"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12



Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Feeding of the multitude: John 6.1-21




After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

I don’t know whether it is something to do with the street I live in but this time of year seems to me to be characterised by the smell of barbeques.

I must be deeply anti-social or I have some other personality defect but I don’t find chasing paper plates around someone’s garden in the teeth of a gale, while balancing a cup of indifferent wine and avoiding ketchup stains and salmonella, a recipe for unbridled fun.

Today’s Gospel, though not exactly describing a barbeque on the Galilean hills, tells of Jesus meeting the needs of his hungry followers. When I was thinking about how best to approach this reading I had a look at a book by the theologian Canon Dr. Jeffrey John called “The Meaning in the Miracles.” He wittily relates how as a schoolboy two of his teachers had approached the miracles in contrasting ways and this really resonated with me because I had a similar experience when I first started teaching. One of my colleagues, Mr. Forest, a Biology teacher embodied the literalist or fundamentalist approach to scripture where everything was to be taken at the plainest level of meaning and must have happened exactly as it said. His response to this miracle would be to say “Well, it just goes to show that Jesus is God, doesn’t it?” Doubting that a miracle story happened exactly as it was recorded was tantamount to doubting the divinity of Christ.

Mrs. King, my first R.S. Head of Department, on the other hand, took the reductionist approach, wanting to “demythologise” the miracle accounts to reveal the morals within the stories. In this case the moral to her was that when Jesus fed the five thousand, he and the disciples shared out what they had and their example encouraged others who had been holding back their own food to share theirs too. The “real” miracle was when everyone discovered the joy of caring and sharing with others.

She referred to him as a snake-handling Baptist and he referred to her as a wet, liberal Anglican.

I didn’t sit with them in the staffroom.

Life’s too short.

While their approaches seem diametrically opposed, they were in fact quite similar in the sense that they both treated the miracles as straightforward descriptions of events: they concentrated simply on what did or did not happen. Dr. John, on the other hand, concludes that the real nature and purpose of the Gospel miracles is found in the depths and dimensions of meaning found in the account and these passed both the teachers by completely.

The problem with Mr. Forrest’s approach where miracles simply exist to prove the divinity of Jesus is that it can say very little else about the event because it either rejects or simply doesn’t understand any symbolism at the heart of the stories. The problem with Mrs. King’s approach as a call to greater charity is that it hardly sounds like good news and certainly not a tremendous demonstration of God’s free, miraculously overflowing generosity to his people.

What I discovered, before I gave up on them and went and sat with the Maths Department, was there was no middle ground between them. For where two or three are gathered together in my name….there will inevitably be an argument. (To paraphrase Matthew 18).

But I digress.

This was the day Jesus was trying to get away from the crowd. Jesus crossed the sea and climbed a mountain just to get away and get some time for prayer. He often took some time out, insisted on getting some quiet time; some prayer time. Jesus modelled for us that no matter what you're involved in, you¹ve got to make time for God, time for reflection and time to listen to God – a good learning point for us all.

Well, on this particular day, Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee and climbed up a mountain; he’d sat down to catch his breath, looked up, and can you believe it? Here they come. The crowd had somehow found their way to Jesus: here they came scrambling up the mountain to be with Jesus.

So, let’s look again at the story and, two thousand years down the line we don’t instantly recognise the subtext as the original listeners and readers would have, and that diminishes our understanding of the Gospel. There are so many layers to the miracle stories.

Now in this passage notice that John tells us the crowd “saw the signs.” This would have had Mr. Forrest and Mrs. King arguing straight away, so let’s be clear. In John’s gospel, miracles are signs that point beyond themselves – to God. Every time Jesus performs a miracle he is saying something about God and about himself in relation to God. The miracles are not important merely because this or that person is healed or because Jesus changes water to wine or whatever. The miracles are signs that point to the reality of who Jesus is. Yes the crowd gathered for healing, but they kept following him because of the signs, even if they didn’t yet fully understand the implications.

Perhaps the most obvious theological emphasis of this feeding miracle is to tell us that Jesus is the new Moses. Even with a sketchy knowledge of the Old Testament most people are likely to remember that Moses had done something similar with the manna in the desert. Like Moses Jesus crosses the water into the desert, sits the people down and feeds them with miraculous bread in such abundance that there are basketfuls left over. Much less obviously, because this Old Testament story is perhaps less well known, Jesus’ actions also recall Elisha. Some of the details of the feeding stories reflect an incident in 2 Kings when Elisha takes an army into the desert and feeds them miraculously with a few loaves.

Taking Moses and Elisha together, the story seems to be hinting that in repeating what Moses did, Jesus is fulfilling the Law and, in repeating what Elisha did, Jesus is fulfilling the Prophets. Whatever else this feeding miracle is intended to teach us, it also reaches us that Jesus is truly the one whom the Law and the Prophets foretold.

Some commentators go further: the words and actions of Jesus over the bread are exactly the same as at the Last Supper. The association with Moses and the Exodus here, in what we are told was the Passover season, points to the new Christian Passover, the Eucharist.

