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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

be still and know that I am sitting here with you

(31st August) 2008

Readings:       Exodus 3.1-15
                       Ps 105.1-6, 23-26, 45c
                       Rom. 12.9-21
                       Mt 16.21-28

It has been well said – by whom who knows? – that you can measure how civilised a country is by the way it treats its dead. To put it another way, a culture that has ceased to respect its dead is, by and large, losing the ability to respect its living. Just as statistics have shown a correlation between cruelty to animals and cruelty to human beings, so I suggest there is a correlation between our recognition of the dead, and our respect for the processes of grief, and our ability to live as if made in the image of a loving and caring God. Perhaps I feel another doctoral thesis coming on!

When I was a priest in Whanganui fifteen or so years ago it was by and large the tradition in the town for drivers to pull over to the side of the road as a funeral cortege made its way to the deceased’s place of rest. In small country towns perhaps that tradition still stands, I’m not sure. Perhaps there is another correlation here: the greater the capital, financial basis of a community the more likely it is to rush on headless, without respect for feelings, without respect for grief. I doubt if many pull over to the side of the road even in Whanganui, now.

Similarly, it was once a mark of decency to show respect to the place of the Holy in other traditions. I may think Christians are wacky, but I tend not to mow my lawns on Good Friday. I may not believe in the gods of a Hindu shrine, but I would refrain from attacking it with graffiti. I may not subscribe to traditional Māori beliefs, but I would treat Cape Reinga as a holy place – I hasten to add I am here being hypothetical, as in fact I have long deeply loved the tradition of the departure of the spirits from that sacred spot, seeing that departure in a Godward light.

In a western society it has come to be seen as all but ridiculous to speak of the sacred. The sacred contributes nothing to the gross national product, nothing to the pockets of shareholders, and nothing to the coffers of Inland Revenue. Prayer and productivity are mutually exclusive: I would have to say that even as a faith community we are being swallowed up in meaninglessness if we begin to swallow that paradigm: to be asked to measure the outcomes, for example, of a sermon or a children’s activity or a time or prayer-filled spiritual reflection is to be spoken to in a language that is not the language of resurrection. Time spent simply being still with another being is of immeasurable worth, but it is immeasurable worth because it is a form of worth that no measurement in our world can assess. Be still and know that I am God – be still and know that I am sitting here with you, dwelling in God’s time, being.

In the multicultural world we all now live in, one part of the respect and love and evil-breaking behaviour we can show is by respecting the attitudes and traditions of those around us – except of course when those traditions are themselves destructive and evil. We need common sense. If children are abandoned or neglected while parents get smashed on P it is hardly a tradition to respect and affirm. If parents however teach their children the value of an ancient tradition that affirms faith and hope and justice then we will treat it with respect – while holding with joy to our own story of the Christ.

By doing that – by showing love and respect for that in other traditions, faiths and cultures that is edifying and credible, we can help break cycles of hatred with cycles of love. To do so is not to compromise our faith but to act with the type of decency we see in Jesus when he responds with gentle humour to the Samaritan or the Syrophoenician woman, or as Paul does in Luke’s account in Acts of his encounter with the religious men and women of Athens. It is to engage, to respect, and to honour the Spirit of Christ who is always ahead of us on the journey, preparing the way long before our small lives take their stuttering steps.

And through it all we hang on to our belief in the Christ of the Cross. The one who makes something so profound even out of the life of Peter the blunderer can take our lives too, and use them in the service of the kingdom. And so once more we offer ourselves in that sacred service that is so meaningless in the eyes of a material world, but can be made meaningful in the eyes of God.


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