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Monday, March 31, 2014

Come out!!



Perhaps one of the hardest stories for modern Christians to come to grips with.
because this story of the resurrection of Lazarus confronts us with a dead person
who is brought back to life
But when I actually think about it
I have had a number of resurrection experiences where a dead person has been revived.
We live, for example, in an era 
where the miracle of modern medicine
means life for any number of people
who a generation ago would have died prematurely.
My own mother, for example,
was a person who was kept alive by medication
which hadn't been developed 
when she was born.

I don't belittle what Jesus did for Lazarus;
that we don't fully understand it
is obvious.
Most of us find that as our lives go on
our encounter with
Death
is a curious and mixed-bag
and is not easily described;
either physically, spiritually or emotionally.
If we try to get straight just what happened
and to focus solely on the mechanics of the event
This is, I suspect, rather to miss the point 
of this narrative
that we read today.
Change of focus
The commentators on John's Gospel
often make the point
that this chapter 11 marks a point of transition
in the Gospel
it moves away from the miraculous signs
to the engagement with the resurrection
...what one writer says is 'the end of the Book of Signs
and the beginning of the Book of Glory'...
the two are connected of course
But we are reminded that 
the greatest sign of Christ's glory
is his death and resurrection.
Death is at least one of, 
and probably, the most important things
that happens to us.
This almost seems trite to say.
Yet we can be in danger of not getting it right
and missing what is important.
We do this because we are fearful, 
sad, angry, guilty....
and any other range of things

The Christian mystery is that
Death is the gate to eternal life.

This doesn't just happen
even for Martha and Mary
it has to be carefully teased out.
And the key insight that this passage reveals
is that death is transformed
when Jesus is brought to bear.
If we do nothing else
when confronted
with death
we need to be with Jesus.

I do not pretend this is easy.
It does not make the pain go away.
This is not what is on offer.

What is on offer is 
the transfromation of death
into resurrection and life.
We all have sneaking glimmers of what this might be like.
Not always someone standing outside a tomb
and shouting "Come Out!"
but the transformation is as profound.

We are to come to faith in Jesus
and hear Jesus says what he says to Martha
11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live"
This is not, I suggest, a formula
but rather an experience

How does Jesus speak LIFE
into your experience of DEATH?

If we do not listen
if we do not ask
if we do not allow Jesus to breathe life into the dry bones
then we are missing out
on the key transformation.

Death is, I suggest,
the most wonderful experience of life.
In it we encounter the fulness of Jesus.
It is, as we enter into it,
not without pain.
But also with the possibility of great hope.
Jesus stands at the door of our life
and shouts "Come Out"

We do not, and will not
fully understand what is going on.
There is not the promise of no pain
or no sadness
rather that the gate of death will become
the way to a new way of living.
This only happens
when we allow Jesus to transform it.

 in the related story in Ezekiel 37 that we also read today
the prophet speaks God's word
over a valley of dead bones
(It is a most bizarre experience...but we are dealing in highly imaginal language here)
The idea is the same
God transforms what is dead
to a new way of living.

This week
Where am I beseiged by death? My own, someone else's or...?
Can I give a little time to allow Jesus to speak to this...what does he say?

Can I believe this.....pray for belief (Lord I believe...but help my unbelief?)

Can we prophesy over the death that surrounds us on every side..."I am the Resurrection and the Life says the Lord"
In the valley of darkness
surrounded by bones
speak the words I need to hear
I am the resurrection and the life.
Lord I want to believe
let my unbelief crumble in the face of your Word

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Let your servant go!

Preached at Evensong Sunday 30th March 2014
Luke 2:25-39  Nunc Dimittis
People delight in babies,
but we are perhaps at a time in history
where we have become very protective of children
and don't just hand them over to whoever.

