Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feasts

Jesus said that one day there would be a great feast, hosted by God himself. Everyone would be invited, but not everyone would come. And Jesus set about modelling that feast, where all were invited. He ate and drank – sometimes as host, sometimes as guest – with such commitment that his enemies called him a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of those who were excluded from God’s true table (Matthew 11:19).

And so the Church, following Jesus’ example, decided that they would set aside feast days throughout the year, and that they would invite people to the table, to give a foretaste of the Great Feast Day to come, and to model heaven breaking-in to earth in the present. And while they gave people a taster, to help them to decide to go to the Great Feast, they would also use these feasts as opportunities to tell the story of what God had done in Jesus – tying each feast to a particular event or person in that story.

But somewhere along the line, some Reformers (who had had the Bible translated into their own language so they could read it, but obviously hadn’t read Matthew 11:19 - or any of the Gospel accounts that led people to make the accusation of ‘glutton and drunkard’) decided that feasts were a conceit. Believing in God was a Very Serious Business. What people needed was sermons. And, of course, all the preachers – who loved the sound of their own voice – thought this was a genius idea: why had no-one come up with it sooner? Send word to the kitchen – the feast is cancelled!

I reckon we need to reclaim our feasts, as part of what it means to live a missional life, or life shaped by mission. Probably because I am an introvert, I don’t especially enjoy social events with more people present than I can fit around my table (which is to say, about twelve). But, introvert though I am, I am not a loner: I can appreciate solitude, as indeed I can appreciate festival crowds, but best of all is company around the table.

Christmas lasts twelve days. Yesterday was the feast of Stephen, the first person to be killed because of his belief that Jesus (whose coming into the world we celebrated the day before) was the Messiah, the One sent by God to rescue his people. Today is the feast of John the Evangelist, who saw God’s glory revealed in Jesus, and wrote about it in (the Gospel) According to John, three shorter letters, and the Revelation. Tomorrow is the festival of the Holy Innocents, recalling before God the infant boys of Bethlehem who lost their lives because God’s salvation was so threatening to those who have a vested interest in oppression and control over other people’s lives. January 6 is the Feast of Epiphany, recalling the Magi who recognised Jesus’ birth with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.

May your kitchen and your table be blessed this Christmas, and throughout the year ahead.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent 26 : Christmas Eve


And me? And you?
Will we change our minds about this story we once thought so familiar?
Will we settle for retelling its previous pages,
or will we turn around
and step into the Christmas story
as it continues to be written,
until Christ comes again?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent 25 : The Magi


The kingdom of heaven comes close to the Magi, and by repenting – by changing their mind – they step into the present presence of God’s future.

The Magi go on a journey, a journey that takes them some two years of planning and execution, that leads them a long way from where they began (and back again, by a different route). They are led by a star, almost to Bethlehem. Before they can arrive, they must go on the slightest of detours, to prophetically declare to Herod and his people that his days as king are numbered...Then, having found the child and his mother, they are led away by an angel on a wider detour – one that would have had to take them a long way out of their way - to avoid the murderous king. Stars and angels: sat nav, first-century style.

But God knows the way through the wilderness: for Joseph, Mary and Jesus, fleeing south through the Negev as political refugees, to the Jewish Diaspora community in Egypt; for the Magi, avoiding any road on which they might be seen, their movement reported. This moment, this moment when a caravan of dignitaries exits stage left under cover of darkness, buying time for escape, is a moment that God can step into in order to bring light into the world.

The Magi repent, and step forward into the unknown with God.


[Today’s Antiphon is O Emmanuel]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent 24 : The Shepherds


The kingdom of heaven comes close to the shepherds, and by repenting – by changing their mind – they step into the present presence of God’s future.

Shepherds not only lived on the margins of society, out on the hills on the edge of towns; they were considered to represent the margins of society. They were marginalised by society. They were mistrusted, misrepresented. Like youth in our society today, they were considered to be up to no good, lazy, antisocial. You certainly wouldn’t believe a word that they said – especially if their excuse for being in town when they were supposed to be with their flock was that an angel had appeared to them with news of great joy...

But God knows what it is to be marginalised by his people. And, as Mary sung, God “...has shown strength with his arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53). This moment, this moment when the marginalised are invited as guests-of-honour into the very centre, is a moment that God can step into in order to bring light into the world.

The shepherds repent, and step forward into the unknown with God.


[Today’s Antiphon is O Rex Gentium]

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent 23 : Joseph


The kingdom of heaven comes close to Joseph, and by repenting – by changing his mind – he steps into the present presence of God’s future.

Joseph is told that the girl pledged to marry him is pregnant, and he is not the father. How does he feel? Cheated by her family? Betrayed by her? He has the right to complain, to bring the matter into the light, to demand compensation for a broken pledge, perhaps to demand that Mary is stoned to death. Even if he does not make that demand, the matter might be taken out of his hands.

Joseph is a righteous man, and he makes a righteous decision: not to demand his rights, but to walk away quietly, to carry the consequence of someone else’s actions. Though God has other plans, this is not a bad decision but a good one – one that vindicates God’s decision (if God’s decisions need vindicating) to choose this man to raise His Son.

But God knows Joseph’s character more intimately than Joseph does. This moment, this moment when he can choose to take Mary and her baby on as his own, is a moment that God can step into in order to bring light into the world.

Joseph repents, and steps forward into the unknown with God.


[Today’s Antiphon is O Oriens]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday Of Advent : A Light For Mary


The kingdom of heaven comes close to Mary, and by repenting – by changing her mind – she steps into the present presence of God’s future.

The angel says, “You will be with child”...and Mary asks, “How can this be?” She is a virgin. And we need to understand that term to mean not only someone who has not yet had sexual intercourse (in this sense, a virgin can become pregnant, simply by having sex) but to mean a girl who has not yet ovulated (that is, for whom pregnancy is a biological impossibility, even if she had had sex).

Mary knows that she cannot have a baby, because her body is not yet ready to have a baby. That is why she is still ‘pledged to be’ married: an arrangement has been made between two families, and the wedding will take place once she has become a woman, once her periods begin.

But God knows Mary’s body more intimately than Mary does. This moment, this moment when her ovaries release their very first egg, is a moment that God can step into in order to bring light into the world.

Mary repents, and steps forward into the unknown with God.


[Today’s Antiphon is O Clavis David]

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent 21 : John, At Last


Eventually John extends the invitation to repent to someone who knows that John is right, but cannot accept: it would cost Herod the tetrach far too much. Ultimately, that refusal to pay the price will cause John to lose his life (Matthew 14:3-12).

