Blessed are You

Blessed are You, O lord our God, King of the universe! At your word night falls. In your wisdom You open heaven’s gates, You control the elements and rotate the seasons. You set the stars in the vault of heaven. You created night and day. You cause the light to fade when darkness comes and the darkness to melt away in the light of day. O ever living and eternal God, You will always watch over us, Your creatures. Blessed are you, O Lord, at whose word night falls.   ~ From the Talmud

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Remembrance Sunday

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Matthew 6:5-15

So today we honour all those who gave their lives – the ultimate sacrifice – that we might have hope for the future that all may live in peace. Yet Peace in our world today remains a hope yet to be fulfilled. Increasing tensions in the world make us wonder if we have leant anything at all.

The problem is of course that in our fallen state there is yet a part in all of us that from time to time adopts that which we might call a warring mindset…the one that basically says ‘It’s my way or no way’. It is black or white, yes or no, there is no room for compromise or negotiation and it seeks only for the self to win and the other to lose. And try as hard as we might to tame this part of ourselves, when the right buttons are pushed we can be quite uncompromising in demanding our own way.

When we watch conflicts played out on our TV’s and dictatorial world leaders playing brinkmanship it is so easy to distance ourselves and our own patterns of wanting our own way (all be they on a smaller scale) but we have them. They are played out in families and churches in neighbourly disputes and in the workplace. Sometimes such behaviour comes out as bullying or intimidating, or oppressing people, other times it comes out as power struggling and it is most likely that we  have all, at sometime in our lives, either inflicted or been afflicted by this warring mindset.  And you know we don’t have to do very much at all to inflict or impose our rule over others….we can reject or exclude people merely by our body language inflicting huge damage to another’s sense of self worth and all because they don’t see the world the way we think they should!

Right now we see some very extreme examples of the my way or no way mindset  in very current world leadership. We recoil in fear and horror every time an ill thought out Tweet goes out  almost goading an aggressive response and we wonder why such leaders can’t negotiate for peaceful outcomes…but I always think peace will never come until we learn to take the plank out of our own eye first.

The spiritual task for the  Christian soul is surely  to raise our consciousness above this self centered mind set.  And if we don’t then we shouldn’t be surprised if our prayers for peace are too weak for God to even hear – never mind answer!!!

You see, you cannot ask God for something in prayer which you are not prepared to model within yourself – that sort of prayer doesn’t really work.  It’s the  law and  I don’t mean law in a legalistic sense, but in the same sense that gravity is a law – a universal law – which cannot be broken without utter chaos ensuing.

Gandhi put it this way – Be the change you want to see in the world

In other words shift the problem in your own being, before you expect the world around you to change….

In our reading from Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus teaching on prayer – Several points spring out at us from this passage.

In verse 7 we hear don’t use lots of words that are repetitious our empty. In verse 12 we here – forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And in verse 14 and 15 we hear if you do not do this then God cannot forgive you.

Put these verses together and what we have is a principle, ie ‘don’t waste your words in prayer asking God for things in the world that you don’t intend to address in yourself’. It is a deep universal law of how God works with the human soul. When you live the change you are praying for you open the door for real transformation.

You can’t pray for world peace and at the same time be at loggerheads with your next door neighbour. You can’t pray for forgiveness for yourself and bear a grudge against someone else.  and You can’t pray for nations to be released from oppressive dictators and at the same time believe that only your way is the right way…It simply doesn’t work like that in the Kingdom.  This was the teaching that Jesus lived and taught us to live. If you really want this world to know lasting peace and freedom from oppression then be that in all your dealings with others.

One theologian who addresses this deep flaw in the human consciousness is Koyama who gives us the idea of the crucified mind. The Crucified mind is in essence the  opposite of the my way or no way world view. He depicts the crucified mind as

A humble mind, expressing a love that does not insist on its own way. A mind that expresses a love that seeks the benefit of other. A mind that does not bulldoze or crusade through history, culture or  peoples lives demanding conformation and a mind that accepts people as they are and does not demand that they change in order to become  acceptable….indeed it welcomes diversity. So then the crucified mind is the very antithesis of the egocentric path.

So if we are truly to honour those who gave their lives for our freedom and for the hope of future peace – we can only do so by addressing the the my way or no way mindset within ourselves.