These are the signposts which point to Jesus’ divinity and to the readers and listeners of the day they must have been akin to flashing neon lights which spelt out the truths, hopes, patterns and meanings and modern relevance of the Old Testament scriptures those elements represented.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy). Only all too often we have lost the key and therefore miss many of the nuances.

What should this mean for us today? When we read the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, how should we react? Well, perhaps the best response is the one provided by scripture itself, the discourse of Jesus on the Bread of Life in John’s Gospel. In John, it's Jesus himself who will become the real food:

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from Heaven so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus understood all too well that if he let people claim him as their physical provider, they would miss the reason for his coming. His intent was to point them beyond their physical needs to their spiritual ones. He wanted them to look not merely to bread, the most meagre sustenance of the poor. “The bread you will eat”, John tells us Jesus said, “is my flesh.” In a profound spiritual sense, Jesus wants his followers to understand that their communion with him, their participation in his very life, will lead to new levels of maturity and understanding.  

What would Mr. Forrest and Mrs. King have made of it all, I wonder?

 



 


 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Mark 6.14-29. The Death of John the Baptist


 
14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

 I’ve a real soft-spot for John the Baptist. Not the personal hygiene, the diet or the dress sense, obviously, but I like the fact that he told it as he saw it.  I admire the fact that he took on the powerful and the vested interests of his day and pointed an accusing finger at the corruption and religious hypocrisy that was rife. And that’s a part of the story that tends to be overshadowed by the more familiar part of his story: we tend to see John, “the voice crying in the wilderness”, primarily in terms of his preparing the way for Jesus. What we might be less familiar with is the whole backstory of his getting up the noses of the religious and political authorities.

If you’ve switched off after hearing today's Gospel text I don’t blame you. This is a terrible story. It's hard to say "Praise to you, O Christ!" after such a story. Perhaps we should skip this story and read the next one instead. It's a much more uplifting story about Jesus feeding the 5000. Mark is a very careful writer. Herod's distasteful banquet segues into the story where Jesus makes sure that everyone is fed. Mark wanted these stories back to back because of the contrast between Herod’s banquet of death and Jesus’ banquet of life. But I won’t steal next week’s preacher’s thunder.

So, hard as it is to listen, let's go back to Herod's story. This feast was a very public state event – the King’s birthday celebration: there may not have been a large crowd, but there was a select guest list of important officials. Herod's wife, Herodias, was there, even though she shouldn't have been because he’d stolen her from his brother: an unlawful liaison that  John had condemned and, as a consequence, had ended up in prison.

Though Herod was a Jew, the power that the Roman Empire had given him - even as puppet king - had replaced his sense of religious commitment.  But why did he give in to this terrible request for John’s head on a plate? Wasn't it enough that John was in prison? I should imagine alcohol may have played a part, combined with a bit of self-indulgent self-promotion playing to the gallery, “Look at me. I’m the King. I can do whatever I please. I have it within my power to grant whatever you may wish.” Except that in reality he didn’t: maybe this Big-I-Am routine was a way of covering the fact that as a Roman-appointed king his power was actually very limited indeed, so where he could exercise power he was going to make a show of it. And perhaps this is why he made this promise to his step-daughter rather than someone who might actually call his bluff and ask for something he couldn’t deliver. The silly slip of a girl was bound to ask for something trivial after all, like a necklace. Well, Herod didn’t bank on Herodias’s bitter desire for vengeance against the man who had held her up to public ridicule. John’s death was Horodias’s idea, not her daughter’s.

Herod had liked to listen to John, which was odd indeed for John preached repentance wherever he went. Was there something inside Herod that remembered God's word, some spark of God that drew him to John's teaching?

Herod was upset by her request because he feared the crowd beyond his palace gates, because they revered John as a prophet. He was also upset because he was still drawn to what John said. But his guests had heard his oath. How could he back down without losing face? Who knows what the guests might tell someone higher up? So Herod gave the command, and soon the head of John the Baptist was brought out on a platter, as thought it was the last course of the meal. This was a very different banquet to the abundance of Jesus' feast. Not twelve baskets of food left over, but a horrifying leftover: John the Baptist's head served on a platter.

So, there’s our context. What are we to make of this?

John is often regarded as the last of the Old Testament Prophets because he stands in that long line of men of faith who spoke the word of God to their own generations. When we talk about “Prophets” let’s be clear what we mean: this isn’t about foretelling the future. The Prophets of the Bible were the outspoken critics of their day, speaking out against all sorts of abuses meted out by the rich and powerful, deliberately or by omission, against the poor and the marginalised. If there was any element of foretelling the future it was only in as much as they predicted the anger of God and the inevitability of the downfall of the wicked as a consequence of their corrupt behaviour and lack of compassion.

We look back on them now as some sort of Robin Hood type folk heroes, but they can’t have been easy people to have been around.

Isaiah typically delivered a message few people wanted to hear: “Come back to the ways of God you apostates.” Although, in fairness, he also talked about the hope of forgiveness. Jeremiah was a relentless doom-and-gloom merchant, challenging Judah’s moral decline – and he was persecuted for his pains. Ezeikel, was another prophet who warned the People of Israel of the consequences of turning their backs on God. How about Malachi? Let the wicked be warned by the certainty of judgement. Amos: God is just and must judge wrongdoing. Obadiah: retribution must overtake merciless pride. Nahum: doom is to descend on the wicked.