And in prison, John hears what Jesus is doing, and wonders: is this who we were to expect after all? (Matthew 11:1-19) Who Jesus was, and what he was doing, didn’t match even John’s expectations.

And Jesus’ response is to call John to repent, to change his mind: these things, impossible for man but possible through God, are exactly the ‘kairos’ moments – the opportunities to repent, to turn around and step into the present presence of God’s future – that show heaven is come near. One day, all the blind shall see, the lame walk, the unclean will be made clean, the deaf shall hear, the dead shall be raised, and the poor shall experience God’s goodness. And even now we get to share in the signs that point to that Day.


And Jesus said that John, who was about to lose his head, stood head-and-shoulders above all those born of women (John said that Jesus would surpass him, for he needed to become less and Jesus become more – John 3:30 – but at this point in the story, John is still greater, according to Jesus – Matthew 11:11). And yet, he continued, whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.

That is, the secret of greatness is becoming smaller and smaller, until you disappear. That at the vanishing-point of our ego, God’s power flows through us with least resistance. No-one had become smaller than John – but, because of John’s example, they would. John’s repentance had opened a breach between earth and heaven, through which heaven poured into earth like water through a breached dam – and those forceful enough to keep going against the flow of everyone else have experienced the present presence of God’s future bursting in, ever since...


[Today’s Antiphon is O Radix Jesse]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent 20 : God In The Wilderness


Today’s Antiphon reminds us what God’s people have rediscovered in every generation. Abraham learnt it. Moses learnt it. David learnt it. Elijah learnt it. Mary learnt it. Cousin John learnt it. Jesus learnt it. Paul learnt it. Countless generations have learnt it ever since.

If you hope to find God, you will find him, at last, in the wilderness.

And, therefore, if you have lost all hope of finding God, he is closer to you than you know. Right there. But behind you. Turn around, and you will find that though you did not know it, you are standing on holy ground.

Today’s Antiphon is O Adonai

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent 19 : The Guide who Leads Us In Repentance


Today marks a turning-point - an opportunity to repent and by so doing step into the present presence of God’s future - on the path through Advent.

Today marks the start of the final leg of the Advent journey. Down the centuries, in these last days counting down to Christmas, the Church has declared our Advent hope, praying ancient prayers (known as Antiphons*) inviting God into our lives, expressing our longing to step into his kingdom rule.

The first Antiphon invokes God as Wisdom from above, calling to mind Isaiah’s promise that Jesus would be known as Wonderful Counsellor (Isaiah chapter 9).

I have not walked the path that leads through today before. At times, the path seems to vanish beneath my feet, to fall into nothingness, sheer, un-scale-able. At other moments, I get a glimpse of my destination, before the rocks hide it again: moments of hope sustaining me in the midst of a hard climb. I need one who knows the path, who knows its every twist and turn, to lead me, to walk one step ahead of me, to tell me when to change direction. I need a wise guide, an expert in the art of repentance. Today, he meets me on the path.

Today’s Antiphon is O Sapientia


*The Antiphons found their way into the Christmas Carol ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ - although some hymn books do not include all the verses, and therefore miss out some of the story the Antiphons tell about God.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent 18 : Repentance, And Failure To Repent


Heaven – the realm of God’s kingdom rule – is closer to earth than we think. It is right there, seeping in. Repentance is the means by which heaven crosses the thin, permeable membrane of space and time: the means by which foretastes of the future – God’s ultimate future – break-into the present. Because God’s kingdom is right there...but it is heading in a different direction, towards another horizon, another conclusion; and so we need to turn round to see the world from the perspective of God’s kingdom.

There are times – moments, events; the Greek word for such time is ‘kairos’ – that interrupt and suspend ordinary time – seconds, minutes, hours, days; the Greek word for such time is ‘chronos’. These moments can be positive or negative, large or small. They can last for half a heartbeat (a passing stranger makes you smile), or for months (grief after significant loss). The world carries on about its business around us, but we find ourselves stuck in a moment...and in that moment, the world of ‘chronos’ time and space can take one of two paths.

These times are opportunities to repent and see God’s kingdom break-in. Salvation, healing, forgiveness, joy, peace – things that will define all experience of life beyond the Great Day of Jesus’ return, break-into the present, as signposts pointing to that future Day.

Or we can take a deep breath and carry on along the same trajectory we were travelling in, and miss out on partnering in God’s rule. God’s future will continue to break-in, but at another moment, delayed, perhaps through someone else.

And though this may seem counter-intuitive, God gives us the big ‘kairos’ moments – the ones even one so blind as me cannot miss – in order to train us to see the small ‘kairos’ opportunities, and step into God’s future. Because our days are as filled with ‘kairos’ moments as they are with the air we breathe; and the small moments are more significant than the big ones.

I was in the city centre, Christmas shopping, and I walked past a Big Issue vendor. And I chose not to stop – not that I wouldn’t buy a copy, but I’d do it later, once I’d actually got some shopping done. And God, speaking through my conscience, said, “Turn around!” But I kept going, arguing with the voice in my head: later, not now. The further away I got, the harder it was to turn around, and in fact I never did. I carried on with my agenda, and bought a copy from another vendor later. And we spoke, and I know he was blessed, but I also know that God wanted to break in through me earlier in the day, and, by my own choice, I missed out on being part of what he wanted to do.

The moment was small, and easy to dismiss. What will it take (and do I really want to resist God that far)?

Lord Jesus, whose days were one moment of repentance after another, so that you remained always in the Father’s will, teach me to live such a life. Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Becoming [Recycled Posts]

The other day I was having a conversation with some people who were wanting to see more of God’s power made manifest in their lives. And I was suggesting that as God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), we will see more of God’s power at work as we hold out our weaknesses before him, for him to use. Our natural instinct is to hide our weaknesses, because we are ashamed of them; or, if we are too honest or too desperate to do that, to ask God to remove them. But the apostle Paul came to realise that instead we ought to boast in our weaknesses: to openly acknowledge that it is when we reach the end of our resources that God steps in...

As part of that conversation, I thought I would link back to two previous posts, on the story of Gideon. They are:

Becoming |1| Submit To God

and

Becoming |2| Resist The Devil

Advent 17 : The Repentance Of God's People


So repentance has its root in the very heart of God, who changed direction: picking his way carefully down the sheer face of the heavens, down Jacob’s angel-ladder; down, into the inconceivable vulnerability of a human beginning, into Mary’s womb.

