Saturday, December 24, 2005

Giving the gift

Giving gifts is a most enjoyable part of Christmas
(and receiving them too).
But all of us knows that great sense of satisfaction
when something we have given
is really appreciated.
The emotion is tangible
and the warmth is real.
So enjoy your gifts.
We give gifts at Christmas,
not because we are giving Jesus a birthday present
....if we were doing that then we would give the presents to Jesus, but we don't do that
Maybe we should!

But the gift giving is actually to celebrate
that our God is a God who gives.
St John tells us in the most famous of biblical quotations
"God loved the world so much that he gave"
and what he gave to the world was
"his only that all who believe in him
should not perish but have everlasting life."
(John 3:16)
So we give to remind ourselves
that to be like God
we are to be giving.

Two dimensions
Let's remind ourselves of a couple of dimensions of giving
that unfold for us in the Christmas story.
1. The most important giving is the giving of one's self to another person
Whether it be as a mother or a father to their children
or as a husband and wife to each other
or as friends in friendship
it is not the size or value of the material presents that is important
it is the degree to which we give ourselves, our time, our love.
(No one will lie on their deathbed and say ...":You gave me the biggest Christmas present ever"
But we may just say...when I was really in trouble you stood by me
when I had no friends you were still there for me)
Giving goes on throughout the whole of Jesus's life
it culminates not in his birth
but in his death.

The ultimate gift of God
is that Jesus gives himself up for us
and dies
in order that we might live.
Do we have that same sort of commitment?

2. Giving of ourselves will make us vulnerable

Relationships are risky!
We cannot escape from the fact
that if we are to truly give ourselves
then that will make us vulnerable.
In the relationships that matter:
with our families
our lovers
our friends...
if we are to give ourselves then we will be at risk.
Those who we love the most
are also most capable of hurting us
and we are most capable of hurting
...parents damage children and children their parents,
wives and husbands run great risk
true friendship is dangerous
Relationships are risky business.
But is it worth it.
The question is not
How dangerous is it?
But is it worth it?
The cost is great, but so are the rewards.
God loved the world
that he gave
so that everyone would have fulness of life
Indeed if we are to live a meaningful life we have to take this risk.
There is nothing worse than being cosseted and protected
We may be "safe" but we are probably lifeless...maybe even dead.
The risk of not making ourself vulnerable is far worse
and more certain
than the risk of giving ourselves.

At Christmas
The giving, whilst enjoyable, is pretty trivial
In life the giving of ourselves
is vital
it is entire
it is necessary.
It is risky....certainly
It is demanding...that's for sure
But it is the only way to go.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Making room

There is a lot of scripture that we can read to enliven Christmas Day: Luke 2:1-14, Luke 2:8-20, John 1:1-14, Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 62:6-12; & Isaiah 52:7-10 are some of the lections set for that day

We are fortunate to have a new Bishop in our diocese, Jeff Driver
We have high hopes;
and in this "honeymoon period" we are listening carefully
to what he has to say to us.

When he was intsalled he asked us, the people of a very sad, and possibly sick, Diocese:
Do you want to be healed?
This is an important question
and one we need to ask ourselves properly.

Yet, I hear him saying about Christmas
Can we "make room for Jesus"?
This, too, is a good question.
It is one of the threads of mystery and poetry
that runs through the birth narratives.
We all know well the room at the inn.
This casual observation is also a hint at the real human problem
No room for Jesus in our lives.
Archbishop Jeffrey will no doubt be asking we want to make room for Jesus?
What does such a question mean?
We could suggest that the question has three focusses:

1.Making room for the God of hope
2. Making room for the Gof peace
3. Making room for the God of love.

Of hope

Because at Christmas we hear a story about a baby
and babies' lives are filled with hope.
They are about what is yet to happen,
the promise that is to come.
We understand this pretty well,
when we visit a newborn
our words to that baby,
are strong and hopeful
...he looks like a footballer,
she has strong lungs
what a fine head of hair
As they grow
the hopes become more substantial, and complex
as children become adults we see that there is hope for independence
that there is great potential
that there is uniqueness.
We muck this up quite a lot
but at Christmas we need to take time to realise
that this struggle to make all this work
is what God intends for us.

It is how we become what God intends us to be.
So I say to you
encourage the hope in your children.
ENCOURAGE do not criticise
but rather voice the hope and offer the support
that babies demand and deserve.
When Jesus is born as a baby this is one of the things that God is showing us.
Fulfillment, maturity, growth
are like the growth of a baby
are what God intends life to be like.

Of peace
For most of us Christmas is stressful
as well as joyful
for the lonely and the sad
it can be incredibly depressing.
We love the closeness that it means to family and friends
yet it also exposes
the very lack of peace that the season proclaims.
We are more conscious of soldiers in Iraq
of difficult community tensions
of family pressures.
Peace demands that we address these issues
and Christmas is for us a sign that what we articulate today
needs to pass into reality in our day to day lives.
We can easily say "no racial prejudice", "no war",
on Christmas Day
but we need also to put it into practice from day to day.
Peace will mean simple day to day application
of forgiveness
at home
at work
at school.
Do you want peace, Jeff might say,
then practise it.

Of love
It is a commonplace to say that Christmas is about love.
The carols say it.
Love came down at Christmas.
We are at our most vulnerable in the face of a baby.
We are disarmed, most of us,
and just want to hold it and love it.
Even arrogant and tough young men
have been known to melt.
Do you want to love?
then love,
do you want to be loved
then allow yourself to be vulnerable?

