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How Do We Measure?

February 15, 2019 - 6:15am

There is a story told by a person who felt both messages in the gospel scripture Luke 6:17-26 in a very personal way in an experience. This person was connected to a congregation that had a pattern of doing short-duration mission work in a foreign country. The mission work in this instance was the funding and building of a clinic in a very poor community. Before the clinic was built, the people who lived in the community had no access to even the most basic types of healthcare. There wasn't even a place to get aspirin. As one visitor to the community had said a few years before, "if a sick child doesn't get well because it is loved and prayed for, then that child doesn't get well." It was this observation that motivated the leadership of the congregation to build the clinic.
So, the clinic was built. And the community had a basic health resource for the first time ever. Lives were saved and changed. A family that lived in the community decided to thank the members of the congregation who had been there building the clinic. They decided to have a meal to honour the visitors. This family was very poor. The guests at the meal found the host's home to be three non-mortared walls of cinder blocks. The roof was corrugated metal, lying on poles, held down by rocks. The kitchen was outside and consisted of a hearth with a grate and a clay oven. There were no chairs, no table. The plates were metal.
The food was glorious. There was chicken and rice, beans, well-seasoned avocados, a fresh chutney’s, tropical fruits, and sugared pastries. There was fresh, hot, hand-made bread rolls/damper. To drink, there were Soft drinks and a bottle of brandy. During the meal the guest realized that the cost of the food was equal to more than six weeks of income for the hosts. The guest also realised that was more money than that was on his person. The first thought was to give the hosts the money after the meal. But upon reflection he concluded that the gift would be patronizing and would dishonour the hosts. The next thought was to give the money to the priest who was rector of the congregation so that the priest could slip the money to the hosts. But again, upon reflection, he could only conclude that the action would dishonour the hosts. Finally, he decided to simply enjoy the meal with profound appreciation and gratitude.
Later, the guest said this about the experience. "It was the greatest honour I have even received. That family spent six weeks of income to thank and honour me. No one else has ever come close to that. I realised that the host family is the richest family that I know. They are so rich that they can spend six weeks of income on a banquet to honour someone that they will never see again in this world. I only spent about a month's worth of income to celebrate our child's wedding. And that marriage has given me grandchildren who are the dearest things in my life. I am poor and stingy. My hosts are rich and generous.
This is a challenging text for many to interpret. Luke’s text (commonly referred to as the Beatitudes) points to the manifestation of God in and across our lived experiences. It is challenging because it requires us to see God in places and in ways that are antithetical to the world’s priorities and perspectives. As Christians, we are called to use a formula inverse to that provided by society. The world only sees blessing in the signs and wonders that are principally material in nature, ornate by design, signified by status, and socially accepted or approved. However, God’s priorities do not align with the world. God’s blessing is grace. It is operating and living in the preferences and expectations of God. God blesses those whom society marginalises.
As James Cone teaches, “Christian theology is a theology of liberation, and its task should be concerned with explicating the meaning of God’s liberating activity so that those who labour under enslaving powers will see that forces of liberation are the very activity of God.” Our God is God of the oppressed. God through Jesus Christ intends to liberate the captive; heal the sick; empower the poor and weak; uplift the downtrodden; and radically transform the political, social, and economic systems of this life. And boy does our world need this transformation rather than more walls.
God can and will show up in real and necessary ways. Christians are called to see God evidenced, or made real, in tangible and intangible forms within our lives. Ultimately, if we follow God’s call, we will create conflict with the world around us. Society seeks to reinforce its own values, and the prioritising of God’s values will make us antithetical and antagonistic to the world. But through God’s grace, we are blessed even in our discomfort. We are blessed through entering into a new way of being in which we reject the rubric that society attempts to use to measure our lives.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

To Be Touched.

February 8, 2019 - 5:21am

Fishing is a noble occupation but a disappearing one, as economics carry weight and areas are over fished. For some it is a sometimes-dangerous livelihood. Others find it an exciting sport or a tranquil form of relaxation. While conversations about the size, weight or species of fish may go on for hours, including descriptions of "the one that got away" the last thing most anglers want to get is advice from amateurs. If that amateur happens to be a Minister of dubious experience, so much the worse. After all, the Minister is supposed to know a good deal about things "holy", but let's leave practical things to practical people.
St. Luke is perhaps the most careful of all the Gospel writers. He set himself out to be a historian. He felt called to let the non-Jewish world know about Jesus and about the birth and early development of the church. Luke has an eye to detail. He's also good at painting pictures in words. Tradition has it that he was an artist as well as a doctor. In the Gospel we heard today, St. Luke brings us to a lakeshore.
A crowd has gathered to hear the new itinerant teacher and in its enthusiasm threatens to push the teacher into the water. Two boats stand just out in the water. It is morning. Their crews are washing and cleaning their nets after a long and largely unsuccessful night on the lake. Jesus calls across to one of the fishermen, called Simon, and asks permission to come aboard and use the boat for a podium. The Big Fisherman agrees. One can imagine him grumbling that the work is being interrupted. The nets have to be cleaned and coiled and the partners given time to rest before night arrives again. Nevertheless, Simon consents. The teacher sits down and teaches.