Therefore repentance is the appropriate response of the people of God: of those who recognise God-with-us, and who are given the right to become children of God as a result. For repentance still carries the forgiveness of sins out into the world.

While everyone else is clawing their way up the ladder, seeking to make a name for themselves that will be heard in all the earth and even the heavens – a name that will be remembered forever - we are called to follow the path down. To empty ourselves. To become smaller. Less powerful. Less important. No, still smaller than that...

To down-size. To achieve nothing in the eyes of the world. Not even our fifteen minutes of fame. To leave behind whatever we already have.

And, just as John recognised Jesus while the two cousins were still in their mothers’ wombs, the smaller we become, the deeper the glimpse we are given into the mysterious ways of the God who is reconciling all things to himself.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent 16 : The Repentance Of God


To ‘repent’ means to turn around, to make a change of direction.

We’ve narrowed that massively, so that we tend to understand repentance as turning from something wrong – as turning from a sinful way of living (i.e. living in broken relationship with God and neighbour) to a righteous way of living (i.e. living in right relationship with God and neighbour). And so we see undergoing John’s baptism of repentance as a person indicating their intention to turn from sin to righteousness.

Repentance certainly may include turning from something wrong, but it is far bigger than that. Sometimes a change of direction is needed, not to return to the right path but in order to continue on the right path. Sometimes repentance is not reactive but proactive: not that we have sinned and need to repent, but that we need to repent in order not to sin. Sometimes repentance is not from but for...

John did not preach a baptism of repentance from sin, in order to receive forgiveness; but a baptism of repentance for – or, which leads to – the forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism proclaims a repentance that results in the forgiveness of sins - but whose repentance?

The start of Jesus’ ministry is marked by his being baptised by John. Jesus was without sin. If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance from sin, Jesus could not have received it: he had committed no sin he needed to repent from. But John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins:
Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth stands before him indicating his intention to make a change of direction;
to put carpentry behind him and follow a new path – first into the wilderness, from where his path would ultimately lead to Jerusalem and a cross;
to his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which result in a new forgiveness of sins...
in a new path to forgiveness, not through the annual ritual sacrifice made by the High Priest, but once-and-for-all.

The initiative lies always with God. For Christmas celebrates the greatest repentance of all: the one who is God from God, begotten not created, with God from the beginning, laid all aside and descended the path from heaven to earth to become a human being and live among us (John 1:1-18 ; Philippians 2:5-11).

As we seek to follow Jesus along the Way, there will be times (perhaps many times) when he asks us to change direction – to move to a new location, to take up a new responsibility – not because where we are and what we are doing is wrong, but because we have reached a turn in the path before us. We turn, for him, for others – an act of repentance that keeps us in step with the Spirit of Jesus – because he first turned, for us.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 15 : A Light For John The Baptist


The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” —
“a voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)


I’ve been in the Judean wilderness, rising up from the Jordan River and the Dead Sea; the wall of the deepest rift valley on earth, where John lived and went about his ministry.


I’ve seen the wilderness, through which God’s ancient people expected him to come one day, on his way to Jerusalem, with my own eyes. And I know that if you wanted to make a way through the wilderness, a straight path is no use to you.

A straight path will get you nowhere. You need a path that zigs and zags, as it seeks to climb rock so sheer that only the wild mountain ibex can pick their way up and down. A path that turns back on its self, painfully slowly, in order to gain ground...

In other words, the prophet cries out, what is really needed is not simply a better path, but a seismic shift in topography. Depths raised-up, heights brought low: the landscape unrecognisable as what was there before. The old paths no longer going anywhere at all...


John says we need to get ready. To repent – to change the direction we are moving in. To recognise that we are at a point in the path where we can go no further in this direction; and - with God’s grace - must find another.

But more than that, John says something is about to happen that will change everything forever. To respond to the call to make a straight path in the desert of our lives is to recognise that the one who will travel on it will, in his passing, transform the desert itself from the place of life in its most marginal experience to the place of life in all its fullness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Advent 7 : St Nicholas' Eve


If you have children, go out and buy a bag of chocolate coins for each child. Get your children to leave out a shoe when they go to bed tonight, and place the bag of coins there to be found in the morning...because the morning brings with it the Feast of St Nicholas.

Nikolaos was bishop of Myra (modern-day Turkey) in the C4th. He was suspected to be behind a wide spate of anonymous acts of kindness, in particular leaving bags of gold coins in shoes left by the door. It would appear that his motivation was redeeming the poor from the consequences of poverty – a practical expression of the loving action of God in coming into our world to redeem us from the consequences of our slavery to the satan, or accuser: sin, and death.


Nikolaos became patron saint of sailors and merchants, and was carried by Dutch traders to Amsterdam, where he became Sinterklaas; and from there on to New Amsterdam (later, New York), where he became Santa Claus; and to England, where he became Father Christmas.


In response to God’s redemptive gift to us – the coming of Jesus – Nikolaos started a tradition of redemptive gift-giving. Over the years, this has been covered by layers of giving gifts for other reasons. But that redemptive quality has been rediscovered, through a range of fair-trade gifts, and gifts that go to someone other than the recipient – see Oxfam unwrapped, Traidcraft, and Present Aid for ideas.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent 6 : Who Am I?


Who am I, when
everything that makes me who I am
is stripped away,
and I am laid bare before
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Who am I, when
who I am is not known round here?
Who am I, when
those I love are taken from me?
Who am I, when
all I have worked to build is washed away?
Who am I, when
I AM is:
Great Father?
Only and Beloved Son, sacrificed?
The one who brings God and man together in one,
and overcomes the gulf between them?
This is not an abstract question
for us, who live in the land of darkness...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent 5 : The Wrestlers


More than fourteen years after meeting Jacob in his dream, God comes to him again in the night. Though God has blessed him, Jacob is a broken man – caught between the uncle he has tricked, in order to amass wealth, and the brother he tricked out of his birthright so many years earlier. Here is a man caught between a rock and a hard place.

And God comes to Jacob again and repeats his offer: “If you give me your life, I will give you my life.”

They wrestle, physically and metaphorically, all night [note 1]. God, laying aside his supernatural might to wrestle with a man; and that man holding on for dear life and refusing to let go. Jacob gets to see God face-to-face, and live. And finally, as the dawn breaks, the covenant is renewed.

