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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eternal gifts

Two images of Jesus help us think about what it means to call him Christ the King.
They are at different ends of the spectrum.
The first is the king born in the stable at Bethlehem,
and the second is the king enthroned on the throne of Calvary.
The stable and the cross.

Readings for Sunday 21st November 2010 Proper 29-The Feast of Christ the King (Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:68-79) or Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 46 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43

Two images of Jesus help us think about what it means to call him Christ the King.
They are at different ends of the spectrum.
The first is the king born in the stable at Bethlehem,
and the second is the king enthroned on the throne of Calvary.
The stable and the cross.

To be a king in the tradition of Jesus
is to embrace a fundamental contradiction
That we bring nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of the world.
That true wealth and power
is born out of poverty and humility,
that in order to live as a king
you must first learn how to die.
It is a deep mystery,
It is the mystery of what it means to be a Christian.

Because both stories are rich and profound in content, meaning and symbolism
I won't attempt to cover all bases
but perhaps suggest one idea
and then a couple of thoughts
about how we might understand this.

The idea
The idea is that we should allow the stable and the cross
to speak for themselves.
When you look into the stable
and there see the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus
what does that cause you to see about your life
about the state of the world
and about what God is calling us to do.
Where do you stand as you witness the event of
The Word becoming flesh?
Are you detached, are you an observer,
or are you a participant?
Are you shepherd, wise man, Jospeh or inn keeper?
What is God speaking to you
as you witness the birth of the eternal Word?

As we do the same thing at the foot of the Cross
what is the king saying to us from his throne?
Does he speak to me as to his mother, am I a soldier ignoring the demands of justice and cooperating in the torture of an innocent man?
Am I the thief who is speaking to Jesus?

How does the king, whether in stable or on the Cross, speak to your life?
Because that is what is important.
It is not just what these very key ideas and stories are meant to say
It is how they speak to your life, to your hopes, desires and dreams
how the mother of Jesus holds your brokenness in her arms,
or how the love of God enfolds you and nurtures you at the breast?

A couple of thoughts
So, for me, I see the invitation to look beyond the values of the world
and recognise that being born a king is not about the trappings
it is about the transformation and change that the good king will bring to the world
and his subjects
it is not about economic growth
but about quality of life
that the king strives to bring about for his subjects.
Is this how we live our lives?
Is this how our new kings will exercise their government?
But let's not just blame them
because is this, also, how we will live our lives?

If the stable reveals such depth
how much more the mystery of the Cross
which says that it is in dying we are born again.
Where do I need to die to self, to embrace the suffering,
to see that kingship is not about fame and fortune
but about character, leadership and sacrifice.

They are the same story.
Contradictory in a way.
But both invite us to see beyond the outward guise of kingship
and embrace the challenge
of humility, service, and sacrifice.

Where does this speak to your life today?

Aeterni Christi Munera

The eternal gift of Christ our king

invites me to tie my child's sandal
and to encourage her
to leap small buildings

The eternal gift of Christ our king

invites me to dare to love
but to dare to do it any way

The eternal gift of Christ our king

invites me to step into the traffic
with a body of one my friends
following in a hearse

The eternal gift of Christ our king

invites me to accept myself with love
not with indulgence
but with love, and perhaps a little care

Such is the eternal gift of Christ

who doesn't seem to think of himself
as a king

written by Stephen Clark , November 2006

You Tube (click below...or at side)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Don't be led astray

In what is quite a funny sketch from the classic sixties revue Beyond the Fringe the question is asked of a seer like figure with a very silly voice
When will it be this end of the world?
Readings for Sunday 14th November 2010, 25th Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 28: Isaiah 65:17-25 and [Isaiah 12 or Malachi 4:1-2a] and Psalm 98 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19

We have a sort of religious fascination with the end time.
Some religious people waste their time (in my opinion) trying to work out signs, codes and instructions for when this time will be (hence the comedy sketch)
rather missing the point of what all this talk of end time is all about.
The reading from Isaiah 65 today, does remind us
that there is always a sense in which God is restoring, creating and making
Behold I am making all things new...this is not just about the physical environment of religion
it is the driving force in life
constant renewal
reforging, readdressing reality.....we might say in a rather pedestrian way