So, there’s a theme: get it right with God and get it right with your neighbour. Micah’s question, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” is echoed later by Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself."

It costs to be a prophet: John wasn’t the only one who died an unpleasant death as a consequence of speaking out and yet we are all called to be prophets …. in some sense, and it’s a hard ministry to pull off: I think of those high profile American and South African Christians who spoke out against desegregation of the races. Well, they were on the wrong side of both history and morality. Going further back, both in America and here, there was a powerful Christian lobby against the abolition of slavery. The wrong side of history and morality again.

Scripture has something to say about false prophets. Matthew warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In Romans we read, “For such persons do not serve our Lord Jesus, but their own agendas, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

So, how do we discern a position on the moral and religious issues of our day where we should feel compelled as Christians to speak out? Well, the direction of scripture points to justice, inclusion, compassion and equality. I’ve no doubt you’ve all heard the mantra WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) It isn’t a bad mantra for a Christian to live their life by. We know of Jesus’ compassion for the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the powerless and the marginalised. What would Jesus do/say/think about the suffering of civilians in Iraq and Syria? And the West’s response to the humanitarian crisis? What would Jesus do/say/think about welfare cuts to the most vulnerable in society in the name of austerity? – And I mention that last one acutely conscious that the prophets of the Old Testament were often not at all popular when they spoke out. The Church of England published a critique of the Thatcher government called Faith in the City. “Pure Marxism.” said Norman Tebbit. David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham spoke out during the miner’s strike. He was vilified by sections of the press who mounted a smear campaign against him. “Make him look a fool and no one will take any notice.” Our own Archbishop, Justin Welby has spoken out against the banks and against corporate greed. That same press has been on his case ever since. “Lefty clergy.” Pope Frances has spoken on environmental issues. He has done so with full papal authority and his influence will go far beyond the Catholic faithful. America’s Fox News has described him as the most dangerous man in the world and suggested that he should stay out of politics and concentrate on religion. After all, what does he know about science? (Apart from his doctorate in Chemistry from Argentina’s premier university. Let's not let factual accuracy get in the way of a good rant, after all!) Being a prophet doesn’t make you popular with the vested interests of your day.

If all that sounds like a party political broadcast on behalf of the Hard Left, it isn't meant to. We come from all colours of the political spectrum, I'm sure. My argument is about each of us speaking to our own peer groups and holding to account those who promote policies and strategies which clearly do not bring the Kingdom of God closer. It come as something of a personal revelation, but others ARE accountable to us in all of the spheres we inhabit daily. Sometimes people need to be reined in and told, not in my name.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran Pastor invoved in the plot to assassinate Hitler and undoubtedly a prophet of his time: executed. Martin Luther-King, a tireless campaigner against racial injustice and undoubtedly a prophet of his time: assassinated. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, a tireless campaigner against political corruption and the crushing of opposition parties in his own country and undoubtedly a prophet of his time: assassinated – in his own cathedral, during the Eucharist.

Being a prophet’s a bit of a risky business.

So, where does that leave us?

If we accept that the arc of scripture bends towards justice; if we take seriously the mantra WWJD; if we believe that the Holy Spirit works in our lives to bring the Kingdom of God closer in small and incremental ways perhaps we could consider to what extent we might need to “man-up” a bit. If you are anything like me you’ve probably kept quiet when you should have spoken out: spoken out against the casual racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia we encounter daily; kept quiet when politicians of all colours have said and done things which clearly have not brought the Kingdom of God closer and when we’ve known in our hearts that such-and-such a policy is clearly not Christlike. Did we try to make anyone accountable? Should we have done? One of the things about Christianity – and the thing that frightens the powerful like Herod and Herodious – is that followers of Jesus are called to activism. How else will the Kingdom of God come closer?

Me? Speak out? I’m not called to be a prophet! Well, let’s be clear, none of us here are likely to be a John the Baptist, a Martin Luther King, a Dietrich Bonhoeffer or an Oscar Romero, but the English Philosopher, Edmund Burke is quoted as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” WWJD?

Maybe that would be a good thought on which to end.

Amen

 
 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Teaching Religious Studies in English schools


 
You may have been aware of a flurry of activity in the worlds of education and the media recently as a long awaited curriculum review of Religious Studies has reached its consultation stage. It is careful and detailed and makes a number of recommendations: some teachers like it, others are less sure, but it comes from a genuine attempt to raise the standards of RS in our schools.

There is only one problem: the curriculum review fails to address the institutional problems faced by RS in the school curriculum. I have been teaching Religious Studies for over 30 years and throughout that time it has been a marginalised subject: one not taken sufficiently seriously by successive Head Teachers, governing bodies, politicians, OFSTED and, therefore, generations of pupils. "Sir, why should we take this seriously when the school doesn't?"

