Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This is the last supper

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This passage is an important one in understanding who Christ is and how he works. It makes no bones about the fact that Jesus is "the form of God" (the argument is probably about what that means).

Christians came to understand that in this person, Jesus Christ, God is uniquely revealed.
To put it simply if we want to know what God is like then we have a human picture. Jesus is what John Robinson and others called "The Human Face of God".

Paul tells us in this passage from Philippians 2 a number of important things about how this equality with God works.

First, although equal with God, Jesus chose to empty himself of his "Godliness".

Thus we see the Christ who heals, teaches and who is in touch with God is one who is operating out of his humanity.

A perfect humanity at that.

This suggests to us that there is within us the capacity to be as Christ. We do not have to become God, because Jesus is acting out of his humanity having emptied himself of his Godliness.

Second, although being equal with God puts Jesus in a position of power. He chooses not to act out of that power. Rather he empties himself and opens himself to humiliation, slavery and ultimately death.

Although we are often tempted to use our power to get what we want done. This does not appear to be the way of Jesus, he emptied himself.

Is there here an invitation in following Christ to deliberately and radically set aside our power?
Are there situations, relationships and issues that we are presently confronting where we should "empty ourselves" of all but love?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beginning the journey again

There is more than abundance of Scripture to read during this season.We begin Holy Week on 28th March with Palm Sunday. The Liturgy of the Palms which is a prelude to the main liturgy of the day ( Luke 19:28-40;Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29) and read as part of a procession before the service begins. The Liturgy of the Passion involves the reading of the Passion Story according to Luke (Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49) Just take it slowly and read what you can /what you feel moved to but try to allow yourself to be drawn into the personal mystery of what God is doing for the world and in your life
Another Palm Sunday Homily is here

Is God so demanding that he will not stop until we are totally destroyed.
Sometimes it feels like that.
As Sunday begins with a "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem
we can spend time wondering what the nature of this event was
It is good to be accurate, but not good to nit-pick.
The truth is that the Gospels offer us variety in the accounts and insights of the last few days.
The Palm Sunday story is one full of hope and expectation
The Good Friday is one of confusion and desolation
The Easter story is one of excitement, uncertainty and expectation.

It is a journey to be travelled
we do not stand still
we are engaged powerfully
because this journey of hopeful expectation, of desolation and confusion
is exactly what our lives our like.
Whether it be our excitement at the birth of a child,
or our desolation when a child is miscarried.
Or a job that is exactly what we hoped for
but is cut short by a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating car accident.
Even if it is only the hope that we have when we are young
that fails to be realised
when we are old

This is a journey that we all make

We are invited, too, by the Easter experience
to realise that dashed hopes, desolation and confusion
are only a step along the way
They are not the climax or the conclusion.
These stories fill us with a sense of excitement, challenge and expectation
that we are entering uncharted waters.

as we look at our life
where is the sense of hopefulness.
What do we long for, what fulfillment do we seek?
This is Palm Sunday.
We don't need to anticipate Good Friday yet.
What do we believe God is trying to do in our life
what do we want God to do?
What sense of excitement, hope, fear
do we note as we sense what God might have in store for us?
What encourages us forward,
what holds us back.

Allow this week to be a time of challenge and exploration
as we permit God to show us more of what there is in store for us
and pray for grace to respond.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Outrageous living

The readings for Sunday 21st March 2010. Lent 5 (formerly known as Passion Sunday) Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

This story (John 12:1-8) in which a woman pours strong perfumed oil over Jesus, spikenard (here), always reminds me of an incident with our eldest child who one day aged 2 or three sprinkled a whole bottle of perfume over herself and through the house. The perfume was aptly name Poison

It helped me to appreciate a number of things:

  • How quickly kids learn to emulate their parents without any fear of consequences.

  • The difference between perfume and scent (not immediately obvious to men...other than by cost)

  • And how children remind us of our stupid attachments. She was having fun...but I mindful of the cost noted how this could have been better spent on the poor!!
Yet is is not difficult to understand what is being said here.
God is extravagant.
God pours out on us the costliest perfume there is...Jesus
And the "smell" totally fills our life and transforms us.
We can be scandalised by the waste and extravagance
but in the end...the gesture, the passion, the statement
are more important than the meanness
which we are so often given to.

