Wednesday, March 29, 2006

We would see Jesus

Readings for Lent 5: Jer 31:31-34, Psalm 119:9-16; Heb 5:5-14 ; John 12:20-33 Sunday April 2nd 2006

A good question for us to reflect on is:
What would we tell the person who knows nothing about Christianity if they said to us:
Tell us about this Jesus.
This is rather what happens to some disciples when, we are told,
"some Greeks come to Phillip and say "Sir we would see Jesus!""

For some reason this doesn't seem to be straight forward for them, we read,
"Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus"
there is a bit iof buck passing going on
which is all too rerminiscent of what happens in churches!

It is often not starightforward for us either.
we often have ways and means for passing the buck on to someone else.
Why is this so?
Why do we imagine that we have nothing to say?

We would see Jesus
It is Teresa of Avila who is credited with reminding us
that because we now live in the era of the Risen and the Ascended Christ that
Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours
This is the way our God has chosen to be

Our lives are the vehicle Christ uses to make himself known
We should not delude ourselves into thinking
that some how Christ is only made known
by miraculous appearances or the like
It will be the acts of ministry that we do
the way we conduct ourselves
that shows people what Jesus is like.
This is pretty scary stuff for us
because we are only too well aware of how we let Christ down in this regard.

We do not have to model or provide a perfect enactment of Christ
we have to be able to live our life
in accord with the Spirit of Christ
allowing Christ to be in us and work through us.
We can trust Christ to make himself known
as he will
we need to not be a barrier or a wall
through which expereience of Christ is blocked or obscured

Our words
We are rather fixated on words
and it is important that what we say is Christian.
Can we show people Jesus by what we say?
When asked simple (yet deep) questions
such as .....what happens to us when we die?
or Why does God allow one person to suffer and not another?
Does what we say point to Jesus, and make sense?
So often we drop the ball here
when the challenge is to help people take the next step.
I rather wonder if this is what Phillip was doing in this little encounter:
"Sir we would see Jesus"
(AAgh this is too hard for me...what should I do...I know, I'll pass the buck)
Do you take steps to deepen your own faith? To reflect on perplexing questions?
To educate yourself?

Our relationships
When we look at the language about Jesus
about why people come to him
about the needs that Jesus
is asked to address.
We note that this is the language of relationship and reconciliation
it is about love and forgiveness,
it is about acceptance and sharing the burdens of others.
This is the stuff that happens when we engage in relationship
with other people.
When people would see Jesus, they would look at how we conduct ourselves.
So often we talk about Jesus
but it doesn't seem to penetrate the reality of our lives.
Jesus will be most evident close-up in our lives
so often we want to distance ourselves from this reality.
Our experience of Jesus
is cool and rational
rather than alive and passionate.

Ahh! there is that word which characterises this season.
We use it to refer to the suffering of Jesus.
We would see Jesus.
And we see him in the midst of suffering
That is what the Latin word means.
But popular usage links "passion" to the heights and depths of love.
This reminds us that what we see when we see Jesus
is a love that suffers
a love that is so identified with the object of love
that it will suffer.

Pray in this holy passion time
that we all may be the ears, hands and hearts of Jesus.
That our lives may show Jesus in the living
that our words may declare him in our speaking
and that with passion we may declare his love
as we embrace the suffering others who God has given us to love and care for

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Biting the hand that feeds you

Readings for Sunday March 26, 2006: 4th Sunday in Lent (sometimes called Mothering Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday) Numbers 21:4-9,Psalm 107:17-22,Eph 2:1-10,John 3:14-21

The trip back to the country town where my father was buried
to bury the body of my mother (who died many years later)
Was quite demanding...but it had to be done!
And reflecting on it, it was good to do it.
Standing in the cemetery there was an eeriness
in which the ghosts of the past seemed tangible.
They were not the wandering ghosts of my parents
but rather the mixed feelings about what life had been like there
Some of it was rather pedestrian,
you know the missed opportunities of my youth and so on,
rather more of it was recognising
some of the pain associated with that place,
and a key part embracing some of those who remained
and remembering how much they had meant to me, my parents and my wider family.
All this is the legendary stuff of funerals.
And why they present to us such a rich tapestry
of opportunity and experience.
At funerals we can go forward, inward
and emerge enlightened.
But of course, we can only do this if we permit ourselves
to enter into the experience,
and allow the encounter with that which threatens to destroy us to take place.
Snakes in the desert
In the curious story from Numbers 21
we read about an anthropologiocal phenomenon-sympathetic medicine-
which is rather foreign to us, and yet strangely familiar
(we need to make the translation necessary for our post-modern times)
Plagued by poisonous snakes the people of Israel look set to be destroyed,
indeed some fo them die,
Moses makes a snake image an gets them to look at it.
they are invited to embrace that which would destroy them.
What ever we make of this there is a truth being proclaimed here
Though we often are tempted to flee those things that would destroy us
that is not usually the way to deal with it.
The experiences we have of death and funerals
remind us of this
These things don't just go away if you ignore them.
They come back to bite us!!