At the heart of the problem is the peculiar and unique status of RS on the curriculum. It is not actually part of the National Curriculum and exists in all subject lists as an add-on. This means that it is treated as an add-on in many schools. The previous Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, made an active decision to exclude R.S. from the Humanities section of the English Baccalaureate, significantly marginalising it: not only has his successor, Nicky Morgan, shown no enthusiasm for putting this error of judgement right, she is on record as having advised young people that they should avoid Humanities subjects because they do not lead to the best career choices. Presumably this wisdom comes from her previous job as a Careers Advisor. Excuse me? Oh, she wasn't a Careers Advisor? My mistake.

I am assuming that the Curriculum Working Party believes that R.S. students are being given an appropriate time allocation for studying the subject. If so, they have been labouring under a serious misapprehension. Most of us who teach R.S. have to contend with one lesson a week, while being expected to achieve good GCSE grades. Other Humanities subjects, however, have two or three times more teaching time allocated. It seems that this is the accepted order of things in curriculum timetabling regardless of the fact that all the exam boards expect all three humanities subjects to be taught at between 120 and 140 hours for a Full-Course GCSE. On the one lesson a week model Religious Studies is allocated well below that minimum figure. Until R.S. is granted a level playing-field in the allocation of curriculum time, curriculum development is just so much hot air.

R.S. is further disadvantaged because it is increasingly being taught by non-specialist teachers: when I and one of my Specialist R.S. colleagues recently moved on from a large high school the subject was left to be taught by the one remaining specialist R.S. teacher and 12 non-specialists, often teaching to GCSE level and often sharing groups between them. This is not uncommon. How can it be acceptable practice? Again, if we are serious about R.S. being taught effectively, schools need properly trained and qualified practitioners.

It is the fear of many of us that we are watching a deliberate, managed decline and further marginalisation of Religious Studies. Many schools now pay it only lip-service on the curriculum, burying it in some Integrated Humanities scheme of work or worse, allocating a couple of dedicated days in the school year to R.S. projects, while excluding it from the taught timetable completely.

Those of us who are concerned go round in circles, batted from pillar to post between Head Teachers, timetablers, politicians and exam boards. They damn us with faint praise, all assuring us that they value Religious Studies and that it is a very important subject but no one is willing to be the one who takes actual responsibility to say, “Enough is enough.” And make moves to do something about it. If the Secretary of State for Education is seen, not only not to be supportive but to be actively antagonistic, what hope for the future?

The irony is that R.S. is one of the most popular subjects for GCSE uptake.

 
 So, at risk of labouring the point:

1) R.S. has been institutionally marginalised throughout the length of my 30 year teaching career.

2) There aren't enough specialist R.S. teachers.

3) Students are not given enough time to adequately study the subject and gain a depth and breadth of understanding.

 

Until these inequalities have been addressed, curriculum reform is merely window dressing and I have no confidence that things will improve in any way for our students and teachers as a result of these proposed curriculum reforms: the primary problems of R.S. are not being addressed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sunday Sermon for Christ the King: Matthew 25. 31-46



 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

May I be granted the grace to speak God’s word.

I was away last weekend at Vicar school and at one stage - to do with nothing we were learning at all - somebody mentioned the ultimate meaning of life  - as in what’s the answer? Quick as a flash someone came back with “42!” The person who asked the question is in her twenties and looked blank – much, I see, as most of you are: it must be a generational thing. In 1979 Douglas Adams wrote a book called “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy” which was subsequently televised and has recently been made into a film. Being of that generation I devoured it. It is wonderful, funny, anarchic and bonkers in equal measures. In it there is a computer called Deep Thought who, having been asked to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” after seven and a half million years of calculation and pondering, delivers the answer: 42. This, of course, completely confuses those who were waiting for the answer and then Deep Thought suggests that perhaps those who had framed their ultimate question might not have thought it through.

Well, here we are at the Feast of Christ the King which finishes the liturgical year: next week we start Advent and this seems as good a time as ever to consider the point that when we're seeking ultimate answers, how we understand the question matters.

So, what’s the question for today’s Gospel passage?

The passage seems to be about judgement, believing in God and what each of us needs to do or display in our lives in order to get to heaven. Is that what this passage is about? The problem is that the Gospels in general and Matthew in particular don’t seem all that interested in Heaven and Hell. Neither did the early church Fathers. Come the Reformation in Calvin’s writings there are two paragraphs about Heaven and One about Hell: in the totality of his writings. When the Bible talks about the Kingdom of God, the trend for quite some time now has been to understand it as The Kingdom of God … on Earth: God’s sovereign rule breaking through into the here and now.

If you think the question is “Am I going to Heaven? Will I be saved?” Matthew seems to be suggesting that you have missed the point. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laments that many people will call him Lord, but only those who act upon his ethical teachings can be his true followers. That’s quite a different answer to the question. What you're seeking is probably not pie in the sky, but, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, pie in the here and now. So maybe the question rightly asked is not “what happens at the end of things?” but more like “what am I supposed to be doing right now? What does Jesus want me to do? To be? How will my life be different if Christ is King?” Certainly we should be asking whether we are sheep or goats.

