The world as His coming (Ecclesiasticus, 1,1-10; Acts 1) /Monday after 23rd Sunday after Trinity, BCP lectionary, Matins./
‘The world of God most high is the fountain of wisdom; and her ways are everlasting commandments.’ The created world which surrounds us, including our social realm, is a window onto God’s - heaven’s life. We should spend sufficient amount of quality time in engaging this humbling vision: that our reality is rooted in God’s person. Recognising the world as God’s dwelling place (and working on it!) is a great motivation for our daily work.
The passage from Acts takes this thought further, from a new aspect. This is the event of Jesus’ ascension to Heaven after Pentecost. When it happened, ‘two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.’ We Christians, added to the above said, have a special sensitivity . We can look at our physical and social realm as an icon, which radiates the Lord’s return. Our world is never in idle running. In every moment, it vibrates to the frequency of God’s own life: his presence, his coming, his grace. This ‘tangible’ ‘second coming’ (His return) is our utmost motivation to prepare our world as the Messiah’s dwelling place.
Our countries are paralysed by the fear of ‘fake news’. Obviously, sometimes it is convenient for reigning governments to find a scapegoat country who is ‘poisoning our democracy by planting fake news’.
Then the collective trembling and desire to fight back comes. Fake news seem to be the straightforward consequence of the world becoming thousand and thousand times fragmented. The cyber-space and multi-channel communication technologies are just a good ground to increase this fragmentation when the ‘real’ becomes unscrutinizably un-real.
Whatever the source of this getting entangled with the ‘fake’, it seems that Christian’s have the ‘philosophers’ stone’. There is one thing, only one, according to our Creed, that can wash us clean from fake realities. There is only one option that unquestionably resists all reality-manipulations. This is the regular engagement with the Divine Word revealed in the Scriptures. The Benedictine lectio divina, and the ‘divine office’, the community’s regular prayers based on the Old and New Testaments - unifies the world in us as real. Outside this realm, everything else is manipulation and superficiality.
So let us read the words of the Gospel in this spirit, as the anti-dote to ‘fake news’. ‘And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? And what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass? And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them. But when ye shall hear of wars and commutations, be not terrified: but the end is not by and by.’ (Luke 21,5-end)
A distance from within (Ecclesiastes 3,1-15; Luke 20,1-26) /Matins, 22nd week after Trinity Sunday, Matins BCP/
‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to mourn, and a time to dance…’
‘Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? Or who is he that gave thee this authority?’
The two texts offer the conclusion: there is a time to recognise the Messiah.
‘And Jesus beheld them and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.’
In Jesus, we recognise the Messiah. He is the proper distance from history, and its ultimate judge. Jesus gives us this proper distance from within history, which distance makes possible all understanding. The nature of this distance reflects his geniality. What Jesus gives is not escapist narratives but our very transformation within that vast stream called history.
This inner freedom and distance is expressed in the coin, the closing image of today’s Gospel passage: ‘Give unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God things which be God’s’ We are placed into this world to acquire freedom and power to see Ceasar’s world not outside God, but within God’s light. History, our history thus becomes His story.
The importance of eyes (Proverbs, 1-22; Luke 14,1-24) /Wednesday, Twenty-first Week after Trinity Sunday, Matins BCP /
The Book of Proverbs makes the observation: 'A king that sitteth in the throne of judgement scattereth away all evil with his eyes.'
We have the (moral and spiritual) task of evaluating our age. Life, history itself, cannot pass by unexamined. Otherwise our eyes will be distorted by evil.
In Luke's Gospel we can see how the Pharisees 'watched Jesus', what he is doing on a Sabbath day. He heals a certain main who had the dropsy. The Pharisees condemn him for doing this on the Sabbath. The situation shows when Jesus, the heart of history, is misjudged. They remain blind because their eyes were already dead. 'And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?...Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightaway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.'
What follows is the parable of taking first the less honourable places, and then being elevated to the first places. 'When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not donwn in the highest room...Go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.'
The parable can, symbolically, be applied to the dignity (value) of a purified heart-sight. Which is well maintained, and kept fine-tuned to truth by not letting the world go by unevalauted. If our world is reflected upon and corrected by Love, it will not go astray.
‘Job rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, it may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’
Job offers a sacrifice as a thanksgiving for his wealth. He is just, totally transparent to God. His theological or spiritual genius is shown in the above lines. Job, via his sensitivity, is aware of how sin, outside its original epicentre, effects wider society. Or, to use another imagery besides that of sin as earthquake, this ‘Chernobyl’, as a harmful background radiation, is also one of the major causes that unbelief and lack of religious practice spread rapidly. Without this perspective, ‘it may be that my sons have sinned and cursed god in their hearts’, the sufferings of Job remain unanswerable.
Satan claims a free access from God to harm Job: ‘Has not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side?’ There is no ‘hedge’ or secure defence around us which would prevent us from ‘social sin’ (the effects of sinning spread in society.) Instead, there ‘comes a great wind from the wilderness’, which destroys and harms, a perfect symbol of how collective sin affects and attacks us.
And when disaster struck, Job, instead of complaining and ‘cursing God’, responds with thanksgiving. The family disasters, which he suffers, are brought upon him by men. These are, metaphorically, images of the devastation caused by war. ‘The fire from heaven burned up the sheep, and the servants’; ‘The Chaldeans carried the camels away, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword’
Job’s reaction is the only way to counteract the ‘evils of war’, the collective effects of sin in general. His blessing heals. Our ability of thanksgiving grounds a different future.