Jacob gets a new name (a divine name): Israel. No longer ‘the deceiver’ but now ‘he struggles with God and man, and overcomes.’

And God? Jacob asks, “Tell me your name!” But God replies, “Why do you ask my name?” You already know: I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and now – at last – of Jacob. The God of Israel. I am the God who exchanges identity with my people. I am the Great Father. I am the Only and Beloved Son, who will be sacrificed. I am the one who struggles with God and man, and has overcome: the one who brings God and man together in one, and overcomes the gulf between them...

note 1: read Genesis 32.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Advent 4 : Stairway To Heaven


God will introduce himself to later generations as “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” Jacob – Isaac’s son, Abraham’s grandson – is the third Patriarch.

God comes to Jacob and says, “If you give me your life, I will give you my life.” Jacob’s life was a mess. His name – his identity – meant trickster or cheat, and that defined his life. He cheated his brother out of his birthright, and ran for his life. And the trickster would himself be tricked: he voluntarily worked for his uncle Laban for seven years up front in return for Laban’s younger daughter as a wife...only to be given the older daughter, and forced to work another seven years (though not up front this time) for the right to marry the woman he loved. Laban said, you can marry my daughter but in exchange I’ll get fourteen years of labour out of you, and get you to take my other daughter off my hands into the bargain. The trickster met his match – and responds in the only way he knows, by tricking his uncle, by getting his own back. And trickery upon trickery resulted in an ugly family situation, which would have consequences for the next generation...

God comes to Jacob twice. The first time, Jacob has just run away from home. Exhausted, he lies down to sleep on the open ground - on the very ground where his grandfather Abraham had taken his father Isaac to sacrifice him. But Jacob did not know it. And as he slept, God appeared to him in a dream, standing both at the top and at the bottom of a stair reaching from earth to heaven [note 1], on which angels where ascending and descending. There God renews his offer of covenant – an exchange of lives. Jacob is amazed, and afraid: without knowing, he has stumbled on the place where heaven and earth connect, the house of God. And he declares that if God shows himself to be true to his promises, then Jacob will enter into covenant with him, and make this place outwardly, visibly, God’s house [note 2].

He stands at the open gate of heaven, and does not go in. This is not the end of his story, but it is a missed opportunity. Nonetheless, God will not let it go: generations later, Jesus will declare that the place where the stair between heaven and earth touches ground is not at any fixed geographic point, but in him [note 3]. In Jesus as he went about on earth, and, by extension, in the heart of everyone who will accept his offer:

“If you will give me your life, I will give you my life.”


note 1: The text, Genesis 28, is ambiguous as to whether God is stood at the top or the bottom of the stair, in a way that leads us to understand it as being both at the same time. God in heaven, and God on earth. The Great Father, and the Only and Beloved Son.

note 2: Generations later, Solomon’s temple would be built here. After it was destroyed and the people taken into exile, Zerubbabel would return and build the second temple on the same spot. And, in turn, Herod the Great would build the magnificent third temple – the temple of Jesus’ day – at the house of God, the gate of heaven.

note 3: see John 1:43-51.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Advent 3 : Like Father Like Son


Back to those Patriarchs...

So God comes to Abram and says, “If you give me your life, I will give you my life.” And Abram, now Abraham, has a son, the beginning of the fulfilment that he would become Father of Nations.

But then God says to Abraham, “Take Isaac, your only son, your son whom you love, and go to a certain place I will show you, and sacrifice him to me.”

In other words, God says, “In the light of who I have shown myself to be and what I have done for you in the past, will you trust me for the future? Will you trust me to come good on my promise – trust me enough that you put me before my promises; enough that you will hold on to my promise even when all the evidence points to the death of that hope, because you know who I am?” [note 1]

Isaac is the second Patriarch. God comes to him and says, “If you give me your life, I will give you my life.” God brings Isaac ‘back from death’ and to the identity of Great Father God has taken on in covenant with Abraham, in covenant with Isaac God now adds to himself the identity of Only and Beloved Son, who will be sacrificed [note 2] as the pivotal point in God’s fulfilment of his promise to Abraham.

As we wait with anticipation for the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise that one day he will return, God comes to us this Advent with the same invitation: “If you will give me your life, I will give you my life.”


Note 1: See Genesis 22 and Hebrews 11:17-19.

Note 2: Generations later, King David bought the land where Abraham was sent to sacrifice Isaac. David’s son Solomon built the (first) temple there. And on that patch of earth, in the shadow of the (third) temple built on the site, Jesus would die on a cross, be laid in a borrowed tomb, and three days later be raised again.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, St Andrew's

Advent 2 : Feast Of Saint Andrew


Advent is a season of preparing ourselves for Jesus’ arrival. As we look forward to Christmas, and the celebration of Jesus’ coming into the world, we examine ourselves in the light of the knowledge that one day he will return.

Today is the Feast of St Andrew. Andrew was one of Jesus’ disciples, the brother of another of Jesus’ disciples, Simon Peter. In fact, it was Andrew who introduced Simon Peter to Jesus. Andrew could do so because he had prepared himself for Jesus’ arrival on the scene.


In his Gospel, John tells us that before he was a disciple of Jesus, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptizer [note 1]. John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin [note 2], whose prophetic ministry called the people to repent – to examine their lives and make themselves ready in preparation for Jesus’ arrival. As soon as the time came for Jesus to be revealed, John the Baptizer knew it, and pointed Jesus out to Andrew. The rest, as they say, is history...


Advent. The time is now: the time to repent, to examine and change the direction, the course, of our lives...

...to walk in the footsteps of Andrew, whose Feast we celebrate today.



note 1: John chapter 1. John was one of Jesus’ disciples, and knew Andrew well. John and his brother James – who also became one of Jesus’ disciples - were fishermen, as were Andrew and Simon Peter. Their fathers, Zebedee and Jonah, were in business together – quite successful business, given that they employed not only their four sons but also several other hired men.


note 2: cousins; brothers: this story is grounded in flesh and blood...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday Of Advent : A Light For The Patriarchs


Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the start of a new year in the Church calendar. In the Season of Advent, we look back and look forward. We look back, remembering the story that leads to the birth of Jesus. And we look forward, to his coming again. Advent is a season of getting ready: in the light of what God has done, getting ourselves ready for Jesus’ return. Preparing to welcome him. In one sense, every Advent carries the hope that this might be the last time we get to journey this path...

