[Preached at The Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate & St Thomas of Canterbury, at a service organised by the Anglican-Lutheran Society to celebrate #Reformation500.]
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you to the Anglican-Lutheran Society for this wonderful service and celebration, and for inviting me to preach today; and thank you also to the Christian community here in Northampton, and especially our Catholic brothers and sisters for being warm and generous hosts.
The brief for this sermon was: where are we now? How did we get here? Where are we going?
Where we are now is in many ways rather astonishing. Those of us here today come from at least 3 major denominations, RC, Anglican and Lutheran; in a service organised by a Lutheran pastor, a Catholic priest and an Anglican lay person, we gather together to worship, to remember the beginnings of the Reformation 500 years ago in a Catholic Cathedral, and with a Lutheran bishop, a woman to boot, preaching. And just to add a final gloss, that Lutheran pastor is now working as a chaplain in an Anglican church.
Over the last year we have seen the Pope and the President of the LWF embracing warmly and leading a service together in Lund. We have seen the Pope visit Anglican and Lutheran churches in Rome. We have seen the Archbishop of Canterbury affirming the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, signed by Lutherans and Catholics almost 20 years ago, and with which the World Methodist Council and its member churches affirmed their fundamental doctrinal agreement in 2006. As the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Martin Junge, said this week – “If this is what some call the ecumenical winter: well, then let spring come now!”
When we look back at where we came from, this seems quite miraculous. Even within living memory things were very different. My mother was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor; and for a time when I was a child, I had a Polish Catholic nanny. She took me with her a few times to our local Roman Catholic church, and my mother was absolutely horrified that a Lutheran child had set foot inside a Catholic church.
Of course, it all started in ways that were much more serious than that. For decades following 1517, Catholics burned Protestants, Protestants hanged, drew and quartered Catholics, the religious authorities everywhere persecuted and murdered Anabaptists: and the leaders of the Muenster rebellion, tortured and killed when the city was besieged, were displayed in cages above St Lambert’s church for centuries. This, of course, was aimed at discouraging any form of rebellion against the Catholic authorities.
What happened 500 years ago was that Christians on all sides of all the arguments spent a great deal of energy building a wall, high and impenetrable, between themselves and other Christians. Sometimes this was a geographic wall – cujus regio, eius religio meant that in many parts of Europe Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed believers simply lived separately from each other and never met a person who differed from them in faith. That makes it so much easier to demonise the other, as the troubles in Northern Ireland also made clear. Mostly, though, this was a wall built of bricks of suspicion and intolerance, ignorance and fear. It was held together by the mortar of condemnations and anathemas, of papal bulls and Protestant pamphlets; and for several centuries, it held very firm indeed.
So it was not until the missionary efforts of Europeans of the late 19th century, which demanded some level of cooperation, that the first cracks began to appear in the edifice. And when the first bricks were removed by the first Edinburgh Conference in 1910, for the first time in 300 years or so Christians were able to peer at each other through the gaps, and to begin to discover how alike we are, and how our beliefs – sometimes identical, sometimes approximate, sometimes different – define us.
The Second World War, with all the horrors that were perpetrated against huge swathes of Europe and Asia, led directly to the foundation of the World Council of Churches; the Second Vatican Council, and the visionary leadership of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, took a sledgehammer to the wall, knocking great holes and gaps, through which we could not just see each other, but reach out and touch, and even clamber through.
Since then, much of the remaining wall has crumbled, aided by ecumenical dialogues, shared worship and prayer, and diapraxis, in other words just getting down to it and working together, fulfilling our mission to the world by rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in aid and service.
And today, truly, we can rejoice. Looking at photos of events like Lund, or this week’s Reformation 500 service at Westminster Abbey, we see not just a transitory happiness or self-satisfaction on people’s faces, but real joy. At last – Christians worshipping together, holding hands, gathered together in praise and awe – with the wounds inflicted by the building of the wall, and sometimes, by the destruction of it, finally beginning to heal.
We might sing with Peter Abelard
Oh, what their joy and their glory must be,
those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all, ever blest.
But no, not time to rest just yet, for there is more to do. Much more. As the conclusion of ‘From Conflict to Communion’ says, “Lutherans and Catholics are invited to think from the perspective of the unity of Christ’s body and to seek whatever will bring this unity to expression and serve the community of the body of Christ. Through baptism they recognize each other mutually as Christians. This orientation requires a continual conversion of heart.”
In other words, we (and not just Lutherans and RC) are invited to reorientate our thinking, so that we start always from a perspective of unity. This requires not just reorientation, but, to express it another way, repentance, metanoia, turning back always to God, for where God is, we will also find our sisters and brothers in Christ. A true conversion of heart – not just of outward forms, not just of politeness and respect; but a conversion of love and faith.
FCC goes on to say that we must allow ourselves to be transformed by our contacts with each other – how hard that is! To go into each ecumenical encounter expecting not to persuade our partners of our rightness, but to expect to be changed ourselves. This feels risky, because it is.
And that, perhaps, is the point. In order to progress beyond where we already are – and even that feels almost unbelievable at times – we are going to have to take risks. We are going to have to place ourselves entirely in God’s hands, and trust that our loving Creator will guide us, keep us safe, as we knock down the last remaining bricks. For the truth really will set us free. We need no longer even to be able to climb over the wall, to join hands across it, but we need to take it down completely.
My prayer is that when we celebrate 500 years since the beginning of the English Reformation in 15 years time, it will be at a service where the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop celebrate Holy Communion together; a service where a great procession of British Christians – Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, URC – walks between Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral to obliterate the last traces of the wall.
And perhaps at that service we will sing Abelard:
In new Jerusalem joy shall be found,
blessings of peace shall forever abound;
wish and fufillment are not severed there,
nor the things prayed for come short of the prayer.
November 4, 2017
PS A great chance to meet up with old friends, too…. Thank you so much to Sally, Roy and Philip for inviting me to be there.
Šo referātu lasīju konferencē “FREMDE HEIMAT EUROPA. Zwischen Heimat und Flucht” 2017.g. jūnijā. Konferenci organizēja “Geschäftsstelle Europäische Bibeldialoge der UEK” (Apvienoto evaņģēlisko baznīcu Bībeles dialogu biedrība)
Tā, lai visi saprastu, kāds ir fons, uz kura šo referātu esmu veidojusi, nedaudz par sevīm pastāstīšu. Esmu dzimusi Londonā, Anglijā, latviešu ģimenē. Mani vecāki abi bija bēgļi pēc 2. Pasaules kaŗa. Māte devās bēgļu gaitās tad, kad Padomju savienības kaŗaspēks ienāca Latvijā. Viņas pirmo vīru, Alfrēdu Tālnoru, arestēja 1941.g. aprīlī, aizveda uz Astrahaņu pēc 1941.g. 14.jūnija, kur viņam piesprieda nāves sodu. Tātad tad, kad PSRS spēki atkal tuvojās Latvijai, mātei nebija izvēles, un 1944.g. viņa devās trimdā. Atlikušo mūža daļu viņa nodzīvoja Londonā, kur viņa arī satika tēvu.
Tēvs ir dzimis Igaunijā, latviešu ģimenē. 1943.g. (ja nemaldos) iesauca vācu armijā, un – kaŗam beidzoties – viņš atradās vācu frontes pusē.
