Saturday, March 30, 2013

Turn, turn turn

I am glad that we are spared in the Southern hemisphere the incessant link of Easter with Spring.
Almost everything we do symbolically and liturgically
is redolent of the Northern and Western hemsipheres
Yet here in the south, it is dry, dusty and dying
as autumn sets in
Rabbits are not fun little bunnies
they are an agricultural pest!.
So we do not have to grapple too much with the idea that
Easter is just a sort of universal principle
of death and rebirth
like the bulbs that are planted
and come back to life
or the lambs which skip in the fields
and the chickens that hatch on the supermarket shelves!!

What then is Easter for us?

It is caught up, I suggest with the rumour of Easter
that spreads amongst the early disciples
that things can be made new
that things will change
that life will be different.
That difference is spelled out
in the focus on baptism
that is so much for us the focus of Easter.
Baptism is offered as a way of living life differently.

In saying
I turn to Christwhether as a baptismal candidate
or renewing our promises
we are seeking a radical re-identification
of our lives with something that is important.
We don't just want life to be the same
we want it to change.
That is not to say that we are called to flit around from pillar to post
never settling at anything or anywhere,
but rather that there are aspects of our lives
which need to change.

The baptismal vows invite us to repent of sinwho of us in our right minds would not do this
I don't want to be a thief, a liar, a cheat, an adulterer.
Easter says, then don't.
Live differently.

I am invited to reject selfishnessa hard ask in today's world.
We all know that
piles of stuff, and an endless supply of everything
will not give us what we want.
That "looking after number one: is a vain and empty philosophy
Strangely as we look at families bringing babies to be baptised
we see a radical challenge to selfishness
right in the most obvious place.
People commit themselves to live with each other
not selfishly
but giving their lives to each other,
parents to children, wives and husbands to each other.
We reject this mystery of the unselfish life at our peril.
We are understanding on a global scale
that we need to live cooperatively
with each other, with our environment
if we do not live unselfishly, then we will not live at all

And finally I renounce evil that pattern of life
which will say principally
that other people are for my use and benefit.
This is is both a "micro" pattern and a "macro" pattern.

Micro evil exists, for example, when I think that I can use other people
for my own fulfilment.
This is a warped view of relationships.
It is the parent who enslaves their child through guilt
It is the boss who exploits the worker.
It is the friend who use their friendship to manipulate their friend
rather than to set free.
This is the level at which most of us seem to choose to operate most of the time.

There are bigger patterns.
Where wealthy countries (like our own)
exploit the resources of the world disproportionately
where we abuse our power so that we get wealthier
whilst the poor get poorer.
There are iniquities like prostitution, pornography and the drug trade
which treat people like commodities.
Easter says there is a possibility to say NO!
I reject evil
If we appreciate nothing else at Easter
we are called to appreciate that
the bold words
I turn to Christare words of change and words of action.
They are the possibility that things will be different
an end to sin, selfishness and evil.
We make an individual commitment to this.

Of course there is a sense in which this will all go pear-shaped.
That is not the point.
because we can come back and make this commitment
again and again if necessary.
It is a freedom to understand that things can and will be different.
I am part of that.
And so so are you.

Do you turn to Christ?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Death all around us!

We are obviously reticent to talk about death.
Yet, Good Friday it cannot be escaped.
St Paul spends much of his writing in the letters
explaining to Christians
why Jesus died
what we imagine God might be doing by allowing this to happen.
Some of this theory and theology
is difficult to understand
and doesn't resonate easily
in today's world
What Good Friday does speak to us
is that death cannot just be brushed aside.
The very importance with which we take it
even the difficulty we have understanding it
speaks volumes
about why we should take it seriously?
St Paul in writing to the Philippians about the Death of jesus
tells us that God is not playing games with the universe,
the sign of this is that Jesus enters the human condition
in its absolute state
to the point of death.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it is not as if we have someone who is not able to understand suffering
but rather one who suffers as we do.
This is the image of the crucified Christ,
he identifies with us
and shares our suffering.
We cannot take suffering away but we can stand alongside others in solidarity

So it is at the death of others
without being trite
we cannot control this experience
or make it go away,
it rattles us to the very core of our being.
But we discover when our mother, father, sister, friend or child
that we are some how able to be more human
Death touches our humanity and transforms us.

