Thursday, 24 August 2017

Why do Church? Be Ecclesia + Matt 16 13-20

What did Jesus mean by that word, Church. A building, a social club, a religious institution, a business model? As far as we can tell from the Greek in Matthew 16, Jesus never even said the word Church, or its Scottish equivalent, Kirk.  Church or kirk comes from "kuriakos” ie, “belonging to the Lord”. C 20 v 20 of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians calls the Lord's supper kuriakos, C 1 v 10 of the book of Revelations to John on Patmos calls the Lord's day kuriakos. Jesus doesn't say it.

I will build my Church is a mistranslation of I will build my Ecclesia, a body of people, like the Ecclesia in Athens. Not any body, ECC means out; KALEO means call, so a body called out to a spiritual community to turn the world upside down.  Why do I make such an outrageous claim?

As a child I went to Salonica, a Greek port city from the history of early Christianity, where Paul and Silas went to a Synagogue to, and I quote from Acts 17 v 7, “turn the world upside down.”  Neither they nor Jesus ever tried to tell or ask anyone to go or come to Church, to sing a rousing hymn and have a cup of tea or a piece of cake.  Nice as that is, it wouldn't turn the world upside down, or if it did, it would be in a very gentle way indeed.  Which is fine as far as it goes anyway....

But they were violently opposed for calling people out to
a community under the risen Jesus rather than the living Caesar. 2,000 years later, Caesar is long gone, but other powers like his have ruled, misunderstood, and feared the world being turned upside down by spiritual community.

For example, they killed millions of Christian martyrs under the Soviet atheists, or hanged followers of Bonhoffer, the confessing German pastor who resisted the Nazis, or abused those who obeyed the Baptist campaigner Martin Luther King, shot trying to end US apartheid.

You might object - there are Churchy Caesars, denying human dignity from within Church, supporting slavery, oppressing natives, burning innocent women accused of witchcraft, etc etc.

And you’d be right, but that was Church not Ecclesia, spiritual community called out to use Jesus' keys to the Kingdom of God, which means free people’s hearts and minds from oppression.  The gates of Hades, death, has not killed this off, from the ancient to the modern world.

So if there is such a thing as Jesus’ Church, it is not an oppressive power, a building, a social club, a religious institution or a business model.  It is a people called out of pride and isolation to use the keys to God’s Kingdom, which will always create more value and more liberating meaning.

Oppressive powers today include human separation, misuse of mass media, an economy that drives climate change, fear of terrorism, a dogmatic scientific materialism teaching incorrectly that there is only this material body heading for death, and only what we physically measure exists.

We would do well to reduce our calorie intake and be like the Hadza of Tanzania, the last hunter-gatherers, who still trust nature.  They are not overfull, they are always hungry but never starving, so always lean and mentally sharp, tracking, watching, with less fat and disease, a better immune system, and none of the psychological suffering associated with using screens, living alone, and being uncomfortable with your body. As an egalitarian community they also make sure they share everything in common, a feature of Acts Chapter 2, v 44, the record of the early Ecclesia.

Instead of selling them sugary drinks and distractions, a spiritual community is called out to use practices that are keys to open the Kingdom of God too, manifest it on Earth. Not only Bible reading, receiving the sacrament and faith sharing, because if it isn't worth sharing it isn't worth having, but there's much more; prayer, not saying a shopping list in your head, but regular coming out of living in your head to a discipline of silence and repentance, a reduction of bodily desire, a taming of the mind, thoughts captive to Christ, as in v 10 of Paul’s 2nd letter to Corinthians.

A spiritual community glorifies God in the body, experiences their body and breath as God’s, not their own, becomes unselfconscious, as scripture says, to pray without ceasing, moving from sensing to thinking to feeling to intuiting to being embedded in God’s consciousness.

The prayer of the Heart, silently invoking Lord Jesus as we consciously breathe in, and have mercy as we consciously breathe out, keeps the heart open and the body a temple of the spirit.

What other keys open the Kingdom and turn the world upside down? Righteousness. Not self-righteous, but doing the right thing, which is creative, different in every situation for every person, it may require forgiveness, not forgetfulness, letting people off, but letting go. 

And fasting, reducing calorie intake, to reduce disease and allow the Holy Spirit to speak. In the OT book of Tobit, an angel recommends fasting prayer, in Matt 6 Jesus tells disciples how to fast for God, in the Didache, a C1st Christian text, fasting is recommended, and in Acts 13:2 Paul fasts.

