Love, Love, Love!

Red-Big-Heart-(Leviticus 19, 1-2 & 15-18; Matthew 22, 34-40)

 If you wanted a simple statement of the Christian faith, two verses from today’s Gospel reading would provide it: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

 

And this creed would be an acceptable summary of the essentials of the faith for many of the other great world faiths too – after all, Jesus took them from the Torah, the Jewish Law, and said the whole understanding of the Law, and the sayings of the prophets, depended on these laws; and the Muslim faith sprang from the same roots.

 

But how do we put this, the Great Commandment, into practice?

 

Red-Big-Heart-Love God?

 

When we say we love God, what image do we have of the being we are loving? Is it an angry old man with a beard, who is constantly spying on us, and judging us unworthy; punishing us with disease and natural disasters when we fail; forever oppressing minorities and women; supporting war, armies and big business; happy with the destruction of the planet; guarded by minions who won’t allow us access unless we can answer a whole host of doctrinal questions correctly?

 

I think that’s the very opposite of what God is. God is spirit, neither male nor female. God is the Ground of our Being, revealing Godself in the loving relationship of the Trinity. God is Creator, Father and Mother; God is Friend, Redemeer, Saviour, Brother and Sister; God is Sustainer, Comforter, Guide and Sanctifier. God is Love!

 

The way we love God is not so very different from the way we show love to another human being, particularly one with whom we have an intimate relationship, like a parent or a spouse. We spend time with them, getting to know them; so we move towards God in prayer and meditation, saying ‘I am here’. We enjoy doing so; loving God should be a pleasure, not a duty. We read what people believe God has revealed to them, especially through the scriptures, and particularly through Jesus. We make ourselves open to the Holy Spirit.

 

Sometimes that means communicating, speaking and listening. No relationship of love can grow if communication ceases. But sometimes it may mean just being silent together. Those who love each other don’t always have to use words to communicate.

 

If we love God, we will share God’s interests and work to make God’s dreams come true. We will say and mean “Your Kingdom come, your will be done”. We will share God’s concerns and care about those things and people and causes that God cares about, bringing them before God in intercession.

 

We will show our appreciation of God, expressing gratitude for the good things that we have been blessed with in our lives. But we will also have the confidence to share our anxieties and our doubts, our needs and our fears, and even sometimes our anger.We should not have to pretend in front of someone we love.

 

We will respect God, and honour the divine in our lives, saying and meaning ‘Hallowed be thy name”.

And we will say sorry! Do you remember the line in the film Love Story: ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’? That’s nonsense in human relationships and it’s nonsense in our relationship with God. Love means always saying sorry when we need to, always seeking to rebuild the relationship when it’s been damaged, always being honest with one another.

 

If we practise loving God with every part of ourselves, heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will grow closer to God, until we are more and more filled with the fullness of God, and our love for God, our neighbours and ourselves will grow and deepen.

 

Red-Big-Heart-Love neighbour?

 

Then we will find it easier to love our neighbour. The rules we heard in our Old Testament reading from Leviticus are a guide to how we should show love for our neighbour, reflecting the Ten Commandments and the guidance of the prophets.

 

But this gives us only the basics, something like ‘primary school level loving your neighbour.’

 

For those for whom the rules in the Torah were first written, neighbours were restricted to fellow Israelites. Neighbours were ‘people like us’ and ‘people we like’.

Jesus gave us a different definition. He taught that our neighbours were also people who were very different from us, those whom we’d been taught to dislike and fear, even our enemies. Neighbours are anyone and everyone: not just our own kind, but all of humankind.

 

As Paul taught us in Galatians, in Christ there are no differences which justify us treating each other differently. In Christ, differences are no longer a threat, but a gift, enabling us to work as a body or a team, with each person contributing their own skills and talents to the unity of the whole.

 

This means that, whereas once upon a time, it might have been necessary for us to cling to our own kind, and fight those who were different to survive, we now recognise that we need to find a way to live with those who are different from us in our crowded cities, crowded countries and crowded planet. Otherwise, we will not survive.

And the way to live together is to love our neighbours. The Scriptures don’t just leave that as an ideal; they translate it into practical action. The Ten Commandments and the law codes of the Torah give us a base from which to start. Jesus drew the Great Commandment from them: from the Shema in Deuteronomy, which commands love of God; and from the passage we heard in Leviticus, which teaches love of neighbour. But the teaching of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the Epistles take it further: serve one another, wash each other’s feet, carry one another’s burdens, be at peace with one another, do not judge one another, encourage and edify one another, offer hospitality to one another, do not grumble against one another, be humble towards one another, and so on and so on.

 

But rules can only take us so far in showing love towards our neighbour. The example of Jesus guides us to look beyond the rules, towards a deeper sympathy and empathy for those we are called to love in God’s name. That is the beginning of wisdom, and a love for God and neighbour that is no longer limited by rules and law codes, but which truly reflects the love of God for all humankind.

 

 Then, there is a third part to the Great Commandment to love, which is often neglected. That is, we are commanded to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

 Red-Big-Heart-Love self?

I am sure that makes many of us feel very uncomfortable. We have been trained that we cannot be good Christians unless we deny ourselves, reject our own pleasure, and that self-love is a sin. But there is a good sort of self-love, holy, healthy and Spirit-led, as well as a bad and unhealthy sort, a good enjoyment of God-given pleasure as well as an addictive and destructive enjoyment of it. And we won’t truly be able to love our neighbours, or God, unless we first learn to love ourselves.

 

God gave human beings senses to enjoy the world which was created by God, and meant to be enjoyed. If we concentrate only on our own pleasure, and particularly if it takes over everything and begins to rule our lives, we are no longer experiencing it in a healthy way. Often people try to escape from themselves, from their own misery and dissatisfaction with themselves into excessive enjoyment of food, or drink, or possessions or sex, and that becomes destructive of themselves and of those around them.

 

Healthy self-love involves honesty about ourselves, our good points and bad, not self-deception. It involves self-control, not self-indulgence; self-giving, self-development and self-examination. It involves self-acceptance, and the rejection of bitterness, jealousy, and the projection of the bad parts of ourselves onto our neighbours through racism, sexism and religious prejudice.

 

The self-love taught by the Spirit means loving ourselves, warts and all, the way God loves us, so we can join ourselves to God in the one self-giving love that upholds us and all creation.

