Benediction Online

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mark 1:21-28

The Revelation of God

Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. When he taught in the synagogue they were all astounded at his teaching and then he cast out unclean spirits and again the people were amazed. They were amazed because in his teaching and his ability to confront demons they recognized God. This is the first time that Jesus appeared in public and revealed his divine nature, which was symbolized for the writer of Mark in Jesus’ ability to cast out unclean spirits. This was truly an epiphany – a time when God is suddenly perceived to be present.

Jesus IS the revelation of God – he is what God looks like when God becomes human. He is also an example of what humans look like when they become divine. When God became human God took on a human body with a biological gender and so we always to refer to Jesus as ‘he’. God incarnate is male. This is something of a stumbling block for many women and some men, but given the society in which God chose to incarnate, a divine woman would not have lasted three months let alone the three years that Jesus ministered before his death.

For Christians, Jesus the Word, is the revelation of God, but he is not the only one. God is also revealed in Holy Scripture, the written Word of God, and in Creation, the manifested word of God. One of the debates that goes on in some Christian circles is whether God’s revelation is completed or is continuing. In other words whether there are new things to be discovered about God and the way God lives in the world or whether it is all already said and we just have to rediscover it for ourselves. If we limit God’s revelation to the life of Jesus or to Holy Scripture then it is clearly complete. Jesus is no longer living among us and the Bible has been written. But is God revealed in Creation, which includes us humans… and in the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, that Person of the Trinity who is constantly moving, who is the expression of God’s self-giving love constantly in motion between the Persons of the Trinity. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals God to us through our reading of Scripture, through our apprehension of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection, and through our experience of Spirit moving in Creation and in each other in the community of faith we call the Church.

We don’t get to listen to Jesus reading the Scriptures and talking about them firsthand, so we cannot be astounded at his teaching, but the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst to interpret for us. So when we read the Bible, when we listen to it and are open to what God has to tell us, it is not the same as reading a novel or a history book because it is a three way conversation; the written Word, the Holy Spirit, and us. When we read the Scriptures and are open to God’s revelation, the Holy Spirit is there to act as an interpreter, bringing us ongoing revelation.

Of course, there is a danger. That is that we will mistake our own ego voice for the voice of the Holy Spirit. This is particularly likely when we are new to the spiritual life and have not yet learned to open our ears to God’s quiet voice. It is also a pitfall when we have been practicing a spiritual discipline for a while and think that we are doing a pretty good job of it. Pride gets in the way of our hearing clearly. That’s where our faith community comes in. Not only can we support one another in listening for God and recognizing her when she peeps round the corner but we can also help in discernment. We can help each other to distinguish the Holy Spirit from other voices.

When I was a young adult, I was very concerned to know what God wanted me to do with my life. I didn’t know what career to follow, where to live, whether to pursue academic study – all the questions of a twenty year old student. I met someone who really impressed me with her spirituality and I asked this question – How can I know God’s will for my life? Her answer was simple. ‘Read the Bible”.
I found this remarkably unhelpful. There is no career section in the Bible.

Today I understand her answer better but it is still not an answer for the question I was asking. The Bible is not a fortune telling device where you open to a page and it magically gives you the answer you need. ‘Caro, go to America and there you will find a small church in the middle of a field…’ is not a Scriptural passage. I know that sometimes it happens, you open the Bible and there is a verse which suddenly makes sense in a new way – because the Holy Spirit brings it to your attention.

Often we ask the wrong questions and then feel frustrated when we don’t get the answers. This comes from our very human tendency to think that everything rotates around us when in fact everything is God and we are created and born on the breath of God, out of God’s great self-giving love. God’s revelation is not about us but about God, about the very essence of God-ness. As human beings who have the ability to love and to consciously give ourselves in love we have the unique ability to be part of God’s self-revelation. Jesus is the great example of a human who revealed God, but we too in our own way join in the great cycle of love, praise, adoration and thanksgiving which is the true language of God.

The more we do so, the more attuned we become to the language of Spirit. The more we perceive God in our midst. The more we become who we were meant to be. Because we were created by the Word of God we are at our very best when we are praising and worshipping God however we imagine him and her. When we stop thinking about us and think more and more about God, then we start to connect with our own true nature.

The more we are in touch with our God given selves as the daughters and sons of God, the more we are able to perceive God’s will because our wills are attuned to God. There is not a huge gap between us and God – we are designed to be an expression of God and as we get closer to that possibility the more the choices we make come form a centered place of oneness with the divine.

I’m not sure if it was Augustine or Martin Luther who said, “Love God and do as you please”. Whoever it was it is a wonderful possibility. As we love God and live in that self-giving love, praise, adoration and thanksgiving which is the revelation of God and the life of God, the more what pleases us is also what pleases God. That was perhaps the most profound teaching of Jesus’ life death and resurrection – in all things he sought to do what pleased God. And in doing so he revealed God to humanity.
As the people of God we too are called to reveal God, to be Word-bearers to each other. The UTO boxes are a great reminder to be thankful. The more we are thankful not for what we have but for who God is, the more we will become clear channels for God’s revelation.