Lai gan viņam Latvijā palika pirmā sieva, aktrise Velta Krūze, un maza meitiņa, Inga, viņš nevarēja vairs tikt atpakaļ; un arī viņš nonāca Londonā, kur apmetās nākošo 30 gadu mītnes zemē; lai gan vēl kādu laiku bija cerējis atgriezties, un pat rakstīja pirmajai sievai 1947.g. un vaicāja – ko viņam darīt? Velta gan atbildēja, ka nav droši viņam doties atpakaļ uz Latviju; un jādomā, ka tā bija taisnība, jo visticamāk viņi abi, kopā ar manu pusmāsu, būtu arī nonākuši Sibīrijā.
Tā, nonākuši abi Londonā, viņi satikās, un 1953. g., tieši 10 gadus pēc manas māsas piedzimšanas Latvijā, es piedzimu Anglijā.
Bet vecāku dzīves (ļoti izteikti), kā arī mana dzīve (tikai mazliet mazāk izteikti) ritēja lielākoties latviešu sabiedrībā, latviskā vidē (bet pie tā atgriezīsimies). Mājās runājām tikai latviešu valodu; vecākiem tikpat kā nebija neviena drauga – angļa; abi bija polītiski aktīvi, un tēvs jo īpaši kultūras dzīvē aktīvs. Viņš bija komponists, diriģents, Dziesmu svētku rīkotājs, kultūras dzīves vadītājs – viss, protams, latviešu-trimdinieku kontekstā.
Vēlāk arī apprecējos ar latvieti, arī Anglijā dzimušu, un ģimenē mums auga 2 meitas; abas arī runā latviešu valodu un spēlē un dzied latviešu folk-pop ansamblī.
Visu mūžu nodzīvojuši ārpus Latvijas, pirms 3 gadiem ar vīru “atgriezāmies” Latvijā (arī pie tā jēdziena atgriezīsimies); vietā, par kuru visu mūžu esam domājuši un sapņojuši. Un tas ir mums jautājums – vai šeit ir mājas vai svešatne? Vēl pie tam, pēc gadiem, kad Londonā strādāju arī latviešu luterāņu draudzēs, šeit, dīvainā kārtā, kalpoju angļu valodā, starptautiskajā Anglikāņu draudzē.
Kas ir Heimat – mājas?
Kā vispār definējam savu Heimat? Varbūt, ka definējam tīri fiziskā ziņā – resp. mājas ir vieta, kurā dzīvojam. Bet tad ir jautājums: cik plaši vai šauri ievelkam robežas. Vai Latvija ir mana ‘Heimat’? Vai varbūt Rīga? Jeb tikai Miera iela? Vai arī, pretējā virzienā dodoties, Baltijas valstis (galu galā, mans DNS droši vien norāda uz ģenētisku piederību arī igauņu tautai un lībiešiem); varbūt, ja sevi uzskatu par 20.g.s. bērnu, uzskatu Eiropu par savu Heimat?
Ģeogrāfiskām definīcijām ir savas ļoti pretrunīgās izpausmes. Ja padomājam, kas rakstīts 2.Mozus grāmatā 23.31-33.
“Un Es likšu tavas robežas no Niedru jūras līdz Filistiešu jūrai un no tuksneša līdz Eifratas upei, jo Es tās zemes iedzīvotājus došu jūsu rokā, ka jūs tos izdzītu sev pa priekšu. Neslēdziet nekādu derību nedz ar viņiem, nedz ar viņu dieviem.
Viņi lai nedzīvo tavā zemē, ka nepamudina tevi grēkot pret Mani, jo, ja tu kalposi viņu dieviem, tas tev kļūs par slazda valgu.”
Lai gan, protams, Israēlas valsts teritorija nekad nav tik tālu izpletusies, kā šajā tekstā Dievs savai tautai sola, tomēr šobrīd Israēlā viens no pamatojumiem tam, ka Israēla uzskata visu Jeruzālemi par savu teritoriju, ir šis Torā izteiktais solījums. Īsi pēc 1967.g. kara, Israēla aneksēja Austrumjeruzālemi, kas veido daļu no Rietumkrasta, un kur toreiz galvenokārt dzīvoja palestīnieši. Vēl līdz šajai dienai Israēlas valdības ir vienmēr uzsvēruši to, ka Jeruzaleme ir valsts ‘mūžīgā un nedalāmā’ galvas pilsēta. Israēlas 1948. g. Neatkarības deklarācija arī skaidri iezīmē saiti starp ēbrēju identitāti un Bībelē definēto un aprakstīto ‘Eretz Israel’. “ERETZ-ISRAEL (the Land of Israel) was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.” Un ir tā, ka, piešķirot definētai zemes teritorijai šādu svētuma piedevu, kļūst, protams, neiespējami no tas jebkādā veidā atsacīties un jebkādu kompromisu atrast.
Jaunajā derībā atrodam zināmu kontrastu. Jēzus, piemēram, par sevi saka tā (Mateja ev. 8.19-20)
“Un viens rakstu mācītājs atnāca un uz Viņu sacīja: “Es Tev sekošu, lai kurp Tu ietu.” 20 Un Jēzus tam saka: “Lapsām ir alas, putniem apakš debess ir ligzdas, bet Cilvēka Dēlam nav kur Savu galvu nolikt.””
Šī doma par to, ka mūsu dzīvēs virs zemes mums paliekamu vietu neatrast, caurvij Jauno derību. Tā Vēstulē ēbrejiem (13.12-14) lasām:
“Tāpēc arī Jēzus, lai ar Savām asinīm tautu darītu svētu, ir cietis ārpus vārtiem. Tāpēc iziesim pie Viņa ārpus nometnes, Viņa negodu nesdami! Jo mums šeit nav paliekamas pilsētas, bet mēs meklējam nākamo.”
Šī doma, ka mēs kā kristieši kaut kādā ziņā vienmēr atrodamies ‘ārpus vārtiem’, vienmēr nakamās pilsētas meklējumos, ir ļoti būtiska. Tam būtu arī jānozīmē to, ka mūsu ticība nav saistīta ar kādu ģeogrāfisku vai nacionālu identitāti; bet bieži vien ir tā, ka mēs savas mājas izjūtam caur emocijām.
Izcilā latviešu dzejniece Veronika Strēlerte rakstīja šādus vārdus dzejolī Mājas:
“Kaut kur mums ir īstās mājas,
Mēs jūtam un tiecamies turp.
Bet gadi atnāk un krājas,
Un mēs vēl jautājam — kurp?”
Un dzejoļa beigu rindas:
“Kaut kur mums ir īstās mājas.
Var dzīve no tām ilgi šķirt —
Kādreiz tur būs jāapstājas,
un kaut tikai dusēt un mirt.”
Šī sajūta, tik asa un bieži vien smeldzīga, ka ir vieta šai pasaulē, kur tiešām jutīsimies kā mājās; vieta, kas mūs vienmēr pie sevis velk, un kura ir neaizmirstamā, kaut paiet gadu gadi, bija ārkārtīgi raksturīga mūsu latviešu trimdai. Aizmirst Latviju – tā bija nodevība daudzu acīs; un atceros, cik šokēts bija tēvs, kad viens no brāleniem viņam paziņoja, ka viņaprāt izteiciens ‘Ubi bene, ibi patria’ (Kur labi, tur tēvija) atbilst arī viņa dzīves uzskatiem.