It is very easy when we look around the world
to see so much death in the world and to turn away from it,
but none of us misses the injustice of what happens to Jesus
we should not avoid making the connexion
that there is cruelty and injustice like this in our modern world.
In so far as we turn our backs on this
we are missing the message of Good Friday
that we need to face up to death and suffering.
It is perhaps a great temptation for us in Australia to dismiss the suffering of those elsewhere.
Or to lack compassion when some reach our shores.
Or simply say that none of this is my business.

Is the motivation for death-denying simply
that it confronts me about my own death?
If we understand nothing else about Good Friday
is that we do not defeat death by ignoring or avoiding it.

there is no Christianity without crucifixion
people do not stop dying because we hope desperately that they will not
cruelty and injustice
will not stop if we just try to wish it away.
As we face our own mortality
we will discover that we are destroyed as a person,
but rather enriched
enlivened and deepened.

This is very serious stuff.
But this is very Good!

The last meal

We hold meals to be very important.
So if we were told
"This will be the last chance
we have to eat together"
We would no doubt
think carefully about what it is that we would do and say.
(I am conscious that my own father died in the middle of a meal)

No fish and chips on our laps
whilst watching the telly
or grabbing a sandwich to eat in the car
(some very strange things have happened
to our eating habits since life sped up!)

There are no doubt
some impromptu
some well rehearsed.

Where would it be?
What's on the menu?
What might we say ?

All this is meant to come together in our thoughts about Eucharist, the Last Supper, Good Friday

Jesus says to his disciples
"You should was each other's feet, as I your Master have done for you"

An important idea is that meals
Suppers, lunches, breakfasts
reflect what our lives might be like

The ideas presented to us in Eucharist
because we call it a meal
an important meal
a last meal

are words spoken to us by Godself

Become what you receive,
serve as I have served
my body is broken as an act of love and forgiveness
my blood is shed so that we may be united
drinking from the same cup

This is the very Communion with God
through Christ.

Take eat, this is my Body
Drink this my Blood

Saturday, March 23, 2013

In your right mind

Crown of Thorns under the West Pier, Brighton, England- Graffiti Art

Reflection on Philippians 2 for Palm Sunday, 24th March 2013

While we know we are not very good at being Christian
surely God appreciates how hard we try
and takes that into account!

The whole idea of the Cross, crucifixion 
and the death of Jesus 
presents us with a lot to get our heads around.
Indeed as you read the New Testament,
particularly the letters of St Paul,
it could be argued that he spends a lot/most of his time
explaining the significance 
of the Cross.
It is, indeed a lot to get one's head around.

What do we think God is doing?
In one of those passages, Galatians 6:14
Paul says 
" May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
This is picked up in the traditional hymn 
Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God 

This idea (and many others) often flies in the face of much of our heartfelt
religious ideas
 Paul is intent upon telling Christians 
to allow ourselves to know the salvation that Jesus has won for us
and not think we have to win it for ourselves;
either by being good
or by beating ourselves up for being bad.

When he talks to the Christians in Phillipi
he talks slightly differently
" Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus"
What ever we might think God is doing
Paul reminds us that we are being formed into something new
We are being formed to be (like) Christ, 
for God, in ourselves, and for the world.
And this, we are reminded,
is not because we are good
or clever, or socially privileged,
or even devout, spiritual or holy
...all that may or may not (probably may not)
be true
Yet even Jesus does not presume 
to act out of his Godliness
"but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave...and humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death"
It is the same sentiment that Paul is making to the Galatians.
The Cross is not about is about God

What ever we think about ourselves 
we do not regard what God has done and is doing for us
as something to be presumed upon.

