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