 

Loving God with all our being, and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves is, Jesus said, the key to understanding all the Law and the prophets. It is the lens through which we must read and interpret the Scriptures and the tradition, and through which we should use our reason and interpret our experience. Loving God comes first, and as we nurture that love through prayer and worship and wrestling with out faith, we will be enabled to love ourselves as God loves us, and love our neighbours as God loves them – with all our heart and mind and souls and strength.

Love God, love neighbour, love self.

 

imagesLove,

love,

love.

 

Amen

 

This sermon was inspired by chapters 42, 43 and 44 of  ‘We make the Road by Walking’ by Brian D. McLaren. and you will find many echoes of those chapters in it. In the children’s address which preceded this sermon we looked again at the Ten Commandments; and after the sermon, we said the Lord’s Prayer together slowly, thinking particularly about love for God, our neighbour, and ourselves.

 

We also watched : http://youtu.be/uuqSHERRYK4

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Give back to God what is God’s!

(Matthew 22, 15-22),

Tiberian_denarius

Today we are going  to be thinking about two things people are reluctant to talk about in church: no, not that, but money and politics. It’s ery strange that we are so reluctant to discuss these, because Jesus talked & taught about them a lot,  especially money. One in ten verses in the Gospels concerns money, and sixteen out of thirty-eight parables teach about how we use it. How we organise society, how we use our money is at the centre of our faith, not an extra.

In the passage we heard, Jesus was in a very tricky situation. He was under attack from an unlikely combination of allies. On the one hand there were the Pharisees, the religious purists, who insisted that every last letter of the religious law had to be obeyed. On the other hand there were the Herodians, the political party who supported Herod Antipas, the puppet ruler installed by Rome.

 

To the Pharisees the coinage used to pay taxes was a blasphemy; it bore an image of Caesar, and therefore contravened the prohibition in the Ten Commandments on making a graven image, which they interpreted literally – no pictures of any living thing; and since the Roman Emperors claimed to be gods themselves, to use the coinage was tantamount to worshipping another god, in their view. The coins shouldn’t have been carried by an observant Jew – especially not in the Temple precincts.

 

The Herodians knew that King Herod’s position was very insecure. The Romans had already deposed his brother Archeleus for mismanagement of Judea; any hint of rebellion in Galilee, and Herod might be deposed too.

 

So, if Jesus said you should pay the taxes, he could be accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy; if he said you shouldn’t, he could be accused by the Herodians of stirring up rebellion.

 

Jesus however, replied in typically enigmatic fashion. He didn’t answer the question directly, he did not give a binding ruling, but challenged his listeners to make up their own minds: “give (in Greek it says ‘give back’) to the Roman Emperor what belongs to the Emperor and give to God what belongs to God”.

 

We’re in a very sticky situation too. We live in a society and a world whose financial systems are in crisis. The cost of housing and the cost of food are constantly increasing. We seem to be paying over more and more of our income in taxes. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements, which seek to convince us that we cannot be happy unless we buy this or eat this, or travel to this place or the other. Yet every post brings us desperate appeals from charities for more money to support their work – and even in church we cannot escape appeals for more funds. We are obliged to pay taxes, we need to support ourselves and our families, we want to support our favourite charities and the church.   How are we supposed to decide how to allocate our limited funds between these competing demands?

Does Jesus’ reply to his questioners help us in our dilemma? Well, no, not a lot! He’s saying to us too, as he so often does: “I’ve taught you about God’s kingdom; you have the Bible to give you guidance; listen to the Spirit, use your God-given intelligence, and make up your own minds.”

 

Nobody likes paying taxes. We all moan about how much we have to pay. Although we may not, like the Galileans and Judaeans of Jesus’ time, be paying taxes to an occupying power, we still tend to see it in terms of ‘them’ taking from ‘us’. Perhaps it’s the element of compulsion we don’t like; there’s no way we can choose not to pay, unless we don’t work, or don’t buy food or goods, and that’s pretty impossible in the modern world.

 

Or perhaps we feel we don’t have much control over how our taxes are spent; (though we have a lot more say than people in many parts of the world, and if we choose not to use our vote in national or council elections, we can’t really complain.) We tend to concentrate on the government and council projects we don’t approve of, and this will be different for every one of us: foreign wars, armaments, the Olympic Games, another airport or motorway, more generous social security payments or pensions. Whatever it is, we feed on our resentment of ‘our taxes’ being used for something we dislike.

 

We feel we have much more control over our charitable giving, because we give to charities whose aims and methods we approve of, and not to those we disapprove of. There is a tendency to treat the church as just another charity, to which we can choose to give or not; and perhaps we sometimes have similar attitudes towards giving to the church as we do to taxation. Again, we can see it as ‘them’ (the Circuit or the Diocese or the Church Council) taking money from ‘us’, the ordinary people in the pew, and using it for things we don’t wholly approve of; or perhaps we don’t actually know what it’s used for, so can’t see the point of giving.

 

We can transform our perception of paying taxes if we look at things from the other end, from what we get out of it. I am very grateful for the education in school and university that I, and my children have received, at virtually no cost to myself. I am thankful that I live in a county with one of the lowest crime rates in the country. I have had reason again and again to be thankful for the NHS, when my children were small, when my parents were old, and for myself in recent years. And now, as a pensioner, I can even benefit a little from my National Insurance contributions and my taxes and council tax with a small personal pension and a free bus pass! When I’m not thinking straight, I may still moan as much as anyone else about the taxes I pay – but when I’m thinking about all the benefits I’ve received from the taxes paid by me and others, I am happy to give to Caesar (or in our case, the Chancellor of the Exchequer) what Caesar asks for.

 

In the same way as we can transform our perception of paying taxes, we can transform our view of giving to the church, by seeing it not as about what ‘they’ demand, but what ‘we’ have been given. If we think about it, we are all so richly blessed. We live in a part of the world which is beautiful, which is prosperous, which is secure. We have enough money to have a choice about what we do with it. We have inherited a church tradition with a wealth of beautiful buildings and music of all kinds, and inspiring literature from every age. We have been taught by Christ that God loves us, however inadequate and sinful we are, and by Paul that nothing can separate us from that love. We have freedom to practise our faith, and to preach it to others. The example of the church in caring for the poor, the sick, and the elderly, and in providing education for the young has inspired the state to do likewise.

