Constantine the Great

On Wednesday, 6th of June we met at Moca. Since it was a pleasant evening we sat outside to look at the life of Constantine and how his conversion to Christianity changed both the history of the world and the history of the church.

The World of Constantine – power and empire.

Constantine was born in 272 in Naissus, modern day Nis in Serbia. His father was Constantius, an ambitious army officer, his mother was Helena, a woman of lowly birth. After about 20 years together Constantius divorced Helena in about 290 in order to marry a woman from the Roman elite, he did this in order to further his political ambitions. In 293 Constantius was appointed Caesar (junior emperor) of the west with responsibility for Britain and France. Helena became a Christian – we do not know when, but she seems to have been a very keen and pious Christian, and no doubt had some influence with Constantine, particularly after he became emperor, in matters of Christianity.

Even the tetrarchy was unable to do away with hereditary privilege and so Constantine went to Diocletian’s court at Nicomedia to be educated as a candidate for future appointment as Caesar. During this time Constantine also campaigned with the army on the eastern front of the empire. He returned to Nicomedia from the eastern front in the spring of 303, just in time to witness the start of Diocletian’s Great Persecution (303 – 305), regarded by many historians as the most severe persecution of Christians in Roman history. (It is important to note that emperors varied greatly in their reaction to Christianity, from outright hostility to total indifference. Another factor was how zealously local governors implemented imperial decrees.)  The persecution seems to have been worse in the eastern part of the empire, Constantius enforced without much enthusiasm only the initial anti-Christian decrees in Britain and France.

Due to severe illness Diocletian abdicated in May 305, in a parallel ceremony in Milan, Maximian also resigned as Augustus. Galerius who was Caesar in the east persuaded Diocletian to appoint him to Augustus. Constantine expected to become Caesar, but was overlooked because he wasn’t an ally of Galerius. Thereafter Constantine was kept at court in Nicomedia so Galerius could keep an eye on him – he was in effect under house arrest

His future depended on being rescued by his father and escaping to the west. In the summer of 305, Constantius visited Galerius and requested that Constantine be allowed to join him to help his campaign in Britain. Galerius initially refused, but after a long night of heavy drinking agreed to let Constantine leave. Constantine claims that he was ready to leave as soon as his father obtained permission, he immediately fled from the court at night with his guard (probably a group of his father’s cavalry troops), before Galerius could change his mind. They rode away at high speed so that when Galerius awoke the next day Constantine would be too far away to be caught and brought back. Constantine joined his father in northern France before crossing the channel to Britain and on to York (Eboracum), home to the largest military garrison in Britain. Constantine spent the next year in northern Britain (the future Scotland) campaigning against the Picts. It is thought that the campaign penetrated as far north as Inverness. Constantine had been a popular officer with the eastern army, in Britain he was equally popular with the western army. They returned to York in the summer of 306, where Constantius died in July. Before his death he declared that Constantine should become Augustus of the west. Upon Constantius’s  death the York garrison proclaimed Constantine emperor. this was followed by troops throughout both Britain and France proclaiming him emperor. Constantine, was very astute, he did not travel to Rome but instead sent a portrait of himself dressed as an Augustus and wreathed in bay. He requested recognition as heir of his father and blames the army for his claim to the throne, saying that it had been forced upon him. Galerius apparently went into a rage and wanted to set the portrait on fire, while Maxentius, a claimant to power who feels he has been overlooked, mocks the portrait’s subject as the son of a whore!

Galerius’s advisers calm him down and persuade him to offer Constantine the position of Caesar in the west in order to avert civil war. He makes clear that he alone grants Constantine this position and sends him the emperor’s purple robes. Constantine accepted the decision knowing that it removed all doubts as to his legitimacy.

For the next six years Constantine remains in Britain and France campaigning against Rome’s enemies, and keeping well out of the way of political machinations in Rome, Milan and Nicomedia.

In the autumn of 306 Maxentius seized power in Rome by deposing Galerius’s appointee as Augustus, Severus. In the east Galerius became very ill in 311, his final act before his death was to send out letters to governors proclaiming an end to the persecution of Christians. He died soon afterwards, and Licinius became Augustus of the east.

Maxentius and Constantine both try to form alliances with Licinius. Constantine managed to forge an alliance by offering his sister, Constantia, in marriage to Licinius.

Maxentius’s rule was never popular outside Italy and by 312, Constantine, Licinius and Maxentius were all preparing for war. It was a time of which Bishop and historian Eusebius, claimed that “not a day went by when people did not expect the onset of hostilities”.

In the autumn of 312 Constantine invaded Italy, won battles at Turin and Verona and marched on Rome. The day before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (a bridge over the Tiber into Rome) Constantine claimed he saw a cross in the sky above the sun with the words in Greek that are usually translated: “in this sign conquer”. The special significance of the vision was that Constantine, a pagan, was a worshipper of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

Constantine had his troops mark their shields with the sign of the cross before the battle.

Maxentius made several blunders before and during the battle. He did not need to leave the city to engage Constantine, having very large reserves of food and water, and monumental defences. He had also partially demolished the Milvian Bridge to block Constantine’s entry into Rome and built a temporary pontoon bridge over the Tiber for his troops to leave the city in order to engage Constantine’s army.  There is no doubt that Constantine was a very accomplished and skilful general, but Maxentius lined his troops up too close to the Tiber. Constantine reacted by ordering his cavalry to charge into the opposing cavalry. He then ordered his infantry to charge. Because Maxentius had set his troops too close to the Tiber, when they were driven back by the initial onslaught they had no room in which to regroup and so panic ensued.  Maxentius’s decision to order his troops to retreat was catastrophic.

His intention was to make a strategic withdrawal, protecting his army so that he would be able to mount a successful defence of Rome from the city walls. But with only a narrow strip of stone bridge and a rocking, heaving wooden pontoon as a crossing, the retreat across the Tiber became a rout as Constantine’s men continued to surge forward. A large number of troops drowned and others were slaughtered trying to climb out of the river. Maxentius himself drowned. Constantine had his body recovered from the Tiber, ordered that his head be cut off and then rode into Rome holding Maxentius’s head impaled on a spear. The other decisive factor in the battle was that Maxentius’s troops were used to a relatively easy life in Italy, while Constantine’s troops were battle hardened from campaigning  in Britain, France and holding back the Germanic tribes along the empire’s northern border.

In 315 the Senate dedicated a triumphal arch in Rome to honour Constantine, with an inscription praising him because “with divine instigation” he and his army had won the victory. Interestingly it did not say which god had provided the “instigation” for victory and so people could credit it to Sol Invictus, the Christian God, Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Mithras, Hercules  or whichever god they chose!

