Saturday, 8 June 2013

In Your Own Time

A Homily for Holy Communion on Monday , 27th of May, 2013, 9 a.m.
for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford
Mark 10:17-27
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

In Your Own Time
+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Spiritual writers and composers of prayers and hymns are very keen on the idea of the “love of God”, yet we don’t read in the Gospels a great deal about Jesus loving people in particular. He does nice things for them – heals them, throws out unwanted demons, gives them good advice, and so on, but the love is inferred. We assume he must at least have liked them a bit to take the time to bother with their little concerns, when he was busy being the Eternal Logos, Second Person of the Divine Trinity, and all-round Redeemer of the Cosmos. We’re impressed, flattered even, when the great and the good, the famous, the powerful, and the rich, pay attention to us, the little people, in the midst of their hectic schedules – surely they must like us a little? And so, surely, it must have been with Jesus. But paying attention isn’t the same thing as loving. It would be odd not to pay attention to someone we love (at least now and again), but we can be attentive for wages, or self-interest, or to prove a point, or just through force of habit, as when tending small children and other animals with tendencies towards danger.

The Gospel reading today isn’t about that sort of functional paying-attention. It starts off that way. The rich man wants to know how to be good, and Jesus perhaps finds the question rather tiresome and tells him in effect that he knows very well how to be good, all he needs to do is get on with it. And then the chap says he’s done all that, and clearly it isn’t enough. That makes Jesus stop and pay attention. Saint Mark tells us that “he looked steadily at him, and loved him” before giving his suggestion. He “loved him”. It sounds and reads oddly. But isn’t that precisely what we must start to do if we are truly to pay attention to one another? To love one another? This story is often told in terms of the rich man being caught by surprise when given an impossible task by Jesus – and he goes away sad, because to give away all his wealth would be a very hard thing to do. But the fascinating thing is that Jesus prescribes this particular treatment for this particular patient. This isn’t a teaching for everyone, it is for this one person. Jesus looks, and he loves, and he suggests what the Way might be. We assume that the rich man went away because he couldn’t do what Jesus suggested. But the story doesn’t say that. It says he went away. It does not say that he never came back. Maybe, in his own time, in his own way, he did sell all he had, and he did come back, and follow Jesus. Haven’t we all taken our time to work things out in our own hearts before taking the plunge? Maybe he did come back. Because, Jesus loved him, and everything is possible for love. Amen.

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
May 2013

Friday, 7 June 2013

On Being Very Much Mistaken

A Homily for Holy Communion on Monday , 27th of May, 2013, 9 a.m. for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford Mark 12:18-27 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are very much mistaken.’ (NRSV with a slight JB adjustment from the Daily Missal) On Being Very Much Mistaken + May I speak in the name of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, Amen. You can perhaps imagine the frisson of pleasure it was for someone committed to uncertainty and scepticism, and not plagued, but blessed, with doubt, to read out loud and in public just now “You are very much mistaken. Thanks be to God.” And how intriguing for the times, too. I feel sorry for those free church types who have to choose the readings for themselves – I would never in a month of Sundays have dared to choose this reading about the definition and nature of marriage at a time of such heated discussion of the subject in both church and state. But here it is, courtesy of our Lectionary, and so we must seek the Good News for today within it. About the latest debate in the House of Lords there is nothing new to say, no line that hasn’t been endlessly rehearsed to the point at which it becomes unedifying. However, there were two contributions which caught my eye – or rather, ear, as I usually attend to the news on the radio. The first was a noble baroness who commented that whilst she was herself single, so long as George Clooney remained unmarried, there was still hope. This was not the sort of thing we would have heard in years past, not because there were no jokes in the House of Lords, but because until fifty years ago, women were not allowed in to make them. And it also struck me that if a male peer had made a similar comment about a dashingly attractive actress, the reaction would have been rather different. Times have changed. The other contribution was from Lord Harries of Pentregarth, no stranger here in his former incarnation as that humbler personage, the Bishop of Oxford. During his time as bishop here he was one of the editors of the 1991 report “Issues in Human Sexuality”, which would not then have been at all in favour of the motion before the House of Lords yesterday. But Lord Harries did vote in favour. One of the things I find most admirable in a person – whether I agree with them or not – is the ability to change their mind, and admit it. When interviewers take that “but you said …” tone, as if changing your mind is a sign of mental or moral weakness, intelligent discussion crumbles. To change your mind because you understand the arguments better, or in a new light, or because new facts have come to light, is moral and intellectual maturity, which might reasonably be called wisdom. But maybe we have strayed from our Gospel – what does Jesus have to say to the learned Sadducees, who are experts on everything? “You are very much mistaken.” You’d have to admit they’ve thought of a corker of a question about the resurrection – how can the resurrection make sense when two people marry and become one flesh? And then one re-marries and becomes another flesh with someone else? It’s quite brilliant. But Jesus slices through it and says, “You’ve missed the point entirely. You have tried to put God in an earthly box of your own making, and he simply will not go. You are very much mistaken.” What fun it would be to draw a cartoon of the great and the good coming to Holy Communion with us the morning after their debating, and hearing those words. Would they be challenged by them? Would we? “You are very much mistaken”. Thanks be to God! Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford June 2013