Sunday, 14 June 2015

Can't make it to church? 14 June 15

Today, where I am, we are are having a little diversion from the lectionary as the whole parish takes up 1 Corinthians for the next eleven week. Add to this the fact that today we have a baptism and the scene is set for another change as we take the opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah as our Old Testament reading.

We have a woman who was unable to conceive coming to the tabernacle to meet with God. She is barren and yet the other wife of her husband has children and so, as they journey, she taunted this barren woman, Hannah (which ironically, meaning grave or 'having found favour' is something she, in the OT thinking, obviously hasn't) each year as they journey.
This year though Hannah is found in such a state that Eli, the priest, assumes she's drunk and admonishes her but when he finds that she is merely caught up in the act of 'pouring out her heart' to the Lord over her plight. So Eli blesses her and she leaves and in the fullness of time she conceives and has a son (who she gives back to the service of the temple - but that's another story for another day).
There is something of great merit here for us in that we all have needs and yet rarely do we call out upon the Lord with passion and fervour; rarely do we find ourselves 'pouring out our hearts to the Lord' and yet, when we do, there are answers found and solutions enacted. If we don't ask we don't get and yet so often when we plea or holstered or demand we return complaining of a God who doesn't hear - just saying!

So moving in to our 1 Corinthians passage, we need to step back just a little and consider the world of technological innovations and the love we have of the latest technology and the amazing inventions that  surround us. We are so proud of our 'modern' thinking and the intelligence we possess; so much so that we can logically disprove the existence of God and look inwardly to ourselves for the miracles we can create instead.

The writer of the letter to the Corinthians, Paul, tells us that Jesus, the Christ, is both the wisdom and the power of God - two things that find their meeting point in the cross.

In typical Paul fashion he tells us that 'the message of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.' The words of the Bible tell us  that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will frustrate the intelligence of the 'intelligent'. Paul puts into their place those who consider themselves to be wise; those who think that being 'well read' is enough to grant them the authority over things and understanding  with it. Those who make science their god and look to their debating and fine philosophical garments - all of them are as naked as the focus of Hans Christian Anderson's wonderful tale, 'The Emperor's new clothes'. In the light of God's knowledge and wisdom we have nothing in our hands - it's all froth, smoke and mirrors.

Integrity, perspective and wisdom have little to do with our ability to debate, create wonderful things and make scientific and technological advances. These things, as attractive as they are (and I love technology and things scientific) are all froth - and now, as then, we call on signs: 'Show us a miracle, prove there is a God, give us an explanation and debate with us such that we lose our argument and we will believe!' This what the religious people (the Jews) and the intellectuals (the Greeks) called for then - and now (they just aren't  generally Jews or Greeks these days!). We think we are wise but we build on the foundations of the wise who lived when the Old and New Testaments were written: We live in the shadow of those who created from 'first principles' as the only principles!

But we, who know the power of the Cross in saving and changing lives speak out openly (it's called 'confessing') Jesus to be both the power and the wisdom of God. 

We as those who follow Jesus, the Christ, preach Him crucified and dead and risen and active in our lives, and this world, by the power of His Holy Spirit and we, being reconciled with God through the cross know of a peace and place that to the world is folly. Cool, innit?

If we take Christ and turn His reconciling love into a set of rules we can't keep, and populate it with structures that serve us and our institutions, we make the Gospel empty and hollow. BUT if we look to the cross we find that truly the 'foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of the world and God's weakness is stronger than that of the strongest the world has to offer.'

We marvel at nature as if it is something sentient and creative, as if it were some wonderful person who, god like, creates and controls all around us. We marvel as the world travels along the tracks laid down in the seasons before us - but my questions is this:

Who laid the tracks upon which it runs"

The Collect
Faithful Creator, whose mercy never fails:
deepen our faithfulness to you and to your living Word,

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 Samuel  1.7 – 20

Each year as they went to the Tabernacle Hannah would be reduced to tears and could not even eat. “Why are you crying?” her husband would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted because you have no children? You have me, isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

One day, after a meal, Hannah got up and went to pray and Eli the priest was sitting at his usual place beside Tabernacle’s entrance.  Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord and vowed that should she be granted a son then she would give him back to God. . .  Eli watched her as she prayed and,  seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking.  “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

She replied, “Oh no, sir, I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. I am very sad and was pouring my heart out to the Lord - Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

“In that case,” Eli said, “Go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”  Thanking him she went back and began to eat again and she was no longer sad.  The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more and then returned home to Ramah. The Lord remembered her plea,  and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said,  “I asked the Lord for him.”

1Corinthians 1.18-25

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

Where is the wise person? 
Where is the teacher of the law? 
Where is the philosopher of this age? 
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: 
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, 
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Mark 4. 26-34

Jesus said:
God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps - harvest time!

How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”

With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. 
When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.

Post Communion Prayer
God of our pilgrimage, you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us as we go forward on our journey,

in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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