In early 313 Constantine and Licinius met in Milan. They produced the Edict of Milan, a very important decree which provided freedom of religion to Christians, but also to Jews and Pagans – “to Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired”.  It required that the wrongs done to Christians in the recent persecutions be righted, including the restoration of confiscated items. It also stopped Jews from being able to stone to death Christian converts from Judaism. This Edict is not about human rights – ideas totally alien to Roman Emperors. It is about stability, stability within the empire, “to secure public order” and avoid social unrest. Constantine was very superstitious and so it’s also about placating the Christian God – who after Constantine’s victory is regarded as being very powerful, while at the same time trying to keep the many pagan gods happy.

The Edict did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire. This was done by Emperor Theodosius I in 380.

Constantine and Licinius ruled the west and east of the empire until 324. Licinius was accused of reneging on the Edict of Milan by sacking Christians from important positions and by confiscations. This is regarded by many historians as exaggerated in order to justify war and allow Constantine to take control of the whole empire. Licinius was a lot less supportive of Christianity and he probably saw the Church as being far more loyal to Constantine.

After a series of battles Constantine eventually prevailed at the Battle of Chrysopolis in September 324. Licinius surrendered at Nicomedia on condition that he would be spared. He was sent to live as a private citizen in Thessalonica, but in 325 Constantine accused Licinius of plotting against him and had him hanged. Constantine was now sole emperor of the Roman Empire.

In the summer of 326 Constantine had his eldest son put to death, and later that summer he had the Empress Fausta, killed in “an over-heated bath”. Their names were wiped from inscriptions, references to their lives in the literary record were eradicated, and the memory of both was condemned.

After 324 Constantine decided to move his capital to the Greek city of Byzantium, he carried out extensive rebuilding, which included the Church of the Holy Apostles. The city was dedicated in May 330, and renamed  Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The western part of the empire was more difficult to control than the east, with serious threats of invasion from barbarian tribes to the north, Constantine therefore saw it as prudent to move his capitol to the eastern part of his empire. He was proved correct as the Byzantine Empire continued in the east for over a thousand years.

Constantine died in Constantinople in 337 having changed history, and the history of the church.

 

Constantine and Christianity – the church after 312.

 Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity in 312 changed both the history of the world and the history of the church.

Recovering from a time of persecution it’s perfectly understandable that  church leaders welcomed Constantine’s reign with his adoption of the Christian cult alongside paganism. But unfortunately they were willing to make compromises, particularly about Jesus of Nazareth, so as not to offend the Emperor,  which proved detrimental to Christianity.

Constantine like every other King from every ancient civilisation from China to Peru would have regarded himself as divine. The bishops had to be careful how they portrayed Jesus – he could not be more divine than the emperor, so the answer was to play down Jesus and emphasis the cosmic Christ. This also involved spiritualising Jesus teaching so that it offered little or no challenge to the powers that be, and emphasising the virgin birth and his death and resurrection.

As the church absorbed Roman culture this was reflected in art. The Christian God began to be depicted as Jupiter/Zeus and Christ as the emperor with all the trappings of imperial power.

Philippa Adrych writes: Zeus on his throne was replaced by the new Christian God, ruler of heaven and earth, and the emperor, long associated with a variety of divinities, now imparted his image onto the figure of Christ.

When Constantine came to power Christians were still a minority, but a large minority. The recent persecution, which had just ended, did not stop the faith growing. Up to this point Christianity had been largely popular among slaves, soldiers and the lower orders of Roman society.

After 312 Christianity gained legal toleration and imperial approval which helped the church to grow rapidly. Bishop and church historian Eusebius, wrote of “the hypocrisy of people who crept into the church” hoping for the emperor’s favour. Adopting the Christian religion suddenly became a way to enhance one’s prospects in society.

Robert Markus writes: There had been rich Christians before Constantine, but rarely can their Christianity have contributed to their standing in society, their wealth or power. But from now on, their religion could itself become a source of prestige, and did so to the dismay of bishops who, like Eusebius, were sometimes inclined to look for less worldly motives for conversion to Christianity.

Markus continues: As it rose to dominance, Christianity had seamlessly absorbed Roman culture, and the lifestyle of these urban elite Christians was almost identical to that of their pagan peers except that Christians went to church. The lack of a distinctive Christian lifestyle troubled many thoughtful believers. Many committed Christians reacted by embracing asceticism, esteeming virginity, poverty and self-denial. Thus monastic communities came into being.

In 325 Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to iron out theological questions. Most centred around the idea of the Trinity, and the relationship between the Father and the Son in terms of equality. They formulated the Nicene Creed, affirming the concept of the Trinity, that the three persons were co-equal and co-eternal and that Jesus Christ was ‘of the same substance’ as the Father. This laid the foundations for only one kind of Christianity –

Nicene, Trinitarian, Substitutionary Atonement Christianity.  All other forms of Christianity were from now on heretical.

These changes during Constantine’s rule opened the way for the most shameful behaviour, the coming decades and centuries were marked by violent persecutions against pagans and other Christians, particularly Arians.  Emperor Theodosius I in 380 made Christianity the official religion of the empire. He was a zealous persecutor of pagans and Christians, whom he regarded as heretics. In the coming centuries Byzantine emperors passed laws which forbade any form of Christianity which was not orthodox (Nicene Trinitarian), forbade many pagan practices and harshly discriminated against Jews and Samaritans.

It is a sad fact that almost as soon as religious liberty was granted for Christians in the Roman Empire, Christian on Christian  and Christian on pagan persecution and violence began, and accelerated when Christianity became the official religion of the empire. It is greatly to the dishonour of Christians that this took place.

During the third century AD, the church changed from poor to rich, from despised to respectable, from persecuted to persecutor, from shame to honour, from the cross to the sword, from non-violence to imperial power, from the Kingdom to Christendom, from Jesus the radical, non-violent preacher to Christ triumphant – depicted as the emperor whose servants weald great power.

Thus Christendom was created, an empire where every citizen must be subservient  to a sovereign lord crowned as a Christian ruler, and where laws were created to harass, exile, torture or kill all who disagree with state orthodoxy, whether Christian heretic, pagan or Jew.

Centuries of warfare between Christians followed, initially Trinitarian against Arian.

These changes which left Christians divided and self-absorbed paved the way for the rapid advance of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa. This lead to the crusades, which of course were mostly targeted at Muslims, but Roman Catholics also took the opportunity along the way to massacre Orthodox Christians and Jews. Doctrinal differences continued to the Reformation and beyond as Protestants and Roman Catholics burned each other at the stake in sixteenth century England, and fought religious wars across northern Europe. In southern Europe and Latin America the Inquisition tortured and murdered many thousands of “heretics”. Christianity had largely parted ways with the Kingdom and became firmly embedded in nation and empire.