This story is "over the top", extravagant, passionate...
even poisonous
Because God is like that..."over the top" and passionate.
John's narrative invites us to share God's life
in the way that God shares life with us.

We use the word Passion to describe the climax of this story.
It is a word that is oft used and abused.
Our world almost uses is as a synonym for lustful.
Our "passionate" relationships
are filled with bodily heat, and risk
of daring and bravado.
Passion puts us in a place
where we usually do not like to be.
(Certainly not after the age of 30!)

As we go back to the linguistic roots
we discover that Passion
does not mean "hot steamy sex" at all
it means suffering
So this is why we refer to the stories of Jesus's arrest and crucifixion
as The Passion.

If we think this through then we understand something fairly important
about God,
about our call to be like God,
and about the challenge to be passionate.
And it is that
are so intimately connected
that they can't actually be separated.
If we are to Love Passionately then we will
we will Suffer.
The great theme of John's gospel
is that God Loves us
his people and his creation
so much so that he will give us a Son
who will be the total expression of his love for us
More than this,
this Son
who is God's great gift
will be poured out over us,
over the world,
over those who believe,
over humanity
with the same extravagance
that we witness in this story
of the most precious ointment
just being flung about
as if there is no tomorrow.

Do we get this?
or do we, like Judas,
stand back and see, not the invitation to throw ourselves into life and love
but instead to hold back and say..What a waste?

it is "a waste" certainly
but there is also a sense in which you cannot love any other way!
If you are to love
then you are to love passionately
if you love passionately then there will be pain.
This pain, this suffering
will in itself be redemptive
and open up our lives to a new way of being human.

This is risky and powerful stuff.
It is poisonous

We need to scrutinise our own lives and relationships:
Are they passionate?
Do we want them to be?
Where do we spend more energy protecting ourselves, holding back
so that we might not be hurt?
Are we afraid to share our thoughts,
to discuss and admit our failures?
Can we admit weakness,
say sorry,
risk rejection?
If passion means suffereing then it will mean all these things.
We are not here talking about the relationships with acquaintances and people we don't really know about
this is about the relationships we want and need to work.
Do we wonder why things have gone cold, have we lost the means of being passionate,
the courage to risk being hurt or to be criticised.

This week
Where is God calling us to confront our own meanness in our human relationships?
Can we open ourselves to being more passionate?

Pray for confidence to trust God's promises
that through the Passion and Death of our Lord and Saviour,
even though this means suffering,
there is also redemption and a new way of living

JESUS, you love us passionately
as you are anointed with an extravagant gift of love
so you also anoint us with the passionate gift of your life

Grant me the courage to live passionately
give me the desire to live life as you show us how to live
let me live expansively in your Spirit
rather than narrowly in my smallness
for you are my Lover
you are my Passion
you are my Hope

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I once was lost

Readings for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 14th, 2010. Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21,Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

God's unremitting action towards us is to bring about reconciliation.
To draw us closer
To unite us to each other.
In a world that is at times harsh and difficult
we turn to God
because God is already there showing us the way back to wholeness.
The Hebrew Scripture readings through Lent remind us
that people are slow to understand this about God.
They are constantly wandering off and separating themselves from God.
This indeed is a major theme, almost from the beginning of Creation.
And God moves to bring us back.
So we read one of these accounts in the passages for this week. (Joshua 5:9-12)
The theme is familiar, and recurrent.
We are called back by God, into fellowship with God.
It is not the first time, and it will not be the last.
And we are invited into the story of Jesus, par excellence, often called
The Prodigal Son.
I always note when talking about this masterly story
that it is a story about God
rather than about the two sons.
It would be better called something like The Reconciling Father.
This Father, who is of course God, is always ready to meet us at our lowest ebb.
This is an important point to grasp.
False expectations
We often think that in order to encounter God
that we have, as it were, to be on our best behaviour
but the Bible tells us
both in the Old and New Teastaments
that it is when we are desolate
when we are empty
when we cannot of ourselves
come to God
that God comes to us.

