Sunday, 18 August 2013
texting matthew eighteen
Lost in a crowd? 07729056452
Mt18v1-2 In our storytelling about ourselves, we ask the question about what greatness is, who is great, can we be great? Would you leave each loved one to go on the Mars mission & never come back? A Randian greatness, legacy greatness, lone genius greatness. But Jesus called a child. Babies we know, helpless, dependent, grasping for the Other with open hungry mouth. So childishness & childlikeness & storytelling, what do we think? The child's imagination is vast, unequalled for storytelling, & it is less self-conscious than mine. As a child, world bigger than myself and networks of magic causality were conjured up, but then, there were also fantasies about my own greatness, of the astronaut, adventurer superhero kind. Childlike/childish? Or does the Christ-endorsed dependent storytelling happen where you know yourself to be caught up in a bigger story, a bigger magic. You're in it, but it has you.
Mt18v3-4 What is a child? A 'turning', a 'becoming', an 'entering'. Turn: as orientation you choose, same (Gk) as Ac7v39 'turned back to Egypt' or Jn12v40 'turn to me and be healed'. To turn is to repent Ac3v16, repent and re-turn. .. Become: an ontology you receive, childlikeness is an unselfconscious subtraction, that is, children don't humble themselves, they are humble. But childlikeness here cannot mean innocence/goodness Ps51v5, and should not mean naivete Eph4v14, nor immaturity Hb6v1. What then is a child? I forget. I held a baby on Sunday and I'm already forgetting those tiniest of tiny fingers, the eminently dropable fragility, the simple utter dependence. Oh, have kids, seek them our, beg borrow and steal them, lest you forget, the irreducible quality of child-being. .. Enter: a domain you have access to. 'Child' here is a 'child-of', a begotteness. When I know I'm beloved-by the King, I can do all things.
Mt18v5 A theology of welcome, what is welcome? The giving of hospitality, the invitation of the face, the generosity of the greeting. O'Tuama notes that Jesus' 'peace be with you' on arrival in Jn20v19 is also 'hello', a framing your comportment to the other, your recognition of their place there, which changes everything. Oh mt25v35, welcome I have felt is an invitation into another's ordinary. It requires authenticity, it cannot be added on, or projected like the 'have a nice day' of customer service. It must draw people up close to your reality, which is why the home is the paradigm image of the place of welcome. Welcome tells people they have a place there, so one's life must be rhythmned by porous welcome all the way through, like a stick of rock, otherwise it will be impossible to do authentically, sustainable. Welcome cannot patronise, we should remember especially with children, welcome.
Mt18v6 A theology of causation. It might be Morton-like magic yeah, insofar as the rubbing together of things is to beheld with wonder & more than can be fully know, but do be sure to remember that causes are very real. The laws of physics & the consequences of your life. X exert pressure on Y, & kittens' claws rip curtains, & your lifestyle can confuse. You are a causer, inescapably. You cause things by inaction, of course, as an unwatered plant, but this doesn't mean you should panic & just do something, anything as is sometimes preached. Your actions are not simply to make you feel that you have agency, they have consequences, & it is better to be at the bottom of the sea than to act to would another's faith, even with the best of intentions. So act, but act thoughtfully, prayerfully, humbly, compassionately, reflectively, eyes & ears open.
Mt18v7-8 Woe to the world because of dem tings: repentable things. Woe to the man by whom the offence comes: culpable persons. There is a reason that Things and Persons are philosophically unpopular. Real things have consequences, real persons have responsibilities. You! Phil! Get your things in order! .. Amputees. I ought to walk with a limp. Leaving facebook is as nailclipping by comparison to the real work needed to cut me from the sources of pride, lust, procrastination, jealousy, self-pity in my life and lifestyle choices. .. N serves St Marks by forbidding that we be vague in metaphors untethered from the horror of amputation. .. the difference in gravity here is between euphemising with Di Franco's Both Hands and Piper calling us to Make War: “..there is a mean streak to authentic self-control..” So be guerilla metaphysicians, desperate, willing to forego 1Ti2v8 and Ec9v10, if only we might see Jesus.
Mt18v9 Better to be
Mt18v10 'Despise'. Despising others can take the form or admixture of any of Buck's 8 basic emotions: pride, arrogance, guilt, shame, envy, jealousy, pity or scorn. We can feel these things towards children, for their innocence or their original sin, experience or inexperience, privilege or underprivilege, for their days not yet lived, choices unmade, all Mr Nobody's possibilities before them. But God is close to them, & gratitude mitigates all these.
