Last week I tootled off to the Clergy Conference in leafy Perthshire, with the chickens who provide us with eggs for breakfast.
A lot of things have changed since I first went to Kinnoul some 26 years ago, and not just at Kinnoul, back then they had pigs too, pigs from which they made their own delicious ham. I well remember the first lunch I had inside that monastery, the vegetarian in our midst asked for the vegetarian option and was pointed towards the ham salad! Now they have good vegetarian options, the stuffed peppers were delicious, and even with the new policy of puddings only on Wednesdays and Sundays we were well fed in body. We were also well fed spiritually with meaningful offices and well fed cerebrally by Akma.
Akma, (he is currently writing a commentary on James, don’t you know – well you most certainly would know had you been at the conference it became a running joke) was leading our conference. I like the fact that he calls hermeneutics a craft for most certainly that is what it is and it was good to have the grey matter jump started before once more this week I have to think about writing sermons for the first time since Holy Week.
Anyone who knows me and certainly anyone who has heard me preaching during Holy Week will know that I have a soft spot for Judas, little did I realise as I started to listen to how we might better engage with our craft that the Pharisees would become a new focus for righting the injustice that years have heaped upon them. Of course Nicodemus has always been the ‘good Pharisees’ however it was like scales falling from my eyes when the esoteric way I had accepted the mud that countless before me had made stick to the Pharisees, adding some of my own wet earth along the way, turned to the exoteric realisation that the Pharisees time and time again were the example of piety that Jesus pointed his hearers to. Yes they had faults, but also they had much to commend them, expect to hear a different slant from me in future when Pharisees are mentioned.
As I pondered on all we had heard and on conversations I had, had with my peers; as thoughts and ideas developed I was struck by another craft which as leaders of God’s people we should posses. The craft and wisdom of knowing how, when and what to change and how, when and what to leave. The craft of knowing when to challenge and when to gently encourage. For years stone angels in a position of prayer have been echoing the prayers of heaven over the people of God drawn to worship in the church attached to the monastery. They have remained unchanged, constant in their adoration, in their protection, in their example.
We are called, not to be crafty people, but to be people who in God’s wisdom craft our words and actions in ways that help, and when needed challenge, God’s people. To help growth and healthy living, we need to master the craft of recognising when it is that we – as individuals and a church – need to change rather than attempting to change God to better fit our ideals. The craft of recognising the constancy of God amist the human made ideas that have been imposed upon us by past generations, for God is the same yesterday, today and forever.