Monday, August 29, 2011

Practical application

Readings for Sunday 23, 4th September are: 

  • Exodus 12:1-14 and Psalm 149  •

  • Romans 13:8-14  • 

  • Matthew 18:15-20

  • What a lot of people don't get about Christianity
    is that it is about living together
    How do humans live with God, and how do they live with each other?
    While there is no doubt that religion can seem to be remote and ritualistic, 
    this dimension only makes sense when it connects to life
    Nowhere is this truer than in the Eucharist.
    As we gather together to worship God
    and share the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion
    we are recognising that good experience of God
    Is as fundamental 
    as the food and drink we share
    That God is present to us 
    in the ordinary stuff of life
    So we expect that 
    the key stuff that we talk about
    Should not only just sound good in theory 
    it should be practical in application
    Matthew’s advice about how to deal with disputes
    Is sound and practical.
    It emphasises discretion and forgiveness. 
    It has about it mutuality and care
    What else would we expect?

    Apart form anything else 
    it also says we should try.
    A lot of reconciliation doesn’t happen 
    because we can’t be bothered.
    We would rather ignore conflict 
    Than be reconciled.
    Pride, embarrassment, arrogance, wilfulness
    All stand in the way.
    Christian principles suggest
    That we should at least 
    It won’t always (or ever) be easy
    But we are called to try, to engage seriously
    In the practical implementation of the gospel

    This week
    • Where do we need prompting to be reconciled 
    • What do I need to do? What precautions/supports are there that need to be applied?
    • Are my strategies genuinely kind, patient, forgiving and loving?


    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Get real

    Sunday 28 August, 22nd Sunday of the year. Pentecost 11. Exodus 3, Psalm 105, Romans 12:9-21, Matt 16:21-28

    For all Peter's realisations that Jesus is pretty important in the scheme of things 
    ( as we read last week
    and he is rewarded with some pretty dramatic words....I will build my church on you 
    Words which the Church has been keen to exploit, 
    they are not so keen to observe that moments later 
    Jesus is berating this Prince of the Apostles and saying 
    "Get behind me Satan!"  
    And that he who was once a foundation 
    is now a "stumbling block" 
    Equally strong words in the other direction. 
    I think we see here what is an observable phenomenon for spiritual people. 
    There are times when it is all pretty clear, 
    and we can make it hang together 
    And then it evaporates and, once again, we lose the plot.

    Equally well we have the seminal story of the burning bush. This too is the experience of people. 
    God grabs our attention and if we are attentive we hear and receive then we can hear what God might be saying  
    [I am not too worried about how a bush might burn or what it might mean this is not a story about supernatural phenomena, this is a story about how God catches out attention 
    how we hear God 
    and what we might then do] 
    As Christians who believe in an ever-present, and transcendent God 
    experienced in and through the world 
    we experiece "burning bushes" all the time. 
    Do we just take any notice? 
    Moses, we note, had to turn away from what he was doing and go and take a look. 
    Our problem is that we may often see 
    but then just go on with what we are doing. 
    So we don't see or hear God 
    saying to us I AM WHO I AM. 
    Instead we return to the sheep who are going crazy. 
    But it is when we turn aside 
    take off our shoes 
    because we realise the encounter is holy and powerful 
    as we listen 
    and then act out of that experience 
    that it all makes a difference.  

    This is what happened to Peter 
    when he recognised what God might be doing in Jesus(here) 
    this changed his life fundamentally. 
    As indeed Moses was changed
    when he turned aside. 
    Because he now had the choice to live out of something new.  
    This is how it works for us. 
    As we ask ourselves 
    where is God's grace active and alive for us today 
    there is also the invitation to live rather differently. 
    Out of knowledge of the fact that God is who God is 
    ---we use the shorthand term Yahweh, Jehovah or LORD  
    The Question then is...what do we do with this? 
    God's invitation is to live out of the new encounter 
    the temptation is to go back to doing what we did before.  

