Saturday, December 30, 2006

Auld acquaintance!

There are many readings for today these include: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148;Colossians 3:12-17;Luke 2:41-52 Take 10 minutes each day to read one of the passages and listen to the God who speaks to us through the scriptures

This is a rich time of year. The Church's calendar invites us to keep this as a range of Festivals: The Holy Family, The Sunday after Christmas, even the feast of the Epiphany...and of ocurse it is New Year's Eve!

All of these have about them the sense of new beginnings.
So we naturally are drawn to reflect on how we respond.
What might be our resolutions?
Most of us are not particularly good at keeping these,
so much so that they are the cause for laughter.
What if we were to take our reading today from Colossians 3
and see hat here there are a whole series of new beginnings being set our for us to act upon
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

And so there a range of things we could focus on as our resolutions...not just for the New Year but for our Christian life.
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
The image of putting on new clothig is a popular one that Paul uses.
It is about the outward appearance that we project to others
and also about the way we keep ourselves secure and intact!
Paul sees kindness, humility, gentleness and patience
to be the hallmarks of the Christian.
I had a very intellectual friend once who was really too smart for his own good.
But he also had a great sense of priority
and he would say...if it was a choice between being intellectual and being kind
then being kind was the way to go
We often forget that.
We justify unkindness, impatience, intolerance
in all sorts of rationalistic ways but we hear the Gospel point us elsewhere.
This year can we we see that it is kindness, humility, and patience
that are meant to draw us and lead us on
as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
New beginning will also need to be about forgiveness
We all carry a burden of the unforgiving heart
of those who have hurt us recently or a long time ago,
the Gospel tells us that in order to be free ourselves
we need to forgive
where are you being called to forgive at this new beginning?
And will you do it?
Above all, clothe yourselves with love,

It comes as no suprise to us that the Gospel points us towards love as the key.
Not the mushy sort of slush, or the sexy kind of imaginary stuff that is often exploiotative
and may even steer us to sinfulness
but rather the self-giving love
of a mother towards a child
of one who gives themself for another
We see in Jesus the ideal of love that we are called to.
it binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Finally Paul reminds us that we are called to be in relationship with Christ.
The fruit of this will be peace, stability, harmony...who of us does not want this?
let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
and Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;
Here Paul would appear to be talking both about that word that we read
which teaches and admonishes us in all wisdom;
and fills our hearts with praise
but it is also about whatever you do, in word or deed,
we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
All this might seem a tall order but it is the way of the true disciple
the way we are called to follow.
It is not so resolutions
as ongoing resolutions
The character of the life of faith
that we seek to form in ourselves and in each other.

  • kindness and humility
  • forgiveness
  • love and peace
  • relationship with Christ
A prayer for the New Year
In a stable in Bethlehem, Lord, you show us a humility that we find overwhelming and wonderful
In the gift and mystery of human life togetther, you show us kindness, love and peace
And you invite us to live creatively in harmony with you and with each other.
Let this year be the year when we will dwell richly with Christ
and Christ will be born anew in our lives. Amen

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Love- hate

There are many readings as listed below which are used over the Christmas services; a selection of some is below:
Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96-98; Titus 2:11-14; Titus 3:4-8; Hebrews 1:1-4; Luke 2; John 1:1-14

5 things I hate about Christmas
1.I hate that Christmas is a season that comes round once a year
and that it reminds us how we should behave all the year round
and yet we don't!

2. I hate that Christmas is a season when people get killed on the roads
in ways that could so often be avoidable

3. I hate presents that are given because we feel they have to be given
and which show no thought and no care.
So this might include scented bath salts and exploding fizzy things
that you put in a bath to make you feel good
and they only succeed in making you feel gritty

4. I hate the fact Christmas is about God's eternal love for us
about generosity, love and reconciliation
and we seem to make it into something else...about commercialism, exploitation, about gluttony
and about carelessness and recklessness

5. I hate the fact that Christmas should be about everything good and noble
and we really do settle for midnight shopping!

This tension that we feel is an important thing to understand
because it is the tension of living in a real world
A world that is flawed and sinful,
which could be better
and should be better
but which we find to be something of a struggle.
It is this tension that Christmas is all about.
St John reminds us in that most famous verse (John 3:16)
that : God loved the world so much, that he gave Jesus so that everyone who believes might not perish but might have eternal life.
That despite the tension and the temptation
to diminish human life
there is also the possibility
that things can be and are better than this.
While we, if left to our own devices, might scrub around in the dirt
and constantly get it wrong
because God desires more for us than that
there is a better way.
Which is why there are also:

5 Things I love about Christmas
These things largely represent a tension
between this struggle to get it right
and our tendency to get it wrong
and God's unremitting care for us
in bringing us back time and time and again
to give us the opportunity to get it right.
In a way, we have an eternity to get this right,
but we also discover that we want it to be right now.

1. I love that Christmas is about our human relationships
that it helps us to cherish those who God has given us to care for
and to realise that we don't have to be petty and backbighting
And so there is the tension that we should rightly hate
that we can be shallow and forget
that we almost manage to achieve
relationships which try to tolerate each other's failing and difficulties
in a spirit of forgiveness.
2. I love that Christmas is about quality time spent with family and friends
As we get older we realise that this is the heart fo Christmas
and that we should treasure what we have.
Take time to appreciate these curious presents that we all have
which is the people who will share Christimas with us.
I hate the fact that some people will feel aloneness
and maybe we should all recognise
that we can help people to not feel alone
by giving them the present that Jesus himself gives to us
That is the present of presence.
Being with others.
3. I love that Christmas is about generosity
While we live in an insane culture in which we are bombarded
not with the spirit of generosity but of greed (which we all hate)
let us do what we can to combat selfishness
and we do that by giving.
God loves the world so much that he GIVES his most precious gift.
We find it hard to be that generous.
But remember that just as loneliness can be broken by our choosing to do something about it,
so selfishness, poverty and greed can be addressed by us choosing to do something about that!
This is good for us.
It is redeeming.
It saves us.
This is, I think, what God is showing us.
This is what Christmas celebrates.
4. I love that at Christmas there are intimate important moments
Times that we look back on and fondly remember.
This is really what we remember about we enjoy each other.
I hate that for some people this will be their last Christmas.
Some of us will actually be very sad this Christmas
because this Christmas will be the first one without their mother or father,
because this Christmas will highlight who is not there as well as who is there
This might serve as a reminder
to pay attention right now
to those who we are called to love
and not assume that we have the next decade, the next year
or even the next day.
Make the most of these intimate important moments.
5.Finally I love that at Christmas there is this tension
That if, and when we penetrate all the hype
and we get frustrated that we don't always get it right
that we remember
that it is about what God is doing for us and in us
that it is not about the tinsel
and Fr Christmas
it is about living and experiencing the tension.

