.  Jesus has restored and not replaced this young man’s mind.  It is the negative forces which Jesus overpowers and not the man himself.  Let’s keep in mind that Jesus interacts with the minds of the people he speaks to in his parables and pronouncements.  Jesus is involved in a persuasive process with people who have the power of choice - who can say yes or no.  The parables are directed to people who normally make the right decisions about their own best interests and are able to discern truth from among other options.  While they may not be the sort of people rich enough to keep pearls or even to liquidate real estate holdings to purchase an additional field, they nonetheless have sold and bought goods and can appreciate the right mindedness of an individual who would trade several modest pearls for a pearl of great price and who would sell ordinary plots of land to purchase one which contained a treasure. 

Reason and good sense allows you to to change your mind in a conversation with Jesus -  to discover and affirm new and better ways of thinking about God, the world and yourself. 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Rev’d Robert Warren                                                              
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Matthew 28;16-20

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Couldn’t we just….?   

It’s a phrase which has dogged me since the beginning of my ministry.  A service with different parts to it:  Couldn’t we just simplify it?

A meal with different components:  Couldn’t we just have soup and bread and then get on to the meeting afterwards a bit quicker or get the children home a bit earlier.  There’s homework, after all.

Couldn’t we just sing verses 1, 3 and 5?

Keep it simple.  Say the minimum.  Don’t wander.  Find a single point of agreement.   Arrive at a lowest common denominator or an agreed-upon consensus.  Contain the chaos.

I’m a fan of minimalist composers – sometimes.  Maybe you are too: Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman.  If you don’t know them you can google them - they’re worth a listen.  A skeletal structure – often repeating - with just a little flesh on it.  It’s refreshing.  It appeals to the part of me that likes to see things plainly.  It’s clear - like a well-executed line drawing.  But after a binge of minimalism you positively hunger for something glorious and romantic and colorful - a musical “full monty”. Richness and excess, colour and complexity – they all make sense and accord magnificently with the full range of what life has on offer – in nature, in the multiplicity of peoples and in the cascade of experience which human beings both suffer and enjoy.   Life is rich and complex.  Simplicity is often an escape.  The Church is a place we often want to escape to.

In last year’s reading for Trinity Sunday, Nicodemus was made to understand that the history of God is fuller and richer than what he can fit into his tradition and between his ears.  Like Job, in the Old Testament, he was humbled with the idea that God is abroad – that the Spirit, like the wind, “blows where it will”.  At the heart of the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy spirit – there is, above all, love and boundless energy beyond human comprehension and ability.

This year, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are gathered together on a hillside.  Jesus sends them out into a world which is beyond the reach of their language, bigger than them and beyond where they have ever travelled.  “Go”, he says, “…and make disciples of all nations”.  Like Nicodemus and Job of old, the disciples are told that God is already there – abroad as he has always been.  And in that rich and complex world – the political world, the conflicted and ambiguous world – Christ will be with them: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Prepare your children – prepare yourselves – to accept the broadness of God’s horizon and to widen your own.