Advent takes in the four Sundays before Christmas, and each Sunday we light candles, incrementally, to remember certain points in our story. On the first Sunday, we light a candle to remember the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – whose lives pointed to Jesus’ life. On the second Sunday, we light two candles, to remember the Patriarchs...and the Prophets, whose words pointed to Jesus’ coming. On the third Sunday, we light three candles, to remember the Patriarchs, the Prophets...and John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. On the fourth Sunday, we light four candles, to remember the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist...and Mary, the mother of Jesus.


The first Patriarch was Abraham. God came to Abram, and said, “If you give me your life, I will give you my life.”


‘Abram’ means ‘Great Father,’ or, we might say, ‘Best Dad.’ But Abram was childless. Every time someone called him by his name, it was a slap in the face. Like serving a cup of tea to someone you know has unsuccessfully gone through every stage of infertility treatment, in a mug emblazoned ‘Best Dad in the World’ – not just once, but every time you serve them a cup of tea...


God said, “Let me take on the identity of Great Father, of Best Dad...” [of ‘Abba,’ the name by which Jesus would call God] “...and in return I will bless you with my identity: you will become Abraham, ‘Father of Nations’...”


And God comes to us this Advent with the same invitation: “If you will give me your life, I will give you my life.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heptagonal Questions

The ‘Rule of Life’ of The Order of Mission (TOM) is not carried in written form (as, say, the Rule of St Benedict is), but in iconic form: circle; semi-circle; triangle; square; pentagon; hexagon; heptagon; and octagon.

The shapes are simple tools for living as disciples, and we often use two or more in conjunction, just as a carpenter might use a plane and a mallet in constructing a chair.

The triangle is a tool that helps us to attend to our relationship with God, with each other, and with our neighbour. The heptagon is a tool that is used as a spiritual health-check (I have previously written about the seven signs of life here).

How might we take an honest look at our relationships? The questions below use the seven signs of life – movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion, nutrition – as a measure, and are intended for use in a group context (we call such groups a ‘huddle’). I would suggest that the way to use them is not to attempt to answer all 21 at once, but to ask the Holy Spirit to highlight a question that God wants to have a conversation with you about, and then pray that God will speak to us through the discussion that unfolds.

Disclaimer: I have written these questions, at a particular time and in a particular place. They reflect wider TOM values, and my context, and are not the only ‘heptagonal’ questions that could be asked. There is value in periodically reviewing such questions, and tailoring them to context.


UP: living with confidence

[M] Are we resistant, or open, to worshipping God in new ways?


[R] Are we animated by the Spirit, or a monument to the past?


[S] Can we see what the Father is doing?


[G] Are we open or resistant to abiding, growing, bearing fruit, or being pruned?


[R] Are we secure in our identity as beloved sons of God, with whom he is pleased?


[E] Are we confessing our sin, or hiding it?


[N] Are we feeding on the word of the Father?



IN: God gives us each other for the purpose of character-formation

[M] Are we moving as one body, or pulling in different directions?


[R] Are we speaking words of life, or of death, to one another?


[S] Are we aware of, and responding to, one another’s needs?


[G] Are we being discipled, and discipling others, in Christlikeness?


[R] Are we raising up a new generation in our place?


[E] Do we hold on to resentment?


[N] Is every member of the body fed, appropriate to their experience and function?



OUT: taking the gift of the body out into the world

[M] Are we involved in the life of our neighbourhood?


[R] Can we identify signs of the Spirit breathing life into our neighbourhood?


[S] Are we aware of, and responsive to, changes in our neighbourhood?


[G] Do we see the kingdom of God advancing in our neighbourhood?


[R] Do we actively foster hope for the future of our neighbourhood?


[E] Do we actively foster reconciliation, or add to division, in our neighbourhood?


[N] Are we feeding the physically and spiritually hungry in our neighbourhood?

Thoughts On Two Great Mark Carey Quotes

Yesterday evening was our regular meeting-up with other members of The Order of Mission. Our friend Mark Carey was sharing some recent reflections on relationship with God (UP), one another in the church (IN), and with our neighbour (OUT). He observed that our relationship with God is the source of our identity, and therefore the place where our confidence comes from. However,

“God gives us each other for the purpose of character-formation.”

In other words, our character is not formed in isolation, in spending time alone with God, but through the testing and refining that comes by living in community with other people; by having our rough edges worn down by other people’s rough edges, as we knock against each other.

This is significant, because the temptation is always to take the route of least resistance, to form community with people who look like us, but in doing that we limit the potential character-formation God wants to work in us. We need to embrace those we find difficult to love, those we have ‘nothing, other than Jesus’ in common with, those who are hard work.

Moreover, Mark observed that the highly individualistic model of evangelism, whereby the church (at best) supports me in my personal place of witness, is flawed because it fails to recognise adequately that we are the body of Christ. As such, our call is not to operate as supported individuals but as one body,

“taking the gift of the body out into the world.”

This has profound implications. If we are called to take the gift of the body out into the world, we need to wrestle with the extreme fragmentation of ourselves within the world, caused by the shift to an ever-increasing and highly individualistic professionalization of every sphere of life. For example, monasteries functioned as communities that provided accommodation for the traveller (hotels); medical care for the sick (hospitals); respite care for the infirm (care homes); libraries and scriptoriums in which learned was collected and passed on (schools, universities, publishers); almsgiving for the poor (welfare); employment for farmers, blacksmiths, and a host of domestic servants; microbreweries...All these functions have been taken over by the State, or private enterprise, and rather than operating as communities of salt and light, Christians work as isolated grains and motes, only coming-together to worship.

While I am not advocating a mass exodus of Christians from our schools or health service, I do wonder whether the models that overtook the monasteries are themselves reaching the end of their life, the limits of their capacity? My hunch is that the rise of ‘new-monasticism’ is not just about a rediscovery of a disciplined Rule of Life, but about the reappearance of ‘new monasteries’ serving our neighbourhoods...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Get Ready For Advent | Jesse Tree

For several years now, I have posted a daily Advent calendar of images and reflections on my blog, and you can find them linked from ‘Advent’ in the ‘labels’ on the sidebar to the left.

Next Sunday is the start of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the Christian calendar. Advent is a big deal in our family. We use this season as a journey towards Christmas, in ways that help us to remember – to enter-into – the story. Over the years we have built up certain family traditions, some of which have been passed on to us by other people, and some of which we pass on again, so that other people can start to build up their own traditions.


