Monday, April 23, 2012

Baaa! Baaa! Black Sheep

Readings for Sunday 29th April 2012 include Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

This metaphor of The Good Shepherd
has appealed to countless generations of people.
Even those of us who don’t have a rural bone in our bodies
find it strangely comforting.
St John tells us in the Gospel
that the difference between a Good Shepherd and the hired help
is that the good shepherd puts his life on the line for the sheep.
And the Cross is the clearest image we have of this
we know Jesus’s care, love and sacrifice for us
in that he laid down his life .
And the moral point is (John tells us in his 1st letter
that seeing how the Good Shepherd lay down his life
We ought to lay down our lives for one another

The Character of our relationships 
Is this how our relationships are characterised?
By the fact that we put our lives out there for those we love.
We don’t always get this right.

When we are in a relationship for example
we may make the mistake of thinking 
that the other person is there to fulfil us.
This Good Shepherd idea would be 
that it is rather the other way around!
We are there to see that the other person is fulfilled
our life is at the service of those who we are called to love.

Not a recipe for being exploited
But an important insight
(indeed there is to be a mutuality about should go both ways)

we could give some constructive thought to where 
the Spirit invites us to ‘lay down our life’.

Is there someone whose life is ours to care for?

How do we serve the other?
Interesting probably to think about those who we feel we don’t want to serve. 
What might that be telling us?

      Jesus, let me not a hired hand
      show me 
      how to truly care for others
      as you do
      that I may truly 
      lay down my life

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Being who you are

April 22nd  2012 is  the Third Sunday of Easter: Thinking about Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-6, & Luke 24:36-48

One of the themes that strikes us about Psalm 4 is about being right.
Indeed the Psalm begins:
Answer me when I call O God of my right!
But the passage of 1 John  3 also ends with the quirky little  statement
“Let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous”
The Psalmist, who may indeed have been David but we have no way of knowing for certain,
lives in what Walter Brueggeman calls ‘a culture of shame’
That is, he has been humiliated by lies, gossip and slander.
We all know what this is like.
I still remember how hurt I was when I heard that another priest had slandered me behind my back and called me a fool.
I don’t know why he did it (I could suspect!)
but we are never really sure of what other people’s motivations actually are.
The Psalm suggests that the solution to this
is not madcap defence
but trust in God
If we are right with God then we can stand firm.
Not always easy to do. But it has the ring of truth about it.
St John  is coming at this fropm a slightly different angle.
He suggests that there is a fundamental disconnect
between God’s people and the world
and there is always a sense in which we will be misunderstood
even hated by the world.
John suggests that  what we see in Jesus is the way we ought to be and behave.
That we have an innate knowledge of what is right and also what is wrong.
That to persist in lawlessness: be it cheating, adultery, lying, theft, dishonesty, cruelty is
lawlessness and sin
This is what wreaks havoc in our lives.
But, we also know what is right
and what is good
and like the psalmist who says
“put your trust in the Lord”
so John says “do what is right”
Is there one good thing that I can do?
Is there a place where I feel besieged, yet need to trust

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The living presence of Jesus-True or False?

Readings for Easter 3 22nd April,2012.  Psalm4, Acts 3:12-20; 1 John 2:15-17, 3:1-6; Luke 24:36-48

There are perhaps two ways we can approach the resurrection stories:
One extreme is that we see them as
symbolical narratives of great spiritual truth,
that way we don’t have to worry about whether the nature of the events is factual
we take them for their symbolical value
The other is that we just take at
face value 
what we may have always been told
and again, don’t have to think much 
about what we are encountering.
Last week’s Gospel reminds us that 
we should do more than just park our brains
We have to grapple with inconsistency and doubt.
Luke, though, is at pains to point out
the physical truth of the experience.
This passage we read tells us
This is not a ghost!
This is a fleshly body. 
you can touch,
which consumes food.
It is the resurrected body of Jesus.


Death inevitably confuses us. 
This death, no less than others, has its degree of confusion
We, ourselves, are invited to steer the middle way
and to try to understand
what it is about.
We see Peter, for example, and the other disciples having to grapple
as they come to understand
that the death of Jesus has fundamentally changed their lives
Death, of course, does that.
We are not to look at it only symbolically 
or to disregard our doubts
but rather to struggle with what it means to believe.
Peter gets to the conclusion
that this resurrection has made the
power of Jesus
available through his disciples
and not just through the body of Jesus.

