Thursday, February 28, 2008

Come out!

Sunday 9th March (formerly known as Passion Sunday) you could read from the selection of readings which includes Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45 - The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Perhaps one of the hardest stories for modern Christians to come to grips with
because this story of the resurrection of Lazarus confronts us with a dead person
who is brought back to life
But when I think about it
I have had a number of resurrection experiences where a dead person has been revived.
We live, for example,  in an era where the miracle of modern medicine 
means life for any number of people
who a generation ago would have died prematurely.
I don't want to belittle what Jesus did for Lazarus;
that we don't fully understand it 
is obvious.
Most of us would find that as our lives go on 
our encounter with 
the 'death event'
is a curious and mixed-bag
and is not easily described
either physically, spiritually or emotionally.
If we try to get straight just what happened
and to focus solely on the mechanics of the event
This is, I suspect, rather to miss the point of this narrative
that we read  today.
Change of focus
The commentators on John's Gospel
often make the point
that this chapter 11 marks a point of transition
in the Gospel
it moves away from the miraculous signs 
to the engagement with the resurrection
...what one writer says is 'the end of the Book of Signs
and the beginning of the Book of Glory'...
the two are connected of course
But we are reminded that the greatest sign of Christ's glory
is his death and resurrection.
Death is  at least one of, and probably,  the most important things
that happen to us
This almost seems trite to say.
Yet we can be in danger of not getting it right
and missing what is important.
We do this because we are fearful, sad, angry, guilty....and any other range of things
The Christian mystery  is that
Death is the gate to eternal life.

This doesn't just happen
even for Martha and Mary
it has to be carefully teased out.
And the key insight that this passage reveals 
is that death is transformed
when Jesus is brought to bear.
If we do nothing else 
when confronted 
with death
we need to be with Jesus.

I do not pretend this is easy.
It does not make the pain go away.
This is not what is on offer.

What is on offer is the transfromation of death
into resurrection and life.
We all have sneaking glimmers of what this might be like.
Not always someone standing outside a tomb
and shouting "Come Out!"
but the transformation is as profound.
We are to come to faith in Jesus
and hear Jesus says what he says to Martha
11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. 
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live"
This is not, I suggest, a formula
but rather an experience
How does Jesus speak LIFE
into your experience of DEATH?
If we do not listen
if we do not ask 
if we do not allow Jesus to breathe life into the dry bones
then we are missing out 
on the key transformation.

Death is, I suggest, 
the most wonderful experience of life.
In it we encounter the fulness of Jesus.
It is, as we enter into it,
not without pain.
But also with the possibility of great hope.
Jesus stands at the door of our life
and shouts "Come Out"
We do not, and will not
fully understand what is going on.
There is not the promise of no pain
or no sadness
rather that the gate of death will become 
the way to a new way of living.
This only happens 
when we allow Jesus to transform it.
 in the related story in Ezekiel 37 that we read today
the prophet speaks God's word
over a valley of dead bones
(It is almost a bizarre experience...but we are dealing in highly imaginal language here)
The idea is the same 
God transforms what is dead
to a new way of living.
This week
Where am I beseiged by death? My own, someone else's or...?
Can I give a little time to allow Jesus to speak to this...what does he say?
Can I believe this.....pray for belief (Lord I believe...but help my unbelief?)
Can we prophesy over the death that surrounds us on every side..."I am the Resurrection and the Life says the Lord"
In the valley of darkness
surrounded by bones
speak the words I need to hear
I am the resurrection and the life.
Lord I want to believe
let my unbelief crumble in the face of your Word

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This season's drought

One parched leaf upon the tree
Is all that breathes
The remaining life
That has been 
Drawn, sapped, racked
From the being

It flickers, faint,
Fearless and flagrant.
Crackling as the wind
Threatens its very stand .
Defiant in the face of summer

Defiant, yes!
And doomed
By the onset 
of the season’s march
Ineffable, inevitable

As summer turns to autumn,
The life already drained
Will stand no more.
And then, one night,
Or day
Or afternoon
Will tumble and will fall
Faultless, breathless
To land, who knows where,
Or when will rise.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Silence is consent!

This Fourth Sunday in Lent March 2, 2008; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 often called Refreshment, Laetare or Mothering Sunday

The demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, often had as their catch-cry
"Silence is consent!"
In the face of injustice, dishonesty, illegality
when confronted with evil
to remain silent is to consent to the evil.
We hear penetrating critique about acting morally such as
English philosopher Edmund Burke who said,
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a reflection on the inevitable decline into the Holocaust

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time 
there was no one left to speak up for me.

This week we move on in thinking about the Christian life and living out our baptismal promises
Do you renounce evil?
The first of the  two promises: Do you repent of sin?
invites us to step away from the wrong that we have done.
The second: Do you reject selfishness?
invites us to craft our lives
by a spirit of openness and self-giving
unselfishnes, which is counter-cultural
and stands against much of what our greedy world promotes.

