Archive for February, 2003
If we were asked to open a bible and find the creation story I guess our instincts would take us straight to Genesis 1—‘In the beginning…’ But the truth is that the Noah story, here, marks just as true a beginning. It’s a creation story. Forth from the flooding waters God brings the world we know. And like the first creation story this one happens in stages—40 days and then a raven, and then a dove, and then another dove, before the dry land could be given back to us. But the thing I really like about this creation story is that it is a healing—the world begins in healing, in a vast putting-right of what was wrong. Creation is mending. And God’s work of creation goes on whenever we heal, or mend, or reconcile. Whenever we put right what has gone wrong.
Jesus, Mark says, went about preaching the Good News. But if you listen you hardly hear him say much at all. All his preaching is in what he does. He heals. Today’s healing story is particularly poignant to me because it takes some time—some trial and error—and because it takes more than a word or a thought or a prayer to do the trick—Jesus uses some simple medical methods—a human touch and a simple anointing. And, in a moment, we will do the same.
All being well, Brother Norman is going into hospital tomorrow to have his knee replaced. Like I said whenever we put right what is wrong the world is healed and the world is created. Tonight do our own bit towards his healing at the hands of his doctors. We pray for him … and for all our sick. We lay on hands. We anoint him with oil.
We do it simply, we do it in hope, and we do it as our part of the God’s healing and creation of the world.
February 19th, 2003
This, our second instalment from the drama of Genesis, continues the pattern from yesterday—out of chaos, the imposition of order—layer by layer, species after species, goodness upon goodness—in a mounting crescendo of creation culminating, of course, in humans like ourselves—woman and man shining in God’s own image. Everything is in its place, everything is inter-related, every relationship is as it should be. It’s beautiful. The only catch is that, once the creation is over on the sixth day, the whole cosmos freezes. Everything stops as though dozing away the Sabbath. As we’ll hear in the chapters to come the only way on is down.
The impulse to set everything in order and the impulse to stop everything moving very often beat together in the same breast. We want to worship creativity just as long as it doesn’t upset the patterns we have made, the laws we’ve written. And the urge to make patterns is irresistible. It’s the heart of art and science—pattern, order, beauty, law. But when patterns proliferate they stifle creation—everything stays the same. But God has never ceased doing the new thing – God is busy doing the new thing in the gospel today and Jesus is sharp with his scorn for those who can’t tell the difference between order and deadlock.
Here we are on retreat asking God to be creative in our lives. Maybe the patterns have worn threadbare and the chaos is showing through. Or maybe there is the teasing hint that in that mess of colour over there some whole new beauty is being born. Either way we have a letting go in store. And letting go can be scary. But you can’t grasp new life with hands that are full of the old.
February 11th, 2003
Recognising Jesus isn’t important at all … demons do it all the time in the gospel, even the pigs do it … in fact just about everyone in this story recognises Jesus.
Nor is getting the title right of any consequence: ‘Son of the Most High God’ the possessed man names him and names him right.
What does matter is what comes next. Do we draw near or do we run away? The story is one of attraction and aversion. The story is one of fear and desire. Before he even speaks we know the dance fear and desire tread in him—this is someone who lives among tombs by choice. No chain can bind him, no fetter restrain him, but the stronger bonds of his own fear hold him among the dead. He would rather keep company with corpses than risk a life among the living. That’s fear at work, fear and aversion and a hope extinguished once too often. But he names himself right when he says he is legion—he is not alone in his skin. There is desire and attraction too. Something brings him to the feet of Jesus, begging for mercy. Something good.
Now the great thing about this story is that desire and hope win out over fear and pain. The man is healed and his need to keep Jesus away turns into a desire to keep close. But though good wins out there seems to be a sort of conservation-law at work—all that fear of life has to go somewhere. And Mark has this wild and accurate image of 2,000 frenzied pigs rushing downhill and over the cliff to the death for which they long. That’s fear for you. But even that doesn’t balance the books completely—the local people have caught it too and now they want Jesus to go away just the way the possessed man did originally.
So recognising Jesus isn’t the issue, or getting his theological titles right. What matters is whether we are afraid of him or not. Or—what amounts to almost the same thing—whether we are afraid of life or not. Because the two go together. All of us have our moments when the tomb seems safer than the home. All of us do the emotional equivalent of gashing ourselves with stones. And all of us are legion—fear and desire slug it out inside us. Jesus is so very attractive to us but every now and again he scares us witless.
The good news of this story is that even the fear doesn’t matter as long as we tell Jesus about it. The poor demoniac lets his fear talk but Jesus hears the desire underneath and gives him more than he asks for—gives him back his own skin and his own heart and a his own new life.
That’s a gift we all need.
February 3rd, 2003