The story  right at the tale end of the stories about the birth of Jesus
then, speaks of a different time.
As Mary and Joseph take their leave of Jerusalem
they perform their last act of thanksgiving at the Temple
there, an old man, Simeon, comes up to them and prophesies about this child
and an old woman, Anna, also a prophet praises God
and says this is the child who is sent by God for the world's redemption.
Simeon basically says "I can die now"
I wonder what would cause a person to utter
such a prayer of satisfaction
"Lord you can let me go in peace,"
Clearly he saw something which was complete
which was deeply satisfying

What would cause you or me to say
"I can die happily now, satisfied that  everything
that needs to be done
has been done!"

We can note
that there was plenty of stuff
that was NOT complete
--there was no end to injustice
--no end to inadequate worship
--there was no end to war
--nor to social injustice (usury & the abuse of power)

So how could Simeon have been satisfied
--we could say it was his great age
and a wise reflection that may come with age
that while much needs to be done
not everything can be done
--we could piously say
it was his inner relationship with God
BOTH of these are no doubt true

But in reality it is the hope
the hope of what this child will be
This is, I think, what excites us when confronted
by a child
the hope of what a child might be.

Hoping is different from Wishing.

We all know about what we wish for
and much of it is superficial and selfish

But a child confronts the very depth
of what we might hope for.
Hope is about fulfilment
the future & change

What do we hope for? For our children, for ourselves
for our world, and the sort of world a child know
About what God might be able to do in me
if only we would let him.
It is not about selfish or unrealistic wishing
But about fulfillment
our deepest longings.
It will not be about avoidance of pain
the words spoken to Mary are all too clear

It will be about being able to say
I have done what I was supposed to do
and now I can go!



Monday, March 24, 2014

Choosing not to see

This Fourth Sunday in Lent,
30 March 2014: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 often called Refreshment, Laetare or Mothering Sunday

The demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, often had as their catch-cry
"Silence is consent!"
In the face of injustice, dishonesty, illegality
when confronted with evil
to remain silent is to consent to the evil.
We hear penetrating critique about acting morally such as English philosopher Edmund Burke who said,

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a reflection on the inevitable decline into the Holocaust

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time
there was no one left to speak up for me.

As we move to Easter we reflect on the Christian life and living out our baptismal promises:


Do you renounce evil?
The first of the two promises: Do you repent of sin?
invites us to step away from the wrong that we have done.
The second: Do you reject selfishness?
invites us to craft our lives
by a spirit of openness and self-giving
unselfishnes, which is counter-cultural
and stands against much of what our greedy world promotes.

The renunciation of evil invites a stronger stand again
not only will we craft our own lives selflessly
but we will stand against evil.
The image Paul uses is to step out of the darkness
and live in the light.
Jesus, in the story of the man born blind,
reminds us that true blindness
is not a disease
but a choice
we choose not to see
we choose not to act
we choose darkness over light.

This choice may be the passive one
of choosing to do nothing
or to remain silent

--Silence is consent--
it is still a choice.

  • You might reflect where you have chosen to be silent
    in the face of injustice, is there some way you can be courageous, more honest more open?
  • Where does God call us to speak out against
    injustice? Why do we choose to ignore obvious evil? What is the consequence of this?
  • Pray for yourself and your friends that you may
    keep your baptismal promise to renounce evil.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Living selflessly

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 23 2014

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42. As part of your prepararation for Sunday take one of the reading for each day


We live in a selfish world...this much is self-evident
Some would say that selfishness is a necessary human characteristic
others would say that it is a destructive attribute.
The "necessary human characteristic" argument
says we need to be able to survive
and so we should be able to feel free to assert our own need
and to look after our own interests.

This bland sort of statement is rather deceptive
because what is the problem
with selfishness
is not, so much, the looking after one's own interests
but rather the fact that most selfishness
looks after one's own interests at the expense of other people.
When, at baptism, people are invited to reject selfishness
we are moving beyond the repentance of things we have done wrong
saying sorry, making restitution and so on....
to actually taking positive steps to live our lives in a way
that is counter cultural.

