Monday, August 27, 2012

On being free, and being set free

Readings for Sunday 2nd September might include  Song Songs 2:8-13, Psalm 45, James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-23 (Proper 22 & Pentecost 14)

It is good to be challenged.
On TV these days we are challenged all the time!
There are endless game shows, 
in which there is "challenge".
Some of it, most I suspect, quite ridiculous

But these days I often just find the News challenging!
Some days...Afghanistan, Syria, Israel,Refugees, Bombings, bank hold ups
Plane crashes, global warming, petrol, endless political drivel and infighting......
the news comes on and I feel my heart sink.
I often don't want to be challenged with so much stuff that I can do nothing about.

Today's readings remind us that there is about life a sense of challenge
which is good and right
and if we are not to be overwhelmed by it
we need to focus on the meaningful challenges

Right relationshipsThe curious passage in The Song of Songsis a an invitation to see that our intimate relationships
are called to be exciting and thrilling.
Many of us settle into a passive neutrality in our closest relationships
as though this is what God intends for us.
At least this passage reminds us that
there may be more that is possible
and we need perhaps to respond to the challenge
to seek depth
rather than to avoid the challenge and risk of getting close to another person.
This is not always easy!!

Responding to challenge.James remind us there are certain challenges that we need to watch out for in relationships
and he names some key principles:

  • generosity---which he sees as an inspired choice that we make about the character of our life. We choose to be generous

  • we need to listen rather than speak---this again is a choice that we make about the way we conduct our relationships

  • be slow to anger---another choice.Often we think of anger as something that overtakes us, that we have no control over. But james in suggesting that we be slow to anger is saying . Wechoose whether or not we are angry.

  • Other choices her talks about are : turning away from wickedness, and putting into practice with our lives what we say with our lips
It is important to get the force of all this.
The challenge is to make choices in our lives 
which put the gospel into practice
and not just mouth platitudes.

Jesus puts this another way when he talks about the competing interests
of religion and the heart.
In a major thrust of his teaching he reminds us 
that it is not the rules and regulations of religion
that are important
it is the affairs of the heart.
In the end the bad and good that we get caught up in
comes about from the decisions of our heart.
This is not popular stuff.
But it is reality.
Wickedness, evil, sin...however we name it..
comes about from choices we make and not accidently.

Accidents do happen!I hear you say
and the consequences of accidents can be dire.
But what we are concerned with is not what accidently happens
but what deliberately happens.

When St Paul says to early churches
"It is for freedom that we have been set free" (cf Galatians 5)
he is not making the claim of some political manifesto
but rather a statement 
about God's intentions for humanity
...that we might be free to choose to do God's will
rather than to be pushed about by 
our own selfishness and sin.
In classical theology
we understand this to mean that 
we cannot actually do this
without the grace of God 
given to us through the life death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ.
To be free from anger...we need Jesus
to be a truly generous person...we need Jesus
to be loving and caring...we need Jesus.

We fail in so far as we think we can do this of ourselves.
One of our Prayer Book collects says...we have no power of ourselves, to help ourselveswe are reminded that we need to allow God to dwell within us
and to reach outside of our inward looking self
if we are to be as God intends us to be

This weekPerhaps this is "tough love" or a reality check.
Stop copping out and blaming others for behaviour:
meanness, hurtfulness, poorly controlled anger, 
spite, and all other manner of sinful relationship stufftake responsibility and choose to be free.
We cannot do this without Christ.
So our prayer this week?

Lord make us free
as Jesus himself is free.
Free to love you radically
and put aside our sinful ways. Lord make us free. AMEN

Monday, August 20, 2012

Polish your armour

Readings for Sunday 26 August  2012 can include 1Kings 8:1-43*, Psalm 84, Ephesians 6:10-20; John  6:56-59 (Proper 21- 13th Sunday after Pentecost)

What does it mean to be holy?
It is not a terribly popular idea these days.
Our world craves sensuality and luxury
but seemingly eschews the call to be holy.
This comes probably from some false ideas of what "holiness" means.
We actually confuse it with hypocritical piety 

done to make us look good
rather than adopted as a quality of life.

Nevertheless we are reminded in these readings of the call to holiness
and it would be remiss of people of faith
to fail to recognise that God calls us to be holy
even though the world looks down on this vocation.

Holiness means "set apart for God"
So when Solomon commissions the temple of God
it is dedicated, made holy, set apart for the use of God.
We do this all the time when we pray for God's blessing
and this is a practice which is worth reflecting on.
When we pray the prayers of grace at mealtimes
we are reminded that even the ordinary things of life
are set apart for God
When we are baptised or we baptise
we remember that the baptised,
you and me, are God's holy people
set aside for God's purposes.

In our poverty of thought about baptism
we often overlook the fact
that baptism does effect change in us
It "sets us apart for God".
That we might worship him, serve him
by prayer
by care for others
by dedication of our lives.

Put on holinessIn the wonderful passage about the armour of God that Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus, we are reminded that not only is holiness a gift bestowed
it is also a choice about the way we conduct our lives.
It is not just a gift given at baptism
it is also a choice we make each day
about the way we will try to live
Paul, using the imagery of a suit of armour,
reminds us that the armour of God is to be put on
and it constitutes such things as:
  • Truth
  • Righteousness
  • proclamation of the good news
  • faith, in order to fight evil
  • the promise of salvation
  • and the sword of the Spirit which, Paul says, is the word of God.
He is talking here, I think, both symbolically and actually.
However we interpret it
we are to realise that being holy
is also a decision we make
about the way we choose to live.
It is not just the passive gift of God.