Atradu ļoti trāpīgu citātu Konrad-Adenauer-Stift mājas lapā par migrāciju.
“Oftmals bilden sich die Heimatgefühle erst heraus, wenn man sich fernab der Heimat befindet; nur im Nachhinein bemerkt man, was man vorher nie wahrgenommen hat. Der österreichische Schriftsteller Alexander von Villers sagte dazu einmal: „Der Mensch hat immer eine Heimat und wär es nur der Ort, wo er gestern war und heute nicht mehr ist. Entfernung macht Heimat, Verlust, Besitz.“ Wenn Heimat nun ausschließlich die Verbundenheit zu einem verlorenen oder zerstörten Ort wäre, dann würden Migranten niemals eine neue Heimat finden.”
Tātad mūsu ilgas pēc mājām veidojas tad, kad esam tālu no tām. Austriešu rakstnieks fon Villers teicis, ka cilvēkam vienmēr ir mājās, arī ja tās ir tā vieta, kur tas vakar atradās, bet šodien vairs tur nav.
No kā veidojas šādas emocijas – tas varbūt pārāk sarežģīts jautājums, lai dažās minūtēs atrisinātu; bet varam konstatēt, ka šādas ilgas pēc pazaudētās dzimtenes varam atrast gandrīz jebkurā kultūrā, jebkuros cilvēkos, kas spiestā kārtā atstāj savu ‘dzimteni’ vai izvēlēto mājvietu. 137. psalms, rakstīts tajā laikā, kad ļaudis no Jūdas atradās Bābeles trimdā, ar savu ārprātīgo noslēgumu, izsaka šo izmisumu skaudri.
“Pie Bābeles upēm – tur mēs sēdējām un raudājām, kad pieminējām Ciānu. 2 Savas cītaras mēs tur pakārām vītolos, 3 jo mūsu gūsta uzraugi tur prasīja no mums dziesmas un mūsu nomācēji līksmību: “Dziediet mums kādu no savām Ciānas dziesmām!”
4 Kā lai mēs dziedam Tā Kunga dziesmas svešā zemē? 5 Ja es tevi aizmirstu, Jeruzāleme, tad lai nokalst man mana labā roka! 6 Mana mēle lai pielīp pie aukslējām, ja es tevi nepieminētu, ja es neatzītu Jeruzālemi par savu augstāko prieku! 7 Piemini, Kungs, Edoma bērniem Jeruzālemes nelaimes dienu, kad viņi teica: “Noārdiet, noārdiet to līdz pamatiem!” 8 Bābeles meita, tu visu Bābeles iedzīvotāju kopa, tu postītāja! Svētīgs, kas tev atmaksā par to, ko tu mums esi darījusi!
9 Svētīgs tas, kas sagrābs tavus mazos bērnus un viņus satrieks pret klintīm!”
Interesanta piezīme: Amerikas luterāņu dziesmu grāmatās (tai skaitā ‘Evangelical Lutheran Worship nr 701’) atrodama dziesma, kura izmanto 137.ps. vārdus; un tā ir dziedāma pie latviešu tautas dziesmas meldijas ‘Kas tie tādi, kas dziedāja bez saulītes vakarā’; sēru dziesma, kura apdzejo apspiestu bāreņu likteni. Savijas psalma vārdi ar latviešu tautas dziesmu, atpsoguļojot visu trimdinieku un bēgļu likteņus un raudas. Jo tādi mēs, latviešu trimdā, jutāmies, laikam, kā bāreņi svešā zemē, kuŗiem atņemta Māte Latvija, un kuŗi vēlējās dziedāt tikai savu, un nevis svešu dziesmu.
Te man gribētos citēt Sv. Augustīna slaveno teicienu, kuru atrodam ‘Atzīšanās’ pirmajā rindkopā.
“Tu [domāts Dievs] mudini [cilvēku] priecāties, tevi slavējot, jo tu esi mūs radījis sev pašam un mūsu sirds ir nemierīga, kamēr tā nav radusi mieru tevī’.”
Vienīgi tad ir mūsu sirds mierīga, ja tā Dievā atrod savu visaugstāko Heimat; un tas ir miers, kuru mums var tikai Dievs dot – kā Jēzus saka Jāņa ev. (14.27) “Mieru Es jums atstāju, Savu mieru Es jums dodu; ne kā pasaule dod, Es jums dodu. Jūsu sirdis lai neiztrūkstas un neizbīstas.”
Kāpēc? No vienas puses loģiski, jo ģeogrāfiskās mājas mums daudz kas var atņemt – kaŗš, karjera, bads – apstākļi visvisādi. Arī tad, ja paliekam uz vietas un nekur nepārvācamies, pasaule ap mums var mainīties līdz nepazīšanai, un mēs jūtamies kā svešinieki un piedzīvotāji paši savā ģeogrāfiskajā telpā. Un tad vienīgā drošība, kura mums paliek ir tā, kuru atrodam 139.psalmā (7-12)
“Kurp lai es aizeju no Tava Gara, un kurp lai es bēgu no Tava vaiga? Ja es kāptu debesīs, Tu tur esi, ja es nokāptu ellē, Tu esi arī tur. Ja man būtu rītausmas spārni un es nolaistos jūras malā, tad arī tur mani vadītu Tava roka un Tava labā roka mani turētu. Ja es teiktu: galīga tumsa lai mani apklāj, un par nakti lai kļūst ap mani gaisma,- tad arī tumsība Tev nebūtu tumša, un nakts tev spīdētu kā diena, tumsība Tev būtu kā gaisma.”
Augustīns, apcerot šo psalmu, raksta tā: “Tātad manis nebūtu, mans Dievs, manis vispār nebūtu, ja tu nebūtu manī. Vai drīzāk – manis nebūtu, ja es nebūtu tevī, no kura ir viss, caur kuru ir viss, kurā ir viss?”
Varētu arī teikt, ka mums garīgās mājas ir tur, kur Dievs mūs sūta – līdzīgi kā Abrams un Sarai, kuri devās projām no dzimtes mājvietas, no savas zemes, sekojot Dieva aicinājumam – lai beigu beigās svešā zemē veidotu ne tikai sev, bet saviem pēcteču miljoniem jaunas, Dieva svētītas mājas.
Heimat oder Fremde?
Konrad-Adenauer-Stift mājas lapa atgādināja vēl vienu brīnišķīgu Augstīna izteicienu; šo Augustīns saka par laiku:
“Kas gan ir laiks? Kas gan spētu to vienkārši un īsi izskaidrot? …. Ja neviens man to nejautā, es zinu, bet, ja vēlos to izskaidrot kāda, kas jautā, es nezinu.”
