Proper 20 (C) – 18 September 2016

sermon preached at St Mungo’s Alexandria

Jeremiah 8.18 – 9.1
1 Timothy 2.1-7
Luke 16.1-13

Well:  what are we to make of today’s gospel reading?  You may or may not be reassured to know that this question reverberates though the preaching community when this gospel reading comes around.  It is a real challenge: a challenge to understand what is going on here, and a challenge to understand what Jesus is commending, to grasp what we might be being asked to learn from this story.  I am going to offer you a way into it.  I have no idea whether it is what Luke had in his mind when he included this story – you can tell me afterwards what you think, how you would read this story.

In a poem based on this gospel passage, Rick Fry writes:

So,
in this kind of world,
who can blame a manager for being a little shrewd,
especially when shrewdness leads to mercy?
He’s making new friends,
albeit through dishonest means.
But a friend is a friend,
and the burden of a debt lifted
is a special kind of grace.[1]

This poem brings out two key points about the manager’s behaviour.  What he does (and we will come back to the question of just what that is) may be dishonest, but it is also a shrewd response to his situation, and a response in which “shrewdness leads to mercy.”  The people who come to him with large debts on their bills go away with smaller debts.  And, as Rick Fry concludes:

A friend is a friend,
and the burden of a debt lifted
is a special kind of grace.
Is this story, then, perhaps about grace?

Let’s look again at the passage, and let’s begin by thinking about where Luke places it in his gospel.  This story follows on from the story of the prodigal son, which is all about a son who has squandered his inheritance and returns home to his father to beg for mercy – and receives it, even though the elder son doesn’t think that this is entirely fair. The story of the prodigal son follows the two stories of the lost sheep and the widow’s mite, which are both reminders that those who are lost matter in a special way to God.  And what will come next, after a brief episode when the Pharisees take issue with Jesus’s teaching (not surprisingly, perhaps, since they may well be represented by the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal son – and who are they here?), is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, in which it is Lazarus, the poor man, who finds himself in heaven, and the rich man, the upstanding pillar of society, who finds himself in hell.  All these stories are placed in the context of Jesus’s discussion of who is invited to the wedding feast.  And they are introduced by the brief parable of the salt:  “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” (Luke 14.34)  What we hear today is, I think, to be understood in this context.  Who is invited to the wedding feast?  It is not those whom you might expect.  And what does faith mean?  It means (among other things) alleviating the misery of others.

So is the message to go out and be dishonest?  Well, of course, I don’t think that encapsulates what Jesus is saying.   Erin Dufault-Hunter tells this story:

A friend of mine was a missionary for many years in various parts of Asia. One Sunday while on furlough she told a story about one particular country in which she had worked. The government had forbidden Christians from assembling; indeed, no citizens could have more than one other guest at their apartment at any time to preserve “order.” In defiance of political authorities, believers surreptitiously sought to get around the law; they were determined to meet together for fellowship, prayer, and worship.

Unfortunately, the local policeman saw the staggered comings and goings and figured out that they were gathering. At that point, my friend did what was socially expected in such circumstances: she paid the policeman a bribe. And as long as she kept paying, Christians kept gathering in this apartment for the sustenance for which they longed and for which they risked severe punishment.

When my friend told this story in front of the congregation, she was a bit sheepish – even ashamed – that she had bowed to the dishonest system of payment and the black market economics common in much of the world. My friend Scott – trained by Jesuits with a PhD in philosophy (and the most likely of my Mennonite circle to be canonized if we ever decided to institute the practice) loudly and quickly retorted loudly before the entire congregation, “Ah, well, but what else is money for, really? Seems like a pretty good investment to me.”[2]

A good investment: is that what the steward is being praised for?  He is called dishonest, but is that an accurate description of what is going on here?  Is he perhaps some kind of equivalent to Robin Hood, who stole from the rich, but not for his own benefit?  When we look closely at the story, we find we don’t know very much about the situation.  In particular, we don’t know what happened before; we are not told what (if anything) the steward had been up to.  All we know is that charges were brought against him that he had been squandering his master’s property, and that the master chose to dismiss him on the basis of those charges.  Many commentators assume that he had been making himself rich at the cost of both his master and his master’s tenants, but we don’t actually know that.  Perhaps he had been doing all along what he did next: reducing the bills of his master’s tenants, perhaps by not charging them interest.

What we do know is that he now finds himself in a very difficult situation: he is unable, for whatever reason, to do physical labour, and he does not want to beg.  What is he to do?  (And note that this dilemma suggests that he had not been making himself rich through whatever he was accused of doing, for if he had been, he would have no reason to worry, but could have lived off the wealth he had amassed.)  What he does is this:  he calls in his master’s tenants and reduces their debts.  His actions mean that his master will receive less money, to be sure, and so they are dishonest.  But his actions give the steward a community of friends; a community of people whom he has been able to help.  And that in turn means that his actions have brought relief to others, relief to those whose debts are reduced, have indeed brought, as Rick Fry puts it, to them “a special kind of grace”.

Nancy Rockwell points out that there is a deep resonance here with the Lord’s prayer, especially in the “debtors” version:  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive the debts of others.”  Forgiving the debts of others is precisely what the steward is doing.  Rockwell writes:

Jesus reminds us that what is fair, according to God, is siding with those who owe and groan under the weight of their debt, not with those whose ledgers are pristine, and who have never shown mercy to a debtor.[3]

And she too puts this story into context:

Zaccheus, a tax collector whose profession was known for its stealing from the poor, was declared by Jesus to be a virtuous fellow when he avowed that he gave 40% of all he got to the poor.

The widow, who could have used her little bit of money to treat herself to a holiday meal, but instead put her coins, all she had, into the poor box, was held up by Jesus as a shining example of generosity.

And the bookkeeper who couldn’t do manual labor, and so helped the poor as insurance against hard times, Jesus declared wise.[4]

Ethially, the third – our story today – is the most complicated, but surely Rockwell is right that there is a pattern here.

We might also ask, who will be given credit for this?  Does the lessening of the people’s debts help only the reputation of the steward, or does it redound to the reputation of the Master too?  The parable does not suggest that the steward takes all the credit, although he is certainly making himself friends.  Do the people whose debts he has lessened go away full of gratitude to the master as well as the steward?

An anonymous blogger (who I think is Meg Gilley, rector of Bensham in the Diocese of Durham) asks a key question: When the steward takes the books to the master to show what he has done, what is the master to do?  And she responds:

He has two options:

He could send another messenger to the debtors and tell them that the steward got it wrong. If he does that, he will make himself very unpopular.
Or, he can remain quiet and accept the situation, with the whole community celebrating his extraordinary generosity.

