Sunday, February 26, 2012

In touch with God's reality

This Second Week of Lent focusses on Genesis 17:1-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25, and Mark 8:31-38

I had a conversation
with a friend, an ex-Roman Catholic, 

who now claims to be a Buddhist:
“Do you think," he asked me, “that the great religions 

will ever get together on the question of reincarnation?”
I don’t, and told him that!
“Reincarnation to me is a message of hopelessness” I said, “We need to do something more with life, 

than to just keep on repeating it!”
He added that “there was something appealing” 

about the notion of the great reckoning
...and that he didn’t like 
the Catholic idea of death bed repentance.
I am not much a fan of it either
And this perhaps showed that his background 
had a flaw in the teaching of his childhood
(but so has mine...indeed many flaws)
but, to my mind, he arrived at the wrong conclusions!
We do not believe that God 

reckons up our good deeds against the bad
This we call-
But Christians believe rather 

that we are called to enter into a relationship 
of faith
That is, we act on the promise of God.
God promises. and we act on that promise.

The promise to Abraham
For Abraham, God promises
quite specifically
that he will be
the ancestor of a great nation.
This is not an insignificant promise 

to a man who is 99 who has a wife who is 90!
Abraham then is able to keep moving forward in his life
even though he could have been forgiven 

for thinking that his life was over

What is God promising to us?
To be able to shift from the life of law
to the life of faith
we need to get beyond
just keeping the rules.

Do we understand what God is promising ?

As we look at the Gospels we see, as in today’s reading

that it takes something of a struggle to get it right. 
Peter as a character shows us something of that
Occasional flashes of inspiration
contrasted with legalism 

and even,
dare one say it, 

Or the stupidity that is legalism.
We should take note because we are often guilty of this ourselves!
We lose sight of the promise
and then fall back on our version of things.

We invent things like reincarnation

But if, and as, we listen to the Gospel
we hear not the message of legalism
but rather a counter-cultural message
which at once consoles us 

and then deeply confronts us.

If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross.
Shouldn't we at least question what we are hearing?
Even if it's...(like Peter)  
"Hang on a minute
 common sense tells us
that we should do what makes us feel 

good, powerful, successful
or what is going to pay dividends?

Maybe "common sense" does lead us
to that sort of conclusion
I suspect that's how we arrive at 'reincarnation' (without anything of the real subtlety of Buddhism
but presuming that we, the self-indulgent materialists that we are,
understand what Buddhism is really about
(few of us do I suspect)

Christian faith tells us otherwise.

We know
 much of what faith tells us 

about the way we should live our lives
..Forgive over and over again..
...the sacrifice of God is a broken heart..
...lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth….all very counter cultural.

Not so easy to hear! Not so easy to believe!
But, I would suggest
the counter cultural truth 
that Jesus confronts us with
Not, the merry go round of reincarnation
But, take up your cross!

Personal promise, personal faith

What is God promising to you personally?
The promise to Abraham is a personal one
about what will happen to him and his family
Do you know what God is saying to you 

about the reality of your day to day life?
Have you taken time to listen?
Are you interested?
Ask that question today?
And use this week as a time of spiritual exercise to try and talk to God about it?

The answer changes the dynamic
of how we live our life.
If we hear the answer,
and if we respond in faith
then God can help us move beyond legalism
to a new lifestyle.

Paul says of Abraham...this life style is “reckoned to him as righteousness”
That is, it puts you right with God.
This is why we do it.

So, this week, as you think about your life
also ask God
...what do you promise to me?
And take some time to clarify that
and write it down.
And choose, not to live out of the rules (alone)
but to live out of faith

A short exercise to help you do this is listed below

Living out of the Promise

  • Sit quietly and close your eyes
  • As you give yourself to this time closing your eyes is an act of commitment to going within and paying attention to the voice of God
  • After a few minutes ask God to reveal to you the promise that he makes to you about you and your life
  • Take some time to note this
  • Think about one or two things that this will immediately mean you need to do as you choose to live out of the promise
  • Give thanks to God and conclude by saying this act of praise: Glory to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now and forever. Amen

Friday, February 24, 2012

Turning to Jesus in Lent

Once again we focus on the first chapter of Mar's Gospel. On this First Sunday in Lent we reflect on Mark 1:9-15. Sunday 26th February 2012
A lot happens in the first chapter of Mark.
 In the space of these few (only 7) verses...Jesus is baptised, 
he hears the voice of God, 
he goes into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. 
John is arrested, 
Jesus goes back to Galilee 
and he makes a public declaration of what his ministry is about.

