Monday, February 20, 2017

MATTHEW 6:22-34
Matthew in the Margins…8th S. after Epiphany…2017 

Six times in this passage MT quotes Jesus using a word translated variously as worried, anxious, don’t fret, or even, more modernly, ‘don’t get het up’. ‘Worry’, & the way we commonly use that word may not bite deeply enough to do justice to the basics of discipleship Jesus is on about here. As ‘servant’ is inadequate when ‘slave’ would be more appropriate in a particular context.

Life was hard for many in the Palestine & world of Jesus’ day. It still is for many cold, or hot, & hungry, & homeless, & hopeless, at the bottom of life’s pile. Including in wealthy & ‘successful’ countries based on economies rather than on human beings & their needs. Not to mention refugee camps & detention centres! Jesus makes it clear (vv.33-34) that far from simply taking the status quo ‘on the chin’ & getting on with it, we’re to do something about, bring God’s way of looking at things, to bear, on the states many people are living in & under.

‘Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first, & His justice…’ (v.33) is the locus round which Jesus’ teaching in this passage & its application to discipleship & life itself revolves around. Then we’re enabled to see things differently. Through ‘God’s eyes’. God gets a lot of blame for the inequities & iniquities of the world. I’d only been a priest a short time when I had to call on a family recently arrived as post W.W.2 ’refugees’ from England. I was flabbergasted, but far from wise enough to make an adequate response, when told, “We stopped believing in God when Hitler started bombing London!!!” Start from the wrong end, & we probably end up still at that wrong end! 

When we seek the mind of God, & act in ways that further God’s compassion & justice, God’s kingdom rules. Even where & while human injustice still rules in its own ways. Often in countries that would object colourfully if told the cap fits, so they have to wear it! Being blind in the biblical sense means not seeing as God sees (v. 22-23). It leads to us behaving as slaves to evil in any form (v.24). Deal with injustice & God will deal with the rest. But it is through us acting rightly, justly, that God rules on earth as in Heaven, here a little, there a little!  

Jesus calls for a completely different set of values that he reveals to us in His life, death, & resurrection, & their continuation in & by His Spirit. If we choose & hold a different set of priorities from those God reveals in Jesus, we are placing ourselves outside the community of faith. Any faith worth its salt. Then we become the ‘Gentiles’ Jesus speaks of here. But no-one has to remain outside!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11
Matthew in the Margins…Lent 1…2017  

Matthew’s ‘led by the Spirit’ approach sounds almost ‘liturgical’, whereas MK’s vigorous ‘the Spirit drives Jesus out…’ is unceremonious! Both angles may be helpful as we prepare for preaching. Life’s deserts or wildernesses can still be seen through different eyes, mean different things to different people. Have different outcomes. An old Tuareg saying has it: ‘God created countries full of water so that people can live there, and deserts so that they can find their souls’. Interesting take on two recurring biblical imageries! 

I discern Jesus’ ‘temptations’ in terms of being ‘tried’, or ‘tested’ , both more positive than ‘tempted’. Living needs to be positive. Preaching needs to be positive. Different shades of meaning cry out for positive exploring.

This formative ‘moment’ in Jesus’ life lends itself to imaginative handling. Creative imagination doesn’t get on the usual lists of ‘spiritual gifts’, but it’s on mine. It was among Jesus’ gifts too, as many of the insights He shares with us during His ministry illustrate.          

Our son, Andrew, once preached1 ‘the desert is not a place of peace, but a place of truth’. I commend that insight to you. Today many of us set out into our physical wildernesses to enjoy the peace & quiet, & there’s not a thing wrong with that. But wilderness here in MT symbolises grasping an opportunity to discover & appreciate more deeply the Truth. About God, ourselves, others, the world. It represents stages in our spiritual journey where we make space in which to discern God’s Truth; the Truth Jesus is, more deeply. As Jesus Himself finds that Truth though it be through turmoil of His soul in this episode.

Three times the devil, however we understand that term, uses the word ‘if’. The little word that sows doubt in human hearts, from the days of Eden. But there are no ‘if’s about God! Testing times are times to hold fast to God’s unfailing presence & trustworthiness as Energy: light & life & love. Jesus proves this, & Himself, as He wrestles with a humanity trying to take devilish shape in Him.

