Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dream a little dream

Readings for the First Sunday after Christmas Day December 30, 2007 Isaiah 63:7-9 Psalm 148 Hebrews 2:10-18,Matthew 2:13-23
Dreams feature prominently in Matthew's account of the Christmas story
They are not all, or even usually, the sort of dreams which reveal to us exactly what to do
though we're often super-fascinated by that sort of dream.
If we look at Joseph's dreams carefully
they are often and mainly the sort of dream which is rather a considered reflection.
On finding out Mary is pregnant
he is at first minded to send her away
After a dream and a time of reflection
he finds a different alternative..
Likewise the Wise Mean dream up a different alternative
to the plans of Herod,
and we read as Joseph becomes more experienced in the ways of dreams and angels
that he is able to protect his family
and then bring them back to safety.

It is opening ourselves to the inner more reflective workings
of our psyche and our lives
that gives us added dimension.
We do not want to make too much of this.
But we also do not want to make too little.

This week
Take time to give serious thoughts a second visit
Perhaps pay attention to your dreams
Open your ears to you inner most self
and the voice of the Spirit within.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Feast of the Epiphany. Sunday January 6, 2008, Reading s are taken from Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
The picture is Nativity by He Qi (2001)

January 6 is "Twelfth Night" or Epiphany
and those of us who like to wear cross-gartered yellow stockings welcome it!
(This is a Shakespearean reference not for the faint hearted!)
But it marks the coming of the Magi, or the Wise Men
Archbishop Rowan William on a slow news day
caused a minor skirmish when he suggested that
the story of the Wise Men is a "legend"
(see a good little reflection on the comment in The Australian here)
You will note that most serious commentators agree with him to a greater or lesser degree.
As do I.
To be a legend is not to be untrue.
It is rather to be open to a grander interpretation
than the facts alone attest to.
Thus we think of Bradman as a legend.
This does not deny his existence.
It rather points us to the higher values of his life
which the facts alone do not give credence to.
--Loyalty, humility, strong and committed leadership.
So the meaning that is being conveyed here
is where we should focus our attention.
And there is much.
The precious gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh
symbolise the character of the life of Christ
  • gold- because a new reign has begun, ushering in the fullness of God's kingdom
  • incense- because Christ is a sacred priest who recalls us to holiness of life as God intended
  • myrrh-the embalming oil, foretelling Christ's redeeming death which would transform humanity's relationship with God
All so much more than the bare facts attest to.
But laden too in the text is the fulfilment of the psalms and the prophets.
Everything is coming together
and there is the profound statement that God is being made known beyond the narrow confines of Israel
this is the power of the legend to draw these huge strokes
and to help us think more expansively.

Is our God so small that we would confine God by our language, our thoughts
our poor ideas of what "fact" is
or do we embrace the legend
that God is ever increasing his reign
above and beyond the very narrow conceptions we choose to narrowly define.
More than that
we are challenged
to make Christ more widely known ourselves
and to allow Christ to be more deeply manifest in our own lives.

The legend is big. The legend is good.
But it demands of us expansive, legendary, Godly thinking.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making room

Some thoughts for Christmas Day.There is a lot of scripture that we can read to enliven Christmas Day: Luke 2:1-14, Luke 2:8-20, John 1:1-14, Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 62:6-12; & Isaiah 52:7-10 are some of the lections set for that day.
No doubt if you have been to a Christmas Nativity Play this year
you have seen Mary and Joseph
trudging, looking for somewhere to stay.
It can be quite a frightening thing
I had a brief time earlier this year when on holiday we were without somewhere to stay, and it would have been easy to panic.
Of course it would have done no good!

The Primate, Archbishop Philip Aspinall writes this year
Two weeks ago I was in Bethlehem where Jesus and Christmas were born. A Palestinian man said to me ‘2000 years ago we made a mistake saying “There is no room at the inn". Today there’s plenty of room.’
This is one of the aspects that we naturally think about at this Christmas time.
The little town of Bethlehem
Can we encourage our government to actively work for peace in the Middle East?
rather than promoting the selfish warring policies of self-interest
which so often seem to characterise our western interests.
In a complex world it is not always possible to feel that we can affect the affairs of the world
so maybe we have to focus more intently on making room in our small lives.
Can we simply "make room for Jesus"?

It is one of the threads of mystery and poetry
that runs through the birth stories.
We all know well the room at the inn.
This casual observation is also a hint at the real human problem
No room for Jesus in our lives.

Making room for the God of hope
Because at Christmas we hear a story about a baby
and babies' lives are filled with hope.
They are about what is yet to happen,
the promise that is to come.
We understand this pretty well,
when we visit a newborn
our words to that baby,
are strong and hopeful
...he looks like a footballer,
she has strong lungs
what a fine head of hair
As they grow
the hopes become more substantial, and complex
as children become adults we see that there is hope for independence
that there is great potential
that there is uniqueness.
We muck this up quite a lot
but at Christmas we need to take time to realise
that this struggle to make all this work
is what God intends for us.
It is how we become what God intends us to be.
So I say to you
encourage the hope in your children.
ENCOURAGE do not criticise
but rather voice the hope and offer the support
that babies demand and deserve.
When Jesus is born as a baby this is one of the things that God is showing us.
Fulfillment, maturity, growth
are like the growth of a baby
are what God intends life to be like.