Do you really aspire to live the state of the crucified mind because if you do then you are opening the to door to a consciousness that will give rise to a lasting peace. When we are in alignment with the qualities of peace and humility then Christ will shine through the darkness of the warring paradigm – transforming, healing and bringing us to a glorious vision where we shall know the peace that passes all understanding.

So let us remember and  honour those who died not just with our thoughts and remembrances but  also with our intentions and actions so that our own lives model the message of the kingdom that the whole world  might see. There is no clearer proclamation of the good news than that.

 

 

Scribes and Pharisees

 

IMG_4475Sermon based on  – Joshua  3: 7-17 and Matthew 23: 1 – 13a

To understand today’s gospel reading we need to go back to the Israelites being freed from Egypt where they had been enslaved in really harsh circumstances for several hundred years.

Now to be set free  from long term captivity under conditions of control and abuse is not as easy as walking out of the door, the aftermath is a nightmare. So much brainwashing is involved in getting people to accept and comply with living in abusive circumstances so that when they are released almost a reprogramming needs to happen so that they can learn to make decisions, take responsibility and access their own thoughts and feelings – reestablishing their own identity.

And so the Israelites are led out of Egypt  and into the wilderness where they spend some 40 years establishing a mindset that is able to cope with freedom. They are taught, with Moses as mediator between themselves and God,  to rely on the One God for everything – even their water and food and as this period unfolds the structures emerge on which to rebuild their lives their culture, and found a new religion. But this is going to require a fairly rigid Law be in place to keep them looking ahead towards the new vision and to prevent them from settling back into the enslaved patterns of thought and behaviour as this had been so ingrained within them down the generations.

It was a massive cultural, psychological and  social transformation that they were going through. And the law in all its minute detail was designed to enable this rebuilding so that they could move on to a new vision.

So what do you think God’s motivation was in this?.

Well it was a  pure longing for his people, their enslavement was heartbreaking  to God…he wanted them back, it was motivated by Love…but it had to be a tough love given what we have said so far.

So Moses, humble stuttering Moses who was in complete awe at being called to this task, somewhat reluctantly agrees to lead God’s people out of Egypt towards the promised vision (though he himself did not make it there) – of a land flowing with milk and honey. A geographical place, the land of Canaan, that would become their home.

But as with all such stories there is also a much deeper layer of meaning underneath the literal layer. Because Moses was mirroring a much greater  vision for God’s people than merely leading them towards the geographical promised land. You see Moses was also modelling, the intimate, direct relationship with God which he himself had. For Moses there was no mediator between him and God…yet Moses was fully human as we are. And whilst the Israelites in the wilderness were a long way from that level of intimate consciousness, as they grappled to break free from Israel, Moses was undoubtedly signposting a time to come  in the unfolding story between God and his people, many generations down the line when that intimate direct relationship, once known by us in Eden would be restored for us, in Christ..  So behind the law was something much deeper than merely establishing a new religion and culture. It was pure unbounded love of God for his people, that would in time draw us into intimacy, restoring us all to the promised land (to use this as metaphysical term).

So you see the two layers to this story the literal and the mystic.

In  the literal sense then the law in those days was a means to an end.  The problem was that, the people came to  view the Law as the main thing and forgot what lay behind the law….

It’s a bit like us churches when we make our buildings and hierarchical structures the main thing…so that our mission to grow in and share God’s Love becomes sidelined.  In truth our buildings and structures and hierarchies are a means to an end not the end in itself.  But so often churches struggle to see that.

To be clear then…. the Law was there to enable the vision but  it was not in itself the vision. This is why Jesus says I have not come to abolish the Law of Moses but to fulfil it. He is the vision made manifest the one that leads us all to the ultimate promised land.

But as I said, the Law takes on a far greater significance for the people as the Jewish religion develops  so that in time down though the history from the Exodus, Scribes (who are legal experts} come to be very powerful as do the Pharisees, (a sect who devote themselves to ensuring people stick rigidly to the law). And without any recourse whatsoever to the vision behind the Law these people impose a cruel and harsh regimen, not out Holiness, but out of the egotistical desire for power and control.

So there is the background to our readings for today….

Now, here in our gospel reading,  in verses 1 and 2 we find Jesus right up against these scribes and pharisees. There are crowds and the  disciples observing whilst Jesus publicly exposes the corrupt actions of these two groups.

V3 – 8  He acknowledges that whist they teach the Law of Moses they are doing it from a proud egotistical, superior position, wanting to be called Rabbi’s to further their own ends and so falsely placing themselves as mediators between God and the people.

