Tag Archives: Saint Matthew

2 February 2018: Good Grief!

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Simeon

Today we recall the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Around Easter time in 2017 Princes William and Harry spoke about the time when their mother died. For Harry, just twelve at the time, it was a traumatic period, and had repercussions for many years to come.

The princes rightly called for less fear around mental illness; I’ve known plenty of young and older people who perceived themselves as rejected by friends and family on account of their mental illness.

Yet, talking this over with my daughter and son-in-law, we felt a bit uneasy. Emotions such as grief or anger or remorse may be totally appropriate reactions to events or the consequences of our own actions. They are not in themselves medical conditions. Simeon told Mary to expect a sword of sorrow through her heart (Luke 2:34); we would ask what was wrong if a mother did not feel great hurt when her child was killed.

She loved; she was hurt.

That is not mental illness, it is a question to ask of God and oneself, ‘Why?’

Mary’s ‘Fiat’ – ‘Let it be done according to your word’ – at least begins to answer it. Her words, of course, are echoed by her son at his life’s end: indeed at the Presentation she is like the parents and godparents of an infant at the baptismal font. We make the promises to believe in God and reject all sin, whatever the consequences, knowing the baby may be hurt on the way through life. And here is Jesus: Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42) It must all have felt meaningless: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).

Grief happens because we love and because we are human.

MMB.

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January 20: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY: WELCOMING THE STRANGER.

church unity week poster pic.

The memory of a liberated people, that they were once enslaved, should compel us to welcome the stranger in our midst. The experience of Biblical Israel resonates with the experiences of the peoples of the Caribbean region, the majority of whom were once slaves. We remember how God restores the dignity of God’s people and the churches of the region play an important role in reminding their society of the duty to welcome refugees and displaced persons.
Leviticus 19.33-34 You shall love the alien as yourself

Psalm 146 The Lord watches over the strangers

Hebrews 13.1-3 Some have entertained angels without knowing it

Matthew 25.31-46 I was a stranger and you welcomed me
REFLECTION We are good because we are loved, not loved because we are good. If it was up to each one of us to earn it, we might not be loved very much. Too much goat and not enough sheep. And yet loved we are, since God is in all things, even the bits we think are ugly and unmentionable. We are loved, but God wants us to give some love back, giving and receiving in a mutual relationship. Love makes us better holds us together reaching out to the other. Being in relationship with God means being with other people, doing some good. Looking after the creation and not seeing everything as being there for our enjoyment. It means being fair and not exploiting others. It means giving and not taking. It means being alongside not overpowering others. It even means welcoming and respecting the stranger in our midst since it may be the Christ unannounced.
QUESTIONS How have you experienced being a stranger? Have you visited another church (perhaps whilst on holiday)? How were you welcomed? How did you feel? How might being truly hospitable be challenging? What might hold us back from being genuinely hospitable?
PRAYER Barrier-breaking God, You embrace all cultures and lands, But keep a special place in your heart For the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Grant us the gift of your Spirit That we may become as You are, Welcoming all as brothers and sisters, Your cherished children, Citizens together in Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. Amen
GO AND DO (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) The Caribbean Council of Churches has been involved in advocacy to challenge those nations that are restricting or stripping Haitians of citizenship rights.
Visit Go and Do to read Milciades story about being denied his rights in the Dominican Republic.
Visit Go and Do to find inspiration and encouragement to keep helping those who have been forced from their homes across the world.

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8 December, Aberdaron II: Be Still.

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This tapestry runner is on one of the benches in the church at Aberdaron. The words sound as though they are taken from a psalm but they are the opening words of a hymn, translated from the German of Dorothea von Schlegel. Dig a little further back (the internet is like that beach outside the church that we saw yesterday, full of treasures!) and yes, it is from Psalm 46:10-11:

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

And that’s enough from me: be still, listen for the waves outside the church, be still.

(There’s always Matthew 13.44!)

MMB

 

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7 December: Aberdaron I: Treasure in a field.

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We were pilgrims in Aberdaron, R.S. Thomas’s parish. My photo of the church poised on the edge of the sea at the edge of Wales, at the edge of Europe contained this detail of three little ones shovelling sand for all their lives’ worth.

