Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Struggling with failure and success

Although we may try to inoculate ourselves
against pain, suffering and the effects of evil
this is not possible in this life
reading for Sunday 3rd October 2009: The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16. Plenty of good readings for each day!
Most of us at times are overwhelmed by the sense of things going wrong in our lives.
The readings for this week tap into some of the most common and obvious tragedies that ordinary human beings face
Job, a man of legendary faith, has to deal with sickness in his own life and tragedy in his family.
The letter to the Hebrews is written to a church which feels itself in great danger and constantly under threat of persecution
The Gospel opens up the question of what divorce might mean in people's lives
and in reminding us about the great treasure that small children are
almost every week we are faced with the awfulness of people who abuse the trust of children committed to their care

So we might (and do) ask:
Where is God in all this?
Is the all powerful God not really in control?
The traditional, but not necessarily satisfying, answer is that
much evil is due to our own wilfulness
and it is wrong and innacurate (even though tempting)
to lay it at the feet of God.
God did not cause a maniac to shoot young girls,
or war criminals to torture and rape
But we need to ask the legitimate question:
why does God permit these things?
(Perhaps we also need to realise, too, that
this is also not a correct way of naming this issue and that
God does not permit it either!
But we do insist on inflicting it!)
God does not stand in the way of our wilfulness.
To do so would be to cause individuals to become little more than robots.
But we are more dynamically and powerfully created than that,
this is because above all else we are created to love.
In order to be able to love
we have to be able to choose to do it.
Love that is not freely chosen is not love,
it may be blackmail,
or bribery or selfish seeking of advantage
but it is not love.
To love requires that we give ourselves unconditionally.
We cannot love and say.....
I will love you if you love me
We cannot say I will love you as long as things are going along OK
To give any meaning to love at all means
that we give and do not count the cost.
This is hard stuff
at times we find that we will fail
which is why in our system of belief there needs to be scope for forgiveness and repentance.
We will sometimes get it wrong,
we will sometimes be betrayed.
We will sometimes be the betrayer.
As with all these things we see in the life of Jesus
love demonstrated dramatically.
And we see there persecution and failure.
We see the need for forgiveness and the need to start again.

This week
As we reflect on our human relationships:
where are we called to give this unconditional love?
Do we hold ourselves back?
Is there a way we can be more open, more vulnerable?
Are there aspects of failure and wilfulness in our loving relationships
that we need to seek forgiveness for
are there places where the strategy is repentance
we might interpret that as meaning weighing up the failure of the past
and looking for a small way to begin again?
I do not suggest that this is easy, or without cost.
It is indeed, very costly?
In seeing our failure to love
the question is not so much why are we and others so bad at this
but will we keep on trying to love unconditionally

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Healthy, wealthy and wise

The Church, these days, takes very seriously the need to pray
for those who are sick
This is certainly about those are seriously ill
it is also about how we attend to our own needs
and realise health
both spiritual and physical and psychological
for ourselves and our community

Sunday 27th September 2009 . Readings for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (proper 26)
Some of the readings for today include: Esther 7:1-6,9-10;9:20-22;Psalm 124; James 5:12-20; Mark 9:38-50

There is no doubt that we will look back at the last century and see that a most significant part of ministry has been a more dynamic approach to praying with and for those who are sick
With this, I think, has gone an increased expectation that healing will occur.
Before that it was no doubt the case prayer for healing had about it
a certain sense of resignation to fate or perhaps "God's will" or to "the inevitable"
So we can give thanks that there has been a recapturing of "the prayer of faith" that we read about in the letter of James
We can give thanks that the church is more fervent in believing
the promise of Jesus that his disciples will do what he can do and this includes healing.
This last century of course has also seen wonderful advancement in modern medicine
which itself is more optimistic
and, dare we say it, successful
The two things go hand in hand
and this is an important insight into how God works in our world
God is not "above and beyond" our experience
but "with and in"
It is instructive to talk to Christian doctors
they are under no illusions about how their pragmatic ministry is undergirded
not only by the natural ministry of health science
but also by the supernatural support of the angels.
Chaplains and other ministers in hospitals, too,
see themselves not apart or spiritually superior from the scientific care of people
but an integrated part oif a healing whole.
Health, you see, is a community pursuit
it is complex and comprehensive
and goes awry when it is dragged to one pole of experience or another
be that either the coldly clinical or the widly supernatural
A couple of points
The key insight for this period as we reflect on our life together is that
wholeness and health are not (only or even) individual pursuits they are community issues.
This has two facets
One is that it is the responsibility of the community to care for the well being of individuals
and the second is that the individual's health affects the body as a whole.
James, in his oft quoted passage says how when we are sick we should call for the elders to pray and lay hands on us and anoint us.
It has been my joy to do this many times
sometimes I am a bit sad when people keep their sickness to themselves
I suggest it is as silly as not going to the doctor.
Also our key insight is that health is both individual and communal
and bringing in the community is an important spiritual dynamic.
James reminds us, too, that we need to confess our sins to one another.
This is not easy.
Again it reminds us that sin is not a private affair,
even if we are the only one who might be hurt or betrayed
the damage done is both individual and communal.
I am not here suggesting the sort of public exposure of sin
and humiliation of indviduals that is the caricature of some Christian communities;
but rather to see that when one hurts we all hurt
and that the road to reconciliation
may well not be the road of trying to hide
but of trying to allow ourselves to be helped to know healing and forgiveness.
The gospel reminds us that we need to take sin seriously
as it potentially destroys us.,
If your eye offend pluck it out is the hyperbole which our Lord uses
we neglect sin at our peril. ]
We who are the body of Christ
are called to be just that a BODY.
Our healing our forgiveness is not just individual it is also corporate.
What might God be saying to me today about that insight?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Beyond understanding

