Archive for October, 2003
In the gospel today we get to the pith of apostolic poverty: to be on the road, with no bag, no money, no shoes even, nothing to help you on your way, just the clothes you stand up in, and nowhere to stay except the first place that will take you in.
Extreme, eh? As Luke tells it, everything needs to go unneeded if you are on the road for Christ, everything has to be dressed down to bare basics.
… Well, that should be getting us nicely depressed, either bemoaning the rigours of our own apostolic calling, or giving rueful thanks to rank among the un-chosen, the great un-called.
… But what interests me tonight is not what seems to be stripped away but what remains, what it seems is essential to being sent with good news. And it’s this: apostles always come—and go—in pairs!
Isn’t that strange? Isn’t it surprising? You can go barefoot and battered but you can’t go alone. You can beg and bother but not by yourself. Company is the supreme evangelical virtue.
Listen to Paul whining on in the first reading. How he’s been deserted, this one’s gone, that one’s gone, he’s left alone, unsupported, and unloved. Don’t we empathise with him just a bit? Even to the point of despising him a little? He says publicly what we only say to ourselves—we need company.
To be company was, it seems, Luke’s real role, and Luke’s sanctity. We celebrate him today as evangelist—a spreader of good news—but his first evangelical job is to be company, just that. To be the one who hangs around when all the others leave.
Being a sidekick doesn’t seem like much of a vocation—being Robin to Paul’s batman, Tonto to his Lone Ranger—but it is. And maybe the highest.
There’s an image out there of Jesus as the strong, silent type. Self-confident, self-sufficient, self-possessed, and self-controlled. And maybe he was. But what we know about him for sure is that he needed company, delighted in it. He was no hermit. He chose disciples. He gathered hangers-on. He sought out dinner invitations right and left. He sat and nattered with scoundrels and saints. … He liked people. He liked company. Needed it, I’d venture.
Ultimately, I guess, he gets that from his dad … from God. Because we believe that strange trinitarian thing about God: though God might be one, somehow God is also company. God wouldn’t be God if it weren’t for the companionship at God’s heart.
Jesus wouldn’t be God’s son if he didn’t need company. And maybe the highest vocation open to any of us is to be just that: company for the one who calls us.
October 17th, 2003
Be careful what you ask for!
By hitching these sayings about asking, searching, knocking onto the parable of midnight hospitality, Luke seems to defuse them. ‘Ask and it will be given to you, search and you will find’ but … but it might take a while and it might take repetition and you might have to be persistent.
Something’s wrong with this picture: either God is like a grumpy, recently-roused householder who doesn’t want to be disturbed or God is like a good father who knows how to give good things to his children.
The God who appears in need of serious nudging gets an outing in today’s brief excerpt from the prophet Malachi. “Where are you God? And why aren’t you smiting evildoers and rewarding us good ones? I mean you must have standards … all we want is for you to make them clear. We want you angry God—at least at them?”
Be careful what you ask for?
I think I must have it wrong in the gospel. I’ve been assuming that the grumpy man inside the house was God and you and I are standing outside asking for what we need. But I wonder if that isn’t back to front? I wonder if God isn’t the one outside, the one asking, the one waiting for us to open up. I think maybe we are the ones saying “go away and don’t bother me—it’s late, we’re shut, I can’t”. But—thank God—if we won’t listen for friendship’s sake God’s faithfulness will finally get through to us. Our God is the persistent one, yes, and the good parent who knows how to give us what we need—but, more than either, the one with the gentle knack of getting us to open the closed door of our own hearts to what we don’t even know we need, or desire, even though that longing burns hidden in our bones and breathes in our every breath.
October 9th, 2003
Today, in celebrating the guardian angels, we celebrate God’s care for creation. For ourselves certainly, but for the whole created world too. The God who made the world loves it. The God who fashioned you loves you.
But what we celebrate particularly today is the way God’s love and care is mediated by creation itself. All we know of God we know by being embodied in this world; God’s touch of care comes to us through the crowd of creatures with which we share our lives.
It’s become increasingly obvious in the last decades that we, little creatures, are having a impact beyond our scale on our planet, our corner of creation. Our own care for ourselves has been at the expense of the careful balance sustaining the globe we share.
One Christian response has been to begin to talk about ourselves as stewards of creation—as if we have been given the task of guarding and conserving while the owner is away; as if we were owning up to our impact but promising to use our power for the good.
The celebration today ought to make us blush at such hubris. What the guardian angels remind us is that it is creation which is our steward and not the other way around. The tradition tells us that countless created agencies have an interest in creation beyond our own. Once upon a time every place and people, every trade and time, had their presiding angel, the guardian of their welfare, the agent of God’s concern, the echo of significances far from everyday. On the whole we’ve lost the ear for such spirits, learned not to see them. Even if the shiver down our spine in certain places still takes us by surprise. Even if we long as a culture to be visited by angels and live in world alive with presence.
We were not made to steward but to be stewarded. At least not entirely. What role we have we have to learn.
If we have guardian angels, I imagine so too do the elephant and the mosquito, the salmon river and the slag heap, the ozone layer and the ocean deep. Our first job is not to guard and guide but to be guarded and guided. We need to listen to how God’s care for creation is mediated and carried by creation itself. And that’s a skill the tradition calls discernment of spirits and nowhere can it better be learned than on retreat.
October 2nd, 2003