 

We know the generosity of God; it is in thankfulness for all we have been given, that we are asked to share that generosity with others through the work of God in the church and the world. Jesus told his hearers to ‘give to God what is God’s’. One of our offertory prayers reminds us that everything comes from God; both what we give back to God and what we do with our lives are signs of our awareness of that.

 

Some people think that, like politics, what we do with our money is nothing to do with our faith. But it is everything to do with faith. Money is not good, or evil; it is morally neutral. But what we do with our money can be good or evil; and how we allocate our money is a very clear sign of our spiritual health – whether we consider it to be ‘ours’ or whether we really acknowledge that it belongs to God.

 

Of course, we can ‘give back to God’ in many ways.

 

When we pay taxes to a legitimate government, to be used for the benefit and security of everyone with whom we share our country, we can see it as ‘giving back to God’. When we give money to, or work for charities that preserve the planet, that help the unfortunate in this country and abroad, that pursue medical research for the greater happiness of people everywhere, we are giving to support the work of God.

 

When we buy fairly traded goods even when they are more expensive than standard brands, we are giving back to God what is God’s. When we support mission agencies overseas, and food banks in this country, we are obviously giving back to God what is God’s, for God’s work.

 

But we also have an obligation to witness to the Gospel in our local community. Bishop David Jenkins said the task of the church is to ‘hold the ramparts’: to provide a visible statement of God’s presence in society, to remind people of the reality of God and of God’s demands on humanity. What sort of statement of God’s presence are we providing if the church is shabby, church activities are limited to Sunday and the diocese cannot afford to pay for a full time priest in each parish? Of course we need to provide for our families and pay our taxes and support charities – but our appreciation of God’s generosity to us should demand that we support the local church, too.

 

When Jesus was asked the question about paying taxes, he asked for a coin, and asked people to look at what was written on it. If you take out a coin from your purse or your pocket, you will find it has the head of the monarch on it. But in the inscription around that head it has the letters DG. That stands for ‘Dei gratia’ which means “by the Grace of God”; but it could equally well stand for ‘Deo gratias’ which means “Thanks be to God”. Which means that every time we look at a coin, we can be reminded that when we choose give away some of our money it is not in response to a demand, or an obligation, or a membership fee, but is an expression of our heartfelt thankfulness for all God’s generosity to us.

 

Deo gratias.

Amen

coins

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The Wedding Invitation.

Wedding invite(Isaiah 5,1-7; Philippians 3, 4b-14; Matthew 21, 33-46)

 There are few things more likely to cause a family row than organising a wedding. It should be a time when everyone is happy, but it’s amazing how het up people can get about where the wedding is held, whether you have button holes or orders of service, how much to spend on the reception – and, above all, who to invite. I am sure many of us can remember long discussions over wedding guest lists, especially these days the thorny question of whether children are to be invited to the evening reception, with all the complications that brings about which family members can or can’t attend. Above all there’s the irritation when you have to leave somebody off the guest list, and then somebody you invited doesn’t turn up, so there would have been a place.

 

So perhaps we have a certain sympathy with the king in today’s parable – though not with his reaction.

 

As we hear from the details, a wedding feast in New Testament times was a major affair, involving the slaughter of animals fattened for the occasion, meat which wouldn’t keep in the hot climate. The celebrations and feasting probably went on for several days.

 

I went to a number of Jewish weddings when my husband was working, since several of his partners were Jewish. They didn’t go on for several days, but they were lavish affairs. I can remember one where we had a brief buffet after the wedding ceremony, then later in the afternoon sat down to a meal which had eight or nine courses – and we left after the dancing and before the supper, which was served at about 10 pm. But even if I couldn’t cope with the amount of food on offer, they were very enjoyable, and I wouldn’t have wanted to refuse an invitation to attend one.

 

What then, do we make of the parable in our gospel reading this week?

 

The Old Testament gives us a clue to interpreting this story. In scripture the great banquet stands for the End Times, the consummation of history when God will intervene and the good will be rewarded – invited to the feast – and the wicked will be punished by exclusion from the party. Isaiah encouraged his people through a time of trouble with a picture of what that final banquet will be like, and an assurance that they will be among the guests at the banquet. He finished by telling them that, at that time, God would do away with death, and tears and disgrace – an image that is repeated by St John the Divine is his picture of the new Jerusalem in Revelation chapter 21.

 

When Luke recounts the parable of the Great Banquet he doesn’t depart very far from the pattern in Isaiah. We are given no reason for the banquet. The great man sends out his servants with invitations, and the people they invite refuse, making various excuses: I’ve got some new property to look at, I’ve got a new pair of oxen to train, I’ve just got married. The great man is annoyed, but he doesn’t punish them; he simply sends out his servants into the town to invite others in – the poor the crippled, the blind and the lame. And when the places still aren’t full, he sends his servants out again, into the countryside, to find still more strangers to enjoy his feast.

 

When Jesus told the story, it was probably intended as a warning to the leaders of the Jewish nation that, unless they returned to obedience to God, and listened to his servants, they would lose God’s favour, which would be transferred to those they despised, the outcasts in society. The original story told by Jesus probably ended with the invitation to other guests to come and enjoy the banquet of salvation.

 

Matthew added more details, again drawing on the traditions of scripture, and has even included another parable, about the wedding garment, to make the point more strongly, and to turn it into a warning for his own community.

 

First of all, he turns the feast into a full blown allegory about a wedding banquet. The Old Testament writers often used marriage to stand for the covenant between God and his people the Jews. So Matthew is telling us about a King (God) who prepares a feast for his son (Jesus) and sends his servants (the prophets) to invite his subjects (Israel) to attend. They don’t take his invitation seriously, as they should, and some of them even abuse and kill his servants (as Matthew tells us some of the prophets were treated). So, Matthew’s story tells us, God will turn his back on the Jews, and allow them to be killed and their city destroyed, as happened to Jerusalem when the Romans punished the nation for their revolt in AD 70. For Matthew, this part of the story was an allegory of the history of salvation – how God’s favour was lost by the Jewish nation and transferred to the Jews and Gentiles who followed Jesus.

 

But Matthew was well aware that conversion and baptism was not the end of the story. His Christian community, like ours, contained both good and bad.

There were people who lived the Christian life to the full – who were ‘clothed with Christ’ as Paul describes it in his letter to the Galatians (3.27). They were the people who had put on their wedding garments.