"The time is fulfilled 
and the kingdom of God has come near
therefore I call you to repent and believe in the good news"

It's a lot!
The Spirit affirms Jesus in the profoundest way possible
What ever it means, 
Jesus hears the voice of God saying

"You are my Son, and I love you, and I am well-pleased with you"
What does God say to you? 
What is God saying to me?
At our deepest level?
In Lent 
we are being invited to pay attention to God.
The idea of God 
                 ---speaking to us---
is not without problem.
What do we mean by it?
It is not clear, for example, in this passage
whether Mark wants us to understand this 
as an external, audible voice.
Whether others might have heard it,
or whether this is just fanciful stuff.
I suspect if we allow ourselves 
to accept this passage,
not worrying too much about the mechanics of what is being addressed
that many of us 
would allow 
that God might be speaking to us
(heart-to- heart someone once suggested to me ).

The wilderness
What unlocks some of this for us 
is that the same Spirit
who speaks this deep affirmation 
of Jesus's personhood
drives (a very strong word) 
Jesus into the wilderness.
This wilderness as we know, 
is an ambivalent place,
at once threatening (beasts)
but also where we are thrown back 
on total reliance on God.
It is as though Jesus not only has to hear the affirmation
but also has then to go and appropriate it.
This needs the confrontation and threat of the wilderness.
It is not just nice words.

What might God be saying to you at this time of your life?
Can you take time this week to struggle with that a bit?
What don't I like about what God is saying to me?
Where do I resist? Where am I vulnerable?
Where do I deceive myself...about myself/about God?

It is out of this struggle
that Jesus comes to some realization
of what is happening!
The time is now
God is close
Things must change...
I need to repent, to behave differently
(what will this mean for me today)
The time is NOW!
This Good News, if we are to believe it,
is for 
and will affirm us at our deeepest  level.
It will require some change,
and that we trust God for all that is necessary to effect it.
It is not without beasts,
but also with angels!
Do we trust God enough to enter into this?

  • What is God saying to me at my deepest level (heart to heart)?
  • Can I strip back everything and allow the wilderness to speak this to me?
  • Will I decide to embrace the freedom that is being offered? To be free of sin? To live as one who tries to accept others? To embrace the possibility of failure? To trust only God?
  • What is to stop me doing this now?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

RIP-Trevor Dart

A reflection at the funeral of Trevor Dart  on John 3:16-21, 17 February 2012
It is not common in Australia to meet a man who is so upfront about his Christian faith. But Trevor always was.
This was not an offensive characteristic--not bible bashing-
but rather part of Trevor's approach to life
Somewhere on his journey through life 
he had discovered the truth of the words that he himself chose for the reading for his own funeral.
"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believe him should not perish but have eternal life."
These are perhaps the most famous words of the New Testament.
This passage reminds us that God LOVES us
God wants the BEST for us
God is not trying to CONDEMN us , nor does God want to PUNISH us.
It is this Spirit, I suggest, that enlivened Trevor's life.
The essential goodness, and hopefulness that is the Gospel of Jesus.
It is not that there are not times when things are less than perfect
It is not that we always succeed, 
in fact often we look back at our lives and see that things were not as they should have been.
What Trevor understood is that there is a way back from this...if you do what is true...then you will come to the lighht and that light is Jesus.
I am sure Trevor will be hoping that as we reflect on his life
and think about our own lives
we will be seeking to do what is true
to walk in the light
and to find that that truth, that light
is ready and present
and is Jesus.
May Trevor rest in God's love.
May each of us be challenged by his example

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some thoughts about Lent

Readings for Sunday 22nd February. 2009: 2 Ki 2:1-12; Ps 50:1-6; 2 Cor 4:3-12; Mark 9:2-9. The Last Sunday After Epiphany - The Transfiguration of Jesus

Well we have got to that point
Lent is just around the corner
almost, but not quite, as late as it could be.
For most of the world, of course,
Lent means little or nothing.
Although in some ways like the great Moslem fast of
Lent is probably less well known.
It is for Christians a time when we get our act together
There are many traditional ways of doing this
and they are not without merit
But let me draw your attention to three of the more obvious ways
for Christians to "get their act together".
Prayer At the heart of any Christian's life
is our relationship with God
so we will want during these 40 days
to try and strengthen that relationship .
like any relationship it is strengthened
through quality time.
If we want our relationship to get better then we need to commit to it.
Lent gives us a focus time...less than 6 weeks
so it is not a long commitment
and we find each year that it is worth it.
I suggest...three E's
Each day-make a commitment to pray at least once each day
The Lord's Prayer, a time of quiet or a short time to pray for someone special
Each week- as part of our commitment to build up each other
let's endeavour to make each of the Sundays in Lent
a time when we
will be there Extra- I do not think prayer is about volume or length of time
It is about "quality" time not "quantity"
So what I need to give during Lent
is extra quality.
This might mean making sure that we give proper attention and not pray on the run
It might mean keeping a little Lenten journal
or setting aside a deliberate time each week to just be together with God.
Fasting & Giving The one thing people often do know about Lent is "giving things up"
this giving things up...lollies, alcohol, meat, bread or what ever
breeds a little space and a little discipline.
It allows us to be more conscious of those who have not
and also to redirect some of our resources through giving

Certain 'traditional' support has often been highlighted

and they are worthy of our consideration.