The more we at St Benedict’s encourage one another to give thanks, to appreciate all that God has given us in one another and in this community, as we become a place of praise and of grace, and as we replace negativity with true joy, the more God will be palpably present in our midst.

Mark 1:14-20

Repent and Believe the Good news!

Last week and again today we see Jesus calling his disciples. Assembling the core group of people who would be formed into the beginnings of the Church and through whom Jesus would be formed into the person he became. Because Jesus was as human as he was divine and we humans are formed in our relationships. It is in relationship that we become ourselves. The people we spend time with influence how we behave and who we become just as we influence who they become. So Jesus called a group of people not only in order to teach them but also because in the community they created he would be formed and supported in his ministry.

God is fundamentally relational. The Trinity is not static, like a never changing divine seating arrangement but is in constant motion, constant relationship. As the Maker pours out love to the Word so the Word pours out self-giving love to the Maker and the movement of their mutual love is the very nature of the Holy Spirit. Since we are made in God’s image, we too are made and called to be relational not only with each other but with God.

This is more than ‘having a relationship’ with a God who is separate from us. We, and the whole of creation, are part of God’s love. It is as though we are the result of the loving words that pass between the persons of the Trinity. In the Genesis account of creation we hear that God spoke and through God’s speech the world came into being. Jesus is the Word of God, and John’s gospel tells us that through him all things came into being. So it was through the loving Word of the Maker that the whole of creation is brought into being.

This isn’t a process that happened in the past and then God went off to do something else… but a process that is still happening. Creation is still happening. The world is still being brought into being by God’s loving Word. God’s love is the source of all that has existence. But the way God makes things is different from the way we make things because God gives creation its own life. God does not make a dragonfly and then have to make its wings flap very hard so that it will fly; God’s Word gives it its own life so that it can fly for itself.

God gives us life too; life that we can choose how to use. Since we are created through the word of love which the Maker is always whispering, then the closer we choose to live to that same resonance, the more we chose to love then the more fulfilled we become… the more we become the people we were created to be. But of course our tendency is not to do that. Our tendency is to be self-centered and sinful. The more sinful we become the less clearly we are able to hear God’s words of love.

Jesus’ initial message in today’s gospel reading was simple, “Repent and believe in the Good News.” In order to know our participation in the ongoing relationship of Love which is the life of creation we need to repent - to repent of our tendency to put ourselves first, our tendency not to want to hear, our tendency to get caught up in distortions of greed, power and laziness.

Repentance is not the same as confession. Most Sundays we say the Confession together, we confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness which is freely given. But that is only one step. Repentance involves three steps. It involves a change of heart, confession and a change in behavior, which may be actual physical behavior or a change in the way we think. ‘Repent and believe the Good News’ suggests changing our minds so that we no longer believe that we are separate from God but realize that we are part of God’s self-giving love, an expression of that loving Word.

When we know ourselves as an expression of God’s love, so we can be Word-bearers to each other, we can live in such a way that God’s love is expressed through us and others can experience the Word in and through us. This happens in practical expressions of love, but we also experience love not in what people do but in the quality of who they are.

This is especially important for those of us who are aging and finding we don’t have the energy we used to have. We can express the loving Word of God through working in the Abundance Shop, playing with the grandchildren or collecting food for the food bank. It can also be expressed through writing letters and sending emails in support of social justice issues or talking to your friends about your experience of God’s love. But just as God’s self-giving love is the expression of who God is, so our goal is to make Love the expression of who we are.

God does not have to do anything to be in a relationship of love. That is the essential nature of the Trinity. When we are in our ‘natural’ state we too are able to express loving relationship by the very quality of our being. Unfortunately we are not in our ‘natural’ state. It is something we have to work towards. Becoming Word-bearers for each other takes hard work and discipline. But the wonderful things is that it IS our natural state – it is the way we were made to be, so the closer we get to it, the more ourselves we feel and the more we experience life bubbling up inside us.

But we have developed a distorted idea of what ‘natural’ means. So reclaiming our natural state means letting go of many of the things that seem natural. It means letting go of grudges. It means forgiving other people and ourselves, not holding on to guilt. It means noticing when we gossip or when we make unkind judgments about other people and changing our behavior. It means noticing when we get grumpy and irritable, and working to let go of the things that keep us getting angry and bad-tempered.

As we allow ourselves to trust God’s love we are able to let go of the fears and the idols, that things that help us to feel secure but obscure the Spirit’s invitation to us to be real persons. In our world loving has become a dangerous thing. We know what happened to Jesus. Self-giving love seems to go against self-preservation. But God’s love emboldens us, it enables us to free ourselves from all the things that hold us back from living fully.

Repentance is the first step. Repentance is not something that happens once in a lifetime or even once a week. It is a daily, even an hour by hour process of change, which enables us to become clearer and clearer in ourselves so that we can hear God’s loving Word and we can be bearers of the Word to each other.

Let us today repent and believe the Good News!