When I am lifted up.
So Jesus identifies for us that this is more than just "sympathetic medicine"
it is in fact fundamental reality.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
is the focus example for all Christian people
of how we might live our life.
We deal with all that is evil
not by running away
--that only delays the inevitable--
but rather by confronting it head on.
We do not like this
because it is difficult stuff.
The Cross is an invtation for us
to embrace suffering
and not run.
It proclaims God's ability to take
what looks like death
and give it eternal meaning

What does this mean for me?
We all know, basically, the truth of this in our lives
we are set free as we embrace this truth.
Jesus himself says "The truth will set you free"
There is more here than just a requirement to tell the truth
By embracing our suffering and those things
that threaten to destroy us
we find that the richness of God's mercy
acts for our good and salvation
even when we were dead through our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
and raised us up with him
and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus
Does this give us courage to confront our own addictions?
Does it help us to venture into the arena of the hurt in broken relationships?
Can we embrace the sadnesses and disappointments that we just wish would go away?
Jesus says to us from the Cross
When I am lifted up I will take you to myself
and convert there
your deathliness
to life.
So we need not fear.

A timely warning
We do not need to be crucified every moment of every day
this would be to misunderstand what is going on here:
Jesus picks his time
and prepares himself
but he does not neglect to act
he does not come back to be crucified next year...
and in a real sense
we cannot and do not achieve anything by our own suffering
we are rather entering into the mystery of what Christ does for us.
What looks like death
is in fact the gate to eternal life?
Will we run
or will we look up to our healing on the cross?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A different viewpoint

Readings for Sunday 19th March, Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 20:1-17;Psalm 19;1Cor 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
While there is a lot of traditional reading in the scriptural reflections
the law of the Lord is perfect reviving the soul....The Ten Commandments....Stop making my Father's house market place....God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom
There is in all the readings a serious confrontation
of our complacency
and lack of faith.
There is here an invitation to re-imagine
our relationship with God.
Is this, we might ask, what God is asking each one of us to do right now?
Both as individuals and as a parish, perhaps even as a nation, and as a world.
One of the things that saddens me about elections
and political processes
is that we settle for considerably less than this.
Each time we assent to the doctrine
"Politics is the art of the possible!"
We are letting go of idealism and imagination.
Where, I want to ask, is the vision, the optimism, the hope?
And we so often settle for second best.
The Ten Commandments
Despite the fact that we often look at the Old Testament
in a negative way
and claim for ourselves
a superior "New" Testament.
We miss two important points:
1. We fail to see that the covenant of promise
which God makes with us
as summarised in the Ten Commandments
is a radical departure
from what had always been and what we somehow imagine
is the way of the world.
They set before us
a God who is personal
that is, he is "I" not "It"
who calls us not into some supernatural cabal
but into personal relationship.
God is not a power to be harnessed
for our own benefit
like some sort of witchcraft or magic
but rather an invitation to live life
in a powerful and holy way
which is what we are intended for.
What ever "ism" we may choose to use as a god
to run our life: captitalism, racism, sexism,
nationalism, materialism
God will not simply submit to being a sort of "guiding principle"
which some how imbues these other gods o with power
God stands aside from that,
transcends that
challenges and ultimately defeats
all these other gods.
The God of the Sabbath shouts out loudly
against being simply "useful"
and reminds us that God is interpreted
in God's own terms
and cannot simply be packaged.
"As God", one commentator puts it, "refuses to be 'useful'"
so the social commandments remind us,
"our human counterparts are not objects and commodities to be used" (Brueggeman in Texts for Preaching)
This is radical and important stuff!

The Cross
What Paul reminds us is that the Cross continues this tradition
of confronting us with the need to be rightly-oriented to God.
We so easily get it wrong.
Our energies are spent in money-changing,
instead of God-nurturing.
This critique is at the heart of Paul's message.
Everything we do is to be seen
through the truth of the message of the cross.
The Cross says God is not aloof from pain and suffering,
and that love is not about hearts and chocolates
but about death, forgiveness, and pain.

We don't get this. We want it to be otherwise.
So Paul is pretty blunt.
This is foolishness and a stumbling block.
It is what binds Christians together,
and also what sets us apart.