Of course, at the Time Matthew’s biography of Jesus is set this was a really pertinent question because of the ongoing theological and political debate about who really was THE LORD. Was it the God of the Hebrews, Jehovah, YHWH, or was it the Emperor in Rome? Well, those days are long gone but the question remains, certainly theological and yes, political too: who is the Lord? Jesus or something else offered and affirmed by modern culture? The usual things people elevate as gods - power and influence, wealth, celebrity and fame - are subsumed in the Kingdom of God by the supreme values of service, love, self-sacrifice, and faithful community. Life in God's Kingdom is not about self-aggrandizement, it's about renunciation. It's not about big words, it's about little actions, often little anonymous actions. Life in God's Kingdom is not about what we have or who we are, it's about what we do. It's not about what the world values, but what God values.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea: in the Old Testament book of Micah, “This is what the Lord requires of you: to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The message is this: if we love God, if our values are God-values instead of the world's values, if Christ actually is King, then we will love as God loves, give as God gives, forgive as God forgives. If our values are God-values, we can't help but live as Christ taught and in doing so we bring the kingdom of God closer. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. told how he would like to be remembered, and in doing so, he zeroed in on that ultimate question: If Christ is King, what does that mean? “If Christ is ruler over our lives”, Dr. King told his audience, “then my Nobel Peace Prize is less important than my trying to feed the hungry. If Christ is King, then my invitations to the White House are less important than that I visited those in prison. If Christ is Lord, then my being TIME magazine's "Man of the Year" is less important than that I tried to love extravagantly, dangerously, with all my being.

Perhaps the feast of Christ the King is just the right time for a personal spiritual audit: if we were to take a snapshot of our lives now how are we doing? Ezekiel put it rather well, “This is the sin of Sodom: she had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn't support the poor and needy.” Now that’s not what many Christians will tell us the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is all about but they’ve clearly got it wrong if we accept what Ezekiel is telling us. So in our personal audit perhaps we should be asking ourselves where we are on the true Sodom scale of personal ethics. In Today’s Epistle St. Paul commends the Christians at Ephesus for their “faith in the Lord Jesus and love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” These people are working out what their responsibilities are as Christians to each other and more widely. And Paul commends them for it because they were called to be a sign of the age to come just as we are, the Kingdom of God.

We cannot avoid the recognition that what we are talking about here is not just personal ethics. It has a huge political dimension. When the Church of England published its critical report Faith in the City in the 1980s, members of Margaret Thatcher’s government dismissed it as Marxist ideology and concluded that the church was run by a load of communist clerics. The message was quite clear: the church shouldn’t meddle in politics. Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the other hand noted, “When people say that the Bible and politics don't mix, I ask them which Bible they are reading”.

Equally, St Teresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s, Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

That should give us all pause for thought. Let’s look at Matthew’s list again: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to see who those people are in modern British society: they are mainly the marginalised, the “other” upon whom we look down: the poor, the homeless, the  asylum seeker or refugee, the immigrant – black, Asian or Eastern European, the offender … but we are quite good with the sick! What’s that? One out of six. My aren’t we doing well? And it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list. We could add in attitudes to do with gender and sexuality, with class, with size and weight, with education and so on. These are political issues and the Religious Right, particularly in the United States gets this so wrong. Did you know that you can be imprisoned in Florida for feeding the homeless? Just listen, “Church leaders in Florida were preparing for a second confrontation with Fort Lauderdale police on Wednesday over a controversial new ordinance that bans them from feeding the city’s homeless.

Pastors from two local churches and the 90-year-old leader of a long-established food kitchen were arrested at a park on Sunday, two days after the law took effect, for attempting to serve meals to homeless residents. Each received a citation threatening 60 days in prison and a $500 fine. Dwayne Black, pastor of the Sanctuary Church, said he and church members would set up their regular feeding station at Fort Lauderdale beach on Wednesday in defiance of the ordinance. He said he expected to be arrested again and to spend the night in jail.

“We have been feeding the homeless for a long time. It is our calling and our duty to not let another human being go hungry. But now it’s a crime to feed a hungry person,” Black told the Guardian.” The Mayor who introduced this law, Jack Seiler, isn’t an Atheist but a regular member of a local church.

An extreme example possibly but, without wishing to turn this into a party-political broadcast, it serves, I hope to illustrate the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. As we listened to that report we will have pictured the events. We will have had a range of emotions. I think we should keep hold of those thoughts and feelings as we go back and re-examine our own attitudes to the marginalised in society: the poor, the homeless, the foreigner, the gay, the prisoner, the poorly educated, the African Ebola sufferer and so on and ask ourselves again where we are on the new Sodom continuum. “This is the sin of Sodom: she had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn't support the poor and needy.” We could ask ourselves whether, like Martin-Luther King jnr, we are loving extravagantly, dangerously, and with all our being.”

How are things going to end? What happens after we die? I don't know, and neither do you. But we do know the shape of the story a loving God is writing. If Christ is King, we know Jesus waits at the end of that story, that he will see us, and know us, and that if we have done what he taught us, he will claim us as his own.

Our prayers for ourselves today should include the petition that as we continue to grow to spiritual maturity we become the sort of Christians who care for the poor and the needy, the outcast and the marginalised, not because of fear of judgement and our place in the afterlife but because it is the Christlike way to behave. It is the way of Christ the King.

And, I have to say, that is question and answer enough for me.

May God grant that I have spoken his word.

Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sunday Sermon Matthew 22:34-46: Jesus, the Pharisees and the existing order


 
34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

There is no debate like a religious debate. Religious disputes are extremely difficult to handle because everyone engaged in a religious dispute claims to have the Word of God and the will of God on his or her side. Everyone involved in a religious debate claims to speak for God, and when a person is convinced that he or she speaks for God, there is really not much, if anything, that anyone else can say. When a person believes that he or she knows the Word, has the Word, reads the Word, and speaks the Word, there's not really much room left for open dialogue and critical reflection on what we believe and why we believe it. No wonder that throughout history, every religious reformer, every person who attempted to challenge, reinterpret, or broaden the traditional long-standing religious views of the faithful met with virulent and sometimes even violent opposition-opposition that was mounted and advanced by religious people who sincerely believed that they were defending the Word and the will of God from being altered, contaminated, or changed by something or someone considered to be new, different, or strange, not just as history, but into the present: only this week we’ve seen the problems a reforming Pope has had dealing with entrenched theological conservatism.

In our Gospel today there is tension. There is pressure. The religious authorities repeatedly try to trap Jesus with their trick questions. But every time, he evades the trap. He refuses to be caught by their either-or options, their rigid theological categories. At every turn, Jesus’ answers unsettle the ordered and controlled world of the authorities. Jesus disrupts their interpretations of Scripture, and he rearranges their theological certainties. Our text begins and ends in silence. Here we have the final episode of an extended exchange between Jesus and the religious authorities. Jesus has already silenced the Herodians and the Sadducees. So the Pharisees gather to question him. But by the end of the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, again there is silence. No one can answer Jesus’ query. Nor from that day on does anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Silence is the consequence of Jesus’ speech.

Silence. And this silence is not golden. It’s an eerie silence. It’s the silence of the “powers that be” as they regroup and retrench. It’s the silence of wagons being circled and theologies hardening. It’s that silence that arrives when the time for words is over and something else must be done. And this silence is deadly because the next time we see the religious leaders, they will be plotting to kill Jesus.

Back and forth, back and forth, they verbally duel over critical matters of theology and biblical interpretation. And the exchanges take place in the temple, with a large crowd watching the entire time. And there is an irony here: the Pharisees generally get a bad press but we need to understand that they were the good guys of their day. They cared about the spiritual health and status of God’s people but they were hidebound by a theological orthodoxy that could not entertain an alternative perspective.

We met such people in the church today. Times don’t change much do they? We have the same backwards and forwards; the same toing and froing today theologically as the church debates poverty, the role of women in the episcopate, human sexuality, peace and conflict and any number of issues which at the same time preach the Gospel of Good News and cloud it in increasingly bad tempered exchanges which largely confirm and entrench clearly held doctrinal positions: we sometimes feel as if we are battling for the soul of the church.

It’s not that Jesus’ initial reply was in any way controversial, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This is perfectly consistent with the teachings of the Old Testament prophet Micah when he says, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8) It is perfectly consistent with the teaching in Leviticus which notes in Chapter 19, following a summary of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.”

And finally, at the culmination of the exchange, Jesus offers a little riddle of his own:

“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” Jesus asks.

And the Pharisees answer, “The son of David.”

I suspect the Pharisees probably mumbled their answer, almost whispered it. For the crowds had been calling Jesus the Son of David. Remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” the crowds had shouted. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9).

The Pharisees are on dangerous ground here. But no other answer is possible. The suspense builds.

And Jesus doesn’t leave well enough alone. Instead, he continues, quoting the Pharisees’ own Scripture -- Psalm 110.

“How is it then that David by the Spirit calls [the Messiah] Lord, saying,

‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If David thus calls [the Messiah] Lord, how can he be [David’s] son?”

With his little riddle, Jesus interrupts the Pharisees’ nice, neat theology. The old categories simply don’t work here. A person cannot be both son and Lord to David. Something new is here, something that can’t be contained in the old frameworks. The riddle cannot be solved -- except by recognizing and following Jesus.

And that response is impossible for the religious authorities. It would rearrange their entire world. It would mean a loss of control and authority. So they don’t answer. And they don’t dare to ask any more questions. Instead, they are silent. And they circle their wagons and harden their theology. They plot to kill Jesus.

I’m beginning to think the gospel itself has this unsettling character. The gospel itself is a kind of jester. All the way through the gospel we find paradoxes and riddles and parables that melt the solidity of the old age that is dying and call us into an unsettling new creation that is being born. There’s no solving the riddle with the old categories and the familiar ways of thinking. Rather, we have to enter a new world where those old categories are melting away and a new, unsettling life beckons. Think of these juxtapositions:

Crucified Messiah.

Good Samaritan.

Blessed poor.

Love your enemies.

Footwashing Lord.

Weak power.

Foolish wisdom.

Last first.

First last.

Paradoxical riddles all of them. They can’t be solved as if they were a nice, neat mathematical problem. Rather, they create a new reality, which we live into by following Jesus.

In Jesus Christ the new covenant has interrupted the old age. As several New Testament scholars have noted, Jesus’ interruption of the old age creates a kind of threshold space, like the threshold space between two rooms. This space is unsettled; it’s an in-between space. A threshold is neither fully one room nor the other, but it contains a merging of each. On the threshold we are moving, always moving in between. The threshold is neither stable nor secure. It is the opposite of circled wagons and hardened theologies.

