gospel-luke

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

luke

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

first sunday in trinity

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

trinity I

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

trinity I

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

trinity 1

 

In today’s Gospel reading we learn of a man in the country of the Gerasenes who is trapped by demons within himself that cause him to live outside the city in the tombs.  The demons have left him as an outcast without even the capacity to wear clothes.  Attempts have been made to imprison him in shackles but his inner demons drive him so distracted that he breaks free and goes into the wilds.

 

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

rogationsunday

Here at St Mark’s we have had the pleasure of hosting walking groups who come here to refresh themselves either during or at the end of their journey and this to my mind is a demonstration of Rogation practice.  Next month we will host groups walking for charity which brings giving into this picture of activity within the church and without.

 

A walk may also be a journey in the mind rather than a bodily experience either by the use of the imagination or in your dreams.  Whichever way it goes, I believe that a walk that includes prayer and praise to God gives us a strong continuum with Biblical activity.  When we read the Bible we know that walking is a major feature from the very beginning.  In the first chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’ and from then on there are numerous references to walking both in the Old Testament and the New.  From the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt through the ministry of Jesus to the journeys of Paul in Acts, the Bible gives us people passing through waters, going up and down mountains, walking through the countryside and by the sea, and finally the back breaking walk of Jesus carrying the Cross to Golgotha.

 

After the death of Jesus, the disciples encounter him during their walk to Emmaus and he has supper with them.  If we turn to the penultimate chapter of Revelation we learn that the nations will ‘walk by the light of the holy city of Jerusalem’.

 

What we can see from this reference to walking beyond the Crucifixion is that the death of Jesus on the Cross was not a triumph of evil over good but a staging post pointing the way to the glory of the kingdom to come.  As given in the book of Revelation, the city of Jerusalem ‘has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’. It also shows us, I believe, that walking is ultimately a spiritual exercise because it is present in the things to come.

 

With the promise of Revelation in mind, no wonder that Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, is able to assure his disciples that his imminent death will not mean fear and trembling for them but peace and rejoicing that he is going to the Father.  These passages are thus referred to as ‘the farewell discourse’ meaning a temporary absence of Jesus from his followers rather than a final goodbye.  In

 

the preceding narrative of John 14, Jesus has already said to them: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’.  He then goes on to say that he will live on in them though they will not see him.  As we learn from today’s Gospel reading, this is on the understanding that they ‘love him and keep his word’.  If they do so God and Jesus will love them and ‘make their home with them’.  Conversely, those who do not love him ‘do not keep his word’.

 

Jesus then goes on to say that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in his name will teach them everything and remind them of everything he has said to them.  As given also in John 15 and Revelation 3 the Spirit will empower the individual and the Christian community to abide fruitfully in Christ when journeying on in the light as the children of God.  As William Neil expresses it in his Bible commentary, God will ‘keep tryst’ with his people through his Spirit beyond the grave.

 

Jesus teaches his disciples in advance so that they may believe.  He tells his disciples that the relationship between God and himself will be repeated in a relationship that will exist between the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In this teaching there is an intimacy between the believer and Jesus; it is an intimate personal relationship as Jesus and the believer abide in each other.  The farewell discourse is directed towards an internal relationship between the disciples,

 

 

Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The use by Jesus of the word ‘Father’ for God encourages this intimacy as ‘Father’ implies family.

 

John’s theology is Christological; that is to say the chief figure is Jesus himself.  Jesus as coming from God and returning to him thereby offering to humanity a way to the Father.

 

Yet in spite of this looking ahead, John’s Gospel is the most orientated of the Gospels in the present.  The Gospel begins with the sending of the Incarnate Word.  Believers who received him had ‘the power to become children of God’.  Here again John differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that he begins his Gospel not with a birth narrative but with Christ as the power behind the universe.  Jesus is divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God.  John differs also from the other Gospel writers in that he teaches in long, subtle discourses rather than the short utterances found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is one such discourse which forms part of what is known as ‘the Book of Glory’ which begins with chapter 13 and ends at chapter 20.  This prepares us for the narrative of the Passion, death and Resurrection.  The Gospel focus is on the ‘hour of glorification’ when Jesus returns to the Father at the Crucifixion’.  It is the glorification of the Word for the world.

