Wednesday, June 28, 2006

God's power to act

2 Sam 1:1,17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Mark 5:21-43 readings for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13)
The well loved hymn "Men go to God" which is a poetic rendering of a prayer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
reminds us that in our deepest needs we do indeed go to God
(Not only "men" but all people too!)
"We go to God when we are sorely placed"

The readings this week explore some situations
where some people go to God.
The Psalm perhaps sums this up
"Out of the depths I call to you"
While we might fly to God in time of trouble
this is too narrow a way to interpret this psalm
because we are "deep" not only at the points where things are black and at their worst;
we are also deep where we soar
where we are deeply in love
and where we are functioning at our best.
It reminds us, I suggest,
that when we are in touch with God
we are responding out of depth
and not out of shallowness.

So much of what we experience these days is really shallow.
I cite Big Brother endlessly in this regard.
While we are titillated by this sort of rubbish
have you ever wondered why it also leaves you feeling empty and bored
rather than satisfied.
It is shallow, and meant to be so!!
It is interesting that it is called Reality TV
It is anything but real.
We are at our most real
when we are in touch with God
and we speak to God our of the depth.
The readings point us to some real life situations which are "deep" rather than shallow.
Saul and Jonathan
David's relationship with these two men is formative in his life.
Saul is one of those who comes to understand early on that David is chosen by God
and yet he also has difficulty dealing with how God will choose David over himself.
It is the stuff of human ambition and power struggle
which is critical for any human leader to understand.
At the same time Jonathan, Saul's son, is David's closest friend.
I am not amongst those who want to see this is as a same-sex relationship.
I think rather we see the deepest type of friendship that people experience
(we should not cloud the issue with spurious exegesis to further our particular cause)
David knows life in the midst of death
and he knows the reality of God's power
in the difficulties of deep relationship
In this classic passage
Paul speak about generosity.
Now he shares with them what we all know
that there is "genersoity" and there is "generosity"!
So he is able to say certain cryptic words to them
"it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something"
At least one of the things he is saying here is
that is we are to understand the depth of giving
we not only have to give
but to desire to do it.
This is an important reflection
for those of us who have a strong sense of duty
we have to do better than just respond to God's wishes
because we feel we ought to
We also need to want to do so.
Maybe we don't get this.
It is I think a question of opening ourself up to the grace of God
to deepen our motivation
Not only are to respond to God's command
but also to want to respond.
If we are not quite there.
then pray for the grace to want to.
Archbishop Michael Ramsay is often quoted as saying
that we need to deepen our motivation to love God.
We usually find it difficult to say "We love God"
and maybe the most we can say is "We want to love God"
Maybe even, Ramsay reflects,
we can only say "We want to want to love !"
His point is a good one.
If we are love God, out of the depths
then often we will need to do some digging!

Many people, of course plunge the depths
when they, or someone close to them is sick.
The two stories in Mark 21-43 have important insight into how encounter with Jesus
deepens our life
and how this experience of depth is an ultimate source of healing.
The Jairus story tells us how we should listen to God in time of death
rather than the pious advice of others
The words that the "well meaning" speak to him
"Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?"
Have perhaps a truer ring than we care to admit.
They are the hopeless words we often speak faithlessly into situations of death.
The deep words of Jesus
seem almost fanicful....this child is not dead she is sleeping
but the real depth is .....Do not fear, only believe
Likewise we hear the disciples being very dismissive even of Jesus
his words "Who touched me?" speak to me as a pastor of how often I don't see
those who come looking for Jesus.
I, like them, have lots of excuses
it isn't possible to know about specific needs for depth
and yet Jesus knows
and the woman knows.


This stuff only begins to point us towards the depth of God.
We are reminded, (almost with a sledgehammer!) that it is in depth we will find God
and that in finding God
we will be found.
We may only want to want to want to find God; but even that is enough.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Waking Jesus-looking at things differently

