Sunday, March 15, 2015

lent 4 sermon

God, a verse is not a crown,
No point of honor, or gay suit,
No hawk, or banquet, or renown,
    Nor a good sword, nor yet a lute.

It cannot vault, or dance, or play;
    It never was in France or Spain;
Nor can it entertain the day
    With a great stable or domain.

It is no office, art, or news;
    Nor the Exchange, or busy Hall:
But it is that which, while I use,
    I am with Thee: and Most take all.

George Herbert

Those of you who know me will know that I often turn to George Herbert. Herbert, of course, was an English clergyman in the seventeenth century. What I like about his work is the honesty and vulnerability of it. In the poem we just heard he talks about hus path to God being through his poetry – there are many things which the world would say he might need more than poems but he understands their import – as it is in them that he finds closeness with his maker.

Each of us has a different path to take. Today’s readings are definitely about journeying towards God and towards God’s will. The Israelites are going through a phase of complaining – not surprisingly, they are in the wilderness with inadequate food and are afraid for what will happen next. 

Nicodemus has come to Jesus by night, his journey is secretive, but by coming he begins a journey into a wilderness of his own, he leaves the comfort of his community, the Pharisees, and begins on a new road. 

John’s Gospel, where this story sits, is, as we have seen before, a journey of contrasts. Last week we read the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple and this week we hear that God so loved the world that he gave His only Son….. John layers stories and intrigue. Not only is there a contrast between the presentation of Jesus in the two scenes – but also in the presentation of the Jewish authorities. The Temple is the seat of Jewish power and Jesus threatens to destroy it but a single representative of that power comes to speak to Him and he takes time to sit down and listen, to invite and to explain.

John 3:16 has turned up on just about every sort of merchandising but it is chosen with good reason – it sums up both the eternal love of God and the very immanent love of God revealed and incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. John has this tension surrounding love throughout his Gospel – he starts with creation, both small and quiet, whispered in the breath of a word and huge and roaring as all that we know comes into being.

God, in John, is both familiar and mysterious and this is a tension which we experience throughout our Christian life, Jesus is both friend and savior – something which we are so used to hearing that I doubt we very often pause to consider its magnitude. Strangely though, this tension between the beginning and the end is not an impossible place to exist in – if we are basing our confidence in God’s love and not our own ability or propensity to respond to that love. Otherwise, when we are too self reliant, Jesus can turn into a nice but ineffective mate or God can get so far away as to make transcendence impenetrable.

Perhaps this is why George Herbert finds God in the tangle of poetry. Poetry is, after all, familiar words with strange rules and this God is a God of both familiarity and strangeness. 

Despite all this promise there is also real frustration. The Israelites in the wilderness tangle themselves around and around with their problems. I have no doubt that Nicodemus would have had moments where he wondered whether he had made the right choice as he became an outcast from the elite. George Herbert certainly struggles with his vocation and ministry in his poetry balancing the immense invitation and love he feels from God on the one hand, with his own inclination to reject his priestly collar.

But this is a life on contrasts, we are called to serve a God who is not monotone.

Sir John Stainer set the words of John 3:16 to music. As you listen to it, consider these where your journey leads you – are you a poet, a king or a wanderer? Then as the music ebbs and flows perhaps consider the contrasts of this journey, the highs and the lows, the tension, as the orthodox theologian John Zizioulas says, between the “now and the not yet.”

Hereford Cathedral Choir - God so loved the world (Stainer):

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Hail Mary

One of you asked me to post this explanation I  gave of the Hail here goes.

The first bit is "Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee..." This is the Angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary in Luke 1.

The second bit is "Blessed art thou and blest is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus...." This is Elizabeth's greeting to Mary when she visits her, also in the first chapter of Luke.

It ends with the words, "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." We rejoice in the Communion of Saints as those who have gone before us. It is well within our tradition to ask the Saints or a single Saint to pray for us. We DO NOT pray to the Saints, we pray with the Saints and we can ask them to pray with and for us, much as we would ask someone in our Church to pray for us. The Church Temporal (on earth) and the Church Triumphant (in heaven) are called to the same work of prayer and adoration.