 

 

How, though, do we locate the glory in our everyday human experience?  In his book entitled ‘Understanding Doctrine’ Alister McGrath refers to a sermon entitled ‘the Weight of Glory’ preached at Oxford in 1941 by C. S. Lewis.  In this sermon, Lewis spoke of ‘a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy’.  Lewis argued that this sense of longing points to its origin and its fulfilment in God himself.  As Augustine of Hippo had written centuries earlier: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.  I take this to mean that only when we have found our rest in God can we experience the full glory of God.  In the meantime we can glimpse at this glory in God’s creation all around us and in the love of one another.

 

So let us walk on together until we find our rest in God.  As it is Rogation Sunday, and mindful of the warnings of Climate Extinction Rebellion, let us while we walk on ask God to bless the fruits of the earth and keep us from destroying them.

rogationsunday

Here at St Mark’s we have had the pleasure of hosting walking groups who come here to refresh themselves either during or at the end of their journey and this to my mind is a demonstration of Rogation practice.  Next month we will host groups walking for charity which brings giving into this picture of activity within the church and without.

 

A walk may also be a journey in the mind rather than a bodily experience either by the use of the imagination or in your dreams.  Whichever way it goes, I believe that a walk that includes prayer and praise to God gives us a strong continuum with Biblical activity.  When we read the Bible we know that walking is a major feature from the very beginning.  In the first chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’ and from then on there are numerous references to walking both in the Old Testament and the New.  From the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt through the ministry of Jesus to the journeys of Paul in Acts, the Bible gives us

 

people passing through waters, going up and down mountains, walking through the countryside and by the sea, and finally the back breaking walk of Jesus carrying the Cross to Golgotha.

 

After the death of Jesus, the disciples encounter him during their walk to Emmaus and he has supper with them.  If we turn to the penultimate chapter of Revelation we learn that the nations will ‘walk by the light of the holy city of Jerusalem’.

 

What we can see from this reference to walking beyond the Crucifixion is that the death of Jesus on the Cross was not a triumph of evil over good but a staging post pointing the way to the glory of the kingdom to come.  As given in the book of Revelation, the city of Jerusalem ‘has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’. It also shows us, I believe, that walking is ultimately a spiritual exercise because it is present in the things to come.

 

With the promise of Revelation in mind, no wonder that Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, is able to assure his disciples that his imminent death will not mean fear and trembling for them but peace and rejoicing that he is going to the Father.  These passages are thus referred to as ‘the farewell discourse’ meaning a temporary absence of Jesus from his followers rather than a final goodbye.  In

 

the preceding narrative of John 14, Jesus has already said to them: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’.  He then goes on to say that he will live on in them though they will not see him.  As we learn from today’s Gospel reading, this is on the understanding that they ‘love him and keep his word’.  If they do so God and Jesus will love them and ‘make their home with them’.  Conversely, those who do not love him ‘do not keep his word’.

 

Jesus then goes on to say that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in his name will teach them everything and remind them of everything he has said to them.  As given also in John 15 and Revelation 3 the Spirit will empower the individual and the Christian community to abide fruitfully in Christ when journeying on in the light as the children of God.  As William Neil expresses it in his Bible commentary, God will ‘keep tryst’ with his people through his Spirit beyond the grave.

 

Jesus teaches his disciples in advance so that they may believe.  He tells his disciples that the relationship between God and himself will be repeated in a relationship that will exist between the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In this teaching there is an intimacy between the believer and Jesus; it is an intimate personal relationship as Jesus and the believer abide in each other.  The farewell discourse is directed towards an internal relationship between the disciples,

 

 

Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The use by Jesus of the word ‘Father’ for God encourages this intimacy as ‘Father’ implies family.

 

John’s theology is Christological; that is to say the chief figure is Jesus himself.  Jesus as coming from God and returning to him thereby offering to humanity a way to the Father.

 

Yet in spite of this looking ahead, John’s Gospel is the most orientated of the Gospels in the present.  The Gospel begins with the sending of the Incarnate Word.  Believers who received him had ‘the power to become children of God’.  Here again John differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that he begins his Gospel not with a birth narrative but with Christ as the power behind the universe.  Jesus is divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God.  John differs also from the other Gospel writers in that he teaches in long, subtle discourses rather than the short utterances found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is one such discourse which forms part of what is known as ‘the Book of Glory’ which begins with chapter 13 and ends at chapter 20.  This prepares us for the narrative of the Passion, death and Resurrection.  The Gospel focus is on the ‘hour of glorification’ when Jesus returns to the Father at the Crucifixion’.  It is the glorification of the Word for the world.