This isn’t what God called people out of Egypt for….to be held in captivity all over again.   But Jesus sets the record straight.

V9 ‘And call no one your Father on earth, for you have one father, the one in heaven,

V 10 Nor are you to be called instructors for you have one instructor, the Messiah. (or Christ which has exactly the same meaning)

What is unfolding here is the ultimate vision that….’In Christ we come to know the Father in heaven..  No purely human mediator is required as in the time of Moses. In our inner most being Christ leads us to where the Father was waiting all along.

Indeed we will never know God through  a purely human mediator (though they can point us to Christ) and we will never know God  in our own strength……  but in Christ we are joined in such a way that  the setting free, the mystical union, the ultimate promised land, the kingdom of heaven  is accessible for each soul and that is why Jesus says I came to fulfil the Law
Now Jesus turns his attention to the clothes that theses Scribes and Pharisees are wearing.

Not literally of course…. if your remember my sermon here  I talked about the man who was thrown out of the wedding banquet for wearing the wrong clothes and we established that this was about the wrong attitude….you will never know the Kingdom of God from a proud, arrogant self important position….but in today’s reading these are exactly the clothes that the scribes and the Pharisees are wearing.

V6 ‘They love to have the place of honour at the banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be treated with respect in the market places.’

But in verse 12 we hear ‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

You see how this reflects entirely my sermon on the wedding banquet and the importance of wearing the clothes of humility if you want to draw close to God (to be exalted)  and if you want to preclude yourself from the banquet then wear your pride!!.
So where are the Scribes and the Pharisees today in 21st century society? Well, trust me they are about…People who burden others with the law, judging them unworthy sinners, under the misconception that they are in a position to judge. But of course, none of us are. 

But more importantly than looking outside of ourselves for the Scribes and the Pharisees we first should look to see what clothes we are wearing because in truth there is a pharisee in every one of us. Hands up anyone here who has not judged another person unworthy. Hands up anyone who has not thought of another person as unacceptable merely because they are different from us. Thomas Merton the Trappist Monk said;

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

Thomas Merton  was someone who knew precisely what clothes to wear, a man who constantly wore the garments of humility and through this gracious love for God’s people brought many to faith.

The message for us today then is about getting our own house in order.  Christ is our mediator no one else.  Anyone (whether that is you or someone else) who tries to burden someone with with rules about how they ought or should or must live their  life in order to be acceptable to God  is falsely and arrogantly claiming a power they don’t have and as Jesus puts it in v13  ‘Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites for you lock people out of the Kingdom of heaven’.

Your own spiritual discipline  produces fruit when you wear the clothes of humility and know that this is the inner work that Christ calls us each  to that the vision of the Kingdom or the promised land which ever metaphor you prefer will be realised by your own soul.

I am going to leave us with the words of Micah who sums it up like this.

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk Humbly with God.

 

The Wedding Banquet

 

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Sermon based on – Philippians 4:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14

So in our gospel reading Jesus using a parable to explain the Kingdom of God. Why might he do that?  Well really there are no adequate words to describe the Kingdom only parables can speak to us of such hidden treasures. The biggest mistake we make is to think of this as a literal event yet people do…..  Many people get really upset that the man with the wrong clothes got kicked out…some wonder at such harshness, maybe the man couldn’t  afford the right clothes, or if they had come in off the street may be they didn’t have the right clothes to change into.

I repeat, this has nothing to do with what people were wearing on their bodies…..In parables we have to look for the symbolism.

Firstly  The Wedding, whenever there is a wedding involved in such stories  it often symbolises the inner mystic state of  Christ drawing ever closer to the human soul towards union. The ultimate expression of this is a sense of oneness with God that we can experience for ourselves, and probably have fleetingly from time to time.

But Jesus lived in that blissful state…he tells us ‘I and the father are one’…and Jesus invites us to engage in that same oneness through Him. Without him it is not possible for us to draw close to God but in him that inner union is perfectly possible. The call to  grow in Christ means precisely this…To draw ever nearer to reconciliation with God

The wedding is being hosted by the King…Who is the King in this Story?….. God

and it is his Son’s wedding – Who is the Son?…. The Christ

Who is the bride of Christ?….The Church, i.e. the body of believers (that means us)

So, we are not only invited to the wedding but we are invited to be a part, in Christ, in what is sometimes referred to as the  Mystical union..  The direct experience of  oneness with God. And we are all invited to partake in this wedding.