We are being asked to move beyond
the idea that we need to be able to look after our own self-interests in order to survive
to saying that we also choose a way of life
that is more than just pursuit of self-interest.
How, we might ask, are we to do this?

The Baptismal Liturgy for Children addresses this several times
the sponsors/godparents are asked if they are prepared to show those they are sponsoring how to live the unselfish life.
This is an important point to grasp
unselfishness can be taught....or perhaps caught.

We catch it from others who set us the example
of what might be possible if we choose to live our lives differently.
This is clearly demonstrated for Christians on the Cross.
Apart from what ever mystical and theological process may be taking place
there is something being lived out.
It is that we are unselfish when we give, not only of our stuff
but also of our life.

Jesus says, greater love has no one than this
that they lay down their lives for their friend
This is most unusual in our self-oriented world.

A couple of points

The readings point us to a number of interesting points

1. In the confusion that is the time in the wilderness after the flight from Egypt, the people of Israel constantly miss the point of their call.
Why? Because, as in today's reading, they find it very difficult to get beyond their own very narrow selfish interests.

God responds to their needs time and time again
but the more they get the more they want
and the more they seem unresponsive and ungrateful for what has already been done for them.

The writers of the the Torah are setting before us a picture of wayward selfishness
which is at odds with the will fo God.

2. Paul in writing to the Roman Church urges these people on to do better than mere selfish desires.

Look to greater goals and the bigger picture. Understand at the very least that there is a challenge which will improve us as people: Paul outlines (perhaps a little too strictly) a growth process...


we also boast in our sufferings, knowing
that suffering produces endurance,
5:4 and endurance produces character, and
character produces hope,

suffering-endurance-character-hope.

His argument suggests that unselfishness opens up
a whole new range of possibility.


3. And what of this woman who meets Jesus. This is a most fascinating story.
She wants more out of life...Lord satisfy my deepest thirst

Jesus immediately points her to the area of her life where her own inward looking orientation
has betrayed her deepest integrity.
Your human relationships are up the creek

Who knows quite what a mess this woman who had had five husbands had made of her life, and why?
There is at least the suggestion that unless we are prepared to plummet the darkness of our true desires and not avoid what our lives are saying to us,
in their messiness, selfishness and deep desire
then our deep thirst will not be satisfied.


THIS WEEK

Where does God invite you to be unselfish?


is there something immediately that you can do to challenge your selfishness, what stops you?


What do you really want? What would satisfy your deepest desires?


What is the mess of your life saying to you about what you really want?


There are lots of reflections to have about "comfort zones", about whether or not we want to change. Spend some time with God talking about this.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rather interesting...perhaps there is more to breaking bread than getting dressed up in vestments

Have a bit of a look at this and see if there is a connection
http://livingchurch.org/breaking-more-bread-together http://livingchurch.org/breaking-more-bread-together
I suspect there is ...
perhaps church might not be about being 'religious' so much as bringing Jesus into our daily life!


Getting on with Lent-day by day

I have long told people that Lent is not a time for beating ourselves up. There are plenty of others who will do that for us.
It is rather a time of grace. A God-given time to do some intensive work on building our relationship with God, rather than trying to make it harder.
Sometimes that mean we do need to be a fit firmer with ourselves, so trying not to over indulge (fasting) might help us with that.
Or it may be that we need to do a little more...prayer, work, worship, Bible reading, acts of kindness.
BUT we so often overlook the obvious. Do more of what is going well!
Spend more time not less with those who are closest too us. Do more of the things that seem to enliven us.
It  not a question of either-or but both-and. What I am sure of is that self-inflicted banging our head against an obvious brick wall...setting impossible goals, trying to solve impossible relationship issues, burning candles at both ends......etc is not what we should be doing.
So as we begin Lent, begin where it looks like things are already going well, and perhaps do a little more.
This is advice Thomas Merton gives to those who came to him on how to pray better. Spend10 minutes instead of 5, pray twice a day instead of once, carry one person in your heart throughout Lent....we can build on that. But if we try to scale the heights without gradually strengthening the foundation we are almost certain to fail.
We may also be surprised by how Lent can be a positive experience rather than an exercise doomed to fail...which we probably never therefore begin

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Why do we bother?

