‘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.
Contemplating the Image of renewal (Zechariah 7; Romans 8,1-17) /Monday, 13th Week after Trinity Sunday, Book of Common Prayer lectionary/
‘Execute true judgement, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.’
This turning to the image of God in the other person is the very ground of social and cultural renewal. Amidst political turmoil, and the distractions of the digital age, it is an imperative. This is the only way of refocusing on our true self. This turn to the God-image in others, in return, builds up in us a genuine self-esteem. Through this double-attention (to the other and to our true self), we can recognise God’s love within us.
Actually, Saint Paul offers an in-depth contemplation of what this God-image is in us. ‘For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.’ ‘But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodes by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.’
Love is a permanent creation (over above chaos) (Zechariah 1,1-17) / Book of Common Prayer lectionary, Morning Prayer 12th Week after Trinity Sunday/
Zechariah’s vision is startling. There is beauty in it combined with the feeling of unease. This dream-revelation occurred under the suffocating reign of king Darius. World powers cast their shadow on the story of the Jewish people. They are suspended between a captivity and an unfulfilled return.
‘I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white. Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth. And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.’
Then follows the revelation of God’s intention to rebuild the Temple. ‘I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.’
History is in fermentation. The images a culture sees amidst enormous changes are feverish, uncanny images, full of uncertainty even anxiety. This age of the prophet, just like that of ours, cries for a Temple. We need a ‘Temple’ through which culture can attain its long longed-for stability. The function of the temple is to accommodate our anxieties, disturbing images and uncontrollable ‘death drives’ (Freud). All what is unprocessed, what is chaotic can be transformed into worship. No wonder that the returning priests from the captivity sing, and play their musical instruments.
When we pray and sing in our churches, our songs reflect this underlying volcano of history. Church music, we should remember, always connects the two worlds: eruptive chaos and our law and reason governed life, which prevents the return of our chaotic and violent past.
Let us have a look at our world with its growing tensions. We must return to God. We must return the chaotic forces of our world to the Lord’s transforming presence. Love is a permanent creation.
A redeeming personal presence (Ezra 4; Romans 3)(From the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary, Matins Twelve Week after Trinity )
‘Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia.’ ‘Give ye new commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not built, until another commandment shall be given from me’
There will be always hindrances in building the Kingdom of God! Artaxerxes, the king listened to the ‘reports’. Worldly power is always suspicious - and does not recognise the grace of God.
In some way, Paul’s letter ties in well with this hindered history. This is the person of Christ, in whom God’s redemptive love shines through and breaks our present open to desired changes. There is something unsurpassable joy to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. When the ‘weight of Arthaxerxeses’ does not leave a breathing space for history, a person, the person of our Lord is the solution. His personal love can go through all the inertia, and mistrust, accumulated in politics, public life, and personal circumstances. ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’
‘…the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah stired up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia… The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.’
Prophet Ezra gives us an important thought. The joy of starting things anew! We return to God every day, and have to have the experience that it is such a gift to build his Temple - every day. Building our things and issues anew, refocus ourselves, is a toilig work…yet, the renewal it brings, is such a joy!
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..