Welcome to the feast

Matthew’s parable of the marriage feast (Matt. 22. 1-14) has its origins in something much older. Luke has a version of it too, both probably added to it in order to say something to their communities. Matthew to the Jews, Luke to a wider audience. So the great supper in Luke becomes a Marriage feast and the certain man becomes a king. Matthew raises the stakes as he tells the story. Christians were being persecuted, the temple destroyed in 70ce and so we hear this reflected in the story as slaves are killed and the ‘king’ sends his army to burn the city.

How might we re-tell it today? Who is offering the feast and for whom? Who is invited? Who turns away? What are the consequences? Who ends up at the meal?

Don’t get confused with Matthew tagging on the bit about the marriage garment, it’s a different story, and asks: ‘Are we clothed with the right frame of mind?’ Not as you might be tempted to read it, that, even if you’ve been invited, you’re still not welcome. Everyone has been invited, and everyone is welcome. Some just choose to choose not to come.

Can we talk of a spiritual malaise of our time with this parable? I wonder what for us is the feast? Are there many who have chosen to choose not to partake? I don’t mean turning up to church on a Sunday morning, for that can be as bad as anything else we do without the ‘right garment’ (don’t forget that’s not about millinery).

We’ve lost a language of the feast of the kingdom. The language to speak of deep things such as pain and suffering and death and by and large we have been distracted by trivial matters because it is so difficult to talk about things that are real. Some years ago a film tried in part to speak about this – many people avoided it because of the violence, language and drug use, however it did have a point and it called us to reflect on our choices:

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning”

This sounds so old, it is.  20 years in fact.  I suspect even if you’d not seen Trainspotting, you’ll recognise the rail against materialism which I’m told is all but over. it’s been replaced by exerientialism. Which may not have been a word until a few moments ago. Welcome to the consumption of experience. (Radio 4’s Costing the earth addresses this very issue) By the way, did anyone tweet that they were coming to church this morning, or is it on facebook, instagram, snapchat? There is now 4G here so you could probably live web cast the experience… (if you wanted to…) So the twenty years later sequel T2 rails against social media and offers a jab at the culture of zero hour contracts, unfulfilled promises, never learning from our mistakes, slowly reconciling ourselves towards what we can get rather than what we had dreamed of, Watching history repeat itself.
And again the King invites us to the feast and still we’re not yet ready. We’ve been distracted by stone temples, faculties, PCC meetings, summer fetes, the size of scones with jam first, or is it scones with cream first and the minutes of the last meeting mis-spelling someones name, the lighting not being to the current ecological expectations, cutting the grass to less than a quarter inch lest someone complain. And we neglect to speak of the great things that attending the feast brings. The feast of life that is living with God’s love. The love that knows no limit. Living in the knowledge of who we are despite what we might own or have means to do. The love of life for its own sake, the life that Jesus taught us to have, and to have in abundance.

Welcome to the feast.

Dirty Carrots and the Kingdom of Heaven

carrotsCarrots, which do you buy? I’d like to suggest that it is the ‘dirty carrots’ that can help to bring closer the kingdom of God. Today is Creation Sunday, and tomorrow begins Fairtrade Fortnight. It seems an appropriate time therefore to dwell on our relationship with the earth and all that we consume from it. We are children of the dust. Whether a person of faith, religion or no defined structure of belief it is not possible to escape the simple truth that we as humans are children of the dust. Just as any other carbon life on this planet we owe our existence to the earth, soil, dirt. Perhaps it is ironic then that our natural disposition appears to be away from the earth, to view the earth, soil, dirt as dirty and contaminating. Mechanisation brings many benefits, but at the cost of putting distance between us and the earth. We begin to loose our attachment to the very thing that brought us into being and sustains us.

Watching my children grow over the past 15 years it is clear that the tendency is to grow slowly apart from those who nurture and give life. In the best of families these ties remain into adulthood and though independent there remains a strong parent child relationship. Eventually those relationships are turned upon their head and the child nurtures and cares for the parent into old age and finally towards death. Such is the cycle of life. As children of the dust we as humanity perhaps naturally draw away from that which has given us life. Dreams of the stars and life on different planets. Dreams of becoming independent from the earth itself. The knowledge, whether acknowledged or not, that without checking ourselves we will destroy the capacity of this fragile planet to continue to provide for us as has been out wont. The word fragile is a misnomer. The earth itself is not fragile per se, it is a complex interweaving of life and relationship built for continued life. It is the intervention of humans that makes it appear fragile to our way of existence. With this relationship to our planet we grow yet further away from mother earth.