Some readings for Sunday 25 June, The Third Sunday after Pentecost, (Proper 12) 1 Samuel 17:32-49;Psalm 9;2 Corinthians 6:1-13;Mark 4:35-41
Three good passages of scripture this week invite us to look to carefully scrutinise
our experience of life and of God.
The well loved story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
is a carefully crafted gem of encounter with God.
It doesn't take much effort for us to translate this story into our own experience
because we all have times when we feel that everything is stacked against us.
The metaphorical gigantic opponent in our lives is at times all too real.
As is the feeling that our little boat is being swamped by the raging storm (Mark 4:35-41)
and Paul gives us one of those readings in which he reminds us that, for him at least,
the Christian life has not been one of bliss and ease
but rather full of difficulties and danger.
So the passages fit well together.
Real situations
One of the striking things about these readings
is that we are pushed to deal with reality.
Each of the passages speaks to us of real situations.
And even if we take them as metaphorical
there is no one who doesn't connect
with the idea that we have to deal with hardships
and difficult odds.
We may not be going out into an open battlefield
to fight an experienced soldier who towers over us
and we may nevere step foot in a boat,
but we all know the sense that at times
the odds are really stacked against us
or we are in danger of being swamped.
Paul interprets his experiences
and we hear him recognise thatin his suffering God's grace abounds.
Indeed he says more than this,
"Don't let the grace that God give you be in vain."
For Paul the suffering has a purpose,
more than that
God uses the suffering to bring about
character change and growth.
as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute
We often don't get this.
David and Goliath
A couple of salient points:
there is a deal of testing that needs to go on.
While David is convinced that he can defeat Goliath, Saul is not
and has to be convinced.
We often forget that we need to test our ideas of what God might do through us
Arguing the case is perhpas a good sort of discipline.
Those of us who "play the Devil's advocate"
also need to realise that when the case is made
we need to honour that (as indeed Saul does)
we also need to keep on evaluating our encounters with God
in order that we better understand what is going on.
It is through this that David is able to move from
...I've had lots of relevant experience
to.....My strength comes from God.
This is great and powerful growth in David.
Growth that will be essential for the way he conducts himself in future.
So the process is ......make your case, and get others to test it
but realise that it God who is acting
and act in acoprd with that.

As you think about your Goliath problem today
remember that process:
Make the case, test it, get agreement and support and act.

Going deeper
We see in Paul's commentary that he is able
to reinterpret a whole range of experiences
and understand them not just to be a bit of a pain in the neck
but rather the grace of God
moving him forward and causing him to grow.
This is not always easy.
It is, perhaps, supreme faith to be able to see God's hand
not as the cause of our trouble,
but rather as the psalmist put it
"our ever present help in time of trouble"
and that learning to trust God in times of difficulty
requires a maturity
that goes beyond
simply thinking that trusting God
will wave a magic wand over our life.
As you think about trouble you may be having
or have had
can you also ask yourself
what is it that God is drawing me?
Awaking the sleeping Jesus

I always think when I read this story
that my life almost always feels like a boat that is about to be swamped!
It is an image the Mark uses deliberately, I think, to speak to us about the nature of our lives.
The feeling of being swamped is ever with us.
What this story reminds us of too
is that Jesus is also always with us
This is his post resurrection promise
-I will be with you always-
but we treat him as though he is asleep
it's often more convenient for us that way!!
The gist of the story is straightforward
we awake the sleeping Jesus and he can deal with the situation,
but there is more here than that.
He actually rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith.
Is he telling them here
that they should trust their own faith
like David or like Paul,
and not simply drop their bundle and say ...Here you sort it all out!
This is often the way we treat God.
Let him sleep until we get into trouble
then wake him up and drop the problem in his lap.
The rebuke that Jesus utters is about God expecting more of us than this.
We are to be people of faith
and to use that faith not let God's grace be in vain...
but rather act out a life of faith.
It is Jesus's promise to us
not that he will make all our problems disappear
but rather that we will be able to live our life in God's power
to do what God wants us to do
and to be faithful.
So it's not that Jesus can't meet our needs
it's that we also need to recognise that our needs can be met
by what God has given to us.
God does not expect us to allow ourselves to be overpowered by his majesty
but rather to cooperate with him.
This is what David did
this is what Paul did.
It is the way that Jesus shows us.
I hope that we see that these stories move us on.
From a dependent immature faith
to one that acts powerfully in accord with God's will.
Our brashness, like David's needs to be tested
we should not just presume on God's mercy.
But let's not waste what God has laready done for us.
Anbd being conscious of Jesus ever with us
we also are called to act as he acts.
This is powerful and important stuff that we are called to. Let this be the character of your life.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Understanding Trinity

It's not too hard to understand the Trinity (even though it might seem so!)
Indeed the whole of life is about how different parts learn to accommodate each other and live together.
I spend my life learning how to live with and love another human being (my wife) and together we have committed ourselves to sharing that unity of understanding with another three individuals.
All the time our individuality wars against this movement.
But I am beginning to understand that even though it is difficult it is definitely worthwhile
Without confronting my wanton unity, my desire to be alone, to be entire unto myself,
I will never learn to love
And certainly never learn to be what God wants me to be.
I am slowly beginning to understand
that a God who made a world and then let other share it,
that a God who poured himself completely into his Son and then let him die for other,
that a God who is abundant power and grace
and who can think of nothing more essential than sharing that with
you and me,
Maybe that God is saying something powerful me
about his insatiable drive for intimacy
and that I too can have that same drive.
In practical terms
I learn that my true fulfillment comes not in selfishness
but in self-giving
It is in giving that we receive.
That true life comes not in grasping and selfishly clawing at what ever I can get my hands on
but in dying and learning how to be selfless.
That I do not have to earn my way into all this
it is Gift
freely given and readily available.
It is all far easier and far more accessible than I would ever create for myself.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Quest for Intimacy

Readings for Trinity Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 29 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17

