Sunday, August 31, 2008

Life together

Readings for Sunday 23, 7th September are: Exodus 12:1-14 (or Ezekiel 33:7-11)Psalm 149 (or Psalm 119:33-40 ) Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20

What a lot of people don't get about Christianity
is that it is about living together
How do humans live with God, and how do they live with each other?
While there is no doubt that religion can seem to be remote and ritualistic, this dimension only makes sense when it connects to life
Nowhere is this truer than in the Eucharist.
 As we gather together to worship and share Bread and Wine we are recognising that good experience of God
Is as fundamental as the food and drink we share
That God is present to us in the ordinary stuff of life
So we expect that that the key stuff that we talk about
Should not only just sound good in theory it should be practical in application
Matthew’s advice about how to deal with disputes
Is sound and practical.
It emphasises discretion and forgiveness. 
It has about it mutuality and care
What else would we expect?

Apart form anything else it also says we should try.
A lot of reconciliation doesn’t happen because we can’t be bothered.
We would rather ignore conflict 
Than be reconciled.
Pride, embarrassment, arrogance, wilfulness
All stand in the way.
Christian principles suggest
That we should at least try
It won’t always (or ever) be easy
But we are called to try, to engage seriously
In the practical implementation of the gospel

This week
  • Where do need prompting to be reconciled 
  • What do I need to do? What precautions/supports are there that need to be applied?
  • Are my strategies genuinely kind, patient, forgiving and loving?


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Counting the cost

Readings for the 31st August the 22nd Sunday of the Year can include: Exodus 3:1-15 [or Jeremiah 15:15-21] Psalm:Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c [or Psalm 26:1-8 ]; Romans 12:9-21 & Matthew 16:21-28

For all Peter's realisations that Jesus is pretty important in the scheme of things ( as we read last week) and he is rewarded with some pretty dramatic words....I will build my church on you
Words which the Church has been keen to exploit, they are not so keen to observe that moments later Jesus is berating this Prince of the Apostles and saying
"Get behind me Satan!"

And that he who was once a foundation is now a "stumbling block"
Equally strong words in the other direction.
I think we see here what is an observable phenomenon for spiritual people.
There are times when it is all pretty clear, and we can make it hang together
And then it evaporates and , once again, we lose the plot.

Equally well we have the seminal story of the burning bush.

This too is the experience of people.
God grabs our attention
and if we are attentive
we hear and receive
then we can hear what God might be saying

[I am not too worried about
how a bush might burn
or what it might mean
this is not a story about supernatural phenomena,
this is a story about how God catches out attention
how we hear God
and what we might then do]
As Christians who believe in an ever-present, and transcendent God
experienced in and through the world
we experiece "burning bushes" all the time.
Do we just take any notice?
Moses, we note, had to turn away from what he was doing
and go and take a look.
Our problem is that we may often see
but then just go on with what we are doing.
So we don't see or hear
God saying to us
Instead we see the sheep going crazy.
It is when we turn aside
take off our shoes
because we realise the encounter is holy and powerful
and then act out of that expereince that it all makes a difference.

This is what happened to Peter
when he recognised
what God might be doing in Jesus(here)
this changed his life fundamentally.
As did Moses.
Because he now had the choice to live out of something new.

This is how it works for us.
As we ask ourselves
where is God's grace active and alive for us today
there is also the invitation
to live rather differently.
Out of knowledge of the fact
that God is who God is
---we use the shorthand term Yahweh, Jehovah or LORD

The Question then is...what do we do with this?
The invitation
is to live out of the new encounter
the temptation is to go back to doing what we did before.

As I ask myself, where have I asked experienced God's grace today
the next step is:
And what difference does that make ?
Will I choose to live differently
because I have encountered God.
We don't always get this right.
This is Peter who was a "foundation"
becoming a "stumbling block"
Having been granted the vision of the future
do we choose to go back tot he past.

Too often yes!

This week

  • Where have I experienced the presence of God at this time?
  • What is God asking me to be and do? What does it reveal to me about the nature of God? What is the invitation to live differently?
  • What changes do I make to the way I live because I have encountered God on holy ground?
  • Will I live differently?

O God, you invite me to turn aside

and be with you.

Why on earth do you want to speak with me?

What do you want of me?

Give me not only this grace,

but also the courage to live out of your life.

