Archive for February, 2002
Body, bridge and blessing—that’s what we reckoned earlier was how to read these scriptures in the context of this weekend. Body. Bridge. Blessing.
What Jesus did for us he did in the body. His joy, his labour, his love, his passion—all in his body. His transfiguration—in his body.
And what we do for him—we always do in the body. Our joy, our labour, our love, our passions—all in our bodies. Our transfiguration too—in the body, of the body, for the body—the body we each are, the body of humanity we all form, the body of the earth we share.
But between the body of God in Jesus and our own bodies there is a breach, a space, a separation—something to be bridged. How do we bridge the gap of time and space and desire? … We build the bridge with our bodies. We let him do in our bodies what he wills. And we do through our bodies what he desires. We do as he did.
But, doing as he did, we often miss the obvious. Here’s the obvious. ‘Jesus came up and touched them. “Stand up”, he said, “do not be afraid”.’ …
See?! Let us be literal … Stand up … Stand up and do not be afraid. Can you feel that in your body—what it is like to stand tall and free from fear? Can you feel him touch you with power, with life, with blessing? Can you feel him bless you?
Here is the bridge. Can we be blessed? Can we then bless? Can we use our bodies to receive and to give?
Let me read again the first reading so we can hear once more the call of our ancestors. (music starts)
I invite you now to receive the blessing you have just witnessed and to give it, in the same way, to your neighbour. Let it be our sign of peace …
February 24th, 2002
OK What is the sign of Jonah … and why does Jesus claim it as his own sign?
Well the first reading narrates the nub of the thing—Jonah preached and the people of Nineveh jumped to it and repented, lock, stock, barrel—kids and cattle too. Is this the only sign for this generation? That Jesus will preach and the world will experience wave after wave of conversion?
I think more pertinent is who it is that hears and repents. Jonah was so angry at God’s call to go to Nineveh that he high-tailed it off in the other direction. Nineveh is the enemy. At the very least Nineveh is outside the flock, just gentiles. Let them rot in their sin.
When the fish-eaten prophet eventually gets there and mumbles his message against his will the whole city turn to God in their droves. And maybe that’s the experience of the early Jesus people. Gentiles in their droves were turning to God. Is this the sign of Jonah which Jesus claims as his own?
Let’s say it is for a moment. What does it say to us 2000 years on? Maybe just this: don’t be surprised if today the ones who hear and turn to God are not the ones inside the fold but the ones on the edge, on the outside, outside the churches. Don’t be surprised and don’t resent it—only look, only listen, only learn.
February 20th, 2002
Lent never starts at the right time. It always comes as an unwanted interruption. When did you last hear someone saying, “I can’t wait for Lent”? Or think to yourself, “I wish Ash Wednesday would hurry up!” No, we are just getting used to ordinary time and a rhythm of life when the whistle blows and we are wrenched from our routine and dragged here to dirty our faces, right in the middle of our busy pursuit of more important things.
Lent always comes from outside: we never choose it. Yet it won’t be avoided. Someone is blowing that trumpet; someone’s proclaiming a fast, gathering the people. They are urging us on to an urgency we don’t feel, to a repentance we hardly want, before a God we scarcely trust. And we don’t even get time off!
But we come. Here we are! … We come for ashes. Churches worldwide fill to the brim for those ashes. I like to think our bodies know better than our minds about these matters: that dust is calling to dust.
Why does God finally pay attention and take pity on the people in that last line of that reading from Joel? … Listen! “The LORD, jealous for the sake of the land took pity on the people.” For the sake of the land! You get the impression that God hardly notices all that trumpeting and fasting and assembling, until God notices the land. And I wonder … maybe it’s only our kinship with earth that gets us noticed at all. Is that why we come here year after year—to be soiled: with ash, with dust, with the dirt of the land? Not as camouflage but as talisman: our version of the Passover blood. “See, Lord, the land, and have pity on your people!”
Today we celebrate our kinship with dirt. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We are dust; we are dirt; we are ash; we are earth. We are earthlings, creatures formed from dust and the spittle of God. We are children of Adam—which meant, simply, earth creature before ever it became a personal name.
We are made of earth; we are made for earth. It is what we share. It is soil that unites us to each other, to every other creature of earth, to this very planet, and even to the heavens—since every atom of our bodies is dust and ash of long dead suns. And even here on earth, every atom of our bodies has been used before, countless times, in other bodies; human, animal, insect. We breathe the very breath of Shakespeare and Stalin. There is, literally, a little of Jesus in all of us—and something of the slime-mold.
But haven’t we always been uppity creatures. Since our clay was first fashioned we’ve been struggling to climb out of the dirt and clean up our act. We do so like to dress up; we cover our clay with finery; we hide our origins in the soiled earth under whatever mask we can find. We put on a polished face for the God who made us and project an image for all to see; one endless diversionary tactic lest we be revealed for who we are—and who we’ve always been. I reckon the original sin is not so much Pride as Shame. Shame! We were thrown out of Eden and we’ve been in the closet ever since. … But for the sake of the soil God took pity on the people—remember that!
So, this is our beginning, this Lent. Our end is some weeks away, with Jesus and that awkward drama of Holy Week. But what we do in between is what matters. The temptation is to dress up to be ready. But whether it is good deeds, or giving up, or getting clean, we need to be careful our Lenten trajectory matches Jesus’ own, or when we get to Holy Week we’ll be floating miles above the one we want to stand beside. Whatever comes later, Lent is first the season of his failing flesh and his own return to dust.
So let us fall back on humility this Lent: let us be humus, human. To be human is to be something made, and made of the same stuff as all other things. Made from dirt for a humble beauty God longs for us to accept. We are after all just soil—but soil singing a song of reconciliation for all creatures. Let us bear the mark of our making with humble pride.
February 11th, 2002
Have you ever, with a taste for roast lamb maybe, planted mint in your garden and found it taking over? ‘Invasive habit’ is the polite word the gardening handbooks use. Mint spreads, it multiplies, it proliferates. Its roots run wild so pulling it out just makes it thrive. It seeds itself, too, if you ever let it flower. Tough, hardy, invasive: God help the good seed that falls among mint!
Take all that and double it for the mustard of the gospel. What is the kingdom of god like? What parable can we find for it? It is a weed—a hardy, invasive weed the world fights a losing battle to control.
This weed can survive a David—lust, adultery, deceit, and murder—after all who was Jesus’ twenty-six-times-great-grandmother but Bathsheba? This weed can survive a crucifixion—failure, betrayal, death, and burial—after all who else do we celebrate tonight? And this weed can survive you and me—with all our pride and shame, our fear and love—after all here we are, still praying, still hoping, still loving, still loved.
February 1st, 2002