Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Signs, Promises and Actions

Readings for the first Sunday in Lent: 5th March 2006:Gen 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
I have been having a discussion with my friend about what one should do during Lent.
We are both agreed that Lent can be ghastly, and that we arrive at Easter feeling like crap! (if you'll pardon the expression...however accurate)
I said to my church family last week whilst asking them to fill in a "Promise Card" for the one thing they were going to do to strengthen their relationship with God during the next 6 weeks
"If you believe that you should do nothing.....then put "Nothing""
I have the strong conviction that some of us should take a step back
and enjoy the time with God
rather than further burden ourselves.
This is not an invitation to laziness
but rather a commitment to be serious about the quality of our relationship.
Lent is not about quantity, it is about quality.
It is not how much we can do
but how open we can be, how close we can get
and this may mean that rather than doing more
we should do less.
God signs to us quite clearly
how he intends to deal with us
And we hear about signs this morning and throughout Lent
The story of Noah concludes with the ushering in of a new age
and the sign that we see is the rainbow.
I often am reminded of this when ever I see a rainbow.
This could just be a pious remembering
but we are being invited to acknowledge something more
The sign speaks to us of a promise
And the promise call us to action.
God's promise is that he will draw us into a new covenant
this new relationship with God
is not one in which we are in danger of being destroyed
it is rather one in which our life is affirmed
and we come to understand that God does not stand in ambiguous relationship to us
but that we are living in union with God.
The action that this might draw out of us:
If God is in union with us, then we should live as if we are in union with God.
Yet, we often live as if God is distant and uninvolved with our world.
Is this a convenient way for us to distance ourselves from God so that we don't have to do anything?
The sort of action that this might draw out of us
is a life lived in a spirit of active faith
a life lived in constructive harmony with our environment
The Great Sign
Overarching these six weeks of Lent
is the greatest sign of all
The Cross.
It is the sign of God's love and God's desire that we should be reconciled with Him.
The promise that God makes to us
is that when we are drawn into the crucified life
then he will draw us close.
God will be close to us, and we will be close to God.
We will understand forgiveness, and love
and we will understand that these come at great cost.
Our lives are the context for much forgiveness, love and reconciliation
the cost to us will be great
the reward to us will be infinite.
At a seminar this week about Rape and Child Sexual Abuse
we got round to talking about whether or not forgiveness was a goal of counselling
Our trainer was sceptical,
I (because I believe it to be true) was saying that we cannot avoid the issue of how we forgive.
Now is not the time to repeat the argument,
but rather to note that a colleague observed
that Forgiveness comes at great cost....this is the message of the Cross
Signs, whether rainbow or cross, are manifold
they reveal to us God's promise
I am in union with you
I love you
As we engage with them they also reveal their depth
as we live them
they open their meaning...
...these are not the only signs
we have
you may like to reflect this week on your own personal signs
...your children, your wife
your church,
your favourite place
....what do they promise us
and what action do they seek to elicit and draw out of us.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Seeing it as it really is

Readings for Sunday 26th February. 2 Ki 2:1-12; Ps 50:1-6; 2 Cor 4:3-12; Mark 9:2-9. The Last Sunday After Epiphany

Well we have finally got to that point
where Lent is just around the corner
almost, but not quite, as late as it could be.
For most of the world, of course,
Lent means nothing.
Although in many ways like the great Moslem fast of Ramadan
Lent is probably less well known.
It is for Christians a time when we get our act together
There are many traditional ways of doing this
and they are not without merit
But let me draw yoiu attention to three of the more obvious ways
for Christians to "get their act together".
At the heart of any Christian's life
is our relationship with God
so we will want during these 40 days
to try and strengthen our relationship with God.
like any relationship it is strengthened
through quality time.
If we want our relationship to get better then we need to commit to it.
Lent gives us a focus time...less than 6 weeks
so it is not a long commitment
and we find each year that it is worth it.
I suggest...three E's
Each day-make a commitment to pray at least once each day
The Lord's Prayer, a time of quiet or a short time to pray for someone special
Each week- as part of our commitment to build up each other
let's endeavour to make each of the Sundays in Lent
a time when we will be there
I do not think prayer is about volume or length of time
It is about "quality" time not "quantity"
So what I need to give during Lent
is extra quality.
This might mean making sure that we give proper attention and not pray on the run
It might mean keeping a little Lenten journal
or setting aside a deliberate time each weekto just be together with God.

The one thing people about Lent is "giving things up"
this giving things up...lollies, alcohol, meat, bread or what ever
breeds a little space and a little discipline.
It allows us to be more conscious of thos who have not
and also to redirect some of our resources through giving
  • Charity
  • The Poor
  • Mission
  • Jerusalem
  • The Church
What appeals to you? Make it a special 6 week project.