There is much, much more that could be said.
If we want to know what Christmas is about.
Look not at Santa.
look at the baby.
Make room for him
in your life.
It may be that you cannot
put him at the centre
but is there a stable somewhere in your life.

Do you want Christ?
The he is yours.
The bringer of hope, of peace and love

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Finding a place for the baby

Readings for the last Sunday in Advent. Sunday 18th December 2Sam 7:1-11, 16, Magnificat, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

As we experience a lot of Christmas input at this time
One good question I heard asked about various school and church presentations was:
Why all these stories and plays with a Christmas theme
What's wrong with the story of the stable at Bethlehem.........?

There are of course many representations of that story
and it is rich in symbolism, myth (in the finest sense of that word) and cultural nuance
When in doubt we should allow God's Word of Scripture to do its wonderful work in our hearts
So take time this week to read the readings and just to allow them to speak to you.
As you sit through the endless Carol Services take time too to be a little more open
remember, as we see in this weeks readings, that Christmas is God showing himself to us in human form.
It is about understanding who God is,
and what God is about.
So we find that Mary, when confronted by the angel
has to begin on a journey of discovery
because she does not understand what all this might mean
"29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be"
And Paul tells us at the end of Romans as we read today
"the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith"
The sort of message, that so puzzles Mary,
is God revealing in Jesus
what has been true for all time.
This is the overarching message of the Christmas story.
God is revealed to us
in the person of Jesus Christ
he is, what controversialist, John AT Robinson describes
as The Human Face of God
This is a description I find really helpful.
God cannot be described...he is indeed
"the mystery that was kept secret"
our philosophy, our history, even our theology
does not come close to fully disclosing who God is
if we want to know what God is like
then the fullest revelation is
So what do we see
We find at Christmas a deeply confronting story.
God chooses a young girl
about whom we know remarkably little,
in the short passage of this morning's Gospel
we know more about Joseph
....a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David
than we do about Mary herself
we know more about Zechariah and Elizabeth
than we do about their cousin:
he belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
What does this tell us?
At the very least
we are reminded that
God views people differently from the way we do.
We make different choices
about what is important
so we look for wealth, success, power and prestige
..God looks differently.
There is an invitation here
in the Christmas story
to look with different eyes
at the world in which we live.
In the reading from the Hebrew bible too,
we read of David's desire to build a Temple.
This seems like a righteous desire,
a good thing,
but it is not what God wants.
We do not always get it right,
we are often fixated on the material when God is inviting us
to look deeper.
These are two modest insights
that we get from addressing the stories of the Bible
rather than sidetracking it.
Making room
Part of the frustration for us at Christmas
is finding Jesus
amidst it all.
Let us not so much complain
about what Woolworths and Target do,
let us rather see the challenge
to point ourselves and others
to Jesus.
Ask tricky intelligent questions
of your youngsters:
Why did God come as a baby?
What is he trying to tell us by being born in a stable?
Why did the shepherds and the wise men come? and what do you think they said to Mary and Joseph?
What would we say to them?
If we get that close then we have done very well indeed!
What would we say to Mary and Joseph?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Life in Christ

Readings for Advent 3 Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 126, I Thess 5:12-28; John 1:6-28

What is your lifestyle choice? This is something of a modern question.
Today's readings invite us to identify our lifestyle
as Christian

How do you live faithfully as a modern Christian day to day?
Once again we have a pattern for faithful living
in each of the three readings.
What is striking
is that "faithful living"
is not lived out in a vacuum,
but rather is the act of living vigorously and actively
in this world in which we find ourselves.
Though many religious words are used,
the emphasis of the passages
is not on the narrowly pietistic
it is on the dynamically active
a life lived
in full communion with God
and totally engaged with human life.
Fully in communion with God,
totally engaged with human life.
These themes flow through all the readings
but in this reflection I will focus on the reading from 1Thessalonians
6Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets,but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil.

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24

The call to worship
I am struck always when I read this passage of its absolute nature..."always" & "in all circumstances" & "without ceasing"
Paul anticipates here that worship will not be an occasional, Sunday-only, type of activity
It will be all of life.
Two points can be made about this.
One, we need to get down and do it!!!
Developing discipline, and life-patterns means that we need to commit ourselves
to action.
We need to do it.
So find the place and start.
Pray daily, for your family, for yourself
for your concerns.
Decide that this is a life-habit
that you are going to commit to and do it.
Try, too, to seize the opportunity to turn your day to day activities
into deliberate, unobtrusive prayer.
Some years ago I was asked by a woman
who was very upset about blasphemy
"What do you do you when people punctuate there speechg with "Jesus!", this and "Jesus" that!"
My response was that I try and use this as an opportunity to pray.
It's not always easy.
We can find our own little ways to be more attentive to the need to pray constantly.
One of the great benefits of afternoon and evening walks is that we can use the opportunity
to give thanks to God for our local environment
and to pray for our neighbours.
This may not work for you....but find something that turns your heart to God
is a GOOD thing
and we will reap benefits.
The great traditions of meditation call us to "mindfulness"
not just allowing our day to day experiences
to go to waste
While we might take this to mean that we "should take time to smell the flowers"
and we should
it also means that we should treasure our daily emotional and spiritual experiences.
How often do we have ups and downs...and simply not do anything about them
other than fret!!!
Take time to debrief yourself
and commit to God