(look  at Is 58:1-9)
Lent is a time when we dare to raise the term "fasting"
It is not a 21st century concept
because it speaks of giving up....usually food...but also other things
like sex!!!  or alcohol!!
Why would we do this?
The simple reason is that we are trying to claim our humanity!
And to suggest that we are not driven by: food or sex or drink!
That's a pretty big claim in today's world. Often we seem to just move from one thing to another. And we don't question any of it.
Fasting is a confrontationalist discipline!
It says...we eat too much.  TRUE
We are obsessed by sex....TRUE
And just in case we can't cope let's drink (or drug, or exercise, or TV, or buy)  ourselves into oblivion.    TRUE

Fasting simply says...let's not do that ...for a limited period
At least to say "I am not driven!"
Can we in the next 24 hours, week, month.....decide to not be driven by our raw appetites!?

for 7th March

Friday, March 07, 2014

Deep roots


I love this verse of Psalm  1
They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
 


it speaks of God seeking to plant his love deep in our hearts
and to ground it deep within our being
How, I wonder, is God 
deep within us?
How, I ask, do we want God to respond to our deepest needs?
Is it our concern for our children?
Is it our deep-felt sense of loneliness?
If we open up to God about what is really troubling us 
then God can touch the reality of our lives
but if we close in ad say (or pretend)
"I'm fine!"
then we are not going to even let God in there!

for 6th March

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday

It is my great joy on Ash Wednesday to mark my beloved parishioners with the sign of the Cross. In ashes, which are harsh!
The words,  which are also harsh. And remind us of human fragility
  Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!

  Repent and believe  in the Gospel!

These latter words are perhaps the most important. Because we are reminded on Ash Wednesday that we need to make some changes! Stop doing wrong, stop being two-faced and trying to have an 'each-way' bet and start acting as though we are genuinely committed to God.
I find that there are some people who I don't like very much,
and who are not easy to forgive for the hurt that they have inflicted on me or my family.
Well, Lent says, "Get over it!"
and decide to behave differently.
It is easy, on one level, to say....well they need to say sorry too!
But that is rather beside the point .
Lent is inviting me to act well!
Not to be reasonable! Not to be fair. But to be Christian.
To be, indeed, Christlike
in so far as I can.
This might involve turning the other cheek,
it might involve 'giving and not counting the cost',
and indeed giving our lives for others.
Happy Lent.... but let's not pretend it's going to be easy!


for 5th March-Ash Wednesday

The Lenten List-Ash Wednesday to - Sunday 1

I am inspired by my daughter Sarah  the great RE teacher who will be encouraging the Experiential Lenten Calendar  to her girls today....so I am going to invent my own
The Principle is:
 not about giving up but about taking on penance ..and indeed seeing 'penance' as a joy, a privilege, and an opportunity to become more Christlike... and, indeed it's about, changing behaviour rather than playing 'giving up lollies games'


Here are a few things you could do:

1. Wear the Cross of Ashes on Ash Wednesday....and tell people why
2. Choose three people to pray for who you really dislike and actually do it. Don't pray that they stop being such b&*tc&^s or d^ck$....but pray for them to grow in love...and that you may grow in love for them

3. Perform two secret acts of charity. The Talmud suggests that charity that is secret and unrecognised is the best form of charity and love.

4. Ring someone who lives alone...this causes us to think about those who we see from time to time but who we forget about for the rest of the week. Some people have no phone calls, and no visitors from week to week.
5. Invite someone to lunch who you really find difficult.    There is probably a reason why they don't get invitations to lunch! Maybe we can help with that



......it will probably get harder from now on