 

Constantine – a personal viewpoint.

Constantine was  very ambitious, astute and when deemed necessary ruthless.  Without these qualities he wouldn’t have become emperor nor been able to hold on to power . He was also a very skilled and formidable general who was able to inspire great loyalty from the  troops he commanded.

There are many varying opinions about his reaction to Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. I don’t believe Constantine would have been in  favour of persecution simply because it would have led to less social stability rather than more, and why unnecessarily alienate a sizable minority when you want to become emperor? On the other hand I don’t believe that he would have opposed the persecution as some contemporary Christian writers claimed. Diocletian was  second only to his father in sponsoring him to become either Caesar or Augustus in the Tetrarchy.  So there is no way that he would have risked losing Diocletian’s favour.

He was not afraid to make radical changes when circumstances dictated, on coming to power he immediately disbanded the Praetorian Guard.  Constantine believed that they were a threat to his safety as they had been loyal to Maxentius. By this time the Praetorian Guard had become a formidable force of 15,000 troops. Disbanding the Guard was presumably made easier because many had died in the battle for Rome. Constantine formed his own personal bodyguard made up of the most loyal and able troops who had accompanied him from Britain.

Constantine was very shrewd and calculating. He had a knack of not rushing into things, but seems to have been able to bide his time and strike at the right moment.  He waited six years before invading Italy and attacking Rome to become Augustus of the west. He waited another twelve years before attacking Licinius, to fulfil his ambition of becoming the empire’s sole emperor. There are a couple of old fashioned sayings that are most apt with regard to Constantine: “never bite off more than you can chew” – he never did; and “strike while the iron’s hot” – he always seems to have done so.

Constantine’s conversion to Christianity causes problems for historians and leads to almost as many opinions as there are writers.  Up until 312 emperors had always been either hostile or indifferent to Christianity. Look at it from their point of view. How could an emperor subscribe to a religion that involved the worship of a Jewish criminal that the empire’s agents had executed by crucifixion? Emperors would also have had a huge problem in accepting that this Jewish criminal was more divine than they were. That’s why I believe church leaders played down Jesus and his teaching and emphasised Christ so as not to offend the new emperor.

From the point of view of contemporary Christians his “conversion”  must have seemed miraculous.  This is unsurprising as within two years Christians went from suffering persecution to being able to worship freely.

I’m sure Constantine had some sort of spiritual experience, possibly a dream or a vision of some kind. He interpreted this as being from the Christian God and when he defeated Maxentius the next day he truly believed that this god must be very powerful, and that he needed to placate him.

His understanding of Christianity must have been very unsophisticated, and I can’t believe that he grasped the implications of what it really meant to be a Christian, for example how its converts were required to devote themselves exclusively to Christianity. His mother, Helena, a pious Christian must have had some influence over him with regard to Christianity, particularly after he became emperor.

Along with Licinius, Constantine produced the Edict of Milan, in 313, which must rank as one of his greatest achievements.  The Edict stated that Christians should be allowed to practice their faith without persecution. It cancelled penalties for professing Christianity and  decreed that confiscated property must be returned to both the Church and individual Christians.  The Edict also protected all other religions from persecution, allowing anyone to worship whichever god they chose. This was not about human rights, but about social stability and about placating the Christian God to whom he believed he owed his success.

This however did not lead to a totally “Christian” style of rule. Some of his actions were definitely still pagan. Throughout his life he held the title of Pontifex Maximus,  a position Roman Emperors held as head of the Roman State Cult. At the time of the dedication of the Arch of Constantine, in 315, sacrifices were made to Sol Invictus, Apollo, Diana, Victoria and Hercules.  When he founded his new capitol of Constantinople, as well as building churches, Constantine erected some pagan temples and statues.

Throughout his rule, Constantine supported the Church, built basilicas such as Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. He also granted certain tax exemptions to clergy and promoted Christians to high office. Emperors had always favoured a particular cult, Constantine was different in that his favoured cult was the Christ-cult. Throughout his reign he appears to have gradually increased his favour of  the Christian cult over pagan ones.

In order to gain power and to hold on to it he had to be ruthless, this was borne out by the murder of his wife, the Empress Fausta, and the executions of his oldest son, Crispus and his defeated rival, Licinius.

He was also very ambitious and desired to be sole Emperor.  He was ambitious and ruthless enough to brand Licinius as anti-Christian in order to start a war with the aim of becoming sole emperor. Licinius seems to have been far less supportive of  Christianity than Constantine, and probably saw the church as being much more loyal to Constantine.

Constantine  was clearly very astute and foresighted. He seems to have thought that Christianity was the future for the empire, and had the foresight to move the capitol  east to Constantinople because the western part of the empire was more difficult to control, with serious threats of invasion from barbarian tribes to the north. He was proved correct as the Byzantine Empire continued in the east for more than a thousand years.

The greatest achievements of his reign must surely have been the Edict of Milan, and moving the empire’s capital east to Constantinople.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your God is too small. Your God is too male!

So, this morning at the bandstand we started to look at the metaphors we use for God and whether they limit God / us. We all acknowledge in theory that God is neither male nor female – God is Spirit and both male and female equally reflect God’s image (Genesis 1:27). We know in theory that terms used for God like ‘Father’ Lord’ ‘King’ Son’ are metaphors and not literal and we know that Jesus used female imagery for God – the woman working the yeast into the dough, the woman searching for the lost coin, the hen wanting to gather her chicks under her wings… We know that in Isaiah God uses imagery of being a mother nursing and being loyal to her children and yet, the prevailing view of God is male and pretty much exclusively our language is of Him and He is male in practice!

We live in an age where we have realised that some language we use needs to be changed. We need to be sensitised to  language we have used in the past without thought for the implications of it – think of racial terms, words used about sexual orientation, people with disabilities… So is it high time we challenged the limited terms we actually use for God to begin to match what we say we believe with our practice? Am I fair in saying that if we say we believe something but don’t do anything about it, we don’t really believe it?

So, we read some of Isaiah 40 without the male pronouns and occasionally ‘Mother’ inserted next to God too. See where the change in metaphor leads you – what new ideas / feelings come to light with that one shift:

Isaiah 40

9-11 Climb a high mountain, Zion.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid!
Tell the cities of Judah,
“Look! Your Mother God!”