We are invited in Easter 
to grapple with the life of Jesus.

How and why is Jesus alive for you and me?
And what are we to do with that.

This week:
Pray for insight and faith to believe aright
Pray for faith to grow in the resurrection
Pray for courage and insight about how to use that power

   Lord of Easter,
   show me your living presence this and every day.
   Grant me grace to know how to live
   in the power of your resurrection 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Communion, Community, Common Unity

A short reflection on Psalm 133

   How very good and pleasant it is when sisters  and brothers live together in unity!
   It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard,
   on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
   It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.
   For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life for evermore.

Let’s get together, yeah! yeah!, yeah!
Goes a pedestrian song of the 60s
This, strangely,  could be the theme for the Christian Church
Indeed it is at the heart of the Gospel
(and indeed other religions too!)

With God
So week by week we share in a sacrament called Holy Communion.
This is the outward and visible sign
that we are getting together with God.
So during Easter we are praying
Become what you receive
The Body of Christ
United with the Risen Christ
so that we are a means of his continuing presence in the world
Do you feel as though you are
a Real Presence of Christ to the world?
If not…this is why we are making this prayer and setting this goal for Easter

With each other
This lovely little Psalm (133)
talks about what happens
when we strive to live in unity with each other
It’s a great source of blessing
to ourselves,
to our sisters and brothers
to our world
he uses some luxurious imagery
It’s like a great spiritual anointing
like oil pouring down over the head and overflowing over your beard, your clothes and your whole body.
It’s like the dew on the grass
the luxurious green of the fields
and the beauty of the mountains.
We may, of course,  need to work on this
We may need to try and be open to other people
to exercise forgiveness and kindness
and to engage in community building.
Can you think of one thing you can do this week to strengthen the unity you have with someone
or perhaps to repair a break in the wall.

With the world
I think this is a message we long to hear as people.
That we are not just isolated boxes
we are inextricably linked to each other.
The Psalm is reminding us that this is how God’s blessing is poured on us, and the whole world

Things to think about and do this week

As we think about community 
we naturally reflect on the collections of groups and individuals to which we belong:
Family, work, neighbours, school, interest groups are some that spring to mind.
This week pick one of the communities to which you belong and think and pray about it by just holding the names of members before God for a few moments.
You could work through one group, or do a different group each day.

We are also broken. 
Strangely thinking about Community, Communion, and our common Unity also highlights where this might be absent.
Is there one place I could do some repair work this week…in a relationship, in a situation, in a family, at work…?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reading for Sunday April 15 can include Acts 4:32-37, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31 & Psalm 133
We would and do expect the accounts of the Resurrection experiences to be important parts fo the scriptural story.
They, after all. speak of what is at the heart of the Christian Gospel

that Jesus who once was dead
was encountered alive by the first disciples.
The stories are not straight forward
they are of course
sailing in uncharted waters.

We could make a couple of observations from todays readings:

ACTS: what ever else we see
the early church understood that things had changed
and there was a tremendous boost of energy
when Jesus was encountered alive
POINT: if we are wanting to focus our energies
then we look not to the empty tomb
but to the presence of the risen Christ
in our midst.

1JOHN: This is about seeing things as they are
God is light, and lights dispels darkness
We also need to be up front about where
we get things wrong
If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves
But that is not the end
because God who faithful will and can forgive sins
and bring us into relationship with Jesus
POINT: This changes and deepens our relationship with God
and is an invitation to live with a new freedom

We should expect Jesus to bring peace
in our relationships
and in our lives
And we also need to take this seriously
the story of Thomas
reminds us
POINT: that we are not required to park our brains
or arbitrarily dismiss our doubts
but rather that
in struggling with doubt
and inviting Jesus to deal with us realistically
we can move to a deeper and profounder encounter with God.


Where is God inviting and challenging you to respond at this time?

Where do you need peace? Where do you need light? Where do you grapple with doubt?

None of this need be negative: rather it is the opportrunity to be a deeper person, more deeply committed and energised by the Holy Spirit of God

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Become what you receive

One of the traditions in parts of the early Church at the time of giving Communion was for the person administering the bread and the wine to say to the one receiving.

Become what you receive

and the communicant would respond

The Body of Christ

In that sense the eating of the food of the Eucharist is different from our normal eating.

When we eat the piece of lemon cake, or steak

it becomes part of us

when we eat the Body of Christ

and drink the Blood of Christ

It does not become us

we are becoming Christ’s Body

This is God’s way of feeding us.

Not so that Jesus becomes like us

but so that we become like Jesus

We will do that today

and perhaps for the Easter season

As we give the sacred food

we will say

Become what you receive

and you might like to say

The Body of Christ

The Blood of Christ

or simply Amen!


This of course is also what’s happening

in baptism.

When we are signed with the Cross

it is being signified

that we are beginning a journey

to become like the one whose mark we now bear


So as we recommit ourselves


I turn to Christ

I repent of sin

I reject selfishness

I renounce evil

We are saying

this is my heart’s desire

to become The Body of Christ.

The Body

As I share the Eucharist

I am asked what do I want become

When we come to be baptized

or to recommit

and my prayer is

The Body of Christ

I turn to Christ.

As I eat the food

and you eat the food

The food doesn’t become us

We become what we receive.

We become the same thing

this is a powerful understanding for

Communion and Baptism.

May we all become what we receive

Thursday, April 05, 2012

As often as you do this

Thinking about the Last Supper today we reflect on John 13

The Command
We don't often think of it like this but the Eucharist (The Lord's Supper, the Mass...or however you call it) is a command
{This is where the word Maundy comes from...the Latin "mandatum" meaning a command.... we still use words like mandate and mandatory which have the same literary root}
Jesus tells us to break bread and drink wine, and remember him.
We are to do this when we get together
And so Christians have done this for 2000 years.
Our experience is that as we fulfill Jesus' s command
so we experience Jesus amongst us.
The early Christians coined this phrase:
The disciples knew Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
As we fulfill the command we experience Jesus.

Tonight, we also read of another command
"Love one another as I have loved you."
And as Jesus says this he washes his disciple's feet.
When Peter protests he is told that this is the way we experience the fulness of life.
and Peter (over the top as ever) says: then wash me completely.
Jesus's command is that we should do what he has done
that we should serve others.

We are meant to make the connection between the two commands.
Eucharist is not just about ritual observance
it is about how we live our life.
Worship services are not what we are on about
they are rather an expression
of how we are called to live our life.
They are not the end in itself.

Our obedience to Chris't command
to share the Eucharist
also commits us to obedience to service.

As Jesus goes out into the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane
we are reminded that his call to follow him
will not be without its uncertainty and danger.
But in the end
we who know the truth of Christ
understand this invitation
to be a command that we embrace.
Each time we share the Eucharist
we are always
called to remember
that we also called to serve

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one
another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this
everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Truly Wondrous

The great hymn of Isaac Watts often sung on Good Friday, When I survey the wondrous cross says in its final verse

    Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    that were a present far too small;
    love so amazing, so divine,
    demands my soul, my life, my all.

I am often struck how some "religiously correct" versions change the original word
"present" to the more religiously-correct word
The two words don't quite mean the same thing, do they?
They are not synonyms 
An offering is something that is required of us,
it is our duty, our reponsibility
A present is an expression of love
and is given 
rather than exacted as a tribute.

Watts, I suspect, deliberately used the word present
and we should not use the word "offering" any more.

What this points us to
is that the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ
is not a remote religious tale
it is about the way we live our life.
It is in the world of 'presents' rather than 'offerings'

It is about how we live outside church
not inside
It is about present 
rather than offering

So Watts continues not with religious sentiment
but rather with the total commitment of life

love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all

thus all the things we know about Good Friday
and all the challenge that it extends to you and me is not about what we do 
in  holy buildings
it is about what we do at work.
At home, at school,
in our family with our friends

The forgiveness that we seek
is about the sins we have committed in our job.
It is about how we live in our families.
The amazing love that we are called to exercise
is to our wives and husbands, our sons and daughters,
our brothers and sisters.