And that’s what he does.  That is the risk that the steward has taken, that this generous and gracious master would respond with even more generosity and grace.  So the master pays the price for the steward’s salvation.  He praises the steward for his cleverness, for the way he trusted everything to the mercy of his master.  He is not praised for his ethics, but for understanding the nature of the master.  And he was willing to act on his perceptions, which took huge courage.  He dispensed forgiveness to the debtors; he wiped off their debt.  That is what God does for us.[5]

The role of the steward, in this reading, is precisely as a parable for the operation of God’s gift of grace.  This is a reminder, perhaps, that grace, that forgiveness, does not always come through the people or through the methods we might expect.  A reminder perhaps also, that those who are forgiven are not always those whom we might regard as forgivable.  There is a parallel here with the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who has to persuade Jesus that she can be forgiven.  Here the steward forgives – and the master then backs him up.  Who are we in this story?  I think probably the people whose debts were reduced.

 

Or are we also the steward?  Is this story also a reminder that we too are called to mediate God’s grace in whatever way we can in the places in which we find ourselves?  Karoline Lewis asks:

How can you proclaim a God who listens to those in need, who sees them, who finds them, who frees them, who wants to have dinner with them, who became flesh for them, who died for them, who rose from the dead for them, who ascended for them, when you live your life as if these truths were not true for you?[6]

For Lewis, what is so significant about this story is that the steward benefits too, just as he benefits others:

Being good to ourselves is not an act of sacrifice or self-care or even self-serving – it is an act of salvation, being and existing in a way that you believe you are saved so as to make possible that others might see God’s salvation is for them.[7]

So let’s look at the steward, not focussing on his dishonesty, but on the way that he offers friendship and relief to those around him:

He’s making new friends,
albeit through dishonest means.
But a friend is a friend,
and the burden of a debt lifted
is a special kind of grace.

Let us too not only accept the gift of our debts being lifted, but also look for ways in which we might lighten the burdens of those around us.

Amen

 

 

[1]  https://rickfry130.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/faith-hope-love-shrewd/.

[2]    http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2013/09/what-else-is-money-for/.

[3]    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/the-risks-that-make-you-rich/.

[4]    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/the-risks-that-make-you-rich/.

[5]    https://ramblingrectorbensham.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/the-unjust-steward/.

[6]    http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4713.

[7]    http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4713.

Proper 19 (C) – 11 September 2016

sermon preached at Drumchapel Scottish Episcopal Church

1 Tim 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

When I read today’s gospel reading I found the first verse of Amazing Grace going through my head:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

“I once was lost but now am found” – for the author of this hymn, as for Luke in this passage, being lost and being found is the story of grace.  I was lost – and God found me.

1 Timothy tells a story of being lost and found.  It purports to be by Paul, although 1 Timothy was almost certainly written long after Paul’s death.  “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But … the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”  Here is one who was lost – and who is now found, and who rejoices over it.

But I wonder how we experience being lost.  Probably not as “blasphemers, persecutors, people of violence”?  Timothy goes on – putting words into Paul’s mouth which are found in the Book of Common Prayer as one of the comfortable words:  “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  If we think of sin as that which cuts us off from God, then we may begin to get a better sense of the many ways in which we can be lost, and needing to be found.

Margaret Adam’s book,  Our Only Hope: More than We Can Ask or Imagine,  begins with a sermon: a sermon on hope, preached on a Sunday on which she was deeply depressed, and cut off from God, and could find no conception of what hope might mean.  How can hope speak in a situation of utter hopelessness?  How can hope be heard when all is dark?  Surely this is one kind of lost-ness, one kind of being cut off from God.  Not because we are blasphemers or people of violence, but because we are depressed, or have lost our way.  I suspect that for many of us this is a kind of lost-ness – a cut-off-from-God-ness – that we understand.

In those times in which we experience this kind of lost-ness it can be very hard indeed to believe that God is looking for us, that God would be at all interested in finding us, let alone rejoice.  That sense of being utterly cut off is a part of the experience of being lost.  In those moments it seems that no-one – not even (especially not) God – could possibly be interested.  And yet the good news – the gospel promise – is that he does.  God is reaching out to each of us, even when we cannot see it, even when the darkness with which we are surrounded hides the outstretched hand, even when the fog in which our days seem to lose their way numbs our awareness of God’s presence.   The parable in today’s Gospel reading emphasises that it is not those who seem to conform, who seem to seem to have it all sorted, who are the one to whom God reaches out, but the lost – those who seem furthest from God.  It is the lost whom God searches out, draws in. God’s overflowing grace overflows over them too – and not only those who are in the flock, in safety.

Or who think they are.  For this parable is surely also something of a warning to those who believe they have it all sorted and sewn up.  If it offers to hope to those who feel lost, it might also encourage those who see themselves as the 99 un-lost sheep to contemplate the need for lost-ness.  Dave Lose suggests that people do not always recognise that they are lost, and perhaps might benefit from asking themselves if they are:

  • Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around hockey games and dance recitals be lost?
  • Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder the one and only priority be lost?
  • Might the folks who work jobs they hate just to give their family things they never had be lost?
  • Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement be lost?
  • Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do just about anything to fit in be lost?
  • Might the earnest Christian who is constantly asking whether people have accepted Jesus into their hearts be lost?[1]

There is something here for all of us about recognising our dependence on God, being open to the deeper meaning of our existence.  It is hard in our world, which emphasises our responsibility, requires us to be in control.  Timothy Radcliffe writes that through baptism – and therefore also faith – “we are relieved of the awful burden of pretending to be better than we are.”[2]  Or, as Judy Hirst puts it:

We are not keen to show to God, others or ourselves, the complex reality of who we are.  Most of us, if we are lucky, have a few strong hands to play in life, to show others and to offer.  We basically enjoy playing these ‘strong hands’ to show us off in the best possible light. … [but] it is not always from the places where we feel most confident, where we think we understand, that the deepest growth can occur.[3]

There is a wonderful poem by Charis Doepgen:

One to ninety-nine
that sounds alarming

if the one allows itself to be found
will the ninety-nine
not scatter

total risk
on his part

that is how this looks
to God

for my part
it means hope

whenever I lose my way
he does not give up on me
he will find me[4]

Recognising our lost-ness may be a way of recognising our need for God’s grace – and opening up to that overflowing gift, the overwhelming joy of being found.  This is what Luther and the other Reformers meant when they talked about the relationship between Law and Gospel.  We can never keep God’s law in its entirety, Luther said, and that is precisely the point.  Our recognition of our inability to do what we should – our cut-off-ness from God – our lost-ness – is precisely what makes us aware of our need for grace.

