Monday, 3 September 2018

Unwrapping the gift.

Readings for Sunday 2nd September: Trinity 14: Proper 17

Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-9. Don't forget about God's goodness and wisdom which is self-evident even to outsiders, rehearse them in your mind and relay them to your children.
James 1: 17-27. Belief and action in unity is the hallmark of much of the epistle of James. People who "hear" the word and even ascent to it but don't act upon it - their religion is useless.
Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23. The difference between man-made traditions and the Christian tradition has long been a hobby horse of mine and here is the scriptural warrant for it. Once we elevate human traditions above God in our minds we are guilty of idolatry.

“In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

One of the starkest warnings to the modern Christian church in the west, if we think we can ride roughshod over God’s laws and precepts, believe they are outmoded and replace them with our worldly logic, traditions and customs.

I firmly believe that the reason so many children of Christians don’t follow their parents in "the way" is that those children have only ever come into contact with man made church traditions and a certain churchy sensibility, which they largely see as irrelevant.

They have never been captured by the Christian tradition, the rock on which all shifting man made church traditions are based.

We must be able to tell the difference.

I wrote recently about being asked about the choice between staging “traditional” or so-called “happy clappy” worship in our churches.

As I wrote at the time - this is a false choice. The only real choice is between authentic and inauthentic Christianity.

Both authentic and inauthentic forms come wearing both robes and jeans, kneeling piously and waving arms in the air, stressing both silent contemplation and raucous praise choruses.

When you get to the position where the most important question is whether the priest is wearing a chasuble or not, or whether the minister refers to himself as a priest, minister or pastor, you know we have travelled a long way up a no-thru-road.

Something has gone very wrong indeed when who reads the gospel is more important than the content of the gospel itself.

The history of my own engagement with Christianity and the Christian tradition as enfleshed within our own Anglican tradition I could say is “learning to see the wood from the trees.”

And please don’t misunderstand me. I am not playing down the relevance of our man-made traditions as far as they lead people into the Christian faith.

But I am saying that we must recognise which is which.

Jesus denounced the Pharisees as hypocrites, which as you probably know is a Greek word meaning “actors”, people simply playing a role, reading their lines and dressing up!

When they don’t believe what they are saying or carry out what they are saying into their daily lives. It is a charade; dead religion.

Jesus famously said, and as a Christian minister this always brings me out in a cold sweat;

 Matthew 7:21-23 

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This is essentially the very thing that James is saying in his letter today. James was Jesus’ brother and it was because of this blood connection to the Lord himself that I suspect that James became the first leader of the Jerusalem church after the crucifixion.

You’d have thought it would be Peter, or one of the other disciples but no. James, a part of Jesus’ family who hadn’t really followed Jesus in life but had obviously repented after his brother rose from the dead led the early church.

He saw straight into the heart of Jesus’ teaching and wrote;

“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves”

True religion, James asserts is to care for orphans and widows in their distress. Note that he doesn’t mention prayers, dressing up, or making sacrifices, he just concentrates on how the faith is made real in our lives outside of the church or synagogue.

Too much modern church in all its church traditions is a triumph of form over substance. The two need each other and should reflect each other. Form and substance in unison

This is our goal as Christians. The goal of every Christian service I preside is to lead people more richly into the Spirit of God.

It my fervent prayer no matter what form the service takes; high, low, eucharistic or non-eucharistic, formal or informal.

It maters not what state you are in when you receive the Spirit of God;

Joyful or bloody minded
Looking forward or depressed.

God will meet you where you are at this very moment. And he will help you deal with whatever state you are living with.

Let us open ourselves to the Spirit of God and let Him lift us up and give us wisdom, peace and insight. Insight into our faith,
Insight into our worship
Insight into our community
And insight into our very selves.

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