Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Opening the heart

Readings for the First week of Advent beginning Sunday December 2: Jer 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-38 (the 3 year cycle begins Year C this week, reading through Luke's Gospel as the year goes on)

Advent is heavy on themes.
Chief amongst these is preparation for Christmas.
Week by week we mark this passage (slow for children, but astonishingly fast for adults) with the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath.
It rather ticks the weeks off.
Though if we pay attention
it is not just about getting through the season
we are led carefully into the mystery of the life God has in store for us
the hope God has for you and me and for the world
and the sense of promise that is caught up in human life.
We 'intuit' a lot of this at Christmas time any way. With a strong sense of expectation at the great celebration, we need to also look for something more substantial
than a day of fun and feasting.
Advent tries to point us to go a little deeper so try and take time in this season
to absorb something of the ethos.

Some pointers
The prophets point us to a sense of political fulfilment.
For the people of Israel it was about peace and stability.
These things do not come without cost and without work,
there is not the suggestion that God will come and wave a magic wand
and all will be made well.
There is always a sense that if we are to enjoy peace
then God's people are to lead the way
so when we hear Jeremiah say:
The Lord will raise up a righteous branch who
shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
We can also ask ourselves what this calls us to do
how do we, the righteous branch, grafted into Christ work for justice and righteousness here in Australia.
We are often very passive when it comes to politics
but where do we feel there is more need for justice
where can we strive for peace and stability.
This is of course part of the motivation
for the Christian to care for those in need
It is about fulfilling our Advent call.
for justice and righteousness
for peace and community
and not just sitting on the sidelines expecting something to happen.

Rocket science?
In a way this is not rocket science.
Jesus reminds us with the example of the trees changing and growing
that there is a continuous cycle of growth, expectation, and fulfillment
and his reminder is that we should
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

We should take the opportunity that we are given.
It is a recurring theme of his teaching
Be watchful and take the opportunity

So some Advent questions are
Am I in touch with what God is promising me?
Can I speak to God about what I hope for at this time in my life?
Is there some thing that I am called to do in this season
which furthers God's cause of justice, peace and righteousness?
What do I need to do to put that into action, or if I can't easily latch on to this idea
can I ask God for some direction.

The time is short...but the time is enough

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cross purposes

The strongest Christian image is without any doubt 
that of Christ on the Cross. 
On this feast of Christ the King 
one of our key insights is that the crucified Jesus wears a crown, 
and has a sign on his cross...The King of the Jews

Readings this Sunday are for the feast of the Reign of Christ. sometimes known as Christ the King. The last Sunday of the church's year. John 18:33-37 for Sunday 25th November 2012

For we Christians there is a certain irony about this notion of kingship
which we ascribe to Jesus.
First, it is old-fashioned.
Although we here in Australia do have a monarch. 
That monarch has only symbolical power.
If she were to choose to try and exercise the power that she allegedly has
the whole political system would explode.
At its very best it reminds us that leadership 
is not about being the boss
it is about being a servant.
And although Queen Elizabeth II lives an opulent and privileged lifestyle
most of us realise 
with even a cursory glance
that she is also tyrannised 
by the idea of monarchy.
In the blatant exposure that the famous are subjected to
we see that being a ruler
has not protected the things 
she hold most precious,
no doubt her family
from all the woes and troubles of life.
Rather the reverse!

Second, if we turn to the bible and look at 
the notion of kingship presented there
we see that it was an experiment that was predicted to fail.
And which did!
Samuel, seemingly against his better judgment, 
is persuaded to anoint Saul king
but he predicts 
that this change of government will end in disaster.
Though it is not without its high points
Samuel's prophecy is proved tragically true.
The kingship 
is a cause of pain and heartbreak,
of injustice and sorrow
to the people 
who God calls to follow him.

So, it is not suprising that the idea of kingship
even though it be Jesus 
who is our king
is not one without problem.

Christ the King
Indeed the clearest picture we have of Jesus 
is not enthroned on a throne of glory
but on a cross of wood
above which Pontiius Pilate has placed a sign
INRI - "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm."
Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.