It is when we are hanging on the cross
that we are most open to knowing God.
This isn't easy to grasp
though maybe we understand the truth of it
better than we think.
As I reflect on my encounters with God
it is precisely at these points
when I am most sure of who God is for me
and what God does.

The good thing about the parable of the Forgiving Father
or as we call it the Prodigal Son
is that we don't have much difficulty placing ourself somewhere in the scheme of things.
Whether it be as that young man who desperately runs at life
and is ravaged by it
and ends up desolate and in despair
not knowing what to do.
Or whether it be as that self-righteous one
who sees the waistrel come back after having had a whacko of a good time
and being treated as though nothing had happened.
(This is of course not a true appreciation of the situation)
Well, we often think of ourselves like that.
So we can place ourselves in the story.
And of course as we see the forgiving Father
standing on the hillside
longing for his child to return
many of us know the pain of that too.

Reconciliation played out
As the story of reconciliation is played out
we see it abounds in multi-various forms.
And we note how it happens.

1. Reconciliation happens sometimes when, often in our desperation,
we choose to act differently
The youngest son decided to put his pride to one side
and to come on home.
The opportunity thus created
the Father readily welcomes him back.
But the Father could not do so unless the son provided him
with the opportunity

Is there something in our life that needs us to pay
attention and create opportunity for reconciliation to happen?

It may be as simple as going to see someone,
or ringing, or saying sorry.

2.Reconciliation happens when we make ourselves open for it to happen
That Father stands on that hillside day after day and longs for the son to come home.
This is an image of God, of course, but it is also something of a pattern for us to follow.
Are we ready to let reconciliation happen
when it will happen?
So often we want people to stew in their own misery (and perhaps we want this for ourselves)
we feel hurt and rejected
and often even the prospect of reconciling
seems difficult.
Will we be opening ourselves to more hurt?
will we be rejected once again?
will the reconciliation be short-lived?
will we be exploited?

And yet the Father stands waiting day after day.
In those places in our life where we know there is a need for healing, restoration
for reconciliation
Are we prepared to let it happen?
Can we put aside our own hurt
and allow the greater drama to transpire?

3. Reconciliation is always wider than we imagine
and entices us to greater reconciliation than we immediately conceptualise.
This story is not just about the father and the Prodigal
it is also about the Father and the older son
and the older brother and the younger brother.
Again we resonate in this story
because this is often close to our experience.
Our sibling relationships are filled with fear and jealousy
doubt and insecurity.
I am ever grateful and mindful of the fact that my own parents
tried as hard as they could
to love each one of their children
and not to allow us to say in that childish way
"Love me more!"
The older son is in need of reconciliation
He cannot bear this brother

Hear the bitterness of the words:
"This son of yours..." he says to his father
and the father has to remind him
"This your brother was lost but now is found, was dead but is now alive"
The father, too, I suspect
and the older brother need to be reconciled
Does the father hear the older son's great hurt
at having to stay at home
it is easy to blame him as a caricature
but we can just allow that there is always more going on
and that reconciliation is very much a two way street.

This week

Where is God pointing you to be reconciled?
Where are the places in your
life where we have to say:
This has gone on long enough! Things need to change.

Pray carefully for:
The courage to act differently,

to move away from bitterness towards reconciliation.
Seek to deliberately construct opportunities for openness and healing.
Always be on the lookout for more from God than we asked for or imagined

JESUS, you are more for us than we imagine or deserve

Grant me the courage to live differently
give me opportunity and desire to be made whole
let me live expansively in your Spirit
rather than narrowly in my smallness
for you are my Hope
you are my Joy
you are my Life

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Spirit of Jesus

During Lent we are thinking about the Apostle’s Creed
Traditionally Lent has been a time to prepare for baptism and the renewal of baptismal vows. The Apostles’ Creed contains the basic statements of Christian faith that Christians have traditionally affirmed at their baptism

The Apostle's Creed has three sections and the last one reads
I believe in the Holy Spirit
The holy catholic church
the communion of saints
the resurrection of the body
and the life everlasting

It may seem a curious hodge-podge of materials. Almost as if all of the left-over doctrines are just thrown in to make sure that the ground is covered!