And from that point of view our lost-ness is necessary to coming to faith.  Because we are not and never can be in control.  And coming to faith may allow us to let go of some of wanting to.  Indeed, James Allison suggests that “Once people start relaxing into the gift of faith, they apparently become worse people. Why? Because they are no longer concerned with tidying up their story.”  For faith brings the “loss of a story about how right you are.  You are being given a story about how loved you are. … You are no longer frightened of being seen to be, or actually being, a failure.”[5]

This is not a case of sinning more that the grace might be greater (a theory that Paul frowns on in Romans 6:1!), but more about letting go and letting God.  When I bought a car after several years in Oxford, I several times just set off with the intention of getting lost – driving off the routes that I knew to see where I might end up.  I saw a lot more of the Oxfordshire countryside and its lovely villages than I would have done if I had stuck to the routes and places I knew.  Of course it was a very safe way of getting lost: I had a good map and a satnav which would always get me home even when I had no idea where I was.  But perhaps that is not such a bad parable for the security that God’s grace offers us.  We can get lost safely, because wherever we are, whoever we have come, God’s grace, God’s love, will find us.

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” asks the psalmist in Psalm 139:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

We may feel lost; we may know ourselves to be lost – but in truth we are not.  For God is with us, ready to encounter us where we are, to know us as we are.  “When we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home,” as that beautiful post-communion prayer reminds us.  And when he brings us home – he rejoices.  What a gift of love!

Amen.

 

[1]    http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2737-

[2]  Timothy Radcliffe, Taking the Plunge, 160.

[3]  Judy Hirst, Struggling to be Holy, 24-25.

[4]  Te Deum, September 2016, 107 (translation by CM).

[5]   Cited according to Radcliffe, 155.

Gerd Winner Kreuz, Liebenberg

Proper 12 (C) – 24 July 2016

Sermon preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Hillington

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

Teach us to pray, said the disciples.  And Jesus said:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen[1]

 We know the Lord’s prayer so well that sometimes it is hard to hear the words – and so perhaps it is helpful to begin with this version, from the New Zealand Prayer Book, which may help us to see the Lord’s Prayer afresh.

Our Father – “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all.”  We pray to a Trinitarian God, who creates us and the whole world, the whole universe, who loves us, shares our pain, and sustains us in life.

Our Father in heaven – “Loving God, in whom is heaven.”  Heaven is not distant, out there but here: eternal life is breaking into the here and now, into the world in which we live, with the potential to make of us also heavenly beings whilst yet on earth.

Hallowed be your name – “The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!”  Let our lives be filled with a recognition of God’s glory and goodness.

Your will be done – “Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!”  Let everyone, all things, act according to God’s will.

On earth as it is in heaven – “Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.”  Let God’s order for the world shape our world, our society, and help us to work to bring that about.  Help us to see beyond this moment to a larger picture which is not only about our own needs, our own hopes and our own fears.

Give us today our daily bread – “With the bread we need for today, feed us.”  May we notice and give thanks when our basic needs are satisfied, and may we help to ensure that the basic needs of others are satisfied too, to bring food and clean water to those who are hungry and thirsty, and to feed the world in a sustainable, responsible way.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us – “In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.”  May we be willing to offer forgiveness and to accept forgiveness.  May we recognise when we have hurt others.  May we seek to live in ways that do not exploit others.

Lead us not into temptation; deliver us from the time of trial – “In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us.”  Help us to know that God is with us in difficult times.  Help us to see how difficult and testing times can bring us new insights, new understanding, to recognise them as important times of growth, however deep our pain.

Deliver us from evil – “From the grip of all that is evil, free us.”  Help us to have the clear sight to recognise evil, and the courage to name it.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever – “For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.”

There is so much in these few short lines we pray so often.  And there is a lot here that resonates with our very imperfect world, our sometimes rather frightening world, our world that seems so often at the moment to be pervaded by hate, by belligerence, by instability.  In the face of the news of attacks and death, we may feel utterly helpless.  Can we do anything at all?

One response to that question is certainly:  we can pray.  But that can sound so trite.  In the face of all the injustice and unpredictability in the world, what good can prayer do?

To offer a response to this question, I think it is worth considering what prayer might mean.  Ten years or more ago, when I was preparing an intercessions workshop. I found an extraordinary reflection on the nature of prayer written by someone called Zoe Hancock.  Let me share with you some of her thoughts:

Prayer is giving something to the people you love. It is an openness of spirit, willingness to go that extra bit, staying up that extra hour or two for a friend in need, or not in need. It is loving.
Each connection to your maker, your partner, your friend is prayer.
The intimacy of knowing your breathing is prayer. To feel the wellness of your soul, your spirit, your body. Expressing and sharing this gift in the present moment. This is prayer.
It is knowing the closeness of water as you swim, and are supported, and held by it. As you turn your head upward for air, as you feel the moment, each breath, each bubble, each stroke, and heartbeat, and movement.
To look upon work colleagues with gentleness and understanding when you haven’t understood a damn thing they’ve just said. To admit you’ve totally missed the point, and laugh at yourself, in kindness. This is prayer.[2]

There is a profound recognition here that prayer is about a rootedness, a sense of self, a sense of understanding how each of us fits into the world and is related not just to ourselves, but to the world in which we live.  Prayer as loving, as active loving, as taking the time to see, to understand where that active loving is needed and how we might be called to live it out.  What Zoe Hancock writes is focused on an immediate community: the people you love, friends and family, colleagues at work.  And that is surely where our prayerful living starts.  But prayer encourages us to widen that circle, to understand that we are called to enlarge our definition of the people we love to encompass those we do not know personally, perhaps do not understand, perhaps have been taught to see as different from ourselves, even as our enemies.

A Palestinian prayer puts it like this:

We pray for peace, with justice, for the wounded and broken-hearted,
and dignity to be restored to all.
Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli.
But pray for yourselves, that you may not divide them in your prayers,
but keep them together in your hearts.[3]

Prayer is a way of coming to help us to understand the needs of those around us, the needs of the world, or perhaps even of simply recognising that we do not understand.  But prayer also offers space to acknowledge our failures of love, our transgressions, the places where we have offered or caused hurt, wittingly or unwittingly, where our lives are indebted to the exploitation of others.

O Lord, how clearly you know
the foolishness of humanity.
No-one has yet been found
who has not transgressed your way
From the first Adam to the present day.
Protect us, save us!
For you, Lord, are far from anger,
full of mercy and righteousness.[4]

 Prayer then, is not a kind of Christmas wish list, not about presenting God with a catalogue of orders, but about understanding more deeply our place in the world that God has created, and the responsibilities that our place gives us.  It is important to remember this as we hear the end of our gospel passage today.  “Ask and it shall be given unto you!”  says Jesus.  “Seek and you shall find.”   And our response may be:  “Really?”  Especially as we remember all our prayers for peace and justice and then look at the world.