    As I ask myself, where have I experienced God's grace today 
    the next step is: 
    And what difference does that make ? 
    Will I choose to live differently because I have encountered God. 
    We don't always get this right. 
    This is Peter who was a "foundation" becoming a "stumbling block" 
    Having been granted the vision of the future do we choose to go back tot he past.  
    Too often yes!  

    This week
    • Where have I experienced the presence of God at this time?
    • What is God asking me to be and do? What does it reveal to me about the nature of God? What is the invitation to live differently?
    • What changes do I make to the way I live because I have encountered God on holy ground?
    • Will I live differently?

    O God, you invite me to turn aside and be with you. Why on earth do you want to speak with me? What do you want of me? Give me not only this grace, but also the courage to live out of your life. In Jesus name. AMEN

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    For I desire love

    This Sunday 21st August 2011 we use the readings for the 16th/21st Sunday   which is the 109th Sunday after Pentecost. These are  taken from Exodus 1:8-2:10 (or Isaiah 51:1-6); Psalm 124 (or Psalm 138); Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

    One of the points I made last week was that we always bring a lot of baggage to the Scriptures when we seek to interpret their meaning
    One of the biggest pieces of baggage is our understanding of 'authority'.
    If, after all, Scripture is divinely inspired [however we interpret that]
    then what it has to say about authority is important.
    The Gospel passage we read this week is one of those portions
    where the issue of authority is very much to the fore:
    We read

    16:18 I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
    I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

    The Roman Catholic Church has taken this passage to speak about the particular authority that was given to St Peter
    and then by extension to Peter's successors as Bishop of Rome
    This Papal claim may be interesting but, in the end, to me it is difficult to sustain.
    More than this, it obscures the insight that is being offered here to all Christians.
    It is part of the baggage!
    The dynamic that is going on here
    is that in relationship with Jesus
    we come to an understanding of who we are.
    So Peter, though he might be tempted to think otherwise,
    comes to understand that he can and will be
    a foundation that God can use to build

    Much of what is said about Peter in this encounter
    would wait to be realised
    It is often only in looking back that we see God's hand evident.
    As we reflect on the Moses story, for example,
    which we begin this morning also
    we are able to frame a fairly hair-raising story of murder and cruelty
    and see how God was able to take that and make something bold out of it.
    This is not moralising or fable telling
    with a view to getting an object lesson
    but rather exploring a foundational principle of the faith-journey
    that God takes the stuff of our life
    and gives it meaning.
    For Peter, for Moses
    (and indeed for us)
    it is encounter with God
    which will give meaning to our lives.

    This is what we are trying to 'explain' about Christianity
    It is what happens to people when they are 'saved'
    it is the 'grace' which God gives us
    bringing meaning and purpose.

    Our prayers, thoughts and reflections
    might be well spent
    listening to what Jesus is speaking into our lives

    This is not an exercise in fantasy.
    It is about getting in touch with the reality
    of what God is saying to me today.

    This week

    • Sit quietly and ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit
    • Lord show show me who and what you want me to be this week
    • Use one of the following scripture passages
    • Lord speak to me today

  • Romans 13:12
    12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let
    us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light;

  • 1 Cor 4:13
    13when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become
    like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

  • Matthew 14:23
    23And after Jesus had dismissed the
    crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was
    there alone,

  • Judges 13:13
    13The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, ‘Let
    the woman give heed to all that I said to her.

  • Hosea 6:6
    6For I desire steadfast love and not
    sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than

    • What might God be saying to me ?
    • What does this invite me to do tomorrow and in the week to come?

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Doris Howles- RIP

    John 14:1-6
    One of my parishioners says to me "What are you going to say about me at my funeral?"
    Let me assure you that more than one person has said to me about Doris
    "What are you going to say about her?"
    It was well known that she and I had a tempestuous relationship
    And I suspect that I am not the only person who could say that about her.
    She is the third senior member of  the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) whose funeral I have been present at in recent months (see here and here)
    Like Alison Gent and Alder Hall this portrait shows the truth of the G&S word
    "(See) my daughters all of whom are beauties."
    Doris was also keenly involved involved with the
    Prayer Book Society
    which promoted the use of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662
    I therefore found myself in deep agreement on one issue
    and in disagreement on another
    And we had our moments!
    One day I had a phone call from the Archdeacon, who had had a phone call from the Archbishop
    who had had a letter from the Primate of Australia
    who had had a letter from Doris Howles!!
    Like many of us
    who are convinced that we should promote greater liberty
    and great causes
    we also think that everyone should agree with us
    and are not terribly sympathetic to those who don't!
    Doris was like it
    I am like it!
    And it makes for an interesting life.
    Jesus reminds us
    that God's house
    is a big house
    and that there is room for all sorts of people.
    There is room for Doris
    there is even room for me, and you!!!