 

But there were others who had accepted the invitation to join the community, in full expectation that this would give them a guaranteed place at the salvation banquet, and yet were not living a Christlike life. Those, he warns, will be thrown out of the community of the saved at the final judgement – and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth rather than joy and feasting for them.

 

The early Christian community had a very concrete experience of putting on their wedding garment when they were baptised. For the adult converts, the baptism ceremony involved going down naked into the baptismal pool, and coming out to be clothed in a new white robe, the symbol of their new life in Christ.

 

For many of us, the experience of baptism was many, many years ago, perhaps in our infancy, before we can really remember. We may have ‘put on our wedding garments’ again, figuratively, when we were confirmed or entered into membership. We put them on again each time we renew our commitment in the renewal of baptism vows. But how many of us are really wearing the garments of faith all the time?

 

We may feel ourselves superior to those who reject God’s invitations, and never darken the doors of church, who excuse themselves because they’ve got a house to maintain, or a new car to try out, and their family takes up too much of their time. But churchgoing will not guarantee us a seat at the wedding feast of the Lamb, unless we clothe ourselves in Christ. We need to be sanctified, as well as converted.

 

St Paul, writing to the Philippians tells us how: stand firm in your life in the Lord, work to spread the Gospel; be joyful in your work for Christ; be at peace with your brothers and sisters in the Lord, and be gentle with everyone.

 

 

I want us to think a little more about just one of those things, the last one: be gentle with one another. It is easy to be gentle with those we know and love, our families and our friends. But, because of the media, we now make judgements about people we may never have met; and sometimes those judgements are not gentle, but harsh and condemnatory. One way in which this attitude is fed is through the newspapers we read and the news channels we watch on TV or online. News outlets tend to see everything in black or white; they tend to portray people as either wholly good or wholly bad, instead of the mixture of good and bad we all know ourselves to be. And once the media have decided someone is bad, they seem not to accept any possibility of change, no chance of redemption. So we get people labelled as monsters, and often a witch-hunt stirred up against them by the media, which makes their lives impossible. When you read your newspapers or watch the news on TV, can I ask you to remember Paul’s words “be gentle with one another’ and if the news outlet you follow is one that seems to go after people in this way, consider changing to another that doesn’t.

 

Paul tells us we must trust in God and thank him for all the good things we enjoy, and pray constantly for ourselves and others. Above all, he says to us, fill your minds with what is good and true and pure and honourable. If we do that, we will be able to anticipate our invitation to the final banquet with confidence.

 

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God’s Vineyard

Hebron's Vineyards

Hebron’s Vineyards

( Isaiah 5, 1-7; Matt. 21, 33-end )

I wonder what place comes into your mind when you think about vineyards? France? Germany? Italy? Australia? California?

Well to the writers of our Bible a vineyard meant only one county – The Promised Land of Israel.

In the readings today we have two parables – one from the Old Testament and one from the New – which make use of that association.

From the writings of First Isaiah we have the Song of the Vineyard. At the time this was written, in the second half of the 8th century BC, the Promised Land was divided between two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital in Samaria and the Southern Kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem. It was a time of great prosperity for the two kingdoms, and in Isaiah’s opinion, this had led them to forget the covenant with God which should have been at the basis of their religious and social life. So, those who were rich got richer, those who were poor or in trouble got neglected, and righteousness and justice were in short supply. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

On top of this, the political situation was dangerous. The Promised Land lay between the two super-powers of the time, Egypt and Assyria. The Kings of Israel were into power politics, allying themselves with Egypt against Assyria – and this was the cause of their downfall. In 733BCE the Assyrians besieged Samaria and carried off the leading citizens into exile. Israel didn’t learn from this, so again from about 724 to 721, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser attacked the city, completely destroyed it and carried off a further group into exile,  about 10 percent of the population all together.

The Assyrian way of managing its vast empire was to destroy the cohesion of each conquered county by mixing up the native population with foreigners. So after the deportation, people from other parts of the Empire were moved into Israel; and, over time, they intermarried with the locals, so producing the Samaritan race which was so hated by the time of the New Testament.

This is the reality behind Isaiah’s parable. God gave the Hebrew tribes the land of Israel. God built a watchtower  (perhaps the law)to help them keep it safe, and planted choice vines  (the chosen people) to live in it and bear fruit. But they didn’t bear the fruit that was expected. What came was rotten fruit, and eventually wild fruit, the unbelieving foreigners occupying the land. The parable ends with a play on words in Hebrew: God expected justice (mispat) but saw bloodshed (mispah); God asked for righteousness (sedakah) and heard a cry (se’akah).

Isaiah was prophesying in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which at this time managed to keep out of the power struggle between Assyria and Egypt. We don’t know when he spoke this oracle, before or after the fall of Samaria, but his message is for all the Chosen People. If they continued to forget the covenant and ignore their obligation to seek righteousness and justice, if they tried to guarantee their security by playing politics with the super-powers rather than trusting in God, then their land would be overrun, their city walls broken down and their crops and fields go to waste. And that, of course, is what happened to Israel, and then just over a hundred years later, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and the leaders of the two Southern tribes were taken into exile, to Judah too.

The parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and also in the Gospel of Thomas, which wasn’t included in our Bible. The vineyard is still the Promised Land, but this time the attention focuses on the tenants rather than the grapes themselves. The story is based on a situation which would have been very familiar to the people of Galilee who heard Jesus preach. Much of the land had been bought up by foreign landlords, who put tenants in to work the land, and sent their representatives once a year to collect a proportion of the crop as rent. They were generally resented by the population – it was bad enough to have your land occupied by the Romans without having the wealth of the country going off abroad too. However, the law said that if the owner of a piece of land died without an heir, then the tenants could take possession of it for themselves.

Scholars think that when Jesus originally told this story, it was much shorter, more like the version in Thomas. There was no allusion to Isaiah. There was no repeated sending of slaves in this version – just two single slaves who were abused and sent back empty handed. No-one was killed until the son came – and the parable simply says that he was killed without specifying how or where. And the story ended with the crime – there was no description of the punishment meted out to the tenants.

As was Jesus’ custom, he told a story, and left his hearers to make up their own minds about what he meant.

But we can easily surmise that it is a story about the leaders of the Jews, who have been given the Promised Land by God, but have refused to produce the fruits that were the owner’s due when asked. Instead they have abused and killed those who point out their shortcomings.