Take opportunity this Christmas
to enter into the mystery
of the things that we are called to love
and not get so distracted
by the things we find frustrating and hate.

Friday, December 22, 2006

And was made flesh

There are many readings which are used over the Christmas services; a selection of some is below:
Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96-98; Titus 2:11-14; Titus 3:4-8; Hebrews 1:1-4; Luke 2; John 1:1-14

Christmas greetings to all!
Christmas bears so many themes about God that it is almost difficult to make head or tail of it.
Theologically we say Christmas is the festival of the incarnation.
This is not a word that we use very much,
it means that Christ was made FLESH
(the CARN part of the word is linked to other words we use a bit more like carnivore-flesh eating, or carnal-the fleshly appetites of the body)
It is inviting us to say more than the fact
that the great God of heaven came down to earth in human form....
it is reminding us that this was not just a game
but it is a total identification of God
with each man and woman, in their body, soul and spirit.
God is concerned with the fleshly nature of our human existence.
This is why the songs and readings (and sermons!) remind us
of such things as love and peace, of justice and an end to oppression,
...because these are the realities of the flesh
This is what incarnation is all about.
It is easy to think that God is remote
and really unconcerned with humanity
inCARNation reminds us that this is not so.

We almost want God to be remote
we often don't want God to be concerned with the realities of our life.
If for a moment we suggest that God might be concerned that some people are poor, or that some are lonely;
that while we have peace and stability here the very place where Jesus was born is most unstable andf dangerous

The incarnation reminds us that these concerns are God's concerns and they they are to be our concerns also.

What is God saying to you about responding to the need of the poor?
Will we give even 1% of what we spend on ourselves and frivolity to the poor?
(This might be about $8-$20/family)

What is God saying to you about the lonely?
Are we so self-centred that we cannot even see a lonely person, or that we cannot be bothered to do antyhing about anyone? Try to relieve someone's loneliness this Christmas.

It is hard to address the issues of peace and war mongering, but do we stand up against those who glibly seem to promote war-mongering in our midst? Or are we so busy with our small world that the whole world seems of little concern.
Look for some way to suppoort the efforts of peace in these 12 days of Christmas, perhaps by supporting doctors, aid agencies, the UN and others as they seek to address issues which affect world peace.

The INCARNATION not only reminds us that God is concerned for our world
it invites you and me to be involved too.
As we celebrate Christmas, hear the invitation of God to us
to be incarnate, to be flesh, too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gratia plena-full of grace

Only one day in this last week of Advent...some readings are: Micah 5:2-5; Luke 2; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55

For me this season, whilst not being easy. has been one that is rich in experience
and encounters.
I have had to dialogue with death and dying,
we all have to engage with the complexity of our human relationships
and there is a richness of imagery that abounds
and of course all the wonderful words, spoken and sung.

This is necessary, but not always positive;
some people (research tells us) find Christmas very stressful.

One of the recurring themes of Advent is GRACE
This is a "buzz word", of course,
and easily glossed over.
Grace is about the free gift of God
of life itself.
God gives himself, his life to us
in these and many other ways
all the time
powerfully, intimately, gently, abundantly.

The readings point us to a number of different aspects of this.
God gives his grace to the world
We live in a gift of a world.
As our eyes turn to Bethlehem
we are also reminded how human beings
sometimes are hell-bent [advised use of words!] on destroying the giftedness
we have received from God.
Pray for peace in Bethlehem
that they may know the peace that Jesus bring.
Not easy work

The writer of Hebrews reminds us
that the era of grace in which we now live
is a new era
In theological terms, we are in a new era
because the death and resurrection of Jesus
have put us in a new place.
What this might remind us is that
grace does not just happen accidently
it is as a response of God's deliberate action
It will not just happen in our lives
we need to open ourselves to it
and also be responsive to it.
That is; Grace is given, freely given
do we accept this free gift of God's love.

As you reflect on these last 3 or 4 weeks and the richness of experience
what is God calling you to respond to.
Have you responded? Will you respond?
It is likely that we see the gracious gift of people.
Have we taken time to think on this?
How is God calling us to respond to those who he gives us.
Not always easy, but p[art of the way that we are called to grow into the personhood that God has in store for us.

The theme character for this week is Mary
It is interesting to hear the classical words
that often refer to her.
They are contained in the angel's greeting to her in that house in Nazareth
as she goes about her daily business.
"Hail Mary full of grace"
Don't let anti-Catholic prejudice blind us to the fact that these words come straight from the Bible themselves.
What the angel says to Mary, Goid says to all of us.
Hail full of grace!!
Each one of us has a life full of grace.
It is not the easy of cheap grace that titillates us, or makes us feel tipsy
Sometimes it is deeplky sad and confronting,
ALWAYS it is drawing us closer to God
and making us more fully human.
What has God been saying to you this season.
Where are you called to respond more freely to God's giftedness
is God saying....there is someone you need to forgive, or someone whose forgiveness you need to seek
Does God set before you a lonely person to who you can be a grace?
Is there a situation that you need to resolve?
Is there a freedom that is summoning you?

Will you take this gift, this offer of freedom and embrace it?

As Mary is confronted by the Angel...Hail full of grace!
and as she responds...saying be it done to me according to your word
so the angel says to her this new promise, The Lord be with you
The gift, the grace, the promise of Christmas
as we open ourselves to the sometimes, often, maybe even usually difficult of grace
we encounter Immanuel- God with us
The gift is here, accept it...full of grace
And May the Lord be with you.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Taking a stand

Readings for the week beginning 17th December, the Third Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

As we draw closer to Christmas we see many programs on TV which have a Christmas theme
one such this week was the ABCs monthly First Tuesday Book Club
The host, Jennifer Byrne, has a number of guest talking about some books.
This month Germaine Greer was there and one of the things she railed against (as she does indeed rail)
was the proliferation of religious self-help groups.
As one who encourages peopel to be introspective I heard Dr Greer say
"What are these people looking at? What are they trying to find?...Looking at themselves!! As far as I can see"
I think she has a point.
Many of us religious people get sidetracked looking only at ourselves.
The genuine religious pursuit, when we encounter it, must inevitable turn us outwards.
I am struck, for example, by two or three great figures of the last 50 years
who have striven to encourage people to turn inward and learn to pray deeply.
Some such are Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, I think also of Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, and Jean Vanier.
There are many others who have perhaps not caught the public imagination in quite the same way.
All of these people advocate a strong internal, reflective life.
And yet all of them were pushed increasingly outside their cocoon towards an active, converting ministry which many people (myself included) find profoundly attractive.
Nouwen, for example, ( perhaps the most popular of these) gave the final years of his life to looking after a profoundly disabled man on a one to one basis.

