Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Of Fools and Foundations

The 7th Sunday after Epiphany
Year A
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ….  Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.

Have you been called a fool, yet?  Do you think maybe you are a fool? 

Who’s making the judgement?  Your bank manager?  Your guidance counsellor at school?  If the foundation of the world around you is something like the Law of the Jungle, where only the strong and cunning survive, then any behavior which doesn’t further your cause or allow you to come out on top is going to be foolish.  In such a world you need to just hunker down - educate yourself and your children in the skills necessary to maintaining your place in the world and avoid all unnecessary distraction.

St Paul would take issue with you as he did with members of the Church in Corinth.  Christ, he says, has laid the only foundation upon which we can depend and upon which we must establish our lives.  It’s not the Law of the Jungle either.  The nature of the
foundation he lays down is expressed in his willing death for the world but the details of that law of life can be found in the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ sets out the foundation of a world with a curious shape.  In his world those who give will receive, those who lose their lives will find it again and those who allow themselves to mourn will one day rejoice.  Being wise in such a world requires a very different skill set from the one which many of our teachers and mentors felt it necessary to pass on to us.  Being wise in such a world might require that we adults undergo a process of “unlearning” to become wise again or wise perhaps for the very first time.

The wise among us were oftentimes well-schooled by those who wanted to keep us safe.  We inherit what our forebears learned the hard way in wars and Depressions and times of trouble. They’ve done their best for us but the Gospel is not merely the wisdom of the ages boiled down.   To depart from the world’s wisdom and the comforting foundation it provides opens us up to the possibility of change, chaos and loss.   Foolishness.  It’s not something you’d do lightly.   You would need to possess some spark of fearlessness.  Fearlessness, in fact, is exactly what the Gospel message has on offer.  We live out the Law of Love because we must but also because we can.  Jesus’ sending out of his disciples into the world is predicated on the datum of his death and resurrection.   Easter has made fearlessness a way of life.   The Easter experience of the early church allowed them to live different lives from those of their fellow citizens in the Empire – standing tall and standing firm – but upon a very different hard surface.   

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Here and now the choice is made.

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Year A
Deuteronomy 30:15-20

 Moses said, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…….Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 

Did you ever see the 1996 film Trainspotting? If you had, then you’d remember the opening “Choose Life” monologue of Ewen McGregor’s character in which he admits that he and his circle of heroin-addicted friends living in the Leith district of Edinburgh have given up their right to choose. 


McGregor’s character puts it this way: “Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin.”

People in the full possession of their faculties don’t routinely choose negative outcomes.  What you will hear, though, is that men and women feel they have no choice in many matters.  It’s work, its family, it’s all those the inner compulsions which overtake us.   We’re too old.  We’re too young.  It’s the addiction speaking.  It’s company policy.  We claim not to be the prime movers which the passage from Deuteronomy suggests that we are: able to choose door number one or door number two, the red pill or the blue pill, the fork in the road to the left or one to the right.

In the four verses preceding this Sunday’s reading, Moses states that the commandments of God are “very near”.  They are in the hearts and on the tongues of his people.  The information we need has been there the whole time.  When questioned in the aftermath of a personal disaster most folks will admit that they knew better than to sit mutely on their hands.  Is there, perhaps, some comfort in being powerless to choose and willfully blind in the face of what we should be able to see clearly?  Circumstances (like heroin) rob us of our power to choose.   But have we not chosen to nestle ourselves in these very circumstances, to blend in to the background, to blur our own vision or to vote with the majority?  People devastate themselves, their families, their relationships and their communities all the time by their willful inaction.

Moses sharpens his stick.  He makes a reference to time:  “I have set before you this day” -  life and good and death and evil.  Ladies and gentlemen, ten inches in front of your feet the road forks.  

It will be one way or t'other.  There is both hard news and good news in such passage of Scripture.  

It is hard news for the willfully blind that their blindness may be self-inflicted and they have no excuse.   They must choose.  Here and now.  It is good news for those of you who have felt themselves powerless and who had forgotten that the world is a more open place than it is a closed place.  You can choose.  Yesterday’s bad choice or your own personal history is no perpetual contract.  Every moment contains that threshold and that doorway to life.  

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Feast of the Presentation
Luke 2:22-40 

Simeon took him [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all  people…”

How important do you think you are?  I hope you think you’re important. 

I hope you let those around you know that they are important too.  We spend a great deal of time as parents, spouses, employers, care-givers, older brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts showing the people around us that they are important.  It would be a hard message indeed to tell somebody that they weren’t important – that they didn’t matter – except we do also need to let people know – especially our young people - that they aren’t the centre of the universe.  Their individual importance can, and indeed sometimes must, take second place to larger projects and a larger story.

Small particles are attracted to large bodies.  We call that gravity. 

And, after all, aren’t our treasured attributes oftentimes inherited?   They’re not, then, completely our own.  We glean things from teachers, we share our mother’s sense of
humour, our parents’ DNA.  We are creatures of our culture and age and so the thing that is us in a sense isn’t completely us or at least isn’t completely our own possession

Maybe we get that point when we’re very old – like Simeon or Anna in this Sunday’s Gospel reading - and learn to lean away from ourselves into something better.   We got bored with our own importance long ago.  We have been waiting for a long time to see something which is not us and is not ours but is nonetheless beautiful and promising.  It is so wonderful that it can never be owned even by the holiest of men and women.  We hold that child in our arms and think that, yes, we could die today.  What we have in our own curriculum vitae doesn’t hold a candle to what the Spirit of God is about in the world, to what God has done in the birth of this child, and it is enough to have witnessed it and to tell others about it.

Proclaim the importance of the people around you.  Help the little ones you raise and the people you care for gather to themselves the sense of self-worth which is requisite and necessary in this life.  But in the full flower of your maturity do cultivate that ability to let it slip to the side in the presence of things which are bigger and better than you can ever hope to be.