 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.  

Matthew 13.44

What treasure, what joy was given to these youngsters, all wrapped up on a misty moisty afternoon?

Think back to the child you once were, still are beneath it all, and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

No need to buy the beach in Britain. 99% of them belong to the Crown, in trust for us all: dig away to your hearts’ content, children!

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4 December: Light to see by.

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I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.

Matthew 5:14–15

We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.

 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

Isaiah 58: 8-9

WT

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3 December, 1st Sunday of Advent: Star of Wonder?

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Last Christmas we saw one bright star in the sky -but it was far more to the West than the East – so it most certainly was not the Star of Bethlehem! 

In fact it was not even a star, but our planetary neighbour, Venus.

But there she was, a perfectly good reminder of the Babe of Bethlehem. Really though, reminding people of God is our job:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

No-one can prepare the way of the Lord without light, so let’s get on quietly with those good works that our daily lives demand, and hope that people will see through the imperfect beings that we are to the Good One whose grace sustains us. After all, Venus shines with a reflected light, not her own, and that’s exactly what is asked of her.

And let’s look up to the stars – at least when the cloud cover allows – and just wonder.

MMB.

 

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December 1: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxi – We have problems

carvingwomanchichChichester Cathedral

Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

Even a cursory look at our tragic sexual state, our pollution of the planet, our out of control consumerism… suggests a problem. In practice sex seems to be the only sin we worry about, when Jesus reminds us of the weightier matters of faith, peace with justice, mercy and compassion – Matthew 23.23. The Incarnation tells us to trust our in-body experience – it is the way God provides for us to meet. Our spirit is illusory without body and soul. See it in religious practice that is all head. Soul is the lost sense of the Holy Spirit; and the body is rejected. This wasn’t always the case, though passion, father, mother, sister, brother have now become no more than titles instead of real experiences. Ritual has become safe!

If we encourage co-dependency on system [ritual] we are simply doing what the world does. An over-emphasis on personal prayer has left folk bereft of the intimacy of personal prayer. We are meant to experience the presence of God, not just acknowledge the value of it. Felt religion needs to be reclaimed. We are well aware of the anguish and ecstasy in relationships; can we say the same about prayer? Without the sense of presence anguish becomes anger and accusation. We seem to hear much more about annulments, excommunications and dispensations than about healing.

Praying in words helps me express my dependence on God – praying in silence lets me experience it. Watch a mother hold a feverish child – see the child calm down and even sleep, because it is experiencing safety and not just hearing about it. There is vastly more to living than my private life. Contemplation needs underpinning by belonging [community]. Social prayer recognises that there is only one goodness, one suffering, and even one sin! So much about life can neither be explained nor fixed, but it is felt, enjoyed and suffered. Crying is not manly! A man who cannot cry is not fully alive. We can’t relish life until we experience its tears – happy and sad.

If laughter and tears are not around, I’m on the wrong road. God heals our brokenness and our weakness. When we venture into sacred space there is an element of discomfort, if only because it isn’t where I usually am. It is the prophetic in life that lures me – showing me the inadequacy of the normal. Reality begins to arrive when death is experienced as integral to life, and failure and success are the same; and I no longer need to leave the secular to find the sacred – the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom – Matthew 27.51.

There is no natural world where God is not present. But I need the eyes to see this. It is a move from simple consciousness into enlightenment – I have to let go, through some disillusion with what is. We seldom freely go there – it is usually thrust upon us by suffering, injustice, sin and bereavement. Normal tends to mean rejecting weakness and over-working strengths. By claiming to be in control I reveal my weakness, becoming who I am supposed to be rather than who I am.

While most problems are psychological, most answers are spiritual. Which tells us to stop trying to solve them – we need to forgive and integrate them.

AMcC

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November 29: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxix – Spirituality belongs to the earth and its people

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Throughout history spirituality has been linked to specific convictions and values, calling for a particular life-style, with regular devotion and ritual worship. Christian spirituality cherishes highly the values and virtues of the Gospel: love, compassion, peace with justice … the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.1-12. How these values are appropriated into everyday living is the mission of the Church; to this end the Church provides a repertoire of prayers and devotions along with a sacramental system, to help us engage meaningfully with personal and cosmic living.