Like a shepherd, she will care for her flock,
gathering the lambs in her arms,
Hugging them as she carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

12-17 Who has scooped up the ocean
in her two hands,
or measured the sky between her thumb and little finger,
Who has put all the earth’s dirt in one of her baskets,
weighed each mountain and hill?
Who could ever have told Mother GOD what to do
or taught her her business?
What expert would she have gone to for advice,
what school would she attend to learn justice?
What god do you suppose might have taught her what she knows,
showed her how things work?
Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket,
a mere smudge on a window.
Watch her sweep up the islands
like so much dust off the floor!

All the nations add up to simply nothing before her—
less than nothing is more like it. ‘A’ minus.
18-20 So who even comes close to being like God?
To whom or what can you compare her?

21-24 Have you not been paying attention?
Have you not been listening?
Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?
Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?
Mother God sits high above the round ball of earth.
The people look like mere ants.
She stretches out the skies like a canvas—
yes, like a tent canvas to live under.

25-26 “So—who is like me?
Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.

27-31 Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
“Mother GOD has lost track of me.
She doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything Haven’t you been listening?
MOTHER GOD doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
She’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
She doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch her breath.
And she knows everything, inside and out.
She energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon Mother GOD get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.

We discussed our responses and read Psalm 100 & Psalm 98 in the same vein before considering the problems with metaphors for the Trinity – Father and Son so clearly male and Holy Spirit genderless in theory but ‘he’ nevertheless. The Theologian Sallie McFague suggests using Mother (relating to Creation, justice and agape love), Lover (relating to salvation, healing and eros love) and Friend (relating to eschatology, companionship and philia love). It’s hard to argue that the doctrine is unsound, so what difference might it make to bless someone in the name of the Mother, Lover and Friend? What do these metaphors open us up to of the reality of all that God is and more?

So we prayed to God our Mother for justice in the world and to God our lover for healing for those in need and to God our Friend to be companion to those we named…

We shared bread and wine with these words (bearing in mind that whilst Jesus of Nazareth was a man, the pre-existent second person of the Trinity is neither male nor female)

This is the great mystery.
God the Lover emptied herself to become human and give herself for us.
As Jesus, she/he broke bread and said ‘This is my body broken for you. Eat this in remembrance of me.
The body of Christ
In the same way, God the Lover as Jesus, took wine, and spoke of it as a new covenant sealed with blood.
The blood of Christ.

And yes – it does feel odd to use female terms – but didn’t it feel odd to change other language we have changed before we got used to it? And if we balk at using ‘herself’ doesn’t that mean we believe God to be male after all? Really?

Our homework is to practice using such terms for God in our prayers. Whenever I find myself saying ‘Father’ or ‘Lord’ I add ‘Mother’ or ‘Sister’ to redress the balance. None of these terms are wrong but none are literally true and perhaps we get a bigger God when we expand our vision of her!

Our closing blessing:

So may God our Mother inspire us to love justice and to love selflessly

may God the Lover inspire us to heal the hurting and rescue the needy

And may God the Friend inspire us to know how to welcome others to journey with us.

Amen.

Franciscan Incarnational Theology

ThirdSpace met yesterday (Wednesday) evening at Holly House to learn about Franciscan Incarnational Theology.

A member of our community introduced the subject, followed by questions and discussion.

Incarnation instead of atonement. (Richard Rohr).

Franciscans never believed that “blood atonement” was required for God to love us. Our teacher, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), said Christ was Plan A from the very beginning (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14). Christ wasn’t a mere Plan B after the first humans sinned, which is the way most people seem to understand the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Mystery of Incarnation could not be a mere mop-up exercise, a problem solving technique, or dependent on human beings messing up.

Scotus taught that the Enfleshment of God had to proceed from God’s perfect love and God’s perfect and absolute freedom (John 1:1-18), rather than from any mistake of ours. Did God intend no meaning or purpose for creation during the first 14.8 billion years? Was it all just empty, waiting for sinful humans to set the only real drama into motion? Did the sun, moon, and galaxies have no divine significance? The fish, the birds, the animals were just waiting for humans to appear? Was there no Divine Blueprint (“Logos”) from the beginning? Surely this is the extreme hubris and anthropomorphism of the human species!

The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) seems to imply that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out. I know there are many temple metaphors of atonement, satisfaction, ransom, “paying the price,” and “opening the gates”; but do know they are just that—metaphors of transformation and transitioning. Too many Christians understood these in a transactional way instead of a transformational way.

How and why would God need a “blood sacrifice” before God could love what God had created? Is God that needy, unfree, unloving, rule-bound, and unable to forgive? Once you say it, you see it creates a nonsensical theological notion that is very hard to defend. Many rightly or wrongly wondered, “What will God ask of me if God demands violent blood sacrifice from his only Son?” Particularly if they had a rageaholic or abusive parent, they were already programmed to believe in punishment as the shape of the universe. A violent theory of redemption legitimated punitive and violent problem solving all the way down—from papacy to parenting. There eventually emerged a disconnect between the founding story of necessary punishment and Jesus’ message. If God uses and needs violence to attain God’s purposes, maybe Jesus did not really mean what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and violent means are really good and necessary. Thus our history.

In Franciscan parlance, Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. This grounds Christianity in pure love and perfect freedom from the very beginning. It creates a very coherent and utterly positive spirituality, which draws people toward lives of inner depth, prayer, reconciliation, healing, and even universal “at-one-ment,” instead of mere sacrificial atonement. Nothing changed on Calvary, but everything was revealed as God’s suffering love—so that we could change! (Please read that again.)

Jesus was precisely the “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27) sacrifice given to reveal the lie and absurdity of the very notion and necessity of “sacrificial” religion itself. Heroic sacrifices to earn God’s love are over! That’s much of the point of Hebrews 10 if you are willing to read it with new eyes. But we perpetuated such regressive and sacrificial patterns by making God the Father into the Chief Sacrificer, and Jesus into the necessary victim. Is that the only reason to love Jesus?

This perspective allowed us to ignore Jesus’ lifestyle and preaching, because all we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. This is no exaggeration. The irony is that Jesus undoes, undercuts, and defeats the sacrificial game. Stop counting, measuring, deserving, judging, and punishing, which many Christians are very well trained in—because they believe that was the way God operated too. This is no small thing. It makes the abundant world of grace largely inaccessible—which is, of course, the whole point.

It is and has always been about love from the very beginning.

 

THISNESS

I have the immense joy of being a [human being], a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. —Thomas Merton [1]

You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:14, 16

A mystic—like Merton, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, John Duns Scotus, and many others—is one who recognizes God’s image and likeness in this human being, in this creature, in this moment, and from that encounter with the sacred comes to see God everywhere and always. The mystic cannot help but love and have compassion for what is right in front of them. God’s indwelling presence—in every created thing—is inherent and cannot be earned or destroyed.