Almsgiving, giving away our time talents and money. And body work, not just physical exercise but thinking feeling and intuiting the virtues, beauty, truth and justice, will take us from the physical body to the subtler bodies, thinking feeling and intuiting bodies, and the resurrection body of Christ Jesus' Ecclesia people, called out of our man-made stimulation to a relaxed experience of God’s consciousness, to build new habits and form new brain circuits, to release insanity, watch, listen and pray with the whole not just the head, fast, forgive, be righteousness but not self-righteous, see the dignity of all humanity, so evil and destruction, real as they are, will not prevail.  And so it has proved, for more than 2,000 years, Jesus’ risen community has never been crushed from without or from within.  His Ecclesia, if it uses these keys, can turn blind chance, necessity and a meaningless death upside down, into the value and purpose of a real resurrection body and the building of heaven on earth. So take heart, buildings, social clubs, institutions, business models and physical bodies come and go, but the body of Christ and his risen Ecclesia is always a whole new world. In the name of Father Son and Holy Spirit, Amen +

Monday, 21 August 2017

Matthew 15, 10 - 20 - Spiritual community?

Where would you end up if you followed a person conceived without sexual desire, tortured without a trace of resentment, and killed off unsuccessfully?   

The Christian spiritual journey is like someone who comes on a tall tower and steps inside to find it dark.  As they grope around, they come upon Christ, as if a circular staircase, and curious to know where it leads, they let climbing begin, but a sense a uneasiness grows in their heart.  They look behind, horrified to see that each time they climb a step, the previous one falls off and disappears. Stairs wind upward but they have no idea where to. Behind yawns an enormous black emptiness, so they have no choice now, but to go on, in love, trust, obedience.

Abraham is also praised in the Bible for obeying a path to God despite not knowing where it would lead, so little wonder so few opt for this, or go for institutional religion, which is much easier. But institutions tend to institutionalise people.  Abraham’s obedience despite not knowing developed into ten commands, kerbstones on a path of obedience, then food laws, ritual handwashing and all kinds of other rules. Jesus said no amount of these are a substitute for the need to watch our heart and surrender its thoughts. Why?

Just imagine a world in which everyone has a loudspeaker on their head to instantly amplify their thoughts.  Emotions spill out in anger, unforgiveness, selfishness, gossip, betrayal, resentment, and bitterness, and as prophet Jeremiah said, the human heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.

By saying it is not what goes into a man that defiles that man, but what comes out, Jesus dismisses religious rules such as “You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat, you shall eat no blood whether of fowl or of animal,” and makes mercy matter more.
He knows our own brains are meat anyway, and at their base are the three basic instincts not only to eat, but also to mate and to kill.  

So he wants us to watch thoughts intimately.  He calls God Abba - Daddy in Aramaic – because he models a relationship intimate enough to admit to and surrender anger, slander, lying, stealing, adultery, to learn the facts before assuming, to understand before judging, and to feel and think before speaking. No wonder Pharisees go for something much easier, and become blind guides. Their attitude is of course still alive today in buildings with crosses on the top.

When Jesus tells Peter “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” what is he referring to?  A building, a social club, an institution, a business, or a place we surrender the heart?
  The word we now translate as Church, a Greek word, Ecclesia, means a people called out, but from what?  From religion, as defined by Pharisees, a failure to surrender the heart, and from shopping and technology and business and limiting beliefs about ourselves and what real life is.  I was given a clue when I was offered a lift up a mountain to a community which gathered over several hours to listen to chanting and join in, but mostly they were chatting outside the building, because it wasn’t about the building. 

Gradually, they came into the building until it was full, but not full of them. It was full of herbs and plants and flowers they brought in baskets, to fill the air with sweet smells, to remind them that human sensation is a gift, and will be taken any moment, it isn’t to be taken for granted. It was full of loaves of bread baked and brought to pray over and distribute, to remind people to connect to other people who were not there, and candles lit, pictures kissed, to connect them to those who died but lived on.  Ecclesia was a community of God’s heart.

I could not understand a word of it, I could feel all of it.  This spiritual community met under painted stars on the ceiling, but a spiritual community recognises limitless stars, one hundred thousand million in one galaxy, millions of other galaxies, in a sacred universe under infinite God,
but not as an object of belief, rather as the experience of a heart surrendering, obeying the gospel.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13.1-9 and 18-23

We know the different landscapes of which Jesus speaks in the parable of the sower. We know the beaten path of life, being pecked at, the rocky patches of life, the weeds and thorns of life, the inner states from which God seems to bounce off or wither away inside us, seemingly killed off, and we may know the sacred soil of life in which the kingdom grows to a sizeable harvest. 

Jesus then, in the parable of the sower, is describing our inner geography, the various landscapes of the human heart. We have met these in others and discovered them in ourselves. We are rarely one type of soil. We are all four, the soils describe how we live and relate to others and God. 

Jesus’ parable then, describes the consequences of each kind of life we can live, so at one level, Jesus invites his first hearers, then Matthew’s hearers, and now us, to be self-reflective and examine the kind of life we are living. That is very important work indeed, to reflect, and to reflect on whether we are attempting to live out of our fear and pride wthout God or through God’s love and humility in us.  The word, humility, comes from the word, humus, the stable, long lasting remnant of decaying organic material, essential for life, but formed and discovered only by regular decomposition and death.  This then, is the value in thinking about ourselves as soil.