Making room for the God of peace
For most of us Christmas is stressful
as well as joyful
for the lonely and the sad
it can be incredibly depressing.
We love the closeness that it means to family and friends
yet it also exposes
the very lack of peace that the season proclaims.
We are more conscious of soldiers in Iraq
of difficult community tensions
of family pressures.
Peace demands that we address these issues
and Christmas is for us a sign that what we articulate today
needs to pass into reality in our day to day lives.
We can easily say "no racial prejudice", "no war",
on Christmas Day
but we need also to put it into practice from day to day.
Peace will mean simple day to day application
of forgiveness
at home
at work
at school.
Do you want peace then practise it.

Making room for the God of love.
It is a commonplace to say that Christmas is about love.
The carols say it.
Love came down at Christmas.
We are at our most vulnerable in the face of a baby.
We are disarmed, most of us,
and just want to hold it and love it.
Even arrogant and tough young men
have been known to melt.
Do you want to love?
then love,
do you want to be loved
then allow yourself to be vulnerable?

There is much, much more that could be said.
If we want to know what Christmas is about.
Look not at Santa.
look at the baby.
Make room for him
in your life.
It may be that you cannot
put him at the centre
but is there a stable somewhere in your life.

Do you want Christ?

The Christ who is hope
The Christ who is peace
The Christ who is love.

Then make room for him in your life

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I don't want a hippopotamus for Christmas!

Readings for the Christmas Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
One of the most curious of Christmas songs reminds us
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Its words are bizarre
and climax (as you will know) in some clever little rhyming
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles or rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too!

But I don't quite get it
as nice as it may be to have an hippopotamus
what does it have to do with Christmas?
This is perhaps the crux of the dilemma that we face at Christmas
and that puzzles us a little.
- What exactly is on offer? -
We seem quite confused about this
so confused
that we might as well ask for a hippopotamus
as anything else.
This perhaps suggests that we may actually think
Christmas is a load of nonsense.
as nonsensical as asking for an hippopotamus!

The readings give us some clues that there is more on offer
Isaiah says: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:2)
And St Paul says The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2:11)
The evangelists tell us that some how this light, this gift
are tied up with the birth of a baby
called Jesus.
Who has changed the meaning of the world,
this seems a far cry from crocodiles, rhinoceroses
and certainly the much desired hippopotamuses!

So the choice you have today.....a hippopotamus
or light in your darkness, and God's gift for the world.

Let's assume that the reason we are reading this
or in Church hearing this is that we are probably
not too worried about the hippo.
What might this light mean?
What might this salvation be and do for me?

It is an invitation, if you like,
to come back to God
and to rediscover a sense of God's purpose for your life.
So tonight, our first prayer is
-- Turn our hearts and minds back to you --
May we pray with all our hearts that as we look to baby
that God may be real to us tonight, and always

-- Help us to grasp the meaning that the birth of Jesus is both personal and profound --
This is not meaningless activity or just a general promise
It is God saying to you and me
Wherever you need and lack in your life
whether it be in personal relationships
in sense of purpose
in recapturing a sense of direction
then there is a new birth offered tonight

-- May we never despise our fellow men and women, since we are all your children. Help us rather to fight against their hurt or degradation --
This is a prayer of commitment
and an acceptance of responsibility
as one baby calls us to remember
that we share a common humanity
Where do I need to stand up and be counted
for those who are being humiliated
in my little part of the universe.
Do I challenge those who bully other people at work, or at school?
Do I confront mental, physical and sexual abuse when I see it or do I prefer to think about the hippo?

-- Heal the broken bonds of human life --
Lots of relationship stuff about Christmas
there is a promise here of forgiveness
of new beginnings
of fruitful relationships
Sorting out of mess. Will you try to embrace this today?

-- Help us to hear your voice where we live and work --
This is a prayer about God being born amongst us.
We pray for awareness of God
in the very fabric of our life.

A bit more important than an hippopotamus
which after all is imaginary!
  • Turn back to God
  • be real in my personal life
  • Show me where to stand in solidarity with the oppresed and needy
  • Heal my impoversished relationships
  • Let me hear you speaking

And may the Saviour born in the manger at Bethlehem
be born afresh in your life this day

Oh what a gift!

Reading for Sunday 23rd December: Advent 4 (also known as O Emmanuel!) Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25

I like young kids
It is perhaps a politically incorrect thing to say.
I am now the oldest male in my generation of my family
So I had a real sense when I baptised Princess Zara recently,
My great niece
that I have become a patriarch!
I had also a wonderful encounter a few weeks ago with a class
of 5-7 year olds from St Peter's School, Blackwood
as we sat in the church
and talked about what we could see.
Chief amongst these things was a bird which had flown into the church.
We had a most alive conversation about what you do when a bird flies into your house!
One little girl told me "I can speak to birds"
and after they had left she offered to stay and tell the bird to leave.
So it is not surprsing to encounter at the heart of the discourses
about God's salvation of the world
That the prophet Isaiah should remind us that the surest sign
that God is with us -Emmanuel-
this is the word of Christmas
and the sign is that a woman will bear a child.
Not the most spectacular of signs
not a volcano, a burning bush, or an ark or a transfiguration
But perhaps the most alive sign
a human being has
is the birth of a child
The Christmas Bowl reminds us that
the aid that we give to communities overseas
will secure the future of children
pure water, economic security
is about the world we need to establish for children
We are challenged by Anglicare
to offer small offering of food
and gifts
for people right in our midst
who are at risk.
God's work...the Emmanuel work..
of Christmas,
will be about the realities of our life.
These realities are most sharply focussed
through the lens of our children.

