Marjorie Brown sermon continued

It brings home very powerfully the whole idea of how we are shaped by the way we are raised and taught. It also asks the question, what kind of wisdom do we live by? What is its source and its authority? How do we judge if it is really wisdom or folly?

Today’s first reading is from one of the books of the Hebrew Bible that are known collectively as wisdom literature. The Book of Proverbs used to be favourite reading for both Jews and Christians. St Paul quoted from it. Medieval rabbis turned to it frequently. The 17th century English Puritans regarded it as a guidebook for living a righteous life. Children used to be strongly encouraged to memorize much of it.

A modern commentator, Ellen F. Davis, describes the proverbs as little poems, about the length of a haiku or a Zen koan. They are a collection of oral literature, and they are meant to be said out loud and mulled over, bit by bit, not read straight through like a story with a narrative drive. They are an introduction to the wisdom of a faith community. The proverbs are small nuggets for chewing slowly, suitable for children and new enquirers, but also providing material for mature believers to meditate on.

Teaching by poetry is a way of going straight to our heart rather than our head. Our heads are filled with knowledge, especially in the information-rich 21st century. We know that our technical expertise can have both excellent effects and devastating consequences for ourselves, our planet, and future generations. Knowing a lot of things isn’t enough. We also need the wisdom that enables us to judge the good from the bad. We need to be formed into habits of wise living. Without early discipline, we will naturally tend to folly, as human beings always have the tendency to do.

Early formation of our thinking and judging is the responsibility of our parents, and the Book of Proverbs makes that abundantly clear. Some parents shirk this task and their children flail around in later life without any structure or boundaries to guide them. Other parents take the task to heart but form their children’s minds and hearts in ways that are ultimately destructive – this is what is shown in Apostasy, and we can see this outcome in many sad human situations. Whether it is the effect of belonging to an unbalanced cult or the consequence of parental addictions or abusive behaviour, the children are harmed for life. They have not been given what they should have been given, something far more important than material goods or genetic advantages, and that is the habit of wisdom.

In this short reading from Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as the mistress of a house. It is a fine house, large enough to be able to accommodate many people, with seven pillars. Wisdom has prepared a banquet, and she sends out a general invitation to come and eat and drink and learn. Hospitality in the ancient world, and in many cultures today, is a serious work of virtue. It is not mere social etiquette. Refusing an invitation has bad consequences, as we know from Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet. Those who made excuses and failed to turn up came to a bad end.

So we readers should be warned that disregarding this invitation from Lady Wisdom would be a major error. It’s a free and generous offer. And it’s an offer not just of nourishment but of life itself. Forsake the foolish, and live, she says. Come and learn.

So it’s no surprise that this reading is paired with today’s gospel. For the past few weeks we have been reading the words of Jesus in John’s gospel about the bread of life. Today we have a passage in which he uses some strong and surprising language about himself. Essentially he is making an offer to us, like Lady Wisdom, to come and be fed. His hospitality is not just to his house, but to his very self. We are to eat not just his bread but his body, to drink not just his wine but his blood. The outcome of doing so will be eternal life. Jesus will dwell in us and we will dwell in him.

At every Eucharist we accept this invitation. We receive the free gift that will form us, slowly, over a lifetime, into a person who is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. It’s not an instant transformation. There may well have been a moment in our lives when “my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed thee”. But that was just the beginning. Like a child being carefully natured by a wise parent, we are fed and formed in the likeness of Christ over a lifetime’s pilgrimage.

Receiving Christ in the sacrament is not a routine matter. Every time we eat the bread and drink the cup, we renew our relationship with God. We learn a little more of the wisdom we need. We are reminded that all is gift and that our lives should be shaped by thankfulness. In the readings from scripture, we are given morsels to chew on for the week ahead. Slowly, with two steps forward and one step back, in the way of all human beings, we are shaped into the person God created us to be.

We live in an age of instant access to almost everything we need or think we want. Having grown up in a time when you had to save up to buy something, and then go out and find it in a shop, I still reel at the ease with which a couple of thumb-strokes on my phone will bring me an Amazon delivery the very next day. I suppose in the future it will be the very next hour as a drone drops the package at my door!

We can answer any question by turning to the internet. No more of that enjoyable riffling through encyclopedias to find things out, with lots of random information turning up along the way.