The call to discernment
Life is hard work!
And Christians are called to live with a sense of what is true
rather than what is wishful.
Our life is about faith and not fairy story.
We are called to live as God wants
not as we often vainly wish we would liem God to operate.
If I can give you an example.
Problems are very much part of what people pray for,
I, and no doubt you, are constantly asked to pray that God
might act in certain ways....
whether it may be to heal, or to address a debt crisis,
...I sometimes get emails with things like ..."Pray that God might make my husband come back to me"
These worry me a little.
One thing I do know, both from the scriptures
and from my life as a Christian
is that God deals with problems!
But it doesn't seem to me that God makes problems vanish,
most often we are invited to have faith in God's grace,
to trust that God will be faityhful.
God most often shows us the way through issues,
and with me.
He enables us to work through the awful stuff
He does not simply make it vanish.
One of the problems with this
is that we so often want God to be the Good Fairy
rather than the Almighty God.
The true prophets will call us to life of vigour and discipline
the true gospel will call us to service and sacrifice.
Paul reminds us that we should test the gospel
and live faithful to the Spirit of God

The call to holiness

Life is a call to holiness
--a much maligned word--
Paul understands it to mean
this active life of prayer and worship
which is engaged with the world,
not some 'pie in the sky' unreality.
It is not a series of "do's and don'ts"
but rather a lifestyle
characterised by this dynamic attitude
of orientation to the worship and praise of God
in which we seek to be 100%
focussed on God
and committed to the realisation
of God's destiny in our lives.
A destiny which far from being focussed on narrow religious goals
will be sharply honed in responding to the needs of the sad, the demoralised,
the outcast

to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the L
ORD’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Isaiah 61:1-2

...This is our eternal destiny
our Christian lifestyle

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Making space! -To Trust

Readings for Advent 2 Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85, 2 Pet 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

I trust that you are all making progress with your Christmas presents.
I put to my children in the last few days
an idea that came out of the Christmas Bowl material
Let's give each other presents of about $5-$10
and then each give $20 to another cause.
They looked aghast...well if not aghast then askance!
Another hair-brained, unrealistic idea of that priest
we are (un)fortunate enough to have as a father.
The youngest one gets it...
...enraptured with caring for a girl in Tanzania
through a school project
it is easy to get her to understand
that $10 spent on her
---another Barby, a fluffy pen, cheeky knickers....or whatever
is here today and gone tomorrow!
But for the little Tanzanian girl
it can do so much more.
She was taken by the notion
that in Africa the wealthy send their children
to Europe as soon as they can
and so there is a "brain drain"
I am impressed that a 12 year old
can get this concept.
She understands that by supporting strong education
in Tanzania
then most people will stay if they can.
This stuff is fairly self-evident
if and when you think about it!

Comfort and Trust
Today we are invited by the Christmas Bowl
to reflect on the theme of Trust.
There is presented for us
and image of a God who we can trust
Amidst all our troubles and difficulties
and no one escapes this...
we trust that God will care for us and sustain us.
The readings tell us that God will
Bring us back...we can trust God to restore us
that God is ...patient with us
we often think God is slow
but God is patient
That God will empower us with the Holy Spirit
Even John says, don't be like me
rather open yourself to the one who comes after
and he will pour out his Holy Spirit on you..

These are promises in which we are invited to trust.
  • God cares for us
  • God is patient with us
  • God empowers us

In our life
I hope that you might see here
that what is being offered is a chance to be real and genuine.
It is not unlike getting the Christmas present idea right.
There is nothing wrong with presents
there is an issue about proportion, and
about what is important.
We can trust God to give us the right gifts,
but can we trust ourselves!
Can the world trust us to deliver
on God's behalf
or have we been distracted by the trivial, the unimportant?
God cares for us and bring us home how do we care for others
and restore them
How do we act as agents of reconciliation
and bringers of peace?
God is patient with us have we given up on people,
have we stopped talking to someone who has hurt us
or have we settled for second-best in our relationships
God empowers us has our relationship with God
gone stale
do we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit
do we pray with vigour and with power
We can trust God
and we need to be trusted as God agents.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

With shouts of acclamation

For the First Sunday of Advent see the readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37;
Some Christians are fascinated by the so-called
Second Coming of Christ.
This doesn't surprise me
and in a way it is good to keep one's eye on the ball
.....or perhaps to realise that the ball is still in play....
God's work is not yet finished.
And though we see and understand
that everything that is necessary to be done,
in order to reconcile
humanity and God,
has been done
by Jesus on the Cross
and through his resurrection
And God continues to pour out the Spirit so that this work of salvation
may be taken up by us
and that we ay live the new life,
yet there is also a sense that this is not all complete;
it has to be worked through and made real.
A weak analogy is that it is like a house that has been built
at great expense and with great care.
It is the house of the future.
Indeed one of my friends was telling me only the other day
about such a house that she is building in the next couple of years.
It will replace an old house
and will be designed to cope with all sorts of modern needs,
not the least of which is that she is older
and her lifestyle has changed.
It will no doubt be executed
and there will be a day when we will be able to say
...this house is complete....
and yet in a real sense it is only the beginning
....the ball is still in play...
the house has yet to be lived in
and that will open it up
to a whole new range of possibilities.
As yet undreamt of.
As yet unrealised.
The coming of the kingdom
When Jesus talks about the coming of the kingdom
he talks about it in range of ways.
At times it is as if the kingdom is something that will be instituted
at the end of time
and yet he also says "the kingdom of God is amongst you"
He can also tell his disciples to pray
"your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven"
While the house has been built
it is yet to be experienced
and lived in
...the ball is still in play.....
we need to keep our eye on the ball.
Advent and Christmas don't so much point us to the second coming
but rather warn us that we should be alert, and awake
to the possibility of Christ's kingdom here on earth.