The surest sign that God is with us
is that a young woman will give birth.
How does this speak to your life?
What have you made of Christmas so far....
do you hear the voice of the child speaking to you?
What is he saying?
What does she tell you
about the birdsong that she can utter?
About the dreams that they hold
about what we need to do
to nurture them
and create a world fit for children.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.


Readings for this Sunday, 16th December 2007. Advent 3. Isaiah 35:1-10, Magnificat Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
The prophet Isaiah says...Thus says the Lord
My ways are not your ways, and your ways are not my ways. (Is 55:8-10)
This theme is particularly apparent in the great seasons like Advent.
God does not do things in the way that we seem to think
they should be done
The king is not only not born in a palace
he is also conceived out of wedlock
and his mother is in danger of nto actually being able to marry at all
and provide the necessary security for her son.
It almost seems a rule
that what ever way we expect things to be done
God's way will be different
This is not because of some sort of perversity
on the part of God
who is just being contrary.
It is rather a fundamental statement
about how poorly we succeed
at understanding the will of God.
So it is hardly surprising that the words we hear
being spoken
are challenging
our very established and unimaginative ways of thinking
about life and about God.
This may often escape our attention
as we hear words that we have heard many times before.
Such are those words (well-known to Anglicans)
we hear spoken by Mary
as she commits herself to cooperate with the the will of God.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
There are a few shocks in the song that she sings
....from this day all generations will call me blessed.
Women are often perceived by society
as secondary people
this much is known to us
Not so so in God's world.
God says to each woman you are holy!
If I say nothing else to each of you here today
it is that
But can we also say
that God does not make the sort of judgment on the umnarried pregnant girl
that we so often rush to make!
...this day God says to women, and to those with child
You are blessed.

My ways, are not your ways
If we think that pride, arrogance and self-promotion
are the way to go
then Mary's song reminds us that
God is on the side of the humble and meek
he has an option for the poor
and we who are rich need to be particularly cautious.
The world's ways are about reputation, power and influence
God's are about humility, compassion and concern.

The world is totally seduced by greed
and the need to be rich
But God's promise is to stand alongisde those who are poor.

Great encouragement
We need to hear these words for what they are.
Great encouragement.
They are revealing to us truths that the world does not readily appreciate.

John says to the people who went out to see him.
Did you come out into the desert execyting to be told that you had got it right
What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

No he says, you went out looking for God.
You come to church (presumably)
Or you read these words
Not to be told that you have got it right

But to be confronted by God
to hear what God says to your heart.
He ways are not yours
You need some education in my will.
Those who you tend to reject...the poor, women, the illegitimate
They are the ones I take and bless.
My understanding rather turns the world upside down.

Many heard John and Jesus
and turned away
because they did not want hear the message
that confronted their lifestyle.
Others found that their life was transformed.

Which are you?

This week
  • Pray for insight to seeGod where God is least likely to be found
  • Ask the Spirit to show you where you need to change and affirm God in the unexpected place.
We praise you Lord
as we see you confront our popular misconceptions.
As you turn aside from injustice and greed and
bless the cause of the powerless and poor.
Give us the courage of Christmas to do that too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bettering the chance of peace

Reflections for Sunday 9th December, 2007. Advent 2 Is 11:1-10, Ps 72: 1-7, 18-19;Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
One of the great themes of Christmas and Advent is the reign of peace that is to be ushered in by this new king
Peace is not a difficult concept to grasp though we need to be careful to do it justice
In the Hebrew Scriptures the word we use is "shalom"
it speaks of a peace which is not just the absence of war
but a time of harmony, justice and prosperity
for all people
We would hardly say that we live in a time of peace
because if harmony, justice and prosperity are the measures
then none of these seem to fully exist at this point in history.
At most what we seem to be able to achieve
is a closed world in which we shut ourselves in.
But this shallow view of peace
is not the shalom
that is being talked about here.
It is not the peace with which we greet each other when we say
The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Peace at all times and in all ways
A couple of ideas that may help us think of peace-shalom
Because we are overwhelmed by how to bring about peace in Israel or Iraq or Pakistan
we seem to think that we cannot do anything at all, ever.
But of course the very fact that biblical peace is about how life is lived
must bear fruit in the way we actually live.
As the song puts it
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me
It is easy to invite someone else to do the hard yards
but the call of the gospel
first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus himself
is to lay into it ourselves.
We are to be righteous, holy and active in living our life.
And not leave it up to someone else.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me

How to begin
Paul talks in Ephesians (picking up Isaiah) about
peace to those who are far off
and peace to those are near
most of us will need to focus on the near rather than the far.
It is those who are near who affect our shalom.
Yes we need to forgive and seek to be forgiven
in Advent in order that there may be genuine peace!
Do not let this week go without paying some attention to that!

But we also thought last week about one of the major contributing factors
to the lack of peace
and that is poverty.
It is often noted
that what underlies the East-West bitterness
is not so much the Muslim-Christian-Hindu-Jewish-Buddhist division
but the rich-poor divide
Iran and Iraq and anti-Western hatreds are fuelled by the great inequalities
We HAVE and they HAVE-NOT.
If we threw the energies and money into addressing inequalities
rather than in waging war at the cost of billions upon billions of dollars,
if we took seriously the addressing of poverty;
then the fomenting of hatred becomes harder
because most people long
not for domination
but that there may be peace on earth.

