Friday, December 31, 2010

The Christmas Prayer

Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas can include the following:
  • We don't always get a 2nd Sunday after Christmas
  • so our reflections about Christmas an be curtailed
  • which is rather a pity because the readings for today are terrific.
  • They tell us about the wonder of what God is doing
  • in the birth of Jesus
  • Through Jeremiah he says:
  • I am bringing my people home
  • those who are weeping will know true consolation
  • We shall be filled with rejoicing
  • and everything will be brought to a wonderful completion.
  • This message is for you and me
  • it is for all God's people
  • All will be well, and all will be well
  • and all manner of things will be well
  • to quote Mother Julian of Norwich
  • And St Paul reminds us that God's work in our life is not accidental
  • we are chosen in Christ
  • not just today
  • but before the foundation of the world.
  • We are called into the closest relationship with God
  • like children and parents.
  • This is lavished upon us.
  • We are part of God's plan for abundant life
  • for eternal life
  • this God pledges to us
  • as free gift.

    A gift fit for kings
  • What often supplants this 2nd Sunday of Christmas
  • is the feast of the Epiphany
  • when we particularly recall the visit of the Wise Men
  • The lavish gifts that they bring
  • remind us that what God is giving to us
  • is of great value
  • it is abundant life, it is of spiritual depth;
  • and it traverses the grave
  • This is not very different from what we are celebrating today.
  • The free gift of abundant life
  • Grace upon grace
  • which comes when we know Jesus.
  • Our prayer today
  • is the same as it was on Christmas Day
  • Open yourself to the gift of God
  • let this be your prayer this Christmas (and indeed every day)
  • Christ I receive this gift
  • Christ I want this gift
  • Christ you are the gift.
The sacrament of Holy Communion
we call it the Real Present
is the outward and visible sign of what God is offering you and me
as you make your communion today
pray to receive this gift with grace
not reluctantly, or embarrassedly
but gladly.
As God gives us freely act of grace...
Receive that gift graciously
and well.
Recommit yourself to Jesus today

    • Christ I receive this gift
    • Christ I want this gift
    • Christ you are the gift

  • s

Thursday, December 30, 2010

And grace upon grace....

The Funeral of Molly Carvosso

All Hallows’ Blackwood, 31st December 2010

1Peter 1:3-6; John 6:35-40

A lot of careless words are spoken at funerals

Often, and almost always, this is done with the best of intentions

We could be pardoned for thinking

that our beloved Molly

will soon rival Mary MacKillop as Australia’s chief saint!

I certainly have something in me that thinks of Molly like this today!

I suspect she would be the first to think this was hilarious

There is a serious side to this

It is not authentically Christian

to try and whitewash a person

at their funeral

so that we can believe

with confidence

that they are going to be with Jesus

in heaven

We must resist at all costs

the temptation to paint Molly in such a light

that God should consider himself lucky

that such a high quality candidate

is deigning to enter heaven.

Yet we often talk like this.

Molly, as I say, would find this hilarious!

With her wry smile and impish look

she would say to me when I would be pulling her leg

“Ahh go on with you, don’t be so silly”

Molly knew, as we should be glad to know.

If we have to be perfect to get into heaven

then none of us ever gets there.

We hear Peter tell us today that it’s not what we have done, but what we believe

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

It is as the hungry we come to Christ,

and find that he feeds us with the bread of life.

That as we believe in him

so we may have eternal life.

Earlier in John’s Gospel

(which we recall at this Christmas time)

We hear God saves us not because we deserve it

but because God wants it

not because we are so good that we earn merit

but by God’s grace.

Grace is the word of Christmas

it means FREE GIFT

all these gifts that we get at Christmas

are not because it is jesus’s birthday

but to celebrate that our God is the god who gives.

And John says it’s not just “grace”

It’s “grace upon grace”

Today, Molly would laugh

at being good enough to get into heaven.

But she also knew

that God loves her

because God wants to love her.

She wants each one of us to know that today.

God wants to love you.

It’s grace…and not just grace…but grace upon grace upon grace.