In her book, Scotus for Dunces, Mary Beth Ingham writes:

Haecceitas points to the ineffable within each being. . . . According to Scotus, the created order is not best understood as a transparent medium through which divine light [from the outside] shines (as Aquinas taught), but is itself endowed with an inner light that shines forth from within. [This is like the] difference between a window (Aquinas) and a lamp (Scotus). Both give light, but the source of light for Scotus has already been given to the being by the creator. Each being . . . possesses an immanent dignity; it is already gifted by the loving Creator with a sanctity beyond our ability to understand. . . .

Once we recognize the value of nature, of others, and of ourselves, we are called to act in imago Christi, as images of Christ who embodied divine love. [2]

At a CAC conference many years ago, Ingham reflected:

In the most concrete we discover the most ultimate. That is what it means for God to become one of us. The concrete individual who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth, was both divine and human.

And so, what does this mean for us? We are called to see the greatness of God in the smallest of things. We see divinity within humanity. We discover in ourselves a light within, and we discover in every human being, and as Scotus teaches, in everything that exists, an inner light that is a gift from God. [3]

When we become open and receptive to the ordinary, we discover:

The one is the way to the many.
The specific is the way to the spacious.
The now is the way to always.
The here is the way to the everywhere.
The material is the way to the spiritual.
The visible is the way to the invisible.

REFERENCES:

1              Incarnation instead of atonement

Richard Rohr, OFM

Daily meditations

12.02.2016

Printed verso

https://cac.org

2              Revisiting the Franciscan Doctrine of Christ

Ilia Delio, OSF

Theological Studies 64 (2003)

3              Incarnation in Franciscan Spirituality

Seamus Mulholland, OFM

The Franciscan, January 2001

4              St Francis and the incarnation

John Quigley, OFM

www.franciscanmedia.org

December 2012

5              Things hidden

Richard Rohr, OFM

SPCK, 2016

See especially Chapter 9 and most especially pp 195-200

 

Bible references:

John 1: 1-18; 3:13; 8:28; 12:31; 15:15; 19:37

1 Corinthians: 1:8; 2:8; 2:16: 2 Corinthians 5:21

Colossians 1: 15-20; Galatians 6:16

Ephesians 1: 3-14; 20-23

Hebrews 7: 27; 10

52 Ways to improve your Carbon Footprint

We had an interesting discussion in the pub about being more green – the challenge was, could we think up 52 simple ways to lighten our carbon footprint.

This is what we came up with – you might be able to add more. We would love to hear your suggestions

  1. Avoid food waste try not to buy or make too much food
  2. Buy fruit and vegetables when they are in season rather than those that have to be flown in from miles away
  3. Compost peelings, and any cooked food scraps (not meat or fish)
  4. Avoid the temptation of “Buy one Get one Free” if it makes you buy more than you need
  5. Shop carefully – look at labels and consider which product is most environmentally friendly to buy
  6. Cook things from scratch rather than buying readymade food
  7. Eat less meat and try to buy ethically sourced fish
  8. Sort your recycling carefully – check the labels of things as you throw away to see if they can be recycled
  9. Check any cosmetic products to make sure they do not contain micro beads
  10. Recycle batteries and ink cartridges or use refillable cartridges and rechargeable batteries
  11. Use peat free compost
  12. Plant bee friendly flowers and encourage other wild life through careful planting
  13. Feed birds and wild life
  14. Grow some vegetables if you have a garden, balcony or window box
  15. Resist the temptation of using chemicals in the garden. Use nematodes, egg shells, coffee grinds and wool pellets etc to prevent slug and snail damage and spray plants with dilute washing up liquid to keep away other garden pests.
  16. Have a pond – even a small amount of water in a garden encourages and helps wild life
  17. Buy a reusable take away cup rather than using the throw away ones you purchase hot drinks in
  18. Insulate your loft
  19. See if your property is suitable for cavity wall insulation
  20. Investigate buying power from ECO friendly energy suppliers
  21. Can you get solar panels for your property?
  22. Can you use wind power for your home?
  23. Avoid using Amazon – a company that has put many local firms out of business and uses large amounts of packing and fuel to ship goods to your home
  24. Look for more ECO friendly materials as alternatives to concrete in building projects
  25. If you don’t have a duel flush toilet – put a brick in your cistern
  26. Keep wearing your clothes until they wear out rather than always buying new ones
  27. Pick up rubbish left lying around when you are out and bin it – try to recycle it if possible. Many towns now have recycle bins for plastic, cans, paper etc.
  28. Use the correct amount of water in your kettle. A kettle uses a huge amount of power to heat water.
  29. Switch off your tap when you are cleaning your teeth rather than leaving it running
  30. Ask for goods to be wrapped in paper bags that can be recycled
  31. Recycle carrier bags – most super markets have a recycle bin for carriers and will replace those reusable plastic bags when they get damaged and then will then recycle old ones for you
  32. Buy food not wrapped in plastic if possible – be prepared to leave plastic wrapping in the place you have purchased from to show your dislike of the excess use of the material. Campaign where you do your shopping and ask / email / sign petitions or write to say you do not want goods wrapped in plastic
  33. Buy glass bottles of liquids where possible and recycle them
  34. If you buy a product and have a choice about the colour of the plastic container buy the white one – it can usually be more easily recycled
  35. Use Freegle (Freecycle) or charity shops as this saves lots of things going to landfill
  36. Think carefully about holidays, can you use public transport, stay in the UK or travel abroad without flying?
  37. If you use HRT patches be careful how you dispose of them as they are hazardous to the environment
  38. Always carry a bag when going shopping
  39. Conserve energy (switch off)
  40. Switch on heating for less time – use a timer for switching on and off
  41. Turn heating and hot water down or off when you are away
  42. Put on an extra layer rather than the heating
  43. Use low energy light bulbs
  44. Put thermostats on radiators adjust heating in each room rather than have all rooms at the same temperature
  45. Turn your heating down a degree or two
  46. Is there a way you can cut down on junk mail sent to your home if not make sure you recycle paper correctly
  47. Travel light it uses less fuel
  48. Support local food growers, markets and farmers markets
  49. Share, borrow and lend or think about hiring rather than buying something you might seldom use or never use again
  50. Resist advertising and the lure of “new and improved”- ask yourself – is what you have perfectly adequate?
  51. Tell your MP that the environment matters to you. That clean air, water, national parks, habitats and resources need to be protected for those who come after us
  52. “The lads” spent the time discussing the virtues (or not) of electric cars – something not quite so easy but all of us should consider how we replace our vehicles when the time comes.