Hope that helps!!

Quiet Day Meditation 2

Mary at the Wedding

They were family friends, we had known them for years. My father and Bart grew up together and then his daughter Ruth and I played together as children. There was some sort of trouble then and Bart was taken away by the soldiers. I was too young and no one would tell me what happened. Ruth and her mother went to live with relatives. But then a few years ago we heard from them, Bart was back with his family and Ruth had children, Reuben is a few years younger than Jesus - but this wedding is for Anna, their youngest child. She is beautiful and happy and excited.

We had been living a quiet life. Jesus scared me silly a few times, boys will be boys. That time in Jerusalem was really scary. How we didn't notice he wasn't with us I will never know but I think I heard every beat of my heart as we hurried back. Then, there he was, sitting with all the teachers, holding his own. Amazing really, we didn't know what to think, he was nearly a man then.

Since then no great dramatics, but I catch him looking sometimes. Not quite staring but looking carefully at people, at things. His face softens when he sees people who are along or hurting, you can see it in his eyes, as if looking at them will make everything alright, as if just loving them will make a difference. I tried to ask a couple of times what the plan was, whether he was thinking about going to Jerusalem, or getting together with some of the politicians, or...well....I am not sure but doing something. He is thirty now, and it seemed like nothing was happening - just a head full of scriptures and a hard working carpentry shop.

Joseph is gone now, of course. He died six winters back. His eyesight had failed and he could no longer work with the wood. At the end even picking up his told hurt his hands. He would have been so happy to get to this wedding, he loved Bart, they were close in age. Jospeh never quite saw eye to eye with my father - they saw each other as good but from a distance. But Joseph and Bart would spend hours talking and laughing and often times sitting, just sitting. When I became betrothed to him some people laughed because he was older, but I was OK with that. I had seen him laughing and sitting, seen his hands working the wood and the way he looked at his work. He was a good, kind man.

But he was not to see this wedding.

Weddings are so big. They can make you or break you, We came in a few days earl and Ruth has been a bundle of nerves. The wine merchant was late, and then later, and then by the morning of the party had not shown. This was the second order. Ruth's husband Nesh said they would be OK but Ruth was insistent.

"How many people are coming to this thing Ruth?" Nesh asked, exasperated.
"That is the problem, we never know." answered Ruth.

It will have to do, she finally conceded as guests began to arrive. i could see she was desperate to enjoy the wedding of this last child, but the worry hung thck around her. I told her not to worry, I would figure it out. I am not sure what she thought I was going to do, but something about the way I said it must have reassured her because she smiled an enormous smile and said thank-you.

I went and found the steward. "Tell me," if we get low on wine" I whispered. He nodded, the house was filling up fast, we both knew that running out was a very real possibility.

A couple of hours went by and I almost forgot my rash promise until the steward pushed through the crowd. My heart sank. I was not sure how I was going to fix this. The wine merchant had nothing to offer, we knew that, his shipment had been delayed. Jesus was talking to some friends. I pulled him aside

"They have no wine," I whispered. He looked at me in that way he does. He didn't say much, but I know he was half amused and half annoyed that I had made this my business as all.
What is this to do with us? he asked

He took charge immediately, getting the servants to fill up the big water carriers. Then I have no idea what he did, how he did it but the next thing I knew the steward was drawing out wine from those same carriers and saying how good it was.

Jesus looked at me and nodded and smiled. Something had changed in his face - a sense of seriousness, perhaps, or determination. I am not sure how to describe it but he is standing a little more upright, paying a little more attention. I know not to ask too many questions. He told me years ago that he would explain when he was ready to.

I should probably be more concerned than I am that my son has just done this thing - but I look t him and realize that there is so much more - that this is just the beginning. He watches the wedding guests enjoying the wine and smiles.