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.