I had a conversation with another person last week
in which I was trying to push him to tell me what was so important about the Trinity.
I consider that I am quite good at this sort of Socratic questioning
whereby the teacher pushes and pushes for clarification,
but some people just think I am annoying!!
We who have had a traditional western education are so good at giving the right answer in such conversations
that we can find it deeply disturbing when pushed and pushed and pushed.
We become disoriented because the teacher doesn't seem to be satsfied with our compliance
--What is so important about the Trinity?
--Well it's the whole centre of what we believe
--What does it say about what we believe?
--God is love
--How does it say that God is love?
--Well God is our Father! And He loves us!
--So what does the person who has not had a loving father understand

at this time he was starting to get a little red in the face and rather annoyed
--What would you say to a person who knew nothing about Christianity or God about why Trinity was important?
Finally he blurted out....this is all taking too long, I don't know what it is you want me to say

What I want to say (not to him) I suppose is that for many of us
The Holy Trinity is a bit of the puzzle
that we deal with by ignoring it!
He said as a closing comment, and I realised I had gone too far for his present understanding
I feel this is like some sort of parlour game.

I think there is an element of truth in that.

It lacks a certain sense of directness, urgency, or what ever

and we either go alonmg with it in the fanciful way (the parlour game)

which has its rules and its orthodoxy

but it doesn't some how connect with the reality of our lives

This seems tragic to me

since I do believe that the Trinity reveals to us

God's demanding search into our lives

A search that demands intimacy

that we be open to an intimate relationship with God

and that we welcome a God who is intimate with us.

This wars against our alienation as human beings,

it is God at God's unremitting best.

The readings point us first

to a God who is not simply content to be remote and majestic.

We have a vision of God's greatness

and in this story we note that it does indeed shake Isaiah profoundly

and yet it is also liberating.

It sets us free to love and serve God

and to know that we are OK.

we are OK because God loves us.

We are always reminded by Paul

that this great vision of God is only part of what we are to understand.

God ois also our "Abba", not only our Father

but (perhaps in our terms) our Dad.

There is a difficulty for some of us who do not have loving fathers

or whose fathers, though loving, are remote and unable to express their love;

but pushing on from that (as we may need to do)

there is the sense that God not only wants to be our God

but also draws us into the most loving and caring of relationships

That of the loving father for his child.

We know this because the Spirit shows this to us about Jesus

and we know that we share as daughters and sons the same relationship that God has given to him.

The Gospel reminds us that we need a shift in our perspectives to take all this in

Jesus calls it being born again.

It is what the Trinity calls us to.

A new relationship with God.

It needs the Spirit to enable us to do this.

It needs us to become like Jesus.

It is God's unremitting drive for intimacy with us.

St Augustine is reputed to have said: God is closer to us than we are to ourselves

It is all about closeness, intimacy, unity.

The Trinity: God's unremitting drive to be born again in us and us in him

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Pentecost-The Intimate God

Readings for today are many but of those that are "officially set" we find Acts 2:1-21;Ezekiel 37:1-14;Psalm104:24-36; Romans 8:22-37; John 15:26-27; 16:4-15

The story of Pentecost
we read today does not
celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit
into our world
as Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ,
since the Spirit has been ever existent.

Today rather we celebrate the fact that God pours out his Spirit anew
on the church
and on each one of us.

we sing sometimes
Spirit of the living God in All Together Now)

Spirit of the living God
Fall afresh on me


According to this song
the Spirit comes to
to Melt
to Mould
and to Fill

Let’s note that these words are ambiguous in tone
Although we always construe things about God in a positive light
These are also powerfully destructive words

Breaking Down

Melting off the impurity

Moulding into something else

Filling whether we want to be filled or not

They are the ambiguous words of Power
This is the other word associated with the Spirit….


Power is itself ambiguous
it can be constructive
it can be destructive

What is this power of God the Spirit
and how does it meet us?

When power meets power…there is confrontation and destruction
When power meets vulnerability there is bound to be exploitation and inequality
It is only when vulnerability meets vulnerability
that we find amazing things can happen
we find above all
not destruction, not exploitation but


The true exercise of power
comes when the powerful
know not only how to wield power
but how and when not to wield it.

This is the perhaps the most difficult thing for you and me
We find it really difficult
to not use our power to manipulate others
it is almost impossible for us
not to use our power
in a selfish way.

Maturity comes when we learn and understand
That the effective use of power
is power used
in the service of others
this is the mystery of friendship
this is they mystery of marriage
it is indeed the mystery of the Cross.

It is in this way that the Holy Spirit of God
meets you and me
the Breaking, Melting and Moulding, the Filling
is the vulnerable God giving himself to the vulnerable person

Are we vulnerable enough to meet God
Is our God vulnerable enough
to be the intimate God?

So seduced are we by images of power
that we forget.

It is only when the vulnerable meets the vulnerable
that true intimacy will take place
it is only in this mutual weakness
that God’s true power
will come to bloom in our lives