That is one for every week of the year – best of luck!

Walking lightly on God’s Earth


The best thing about meeting out of doors is when the season changes and the best season change is when spring reveals all it’s newness.

Before we met together this morning a roll of paper was laid up the steps and spread on the floor of the bandstand. It was quite amusing watching people trying to avoid stepping on it.

This morning we were thinking about our footprint on the earth and how we might step more lightly.

Walk lightly

Each leaf, each petal,

each grain, each person,

sings your praises,

Creator God.

Each creature on the earth,

all the mountains and great sea

show your glory,

Spirit of love.

And yet the hand of greed

has patented and plundered

your splendour,

has taken and not shared your gift,

has lived as owner of the earth,

not guest.

And so the ice is cracked

the rivers dry,

the valleys flooded

and the snow caps melt.

God our Father, show us

how to step gently,

how to live simply,

how to walk lightly

with respect and love

for all that you have made.

Amen

Linda Jones/CAFOD

 

Psalm 104 1-5The Message

 ” O my soul, bless God!

God, my God, how great you are!
beautifully, gloriously robed,
Dressed up in sunshine,
and all heaven stretched out for your tent.
You built your palace on the ocean deeps,
made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings.
You commandeered winds as messengers,
appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.
You set earth on a firm foundation
so that nothing can shake it, ever…

24-30 What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.”

Our activity was to walk in the park for a few minutes and see what we could glimpse of our “wildly wonderful world”

We praised God for the sun shine, the birdsong, for butterflies, for magnolia blossom, for tulips, for fresh new leaves and for the beauty and colour of the spring flowers.

Writing the things that inspired us on the roll of paper we were invited to step onto it (to make our footprints if you like).

Looking at our Ecological Footprint! Our impact on the planet’s resources is our “footprint”, and in the UK we use the resources of 1.3 planet earths. We can’t go on like this! If we really value this world as God’s creation, we should take a long hard look at our consumption of resources, our means of travel, our expectations of “more”. Rather than being overwhelmed with guilt, the result needs to be small achievable steps …

We were given another task to complete sitting on the benches in the sunshine

We had to think of ways were were trying already to leave a lighter footprint those we thought we were doing well were:

Avoiding waste, careful shopping, using solar power in our homes, throwing away less food, grow your own veg, watching air miles. not leaving taps running, not over filling the kettle, using paper bags that can be recycled, feeding birds and wild life, eating less meat, being more frugal with clothes, wear things out or if not give to Freegle or charity shops, holidaying in G.B. carefully destroying HRT patches, not using pesticides in the garden, bee friendly flowers, always taking bags when going shopping, composting food waste, encourage wild life through careful planting, conserve energy (switch off), only travel if necessary, switching on heating for less time, putting on a layer rather than the heating, low energy light bulbs, sorting and recycling carefully and never have heating set higher than 18C.

Many of us were doing these things already and should not to feel overwhelmed by the task of preserving our world for those who come in the future.

We were also tasked to think about things we are trying to achieve. These included:

Travelling by train where ever possible, using public transport, using less chemicals in home and garden, meat consumption minimised, buying a smaller engine/electric car, flying less often, trying to walk more often, avoiding buying things in plastic and shopping at the local market where food can be taken away in paper bags.

Our final task was to think of a real challenge for ourselves to achieve. We came up with the following:

Live in a carbon neutral house, use solar and wind power to be energy neutral, no air travel, , use minimal plastic, be less car reliant, be part of protecting forests and endangered species, save the pangolin and buy an electric car.

So we have something to aim at…

                        Confession

God our Creator and Healer
We confess that we have sinned:
We have used creation not cherished it;
We have lived selfishly; not watched the balance of life;
We have been greedy – not sharing earth’s gifts;
And our footprints are heavy not gentle.
Forgive us the damage that disturbs our planet.
Grant to us to live for the world’s healing and our own.
In you lies our hope for transformation                     Lent Challenge 2008, Lichfield Diocese

The Be-Attitudes

Blessed are those who use low energy light bulbs
for theirs is the light of God’s wisdom.

Blessed are those who travel by train (and other public transport)
for their lives are on God’s track.

Blessed are those who chose a car with low fuel consumption
for they are in God’s fast lane.

Blessed are those who insulate their homes
for theirs is the warmth of God’s love.

Blessed are those who put themselves out
to use energy from renewable sources,
for they have kindled the flame of the future.

Adapted from John Polhill, © Eggs and Ashes, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow. 

Bread and wine

Jesus, teacher, healer, leader, story teller and friend,

We meet together to remember you.

Your life and example,

Your words of guidance,

Your sacrifice as a gift of love.

We remember with bread

 

Jesus wedding guest, table sharer, foot washer and affirmer,

We drink wine together to remember you.

Your actions and relationships,

Your wisdom and compassion,

Your death and resurrection.

We remember with wine 

 

All that remains for us to do now is to go and sit in the sun together and enjoy our beverages (Fairtrade naturally)

Easter Sunday.

 

We met in the park on a bitterly cold Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

Our worship included contributions from most of those gathered, here are just a selection:

Stand in a close circle

Welcome friends to Third Space

Jesus is risen

All: He is risen indeed – Hallelujah

Widened the circle

Allow ourselves to feel at home here.  Be yourself here, know you are accepted and loved here.

Take one more step back

We widen the circle to include a space for Jesus to speak to us at all times.

 

We widen the circle to what God wants to say to us in this place.

Turn to the west, north, south and east.

We pray a silent blessing on this place and on this town

Take one more step back

We widen the circle to include people in history.  The saints and traditions of old. We remember, those who have nurtured us on our journey in life, those who have loved us and guided us.  Those in the past who trod the roads, and brought the love of God to this town. We thank you for their wisdom, faith and endurance.

On this Easter morning with all who have follow Jesus from the beginning, with God and with friends, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Amen.

 

Resurrected with wounds.

After his resurrection, Jesus appears to be resurrected and yet wounded at the same time. This is the unexpected appearance of the Risen Jesus.

His resurrected body remains scarred. Thinking about this over the last few days I’ve found it very strange, surely we’d expect his resurrected body to be perfect, to be unscarred.

Then we find from reading the gospels that Jesus’ wounds are part of his identity. Because it’s by his wounds that his followers recognised him as Jesus. It is only by seeing his wounds and scars that Thomas is able identify Jesus as his Lord and his God. The brokenness of Jesus body seems to be a very important part of his identity, his wounds are part of who Jesus is.