So the servants come with  invitations for us to come and partake in the most profound, glorious, indescribably transforming change within our own soul, an invitation proffered in great humility and longing for us to just even register who it is who it is who calls us. But unfortunately we are too busy to accept…We have to attend to our church business, make sure our buildings are in order and the property schedules are done and that we have attended all the meetings we have to go to and then there’s the choir concert  we have to rehearse for and … so on and on.
And that is precisely what is happening in the parable..The People make light of the invitation from God because they are too busy going about their mundane business. Now of course we all know we have to go about our business but the point that the parable makes is that those that were invited, those God assumed would want to come we might say, were so busy with their mundanities that they failed to recognise the significance of the ceremony that God had planned.

So anyway, not to let the banquet go to waste the king says to the servants…go and invite people off the streets to come no matter who they are, good or bad let them come to this feast.  This is interesting because it’s is telling us that actually all people are invited to this wedding, all people can partake in this union!
And so the people come….bad and good and the wedding hall is full of guests.  Then the king comes to see his guests as we might suppose he would but there was a man not wearing the right clothes.. The king is horrified and wants to know why the man has turned up in the wrong clothes but the man is  speechless. But his lack of right clothes means that he is not able to stay at the wedding and he is banished. And immediately after this, we are told, in the last verse of the passage that ‘many are called but few are chosen’.  

So we might surmise that the reason few are chose is because few actually wear the right clothes! 

So the next question then is, supposing that we really want to go to this wedding…(because in truth the invitation is always on the table)…What are the right clothes to wear?

Well, if we turn to our reading from Philippians, which sits alongside the gospel reading i we will find the entire wardrobe of what we are supposed to wear if we want to partake in this ceremony.

So, here then is the required dress code;

  • Rejoice in the Lord
  • Let your gentleness be known to everyone
  • Do not worry about anything 
  • Pray with thanksgiving
  • Focus on what is just and right and pure and commendable and worthy of praise
  • These are the clothes you should wear.

You see God wouldn’t mind too much if you turned up to the wedding in cut off Jeans, bovver boots and a knotted hanky on your head.  Your outer clothes are of no concern. It is the state of your heart and mind that matters above all else. If you show up wearing

  • Arrogance
  • Pride
  • Lack of forgiveness
  • Lack of Kindness
  • Judging others

You will find that you have precluded yourself from the wedding. It is not so much that God will throw you are simply not in the right inner state to be able to make it into the state of inner alignment with God that moves us towards union.

But the really important question now is this. When you get up in the morning…who decides what you will wear?  The fact is, you do, and so it is with our inner lives, minute by minute we are responsible for deciding which attitudes we will wear when we encounter others.

Therefore if you really want to go to this ceremony then 1). Clear your diary because nothing in your mundane life is more important than this and 2). Observe the dress code in your dealings with others and before long you will realise that the invitation was there all along.

 

 

 

 

23rd Psalm

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

 

Closing Message to Trinity Methodist church

New pathwayLeaving Service

So I want to begin by reminding us of the promises I made when I arrived here, these were;

  1. I would be useless at admin, and
  2. I would take you on a profoundly deep journey of discovery of God within you if you would chose to come along.

With the first one  I think I possibly even exceeded your expectations …For your part, you  have been entirely gracious and supportive in this – thank you

With the second one… well you exceeded my expectations with numbers who did sign up, and attended the sessions every fortnight for almost 3 years,  or who came on the retreats, or who engaged in the countless one to one or small group informal conversations, or our celtic circles that have unfolded through the journey, or those who were challenged through my preaching and teaching to look again, to think outside of the box that the institution so often puts around our faith.

You also exceeded my expectations with the commitment, depth, wisdom and discernment in which you have grown and with the leadership emerging from amongst you to ensure  this ongoing spiritual unfolding.

Our work together has been an incredible journey of mutual learning and growing in The mystery of God that inspired the psalmist to write.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.

As a natural introvert and contemplative,  the evangelistic, outward facing, publicly engaging ministry is not my natural style, it doesn’t come easily at all. I have to work at it and in some ways I feel a lesser minister for those reasons especially when I see the brilliance of my extroverted and profoundly gifted colleagues.

