In our all together

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What shall I wear?

It’s a question that never crossed my mind when I turned up to a fancy dress party in plain clothes. Embarassing. It seems to be a question that never crossed the mind of the guest who was caught out at the wedding (Matthew 22:1-14).

He could have argued back. Jesus had, after all, told people not to worry about what to wear (Matthew 6:31), but there he was just tipping his head towards Eden where the boy and girl were unashamed by being in the all-together (Genesis 2:25). At the other bookend (Revelation 21:2) we are shown what we’ll look like when all-together we are got ready by God. “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband.”

There is a dressing down for those who worry about what they wear, and those who aren’t ready in time. Jesus reminds us that God clothes us. The guest who hadn’t dressed properly wasn’t clothed in righteousness.

There are various dressing prayers. David Adam has a dresing prayer based on St Patrick’s Breastplate. And Jan Richardson has this blessing in her Painted Prayerbook:

In your mercy
clothe me

in your protection
cloak me

in your care
enfold me

in your grace
array me.

With your justice
dress me

for your labor
garb me

by your love
envelop me

and fit me
for your work.

Photo by Paul Vlaar (http://www.neep.net/photo/london/show.php?12881) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

a little pure joy

Thanks to Simon Marsh for posting Sparkling WatersAs he says, “a little pure joy for the eyes and ears.” My own reflection, my play on the water, is filtered through questions of those who feel in the doldrums and those who can’t be still.

Stunningly beautiful,
fairly typical
reflecting water
reflecting life
never calm
playground
for light
sparkling, bubbling,
becoming.
Never still.
Only becalmed to the senseless, the dead.

Extra time and the end of BST

This is a sermon prepared for some of the good people of Guilden Sutton and Plemstall for the end of British Summer Time.

SS Simon and Jude – Sermon for October 28th 2012.

Well done for remembering to change your clocks!

The question we ask when the clocks change is “Do we gain an hour, or do we lose it?”

Well, this time, we “gain” an hour. We have an extra hour.

What have you done with it?

The same question was raised about the Leap Day earlier this year. February 29th. We got an extra “day”. Many people spotted the opportunity and planned extra events – I finished up with three competing commitments that day. One man used the day creatively. He had lost contact with his brother. He hadn’t seen him for over 30 years. He used the Leap Day as a day for the work of reconciliation.

What have you done with the extra hour?

I hope that some of you managed an extra hour of sleep – after all so many of us are suffering from having too much to do and handle. Phrases that we hear of time and time again are “work-life balance” and “time management”. We find it so difficult to manage time. We are stressed by it – I really do hope that some of you managed to get your own back on time by stealing another hour of sleep.

What do we do with time, and what does time do with us? These are questions I want to focus on.

Firstly, what does time do to us?

The short answer is that he terrifies us. Old Father Time, the Grim Reaper, terrifies us. Change and decay in all around I see.

Time is always running away with us and with our loved ones.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

The clock is ticking, and we know that there is a countdown for our last chance, whether on the TV quiz show, or the science fiction that the earth is going to be destroyed, unless the superhero manages to “beat the clock”. Wasn’t there a TV programme called “Beat the Clock”?

Time stresses us out. We race against time. Time robs us of our youth, innocence and health and we are left wondering whether there is any point. Try as we like, we can’t manage time and we are left feeling that time is managing us. We are in his hands, and in his hands many are really anxious. What if, all the time, our lives count for nothing?

So, what do we make of time?

Actually, as Christians, we make a lot of Time.

In the Eucharist, in the end, through our faith, in our practice we trust that the One “who changest not” abides with us, even though it is often only change and decay that we see all around.

Our biblical myths of time confront the despair that grips so many. I have been reading a book written in the year I was born – an old book, by Rabbi Abraham Heschel. His view was that Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time. That view spans both Testaments.

This holiness of time is expressed in the story of creation. Each day is a day because God says so. There is this present moment because God is present.

The work of creation did not finish after the sixth day. The work of creation goes on. Every moment is an act of creation and a new beginning. Heschel writes: “there are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusively and endlessly precious”. This is such a contrast to the way in which time is something just to be killed by those who see no quality time, and who are simply bored by the flatline of time.

Our story of time encourages us to see every moment as significant. But our story of time also gives us the means to survive the times of our life when there is evil, violence, suffering, pain and crying. The Bible begins at Day One. It ends with the Last Day, when, in the end, there will be Shalom, and all will cry glory.