So we are invited to give some of what we HAVE
which seems like little
and place it in the Christmas Bowl
or wherever we want to help

We can lament that governments can give millions and billions
(and maybe we need to be articulating this more strongly
and advocating for more overseas aid)
and we only give tens and hundreds but we hear that refrain
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
We are called to be signs and sacraments of what God wants to happen.

We are struck as we read of the John the Baptist in Matthew that he is strident
he says Do this!
the Lord requires that an axe be laid into the situation
that we not just water it
but allow the Spirit to consume it like a ferocious fire.

Wherever else we can strive for peace,
we should!
Do not be seduced by the shallow Christmas
but hear the call for real and genuine peace.
It has some sense of rigour about it.
We should look both close and far off
but let us hear that song....
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

O come! O come Emmanuel!

Readings for December 2nd 2007: The First Sunday in Advent.Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44 (please note that this is the start of Year A in the Three Year Cycle )

There is a renewed sense of purpose and focus today as we begin the formal preparation for the celebration of Christmas
These four weeks of Advent are often marked by candle-lighting ceremonies.
Each week an extra candle is lit so that by the time we pass through the four weeks there is a wreath of four purple candles alight
which are finally crowned with a white or gold Christmas candle
So it's a funny little series of ceremonies, perhaps indicating to us that there is more to this bizarre little season than just random trinkets and the clash of ideas.
It moves on and draws us in, first a little way and then a little further....we are being invited to not just sit back and play games
That is the the substance of the readings today.
To remind us that we are in the middle of God's work
that it invites us to full participation
and we should not just sit back and be detached.

Don't spend your cash on all sorts trash

We had a brief conversation this morning about Christmas presents.
In our family, like most I suppose,
the giving of gifts is not without its problems
(this is rather ironic but fairly universal)
but in the spirit of Advent
as we are caught up in God's work
the challenge to us is to make response
and to get that response right
The Gospel (in particular) invites us to respond
and respond NOW!
Who knows, the image goes, this may be the day when everything will be brought to conclusion
and there will be some sifting
some will be chosen
and some will be left.
We are not to get too literal about this,
but rather to understand the principle
that with this sense of urgency
we are to live our lives
in the present
and strive to get it right today.
To, as it were, live this day as if it were our last.

How, therefore, we might ask in this busy little season
might this impact on us?
we might in general, I suggest,
strive to get things right the first time.
We might not procrastinate.
We might seek to act now, rather than wait until next year.
In a more bold sense, perhaps we may be prepared to risk a little more.

I want only to think about giving this morning
but there may be other more urgent dimensions of your life
that need attention.

Christmas Bowl
Traditionally, we set before ourselves the at home and overseas work of the Christmas Bowl at this time
Christian World Service, of the National Council of Churches
invites us to support the work that we do as Christians together
This is us saying that one of the clear messages we hear at Christmas
is care for the poor, reach out to the stranger and the destitute.
This is not an unfamiliar message
and I urge you to support that generously.
Once a guide was given to us to consider giving in the Christmas Bowl
as much as it would cost for a person at your Christmas Dinner table.
Maybe we are tool frightened to work out the cost of our Christmas diunner!

The Local Church
For us this year, we have already talked about the need to support our local church community.
We face a challenge just to pay our way hear
our life together is supported by a commitment to give generously.
Put simply, we exist financially as a parish
because we commit to give.
Each of us must examine our commitment to give
and do what we believe God requires us of us.
for us at this time, our estimate is that we need to do something about our local giving
pretty urgently.
It is certainly one of those areas
where assuming there is a tomorrow
is a mistake
and where we need to challenge ourselves
to do as much as we can
not as little as we can.

It is as I was alluding before in the area of presents
where we become fixated.
We can be generous, we can be mean
we can be thoughtful, or thoughtless
We can mistake value for cost,
and we can make the mistake of thinking that giving
is about the gift
instead of the person.

What if we were to ask ourselves some key questions
as we wrap our presents?
like...what will this present say to this person about how I really feel about them
and..what will this gift communicate to the one who receives it about God and the meaning of Christmas?

We have time....maybe...
in this season as we give thanks for all that God is doing
To take care to do Christmas right.

Can we respond with the Christmas Bowl, to the local church
and can our gifts truly express the spirit of Christmas

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oh what a gift!

Readings for Sunday 25th November Proper 29-The Feast of Christ the King (Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:68-79) or Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 46 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43

Two images of Jesus help us think about what it means to call him Christ the King.
They are at different ends of the spectrum.
The first is the king born in the stable at Bethlehem,
and the second is the king enthroned on the throne of Calvary.
The stable and the cross.

To be a king in the tradition of Jesus
is to embrace a fundamental contradiction
That we bring nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of the world.
That true wealth and power
is born out of poverty and humility,
that in order to live as a king
you must first learn how to die.
It is a deep mystery,
It is the mystery of what it means to be a Christian.

Because both stories are rich and profound in content, meaning and symbolism
I won't attempt to cover all bases
but perhaps suggest one idea
and then a couple of thoughts
about how we might understand this.