Getting in touch with reality
The little snippet from the correspondence to the church in Thessalonika,
what is today Greece's second largest city and the capital of Hellenic Macedonia,
is part of a church which struggles to understand just when this fullness that is prophesied,
and which is associated with the return of Jesus, will come
This is the earliest of the early church coming to grips with what Jesus was talking about
when he talked about bringing this new creation to reality
Paul is reminding them to continue living
because the working out of the kingdom
does not mean that we put our lives on hold
or give up our jobs so that we can pray more earnestly, or what ever.
So he is quite blunt

All this is quite in line
with what Jesus tells us
though the early Christians had to learn this
They had to learn that far from being removed
from the everyday life we lead
the kingdom of God was to be found right among it.
Instead of withdrawing from the world
to find holiness
we are to discover the truth
that the kingdom of God is right here in our midst.

It will be where we feel most alive!

Where is that place for you? It may be surprising
but that is where we ought to look.

It will almost certainly not be in the religious box,
and it will be unpredictable
so, says Jesus, don't waste your time trying to predict it
when you should be engaging with it.

In that curious little snippet
when we are called to account for our faith
Jesus reminds us that we shouldn't look for the right answer
or the prepared answer
but rather look deep within
allow the very depth of our being to speak

We already know this to be true.
The kingdom is within each of the baptised
it is within and bubbling up
a spring of life.
Like the Thessalonians, and all Christians we have to learn to normalise this experience
to earth it
to tap into what gives us life already.

Where do you feel alive today?
Where is God inviting you to live the kingdom?
To drink from the fountain of living water?

To become the new creation!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

No rest for the faithful either!

The Solemnity of ALL SAINTS falls on November 1st and/or is kept on the Sunday afterwards.(This year Sunday November 7) Selected readings for that feast include: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

One of the Anglican funeral prayers (1) says "Help us to live as those who believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection to eternal life"

These are good words and indeed important words but a bit religious and I often use the explanation of them to lock into what are the important themes of a Christian funeral: Community, Forgiveness and Life.

And indeed not only of a funeral, but of the Christian life. For indeed the mystery of faith is that we are God's in death as in life. If we live we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord. So then whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's (Romans 14:8)

We see a continuity that the grave does not breach.


Although we habitually use the word 'communion' to talk about the saints, we could just as well talk about the community of saints.

People who are united in their common pursuit of the gospel of Jesus.

Christian life is lived out in community, always has been and always will be. Even the key idea that we have about God, The Trinity, reveals to us that the essence of God is community...Father, Son and Spirit...the community of love.

Into that community life is drawn a community of people who God chooses to belong as God's chosen people. This chosen people is not an exclusive group, it is an open community with a constant invitation to people to join.

As we look at this community, or communion, of saints certain big names are set before us...Francis, Mary, Peter, Luther, John XXIII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer...and you can no doubt think of more (see some thoughts here and here for example).

This very mixed group reminds us that we are not meant to be soldiers in an army, or chocolate duplicates of each other but that we are as diverse as they come. Our unity comes out of our relationship with Jesus.

This is an important thing to remember. Particularly when we are talking about bringing new people to faith, or in deepening the faith of others. We are not cloning, we are bringing people into relationship with Jesus, and with the other members of the Jesus community.

People want community not committee. They want relationship not rules.

Help us to live as the communion of saints. In honest, open, forgiving relationships. Seeking the good of others, and the welfare of all.

In all things remembering that this is the abundant and eternal life that God promises us in Christ.

We sometimes get fixated on that part of the community that is beyond the grave. They are there to guard, inspire and encourage us. But we also are to commit to community now, struggling with all that it means to share this common life together. The promise is that in the unfolding of this commitment, eternal and abundant life are given to be lived now. As Saints.

This week
Pray for help to live as saints in community.
Where do I need to challenge my own tendency to be a loner, to reject the discipline of community?
Where can I be encouraging and forgiving?
Where do I need to forgive?
Invite all the saints, living and dead, who have been influential in forming you to join with you in praying for a deeper commitment

You Tube presentation

(1)(see introduction to the Funeral in An Australian Prayer Book 1978 (AAPB))