We have the heavenly image, the ideal if you like,
of what it might be like when the heavenly kingdom is realised
and Christ will come with shouts of acclamation.
But are we also alert to the signs of the kingdom
that are in our midst.
Are we sufficiently awake to see that there are opportunities
to proclaim the kingdom
right where we are today?

Small possibilities
A retreat I went on this week reminded us in a poem
that our life is worked out in the small stuff rather than the big stuff

I keep my answers small and keep them near;
Big questions bruised my mind but still I let
Small answers be a bulwark to my fear.

The huge abstractions I keep from the light;
Small things I handled and caressed and loved.
I let the stars assume the whole of night.

But the big answers clamoured to be moved
Into my life. Their great audacity
Shouted to be acknowledged and believed.

Even when all small answers build up to
Protection of my spirit, I still hear
Big answers striving for their overthrow

And all the great conclusions coming near.

Elizabeth Jennings
This kingdom that we are called to experience
is at least as much in the small answers
for us
as it is in the big stuff.
In a real sense, sometimes the "big stuff"
threatens the small things
and yet, for most of us, for most of the time
it is the small answers
that are the authentic ones.

The kingdom of God is close at hand.
It will be in our care for our children
and the care that we take in our relationships
the gentleness and the kindness
the generosity of spirit
and the day to day forgiveness
that God's kingdom will be known
on earth as it is in heaven.
We need at the very least to pay attention
and be awake for the coming of the kingdom.

Let us not be too distracted
looking for the stars
that begin to fall
(which Jesus tells us is not something that should essentially concern us)
but rather pay attention to our own little patch of earth.
And live in the house in which we find ourselves;
it is at least
in paying attention to the process of living that we
may discover the purpose and meaning
of this place where we dwell
and that God's kingdom
is in our midst.
This is our Advent Work!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The eyes of the heart

See the readings for Sunday 20/11/05--The Reign of Christ
Ezekiel 34:11-24, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46 two sets of reflections are contained here but with slight ly different emphases
Reflection 1
We are pointed to three things (amongst others) this week
as we think about what it means
to follow Christ as our Leader, our King:
Hope, care and justice
The Christian hope is not an idle optimism
which sort of says everything will turn out OK in the end
rather it is a way of looking at the world.
Not optimism, but world view.
Paul uses the expression in one of the readings “the eyes of the heart” (Eph 1:18)
When we look in faith what we see is hope.
We are drawn into relationship with Jesus
the language that is used is seductive
we have a “glorious inheritance” and “the immeasurable greatness of his great power”
But unlike power and glory in the world
we understand & experience
Christian life as one of sacrifice, dedication and suffering.
The hope is not drawn from idle optimism
but from Jesus himself who shares with us the experience of the Cross.
Another image we see today is “shepherding”
perhaps we would be happier with a word like care
Most of us will not be called to martyrdom
as Jesus was
we will not be physically put to death
rather we will have to translate
our sense of commitment and dedication
into our day to day to day lives
and I suggest that the idea of shepherding or care
is a useful one presented to us as an ideal
We are to care for ourselves and each other,
for the world in which we live
and for those who have no one to care for.
Our care should be expanding.
If we were to do a Care audit now
how would we compare with last year
or ten years ago.
It is difficult to measure, but perhaps worth five minutes of our time this week
Like all these issues we need in the first place
to scrutinise ourselves first
so often we see the failures in others very clearly
but are blind to the harshness
of our own insensitivity
and care-less-ness
A rule of thumb, given by Jesus himself,
look at the beam in your own eye
before we try to remove the speck in another.
It is in this sense that we note
that we don’t get this right all the time
and some will choose to not get it right at all.
There will be a judgment in relation to this
and how quick we are to make it sometimes.
But it is not ours to make
it is the judgment of God
and our part is not to judge
how defective, stupid or bad others might be
We often do this and forget
that the principle judgment
will be based on how well or badly
we have heard this challenge of Christ
and put it into practice.

It is tricky stuff:
but we are reminded
  • our hope is in Jesus, and it is a hope full of responsibility and promise
  • our rule of thumb is care, practical care in our own smallness of life-family, parish, friends, neighbours etc
  • steer clear of the judgment that is not ours to make save to challenge ourselves to be more firmly committed to Jesus, with outcomes in practical sharing and caring for others.

Reflection 2 (longer)
Whenever I read Ephesians 1 I am drawn to that expression in verse 18
"The eyes of the heart"
I don't know that we fully appreciate what a curious expression that is
It is not so much a statement about the sort of "heart" that we should have
as the type of eyes...
we should see with the heart.
What does this mean, let me highlight three dimensions that can be taken from todays'reading:

Paul himself says
"with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power"
He is not here talking about some sort of idle optimism
---cheer up and everything will be all right in the end...
But rather a transforming hope which will change the character of our day to day existence
Although we are often seduced to filter everything through our brain, reason, and intellect
It is the "heart" that actually inspires us,
charges us up, fills us with passion and hope.
We can allow other filters, too,
to seduce us: success, wealth, prestige and so on
it will be the transforming nature of relationship with Christ
that will fill us with hope.
the relationship is both the source of and end of our hope.
We are filled with hope in so far as we are filled with Christ.
This transformation is not the transformation of the intellect,
or some material bag of goodies
it is, and will be
the conversion of our heart
to be like Christ and for Christ
Ezekiel reminds us that
the affairs of the heart
will be like the affairs of the shepherd,
The word we often use in churches
to talk about caring for people
is "pastoral"
and that word strictly means
It is the popular image of the people of Israel
used to small flocks of sheep cared for by the shepherd.
Jesus would have been familiar
with the sight of a shepherd
going slowly and carefully about his business of being a pastor.
It is not hard to come to the realisation
that caring ....being pastoral...
is essentially an affair of the heart.
The shepherd cares for the sheep.
I know this for myself
what ever else we may want to be and do
as a parish, as a family, as a country
will be expressed as we care for each other.
We are sometimes very care-less
with people's sensitivities and needs;
we can justify almost everything we do
no matter how bad
but if we set ourselves up against Jesus's standards
the standard of the heart
then the poverty of our own response matter how rational, logical or clever....
will often be exposed to be shallow.

Why are our communities light on hope,
it is because we simply do not care
like Jesus cares,
with the heart.

Finally, as we draw all these things together
we note that the practical application
of the affairs of the heart
is justice.
There will be a separation between what is good and what is bad.
We, who so often misname justice,
to allow scope for the venting of our own evil desires
and for the hardness of our hearts
should recognise
with fear and trembling.
That justice is the application of love,
whenever it is less than that
then it is not just.
We will, by and large,
separate ourselves from Christ
when the time comes.
Unable to bear his purity
and integrity,
his compassion and forgiveness
sheep and goats will be separated.

We can have hope,
if we like Christ are people of the heart,
we can be people of the heart,
if we like Christ care from the very depths of our being,
we can be Christ's if we are committed to the application of love.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


This is not a preaching but rather an apology for not posting last just got to Saturday night and at some points you do have to say this is not going to happen this week! And this week the sermon blog was that thing
If you were disappointed or wanted to share thoughts on the Gospel in particular (Matt25:14-30) then please contact me.
Here is a bare bones outline of two things I did and talked about
In our I/G focus we sat in groups of three and the short teaching was that God has gifted us all by virtue of our humanity, and by virtue of our Baptism. We often imagine that we are not talented or gifted and this parable really reminds us that it's the failure to use small gifts that is the failure not the fact that we seem to be less gifted than some others. Most of the in the realm of 1 talent rather than of 5!
In the groups(participants know each other quite well) were invited to spend 5 minutes answering a short questionaire about the other 1 or 2 people in their group.....What physical characteristic do you particularly like and note, what personality trait do you find attractive, and then to fill in 2 or 3 statements that begin...I see God at work in you because....
(We are not always good at this sort of affirmation)

People then shared their answers with each other quietly. And you had to sit and listen to positive affirmations about yourself!!

This seemed to go well

The same theme as is not the fact that we only have 1 talent that is a fault but that we choose to do nothing that is the point of this parable
We are distracted by the fact that there is inequity...but we need to come back to the point....what do I do with what God has given me?
In addressing verse 29 "
but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away" we should recognise that there is a logical contradiction here. How can you take away something from those who have nothing!!!.

My explanation and my theology tells me.....(as in the intergenerational session above) is not that we have nothing it is that we choose to act as if we have nothing...which is why this person is condemned in such strong terms.

In hiding our giftedness, it is indeed taken from us, and we find that if we do not employ what God has given us...then it becomes worse than useless and our life becomes sterile and lifeless.

This should at least pause to encourage us to ask...why does my faith not seem to work? why does my relationship with God seem shallow and/or sterile?
There is here an invitation to ask the Holy Spirit to show us where we are gifted and how we can use this giftedness? Do that this week!!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lifestyles of the not so rich and the not so famous

Readings for all saints Day (see the Beatitudes Matt: 5:1-12)

In a world fascinated with extreme behaviour
it is likely that the local TV program
would be more likely to report Simeon Stylites (see picture at right)
than Elizabeth Fry or Caroline Chisolm,
both of whom appeal much more to me
than dear old Simeon.
He is what we would call a "hermit"
who lived an isolated life
on top of a rock pinnacle(or stylus...hence the name)
so narrow and so restrictive his lifestyle
that there was literally no room for others to enter in.
It is a lifestyle that few are called to follow,
and which most of us find to be a little weird.
Elizabeth Fry and Caroline Chisolm,
one a Quaker and the other a Catholic,
both devout Christian people,
Were women who saw the needs of desperate people
prisoners and poor immigrants
and understood their Christian witness
to be doing what they could to care for these people.
What we are reminded of is that "to be a pilgrim",
(the hymn of one Christian who spent time in jail)
is a different journey for different people.
One interesting thing about the passage we read as a gospel on All Saints' Day,
is that it also talks about a different journey for different people
...the poor, the sad, the gentle and caring,
those who strive for purity, those who long for peace,
many have been persecuted,
not just in Roman times, but in the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau,
most of us have been mocked at one time or another,
whether by our neighbours, our schoolmates, even our family,
and certainly by those who promote
the lifestyles of the rich and famous as the most desirable one.
Different journey for different people.
We are not called to emulate every saint
and so we should not feel sad that we fall far short of their example.
But we are all called to make our own journey
and it will have common characteristics...
  • a desire to be close to God
  • an earnestness to move on and change
  • a need to encourage others to discover that Christ is for them too.
Can we as we are inspired by the saints
ask I doing enough to fulfill my Christian obligation?
Indeed, am I doing anything,
is my lifestyle that of a passenger
rather than a pilgrim
Do I expect to be carried and for others to get on with the hard work?
We are all guilty of this some what,
look for opportunities for service, and worship
for enthusiasm and ministry.
And pray afresh for the renewing power of God's Holy Spirit
to change the lukewarmness of my life
to the invigorated l;ife of the saint.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Getting it right

