Friday, 30 September 2016

Putting the seed to good use in our gardens

The 20th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22 – Year C
Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

Similar sayings of Jesus in Mark’s and in Matthew’s Gospels juxtapose mustard seeds with mountains instead of mulberry trees.  The phrase “faith that moves mountains” has found a home in our language as a figure of speech. 

I’d say “You get the drift” except I’m not sure you and I always do get the drift. 

We might assume that the apostles are asking for the faith necessary to perform unthinkable miracles:  to strike their enemies dumb, to heal the one-legged at tent meetings or to teleport mountains and mulberry trees through air and water.  Are ordinary people here asking (and should we be asking, therefore) to be given superhuman powers?

The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith.  I hear echoes of the father in the 9th chapter of Mark whose child has a convulsing spirit.  This father is asked whether he believes Jesus can heal his son.   He cries out “I do believe, help my unbelief”

It might profit us to consider the request which these people make (“increase our faith” - “help my unbelief”) rather than Jesus’ more memorable answer. 

What do these people believe they are lacking?

The apostles, like the father from Mark 9, stand on the edge of a world which shows itself to be the Kingdom when Jesus speaks and acts in it.  We had grown used to seeing the world as a fixed place where the wheels turn as they must and where one thing leads inexorably to the next.  Random chance might be our best hope in seeing our fortunes change.  Jesus asks his followers to jump in with him and to see the world as the place where the sick son can be well again, as a place where we not only should but indeed can forgive our brother when he sins against us seven times and where we are now free to forswear the things which cause us and others to stumble.  

The old world still grips us in its claws but you, like these characters from the Gospels, are gathered at Jesus feet and have obeyed the summons into his presence.  This is true whether you are a character in the Gospels or a contemporary man or woman who presents yourself in prayer and corporate worship to your living Lord. Are we to believe that faith, the quantity of which might even best be described as something the size of a mustard seed, is missing from us? 

Or has it simply not yet been used?  It may not yet a normal tool in the conduct of your lives, in the facing down of conflicts, in your striving for justice in your place of work and in the hammering out of your path in life?  

This is the threshold upon which we stand - not the possession of faith but our willingness to use it.  We have the seed in our hands.  It needs to be planted in the ground upon which we live and work. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Prospect
The Rev’d Robert Warren 
Luke 16:1-13

The reading from Luke’s Gospel is a curious one. The parable is numbered among the "hard
sayings" of Jesus. I know plenty of clergy who would avoid preaching on it. How does one
make sense of the fact that Jesus seems to praise the example of a dishonest manager who
gets himself out of trouble by committing further dishonesty? There’s something here that
just doesn’t add up -

We might want to ask ourselves whether there are similar parables spoken by Jesus which
have the same moral twist? Could they help us understand this one? Well sir, there are
three that come to mind immediately:

There is the parable of the king who makes war against a neighboring ruler (Luke 14:31-32)
until he hears that his neighbor is marching towards his borders with a much larger army
equipped with the latest in swords and spears.. Which king, asks Jesus, will not immediately
send out emissaries and negotiators to make peace before his border is crossed?

There is the parable of a man ambling across a field (Matthew 13:44) who discovers a treasure buried therein and immediately goes and sells all he has in order to purchase that field.

There is the story of a woman who feels she has been denied justice (Luke 18:1-8) who goes to the judge's house and bangs on the door with a large rock until eventually the judge gets out of bed and goes downstairs and rewrites the judgement standing there in his doorway in his housecoat and slippers just to be rid of the old harridan.

These are all stories with a curious moral twist in them – that’s what parables do sometimes
– they tell us the truth but first they ‘deep six’ our conventional and tidy view of morality: The
man has not told the original owner of the field that he is signing over a hidden treasure when he signs his missives. The woman is getting a revision of a judgement because she is a pain in the neck – not because she is obviously in the right in her original request. The king made a foolish decision to go to war in the first place. What a failure he is as a military strategist! And the peace he now seeks? Is it not necessitated by the possible loss of everything in his kingdom? Or the possibility that his head will be exhibited on a spike in a foreign capital?

