13th May, 2007

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Mothers’ Day
8am Low Mass & 11am High Mass
Sermon Preached by the Rector, Fr Ian Elliott Davies

Lections:
Acts 16: 9-15, ‘come over to Macedonia’
Rev 21: 10, 22- 22: 5, the fruit of the tree was for the healing of the nations
St John 14: 23-29, the promise of the Paraclete, farewell discourse

“and I will send the Paraclete and he will bring to your remembrance all that I have told you… he will bring to remembrance my Word.”

That astonishingly bright 18th Century German, Mr Hegel, once put the matter extremely succinctly “was ist bekannt ist nicht erkannt” and, of course it is put much more concisely in German (and Lutherans are always very good at that!) than ever we could put it in the English language. Roughly speaking the English translation should go something like this “what is familiar is not known.” Hegel articulated in just six brief words the paradox that what is closest to us is also the hardest for us to perceive- and it is this paradox that is central to all investigations of the everyday, our existence, who we are, what the world is about, what is meaning, and even, what is the meaning of meaning?- needless to say it is something with which French intellectual culture has been obsessed for very, very many years, and many good therapists earn a very good living as a result of those six words today. This paradox is something to which all religious people, most especially Christian people, should also pay particular attention. Was ist bekannt ist nicht erkannt- what is familiar, that which is closest, nearest to us, most intimate to us, is also the most difficult to understand, to see, to appreciate, that which is nearest to you, that which gives you character, definition, shape and contour to you AS YOU is the most perplexing facet// they are, or perhaps I should say we are, the most elusive of details to grasp in our grasping: so we’re thinking about thinking.

I have not preached from this pulpit for almost five months so I’ve worked out that it should take me about six and half hours to catch up with all the things that I need to share with you, no need to worry we’ll all be out of here by five or six o’clock tomorrow evening- just in time for afternoon tea! I’m only teasing you!

You will have noticed that every Gospel reading ever since Easter has come from the Fourth Gospel, the Holy Gospel according to St John. One of the key paradoxes that we always need to try to keep in mind as we hear any of the readings from the NT is that they were all written down with the memory, the event of Christ’s resurrection, his new life, right there in front of them- I hope you see the irony in this: the memory of a past event, the Resurrection, which is always a very real and PRESENT event, right there in front of us: in fact, doing rather more than just sitting there right in front of us, the event that takes us by the scruff of the neck and changes the entire world- and it is also the most difficult to comprehend.

If this is a little confusing or not quite clear, let me try and put it in this way- every author of American culture today cannot help but write with memories, echoes, hints of certain tragic events in our common life: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or President Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King: American history and culture make no sense without trying to understand those events; in more recent history our culture is also formed with the very real presence of the fear of terrorism, the remembrance of 9/11: we cannot help it, it is always there; but Was ist bekannt ist nicht erkannt: that which is always there, it is always before us all the time, that which is always nearest to us is also furthest from our grasp or our control or our understanding.

Let me also try and put it in yet another way: many of us are still living in the Universe of Newtonian physics, and we fondly imagine that real, hard scientists have no use for, poetic, aesthetic or religious ramblings, dealing as scientists do with the measurable, the quantifiable and known, the knowable, the known, the sayable. We think that at least the world of physical causes and of physical events are perfectly, transparently knowable, and that, as results of experiments keep coming in, we gradually roll back the cloud of unknowing. One day we’ll arrive, we’ll perfectly understand and be understood: after all the veils have been removed, adding knowledge upon knowledge we will reveal the nub of all things, the sparkling equation from whom all blessings flow. Thus Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, Dawkins, – that’s what we’re all struggling towards, the perfectly transparent world where meaning and knowledge lie all around us and we have perfect untrammeled access to it: a world of pure, precise, mathematical, logical knowledge.

Alas, for those minds, in the Summer of 1927 the twenty-six year old Werner Heisenberg pulled out the rug and our whole understanding of the universe came toppling, tumbling down and collapsed into myriad bits and pieces all over the place. He was not popular. Lots and lots of scientists got very upset with him: Heisenberg had discovered what had been right there under our noses for a very, very long time: he postulated the Principle of Indeterminacy, which says in effect that you cannot know both a particle’s velocity AND its’ position. This event plays a crucial role later, of course, in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Was ist bekannt ist nicht erkannt
It works like this- You can either know a particle’s POSITION, precisely there it is: and whoosh there disappears it’s career, its’ trajectory and path, OR you can show its’ PATH (it’s trail), the road map of its’ journey and whoosh its’ position/location disappears forever and you can NEVER, EVER know its’ position again: it’s either LOCATION or JOURNEY but never, ever, ever both at the same time.

The Truth is Stranger than Fiction. So, some of the background story: on the one hand a young IRS Inspector (brilliantly played by Will Ferrell) who leads his life governed by equations, numbers, statistics, percentages, the logical sphere of prediction- on the other a beautiful young cookie chef (played by the wonderfully attractive Maggie Gyllenhaal) who had started a law degree at Harvard Law but discovered her greater calling/vocation in life was to bring sustenance, constant nourishment to her friends in tutorials/seminars)
These words are from the last lines of the movie: a small shard of Harold Crick’s wristwatch had embedded itself blocking an artery (thus saving his life) after an horrific bus accident.

“As Harold Crick took a bite of Bavarian Sugar Cookie [savour those words] he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok”

Sometimes when we loose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian Sugar Cookies; and fortunately when there aren’t any cookies we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or a subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort,… not to mention hospital gurneys and …. Nose plugs….and uneaten Danish… and soft-spoken secrets and Fendor Stratocasters and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, … the nuances, … the anomalies,… the subtleties which we assume only accessorize our days are, in fact, have a far much larger and nobler cause. They are there to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also that it just so happens to be true. And so it was: a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.”

We take everything, we take everyone around us too much for granted. The tiniest of tiny things. The most ordinary of ordinary, mundane things, clean, flowing water, the person sitting next to you, books, pens, paper, food, the Church in which God has prepared for us such good things as pass our understanding: so may God pour into our hearts such love towards Him and gratitude to each other that we, loving God in all things and through all things may obtain his gracious promises which exceed all that we can desire, through Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth in the Eternal and Sacred Mystery of the Divine Trinity now and forever, Amen.

 

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