The angels may have appeared ‘suddenly’ but they are always there, if unseen till that moment! Angels are great companions through thick & thin! That’s certainly my experience.  

1 S.James, Porter Square, Cambridge, MA, 2002

Friday, February 17, 2017

MT 17: 1-9 
Matthew in the Margins…Transfiguration / Last S. after Epiphany / Lent 2… Revised 2017

Can we go beyond celebrating Jesus’ Transfiguration as simply an historical event & find a new God-Energy flowing from it still in our own day? We’ll come back to that ‘energy’ word in a moment.

There’s more than meets the eye going on up there. Can we behold, see deeply enough into, this unique mountain-top experience to keep it active in our own present rather than some-one else’s past?  With or without a holy mountain in the offing? In exploring a 15th C. Russian icon of the Transfiguration, +Rowan Williams1 ponders a ‘sheer energy’ he sees written into it by its creator. I’d not picked up on that ‘energy’ potential till I’d personally  gazed more deeply into what + Rowan is offering us. He focuses on Peter, James, & John, & their physical reactions in the icon, but we can see there’s God-Energy here too, for Jesus, Moses, & Elijah, & for ourselves. What God-Energy, life, is there in here for us, too? 

God is the world’s Creative Energy, an understanding perhaps more to the fore in Celtic spirituality. Why wouldn’t all experiences of God be energising, life-giving as God is? As this mystical one on the Holy Mount is? May we be enlivened by the Divine Energy as we prepare to preach.

We traditionally preach Moses as representing the Law, & Elijah the Prophets. That’s fine, but we need to move on from looking at them & their role in this as past & done with. It is  another Celtic trait not to draw too firm a line between past, present, & future, including between heaven & earth! In sharing His Transfiguration with the others Jesus invites Law to move beyond gagging us, & the Prophetic beyond nagging us!

Neither Jesus, Moses, Elijah, nor the Apostles can stay up there on the mountain, because the real world down below God is crying out for Divine Energy, even if it doesn’t know it; even if we haven’t seen that yet with our inner eyes (n.b. vv.14+). 

As we encourage others to experience new outpourings of Holy Spirit in appropriate ways, today’s celebration of Transfiguration offers us anew the opportunity to experience being energised by God’s Spirit in our journeying on. Towards Passion-tide, Easter, & Pentecost & the energisations they too represent & convey for us. More than just liturgically!

Glory is the reflection of God from inside us, not outside. Glory transfigures us when we show who we truly are & Whose we are. Glory energises us to live out God’s own compassion & love, come what may. In whatever circumstances.

1 The Dwelling of the Light, Canterbury, Norwich, 2003, p. 4

Sunday, February 5, 2017

MT 5:38-48
Matthew in the Margins…7th S. after Epiphany…Revised 2017  

To start where our passage ends, the key to understanding this passage more fully may lie in Jesus’ last words here: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. The word ‘perfect’ here is from the very same word JN uses in his Gospel to tell us Jesus’ last words from the cross. My preferred translation of this latter is, “I’ve done it!” Despite the setting, Jesus is triumphant. “I’ve done what I set out to do!”1 He has carried the will of God through to its completion!

What Jesus asks of us in these verses isn’t likely to lead directly to our crucifixion, but will certainly place us at a disadvantage in the world’s eyes. His quoting the O.T. at its best 2 shows how connected He remains in His humanity to what God has always wanted of His people. The image of God we’re made in doesn’t become restored till we are as obedient to God’s plan, as committed to seeing it through, come what may, as Jesus is Himself, even when  the chips are totally down.

Human nature un-restored can’t cope with what God asks of Jesus & now asks of us here. It will sound, frankly, ridiculous to human ears, hearts, & minds so not-tuned-in to God they’ve become laws unto themselves / ourselves. Only when we let Jesus restore us to that state of grace in which God has always meant us to live, can we fulfil what Jesus asks of us here. Only then can we be whom He needs us & calls us to be in His image now. 

We can debate theologies & theories of behaviour till we’re blue (or red!) in the face. But we’re not talking theory here, any more than Jesus is. He brings it all home, down to the personal level, yours & mine here. Take not resisting the person who is evil. That’s among the hardest things Jesus ever tells us, isn’t it? What might it mean for us in our situation? How far dare we go for God? 

1 JN 19:30   2 LEV 19:18