Tā arī man – pēc būtības zinu, ka Latvija ir manas mājas, mana, vismaz uz šīs zemes, paliekamā vieta. Bet kad man prasa to izskaidrot, atrodu, ka man nav skaidru un loģisku domu par to. Sākumā jau teicu, ka mēs Londonā dzīvojām latviešu sabiedrībā – gandrīz tādā latvietības kokonā. Bet, atbraucot uz Latviju, atrodam, ka mūsu latvietība atšķiras no šejienes latvietības. Tas, protams, ir saprotami un dabīgi; jo mūsu kultūra bija tā, kuru mūsu vecāki paņēma līdz savos bēgļu koferīšos 1944.gadā; un vēl, protams, ar krietnu mītnes zemju piejaukumu. Latvijā viss attīstījās pa citu ceļu. Tā, piemēram, lai gan runāju samērā labi latviski, pieļauju vairāk gramatisku kļūdu runājot un rakstot (kā savādāk? Neesmu nevienu dienu gājusi skolā šeit – mana valodas izglītība ir no vecākiem un no Svētdienas skolas Londonā, kura, starp citu, pirms 2 gadiem nosvinēja 65. jubileju!); un mana izruna nav tāda, kāda ir Latvijā dzimušajiem un augušajiem. Varētu teikt, ka trimdā bijām svešinieki savās mītņu zemēs, un tagad esam arī daļēji svešinieki savu vecāku dzimtenē.
Varbūt bēdīgākais ir tas, ka mēs visi cerējām – vairāk, mēs visi sagaidījām – ka šeit atradīsim tiešām savas garīgās mājas; vietu, kurā beidzot varam ‘dziedāt Tā Kunga dziesmas savā zemē’. Bet ir izrādījies, ka retais no trimdas/svešatnes atgriezies cilvēks ir spējis iedzīvoties Latvijas ev.-lut. baznīcā. Mana pieredze, diemžēl, ir tāda, ka šobrīd manas garīgās mājas vistiešāk ir angliski runājošā draudzē, kurā kalpoju – draudzē, kas ir pilna ar svešniekiem, iebraucējiem; bet arī ar latviešiem un krieviem, kuri nav atraduši vietu t.s. tradicionālajās konfesijās šeit Latvijā. Mēs daudzi Sv. Pestītāja draudzē esam tādi kā marģināļi, cilvēki, kuri nekur gluži neiederas; bet kopā mēs veidojam šīs garīgās mājas, kur cenšamies būt pieņemoši un sagaidīt visus, tā kā to darīja Kristus.
Bet tomēr, par spīti visam, man un daudziem, kas ir ‘atgriezušies’ uz zemi, kurā neesam dzimuši un auguši, šeit jūtamies kā savā ‘Heimat’, un to laikam nekad ar vārdiem neizskaidrot. Šeit ir mūsu saknes; šeit varam slavēt Dievu savā valodā; ar Veronikas Strēlertes vārdiem, šeit ir īstās mājas, uz kurām esmu tiekusies; šeit esmu apstājusies, šeit dusēšu un miršu.
 Augustīns, Atzīšanās 1,1, tulk. Laura Hansone, Liepnieks un Ritums, Rīga 2008
 Atzīšanās 1,2
 Atzīšanās 11,14
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This week it has felt as though grace and peace are in rather short supply; so let us dwell in those words for a moment. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Against a background of a world that seems sometimes to be spinning out of rational control, our readings from the Bible today (they can be found at the end of this blog) have sounded as though they come from a different universe. But, of course, they are also written against various backgrounds of conflict, hatred, intolerance, and not in some perfect world where peace and grace rule. But let us acknowledge that this week has been shockingly difficult and painful at times.
Many of us, probably, have been to Barcelona; my husband and I walked down the Ramblas earlier this year, and stopped to admire the Miro-inspired decoration on the road where the lethal white van came to a halt on Thursday. Las Ramblas – a promenade of happy chaos, of tourists from around the world mingling with local Catalans, of markets and vivid colour. It hurts like crazy to hear of violence, hatred and death scarring this place.
Turku – probably one of the most unlikely places for violence and murder, an ancient city in Finland dominated by a magnificent cathedral; a market place filled with local produce. The Archbishop of the Lutheran Church in Finland, Kari Makkinen, said in response that the cathedral clock has continued to strike, even through the chaos. It hurts like crazy to see pictures of injured and dying people, police and ambulances crowding this safe, kind town.
Charlottesville – and the horrific sights and sounds of swastika flags and shouts of anti-Semitic slogans, “blood and soil”, “Jews will not replace us”; and the equally horrific fact that the President of the United States has refused to condemn these new Nazis unequivocally. It hurts like crazy to see the land of the free and the home of the brave defaced like this.
So how do we reconcile this with the readings we heard today? The readings were the opposite of the hate which has fuelled this violence across the world. “Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed,” says Isaiah. And what is that deliverance? “these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; …for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” A deliverance of joy, of inclusiveness, of outcasts gathered in, the marginalised no longer cast out.
“O let the nations rejoice and be glad, for you will judge the peoples righteously and govern the nations upon earth.” says the psalmist. Again, a message of justice, and of people and nations welcoming righteousness, righteous judgement.
And the Gospel story, of a Gentile woman, a foreigner, approaching Jesus, desperate for healing for her sick child. If Jesus had acted according to the religious law of the time, he would indeed have sent her away, unspoken to, unhealed, unheard. But what exactly happens here is strangely unclear: does Jesus change his mind, convinced by the woman’s unexpected faith? Or (given that in the original Greek text punctuation is missing – there are no full-stops, or question marks) should we translate Jesus’ words as a sort of musing – was I sent only to the lost sheep of Israel? – Is it not fair to take the children’s food and so on. But either way, this meeting between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is important, because it shows that Jesus message was heard by more than just the local Jews. She addresses him, after all, in a way that shows faith from the very beginning of their conversation. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David” – she knows who Jesus is, and she knows that from him come mercy, salvation and deliverance. And great was her faith; and wonderful the healing of her child.
This is the Gospel: salvation from God, and deliverance from evil.
A Gospel open to all, all people and all nations, a Gospel of justice and joy, of inclusiveness and healing.
This is the Gospel we are all called to proclaim and to live out.
This is the Gospel, the good news and best of all messages, which gives us patience and courage never to lose hope.
This is the Gospel which gives us courage to speak the truth, and to name evil for what it is.
And that is even more important in these days which feel like a gathering storm and growing darkness; we must light candles, not Nazi torches, we must speak words of grace and peace, not of hatred and intolerance. Christians, especially church leaders and all of us – it is time to stand up and speak, stand up and be counted; as Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work
for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those
who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation,
or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand
to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe
that you really CAN make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace,
to do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems and sanctifies us,
be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and for evermore.
Sr. Ruth Marlene Fox, OSB – 1985
READINGS for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, 20 August 2017
Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN
Isaiah 56.1, 6-8
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Matthew 15. 21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
1 God be gracious to us and bless us • and make his face to shine upon us,
2That your way may be known upon earth, • your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; • let all the peoples praise you.
4 O let the nations rejoice and be glad, • for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; • let all the peoples praise you.
6 Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, • and God, our own God, will bless us.
7 God will bless us, • and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
Viņam vārds bija Alfrēds Tālnora. Precīzāk, viņa vārds bērnībā bija Ansis Alfrēds Voldemārs Treimanis. Viņš piedzima Liepājā, 1901.g. 19. septembrī, pēc vecā stila 6. septembrī. Viņu kristīja Liepājas Sv. Annas draudzē. Nākošais, ko par viņu zinu, ir tas, ka 1933.g. 4.jūnijā, Rīgas ev.-lut. Sv.Pēteŗa un Pāvila (Citadeles) baznīcā māc. Edgars Rumba salaulāja Alfrēdu ar Laumu Zentu Amāliju Grigoru; šajā brīdī viņš dzīvoja Karlīnes ielā 9, dz.4; Lauma – Karlīnes ielā 9, dz.3. Tā mana mamma, Lauma, apprecējās ar savu pirmo vīru, un pēc tam dzīvoja tai pašā Karlīnes 9, bet 5.dz. Šodien Karlīnes 9 ir pārtapusi par Miera 11, kur vēl tagad dzīvojam – vai, pareizāk sakot, atkal dzīvojam.