We have a small Christmas tree made of bare twigs, and this year we will have a go at using it as a Jesse Tree. One of the prophetic descriptions of Jesus in the Bible is the root / shoot / tree of Jesse – see Isaiah chapters 11 and 12. Jesse was the father of King David, and this title points to Jesus’ human ancestry descending from David, and God’s promise to David that one of his descendents would sit on the throne forever. A Jesse Tree symbolises Jesus, and on it a different ornament is hung each day from 1 December to Christmas Day, each ornament reminding us something about Jesus. As each ornament is hung, verses are read out that tell of that aspect of who Jesus is.


For anyone who would like to do something similar, here are some suggestions for decorations / verses / other prayers you could use:


A star: John 1:1-9.

An angel: Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:8-15.

A trumpet: Advent not only looks back to Jesus’ coming into the world, it is also a season of looking forwards to his coming back again. Revelation 11:15.

A bauble: representing the world. John 1:9; John 3:16-21.

A present: Matthew 2:9-11; Romans 5.

A Father Christmas: a common tree decoration, Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop, who is remembered on 6 December, with this prayer.

A wise man: Matthew 2:1-12.

A soldier: a common tree decoration because of the Nutcracker Suite, points to Jesus as Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6-7.

A shepherd: Luke 2:8-20.

A manger: Luke 2:1-7.

(This list is not exhaustive, leaving room for you to come up with your own ideas / match to your own decorations.)


There are seven very ancient prayers that Christians have used in the week before Christmas, which also lend themselves to a Jesse Tree. With links to the prayers, they are:

A dove (symbol of wisdom)

A candle (making the tree a burning bush)

A Christmas tree (root of Jesse)

A key (key of David)

A star (bright morning star)

A king (king of the nations)

God-with-us (Jesus, with Mary and Joseph)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Remembering | Reconciliation | Part 2

This is the liturgy I wrote for an act of remembering and reconciliation.

Each one of us comes forward, breaks off a piece of bread, and lays it on the table. Together we say:


This night, Christ will be taken, for us.

Under cover of darkness, we will come for him.
Under cover of darkness, we will betray him with a kiss of friendship.
Under cover of darkness, we will scatter; we will desert him; we will deny knowing him.
And as the dawn breaks, we will weep for ourselves.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness within us has not understood it.
But, the light shall dawn over us, with knowledge of our salvation.

Each one of us comes forward, and places our piece of bread back on the plate. Together we say:


This day, Christ shall die for us.

This day, Christ dies in solidarity with me, as one who has suffered wrongdoing.
This day, we are not left alone in our suffering,
but are caught up in God’s mercy and grace.
This day, we respond with thanks, with eucharist.
This day, Christ dies in substitution for me, as one who has inflicted wrongdoing.
This day, we are not left alone in our inflicting suffering,
but are caught up in God’s mercy and grace.
This day, we respond with thanks, with eucharist.

We pass the plate around, each one of us giving a piece of bread to the next. Then, together we say:


We have remembered Jesus, and in our remembering his body is re-membered.

We choose to remember ourselves as we are, in him.
We choose to remember each other as we shall be, in him.
We choose to be re-membered, to be reconciled with God and neighbour.
We choose to receive, in the bread and the wine, our healing.

We pass the cup around, each one of us serving the next.

Remembering | Reconciliation | Part 1

I have been reflecting on remembering and reconciliation, with the help of one of my favourite theologians Miroslav Volf. These reflections have led me to write a liturgy for an informal/experimental act of sharing bread and wine together – an act which (sometimes we forget) is all about remembering and reconciliation.

There are two types of memory. The first is passive memory. This is when an external trigger causes something stored in our memory to come to mind. It can be a good memory or a bad memory – hearing a song on the radio takes us back to the time we first heard it; smelling freshly-brewed filter coffee takes us back to a friend’s house; seeing an ambulance race by takes us back to a time our child was in hospital – and we have absolutely no control over it happening.


The second type of memory is active memory. This is what we choose to recall about the event, to dwell on, to bring into the present from the past, to carry with us. When the ambulance races by, we might recall the pain of seeing our child suffering, or we might recall the skill of the medics and the joy of their recovery – and we have a choice as to what we will focus on.

How we remember can make us more broken, or more healed.


We have a choice.


God wants us to remember in such a way that brings healing, wholeness, reconciliation.
The word ‘eucharist’ means giving thanks. And at the giving thanks expressed through sharing bread and wine, three acts of remembering intertwine to work reconciliation:

In the eucharist, we remember what Jesus did.


To remember means to bring an event in the past into the present in such a way that it lives in the present. Jesus introduced the practice of sharing bread and wine in remembrance of him in the context of a Passover meal, a meal at which Jews speak of the ancient exodus from slavery in Egypt in the present tense: it was ‘us’ whom God delivered.


So, what did Jesus do? On the cross, Jesus died in solidarity with sufferers of wrongdoing, and substitution for wrongdoers. He reconciled both in himself – and so the cross anticipates a community of reconciled enemies. (This includes reconciliation of the divided self, for we are all both one who has suffered wrongdoing and one who has inflicted wrongdoing on others.)

In the eucharist, Jesus is re-membering his body.


To remember is also to re-member, to put together: to put fragments of a story together in such a way that makes a coherent narrative; to put broken bones together in such a way as to allow them to knit together again.


As we remember Jesus’ work of reconciliation, he re-members, or makes manifest in the present what he won for us in the past.

In the eucharist, we participate in re-membering Jesus’ body.


True, it is something that Jesus works; but he does not do it to us, he does it through us. At the table together, the question is asked of us, what do we choose to remember about one another?


‘Such community is exactly what we commemorate in Holy Communion. Central to the rite is the solidarity of God with each human being and the reconciliation of each human being to God. Inseparable, however, from reconciliation to God is reconciliation to fellow human beings. As Alexander Schememann puts it in The Eucharist, in this holy ritual “we create the memory of each other, we identify each other as living in Christ and being united with each other in him.” In the Eucharistic feast we remember each other as those who are reconciled to God and to each other. Our past, marked by enmity, has given way to a future marked by love. By remembering Christ’s Passion, we remember ourselves as what we shall be – members of one communion of love, comprised of wrongdoers and the wronged. The Passion memory is a hopeful memory since it anticipates deliverance from wrong suffered, freedom from the power of evil, and reconciliation between the wronged and the wrongdoers – for the most part, a reconciliation between people who have both suffered wrong and inflicted it. The midday darkness of Good Friday that is our sins, suffering, and enmity will be overcome by the new light of Easter morning that is our rejoicing in each other in the presence of God.’

(Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory, pp. 119, 120)

...we create a memory of each other...we remember ourselves as what we shall be...


This, surely, is why Paul writes to the church in Corinth that to participate in this moment without recognising the other, and without intention to be reconciled to them, is to eat and drink judgement on ourselves.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

LifeShapes Heptagon | MRS GREN [Recycled Post]

[I first posted this just under a year ago - 19 November 2008 - but have been thinking about these things again today, in relation to the context I find myself in.]

The Psalmist wrote, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.” That is, as he observed something in nature, the Holy Spirit revealed to his spirit that there was a correlation between the ‘natural’ order and the ‘spiritual’ order. Jesus also regularly used organic images to convey spiritual truths. The Heptagon takes the seven universal signs of life, from the biological sciences, and applies them in this way. It is concerned with healthy life, and helps us to identify potential problems so that they can be addressed before they become terminal. It is a helpful health-check for individuals and groups.



Movement

If an animal doesn’t move, it either runs out of food or becomes food. Are we moving? Has our perspective – on God, on yourself, on the world – changed, or is it static? Is our faith defensive, or a journey?

And if we are moving, is our movement purposeful? Migrating herds or flocks, or running around aimlessly? Distracted movement is as much a sign of ill health as lack of movement.

Some creatures move very quickly, others very slowly: one is not better than the other! But communities need to move together.


Respiration

Respiration is the process by which oxygen is absorbed and energy is released, in every cell. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, which gives us life. Prayer is to the spirit as breathing is to the body. Taking an occasional breath may be sufficient for existence, but not enough for active life. On the other hand, hyperventilating is a panic response, a sign of anxiety. Healthy breathing is both natural and, most of the time, unconscious.


How is our prayer life? Do we rarely or never pray together? Is prayer all we do (hyperventilation)? Or is it a natural response?



Sensitivity

We often talk of 5 senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. In fact, there are several others, including sense of heat, of balance, of pain, and an unconscious awareness of the connectedness of our body parts. Sharks have a sense of electric fields; birds navigate using a magnetic sense.

Are we sensitive, towards God, each other, the world around us? Are we attuned to the spiritual environment around us? As a community, are we releasing individuals who can take a lead for us in relation to one or other of the senses?


Growth

Churches that believe that growth is important tend to focus too much on growth. You can’t grow by attempting to grow: only by indirect effort. If all the other six signs of life are healthy, healthy growth just happens…and if they aren’t healthy, unhealthy growth – like cancer – may result.

Having said too much attention is given to growth, it is worth pointing out that:

(i) growth is not constant: it often happens in stages [see the LifeShapes Square] or seasons [see the LifeShapes Semi-circle].

(ii) there are different expressions of growth, from an elephant that gets bigger to a lawn of grass that spreads wider: one size does not fit all.


Reproduction

Not every individual reproduces, but every community needs to, or else it will become extinct. The truth is, you – your group – will die. If reproduction has not taken place, all you have learnt is lost.

There are different forms of reproduction. In cellular reproduction, every component is duplicated internally, and then the cell becomes two cells. With complex organisms, DNA – values, in codified form – from two distinct parents combine to form offspring that are both recognisable and unique. Some creatures reproduce in low numbers, and invest heavily in nurturing their offspring; others reproduce in large numbers, and may never know what becomes of their offspring – but information for the continued survival of the species is nonetheless passed on.

Are we passing on what God has invested in us, to others? What might that look like? In some cases, long-term investment; in others cases, a passing opportunity. At times, it might lead to numerical growth within one group; at other times, to the creation of new groups.

Reproduction can be impaired by ill health, barrenness, isolation, or contraception (artificially constraining potential for new life). Do any of these issues need to be addressed?


Excretion

Every living thing builds up toxins within itself, and needs to find a way of neutralising and expelling those toxins. If it is unable to do so, it will move through discomfort to poisoning to death.


Spiritually speaking, toxins build up within us: hatred, gossip, complaining, lust, greed, hurt…

Spiritually speaking, excretion refers to the activity of asking for forgiveness for ourselves and extending forgiveness to others. This is so vital, Jesus includes it at the heart of the pattern of prayer he taught his disciples!

Are we accountable? Are we honest about toxins? (They are an inevitable side-product of life.) Are we seeking and proclaiming forgiveness?

Problems relating to excretion can result from problems relating to...


Nutrition

Nutrition is to do with diet. A healthy diet is balanced in composition, and in regularity. Problems include:

(i) under-nutrition: where too little is eaten, e.g. no regular discipline of meditating on God’s word.

(ii) mal-nutrition: where there is an imbalance of composition, e.g. lots of sermons, very little testimony, prophecy, etc.

(iii) over-nutrition: where too much is eaten, e.g. a new sermon every week, without space to digest the food, assimilating it’s goodness. Over-nutrition combined with lack of exercise results in obesity…

In the West, eating disorders are often associated with unhealthy self-image. Are we secure in our identity as children of God?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Remember, Remember [Recycled Post]


“Remember, remember the fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot.
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”


So runs the traditional children’s rhyme. Though, as a child, I always got in a terrible muddle between the fifth of November and the ninth of November, the latter being my birthday…

[I first posted these reflections back in 2006, but] Bonfire Night is incredibly relevant to our post 9/11 world, and should indeed never be forgot.

On November 5th 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament in London. The cellar was filled with barrels of gunpowder, with which Roman Catholic conspirators intended to assassinate King James I and the members of the House of Lords and House of Commons at the formal opening of the 1605 Parliament. The plot had been formed in response to the hard line taken by James I against Roman Catholicism, most likely after it became clear that Catholic Spain was embroiled in too many concerns of its own to come to the aid of England’s Catholics. The plot came to light when a conspirator, uneasy that fellow Catholics would die in the blast, wrote to a member of the House of Lords telling him to stay away that day; but the ringleaders discovered this ‘treason,’ and some historians believe Fawkes was set up, buying time for those more culpable to escape. Traditionally the failed Gunpowder Plot is remembered each year with bonfires, on which an effigy of Fawkes – the Guy – is burnt, and with fireworks, symbolizing the explosion that never happened.

An English population among which there lived a religious minority treated with suspicion and facing discrimination; a cell of militants within that community who saw violent revolution as the only hope for change…the events of 1605 feel all too contemporary. What might we learn, standing outside in the freezing cold November darkness?

