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Sun, Oct 29, 2017

A New Reformation

Commemorating 500 years of the Reformation calls for a new paradigm shift. The Gospel reading today was St Matthew 22: 34-46
Series:July - Dec 2017
Duration:17 mins 10 secs
Sermon - Sunday 29 October, 2017
Lessons                            Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12                        1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8   St Matthew 22: 34 – 46
Prayer of Illumination
Let us pray.
God of death and life, of endings and new beginnings, of words and silence, bless us afresh with Your Spirit, reveal again Your love in our reflection and meditations.   Amen.
‘Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there, in the land of Moab, at the LORD’s command.’   As those who live in the Christian tradition, we understand immediately the central importance of the death of Jesus.   Slowly, carefully, the writers of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John weave their way towards the climax of the crucifixion, the final and ultimate expression of Jesus’ self-giving, the moment of mortal surrender to the Divine.   In chapter after chapter, the Passion narrative is dramatic and forms the most detailed fragment of the story.   But, in the Old Testament, the death of Moshe, Moses, is recounted in one solitary chapter.   The greatest character in the entire episode of the Exodus, the liberator of the Hebrew slaves, the mystic who with the inner eye saw the bush burn, the prophet who alone entered the Tent of the LORD’s Presence, whose face radiated with Divine light, whose hands chiselled out the Ten Commandments, has the story of his death told in no more than twelve verses.   Moshe, Moses, died in the land of Moab, at the LORD’s command.  
We are fortunate to gain a glimpse into those final, tender, private moments.   Moses had gone to the plains of Moab, to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah.   Mount Nebo is the highest among the Pisgah summits; it is here on Mount Nebo in both the Book of Deuteronomy and the Qur’an that Moses died.   Many times in his life, on mountain top in mysterious cloud and face to face, Moses encountered the awesome presence of the Sacred, the Holy One.   At the age of 120, his sight unimpaired and his vigour unabated, God the LORD let Moshe see the land promised to Abraham.   Having viewed the horizon, at the LORD’s command Moses died.  
As you might expect, the number 120 is not without significance.   Within Judaism, it is a blessing to say, ‘May you live to 120.’   It is a reference to the Book of Genesis 6: 3, in which God says, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’   12, 120, 12,000 and 144,000 (which is 1200 times 1200) feature in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scripture.   Among other things, twelve symbolises completion, fullness, wholeness.   In our ancient myth today, Moses lived the fullest life possible for a human being.   120 years means completion and contentment.  
Did you notice the phrase, ‘His sight was unimpaired’?   This is mythology, not blow by blow, moment by moment history.   This is not a reference to his physical sight, to the organs of his visual system.   The sight in Moses which was unimpaired was his mystical vision, his inner eye, his perception of the awesome Presence, his awareness of the Mystery who appeared to him in flame and cloud, in the soul’s imagination.  
In his final moments, Moses was fully alive to the God within him, to the Sacred within all things.   We are told that Moses died at the LORD’s command.   In Hebrew, at the LORD’s command means ‘on the LORD’s mouth.’   In the Hebrew tradition, it is understood that the LORD took Moses’ breath away with a kiss, a gesture of intimacy and love.   We are told that God buried Moses which means nothing less than that Moses lives with God for ever, enfolded in God’s eternal embrace.   It is no surprise, therefore, that in the Gospels, in the mystical account of the Transfiguration, Moses together with Elijah stands alongside Jesus.   I suppose what I’m working towards is that, though Moses’ death is recounted in a mere twelve verses, nevertheless the narrative portrays God as a lover, as One who holds on to Moses for all eternity.   The Divine is our lover too.   We are held now, in this moment, and for all eternity.
God is our lover and Moses encountered God in the cloud; the cloud is the glory of God.   On Wednesday last I was privileged to attend an event in the Scottish Parliament to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Bahá’i Faith.   The name Baha’u’llah means ‘The Glory of God’; the word Bahá’i means ‘beauty’ or ‘glory’.   The Bahá’i Faith originated in Iran and dates from 1860.   The man we know today as Baha’u’llah was a Persian nobleman who, persecuted and imprisoned, in the darkness of his cell, experienced or received a life-changing vision from God.   This moment of transformation may be compared to the moment Moses stood before the Burning Bush; when the Buddha received enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; when the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove descended upon Jesus; or when the archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad.   Central to the Bahá’i Faith is the belief that God in God’s Self, in God’s Essence, is unknowable but also that humanity is one and that the purpose of the faith is to unite all races and peoples.   Listen to this prayer in from the Bahá’i tradition:
            O Thou kind Lord!   Thou hast created all humanity from
            the same stock.   Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to
            the same household.   In Thy holy Presence they are all Thy
            Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and
            all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy Mercy…..
            O Thou kind Lord!   Unite all.   Let the religions agree and make