The idea
The idea is that we should allow the stable and the cross
to speak for themselves.
When you look into the stable
and there see the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus
what does that cause you to see about your life
about the state of the world
and about what God is calling us to do.
Where do you stand as you witness the event of
The Word becoming flesh?
Are you detached, are you an observer,
or are you a participant?
Are you shepherd, wise man, Jospeh or inn keeper?
What is God speaking to you
as you witness the birth of the eternal Word?

As we do the same thing at the foot of the Cross
what is the king saying to us from his throne?
Does he speak to me as to his mother, am I a soldier ignoring the demands of justice and cooperating in the torture of an innocent man?
Am I the thief who is speaking to Jesus?

How does the king, whether in stable or on the Cross, speak to your life?
Because that is what is important.
It is not just what these very key ideas and stories are meant to say
It is how they speak to your life, to your hopes, desires and dreams
how the mother of Jesus holds your brokenness in her arms,
or how the love of God enfolds you and nurtures you at the breast?

A couple of thoughts
So, for me, I see the invitation to look beyond the values of the world
and recognise that being born a king is not about the trappings
it is about the transformation and change that the good king will bring to the world
and his subjects
it is not about economic growth
but about quality of life
that the king strives to bring about for his subjects.
Is this how we live our lives?
Is this how our new kings will exercise their government?
But let's not just blame them
because is this, also, how we will live our lives?

If the stable reveals such depth
how much more the mystery of the Cross
which says that it is in dying we are born again.
Where do I need to die to self, to embrace the suffering,
to see that kingship is not about fame and fortune
but about character, leadership and sacrifice.

They are the same story.
Contradictory in a way.
But both invite us to see beyond the outward guise of kingship
and embrace the challenge
of humility, service, and sacrifice.

Where does this speak to your life today?

Aeterni Christi Munera

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to tie my child's sandal
and to encourage her
to leap small buildings

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to dare to love
but to dare to do it any way

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to step into the traffic
with a body of one my friends
following in a hearse

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to accept myself with love
not with indulgence
but with love, and perhaps a little care

Such is the eternal gift of Christ
who doesn't seem to think of himself
as a king

written by Stephen Clark , November 2006

You Tube (click below...or at side)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Looking to the future, and looking to yourself

Readings for Sunday 18th November, 25th Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 28: Isaiah 65:17-25 and [Isaiah 12 or Malachi 4:1-2a] and Psalm 98 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19

In what is quite a funny sketch from the classic sixties revue Beyond the Fringe the question is asked of a seer like figure with a very silly voice
When will
it be this end of the world?
We have a sort of religious fascination with the end time.
Some religious people waste their time (in my opinion) trying to work out signs, codes and instructions for when this time will be (hence the comedy sketch)
rather missing the point of what all this talk of end time is all about.
The reading from Isaiah 65 today, does remind us
that there is always a sense in which God is restoring, creating and making
Behold I am making all things new...this is not just about the physical environment of religion
it is the driving force in life
constant renewal
reforging, readdressing reality.....we might say in a rather pedestrian way

Getting in touch with reality
The little snippet from the correspondence to the church in Thessalonika,
what is today Greece's second largest city and the capital of Hellenic Macedonia,
is part of a church which struggles to understand just when this fullness that is prophesied,
and which is associated with the return of Jesus, will come
This is the earliest of the early church coming to grips with what Jesus was talking about
when he talked about bringing this new creation to reality
Paul is reminding them to continue living
because the working out of the kingdom
does not mean that we put our lives on hold
or give up our jobs so that we can pray more earnestly, or what ever.
So he is quite blunt

All this is quite in line
with Jesus tells us
though the early Christians had to learn this
They had to learn that far from being removed
from the everyday life we lead
the kingdom of God was to be found right among it.
Instead of withdrawing from the world
to find holiness
we are discover the truth
that the kingdom of God is right here in our midst.

It will be where we feel most alive!

Where is that place for you? It may be surprising
but that is where we ought to look.

It will almost certainly not be in the religious box,
and it will be unpredictable
so, says Jesus, don't waste your time trying to predict it
when you should be engaging with it.

In that curious little snippet
when we are called to account for our faith
Jesus reminds us that we shouldn't look for the right answer
or the prepared answer
but rather look deep within
allow the very depth of our being to speak

We already know this to be true.
The kingdom is within each of the baptised
it is within and bubbling up
a spring of life.
Like the Thessalonians, and all Christians we have to learn to normalise this experience
to earth it
to tap into what gives us life already.

Where do you feel alive today?
Where is God inviting you to live the kingdom?
To drink from the fountain of living water?

To become the new creation!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

get real - you do not have permission to park your brain

Readings for Sunday 11th November, Proper 27 (24th Sunday after Pentecost) -Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and [Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98] (or Job 19:23-27a and Psalm 17:1-9 ) 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

The Gospel reading for today is decidedly curious
but perhaps in election time we should not be so surprised or puzzled by it!
Jesus is asked a question by some antagonists
they are neither interested in the answer
nor in any real engagement with Jesus.
They are trying to get him to put his foot in it.
This happens on a number of different occasions in the Gospels,
and we might reflect
it happens a lot in day to day life.
We talk, but are not interested in listening.
We say a lot of things
but we need to also pay attention to more than the words.
Classic Question
The question that Jesus is asked is no doubt a 'classic'
He is asked it by Sadducees, who were one of the major parties at the time.
They differed from the popular party, the Pharisees,
to which Jesus probably belonged
in that they did not believe that life continued after death.
This was a key part of Jesus's teaching.
The question that they ask:
If a person has been married multiple times
and if this resurrection is true
then who will the person be married to after death
when everyone is dead and husbands and wife
are all living happily ever after in this supposed resurrected bliss
It is sort of amusing and clever (on one level)
but simply blind on another.

