Thursday, 22 February 2018

Putting the faith of Abraham to the test.

The Second Sunday 
in Lent
Year B
Romans 4:13-25

Do things happen the way that they must? Must things be the way they are? We are used to seeking out necessary causes for things.  What are the necessary causes of bad things?  How might we ferret out and neutralize those necessary causes to prevent bad things from happening?  What are the necessary causes of good things?  How can we recreate those to make sure that more good things happen? 

Give us some control, at least. 

We would avoid magical explanations.   Believing in magic risks bringing us back to a world of leeches, gnomes and fairies.  We had centuries of that.  We’ve had a belly full, in fact.

Faith remains the opposite of certainty for many of the people we know.  We know people who are stuck and can’t move forward.  We may feel that way ourselves.  Faith is a hard case to argue to poor people or unfortunate people or excluded people or condemned people who would like nothing more than a certain path forward or, at least, a damned good reason to put up with the way the chips have fallen. 

It’s what Saint Paul does, though.  He says that the best thing – the only thing – we have in hand is this diaphanous, invisible thing called faith and that it holds the key to what our lives will look like.  Faith in God has gotten people up from where they’ve fallen, it has brought them to where they have no necessary right to be.  It builds community where there should be enmity between factions.  It removes condemnation.  It sets us among the saints.  It's a thing.

Paul begins with a bit of history.  "Abraham", he says, "is the father of us all".  It might not be clear to every modern reader the extent to which these are fighting words.  There are some who were listening to St Paul, or reading the letters which he wrote, who would have said:

I am part of the family of Abraham because of my name, my lineage and my childhood religion.  This man or woman sitting next to me here on the park bench, however, is not of the family, because this person is a Greek or a barbarian.  I am a Jew.   I am necessarily one of Abraham’s children.  I am a son or daughter of Abraham because I must be.  I was born to it.

Paul throws a wrench into this implied necessity:  things are not the way they must be - they are the way they could be when men and women believe that God will do what he says he will do.  

We are all children of Abraham when we do what Abraham did which was:

·        to hear what God promised,
·        to take stock of his own inability to perform that promise on God’s behalf, and
·        to believe that God would, himself, accomplish what he promised.

We are being asked to believe  - to believe that we can be a part of God’s family and can find a place in his Kingdom in spite of who we know ourselves, in our weakness, our exclusion and our sinfulness, to be.  And there is abundant evidence in the family of faith that the barriers begin to drop, not when the conditions become optimal again, but that life regains its fluidity 

because God has promised 
and the human person has taken the risk of believing again.

Believe it?  Put it to the test.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

When words fail...

The Last Sunday After 
the Epiphany
Year B
Mark 9:2-9

If you were to speak about a gorgeous sunset on the Pacific coast of Canada what would you say?  Once you realize that you have fallen in love, how ever would you put that into words? 

On the other hand, what do people do when something terrible happens?  Don’t they oftentimes stand there completely stunned and mute?  They might say, afterwards, “I was at a loss for words” or “words failed me”.

Despite being the second book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark was the earliest of our complete written Gospels.  It is an exercise in “explanatory language” designed to be read by Christians rather than “persuasive language” meant to be read by unbelievers (that was the job of people on the ground; of preachers, catechists, evangelists and deacons).  It was an exercise in using Greek words to describe what people had first seen, heard and felt - up close and personal – of making things explicable to a new generation.

Mark’s style is terse.  His sentences are short.  One thing follows another. This happened.  Immediately the other thing happened.  Which led, straightaway, to that other event.   In the middle of Mark’s Gospel, however, amid stories lending themselves to a written record of events, we find the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the slopes of Mount Tabor.  It has been described as a piece of John’s Gospel transplanted into the midst of Mark.  The veil is pulled to one side for an instant.  Glory is revealed.  An ordinary hillside becomes a doorway to heaven - open and mysterious.   It is not for nothing that generations of painters have treated it as their subject for the episode evokes a visual tableau.  Even the words are the slaves of the visual picture which arises in the heads of the reader.  Christ is there at the center.  See him set amid other figures from the Biblical narrative.  The movement was like this.  The light changed like that.  If you think, says Mark, that words will sum it up, dear reader, just look at poor Peter for whom words failed utterly.  In response to his insecurity Peter began to babble – desperately trying to fill in the insecurity of the visual moment with mere words. 

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;
let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and
one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

What struck you about Notre Dame Cathedral or the Grand Canyon or a piece of art or for that matter the opening of Brahms’ First Symphony (auditory, and not visual, but which has no words).  What on earth would you need to say to explain your feelings when you watch your little granddaughter?  You’d just point.  Isn’t it obvious? 

Do these things not remind you that the chain of time in which you live – the ordinary things of earth made of flesh and stone and light point to something beyond the ordinary and that to be there in that Presence shining through the ordinary is perfectly sufficient, thank you very much.