 

 

How, though, do we locate the glory in our everyday human experience?  In his book entitled ‘Understanding Doctrine’ Alister McGrath refers to a sermon entitled ‘the Weight of Glory’ preached at Oxford in 1941 by C. S. Lewis.  In this sermon, Lewis spoke of ‘a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy’.  Lewis argued that this sense of longing points to its origin and its fulfilment in God himself.  As Augustine of Hippo had written centuries earlier: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.  I take this to mean that only when we have found our rest in God can we experience the full glory of God.  In the meantime we can glimpse at this glory in God’s creation all around us and in the love of one another.

 

So let us walk on together until we find our rest in God.  As it is Rogation Sunday, and mindful of the warnings of Climate Extinction Rebellion, let us while we walk on ask God to bless the fruits of the earth and keep us from destroying them.

Lent I sermon

Why, then, in Luke’s narrative, is Jesus able to resist the temptation made to him by the devil to ‘have authority over all the kingdoms of the world’.  As I understand it, as the Word made flesh he is exposed to all that humanity is exposed to in good times and in bad.  That is to say that he is the Son of God but in his earthly existence he is subject to both praise and, as Shakespeare expressed it ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Yet unlike the rest of us he does not give in to temptation.  To attempt to find out why let us turn to the Book of Genesis when Eve is tempted by the devil in the form of a serpent to eat the fruit of the Tree of Paradise and then tempts Adam to eat it also. This eating of fruit from the Tree of Paradise, which had been forbidden to Adam and Eve by God, leads to God’s punishment: they must fall from the Garden of Eden and in their fallen state must endure pain, enmity, hard labour and the final chilling sentence from God on high: ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. Adam and Eve have foregone their harmony with God and have been left in a state of original sin foisted on them by the devil.  This state of original sin has left us all vulnerable to temptation. All is not lost though when later in the Genesis narrative God saves Noah and his family from the flood he has created to destroy mankind.  He does so because Noah has pleased him as a

 

 

righteous man ‘who walked with God’. Here we see the first manifestation of God’s salvific purpose for humanity.

 

The books of the Old Testament continue with many trials and tribulations for humanity but the birth of Jesus in the New Testament heralds a great leap forward in the salvation story. It does so because Jesus as the Son of God is unique in being without sin and he can therefore resist temptation. He is then, as given in today’s Gospel reading, the perfect model of resistance.  His resistance is inspired by the Holy Spirit which had descended upon him in his baptism.  In the opening sentence of today’s Gospel, Luke writes that Jesus has returned from the Jordan ‘full of the Holy Spirit’.  It is the Holy Spirit that leads him in the wilderness so here we have the enabling power of the Holy Spirit moving Jesus in accordance with the will of God.  In the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘lead us not into temptation’ expressing the hope that the Holy Spirit will lead us too away from temptation.

 

In the Lord’s Prayer, in our petition to God to overcome temptation we are then hoping to emulate Jesus in his resistance to its allurements because unlike Jesus we need God’s help to do so.

 

We continue the Lord’s Prayer by asking God to deliver us from evil. In today’s Gospel reading good and evil are brought face to face in an all out confrontation between Jesus and the devil.  If we look at the nature of evil we can say it is of three kinds: physical, such as bodily injury and starvation; moral, being the actions taken which deviate from the moral order and metaphysical being limitation by one another of various component parts of the natural world.  That is to say that which is prevented by physical condition or sudden catastrophe.  These three aspects of evil show us that evil is essentially negative.  In the

confrontation between Jesus and the devil it appears as though the devil is making a positive offer of all the kingdoms of the world.  In real terms it is negative because were Jesus to accept his offer it would bring to an end God’s salvific purpose for mankind.  It would do so because Jesus would acquire the glory of ‘the kingdoms of the world’ and would no longer be the suffering servant who was to die upon the Cross to save mankind and ultimately bring about the kingdom of God.  It would also negate salvation by calling upon Jesus to worship the devil rather than God, hence his firm Biblical response: ‘worship the Lord your God and serve only him’.