Many thought this was a waste of a brilliant intellect and a gifted author.
Nouwen, however, saw it as the climax of his life in God, and you detect in his writing about this young man he cared for, Adam, a much profounder encounter with God and life than any of his other masterly writings were able to convey.

The movement
This is precisely the direction that we are moved in at this point in Advent.
not towards a fanciful introspection
or a sort of namby pamby Christmas card view of life
in which "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world" as Browning penned
Rather we hear Zephaniah
talking about the establishment of a real earthly kingdom in which the marginalised,
the poor, disabled, weak and outcast
will be cared for and will be secure (hardly a view of our present world)
We hear John the Baptist in inviting people to prepare for the coming of a Messiah
telling them that it is not just about a narrow religious practice
rather it is about practical expressions
...We should share, we should be honest, we should not cheat
This is a far cry from the sort of introspection that Dr Greer quite rightly condemns, which is inward looking and self-obsessed
Likewise in one of the the purple passages we hear Paul saying to us that we need to orientate ourselves in the right way
and he use the word rejoice to describe that orientation.
It is worth reflecting about the absolute nature of this practice of "rejoicing"
Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication
and the fruit of this is that Lord will become near
and we will discover this profound peace...which passes understanding...
that we long for.

So, misericordiae mea, I have to admit that the angry old woman, Germaine Greer, seems to have got it right.
She is right to rail about the self indulgent, inward looking that passes for a lot of genuine faith today.
It is shallow, and to be despised.
But it is not what the Gospel advocates either!
The true life of faith will indeed seek to pray seriously anbd carefully
But that commitment will orientate towards others in a spirit of compassion and hope.

This week in Advent

  1. Try to find a time to be quiet to God and make a commitment to try to pray better
  2. In that time look not only at how God leads you in, but also where God is drawing you out. What act of service, care of compassion (plenty of opportunity in this week prior to Christmas) is being set before you? Why not try to do it?
  3. In the spirit of Rejoicing! give thanks to God for anything that stands out as an opportunity for life rather than death.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Knowing Jesus

Some of the Readings for Sunday 10th December, the Second Sunday of Advent: Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-6

Some things always surprise us, even if we are well prepared.
Birth is one and death is another
Of the rich themes that this season of Advent gives us
Preparation is one of the key ideas.
No doubt many of us are caught up in some rigorous preparations
for Christmas, for family visits, for present giving.
In Australia we also need to prepare for holidays,
and for those of us who are going away that is soon enough
My Messenger
In each and every life there are people who bring meaning and understanding to our life.
For Christians, Jesus is that person,
but because we also recognise that the life of Christ is shared amongst God's people
I also realise that there are many others who bring meaning and understanding to my life.
Who is "my messenger"?
You can probably think of one or two easily.
But I also want to encourage you to think closer to home.
If we think carefully we can see that parents are called to be messengers to their children.
It is part of our role to help shape meaning and understanding.
We are not called to indoctrinate or to bully children into narrow undersatndings
rather we are called to encourage them to be open and expansive.
Responsive to God's call to be full and whole people.
So too, we might say, husbands and wives are not just the incidental partners of people
rather we are the messengers of God's love for our spouses.
This is a high view of relationships.
Who is "My messenger"? and To whom am I called to be a "Messenger"?
We often don't think of it like this.
But it gives a dignity and importance to our relationships which reminds us that God unfolds for us in our daily lives
so we expect that we will encounter God
through the most obvious messengers
and we also need to be aware that we are the messengers for some people.
This, perhaps should fill us with foreboding.
At the very least it might cause us to stop and reflect
about how well we might do this.
Who is God's messenger for me?
This week.
And what are they saying?
Who am I the messenger for?
And what message do I give?
I give thanks for you
I am always struck as we read the start of Paul's letters
(as we read the beginning of Philippians this week)
That, despite his at times stern approach, he always begins rather well.
In this letter for example we read
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you
If it says nothing else it says that there is much to be thankful for and we should search for that as we seek to convey God's message.
As we look at this daunting task of being a Messenger for God
for our children, grandchildren, husbands and wives and friends
take Paul's advice ands look for ways to be thankful.
We don't always feel like this, but it is an important insight.
It is gleaned (of course) from the way we want to be viewed by God ourselves.
Should we do any less?
This week take opportunity to give the message of thanks.
Look for a way to be a thankful messenger.
Prepare the way
Finally let us remember that this is not just all trying to get people to look at the world through rose coloured glasses
We are preparing people to meet Jesus.
We have small opportunities. Often rich and important.
The words we speak of love and affection
of forgiveness and hope
often take root where we do not see or suspect.
As we were reminded last week
whether or not people hear
is partly related to whether or not
we bother to say anything.
Don't lament the fact that people don't know Jesus
if we The Jesus people don't tell them
Advent work
This is Advent work!
It may seem harder than it really is
but there are three things that we are asked to do:
  1. Who is my messenger? And what is God saying to me through that person?
  2. Who am I a messenger for? And what am I saying to them? Can I at least "give thanks" for those who God has given to me?
  3. Can I, in this Jesus-rich season, also take the opportunity to point Jesus out to those who are looking?
He is there (of course) in the manger. But he walks along with us in our life. Can we help our loved ones to see him and know him better at this holy time.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Advent makes the heart grow fonder

Readings for the First week of Advent beginning Sunday December 3: Jer 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-38 (the 3 year cycle begins Year C this week, reading through Luke's Gospel as the year goes on)

Advent is heavy on themes.
Chief amongst these is preparation for Christmas.
Week by week we mark this passage (slow for children, but astonishingly fast for adults) with the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath.
It rather ticks the weeks off.
Though if we pay attention
it is not just about getting through the season
we are led carefully into the mystery of the life God has in store for us
the hope God has for you and me and for the world
and the sense of promise that is caught up in human life.
We 'intuit' a lot of this at Christmas time any way. With a strong sense of expectation at the great celebration, we need to also look for something more substantial
than a day of fun and feasting.
Advent tries to point us to go a little deeper so try and take time in this season
to absorb something of the ethos.

Some pointers
The prophets point us to a sense of political fulfilment.
For the people of Israel it was about peace and stability.
These things do not come without cost and without work,
there is not the suggestion that osme how God will come and wave a magic wand
and all will eb made well.
There is always a sense that if we are to enjoy peace
then God's people are to lead the way
so when we hear Jeremiah say:
The Lord will raise up a righteous branch who
shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
We can also ask ourselves what this calls us to do
how do we, the righteous branch, grafted into Christ
work for justice and righteousness here in Australia.
We are often very passive when it comes to politics
but where do we feel there is more need for justice
where can we stive for peace and stability.
This is of course part of the motivation
behind our Parish Project to help support families
involved in the Juvenile Justice System.
This project is about fulfilling our Advent call.
for justice and righteousness
for peace and community
and not just sitting on the sidelines expecting something to happen.