Mt18v-12 God woke up with Sarah on his mind. Leaving the 99% and the occupy paddock movement. In a scandal of particularity, God goes after a minority interest group, small enough to be an artefact of noise in the data. Apt that they should be sheep. Sheep are considered as sheep to be slaughtered Rm3v36. To what more quintessentially hapless and expendable animal could we be compared? Sheep are relegated to an insomnia cure and referred to collectively so frequently that they lose a grammatical distinction in the singular. Disarticled and unthung: sheep, fish, squid, bison, deer are 'zero plurals' – hunted herd nouns waiting to die. Such are we except that God pursues us. (Tangentially, note how behuntedness generates a 'snob plural' in “Carruthers bagged a dozen tiger last year”) .. 'What do you think?' asks Jesus. You. You. See God has an infinite capacity for the indefinite multiplication of these separate acts of love.
Mt18v13-14 v13 'This one'. My most heart-shifting affirmation, & how marriage images God's love, in seeing, recognising, delighting in, choosing, & forsaking all others for this one. A wonder at which I can scarcely breathe. God loves me singly, & loves me by v14 wanting my best. This is how I learn what love is: rejoicing in my holy victories, discoveries, repentances, God wants me best, unselfishly, keeping no record of wrongs. A love I long to image out.
Mt18v15-16 'Rebuke'. Really? Happier to just let the Holy Spirit do the work of conviction. I'll only get it wrong, I'll only be misunderstood, and besides, they were Born-This-Way. I'll only fan the flames of a pious Christian caricature. I'll only dredge up some historic church-pain, salting the wound of a childhood encounter with a problematic, placard-waving fundamentalist. 'Rebuke'. It's a lose-lose. They'll feel bad, I'll feel bad, it's exhausting, I haven't the time. And, secretly, I take comfort in silence, the introvert's license to say-nothing. It is our social contract: 'Judge not that you be not judged'. I'm not my brother's keeper, don't you know. All men are islands. And what's more, now's the time to be one. This is an island age.. I am an island. I am bloody Ibiza. No? Yes? Too much? Too strong? Ti2v15, Ep5v11, Ga6v1. For why? Mt18v15 You'll gain a brother. Please rebuke and enbrother me.
Mt18v17 Treating those who don't listen as pagans & tax-collectors, & Jesus gives us the model for how these: handing out Mt9v10, speaking authentic words of truth & life Jn4v7-26, always inviting Lk5v29. It is true that in some ways one is oriented differently to those one shares faith with, & to the one of this verse who actively doesn't listen, they shut themselves off from this sharing. But the church still always opens itself to the world, the church welcomes the unbelieving, the immoral, & the difficult, to bless them, shelter them & sweep them up in another way. The church always prays for people to see God, as was prayed last night. The church always invites in. So exhausted rebuke changes the dynamic, but it looks like invitation, not segregation.
Mt18v18 On Earth as in Heaven, or in Heaven as on Earth? The space we live in, holding on to both freedom & fate. Godly causation, the weight of glory, ideas & actions have consequences – which reverberate throughout eternity. This power you hence hold in potentiality, what do you promise, prohibit, permit? What do you decide? What do you commit to? Where are you bound (& bounded) & where is loosening a right freedom for free?
Mt18v19-20 'Ask' concerns less the petitions of prayer, rather the pleas in a judicial sense (esv/dc). These verses concern mediation towards a goal of Christian unity, out of contexts as v15's having-been-sinned-against. In our community God is mediating, bridging, going-between, buffering, peace-making, amongsting. God's kingdom extends, not so much by the infinite extension of threads, but by the vast and complex weaving of frayed and fractious threads into a glorious Persian rug. As we agree to bind and loose, we weave and are woven. As the three-cord-rope-not-easily-broken. Woven. As Edith Schaeffer's Tapestry. Woven. v19 'agree' (gk) symphonesosin. What is church? Richly harmonic polyphony. V20 'gathered' (gk) synegmenoi (as Hb10v25 – don't give up!) Relating is hard, synergetic relating is harder still. Tempting to undervalue meeting together, but it is only there that we can sing in four parts. It is only there that we can weave and be woven. v20 'two or three' as opposed to the popular Jewish notion that it is no congregation if smaller than 10, somewhat eg Ps82v1's megachurch. But 'two or three' also opposes solitudinal-sufficiency. God can be present in all of these scales. But, non-negotiably, if you are going to weave a carpet, you have to consider the difficulties of the vulnerable intermediate scale knot, of couplings and triplets.
Mt18v21-22 The journey we are on, of living in the light, is both a circle & a straight line. Levinas was wrong to say there's no Illiad in our Exodus – not all circles are vicious, not all patterns are prisons. (So weaving). The discipline of forgiveness, daily, like the discipline of gratitude, daily: a rhythm, an orientation, a repetition, over & over, which makes the heart alive & not dead. If gratitude is to envy, the forgiveness is to resentment so. Each unforgiveness, each same one, each old struggle & earned indignation – come cup your hands around it & bring it to the alter now, & then once more to worship, free. Glory to God, the Giver Forgiver! Who makes this wrenching repetition a joy, who free us with this Way.
