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.