Monday, April 28, 2008

Jesus with us now

Readings for the Sunday after the Ascension (Seventh Sunday of Easter) May 4, 2008 Acts 1:6-14 Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35I Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11

You might like to read another reflection on Resurrection and Ascension here by Bishop Tom Wright of Durham in which he speaks powerfully of the importance of the Ascension for the modern Christian

It isn't easy to understand how hard it is for a preacher to sit and listen to someone else preach.
Some times it's a delight
other times it is painful
(like last Sunday when I sat and heard a well-meaning priest
talk what seemed to me unending drivel
I kept asking myself ..."But what difference does this make to anything?")
Now you have to be temperate
and humble...
Yes, in the face of the mysteries of God
you have to be be temperate and humble.
I am so often not good at either of these of things

The priest was talking about the Ascension of Jesus
and he seemed to make sense of it
...for himself....
but I struggled to make contact.
I don't think I was just in a bad mood.
Or being more arrogant than usual.
I had even alerted myself to the possibility
that it would be particularly difficult today.

It is partly the nature of the Ascension.
We just don't seem to get it.
So in the face of a story which talks about holy Jesus
being taken up on a cloud into heaven
we begin to make stuff up!
In wanting to believe everything the Scripture might be saying
we twist and we turn
in order to fit the text into our distorted view of God's reality.

Bishop Tom Wright makes the point that the one thing the Ascension story is not saying
is that Jesus is trail-blazing
and inviting us to find our own lift into heaven.
He notes that if we read the Acts of the Apostles
we struggle to find a view of the Christian life
which says:
If you keep on plugging at it then you will finally get your heavenly reward
he says, rather, that the early Church discovered
that Jesus was showing the world that
the kingdom of heaven was in our midst
it is not something that is to be discovered
it is here and now.
The New Testament community rather than being devastated
by the death of Jesus
discovered that far from Jesus being taken away from them
his life, his love, his community
was found in a deeper and profounder way.

Wright's message?
Let's not replace the vibrancy of the Spirit-filled New Testament Church
with the wishful thinking that if we hang on for long-enough
then everything will be fulfilled.
It IS here and now.

Archbishop Rowan Williams says:

… the idea of ‘the Christian religion’ is a late and weak formulation: what first exists is the Assembly, to give the literal meaning of the Greek word for ‘Church’, as a fresh configuring of the whole of experienced reality – a new set of human relations, a new horizon for what human beings are capable of, a new understanding of the material world and its capacities. The Christian involved in the celebration of the Eucharist is not affirming a set of propositions with the help of an audio-visual programme, but inhabiting, in speech and action, a drama which purports to ‘re-locate’ him or her in the space occupied by Jesus Christ in his eternal relationship with the Father, a relocation which is enabled by his sacrificial death and his rising from the grave and ascension into heaven.
Rowan Williams

The Spiritual and the Religious: Is the Territory Changing?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Readings for Sunday April 27, Sixth Sunday of Easter Acts 17:22-31 Psalm 66:8-20, I Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21,

I sometimes jokingly say that we should be careful about what we ask for in our prayers
and particularly when we pray for God to send the Holy Spirit
or to renew us, or something similar.
Because my experience is that that is exactly the sort of prayer---for the Holy Spirit---
that God is likely to answer!
So, don't pray for renewal unless you want to be renewed.

What might 'renewal' be like?
It seems to me that renewal is likely to be about truth
that when the Spirit of renewal comes
it is going to be the Spirit of Truth.
It will therefore be drawing us towards God and showing us what God is like.
In the process of doing this
one might expect we also discover what we might be like.
This classic sort of movement
leads us to traditionally Christians have said...
the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin.
This is not, I think, some vindictive nasty process
but true one.
We will know and be known.
it is in a sense our life's work:
to understand the truth of what it means
to be made in God's image.
The truth draws us on
to move away from sin
and towards the light.
In this process, too,
we will also uncover the truths of God's world.
The eternal truths can often be spoken with our lips
and may take a little while to appropriate into our lives.
How easily we say "God loves you!" and yet do we believe
that God wants the best for us
and for everyone
and how do we imagine that might work itself otu in our lives.
To me, for example, it means that there is here
a command to ensure that others
are goign to be able to experience God generosity
and share in the bounty of the creation
it will mean, maybe, that I need to work to challenge
my own selfishness and greed
and to stand against the aggressive greed of individuals and institutions
which is the cause of so much poverty.

Truth will mean that I try to conduct myself
with honesty, openness and integrity.
That I value these things about myself
and I treasure the vulnerable gifts that others
may choose to share.

The Spirit will lead us into truth
implies that this will take time.
And we need patience and diligence.

The way of the Spirit

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

God knows us where we are

Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 20, 2008 *Acts 7:55-60 Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 I Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

The story is told of St Christopher
that he searched the world over
for the strongest king to serve
he rejected one after the other
even the devil
and finally he is told to serve God
by helping people
across a dangerous river.
One night a small child comes
and Christopher carries him across the river
he senses the burden getting heavier
as he crosses
and it is only as he gets to the other side
that he realises he has been carrying the Christ child.
It is a nice story, and has a good moral.
These days it is regarded as legendary
rather than an account of an actual event.
This does not make it untrue.
It rather points us to the fact that we are called to serve Christ
in the work we do in this world
and that we often don't realise that Christ is there.

It is an Easter encounter
we don't realise at first that Christ is alive
and there amongst us.
He surprises us
by being in the ordinary place.
The disciples have to learn this.
They are often easily distracted
and well...just plain 'thick'

Not unlike you and me really!

What is on offer by Jesus is not some fairy tale encounter
nor is it some pious ritual.
It is a glimpse of glory,
it is sharing of the vision of the open heaven
and God reigning in power, peace and love.
St Stephen, at his martyrdom, is able to blurt this out.
Things often become very clear to us
in the valley of the shadow of death.