Mt18v23-24 When you try your best but don't succeed, that sick feeling, mercury sliding in your belly, the crawl of creepers, the chokehold of iron bindweed, leadenly locked into the deadend of creativity, the blackhole of hope. Your life is a business that doesn't break even. Keep the curtains closed, you owe your dealer and you can't pay back, a slow rot at your limb's end. Did you forget to charge your phone, did you leave the headlights on last night? Worthless human being. Incompetent and utterly without excuse, stuck out in the cold. They'll take your kids away, v25. You didn't do anything sinful, it wasn't your fault, you were assigned more than you could carry, you were just dealt more than you could repay. Frail and bottomlessly vulnerable, Wonga will eat you alive. .. Is there a king? Is there a kingdom? If he desires a world without debt, it is possible. Go, with what little you have, what justice you're owed, go, set the captives free.
Mt18v25-26 Read in a pub in Lewes yesterday: “A tyrant seized a perfectly innocent man, & after keeping him prisoner for a long time, had him beheaded. Later the sons of the victim conspired against the tyrant & attempted to take his life without success. They were arrested, put in prison & condemned to death. Thereupon their mother went to the tyrant & pleaded for mercy. 'It is strange,' said the tyrant, 'that you ask a pardon for your sons & yet never did so for your husband.' 'I could not ask a pardon for my husband,' the brave mother replied, 'for he was innocent; I ask it for my sons for they are guilty.' Also of mercy justice this week, Levinas, that justice requires 3, but mercy 2. The plea a guilty, personal, face-to-face. So we with God.
Mt18v27-28 'Out of pity..' No one wants to be pitiable. Convicting them of their less-than-worthlessness is half the battle in evangelism, but much more in my own recommitting myself each morning, knowing myself pitiable first of all, before knowing myself pitied, gloriously. Calibrate your self thus: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have pity on me, a pitiable. .. v28 There is a chronology to Christian identity: 'while we were still pitiable..' Rm5v8. But now. Already now! (goo.gl/b65J0X & Sex God p123) 'Already' changes everything, in every debt, in every now. We are working for a debt-free world, trying to pass on the gift of Already, in the strength of Already. Just as the precondition of 'Blameless & Beloved' identity establishes a debt-free marriage. Ahead of time, more than we deserve, Already. Though I am worth nothing, and less than nothing, I am valued at what I cost God, what he was willing to pay.
Mt18v29-30 Struck first by 'refuse', the willful ways I allow others' pleas for mercy & forgiveness to bounce off my turned-over curled-up hedgehog heart. Not only is it true that when you v30 imprison them in this way, you v34 imprison yourself, but there is a bigger truth here: mercy isn't one lifestyle choice among many – the God of the universe prefers mercy to justice. I live in waves of mercy, all the substances I find myself among are new morning's mercies. Each body cell of mine an act of mercy, each experience of joy a mercy. So to be unmerciful is a violence to the basic fabric of the new creation that we inhabit. Unmercy becomes an anomaly, error in the code of the code of (new) creation, an ugly warning beeping like a car alarm left on. We inhabit the first servant's mercy-on-all-sides, let this in, for those stubborn unmercies that remain. Come Lord Jesus.
Mt18v31-32 v32 'You wicked servant..' Does anyone owe you anything? Wicked you! I don't mean to be glib. This is what strikes me this morning. When Phil understands himself as anyone's creditor, claiming my rights is usually thinly-veiled unnecessary powerplay working out bitter unforgiveness. 'Church pain' is a quintessential example, holding that piece of broken glass in a tightly clenched fist is a vanity, it hurts me, and what is more, no church can repay what 'the church' owes me. Yet it is possible to build elaborate therapeutic models of churching to accommodate unforgiveness, never addressing the wickedness of it. .. v31 'fellow servants .. distressed .. told their master all.' This verse is not nothing. When you witness injustice, there are many unhelpful things you could do before praying to your master. Pray for Wonga. Pray for me. Pray for a debt-free home, church and world. Come Lord Jesus.
Mt18v33-34 Torture: contortion, twisting, distortion. So on another kind of turning, following from thoughts on v30's 'refuse' as a turning away, or repentance's turning around. Torture is in-turned, and turned over, wound around phenomenology, incurvatus in se exposed to light: twisting, writhing, torment. Christ, have mercy.
Mt18v35 Everything you do is a theology of God. Thus mine is an extensive theologicology that considers that all things, all your attitudes and actions, are always testimony, always derivative, always evidence for 'God' as you purport him to be. As you understand the character of God to be, so you choose one of two possible totalities: Law or Grace. You place yourself, your identity, your debtors, your values, into one of two possible economies. That of Gift or Market. Sacred or Desecrated. Grace or Works. Cake or Death. The parable's punchline, that how you comport yourself towards others determines God's to you, is not Karmic. How then is it? When I choose not to play in the gift economy, I am constructing a militant market totality in the very midst of a grace-filled universe, ploughing an armoured tank of selfishness through the pasture of possible forgiveness. And thus Hb6v6 I am 'crucifying once again the Son of God'.