Friday, 20 September 2019

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.

Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England in 1512, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves. 

As the dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.

Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us see continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In Deuteronomy, Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.
The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 

Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Citizens of the Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. More “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. This day, may our prayers for ourselves and for each other be to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us, and, thereby, discovering the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.

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