But in thinking this parable is primarily about ourselves, we can also be misusing and even abusing this parable.  The other day, for example, I was walking along, quite lost in the most unpleasant states of heart and mind, a miserable feeling in which it seemed nothing of God could flourish, when suddenly I realised I was not subject to these conditions at all, because God was the true life in me, not myself, and I wasn’t even born and nor would I ever die.  This is the power of the parable, if you listen, know, perceive and understand it.  But not everyone does, even Jesus acknowledged.

‘Why do you speak in parables?’ the disciples ask in verses 9 - 18, and Jesus answers, ‘To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it has not. The reason I speak to them in parables is that they do not perceive, or listen, or understand.”

Why not?  Because their focus of attention is only on this world, which thrives on competition, comparison, and judgment, and on the question about what kind of dirt we are, which is about putting ourselves, and our Church, at the centre of God’s Kingdom, with the sower being choked out, somewhere in the background.  No.

The “what kind of dirt are you” question can become a decoy, making us try to understand through the lens of our selfish worldview alone, which may not be sacred.  If our worldview is not sacred, we hear but don’t understand, see but don’t perceive, and the parable simply doesn’t make sense. The farmer, God, sends his sower, Jesus, to sow on a public pathway, where birds can get it, on rocky ground, amongst thorns, which is all very bad planning, it is wasteful, inefficient, ineffective, bad farming.  You just can’t plant seeds among birds rocks and thorns and act surprised when nothing grows there. Jesus tells a parable that does not fit our worldview.

To understand this however is the beginning of understanding that the parable therefore offers a new, fresh, different and delightful worldview. It gives us a glimpse into God’s worldview, heals our ears and our eyes so that we might hear and understand, see and perceive. The Hebrews called parables riddles, the Greek called them comparisons, the Orientals called them koans. It is enough for us to know that parables test our heart’s willingness to surrender to and be enveloped in the always revealing surprising and gracious generosity of God, not just thinking about what kind of soil we are.

Different as the four soils are, the sower sows the same seeds in all four soils with equal toil, equal hope, equal generosity, and no evaluation of the soil’s quality or potential. There is no soil unsown, no ground declared undeserving of the sower’s seeds, no state of mind and heart which does not have a chance, and therefore this is not only about the quality of dirt, but the quality of God, the divine sower. We want to judge what kind of dirt we are, God wants to sow his life into our dirt. No life, no person, no soil unsown.  

Seeds are being thrown here there and everywhere, which is both poor planning and wasteful economy by our own farming practices. It is inefficient and unprofitable, and bad management, but you see, if you do see, that is, this is not about our concerns, it is about the sower, God’s gracious faithfulness. God’s concern is not dependent on how things work out in our world, the sower’s world, but it is about our wastefulness giving way to his hope, our inefficiency to his love, and our profitability to his generosity. 

This is a parable of who we are capable of being and becoming if every part of our life has been sown with the seeds of God.  And it has.  Do you know what can happen to seeds, this is the question, riddle, comparison, koanDo you know what can happen?

Given the right conditions, which include our regular acceptance of death to our own concerns, of course, apple seeds become apples. Peach seeds become peaches, and God seeds become….


Hear the parable of the sower.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Just beyond your personal reach

Being just beyond your personal reach, but morally good and attractive and experienced as a presence, is available to us in music, art, morality, and science.  This transcendent depth to all human experience manifests in a slow vibration called matter, and is thereby reduced to a personal story, a time bound narrative based on geography, employment, family, friendships and physical encounters as‘my’ individual imagination and memory.  This is seen in retrospect like a driver in a rear-view mirror, but being itself is not subject to this un-becoming and re-becoming, and  the great I am is really one knowledge, one truth and love, one conscious bliss for whom there is no death.  This is what we mean by God.  Individuals are the imagination of this eternal divine Self who is kind to the wicked and the ungrateful (Luke 6:35). No foolish thoughts, no false imagery, no fears and no forebodings come near this divine I behind the Christian religion, who became a historical human being so that historical human beings could become this divine I (2 Pet 1:4), the light of the world” (Matt 5:14)  If you don’t let kindness and truth leave you (Proverbs 3.3) this eternal love is nearby.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Surprised by Hope... the name of a book I read recently, and I was.  It is summed up in this Coptic Icon of the Resurrection, which shows Adam and Eve, representing all our common humanity, pulled from the grave as Christ returns in a new heaven and a new earth, flanked by Prophets and Kings.  He pulls us beyond the limits of our created psychological body image ('Psykikon Soma') into our true nature, or our original body, the 'Pneumatikon Soma', the new body powered by God's spirit.  The point of being a Christian then is not to believe or disbelieve in the resurrection, but to recreate it.  It is not about going to heaven when we die, or being 'good enough' but being a channel for cosmic justice mercy freedom beauty and compassion, ushering in the body we know is coming back.