Jesus is trying to change the minds of his hearers about their presumption that they get the good things they deserve. He is in the world to give people what they have not earned. The story of the Gospel is based on that very idea of a gift with far exceeds the worthiness of the person receiving it.

How could he not begin to change our minds unless he first told us something that at first glance simply runs counter to what we believe? The gift is not deserved. Grace and mercy must be sought out. People who have been lulled into a belief that they do not require such grace and mercy are unlikely to seek it out. Desperate men and women are much more likely to ask.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Searching and sweeping until the thing is found

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 19 - Year C
Luke 15:1-10

At the outset of this week’s Gospel reading, the scribes and the Pharisees expressed unhappiness about all the "low-life" to be found among the followers of Jesus:

“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

Listen to what Jesus says at the end of the reading:   

“I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels
of God over one sinner who repents.”

If all we had were these two ends – the opening and the conclusion – we might conclude that some sinners work hard at this whole business of repentance and can overcome the stigma of their past behavior with a rigourous and athletic turnaround.  These “deserving sinners” get cheered on by angels in heaven as they cross the finish line and join the righteous on the other side. 

In fact, the intervening two mini-parables (the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin) are no testament whatsoever to the ability of the lost sheep to climb out of a deep chasm and work its way out of the heather and return to the sheepfold or of a coin to hoist its own shiny edge up between the floorboards and catch the woman’s attention in order to get itself found. 

God, says Jesus, is a shepherd.   He will go to great lengths to find the one who is well and truly lost. 

God, says Jesus, is a poor widow.  She will sweep the lengths of her house repeatedly until she finds the thing she has set out to find. 

The nature of the Good News that Jesus preaches is not that there now exists a novel way for men and women to work their way along the narrow path into the favor of heaven.  The Good News is that God is at work looking for his children, energetically and relentlessly.  The redeemed sinner is the handiwork of God and the fruits of God’s labour.

We need to agree to be found.  
We need to rejoice with the angels when others are found as well.



Sunday, 4 September 2016

Prospect
The Rev’d Robert Warren 
Luke 14:25-33

Jesus says a number of things which are jarring the first time you hear them.

They certainly get our attention, these “hard sayings of Jesus” One of them appears in the Gospel reading for this Sunday: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple”

Let me go on record and say that I do hope you love your families – dad, mom, wife, kids, brothers and sisters. You should care for them. You ought to share your soul’s secrets with them and rejoice in the time you have together. This form of speech, however, which Jesus uses, is meant to provoke reflection on the part of disciples – both new and old. Like many of his other parables and pronouncements he intends to turn things on their head so that we might consider something for the first time:

“Whoever comes to me”, he begins.

When we accept Christ’s call to faith and discipleship we turn a corner. When we accept that call for the first time (or when we renew our commitment to God in the midst of life) we are left changed by the process. Nothing can stay the same. New wine can’t be poured into old wineskins, says Jesus says in another place. Let the dead bury their dead, he says as well. You come and follow me.

I love my family but I cannot be defined by them. One of the unfortunate bits of presumed loyalty we extend to families is when we agree to remain the same as we’ve always been. Our children, above all, hope that we will stay the same. When I move in a new way I will need to “count the cost” which is what Jesus tells us to do next in this Sunday’s reading. Understand, he seems to say, that the new life of the faithful man or woman may be incompatible with the life he or she has led to this point. It is no longer possible to say that they are the person they were across the years, with the same niche place in the family hierarchy and the same place at the table. Don’t sell yourself short. You are a creation of God – a “new creation” in Christ.

Your families might not understand. Families sometimes don’t. The growing faith of one member in a marriage might provoke some soul-searching. The conversations might be difficult at times. Jesus gets our attention with the strong language of ‘hatred’. He wants us to listen and to consider the challenge of loving people who would rather that we stayed the same.