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Archive for the ‘scriptural insights’ Category

Those of you following the church year or lectionary will know that we are in Holy Week and last Sunday was Palm Sunday. I preached a short homily in ‘Home‘ – I won’t reprint it all here but just wanted to blog about the main point.

It seems to me that the events of Holy Week provide an interesting outline of the stages of faith. Palm Sunday is like early stage faith – it’s celebratory and euphoric. We backed the winning horse, we were on the right side all along, our guy got elected (we were looping some footage of the Obama election victory as the closest contemporary parallel to Palm Sunday). Our egos love this and it makes us feel good.

There’s nothing wrong with this – God smiles on it and Jesus didn’t rebuke the crowds for misunderstanding his purpose. But Palm Sunday isn’t really transformational. To be transformed we need to go through death and resurrection with Christ and in Christ (to use Saint Paul’s famous phrase). Death of ego, taking up our cross etc. But we don’t want to go that way – it feels like abandonment.

When we are led on (by the Spirit) from the certainty and euphoria of Palm Sunday faith – into the desert or wilderness, along the via dolorosa towards the cross – the huge temptation is to try to somehow get back to the Palm Sunday experience we once knew. But that’s not the way of Christ into which we have been called to follow. The Spirit leads us on to the cross where we commit our spirits into God’s hands – falling back into the arms of God in hope of resurrection.

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conversion-of-st-paulHere’s a copy of the Homily I preached for the feast of the Conversion of St Paul last night at Home:

What can we learn from this story of Paul’s conversion that falls in our lectionary readings for today?

I would like to offer a few thoughts.

Paul’s conversion has often been seen as paradigmatic of conversion – in other words we have looked to narratives like this to give us a sense of what is normative in terms of people coming to faith.

People have therefore had an expectation of a sudden, dramatic divine intervention that brings them to a point of faith.

But I think many of us have come to see that – while that may still happen for certain people – for a lot of us that’s not what coming to faith is like. For many people it’s a much more gradual slow dawning.

In our huddle last week Andy helpfully reminded us that conversion is a lifelong process. It’s not about coming to a point of complete clarity about who Christ is, understanding all the necessary doctrine and giving your mental assent to it.

Let me remind you that in the gospels the disciples responded to a simple invitation from Jesus to “follow me”. There was no detailed explanation of theology. And in fact, as the gospel narratives proceed, the disciples continually misunderstand who Jesus is or what he is doing. Jesus is always saying to them “do you still not get it?”!!

So let me offer a different way of engaging with this story of the conversion of Paul which I hope will be helpful.

Because Paul – or Saul as he was known at that point – had a lot of clarity BEFORE his encounter with Christ. And counter to the way we usually think about it, his encounter with Christ left him in darkness! In fact he was literally blinded.

I think this is a very helpful paradigm for us to engage with.

We often start out very sure and certain – we know who the good guys are and we know who the bad guys are. The world is very black and white. We understand who God is and what God is about. We have all our theology worked out. We have formulated our doctrinal statements and positions and we are quite convinced that these accurately describe the true nature of how things really are.

I want to suggest that in terms of our ongoing conversion, this is early stage faith. And in fact, like Paul, our experience of Christ can often be a blinding.

Everything gets turned on its head and we are left in darkness.

This is important because often we think of the life of faith as moving from vagueness to certainty, or from darkness to light. And in some senses that can be helpful way of looking at things.

But the conversion of Paul suggests that coming to faith and growing in Christ can often mean a movement in the opposite direction – from light to darkness.

Or perhaps I should say ‘supposed light’. Paul was convinced he was right and he was in the light. But he wasn’t.

This should caution us to hold on lightly to our understanding of God. God will not be neatly consigned to our doctrinal formulations! The Spirit is wild and free and blows wherever it wills. We cannot box God in.

So if you feel you are in a state of spiritual darkness or spiritual blindness at the moment take heart!! Don’t be too quick to assume that this is not the work of God. It may well be part of your ongoing conversion.

In huddle last week we were talking about this idea presented by an author whose name I have forgotten who said that God’s work is more often than not done in secret, in hidden-ness, in darkness. We think God is absent, we begin to doubt our tightly held black and white beliefs, we think nothing is going on.

But all the time the seed hidden in the darkness of the soil is germinating and growing.

This author suggested that God works in this way because if we were aware of what God was doing we would resist it or try to control it.

And of course the mystics often talk about darkness and the ‘dark night of the soul’ – which we suggested this week was perhaps not the dramatic affair it is often thought of as, but perhaps feels very mundane and ordinary as though nothing were happening.

So while God is undoubtedly light – the scripture refer to God in this way again and again – our experience of this light – which is so bright and so intense, is often one of darkness : we are blinded by the light of God.

Finally, it’s important to say that God didn’t leave Paul this way and God doesn’t leave us this way either.

Paul was blind for some time though. It was a few days before Ananias came and laid hands on him and restored his sight.

Who knows how long your period of darkness will be?

Christian community can help sustain you during this time. Paul went to the house of one of the disciples and then Ananias eventually came.

Sometimes when you are in that state of blindness all you can do is be with your brothers and sisters – stay in the rhythm and flow of a worshipping, Christ-centred community – and see what God brings you.

But when your sight is restored you will see things differently, just like Paul did.

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a new mind

John the Baptist, as we know, is one of the key voices in Advent. I shared some thoughts about him at our community eucharist on Sunday.

The main point I was making was that perhaps we need to hear his call to repent in a different way. We have understood repentance to mean either ‘say sorry to God for all the wrong things you have done’ and/or ‘turn from doing wrong to doing right’. And neither of those things are bad!

But the greek word translated in Mark 1 (and parallels) as ‘repentance’ is metanoia and although I am not a greek scholar I understand this word to mean something like ‘change your mind’. Again we need to think of this differently I would suggest. What about if we heard this to mean ‘receive a new mind’?

Why is this important? I think that without a new mind we will be unable to perceive the presence of the Kingdom which – as Jesus goes on to announce – is ‘close at hand’ and even ‘within you’. We will still think that God is somewhere else and we have to get to him (or get him to come to us) through religious observance (in the Jesus context this meant going up to the Temple etc.) because he is not normatively present with/in us.

We need to repent – we need a new mind : so that we can recognise the presence of the Kingdom around and within us. Meditation and contemplation will help us to develop this new mind.

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