Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aulder Acquaintances!

There are many readings for the Sunday after Christmas which today falls on 27th December. This is also the day of the beloved patron of this parish of St John Coromandel. Readings for today can include: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148;Colossians 3:12-17;Luke 2:41-52
You could take 10 minutes each day to read one of the passages and listen to the God who speaks to us through the scriptures
(some will appreciate the call to servanthood that is in the obscure picture!!!)

I hope you have been enjoying this rich time of year.
The Church's calendar invites us to keep this as a range of Festivals:
St John, The Holy Family, The Sunday after Christmas,...and of course we are thinking about the coming New Year!

All of these have about them the sense of new beginnings.
So we naturally are drawn to reflect on how we respond.
What might be our resolutions?
Most of us are not particularly good at keeping these,
so much so that they are often the cause for laughter.
What if we were to take our reading today from Colossians 3
and see that here there are a whole series of new beginnings being set our for us to act upon
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This agenda is almost as challenging as Copenhagen!
There is a range of things we could focus on as our resolutions
...not just for the New Year but for our Christian life.
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;

The image of putting on new clothing is a popular one that Paul uses.
It is about the outward appearance that we project to others
and also about the way we keep ourselves secure and intact!
Paul sees
  • kindness,
  • humility, gentleness
  • and patience
to be the hallmarks of the Christian.

I had a very intellectual friend once who was really too smart for his own good.
But he also had a great sense of priority
and he would say...if it was a choice between being intellectual and being kind
then being kind was the way to go
We often forget that.
We justify unkindness, impatience, intolerance
in all sorts of rationalistic ways but we hear the Gospel point us elsewhere.
This year can we we see that it is kindness, humility, and patience
that are meant to draw us and lead us on

as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
New beginning will also need to be about forgiveness
We all carry a burden of the unforgiving heart
of those who have hurt us recently or a long time ago,
the Gospel tells us that in order to be free ourselves
we need to forgive
where are you being called to forgive at this new beginning?
And will you do it?

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,

It comes as no suprise to us that the Gospel points us towards love as the key.
Not the mushy sort of slush,
or the sexy kind of imaginary stuff that is often exploitative
and may even steer us to sinfulness
but rather the self-giving love
of parents towards a child
of one who gives themself for another
We see in Jesus the ideal of love that we are called to.
it binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Finally Paul reminds us
that we are called to be in relationship with Christ.
The fruit of this will be peace, stability, harmony...who of us does not want this?
let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
and Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;

Here Paul would appear to be talking both about that word that we read
which teaches and admonishes us in all wisdom;
and fills our hearts with praise

but it is also about whatever you do, in word or deed,
we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
All this might seem a tall order
but it is the way of the true disciple
the way we are called to follow.
It is not so resolutions
as ongoing resolutions
The character of the life of faith
that we seek to form in ourselves and in each other.

  • kindness and humility
  • forgiveness
  • love and peace
  • relationship with Christ
A prayer for the New Year
In a stable in Bethlehem, Lord, you show us a humility that we find overwhelming and wonderful
In the gift and mystery of human life togetther, you show us kindness, love and peace
And you invite us to live creatively in harmony with you and with each other.
Let this year be the year when we will dwell richly with Christ
and Christ will be born anew in our lives. Amen

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eat, Pray, Love- some reflections for Christmas

There are many readings for the services of Christmas have a look for example at Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2.
Also Matthew 1, and John 1 give us the perspective of the other evangelists
One of the popular books doing the rounds is Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray,Love"
It is the story of how a woman attempts to put her life back together after a particularly messy relationship breakdown
And she identifies these three components
Eat, Pray, and Love
as key components of the healing
she was able to gain.
It strikes me that this is also something we can think about as we approach Christmas
Because it is a time when we are drawn
To eat, to pray and to love.
These are part of the fundamental invitations to life
that Christmas seems to be about.
Thrown back on her own resources, Gilbert discovers
that it is in sharing time with other people
over food
that she is able to regain the balance of her life.
Most of us will spend a special time today eating with family and friends.
But we have come to live in a world
that seems to have forgotten that this is not just a convenience
it is a necessity.
To take time to eat together
is an important, restorative and human thing to do.
It is no surprise that as we come to worship
we are reminded of Jesus's eating with us his disciples.
We not only satisfy our bodies but we encounter God
and are fed spiritually.

Gilbert also realises that there is a need to take time
to attend to the spirit
to be with God
for her she uses the word "pray"
as a sort of shorthand.
What she is getting at is that each of us needs to attend to
the Spirit of God within us.
To take time each day to be in touch with God.
Some of us find this easy
some of us find this hard or foreign.
Gilbert's advice is good advice...
...I am not sure about this but if I have a need
then let me just put it out there before God...
I have faith enough to know that this sort of process works
not because we pray
but because God is faithful.
As we come to Church today
for a whole range of reasons
can I invite you to "put it out there before God"
As the shepherds come to the stable
they do not really know what is going to happen
the wise men think they know
but they don't fully understand
what we all encounter as we come to God
is that we are moved on
Deepened, changed.