There is something profoundly confronting 
about what is being said here
which is easy to overlook or mistake
We can take the sort of 'high moral ground' lesson
Like the one I just made 
about her majesty the Queen.
Kingship -is -a -form - of -radical -servanthood
(and that is certainly true)
But more is being expected of us than just moralism!

Or we can take the line
that life invites us to die to ourselves
(and this too is true).

But are we also being invited 
to see that Jesus's way of living life
is about confronting death and not being cowed by it.

Another way of viewing the atonement.

Not that God demands some sort of appeasing sacrifice
so that He will get over the (quite rightly justified) anger.
that a perfect deity might feel.

But rather that the Cross is an act of freedom-making.
How easily we forget this!

We seem to always think that the cross invites us to be crucified again.

We don't hear (maybe don't want to hear) 
that the enthronement of Christ the King
has set us free 
so that we don't have to attempt to do the impossible.
We cannot die for our sins, 
or for anyone else's
and we don't need to.

Everything that need to be done has been done.
Have we thus spotted 
the key characteristic of kingship 
that is displayed on the throne of Calvary.
The king dies to set his subjects free.

If we are called to live our lives in that spirit
then the question that we ask is not ...
how can I make up for the things that I have done wrong
but how can I set other people free?

Does what I do set myself and others free?

How easily we put demands on people which enslave them!

  • Expectations on our families that tyrannise rather than set free
  • Conditions that we place on our relationshipsthat in effect say ...I will only love you if you do what I want of you.
  • This is not true kingship that sets free It is dictatorship that enslaves.

This week
As we look at our lives:

Do I accept the freedom that Jesus has won for me? 
Freedom to know forgiveness. and freedom to forgive?

Are there things that I can be and do that set people---family, friends, associates---free rather than enslave? 
Can I give myself so that others might be free? 
What small thing can I do for someone this week that will give them greater freedom?

The servants of Christ the king, we, are not cruel masters; 
we are freedom fighters.
Embrace that freedom


Aeterni Christi Munera

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to tie my child’s sandal
and to encourage her
to leap small buildings

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to dare to love
but to dare to do it any way

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to step into the traffic
with a body of one my friends
following in a hearse

The eternal gift of Christ our king
invites me to accept myself with love
not with indulgence
but with love, and perhaps a little care
Such is the eternal gift of Christ
who doesn’t seem to think of himself
as a king

Monday, November 12, 2012

Won again!

Reading for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (proper 33)...Sunday 18 November 2012  1 Sam 1:4-20; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-11

...If we want to say anything about God
then we want to say that there is never a time when God was not,
there is never a time when Godis not,
and there will never be a time God will not be
This is fine language, reassuring and affirming
and the Bible readings this week help us to appreciate it more fully.

The story of Samuel's birth,
how every thing is seen to be in God's care right from the word "go"
so that Samuel is in the right place at the right time
and is able to do what God has set out for him to do
reminds us of a profound characteristic about God.
He has already prepared the place for us.
There is never a time when he was not.
And he draws us into this
From the very wombs into which we were born
to the moments in time and history
that we encounter
there is never a time when God's presence is not felt
and not available to those who yearn for God

reminds us, too,
that God is a God of destiny
who has things prepared for those who love God.
There is a goal, an end, a vision.
That vision for us is realised in Christ
who we are called to emulate
and who calls us to be like him.
God calls us to share the future with him.
Our destiny is to be drawn into the fulness of ligfe with God

So whether we look to the past or whether we look to the future
we find God already there.
God's hand already active in our life
even though we maybe don't recognise it.
God's hand already preparing a way for us.
So that we may become what God wants us to be

God of now
But as we embrace this powerful sense of destiny, even predestination
we are pointed by the apocalyptic sense of the gospel
to realise that where God's kingdom is to be focussed for you and for me
is not by looking back to see where we came from.
It is not by looking forward and trying to predict when the end of al things will come.
It is by living out our lifein the present.

The God who rules history and whose mighty care and love for us
is recognised in how we have been brought to this place.
The God who will bring all things to perfection
and who is our ultimate resting place.