Relationship is the key word. A healthy relationship is one in which there is movement in both directions. The giving and receiving are equal. Relationships that have broken down are those where only one is giving and the other is always receiving. Relationships like these can indicate slavery of some kind or other. Until not so long ago it was hard to know who was being exploited with what and by whom. The fairtrade movement changed all that! It is now easy to see which products are produced with good relationships between growers and producers and consumers. Products that are not marked as fairtrade may well be made and grown in a slavery free environment, but the fairtrade mark guarantees that they are not. It is more than a mark of a good trade deal, it ensures that no-one is exploited along the way. The first cups of fairtrade coffee were marketed by oxfam under the campaign label. It was ground instant, and it was terrible. However, when people tell me now that they ‘don’t like’ fairtrade coffee, and I would have sympathised in the 80’s, – I wouldn’t suggest this now – there are over 23 companies selling at least one fairtrade coffee and many of them such as cafedirect have about 15 different coffee’s available, so the question is – which fairtrade coffee is it that you don’t like. I would suggest that initially people just don’t like being told what to buy, but if slavery is your thing, then who am I to stop you?

I guess the issue is that we are removed from the pain, and it is just another product on a supermarket shelf like any other. The beauty of FT is that it closes up the gap between producer and consumer. FT products are fully traceable – we all know where a lack of traceability leads to in foods. The relationship between ourselves and the earth with Fairtrade products becomes a little closer. I guess its a bit like buying carrots. You can buy washed, sanitised, diced, sliced, chopped and bagged carrots if you so choose, and i’m sure they are perfectly good carrots, but you can also buy ‘dirty carrots’. The cleansed ones work just the same, but all that is needed is to open the bag and throw them in the pan. The dirty ones take a little more effort. The soil has to be cleaned off, then peeling, washing, topping and tailing. In those simple actions, we have become closer to the source of our food and actually touched the earth they grew in and also become closer to the person who watched over them whilst they grew and pulled them out of the ground. We give a little back in recognising the grower in these actions. It is the same as choosing Fairtrade – choosing to close the loop a little between ourselves and the earth can be no bad thing. Jesus says do not worry about what you eat – so long as you seek the kingdom in all things, and as the kingdom is about our relationship with each other and this earth, dirty carrots really can bring the kingdom of God a little closer.

The Kingdom is like…

Apologies for being so last week!  based on Matt. ch.13

So I asked, rather foolishly, what happened at 4.30am.  Blank looks.  And it happens every morning, but perhaps not always that early.

‘sunrise?’ …  Yes!

And what will happen tonight at about 10pm?

‘sunset?’ (they’re catching on!)

Is that right says I?

(they nod)

Are you sure?

(they nod, but one does not)  No! tis the other way round!

It is, says I, thanks be to God for Galileo, Copernicus and the like.  The poor old Catholic church took until 1990 to say it really didn’t handle the Galileo situation very well.  He didn’t quite lose his head, but was almost (apparently) guilty of blasphemy.  For observing the movements of the sun and the other stars, (or lack of!)

So we know the Earth goes round the sun, and it does not rise, but just appears to because we are stood still.  How fast would we need to run to keep up with the sun?

Another question, since we are doing so well…  So if the earth is not at the centre, or indeed flat, where then is heaven?

Above the sky?

That would have been the old answer, when people believed in the three tier universe, when everything revolved around the earth, Heavens above! Earth beneath, Hell below.  Easy to fall off into hell, much harder to get to heaven through the sky.

Heaven was seen as a place wholly other, away from this world, not attainable in any real sense.

And Yet…  The parables of the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke in this Gospel, speak not of a heaven far away and removed, untouchable, un-knowable, but of a heaven close at hand.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  You can watch the tree grow, reach out and touch it, see birds nesting in its branches.  It is like yeast to leaven the flour, something to get your hands into, to feel, smell and eventually taste, something which evokes all the senses.  It is like a precious pearl or a great treasure, something to hold close and guard, not to be divorced from.  It is like a net cast over the water to gather fish.  It feeds and nourishes and is close at hand, just out of view.  We see as if through a glass darkly.  The kingdom is not aloof, far off, unattainable, despite what centuries of theologians might have argued.  With the insight of observers of the world such as Galileo we can see that Jesus had it understood from the beginning, if only we had listened.  Do you understand this?  Says Jesus.  Yes, they say, whist shaking their heads.

This poem is a fitting way to end such observations.