In Jesus name. AMEN

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chrysostom on Repentance

St John Chrysostom offers some detailed reflection on the road to repentance

"So now I have shown you the five paths of repentance. First, condemnation
of sins. Second, forgiving the sins of those near us. Third, prayer. Fourth,
almsgiving. Fifth, humility"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The key to prayer

A reflection for this Sunday 24th August

Matthew 16:19
Jesus said, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

For quiet prayer

Jesus was speaking to Peter when he said these words. What if he was sitting with you today…what if Jesus was saying these words to you…

“I will give you, (your name), the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
“Whatever you, (your name), bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
“And whatever you, (your name), loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The key to the problem

This Sunday 24th August we use the readings for the 21st Sunday which can be taken from Exodus 1:8-2:10 (or Isaiah 51:1-6); Psalm 124 (or Psalm 138); Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20 [it is also St Bartholomew's Day so there are alternative readingn for that day too]

One of the points I made last week was that we always bring a lot of baggage to the Scriptures when we seek to interpret their meaning
One of the biggest pieces of baggage is our understanding of 'authority'.
If, after all, Scripture is divinely inspired [however we interpret that]
then what it has to say about authority is important.
The Gospel passage we read this week is one of those portrions
where the issue of authority is very much to the fore:
We read

16:18 I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

The Roman Catholic Church has taken this passage to speak about the particular authority that was given to St Peter
and then by extension to Peter's successors as Bishop of Rome
This Papal claim may be interesting but, in the end, to me it is difficult to sustain.
More than this, it obscures the insight that is being offered here to all Christians.
It is part of th baggage!
The dynamic that is going on here
is that in relationship with Jesus
we come to an understanding of who we are.
So Peter, though he might be tempted to think otherwise,
comes to understand that he can and will be
a foundation that God can use to build
[By way of a side issue in John 1 :43-52 we see another man, Bartholomew,
(who is called here Nathanael)
who has a simple encounter of recognition with Jesus
and who is blown away by the fact that he seems to be known at depth]

Much of what is said about Peter in this encounter
would wait to be realised
It is often only in looking back that we see God's hand evident.
As we reflect on the Moses story, for example,
which we begin this morning also
we are able to frame a fairly hair-raising story of murder and cruelty
and see how God was able to take that and make something bold out of it.
This is not moralising or fable telling
with a view to getting an object lesson
but rather exploring a foundational principle of the faith-journey
that God takes the stuff of our life
and gives it meaning.
For Peter and Nathanael
(and indeed for us)
it is encounter with Jesus
which will give meaning to our lives.

This is what we are trying to 'explain' about Christianity
It is what happens to people when they are 'saved'
it is the 'grace' which God gives us
bringing meaning and purpose.

Our prayers, thoughts and reflections
might be well spent
listening to what Jesus is speaking into our lives

This is not an exercise in fantasy.
It is about getting in touch with the reality
of what God is saying to me today.

This week

  • Sit quietly and ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit
  • Lord show show me who and what you want me to be this week
  • Use one of the following scripture passages
  • Lord speak to me today
  • Romans 13:12
    12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let
    us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light;
  • 1 Cor 4:13
    13when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become
    like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.
  • Matthew 14:23
    23And after Jesus had dismissed the
    crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was
    there alone,
  • Judges 13:13
    13The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, ‘Let
    the woman give heed to all that I said to her.
  • Hosea 6:6
    6For I desire steadfast love and not
    sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than
    • What might God be saying to me ?
    • What does this invite me to do tomorrow and in the week to come?

    Thursday, August 14, 2008

    feeding dogs

    Readings for the 20th Sunday of the Year, Sunday August 17th 2008 Genesis 45:1-15 (or Isaiah 56:1, 6-8;) Psalm 133 (or Psalm 67) ; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

    Does Jesus struggle with prejudice?
    I grew up in a community which had a lot of prejudices near the surface.
    By and large we had no contact with people of different racial background
    (There weren't any )
    English people were always disrespectful fo the Irish,
    and as an Anglican we held a firm suspicion of Roman Catholics.
    These prejudices, and others, can be and, most likely, are part of any person's upbringing

    When we encounter Jesus in the Scripture we naturally bring a lot of baggage to that encounter!
    I would maintain, for example, that we almost always want to show him in a good light
    This is to be expected
    he is the hero after all.
    He is, we would say the Saviour, the Messiah, the Son of God.
    So it is difficult to paint him in other than bold, heroic strokes.