The 24th Sunday after Pentecost(Propert 31)
Joshua 3:7-17, Ps 107:1-9; 1 Thess 3:5-13; Matt 23:1-12

The tantalising headings
Act in faith
Moses died in sight of the Promised Land
but that did not mean God had deserted the chosen people
or had become unfaithful.
As we explored last week
God's business is unfinished
and we capture this sense today
the life of faith goes on
even when the leaders, the motivators, the giants
...we call them saints...
have died.
Indeed we treasure and name this tradition
the communion of saints.
So Joshua takes responsibility from Moses
and his first task is not to bemoan the death of Moses
but to move on in faith!.
We pick up the ark and move on,
and it is our expereinece that the life of faith
moves from one generation tot he next.
Where ever we find ourselves in the life of faith
let us note the challenge of the current generation
  • too big a job, too few resources
  • the leaders of today are not like the leaders of the past
  • things have changed
  • we can't make ends meet
and move on.
We walk, not by sight but by faith
In God,
who is faithful to us.
It is easy to give up
but this is nto the walk of faith.
Where ever you find yourself to be
I urge you to walk on
How can we thank God enough for you
Heaven knows, Paul had a lot of difficult situations to deal with.
He points the early churches to a key Christian principle
Always do things in community
Understand that we are in this together
and you will understand a key principle to the life that God has given us to share
So we read that his steadfast prayer for the Church in Thessalonika is this:
...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another
and for all, just as we abound in love you.
Gee! Those people who we try to share the community of faith with
can be tedious, difficult and boring.
They are often wrong, and plain dumb!
It will ever be so.
They no doubt say the thing about us.
So our prayer is that we may change and be kinder
and holier
and that we ourselve may be blameless.
Let us not pretend that everything will just slot into place.
We will struggle with each other
and with ourselves.
And in doing so
we will find that the promise of God is true.
Where two or three are gathered together
There am I
right amongst you.
Be faithful to the spirit of the Gospel
Finally let us recognise how easy it is
in the name of faith
to be distraced by irrelevance
...proper protocol, the right words and behaviour,...
learn what is important
and what is peripheral.
And that at the heart of it
God will be faithful to us.
So the wheel has turned full circle!
Practical implications
  • We need courage to trust God and act
this does not necessarily come easily
and will need to be prayed about and practised
  • We need to trust the community of faith that God has given us,
this too requires prayer and practice.
  • We need to develop an intuitive sense of what is good, kind, and God 's will
  • and trust God's Spirt
this too requires prayer and practice

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My hero!

An address for Festival Evensong for the Feast of All Saints
Each of us has heroes.
In the Church we call these saints.
And because of our particular take in the Church
on the issue of humility
we often find it difficult to use
the language of hero...but heroes they are.
Psychologists who deal with with type and archetype
tell us how important heroes are.
I was intrigued to discover a few years ago
how all the stories of knights and their adventures
which I had lapped up as a boy
contained recurrent themes
which are the stuff of life.
The crusade, the slaying of the dragon,
the wounded hero,
the return with the prize, the search for the holy grail.
These are the stories of antiquity
but they are the stories of today.
This is true of these heroes we call the saints.
Whether it be ecstatic vision, the single-minded pursuit of God,
the selfless devotion to the poor or the sick, the desire to learn more of the mysteries of God,
or missionary or educational zeal.
They catch our imagination and inspire our Christian life.
St Bernard, the great teacher of the Middle Ages,
tells us that saints might inspire two desires in us:
The first is to be in their company and to try to emulate
their life and work.
This is an obvious function
and one which appeals to our natural sensibilities.
We emulate the people we admire.
We might make two comments about this,
The saints are a very diverse group of people.
In many ways it is easier to contrast them
with each other than to compare them
Some, like Francis or Mother Teresa,
inspire us because of their wholehearted desire to serve the poor.
Others inspire us because, like Gladys Aylward the missionary to China,
they are single-minded in their pursuit of their task
and do not see the obstacles that would put you and me off.
It is in this context that we often have Patron Saints,
people who particularly appeal to us,
whose way of serving Christ,
is something that we find meaningful and attractive.
You may like to think who you would take to be your patron.
There are many to choose from.
We look at their lives,
not with a view to making a photocopy of it
in our own life
but learning from their example.
Who will you take as your Patron,
and How will you let that colour your life?
The second thing that Bernard says
that inspires us about the saints
is their closeness to Christ
and that Christ, who is our life, may manifest himself to us
as he does to them.
This is not a magic formula
but rather another dimension of the first aspect.
We see in the example of these people
that their devotion to Christ
is so real that they know the closeness
with Jesus that we long for day and night.
We follow them, and associate with them
so that we may know Christ.
If we look beyond people
like St Francis, St Mary Magdalene, and St Ignatius...
we will probably find in this group of people
who are close to Christ
people called: Nana, Charlie Moncrieff, my old teacher,
my friend at church
and others who have influenced us more directly.
What attracts us to them, so often,
is that in them we see
people who could talk about Jesus
as though they knew him.
Why? Because they did.
Gather your saints
At a conference recently a speaker reminded us
that a good part of our daily prayer
was to "gather our saints"
To sit quietly and bring to mind
those whose Christian example
means something to us.
This is rather what we do at All Saints' time,
We gather our saints.
We are not worshipping them,
but rather we look to them
for some inspiration,
and some idea of how to be close to Christ.
These saints may be our patrons,
but often they will be the people
who increasingly we identify
are the ones we know to whom Christ
is genuine
and we could well follow their examples
So let us look to our heroes, the saints of old,
and the saints of today
and try to keep company with them
by seeing in the examples that apepal to us
something of value.
And let us try to earnestly know
what they know.
The reality fo the presence of Christ
from day to day