That’s the kind of space Jesus creates when he interrupts the old age with his teaching. He creates a threshold space in between the old that is dying and the new that is being born. And he calls us not to solve the riddle by trying to plug it into the old categories. Rather, he simply calls us to live into that unsettling threshold space. It’s odd, really. Jesus doesn’t call us to stability or security or certainty. Rather, Jesus calls us to follow him, always on the move, always on the way from the old to the new.

And maybe today we are in a position to appreciate this unsettling, in-between gospel. For we belong to a church that is in transition, that is in between - between the old ways that are dying and the new that is being born, even though we cannot fully discern its form yet.

And we live in a nation that is in transition. We sense that something is happening: something old is dying, and the future will be different from the past.

And the world itself seems to be in transition - political, cultural, environmental - moving toward something new and at times frightening. In such a context, the great temptation is to circle the wagons, to secure ourselves.

In the book of Philippians, St. Paul advised us to work out our own salvations with fear and trembling: that’s how the prophetic voice of the church is heard. My challenge to myself as much as to you in this threshold time when we do indeed seem to be fighting for the soul of the church is not to sit quietly being satisfied with the old certainties and ways of looking at things, while occasionally muttering our dissent in corners. No, rather it is to take up the fight; to engage and join in with those debates in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, recognising that the old ways of thinking sometimes really won’t do; that circling the wagons and hardening our theologies as a reaction to the threat of change merely leads to entropy and irrelevance.

And how do we do that? Well, I think the Pharisees gave us the first part of the answer, Jesus the second and St. Paul the third,

From the Pharisees we need to ask ourselves the question, are we hidebound by a theological viewpoint that isn’t open to an alternative perspective?

From Jesus we need to heed the challenge in the way we speak for God and to other people, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and you are to love your neighbour as yourself.”

And from St. Paul we need to hear the challenge to find our own prophetic voices, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Matthew 14.22-33 : Peter walks on water


 
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


I am always intrigued to know peoples’ thought processes as they hear or read the Gospels. How do we process these stories? How do we seek to apply them, particularly on this, a Baptismal Sunday? I’d love to know what everyone is thinking right now in relation to today’s passage.

As a general principle I try to imagine my way into Gospel stories. I try to see myself as an anonymous member of the crowd as I try to walk through the story. Who do I most identify with? Who do I sympathise with? Who irritates me? What if I sat here or over by him? What if I couldn’t hear properly because of the crowd? What if I didn’t actually trust this man Jesus? What if I was a Pharisee?

I have to do this because I am almost always disappointed by the brevity of the gospel stories and their lack of background detail: they seem so clinical and succinct. I want to know that there was someone there who kept coughing at inopportune moments, or that there were children playing nearby, or that there were cooking smells or that it had just rained.

But not this time: today’s Gospel taps into a phobia of mine. I am not at all comfortable on a boat – however big. Some years ago, I travelled from Tallinn in Estonia to Helsinki in Finland by ferry and back again – in the depths of winter with a leaden sky and horizontal snow. It was a memorable journey. I wanted to kiss the ground when I disembarked.

As we arrived at the ferry terminal I was immediately horrified by our ferry: it looked like a tug. It fought with the ice for most of the journey so violently and my travel companions and I couldn’t escape to the outer decks to nurse our misery because of the intense cold – colder than I have ever been before or since. We finally found a place in the bar but we didn’t think drinking would be too clever, but we did note upon arrival back in Tallinn that there were many who had decided on that refuge to the extent that they were so drunk the crew couldn’t tell whether they were Estonians or Finns. So we sat there in the most surreal of settings imaginable, pale green with sea-sickness while half a dozen couples - seasoned veterans clearly - spent the evening dancing exhibition Latin American and ballroom to a live five piece band - including (I kid you not) the theme to “Titanic”. So strong is that image at a time when I firmly believed I was going to die that I fully expected my journey into resurrection to be accompanied by a woman wearing red sequins and dancing a rumba!

Fear is the word that comes to mind: fear of circumstances being beyond our control, fear of the ice, of the cold and fear that death could be just a moment away. Such is the fear, I’m sure that the disciples in the boat felt when they were “battered by the waves” on Lake Galilee one evening as they waited for Jesus to finish his private prayers.

I can hardly imagine someone walking on a sea when it is calm, much less when the waves are rolling and the wind is whipping the surface of the sea. Yet Jesus comes along, not reassuring the disciples by his arrival but initially adding to their fear. Their first reaction is that he must be a “Ghost”. Jesus’ unrecognized presence on the sea was a threat to the disciples. So, in order to calm their fears, Jesus identifies himself, but the real test for that early morning, was whether they could trust his four-fold word to them, “Take heart; have no fear; it is I;”  and then to Peter, “come”. 

These words might just seem like a quick reassurance but they are full of resonance and meaning and we must imagine them being delivered with great authority. 

