Riding the storm named Jesus

spineWhat is in a name? Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva, Frank. These names may not mean anything to you particularly. To me the last does. It was Frank I think who took my greenhouse, though possibly Eva. Frank didn’t take it, it was demolished, flattened, rendered useless. An act of wilful vandalism. One from which I’m (clearly) still recovering Eva and Frank the terrible twosome were the names of the storms that were, it seemed to me, centred on my greenhouse around last Christmas. So we spent the lull before the new year clearing broken glass and splintered wood. Storm Jesus? Jesus has not made it on to the Met office list of approved storm names. Perhaps in time. Though perhaps that storm has already passed over and we are still clearing through the wreckage. What then did storm Jesus look like and have we missed it? The properly American named Walter Wink has written a book titled ‘Naming the Powers’. The powers he describes in the book could be said to be storms. No teacups here. Though perhaps American tea-party politics is one of the powers Wink might name. Walter Wink speaks of Naming powers, speaking directly to their authority and calling them out for what they are. Speaking truth to power is a phrase used by the community organising group TCC – Together Creating Communities. A grass roots community group giving the power back to the ordinary folk, calling those who claim powerful positions to give account. Beware you who stand in their way. So long as they remain part of the community, separate from the established places of power they retain their mandate to speak truth to these powers. Walter Wink suggests in his book that this is what Jesus does. And that we have attempted to domesticated him. The success and failure of Christianity, or The Way as it was named earlier, for me lies in Constantine. A clever move making Christianity the religion of the empire. Domesticate it and take away its cutting edge, remove the critical element. Make it part of the establishment so it is hard to criticise the powerful hand that feeds you. Offer the Ego power and status and it is difficult to refuse. Jesus refused. The naming of Jesus is a calling out of the one who was and is to be a storm in the lives of the comfortable. Joseph, Matthew tells us, names him Jesus. He claims him into his family and gives him the power and the authority to speak truth into that institution. He overturns the plans of the rich and powerful for keeping the poor in their place. He blows through the country reminding all that they owe their loyalty to God, to themselves and not to the authorities. He rains on the parade of the Jewish leaders who have taken advantage of the Roman rule to maintain their powerful position, who are stealing from the ordinary folk in the name of the temple. The Jesus storm has been, but the effects linger on. Jesus himself named the powers of his day, spoke truth, not post-truth, but the old fashioned kind of truth into the places where many feared to tread. Is this our truth? Are we merely defenders of our positions or are we willing to speak truth to the powers to be willing, like Jesus, to give everything we have away, even our own life in order that all might have life. Mine is a position of power, as is every cleric in the church. It is my duty to speak truth to the powers who claim status above me, and to ensure that every voice is heard, not just the loudest. Those of us in positions of authority are the most at risk of being seduced by the power that such positions offer. We must use it as Jesus did, not to merely maintain the container, but to enable all to get to the contents to the true spirituality that Jesus offered that is the vine of life climbing up the trellis of religion. When the religious stands in its way, when the trellis is broken by the storm, the vine sprawls around the garden, but gives life in places it was never able to reach before. We as church have become afraid of the storm. The trellis has been built strong to domesticate and tame the vine. The truth is that the storm of Jesus will be set loose on the community with or without the church to enable his manifesto to come into being. We can be part of the journey, or we can attempt to hold on to what is not ours to hold. We can begin by speaking truth to those who hold power close to us. 500 years ago Luther nailed 95 issues to the door of Wittenberg Church about abuses of power. Reading them now, they make little sense to our situation. Perhaps it is time for another 95…

The fourth person of the Trinity?

rublev-trinityAnd so on Trinity Sunday we reflect on the godhead of the Christian faith, alternatively the mathematical impossibilities of three in one and one in three.  That which few understand and fewer share, yet the part which is present in pretty much every liturgy – God: Father, Son and Spirit as if rising from the dead and vanishing into the clouds wasn’t enough we complicate the story even further.  So much so that theologians have argued over the exact composition for centuries. That all might be true, but I’m not sure it should be.  Despite the complicated ideas bounded around the trinity should be one of the simplest ideas to express.  The idea of the trinity allows a creativity, one which is expressed beautifully in the image prayerfully painted by Andrei Rublev.  The three persons of the ‘old testament trinity’ or ‘hospitality of Abraham’ as Abraham and Sarah entertain angels under the oaks of Mamre.  Only the three angels find their way onto the canvas – more for the theologians to muse and argue over which character is which – or perhaps it doesn’t matter, perhaps actually for once working out what is going on is not the point at all.  These icons are to be meditated on not thought about and this one in particular as it is perhaps the best of its age.
Just to complicate matters even further, i’d like to suggest that there are four in this trinity – I know, we’re back to the mathematical impossibilities again, but bear with me.  The trinity icon draws you into it, probably due to the clever use of lines of perspective, but never mind the technicalities from the 15thC.  However it happens we are drawn in to the table and become ourselves the fourth person of the trinity.  It is an invitation to move from isolation to community.  An invitation to join the dance as it were.  To sit at table in the midst of all that is known and understood, and all that is unknown and to be discovered about God.  This is our invitation and it is so very simple.  God acts and works in community, and we are a part of that action if we accept the seat at the table. To accept the seat is to be part of God in community Holy and One.

December

Avoiding the obvious this month of course, a new book on the shelf, Jerry Doherty on ‘A celtic model of ministry’ might be useful in the new parish when things get going – on that note we are slowly ‘house organising’  I’m certainly looking forward to the apples from the garden, it has a lovely old apple tree!  Well OK just a little on the obvious then, on the 23rd we are walking around the village in Greenfield telling the old stories in the midst of the community – well the church is closed so we had to do something different! Hopefully there will be a donkey (for no other reason than they attract attention 😉 ) and perhaps the ‘inn keeper’ will tell us there is no room, we might even have a ‘stable’ at the back!!  Hopefully there will be room at the inn later on, as we are going there for refreshments…