How easily we presume that God will forgive us
yet do not presume that we should forgive!

How we expect God to be there for us
but aren't there for others
or are only there for those who we like.

"Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus"
is a reality check
that says is not what we do
it what God is doing in us
It is God who we are to present
to the world
not ourselves.

In this Holy week 
we ask ourselves
am I allowing myself to be formed into Christ?
Am I open to the radical vulnerability of one who will put aside his own life
and live for others?

Where is God asking me to do this in my life and relationships?

Is what I do with my time
is how I conduct my relationships
What might the "mind of Christ" look like in me,
what changes do I need to make?

How do I need to grow?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Walking down the road

There is more than an abundance of Scripture to read during this season.
We begin Holy Week on 24th March with Palm Sunday.
The Liturgy of the Palms which is a prelude to the main liturgy of the day (Luke 19:28-40;Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29) and read as part of a procession before the service begins. 
The Liturgy of the Passion involves the reading of the Passion Story according to Luke (Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Just take it slowly and read what you can /what you feel moved to 
but try to allow yourself to be drawn into the personal mystery 
of what God is doing for the world 
and in your life
(Another Palm Sunday Homily is here)

What is God asking of us?
Is God so demanding that he will not stop until we are totally destroyed?!?

Sometimes it feels like that.
As Sunday begins with a "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem
we can spend time wondering what the nature of this event was
It is good to be accurate, 
but not good to nit-pick.
The truth is that the Gospels offer us variety in the accounts and insights of the last few days.

The Palm Sunday story is one full of hope and expectationThe Good Friday is one of confusion and desolationThe Easter story is one of excitement, uncertainty and expectation.

It is a journey to be travelled
we do not stand still
we are engaged powerfully
because this journey of hopeful expectation, 
of desolation and confusion
is exactly what our lives our like.
Whether it be our excitement at the birth of a child,
or our desolation when a child is miscarried.

Or a job that is exactly what we hoped for
but is cut short by a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating car accident.

Even if it is only the hope that we have when we are young
that fails to be realised
when we are old

This is a journey that we all make

We are invited, too, by the Easter experience
to realise that dashed hopes, desolation and confusion
are only a step along the way
They are not the climax or the conclusion.
These stories fill us with a sense of excitement, challenge and expectation
that we are entering uncharted waters.

The scrutiny of Holy Week

as we look at our life
where is the sense of hopefulness.
What do we long for, what fulfillment do we seek?

This is Palm Sunday.

We don't need to anticipate Good Friday yet.

What do we believe God is trying to do in our life
what do we want God to do?
What sense of excitement, hope, feardo we note as we sense what God might have in store for us?

What encourages us forward,
what holds us back.

Allow this week to be a time of challenge and exploration
as we permit God 
to show us more 
of what there is in store for us
and pray for grace to respond.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Head over heels

The readings for Sunday 17th  March . Lent 5 (formerly known as Passsion Sunday) Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126;Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
This story (John 12:1-8) in which a woman pours strong perfumed oil over Jesus, 
spikenard (here), always reminds me of an incident with our eldest child 
who one day aged 2 or three sprinkled a whole bottle of perfume over herself and through the house. The perfume was aptly name Poison
It helped me to appreciate a number of things:
  • How quickly kids learn to emulate their parents without any fear of consequences.
  • The difference between perfume and scent (not immediately obvious to men...other than by cost)
  • And how children remind us of our stupid attachments. 
  • She was having fun...but I, mindful of the cost, noted how this could have been better spent on the poor!!
Yet is is not difficult to understand what is being said here. 
God is extravagant.
God pours out on us the costliest perfume there is...Jesus
And the "smell" totally fills our life and transforms us.
We can be scandalised 
by the waste and extravagance
but in the end...the gesture, the passion, the statement
are more important 
than the meanness
which we are so often given to.