What to do?
This week you may like to take time
to be with God
and to open up your cross-life to him.
If you are not sure about what this means
then ask God to help you understand it more.
As you reflect on your life
ask yourself the question
"How does the Cross speak to me about this?"
My sickness, my grief.....My lifestyle, my sin
What is God seeking to draw from me at this time?
How might I respond?
Lord make sense of suffering and pain for me
Lord help me to know more of what it means
to stand at the Cross
and to boast only in that.
Lord let me love you more

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Living out of the promise

Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 12th 2006. Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Psalm 22:24-32;Romans 4:13-25;Mark 8:31-38
I had a conversation recently
with a friend
an ex-Roman Catholic who now claims to be a Buddhist:
“Do you think," he asked me, “that the great religions will ever get together on the question of reincarnation?”
I don’t, and told him that.
“Reincarnation to me is a message of hopelessness” I said, “We need to do something more with life, than to just keep on repeating it!”
He added that “there was something appealing” about the notion of the great reckoning...and that he didn’t like the Catholic idea of death bed repentance
His background showed a flaw in the teaching of his childhood
but, to my mind, he arrived at the wrong conclusions!
We do not believe that God reckons up our good deeds against the bad
This we call-law
But rather that we are called to enter into a relationship of faith
That is, we act on the promise of God.
God promises. and we act on that promise.
The promise to Abraham
For Abraham, God promises
quite specifically
that he will be
the ancestor of a great nation.
This is not an insignificant promise to a man who is 99 who has a wife who is 90!
Abraham then is able to keep moving forward in his life
even though he could have been forgiven for thinking that his life was over
What is God promising to us?
To be able to shift from the life of law
to the life of faith
we need to get beyond
just keeping the rules.
Do we understand what God is promising ?
As we look at the Gospels we see, as in today’s reading
that it takes something of a struggle to get it right. Peter as a character shows us something of that
Occasional flashes of inspiration
contrasted with legalism and even,
dare one say it, stupidity
Or the stupidity that is legalism!!
We should take note because we are often guilty of this ourselves.
We lose sight of the promise
and then fall back on our version of things.
But if, and as, we listen to the Gospel
we hear not the message of legalism
but rather a counter-cultural message
which at once consoles us and then deeply confronts us.
If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross.
Hang on a minute
doesn’t common sense tell us
that we should do what makes us feel good
or what is going to pay dividends?
Perhaps it does
but faith tells us otherwise.

We know much of what faith tells us about the way we should live our lives
..Forgive over and over again..
...the sacrifice of God is a broken heart..
...lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth….all very counter cultural.

Personal promise, personal faith
What is God promising to you personally?
The promise to Abraham is a personal one
about what will happen to him and his family
Do you know what God is saying to you about the reality of your day to day life?
Have you taken time to listen?
Are you interested?
Ask that question today?
And use this week as a time of spiritual exercise to try and talk to God about it?
The answer changes the dynamic
of how we live our life.
If we hear the answer,
and if we respond in faith
then God can help us move beyond legalism
to a new lifestyle.
Paul says of Abraham...this life style is “reckoned to him as righteousness”
That is, it puts you right with God.
This is why we do it.

So, this week, as you think about your life
also ask God
...what do you promise to me?
And take some time to clarify that
and write it down.
And choose, not to live out of the rules (alone)
but to live out of faith

A short exercise to help you do this is listed below

Living out of the Promise

  • Sit quietly and close your eyes
  • As you give yourself to this time closing your eyes is an act of commitment to going within and paying attention to the voice of God
  • After a few minutes ask God to reveal to you the promise that he makes to you about you and your life
  • Take some time to note this
  • Think about one or two things that this will immediately mean you need to do as you choose to live out of the promise
  • Give thanks to God and conclude by saying this act of praise: Glory to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now and forever. Amen

Death of a young man

This is a Homily for the Memorial Service of young man who died tragically in the last few weeks.
Our human nature demands that we are all deeply saddened
at the death of a young person
We have very mixed emotions about any tragic circumstances
And these range from:
Deep guilt at our own failing
to a declamation that he was an adult and so it has nothing to do with us
Both of these have an element of truth
But I want to suggest that neither of these extremes
is where we should focus our energy

Neither Deep guilt nor refusal to accept responsibility is where we need to do the grieving
Rather we might usefully think what this tragedy teaches us
about the way we should live our life
from now on.
Life, however wasteful, is not without purpose
Death, however tragic, is never without meaning.
We know this because the prime focus of Christianity
is the death of a young man
not much older than the young man we remember today
and Christians believe, it is this death
the death of Jesus,
that gives to human life
ultimate meaning and purpose.
Doing the work
Each of us will need to do the work
to make sense of this particular tragedy
What is its meaning and truth for us?
How am I going to live my life after I leave this place today?
Will it be by remembering how fragile human life is and trying to take care of each other a little better?
Will it be by keeping in touch with those who are ours who we find really difficult?
Or you may need to think a little harder about your personal circumstances
We can be indulgent and think it is about us
and feel guilty
or feel nothing
Then this death will truly have been vain and empty
or we can allow this death to change us
to make us more responsive
more loving
less judgmental
less selfish.

All deaths are sad
No deaths are meaningless.
What does this death
this sad, sad death
seek to draw from you today?.