1940.g. 5.martā J.Legzdiņš, Iekšlietu ministra biedrs, nolemj atļaut Alfrēdam ar Laumu mainīt uzvārdu, un tā viņi pārtopj par Tālnorām. No mammas stāstiem saprotu, ka ap šo laiku viņi arī bija pašķīrušies, bet ne oficiāli, jo vecmāmiņa (Šarlote) bija slima, un negribēja to satraukt. Un tas nozīmē, ka mammai bija 4 uzvārdi – Grigors, Treimanis, Tālnora un Jēruma.
Tad notiek neiedomājamais, un PSRS okupē Latviju. 1941.g. 2.aprīlī Alfrēdu arestē (viņš bija bijis Rīgas Prefektūras 4.iecirkņa Policijas uzraugs), un laikam 14.jūnijā izved. 1941.g. 22. decembrī Astrahaņas apgabaltiesas krimināllietu tiesas kolēģija notiesā pēc Kriminālkodeksa 58.13 panta (Aktīva cīņa pret strādnieku šķiru un revolucionāro kustību), un piespriež Alfrēdam t.s. Augstāko soda mēru. Tātad nāves sodu. Vai viņu tiešām nošāva, jeb viņš mira Astrahaņas nežēlīgajos apstākļos, nezinu.
Svētdien, 11.jūnijā, pirmo reizi mūžā apmeklēju Aizvesto piemiņas dienas dievkalpojumu Latvijā, Sv. Pētera baznīcā. Pieminējām ne tikai 1941.g. 14.jūnija upurus, bet arī 1949.g.25. martā izsūtītos, un visus terorā cietušos. Brīnums – pirmo reizi šeit, kad Londonā tas bija viens no neiztrūkstošajiem gada notikumiem, kopā ar igauņiem un lietuviešiem atceroties, pieminot, raudot; un pēdējos gados arī pateicoties Dievam par atjaunoto brīvību. Daudz domāju par Alfrēdu; jo pēkšņi sapratu, ka es esmu droši vien vienīgais cilvēks pasaulē, kas vispār Alfrēdu piemin. Cik zinu, viņam citas ģimenes nebija; neko par brāļiem vai māsām arī nezinu, vai par kādiem pēctečiem.
Un pēkšņi man likās ārkārtīgi svarīgi, ka šis viens cilvēks, moceklis, jau pirms 75 gadiem miris, nav pilnīgi aizmirsts. Ienāca prātā pat aizbraukt uz Astrahaņu, sameklēt cietumu, kur, visticamāk, Alfrēda dzīvība izgaisa, vientulībā, tālu no ģimenes, draugiem, dzimtenes. Ne tāpēc, ka tas varētu jebko atrisināt vai pat dziedināt, bet vismaz varētu noliekt galvu mūsu vistiešākā represiju upura priekšā. Alfrēd – Tu jau sen dusi Dieva mierā. Bet ja tālajos dvēseles dārzos var mūsu domas un lūgšanas sadzirdēt, tad zini, ka neesi aizmirsts. Sēžu šovakar dažu metru attālumā no vietas, kurā Tu dzīvoji, un no kurienes Tevi aizveda, un domāju par Tevi, Tavu šausminošo likteni, par mīlestību, kura pirms daudziem gadiem vienoja Tevi ar manu mammu; vieglas Tev svešuma smiltis, Tu – svešais un reizē tuvais cilvēk.
As I was walking to the church a few days ago, I heard from some distance the unmistakeable strains of ‘Hava Negila’ being played on brass instruments. As I came round the corner by the Saeima, the Parliament building, there they were – the buskers, playing to an audience chatting amongst themselves and listening to a guide telling them about Rīga’s landmark Three Brothers in Hebrew.
This has become part of the routine; there they always are, with their slightly battered euphonium and tuba, busking on the tourist trail; and the great thing about it is that they always pick up on languages spoken, and play the appropriate tune (God Save The Queen, The Marseillaise, Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit and so on). So from a couple of hundred yards away, I know who to expect on my way.
So this is contextual busking – music-making that connects with the audience, rather than just playing the same few pieces over and over. It certainly brings a smile to the tourists’ faces, as the strains of some familiar tune unexpectedly reach them.
Of course we contextualise all the time. We use language that is appropriate to the company we are with; we dress appropriately to the events or places we are going to; we put our thoughts and ideas in formats that are appropriate and understandable for the people we are talking to. So teachers explaining maths to a class of 7 year olds couch all they say in very different terms to a university lecturer, even if the basic truth of mathematical concepts does not change.
This has been rolling round in my mind for months now, since one of the regular spats I get into on social media with one of my more conservative (OK, more fundamentalist) brethren, who was insisting, as is often the case, that the Bible is different, and that it has a pure message independent of and uninterpreted by our contexts. This doesn’t work for me, nor for most people who read the Scriptures. For me, it is so blindingly obvious that we read the Bible as whole people, with our minds and perceptions formed by our lives and experiences, that I find it difficult to argue with those who believe that there is an entity that can be isolated and defined, the pure Biblical text, unalloyed, uninterpreted and unifocal. That does not mean that I don’t believe the Bible is true; quite the opposite. Indeed the truth of the Word of God is broader, wider and truer than we can possibly imagine, and each new generation that reads it, each new Christian who grows to love the Bible and really engages with it, adds a new layer of possibilities without ever exhausting the essential truth and grace and eternal, loving beauty that is the fundamental nature of God.
But the need to take context seriously was brought back to mind by an event last month, and a reading today.
July is the month when cemeteries all over Latvia hold ‘festivals’ (Kapu svētki); there’s a long and complex story behind this tradition, but in essence folk come together in their family homes and villages, tidy up and beautify their ancestors graves, and then attend a service at the cemetery (and in some places have something of a party graveside).
We went to our local festival, where the pastor led a service that was 1 hour and 15 minutes long; he quoted from the Enchiridion, a 16th century Pastor’s Handbook; and in essence, repeated over and over again that everyone who dies when not a faithful Christian goes to hell. Now this lengthy sermon was preached in a setting (context) where the vast majority of those lying at rest in the cemetery lived and died during Soviet times, and never heard the Gospel preached, never stood a chance of living a Christian life. Just imagine how you would feel if you were told over again that your much-loved mother, grandfather or brother is now suffering the torments of hell. No nuances, no hope, no kindness. This was an example of completely uncontextualized preaching, an interpretation of the Bible which left no space for grace or for God’s immeasurable love and power to act. Luckily, very few of the people in the cemetery stopped to listen to this tirade.
And today we remembered St Aidan, the Apostle to the Nortumbrians at our Evening Prayer at St Saviour’s.
We read from the Venerable Bede’s biographical sketch of this ancient, gentle bishop.