Not just Molly, but each one of us. Today is a good day to turn and receive that free gift

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dreaming of Easter

The Churches looks terrific at Christmas
Chief amongst our decorations at All Hallows this year
is a stark wooden treetop
with bright red balls decorating its austerity.
Not being the instigator or creator of this artistic expression
My first reaction was to wonder what the symbolism might be.
And R, the artist's wife, said to me..."It's the drops of blood"
This seems far removed from Christmas
and more fitting for Good Friday and Easter
but there is an ancient and venerable tradition
of linking or foreshadowing Easter at Christmas
Often in paintings of the stable at Bethlehem
you look into the distance
and there you see
three crosses on a distant hill.
It is like "Love and Marriage"
You can't have one without the other.
I don't expect the world to get this.
But Christians should readily understand
that true love
is not just about parties and celebration
not just about tinsel and presents.
True love, which we celebrate
at Christmas
is also about passion, sacrifice and, often, pain
which we focus on at Easter.
If we are to truly open ourselves to love
then we will be opening ourselves to the possibility
even the likelihood
that we will be hurt.
Love is a risky business.
It is so often why people hold themselves back.
And so often why our love is shallow or non-existence.
Every parent knows that the child they love so much
can also be the source of the greatest pain.
And every lover
knows that it is the person who they love
who can hurt them the most.
We do not need to bemoan this at Christmas
but rather to recognise
that Christmas
is on the road to Easter.
That the Christmas Tree
prefigures the Cross.
That the manger is also the wood
of the tree where Christ is crucified.
Christmas is beginning, the birth.
Easter is the climax. And the fulfilment.
May we look forward with joy
to true love.
And pray that we may have the grace to endure it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Strange encounters of the Godly kind!

The Archbishop of Canterbury writing in The Radio Times says about Christmas
the story says that something is happening that will break boundaries and cross frontiers, so that the most unlikely people will find they are looking for the same thing and recognise each other instead of fearing each other.
He is particularly reflecting about the curious situations
we find ourselves in at Christmas time
He tells the story of being invited whilst recently in India
to bless the Christmas pudding mixture
as the staff of a local hotel prepare to make the first batch
which he does to the blaring sounds of Jingle Bells
We probably all have little stories to tell (perhaps not quite so glaring)
of strange encounters.
  • People we only see once a year
  • Some people who we know will not be with us for another Christmas
  • Strange incidents that happen when we get together...sometimes for good and for ill
Christmas is full of these and like Rowan Williams
we will recognise
hat the most unlikely people will find they are looking for the same thing and recognise each other instead of fearing each other.
There is a group of shepherds, rough men who sleep out in the open.
Who have to drink to keep warm at night
Who see some blinding lights in the sky
and rush to witness
the birth of a baby.
There is a woman who gets pregnant before she is married
and her fiance who knows he is not the father.
There are three dignified gentleman
who are dark and mysterious
who have come from a long way away
in search of something
and carrying rich treasure.
There is another king
who is so fearful
that, we are told, he orders the slaughter of many children
in order to try and prevent a rival claim to his throne.

What is it that they seek?
What, we might ask, do we seek at Christmas time?
It is, of course, God
We may not always name it as such.
But we seek that which will satisfy our deepest longings and needs.
It is unlikely therefore to be a new bicycle
a diamond ring, or even an iPad.
We all know
that as as desirable as these things are they are fleeting
and will break, or wear out.
We can damage or lose them
just as easily as we get them.
We can have the biggest and best
and there can still be an empty void inside us.
We find it rather frightening
that we can have lots of stuff
and yet we are still not fulfilled.

So at Christmas we see some pointers
Chiefly, we see a person Jesus Christ.
Our ultimate fulfilment will come about
when we know Jesus
as friend and brother.
As you come to receive Communion today
pray that you may know Jesus anew.
John tells us that this knowledge
is not earned or even deserved
but that it is a is grace, free, grace upon grace.

Chiefly, too, we find Jesus revealed as a child
reminding us that for many, probably most of us
this grace will be experienced through our human relationships
and perhaps we need to note
that it is not the bitter and twisted relationships of the adult
that we sometimes presume to call sophisticated
but rather the open trusting relationship of the child
that better reveals how we might experience God.

Some of us find our family and human relationships really hard.
Christmas gives us an opportunity to begin again
to try a little harder
This doesn't so much make it easy
as make it possible to try again.
Don't miss the opportunity.
And so we find
the most unlikely people, you and me, will find we are looking for the same thing
Jesus Christ, God made man,
and then we recognise each other instead of fearing

Sunday, December 12, 2010

O what a gift! Emmanuel! God with us!