Calls us to live in the here and now.

We may be tempted to retreat
We may be tempted to worry about the future

But the invitation of God's Holy Spirit is
Live NOW
Preach the Gospel now
Trust God now


we are to understand not how to do things as they were once done
not to try and do it as it should be done in the future
but to live out our faith NOW
The reality of what we are called to be and do iis to be lived out in the present.
What else do we have!

This week

Where is God calling me to live out love, forgiveness and hope in what I am going to do this week?

Where am I tempted to escape form my responsibilities by looking to the past, or predicting the future?

Is there some way that I can be more genuinely present to those who God calls me to serve?

Is there a way of being Christian that invites me to be faithful now?

How can I do it? Do it!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Profound gentleness

God is the essence of integrity
and God abhors hypocrisy
Jesus often talks about this 
and today we are invited 
to try and take this all a bit more seriously

Reading for Pentecost 24, Sunday 11th November (Proper 32) Ruth 3:1-5, 4:3-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:19-28; Mark 12:38-44

There is certain profound gentleness about this week's readings.
The story of a woman who finds a genuine life partner. 
And who, against all odds, becomes the mother of a great man.
Along with the gentle reassurance for the woman 
whose generosity is seen by God;
even though she gives little in what we euphemistically call "real terms"
she gives everything she has.
God sees what is real
 and sometimes even we recognise it
and so we are heartened.

In the middle of this there is something of a sterner reminder
that God abhors hypocrisy
and that there is about life
the mystery of sacrifice
which tests us to the very core of who we are.

The writer to the Hebrews
spells out in great detail
that sacrifice will be at the core of what our relationship with God is all about.

Getting it straight
Now we need to understand that there is a common misconception about sacrifice
that it is essentially about the taking away of life.
This is not necessarily or particularly so.
In fact if we look at the detailed instructions about sacrifice
in the Hebrew scriptures
we see that a lot of it is not about animal slaughter at all.
There are all sorts of sacrifices of grain and produce
which do not involve bloodshed.

In fact if we look at the word sacri-fice we can see that it is about making(the fice part of the word) things sacred or holy (the sacri part of the word)

Christ died that we might be made holy

In fact the writer of Hebrews uses the idea of Christ entering into God's presence
(going into the most holy place)
so that we too might enter into that presence

Simple reflection
The story of Ruth is an interesting but gentle tale
about one woman's journey into the heart of God.
It seems a simple love story
yet it needs also to be read in the context of the sort of ethnic tensions
that still exist in those lands we call HOLY today.
Ruth was not a Jew
she was what today we would call Jordanian or Lebanese, or Syrian, perhaps even an Iraqi.
Yet her faithfulness to her Jewish mother-in-law
and her willingness to do what needed to be done
saw a simple little tale
become an object lesson
in the all accepting love of God.

The Jews (like all of us really) were racked by ethnic division then as now.
And yet we read of one the greatest heroes
(in backwards order)...his father was Jesse, his grandfather was Obed, who was the child
not of a Jew but of a Moabitess.
David was the great grandson of a Palestinian outcast.
Be careful about what you hear. There is more than meets the eyes.

Likewise in the letter to the Hebrews
it is the call for us to be holy
and the permission to enter the closest presence of God
that we need to hear.
Not just the bloody sacrifice of Christ.
So obsessed are we about guilt and sin
that we fail to hear that there is cause for rejoicing.
Christ died, so that we could be close to God.
God is close, not far.
Don't push him away

A simple tale that we all know to be true
.. the rich can afford to be generous
But do we also pay attention to the great warning
God is not looking for who gives the most
either in real dollar terms
or even proportionately.
God looks at the heart
and despises hypocrisy.
The hypocrisy that judges others and fais to critique oneself.

Where is God inviting me to be tolerant?

To step outside my prejudices and to be more accepting?

Where do I hold back from drawing close to God?

Is there a time and place to be quiet and listen?

Is there an opportunity to serve God through care for others?
Where in my life am I most hypocritical?

Where can I change and be more honest?