 

There is much evil of the physical kind in Luke’s narrative.  The devil assumes that if Jesus is alone in the desert, outside the bounds of society and famished after 40 days of fasting he will readily want to prove himself to be the Son of God by commanding a stone to become a loaf of bread.  In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to ‘give us this day our daily bread’ but Jesus takes this further with again a Biblical response: ‘One does not live by bread alone’.  In Matthew’s Gospel we are given a fuller picture here when Jesus adds to the sentence ‘but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’.  Here Jesus’ faith in the Word of God is a sure weapon in times of conflict.  We find this faith manifest in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he writes: ’Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God’. Jesus trusts in God to sustain him.

 

Stones feature frequently in Luke’s narrative.  Since the fifth century it has been believed that the wilderness was the rocky and uninhabited area between Jerusalem and Jericho.  The devil, who is with him in the wilderness, takes Jesus up ‘to a high place’ to show him the kingdoms.  This place by tradition is the ‘Quarantania’ being a limestone peak on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He then takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him on the pinnacle of the Temple,

 

 

calling upon him to throw himself off it, trusting that as the Son of God the angels will protect him.  It is not sure what is meant by ‘the pinnacle’ but it might have been a little wing or tower of the Temple.  The devil says that the angels will bear Jesus up so that he will not ‘dash his foot against a stone’.  We can find a similar narrative in the Old Testament in Psalm 91 giving the assurance of God’s protection. There it is written that the angels will guard you and bear you up ‘so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’. Stones are mentioned many times in the Bible as obstacles to Divine purpose.  In Matthew’s parable of the wicked tenants Jesus says: ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’. Then there is the stoning of Stephen in the Book of Acts.  Some scholars believe that the actual places described in Luke’s narrative did not exist and they are symbolic not real.  I would argue that even if they did not exist we still have the confrontation between good and evil and the response of Jesus to it which is: ‘do not put the Lord your God to the test’.  That sentence is, forgive the pun, ‘set in stone’.

 

Having received that response the devil departs though Luke writes: ‘until an opportune time’.  Jesus will continue to encounter evil but will overcome the power of evil by obedient faith and, as given in chapter 10 of Acts: ‘he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him’.  We know that the Crucifixion was to follow but we also know that after the Crucifixion came the Resurrection.

 

With this in mind we can say with confidence the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer:

For thine is the kingdom

The power and the glory

For ever and ever

Amen.

Second Sunday before Lent

Can, though, faith stand firm in terrible circumstances such as war and famine?  We find that this is possible if we look at the diary and letters of Etty Hillesum whose life was blighted by the gathering uncertainty, oppression and hardship of the Holocaust and who died in Auschwitz in November 1943.  In spite of her terrible situation Etty stayed with the truth that she had come to and I quote: ‘that life remains rich and beautiful if only you remain open to receive it’.  She wrote: ‘what has to be done must be done and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God’.  It is heart warming to find such faith in someone who was going through such troubled times and was determined not to evade the tempests that life had in store for her.  She said she would follow wherever the hand of God led her, trying not to be afraid.

 

This example of faith in extreme adversity is encouraging yet we can I believe sympathise with the disciples in today’s Gospel reading when they shout to Jesus that they are perishing.  This could be regarded, as Etty expressed it, as ‘a motion of no confidence in God’ but it is understandable that if you are in a boat filling up with water as a gale sweeps down you might well panic. The disciples do at least demonstrate a measure of faith by calling to Jesus to wake up, hoping that he will rescue them.  Nevertheless Jesus rebukes them with the question ‘where is your faith?’.

 

Let us explore this further.  As I understand it, this passage in Luke’s Gospel gives us faith as being formed in stages.  The newly-called disciples are at an early stage of their journey with Jesus.  As such they have been with him long enough to accept his call to them to get into the boat with him to cross to the other side of the lake but their faith has not yet developed enough for them to be calm in the storm and trust in God to see them to their destination.  This early stage of faith is made manifest in their lack of full understanding of who Jesus is and so they say to one another: ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ Contrast this narrative with the final two verses of Luke’s Gospel when Jesus has ascended into heaven and the disciples ‘worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple blessing God’.  Their journey with Jesus has been filled with amazement and doubt but these last words show that their faith has grown amongst all the uncertainty, step by step.