Each of the Gospel writers has elaborated the parable, and by the time Matthew was writing, for his mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the second half of the first century, probably after the Jewish revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem in the year AD70, the parable had become a full-blown allegory. Matthew adds details to the beginning of the story – the watchtower and the wine press – to make it exactly mirror Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. The vineyard is let out to tenants – the descendants of the patriarchs and Moses, the people with whom God made the Old Covenant. He tells of two groups of slaves who are sent to collect their master’s dues, to represent the two groups of prophets in the Hebrew Bible, the former and the latter prophets. Some of the servants are not just abused but killed, echoing Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem in chapter 23 verse 37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God sent you”. When the son is killed Matthew (and Luke) add the detail that he is taken out of the vineyard before he is killed – to mirror the death of Jesus outside the city walls.

The Synoptic writers all add a question to the original story “What will the owner of the vineyard do then?” and answer their own question by describing the death of the original tenants, and the transfer of the vineyard to others who will obey God and produce fruits for him. And just to emphasise the point, they use another metaphor from Psalm 118 (which is also found in Isaiah) applying it to Jesus who is this time is not the son but the cornerstone, rejected by the original builders, but which turned out to be the most important of all.

For the Gospel writers, the leaders of the Jews had turned away from the true teaching of the prophets, and they had killed Jesus, who was the God’s only Son. Therefore God would take away the promise of salvation from the original tenants, the unbelieving Jews, and give it to those who were faithful to his new covenant, the Jewish and Gentile Christians who followed Christ.

Clearly, for the Gospel writers, the parable is no longer about the physical occupation of the Promised Land. As the story is taken out into the post-resurrection Community it becomes a story about a vineyard which represents God’s favour and the promise of salvation. By the time Matthew was writing, Jerusalem had probably been destroyed, and the Jewish community in exile was rejecting Christian Jews and ejecting them from the synagogue communities. So the parable tells us the promise of salvation, which once belonged to the Jews, has been taken away from them and given to the Christian Church.

When we read and interpret the Bible we always have to read it on several levels. We ask ourselves “What did this passage mean when it was originally spoken or written?” and I have tried to indicate what might have been the case when Isaiah and Jesus told their stories.

Then we need to ask, “ What did it mean to the people who wrote it down”. This was obviously a favourite story of the early Christian community, since it appears in all three Synoptic Gospels and I’ve tried to indicate how the Christian community elaborated the original story to express their belief that salvation comes through faith in Jesus, the Son who was killed.

But we also need to ask a third question, “What does it mean to us, now?”. The vineyard cannot represent for us the physical Land of Israel; but it can still represent for us the place in which we work for God and the fruits which we produce in God’s name. We don’t stone the prophets and kill God’s messengers – well not for the last couple of hundred years in this country. So, in what ways are we denying to God the fruits he has the right to expect from us? That is what I would like us to think about and discuss in a moment.

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We are all tenants in God’s vineyard, charged to produce ‘good fruits’ for the Kingdom. So, in what ways are we denying to God the fruits he has the right to expect from us?

Probably each of us, in our different situation in life, will have a different answer to those questions, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But let me just make a few suggestions to get you thinking.

In the first Creation story in the chapter 1 of Genesis we are told that God created human beings to be his representatives, his tenants, on this planet, to look after it and develop it on his behalf? Have we been, and are we being good tenants of this Earth? Are we working to preserve the diversity of species and to provide enough food and employment for all its inhabitants – or are we exploiting it for short term gain, using up its resources without thought, destroying the fertility of some parts through human actions which are accelerating climate change? Are we producing good fruit or wild grapes, a productive vineyard or thorns and briars? We all know how climate change is having an impact on one of the poorest parts of the world. What can we do about that to be better tenants?

Then again we are stewards in the West of the Christian heritage of faith. But how central is it to our lives? Do most people in the rich nations pursue material prosperity at the expense of spiritual riches? Mother Theresa certainly thought so. Do we use the many talents and advantages God has given us to produce fruits for God – or fruits to keep to ourselves? We who belong to a country and a church with a long Christian history, who were baptised into the faith, sometimes seem to fail to appreciate its riches. We certainly don’t seem to treasure it as much as some of the newer converts to the faith in the Third World. Is then the vineyard going to be taken from us and given to new tenants?

And a last suggestion. We have inherited a network of churches across the country, where people have come to know and worship God through the centuries. They can also be seen as the vineyard of which we are tenants. Are we using them to produce the good fruits that God wants of us? And if not, why not? How can we use our church buildings to make them more accessible to the people of our neighbourhood, so that they will come to know and worship God as their ancestors did?

Would you like to discuss in small groups – up to 4 or 5 people -with your neighbours, where you see the vineyard God has called you to cultivate for the Kingdom, – in the world, in the church nationally and locally – and what fruits you think you are producing, and where you think things might be done better. Then perhaps some of you might like to share your thoughts.

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Serve and Obey

Hebron's Vineyards

Hebron’s Vineyards

Yr. A. Proper 21 ( Phil. 2, 1-13. Matt. 21, 23-32)

While I flicking through the channels on the TV recently, I caught a bit of a repeat of a programme from about 10 years ago, called ‘Supernanny’. It showed a mother struggling to bath her child, and put him to bed, being guided by Jo Frost, aka ‘Supernanny’ in the techniques to make him obey her. It took 45 minutes to get the child undressed and he was merely washed all over with the flannel, because he pulled the plug out of the bath, and refused to get in it. When I stopped watching, he was ranting around his bedroom, while his mother was being instructed to sit quietly in the middle of the room, avoiding eye-contact, and to put him back into bed every time he got out until he fell asleep. The child was 3 years old, and had been having things his way for all his life, and his mother had no idea how to regain authority over him.

The programme caught my attention because earlier in the same day I had been talking to a teacher about how hard it was to teach Reception class children (4 year olds) these days, because they were so used to being indulged at home, that they refused to do anything that didn’t suit them. Both of our readings today are on the theme of obedience.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges his readers to live in harmony with one another, and advises that the way to do so is to imitate the humility and obedience shown by Jesus Christ. This passage from Philippians is thought to have been originally an early Christian hymn to Christ; it is a sort of creed in verse. It contains an outline of the whole of Pauline Christian proclamation, talking of Christ’s preexistence, his incarnation, his death on the cross, and his resurrection and ascension to heaven, and the bestowing on him of the divine title of ‘Lord’. All this, the hymn states, has come as a consequence of Jesus’s total obedience to God. Although divine from the beginning, he lives a human life of total humility, the humility of a slave, and through this achieves the salvation of all.