I mentioned the six days of creation. There is also the 7th day which God called holy, and which we are commanded to call holy. This is how we are called to tell the time. Observing the Sabbath is a resistance to the powers of the world, the powers that be, our business and the things that rule our lives “Monday to Friday”. It is a breathing space with strict rules for its protection. There is no work to be done (for some even flicking a switch is too much). One rule is “ye shall kindle no fire” – applied by Heschel to also not kindling the fire of righteous indignation. Sabbath observance demands great disciplines which build up through generations.

Heschel writes: “With the Sabbath comes a miracle: the soul is resurrected.” For him “the world’s survival depends on the holiness of the Sabbath”. The task is how to convert time into eternity, how to fill our time with spirit.

As Christians, we have a different story to tell. We see two different hands on the clock. The hands of Christ crucified, the hands of Jesus risen from the dead.

For us the holy day of Sabbath becomes the holy Day of Resurrection. Each week begins with holiday of the new creation by which all our days are numbered.

The discipline of people like yourselves coming together to celebrate resurrection is making something of time and resisting a tide of hopelessness. By celebrating the Day of Resurrection, by remembering all God’s works of redemption, we make something of time for ourselves and alternative calendar for the world, which can only be good news for all those who have grown tired, or bored, or who are oppressed day by day.

The Bible is more concerned with time than space. It pays attention to generations and events. We follow that tradition. Our year is full of grace as we move from one great celebration to another. This week we celebrate all the saints. Today we celebrate Saints Simon and Jude. We don’t know much about them. We know that Jude write one of the epistles, and that he is patron saint of hospitals, hospital workers, desparate situations and forgotten, impossible and lost causes.

There are many who feel desparate in their battle against Time. They feel overwhelmed and exhausted. They fear the end. They worry they are a waste of time, and feel that time has wasted them. All of us, from time to time, have shared the same despair – but we know there is another way of telling time.

That way is made through the resurrection, through faith, hope and love, and through the practice and devotion of local communities of Christians who tell the time differently – who manage time not by months and minutes, but by eternity and a love that never dies.

The last word belongs to the patron saint of desparate situations and forgotten, impossible and lost causes. In his epistle, Jude addresses people like ourselves – inclined to anxiety and desperation in the passage of time. He writes: “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

God of many breasts

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In the news last week was a man who has fathered a child aged 75 and a woman who has given birth – aged 70 (that’s the Mum, not Benjamin Button). Her name is
Raji Deva Lohan – and it’s her first child!But that’s nothing compared to the story from Genesis 17 in our worship this week. Abram was 99. His wife Sarai was regarded (and ?despised) as barren, and they suddenly expect their first child. Not just one – but millions of them! It changes their whole life and identity. Abram becomes Abraham (meaning father of many nations) and Sarai becomes Sarah (meaning “princess” – better than being despised any day!) Together they become known as the father and mother of nations which include Jews, Christians and Muslims (see, we really are brothers and sisters).

Kate Huey’s posts are always worth a read. This week she puts together the opinion of experts who reckon that the Abraham and Sarah stories were written at the time of the Exile in the 6th century BC – when the deported Jews sat down “by the rivers of Babylon and wept when they remembered Zion”. They were so desparate they couldn’t even bring themselves to sing the songs of their homeland. They were powerless. This powerlessness is the backdrop to the Genesis story in which the reader is asked to look back and is given a future tense for their lives – hope and direction.

Reading betwen the lines – OK they were all powerless. So was Abram and Sarai. Try as they might they couldn’t have a baby. Yet at 99 – why 99? – presumably to emphasise just how old and knackered they were – they get their baby/babies. Trust God to do the business – and that gave them their future (and us ours).

Kate Huey refers to the name of God in the story – El-Shaddai. Usually translated as “God Almighty” – in other words “all-conquering” there is an alternative which is God of the mountains – and yet again (according to Valerie Bridgeman Davis) “God of many breasts”. Now even if that is not a correct translation it really is worth playing around with because it contrasts the fertility and generosity of God with the barrenness and powerlessness of human nature for Abram, Sarai, the exiled and all those who can’t feel “at home” in their world.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon on this text, “The Late Bloomer,” makes Abraham and Sarah feel like people we know, who find it hard to believe in the promise or the future. “To live by it, day after day, to see it in the night sky and hear it in your name and see it again in your lover’s eyes. It is a hard thing, to believe in a promise with no power to make it come true. Everything is in the future tense. And yet. What better way to live than in the grip of a promise, and a divine one at that?”

Barbara Brown Taylor reflects that living in the meantime calls us “to live reverently, deliberately, and fully awake: that is what it means to live in the promise, where the wait itself is as rich as its end. All it takes are some regular reminders, because as long as the promise is renewed, the promise is alive, as vivid as a rainbow, as real as the million stars overhead” (“The Late Bloomer,”in Gospel Medicine).