Reading for Sunday 19th December 2010: Advent 4 (also known as O Root of Jesse-O Radix!!) Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25
I like young kids
It is perhaps a politically incorrect thing to say.
I am now the oldest male in my generation of my family
So when we gather at Christmas and other times
that I have become a patriarch!
Each of these last few days has a special title
or antiphon which is sung.
The one we know best is ...O Emmanuel! God with us
But today is called O Root of Jesse (in latin..O Radix)
It sings of how Jesus has his foundation and roots
deep within the human family. The tree of Jesse.
It is about how God is God, deep within the human condition and purpose.
But let me go back to O Emmanuel-God with us
A few years ago I had a wonderful encounter with a class
of 5-7 year olds from St Peter's School, Blackwood
as we sat in the church
and talked about what we could see.
Chief amongst these things was a bird which had flown into the church.
We had a most alive conversation about what you do when a bird flies into your house!
One little girl told me "I can speak to birds"
and after they had left she offered to stay and tell the bird to leave.

There is something alive and fresh about these naive conversations
So it is not surprsing to encounter at the heart of the discourses
about God's salvation of the world
That the prophet Isaiah should remind us that the surest sign
that God is with us -Emmanuel-
(this is the word of Christmas)
and the sign is: that a woman will bear a child.

Not the most spectacular of signs
not a volcano, a burning bush, or an ark or a transfiguration
But perhaps the most alive sign
a human being has
is the birth of a child

The Christmas Bowl reminds us that
the aid that we give to communities overseas
will secure the future of children
pure water, economic security
is about the world we need to establish for children

We are challenged by Anglicare
and our own local Beacon
to offer small offerings of food
and gifts
for people right in our midst
who are at risk.
God's work...the Emmanuel work..
of Christmas,
will be about the realities of our life.
These realities are most sharply focussed
through the lens of our children.

The surest sign that God is with us
is that a young woman will give birth.
How does this speak to your life?
What have you made of Christmas so far....
do you hear the voice of the child speaking to you?
What is he saying?
What does she tell you
about the birdsong that she can utter?
About the dreams that they hold
about what we need to do
to nurture them
and create a world fit for children.

O Radix Jesse,Radixjesse
qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos,
jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse,
standing as an ensign before the peoples,
before whom all kings are mute,
to whom the nations will do homage;
Come quickly to deliver us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Here comes the bride

A sermon preached at Sarah and Dénes Wedding, Saturday December 11th, 2010 at St Augustine’s Church, Unley

Colossians 3:12-17 & Mark 10:6-9

Families are curious.

…but I will save that for later

I have had some difficulty

separating my priestly role

from my fatherly role.

This is the role of the preacher!

We have had a busy couple of weeks

preparing for this important day.

When we gather for a marriage

we are celebrating

one of God’s mysteries

and the mystery is this:

God made us male and female

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

and the two shall become one flesh.

So they are no longer two but one flesh.

The mystery, as Jesus tells us, is that two human beings

are so closely united together when they marry

that they become one.

The products of wildly different and very curious families

are called to be one.

Not by one of them being diminished

and trying to become like the other.

But both, by giving themselves to each other,

become part of something new.

And far from their person being diminished

they are actually increased.

That’s what we call the theology, or theory, of marriage.

St Paul tells Christians about how to engage with this practically.

He uses the language of surrender and submission,

a husband and wife are called

not to selfishly pursue their own ends

but, rather, to see as their first duty

the love, care and nurture of their spouse.

Paul says, we hear today…you must bear with another

(not bully the other into submission)

You must forgive as God forgives you

totally and without game-playing.

And you must express your thankfulness

for each other and to God.

And you must sing….this is likely to happen Dénes

Ohh this is likely to happen,,,but I am slipping into my fatherly role.

it will be a sign of great joy

it will also be a sign of warning

that attention needs to be paid

and you will have to learn Dénes how to sing

and Sarah how to hear Dénes’s singing

which may be different from yours

less in tune,

it may perhaps look like drawing or writing

This may seem like an impossible task

but let us rather see it as a gift and a challenge

from God

to enable you, Dénes Nagy

and you, Sarah Clark

not particularly by our own efforts

though we are to try our hardest

and be at our best (not always possible)

(this is where …bearing with one another and forgiving comes in)

but by recognising that God is working something new in you

So St Paul gives his key advice

what ever you do

Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus

If you allow the Spirit of Jesus to dwell in you

and in your family

then we can be sure that together we will sing.