It is like many of the political questions that we hear at this time.
Not designed to elicit an answer
rather trying to expose a weakness
It is not about hearing the truth;
it is rather about struggling with versions of right.

Are we aware
That we ourselves are like this
that we often choose what is a view of 'right'
to engaging with truth.
Perhaps the infuriating things about the election
remind us of this.
How we are often more judgemental of the person or the party
than what is being said or done?

Maybe that is what politics is about.

It is rather more serious I suspect
when we do this in our lives
when we dismiss our husbands and wives
children and friends
sisters and brothers
workmates and neighbours
because of who they are....
rather than responding to what they do or say.
This encounter reminds us that there can be no end of game playing
(we are reminded of this in election mode )

we invite the Spirit to show us where prejudice has become our way of operating
rather than judgment or discernment

pray for the grace and perception to be more discrimnating
and for the will to put it into practice.

And if I tempted am to sin
and outward things are strong
do thou, O Lord, keep watch within,
and keep my soul from wrong
Isaac Williams
Victorian Hymnwriter

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Calling the roll

The Solemnity of ALL SAINTS falls on November 1st and/or is kept on the Sunday afterwards. Selected readings for that feast include: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

One of the Anglican funeral prayers (1) says "Help us to live as those who believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection to eternal life"

These are good words and indeed important words but a bit religious and I often use the explanation of them to lock into what are the important themes of a Christian funeral: Community, Forgiveness and Life.

And indeed not only of a funeral, but of the Christian life. For indeed the mystery of faith is that we are God's in death as in life. If we live we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord. So then whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's (Romans 14:8) We see a continuity that the grave does not breach.


Although we habitually use the word 'communion' to talk about the saints, we could just as well talk about the community of saints. People who are united in their common pursuit of the gospel of Jesus. Christian life is lived out in community, always has been and always will be. Even the key idea that we have about God, The Trinity, reveals to us that the essence of God is community...Father, Son and Spirit...the community of love.

Into that community life is drawn a community of people who God chooses to belong as God's chosen people. This chosen people is not an exclusive group, it is an open community with a constant invitation to people to join.

As we look at this community, or communion, of saints certain big names are set before us...Francis, Mary, Peter, Luther, John XXIII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer...and you can no doubt think of more (see some thoughts here and here for example).

This very mixed group reminds us that we are not meant to be soldiers in an army, or chocolate duplicates of each other but that we are as diverse as they come. Our unity comes out of our relationship with Jesus.

This is an important thing to remember. Particularly when we are talking about bringing new people to faith, or in deepening the faith of others. We are not cloning, we are bringing people into relationship with Jesus, and with the other members of the Jesus community.

People want community not committee. They want relationship not rules.

Help us to live as the communion of saints. In honest, open, forgiving relationships. Seeking the good of others, and the welfare of all.

In all things remembering that this is the abundant and eternal life that God promises us in Christ.

We sometimes get fixated on that part of the community that is beyond the grave. They are there to guard, inspire and encourage us. But we also are to commit to community now, struggling with all that it means to share this common life together. The promise is that in the unfolding of this commitment, eternal and abundant life are given to be lived now. As Saints.

This week
Pray for help to live as saints in community.
Where do I need to challenge my own tendency to be a loner, to reject the discipline of community?
Where can I be encouraging and forgiving?
Where do I need to forgive?
Invite all the saints, living and dead, who have been influential in forming you to join with you in praying for a deeper commitment

You Tube presentation

(1)(see introduction to the Funeral in An Australian Prayer Book 1978 (AAPB))

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

There were these two men.....

Readings for Sunday 28 October Proper 24 of Year C the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65 [or[Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22] ]and Psalm 84:1-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Luke 18:9-14

One of the great delights of being an Anglican is the permission we have to be different!

This may seem strange to those who are not of this stock, but is probably fairly familiar to the modern person. We treasure the right to be different and to have our say.

The gospel story this week tells of two men who are worshipping and praying at the same time.

Though they are engaged in the same activity, the story highlights that they are coming at it from radically different standpoints.

One is well-schooled in the language and practice of prayer and stands boldly and, I suspect, thankfully, in the presence of God giving thanks for all that he has been able to receive at God's hand.

This is not usually the way that we view this man..who we generically and almost always disparagingly refer to as The Pharisee.....we are inclined to say that this man is pompous, and a poor representative of what true faith is supposed to be. And he is. Well we all are.

But he is, unfortunately, a typical product of the faith machine...he is rather like you and me

He has, no doubt, struggled for many years to make his faith work and to get it right. he then is able to stand up and say....I know something about what it means to be a person of faith and he slides into

'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'

He may indeed have understood something of what it means. But we all see that he has actually missed the essence. He has not understood about: humility, about not being judgmental, about recognising the need for dependence on God, even about being cautious in self-assessment, and even more cautious in ascribing motives to other people. He has not understood about learning gently from others

We get this because it is contrasted with the desperation of a man in real trouble. And we see in the heartfelt prayer something authentic, that is lacking in the prayer of the Pharisee. His fault is not so much that he is harsh, but that he is blind.