But 2 weeks ago on ordination Sunday in which 2 of those amazing colleagues were ordained, both the  President and vice president  spoke during the morning service and it was something our president, Lorraine Mellor  said that struck a chord. She said that she and the vice president Jill Baker were very different people so much so that she wondered how it would work between them. She herself was an evangelist  with a broad engaging, outward facing ministry whereas  Jill Baker was to be found quietly leading retreats and pilgrimages. Lorraine said that she would spend the evenings at conference gathering and socialising with people in the bar whereas Jill would retreat to her room in search of the peace and silence (which is precisely how we introverts must recharge our batteries).

The distinction that Lorraine made in her address reminded me of Paul’s words in Ephesians:

‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’
It struck me that ministry is vast and God gives his people many different qualities so that collectively our gifts can portray something of those different dimensions. Length and Depth and Height and width of the love of God.

My own ministry I think, is rather like pot holing, going into the deep, deep places of the soul and discovering hidden treasures, peace and beauty beyond measure as we begin to realise that the spring from which we drink, that promises we will never be thirsty again, was there within us all along.

Now there is a huge amount of discussion at the moment at connexion, districts, circuits and local churches about what we can do about our declining numbers and empty buildings and there are many exciting new and multi dimensional initiatives in this circuit and beyond that are addressing the issues but I want to say this…

All that we do must be underpinned by a strong, congruent, and deep knowledge of who we are in Christ, and who Christ is in us, in the depths of our own soul.

Christ came that we can have life to the full but so often we wear our religion like a straight jacket… with all our oughts and musts and  shoulds and institutional habits and religious language so that we have learnt, quite wrongly,  that what we do (and indeed don’t do) is far more important than who we are in Christ.  ‘Doing’ has become more important than ‘Being’…And that is completely the wrong way round.
As you know I have a great love for Celtic Spirituality which is at the heart and soul of our Heart and Soul sessions on a monday evening.  For the Celts, Christ was in everything, through everything in the stars and the moon and each blade of grass, the cycles of nature, in the silence, in their encounters with each other, and in whomever they came across. Christ was at the core of who they were! Immanent in every moment of life. It was this way of being that attracted the world want to know this Christ. Nobody needed to meet to discuss what they must do to gain followers of Christ. Christ was immediately palpable in the very fabric and daily lives of those who followed him.

But one can hardly wonder why engaging the world in the good news  today is so difficult when the major church headlines of the last week have included things like the pope banning gluten free bread at communion on theological grounds and another mainstream denomination publicly tearing itself apart over gay conversion therapy….

These are symptoms of a religion that has lost all sight of the breadth and height and depth and length of the love of God and instead is wearing a straightjacket of human making….

So my deeply soul focused, celtic and monastic,  style of ministry – that challenges institutional norms at every opportunity is not perhaps what you were expecting when I arrived here  but is absolutely  who I am called to be with a passion, as you now well know, and I have sought to live that calling with integrity during my 3 years here.

I can’t tell you how sad I am to be going so soon, there was much more that I wanted to do and yet I know that, within my decision as within this circuit  the transformational power of the Spirit is at work. And sometimes it takes a change in circumstance to release the Spirit. The burning platform we call it. It is far easier to let the Spirit to flow and for transformation to happen when you are on that platform than when you are stuck in the rut of doing things because that’s the institution has always done them.  

This circuit has some of the most gifted people lay and ordained, that I have ever met whose ministry and leadership lives and breathes the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God. Right now you are in a position. Rather like the disciples locked in a room. A bit fearful as there is a significant change in circumstances, you are maybe wondering what the future will hold  and yet you are more equipped than you can even begin to imagine to go where the Spirit is leading you. You are rich beyond measure in your personal and corporate spirituality and are set free to be magnificent. The rest is just about  perspective. If you see this as an opportunity – you will entirely flow with and be transformed by the Spirit.

It has been a joy and a privilege for me have been a minister in this circuit. I have learnt so much and my new churches will receive a better minister because of everyone of you here. There has been much laughter, love and friendship shared between us, the occasional tussle but nothing that the grace of God, shared with each other,  did not sort out.  There is inevitably much left undone when a term of ministry is cut short and I would want to say that I am sorry for the expectations left unfulfilled  yet as I  said, these often make way for new  opportunities when the Spirit is free to do her work.

But in the end words can’t say how much I will miss you nor express my gratitude for all that you are.

So my heartfelt thanks to you all and now a blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.