But what does “Ask and it shall be given unto you” mean in the context of the Lord’s Prayer?  Sarah Dylan writes:

I find it quite scary to pray that God would treat my sins as I treat debt and other burdens that keep the poorest in poverty.  Is that a prayer I want God to answer?
And when I pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that we each would have daily bread, I can’t help but be a bit nervous wondering whether my prayer will be answered as the rich man’s was – with a friend who, if need be, will expose how shallow my prayers often are if I will not participate in God’s mission to answer them.[5]

But, she says:

I pray nonetheless.  I pray, and I look for opportunities to participate in God’s answering that prayer, in God’s reconciling the divide between rich and poor. … I ask and I seek knowing that it feels risky to do so, and as I do that, I find not only friends … who will hold me accountable to my prayers, but also a God who is generous beyond my asking.[6]

“What can we little people do?” asks Gerald Hughes in Cry of Wonder.  His answer is to know ourselves better.  “Our most valuable source of learning lies in our own experience” and it is through prayer that we understand our own selves.  “The source of our violence does not lie in the existence of hostile external powers, but within ourselves, in our ways of thinking and behaving, in our minds and hearts.”[7]  Hughes points to the undercurrent of language in much human interaction, in much language, and calls us all to contribute to a more peaceful and just society by thinking about how each of us communicates.[8]  This is, he says,

not an instant remedy to finding peace in conflict … slowly it begins to change the way we see things, the way we see other people.  We begin to meet ourselves in them, begin to see them as another self, begin to understand the meaning of “Love your neighbour as yourself,” not as a command, but as a deep need/longing in ourselves which brings us to life, a life we begin to delight in bringing to others.[9]

And this is about prayer, for prayer brings us to recognise that each of us is “a human being, called to play a unique role in creation and to be at one with that power which Dante writes of, the power ‘that moves the sun and other stars,’ the power of Love.  This power is nearer to each one of us than we are to ourselves.”[10]

All this is to say that prayer is about understanding our place in God’s world and discerning what we are called to do where we are.  This weekend I have been part of a celebration of the women’s peace crusade which began in Glasgow on 23 July 1916, when 5000 women gathered to march from George Square to Glasgow Green to protest against the terrible losses of the Great War and to call for peace.  In the midst of the terrible losses of the Somme, those women had a vision of a world at peace, a world in which the carnage that surrounded them could be stopped.

In 1915, Maude Royden had written:  “Truth is more than victory. …  We cannot tell whether defeat or triumph is better for a nation, or whose success upon the battlefield is better for the world.”[11]  She did not know who would win or lose the war, and for here that as not the point.  The point was to find the peace that God wanted to give.  Her call to respond to the war was rooted in the recognition that prayer leads to action:

Many Christians find it hard to believe that they are called upon to enter into a political struggle. … There are times when our fight is the fight of the individual soul, but there are times also when the great forces of Good and Evil are locked in a tremendous struggle, and we are bound, publicly, to take sides.  There was a time for St. Catherine of Siena to tend the sick of her city, and a time for her to heal the sores of Europe, and end the schism of the Church.  There was a time for Joan of Arc to knit and spin in Domremy, and a time for her to lead an army, and save the kingdom of France.  There was a time for Christ Himself to live in Nazareth with His mother; but if He has stayed—in Nazareth? [12]

Prayer will not give us all the answers, but it will give us new understanding and new perspectives.  It will show us, if we let it, what we can do – what we are called to do – to help the world to become what God wants it to be.

Almighty God, Father of us all,
we ask you to inspire the people of this land
with the spirit of justice, truth and love,
so that in all our dealings with one another,
we may show that together we are one in you
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.[13]

 Amen

 

[1]    New Zealand Prayer Book (also online at:  http://loddon-malleeuca.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/alternative-lords-prayer.html.

[2]    I have been unable to find the source of this text.  Please do contact me if you know it.

[3]    We are US: Prayers for the world (London, n.d.), 51.

[4]    Anaphora of Saint James of Suareg, in: We are US, 50.

[5]    Online at: http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2007/07/proper-12-year-.html.

[6]    Online at: http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2007/07/proper-12-year-.html.

[7]    Gerald Hughes, Cry of Wonder: Our own real identity (London 2014), 241-242.

[8]    Hughes, Cry of Wonder, 242-245.

[9]    Hughes, Cry of Wonder, 244.

[10] Hughes, Cry of Wonder, x-xi.

[11] Maude Royden, The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace (London 1915), 16.

[12] Maude Royden, May Mission Speeches (London 1913), 7.

[13] Anglican Church of Southern Africa Prayer Book; in We are US, 50.

15. Sonntag im Jahreskreis (C) – 10. Juli 2016

Predigt in der altkatholischen Gemeinde Münster am 9. Juli 2016

Deuteronoium 30.10-14
Kolosserbrief 1.15-20
Lukasevangelium 10.25-37

Wer ist mein Nächster?  Die Frage des Gesetzeslehrers, des Schriftgelehrten ist uns sehr bekannt. Wir kennen doch diese Geschichte, die Geschichte des barmherzigen Samariters.  Wir kennen sie, vielleicht zu gut.  Ich weiß nicht, wie es Ihnen damit geht, aber ich finde diese Geschichte schwierig.  Sie erzeugt in mir immer wieder ein schlechtes Gewissen.  Ich weiß:  ich müsste den Bedürftigen doch mehr Aufmerksamkeit zeigen, auf die Bedürfnisse von Anderen anders, liebevoller reagieren.  Diese Geschichte sagt mir doch, dass ich zu erkennen habe, dass alle Leute meine Nächsten seien.  Oder?

Der Sinn dieser Geschichte, dieses Gleichnis, ist mir vor ein paar Jahre ganz anders klar geworden.  Ich war mit einer Gruppe in London unterwegs, der Tag war sehr heiß und wir liefen gerade zum Restaurant um zu Abend zu essen.  Auf einmal stellte ich fest, dass der eine Kollege fehlte. Wir haben kurz überlegt, ob wir zurückgehen, dachten aber, er habe sich wohl einem anderen Teil der Gruppe angeschlossen, und sind weiter gegangen.  Am nächsten Tag stellte es sich heraus, er sei wegen der Hitze mitten auf der Straße zusammen gebrochen.  Es hatte keine von uns, seinen Kollegen, bemerkt.

Nur: wer sehr genau zugesehen hatte, was im passierte, war eine Gruppe von Obdachlosen, die sich gerade einen  Schlafplatz im Eingang eines Gebäudes suchten.  Sie haben gesehen, wie er zusammengebrochen ist, haben ihm zu trinken und zu essen gegeben, haben für ihn ein Taxi geholt.  Sie haben seine Not gesehen.  Sie waren seine Nächsten.

Im Internet zum Jahr der Bibel gab es eine Seite mit Interviews mit biblischen Personen.  Eine davon war der barmherzige Samariter.  Ach ja, sagte er in der erfundenen Interview – ja auch ich hatte eigentlich keine Zeit, hatte auch einen dringenden Termin in Jericho, aber wenn ein Mensch Hilfe braucht, dann hilft man eben, oder?

