Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King

If I were the King of the Forest…..dreams the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. He imagines animals and trees bowing before him as he takes his royal throne. If you have seen the movie you will remember the scene – as he becomes the very opposite of his frightened and shy self in his imagined role.
As children I am sure many of us imagined being a kind or a queen – I wonder what we thought we would do. I suspect there were crowns involved, and perhaps cloaks, or long flowing robes.  Perhaps we had friends or siblings who were courtiers – or perhaps we were the courtiers to older siblings. An old chair might have been a throne. Were there swords and imaginery horses?
What did these kings and queens do all day? Did they wage battles, or drink tea. Did they make themselves beautiful or visit with royal friends? My guess is that most of our games did not involve much actual ruling – so I wonder now what we would actually do if we were king or queen of the world.
It is actually not a childish or facetious question. Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the king and by asking a really big question about what it means to be the King of the World we are asking about the nature of authority – what it means to be in charge of things. What is it that the one who really is in charge does, and does not do – what do you do when you really and truly and do anything – that is what a King really does and what we, therefore, really should be doing.
So if you really were in charge of the world, what would you be doing. Don’t go too small now. The world, remember.
We are, of course, about to enter into debate about authority in US politics. The issue of immigration will get mangled in the process but the question is who is allowed to decide what the rules are – you will all have opinions about where the lines are drawn –but you are not being offered executive power in the United States you are being offered King of the World so you are going to have to move on from all of those arguments and think a little bigger……….
You see I wonder, whether, when we are king of the world, even if we start out somewhere else we end up in this same sort of place where Jesus is in the Gospel,
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”. This places the right use of authority firmly in the arena of compassionate care for the other. Jesus has the ability to do anything and yet his criteria is simple – how much compassion have you shown to another?
Even the cowardly lion had this right in his song,
“Though my tail would lash, I would show compash, For every underling!”
So, on the Feast of Christ the King two images are pulled together. Christ reigning in majesty and compassion for the least of these. This should, to say the least, begin to unravel a few threads in our heads. This Kingdom of which we are part, the Kingdom of Heaven, has such an odd set of rules and such an odd way of being.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday 9th November Sermon