What we, like Gilbert, go on to discover
is that if we pay attention to the ordinary stuff of life
(like eating)
if we put it out there before God
(called praying)
then the transformation come through the third possibility
which is Love.
That in the ordinary we find we can love and are loved.
It is what parents, like Joseph and Mary, very quickly discover
they can love their children in a way they never imagined.
We discover that we are capable of taking risks
and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable
and rather than avoiding each other
by fast food with no possibility of human encounter;
or by paying no attention to our inner life
through prayer and drawing close to God.
That if we allow ourselves to challenge those shallownesses
we discover a new depth and meaning of life
called LOVE.

This Christian sacrament, a simple meal
reminds us that
Christ's broken body is shared
not sadistically
but so that we might also be encouraged to break ourselves open
to Eat together and share our lives,
to "put it out there" before God
and allow the possibility of a deeper spirit
through prayer
or however we name it.
And at Christmas to name the possibility of love.
Love which will enliven, strengthen and change us.
May we all eat well, pray well, and love well
this and every day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Meditation

I like to call this picture "The Miraculous Icon of Coromandel".
It was painted by children in the Kidsplus Group under the guidance of Jenny Poole and it sits outside St John's Coromandel Valley during the Advent and Christmas season.
Is it 'miraculous'?
Well Christmas is certainly a great spiritual gift.
You can reflect on this picture or any other for 5 or 10 minutes and allow God to miraculously give himself or herself to you

Sit down quietly and pray for openness to the Spirit of God

What am I most grateful for about the last day? What does this tell me about my life? How can I nurture this seed of insight?

Take some time to look at the details of this picture.

You don't need to judge whether they are good or bad, note the characters, the animals. Do you like the colours? Can you get a sense of the smell or the noise that is happening here?

How is Mary feeling? And what might Joseph be saying to her?

Is there something as you sit and take this scene in that particularly speaks to your life at this moment?

Take a few moments to share with God what you are thinking, feeling, hoping about Christmas

Talk with God, or Mary or Joseph.

Say quietly as you end this reflection:







If you find this meditation style helpful and need more assistance please email me

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Through the magnifying glass

Christmas invites us to look closely at God. Perhaps through a magnifying glass, taking care to note what we often don't see and need to actually deliberately look at.
In this final week of Advent we hear the words of Magnificat...Luke 1:39-55...which Mary is recorded as saying when she came to understand what God was asking of her. This is a particular reflection on those words

Some commentators suggest that
coming as it does at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel
The Magnificat (this name comes about because of the first line..My soul magnifies the glory of the Lord)
it is presented as something of a manifesto
of what Luke believes God is doing
through the saving act of Jesus
My soul magnifies the Lord
We are being invited to look closely
at what God is doing
So often the real problem
is not that people reject God
but that we don’t even care.
It is not so much antipathy/hatred, as APATHY

Or maybe like the wise men we look in the wrong place.
We want God to be in spectacle and power
but he is in the wonder of a child.
When we get this, we realise that maybe we have been looking in the wrong places
If we take care we see that there are many places where we can give thanks
that he has looked with favour on us
If you are like me, my problem is that often the woes of this world
so weigh me down that I lose sight of the fact
that God sustains and upholds me
powerfully and abundantly.
That the problems don’t really disappear
but we see amidst all the mess
that there is grace...the gift of God
Usually in the gift of people,
in unwarranted kindness
in generosity of spirit
In fact John tells us that there is not just grace but grace upon grace
This grace is not about making the successful more successful
or the strong stronger
but the new creation is about
lifting up the lowly
aiding the weak
We are easily seduced by power and fame
but there is something new here
This is God’s promise to us.
St James reminds us that we often don’t
avail ourselves of God’s promise

  • Can we hear a call to give thanks to God for what is happening day to day?
  • Can we find a way to be an agent of caring for those for whom God cares?Not the rich and famous but the weak and downcast
This is not difficult to understand
It is sometimes difficult to implement because we have our own agenda
and we do not hear God’s radical manifesto
and call on our lives
WE are not required to turn the world upside down
But God is acting differently and we choose to be God’s people.

On being full of grace

The funeral service says (quoting the spirit of the psalm) "In the midst of life we are in death", if not 'death' then we have a fair bit of trouble and mess.
In all this comes a message that God deals graciously with us.

Some Readings for this fourth and last week of Advent...some readings are: Micah 5:2-5; Luke 2; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55
For me this season, whilst not being easy. has been one that is rich in experience
and encounters.
We often have to dialogue with death and dying,
we all have to engage with the complexity of our human relationships
and there is a richness of imagery that abounds
and of course all the wonderful words, spoken and sung.

This is necessary, but not always positive;
some people (research tells us) find Christmas very stressful.

One of the recurring themes of Advent is GRACE
This is a "buzz word", of course,
and easily glossed over.
Grace is about the free gift of God
of life itself.
God gives himself, his life to us
in these and many other ways
all the time
powerfully, intimately, gently, abundantly.

The readings point us to a number of different aspects of this.
God gives his grace to the world
We live in a gift of a world.
As our eyes turn to Bethlehem
we are also reminded how human beings
sometimes are hell-bent [advised use of words!] on destroying the giftedness
we have received from God.
Pray for peace in Bethlehem
that they may know the peace that Jesus bring.