One of the most intriguing passages of the Old Testament. Antiochus, king of Persia fails in his military campaigns. Having heard the news, he falls ill, and on his deathbed makes a striking confession. Actually, it is a striking apology for what he had done.
‘And I thought with myself, Into what tribulation am I come, and how great a flood, of misery is it, wherein now I am! For I was bountiful and beloved in my power. But now I remember the evils I did at Jerusalem, and that I took all the vessels of gold and sliver that were therein, and sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judea without a cause.’
Carl G. Jung speaks of a collective unconscious of humankind. In biblical terms, we can speak of collective relatedness and inter-dependence in salvation history. We (all) are part of a collective ‘sacred psyche’ in terms of responsibility. King Antiochus realised this, that he had sinned against God’s ‘sacred covenant of Israel’.
Saint Paul, from a Christian perspective, confirms this universal responsibility. God created us in the image of his son, Jesus Christ ‘neither Greek nor Jew’. This is a positive affirmation of our (all) participation in salvation history.
What conclusions can be drawn for today? First, our abuse of the sacred calls for conversion, to pay ‘compensation’ and make a repair. The ‘Sacred’ here stands for the values of life, the meaning of life itself.
There is a second conclusion, which we can draw on this universal perspective, which is worth meditating upon. We Christians, when facing the rapid growth of ‘secularisation’, the abandoning of organized religion and its effects, are trying to explain it. Without much success. Consumption, industry, secular politics, etc. are blamed.
King Antiochus’ story offers, perhaps, a deeper insight. The decline of faith in God (and Christ as Redeemer) has to do with violence. This is killing fellow human beings on a mass scale, what has been happening today, has the most devastating effect on faith. Killing leads to the inner destruction of the human (God-related) soul. It destroys the capacity to believe.
There seems to be a collective fall, a breaking down of our ability to the Sacred and Revelation in our culture. Let us take it seriously for a moment. What if it is killing (murder) that blocks our vision of God, our ability to pray and worship? And if this connection exists, what about remaining silent about ‘the Antiochus’ at the heart of our culture?
Serving a black community in Grahame Park more and more often makes me think about this connection. African people, have retained a vibrant faith. For them, believing is natural. I cannot exclude the connection, that the reason they managed to preserve their faith in the Sacred is that they, for generations, were not involved in the ‘violent colonisation’ of the world (based on murderous war-campaigns.) This was the ‘expertise’ of white people. The question is, how long can they persevere in their ability to connect with the Lord. As no one is an island.
‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that you hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’ ‘But when the young man heard that saying he went always sorrowful: for he had great possessions.’
‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’
A very smart selection of texts in the Book of Common Prayer on the feast of Saitn Matthew. The focus is not the classic scene of the calling of Matthew from the tax collectors’ desk. Instead, we can have an insight into the apostle’s spirituality. The above young man could not follow Jesus. Matthew was capable for this big jump into the unknown.
But was this really an unknown? This is the genius of Levi-Matthew. His whole being instinctively felt that Jesus is the answer. Jesus was the answer to the lost ways of an Empire which ruled ruthlessly over its provinces. For him, Jesus was the answer to the stalemate of Jewish religion which lost its ways and genuine Messianic focus.
I imagine Matthew ‘standing up’ in us from the tables of the closed horizons of our age. I would like to see Matthew in the young black guys, members of the local hooded ‘gangs’ here in Grahame Park. In us, voters, commuters, shop keepers, teachers, unemployed and pensioners - all sitting at the tables of our age which offer nothing for the soul.
‘Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; and foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land…’ The people who returned from captivity read out aloud how God looked after the Jewish people throughout history. The high point is the liberation from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea…
We need to learn to identify with this ‘biblical Jewry’ or ‘Jewry of salvation history’. By this we identify with God’s will on the possible deepest level. Acquiring a biblical identity, for us Christians, is the strongest form of resisting the fragmenting forces of history and its present dominant form, consumerism.
Saint Paul takes this identification with God’s will - his love and will present in ‘in the Jewry of salvation history’- further. It is the believer who becomes God’s sacrifice. Identifying oneself with God’s (Christ’s) sacrifice (it is also the continuation of the Temple tradition!) is the deepest biblical and spiritual communion with God. ‘I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but ye transformed to renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.’
The chapter in Nehemiah condemns the practice of trading in Jerusalem on a Sabbath-day. ‘What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city?’ The city ‘gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath’. There is a lot to ponder when we have a look at how our life is governed by restless trade and consumption.
The Sabbath interrupts time ‘occupied by humans’. Indeed, we colonise everything, filling up all space and time with our activities, let them be trade, entertainment, noise, virtual reality, etc. Dedicating the Sabbath-day to God is a great reminder - a constant one - that we are not sovereign lords of history. Resting and praying on the Lord’s day, our Christian Sabbath-day, is also a warning: we are accountable for the sum total of our daily businesses, History.
Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals that Love is at the heart of ‘Sabbath’. Love interrupts the routines (which tends to treat people like objects) of humans. The apostle captures the dynamic (transforming power) of this interruption. ‘And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, But put he on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lust thereof.’
‘I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.’
‘For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to tach in Israel statutes and judgements.’
This is this spirit, upon which our renewal as a church depends. This desire to serve keeps our worship alive. In the local church, which is our altar, we are building Jerusalem – as its extension to our lives.
‘For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body…. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’
Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans shows us that the ‘first builder’ of our Temple (internal, external temples) is the Spirit of God. This is the hidden, vibrant DNA of salvation history. When accepted, it is the revitalising blood-circulation of our struggling (‘groaning’) history.
The good news is that there is always a parallel better future, which has already begun! Let us listen to Spirit’s yearning in us for its fulfilment.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..