 

So faith can grow and even flourish in times of adversity.  It is perhaps the tests that God puts us through that encourage faith in us and Jesus himself is embraced in this process.  This is apparent later in Luke’s Gospel narrative.  In the earlier narrative Jesus falls asleep on the boat and is then able to ‘rebuke the wind and the raging waves’ showing a calm authority and certainty in God’s purpose.  This calm authority continues in his teaching in parables and in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel he rejoices in the parables, thanking God for them.  When those around him seek to test him he has ready answers and even Peter’s denial of him does not test him as he knows that this will happen: ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me’.  In the later narrative, though, when he is praying on the Mount of Olives we know that he is being severely tested and it is in this moment that he shows oneness with God.  Thus he says: ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’. Here Jesus is revealing in a most testing circumstance ultimate faith in the Will of God.

 

Let us return to today’s Gospel reading to see what else this passage reveals to us.  In his rebuking of the wind and the waves and making them cease we find Jesus at one with Creation.  In this narrative he is conquering chaos as God conquered the watery storms in the Old Testament that were the symbols of chaos.  We find this in Psalm 29 in abundance when: ‘the God of glory thunders, the Lord over mighty waters’.  In Psalm 106, God ‘rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry’.

 

So we have God and Jesus talking to nature, showing that they are at one with it but also making it conform to their will.  Talking to nature has gone on across the centuries in song and poetry.  In Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’ Amien sings: ‘blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Shelley talked to the wind: ‘O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being…’.  These are observations rather than commands but they have an affinity with Bible texts as dialogues with nature.

 

There is a spirituality here which manifests itself strongly when poets use nature to convey relationship to God by way of analogy.   In the seventeenth century in his poem ‘the Flower’ George Herbert, the priest and poet, wrote: How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean are thy returns even as the flowers in spring’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘Glory be to God for dappled things, for skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow’.  Hopkins reminds us of poetry as a means of contemplation of God and contemplating him in the ordinary; in all things and in each thing.  As W. H. Davies expressed it: ‘what is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’.  Poetry often uses vivid imagery to describe what we see and to help us experience it afresh.  For

 

 

the Christian this leads us to an awareness of the presence of God, since all creation is God’s gift.

 

There is also the tradition that says the perceptions and language we use for God will always be inadequate because we can never reach an end to our knowing.  God will always be beyond our grasp.  Gerard Manley Hopkins saw his task as poet and priest to bring his readers and hearers to a place of silence before mystery.  For him poetry is ‘speech framed for contemplation’.

 

Our faith, then, may be strengthened by contemplation but with God always beyond our grasp it calls upon us to trust in him, even in the darkest hours.  The disciples in today’s reading had not yet reached that stage of faith and it is not easy for any of us.  It can require a ‘letting go’ based upon trust in God’s loving purpose for mankind.  I will conclude by expressing this ‘letting go’ by quoting from the song of the Beatles:

‘When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

‘Let it be’.

 

AMEN

 

 

Second Sunday before Lent

Can, though, faith stand firm in terrible circumstances such as war and famine?  We find that this is possible if we look at the diary and letters of Etty Hillesum whose life was blighted by the gathering uncertainty, oppression and hardship of the Holocaust and who died in Auschwitz in November 1943.  In spite of her terrible situation Etty stayed with the truth that she had come to and I quote: ‘that life remains rich and beautiful if only you remain open to receive it’.  She wrote: ‘what has to be done must be done and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God’.  It is heart warming to find such faith in someone who was going through such troubled times and was determined not to evade the tempests that life had in store for her.  She said she would follow wherever the hand of God led her, trying not to be afraid.

 

This example of faith in extreme adversity is encouraging yet we can I believe sympathise with the disciples in today’s Gospel reading when they shout to Jesus that they are perishing.  This could be regarded, as Etty expressed it, as ‘a motion of no confidence in God’ but it is understandable that if you are in a boat filling up with water as a gale sweeps down you might well panic. The disciples do at least demonstrate a measure of faith by calling to Jesus to wake up, hoping that he will rescue them.  Nevertheless Jesus rebukes them with the question ‘where is your faith?’.

