Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Finding our deepest identity

[During Lent we will be following a local series of lections.If you are looking for the Common Lectionary References try here Revised Common Lectionary]

This Sunday 1st March 2009 the focus reading is Mark 1:9-15. Mark's account of the baptism of Jesus

A lot happens in the first chapter of Mark. In the space of these few (only 7) verses...Jesus is baptised, he hears the voice of God, he goes into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. John is arrested, Jesus goes back to Galilee and he makes a public declaration of what his ministry is about.

"The time is fulfilled 

and the kingdom of God has come near

therefore I call you to repent and believe in the good news"

It's a lot!
The Spirit affirms Jesus in the profoundest way possible
What ever it means, Jesus hears the voice of God saying
"You are my Son, and I love you, and I am well-pleased with you"
What does God say to you? What is God saying to me?
At our deepest level?
In Lent we are being invited to pay attention to God.
The idea of God speaking to us
is not without problem.
What do we mean by it?
It is not clear, for example, in this passage
whether Mark wants us to understand this as an external, audible voice.
Whether others might have heard it,
or whether this is just fanciful stuff.
I suspect if we allow ourselves to accept this passage,
not worrying too much about the mechanics of what is being addressed
that many of us would allow that God might be speaking to us
(heart-to- heart someone suggested to me during the week).

The wilderness
What unlocks some of this for us is that the same Spirit
who speaks this deep affirmation of Jesus's personhood
drives (a very strong word) Jesus into the wilderness.
This wilderness as we know, is an ambivalent place,
at once threatening (beasts)
but also where we are thrown back on total reliance on God.
It is as though Jesus not only has to hear the affirmation
but also then to go and appropriate it.
This needs the confrontation and threat of the wilderness.
It is not just nice words.

What might God be saying to you at this time of your life?
Can you take time this week to struggle with that a bit?
What don't I like about what God is saying to me?
Where do I resist? Where am I vulnerable?
Where do I deceive myself...about myself/about God?

It is out of this struggle
that Jesus comes to some realization
of what is happening!
The time is now, God is close
Things must change...I need to repent, to behave differently
(what will this mean for me today)
The time is NOW!
This Good News, if we are to believe it,
is for now
and will affirm us at our deeepest  level.
It will require some change,
and that we trust God for all that is necessary to effect it.
It is not without beasts,
but also with angels!
Do we trust God enough to enter into this?

  • What is God saying to me at my deepest level (heart to heart)?
  • Can I strip back everything and allow the wilderness to speak this to me?
  • Will I decide to embrace the freedom that is being offered? To be free of sin? To live as one who tries to accept others? To embrace the possibility of failure? To trust only God?
  • What is to stop me doing this now?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Just round the corner

Readings for Sunday 22nd February. 2009: 2 Ki 2:1-12; Ps 50:1-6; 2 Cor 4:3-12; Mark 9:2-9. The Last Sunday After Epiphany - The Transfiguration of Jesus

Well we have got to that point
where Lent is just around the corner
almost, but not quite, as late as it could be.
For most of the world, of course,
Lent means little or nothing.
Although in some ways like the great Moslem fast of Ramadan
Lent is probably less well known.
It is for Christians a time when we get our act together
There are many traditional ways of doing this
and they are not without merit
But let me draw yoiu attention to three of the more obvious ways
for Christians to "get their act together".
At the heart of any Christian's life
is our relationship with God
so we will want during these 40 days
to try and strengthen that relationship .
like any relationship it is strengthened
through quality time.
If we want our relationship to get better then we need to commit to it.
Lent gives us a focus time...less than 6 weeks
so it is not a long commitment
and we find each year that it is worth it.
I suggest...three E's
Each day-make a commitment to pray at least once each day
The Lord's Prayer, a time of quiet or a short time to pray for someone special
Each week- as part of our commitment to build up each other
let's endeavour to make each of the Sundays in Lent
a time when we will be there
I do not think prayer is about volume or length of time
It is about "quality" time not "quantity"
So what I need to give during Lent
is extra quality.
This might mean making sure that we give proper attention and not pray on the run
It might mean keeping a little Lenten journal
or setting aside a deliberate time each week to just be together with God.

The one thing people often do know about Lent is "giving things up"
this giving things up...lollies, alcohol, meat, bread or what ever
breeds a little space and a little discipline.
It allows us to be more conscious of those who have not
and also to redirect some of our resources through giving

Certain 'traditional' support has often been highlighted

and they are worthy of our consideration.

Not so much 'what takes your fancy' as where do I feel the Spirit challenges me to be generous and give

  • Charity

  • The Poor

  • Mission

  • Jerusalem

  • The Church

What appeals to you? Make it a special 6 week project.

Our relationship with God is fostered through our care and service of others
Lest we think that Lent is a narrowly religious exercise
or even that Christianity is "narrowly religious"
we balance our spiritual exercises with our service and ministry.
This is the mistake that Peter makes on the mountain today
Seeing Jesus for who he really is ...the glorified one of God....
he doesn't know what to do.
We could think of a thousand things
let's tell others
let's inspire each other
let's commit to follow him to the end
But Peter says "No!! Let's build a shrine"
And Jesus has to say No!
There is suffering to be shared
there is work to be done.
So where will you serve this Lent.
I suggest that the words we need to guide us are these:

& Unconditional

We need to respond in such a way that we are caring for a real person
and not an idea, or a bureaucracy
It will in a practical sense involve us with another person.
We need to be responding to real needs
That is doing what God want us to do
and not what we think we should do.
So often what we choose to do
serves our own needs
instead of those of others,
we do what makes us look good and successful
instead of what attends to the needs of another.
Finally our service should be unconditional.
We help a sick person go the doctor
so that they might get well
Not so that they might come to church.
We take food round to the family who have lost their father
because they need food
not so that they will do it to us in return.

