Saturday, October 04, 2008

A film I'm looking forward to...

Ian Jack's review in this morning's Guardian of the Terence Davies' new film Of Time and the City certainly makes it look like something worth waiting for.

Sermon for Sunday the 5th of October

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Krzysztof Kieslowski made a series of ten one-hour films for Polish television. The series was entitled simply ‘Dekalog’ and each episode took one of the Ten Commandments and told a story loosely based upon it.

In the episode ‘you shall not covet…’ two brothers inherit a valuable but incomplete stamp collection from their estranged father and become obsessed by both the wealth they have inherited and the fact that the missing stamps in the collection are owned by other people’

In the episode based on the commandment “you shall do no murder” – the brutality of a disadvantaged killer is contrasted with the cold efficiency of the state in its preparations to take his life on the gallows.

In the film ‘honour your father and mother’ a child’s relationship with her father becomes complex and muddled when she discovers that he is, in fact, not her biological father.

I can lend it to you if you’re interested and are over the age of 18.

One of the critics notes rather innocently, that viewers should not take the connections to each commandment to be literal but rather that they are used as a reflection upon the complex nature of moral decision making. 'Please take this as art' – he seems to be saying – 'and not reality – because this is complex and not simple'.

But – we want to cry out – Life is not simple! Moral decisions are made in complex relationships – rarely are things simple and clear-cut.

Complex and not simple: If we keep to the simplest reading of the ten commandments then we will admit that it possible to keep all ten of them.

I, for one, expect to end my years not having killed anybody – I regard that as a reasonable hope. I would expect my family and members of my congregation to be genuinely surprised and dismayed if it were ever revealed that I had committed murder.

Surely there is no necessity to stray from the marriage bed. People remain faithful to each other within the covenant of marriage quite regularly.

I would even go as far as to suggest that with a certain degree of childhood formation in both humility and generosity that it might be possible to fulfil the plainest personal meaning of not coveting your neighbour’s goods.

And I have met folks who do, in fact, say ‘Darn, Shucks, or Fiddle when they bang their thumb with the hammer.

And so, for example, when the rich young ruler announces with cheery self-assurance to Jesus that he has kept all these commandments from his youth we have no reason to suggest that he is either a lying toad or some rare breed of human. It is within the realm of reasonable discipline to keep the Ten Commandments in the simplest and most ordinary way that they can be read.

Now if you were really cheeky you might interject that we are not all equally advantaged when it comes to law keeping. Some of us have stronger drives than others and straying from the matrimonial bed is easier. Some of us were raised with very little and so coveting the goods of others is harder for us to avoid than it is for you who were raised with much. Some of us are quick-tempered or live in violent communities. Raising our hand against another man is not so great a stretch.

So what about that one over there on his donkey with a cheery face talking to Jesus: is he a law-keeper merely because his drives are low and his needs met?

But that’s sort of a side-line, isn’t it? We were saying that it is possible to end one’s life having kept the Ten Commandments.

When Jesus launches himself into his ministry after the death of John the Baptist he finds himself constantly bumping into the Pharisees. These were men who had taken up the challenge of teaching ordinary Jews how to keep the law and affirm their identity as God’s people. Not only Jews living in Jerusalem but as was more often the case living in the midst of Gentiles – in the homeland but also abroad – in Asia Minor or Egypt - ordinary Jews living complex lives and not simple ones. And the law they were to keep was not merely the Ten Commandments but the whole of the Levitical law as it governed food and marriage, work and religious observance.

But the Pharisees believed it could be done and they also treated this as a reasonable hope and intended to be successful in what they taught.

We’re used to thinking of the Pharisees as Jesus’ opponents but they were practical and often very popular teachers. It might have even seemed to them to that the failure of partnership between themselves and this new rabbi was a great tragedy. For their part they initially looked on Jesus as one of their own – a teacher of righteousness who was gathering disciples around him. They showed genuine interest and unfeigned offers of fellowship - though somewhat tinged with curiosity because of the sorts of people who Jesus was beginning to gather to himself.

Jesus will part company with the Pharisees on this point – taking both a greater and lesser emphasis on law keeping. The Sabbath was made for man – he says – and men and women can be healed on it. God desires the return of his people and God’s servants must maintain contact with lawbreakers. There will be no shunning of sinners but, rather, contact and engagement. And yet the commands of the law are even greater than we imagine.

If you could only see – Jesus tells his disciples – that murder is not merely doing another to death but is a part of the whole cycle of anger which we cannot and regularly do not avoid. Adultery is part of lust and exploitation. It begins in the heart and not the bedroom. Bearing false witness merely the promotion of an unwinnable point in the face of much evidence.

We might call it spin! We’d pay someone to do it on behalf of our company or our government.

Ultimately the law will tell me what sin is. The deeper I look the more I will find myself implicated and culpable. And I will come to recognize the violence that is within me when my anger boils over.

The law will tell me what sin is and I will begin to recognize that the half-truths I speak are covered by the heart of the commandment relating to false witness.

So what will I do? This is the question which is ultimately asked in plaintive tones by the disciples when Jesus gives them some home truths about the full weight of the commandment. 'Who then, can be saved', they ask.

In the long run I shall not ask for a certificate of my compliance from my Creator. I will not say that I have done all these things from my youth because I have not. I will not begin to pretend that I have fulfilled the demands of honesty which the law truly requires or that I have kept myself completely apart from the network of exploitation that is part of our world.

I shall not presume to have fulfilled the law’s demands.

I will do what the law of God and the judgement of God give me no alternative but to do which is to ask, ultimately, for grace and for mercy.


The whole service is HERE. Sermon starts at 12:57 on the counter.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Isn't it always the way!

I've been in restaurants where it's simply not possible to be served. In Montreal it was the Greek fast-food joints where the family would clearly be having an argument in the back and if you cleared your throat or waved feebly at them they looked at you as if you'd walked into their living room with an inappropriate request. "What" they seemed to be saying "can't you see that Philomena is coming home late and has started seeing an Italian boy from Park Extension? And you want a souvlaki?"

Here in the UK it's just the normal 'retail tradition' where customers might as well lie on the floor and cough up a kidney before asking for something which - once requested - won't be available.

Even in such restaurants as Subway - the last bastion of food "at hand and served hot" and in friendly little communities like Kitimat, British Columbia, a hungry customer can't depend on the staff sticking around long enough to provide sustenance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I mean is it too much to ask young people to be able to identify the following items of ecclesiastical garb prior to being admitted to Communion?

Standards - that's our problem - too few standards!

No, it's not a Vimpa Billy, it's a Humeral Veil!

Yes, Wally, "Vimpa" would be worth quite a lot on a triple word score in Scrabble but will you please pay attention and stop changing the subject!