Rocket science?
In a way this is not rocket science.
Jesus reminds us with the examnple of the trees changing and growing
that there is a continuous cycle of growth, expectation, and fulfillment
and his reminder is that we should
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

We should take the opportunity that we are given.
It is a recurring theme of his teaching
Be watchful and take the opportunity

So some Advent questions are
Am I in touch with what God is promising me?
Can I speak to God about what I hope for at this time in my life?
Is there some thing that I am called to do in this season
which furthers God's cause of justice, peace and righteousness?
What do I need to do to put that into action, or if I can't easily latch on to this idea
can I ask God for some direction.

The time is short...but the time is enough

Friday, November 24, 2006

Eternal Gifts

A poem for the Celebration of the Feast of Christ the King

Aeterni Christi Munera

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to tie my child’s sandal
and to encourage her
to leap small buildings

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to dare to love
but to dare to do it any way

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to step into the traffic
with a body of one my friends
following in a hearse

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to accept myself with love
not with indulgence
but with love, and perhaps a little care

Such is the eternal gift of Christ
who doesn’t seem to think of himself
as a king

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

King of Kings

Readings this Sunday are for the feast of the Reign of Christ. sometimes known as Christ the King. The last Sunday of the church's year. John 18:33-37
For we Christians there is a certain irony about this notion of kingship
which we ascribe to Jesus.
First it is old-fashioned.
Although we here in Australia do have a monarch. That monarch has only symbolical power.
If she were to choose to try and exercise the power that she allegedly has
the whole political system would explode.
At its very best it reminds us that leadership is not about being the boss
it is about being a servant.
And although Queen Elizabeth II lives an opulent and privileged lifestyle
most of us realise with even a cursory glance
that she is also tyrannised by the idea of monarchy.
In the blatant exposure that the famous are subjected to
we see that being a ruler
has not protected the things she hold most precious,
no doubt her family
from all the woes and troubles of life.
Rather the reverse.
Second, if we turn to the bible and look at the notion of kingship presented there
we see that it was an experiment that was predicted to fail.
And which did!
Samuel, seemingly against his better judgment, is persuaded to anoint Saul king
but he predicts that this change of government will end in disaster.
Though it is not without it's high points
Samuel's prophecy is proved tragically true.
The kingship is a cause of pain and heartbreak,
of injustice and sorrow
to the people who God calls to follow him.
So, it is not suprising that the idea of kingship
even though it be Jesus who is our king
is not one without problem.
Christ the King

Indeed the clearest picture we have of Jesus is not enthroned on a throne of glory
but on a cross of wood
above which Pontiius Pilate has placed a sign
INRI - "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm."
Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.


There is something profoundly confronting about what is being said here

which is easy to overlook or mistake

We can ake the sort of 'high moral ground' lesson

Like the one I just made about her majesty the Queen.

Kingship -is -a -form - of -radical -servanthood

(and that is certainly true)

But more is being expected of us than just moralism.

Or we can take the line

that life invites us to die to ourselves

(and this too is true).

But are we also being invited to see that Jesus's way of living life

is about confronting death and not being cowed by it.

Another way if viewing the atonement.

Not that God demands some sort of appeasing sacrifice

so that He will get over his (quite rightly justified) anger.

But rather that the Cross is an act of freedom-making.

How easily we forget this.

We seem to always think that the cross invites us to be crucified again.

We don't hear (maybe don't want to hear) that the enthronement of Christ the King

has set us free so that we don't have to attempt to do the impossible.

We cannot die for our sins, or for anyone else's

and we don't need to.

Everything that need to be done has been done.

Have we thus spotted the characteristic of kingship that is displayed on the throne of Calvary.

The king dies to set his subjects free.

If we are called to live our lives in that spirit

then the question that we ask is not can I make up for the things that I have done wrong

but how can I set other people free?

Does what I do set myself and others free?

How easily we put demands on people which enslave them

Expectations on our families that tyrannise rather than set free

Conditions that we place on our relationships

that in effect say ...I will only love you if you do what I want of you.

This is not true kingship that sets free

It is dictatorship that enslaves.

This week

As we look at our lives:

Do I accept the freedom that Jesus has won for me? Freedom to know forgiveness. and freedom to forgive?

Are things that I can that set people---family, friends, associates---free rather than enslave? Can I give myself so that others might be free? What small thing can I do for someone this week that will give them greater freedom?

The servants of Christ the king, we, are not cruel masters; we are freedom fighters.

Embrace that freedom

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The beginning of the end and the future of the beginning

Reading for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (proper 33)...Sunday 19th November 2006 1 Sam 1:4-20; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-11

...If we want to say anything about God
then we want to say that there is never a time when God was not,
there is never a time when God is not,
and there will never be a time God will not be
This is fine language, reassuring and affirming
and the Bible readings this week help us to appreciate it more fully.
The story of Samuel's birth,
how every thing is seen to be in God's care right from the word "go"
so that Samuel is in the right place at the right time
and is able to do what God has set out for him to do
reminds us of a profound characteristic about God.
He has already prepared the place for us.
There is never a time when he was not.
And he draws us into this
From the very wombs into which we were born
to the moments in time and history
that we encounter
there is never a time when God's presence is not felt
and not available to those who yearn for God

Hebrews reminds us, too,
that God is a God of destiny
who has things prepared for those who love God.
There is a goal, an end, a vision.
That vision for us is realised in Christ
who we are called to emulate
and who calls us to be like him.
God calls us to share the future with him.
Our destiny is to be drawn into the fulness of ligfe with God

So whether we look to the past or whether we look to the future
we find God already there.
God's hand already active in our life
even though we maybe don't recognise it.
God's hand already preparing a way for us.
So that we may become what God wants us to be

God of now
But as we embrace this powerful sense of destiny, even predestination
we are pointed by the apocalyptic sense of the gospel
to realise that where God's kingdom is to be focussed for you and for me
is not by looking back to see where we came from.
It is not by looking forward and trying to predict when the end of al things will come.
It is by living out our lifein the present.

The God who rules history and whose mighty care and love for us
is recognised in how we have been brought to this place.
The God who will bring all things to perfection
and who is our ultimate resting place.

Calls us to live in the here and now.

We may be tempted to retreat
We may be tempted to worry about the future

But the invitation of God's Holy Spirit is
Live NOW
Preach the Gospel now
Trust God now

we are to understand not how to do things as they were once done
not to try and do it as it should be done in the future
but to live out our faith NOW
The reality of what we are called to be and do iis to be lived out in the present.
What else do we have!

This week

Where is God calling me to live out love, forgiveness and hope in what I am going to do this week?