Our relationship with God is fostered through our care and service of others
Lest we think that Lent is a narrowly religious exercise
or even that Christianity is "narrowly religious"
we balance our spiritual exercises with our service and ministry.
This is the mistake that Peter makes on the mountain today
Seeing Jesus for who he really is ...the glorified on of God....
he doesn't know what to do.
We could think of a thousand things
let's tell others
let's inspire each other
let commit to follow him to the end
But Peter says "No!! Let's build a shrine"
And Jesus has to say No!
There is suffering to be shared
there is work to be done.
So where will you serve this Lent.
I suggest that the words we need to guide us are these:
& Unconditional
We need to respond in such a way that we are caring for a real person
and not an idea, or a bureaucracy
It will in a practical sense involve us with another person.
We need to be responding to real needs
That is doing what God want us to do
and not what we think we should do.
So often what we choose to do
serves our own needs
instead of those of others,
we do what makes us look good and successful
instead of what attends to the needs of another.
Finally our service should be unconditional.
We help a sick person go the doctor
so that they might get well
Not so that they might come to church.
We take food round to the family who have lost their father
because they need food
not so that they will do it to us in return.

Prayer Giving and Service.
Do not think you can do everything or the impossible.
Have a think about what you can do,
write it down
so you can promise yourself
and promise God

Do not be deceived into thinking Lent is a pious few weeks
rather accept it as a challenge to become more deeply in love
with God
and those who he calls us to serve.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Night's middle

If I could live at night's middle
instead of running rather ragged
and drilling at the day
then my vision would be brighter
and the voice of God heard clear.
This morning, even,
the moon's fullest beam
shone bright as day.
total stillness
haunted dead trousers on the line
until the softness
of the Spirit's coolest breath
walked them gently
and I shuddered, not with fear
but with delight
as my too warm breast was cooled
by the lightest of touches.
Who can faint while such a zephyr
reminds me of my own aliveness.

I did not rise.
almost disciplined
to stay in bed
to the point of pain
lest, in embracing
the middle of the night,
I devoured the day
which still demands my full attention.
And so, I crept
as early as I could
to put pen to paper.
visions fleeing,
God's voice whispering
and by a few lines,
the rising of the sun,
the plaintive magpie
and the start of the traffic
night's middle
had gone.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Decisive and Cooperative Action

Reflections for Sunday 19th February-Epiphany 7- Readings for today: Is 43:18-25, Ps 41, 2 Cor 1:16-22; Mark 2:1-12

Perhaps my commonest experience of healing
is people asking for prayer for others
In these days of electronic communication
I even get a steady stream of requests
for our parish to pray for the sick
It may be Manilla, or Edinburgh, Tocumwal
or somewhere on the Mississippi...
...we are happy to join our prayers with other.

It is important that we not think
that sending as many emails
or asking as many prayer groups
or individuals to pray
is what makes for effective healing.

this story points us in rather a different direction.
People bring a paralysed man to Jesus
and lower him down through the roof
so that he can get close to Jesus.
There is a degree of controversy about what is going on.

The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures (Is 43 & Ps 41)
point us to the fact that healing
is ever with us and that it is God's will
to heal and forgive
St Paul reminds us that in ministry
it is important that we are firm and committed
we join our commitment to God's action
and say "Yes!".

Against this background
the simple, if not dramatic story
gives us a process
about how we bring others to Jesus.

Indeed the first thing we note
is that this is what freinds do.
We support each other.
Sometimes we are slow to respond to this call
but this story reminds us
that relationship
also establishes
It may be that we have to be reminded of this.
true relationship
will mean not just that we have fun together
but at times our primary responsibility
is to be there to carry and support.

few days and full of trouble
In Job we are reminded that we live short lives
that are "full of trouble"
perhaps this is poetic licence
but it is not without some import.
Things do not always go in a straight forward way
what do we do at the hurdles?

In a shallow world
we could drop everything and give up.
Or we can persist.

There are logistical questions:
How do we get our friend to Jesus?
Answer: We will need more than one of us to do it
How do we get through the crowd?
Answer: We will need to be creative
How do we get through the solid roof?
Answer: certain traditional obstacles may need to be dismantled

I don't want to suggest this is the defined process for all problems
rather to note that
part of our commitment
will be to engage with the solution completely
Half-hearted wishful thinking will not be sufficient.
God is inviting us to act radically on our faith
and part of that movement will be
to develop the skill to act decisively and co-operatively.