In relating the celestial glorification of Jesus to his life of humility, Paul reminds the Philippians, (and us) that doctrine is not just about reciting statements; it is about how we live our lives. What we say is important – but what we do is even more important; and what Christians are called to do is to be obedient to God, as Christ was.

That is also the point which Jesus is making in the parable of the two sons. One son says he will help his father to work the family vineyard; but he doesn’t. The other son at first refuses to help – but then he thinks better of it, and goes and works with his father. The moral is obvious, and his hearers can give no other answer to Jesus’ question than to confirm that it is the son who did the work rather than the one who said he would who is the favoured one.

This parable appears only in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry, and it reflects a problem which Matthew struggles with throughout his Gospel (and which also concerned Paul): after Jesus’ death and the spread of the church into the Gentile world, what is the status of the people of the Old Covenant, the Jews, compared to those of the New Covenant, the Jewish and Gentile Christians?

The parable gives an answer, and it is one that would have been very clear to those from the Jewish religion who heard it. The image of the vineyard was often used to stand for the nation of Israel, for God’s Chosen People. It was the religious Jews who were supposed to do God’s work in this ‘vineyard’. But although in their prayers and their worship they promised to do so, when the time came they failed to turn their promises into action.

It is the outcasts from respectable Jewish society – the thieves and the prostitutes – who on first glance appear to be disobeying God, who actually are the obedient children, the story says. When the grace of God is revealed to them through the words and actions of John the Baptist and Jesus, they repent – and so become the first to enjoy the Father’s favour. And what goes for the Jewish outcasts also goes for the Gentile converts – anyone who hears the word of God and obeys it will gain entry to the Kingdom.

Knowing what is right is no good on it’s own; doing right is what is important. As the hymn to Christ in Philippians emphasises, it is only through an attitude of complete humility that any human being can be completely obedient to God.

Of all the virtues, humility is one of the hardest for us to achieve. It is hard for us to practise as individuals and it is even harder for us as part of an organisation. Even the church has failed to live up to its founder’s example. It began as an organisation of equals, operating as the servant of others; but all too soon it was seduced by the ways of the world. It became hierarchical, with some people believing themselves more important than others. It became judgemental, believing that human beings could decide who was acceptable, and who was unacceptable in God’s Kingdom. Its emphasis became distorted – instead of obedience to God, obedience to human rules became the important thing. Like the Scribes and the Pharisees, the Church knew what was right, and said all the right things – but often failed to follow Jesus’ example in what it did.

stfrancisBut throughout the history of the church there have been individuals – some of the great servant saints, like Francis, who have been able to practise humility and obedience, and so serve others as Jesus did; and there have been organisations within the Church, who often inspired periods of reformation by reminding others of how Christians are supposed to operate in the world. Humility is hard for us humans to achieve – but we can do so if we allow ourselves to be filled with the Spirit – the same Spirit that inspired Jesus.

Our readings today offer us an opportunity to reflect again how often and how far we fall short of ‘the mind that was in Christ Jesus’. Humility is not a virtue that is easy to practise in the ‘me’ generation, when we are encouraged to do our own thing, regardless of how it will affect others, and when people take training in assertiveness.

Obedience is also not a fashionable virtue today. Of course, there are risks in promising complete obedience to any human person or institution. If the person or institution is evil, that is a route that leads to dictatorship and genocide, as so much of the current news reminds us. But that is not the case in our Christian faith, which teaches obedience to a person who was free of evil, and whose teaching was inspired by a God of goodness and love.

The parable of the two sons invites us to examine the ‘yeses’ and ‘noes’ we say through our lives. We all said ‘yes’ to our Father when we made our commitment in baptism or confirmation. Did we say yes so long ago that we can no longer remember it? Has our initial commitment dulled with time? Has our ‘yes’ mutated into no? Or perhaps, has an initial no changed? In our youthful idealism, we may have rejected the hypocrisy of the Church and vowed to stay independent of the institution? Have we gradually found our way back to God, perhaps through other channels? Can our experience help the Church to find ways to bring other people back to the point where they can say ‘yes’ to God?

One of the most significant (and sacred) activities we humans engage in is decision-making. We constantly shape and reshape our commitments, and so in the Spirit renew the face of the earth. Jesus understood how human responses can change over time and how humans themselves vacillate. Although the parable never tells the father’s answer to his sons, we sense that God as Father looks not at our original responses, but at our actions over time. Just as Jesus could redeem someone from a lifetime of prostitution or dishonest dealings in money, so God refuses to be hung up on our histories.

If, as some scholars believe, this parable formed the nucleus for the story of the prodigal son, we see there how the father rewards both sons–extending great honour to one who has squandered the fortune, and going out of his way to reassure one who seemed to be obeying his father, but whines about another’s blessing. The root word of parable contains the word for “throw”. Like all parables, this story throws a question at us, as it asks how we react to the yes people and no people we meet every day. Do we respond only to the smooth-talkers, and turn from the crotchety or surly types? Do we surround ourselves with only those who make pleasant small talk, or do we rise to the challenge of the awkward squad? Have we ever taken the time to discover the hidden riches of a quiet person? Next time we attend a party or a social event, perhaps we should apply to those we meet the test of Matthew 21.

So, this morning gives us an opportunity to consider: When have I said a “no” to God or another person that actually became a “yes”? When have I said a “yes” to God or another person that has eventually turned into “no”? Who do I obey? How far am I committed to the humility that was central to the mind of Christ Jesus?

The motto of the secondary school I attended was ‘Serve and Obey’. Not a very popular sentiment during the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when I was there, or even today. But one which I think, summarises very well the parable and the passage from Philippians we have heard today.

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Harvest of the Word.

(Acts 2,44-47; John 1,1-5 & 9-14)

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When I was a primary school class teacher, there were certain types of children who drove me up the wall!

One of these was the child who was always doing something wrong – usually the same thing – and when found out and reprimanded, always said, “I’m really sorry, Mrs. P.”