The parable of the young women with the lamps is well known but it is also on some levels disturbing  - it seems to go against some of the things we would want to be teaching about fairness and sharing and second chances. The story itself is relatively simple and it is based on an ancient pattern of Jewish story telling – Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. Those listen to Jesus would have recognized the form of the story just like you would recognize a joke with and Englishman and Irishman etc (however much you might appeal against national stereotypes!)
The women go out to meet the bridegroom in what we can assume is a festive and party atmosphere. There is no surprise involved here – weddings do not just turn up out of the blue – and these bridesmaids would have had plenty of time to get themselves ready for every eventuality. But human beings are human beings and some of us drive with a full tank of gas and some of us drive with the gas light on – right?
Well five of these young ladies were driving with the gas light on so when the bridegroom turned out to be late and they needed more oil than they thought they were in trouble and had to scramble. You or I, if we need lamp oil in the middle of the night, have a relatively good chance of getting to Walmart, getting what we need, texting the party to say we are coming and getting in. But remember this is an occupied state with a curfew, running around after dark is not just dangerous, it is illegal and knocking on someones door to get into a party in the middle of the night is not likely to get you anywhere at all and so the Lady Folly girls find themselves left out on the street.
Is this an eternal consequence – well that is not clear from the story. Certainly at the point we are in in the Gospel we are in the territory of serious consequences – the Jews need to take Jesus seriously – this is chapter 25 and in chapter 26 we move into the crucifixion narratives. Is Jesus talking about those who are not ready for him being locked out of the kingdom?
Of all the Gospels, Matthew certainly has that legal and judgemental possibility in its tone, especially in these last few chapters. I think we have to grapple with that – even if we finally conclude that we can come to a softer place of inclusion, I think simply setting aside the words of the Gospel, pretending it does not say what it does is not a good road to go down.
In these last few weeks of November we are forced, by the Lectionary, into a place of discomfort in the story, before we walk into the journey of Advent. I think we often forget the changing season of the story at this time of year. Today we will hand in our pledge cards for the year in our Celebration Sunday – this marks our financial commitment to the ministry and mission of Christ Church in the year ahead but that is just a beginning.
Our financial commitment is a way of making sure those lamps are full but there are plenty of other as well. The difference between Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly is not just in what they know it is in how they live – and how they live through and through – it is in what story their lives tell in every word and action which they make. Lady Wisdom is all that is wise – in Christian tradition the Wisdom literature and the personification of Wisdom has been linked with the Holy Spirit – we won’t push too far into that now – but that idea of depth and breadth of being – not just of intellectual assent makes sense.
As we turn in our pledge cards we are turning our attention in our formation to another subject – Evangelism. Traditionally this is not something which we have paid much attention to in the Episcopal Church. In fact, in some places, it has been regarded as somewhat of a dirty word. I remember being told by one of my husband’s parishioners years and years ago that
“We do not do that sort of thing in this parish,” in a hushed voice.
The reality of the world we live in means that there is now a good proportion of the population who do not have a background in a faith tradition at all. The assumption, for example, the people know the words of things like the Lord’s Prayer is a thing of the past. We need to print texts in things like funeral and wedding bulletins – this lack of common language is something to be aware of and it makes it all the more important that we tell the story of our faith as ordinary and everyday people rather than expecting some sort of professionalization the telling of the Gospel.
Evangelism is really just about doing something which we do very naturally, but doing it with purpose – it is about telling our story. When we hand in a pledge card, we tell a story – you can tell me better than I can tell you what that story is – there will be some themes there – God’s love touching lives, faith, community, family, outreach.  When you come to this place week by week you tell a story and you become part of a story. Each day your lives weave together to create stories which touch life after life.
In the Gospel today, anyone watching these two groups of women, saw two very different sets of stories being played out. There were the women who had set to their task, who had thought it through, prepared and organized – perhaps they even worked together. And then there were the others, who for whatever reason ended up running around the town in the middle of the night in disarray.
At various times in our faith lives we have all been in both of those groups, and we can tell both stories, and that is important. It is important when we think about telling the story of our faith that it is authentic and not forced but that we are not ashamed to speak out. So what did you do at the weekend…………?
The traditional interpretation of the Gospel is that the bridesmaids bothered with the oil because the loved the bridegroom enough to bother. An observer would see a compelling story. Christ Church tells a compelling story but only if each of us tells a compelling story and that means being just a little bit daring – why did you fill that lamp up – why did you bother – because you care about the bridegroom?
What did you do at the weekend?  Sure Church was great – you saw your friends, breakfast was fantastic, or the kids hung out at formation, or the forum was good or the music rocked and well….and this is harder to say, I said my prayers, and I met with Jesus, and I feasted at the table and it was a special moment and sure, sometimes I don’t get it right, and I don’t get that lamp full, but that is how the story goes and I would like to invite you to join me on the journey because it matters to me, it matters to me enough that I am going to keep trying at it and I would love you to come along with me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

porch sitting

As the weather cools you might be given to a spot of porch sitting (just at the point at which our northern neighbors are watching their leaves turn and contemplating shutting up their porches for the winter). There is something quite magical about the cooler air and even if you are not sitting on the porch taking note of the change of weather as you step out to the car or take out the trash is a good reminder that times and seasons keep moving around us.

The poet,  Christopher Smart, wrote a poem about his cat, Jeoffry, in the 18th century which began, thus:

“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.”

Benjamin Britten put this to music in his “Rejoice in the Lamb” (watch here  - the poem is at 4:44)

Britten’s work is at time a little esoteric but it does seek to remind us, like Smart’s poem and changing seasons of an adoration which goes beyond words. A reality of divine imagination which exceeds our expectation and conquers our fear – if only we will pause long enough to notice the twining cat, breathe the cool air and listen to the whispers of God’s voice in the autumn mist.