At the feet of Jesus
The key part to the whole process will be
getting the sick person to Jesus.
This is both figurative...maybe a healing service is a good idea...
but what is critical
is that friends trying to enable healing
are seeking to get the sick person
to encounter the risen Lord.

In this story the forgiveness of sins
needs to be proclaimed.
It is our responsibility
to make sure that that happens.

How can we help the sick
to take the next step towards Jesus?
It may be that we need to open ourselves up
and witness of Jesus's love and kindness to us.
It may be that our action needs to help them teeze out
what Jesus is challenging them to be and do.

We do not sit back and say nothing...
Having carried the sick person to the place,
destroyed the roof and lowered them down,
we need to ensure that the possibility
of real encounter with Jesus
is not thrown away
because of our own timidity.
This is where Paul is encouraging us
to minister with confidence. Let your Yes be Yes!

We are not neutral participants.
Do we allow some people to have less than the best because we have been timid about sharing and encouraging the encounter that is critical?
The encounter with Jesus himself.

The reminders then that we get in this story are simple but strong
  • Healing is a cooperative exercise. We have a responsibility to care for those with whom we are in relationship
  • Sharing in healing requires commitment to see it through and deal with obstacles
  • and finally to always remember, encourage and promote that we are bringing people to Jesus and to do everything we can to promote genuine encounter. It is Jesus who heals and who must be allowed to speak the word. We need to take this seriously

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Letting go and discovering self

Readings for Sunday 12 February, Epiphany 6 :2 Kings 5:1-14 Psalm 30 1 Cor 9:24-27 Mark 1:40-45

In this week's readings we see something of the application
of Healing, wellness, and wholeness
as I was talking about in the last reflection (see here)
God wants more for us than we want for ourselves
The story of Naaman the leper
that we read this week
is a confronting one for all of us who think
we have our lives well under control.
He is a powerful, successful man
and yet he is sick.
He has the sort of sickness
that people will not tolerate socially-leprosy
Quite what this was in his case is not clear.
we have rather poor attitudes
to leprosy
largely what we have been (wrongly) taught. (see for example the life of Damien of Molokai)
Nevertheless it is something that would have taken
Naaman out of circulation,
perhaps by disfigurement
certainly because of ritual prohibitions
designed to prevent infection
---Primitive but effective---
Naaman, like many who become seriously sick,
find their life is taken over
and they are no longer free to do what needs to be done.
Naaman the handsome, the powerful, the successful is sick.

What to do?
He uses his connections to get to the doorstep of Elisha.
He will have done this sort of things many times before.
As a highly motivated person he is used to
identifying the problem
finding a solution
and effecting the operation.
This is how a highly successful person operates.
The only trouble is that sickness
is not a cash flow problem
it is not a stock shortage
or a management crisis.
If we are to be made whole
then we will need more than just management
or even skill.
We will also need openness to God
a fair degree of humility
and preparedness to change.
If you think about in-depth healing
or wholeness as we have been calling it
we understand that there is more to it


so he is deeply confronted.
Elisha is not actually over-impressed by his status
he can barely come out of his house
he sends an underling to communicate with Naaman
and Naaman is not impressed.
Let us look at some of the things that Naaman does
which might expose some of the issues
  • he brings lots of money but his healing is not going to be paid for by lots of money
  • he shifts the responsibility to another person, In the process that person (the king of Israel) is deeply stressed and he doesn't know what to do. We often do this. This isdifferent from sharing the responsibility by inviting others to pray for you. Healing will require that we open ourselves not just that we get someone to do the slog for us
  • he needs to learn about simplicity, humility and obedience. Elisha is very offhand with him. He refuses to let Naaman think that this is the only problem in the world. This is hard for us to endure. In the end he is required only to be faithful to a simple process and to submit to that
  • he is seduced by the spectacular. "‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage."...when things do not go as he wants then at least he demands spectacle
  • spectacle that shows he is pretty special?; spectacle that shows God is taking notice?
Are you beginning to get the idea that there is a lot going on? Naaman needs to confront a whole lot of stuff in himself: Pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, lack of faith....all of these things will be up for grabs if we open ourselves to wholeness rather than just removal of symptoms.

Finally, the Gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45)tells of another leper
and the dialogue with Jesus says..."‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’
There is more here than waving of hands the man is asking to be brought inside the ambit of Jesus's life and faith...If you choose and we are assured that Jesus does choose
But he chooses not just symptoms
but fulness of life
not just a narrow healing.
To us Jesus says, I do choose
...but we may have to confront like Naaman
our pride, our lack of humility, our notion of our own importance,
certainly our sinfulness
and be prepared to enter into the abundant life
that we are being offered. be continued