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