What's the best way to live your life? How do you have a good marriage? What is wisdom? what do children have to teach everyone?
These are some of the important questions that are addressed today.
Readings for today , the 16th Sunday After Pentecost, Sunday September 20 2009, can include: Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:8, Mark 9:30-37
...more coming

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who are you?

This Sunday the Anglican Church is inviting people Back to Church. A reflection for the day based on the Gospel Mark 8 27-38 is found below.

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Mark 8:27-38 (The text is taken from The New Revised Standard Version of The Holy Bible)

In some ways this is a very straight forward passage and in others it is not!
This is not very surprising.
Any relationship question reveals to us
that relationships are both
straight forward
and complex.
Straight forward in that we should just get on with it
Complex in that relationships are deep rather than shallow
Inter-related rather than staright up and down!

So we see both of these things in this conversation:
What sorts of things are people saying me? asks Jesus
And some pretty confusing and conflicting things
get said.
There has been a flurry of letters to the paper this week
which indicate just that
People have some whacky ideas
about what God, Jesus and the Bible
are all about.
These range from:
the angry God who demands conformity to a strict set of rules
the warm fuzzy God who is all love and light
and the moral compass type of God who gives us slight hints about how to behave.

But this question doesn't actually become electrified
until Jesus says:
But who do you say that I am?

This is the Christian way of doing things.
If we want to know what God is like
our focus is on Jesus.
He is the human face of God,
He is God saying to you and me
I want to relate to you
as a son, a dauhter, a friend a brother.
I want to RELATE to you.

Whether you have come Back to Church
or whether you are here every day
this is what the Spirit is saying to us today.
I want to relate to You

What then happens is important!
Jesus tells his disciples
This relationship is going to have its difficult side
there will be times when it will seem as though
it's not working
or people are against you.

Jesus is reminding his disciples that
this is what relationships are like.
And if we are serious about having a good relationship
with God
then parts of it will be hard.

Just as surely as being a friend, a husband or a wife
a parent or a child
will have difficult times.

We can be like Peter,who says
"But I don't want it to be like this"
and Jesus really has to say
"Grow up!"
In the real world
the worthwhile things are worth working towards.

Some of us, coming Back to Church or not,
will know that this relationship with God
has at times been difficult
even impossible.

This doesn't alter the fact
that Jesus is still saying to you and me.
I want you to be in a relationship with me.

If you can grasp that sometimes it is hard
but it is always worth it
....if you want save your life then sometimes you will have to struggle
and maybe even lose it...
then maybe that's where we are today.

This week

  • Take time to explore this offer of a relationship

  • However strange it might seem, what about talking to Jesus about who and what you think he is and what you want him to be for a little time each day

  • Is Jesus saying to you and me If you will put your life and concerns aside, and give yourself to me (lose your life) then I will be able to give myself to you (save your life)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Who is Jesus for you?

Some of the Readings for this week: Prov 1, Ps 19, James 2, Mark 8:27-38. (proper 24 13th September 2009, 15th Sunday after Pentecost)

We need to keep asking ourselves penetrating questions.
One question we have been asking out of the reading for the last few weeks is
"What do I really want?"
This is not to say that if we want something hard enough then God will capitulate
and give it to us....
but rather we need to have a certain degree of rigour about our inward looking
that demands of us something other than superficiality.
So what do I really want,
may be treated superficially,
or we may realise
that it is at the point of my deepest longing
that I am met by God.
There are many images of this in the lives of the people of faith.
God is already coming out to meet us.

A similar question is the one which Jesus asks his disciples in the Gospel passage we read today:
Who do people say that I am? and Who do you say that I am?
Again, it would be easy to be superficial...the great teacher, the healer,
a romantic historical figure, a hero....
but we are being invited, I suggest,
to get in touch with the source of abundant life,
we are being invited to encounter God.

You are the Messiah -There is a real sense in which we see in this passage
that understanding who Jesus is, is not an act of "knowing" at all
but an act of inspiration or revelation.
Our Anglican formularies, consistent with received Christian wisdom,
understand this to be so...many of our prayers say things like...without you we are not able to receive you...send your Holy Spirit that we may know.
If this is so....then a good part of our prayer needs to go towards praying that we may be open
to receive what God has to offer.