    This Gospel teaching reminds us perhaps
    that what Jesus is saying
    that we are the limited ones
    God is the open one!
    I give thanks for Doris
    for her tenacity, for her commitment
    for her difficulty
    and give thanks that we don't live in a world
    where everyone rolls over and gives in.
    Doris certainly didn't.
    Jesus says "In my Father's house
    there is room for all!"
    It is us, not God,
    who has the problem with people who disagree with us.

    Tuesday, August 09, 2011

    Feeding on prejudice

    Readings for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost; Sunday August 14th, 2011Genesis 45:1-15 (or Isaiah 56:1, 6-8;) Psalm 133 (or Psalm 67) ; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28  
    Does Jesus struggle with prejudice?
    I grew up in a community which had a lot of prejudices near the surface.
    By and large we had no contact with people of different racial background
    (There weren't any )
    English people were always disrespectful fo the Irish,
    and as an Anglican we held a firm suspicion of Roman Catholics.
    These prejudices, and others, can be and, most likely, are part of any person's upbringing

    When we encounter Jesus in the Scripture we naturally bring a lot of baggage to that encounter!
    I would maintain, for example, that we almost always want to show him in a good light
    This is to be expected
    he is the hero after all.
    He is, we would say the Saviour, the Messiah, the Son of God.
    So it is difficult to paint him in other than bold, heroic strokes.

    We do then have to deal with the fact that in the Gospel passage
    for today (
    Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28 ),
    Jesus would at least appear to be rude.
    Some how we don't like that.
    Particularly those of us who are of British stock
    seem to regard impoliteness
    as the unforgiveable sin!
    A lot of commentary spends a lot of time
    trying to excuse the fact that Jesus seems to speak disrespectfully
    (even the fact that I say 
    seems to speak disrespectfully) shows that I am guilty of this too!
    But Jesus says to this woman when she asks him to heal her daughter
    that the food of the children should not be thrown to the dogs

    But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
    He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
    She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters'

    It is difficult to not hear that he is calling this woman and her daughter dogs!
    If I made this sort of comment in a pastoral encounter , I feel sure a complaint would be (rightly) upheld
    Yet we say things like...Jesus wasn't really being rude, he was testing her
    or that this is playful banter
    (One pastoral rule I know is that you don't engage in such banter with people who are stressed out by sickness)
    Or the other day we were being told that one commentator says this is a clever play on words,
    because the word dog is linked to the word for worship.
    I personally think that is a stretch.
    What we must not miss is that Jesus has to engage with his humanity just as we have to.
    If all we ever say about Jesus is that every human action he commits
    is done perfectly and without struggle
    then we are rather missing the point
    that struggling with prejudice, carelessness, language
    is actually part of what it means to be human.

    Here we see Jesus struggling with the prejudice

    that he had grown up with since his childhood
    Canaanites were for Jews ----pagans, 
    Gentiles and beyond the pale,
    Jesus would have known they were referred to by everyone in Nazareth as 'dogs'.
    Here we see at least that this struggle is there for Jesus
    as it is for us.
    Part of what it means to be human
    is that we have to engage with both the dark and light side of our character.
    To do any less with Jesus
    is to not take his humanity seriously.

    This story also shows us that, as distasteful as our prejudices may be,
    we do not have to stay locked in them.
    Indeed, must not.

    Can we see here an invitation to transcend our own narrowness and bigotry?

    Thursday, August 04, 2011

    Yet more walking on water.