The renunciation of evil invites a stronger stand again
not only will we craft our own lives selflessly
but we will stand against evil.
The image Paul uses is to step out of the darkness
and live in the light.
Jesus, in the story of the man born blind,
reminds us that true blindness
is not a disease
but a choice
we choose not to see
we choose not to act
we choose darkness over light.

This choice may be the passive one
of choosing to do nothing
or to remain silent
--Silence is consent--
 it is still a choice.
  • You might reflect where you have chosen to be silent
    in the face of injustice, is there some way you can be courageous, more
    honest more open?
  • Where does God call us to speak out against
    injustice? Why do we choose to ignore obvious evil? What is the
    consequence of this?
  • Pray for yourself and your friends that you may
    keep your baptismal promise to renounce evil.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rejecting selfishness

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, February 24, 2008. Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42. As part of your prepararation for Sunday take one of the reading for each day

We live in a selfish world...this much is self-evident

Some would say that selfishness is a necessary human characteristic

others would say that it is a destructive attribute.

The "necessary human characteristic" argument

says we need to be able to survive

and so we should be able to feel free to assert our own need

and to look after our own interests.

This bland sort of statement is rather deceptive

because what is the problem

with selfishness

is not, so much, the looking after one's own interests

but rather the fact that most selfishness

looks after one's own interests at the expense of other people.

When, at baptism, people are invited to reject selfishness

we are moving beyond the repentance of things we have done wrong

saying sorry, making restitution and so on....

to actually taking positive steps to live our lives in a way

that is counter cultural.

We are being asked to move beyond

the idea that we need to be able to look after our own self-interests in order to survive

to saying that we also choose a way of life

that is more than just pursuit of self-interest.

How, we might ask, are we to do this?

The Baptismal Liturgy for Children addresses this several times

the sponsors/godparents are asked if they are prepared to show those they are sponsoring how to live the unselfish life.

This is an important point to grasp

unselfishness can be taught....or perhaps caught.

We catch it from others who set us the example

of what might be possible if we choose to live our lives differently.

This is clearly demonstrated for Christians on the Cross.

Apart from what ever mystical and theological process may be taking place

there is something being lived out.

It is that we are unselfish when we give, not only of our stuff

but also of our life.

Jesus says, greater love has no one than this

that they lay down their lives for their friend

This is most unusual in our self-oriented world.

A couple of points

The readings point us to a number of interesting points

1. In the confusion that is the time in the wilderness after the flight from Egypt, the people of Israel constantly miss the point of their call.

Why? Because, as in today's reading, they find it very difficult to get beyond their own very narrow selfish interests.

God responds to their needs time and time again

but the more they get the more they want

and the more they seem unresponsive and ungrateful for what has already been done for them.

The writers of the the Torah are setting before us a picture of wayward selfishness

which is at odds with the will fo God.

2. Paul in writing to the Roman Church urges these people on to do better than mere selfish desires.

Look to greater goals and the bigger picture. Understand at the very least that there is a challenge which will improve us as people: Paul outlines (perhaps a little too strictly) a growth process...

we also boast in our sufferings, knowing
that suffering produces endurance,
5:4 and endurance produces character, and
character produces hope,


His argument suggests that unselfishness opens up

a whole new range of possibility.

3. And what of this woman who meets Jesus. This is a most fascinating story.

She wants more out of life...Lord satisfy my deepest thirst

Jesus immediately points her to the area of her life where her own inward looking orientation

has betrayed her deepest integrity.

Your human relationships are up the creek

Who knows quite what a mess this woman who had had five husbands had made of her life, and why?

There is at least the suggestion that unless we are prepared to plummet the darkness of our true desires and not avoid what our lives are saying to us,

in their messiness, selfishness and deep desire

then our deep thirst will not be satisfied.


Where does God invite you to be unselfish?

is there something immediately that you can do to challenge your selfishness, what stops you?

What do you really want? What would satisfy your deepest desires?

What is the mess of your life saying to you about what you really want?

There are lots of reflections to have about "comfort zones", about whether or not we want to change. Spend some time with God talkign about this.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

No condemnation

Readings for The Second Sunday in Lent, 17th February 2008 can be taken from Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 John 3:1-17. [ Matthew 17:1-9..(if not used two weeks ago) features in the older lectionary]
NOTE: Non Australian readers may like to follow up on the Apology to Indigenous Australians offered this week by the Australian Prime Minister and Parliament (here) which is referred to in this week's homily

During this early part of Lent we focus on the need to REPENT.
Christians talk about this a lot.
Turning away from sin,
asking forgiveness
saying sorry: to God and to those we have sinned against.
It is an important idea.
More than an idea, it is something that needs to happen,
we all know this
and we have seen it played out in very public view for us this week.