This is what is called in literature a cautionary tale designed to warn us about what might happen to us if we are not careful.
We can become well-pleased with our own efforts.
In our affluence and ease, We can be blind to the pain in others life caused by poverty and abuse.
In our comfortability we mistake an easy life for God's blessing and sink into apathy and mediocrity.

How do we heed this in our life today?
How do we heed this as church?

  • Try to identify a situation where we are tempted to be judgmental, and ask how it also invites us to view things differently
  • Where have we sunk into apathy and self righteousness, and miustaken this for faithfulness and blessing?
  • Where is God inviting us to change and to be more compassionate?

Disturb us gracious God when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, gracious God, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, gracious God, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fighting prejudice; winning wholeness

Readings for Proper 23 Sunday 14th October.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12 [or 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111 ]
2 Timothy 2:8-15 & Luke 17:11-19

Leprosy has a sort of romantic attraction for many Christians

but in reality that romanticism is ill-placed.

It is as romantic as AIDS in the modern context

and as socially stigmatising as skin cancer

or any disease which has disfigurement associated with it.

The story (Luke 17:11-19) has not only some interesting reflections to make about seeking healing from God

...Do we for example live out of the thankfulness of answered prayer?

Or do we quickly forget that God desires healing for us all?

This story reflects that 9 out of 10 people

forget to give thanks to God.

and my estimation would be that that is about right!

But the story also tells us that God's healing is not confined by religion,

it isn't just confined

to who we think

God should be disposed towards.

God's concern is towards humanity and not just to Jews or Christians,

white or black.

It is not just to be nice to children

or those who say their prayers

God's concern is for the whole of humanity.

God's grace, the free gift of eternal life,

is without bounds

and is offered to all.

It is a reminder to us that we should be no less open.

That our compassion needs to be challenged beyond the bounds of niceness.

We are to be open to be compasssionate

beyond the bounds of our own social caste or religion.

The world is not like this.

9 out of 10 people get this wrong.


This week we saw a curious little incident

which indicates how easily we are seduced

to be partial, racist and selective in showing mercy.

It is our enlightened view that although criminals need to be punished,

the days of the death penalty are behind us.

I think this is a view that accords with God's universal generosity and mercy.

When we see our politicians on both sides


"No death penalty"

except for those who we call "terrorists" or who kill Australians

then we are allowing the sort of discriminations

that Jesus himself stands against.

Why do they do this?

They do this because substantial parts fo the electorate do indeed make this sort of discrimination.

I want to say that Christians need to stand against this.

As we follow and worship a man who was himself killed

not for any guilt of his own

but because of political process gone mad

we should be the first to stand against such political machinations.

Political expediency is not the standard we follow.

Christian mercy is.

This week

Can you reflect on where you make judgments

based on prejudice rather than compassion and mercy?

Invite the Holy Spirit to let you do better than this and to show you how?

God who is truth and love

grant to us your people

the wisdom and compassion

to act justly and with mercy

in the name of the guiltless Jesus

who died that all people might know the love of God.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Let all things their Creator bless

This week in our parish churches we are focussing on issues to do with the Creation
caring for the environment
and looking after animals.
We will, for our penance, have a service in which we bless pets!
The principal rationale for this is the feast of St Francis of Assissi which falls each year on October 4th.
Last week (see here) I talked about whether we have allowed our worship to become 'entertainment' instead of the genuine connection with God that it is supposed to be
Rightly one of my parishioners reminded me that the forthcoming Pet Blessing looks rather like such frivolity.
I hope that we can escape that.
It is a tight rope.
On the one hand bringing our pets to church to seek a blessing for them and us
is quite different from what we normally do, isn't it?
And may seem so way out that it looks trivial,
on the other hand as we look at St Francis
who had a simple devotion to the environment and to domestic animals
we can recognise that this is also one of the key real-life issues
that faces humanity today
How do we live in harmony with our living environment?
How do we act as good stewards, TODAY, of that which God has committed to our care?
Francis saw, too, tha the simple realities of life
draws us to the service of the poorest of the poor
and it is to those that we are to direct our attention.

To say St Francis seemed 'a bit eccentric'
is to understate his story!
Probably what most of us remember
is that he used to talk to animals!
some commentators suggest that this was a device he used to attract people's attention.
It certainly did that.
Thousands flocked to see this gentle man,
and while they were there listening to him talking to birds and the sheep,
they heard him also speak of God's love and care
for the whole of the world, its creatures
and everything that makes up our environment.
While they got alongside him, they aso realised that it was possible
to love and care for those who the world often rejects
The poor and the unlovely!
For the 12th century it is a profoundly modern message!

Some stories
He is also thought to be one of those people
who had a unique closeness to Jesus.
This crucifix pictured here is in St Damiano Church
and is said to have been so powerful for him
that he heard the voice of Jesus speak.
Many of us know those powerful moments from time to time.
He is characterised as receiving the stigmata...the wounds of Christ in his body...
a particular sign, gift, burden and responsibility
of blessing from God
An indication of his holiness.