 

Let us explore this further.  As I understand it, this passage in Luke’s Gospel gives us faith as being formed in stages.  The newly-called disciples are at an early stage of their journey with Jesus.  As such they have been with him long enough to accept his call to them to get into the boat with him to cross to the other side of the lake but their faith has not yet developed enough for them to be calm in the storm and trust in God to see them to their destination.  This early stage of faith is made manifest in their lack of full understanding of who Jesus is and so they say to one another: ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ Contrast this narrative with the final two verses of Luke’s Gospel when Jesus has ascended into heaven and the disciples ‘worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple blessing God’.  Their journey with Jesus has been filled with amazement and doubt but these last words show that their faith has grown amongst all the uncertainty, step by step.

 

So faith can grow and even flourish in times of adversity.  It is perhaps the tests that God puts us through that encourage faith in us and Jesus himself is embraced in this process.  This is apparent later in Luke’s Gospel narrative.  In the earlier narrative Jesus falls asleep on the boat and is then able to ‘rebuke the wind and the raging waves’ showing a calm authority and certainty in God’s purpose.  This calm authority continues in his teaching in parables and in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel he rejoices in the parables, thanking God for them.  When those around him seek to test him he has ready answers and even Peter’s denial of him does not test him as he knows that this will happen: ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me’.  In the later narrative, though, when he is praying on the Mount of Olives we know that he is being severely tested and it is in this moment that he shows oneness with God.  Thus he says: ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’. Here Jesus is revealing in a most testing circumstance ultimate faith in the Will of God.

 

Let us return to today’s Gospel reading to see what else this passage reveals to us.  In his rebuking of the wind and the waves and making them cease we find Jesus at one with Creation.  In this narrative he is conquering chaos as God conquered the watery storms in the Old Testament that were the symbols of chaos.  We find this in Psalm 29 in abundance when: ‘the God of glory thunders, the Lord over mighty waters’.  In Psalm 106, God ‘rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry’.

 

So we have God and Jesus talking to nature, showing that they are at one with it but also making it conform to their will.  Talking to nature has gone on across the centuries in song and poetry.  In Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’ Amien sings: ‘blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Shelley talked to the wind: ‘O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being…’.  These are observations rather than commands but they have an affinity with Bible texts as dialogues with nature.

 

There is a spirituality here which manifests itself strongly when poets use nature to convey relationship to God by way of analogy.   In the seventeenth century in his poem ‘the Flower’ George Herbert, the priest and poet, wrote: How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean are thy returns even as the flowers in spring’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘Glory be to God for dappled things, for skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow’.  Hopkins reminds us of poetry as a means of contemplation of God and contemplating him in the ordinary; in all things and in each thing.  As W. H. Davies expressed it: ‘what is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’.  Poetry often uses vivid imagery to describe what we see and to help us experience it afresh.  For

 

 

the Christian this leads us to an awareness of the presence of God, since all creation is God’s gift.

 

There is also the tradition that says the perceptions and language we use for God will always be inadequate because we can never reach an end to our knowing.  God will always be beyond our grasp.  Gerard Manley Hopkins saw his task as poet and priest to bring his readers and hearers to a place of silence before mystery.  For him poetry is ‘speech framed for contemplation’.

 

Our faith, then, may be strengthened by contemplation but with God always beyond our grasp it calls upon us to trust in him, even in the darkest hours.  The disciples in today’s reading had not yet reached that stage of faith and it is not easy for any of us.  It can require a ‘letting go’ based upon trust in God’s loving purpose for mankind.  I will conclude by expressing this ‘letting go’ by quoting from the song of the Beatles:

‘When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

‘Let it be’.

 

AMEN

 

 

rosmiskinnovembersermon

Such a welcome into the house of God surely reflects the welcoming tone of Jesus as given in the New Testament.  In Matthew, chapter 11, Jesus encourages people to come to him for rest from heavy burdens and for their souls.  In Luke’s Gospel the disciples order people not to bring their infants to Jesus to touch them but Jesus refutes this rejection saying: ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs’.

This welcome extends to those who are your enemies.  Again in Luke, Jesus says: ‘But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’.

So in the sayings of Jesus and in the attempts we make in our own time to welcome people we can see the love of God for his creation manifesting itself in such welcome; particularly when challenged to love our enemies as ourselves.

This call to love your enemy as yourself is absent though in the attitude of the chief priests, scribes and elders of Jerusalem when in the Gospel narratives they engage with Jesus in a series of controversies.  These controversies culminate in the response of Jesus given in today’s Gospel reading concerning the First Commandment.