“It is said, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the Word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more harsh disposition, who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition.
They then, it is said, held a council and seriously debated what was to be done, being desirous that the nation should obtain the, salvation it demanded, but grieving that they had not received the preacher sent to them. Then said Aidan, who was also present in the council, to the priest in question, “Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.”
Having heard these words, all present turned their attention to him and began diligently to weigh what he had said, and they decided that he was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues. So they ordained him and sent him forth to preach; and, as time went on, his other virtues became apparent, as well as that temperate discretion which had marked him at first.”
This remarkable man, who died more than 1300 years ago, probably never used the word context. But he surely understood it.
You sent the gentle bishop Aidan to proclaim the gospel in [England];
Grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility and love for the poor;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. AMEN. (Common Worship Collect for St Aidan)
This post is based on a sermon preached at St Saviour’s on Sunday 26 June.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It has been quite a week. Personally, along with many millions of others, I was up until almost 5am on Friday, watching the unbelievable results roll in on the Brexit referendum; and up again just a couple of hours later to watch the first reactions, as well as PM David Cameron’s resignation live on TV. For many people, the result was devastating; a former colleague of mine, now living and working in Germany compared the feeling on Friday to the Berlin wall coming down in reverse – in other words, it seemed as though walls are being rebuilt, and the sadness is comparable to the joy we all felt back in November 1989, when the wall of death in Germany began to be broken down.
The main problem for many people has been the poor quality of the debate. The Leave Campaign have now admitted that their headline slogan was a lie, basically. They said that about 350 million GBP are being taken by the EU from Britain each week, which could be spent on the National Health Service if Britain leaves; and the very next day after the referendum, one of the leading campaigners, Nigel Farage, said it had been a ‘mistake to promise that’.
There has also been scaremongering from Remain, with the Chancellor, of all people, saying that households in Britain will be worse off by 4300 GBP – around 5000 EUR – per year after Brexit, with no credible statistics to back up his claim. “The first casualty when war comes is truth” – said Hiram Johnson, a US Senator during WWI. Truth has certainly been an early casualty in this campaign.
But very worrying, too, has been the inability to hear and accept what experts are saying; in fact a disdain for and dismissiveness of expertise and knowledge. “When the facts met the myths they were useless”, said Nicholas Barrett, a political journalist. People preferred to listen to vague, high sounding promises and soundbites.
The Church Times, the Church of England’s newspaper, wrote this week:
“The referendum debate has been a divisive, brutal, dehumanising, victimising, bitter experience, and at times not even a debate; but now that the campaign is over, the UK must learn from its mistakes, and move towards reconciliation and healing within communities, church voices across the UK have said.
“Primates, bishops, archdeacons, chaplains, and academics made their views clear this week on how the country — its people and Government — had conducted themselves throughout the campaign, and on what the next step should be both for the Church and communities across the UK.
The referendum debate had “unleashed a kind of monster” of extremes, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan said. The public attitude, and language used, had been “venomous and offensive”, and risked spreading “from words to actions”, such as the recent rioting at the Euros [Euro 2016 Football Championships – Ed]
The risk was particularly high on immigration, Dr Morgan said in an interview with the Western Mail this week. “There’s been so much venom spoken about immigrants and immigration that people have come to believe almost anything. People have jumped in on the immigration issue, forgetting that whether we stay or whether we leave will make no difference to 50 per cent of the immigrants of this country. . .
“Quite reasonable, rational people get really hot under the collar about immigration, forgetting that our health service would collapse without it, and that many of the immigrants are in fact holding excellent jobs as doctors, consultants and academics.” ”
Let us look back at what St Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians. There is a clear warning there: “15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
But there is also a pointer to the way in which a debate might be conducted. Paul writes: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. […]. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
So, if as Christians we are filled with the Spirit, the fruit of that Spirit is love, and all those other lovely and love-filled characteristics follow. What Paul is not saying is that when we become Christians, we automatically become loving, patient, gentle and self-controlled, obviously and unfortunately. What Paul is saying is that as we live our Christian lives, the Spirit of Christ takes root in us, growing, flowering and eventually bringing fruit. As our psalm said today: “11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Against the rising tide of intolerance and hatred, racism, xenophobia, the polarisation between right and left which we are seeing, and not just in Europe, once again Christians are being called to be countercultural. The prophetic voice of the Church must be heard, speaking and living in a way that challenges ‘the monster of extremes’ that Archbishop Barry Morgan was speaking about. Or as St Paul said: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions; such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Against this anger and intolerance, we speak and live in love, offering kindness and grace, being generous and gentle. That might sound weak, and a bit wishy-washy; but actually it isn’t. Walking against the flow is a struggle; living and speaking out against a growing culture of sheer nastiness is by no means easy.
What can we do? We are a small church here in Latvia, a small country; but maybe that’s what Elisha thought, when Elijah appeared out of the blue, and threw his mantle, his cape, over him. What can God and his prophet possibly want with me, a ploughman? Why has Elijah appeared out of the blue, and called me to follow?
What can God possibly expect of St Saviour’s? We can’t save the world; we can’t save the European Union, obviously; but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t do anything. We can, each of us, set our faces to walk with Jesus, wherever that walk takes us; and we can pray for the Spirit to work within us more and more, bringing the fruits of love not only to ourselves, but to our families, our friends, our neighbourhood, our city, our land. And if we are called to speak and live prophetically, as Elisha was called, we must do that, too.
READINGS FOR THE DAY
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.’
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
1 Kings 19.15-16, 19-21
15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’ 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Galatians 5.1, 13-25
51For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13 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. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
This blog post was originally written for the ‘Reimagining Europe‘ project
Just days remain until the ‘Brexit’ referendum; on the whole, the view here from the Baltics is still one of bemusement. It seems perverse to most people here, in countries which have fought to achieve their right to belong to Europe, that anyone would deliberately choose to turn away from all that membership of the European Union brings in benefits – economic, political, cultural and philosophical.
Not long ago, my husband and I had the privilege of visiting Bulgaria. All countries in Europe have histories, many of them complex and painful; but Bulgaria’s legacy of history and culture is among the richest and most astonishing. In fact, at the very heart of Sofia lies ancient Serdica, which came close to being the capital of Constantine’s Roman Empire, instead of Byzantium.
In modern Sofia, there are still clear traces of ancient Thrace, Rome, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, the Bulgarian national revival, the Soviet era – all brought together in the vibrant and self-confident city of today.
Looking at the clearly very mixed origins of passers-by in Sofia, it is obvious that there are many cultural strands that are woven together; but also that a distinct identity has been created from the weaving process. In our hotel, we found a magazine with a brief introduction to Bulgaria, which said something like this: Over the centuries invaders have come and gone. Rulers have come and gone; but the people remain.
In today’s complex political situation, overlaid with anxiety about national sovereignity and the impact of migration, European societies, and the United Kingdom among them, are increasingly voicing fears about a loss of identity. And yet it is not membership of the EU which threatens identity, any more than migration or the threat of climate change. The greatest threat comes from within ourselves, and from the possibility that our fears and insecurities will change our core values and make us increasingly wary of the stranger and the vulnerable, increasingly hostile and inhospitable. Conversely, it is clear that the greatest challenges to our civilisation will be much better handled together, jointly and in co-operation with other countries and nations in our region.