Today’s world promises that we can learn a skill or a language or get fit or beautiful in almost no time at all by buying whatever product is being promoted. But wisdom doesn’t come this way. It’s not on sale by any huckster. It isn’t quick and expensive. It’s slow and free.

Wisdom, leading to true life and flourishing, is on offer to all. But it takes work. We have to dedicate ourselves to the discipline of learning it over our whole lifetime, and we have to take the time and trouble to induct our children into the habits of wisdom.

These habits include reading the Bible slowly and chewing over what we read, taking it into our heart as well as our head. They include constant remembrance of our state of dependence on God, so that we review our lives and give thanks for our blessings day by day. And they include coming to church to feed on the bread of life, week in, week out, so that we know our need of this food and miss it when we do not receive it.

The fruit of this long, slow, formation will be lives that other people look to for examples of wisdom. This is what God offers us, and what we in turn can help our children to grow into. If we don’t give this formation the time and attention it needs, we, or our children, will be easy prey for the merchants of folly, the cults, the addictions and the sins that look so alluring on the surface.

The collect today is one of my favourites, describing God as wont to give more than either we desire or deserve. It reminds us that our hunger isn’t strong enough! We don’t even know how to desire what God wants to give us. Blessed are those who feel hungry for the bread of life, and who hear the invitation to the house of seven pillars. If we accept the offer, we will live life in all its fullness, and dwell with God forever.

 

Ros sermon continued

Yet in today’s Gospel reading John takes this search for proof a step further.  Even when the crowd have seen signs they do not perceive their full significance.  In the verses that precede today’s reading we learn that the crowd regarded the healing and feeding work of Jesus as signs that Jesus was ‘a prophet that has come into the world’ and want to make him king because he has healed and fed them in the feeding of the five thousand.  This is a very understandable response to someone who has healed and nurtured you.

Why then, would Jesus call for anything more?

In today’s Gospel reading John gives us the answer.  Jesus wants the people to understand the spiritual significance of bread that he gives them as ‘food that endures for eternal life’.  Jesus explains to them that when their ancestors ate manna in the wilderness it was not Moses who gave it to them but God ‘who gives the true bread from heaven’.  It is this bread ‘that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’.  Jesus reveals to them that he is ‘the bread of life’ and whoever comes to him will never be hungry and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. Hearing this, the people comprehend now the full significance of the bread.

We do not have to conclude from this spiritual significance that John was steering us away from earthly reality.  We do not have to reach that conclusion because in John’s Gospel we have a ‘realized eschatology’.  By this I mean John invites us not to consider the end of the world but its rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples.  In the Johannine literature the setting of God’s activity is one in which earth and heaven, time and eternity have been conjoined.  By this means eternal life can become a reality in the present as the worlds ‘above’ and ‘below’ intersect.  Jesus wants the people to understand the full spiritual significance of the bread but the bread is actual bread given to the five thousand.  Actual bread is given in John’s Gospel by Jesus to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, just before Judas betrays him and this makes the betrayal of Jesus by Judas so devastating because John has given us Jesus as ‘the bread of life’.

So an earthly reality is there in John’s Gospel that conjoins with the sacramental quality of life in Christ.  There is also reference in today’s Gospel reading to a seal.  Jesus says: ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal’.  Here the reference is not primarily to the bread of the Eucharist but to Jesus’ word of revelation.  This is an example of John’s realized eschatology as Jesus in the present moment is telling the people that God has set his seal upon the Son of Man whilst the word ‘seal’ is also in the language of the Book of Revelation which is concerned with the end time.  In Revelation there are the seven seals, the first four of which depict the imminent eschatological future in which the salvation of the faithful is a major theme.

Let us come down to earth again from the awesome heights of Revelation. The words ‘sign’ and ‘seal’ in our present day earthly reality bring to my mind the postal system.  We use the expression ‘signed, sealed and delivered’ when describing the finalising of post, its despatch and arrival at its destination.  So we might say that the signs revealed in the New Testament by Jesus and the seal set upon Jesus by God are there in John’s Gospel to deliver his message.  In this message Jesus provides the living water and the heavenly bread which develop the Christology of Jesus as the Mosaic prophet king.