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Unfinished business

for Sunday October 23 (Proper 30)
Pentecost 23
Deut 34:1-12

There are many examples of unfinished business
Of Dickens’ unfinished last novel, a suspenseful thriller called: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Chesterton says, " Edwin Drood, the last book, was a book designed by Dickens, but ultimately filled up by others"
Dickens left this incomplete and attempts have been made at completing it
Most not entirely successful.
Schubert, of course,
left his great Unfinished Symphony(and many other composers have done likewise).
There are many more examples of people who have not been able, or who have not been bothered, to finish what they set out to do.
Most noweher near as grand as a novel or a symphony.
Whether it the garden wall, or the new kitchen
or the trip to China,
Death, circumstances, inclination all work together
to render these incomplete.
So we are not surprised to see that Moses, is not able to completely see through the task that he has been given by God.
Leading the people into the Promised Land.
This is given a spiritual explanation is a discipline for the failure to keep the holiness that God requires of his people.
It may seem a little unfair,
but says (amongst other things) that leaders have some degree of accountability
for the integrity of those they lead.
A curious twist in a dramatic story.
So Moses is able to look out, from afar,
on the entrance to the Promised Land
and dies before he gets there.
What he would have seen is curious
a semi-arid, almost uninviting land,
which nevertheless is the fulfillment of God's promise.
There is nothing of disappointment or failure
as they look out on this promise
as it nears its completion.
But, we begin to realise
that "incompleteness" is a fact of life.
We do not so much arrive as continue on the journey.
And though there may be stations on our journey
when we can stop and reflect,
we stay only for a little while
and then move on.
The language of pilgrimage
--the journey to the Promised Land--
is often the language that we use as we look at the life of the saints
and it might remind us that we journey
rather than arrive.
We look at the work of one such as Teresa of Calcutta
with a certain degree of admiration.
She achieved enormous things in her work of care for the poor
But we all know that her work goes on
and needs to go on.
It is not the end-point
but the ongoing journey
--her pilgrimage of solidarity with the poor---
that would seem to effect change.
It continues,
and it is this that is important
in the circumstances,
and in the lives of those on the journey.
For us
We may occasionally be disheartened
by the fact that not everything will be completed.
I felt my heart sink when I read this passage this week
“Will this be what my ministry is like
---a whole lot of slog, and so much incomplete--?”
Well, the answer is , ‘Yes!’
There have been stations along the way,
we can all think of special worship experiences,
of completed projects,
of special testimonies, often funerals, that tell
of the part individuals have played.
In our personal life there are milestones
in our lives, and the lives of our spouses, children, grandchildren and friends.
Sometimes though it is hard slog.
(Perhaps that is so at the moment.)
Our more mature reflection can be :
That the very nature of life is:
Journey rather than destination;
A pilgrimage rather than a place to put up our feet.
This does not always sound like good news,
BUT what sort of difference will it make to our planning, and our vision
and where we put our energies
if we realise that we are not so much planning to arrive
as to travel
Tension and optimism
There is a tension here
There will be some things that are left undone.
We can allow this to be a source of optimism rather than despair.
How easy would it have been for Moses to say:
"I failed because I didn't get there",
or for Teresa to say: "There are still poor people".
Instead they, and the others who we call saints,
give testimony that the life of faith is not essentially about Personal Achievement.
It is rather about our participation on the journey
it is about recognising that we are working together with others
and that it is essentially God's work that we are about.
God is its beginning, its middle and its completion.
In understanding this tension
we are set free to know that
it doesn't all depend on us.
While we are called to participate
...we are not simply to sit back and watch the other pilgrims...
the whole work does not depend on me
it depends on God
and God shares that work with us
(let us not let ourselves off lightly)
but we do not need to carry the burden
of how perfect the work is.
It is unfinished business
and will continue to be so
until all things are brought to their fulfillment
at the end of the age