Identity has always been a fluid entity; and in the end, rulers and political unions will continue to come and go, but people remain.
Almost two years ago now, shortly after we moved to Latvia, we made a trip back to the UK for the wedding of a much loved niece. It was a GREAT wedding, with a mixture mostly of Latvian and Scottish guests, which turned out to be a brilliant combination. Singing, dancing, games, food – all lubricated with a modicum of locally sourced refreshment.
However, as an antidote to all the fun and jollity on Saturday night, on the Sunday morning I took myself up rather a steep hill to the local Church of Scotland church. The congregation was not huge, and not terribly welcoming; but we were treated to a real old fashioned, hellfire and damnation sermon. This is not something to be recommended each week, but on this occasion it almost felt nostalgic. There was a solidity and ‘straightness’ to the preaching; and, of course, one felt suitably chastised afterwards.
I was reminded of this in the last few days, when a Facebook comment about Women’s Ordination led to something of a discussion with a young pastor, who, by the sound of it, makes hellfire sermons something of a speciality. One short quote:
‘There are those Christians who keep to God’s Word, and then there are those who imagine themselves to be Christian, but for whom the Bible is more like literature…..Those who do not support Women’s Ordination know well that this is not a question of clericalism, but the authority of the Bible. Whoever has eyes to see, let them see how the dragon sweeps stars from the heavens with its tail’ (an indirect quote from Revelation 12)
…and there was a lot more about the duty of a pastor to point out the sins of their congregation members. For me, there are several problems with this mindset.
Firstly, the sins that such clerics choose to point out: which usually turn out to be homosexuality (that was the implication of the point my correspondent was making). Setting aside completely the tangled arguments about whether committed, faithful relationships between people of the same sex are sinful (and assuming that promiscuous, manipulative relationships between people of whatever sex are not only sinful in the eyes of the church, but often also risky, damaging both psychologically and physically), let us also assume that it is the minister’s job to keep pointing out sin to members. So – that includes lying, stealing, covetousness, adultery, disrespect of parents, and – above all – not acknowledging that God is Lord, and that we are to have no other gods before God. All of those would be breaking the 10 Commandments; and yet we know that people around us commit all these grave sins all the time. When did you last hear of a dishonest billionaire being banned from church? [And Rupert Murdoch, a man about whom many have raised doubts concerning his probity, has just had his fourth marriage blessed in church…. in each case, his previous wife was still alive when he married the next one].
Secondly, while of course it is essential that we recognize our failures, our wrongdoing and sometimes just our sheer pigheadedness (or, in Christian jargon, sin), for most of our congregations, coming from a secular environment that has no notion of ‘sinfulness’, this is meaningless. In a world where greed is good, where sexual experimentation is lauded, and where often really the only sin is ‘to be caught’, hellfire preaching is so remote from people’s lives that I don’t believe they are able to hear or understand it. For people to be able to turn back to God (to ‘repent’ in Christian jargon) we have first to see that we are facing away from God; and only then can we expect ourselves to look at our lives in the light of God, of Jesus, of the Gospel, and begin to recognize our wrongness and distance, not just from God, but also from our fellow human beings.
All of this is, in any case, in stark contrast with the wondrous story of the Prodigal Son which we read in church this morning. Forgiveness, love and reconciliation, and no hellfire in sight. So, with some hesitation and extreme diffidence, I offer up a different view on sin and forgiveness.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a wonderful story this is! Over the centuries Christians and people of all kinds and all ages have resonated to, been moved by, have wept and laughed at this parable. Without any sort of deep analysis, the simple of picture of the wayward, lost son returning home to be embraced by his Father is touching. For any of us who have ever hurt someone by our actions, and been worried about whether our victim will forgive us, this parable rings very true.
At the same time, I’d guess that many of us have also ever fantasised about taking revenge on someone who has hurt us. There was an extraordinary story in the British press some years ago. A rich man, a banker, stockbroker or something along those lines, cheated on his wife with a younger model. Nothing extraordinary in that: it happens, sadly, every day. You only have to look at the pictures of Rupert Murdoch with Jerry Hall to see how attractive money and power are when combined. Anyway, in this particular case, the abandoned wife decided to take her revenge. Her husband, being a rich man, had a very well-stocked wine cellar, with expensive, rare, aged wine. The collection was worth many thousands of pounds. So the wife took all his bottles of wine, and went round the village, giving them all away to all their neighbours, telling them they were presents from the husband. And I admit to some admiration for her imagination and desire for revenge; because, of course, it’s very human, normal, to feel like that. When someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back.
But that is where we need to remember the words from 2 Corinthians that we heard earlier. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! [2 Corinthians 5] Actually, perhaps we also need to remember the verse from the psalm this morning about not being like horses or mules, without understanding…. [ Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you – Psalm 32.9]
But the point is that Paul is calling us to a new way of doing relationships, of living together with our fellow human beings, based in Christ, inspired by Christ through the Holy Spirit. This new family of Christ is to learn from their Lord, to imitate him, and be ambassadors for Christ in the world with a message of reconciliation.
And this leads us back to the beauty of the Gospel. For this is a worked example, if you like, of living reconciliation. The father is generous beyond belief to his son. He hands him his half of the inheritance – how much would that hurt! Not the money, but your child saying they would rather have your money, turning his back on you and leaving. And yet, when the son returns, no word of anger; no word of reproach; no turning away in disgust – and certainly no revenge or punishment.
Even more than that; the father doesn’t wait for him to come; abandoning all thoughts of dignity or care, or social status, he runs towards him, embracing him
And then – the father orders a feast, singing and dancing, beautiful new clothes, new sandals – whatever the son might have been fearing or worrying about, he certainly wasn’t expecting a warm welcome, unconditional love and open arms.
The son had done his father great wrong; he had hurt his father badly. He had sinned against him. But the ever-loving father, who surely represents God in this story, is that; he is ever loving. He doesn’t wait for the son to come and confess; he doesn’t demand penance, or for the son to give back the money he took. He doesn’t bother to tell his son off, explaining to him exactly where he has sinned; none of that. The father is just glad that his child is back home, that he is safe, and that he can hold him in his embrace once again.
This is such a lesson for us all, but especially for churches and ministers. For people, Christians – yes, we have this model before us, this ideal of reconciliation and forgiveness which we must struggle to live out, with God’s help. But churches, pastors, priests, bishops – this must be our model, too. Forgiveness of sin does not depend on what we do, ever; it springs, pours, gushes abundantly from God’s mercy. If God is waiting, like the Father in the story, to embrace his wandering children, what on earth are we doing, if we put hurdles and barriers in the way? Yes, say priests and church leaders – God will forgive you, but only if you make more effort to be good, only if you obey church rules, only if you say 25 Hail Mary’s.
Is that what the Father says to his returning son – yes, come home, but first promise me you will be good, first go and wash your dirty feet before you put on the new sandals? No! It is enough that the young man’s heart has turned back to his Father. He just opens his arms, his heart, his house, and orders a feast. For us, too, it is enough that our hearts turn back to our Father; once we turn back and come home, once we are forgiven and embraced, of course, our lives begin anew. We don’t know what the prodigal, reckless, returning and repentant son did next; of course. Did he start over, and live a decent, loving life with his father and his family? Probably; it would take a very wicked person to break his father’s heart all over again. And that, too, is a lesson for us; once we turn back, knowing ourselves to have been in the wrong, knowing that God loves us and forgives us – to use Paul’s words in the letter to Corinthians – once we are reconciled to God, we start to become new. We become ambassadors, messengers ourselves of God’s reconciling love.