In these controversies, the aim of Jesus’ opponents is to trap him by putting him in a position whereby they can undermine him and what he stands for, which is the love of God.

The first controversy concerns the authority of Jesus.  His opponents want to trap him into a public claim that his authority is from God, thus laying the groundwork for a charge of blasphemy.  Jesus avoids the trap by asking a counter question about the origin of John the Baptist’s authority.  This strategy has the effect of reducing the opponents to silence while making clear the divine origin of Jesus himself.  It does so because if the opponents admit the divine origin of the Baptist’s authority they would have to explain why they did not welcome him and would have to admit the divine origin of Jesus’ authority.  If they deny the divine origin of the Baptist’s authority they would run the risk of opposition from the people who held him to be a prophet from God.  Their dilemma reduces them to silence.

Still keen to trap Jesus, the opponents send him to some Pharisees and Herodians to ensnare him by another controversy. This concerns their paying poll tax to Caesar.  In effect they are saying hypocritically: ‘since you are so great and teach the way of God, do you believe that we should defer to Caesar by paying the poll tax?’  Jesus sees through this hypocrisy and eludes the trap by calling upon them to be as exact in serving God as in serving Caesar.  Thus he says to them: ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.

The third controversy is about the Resurrection.  The opponents here are the Sadducees who said there was no Resurrection as it is not given in the Pentateuch. They ask Jesus whose wife would a woman be in the Resurrection if seven men had married her.  Jesus once again eludes the trap by teaching on the nature of resurrected life where none marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.

These three controversies culminate in today’s Gospel reading.  In all of them we find what may ensue when there is not welcome but hostility.  We find cunning, hypocrisy and a desire to trap and bring to the ground the unwelcomed person.  All this runs contrary to the all encompassing love of God.

Thus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, when the scribe, having heard the responses of Jesus to his opponents, questions him on which commandment is the first of all, Jesus asserts the love of God forcibly in the First Commandment, as he says: ‘Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength’.  In the first words ‘Hear, O Israel’ we find the first two words of the Jewish prayer, the Shema Yisrael, which is the centrepiece of morning and evening Jewish prayer services. In the words that follow ‘the Lord our God is one Lord’ we find the monotheism of Judaism.  The commandment to love God flows from his nature as the only God.  The whole person should love God in heart and soul and mind.

This leads into the second commandment to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’.  Here Jesus shows his orthodoxy as a Jewish teacher ‘getting to the root of things’.  There is an emphasis on inner and basic dispositions as can be found also in the Gospel of Matthew.  Matthew calls for reconciliation between brother and sister and the need to come to terms with your accuser.  Nor should you murder as you will be liable to judgement.

The second commandment to love one another is a new commandment given as a final instruction after the Last Supper.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: ‘owe no-one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law’.  This second passage is considered to be a form of the ‘Golden Rule’ which in effect says ‘do as you would be done by’.  As Matthew expresses it in his Gospel: ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you’; for this is the law and the prophets’.

The two commandments are connected by the word ‘love’.  I would add to this the connectivity of welcome that reflects this love as distinct from the rejection and discarding produced by hatred.  Such rejection can leave a person isolated and trapped in a negative state and with low self-esteem.  This was the aim of Jesus’ opponents in the controversies so in avoiding being trapped Jesus is leaving himself free in the love of God.

You could speak against this and say that ultimately his opponents trapped Jesus on the Cross but that was only a temporary state of affairs as Jesus himself says to the criminal being crucified alongside him: ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’.

The First Commandment to love does not mean that the law does not exist but that as Paul expressed it in his second letter to the Corinthians, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in Christians and writes God’s law in their hearts in letters of love.  The whole basis of life is not law but grace.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  It is this self-giving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ that is the motive for Christian living.  In today’s Gospel reading we learn that the scribe understood this message of love and Jesus responds by saying that he is then not far from the Kingdom of God.

Let us hope, then, that we Christians today can continue to be welcoming to all as a manifestation of the love of God.