Eine Interpretation diese Geschichte lautet also:  „Der Priester und der Levit sind nur sich selbst die Nächsten gewesen.  Ihre Gedanken kreisen nur um sich selbst: Was passiert mit mir, wenn ich mich um diesen Menschen kümmere? Welchen Gefahren setze ich mich aus?  Wie viel Zeit verliere ich, wenn ich mich um ihn kümmere…?“[1]  Ich finde diese Interpretation schwierig: Denn in Wirklichkeit wissen wir aus der Geschichte nicht, warum der Priester und der Levit ihm nicht geholfen haben.  Wir können nur sagen, dass sie in diesem Fall dem Überfallenen, dem Verletzten nicht die Nächsten waren.  Auf welchen Grund auf immer.  Auf welchem Grund auf immer haben diejenigen keine Hilfe geleistet.  Stattdessen ist der Fremde, der Aussätzige, der völlig Unerwartete angehalten, hat Hilfe geleistet, sich um den Verletzten gekümmert.

Die Tragik dieser Geschichte liegt in der Erkenntnis, dass wir uns oft in der Rolle des Priesters, des Levits finden.  Wir müssen immer wieder erkennen, dass wir der Herausforderung, alle Leute seien meine Nächsten, nie gerecht sein können oder werden.  Das ist die Tragik, die in dieser Geschichte des barmherzigen Samariters steckt.  Es ist die Tragik der eingeschränkten Möglichkeiten eines jeden Lebens, der eingeschränkten Möglichkeiten unserer Energie, unserer Unterstützungsfähigkeit.  Sicher steckt hier die Tragik unseres nicht immer geben Wollens, die Tragik der eingeschränkten Fantasie, die uns nicht erlaubt zu sehen, was möglich wäre.   Aber die Geschichte  des barmherzigen Samariters ist in Wirklichkeit eine Geschichte, die uns daran erinnert, dass wir uns etwas vormachen, wenn wir denken, es wird mit der Nachbarschaft immer und einfach klappen.  Wir können es wollen, dass jeder Mensch meiner Nächste sei, aber in Wirklichkeit, werde ich eine solche Rettungsarbeit nicht immer, nicht jedes Mal leisten können.

Die Antwort Jesus dreht die Frage des Schriftgelehrten auf dem Kopf.  Wer ist mein Nächster? hat der Schriftgelehrte gefragt.  Wer hat sich als der nächste dessen erwiesen, der von den Räubern überfallen wurde?  erwidert Jesus.  In Prinzip ist jeder, jede mein Nächster, aber IN DER TAT – im dem, was ich tatsächlich tun kann, was ich tatsächlich tue – werde ich zur Nächsten, zum Nächsten von anderen.  Es geht hier nicht um eine theoretische Frage, sondern darum, dass ich doch Möglichkeiten ergreife, andere zu unterstützen und zu helfen, auch wenn ich es nicht bei jeder und jedem tun kann.

Ich glaube, wenn wir uns zu sehr auf die theoretische Frage konzentrieren, wer mein Nächster sei, kann sie uns davon ablenken, überhaupt Nächste zu sein.  Und darum geht es.  Nächste zu sein, sofern ich es kann.

Denn man braucht keine Qualifizierung, um Hilfe zu bekommen.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer deutete die Frage des Schriftgelehrten als „Flucht in den ethischen Konflikt.“[2]  Es ist einfacher, darüber zu diskutieren, wem ich helfen sollte, als zu jemandem helfen, als Nächstenliebe zu praktizieren.  Es geht hier doch um die Praxis, unsere Praxis, nicht um eine Theorie:  „Du selbst bist der Nächste“,[3] bestätigt Bonhoeffer.  „In jedem Augenblick in jeder Situation bin ich der zum Handeln, zu Gehorsam Geforderte.  Es ist buchstäblich keine Zeit dafür übrig, nach einer Qualifikation des anderen zu fragen.  Ich muss handeln und muss gehorchen, ich muss dem anderen der Nächsten sein.“  Auch wenn man manchmal gar nicht weiß, was man tun sollte, sollte man es versuchen.  „Fragst du abermals erschreckt, ob ich denn nicht vorher wissen und bedenken müsse, wie ich zu handeln habe, so gibt es darauf nur eine Antwort:  Was Gehorsam ist, lerne ich allein in Gehorchen, nicht durch Fragen.  Erst im Gehorsam erkenne ich die Wahrheit.“  Was zu tun ist, lerne ich erst im Tun.

Die Tragik der Geschichte bleibt.  Es gibt Situationen, Momente, in denen ich gerade nicht der Nächste, die Nächste sein kann.   Momente, Situationen, wo ich keine Hilfe, keine Rettung anbieten kann.  Die Trauer, die Traurigkeit dieser Situationen tragen wir mit uns.

Aber es geht darum, dass ich mich in meiner Unfähigkeit, allen Leuten zu helfen, nicht so verliere, dass ich keinem Menschen mehr die Nächste, der Nächste bin.  Und es geht darum zu erkennen, dass Hilfe auch – vielleicht sogar oft? – von Fremden, von Verachteten, von den Aussätzigen kommt.

Wer ist mein Nächster?

Wer hat sich als der Nächste denen erwiesen, die gerade jetzt Hilfe brauchen?

 

[1] Te Deum, Juli 2007, S. 154.

[2]    Te Deum, Juli 2007, S. 155.

[3]    Bonhoeffer, Te Deum, Juli 2007, S. 156.

Proper 8 (C) – 26 June 2016

sermon preached at St Mungo’s Alexandria

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

I wonder how you are feeling this morning?  It has been a momentous week, and some of you, some of us, may be feeling quite vulnerable, distressed.  Others may be greeting a new future for which you have profoundly wished.  I expect all of us are wondering what the future brings, and how the political situation will now develop: here in Scotland, in Westminster, across the EU.  It will be a time of change, and change, especially this kind of radical systemic change, is both difficult to manage and difficult to be on the receiving end of.  We are entering a period of negotiations which will change relationships in Europe, in world, and within the UK.

There is a lot of anxiety about this, and that is not at all surprising.  But what I think is important is that in the uncertainty and anxiety we do not lose hope.  And so I want to offer some reflections from today’s readings  and from other reading I have been doing this week which might say something to us about moving forward in hope.

Of course, we are not the first people to find ourselves standing at a cusp, looking into an unknown future.  One of my favourite passages is something we often hear at New Year, but it seems very apposite this week:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than the light
And safer than a known way!”
So I went forth and finding the hand of God
Trod gladly into the light.

Perhaps those steps into the future are not being taken gladly by some of us, but we nonetheless need to have hope and faith that as we take them, our hand is in the hand of God.

