Monday, 30 September 2019

Wheat and Tares - political leaders

Ordinarily we tend not to talk about judgement too much. It is uncomfortable in our age of liberty to consider being brought to account. This week we have had a lot of talk of being held to account and even if the sense is a little different still it is in order that we can think about this in the context of tonight’s reading. Jesus’ parable begins with a good man, that is to say God the Father sowing good seed, actually the best seed, in the world and then another, the enemy Satan coming and sowing weeds amongst the good. Naturally the question for God is “Why do you allow evil to flourish in your field ?”

This is a question which used to come up often when I was attending a church in a city centre, especially at the late evening service attended by the young - “Why” they would ask does your God allow bad things to happen? “ And it is a good question in the context of the parable “after all master you are all powerful please pull the weeds up.” The answer we are given “but if we gather the weeds we may uproot the wheat” reminds me somewhat of the conversation between Abraham and the Lord which we find in Genesis (chapter 18).

‘Abraham came near and said : “Will you indeed sweep the righteous away with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city will you then sweep away the place and not forgive the fifty righteous that are in it?”  And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom, fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” And you will recall that the conversation continues as Abraham progressively reduces the number of the righteous in the city.

I am not sure that the parable is quite so easily interpreted since the implication is that the weeds are there and cannot ever be other than weeds. It may be that the weeds in question were probably darnel which are difficult to distinguish from wheat in their early growth and in our post resurrection world it may be that the parable works better with this in mind. After all we have a gospel of forgiveness so weeds have an opportunity to transform - or if we have weeds in our lives then we have an opportunity to discern them and then transform them ourselves. (If your right hand causes you to sin …)

Jesus is of course talking about the kingdom of heaven and the day of judgement when the weeds and the wheat are fully developed. Then there will be no dissembling or cloaking God who knows all the secrets of our hearts will instruct the reapers to separate the wheat from the tares. It is the final snapshot, the harvest time has come and the yield is what it will be.

So it matters what we do. I have to say that watching recent events in our politics I wonder whether some have forgotten this. The intervention of our bishops is timely - and by the way to manage to get all the bishops to agree on a joint statement is astonishing, a rarity in my understanding. It matters how we behave, it matters how we speak and it matters what we do. If not propelled by the exigencies of our own world let us pray that our leaders may be compelled by the thought of the next.


Ways up the mountain : The Balkan National Park

My training incumbent who was especially interested in other faiths, notably Sikhism and HInduism, was fond of saying “There are many roads up the mountain” which he used as an analogy for seeking God. This has been on my mind recently for as you know Frances and I have been staying at the foot of the Balkan mountains in Bulgaria. Our hotel was the last building in the town and the footpaths up to the peaks started at the front door. The Central Balkan National Park is one of the largest and most valuable of the protected areas in Europe and is part of the United Nations List looked after by UNESCO and the World Wildlife Fund. There are centuries old forests of beech, spruce, fir, hornbeam and oak and the park includes ten species found nowhere else in the world. There are high mountain meadows, vertical rock faces, precipices, deep canyons, waterfalls and peaks and reports of wolves and bears. It does not begin at the hotel front door but 500 metres or so up - it is well worth reaching.

The many paths up the mountain are marked like this - painted on rocks or the trunks of trees there are green and blue trails leading to high altitude mountain refuges. Like my training incumbent’s paths to God, some of the signs seem clearer than others, easier to see and distinguish. Of course occasionally the paths run together so you have both signs on the same boulder, at other times they diverge and over time the blues and greens have faded a little and it is difficult to tell one from another. It becomes quite easy to take a wrong turning or perhaps drift from the path altogether.

What I particularly noticed on this trip was the incentive to climb! Even though it was quite hot, mostly between twenty-seven and thirty degrees and my energy levels were lower and my weight higher than when we had last taken a break of this sort, the way up, the reward of reaching a point was still a driver. It was easy to say “We’ll just look round the next corner.” We eventually acquired a map but before that we set off to reach what thought might be a refreshing mountain lake - we pressed on through woodland looking round corners ever upward following the stream until we recognized that we had missed it completely. We had strayed too high! 

Coming down is much less easy - the signs are designed to point the way upwards and on the way down they are so easily missed or ignored - only once did we manage to come down the right path and end up where we had started and often we were off the beaten track altogether.

You realise by now that this is an allegory of our journey of faith, there are various signs, more or less easily understood, convergence often with other faiths, as we explore truth, love, or peace; the perils of missing the way, that the signs naturally point upwards, the troubles of coming down. On our last ascent around 1200 metres up we came across a viewpoint looking over the valley, and there we found a set of metal tables and chairs, a playframe including a little slide, a running spring all of which had been in place for a long time and there also a tiny chapel beautifully built with tiny stained glass windows, a bell and just tall enough to step inside.
A resting place for the weary, a refreshment for the young, and inside  the chapel a wall of icons where the candles had been lit. There was no other way to be here other than on foot - someone had come up the mountain early in the morning before us, probably at dawn, and had prepared this sacred space for the travellers to rest and pray on the way to the summit.


Monday, 23 September 2019

To be trusted in a small thing

So if I am browsing in a second hand bookshop and I discover  a simple  but attractive  bookmark in a book that I do not decide to buy would it be legitimate do you think for me to move it into the book I do buy?

Here is a very small thing and you  may think it does not matter a jot - after all someone may or may not ever buy the book with the bookmark in it. But my even asking the question reveals something about my thinking.

Jack, who worked for me for a few years was in charge of buying company cars.
Now believe it or not there is little more emotive than this among the salesforce and the car aficionados. So there have to be rules. For me of course a car is a car (unless it is an MG of course then that is different) but otherwise it comes from the factory and I drive it. It takes me where I have to go. But there are some who add personal touches of upholstery, wheel trim, electronics and so on. The company policy allowed you to do this but only to a limited extent. The limits were there to avoid your Ford Escort being better equipped that the chairman’s Jaguar. And importantly for my story you had to pay for any extras yourself. Shortly after Jack ordered his own car he decided to leave the organisation. At that point while winding up his affairs some things came to light. Not only had Jack considerably exceeded the allowance for status enhancing trinkets he had not paid for them but rather added them to the cost of the vehicle. We were to be left with a long lease on a car of increased cost. So I summoned him and said “What is this I hear about you ?”
 He was not pleased and the conversation was a little difficult but I left him with a simple question “What are you going to do to put it right?”

Which is what the dishonest steward was doing. Having been caught out he set about managing his master’s estate and retrieving his debts. He tried to put things right. As we say in the Book of Common Prayer at evensong just before the absolution: 

“God desireth not the death of a sinner but that he turns from his wickedness and live.”

This then is what I think the master is commending the steward for : the steward found his master again returned to him and began to serve him. When we do wrong the solution to obtain God’s forgiveness is to turn back to God, to rediscover him.

But then Jesus in his conversation returns to my bookmark. He says this:  “He that is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” It is about the way we think. A way of thinking about the concluding famous observation “You cannot serve both God and Mammon” is to widen the definition of Mammon from our usual thoughts of richness, wealth and money perhaps from the abuse of the car policy that Jack was supposed to be policing -  There are two worlds- this earthly one and the eternal heavenly one. We serve either one or the other we cannot serve both.

Jesus is telling us that If we are to be trusted ultimately with the true wealth which are the gifts of eternal life then we need to behave in this world (with all of its dishonest wealth) as if we were in the other one or to put it more clearly we need to think and act as if we were already in heaven.