This week
You might pray to put on the armour of God.
At the beginning of each day
make a commitment to be a holy person.
It takes only the time required to say a focus prayer
as we get up
to make the sign of the Cross
or a deliberate intention
to be truthful, right with God, in the fight against evil
a bearer of good news, a fighter for peace
A person of the word.
Let this be your prayer this week.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dining out with Jesus

Readings for 12th Sunday after Pentecost -Proper 20 (19th August 2012) read one reading each day to prepare yourself for Sunday's worship
1 Kings 2:10-3:14*; Psalm 11; Ephesians 5:11-31; John 6:51-58
A riot of discussion inevitably follows the commentary of Ephesians 5
(which is about the relationship of husbands and wives)
But you need to read it to see what it actually says:

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind.

There is much misinterpretation of this passage.
And we can see that misinterpretation often is caused by self-serving attitudes
rather than a balanced or comprehensive reading of the text.
Indeed the first rule of any scriptural reflection should be 
to make sure that you have read what goes before
and also read what comes after.
The Bible is not simply a collection of disconnected phrases
which you can pull out like a magical promise box
and presume that the words will speak to your particular situation
at that particular time.
We often want it to be like easy would it be
to just have God on tap
and pull him out with a certainty
even though this may all be a bit cryptic.

[There are plenty of stories that give the lie to this...unfortunately
many people will tell you how, when in trouble, they flicked their Bible open
and there was the answer.
As I say, we may want God to be like that,
but it doesn't seem to make sense.
Why would we have a whole narrative Bible, of most complex and sophisticated story, poetry, worship and theology
if all God had wanted us to have was a collection of random phrases?]

What we are often doing is trying to find an easy way of dealing with a complex situation.
We want a quick fix---when what we need to do is to tread carefully
and think intelligently.

The first reading (about Solomon's choice of wisdom over riches and power) reminds us
that we are easily seduced by fear and greed
and often less than honest about our own motivations.

If we take more than a cursory look at the Ephesians passage, too,
we see that it is more than just an instruction for wives to do what their husbands tell them to.
Indeed that looks like a misreading if we think carefully about it.

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. ......Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

This is about a mutual submission, 

not the dominance of one party over another.
Indeed, I often joke with marriage couples....that women only "have to be subject to their husbands" while men have to love as Christ loved the Church
to my mind that means dying!

In reality as we read the whole passage we see that there is a toing and froing
which reminds us that
there is a mutuality about this relationship
in which husband and wife should be subject to each other....and both should love the other to death!!!
This, to my mind, is the reality (and experience) of marriage.
But is complex, rather than simplistic.

Wisdom vs Power and MoneyWe read, too, in the reading about Solomon
that this legendary king is confronted with a choice all politicians are....
what will we pursue in the exercise of our office.
The reading of the Solomon story shows us that if we trust the knowledge of God
if we prefer wisdom to selfish gain
then the other things will fall into their correct perspective.
This, of course, gladdens the heart of the godly person
but also exposes that much about modern day politics and life is distorted and untrue.

The Gospel reminds us 

that even though 
is telling us that we should stick with the stuff that is close to our hearts
as the food we eat is to our day to day life
and relationships;
like the relationship and life he invites us to have with him.
That so often we would prefer to not engage with that
choosing rather to be theological or theoretical.
It is not that theology and theory are unimportant
they have their place.
BUT principally and primarily
we are called to feed on Jesus
and be as concerned with him day to day as we are about food and our ordinary concerns.

As you think about your eating 

in the last week

what does it tell an image

about the quality of the relationship that God wants with you and me

The words 
-- intimacy and reality

spring to mind for me.

-- Nourishment and nurture

-- time to be with others

are all important things to recognise as

"godly imperatives"

Is your spiritual life

as good as your dining-life?

I hope so!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Feeding on Christ

The readings for Sunday August 12 2012 include 2 Samuel 18:5-33*; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:17-5:2*; John 6:35-51*.  It is the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)

Family birthdays are always great occasions.
Our immediate extended family now has over fifty people on both sides, and covers four generational groups
so when we get together there is already a level of energy and excitement which needs to be harnessed and enjoyed.
As in these weeks we explore the image that Jesus uses of Feeding on His Body
we are invited to make the connection 
that eating and drinking,
the powerful human communion 
which we enjoy every day,
--- sometimes small and private,
and at other times, like birthdays,
is bubbly, exuberant and overflowing with excitement----
All these ideas usefully enliven our understanding
of what "feeding on Jesus" might mean.

Think back, for example,  in this week on how you have eaten.
What is breakfast like?
Have there been special meals?
Are you hurried or aware at meal times?
With whom have you shared your meals?
And how has that sharing gone?
What does our eating say about our life?

The next question then is to use our day to day experience
to ask the same question about our relationship with Jesus.
Are we as aware of Jesus in our lives
as the tomatoes we have eaten in the last few days?

We make a mistake 
if we think that this seemingly light or humorous reflection
is unimportant or trivial.
Neither eating, 
nor our Godly relationship 
are trivial.
A birthday party reminds us that these sorts of times of celebration 
are very important in our life together.
The dynamics that flow so abundantly
which include our love, joy and celebration
when we gather with those who we know well 
and to whom we are bound by family and friendship;
and also tension, unresolved hurt, anger and resentment
are the very substance of the gospel's operation.

It is no mistake, too, 
that the common celebration of Christians is
Holy Communion
a commemoration of a meal.
And we are invited to bring all our experience of eating together
to our understanding of life.
When we gather and proclaim 
that we feed on Christ
all the imagery of our eating together
comes to bear.
And just as we are thrilled 
to feel and know we are  really and fully alive when we eat together
so we discover that in sharing this meal
we encounter Jesus
and it enlivens us
and we are changed.

And so we pray: