Sunday, July 29, 2012

Deep reflections

Readings for Sunday 5 August 2012 might include 2 Sam 11:26-12:13, Psalm 51:1-12, Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35 (Proper 18-10th Sunday after Pentecost)

There are times when we feel very close to God
and times when we feel far away.
Sometimes we understand why this is so
and sometimes we just don't get it!

This theme can be explored a little by the reading we get for this week.
In the reading from John (chapter 6:24-35) we are led on a little journey of questions
which, in a way, characterises our relationship with God

They asked Jesus: Rabbi, when did you come here?’ ... Then
they said to him, 
‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ and then they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

These seemingly innocent questions are more telling than at first they seem.
Jesus is questioned about his miraculous powers (How did you get across the lake?)
Then he is asked how can we respond ...what must we do? .... and finally he is once again asked about signs? How will we know that what you are doing is the real thing?
God grabs our attentionWe well-meaning Christian folk do well to bear this in mind
God is working outside the religious parameters that we set.
It is clear that people are drawn to the life of God above and beyond the truth of what the church (or any religious system for that matter) teaches
This does not invalidate the revelation that Christians have come to understand about the mystery of God in Christ
that in Christ, God is revealed as he has never been before,
that the truth of God is made known through the mystery of suffering, death and resurrection
that God's love and peace transcends everything in the universe and will not be overcome
but we are reminded that we do not have the only keys that open the box of experience of God!
So, there is abundant Godly activity in the world
and people are drawn to God irrespective of what we do.
God's activity in people's lives is already drawing them towards his love
and into relationship with him.
This is evident in Jesus himself
the signs that Jesus did were powerful drawcards
they grabbed people's attention
and brought them into the place where they might be able to hear what God was speaking to them in their life
This is an important thing to note.
It is not the signs themselves...the feeding of the 5000, the miracles of healing even,
but the relationship of faith and trust in Christ
that is important.

What then must we do?The signs prompt these people to ask how they can do do the works of God.
Jesus's response is not....learn some mystical techniques, or buy some magical is rather that you should believe and trust in the one whom God has sent
If we are to be like God, and do what God wants of us
then we need to commit ourselves to his way.
Paul puts it like this
I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in
love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
peace. (Ephesians 4:1)
What is striking about this passage is that it is a simple statement of faithfulness to the practice of the gospel
Paul is echoing what Jesus is saying: nurture the God-life within you not by supernatural excess or crazy religious practice, but by humility,gentleness and patience.
Believe, John says, in God's Son and nurture that relationship.
This is perhaps, almost certainly, less attractive than performing miracles
but it is the sure way forward.
We can expect that we will grow in Christ in so far as we take time to nurture the relationship that we have with him.

But can we still have a sign?It is not surprising that the listeners don't get this...they never do
Or I should say we never do!
We still want a sign.
But there is a little hope in this account!
‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Wanting to believe what Jesus says about the close, faithful, trusting relationship with God
these people want a sign to prove that what is is being said is true
Maybe this is understandable,
and it gives Jesus the opportunity to say again what needs to be said...
..this bread, this living relationship with the what gives life to the world.
And some of them are able to cry out....Sir give us this bread alwaysSometimes we glimpse what God is offering us
and long for it.
And we desperately want...not miracles or signs...but life

Get the focus right
If we want this thriving relationship then we need to throw our energies into it
rather than the superficiality of religion.
It is not the signs and wonders that will draw us to God
it is the Jesus relationship.
This relationship will be nurtured through prayer
  • so pray a bit more

  1. Try to spend a little time each day being quiet and listening to God

  2. Read a short piece of the Bible and listen to what it is saying to say you

  3. Have two or three people who you specially pray for each day
it will be nurtured through caring for Jesus in the lives of the poor and suffering

  • so care a bit more

  1. We probably don't have to look far to find someone we can care for.

  2. This caring need not be onerous but should begin to expand our comfort zone

  3. Let it be a quiet unassuming work...let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing
but can't we have miracles.......we are so fickle
We want living bread, we need to feed on the life of Jesus.
Spend your time and energy on that.

Those of us who week by week share in the sacrament of Christ's Holy Communion
need to see this sign ....the bread and the wine.....
as the reminder that we are not seekers of miracles, or lookers for signs
but we are feeders on Christ.
He is the living bread, who God has given us to feed and nurture us.
Look to him the food of all our life

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sex, prayer and food

Readings for Sunday 29th July (9th Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 17) 2 Sam 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Sex, food and prayer
The title for this week may surprise some! But these are themes from these readings.
Though they don't neatly 'click' together, they speak of some really fundamental things that drive us.
David who we continue to read about, is at once both heroic and flawed
It was ever so!
Here we read about how the successful King
successful because he has been responsive to God's promise
can still get it wrong.
He commits adultery and fathers a child.
More than this, he weaves a web of intrigue and deceit
ultimately climaxing in the murder of the innocent man he has wronged.
For this he will come to know God's wrath
and he will live with this serious failure for the rest of his life.

I reflect that we should all be careful of being judgmental
There but for the grace of God go you and I?
But how does David lose the plot so fundamentally.
Like you and me he does it because he forgets that it is God who is is charge, not David!
David thinks that it is his life plan that he implementing
and so that he is invincible.
It is the fall of the proud... hubris ... in classical terms

Paul's prayer this week is for his fellow Christians that they may freely acknowledge God's love and greatness
It is a mystery which lies outside out understanding
and is part of of our growth and learning as humans.
David's fault, like us so often,
is that when things are going well
we can easily be seduced into thinking it is we who are responsble.
And we can act as if we are God
and give ourselves permission to do anything.
Even sin.
This requires some subtlety and care
issues are not always, indeed never,
Black and white
and so Paul's prayer
"that (we) may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that (we) may be filled with all the fullness of God"
is a good and necessary prayer for caution and humility.

God's abundanceThe wonderful story of the feeding of the 5000
reminds us that we have no need to panic (as David did)
and that God will always act with abundance in our lives.
At times we will even see Jesus walking on the water and inviting us to join him!

So today, our prayer is to remian faithful to the Spirit of God
who has blessed us time and time again
to not presume, as David did, that God does and will sanction everything and anything we choose to do.
God demands more of us than that.
Pray, as Paul urges us, that we all may understand the mystery of God's love
ever deeper and deeper in our lives
And let this be our prayer for each other.

God pours out his abundant love,
spiritually and materially
we don't need to panic.
We can trust his control of our lives.
Can we trust ourselves.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Great expectations

(this is one a number of pictures I took last year  of the rather excellent model in the Israel Museum of the city of Jerusalem as it would have been before AD 70...when the Temple was destroyed)

Readings for this Sunday in the Lectionary for Sunday 22nd July 2012 can include 2 Samuel 7:1-14, Psalm 89:21-38, Ephesians 2:11-22 & Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This is probably a "Trinitarian" sermon...three in one. Any way, food for thought

This week's readings point us to a range of ways we can respond to the call of God in our lives.
  • We should do what God requires not what we think God requires
  • There are some fundamental movements that the Gospel will always seek to draw out of us
  • God desires healing and wholeness for each one of us and this is a profound dynamic which naturally draws people to Jesus

What does the Lord require?
There is no doubt that David was responsive to God's will, but as we read his story
we also discover that he is sometimes willful and disobedient.
We are all rather like this.
While we may seek to be God's people and to do his will
our understanding of what that will might be is often slippery.
I, for example, sometimes say that my problem with hearing the voice of God
is that I need to be clear when I am hearing God's voice
and when I am hearing Stephen's voice!
I am more than occasionally capable of deceiving myself.

If nothing else when we are tempted to say "The Lord says to me...."
we should have at least a mild suspicion
that we may not be quite as clear about this as we think we are.
We should at least test this.
David, for example, says...The Lord says build me a house...
this would seem to be a logical conclusion of his work in establishing Jerusalem
He has fought long and hard to get here
The Ark of the Covenant, the focus of Israel's ambitions
has finally been brought into the city
now there is one thing only to do.
Build a temple.
But it is not to be.
This is a salutary lesson....
The Lord's voice is more than
the logical conclusion of our personal thought processes.
At times we act as though that is all it is.
Or even that we are so fully aware of our own thought processes
that we are always open and upfront about them

God's unremitting work
Ephesians 2 reminds us that the work of God
is dependent on God and not on our efforts.
This is often a hard lesson for us to learn
We are so focussed on being good and getting it right
that we often ignore completely
the profound dynamic which undergirds the basis of our faith.
God has already acted
and achieved in Christ
all that needs to be done
to perfect his work in creation.
We, often seduced by the notion that salvation depends on our personal goodness or holiness,
need to learn this lesson.
It is God's desire to bring the whole of creation together.
Our common humanity is signified by God's own unity.Though different and able to be appreciated in many different ways
we are drawn back time and time again to the fact that God is UNITY
In the example Paul gives he is referring to those "who are far off...and those who are near"
those who are inside the covenant (the Jews) and those wo are outside(the Gentiles).
Note that Paul does not say
we should work tirelesssly to bring those who are far off closer
he actually says that Christ
has already made both groups into one,
and broken down the dividing wall.
We are already one!!
We simply have to reach out and take that

We, like David, don't readily or easily get this
so locked are we into our own egotistical way of seeing things
So Paul reminds us that our efforts need to be directed
not to reinventing the wheel
but to building on Christ
who is already in place as the foundation and cornerstone.
Our work is not invention of new ideas
it is building on the firm foundation.
To do this we need to nurture our own relationship with Christ
through prayer, through worship through service and ministry.
Each time we pray, each time we share in the Eucharist
we are saying I want to be built up
We affirm the fact that this work
established and complete as it is already in Christ
will be worked out in me
and in the world.
It is already established and seeks its fulfillment
Our focus is building on Christ
what ever else we think we might be and do
we only succeed
in so far as we are built on that sure foundation.

Take time
There is a sense in which this is a tireless work
we all know the truth
of what Jesus says
There is an enormous harvest to bring in and all too few labourers!As we read the Gospel today we recognise that even Jesus struggles to make time to renew himself
for this heavy and taxing work.
We busy folk know the dynamic of this story,
we like to take time to prepare
but we have competing demands
and they crash in all too readily.
Jesus habitually used to find himself overwhelmed by the demands of his ministry
So he would take time to step aside and be quiet.
But today we read, as we do quite often,
that the demands of life run wild
and do not respect Jesus's own personal needs.
We all know something of this.

This does not stop Jesus
from trying day after day to capture this time.
Even, we see, right at the very end of his life
when he could be excused for trying to flee
or to protect himself
Jesus goes out into the garden of Gethsemane to pray.
How easily we forget this!
We often, usually, even habitually
put our prayers to one side.
And then we wonder why we get a bit lost.
It is not only, I think, because we lack faith.
It is because we lack discipline!!
It takes discipline
to continue to build on the foundation.
But that is actually the only thing that will work.
David learns that when you get distracted
and think you are the foundation
then you are heading off in the wrong diretion.
Paul reminds us that
Christ is our foundation
and that we build on him.
Prayer, The Bible, Service, Worship, Eucharist...
these are the places we experience
building and the establishment of Christ's kingdom.
Jesus's experience shows us
that to do this we need discipline,
decision to act.
There are lots of competing interests
Christ is the true foundation
already established,
we need to commit ourselves to him
through the disciplined life.
Lest we forget and think that we are the Messiah.
Lest we find our ourselves
building in the wrong place.
Lest we find that our necessary needs are
crowded out.

Pray and act this week
to do one fresh thing to re-establish God's building program
in Christ, on the sure foundation
in a firm, committed and disciplined way.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Destined for adoption and blessing

Readings this week, Sunday 15th July,  include: 2 Samuel 6:1-19*, Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 24, Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29 (Proper 15 - Pentecost 7)

This week we think about the ups and downs of life. 
We read about theExecution of John the Baptist,(Mark 6) 
and in the Old Testament (2 Sam 6) about a man 
who dies seemingly while trying to do the right thing.
What we easily realize is that our lives our like this. 
There are things which happen which deeply shake us, 
and "natural causes" to which we are subject which seem deeply unfair.
The innocent die, get sick and suffer.
The funeral service reminds us "In the midst of life we are in death".
Something I am often struck by when taking a funeral 
and ministering to the bereaved.
Life is like that.
Amidst all this 
Paul writes for us an amazingly evocative poem 
about the depth of our relationship with God.
These poems often draw out of us feelings of deep praise and thankfulness
In Christ 
we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace 
that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and insight 
he has made known to us the mystery of his will,
according to his good pleasure 
that he set forth in Christ,
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to gather up all things in him, 
things in heaven and things on earth.
though at times of stark difficulty and tragedy

Poetic words can often leave us cold.
We are reminded of the need to dwell richly with God
in the reality of our day to day experiences.

Take a few moments this week 
to locate the points in the last few days
where you have been most deeply affected...positively or negatively
What might this be saying to us?
How might God be asking us to respond, 
and what is God offering to us?
Listen to what God is saying, 
and ask him to show you how you should respond today.
Pray quietly for openness to the Spirit of God and the will to do what God needs you to do.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Focus and Mission

Some readings for Sunday 8 July 2012 (Proper 14-6th Sunday after Pentecost might include : 2 Samuel 5:1-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians  12:2-10, & Mark 6:1-13)

What do you make of the Gospel?

In explaining it to other people, for example,
what is it that we consider to be the core of our belief?
And what influences how we tell our story?
The readings for this morning gives us some interesting insights.
About God controlling our destiny,
about supernatural experience,
about hearing the authoritative voice of God,
and about responding to rejection.
Some good issues.

In the Hebrew Scriptures
we have a strong sense of how our destiny is in God's hand.
So our understanding of what God is doing
comes from how we understand what God has done.
Chiefly this is presented to us through the Scriptures.
The stories given to us there are woven together
to show how God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year. (as the song goes)
We read a little piece of that story today,
as David takes up his kingship
and he enters the city of Jerusalem
which becomes the focus of so much of God's promise.
We do need to note that Biblical scholarship shows us
that "destiny" is as much a human construct
as it is a 'biblical truth'.
The stories are selectively edited to show important things like:
the importance of Jerusalem
God's anointing of leaders
and the importance of worship.
At times that editing seems more human than godly
and we need to bear that in mind!

The Supernatural 
Paul speaks of a "person" he knows who had a vision of heaven.
It is very striking because it happened 14 years previously and he is still talking about it.
It seems he is obviously talking about himself.
And it reminds us that many of us
perhaps all of us
have such experiences which are very important
in helping us understand our relationship with God.
But Paul also sagely reminds us
that such experiences can "puff us up"
and he notes that his own bodily weakness
(the thorn in the flesh?)
reminds him that supernatural experience
is to be kept in perspective.
It does not mean that we are specially chosen,
or more that we are some how better than others.
This is an important reminder.

Hearing Jesus 
Two little incidents are given to us this morning (Mark 6:1-13)
Mark often does this, he sets incidents alongside each other to help us critique them
The first story is of Jesus preaching in his home town,
and we read that the congregation is impressed
and hears a man who speaks with authority.
Clearly they have discerned
the Spirit's presence in the utterances of Jesus.
The implicaton is clear,
we should hear Jesus's voice and respond
BUT we immediately read
how this amazement turns into something negative.
This is rather difficult to understand
other than the fact that we know
that a "prophet is without honour in his own home"
A sad but true reality of a complex of emotions.

However, we are invited to move on,
and we read immediately
that Jesus, who has been warmly received,
becomes unable to respond to people's needs
because their own narrowness prevents them from being responsive.
This causes Jesus to move on and leave this rejection behind.

He launches a new approach,
going away from the place where he would most want to have shared his good news
to other towns and villages,
we see him sending out his disciples
who are able to spread his work even further
and from this we see incredible success.

What one earth is God doing? 
In all this we have quite complex reflections on how God acts and how we respond?
There are deep theological truths:
God controls our destiny
The world we inhabit is supernatural as well as natural
Jesus's voice is powerful to change and heal
As disciples we are empowered to act
But we also need to heed the ways we often misuse these encounters with God
Destiny is often a convenient justification for our own human waywardness
The supernatural is not a justification of our personal status or holiness
We often fail to hear the voice of Jesus because of our own closed hearts and minds, and even our familiarity with the message or even his person
Far from being active participants in God's work, we are often passengers or onlookers.
These critiques are complex, and perhaps a little harsh but by and large we are easy on ourselves rather than hard
and so it probably does us good to take a firm measuring stick to our relationship with God
and seek to overcome our weakness, prejudices and biases.

What then can we do?

When in doubt we should always challenge oursleves
to return to our genuine roots
to seek out justice, mercy, love and forgiveness
truth and service
rather than advantage, prestige, power and "success".
To try in our prayer and thoughts and actions to genuinely seek to do what God wants of us
and to critique that
(to ask ourselves whether we are genuine)
to reflect on what we do
to repent of what we have done wrong
and seek to try again.

In this, opening ourselves to God's Spirit,
just a little more
each day
when ever we can.
We find that our own wills and willfulness
are changed
and the life of Christ
so freely given for us
may grow and flourish in us.