These things do not sit easily with the understandings of the 21st century,
we may choose to rationalise them
or understand them more symbolically.
Nevertheless, as we juxtapose and put together some of these ideas
we get a powerful understanding of what might have been happening in Francis's life

It is, for example, in simple attention to the world in which we live
in particular to its poverty, simplicity and humility
that we will understand the mystery of the Crucified Christ.
It is as we live this out in our bodies
that we will know what it means to be like Christ
to understand his wounds
and to share in his work of redemption.

St Francis reminds us that this is not 'entertainment'
it is the opportunity that is at our very door.
As we look at the pressing issues of environment
and simply living in harmony in our world
(our pets are a nearby example of this)
we have the framework to hear Jesus speaking
and to take up our own Cross and share in that work.

Practical stuff.
Yet profoundly attractive to us who seek closeness to God.

YOU Tube presentation

Monday, September 24, 2007

reviewing the situation

Readings for 30th September 2007 Proper 21

What sort of heart do you want to have?
Most of us think that people who are soft-hearted are weak,
yet we don't want to be thought 'hard hearted'.
When we look at the way God deals with his people in the Old Testament
we see both of these sides
he is sometimes hard because the people constantly turn away from him.
But I don't think that is the predominant way we see him,
rather time and time again
God is persuaded to NOT punish his faithless people.,
Here this morning right at the end of Jeremiah remonstrations we read quiet words,
sealed by a notary and stored in a vault
thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
that is, God promises after almost a whole book of despair and disillusionment
that he will re-establish his covenant promise.
God will be tender-hearted towards his people
and not cruel and vindictive.

The curious story of the Gospel reminds us that
unlike God
we are often not tender or soft hearted at all
we are often hard hearted
Worse than that
we just don't care.

It is role-reversal story of Lazarus and the Rich man
( one of the seven familiar stories to us from literary tradition)
A poor man, Lazarus, who has been ignored and brutalised
during his lifetime
is called upon to be kind
to a rich man who has simply ignored him.
[This is not, I would suggest
a commentary on what happens to us after we die.]
It is, like all the parables of Jesus,
an invitation for us today.
To change
to stop being hard-hearted
and start being tender-hearted.

The tragedy of the way this rich man (now cast out) has treated Lazarus
is not that he has been particularly harsh
it is that he has ignored him
which is a different sort of harshness.

He has stepped over his suffering
every time he has driven out of the house.
This is what gets us too.
It is not that habitually we are unkind or uncaring (by and large)
it is that we choose to ignore.
This is more subtle and more serious,
to combat it
it requires
that we actually choose to act differently
to not just step over the problem
and/or pretend it is not there.

We have to choose to be people
who are not disengaged
who will try and make a difference
visiting Churchman Steve Chalke said this week
somehow over the course of the 20th century, post-Wilberforce and friends, the church began to shrink and it began to shrink back from active public service into its own buildings and as I often say, has spent, in the UK at least, the last kind of 80 years singing itself to death. I've nothing against singing and songs and I think music and art is a part of the richness of what the church is, but we moved indoors and we've been entertaining ourselves to death,
I think he has a point
one of my major concerns for us,
for the church
is that we have ceased to be a vibrant, caring, world changing community
and chosen to be inward looking & self-indulgent
"singing ourself to death".
The warning of this parable
is that this is exactly what this rich man chose to do
and it is the wrong choice.
It is the choice of apathy and carelessness
In the end it is hard-hearted and cruel.

We do not have to do everything
We do have to do something
At the very least we have to respond to what is lying at our doorstep.
What is the need that God is asking you to respond to,
what is the need that God asks us to do something about?

This week
  • We ask ourselves the brutal question--where have I become hardhearted?
  • Where can I respond to genuine need?
  • Pray for courage to do it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Money! Money! Money!

The readings for this Sunday, 23rd September can be as follows Jeremiah 8:18:9:1 and Psalm 79:1-9 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Luke 16:1-13


We continue our reflection on how we grow our relationship with God
and the idea would seem to be quite direct
You can't serve God and wealth.
I actually think it is as blunt as that.
It is not so much a statement about God
as about the fiendish nature of money.
It is not a spiritually neutral phenomenon.
It requires of us a certain degree of commitment
and we can be deceived about thinking that we have this well under our control.
The story that we read as this morning Gospel is a curious story. It is not so much a single pointed 'parable'
as an illustration of what happens when things go pear-shaped.
A man gets caught defrauding his boss
he knows he is going to get sacked
and so takes steps to avoid being found friendless.
He rings up all his friends and cuts their debts to the company in half.
At least when he is out on the street
he will not be without friends
People always like people who have saved them money!

Then as if this story is nopt curious enough
when this man finally encounters his boss, 
the boss laughs and compliments him on his trickiness.

What is going on?
Unlike other parables...maybe this story is not so much a parable
as an illustration...
we are not really being told how to behave
rather we see what what the world of money is like
it is slippery and slidey
and people do all sorts of strange things.
Not so the world of God
the Lord reminds us.
God's world is not like this chaotic world
and you can't deal with God in the way you have to deal with money.

Don't be stupid about it, Jesus reminds us,
In the world you will need to be as wise as those wo are trying to rip you off.
But you can't be like this and serve God.

This is a timely warning for everyone.
The lure of wealth is very seductive.
The teaching of Jesus is very clear.
No one can serve two masters.

This week
  • Can you reflect where you have given in to the seduction of money?
  • Where is God calling you to be generous, where you have become greedy; where do you need to confront your selfishness?