Where am I tempted to escape form my responsibilities by looking to the past, or predicting the future?

Is there some way that I can be more genuinely present to those who God calls me to serve?

Is there a way of being Christian that invites me to be faithful now?

How can I do it? Do it!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Proceeding with caution

Ruth and Boaz (the stylistic work of Polish-Iraeli artist Shlomo Katz see here for more)

Reading for Pentecost 23, Sunday 12th November (Proper 32) Ruth 3:1-5, 4:3-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:19-28; Mark 12:38-44

There is certain profound gentleness about this week's readings.
The story of a woman who finds a genuine life partner. And who against all odds becomes the mother of a great man.
And the gentle reassurance of the woman whose generosity is seen by God;
even though she gives little in "real terms"
she gives everything she has in hers
and God see this and we recognise it
and so we are heartened.
In the middle of this there is something of a sterner reminder
that God abhors hypocrisy
and that there is about life
the mystery of sacrifice
which tests us to the very core of who we are.
The writer to the Hebrews
spells out in great details
that sacrifice is at the core of what our relationship with God is all about.
Getting it straight
Now we need to understand that there is a common misconception about sacrifice
that it is essentially about the taking away of life.
This is not necessarily or particularly so.
In fact if we look at the detailed instructions about sacrifice
in the Hebrew scriptures
we see that a lot of it is not about animal slaughter at all
There are all sorts of sacrifices of grain and produce
which do not involve bloodshed.
In fact if we look at the word sacri-fice we can see that it is about making (the fice part of the word) things sacred or holy (the sacri part of the word)
Christ died that we might be made holy
In fact the writer of Hebrews uses the idea of Christ entering into God's presence
(going into the most holy place)
so that we too might enter into that presence
Simple reflection
The story of Ruth is an interesting but gentle tale.
It seems a simple love story
yet it needs also to be read in the context of the sort of ethnic tensions
that still exist in those lands we call HOLY today.
Ruth was not a Jew
she was what today we would call a Lebanese, or Syrian, perhaps even an Iraqi.
Yet her faithfulness to her Jewish mother-in-law
and her willingness to do what needed to be done
saw a simple little tale
become an object lesson
in the all accepting love of God.
The Jews were racked by ethnic division then as now.
And yet we read of one the greatest heroes
(in backwards order)...his father was Jesse, his grandfather was Obed, who was the child
not of a Jew but of a Moabitess.
David was the great grandson of an outcast.
Be careful about what you hear. There is more than meets the eyes.
Likewise in the letter to the Hebrews
it is the call for us to be holy
and the permission to enter the closest presence of God
that we need to hear.
Not just the bloody sacrifice of Christ.
So obsessed are we about guilt and sin
that we fail to hear that there is cause for rejoicing.
Christ died, so that we could be close to God.
God is close, not far.
Don't push him away

A simple tale that we all know to be true
.. the rich can afford to be generous
But do we also pay attention to the great warning
God is not looking for who gives the most
either in real dollar terms
or even proportionately.
God looks at the heart
and despises hypocrisy.
The hypocrisy that judges others and fais to critique oneself.
Where is God inviting me to be tolerant? To step outside my prejudices and to be more accepting?
Where do I hold back from drawing close to God? Is there a time and place to be quiet and listen? Is there an opportunity to serve God through care for others?
Where in my life am I most hypocritical? Where can I change and be more honest?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And companions on the way

Ruth 1:1-8; Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-15, Mark 12:13-17, 28-34 Readings for Sunday 5th November, Pentecost 22 (Proper 31)

I always find this season both encouraging and challenging
As the year draws towards its close
we move in the Church's year from thinking about day to day life
to the fulfillment of the promises of God's kingdom.
In the Church of England this season is called Kingdom Time
It is, I think, a good name.
In my mind it begins around the end of October
with the feast of St Simon and St Jude (28th October)
So far as we know they are two of the apostles listed in the Gospels
but we know very little about them.
Jude is traditionally called "The Obscure" meaning that whoever he is we don't actually have any detail.
[Indeed that's why Thomas Hardy reminds us in his dark novel of failed ambition and thwarted hope which is entitled Jude the Obscure(full text here) of a man who fails to make it because he is unknown, unrecognised, unappreciated...he is indeed Obscure]

This feast is a prelude to the great feast day that we encounter on November 1st....All Saints Day...and which is followed the day after by All Soul's Day, when the dead are commemorated
We are here in a world which transcends the grave
what the Apostle's Creed calls the communion of saints
This is heady stuff! Too much for some!

But we may be prompted to ask what this is all about
Isn't it just religious mumbo-jumbo?
Of course it could be, that may indeed be the point.
If we get to the guts of it
the saints point us to how faith might be lived with authenticity and integrity
We are constantly tempted to whitewash the saints (like any heroes) and romanticise them.
Indeed we do this to Jesus!
But as we begin to scratch their stories we soon realise that their lives are anything but pristine.
Let me just reflect briefly on three saints.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is arguably the most influential Christian thinker of the 21st century.
His call to radical discipleship and to see the gospel as the challenge to freely decide to follow Christ in every aspect of life is now almost taken for granted.
It does not seem too radical, and yet for Bonhoeffer
his life was lived with a total commitment
to community, to prayer and to human action.
This latter ultimatley saw him caught up in the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany, he laid his life on the line by being one of those who sought to assassinate Hitler.
This cost him his life, he was arrested and ultimately imprisoned. Executed only weeks before the war ended
we see in his life
the Cost of Discipleship ( a title of one of his books) played out in reality in his own life.
Such a saint sets us before us the reality of Christian life,
of the possibility of being faithful in life to all that Christ sets before us.
Mother Teresa too, that amazing little Eastern European nun who ended up in India looking after the poorest of the poor
she did it because she felt called to do Something Beautiful for God (a book about her made popular by Malcolm Muggeridge in the 70s)
She too set before the world the possibility of being faithful
not just in word but in deed.
Francis catches the popular imagination for the same reason
Although an incurable idealist, he was a fundamental pragmatist
selling everything he worked to care for poor people
and those who no one else loved
He witnesses to the fact that it is possible to be faithful to Christ
in life, in word and in deed

Do you hear the call of the saints? The reality of the call to be faithful.
How is God calling you to practise your sainthood in your life?
What one thing can you do to be a saint this will be loving, it will be faithful, it will be possible. So do it!