I am guessing that I was not the only one to find myself thinking apocalyptic thoughts on Friday.  Wondering whether this was the way people were feeling in Germany on 31 January 1933, or in Britain on 5 August 1914, or on 4 September 1939.  But then I began to realise what this is not: this is not the takeover of power by militarised fascism; it is not war.  It is a step which might, if we do not find it in ourselves as a country, as citizens, to respond responsibly, lead to something worse, but this is not Armageddon.  What I would want to say to all of us, regardless of how we voted, is that it is now our responsibility to make out of this an opportunity and not a threat.  Those of us who would have preferred to remain in the EU might ponder Frances Copley’s prayer:  “May we discover that the road we didn’t choose, didn’t want to travel, is a highway that leads unerringly towards the light.”

In the run up to the centenary of the Women’s Peace Crusade in Glasgow on 23 July 1916, which will be marked on Saturday 23 July 2016,[1] I have this week been reading the works of Maud Royden, an early campaigner for the ordination of women who during the First World War was also a strong advocate of peace.  In 1916, in the middle of that war, when the outcome was entirely uncertain, she wrote a pamphlet entitled: The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace.  In it, she wrote:  “You cannot kill hatred and violence by violence and hatred.  You cannot make men out of love with war by making more effective war.”  And, she went on:  “Truth is more than victory.  We cannot tell whether defeat or triumph is better for a nation, or whose success upon the battlefield is better for the world.” [2]  The future is open, and it does not have be – it must not be – full of despair.

The Primus has written to the Scottish Episcopal Church:

The people have spoken and the will of the people must be respected.
In a hard-fought and at times bruising campaign, it has been clear that debate about Europe has allowed a number of difficult issues to come to the surface. The debate and the patterns of voting suggest that our politicians in recent years may not have paid sufficient attention to some of the deeper issues which are present in our life. The inevitable and necessary period of reflection which must now follow will allow space for questions of poverty and immigration to be explored.
Those of us who live in Scotland are aware that the outcome of the Referendum is potentially of great significance. We hope that our politicians on all sides will take time for careful reflection and consultation.
This a time when we should hold all of our political leaders in our prayers.[3]

I would want to put that even more strongly:  “The inevitable and necessary period of reflection which will now follow must allow space for questions of poverty and immigration to be explored.”  Here is Paul speaking to the Galatians in the reading we have just heard:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

That is, as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said:

we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.[4]

We are called to freedom, and in that freedom to love of neighbour.  There are many political structures and constellations in which that is possible.  What can we do to support a political discourse that takes seriously the importance of loving our neighbour?  How can we engage with one another in ways that show respect and love?

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than the light
And safer than a known way!”
So I went forth and finding the hand of God
Trod [gladly] into the light.

Amen

 

 

 

[1]    http://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/forward-remembering-women-peace-crusaders-launch-event/.

[2]    Maud Royden, The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace (London 1916 [?]), pp. 11, 16.

[3]    At http://www.scotland.anglican.org/primus-comments-outcome-eu-referendum/#sthash.g37bsEMS.dpuf.

[4]    At http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5743/eu-referendum-statement-by-archbishops-of-canterbury-and-york.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]    http://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/forward-remembering-women-peace-crusaders-launch-event/.

[2]    Maud Royden, The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace (London 1916 [?]), pp. 11, 16.

[3]    At http://www.scotland.anglican.org/primus-comments-outcome-eu-referendum/#sthash.g37bsEMS.dpuf.

Proper 11 (C) – 12 June 2016

sermon preached at Drumchapel Scottish Episcopal Church

Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36 – 8:3

A grudging host and a passionate gatecrasher:  that seems to be the message of this morning’s gospel reading.  It is a story which turns expectations on their heads:  Here is Simon the Pharisee, the good Jew, the upright member of society, who has invited Jesus to dine, but who seems – as we find out as the story progresses – not to have done any of the things you might expect a host to do.  A good man, an upstanding man, a Pharisee and a leader of the religious community, but his welcome to Jesus seems insincere, heartless.

And there is the woman, uninvited, someone whom Simon is shocked to have in his house, who throws herself at Jesus’s feet, pours rich, expensive ointment over them, and wipes it away with her hair.  A sinful woman, not an upright member of society at all, a great sinner who shows a passionate commitment to – love for – Jesus.  So passionate, indeed, that it might make us rather uncomfortable.

We don’t know her name, this woman, but we can see that early Christians thought she was important.  This is one of the very few stories that appears in all four gospels.  The account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his time in Gethsemene, arrest, and trial, his passion, death and resurrection, all appear in all four.  The only others which do are the account of his baptism (the beginning of his ministry), the feeding of the five thousand, and the profession of faith by Peter, and later, in the context of Jesus’s trial, his denial.[1]  So this woman, her passionate anointing of Jesus, is important: it is a key event for understanding who Jesus really is: the Christ, the ‘anointed one’.  Her passion for him points to the true meaning of his passion.

But although all the evangelists include the story, they are not agreed about who she is or where this anointing happens.  John (12:1-11) sets the scene in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus at Bethany and puts the ointment in the hand of Mary, the sister of Martha.  Mark (14:3-9) and Matthew (26:6-13) place the story “in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper”, but do not give the woman a name at all.  What they do say, both of them, is that she will be remembered:  “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Matthew 26:13).  This affirmation was the inspiration for Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s pioneering work in feminist biblical interpretation, In Memory of Her, first published in 1983.

But Luke, as we have seen, sets this event in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and in doing so he uses it to make a point about the relationship between apparent goodness and actual goodness – a point which gives the story a quite weight from that of any of the other gospel writers.  Here we have the upstanding host and the sinful gatecrasher, who turn out to be a grudging welcomer of Jesus and a passionate adorer of Jesus.  This is quite a different context. For John, the woman’s action takes place in the context of a household of strong believers.  Martha has already declared her commitment to Jesus: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  Mary has already affirmed her faith that had Jesus been there her brother would not have died, and the sisters have seen Jesus respond to their faith and raise their brother Lazarus from the dead.  Mary’s anointing of Jesus happens soon after that.  In John’s reading, Mary’s is an act of passionate thankful adoration which offers the culmination of his narrative about this household’s faith, as well as pointing towards Jesus’s own death.

In contrast, for Mark and Matthew, the anointing takes place when Jesus is at the house of a social outcast: a leper, someone at the edge of society.  What is important in their account is the recognition, just hinted at by John , and not mentioned at all by Luke, that she has anointed Jesus:  “For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial” (Matthew 26:11-12).  This woman she has seen the truth that Jesus is the Christ; her action is a declaration of that faith as well as an outpouring of her love for him.