The Son of Man must undergo suffering- the way of faith is not an easy one.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer one of the 20th century martyrs says that there is no such thing as "cheap grace" (see some thoughts about DB here)
the paradox of Christian faith is that grace, life in God, abundant or eternal life,
however we describe it
is the free gift of God and yet
it comes at great cost
This is a paradox, rather than a contradiction,
and it draws out of us profound feelings.
One image Jesus uses is that of the extremely valuable treasure

Matt 13:45,46 "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, goes out and sells everything in order to buy it."

Once we realise what Jesus is offering us
we will devote ourselves to its pursuit.
....Theoretically and logically...
but when Jesus spells out very clearly
the cost that he will pay
...his own life, reputation, and relationships....
Peter rebukes Jesus and then we read....
Jesus rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan!
For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
It reminds us that we do indeed get things right,
but then we often let them slip away.
Peter, like me I often think, is a maelstrom of this sort of toing and froing.
No sooner do we get it than we reneg
it is clear and then we put our foot in it.

So if we are praying this sort of stuff through we pray:
"May we receive the clear understanding of who you are.
May we be brave enough to accept the consequences,
and be courageous enough to trust God rather ourselves"

The ominous warning

It is not that we, like some suicidal bomber,
are to bring on our own demise
particularly not with the arrogance of hastening the kingdom.
Nor that we can avoid suffering.
There is indeed something of the reality here that
the embrace of suffering is part of what life in Christ is about.
It is not the purpose of life in Christ
It is a consequence that we accept....we sell everything in order to be able to purchase the pearl.

This requires some sort of courage.
Fortunately God supplies that.
Are we open to allow God to be our supplier!!


  • Pray for grace to be courageous and faithful
  • Look for opportunities to confess the truth of who Jesus is
  • Seek forgiveness when we close ourselves to the difficulty of the call and re-establish a commitment to give everything for the Gospel.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Daring to trust

Reading for this Sunday 6th September: Pentecost 14, Proper 23.Proverbs 22, Psalm 125, James 2, Mark 24-37

It may help us at this time to realise that the woman we read about in these readings , (The "Syro Phoenician Woman" lived in that coastal region to the north of the modern state of Israel and west of modern Syria that has often been under the pall of the war.
Bearing in mind that many of those peoples who live there today trace their antecedents back well over the 2000 years of the common era (CE), it is conceivable that her living descendants have been caught up in today's conflict.
And the readings reminds us that tension between different ethnic groups was there at the time of Christ, as it is there today. It is a sadness but a truth.
They remind us too that we fickle humans are open to prejudice of all sorts, economic, gender-based, class oriented, religious and of course the stupidity of racial prejudice
Even Jesus is caught up in it. "It is not fair, " he says of this woman's daughter, "that I should take the food that is meant for the Jews and feed it to the dogs!"
None of us would take too kindly to our children being referred to as dogs. he is no doubt using a common idiom. Speaking as he had been brought up to speak of his near neighbours.
We fall easily into that trap ourselves when we talk of Indonesians, Aborigines, even (perhaps in an earlier era) Poms!!
The common bond
There is, however, a resilience about this woman (which we see in the people of today)
that causes her to persist with Jesus, and her persistence is rewarded.
Coupled with this we read a story about another persistent man, who was deaf. And who, like many of the profoundly deaf, had a speech impediment.
Such people, too, have a resilience which is at times admirable and also a little intimidating
stemming, on their part, from years of prejudice and misunderstanding with which they ahve had to deal.
What we see in these two stories is the invitation to transcend our prejudice
and to put our trust in Jesus.
To take the next step of faith and move forward.
Sometimes this will take us quite of our comfort zone.
Other times it will just be one more step along the road we go!

The woman has to wrestle with Jesus.
Is he trying to establish just how determined she is?
Is he forcing her to get to the root of what she really wants?
Spiritual Directors and the works of the saints will tell us this is a key understanding
in our journey of faith,
understanding what really makes us tick,
establishing what it is that we really want.
For this woman she really has to fight for her daughter,
for this man he has to be prepared to sit quietly with Jesus
and put aside his anxiety.

I ask myself...what is it that I really want?
Am I so clouded in my vision (prejudice)
that I fail to see what I really want.
Am I so frightened by life, by failure, by weakness, by depression, by name it, it's there...
that I find it impossible to trust
even God.

The stories remind us that this would seem the way to go.
Not the way of putting your trust in human vanity
of being impressed by wealth or human achievement
as we so easily are,
but rather by taking the next step along the road with Christ.

For this woman it is quite a vigorous struggle with Jesus.
For this man it is being taken to one side.
What will it be for me or for you this week.

This week
Allow God the opportunity that we so often deny
to let us take the next small step.
What prejudices are guiding our thinking at this stage in our life I frightened of the future I dictated to by the past I fail to see the goodness in some people because of my bias or narrowness I closed to God because I like the easy life...

God does not demand that our life be turned upside down every moment of every day
some days will be rough
most days we are just to keep on moving on.
Not, mind you, standing still.
Maybe just the next small step.

For you prayers:
In the time of quiet, perhaps early in the day


Reading s for next Sunday