And things that go bump in the night

The greatest thing about Halloween this year is that the youngest Clark is saying when kids come knocking for trick or treat tonight (Does anyone in Australia understand how Trick or Treat works?) ...any way she is saying that we should not give them anything and say "We don't believe in Halloween, it's against our religion!"
I feel so efficient as an indoctrinator!
I don't think we should be so cruel. The oldest child says she thinks Trick or Treat will be BIG this year. This is probably divined from the MSN grapevine (anyone over 50 don't even try to understand what MSN might be about).
Any way I am thinking we will have saint cards available and a lolly or too.
As I understand it it is not so unChristian a feast.
Particularly since I am Rector of a Church with a very traditional dedication of All Hallows.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that is about Halloween. But Hallows is an old English word for Saints, so we could equally well be titled All Saints.
Halloween is a contraction of Hallows Even, or the Eve (day before) All Hallows Day (Nov 1st). Naturally as we think about the glory of heaven on All Hallows (All Saints) Day we also think the day before of the other side of the coin...and so the ghosties and ghoulies and four legged beasties and things that go bump in the night get to capture our imagination.
But as blessed youngest S of Blackwood would have you know... we don't believe in this.... it's not that we don't believe in the dark world so much, as we don't believe it exists with the sort of forces and powers that the movies and imaginations gone wild would have us imagine. In fact quite the reverse orthodox Christianity believes that when Jesus died he defeated all that sort of evil.
We need to believe this I think.
One of my colleagues once said to me, these things have the power we give them. The unfortunate thing about horror as a genre is it tells a lie about how powerful these things are, and gives them power they do not have.
So any kids who come will get a nice saint picture....and a lolly too

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Resting from labour

Readings for All Saints. Celebrated on 1st November or a Sunday round that time. Isaiah 25:6-9; Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6; John 11:32-44

When we talk about the dead we often use the language of rest and sleep.
"Asleep in Christ", "Rest in peace" and so on...
One of my former parishioners once said to me at someone's funeral
"The last thing I would want is eternal rest"
I can't help but agree, it sounds rather boring
Cautious speculation
We need to be cautious about speculating about what life for the dead is like
although we have some, even many, references in the Bible to life after death
many of them are highly poetic are filled with imagery
which we need to remember
and be cautious about taking literally what is meant to inspire the imagination.
If we think about the use of images
we use them precisely because we want to think more expansively
rather than less
the images seek to engage us at a deeper level
than a mere literalism might so do.
When we look at a crowd, for example,
and talk about a "sea of faces"
this is much more evocative
than simply saying 2000 people, or lots of faces.
The use of the image "sea"
conjures all sorts of feeling and emotions for us.
The sense that there is a vastness, it has a sameness about it from moment to moment,
yet it is also infinitle variable.
It can be placid and calm, or raging and exciting..,.and so we might go on
The image opens up doors that otherwise remain shut.
The question of truth
There is sometimes the suggestion that anything less than the narrowly literalist
is not exactly "true"
This is not the case if you think about it.
The image in essence opens up areas that would otherwise be firmly closed

......more coming

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mystery and intrigue

Readings for Sunday 22nd October 2006, Pentecost 20, (Proper 29) Job 38:1-24; Psalm 104:1-26; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:32-45. These readings can be read progressively through the week to prepare you for Sunday

Is the "mystery of suffering" revealed this week? (See Job 38)
I don't pretend that the "answer" that the book of Job gives to the purpose, cause and meaning of suffering
is ultimately satisfying.
It does however point us to an ultimate reality or two!
We do not comprehend everything.
We live under the misapprehension
that everything is ultimately knowable.
If only we can get enough information
or if we can gain enough experience
then we will utimately arrive at the answer.
The story of Job suggests to us that this is not entirely true.
We will never understand the mystery of God
how he creates, renews, restores
The best we can hope for is, like some sort of calculus,
to draw close to the absolute limit of our understanding
but we never reach the complete finality.
Entering into the mystery
The gospel passage though gives us another way in
To James and John who quite miss the point of what life with Christ might be like
and seem to think that it is about some sort of power play
Jesus says "Can you be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?"
When this question is asked they glibly say "Of course!"
But one must wonder if they would have spoken so boldly on Good Friday
or 20 or more years later.
What Jesus is reminding us in this passage is that there is a cost involved
and we might say we understand the mystery of life
as we engage with it.
It is necessary to enter into the mystery
it is not an idea
it is an experience.
It is not a series of theologies
it is relationship.
Thisis evident to me when mistering to those at great points of difficulty
like grief, or relationship breakdown
or depression
I am sometimes led to say that this sort of experience
is an extraordinary pportunity as well as an enormous difficulty.
Quite often people affirm this insight after the event.
It is, after all, another way of stating the mystery of the cross.
If we are to look at how God operates then we should turn to the powerful events of our faith
We will be brought to the point
where our life might be extinguished
and we can choose to encounter this
as Jesus does
and in so doing
we pass through it and are transformed
or we can play religious, theological, or philosophical games about God
when we are actually being called to encounter the reality of God.

Where is Jesus calling you to respond to challenge and the Cross?
What are the practical demands that this places on my life?
Pray for the courage to accept this challenge.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The two-edged sword

Job 23:1-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
Readings for Sunday 15th October 2006, Pentecost 19, Proper 28

There is much that we would ask God if we had the opportunity
more of that shortly....
We are not terribly familiar with swords in practice
so when we read about the two edged sword
we need to understand that it is a highly toned weapon.
It cuts going in and it cuts coming out.
It pierces and and it disects.
It set out to do what it says.
The writer to the Hebrews likens the active of word of God to such a weapon.
It achieves what it sets out to do.
In short God will do for us everything that God promises to do.
If you begin to recite all the promises that you remember...and they are many
Some of mine are:
  • Come to me and I will give you rest
  • I will make all things new
  • I am with you always, even to the end of the age
  • Whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's
  • I will send my Comforter, the Holy Spirit to be with you
  • In the valley of the shadow of death I am with you, my rod and staff protect you
  • .......and so I could go on, you can think of your own
If we allow them t0 these words cut us to the very core]
they do what they sety out achieve.
Sometimes this is surprising,
we don't always know
what we are asking for.
Like Job, the realisation that God is acting
and acting powerfully,
can be terrifying
St Ignatius Loyola tells us that
most of us have no idea what God will do for us
if only we would let him.
When we, however tentatively, permit God to act
(remember God will not overpower us...see last week)
then God can and will move effectively to achieve what he promises.

There is an example in this Gospel reading we have this week (Mark 10:17-29)
the man comes seeking eternal life.
He is intelligent and religious, and he can ask and answer the right questions.
He is seduced by Jesus's clarity of thought:
What else must I do?
So Jesus tells him...Young man, for you the attachment to material goods gets in your way,
He knows he has heard the right answer
and he doesn't like it.
Even Jesus's disciples are shocked.

What about me? It isn't fair!
What question do I really want to ask Jesus?
I actually want to encourage you to ask it.
More than that I want you to try and listen to the answer.
This is not always easy
We don't easily receive what we don't like to hear.
Are you concerned about why you can't love better?
Do you wonder why those who you want to love seem distant and remote?
Why is my life so boring?
Why can't I make sense of what is happening?
What is your question?
like the young man
the questions seem innocent and easy enough
but if we really want to hear word of God
then expect the two edged sword.