We could make many observations
and no doubt will.
I want today, however,
to just put together this idea
with what the Bible readings offer us,
because today the Scriptures are filled with hope
and we have the most famous bible verse
for Anglicans, and indeed all Christians, which reminds us of this

God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son
so that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but have eternal life
John 3:16

These words that we know so well
contain in a nutshell
all that is good, true, hopeful and profound
about what God is doing in our lives and the world.
At the heart of it
we are reminded that our God is the God who LOVES
that everything is done out of love, because of love
in order that we might be loved and that we might love better.

Jesus invites Nicodemus to be 'born again from above'.

This process of being "born again"
is difficult for Nicodemus (and us) to understand.
What is interesting about it
is that although we often see ourselves
as passive receivers of God's grace
of this 'being born again'
[that is, we sit back and God does it to us]
there is more force in it than that
"You must be born again", says Jesus.
We have to submit to it, to desire it, to want it!
Repentance is like that
it requires that we invite its cooperation
that we want to repent
we want to be born again.

It will not just happen.

Now we have observed the events of this week,
clear in our own minds
are like that too.
They will not just happen
we need to invite cooperation
we need to decide that we are going to make this happen.

This is not neat and tidy,
and maybe we would like it to be more so
but that is what sin, repentance, prejudice and reconciliation
are like.
They are not black and white
but grey and less grey,
grey and greyer.

And the mystery of reconciliation, being born again,
is not so much bought and sold
as entered into
and lived out.
It is this that Abram is invited into
when God says:
Set out from your country. to a new land that I will show you
I will bless you , and in you all the earth will be blessed
This great message of hope and promise
is the journey of faith
which we are called to as individuals
but now also as a nation.
But it does not
and will not
just happen.
We have to set out and invite it.
We have to be born again
We have to repent.

This week
  • Where does God call you to make a new beginning
  • -----by rejecting what you have done wrong in the past (repentance)
  • -----by opening yourself to the Spirit of God (being born again)
  • -----by embracing the new national spirit of apology (reconciliation)
  • Is there one thing I can do this week to make somethign happen to unfold God's working in my life?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Good quote on prayer

A good quote from the orthodox Saint John Chrysostom (the whole of the homily can be found here) I was struck by its positive strength and invitation to take prayer seriously

To set about this prayer, paint the house of your soul with modesty and lowliness and make it splendid with the light of justice.

Adorn it with the beaten gold of good works and, for walls and stones, embellish it assiduously with faith and generosity. Above all, place prayer on top of this house as its roof so that the complete building may be ready for the Lord. Thus he will be received in a splendid royal house and by grace his image will already be settled in your soul.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Drawing close

Readings for the First Sunday in LentFebruary 10, 2008 may be taken from; Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32 ; Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11

It is a great treat to have three highly focussed seasons
one after the other
Advent...leading us to Christmas
Christmas-Epiphany...exploring the mystery of the Word made flesh
and now Lent, causing us to reflect on our lives in a spirit of penitence
as we look to Holy Week and Easter.
Maybe you don'tquite think of it this way.
But let me try and convince you
that what is on offer here is a chance to draw closer to God,
and that drawing close to God
is the best thing for us.
It is not an easy thing, but it is the best!

The readings today are (in a way) introductory to Lent
they set the scene for us.
The Genesis reading is part of the way we talk about
the separation of humanity from God.
Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden!

It is a powerful story which uses legend/myth/poetry/theology
to explore the human condition.
And (for Genesis) the human condition is this:

We find ourselves separated fromGod.
because having been created by God
we chose not to be what God created us to be
rather than being ourselves
we wanted to be God.

This is not a debate about equality/inequality
But rather a statement about the fact that we find oursleves to be fundamentally separated from God.
At the conclusion of the Eden story
we discover that rather than remain in Paradise
we are destined to leave the place God has put us
because we chose to not be what God intended.
This is an important dimension to grasp
while in a sense we are "exiled" from Eden (the place God intends us to be)
we also exiled ourselves
because we wanted to be God
and of course could not live up to this.

The human story from this point onwards
is about how we return to Eden.

The Inner Struggle
The temptations of Jesus point us to the fact
that part of this return to God
is confronting our own inner selves
and turning away from the seductions of untruth
---we will not live by material support (bread) alone
---the magic of the supernatural holds no way forward
---even having all power possible is a dead end

In a way, these tempations

  • materialism
are fundamental human temptations
which every human being will need to confront
in their spiritual journey.

In what ways have I:

  • put my trust in the wrong place, and think that possessions, wealth and material goods are the sole purpose of what life is about
  • surrendered my autonomy to the supernatural, or to a view of God and the universe which is corrupt and untrue. Have I tried to cause God to fit into my narrow conception rather than open myself to the possibilities of what God is offering me?
  • used my power to manipulate others, to abuse and force my will on others

This week

Take time to be quiet with God and to reflect on where you have moved away from God's desire for you to share in abundant life

Look for one thing to do this week which might restore a sense of faithfulness to your call and desire to be God's person in a difficult world

Review this from time to time during the week and have the courage to implement it