    We do then have to deal with the fact that in the Gospel passage
    for today (Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28 ),
    Jesus would at least appear to be rude.
    Some how we don't like that.
    Particularly those of us who are of British stock
    seem to regard impoliteness
    as the unforgiveable sin!
    A lot of commentary spends a lot of time
    trying to excuse the fact that Jesus seems to speak disrespectfully
    (even the fact that I say seems to speak disrespectfully) shows that I am guilty of this too!
    But Jesus says to this woman when she asks him to heal her daughter
    that the food of the children should not be thrown to the dogs

    But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
    He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
    She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters'

    It is difficult to not hear that he is calling this woman and her daughter dogs!
    If I made this sort of comment in a pastoral encounter , I feel sure a complaint would be (rightly) upheld
    Yet we say things like...Jesus wasn't really being rude, he was testing her
    or that this is playful banter
    (One pastoral rule I know is that you don't engage in such banter with people who are stressed out by sickness)
    Or the other day we were being told that one commentator says this is a clever play on words,
    because the word dog is linked to the word for worship.
    I personally think that is a stretch.
    What we must not miss is that Jesus has to engage with his humanity just as we have to.
    If all we ever say about Jesus is that every human action he commits
    is done perefctly and without struggle
    then we are rather missing the point
    that struggling with prejudice, carelessness, language
    is actually part of what it means to be human.

    Here we see Jesus struggling with the prejudice that he had grown up with since his childhood
    Canaanites were for Jews pagans, Gentiles and beyond the pale,
    Jesus would have known they were referred to by everyone in Nazareth as 'dogs'.
    Here we see at least that this struggle is there for Jesus
    as it is for us.
    Part of what it means to be human
    is that we have to engage with both the dark and light side of our character.
    To do any less with Jesus
    is to not take his humanity seriously.

    This story also shows us that, as distasteful as our prejudices may be,
    we do not have to stay locked in them.
    Indeed, must not.

    Can we see here an invitation to transcend our own narrowness and bigotry

    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    Walking on water

    The readings for Sunday August 10, 19th Sunday of the Year: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 or 1 Kings 19:9-18 ; Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b or Psalm 85:8-13 Romans 10:5-15 ; Matthew 14:22-33

    The story of Jesus walking on the water is not without its problems! Do we believe in a God who contravenes the laws of nature, and who walks on water?

    Do we believe that if we trust that same God, then we, like Peter, will do the same thing?

    Like many of these stories, my response is that I actually don't know the answer to these difficult questions.

    I do know that we should be careful not to trivialise these stories

    by either dismissing them out of hand

    or (strangely) by just accepting them as bland fact.

    There is more to it than all that
    Here are some thoughts I put together on this passage for a festival of
    MU during the wqeek

    On the occasion of the 110th Anniversary of the founding of MU in the parish of Coromandel Valleyreflecting on Matthew 14:22-

    Shall we sink or swim?

    The MU webpage tells the story of Mary Sumner
    “In the village of Old Alresford in the south of England a young Vicar's wife,
    Mary Sumner, looked at her first born child. Amazed at the enormous
    responsibility of nurturing a human life, and conscious of her own inadequacies,
    she dreamed of a union of mothers coming together regularly for encouragement, support and education.”
    I had a similar experience the night our first daughter was born.
    Not of forming a Fathers’ Union! But of the amazing responsibility that was now transforming my life.
    There was for me as there was for Mrs Sumner
    an invitation to step out of the boat
    and to live life in a new way.
    At times I have sunk! No doubt Mary did too. No doubt you have
    At other times, MU has walked proudly alongside Jesus
    knowing that there is for this task a comfort and responsibility
    which comes from putting our faith in God.

    I am not terribly happy about the words of the hymn we have just sung, which I didn’t read carefully enough before I agreed to its inclusion.
    Because it speaks too much of a sorrow and sadness about being a mother and a wife.
    As though the lot of MU members is to put up with drudgery and sadness, which is the inevitable lot for us all.
    This seems to me the language of sink or swim. Not the language of faith

    But the language of faith is that of neither sinking or swimming,
    but walking on the water.
    It is the adventure of faith.
    Quite a different experience altogether.
    MU is successful not by putting up with the pain of family life
    but in so far as it seeks to transform family life into a life of faith

    This is more than just putting up with a bad lot! I suspect Mary would ask for more.
    Could I then just add one walking verse?

    Transform our lives O Lord, that we might love
    Fulfilled by faith, by challenge, ventures new;
    as here on earth we join with those above
    and live a gospel that we know is true
    That loving you for us will ever be
    A bold adventure walking on the sea