Monday, 30 April 2012

What's in a name?

Way back in Exodus, in the Old testament this following exchange occurs between Moses and God. “The Moses said to God “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them The God of your Fathers has sent me to you” and they ask me “What is his name?” what shall I say to them? God said to Moses “I am who I am”. And he said “Say this to the people of Israel” I AM has sent me to you.
The Hebrew for I AM, and thus the Hebrew word for God is Yahweh. When this is understood all the I AM sayings that only appear in John’s gospel take on a double meaning.
I AM the light of the world
I AM the bread of life
And here this morning I AM the good shepherd
What’s in a name? Well quite a lot for the Jewish people. I AM can also mean “I will be what I will be” so God is not just “life” itself – the sourceless source of all things but his very name contains within it the notion of a  constant state of becoming – containing within himself unlimited potential for growth and transformation.  In the Hebrew world names are symbols containing and conveying the true nature of the thing named. 
This I think gives us an important insight when we read according to Luke writing in Acts that a man was healed by “the name of Jesus”. This is also apparent in the reading from 1 John which says “we should believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ”
So what does Jesus’ name symbolise? Well of course Jesus’ name is the Greek version of his actual name which is Joshua and Joshua means “God is salvation”
The only one who truly heals in the widest possible sense is God. And healing in the Hebrew world was more than just an absence of an illness, it conveys wholeness, completeness. Just as the Hebrew word for peace – shalom – does the same.
Peace (in the way we commonly use the word in English) and shalom are not exactly the same.
To get at what I mean let’s look at a concrete example. Technically there is currently peace between Iran and the USA and Israel in that they are not actually fighting. But there is hardly shalom. There is no meeting of minds, no love or respect - It is simply an absence of actual physical conflict. The angst, the tension, the seething resentments, the sparring, the name calling are still there bubbling and boiling away. Peace and the Hebrew concept of shalom are very different in quality.
In my experience the human condition is very similar. I am not physically at war or in conflict with any person or with God, so technically I have peace. But the peace that I and most people have is not so much shalom but more like the relationship between Iran and Israel.
I wonder how many of us recognise any of the following descriptions. A cauldron of seething resentments, and chips on my shoulders, a repository of hurts that I can’t let go of, of people that I find it hard to forgive, of prejudices built up over decades, harbouring private fears and hatreds and living in a state of undeclared war on adversaries both real and imagined.
Is our state of being like one of shalom or is it more akin to technical peace which exists between Israel and Iran?
Add to this brew an existential loneliness and perceived separation from life and the source of life and we have the recipe for the uneasy and restless human condition living in a state of dissatisfaction with life in general.
It is a recipe for the kind of life that lead Henry David Thoreau to write “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” We try and cover this desperation with ceaseless noise and distraction to stop us dwelling on the fact that we have no real peace.
We all crave completeness . Where to find it?  To find completeness, healing, peace in the name of Jesus we discover that it is only God who can heal and give peace. This is true because it is only in God that we find eternity and unity. Living on the surface of our life we experience only fragmentation, incompleteness, and dissatisfaction.
But before we look within ourselves our first port of call is the temptation to try and find this elusive completeness in material things, money or relationships. And they can work for a little while but not for long. We always crave more and more. The only permanent solution to our need for completeness, wholeness and peace, as the reading from Acts reminds us is to discover our innate connection to the source of all life, including our own  
God is salvation. And only in knowing God can we find healing and peace. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Go beyond your mind

Luke here is very keen to accentuate the physicality of the resurrection of Jesus even to the point of writing that Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish. Having said that, Luke has only just recounted the story of the road to Emmaus where Jesus de-materialised in front of the strangers eyes at the breaking of the bread, an incident that paints a very different picture.
As we recounted at the Winston post-Lent group that talked about the resurrection there is no way you can harmonise the different accounts of the resurrection because they all contradict each other so it is futile to try. In fact, in direct contradiction to the physicality of the resurrection, St. Paul writing before any of the gospels were written says quite pointedly in 1 Corinthians 15 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and also speaking of resurrection says “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body”
So what does in fact bind all the conflicting accounts together?
Well, each in their own way are trying to convey the notion of presence. A presence that is not bound by the body of a particular person, a presence that is available to all. A continuing and continual divine presence, available to us now.
The gospel writer who conveys this the best I think is Matthew. It is in Matthew’s gospel right at the start that calls Jesus Emmanuel – which translates as “God is with us” and the very last words of Matthew’s gospel are Jesus saying “I am with you always to the end of the age”.
Matthew has framed his gospel with the notion of the divine presence that travels with his people.  Turning to Mark, the first statement Jesus makes, which constitutes the content of his preaching and ministry is “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand (near)”. Again the content of Jesus’ own preaching was about divine presence. Repent from the Greek word Metanoia means literally to go beyond one’s mind – to perceive differently, that there is a depth to life that is eternally present to us. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is reportedly even more explicit when he says “The Kingdom of God is within you”
And that divine presence is a gift to all people. So while the resurrection can be thought of as a new start, the promise of a renewed life, of good being able to grow from evil, or even some kind of guarantee of the continuation of life beyond physical death, or in a political sense, God’s yes to Jesus and God’s no to the people who made sure he was executed, it is also something more. It signifies the abiding presence of the divine within us. It Christian terminology we talk of the risen Christ being within us. St. Paul talked of living “in Christ” and we almost routinely say (after Jesus) that “when two or three are gathered together in my name there I am in the midst of you”
So the resurrection is about the divine presence being present to us in our lives now as much as it is about any of the other things we may believe about the resurrection.
It would be a little perverse for God to be eternally present to all his children without us being able to relate to the presence in some way. This Eucharistic service is designed to be a way of relating to, or encountering the divine presence. But you can equally encounter the divine in beauty, in nature, in the circumstances of your life, in prayer and meditation or indeed in other people.
When those encounters happen you are experiencing the truth of the resurrection, which is the truth of God’s abiding presence with all of creation.
Our understanding of God changes from being an entity totally separate from ourselves to a perception of God, pure “being” itself, lying not somewhere else, but being at the heart of all living things who we can commune with.
Communing with a living presence, “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” as Paul confirms in his preaching in Athens lies at the heart of what we are about.
Eating bread and drinking wine and calling them the body and blood of Jesus is a visual and carnal  way of acting out the truth that we believe that God is present in all things, represented by the bread and wine and also in each of us because we eat it together. We commune with God and each other, making explicit what is true at a very deep level.
The power of the resurrection lies in each person being enabled to apprehend the truth that God is with us – Emmanuel – and will be with us to the end of the age. Therein lies true peace and fullness of life.  And who doesn’t want peace?