In the accounts by Mark, Matthew and John, there are objections: this is a waste of resources that could have been given  to the poor.  The people who question her actions change too.  Mark says “some who were there” were angry about the waste.  Matthew has the disciples say this.  John puts the same protest into Judas’s mouth.  But Luke does not mention the poor at all.  For Luke something quite different is going on.  This is a question of sin and forgiveness.  Who needs grace more?  The one who has sinned a little, or the one who has sinned much?

Luke does not give this woman a name, but he does give her a status: she is a sinner.  The juxtaposition of this story with the account of the women who followed Jesus, including “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out”(Luke 8:1)  led Gregory the Great to identify her with Mary Magdalene, and to assume that she was a prostitute.  It is this woman, Luke says, this sinful woman, who recognises in Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, who pours out her love for him in the form of costly nard.  It is she, and not the upright religious leader, who shows her passionate commitment to Christ.  Luke’s Jesus offers a parable to explain what is going on:  “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”  “The one with the greater debt,” says Simon.  “Exactly,” says Jesus.

This leaves us facing something of a theological conundrum.  Writing to the Romans, Paul says (5:20):  “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”  And he asks (Romans 6:1):  “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”  His response to this perhaps not-so-rhetorical question is “of course not” (Romans 6:2-4):

How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

The point for Paul here, and also in this morning’s reading from his letter to the Galatians, as I think it is also for Luke, is that those who have sinned most grievously are most  aware of their need for grace, for forgiveness.  But once they have received that grace, that forgiveness, by coming into a relationship with Christ, they are forgiven and will no longer live their lives in the same way.  For both Paul and Luke it is that deep encounter with Christ which brings about this radical change.

Martin Luther spent much of his life grappling with questions of sin, grace and forgiveness, and struggling with his own anxieties about his relationship to God.  In 1521, he wrote to his friend and colleague Melanchthon in 1521, in words that have become notorious and caused consternation ever since:  “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”[2]  (In the letter, he was discussing clerical marriage, which in the eyes of the church was a sin, but in his view was not.)  His deeper theological point resonates with Luke and Paul, as we can see when we put the notorious quotation into context:

God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.”[3]

Luther had a deep sense of his need for Christ, and an equally deep sense of his love for God, and both are reflected in his words here.

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are,[4]

sings Matt Maher (of whom I had never heard until I started working on this sermon).  It is that encounter with Christ through grace that is important for sinners – which is to say, for all of us.  The church needs to be a place where that encounter can take place.  It is, as has often been said, a school for sinners and not a society for saints.  A school for sinner who know their deep need for God, and respond to the gift of grace by loving God.  This is, as we are often reminded in the liturgy, the first (and great) commandment:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The transformative and transforming power of love for Christ: that is what Luke, what Paul, what Luther, what matt Mahon are talking about.  That is what this woman, whoever she was, discovered.   Gregory the Great may have been wrong in thinking that she was Mary Magdalene, but he was quite clear about what she had done:

A woman of the city which was a sinner, washed out the stain of her sins with her tears by her love of the truth; and the world of truth is fulfilled which says her sins are forgiven for she loved much. She who had previously been cold through sin was afterward aflame with love.[5]

The challenge to us all is, I think, clear:  can we – do we – love God “with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength”?  Are we, like this un-named woman, so deeply aware of the gift of grace and forgiveness that we are “aflame with love”?  If not, what do we need to do about it?

Amen

 

[1]  See, for instance, http://skipslighthouse.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/eleven-events-in-all-four-gospels.html.

[2]  Martin Luther to Philip Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, LW 48, 282.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/mattmaher/lordineedyou.html.

[5] Gregory the Great, Homily XXV, cited according to  http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper6c.html.

10. Sonntag im Jahreskreis (C) – 5. Juni 2016

Predigt in der altkatholischen Gemeinde Münster am 4.Juni 2016

1. Könige 17,17-24
Galaterbrief 11-19
Lukasevangelium 7, 11-17

 

 

Heilungsgeschichte – Auferstehungsgeschichte – und sogar zwei davon.  Darum geht es heute sowohl im Alten Testament als auch im Evangelium. Es sind schwierige Geschichten, finde ich, denn welche trauernde Mutter hätte nicht so gerne das Kind zurück?  Mütter, Väter, die Kinder verloren haben, Kinder, die Eltern verloren haben, wir alle, die um einen lieben Menschen trauern – wie sollen wir mit diesen Auferstehungsgeschichten umgehen, mit der Vorstellung, hier passiert etwas, das wir so gerne mit erleben würden, jedoch in dem Wissen, dass es nicht so kommen kann.

Diese Frage stellt sich jedes Jahr bei Ostern: was heißt überhaupt Auferstehung?  Was kann sie für uns bedeuten?  In der Geschichte der Witwe von Naïn wird beschrieben, wie Jesus Mitleid mit der trauernden Frau hat.  Er geht zu ihr, sagt „weine nicht“ und geht dann zu dem Sohn, den er heilt.  Dabei scheint es Lukas wichtiger zu sein, über die Frau zu erzählen als über den Sohn.  Durch Jesus wird ihre Trauer durchbrochen, es kommt Licht in die Dunkelheit, Leben in den Tod, Liebe in ihre Trauer, Gemeinschaft in die anbrechende Einsamkeit.  Für sie kommt es durch diesen Wunder, durch die Auferstehung ihres Sohnes.  Aber die Auferstehung Jesu bedeutet für uns alle die Verheißung, dass es uns auch so gehen kann, wie dieser Frau, wie dieser Witwe von Naïn.  Nicht, dass wir unsere lieben Menschen wiederbelebt erleben aber auch wir können erleben, dass Licht in die Dunkelheit kommt, Leben in den Tod, Liebe in die Trauer, Gemeinschaft in die Einsamkeit.  Darum geht es bei der Menschwerdung, Tod und Auferstehung Christi.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stellt in seinen Überlegungen zu Nachfolge fest:  „Leiden ist Gottesferne. … Aber Jesus trägt die ganzes Gottesferne. … So bleibt zwar das Leiden Gottesferne, aber in der Gemeinschaft des Leidens Jesus Christi ist das Leiden durch Leiden überwunden, ist Gottesgemeinschaft gerade im Leiden geschenkt.“[1]  Das ist das Versprechen an die Menschheit, an uns:  auch uns wird Gottesgemeinschaft mitten im Leiden geschenkt, mitten in die Gottesferne gestellt.  „Wenn wir in einer ‚dunklen Nacht‘ feststecken und die Finsternis vielleicht schon Wochen oder Monate dauert, dürfen wir trotzdem darauf vertrauen, dass einer da ist.“  So glaubt Abt Notker Wolf.[2]  Und weiter:  „Im Leid ist es wichtig zu erfahren, ich bin nicht allein, ich muss es nicht allein tragen.“[3]  Gottesgemein­schaft gerade im Leiden, in – oder auch trotz – der Gottesferne:  auch hier geht es darum, dass wir im Leiden nicht gefangen bleiben.