One of these repeat offenders apologised so regularly, that I was once driven to say in reply, “You’re not really sorry. You say so, but you don’t mean it. If you were really sorry, you’d make an effort to change yourself, and not keep on doing the same thing wrong!”

I sometimes wonder if God feels like that about Harvest Thanksgiving!

I imagine the Almighty sitting up there, hearing “We plough the fields and scatter” sung for the millionth time, watching the baskets of fruit, the harvest loaves, the marrows, the tins (and even these days, the razors and the soap) pile up, and saying, “Yes, this is all O.K. but if you were really thankful, you’d make an effort to change things in the world, to make it a better place, and you wouldn’t  keep repeating all the things you do wrong”.

IMG_0414Of course, part of our expression of thankfulness to God for the riches of creation, the work of human hands, our clothes and our food is to hold services such as this: to make the church beautiful, to sing God’s praises, and to offer samples of the harvest to God. The Old Testament shows us that in doing this we are part of a tradition that goes back to the time of Moses, and probably, long before that.

But many of the Old Testament accounts of harvest make the point that there is a second part to any meaningful thanksgiving, a point made also by the reading from Acts we heard this morning. That second part is to share our plenty with those in our local community who haven’t benefited so obviously from God’s bounty: the elderly and lonely, the homeless, the refugees, and those who because of debt or unemployment or low wages, don’t have enough food at the moment. When we bring our harvest gifts of food to donate to the Food Bank and the Catholic Worker Farm, we are acknowledging that second essential part.

And there is yet a third part, which has come more and more to the fore over recent years. That is to work for justice for those who provide much of our food, by campaigning for justice in trade, and for the relief of debt; by working for better care of the earth, through opposing the things that contribute to climate change, and destroy essential creatures, like bees; and by campaigning for improvements in the lives of those who don’t yet reap the benefits of improved living standards in other parts of the world.

There is sometimes a reluctance to emphasise this part of our thanksgiving. “Why can’t we just have a party?” people say. “Why do we have to make ourselves miserable thinking about politics and all those people in want?” But as Paul told the Corinthians, sharing with those in want is not an optional extra; it is an essential part of giving thanks to God, and it is to be done not reluctantly or out of duty, but with joy, as an expression of our genuine acknowledgement of God’s goodness to us.

Harvest Thanksgiving is a reminder to us that we are stewards of God’s earth, and that God expects us to be good stewards; which means we have to take decisions and act on God’s behalf in the world. There is no-one else to do that if we don’t. This linking of worship and action for social justice is a theme which runs through the Old Testament, especially in the words of the prophets, and in the book of Deuteronomy, and it is there in the New Testament too.

So, the offerings of food which we have brought today will be shared locally, but our cash contributions will be given to the Bishop’s Harvest Appeal, which this year is supporting a project in Egypt to improve literacy among women.

The project is run by a partner of Christian Aid, Coptic Orthodox Church Bless, which works with whole communities, setting up village development committees to bring people together to address the issues they are all facing. Women’s literacy is just one of these issues.

In Egypt, as many as 4 in 10 women cannot read. In traditional communities there, many girls are kept at home to care for younger siblings, and even those who go to school may marry young, and so don’t finish their schooling. Sabren Awad, one of the women featured LearningPres1-200x300in the appeal materials, describes how it limits female confidence, happiness and ability to cope with modern society; “I cried because I couldn’t help my children with their homework. I was annoyed with myself,” she said But after COC Bless started literacy classes for women in her village, and she learnt to read, she became happy and confident. Now she teaches other women these skills and says: “I feel my own standing in the community has increased”.

The United Nations, along with many other organisations, has highlighted how important women’s literacy is in combating poverty, improving access to education among both girls and boys, and improving child health. Literate women live longer, and they have smaller families: literate women start their families later, and have fewer, healthier children. Even a few years of female education results in a drop in infant mortality, and greater use of health clinics. The families of women with some education tend to have better education, housing, clothing, income and sanitation.

All these things are particularly important in Egypt, where more than 20 million people live below the poverty line, and the political upheaval after the Arab Spring in 2011 has left social instability in its wake. Many families have lost members, particularly the men, meaning that women need to be better educated to become the main breadwinners. Many villages now are without police support; one of the women featured in the appeal material, Soheer Azey, has been inspired to try to become a police officer to support and protect others like herself. Christian Aid and its partners like COC Bless, are working to support communities to find ways to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and have hope for a better future.

Many of our harvest hymns, like ‘Come Ye Thankful People Come’, are not actually about growing crops. They are about the harvest of lives and souls, produced by spreading the Gospel of Christ. One of the metaphors that the Scriptures use for Christ is ‘The Word’ which brings light and life to those who live in darkness, as we heard in the Gospel reading from John. Not a reading you would expect in a Harvest service, but one which is especially relevant to the Bishops’ Harvest Appeal project for this year.

We who follow ‘The Word’ are being asked to give the gift of words to women in a faraway place, a gift which will bright light into their lives and revolutionise their prospects. This work for social justice is as much a part of our Harvest Thanksgiving as the traditional displays of flowers, fruit and other produce.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that when we celebrate Harvest, God does sometimes say: “The offer of your gifts is useless… I cannot tolerate your new moons and your festivals; they IMG_0412have become a burden to me, and I can put up with them no longer……. Cease to do evil and learn to do right. Pursue justice and champion the oppressed, give the orphan his rights, plead the widow’s cause”.

That is what God demands of us in a real Harvest Thanksgiving.

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Who do you say that I am?

Isaiah 51, 1-6; Romans 12, 1-8; Matthew 16, 13 – 20.

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It’s a normal question to ask when you meet a person for the first time. “Who are you?” Sometimes you probe further, “What do you do for a living?” “Where do you come from?” Whatever the answer, it will have to be couched in terms the questioner will understand. It would be no use telling a native of an Amazonian rain forest tribe that you’re a computer programmer; it would mean nothing to them. That occupation only has meaning in the context of a modern technological society.

It’s most unusual, on the other hand, for someone to ask you, as Jesus is shown doing in this morning’s Gospel reading, “Who do people say I am?” and almost unheard of for someone to ask “Who do you say I am?”. Which is a sure indication that what we are dealing with here is very unlikely to be a record of an actual historical conversation, but is actually a statement of the belief of the early Church.

