Sunday, July 23, 2017
(video at bottom of post)
The kingdom of heaven is like…..
The kingdom of heaven is like…..
When I got to Church this morning I wandered for a few moments. I just paid attention, wondering what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, where I can find it. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the cool calm of the chapel on this steamy morning, inviting me to rest for a moment in God’s presence. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the kitchen full of volunteers, cutting and chopping and baking and breaking to feed all of those of you who will join us for breakfast throughout the morning. The Kingdom of Heaven is the parishioner on a laptop in the Parish Hall, quietly doing something, but with her Prayer Book next to her on the table, ready for worship. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the cheerful good mornings, the person arriving early for the next service. I could keep going………….
This chapter in Matthew is full of allegories and parables trying to explain what God’s Kingdom looks like. It is going to be hard going, Jesus has already faced stiff opposition from the Pharisees.
If you take this story literally, and many do, the Kingdom of Heaven is not so much like my observation above. The more I read this, the more I want to say that this is a parable of its time. Its imagery is agricultural, its message is unrelenting. In it there are two sorts of seeds, two sorts of people - good and bad. God sows one, the devil the other. Good people will shine for eternity, the bad will go to a place of fiery punishment. In order to be literal about this we have to be willing to say that there are people who are born and weeds and will die as weeds and nothing will change that - they are children of the devil.
I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to say that. I do not believe Jesus says that God is so powerless that a human life can be lived from beginning to end with no hope of transformation. So what does Jesus mean?
The crowds who heard these stories did not hear the explanations. The lectionary glues together the text, missing out the story of the mustard seed and the yeast. We just need to be careful, we go from public discourse to private conversation. We do not really understand the intricacies of the references in the original story, nor can we gather the sort of mood Jesus was in with his Disciples.
I wonder whether the parable follows a much wider theme in the Gospels which is the the opposition to Jesus will grow, Kingdom values will exist alongside the values which have come to inhabit Judaism and the Jewish authorities and this will seem insufferable - why does God not just do something about it, here and now? If this is true we are looking at a call to patience, to forbearance, to understanding that there are things which are not plain and simple and the way we think they should be.
In his explanation is Jesus just reassuring the Disciples that their experience of things which are not building up, are not feeding, are not good is real and that there will be a time when even those who look like a part of the Kingdom will be revealed as its enemies? Even within ourselves there is a tension between who we are and who we want to be. The Kingdom as it is here, is a complex and, sometimes, contradictory place.
Personally I do not believe God is arbitrary and mean and the question I really want us to ask is, not what happens to bad people, but what does the Kingdom of God look like? What are our stories and parables?
It is important that we start with the Bible but the images in the Bible are not our every day. Is the Kingdom of Heaven like Starbucks or Amazon? The Kingdom of Heaven is like the Dad who walks his son to school every day or the Grandmother who bakes a cake for her grandchild? The kingdom of heaven is like the doctor who volunteers for a year in the Sudan or the teacher who chooses to work in the inner city?
It is hard, isn’t it, because as soon as we start looking we realize that there is no perfect image here on earth - there are only glimpses. There are chinks of light all over the place.
The Kingdom of heaven is like….. Is it like our anger and our fear? Is it like our judgement and our easy answers? If this parable is to tell us anything, the answer is no, because this is God’s realm and God will tend it.
The word for weed in the Greek is zizania - interestingly this is the genus which we now call wild rice and pay a huge amount of money for in the grocery store. Traditionally though, we have translated the word as “tare” - probably a plant called Darnel - lolium temulentum - the temulentum means drunk, a reference to a fungus which the plant often carries which causes sleepiness and, sometimes, death.
In our age we need reminding time and again that we cannot simply coast through our Christian lives, we cannot be asleep at the wheel, complacent because we have forgotten to keep watch for the weeds which grow in amongst the wheat of the Kingdom. Simply keeping ourselves out of trouble is not the same as being a transforming presence in the world. One of the problems we face as modern Christians is the anaesthetic effect which being a part of the establishment for so long has given us.
Where do you see the Kingdom of Heaven at work? Where are you a part of that work? Where are you being challenged and unseated? Where are you seeing yourself being changed and bearing good fruit through the power of the Holy Spirit? Stop and look. Think for yourself. Use your words, your life, your experience to explore just what the Kingdom of God is like. Walk this way, towards Christ with an open mind and longing heart.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like this. Like us. It is that simple. Each of you is a part. None of you is worthless or without hope of redemption. Live into that hope and that life and be a part of the work God is doing in this place and in the world.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
The other day, when the story about Mr. Trump saying that Brigitte Macron was "in good shape" broke, I found myself angry and bemused. Angry, because sexism is real and it hurts. Bemused because I am at a total loss as to how to deal with it.
Sexism in the Church is a real and current problem. It is especially bad when you begin to talk with female clergy. I have yet to meet a female priest who has not experienced some form of demeaning, objectifying or downright discriminatory behavior from both parishioners and, more worryingly, male colleagues and superiors.
But how do you deal with it when someone says something along the lines of, "You are in good shape."? After all, if you are in good shape you have had to work at it, and someone complimenting you should be just that, a compliment. The even harder piece of this is that for many older people it is a compliment with no thought to web of culture and misogyny into which is is woven.
One problem is objectification. Women have been objects for centuries, property to be passed from birth family to marriage family. Little wonder that generations of men grew up and were trained to look at whether women were a good asset and a sensible investment in terms of genetics. The underbelly of the compliment is , "remember to stay in your place, quiet and pretty, that is what you are for."
It might look as if we have done the hard work already, after all women are in all levels of leadership in the Church, so we must be OK. But in some ways, that is just the surface. There are layers of assumptions and culture which we have to learn to notice alongside the blatant sexism which allows people to tell me they would rather have a male priest do their wedding or funeral.
Jesus always challenged assumptions and stands up for those who have no voice. When a woman is victim of a system which is institutionally sexist she cannot stand up to it herself - this just compounds the issue. If you are a man and you are getting this, if you are nodding along and not writing me off as over-reacting or of otherwise reduced capacity then this is your job, this is what you can do. We really need your help.