Wonderful words; but challenging. But how different would the world look if we could only put them into practice in our daily lives, and in our relationships….”
Mateja evaņģēlijs 7.7-12
Lūdziet, un jums tiks dots, meklējiet, un jūs atradīsiet, klaudziniet, un jums atvērs. Ikviens, kas lūdz, saņem un, kas meklē, atrod, un tam, kas klaudzina, atvērs. Vai starp jums ir cilvēks, kas savam dēlam, ja tas lūgs maizi, dos akmeni? 1Vai, ja tas lūgs zivi, dos tam čūsku? Ja nu jūs, ļauni būdami, saviem bērniem dodat labas dāvanas, cik daudz vairāk laba jūsu debesu Tēvs dos tiem, kas viņu lūdz. Visu, ko jūs gribat, lai cilvēki jums dara, tāpat dariet arī jūs viņiem; jo tā ir bauslība un pravieši.
Žēlastība jums un miers no Dieva mūsu Tēva un Kunga Jēzus Kristus.
Feisbuka reklāmā par šo Toma misi bija rakstīts:
“Toma mise ir dievkalpojums, kurā tradicionālais mijas ar inovatīvo. Parastā kārtība, kurā cilvēki kā pasīvi dievkalpojuma “apmeklētāji” sēž un no zināmas distances vēro mācītājus vai priesterus, tiek nojaukta. Katrs pats var izvēlēties, cik liela distance vai kopība nepieciešama. Tradicionālo ērģeļu vietā skan mūsdienīgi mūzikas instrumenti, uzruna nav gara. Dievkalpojumā paredzēti arī brīži klusumam vienatnē, tāpat ir iespējams personiski aprunāties ar mācītāju vai kopīgi aizlūgt, katrs dalībnieks var uzrakstīt savas lūgšanas, pateicības, jautājumus, “komplimentus Dievam” un aizdedzināt svecītes. Svētā Vakarēdiena saņemšana notiks nevis konkrētā vietā pie altāra, bet visā baznīcas telpā.
Dievkalpojuma nolūks ir radīt tādu garīgu telpu, kurā var ienākt un labi justies arī no baznīcas atsvešinājušies vai kritiski noskaņotie meklētāji un cilvēki, kam dažādu iemeslu dēļ tradicionālais dievkalpojums šķiet nesaprotams vai nepieejams. Gaidīti ir visi, kas ceļā – kā daudzi vai pat ikviens no mums.”
Pirmkārt – centīšos arī ņemt vērā norādījumu, ka ‘uzruna ir īsa’… Bet ja nopietni, svarīgākais par Toma misi, man šķiet, ir tas, ka zināmas lietas tiek nojauktas. Lietojot neierastu valodu dievkalpojuma kārtībā tiek nojaukti to cilvēku priekšstati par dievkalpojumu, kuri ik svētdienas nāk uz baznīcu. Lietojot šo neierasto, bet skaisto valodu, tiek arī, cerams, nojaukti šķēršļi tiem, kuriem baznīcas žargons ir svešs un pat nepieņemams. Tiek nojaukts attālums, vai barjeras, norobežojumi, starp garīdzniekiem un lajiem, dievkalpojuma apmeklētājiem. Tiek nojauktas telpiskās barjeras – baznīcas telpa kļūst fleksīblāka; mēs apdzīvojam, jeb mums ir iespēja apdzīvot, vairāk no baznīcas, nekā tikai sols, kurā sēžam, un šaurā taciņa līdz altāram.
Bet protams ir tā, ka tas netiek darīts tikai tāpēc, lai būtu inovācijas inovāciju dēļ. Doma ir tāda, ka pārmaiņas baznīcas izskatā, pārmaiņas mūsu šā vakara darbībā, atspoguļo zināmu patiesību, zināmu īstenību. Īsi sakot – to, ka cenšamies novākt kavēkļus mūsu ikviena meklējumiem, mūsu dzīves un ticības ceļam, kas šovakar vijas caur Lutera baznīcu.
Atgriežamies pie Bībeles vārdiem.
Lūdziet, un jums tiks dots, meklējiet, un jūs atradīsiet, klaudziniet, un jums atvērs. Ikviens, kas lūdz, saņem un, kas meklē, atrod, un tam, kas klaudzina, atvērs.
Te parādās kaut kas ļoti interesants. Lūdziet, un jums tiks dots; bet kas tiks dots? Te nav teikts, ka mums tiks dots tas, par kuru tieši lūdzamies. meklējiet, un jūs atradīsiet, bet ko mēs tieši atradīsim? klaudziniet, un jums atvērs; jā, bet ko mēs ieraudzīsim durvju otrajā pusē?
Būtībā šie vārdi mums nesola mūsu vajadzību apmierinājumu; nesola problēmu atrisinājumu, nesola arī ātru piekļuvi vietai, kuru meklējam – vienalga, vai tas ko meklējam ir laime, pārticība, drošība. Solījums ir tāds, ka mūsu lūgšanas kāds klausās, ka mūsu meklējumi nav veltīgi, un lai mēs ieraudzītu nākošo telpu, mums ir tikai jāpaceļ rokas un jāklauvē . Tātad mēs tiekam drošināti – ir labi meklēt; ir labi lūgt un klauvēt, lai mums atver. Svarīgais, tātad, ir tas, ka esam procesā, nevis tas, ka zinām savu gala mērķi. Ir svētīgi, svētīti tie cilvēki, kuri apzinās, ka viņiem nav visas atbildes, bet kuri turpina meklēt. Ir svētīgi tie cilvēki, kuri lūdzas, arī tumsā, bēdās, neticības brīžos; ir svētīti un laimīgi tie cilvēki, kuri turpina klauvēt, arī tad, kad liekas, ka nav neviena, kas nāks un durvis atvērs.
Un tā ir arī Toma mises dziļākā jēga, kuru cenšamies ar dievkalpojuma iekārtojumu veicināt. Nelikt šķēršļus, bet veicināt katra cilvēka lūgšanu, meklēšanu un klauvēšanu. Katra cilvēka. Te nav uzstādījuma par to, kas ir pareizais ceļš, kas ir pareiza lūgšana, kuŗš meklētājs pareizs, kurš pieņemts, kurš nepieņemts.
Un, kā Jēzus saka pēdējos šā vakara lasījuma vārdos – Visu, ko jūs gribat, lai cilvēki jums dara, tāpat dariet arī jūs viņiem; jo tā ir bauslība un pravieši. Tā atļaujiet nobeigt ar Ričarda Rora viedajiem vārdiem.
“Ja uzmanīgi lasāt Evaņģēlija tekstus, pamanīsiet, ka vienīgie, kurus Jēzus šķietami izslēdz, ir tie, kuri paši izslēdz citus. Izslēgšanu varētu aprakstīt ka centrālo grēku. Nemetiet zemē laiku atstumjot, izslēdzot, atstādinot vai nosodot nevienu cilvēku vai arī ko citu. Visi pieder, ieskaitot tevi.”