Aber mehr: die Witwe von Naïn erlebt mitten im Leiden neues Leben. Neues zu erleben, wenn alles kaputt, verdorben, tot zu sein scheint: Das ist ein Wunder.  Licht in Dunkelheit, Freude in Trauer: Das ist ein Geschenk Gottes, das auch wir erleben.  Henri Nouwen schreibt, „Ich wage es sogar zu sagen, ‚Meine Trauer war gerade das Ort, an dem ich Freude begegnet bin‘. … Mitten in der Trauer können wir Freude entdecken.“[4]  Wichtig ist für Nouwen, dass eine solche Freude erst dann kommen kann, wenn wir zugeben, dass wir wie unsere Welt gebrochen sind.  Das will aber unsere Gesellschaft oft nicht .  „Tod, Krankheit, menschliches Versagen … alles muss versteckt werden, denn es uns davon abhält, glücklich zu sein.“[5]  Aber diese Zustände, diese Gefühle zu verstecken heißt, dass wir sie nicht mehr zugeben, und deshalb nicht geheilt werden können.  Wie kann Jesus Christus, Gott, der Heilige Geist, zu uns in unsere Not kommen, wenn wir vorgeben, überhaupt keine Not zu erleben?  Dabei geht es nicht darum, Not hervorzurufen, sondern darum, ehrlich damit umzugehen.  „Hier begegnet uns eine völlig neue Lebensweise. Es geht um die Möglichkeit, Schmerz so anzunehmen zu können, nicht etwa um Leiden auszusuchen, sondern in dem Wissen, dass aus der Schmerz etwas Neues geboren wird.“[6]  So schreibt Henri Nouwen.

Auch das ist Auferstehung:  Neuanfang, und insofern neues Leben.  „Das, was wir Anfang nennen, ist häufig das Ende. Und etwas zu beenden, heißt etwas zu beginnen. Am Ende fangen wir an“ schreibt der Dichter T.S. Eliot.  Am Ende fange ich an.  Das neue Leben fängt an, dort wo das alte nicht mehr weitergeht.  Nicht erst nachdem… was auf immer passiert, erreicht ist, sondern hier und jetzt.  Christian Morgenstern drückt es so aus:

Wir brauchen nicht so fort zu leben,
wie wir gestern gelebt haben.
Macht euch nur von dieser Anschauung los,
und tausend Möglichkeiten
laden uns zu neuem Leben ein.[7]

Wie geht das?  Das frage ich mich oft, und weiß, dass dies Frage nicht meine Frage ist, nicht nur von mir gestellt wird, sondern bei anderen auch sehr präsent ist.  Frederick Buechner schrieb mal:  „Man muss nicht Heilen verstehen, um geheilt zu werden oder überhaupt etwas über Segen wissen, um gesegnet zu werden.“[8]  Ähnlich sagte ein Priester neulich in seiner Predigt zu Trinitatis:  „Dreieinigkeits­sonn­tag macht mir bewusst, wie wenig ich weiß, wie wenig ich verstehe. … Eins aber weiß ich, ich muss nicht alles wissen, muss nicht alles verstehen, um glauben zu können.“

Steve Goodler vergleicht das Leben mit der Erfahrung einer Luftakrobatin.  Sie schwingt auf dem Trapez, pendelt hin und her. Und da kommt das zweite Trapez.  Nun muss sie sich entscheiden:  Bleibt sie wo sie ist, oder schwingt sie zum anderen Trapez?  Wenn sie zum neuen wechselt, gibt es einen Moment, wo sie nicht mehr am alten festhält – und auch noch nicht am neuen.  Sie fliegt durch die Luft, kann nur Vertrauen haben, dass sie das zweite Trapez erwischt, dass sie das zweite Trapez fest in die Hände bekommt.  Manchmal ist auch das Leben so: “Du fühlst dich an, als ob du mitten in der Luft wärst.  Es geht um etwas neues, du hast dich vom Alten schon verabschiedet, aber das Neue hat noch keine richtige Gestalt, du kannst es noch nicht ganz begreifen.  Du fühlst dich verwundbar an, vielleicht beängstigt.  Aber die einzige Möglichkeit, das Neue zu ergreifen, ist das Alte los zu lassen.“[9]

Immer ist Ort und Stunde. Immer bist du gemeint.
Und es ist jede Wunde einmal zu Ende geweint.
So viele Schritte gegangen, egal wohin sie geführt.
Hauptsache angefangen, ab und zu Leben gespürt.[10]

So singt Konstantin Wecker.  Und er meint:  „Man kann sich um Leid nicht herum drücken, man kann es nur durchwandern.“[11]  Durchwandern, bis das neues Leben einem erwischt, auf einem zukommt, einen fängt.

Das Leid durchwandern, sich nicht herumdrücken – durchwandern, bis das neue Leben Gestalt nimmt, bis man es ergreifen, begreifen kann.  Wir werden unsere lieben Toten nicht mehr in diesem Leben wiederbekommen, wie die Witwe von Naïn, wir werden aber doch in diesem Leben neues Leben bekommen, ein verändertes Leben, und vielleicht auch ein tieferes Leben.  Vielleicht werden wir zur tieferen Freude fähig, wenn wir tiefere Trauer erlebt haben.  Vielleicht werden wir, wie auch die Witwe von Naïn die Erfahrung machen, dass mitten in unsere Trauer Christus zu uns kommt, dass auch wir in der Gottesferne die Gemeinschaft mit Gott spüren, dass Gott in den schwierigsten Zeiten bei uns ist und neues Leben schenkt.

            Amen

 

[1]     Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nachfolge (Gütersloh 21994), 83-84.

[2]     Notker Wolf, Schmetterlinge im Bauch. Warum der Glaube Flügel verleiht (München 2011), 184.

[3]     Wolf, Schmetterlinge im Bauch, 186.

[4]     Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (London 1994), 10.

[5]     Nouwen, Here and Now, 25.

[6]     Nouwen, Here and Now, 25.

[7]     Gesammelte Werke (Munich 1965).

[8]     Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces (San Francisco 1984); citation online at http://www.frederickbuechner.com/blog/2016/5/30/you-do-not-need-to-understand-healing-to-be-healed?rq=You%20Do%20Not%20Need%20to%20Understand%20Healing%20to%20Be%20Healed).

[9]     http://stevegoodier.blogspot.de/2008/08/put-your-behind-in-your-past.html.

[10]    Konstantin Wecker, Es gibt kein Leben ohne Tod (Cologne 1999).

[11]    Konstantin Wecker, Mönch und Krieger: Auf der Suche nach einer Welt, die es noch nicht gibt (Wiesbaden, 2014).