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rights of ownership

Matthew 22:15-22 Tribute to Caesar
Jesus is asked a trick (and potentially politically damning) question
"Should we pay taxes to the occupying army?"
And he points out to us by the use of a coin
to whom we should pay taxes
"Whose head is on this coin?"
The answer, of course is" "Caesar's"...or the State's
The Church Father Tertullian(1) makes the poetic connection
that just as Caesar's head is on the coin, and so it belongs to him,
so we are stamped with the image of God
and we belong to God.
Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.
We might, and no doubt do, admire Jesus for his particular skill
and political savvy.
But we need also to note, as it were,
the other side of the coin.
If we think that some how this story
is going to tell us how to deal with difficult political situations
then we are definitely mistaken.
We are left at the end of this encounter with more questions
than we had at the beginning.
Though Tertullian's bow
.... the parallel he draws between the coin
being the Emperor's property
and the human being bearing the imprint of God....,
is a long one.
Tertullian is stretching the imagery.
Nevertheless, the point is valid.
This story does not so much
tell us the answer to the trick question....should we pay tribute to Caesar
It rather tells the Christian.
That we should render to God the things that are God's.
Matthew, writing to a church under persecution,
is reminding the early Christians
that there is need for commitment
for enthusiasm and courage.
The tribute to Caesar
can be solved relatively easily
obey the law and do your duty
we may not like it but it is straightforward.
But what is more demanding
is the tribute we offer to God.
It is the tribute of faith.
We give ourselves to God
because that is what we choose to do.
For all the saints
As we think about the holy saints of God
during these weeks
we see women and men
who got a handle on what it means
to be committed.
Whether it is Francis caring for the poor,
or our first Bishop Augustus
building up a church where there was not one,
or someone who saw the challenge to be faithful in worship
or to care for the sick.
Whether it was like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maximilian Kolbe
to stand up to the injustice of Nazis.
None of us will escape the reality
that we are called to render to God the things that are God's.
It is interesting to note that the one's who ask Jesus this "trick question"
go away unmoved by his clever answer.
They see no need to do anything.
It is not so with us.
Tertullian's point is well made
it is easy to fulfill our civil obligations
the point is what tribute will we offer to God.
We are called to be faithful
we are called to be healers, to care for the poor,
to worship faithfully and well, to pray earnestly
Render to God the things that are God's.
The tribute required for God
demands of us commitmet.
[Remember last week the man who tried to sneak into the wedding
the point is the same
If you are going to participate
then commitment requires just that
Bonhoeffer who I just referred to
tells us there is no such thing as Cheap Grace
"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."

He is making the point of this story and the same point
that Tertullian makes.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...
but let us not play games with God
and really give ourselves to God.

(1)Paragraph 12 of De Fuga in Persecutione (The Flight from Persecution)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Who gets to be a saint? (ii)

For Sunday October 9, 2005 - Matthew 22:1-14

No sermon I have heard about saints in the last 50 years
has failed to remind the modern Christian
that "We are all saints"
As we look at this parable (Matt.22:1-14) of the wedding feast
(read it online here)
We might ask ourselves what Jesus says
in this in answer to the question
"Who gets to be a saint?"

I do
In many ways the last line of this parable reminds us of the inescapable reality
"Many are called!"
God does not hold back on his offer of fulness of life.
So, as we ask, Who gets to be a saint?
We can at least answer:
Everyone gets the opportunity.
"Many are called!"
I am fortunate in that I can recognise
that there has never been a moment of my life
when that has not been true.
Less than a month old, I was walked across the road
to St Peter's Church, Kells
and I was baptised.
Baptism, in this sense, is a reply to the wedding invitation
that this parable is talking about.
The invitation to participate in a relationship
with the living God
which is called "eternal life"
(I sometimes think we understand that term better
if we say fulness of life or abundant life)
This gift is so abundant and free is truly gracious, freely offered...
that we can and should say
Many are called...perhaps we could add
available for all
What we also need to remember and add
is that this version ends with the words
Few are chosen
This process of selection
is not a sort of
whimsical game that God plays with us
it is, as these parables demonstrate,
also a process of self-selection
They do
The invitation is extended
but some, even many,
choose to not come
Two things happen
as a consequence:
those who have heard the invitation
but who choose not to come
are excluded!
And those who we don't think are the ones
who should be chosen
actually get the chance.
In historical terms
Jesus might be addressing
his own people
Pharisees and Saducees
who hear his teaching and yet
they fail to turn back to God.
We see then he turns
to social outcasts
poor tradespeople
fishermen, and anxious young men.
More than that
there are the tax collectors, the lepers
and the prostitutes.
These people with empty, desperate lives
are the ones who hear
and receive Jesus gladly.
As we reflect on religious history
this sort of pattern has often repeated itself.
In our terms (as of old)
it is the people who have always known
the Gospel
whose parents walked them over the road
to be baptised.
They have heard
and in many cases
This parable might remind us
that we have to live with that
as a reality.
It might also remind us that
when we try to focus our energies
at bringing people in
it is to the highways, and the byways
we should be going.
Can we honestly critique our parish life
and say
We are geared to welcoming
those who are usually rejected?
I think not

I don't
There is then
a salutary warning for those of us who are "in"
it is not a game.
It is a genuine invitation
which requires a genuine response.
If we think it will be about -game playing-
dressing up, social nicety or pretense
then we are mistaken.
We are to be clothed properly.
We are to set about our job.
It is this that we see the saints doing in their different ways.
Whether it be through faithful hours spent caring for the poor,
or a diuligent devotion to bringing up children,
it may be simply a commitment to live
a decent and honourable Christian life
as best we can.
It is not particularly about coming to church,
it is about how we live our life.
This is a serious mistake we often make
with these parables of the kingdom.
We some how seem to think
that they are about our involvement in church.
That is not the case.
It is about how we choose to live life.
Not about how oftyen we receive communion
but whether we practice forgiveness
and care for the poor.
Not about how much we give
but about our relationship with God
Will our life show that we take this invitation seriously?
Take some stock this week,
ask a telling question...
you know one of those tricky ones..
if I was on trial for being a christian
would there be enough evidence to convict me
Would the jury find love, mercy, forgiveness.
Reaching out to the poor, standing alongside the weak,
caring for the sick and the lonely.
It is not a game.
Do we say yes to the invitation
to eternal life?
Do we say no, to the hypocrisy of pretence?
Nothing less will do.