This story is "over the top", 
extravagant, passionate...even poisonousBecause God is like that..."over the top" and passionate.
John's narrative 
invites us to share God's life
in the way that God 
shares life with us.

We use the word Passion 
to describe the climax of this story.
It is a word that is oft used and abused.
Our world almost uses it 
as a synonym for lust filled desire
Our "passionate" relationships
are filled with bodily heat, 
and risk
of daring and bravado.
Passion puts us in a place
where we usually do not like to be.
(Certainly not after the age of 30!)

As we go back to the linguistic roots
we discover that Passion
does not mean "hot steamy sex" at all
it means sufferingSo this is why we refer to the stories of Jesus's arrest and crucifixion
as The Passion.

ConnectionIf we think this through 

then we understand something fairly important
about God, about our call to be like God,and about the challenge to be passionate.

And it is that LOVE and SUFFERING
are so intimately connected
that they can't actually be separated.
If we are to Love Passionately then we will
we will Suffer.

The great theme of John's gospel
is that God Loves us:
his people and his creation
so much so 

that he will give us a Son
who will be the total expression of his love for us
More than this, 

this Son
who is God's great gift
will be poured out over us, 

over the world, 
over those who believe, 
over humanity
with the same extravagance
that we witness in this story
of the most precious ointment
just being flung about
as if there is no tomorrow.

Do we get this?
or do we, like Judas,
stand back and see

not the invitation to throw ourselves into life and love
but rather we  say...What a waste?

it is "a waste" certainly!
but there is also a sense 

in which you cannot love any other way!
If you are to love
then you are to love passionately
if you love passionately 

then there will be pain.
This pain, this suffering
will in itself be redemptive
and open up our lives 

to a new way of being human.

This is risky and powerful stuff.

We need to scrutinise our own lives and relationships:
Are they passionate? Do we want them to be?
Where do we spend more energy protecting ourselves, 

holding back
so that we might not be hurt?
Are we afraid to share our thoughts, 

to discuss and admit our failures?
Can we admit weakness, 

say sorry, 
risk rejection?
If passion means suffering then it will mean all these things.
We are not here talking about the passing relationships 

with acquaintances and people we don't really know
this is about the relationships 

we want and need to work.
Do we wonder why things have gone cold, 

have we lost the means of being passionate,
the courage to risk being hurt 

or to be criticised
to be courageous
or loving.

This week
Where is God calling us to confront our own meanness in our human relationships? 

Can we open ourselves to being more passionate?

Pray for confidence to trust God's promises through the Passion and Death of our Lord and Saviour, even though this means suffering, there is also redemption and a new way of living

JESUS, you love us passionately
as you are anointed with an extravagant gift of love
so you also anoint us with the passionate gift of your life

Grant me the courage to live passionately
give me the desire to live life as you show us how to live
let me live expansively in your Spirit
rather than narrowly in my smallness
for you are my Lover
you are my Passion
you are my Hope

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Prodigal and reconciled

Readings for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013. Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21,Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
God's unremitting action towards us 
is to bring about reconciliation.
To draw us closer to himself
and to unite us to each other.
In a world that is at times harsh and difficult
we turn to God
because God is already there showing us the way back to wholeness.
The Hebrew Scripture readings through Lent 
remind us that people are slow to understand this about God.
They are constantly wandering off 
and separating themselves from God.
This indeed is a major theme, almost from the beginning of Creation.
And God moves to bring us back.

So we read one of these accounts in the passages for this week. (Joshua 5:9-12)
The theme is familiar, and recurrent.
We are called back by God, into fellowship with God.
It is not the first time, 
and it will not be the last.
And we are invited into the story of Jesus, par excellence, 
often called
The Prodigal Son.

I always note when talking about this masterly story
that it is a story about God
rather than about the two sons.
It would be better called something like 

The Reconciling Father.This Father, who is of course God, 
is always ready to meet us at our lowest ebb.
This is an important point to grasp.