Not so much 'what takes your fancy' as where do I feel the Spirit challenges me to be generous and give

  • Charity
  • The Poor
  • Mission
  • Jerusalem
  • The Church

What appeals to you? Make it a special 6 week project.

Service Our relationship with God is fostered through our care and service of others
Lest we think that Lent is a narrowly religious exercise
or even that Christianity is "narrowly religious"
we balance our spiritual exercises with our service and ministry.
This is the mistake that Peter makes on the mountain today
Seeing Jesus for who he really is ...the glorified one of God....
he doesn't know what to do.
We could think of a thousand things
let's tell others
let's inspire each other
let's commit to follow him to the end
But Peter says "No!! Let's build a shrine"
And Jesus has to say No!
There is suffering to be shared
there is work to be done.
So where will you serve this Lent.
I suggest that the words we need to guide us are these:

& Unconditional

We need to respond in such a way that we are caring for a real person
and not an idea, or a bureaucracy
It will in a practical sense involve us with another person.
We need to be responding to real needs
That is doing what God want us to do
and not what we think we should do.
So often what we choose to do
serves our own needs
instead of those of others,
we do what makes us look good and successful
instead of what attends to the needs of another.
Finally our service should be unconditional.
We help a sick person go the doctor
so that they might get well
Not so that they might come to church.
We take food round to the family who have lost their father
because they need food
not so that they will do it to us in return.

Prayer Giving and Service.
Do not think you can do everything or the impossible.
Have a think about what you can do,
write it down
so you can promise yourself
and promise God
Do not be deceived into thinking Lent
is a pious few weeks, rather accept it as a challenge
to become more deeply in love with God.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

How does God heal?

Readings for Sunday 12 February 2012, Epiphany 6 :2 Kings 5:1-14 Psalm 30 1 Cor 9:24-27 Mark 1:40-45

In this week's readings we see something of the application
Healing, wellness, and wholeness
as I was talking about in the last reflection (
see here)
God wants more for us than we want for ourselves
The story of Naaman the leper
that we
read this week
is a confronting one for all of us who think
we have our lives well under control!
He is a powerful, successful man
and yet he is sick.
He has the sort of sickness
that people will not tolerate socially-
Quite what this was in his case is not clear.
we have rather poor attitudes
to leprosy
largely what we have been (wrongly) taught. (see for example the life of 
Damien of Molokai)
Nevertheless it is something that would have taken
Naaman out of circulation,
perhaps by disfigurement
certainly because of ritual prohibitions
designed to prevent infection
Primitive but effective---
Naaman, like many who become seriously sick,
find their life is taken over
and they are no longer free to do what needs to be done.
Naaman the handsome, the powerful, the successful 

is sick.
I have a friend who find himself in this situation at this time
What to do?

He uses his connections to get to the doorstep of Elisha.
He will have done this sort of things many times before.
As a highly motivated person he is used to:
identifying the problem;
finding a solution;
and effecting the operation.
This is how a highly successful person seems to operate

in our sort of world

The only trouble is that
is not a cash flow problem
it is not a stock shortage
or a management crisis.
If we are to be made 
then we will need more than just management
or even skill.
We will also need openness to God
a fair degree of humility
and preparedness to change.
If you think about in-depth healing
wholeness as we have been calling it
we understand that there is more to it


so he is deeply confronted.
Elisha is not actually over-impressed by Naaman's status
he can barely come out of his house!
He sends an underling to communicate with Naaman
and Naaman is not impressed.

Let us look at some of the things that Naaman does
which might expose some of the issues

  • he brings lots of money but his healing is not going to be paid for by lots of money
  • he shifts the responsibility to another person, In the process that person (the king of Israel) is deeply stressed and he doesn't know what to do. We often do this. This isdifferent from sharing the responsibility by inviting others to pray for you. Healing will require that we open ourselves not just that we get someone to do the slog for us
  • he needs to learn about simplicity, humility and obedience.
  • Elisha is very offhand with him. He refuses to let Naaman think that this is the only problem in the world. This is hard for us to endure. In the end he is required only to be faithful to a simple process and to submit to that
  • he is seduced by the spectacular. "‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of theLord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage."...when things do not go as he wants then at least he demands spectacle
  • spectacle that shows he is pretty special?; spectacle that shows God is taking notice?
Are you beginning to get the idea that there is a lot going on? 
Naaman needs to confront a whole lot of stuff in himself: Pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, lack of faith....
all of these things will be up for grabs 
if we open ourselves to wholeness rather than just removal of symptoms.

Finally, the Gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45)
tells of another leper
and the dialogue with Jesus says..."‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’
There is more here than waving of hands 
the man is asking to be brought inside the ambit of Jesus's life and faith...
If you choose 
and we are assured that Jesus does choose
But he chooses not just symptoms
but fulness of life
not just a narrow healing.
To us Jesus says, 
I do choose
...but we may have to confront like Naaman
our pride, our lack of humility, our notion of our own importance,
certainly our sinfulness
and be prepared to enter into the abundant life
that we are being offered.