“Take heart,” recalls Moses’ words to the Israelites on the edge of the Red Sea with the pursuing Egyptians right behind them. “Take heart; do not be afraid, stand firm and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.” says Moses. And “do not be afraid” runs through the Gospel narratives spoken by God’s messengers to Joseph and Mary, by Jesus to Peter, John, and James on the mount of the Transfiguration, by God’s messenger to the women at the tomb and by Jesus as he sends the disciples into the mission field. Finally, “it is I,” that takes us back to the burning bush and God’s thundering, “I am who I am,” and all the “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel.

Walking on water has come to be synonymous, even outside the church, with the idea of stepping out in boldness, taking a risk. It has become another phrase along the lines of “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

And here we are as Emma and Paul bring Luke, and Wayne and Kelly bring Kyara to baptism this passage takes on another resonance: Emma and Paul and Wayne and Kelly have decided that they, their friends and family want what Peter experienced for Luke and for Kyara: they want the children to be equipped to respond to Jesus’ call to “Come”. They want Kyara and Luke to be able to cope with the storms and the uncertainties which life will throw at them with the confidence that keeping their eyes on Jesus will bring them through; confident that they can, in Jesus own words, “Take heart” and be reassured; that they can overcome their fear because their lives have been built on the foundation of he who said, “I am who I am”, and “I am the bread of life”, “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

When Jesus says, “Come,” Peter has to respond. In this respect we have to see Peter here as a template for Christians down the ages and therefore for Kyara and Luke - and that for me is the key point: we are faced with how we interpret Jesus’ words in any given Gospel passage whether we read it or hear it. We need to be clear who Jesus is talking to. Well, we see Jesus here talking to Peter and if we, all this time later, consider ourselves also to be disciples then this passage is most certainly for us to hear - and to act upon. The Gospel passages have to have the power to challenge us and to change or they will remain marginally interesting pieces of religious literature, nothing more.

So, in whatever situation we find ourselves, when Jesus says “Come!” we’re faced with the same choice as Peter was and today as Wayne and Kelly and Emma and Paul are for their children.

When Peter steps out of the boat, the reader and Peter are given the startling truth that this indeed is the one who commands the waves. This is the “I AM” who revealed himself to Moses and who has intervened with saving power so many times in the history of Israel that we should pay attention now.

This changes everything in terms of how we now see ourselves in this story. In Jesus, the great “I AM” has come to dwell with us and for us, whether we are tossed about on the seas or hungry on the hillside, whether we are in the boat or out of the boat. The point of this presence is not to show us that God has supernatural powers so much as to give us calm in the midst of our stormy world to imagine that we too might wade out into the storm with God’s help. In fact, like Peter, when we recognize God present in our world, we are commanded to go out into the water, knowing that in the storms of this life Jesus is with us.

In a book I was recently reading, several Characters are about to embark on a dangerous journey. One of them, fearfully asks, “Is it safe?” The leader replies, simply, “No. Let’s Go!” This is, I suppose, the very situation that we face, really when we wake each day. We rise in the morning and look at the news to discover that our world continues to be rocked by bombs and terror, by kidnapping and murder, by disease and famine. We might not even know that we do it, but each of us prays wordlessly to God, “Is it safe?” And the reply comes back, simply, “No. Lets Go!”

It is hard, isn’t it, to imagine ourselves in such a set of circumstances as Peter however we might seek to put a personal gloss on what “the storm” might be interpreted to mean in our own lives when we are in the midst of our own discomfort and we call on Jesus for help: work; study; relationships; personal crises of faith; frustration with the culture and politics of our time; our own sense of our Christian calling – whatever destabilises us and distresses us. And as we consider ourselves, let’s not forget those whose personal storm is to be driven from their homes with the threat of death hanging over them for being identified as disciples – in Iraq and Syria, in Southern Sudan and Northern Nigeria. What can this passage mean to them? Is there any way that we can respond to Jesus on their behalf when he calls “Come!” rather than concentrating on our own woes, given the contrast in their traumas to those of our own?

We also know that when Peter’s attention returned to the wind and the water, he began to sink and then, as if it had not already been so, his only hope was Jesus. The final good news in this passage comes as Peter falters and starts to sink. We too will surely falter. We too will feel that we are drowning in the depths of our world’s darkness. We too will surely feel that the chaotic waters of life are too treacherous for our tentative footsteps. We too will sink. That is real. That’s life. Only fools pretend otherwise.

This isn’t, as some Christians might imply, a story of Jesus as the magic talisman, protecting us from all dangers. No. This is Jesus who enables us to cope in those dangers.

And see as Peter does - and as Luke and Kyara hopefully will - that Jesus’ hand reaches out to us. We also discover that our doubts and fears, while the cause for a rebuke from our Lord, do not, in fact, take us outside of his care and concern.

It is my prayer that we will look not to our own feelings for a way out of the problems that we face as individuals and as a church, but rather look to the one who walks calmly in the midst of our storms, our anxieties and our personal and institutional controversies. When, surrounded by the moving waves, we falter, will we too grasp Jesus steady hand? Or will he huddle in the safe and comfortable boxes and routines we have established for ourselves as our inadequate coping strategies to fend off the outside world? The choice is ever before us! The great “I AM” continues to walk out in the chaotic waters of the world. How will we answer when he bids us, “Come!”?