False expectations
We often think that in order to encounter God
that we have, as it were, to be 

on our best behaviour
but the Bible tells us
both in the Old and New Testaments
that it is when we are desolate
when we are empty
when we cannot of ourselves
come to God
that God comes to us.
It is when we are hanging on the cross
that we are most open to knowing God.
This isn't easy to grasp
though maybe we understand the truth of it
better than we think.
As I reflect on my encounters with God
it is precisely at these points
when I am most sure of who God is for me
and what God does.

ExperienceThe good thing about the parable of the Forgiving Father
or as we call it the Prodigal Son
is that we don't have much difficulty placing ourself 

somewhere in the scheme of things.
Whether it be as that young man who desperately runs at life
and is ravaged by it
and ends up desolate and in despair
not knowing what to do.
Or whether it be as that self-righteous one
who sees the waistrel come back 

after having had a whacko of a good time
and being treated (as he sees it) as though nothing had happened.
(This is of course not a true appreciation of the situation at all)
Well, we often think of ourselves like that.

So we can place ourselves in the story.
Perhaps we lie in more than one place.
As we see the forgiving Father

standing on the hillside
longing for his child to return
many of us know the pain of that too.

Reconciliation played outAs the story of reconciliation is played out
we see it abound in multi-various forms.
And we note how it happens.

1. Reconciliation happens sometimes when, often in our desperation,
we choose to act differently

The Son decided to put his pride to one side
and to come on home.
The opportunity thus created
the Father readily welcomes him back.
But the Father could not do so unless the son provided him
with the opportunity
Is there something in our life that needs us to pay attention
and create opportunity for reconciliation to happen?
It may be as simple as going to see someone,
or ringing, or saying sorry.

Reconciliation happens when we make ourselves open for it to happenThat Father stands on that hillside day after day and longs for the son to come home.
This is an image of God, of course, but it is also something of a pattern for us to follow.
Are we ready to let reconciliation happen
when it will happen?
So often we want people to stew in their own misery 

(and perhaps we want this for ourselves)
we feel hurt and rejected
and often even the prospect of reconciling
seems difficult.
Will we be opening ourselves to more hurt
will we be rejected once again
will the reconciliation be short-lived
will we be exploited?

And yet the Father stands waiting 

day after day.
In those places in our life where we know there is a need for healing, restoration
for reconciliation
Are we prepared to let it happen?
Can we put aside our own hurt
and allow the greater drama to transpire?

3. Reconciliation is always wider than we imagine
and entices us to greater reconciliation than we immediately conceptualise.

This story is not just about the father and the Prodigal
it is also about the Father and the Older Son
and the Older brother and the younger brother.

Again we resonate in this story
because this is often close to our experience.
Our sibling relationships are filled with fear and jealousy
doubt and insecurity.
I am ever mindful of the fact that my own parents tried as hard as they could
to love each one of their children
and not to allow us to say in that childish way
"Love me more!"
The older son is in need of reconciliation
He cannot bear this brother
Hear the bitterness of the words:
"This son of yours..." he says to his father
and the father has to remind him
"This your brother was lost but now is found, was dead but is now alive"

The father, too, I suspect
and the older brother need to be reconciled

Does the father hear the older son's great hurt
at having to stay at home
it is easy to blame him as a caricature
but we can just allow that there is always more going on
and that reconciliation is very much a two way street.

This weekWhere is God pointing you to be reconciled?
Where are the places in your life where we have to say:
This has gone on long enough! Things need to change.

Pray carefully for:
The courage to act differently, to move away from bitterness towards reconciliation.
Seek to deliberately construct opportunities for openness and healing.
Always be on the lookout for more from God than we asked for or imagined

JESUS, you are more for us than we imagine or deserve

Grant me the courage to live differently
give me opportunity and desire to be made whole
let me live expansively in your Spirit
rather than narrowly in my smallness
for you are my Hope
you are my Joy
you are my Life