We don't need to fear.
But it may not,
and indeed probably won't
be easy.

This week
Take a little time
to reflect on what you would ask Jesus if he were with you.
The remember that He is!
Do you want to have the conversation?
In the quietness
speak gently with him,
and listen to what he says
and how he speaks.
We need not fear.
It won't be easy
but it will be good.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The sense of failure

Reading for Sunday 8th October: The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16. Plenty of good readings for each day!

Most of us at times are overwhelmed by the sense of things going wrong in our lives.
The readings for this week tap into some of the most common and obvious tragedies
that ordinary human beings face
Job, a man of legendary faith, has to deal with sickness in his own life and tragedy in his family.
The letter to the Hebrews is written to a church which feels itself in great danger
and constantly under threat of persecution
The Gospel opens up the question of what divorce might mean in people's lives
and in reminding us about the great treasure that small children are
this week we are faced with the awfulness of a man who "executed" some inncocents
in their classroom (here...nasty stuff don't read if you find this upsets you)

Where is God in all this? Is the all powerful God not really in control?
The traditional, but not necessarily satisfying, answer
is that much evil is due to our own wilfulness
and it is wrong and innacurate (even though tempting) to lay it at the feet of God.
God did not cause that maniac to shoot those young girls,
but why did God permit it?
Perhaps God did not permit it either!
God does not stand in the way of our wilfulness.
To do so would be to cause individuals to become little more than robots.
But we are more dynamically and powerfully created than that,
this is because above all else
we are created to love.
In order to be able to love
we have to be able to choose to do it.
Love that is not freely chosen
is not love,
it may be blackmail, or bribery
or selfish seeking of advantage
but it is not love.
To love requires that we give ourselves unconditionally.
We cannot love and say.....
I will love you if you love me
We cannot say
I will love you as long as things are going along OK
To give any meaning to love at all
means that we give and do not count the cost.

This is hard stuff
at times we find that we will fail
which is why in our system of belief
there needs to be scope for forgiveness and repentance.
We will sometimes get it wrong,
we will sometimes be betrayed.
We will sometimes be the betrayer.

As with all these things
we see in the life of Jesus
love demonstrated dramatically.
And we see there persecution and failure.
We see the need for forgiveness
and the need to start again.

This week
As we reflect on our human relationships:
where are we called to give this unconditional love?
Do we hold ourselves back? Is there a way we can be more open, more vulnerable?
Are there aspects of failure and wilfulness in our loving relationships
that we need to seek forgiveness for
are there places where the strategy is repentance
we might interpret that as meaning
waying up the failure of the past
and looking for a small way to begin again?

I do not suggest that this is easy,
or without cost.
It is indeed, very costly?
In seeing our failure to love
the question is not so much
why are we and others so bad at this
but will we keep on trying to love unconditionally

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Furthering the health of the body

Sunday October 1st 2006. Readings for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (proper 26) Esther 7:1-6,9-10;9:20-22;Psalm 124; James 5:12-20; Mark 9:38-50

There is no doubt that we will look back at the last century and see that a most significant part of ministry has been a more dynamic approach to praying with and for those who are sick
With this, I think, has gone an increased expectation that healing will occur.
Before that it was no doubt the case prayer for healing had about it a certain sense of resignation
to fate
or perhaps "God's will"
or to "the inevitable"
So we can give thanks that there has been a recapturing of "the prayer of faith" that we read about in the letter of James
We can give thanks that the church is more fervent in believing the promise of Jesus that his disciples will do what he can do and this includes healing.

This last century of course has also seen wonderful advancement in modern medicine
which itself is more optimistic and, dare we say it, successful
The two things go hand in hand
and this is an important insight into how God works in our world
He is not "above and beyond" our experience
but "with and in"
It is instructive to talk to Christian doctors
they are under no illusions about how their pragmatic ministry
is undergirded not only by the natural ministry of health science
but also by the supernatural support of the angels.
Chaplains and other ministers in hospitals, too,
see themselves not apart or spiritually superior from the scientific care of people
but an integrated part oif a healing whole.

Health, you see, is a community pursuit
it is complex and comprehensive
and goes awry when it is dragged to one pole of experience or another
be that either the coldly clinical or the widly supernatural

A couple of points
The key insight for this period as we reflect on our life together
is that wholeness and health are not (only or even) individual pursuits
they are community issues.
This has two facets
One is that it is the responsibility of the community to care for the well being of individuals
and the second is that the individual's health affects the body as a whole.

James, in his oft quoted passage says how when we are sick
we should call for the elders
to pray and lay hands on us and anoint us.
It has been my joy to do this many times
sometimes I am a bit sad when people keep their sickness to themselves
I suggest it is as silly as not going to the doctor.
Also our key insight
is that health is both individual and communal
and bringing in the community
is an important spiritual dynamic.
James reminds us, too, that we need to confess our sins to one another.
This is not easy.
Again it reminds us that sin is not a private affair,
even if we are the only one who might be hurt or betrayed
the damage done is both individual and communal.
I am not here suggesting the sort of public exposure of sin
and humiliation of indviduals
that is the caricature of some Christian communities;
but rather to see that
when one hurts we all hurt
and that the road to reconciliation
may well not be the road of trying to hide
but of trying to allow ourselves to be helped
to know healing and forgiveness.

The gospel reminds us that we need to take sin seriously
as it potentially destroys us.,
If your eye offend; pluck it out
is the hyperbole which our Lord uses
we neglect sin at our peril.

We who are the body of Christ
are called to be just that
Our healing our forgiveness
is not just individual
it is also corporate.
What might God be saying to me today about that insight?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Imaging the church-we are the body of Christ,

Readings for this week, Sunday 24th September, 2006. The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost. (Proper 25) Proverbs 31:10-31;Psalm 1;James 3:1-12;Mark 9:14-29

In the next couple fo weeks I am going to be reflecting on "What sort of person our church community is?" In that sense the commentary is not so much directly on the readings for the week, though naturallyt they give us some sense of insight.
This week, for example, the readings reflect on various interesting images and ideas which can help us to think about this question. The faithful spouse, caution with the way we speak, and what it is that deeply rocks our world and our relationships
What sort of body image do we have?
This is a question that has beset the last century.
It possibly comes about from the ready reproduction and transmission of images, through photography, film, television, the print media and now the internet
which causes us to see all sorts of people that we would never have seen
and for certain images to be filtered and promoted
There are good points and bad points about this.
Certainly I have concerns about the sort of messages that are given to people about what is good and bad
about the way they look.
And the way these images are exploited by advertisers and the like to make someone
very wealthy.
More than this, these ideas can make some people very unhappy.
Weare told that more than three quarters of Australian teenage girls do not liek the way they look!
This is disturbing stuff.
How we view ourselves, affects a lot of they way we behave and respond.