The Jesus we know from the Synoptic Gospels did not seem to be at all interested in what people thought about him. He didn’t talk much about himself. What he talked about was God, and God’s Kingdom, and how people should act in order to serve God’s Kingdom on earth. He didn’t ever claim to be the Messiah, he didn’t ever claim to be the Son of God. When his followers, or those he healed, or the demons he was exorcising gave him those titles, he commanded them to be silent.

Yet, within a generation of his crucifixion, when the Synoptic Gospels and Acts were written, he was being proclaimed as Messiah – in Greek ‘the Christ’, in English ‘The Anointed One’. It had become so much associated with him that it had changed from being a title – ‘Jesus, the Christ’ to being something like a surname, ‘Jesus Christ’ or even to being a name on its own, ‘Christ’. Then, by the third quarter of the first century it was being used as a way of describing his followers, who became known, as we are, as ‘Christians’.

But what did these titles mean to those who first used them? In the Judaism of the time of Jesus, there was a hope for a Messiah, a person appointed by God to save Israel, defeat her enemies, and restore the Jews to freedom and pre-eminence. It was not a major element in their faith, but it was an expectation among ordinary people, and a subject of speculation among some of the sects, such as those who lived at Qumran, and whose writings we have in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The main expectation was of a Messiah who would be a king in the line of David. This King Messiah would defeat the Gentiles in battle, would restore the fortunes of Israel, would instil the fear of the Lord in the people, lead them in holiness of life, and administer justice with righteousness. Other ways of referring to this person were ‘Son of David’, ‘Branch of David’ and ‘Star of Jacob’.

There were claims that this person had come, especially during the time of the last uprising of the Jews against the Romans in 135-137 AD, when the leader of the rebels, Simon bar Kosiba, was renamed bar Kochba, ‘Son of the Star’ by those who thought he was the promised Messiah.

There were other expectations though. Because the royal line of David had died out, and the Jews were not allowed a ruler of their own, the High Priests exercised political as well as religious power. So some groups expected a Priest Messiah rather than a King Messiah. Simon Maccabeus, who lived aobut 150 years before Jesus, was praised in Messianic terms which spoke of his star rising, and the Dead Sea Scrolls speak of the Messiahs of Aaron (a Priest Messiah) and of Israel (a King-Messiah).

Then there was an expectation that one of the great prophets would return to herald the coming of the Messiah, as we read in the New Testament; but there was also some expectation of a Prophet Messiah, either alongside the King and Priest Messiahs, or as one facet of a person sent from God who would combine all these roles.

Some texts, especially after the 1st century AD spoke of a pre-existent Messiah, whose name and essence were known to God before he came into the world, but who remained only an idea until he was actually born. Other texts said he would not know he was the Messiah until God anointed or appointed him. However, the one characteristic of all these Messiahs was that they were human, and like all other humans, they would die.

It is perhaps because Jesus’s view of his mission was so very different from all these expectations, and the reality of his life and death did not in any way fulfil popular ideas of the coming of the Messiah, that the New Testament shows him as commanding his disciples and the demons to keep their ideas secret, and moving immediately to foretell his passion and death after these acclamations.

Similarly, the title ‘Son of God’ would not have had the overtones of divine status that it does for us, influenced by nearly two thousand years of church dogma.

Several sorts of people in the Jewish society of Jesus’s time might have been known in this way. The Jewish Bible called three groups of beings ‘son of God’: angels, the people of Israel as a whole, and particularly the Kings of Israel. Psalm 2 says to the Davidic King “ You are my son”.The Dead Sea Scrolls say the Messiah is God’s son. Therefore, it was natural to combine this title with that of the King Messiah.

But in the inter-testamental period, it was also a designation of a just or good man, or one who worked wonders or healed people. The Book of Ecclesiasticus says “be a father to the fatherless and God shall call you his son and deliver you from the pit’. Jewish charismatics at the time of Jesus believed that saints and teachers who were especially close to God were acclaimed in public by a Divine voice which called them ‘my son’. This voice was heard only by spiritual beings, evil as well as good, which was why demons are shown as recognising Jesus as sent by God.

Another feature of the holy men or Hasids of Judaism at this time is that they called God ‘Father’, using the Aramaic term ‘Abba’ which Jesus also used.

All these traditions would have fed into the disciples’ belief that Jesus was, as Peter proclaimed, ‘The Messiah, the son of the Living God’. Some strands of early Christianity saw his Messiahship as beginning with his resurrection and Ascension, others from his baptism, and yet others from his birth or before. There was a need make major adjustments in their thinking to cope with a Messiah who did not fulfil any of the expectations of the King/ Priest/ Prophet Messiah, but who was condemned as a criminal and died on a cross.

Eventually, the Jewish understanding of the terms was lost in the Christian Church, as its Jewish element grew smaller and smaller and eventually died out all together. The move into the Gentile culture of Greece and Rome, and nearly three centuries of Hellenistic philosophical and religious debate ultimately transformed the meaning of these titles of Jesus for the Church, which acclaimed him as the second person of the Trinity, the ‘only-begotten Son of God, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God’ that the Nicene Creed proclaims.

The understanding of Jesus as a divine being, sent down from heaven to live and die among us, and returning to heaven to reign with God until he comes again to judge the world is one that has been full of meaning for people in the centuries since Nicea. But it doesn’t seem to have much meaning for many people in our time. It has often been pointed out, by Bishop John Robinson among others, that whereas at one time the heavenly realm was more real to people than a foreign country, nowadays the exact opposite is true. Nowadays, to speak of heaven and divine beings is seen by many as talking about something that is unreal, on the same level as fairy stories.

If we are to convince people that the spiritual world is a real and relevant as the material one, then we need to present Jesus in a way which means something real to the people of our time and culture. It is obvious from the New Testament that when people came into contact with Jesus, they knew they were in the presence of someone special, someone whose words and actions opened their eyes to the reality of the Living God. People today are just as much in need of that encounter as they were then.

Our mission and ministry, the mission and ministry for which we were commissioned at our baptism, is to enable that encounter to take place. We hold the keys to the Kingdom, just as the first disciples did. But to do so, we will have to find new answers to that age old question of Jesus, “But who do you say that I am?” answers that are true to the life and teaching of Jesus, but which will resonate with the hearts and minds of people of our time.

Then, when we have discovered and agreed that renewed way of speaking of Jesus as ‘The Christ, the Son of the Living God’ wended to proclaim it to the world, and live it out in our lives.

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