Over time competition arose between the different religions, each with its own priorities. In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable commitment all round for coming closer together. As we have seen, there was the presumption that religion and spirituality are essentially the same. In every age the meaning of spirituality and its influence has evolved in cosmic proportions. It is crucial that engagement with spirituality calls for engagement of current cosmic awareness – resulting from multi-disciplinary exploration.

This is showing us that spirituality belongs to the earth and its people and not to some far-away god, or to a state of Nirvana. Above all, it transcends what individual religions claim to represent and as such becomes all-embracing. It is a challenge to break away from human centred systems – religious and political – and claim all creation as home.

Scientists such as Eliade and Jung… among others claim that value is based on an innate and universal desire everyone experiences; values such as: unconditional love, truth, honesty integrity and peace with justice. The Christian ethic quotes the Canticle of Mary to see Jesus as epitomising this: He came to his people to set them free – Luke 1.68. All world religions seek to embrace these values within their own cultural expressions. For the Christian faith this is what is meant by the Kingdom – seen stunningly in Jesus as king riding a donkey – on which, in those days, anyone could ride.

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Strasbourg

Spirituality is concerned with such values as foundational. Religion, however, is the name we give to the enculturation of such values. Christianity as religion is very much the product of a patriarchal culture, with familiar oppressive results: market competition with the poor side-lined, female suppression… which have no place in the Kingdom Jesus brings. If this is so, it would seem that religion is a temporary reality. Involvement with spirituality is to be enabled to reclaim who we really are through engagement with living the basic values which alone can satisfy every human hunger – this is why Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life – satisfying every hunger. We cannot avoid being people of value.

Not all value is necessarily good, the influence of light and dark is always at work. Value is geared towards life being experienced as whole – as promised by all religions. But our attempts to embody value is influenced by the temptation to selfishness, greed and power-seeking. The person who robs and steals is doing an evil act – not for the sake of evil, but for a perceived good! In a world of so much suffering and evil such an example can seem trivial. Our human desire for fullness of life can be distorted, while the ultimate goal is always good. Which is why Paul cries out: who will rescue me from this wretched state – Romans 7.24?

AMcC

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November 2, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: ii- Jesus Knew the Way

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All of us search for moral truth – and we find ourselves in agreement with folk of other faiths on values like peace with justice, truth and honesty, with respect for human life and above all – the primacy of love.

Jesus came as one who appeared to know the way to all this; and the Resurrection told them he had succeeded. Relief and excitement followed – he’s found the way out! This is the Good News – the Lord is risen! Jesus has entered the new life where death and sin are not there; and he offers the same invitation to all – come and see.

When those first disciples proclaimed Jesus is Lord, they were saying they had witnessed the moment when all this became clear. They had seen him suffer and die, they had been there at his burial – but now he is here, fully alive. What was reassuring was he seemed to be simultaneously dead and fully alive – he carried the marks of death yet was fully alive – death had been stripped of its power to frighten. The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27) He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning. (GS.22)1

To believe Jesus is Lord means that life is no longer hovering on the brink of absurdity. No goodness is wasted and there is no ultimate defeat of human values. They are the building blocks for making all things new, to be transformed, as was the peak of human endeavour, in the Resurrection. This is what makes Christianity unchangingly always new, he has found the way through – the Lord is risen! What they were saying was some of them had seen him, walked and talked with him. Yahweh had kept his promise in this one man, who was saying to everyone – come and see.

This is telling us that the deaths of people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero… are only tragic in the way Calvary is tragic. With Easter morning death has lost its sting. The Resurrection reveals the divine intention with regard to everything that is good, anything that reflects the full human response to God is doing the Father’s will – i.e. creating the kind of world of the Messianic promises: peace with justice; coming to the help of the poor and powerless; universal fraternity and the freedom to worship the one God in whatever way is appropriate.

AMcC

1Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope – is the Second Vatican Council’s Document on the Church in the Modern World. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html.

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September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

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Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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