Firstly, Bonfire Night reminds us that violent revolution is not the way to go about change – not only because it is morally wrong, but also because it is in fact counter-productive. Bonfire Night deconstructs terrorism as a means to an end; highlights the dilemma of those ‘on your own side’ dying; calls into question the brotherhood of the cell…

…But Bonfire Night does not commemorate a black-and-white victory of right over wrong; a ‘reasonable,’ ‘enlightened,’ ‘fundamentally good’ way of living as society, successfully resisting its opposite. Bonfire Night deconstructs such a na├»ve view, too. In many ways James I needed challenging – and, ironically, was regularly challenged by the politicians who would have died with him; and the following torture, trial, and high-profile executions of men who certainly weren’t the ring-leaders, draws the justice of retaliation to terror into question. The flames of Guy’s pyre cast light and shadows on our faces that speak of the light and shadows in our hearts; and as we stare upon the effigy of a burning Catholic, we might just feel the uncomfortable heat of our own prejudices, exposed.

I don’t know how history will judge us. There are aspects of my society that I believe are wrong; and, I am sure, aspects of my society that are wrong which I am blind to. Not only because it is still so contemporary, but also because the world is so complex, the four-hundred-year-old tradition of Bonfire Night ought to be celebrated, with a bang.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Father And Son | Part 3

Recently I re-read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) noting those places where God the Father speaks directly to Jesus, and those places where Jesus speaks directly to the Father. Since then, I have been reflecting on them in this way (suggested by my friend Mike Breen): to see the words the Father addresses to Jesus as being addressed to me, and to make the words Jesus addresses to the Father my own prayer.

In Part 1, I looked at the words the Father speaks to the Son. In Part 2, I looked at the words the Son speaks to the Father, with the exception of John 17, which is a chapter-long prayer, the text of which can be found below. There is undoubtedly a sense in which Jesus is unique, both in his identity and in the task set him. And yet it is also true that Jesus is our model; that we share in his identity through covenant, and share in his kingdom mission. Jesus’ commission to his followers was to make disciples who would make disciples until Jesus’ return. If we are to take seriously our identity as a son of God, and our commission to make disciples, then this is a seriously world-transforming prayer to pray with Jesus...

‘After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”’

(John 17:1-26, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal)

Father And Son | Part 2

Recently I re-read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) noting those places where God the Father speaks directly to Jesus, and those places where Jesus speaks directly to the Father. Since then, I have been reflecting on them in this way (suggested by my friend Mike Breen): to see the words the Father addresses to Jesus as being addressed to me, and to make the words Jesus addresses to the Father my own prayer.

Jesus’ words to the Father are perhaps the most intimate insight we are given into his life, and show us what it means to live a life so secure in the knowledge of the Father’s love for us that we can lay down our life for his glory.

Because Jesus refers to God as Father, everything he says to God is grounded in the language of covenant, of the relationship by which two persons become one. (This is why Jesus can say to his disciples, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.) In general, the kingdom language of God as King is found in Jesus’ teaching, including many of his parables. Nonetheless, some of the occasions where Jesus addresses his Father display the covenant thread, and some display the kingdom thread.

Having sent his disciples out in mission:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”
(Matthew 11:25, 26 & Luke 10:21)

This is a kingdom prayer, a prayer of recognition that our Father is also Lord of heaven and earth. Not surprisingly, it comes in the midst of Jesus’ ministry, at a point where he has sent out the disciples he has trained up to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has come near, by driving out demons and healing the sick. It is a prayer that rejoices in God’s up-side-down kingdom that frustrates worldly structures. It is a prayer prayed with joy – joy that originates with the Holy Spirit, is given abundantly to Jesus, and given back to the Father. And as it becomes our prayer, so the presence of joy in our lives will start to increase, built-up with exercise.

At Gethsemane:
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
(Matthew 26:39)
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
(Matthew 26:42)
“Abba, Father”...“everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
(Mark 14:36)
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
(Luke 22:42)

These are covenant prayers. Prayers of recognition that Jesus is not a lone agent, but is in covenant with one greater than himself (this is deep theology for a Trinitarian; in part, Jesus has emptied himself of all that comes with being equal with God in order to be fully dependent on the Father; in part, Jesus, even resurrected, ascended and glorified, lives to glorify the Father). Knowing the Father’s love, he can offer his life in submission to the Father’s will. Nonetheless, the fact that he is in covenant with the Father means that he can ask, and is listened to: this is a conversation, only one side of which we overhear. There is progression here (as revealed in Matthew’s Gospel), as Father and Son together arrive at their decision. As we grow in our knowledge of the Father’s love, so we grow in our identity as his sons; and as we grow in our identity, so our capacity for obedience in the face of the hardest things the world and the accuser can throw at us increases.

On the cross:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)

This is a covenant prayer, a prayer of the deepest vulnerability that cries out, where is my covenant partner?

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
(Luke 23:34)

This is a kingdom prayer. In forgiving those who crucified him, Jesus disarms the accuser of any legal right to have them tried by God for the murder of his Son. When we are wronged, we can demand justice. But when, instead, we extend mercy, the accuser is disarmed. Forgiveness of those who have wronged us – and we will be wronged – is one of the most powerful weapons we possess.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
(Luke 23:46)

This is a covenant prayer. Indeed, following Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34, it is a reaffirmation of covenant: though the evidence suggests that I have been deserted by God – though, like Job, I am told to curse God and die – yet I will trust in him to rescue me.

Raising Lazarus:
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
(John 11:41, 42)

This is, really, a kingdom prayer, though covenant is very close to the surface. Indeed, Jesus even states that this is not about covenant, not about his relationship with the Father (that is the already secure grounding), but is a kingdom breaking-in moment. Unless we are also secure in covenant, we will not be able to pray kingdom breaking-in prayers in public: there will be that nagging doubt, will God hear and answer me, or not? But if we are able to make this prayer our own, it will be not for our benefit, but for the benefit of those around us who need to know that God has sent us, with good news.

Predicting his death:
“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
(John 12:27, 28)

I have already touched on this kingdom prayer in Part 1, because this is the one time in the Gospels where we are privileged to hear both sides of a conversation between the Son and the Father. The Father responds, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” This is a doing prayer, a prayer of kingdom action, of taking on the very task given Jesus to fulfil. We, too, have a calling, a kingdom part to play, by which we will be used to bring glory to the Father. And we, too, will face the temptation to draw back from the doing, to settle for the being alone. But doing flows out of being; being is not self-serving.

If we were to pray the prayers of Jesus with him, to make them our own, what might happen?