We are the Body of Christ

more coming

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Who is Jesus for you?

Readings for this week: Prov 1, Ps 19, James 2, Mark 8:27-38. (proper 24 17th September, 15th Sunday after Pentecost)

We need to keep asking ourselves penetrating questions.
One question we have been asking out of the reading for the last few weeks is
"What do I really want?"
This is not to say that if we want something hard enough then God will capitulate
and give it to us....
but rather we need to have a certain degree of rigour about our inward looking
that demands of us something other than superficiality.
So what do I really want, may be treated superficially,
or we may realise
that it is at the point of my deepest longing
that I am met by God.
There are many images of this in the lives of the people of faith.
God is already coming out to meet us.

A similar question is the one which Jesus asks his disciples in the Gospel passage we read today:
Who do people say that I am? and Who do you say that I am?
Again, it would be easy to be superficial...the great teacher, the healer,
a romantic historical figure, a hero....
but we are being invited, I suggest,
to get in touch with the source of abundant life,
we are being invited to encounter God.

You are the Messiah -There is a real sense in which we see in this passage
that understanding who Jesus is, is not an act of "knowing" at all
but an act of inspiration or revelation.
Our Anglican formularies, consistent with received Christian wisdom,
understand this to be so...many of our prayers say things like...without you we are not able to receive you...send your Holy Spirit that we may know.
If this is so....then a good part of our prayer needs to go towards praying that we may be open
to receive what God has to offer.

The Son of Man must undergo suffering- the way of faith is not an easy one.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer one of the 20th century martyrs says that there is no such thing as "cheap grace" (see some thoughts about DB here)
the paradox of Christian faith is that grace, life in God, abundant or eternal life,
however we describe it
is the free gift of God and yet
it comes at great cost
This is a paradox, rather than a contradiction,
and it draws out of us profound feelings.
One image Jesus uses is that of the extremely valuable treasure
Matt 13:45,46 "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, goes out and sells everything in order to buy it."

Once we realise what Jesus is offering us we will devote ourselves to its pursuit.
....Theoretically and logically...but when Jesus spells out very clearly
the cost that he will pay...his own life, reputation, and relationships....
Peter rebukes Jesus and then we read....Jesus rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
It reminds us that we do indeed get things right, but we often let them slip away.
Peter, like me I often think, is a maelstrom of this sort of toing and froing.
No sooner do we get it than we reneg
it is clear and then we put our foot in it.

So if we are praying this sort of stuff through we pray:
"May we receive the clear understanding of who you are.
May we be brave enough to accept the consequences,
and be courageous enough to trust God rather ourselves"

The ominous warning

It is not that we, like some suicidal bomber,
are to bring on our own demise
particularly not with the arrogance of hastening the kingdom.
Nor that we can avoid suffering.
There is indeed something of the reality here that
the embrace of suffering is part of what life in Christ is about.
It is not the purpose of life in Christ
It is a consequence that we accept....we sell everything in order to be able to purchase the pearl.

This requires some sort of courage.
Fortunately God supplies that.
Are we open to allow God to be our supplier!!

  • Pray for grace to be courageous and faithful
  • Look for opportunities to confess the truth of who Jesus is
  • Seek forgiveness when we close ourselves to the difficulty of the call and re-establish a commitment to give everything for the Gospel.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Trusting in God

Reading for this Sunday 10th September: Pentecost 14, Proper 23.Proverbs 22, Psalm 125, James 2, Mark 24-37

It may help us at this time to realise that the woman we read about in these readings , (The "Syro Phoenician Woman" lived in that coastal region to the north of the modern state of Israel and west of modern Syria that has recently been under the pall of the Lebanon-Israel war.
Bearing in mind that many of those peoples who live there today trace their antecedents back well over the 2000 years of the common era (CE), it is conceivable that her living descendants have been caught up in today's conflict.
And the readings reminds us that tension between different ethnic groups was there at the time of Christ, as it is there today. It is a sadness but a truth.
They remind us too that we fickle humans are open to prejudice of all sorts, economic, gender-based, class oriented, religious and of course the stupidity of racial prejudice
Even Jesus is caught up in it. "It is not fair, " he says of this woman's daughter, "that I should take the food that is meant for the Jews and feed it to the dogs!"
None of us would take too kindly to our children being referred to as dogs. he is no doubt using a common idiom. Speaking as he had been brought up to speak of his near neighbours.
We fall easily into that trap ourselves when we talk of Indonesians, Aborigines, even (perhaps in an earlier era) Poms!!
The common bond
There is, however, a resilience about this woman (which we see in the people of today)
that causes her to persist with Jesus, and her persistence is rewarded.
Coupled with this we read a story about another persistent man, who was deaf. And who like many of the profoundly deaf had a speech impediment.
Such people, too, have a resilience which is at times admirable and also a little intimidating
stemming, on their part, from years of prejudice and misunderstanding with which they ahve had to deal.
What we see in these two stories is the invitation to transcend our prejudice
and to put our trust in Jesus.
To take the next step of faith and move forward.
Sometimes this will take us quite of our comfort zone.
Other times it will just be one more step along the road we go!

The woman has to wrestle with Jesus.
Is he trying to establish just how determined she is?
Is he forcing her to get to the root of what she really wants?
Spiritual Directors and the works of the saints will tell us this is a key understanding
in our journey of faith,
understanding what really makes us tick,
establishing what it is that we really want.
For this woman she really has to fight for her daughter,
for this man he has to be prepared to sit quietly with Jesus
and put aside his anxiety.

I ask myself...what is it that I really want?
Am I so clouded in my vision (prejudice)
that I fail to see what I really want.
Am I so frightened by life, by failure, by weakness, by depression, by name it, it's there...
that I find it impossible to trust
even God.

The stories remind us that this would seem the way to go.
Not the way of putting your trust in human vanity
of being impressed by wealth or human achievement
as we so easily are,
but rather by taking the next step along the raod with Christ.

For this woman it is quite a vigorous struggle with Jesus.
For this man it is being taken to one side.
What will it be for me or for you this week.

This week
Allow God the opportunity that we so often deny
to let us take the next small step.
What prejudices are guiding our thinking at this stage in our life I frightened of the future I dictated to by the past I fail to see the goodness in some people because of my bias or narrowness I closed to God because I like the easy life...

God does not demand that our life be turned upside down every moment of every day
some days will be rough
most days we are just to keep on moving on.
Not, mind you, standing still.
Maybe just the next small step.

For you prayers:
In the time of quiet, perhaps early in the day