Being religious is a good way of distancing ourselves
from the realities of our life.

It is an offering rather than a present.

This year, let us go beyond that narrow formal duty...the offering
and instead be a present to God
committed in our life, where we are, where we live.

Love, so amazing so divine, demands nothing less.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Psalms of Sadness and Joy-Psalm 88

 As we approach Good Friday and Easter we continue our reflections on the Psalms. Today looking at a Psalm which reads like a deeply personal prayer of lament by one who is dying or grieving. Psalm 88

Death knocks us about!
We all know that
and we don't like it
I spend quite a lot of my time talking to people about death
their own, their husband's or their wife's,
their parent's, their child's,
their friend's
None of us escapes this.

This Psalm expresses many of our fears
and terrors about death
"Life is full of trouble!"
"I feel forsaken"
"I feel I am  in a deep dark Pit"
A Pit we call variously, Sheol, Hell or perhaps
in our unbelieving world

I cry out but nothing seems to alter the inevitability

This is perhaps what frightens us 
As we encounter death, as we face our own death,
everything seems to crash in around us.
As we look back into Genesis we begin to understand 
what that what those curious stories are about
is how we were once created in God's image
immortal and free
and gradually, increasingly we are overtaken by death
life becomes shorter,
anger and violence creep into human society
and the focus is no longer life
but death.

For thousands of years 
humanity has lived with that looming spectre of death
where everything seems gray and shadowy
where life seems a pale imitation beyond the grave
of the struggle that this life has been here .
I feel feel like I am drowning, I am in a Pit,
I am hopelessly and inevitably alone.

That was then, this is now.
This Psalm is really one which is dominated by the vision of death.
What the Christian revelation is all about is 
that what life is really to be  focused on is 
and that we have been saved from that shadowy, terrifying world
which is not the correct way to view what life is all about.
If we allow ourselves to enter in the mystery of death
we often get that.
Death is not the filter through which we are to view our lives
The Cross and Resurrection say to us that it is not Death that matters. It is God's power to act in our lives
Quite what this means takes time to understand
It is a different perspective

In what ways
Do I allow fear and deathliness to govern my life?
Where is God calling me to experience the salvation of Jesus?
For me? For others?  

Monday, April 02, 2012

Psalms of Sadness and Joy-Psalm 23

During the Lent-Easter season 2012 we are reflecting on some of the Psalms.
Today in Holy Week: Psalm 23

I have been heard to remark that all great literature
is either about love or death.
If it is truly great
then it is about
Love and Death
This most famous Psalm is one people often choose at the time of a funeral
walking through the darkest valley, or the shadow of death,
people are encouraged not to fear.
The truth is that for most, if not all, of us
Death frightens the pants off us!

Why is this?
I suppose there is fear of the unknown
coupled with that we often find deep emotion
difficult to handle
High or low
we recognise
that emotion takes over our lives
and we lose some of our control.
We don't like not being in control!

Perhaps the most deeply shocking thing
about Good Friday
is that Jesus is unable to do anything
to prevent his death.

This Psalm then speaks to that absolutre sense of helplessness
And it reminds us that in death
we are called to trust God
"The trust expressed is not just based on mood...Trust is not a rosy, romantic, optimistic view of things. Its foundations are prayer and thanksgiving and the story of salvation"  (James Mays commentary on Psalms p.118)
This is what this psalm is telling us
We can trust God, not because of wishful thinking
but because this is the same God who brought us out of the desert place
into the green pastures
God it is who has given us an abundance of provision
in this life
and our trust is that this goodness and mercy
will continue in the face of great evil
and for the Christian 
that God will continue to support us in the life to come
as we have been supported in this present life

What to think what to do with this
As I think about  recent encounters with death
what trust is God seeking to draw out of me?

Where I seem frightened in my life
can I look and see how God has dealt with me
in times gone by
what is that experience drawing out of me?

God of the Cross
my own fear and frailty
often leads me to despair.
My feeling often tell me you have let me down
and that my trust is misplaced.
Yet with eyes open I see that
your goodness and mercy
have always been with me.
May I trust that truth
today and always