    The readings for Sunday August 7,2011, 8th Sunday After Pentecost:  Mainly reflecting today on Matthew 14:22-33
    It is very easy to trivialize
    the story of Jesus walking on the water
    either by dismissing it as  a sort of fantasy story
    or by simply accepting it unquestioningly.
    But I would have to say that I don’t have the answers as to what is actually happening here.
    My suspicion is
    that the story is actually one of the challenge of faith
    and of the Christian response to fear.
    If, however, we put these not unimportant questions to one side
    and reflect on our lives
    we might discern a couple of important points.
    The first is that nothing is achieved without risk.
    If we are to critically assess those times in our lives when we have actually advanced
    We would acknowledge that it is at times when we have been able to, as it were, step out of the boat
    unsure about what might happen
    that we almost always discover that we move forward.
    This is the dynamic of faith
    being certain that God knows what is happening
    even if we can’t put it together ourselves.
    The second point is that is worth noting
    is that we are not always very good at stepping out of the boat;
    even if we manage to do it
    it may not last very long
    before we start panicking
    or trying to seize back control
    We need to hear Jesus saying to us:
    “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
    In this parish we are fortunate to have the great picture of this second dynamic
    In the window at St John’s we see Jesus lifting up the doubting Peter.
    So we have a second principle
    the dynamic of Jesus
     Even if we can and do fail
    Jesus will not let us be destroyed by our inadequacy
    So desirous is God of us being faithful; that God will rescue us.
    (All this seems much more important than trying to explain what is going on here)

    This week 
    ·       Where is God inviting me to step out of my comfort zone? 
    ·       Can I let go of my fear and trust Jesus to sustain me? 
    ·       Pray for courage? 
    ·       Pray for faith

    Skipping across the surface

    The story of Jesus walking on the water 
    is not without its problems! 
    Do we believe in a God who contravenes the laws of nature, 
    and who walks on water?
    Do we believe that if we trust that same God, 
    then we, like Peter, might do the same thing?
    Like many of these stories, 
    my response is that I actually don't know the answer to these difficult questions.
    I do know 
    that we should be careful not to trivialise these stories
    by either dismissing them out of hand
    or (strangely) by just accepting them as bland fact.
    There is more to it than all that
    Here are some thoughts I put together on this passage for a festival of MU a couple of years ago

    On the occasion of the 110th Anniversary of the founding of MU in the parish of Coromandel Valleyreflecting on Matthew 14:22-

    Shall we sink or swim?

    The MU webpage tells the story of Mary Sumner
    “In the village of Old Alresford in the south of England a young Vicar's wife, Mary Sumner, looked at her first born child. Amazed at the enormous responsibility of nurturing a human life, and conscious of her own inadequacies, she dreamed of a union of mothers coming together regularly for encouragement, support and education.”
    I had a similar experience the night our first daughter was born. 
    Not of forming a Fathers’ Union! 
    But of the amazing responsibility that was now transforming my life. 
    There was for me as there was for Mrs Sumner 
    an invitation to step out of the boat and to live life in a new way. 
    At times I have sunk! 
    No doubt Mary did too. 
    No doubt you have 
    At other times, MU has walked proudly alongside Jesus 
    knowing that there is for this task 
    a comfort and responsibility 
    which comes from putting our faith in God.
    We sometimes caricature 
    the lot of a parent
    as one of sadness and woe
    and particularly of women 
    As though our lot 
    is to put up with drudgery and sadness, 
    which is the inevitable lot for us all. 
    This seems to me the language of sink or swim. 
    Not the language of faith
    But the language of faith is that of neither sinking or swimming,
    but walking on the water.
    It is the adventure of faith. 
    Quite a different experience altogether. 
    We, along with MU are successful 
    not by putting up with the pain of family life 
    but in so far as we seek to transform family life 
    into a life of faith
    This is more than just putting up with a bad lot! 
    I suspect Mary would ask for more. 
    Could I then just add one walking verse to the traditional MU hymn?
    Transform our lives O Lord, that we might love
    Fulfilled by faith, by challenge, ventures new;
    as here on earth we join with those above
    and live a gospel that we know is true
    That loving you for us will ever be 
    A bold adventure walking on the sea