May God bless your life together.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Absolutely magnificent

Readings for this Sunday, 12th December 2010 Advent 3. Isaiah 35:1-10, Magnificat Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
The prophet Isaiah says...Thus says the Lord
My ways are not your ways, and your ways are not my ways(Is 55:8-10)
This theme is particularly apparent in the great seasons like Advent.
God does not do things in the way that we seem to think
they should be done
The king is not only not born in a palace
he is also conceived out of wedlock
and his mother is in danger of not actually being able to marry at all
and provide the necessary security for her son.
It almost seems a rule
that what ever way we expect things to be done
God's way will be different
This is not because of some sort of perversity
on the part of God
who is just being contrary.
It is rather a fundamental statement
about how poorly we succeed
at understanding the will of God at all.
So it is hardly surprising that the words we hear
being spoken
are challenging
our very established and unimaginative ways of thinking
about life and about God.
This may often escape our attention
as we hear words that we have heard many times before.
Such are those words (well-known to Anglicans)
we hear spoken by Mary
as she commits herself to cooperate with the the will of God.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
There are a few shocks in the song that she sings
....from this day all generations will call me blessed.
Women are often perceived by society
as secondary people
this much is known to us
Not so in God's world.
God says to each woman you are holy!
If I say nothing else to each of you here today
it is that
But can we also say
that God does not make the sort of judgment on the umnarried pregnant girl
that we so often rush to make!
...this day God says to women, and to those with child
You are blessed.

My ways, are not your ways
If we think that pride, arrogance and self-promotion
are the way to go
then Mary's song reminds us that
God is on the side of the humble and meek
he has an option for the poor
and we who are rich need to be particularly cautious.
The world's ways are about reputation, power and influence
God's are about humility, compassion and concern.

The world is totally seduced by greed
and the need to be rich
But God's promise is to stand alongisde those who are poor.

Great encouragement
We need to hear these words for what they are.
Great encouragement.
They are revealing to us truths that the world does not readily appreciate.

John says to the people who went out to see him.
Did you come out into the desert execyting to be told that you had got it right
What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

No he says, you went out looking for God.

You come to church (presumably)
Or you read these words
Not to be told that you have got it right

But to be confronted by God
to hear what God says to your heart.
He ways are not yours
You need some education in my will.
Those who you tend to reject...the poor, women, the illegitimate
They are the ones I take and bless.
My understanding rather turns the world upside down.

Many heard John and Jesus
and turned away
because they did not want hear the message
that confronted their lifestyle.
Others found that their life was transformed.

Which are you?

This week
  • Pray for insight to seeGod where God is least likely to be found
  • Ask the Spirit to show you where you need to change and affirm God in the unexpected place.
We praise you Lord
as we see you confront our popular misconceptions.
As you turn aside from injustice and greed and
bless the cause of the powerless and poor.
Give us the courage of Christmas to do that too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving peace a chance

Reflections for Sunday 5th December, 2010. Advent 2 Is 11:1-10, Ps 72: 1-7, 18-19;Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
One of the great themes of Christmas and Advent is the reign of peace that is to be ushered in by this new king
Peace is not a difficult concept to grasp though we need to be careful to do it justice
In the Hebrew Scriptures the word we use is "shalom"
it speaks of a peace which is not just the absence of war
but a time of harmony, justice and prosperity
for all people
We would hardly say that we live in a time of peace
because if harmony, justice and prosperity are the measures
then none of these seem to fully exist at this point in history.
At most what we seem to be able to achieve
is a closed world in which we shut ourselves in.
But this shallow view of peace
is not the shalom
that is being talked about here.
It is not the peace with which we greet each other when we say
The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Peace at all times and in all ways
A couple of ideas that may help us think of peace-shalom
Because we are overwhelmed by how to bring about peace in Afghanistan or Iraq or Pakistan
we seem to think that we cannot do anything at all, ever.
But of course the very fact that biblical peace is about how life is lived
must bear fruit in the way we actually live.
As the song puts it
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me
It is easy to invite someone else to do the hard yards;
but the call of the gospel
first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus himself
is to lay into it ourselves.
We are to be righteous, holy and active in living our life.
And not leave it up to someone else.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me

How to begin
Paul talks in Ephesians (picking up Isaiah) about
peace to those who are far off
and peace to those are near
most of us will need to focus on the near rather than the far.
It is those who are near who affect our shalom.
Yes we need to forgive and seek to be forgiven
in Advent in order that there may be genuine peace!
Do not let this week go without paying some attention to that!