 

AMEN

rosmiskinsermoncontinued

The light provided by restored vision is a gift indeed with many benefits but there is also the light of understanding which does not necessarily involve sight.  In today’s Gospel reading we learn that disciples James and John, even though they can see Jesus, have not fully understood who Jesus is.  They have a perception of  him in the kingdom of heaven as an enthroned monarch and are very much hoping to share the glory of this enthronement by sitting on either side of Jesus enthroned.  As Mark expresses it, they say to Jesus:’ Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory’.   Their perception may have had its origin in seeing Jesus as the Messiah presiding over a Messianic banquet.  There is an association too between heaven and enthronement in the Bible in the Book of Revelation, which gives us the twenty-four elders ‘sitting on their thrones before God’.  The elders, though, rather than basking in shared glory, fall on their faces worshipping God and singing his praises.  This leads us to wonder what James and John have not understood about Jesus  as they seek a privileged place in the kingdom of heaven.

 

What they have not grasped is that Jesus does not have the prerogative to determine status in the coming kingdom. He does not have it because in the divine hierarchy he is the suffering servant who has made himself a servant so that the Sons of Man may be the Sons of God. Thus in response to the request of James and John for shared glory he replies: ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all’.  So leadership means service.  The suffering of the servant lies ultimately in the death on the Cross but that suffering is where the true glory lies and it is only by this means that Jesus can then ascend to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  We express this in the Easter hymn: ‘when I survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died…’.  So in Mark’s Gospel Jesus says: ‘For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’.

 

With regard to suffering, as Dorothy Sayers writes, in the Christian faith evil is real and perfection is attained through the active and positive effect of wrenching real good out of real evil.  Then there is the suffering of missionaries who gave their lives for the proclamation of the Gospel.

 

It appears from Mark’s narrative that the remaining ten disciples were angry at the request of James and John for shared glory.  Was this because they had a better understanding of Jesus as the suffering servant?  Perhaps so.  Their anger prompts Jesus to explain to James and John that greatness lies in servitude.  In his explanation, Jesus illustrates his point by contrasting the greatness of servitude with the tyrannical rule over the Gentile Christians in Rome.  Here we are given the audience for Mark’s Gospel, being a small community of Gentile Christians in Rome who had seen their leaders executed by tyrannical rulers and needed to hold fast to their faith.  In the  response of Jesus to James and John Mark takes the opportunity to reassure the Gentile Christians that their faith could remain steadfast in the knowledge of where true greatness lies.  It lies in the humility of the suffering servant who stands in stark contrast to tyrannical rulers.

 

Having considered Jesus as the suffering servant now let us consider the nature of the kingdom of God.  Here, again, James and John lack the light of understanding.  As they seek privileged places in heaven they do not see that the hierarchy of God is based on dignity of service.  Nor do they see, as Jesus teaches them, that it is not his prerogative to grant them places in the kingdom of heaven.  What they can do, he says, is to drink the cup that he will drink and be baptized as he was baptized.  The cup and the baptism  concern his suffering and death which are for him alone but we can unite with him in the cup and the baptism.  The association of the cup with suffering can be found in the Book of Isaiah where Jerusalem has drunk the cup of the Lord’s wrath and is to be met with devastation, famine and the sword.  In Psalm 69 we have the association of immersion in water with suffering: ‘I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God’.  What James and John might not also have perceived is that the glory of the kingdom of God is not just in the heavenly realm but, as Luke writes in his Gospel, the kingdom is within us here on earth.  It is present where Jesus is present and exercising his influence.

 

All this presents rather a negative view of the disciples which Matthew in his Gospel attempts to offset.  He does this by making the mother of James and John the one who calls for the shared glory.  To further defend James and John we could say that they are learners who do not yet have a full understanding of the nature and purpose of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. They call Jesus ‘Teacher’ and make the child like request to him ‘to do for us whatever we ask of you’.  Jesus then takes on the role of schoolmaster to direct them towards a new way of thinking based on humility and suffering and servitude.  We do not know from the Gospel narratives what the response to this teaching was but we can see what Jesus was pointing towards in his teachings.

 

Let me return to my starting point with the words used by the CBM ‘Let there be light’.  There is joy in being able to see the world around you and there are many instances in the Bible of Jesus restoring people’s sight.  Yet from today’s Gospel reading we have an affirmation that seeing does not always mean understanding.  Nor does faith depend upon sight for ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and believed’.

 

So we have the light of vision, and the light of understanding but let me go to the Gospel of John for a final word on what light means.  According to John the light was the Word becoming flesh which was to light all people.  It is this light that enlightens us all.

 

 

AMEN

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