So presumably we’ll also be resurrected with our wounds.

We all have wounds that are caused by sickness, by accidents, by the actions of others and by the problems and disappointments of life.

All of us are wounded.  Even Jesus is wounded after his resurrection.  Resurrection hope doesn’t seem to do away with our woundedness.  By retaining the wounds of his torture and execution, is Jesus showing us that we can find hope and strength in him?

It seems to me that many Christians think faith requires denying the ways our bodies retain the scars of continued pain and injury; in our memories, in our struggles with illness and injury, in our despair over others’ apathy in the face of injustice.

The risen yet wounded Jesus wants to open our eyes to see the pain of others, the destruction of the earth due to our greed and foolishness, and  our part in wounding others near and far. Jesus offers us a peace that recognises the hard reality of injury and hurt.

So our resurrection hope does not deny the reality of wounds. Jesus although resurrected with wounds is not disabled by them. That’s what I think he wants for us.

We can freely enter into his resurrection hope just as we are, wounds and all.

Our faith is in a God who is always with us in our woundedness.

 

 

living peacefully on earth

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Living Peacefully on Earth
To live non-violently—both toward humans and nature—requires that we recognize God’s image in each living thing. We cannot be violent toward someone or something when we see the divine in them. My friend and nonviolent activist John Dear recently published a new book, They Will Inherit the Earth, from which I’d like to share today.

Over the decades, I have witnessed the destruction we humans have done to Mother Earth and her creatures. I’ve read about catastrophic climate change and experienced the changes—the droughts, the strange weather, the extreme fires and tornadoes and rainfall. . . . I grieve for Mother Earth and the creatures who die because of our systemic greed, violence, and destructive habits. But I never made or felt the connection between my vision of nonviolence and the ongoing destruction of Mother Earth. Until now. . . .

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says in the Beatitudes. Thomas Merton wrote that “meekness” is the biblical word for nonviolence. “Blessed are the nonviolent,” Jesus is saying. . . . “They will inherit the earth.” . . . A life of nonviolence leads to oneness with creation and her creatures.

A life of violence, of course, leads to an abrupt discord with creation. In a time of permanent warfare, nuclear weapons, and catastrophic climate change, the message couldn’t be clearer. The God of peace, the nonviolent Jesus, and his Holy Spirit call us to practice nonviolence. In that way, we’ll renounce and stop our environmental destruction, tend our Garden of Eden together, and restore creation to its rightful peace. In the process, we will discover peace with one another and all the creatures.

This is the journey we are all called to live, to make the connection between active non-violence and oneness with creation, so that we all might dwell peacefully in this paradise. . . . I [see] not just the vision of peace and nonviolence, but the vision of a new creation, where we all live as one in peace with one another, Mother Earth and her glorious creatures. It’s that vision of peace, nonviolence, and the new creation, the vision of the promised land before us, the practice of proactive nonviolence, that offers a way out of environmental destruction, as well as permanent war, corporate greed, systemic racism, and extreme poverty.

All we have to do is open our eyes to the reality of creation before us, to be present to it, to take it in and honour it, and welcome its gift of peace—and do so within the boundaries of nonviolence. In that present moment of peace, a new creation is offered to us once again.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

 

Fairtrade & Fair Trade

Two weeks ago we were busy with events for Fairtrade Fortnight (26 Feb – 11 Mar 2018). During that time I came across this excellent article which I would like to share with you.

 

Using the Fairtrade Mark.   by Robin Roth,  Traidcraft Chief Executive.

In 2017 we have seen a number of announcements from various brands, retailers and traders that they are moving away from the Fairtrade Mark. This is a shame and we should continue to support those mainstream companies that are bringing Fairtrade labelled products to the mass market, and so starting their journey about what real fair trade means. For Traidcraft and other 100 per cent fair trade companies and pioneers however, focusing on a label misses a fundamental point in the origins of fair trade. Fair trade was all about partnerships with people: it was not about certifying products. It should not be forgotten that fair trade began well before standards, certifications, labels, monitoring and impact assessments were even thought of. Traidcraft was formed in 1979, the label introduced in 1992. As a dedicated fair trade company with these principles running through our DNA, all our products are fair trade, but many don’t carry the Fairtrade Mark. These include those that we sold before the label came along as well as the handicraft items Traidcraft has sold over the last 4 decades where we use the WFTO mark. Our Palm Oil from Serendipalm, is certified “Fair for Life” by the Swiss organic certifier I.M.O, because no “Fairtrade standards” yet exist. In truth, the Fairtrade label is limited to a relatively small number of raw commodities, or easily identifiable products, like tea, coffee and bananas, but it does not include most of the things we actually buy on a daily basis. For all its limitations the Fairtrade label is actually a brilliant idea: simple, understandable and credible. It is simple because it captures a degree of certainty in highly complex supply chains with a single, easily identifiable graphic. It is understandable because there is an implied promise behind that graphic that says something about decent wages, fair price and decent working conditions. And it is credible because there is an independent certifier who checks out the claims. This is an important principle for any organisation making ethical claims. As far back as the early 90’s, before the Fairtrade label had become established, Traidcraft was a pioneer in social accounting, reporting on its impact and having its findings independently verified. The reality behind fair trade, however, is anything but simple. Many of the companies no longer using the Mark are right to hint at this – for example citing the anomalous situation of a large multinational having a couple of fair trade product lines which gives them a consumer boost, whilst they continue to avoid tax, destroy the environment or treat workers in an appalling fashion. Few consumers have the time for this level of complexity when it comes to buying a pack of tea. And herein lies the problem. Fair trade is complex. It was never a single idea, and depending on whom you talk to, the core emphasis varies. For some producers, price is an important issue, but not more so than solidarity with trading partners, establishing land rights, access to pre-finance, long term relationships and a level playing field when competing with multinationals. In some cultures and environments, fair trade is simply incomprehensible if not aligned with organic production, and in the United States, an understanding of fair trade might just as much include working with migrant labour in the plantations of Southern California, as it does with coffee cooperatives in Guatemala. The standards that form the basis of the Fairtrade label are good, but they are not perfect, and certainly not all encompassing, which is why other standards, and other labels have emerged. At Traidcraft, as among most European fair trade organisations, we acknowledge the value of a number of fair trade standards as well as the Fairtrade Mark;

  • Fairtrade Mark – Product focused, fair trade but not Organic, based in Germany, stakeholder owned.
  • WFTO’s (the World Fair Trade Organisation) system, organisational focus, owned by its members.
  • SPP (Small Producer Symbol from the Producers of Latin America), product and organisationally focused, owned by farmers; based in Mexico.
  • Fair for Life – product focused, fair trade and organic, based in Switzerland.
  • Naturland Fair – product and organisationally focused, fair trade and organic, based in Germany and owned by farmers.
  • Eco Cert – product focused, fair trade and organic, based in France.