            the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family
            and the whole earth as one home.   May they all live together
            in perfect harmony.
There is much in these prayers and in the faith of Baha’u’llah which finds a resonance in the faith and teachings of Jesus.   The first Scottish convert to the Bahá’i Faith was a woman:  Mrs Jane Elizabeth Whyte.   What is significant about Mrs Whyte is that she was the wife of the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.   In 1913, Mrs Whyte invited the son and heir of Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Baha, to Edinburgh; he stayed at their official residence.   In Edinburgh, Abdul-Baha met religious leaders, teachers, academics and many other people.   He was guest of honour at a private performance of Handel’s Messiah in St Giles’ Cathedral.   Prayers in the Bahá’i tradition recount God’s love and address God as ‘the Compassionate’.   Does the Sacred which dwells in the hearts of the followers of Baha’u’llah seem so very different from the One Jesus called Father?   Did Jesus not speak to His disciples of God as love?  
            Just as the Father has loved me I have loved you; remain in my
            love.   Just as I remain in the love of my Father, you will remain
            in my love.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘Which of the commandments is the greatest?’   He replied, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind….And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’   The love of which Jesus spoke is not romantic love but a firm, dedicated, stubborn, committed love.   We are to love the God of love with everything in us, and we are to love our neighbour similarly.   What do these commandments mean in the 21st century?   As we celebrate the achievements of the Reformation, as we mark a paradigm shift in our understanding of the Christian faith, in our understanding of God, what paradigm shift might we desire today, in our time?   Surely, the step which needs to be taken by Christianity is for the churches to see themselves not as sole possessors of truth but as co-pilgrims journeying alongside people of other world faiths.   The spiritual evolution of our time is to see followers of Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, the Bahá’i Faith and others as God-bearers, no less than you or me.  
We cannot maintain claims of exclusivity when we see and hear the beauty in other faiths.   In the literature of Islam, in the writings of Rumi, we read, “God said, ‘a favourite and chosen servant of mine fell sick.   I am he.   Consider well:  his infirmity is My infirmity; his sickness is My sickness.’   That similar sentiment that God suffers in our suffering is found not only in Islam and Christianity but also in the Sikh mystic, Kushdeva Singh.   Of God, Singh wrote:
                        People go to their temples
                        To greet Me;
                        How simple and ignorant are My children
                        Who think that I live in isolation.
                        Why don’t they come and greet Me
                        In the procession of life, where I always live,
                        In the farms, the factories, and the market,
                        Where I encourage those
                        Who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow?
                        Why don’t they come and greet Me
                        In the cottages of the poor
                        And find Me blessing the poor and the needy
                        And wiping the tears of widows and orphans?
                        Why don’t they come and greet Me
                        Among those who are trampled upon
                        By those proud of pelf and power.
                        And see Me beholding their suffering and
                                    Pouring out compassion?
                        I am sure     
                        They can never miss Me
                        If they try to meet Me
                        In the sweat and struggle of life
                        And in the tears and tragedies of the poor.
The sentiment and insight of this poem could have been spoken by Jesus.   When He taught ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, Jesus cited words from His own Judaic tradition, words which find their equivalent in Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Islam.   In other world faiths, we find the love of God, the compassion of God, the suffering of God and the desire for harmony and one humanity.   Against a hierarchy which treasured pelf and power, Luther (allegedly) said, ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’   Today, we need to stand against a church which fails to see the God of love, the incarnation, in other faiths, in followers of other faiths.   It is no longer possible to maintain that there is only one Incarnation, only one manifestation of the Divine, Jesus the Christ.   Other faiths believe God to be alive, present and active in human history, no less than that of Christianity.   God is everywhere, in all things and in all people:  that’s the mystical vision for our time, that’s our reformation.
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Five Minutes’ Peace

Escape from the hustle and bustle of life to enjoy the peace and beauty of the sanctuary at Mayfield Salisbury Church.

From January, the Sanctuary at Mayfield Salisbury will be open as a place for peaceful meditation - without a church service - anytime on Tuesdays from 6.00pm-7.30 pm and Saturdays from 10.00-11.30am. We invite people of all faiths and none to come and enjoy five minutes’ peace.
The News section gives more details.

  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • 'God is not the answer, God is the quaestion.'
    Herbert McCabe

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