For most of the time it is a struggle, like Christopher,
to not insist that God does things in the way that we want them done
and rather to open ourselves
to the mystery of what God might be offering us.
Not what we vainly want
but what God might be trying to invite us into.

In the halting passage in John 14
again, often read at funerals,
Jesus promises a prepared-place.
He is of course speaking imaginally
we are not talking about the Legian Beach Hotel
or some Georgian mansion
But rather of the fact that there is a place.
This is a comfort to the dying and the bereaved, I suggest,
to know that whether we live or whether we die
God has a place for us.
But as we read on we discover that the place is not so much a location
as a relationship....How can we know the way?
and jesus says to you and me

I am the way and the truth and the life

I think once we grasp this we are on the way.This is what Christopher found.It is not discovery of the answer it is by entering into relationship with Jesus.

This is the relationship
which will reveal to us
the life of God himself
We Christians believe
that this shepherd
this Jesus
this way, this truth, this life
uniquely draws us into the life of God.

This is not an exclusivist claim
it is the promise and hope of relationship.

I will know God, and God will know me.
I will know and be known.
It is a glimpse of glory.

This week
  • Where is Jesus telling me about himself?
  • What do I tell Jesus about myself?
  • How does this mutual revelation change us both?
  • How do I change my life to better live that experience
  • What will I do this week as I live out of this relationship
  • all seek resolution in practice

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Little Bo Peep

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter April 13, 2008 Acts 2:42-47 ;Psalm 23; I Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

At least Australians, unlike most city dwellers, are probably
quite used to sheep
No image is fonder to traditional Christians than that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Yet it is a foreign image which bears little relevance to most of us urban city dwellers.
Even in this country (Australia) the intimacy of the shepherd caring for a small flock of not the way we look after sheep.
They are in hundreds and thousands, largely left to their own devices
until the time comes for them to be killed or shorn.
So we need to look beyond the image and translate it to our modern times.
A couple of pointers
being a sheep is about belonging
It's only as we belong to Christ
that we understand and believe
This would suggest that the Good News is about the decision we make to be Christ's
And not so much about intellectual knowledge.
As important as doctrine and learning are, life in Christ is actually about being in touch with the person of the Risen Christ
How might we be in touch?
We need to maintain a deep commitment to personal and regular prayer.
We will meet Jesus in so far as we encounter him in the early morning,
and in the evening,
this is a figurative way of looking at prayer of course. but we need to do it
We will meet Jesus in the shared life of the Christian community.
There are no solitary Christians
...we are the Body of Christ, members of one another.
in so far as we struggle with one another (difficult as we are)
we are exploring the depth of relationship in Christ
and coming to know Jesus in depth
The spirit of obedience
Jesus could not be blunter..
We hear his voice, and we do what he tells us.
What is Christ saying to me in my life?
Do I respond by doing what he tells me to do?
What does the life of the Body of Christ say to me
about what Jesus invites me to be and do?
Do I do it?

  • Take some time to reflect on what I hear Jesus saying, through my prayer, through my life, through experience of community
  • What 2 or 3 things do I seem to hear Jesus saying to me about how to faithfully follow
  • What resistance do I have to obedience? What do I need to do about it?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Steep learning curve

Readings for Sunday April 6, 2008 the Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35 (please note there is also a reflection on Luke 24:13-35 below) APBA also includes Matthew 28:1-10 in today's alternatives

It took a while for the first Christians to understand
just what was going on.
Gradually they began to understand
what it meant to encounter the living Christ.
Gradually they started to piece together
what God might be doing
through the life and death of Jesus.
So we see Peter standing up at Pentecost
and proclaiming (at some risk to his life)
that "We all crucified, this Jesus"
And THIS JESUS is the one who we have all been waiting for
He is both Lord and Messiah.
He is the one who God has anointed to effect change
fundamental change
to the world.
They were on what we call jargonistically
a steep learning curve
Having to learn a lot of new things
and get a lot of changed understandings
in a very short space of time.

Peter's message is perhaps more theological and scriptural
he says
You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
They are rich words
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
that speak about a new found freedom
which is at the heart of what resurrection is about.

What we might learn
is, I think, that we are called to grow into this experience
of resurrection
and it takes time and reflection.
It is, indeed, as the disciples pay attention to what is going on,
that the mystery begins to be understood.
And they learn that it is not
knowledge that they are to acquire
but a way of life that they are called to adopt.

How might we go about this?
The key belief about the resurrection
is not in some bizarre resuscitation story
but in the reality of Matthew's tradition
where we read in the very last verse of his gospel
Jesus says to his disciples:
'And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'
It would be easy to dismiss this as pious funereal rememberings
in the face of the death of a much-beloved friend and leader
until we also realise that the stories are narrating the changing experience
of the disciples.

We do this through paying attention to the movement of God
in our ordinary life
what else can we do?
The disciples realise that Jesus is with them as they gather for worship,
as they break bread, in the Eucharist and in their fellowship,
he is also there as they reach out to others in need
both physical and spiritual.

This happens as we, too, pay attention
we see God is with us
and that God's hand touches everything
both ordinary and extraordinary

Perhaps each day, a couple fo minutes
sitting on your bed
before you sleep
look back and see where God has been moving.

Maybe too on the weekend, a quiet moment on Saturday or Sunday
think back through the week gone.
Where can I see God acting,
where have I turned my back?

The disciples discovered as they experienced the risen Christ
their world changed
that is the invitation for you and me too.
Pay attention to it,
and join and enjoy the steep learning curve.

God who is rich in mercy out of his great love
even when we were dead through our sins
makes us alive together with Christ.