But of course that is not what is going on.
Indeed the whole of the third section follows on in Trinitarian form.
I believe in God the Father
I believe in God the Son
and now
I believe in God the Holy Spirit

this church, communion, the promise of resurrection and the mystery of life in God
all flow out of the fact that we are born again (as Jesus promised) of the Holy Spirit

This third section is telling us about what God is doing now
and what God is looking to do in the future.
God is creating a universal community
(this is what the expression catholic church should be taken to mean)
open & inclusive
God is drawing together a community of chosen people the communion of saints
this is not an exclusive community, but an inclusive community (catholic)
of people who are chosen to be
what God wants them to be
the sign of this community is the resurrection of the body & everlasting life
At funerals I remind people that the Christian view of God and death
is not reincarnation, or oblivion, or meaninglessness
It is not that we somehow become a part of a universal spirit, and are assumed into God or the universe
We believe that we continue to have meaningful, unique and distinct life.
And just as God has cared for us and loved us since our conception (and perhaps before)
so, that care will continue into eternity
unique, distinct, personal.
this is The Life in the Spirit
It is what God is doing in us now and in the promise of the future

Take a little time to ask God to show you more about what the Spirit is working in you
What is it that God is calling you to be and do?
Can we pray to put aside our own limited view of life and embrace the vision and promise that God has for us?

Have mercy!

In this season we have something of a focus on the need for repentance
The readings are all over the place at this time of year. But some possible ones for this Third Sunday in Lent are

In this season we have something of a focus on the need for repentance
Oh, said my colleague, are you going to preach about sin again.
No, I said, I am going to preach about repentance.!
The subtlety may escape us but repentance is not only about sin.
Repentance is about lifestyle.
It is about how we choose to live our life,
and the way we choose to live our life is about more than saying sorry for the things we have stuffed up.
The Gospel reading reminds us of this:
First it breaks the connection that we often make between disaster and sin.
In modern terms we might ask: Do those who get blown up by terrorist bombers
get caught in that position because they have been particularly sinful?
Do those who suffer the consequences of earthquake do so because they have done something wrong?
The answer to these questions seems obvious to us when put like this.
These things happen!
There is not necessarily a particular cause or connexion.
BUT, says Jesus, that is not to say that we should therefore not care about how we live our life.
These events are not punishments
but they do help us to call to mind
that life is fragile
and that we need to live our life as though it might end today.
Bceause indeed it might!
The tragedy is not a punishment.
But the call to repentance is constant.
The call to repentance
And what exactly is that call?
We could suggest it has two parts:
a positive and a negative.
Paul reminds us that there are things we do wrong,
some of those (and I stress only some) are sexual immorality,
testing God...we might call that using the certainty of God's grace and forgiveness
as an excuse to sin....Ah well God will forgive us us any way
This is classically called the sin of presumption,
But there are many other things we know about too:
if we were to list sins that people commit
we could easily get a Top 10!
So Yes! repentance is about saying No to these things,
but it is more than this too!
It is saying No!, seeking forgiveness, and choosing to live life in a different way.
I am not only going to try and control my anger
I am also going to try and nurture patience!
I am not only going refrain from immorality
I am going to work towards developing faithfulness and maturity in my relationships.

We dig ourselves into difficult places
and we can start to die
or become unfruitful
The gardening image of the fig tree says this
certainly dig out the rubbish
but you also need to ruffle up the soil
add a bit of fertiliser
So our life of repentance is like that.
Certainly get rid of that rubbish
Confession, apology,seeking forgiveness, making amends
these are some of the things we might do
we need also to ruffle and fertilise
how do I deal with my anger, my greed, my tendency to be judgmental
my selfishness?
Can I think, pray, read discuss with friends how to attack these questions?
are there positive things I can do
that will enable deepening
a chance to be more fruitful.
My repentance will not just be about saying sorry
as important as that is
I need also to make decisions
about how I live my life.