This Christology is a “high Christology” of Jesus as divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God talking openly about his divine role.  Yet John gives us a realized eschatology because unlike the remaining Synoptic Gospels where the chief theme is the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, in John’s theme Jesus is the source of eternal life and the Kingdom is only mentioned twice.  Nevertheless there is an identification again with the Book of Revelation because Jesus as the living water in John’s Gospel is echoed in Revelation where it is written: ‘I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life without payment’.  Again, in Revelation, ‘the river of living water will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb’.

Moving forward once again through time to our modern world, in the lyrics of the song dedicated to his girlfriend, Stevie Wonder sings that he said goodbye to his girlfriend but he now realises that she is his heart’s only desire and so he presents himself to her again in the words ‘here I am, signed, sealed, delivered I’m yours’.

I believe that John invites us also in his Gospel to turn to Jesus as the seal set by God who has offered us signs offering us eternal life and that we can return the compliment by seeking God through Jesus by saying the words to him: ‘signed, sealed, delivered I am yours’.

AMEN

Pentecost 2018 St Mark’s  – William Gulliford 20 May 2018

Yesterday, Lady Jane Fellowes, sister of the late Diana, Princess of Wales read at the wedding of her nephew, Prince Harry, from King Solomon’s Song of Songs:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, a seal upon your arm, love is as strong as death, passion as strong as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame…” Continuing reading

The Theology of the Land with a focus on Reconciliation

A keynote address by Dr. Clare Amos at the conference: ‘Homeland? Exploring the heritage of the Balfour Declaration’, 21st October 2017
There is a wonderful saying of Archbishop Michael Ramsey that I often find myself drawing on when I want to encourage lay people to believe that they, or should I say ‘we’ – as well as clergy – have the right and duty to reflect on questions of theology. Continuing the reading

Revd Dr Matthias Grebe, Remembrance Day,  November 2016

“The Battle of the Somme raged for 141 days. More than a million men were killed or wounded, making it one of the bloodiest battles in history. And this year marks the centenary of what has been seen as the beginning of modern all-arms warfare.
As a German working as a priest in the Church of England, ‘Remembrance Day’ always arrives with rather mixed feelings..” Continue the reading

Revd William Gulliford 16 October 2016 Trinity XXI 

“I’d like you to hold in your mind three fight- related images which are presented to us in today’s readings. First from today’s Old Testament reading the night time wrestling even between Jacob and the un-named man. Second, the picture from this morning’s Gospel reading of the importunate widow addressing the unjust judge, and then her punching him in the eye. And third that picture which this morning’s Old Testament reading gives us of Jacob, newly named Israel, holding his hip in pain, limping away from the scene at Penuel”. Continue the reading

Revd William Gulliford, 22 May 2016, TheSunday after the Ascension

“And behold, I come quickly.” Rev 22: 12 . This Sunday after the Ascension is the opportunity to look back at the moment of Our Lord’s departure from the sight of his Disciples and the sending of His Spirit, on the Feast of Pentecost, which we mark next week, and which concludes the Easter season.
And so this is something of an in-between moment, a pause, a time of waiting. Continue the reading

Good Friday – Caiaphas

Jesus before his Jewish and Roman judges is both judged and judge, condemned and the one who himself condemns.I want to reflect with you on one person in particular with whom Jesus has to do in these final hours. Spare me one or two moments of improbable exploration on this journey, just so as to excavate these familiar yet dense narratives. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters next week, will not have a liturgy of this kind. They wait until the Evening of their GoodFriday and then instead of pondering the nature and significance of Our Lord’s death, as is customary in the West, instead using the burial rite of the dead, they adorn an ornamental shroud with as many flowers as it can bear and process it around the church,before as it were burying it on the altar.
The person of the High Priest, Caiaphas, and connected with him his father in law Annas holds a particular fascination for me. Perhaps it is because I spend part of my life interviewing potential priests that the character of the High Priest who tried Jesus intrigues me. Continue the reading 2015-03-03 Good Friday – Caiaphas

01 March 2015 – Sermon for Lent II Readings: Genesis 17.1-7, 15, 16 Romans 4.13-25 Mark 8.31-38 by William  Levanway

“Righteousness comes by faith not by the law. The law brings God’s wrath, but faith brings righteousness, justification, the promises of God made real in our lives. What are these words: ‘faith’, ‘righteousness’, ‘justification’, ‘wrath’? What do they mean? What do we mean when we say them? What does Christ mean when he gives his blunt judgement: ‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.’ (Mark 8.34b-35)? “Read entire LentIISermon