But we also thought last week about one of the major contributing factors
to the lack of peace
and that is poverty.
It is often noted
that what underlies the East-West bitterness
is not so much the Muslim-Christian-Hindu-Jewish-Buddhist division
but the rich-poor divide
Iran and Iraq and anti-Western hatreds are fuelled by the great inequalities
We HAVE and they HAVE-NOT.
If we threw the energies and money into addressing inequalities
rather than in waging war at the cost of billions upon billions of dollars,
if we took seriously the addressing of poverty;
then the fomenting of hatred becomes harder
because most people long
not for domination
but that there may be peace on earth.

So we are invited to give some of what we HAVE
which seems like little
and place it in the Christmas Bowl
or wherever we want to help

We can lament that governments can give millions and billions
(and maybe we need to be articulating this more strongly
and advocating for more overseas aid)
and we only give tens and hundreds but we hear that refrain
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
We are called to be signs and sacraments of what God wants to happen.

We are struck as we read of the John the Baptist in Matthew that he is strident
he says Do this!
the Lord requires that an axe be laid into the situation
that we not just water it
but allow the Spirit to consume it like a ferocious fire.

Wherever else we can strive for peace,
we should!
Do not be seduced by the shallow Christmas
but hear the call for real and genuine peace.
It has some sense of rigour about it.
We should look both close and far off
but let us hear that song....
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

O come, o come Emmanuel!

There is a renewed sense of purpose and focus today as we begin the formal preparation for the celebration of Christmas
These four weeks of Advent are often marked by candle-lighting ceremonies.
Each week an extra candle is lit so that by the time we pass through the four weeks there is a wreath of four purple candles alight
which are finally crowned with a white or gold Christmas candle
So it's a funny little series of ceremonies, perhaps indicating to us that there is more to this bizarre little season than just random trinkets and the clash of ideas.
It moves on and draws us in, first a little way and then a little further....we are being invited to not just sit back and play games
That is the the substance of the readings today.
To remind us that we are in the middle of God's work
that it invites us to full participation
and we should not just sit back and be detached.

Don't spend your cash on all sorts trash
In our family, like most I suppose,
the giving of gifts is not without its problems
(this is rather ironic but fairly universal)
but in the spirit of Advent
as we are caught up in God's work
the challenge to us is to make response
and to get that response right
The Gospel (in particular) invites us to respond
and respond NOW!
Who knows, the image goes, this may be the day when everything will be brought to conclusion
and there will be some sifting
some will be chosen
and some will be left.
We are not to get too literal about this,
but rather to understand the principle
that with this sense of urgency
we are to live our lives
in the present
and strive to get it right today.
To, as it were, live this day as if it were our last.

How, therefore, we might ask in this busy little season
might this impact on us?
we might in general, I suggest,
strive to get things right the first time.
We might not procrastinate.
We might seek to act now, rather than wait until next year.
In a more bold sense, perhaps we may be prepared to risk a little more.

I want only to think about giving this morning
but there may be other more urgent dimensions of your life
that need attention.

Christmas Bowl
Traditionally, we set before ourselves the at home and overseas work of the Christmas Bowl at this time
Christian World Service, of the National Council of Churches
invites us to support the work that we do as Christians together
This is us saying that one of the clear messages we hear at Christmas
is care for the poor, reach out to the stranger and the destitute.
This is not an unfamiliar message
and I urge you to support that generously.
Once a guide was given to us to consider giving in the Christmas Bowl
as much as it would cost for a person at your Christmas Dinner table.
Maybe we are too frightened to work out the cost of our Christmas diunner!

The Local Church
For us this year, we have already talked about the need to support our local church community.
We face a challenge just to pay our way here
our life together is supported by a commitment to give generously.
Put simply, we exist financially as a parish
because we commit to give.
Each of us must examine our commitment to give
and do what we believe God requires of us.
for us at this time, our estimate is that we need to do something about our local giving
pretty urgently.
It is certainly one of those areas
where assuming there is a tomorrow
is a mistake
and where we need to challenge ourselves
to do as much as we can
not as little as we can.

It is, as I was alluding before in the area of presents,
where we become fixated.
We can be generous, we can be mean
we can be thoughtful, or thoughtless
We can mistake value for cost,
and we can make the mistake of thinking that giving
is about the gift
instead of the person.

What if we were to ask ourselves some key questions
as we wrap our presents?
like...what will this present say to this person about how I really feel about them
and..what will this gift communicate to the one who receives it about God and the meaning of Christmas?

We have time....maybe...
in this season as we give thanks for all that God is doing
To take care to do Christmas right.

Can we respond with the Christmas Bowl, to the local church
and can our gifts truly express the spirit of Christmas