Not easy work

The writer of Hebrews reminds us
that the era of grace in which we now live
is a new era
In theological terms, we are in a new era
because the death and resurrection of Jesus
have put us in a new place.
What this might remind us of is that
grace does not just happen accidently
it is as a response of God's deliberate action
While God's grace is abundant and plentiful
It will not just overwhelm us in in our lives
we need to open ourselves to it
and also be responsive to it.
That is; Grace is given, freely given
do we accept this free gift of God's love.

As you reflect on these last 3 or 4 weeks and the richness of experience
what is God calling you to respond to.
Have you responded? Will you respond?

It is likely that we see the gracious gift of people.
Have we taken time to think on this?
How is God calling us to respond to those who he gives us.
Not always easy, but part of the way that we are called to grow into the personhood that God has in store for us.

The theme character for this week is Mary
It is interesting to hear the classical words
that often refer to her.
They are contained in the angel's greeting to her in that house in Nazareth
as she goes about her daily business.
"Hail Mary full of grace"
Don't let anti-Catholic prejudice blind us to the fact that these words come straight from the Bible themselves.
What the angel says to Mary, Gid says to all of us.
Hail full of grace!!
Each one of us has a life full of grace.
It is not the easy cheap grace that titillates us, or makes us feel tipsy
Sometimes it is deeply sad and confronting,
ALWAYS it is drawing us closer to God
and making us more fully human.

What has God been saying to you this season?
Where are you called to respond more freely to God's giftedness
is God saying, perhaps, ....there is someone you need to forgive, or someone whose forgiveness you need to seek
Does God set before you a lonely person to whom you can be a grace?
Is there a situation that you need to resolve?
Is there a freedom that is summoning you?

Will you take this gift, this offer of freedom and embrace it?

As Mary is confronted by the Angel...Hail full of grace!
and as she responds...saying be it done to me according to your word
so the angel says to her this new promise, The Lord be with you
The gift, the grace, the promise of Christmas
as we open ourselves to the sometimes, often, maybe even usually difficult of grace
we encounter Immanuel- God with us
The gift is here, accept it...full of grace
And May the Lord be with you.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, 13th December 2009: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Some people rail against the proliferation of religious self-help groups.
As one who encourages people to be introspective I hear them say
"What are these people looking at? What are they trying to find?...Looking at themselves!! As far as I can see"
They may have a point.
Many of us religious people get sidetracked looking only at ourselves.
The genuine religious pursuit, when we encounter it, must inevitably turn us outwards.
I am struck, for example, by two or three great figures of the last 50 years
who have striven to encourage people to turn inward and learn to pray deeply.
Some such are Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, I think also of Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, and Jean Vanier.
There are many others who have perhaps not caught the public imagination in quite the same way.
All of these people advocate a strong internal, reflective life.
And yet all of them were pushed increasingly outside their cocoon towards an active, converting ministry which many people (myself included) find profoundly attractive.
Nouwen, for example, ( perhaps the most popular of these) gave the final years of his life to looking after a profoundly disabled man on a one to one basis.

Many thought this was a waste of a brilliant intellect and a gifted author.
Nouwen, however, saw it as the climax of his life in God, and you detect in his writing about this young man he cared for, Adam, a much profounder encounter with God and life than any of his other masterly writings were able to convey.

The movement
This is precisely the direction that we are moved in at this point in Advent.
not towards a fanciful introspection
or a sort of namby pamby Christmas card view of life
in which "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world" as Browning penned
Rather we hear Zephaniah
talking about the establishment of a real earthly kingdom in which the marginalised,
the poor, disabled, weak and outcast
will be cared for and will be secure (hardly a view of our present world)
We hear John the Baptist in inviting people to prepare for the coming of a Messiah
telling them that it is not just about a narrow religious practice
rather it is about practical expressions
...We should share, we should be honest, we should not cheat
This is a far cry from the sort of introspection that the self righteous agnostics often quite rightly condemn, which is inward looking and self-obsessed
Likewise in one of the the purple passages we hear Paul saying to us that we need to orientate ourselves in the right way
and he uses the word rejoice to describe that orientation.
It is worth reflecting about the absolute nature of this practice of "rejoicing"
Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication
and the fruit of this is that Lord will become near
and we will discover this profound peace...which passes understanding...
that we long for.

So, misericordiae mea, I have to admit that the angry old agnostics may have got it right.
They are right to rail about the self indulgent, inward looking that passes for a lot of genuine faith today.
It is shallow, and to be despised.
But it is not what the Gospel advocates either!
The true life of faith will indeed seek to pray seriously anbd carefully
But that commitment will orientate towards others in a spirit of compassion and hope.

This week in Advent

  1. Try to find a time to be quiet to God and make a commitment to try to pray better
  2. In that time look not only at how God leads you in, but also where God is drawing you out. What act of service, care of compassion (plenty of opportunity in this week prior to Christmas) is being set before you? Why not try to do it?
  3. In the spirit of Rejoicing! give thanks to God for anything that stands out as an opportunity for life rather than death.