Prayer Giving and Service.
Do not think you can do everything or the impossible.
Have a think about what you can do,
write it down
so you can promise yourself
and promise God

Do not be deceived into thinking Lent

is a pious few weeks, rather accept it as a challenge

to become mroe deply in love with God.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Readings for this Sunday the 6th After Epiphany, 15th February 2009 are 2 Kings 5:1-14 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Mark 1:40-45 Psalm 30
In this week's readings we see something of the application of
Healing, wellness, and wholeness
God wants more for us than we want for ourselves
The story of Naaman the leperthat we read this week
is a confronting one for all of us who think
we have our lives well under control.
Naaman is a powerful, successful man
and yet he is sick.
He has the sort of sickness
that people will not tolerate socially-leprosy
Quite what this was in his case is not clear.
we have rather poor attitudes
to leprosy
largely what we have been (wrongly) taught.
(see for example the life of Damien of Molokai)
Nevertheless it is something that would have taken
Naaman out of circulation,
perhaps by disfigurement
certainly because of ritual prohibitions
designed to prevent infection
---Primitive but effective---
Naaman, like many who become seriously sick,
find their life is taken over
and they are no longer free to do what needs to be done.
the handsome,
the powerful,
the successful
is sick.
What to do?
He uses his connections to get to the doorstep of Elisha.
He will have done this sort of things many times before.
As a highly motivated person he is used to
identifying the problem
finding a solution
and effecting the operation.
This is how a highly successful person operates.
The only trouble is that sickness
is not a cash flow problem
it is not a stock shortage
or a management crisis.
If we are to be made whole
then we will need more than just management
or even skill.
We will also need openness to God
a fair degree of humility
and preparedness to change.
If you think about in-depth healing
or wholeness
we understand that there is more to it
so he is deeply confronted.
Elisha is not actually over-impressed by his status
he can barely come out of his house
he sends an underling to communicate with Naaman
and Naaman is not impressed.
Let us look at some of the things that Naaman does
which might expose some of the issues
he brings lots of money
but his healing is not going to be paid for by lots of money
he shifts the responsibility to another person,
In the process that person (the king of Israel) is deeply stressed
and he doesn't know what to do.
We often do this.
This is different from sharing the responsibility by inviting others to pray for you.
Healing will require that we open ourselves
not just that we get someone to do the slog for us
he needs to learn about simplicity, humility and obedience.
Elisha is very offhand with him.
He refuses to let Naaman think that this is the only problem in the world.
This is hard for us to endure.
In the end he is required only to be faithful to a simple process and to submit to that
he is seduced by the spectacular.

"‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the
name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of
Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a

..when things do not go as he wants
then at least he demands spectacle
spectacle that shows he is pretty special?;
spectacle that shows God is taking notice?

Are you beginning to get the idea that there is a lot going on?
Naaman needs to confront a whole lot of stuff in himself:
Pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, lack of faith....
all of these things will be up for grabs
if we open ourselves to wholeness rather than just removal of symptoms.

Finally, the Gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45)
tells of another lepe the dialogue with Jesus says...
"‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’
There is (again) more here than waving of hands
the man is asking to be brought inside the ambit of Jesus's life and faith...
If you choose
and we are assured that Jesus does choose
But he chooses not just curing symptoms
but fulness of life
not just a narrow healing.
To us Jesus says, I do choose...
but we may have to confront,like Naaman,
our pride, our lack of humility,
our notion of our own importance,
certainly our sinfulness
and be prepared to enter into the abundant life
that we are being offered.
...more coming

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Getting down to it

Readings for reflection for Sunday February 8th 2009: Epiphany 5 - Isa 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-11; 1Cor 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

I always find Jesus' encounter with Peter's mother-in-law a bit shocking.
How men so often presume on the generosity fo women,
not even recognising that they are not well,
and just assuming that they do what they are told.
They have obviously never lived with the 4 sisters, or the 3 daughters
that I have been blessed with.
None of whom have done what they are told!!!

But I think there are some points in this story
that we overlook:
Jesus heals so that we might live our lives with better quality
not so that we might continue to moan about being sick.
We are healed so that we can continue living
and so we should not be surprised
when a sick woman gets healed
and gets on with her life!

Nor do I think that we should overlook
that Jesus heals even when the sickness seems to us
to be minor.
I never understand people who say
"Don't pray for me, there are others more needy"
As if there is only so much to go round.
This story at least might tell us that
God's concern is not just with 99% sickness
and maybe we should be more faithful in bringing even small matters
to God for healing.

Is there somewhere we have been healed, forgiven, reconciled where we haven't actually appropriated that gift? Have we chosen to remain sick when we are actually healed?
We don't need to play games, but nor do we need to lack faith.

Are there some areas of our life that we think are not important enough for God's care?
Do we maybe even consider that we are not important enough for God's grace?
Pray to trust God in all things great and small!