for Edward and Molly, with thanks.

s179e01 Somerton Park 24/6/2001 Sunday 12

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28

Recently one of my internet correspondents asked me about when I came to an understanding of Grace. It is a big question, but the act of asking it is useful because it has inspired me to reflect back on how I see God acting in my life. A useful thing to do for anyone, I suspect. I replied to my correspondent that I saw my perception of Grace as ongoing as I interact with people, the New Testament authors, people in the parish, people over the internet ... It is as I talk to people, to reflect on their words, to see snippets of truth, to appreciate the journey another person is on ... Each contributes to the totality of my life. I find encouragement and grace in all sorts of places, and so I find God.

None of you will be surprised when I again mention one of my regular sources of inspiration is, of course, the writings of Molly Wolf *. I was particularly blessed by one of her recent Sabbath Blessings which was beautiful. In "The Chapel" she finds herself "accidentally" listening to some wonderful live music, which she describes thus: "I realised almost immediately that what I was hearing was the great canon for 40 voices by Thomas Tallis. Not a canon for 40 singers: there are 40 different parts, each part sung by a single singer. Apparently, it's a nightmare to perform, because you have to hold your own part against 39 others, and you're on your own -- just you and the sheet music. But it is an astonishing piece of music ..."

But the paragraph which really jumped out and hit me, and what I found so helpful in my meditations about grace were these: "Maybe humankind can deconsecrate a chapel, but how can you deconsecrate music composed to the glory of God? It simply cannot be done. To de-sanctify the music of Bach, you'd have to de-compose it -- take the scores apart, put the notes back in the compositor's box, strip out the accidentals and break up the staves for scrap music. But then (my husband observes) the music would simply insist on coming back together again: the staves reassembling spontaneously, clefs springing back into neat curls, notes leaping eagerly back into position, accidentals popping in at all the right places. What Bach and God have put together, no human being can separate."

And I reflect that this is what I think about life, about all the people around me. People are like the notes, the accidentals and the staves, and all are there in some divine harmony, each contributing to the other, and each having a part to play in the whole.

And we are just staves and clefs, nothing more. The clefs are not trying to outdo the staves, the staves are not trying to make the clefs the same as them. Each has an integrity all of its own. None has to justify it's existence to itself or to any other.

And this is not just for my benefit, as one who happens to perceive and appreciate the result. Indeed the benefit to the outsider, to the audience, while it is greater for a "live" audience than it is for a listener on a radio or a CD - the persons who get the most benefit are, of course, the participants.

And what is my role? It is to be a participant just like everyone else, and merely to encourage all to hear the music we are making together, to stop and smell the roses.

Sadly, of course, there are some who want to deconstruct and desanctify society - to put Jews here, Buddhists there, Hindu somewhere else, Muslim, Christian, atheist, agnostic ... all in their little compartments - all the clefs together separate from the staves ... And such will lead only to sterile silence. And this is both criminal and futile. It leads to holocausts and progroms - and they will inevitably fail. It doesn't matter if we are inspired by the eugenics of the Arian dream, the "undoubted" superiority of caucasian races and the tragic effect this had on our indigenous neighbours in times past and perhaps still today, or the moral "superiority" of Christianity For, as Molly, or her husband, comments: "What Bach and God have put together, no human being can separate :-)

There is this blessed melting pot of life and all efforts to strain out one or other ingredient are in the end futile. Because in the end, the thing we hate the most in other people is precisely the thing that we find most difficult to accept in ourselves.

No one part of the music is more important than the other.

So for me I see grace existing all around, in every person and in every human interaction. Difference is as important as sameness. Contrast makes us think and question ... God is all around - we have only to listen to the music and to appreciate each and every one of the component parts. God is all around, in the individuals and in the interactions between individuals.

Again Jesus' own words about being salt come to mind. The purpose of salt is to bring out the flavours in that which it seasons. It is not that the whole world's got to become salt - what a horrid place that would be! And the whole point of being salt would be lost, because the only thing that could be tasted is horrid anyway. The whole raison d'être of salt is lost because of the lack of other things to season, to bring out their flavour!

So rather than compartmentalise or to spend our lives in futile attempts to get everyone to be "Christian" - whatever that may be - I see God in the clefs and the staves and how the clefs and the staves come together in the beauty of music and the beauty of life.

And the same correspondent talks about "the poet of Palestine". Just like music, the totality of a piece of poetry is immeasurably greater than the sum of the individual words. It is how they are put together, how one thought contrasts, complements and enhances another.

Much of Jesus' speaking is in parables, which speak about life as we know and live it. Here too I see Jesus pointing us to look around us and see God in the complex interplay of humanity. One of the parables most dear to Christians is the parable of the Good Samaritan - the person outside the bounds of respectability who actually does something to help another in distress. I was reminded of this parable recently when the boys and I watched the wonderful spoof on modern society, the three part Dutch parable "The Flodders", on SBS. I can highly recommend them, for adult audiences, of course. The socially outcast are housed in a posh neighbourhood, and all the difficulties are caused by the upper-class neighbours who are scandalised that they have to live next door to such people. "The Flodders" just get on with living their lives and trying to be hospitable and caring, while the community around them self destructs! Thoroughly enjoyable "over the top" viewing :-)

My text today is those words of St Paul: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." It is obvious that there still are Jews and Greeks, as well as, thank God, a whole lot more! Sadly there are still slaves amongst the free - and I suppose this is true in the spiritual sense. There are those who will never find freedom from the bonds of the past or the bonds of the present. Actually I am not sure I would want to proclaim myself as a totally free agent. I am not banished thereby.

There are indeed still males and females - at least there was when I last looked - praise the Lord and "vive la difference" I say. However this hasn't been entirely the consistent Christian view down the centuries. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Gospel of Thomas {112} (99.18-26) (The Secret Sayings of Jesus p 185) is this dialogue: "Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go away from us. For women are not worthy of life. Jesus said: Lo, I will draw her so that I will make her a man so that she too may become a living spirit which is like you men; for every woman who makes herself a man will enter the kingdom of heaven." !?! So when some complain about the modern feminist movement and women becoming like men, there is ancient, if not totally orthodox, precedent for this movement.

However I doubt Paul envisaged the "obliteration of sex" as perhaps this "Thomas" did. (ibid p186) Paul sees us as "all ... one in Christ Jesus". He sees the overall picture, he perceives the harmony, and points this harmony out to us.

Seeing the pre-existent harmony means I no longer have to try to change the world but to see the presence and peace of God which is already here in people and in their interaction. No longer do I have to categorise, though sometimes categorisation is helpful in understanding. In reality, no one conforms to the categories we might try to place them in anyway, least of all ourselves.

In the end, my confidence in my perception of God all around is based on the fact of the resurrection - that the efforts of the religious authorities to entomb Jesus were as futile as trying to deconstruct Bach. Jesus is risen and out and about among all sorts and conditions of people, some of whom are completely unaware of his presence, but still live and love and care for others in the way the risen Jesus would indeed commend.

And I note that Molly equates deconstructing with desanctifying. Let us be rather constructive of others and sanctiy their lives thereby.

 

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