All of these are based on 3rd party, independent certification and all of them capture different, important nuances of what fair trade means. Of the systems, or labels, that Traidcraft recognises, some are specifically product focused, some are more interested in the “fair trade-ness” of the organisation itself. This distinction is important since ultimately, no product label can guarantee what really goes on in the heart of a company – nor are they designed to achieve that. But at Traidcraft we have always viewed fair trade as something you do as a matter of course, rather than something you do from time to time. After all, being fair to your suppliers makes no sense if you treat your employees abysmally. Fair is an absolute. Traidcraft was set up to “do” fair trade. It is what we do. It is all that we do. Sainsbury’s, just to take one example, was not. It has other imperatives and no matter how good or benign their governance structure may be, it is a company dedicated primarily to the interests of its shareholders. So, when companies decide to remove the Fairtrade Mark from their products, what does this tell us? It tells us that a commercially driven organisation has made a strategic decision to disengage with a certification system that no longer suits its business model. The main reason for the shift in focus seems to be towards long term supply security before and above producer empowerment. As a commercially driven organisation that may make sense, but it would be disingenuous to describe their new scheme as “fairly traded” since producer empowerment, one of the core concerns of all fair trade schemes, has been very substantially downgraded. In conclusion, the Fairtrade label is an excellent concept, but is neither the last, the best, nor the only word in the world of fair trade. It is a useful tool for commercially driven organisations to make a claim, or start a journey, with a fairly limited range of classic products. But the label says nothing whatsoever about a company’s real engagement with its partners, nor its intentions towards its staff or customers. The only real predicator of fair trade in its broadest context, is whether the company itself is whole-heartedly engaged and connected to its core principles, and to have this rooted in its governance structure. There are precious few real Fair Traders around, and at Traidcraft we see all labels merely as the beginning, not the end of a journey. Other companies are not likely to change their minds, but thankfully, neither will Traidcraft. Fair trade is all we ever aspire to do.

Lenten Worship.

We met in the park on a mild early spring morning. Our worship focused on Lent with help from Richard Rohr and Dale Ryan.

Call to worship

Lord God,

early in the morning when the world was young,

you made life in all its beauty

you gave birth to all we know.

 

This morning, in the multi-coloured company

of your church on earth and in heaven,

we celebrate your creation,

your life,

your love,

your interest in us.

 

We are your people, the creatures of your care,

the bearers of your image.

This day we will walk in your light,

live by your spirit and follow Jesus.

Amen.

Richard Rohr – thoughts on the temptations of Jesus.

The first temptation of Jesus was to turn stones into bread. Sounds good, but this is our need to be immediately impressive and successful, and make things happen right now. It is our natural desire to look good…. You can be a very popular and successful when you operate at this level, and you will think very well of yourself. That is why Jesus has to face this temptation first, to move us beyond what we first want, to what we really need. In refusing to be immediately successful and impressive;  in refusing to respond to people’s immediate requests, Jesus is saying, Go deeper. What do you really desire? What do you really need? It is not usually what you first think.

The second temptation of Jesus is another one that all of us must face. Jesus imagines himself up on the pinnacle of the Temple, symbolising the very top of the religious world itself, and he is tempted to play “righteousness games” with God. “Throw yourself off and he’ll catch you”. Holy words can be used for evil purposes. This second temptation is to think of yourself as saved, superior to others, the moral elite on the side of God and religion, and to quote Scriptures for your own purpose—being against God in the name of God. Actually it’s quite common.

The third human temptation is the need for control, importance, wealth, status, and power. The devil tells Jesus to bow down before the power systems of this world: “All of these I will give to you”. All you have to do is to make these things into your belief and security system. Formal atheism is rare, but this kind of practical daily atheism is almost the norm for most people. Jesus refuses to bow down before the power systems of the world….. He knows that the price of such love of power is to “fall at Satan’s feet and worship him!” Jesus says, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”. When you can recognise and face up to these kinds of well-disguised demons, temptation doesn’t have a chance.

confession

In the blazing light of your love

our failings are illuminated

our failure to love

our failure to always be kind

our failure to be generous

our failure to serve others

our failure to truly follow Jesus.

Please forgive us and renew us.

Enfold us in your arms

that we might know

your forgiveness and healing love.

 

let’s say to one another –

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

(Psalm 103:8)

 Preparing for more (in Lent).   Dale Ryan.

“Lent gets messed up when we experience it as an exercise in deprivation, like we should give up something for Lent as if in God’s family scarcity is of value. A lot of us have already lived lives of scarcity where there’s not  enough, you can’t get enough love, enough whatever, life for many is already about not enough, and here the Christian community says lets practice more of not enough, and that’s profoundly counter productive.

I learned a lot about Lent from my wife, who one year for Lent decided to give up shame. Her notion was why not give up something that’s really killing her. Something that’s really a burden that you don’t need. Give up shame for Lent. But that’s not the point. The point is to have a glimpse of what life might be like if you were a shame free person. First time through you might only get a glimpse, and maybe you only begin to see with more clarity about the amount of shame you are carrying. But that would be a gift, that would be having something you didn’t have before. And if there is a dynamic for living with less shame, that would be a lot to show. …………………………………………  Lenten practices should leave us in a spot where we’ve got more than we started with, not less. So don’t give up something that you really love, give up something that’s dragging your life down. Something that’s making your life have less resurrection – cause that’s what Lent is preparing us for – a life where there’s more, not less. ………………………………………………….”

Our fasting and feasting is a great way to start thinking about, for example, giving up shame for Lent while taking up positive things like attempting to be more generous, more kind and more patient.

Spend a few moments in prayer and ask yourself if you could fast from destructive feelings like; anger, resentment , bitterness, unforgiveness, guilt, shame, envy and regret.

 

sharing bread and wine………………….

Jesus, we offer ourselves,

To be your hands reaching out to the world,

With your compassion.

Fill us with the breath of life

To be instruments of your peace.

Where there is silence about how others are treated,

Impassion us with a desire for justice.

 

As we share bread and wine

may our eyes be opened

to recognise Jesus among us.

 

Blessing for Lent

In this season of Lent,

May we turn

May we dance….

Dance defiance on injustice

Dance inclusion on division

Dance forgiveness, generosity and kindness

Dance life in all its fullness.

May we join the dance of Jesus

And dance for a better way to live.

Amen!