Then the Teacher gets to meddling. He orders the members of "Zebedee and Company, Fishing Experts," to throw their newly scoured nets into the lake in broad daylight. One expects to get advice on living virtuous lives from religious instructors. What on earth would a carpenter's son turned preacher know about professional fishing? Simon and his companions were faced with a choice. Did they refuse, politely, or do as they were asked?
If they did as they were asked they would certainly face the ridicule of all who came to know of the incident, a ridicule they would probably share with the Teacher. Goodness knows what Zebedee would say to them when he heard the story! Simon, James and John decided to obey the Rabbi. Simon wanted the order confirmed though. "If you say so, we will let down the nets." They pushed their boats out and threw out the nets. Pretty soon the nets were so full there was a danger they would break. One can imagine them struggling to bring the nets on board and then to get them to shore. At least they had enough customers to buy the fish in the warmth of the day before the catch spoilt.
Simon fell on his knees when he saw their catch. One wonders why? First Century Jews didn't kneel to worship. Anyway, worship was something due to God and there's no hint that Simon, at this stage, had any awareness that Jesus was any more than a "Master", a Religious Teacher. Perhaps Simon was so agitated by the phenomenon, and perhaps very embarrassed that he may have misjudged the young teacher, that his legs gave way under him.
Peter is probably feeling that smallness we often experience when we are suddenly confronted with someone or something that fills us with awe and amazement. Peter’s professional judgment as a fisherman now seemed faulty. The Rabbi had invaded their "space" and known more than they did.
Perhaps it was the sheer wonder of the Teacher's goodness that hit Simon so forcibly. Jesus then told Simon -- Peter would be his later nickname -- James and John that they would now "catch people". What Jesus did was practical and down to earth. Three tired and disheartened people (they had toiled all night and caught nothing) were suddenly turned into three astounded and happy men. Jesus' generosity had invaded their space. They would never be the same again.

Christian’s are called to be a people who have experienced that transforming generosity and love, as Jesus has invaded our "space" and affected our day-to-day lives. There's been a moment, perhaps a whole lot of moments when God in Jesus has touched us even in the parts of our lives we have foolishly thought to be "nothing to do with religion". Often others have been the agents. A word spoken in kindness, a piece of advice, an example of suffering in adversity, a touch or a hug melted our hearts, made us feel unworthy and changed our direction and our outlook. Jesus asks us to show our thankfulness not only on our lips, but in our lives, by giving ourselves to God's service. Zebedee's Fishing Company began with three employees. It has grown to be a multinational reality. We all work with Simon Peter, James and John now.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Reluctance to Answer our Life Call.

February 1, 2019 - 6:24am

There was a time when for children there time at kindergarten gave pupils their first taste of learning. In these institutions a teacher could give to children gifts that they would use every day of their lives. There is a story of one teacher who taught a child to read. That teacher "loved" her pupils into learning and taught them the joy of schooling. In a way, though, she taught them too well. Their attachment to her left them terribly fearful of going to the next level – to school. Imagine their surprise and chagrin to be called by the school system to move on to another level. Many panicked when they realised this person would not be their teacher forever and that they would have to move up.
Of course, she and the pupils' parents reassured them and the students were promoted to the next level. It all worked out. The experience, though, gives us a tiny glimmer of understanding, a sense of what Jeremiah felt as a young man when he was called by the Lord to be a prophet to the nations in this week’s reading from the first chapter of Jeremiah. Imagine poor Jeremiah - minding his own business, when suddenly God barged into his life - when he heard God's call to him. Jeremiah heard God calling him to be his prophet, to speak his word to the people. And he was not called to be just any old prophet. No, God would set him "over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
The Prophet Jeremiah from the Hebrew Scriptures resisted. He was reluctant to obey this call. , However, God wouldn't take a simple, "No," or any kind of "No." So God and Jeremiah engaged in a little dialogue. God said, "I picked you out - even before you were born - I chose you to be my prophet." Jeremiah replied, "O, no, I don't even know how to speak. I am only a youth." God came back and said; "Don't say that. For to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you shall speak." Jeremiah pleaded out of fear but God assured him.
This dialogue was critical for Jeremiah's decision, in a way similar to that of many other leaders of the Old Testament.  Perhaps we should pause to wonder why God has continually chosen the most unwilling characters to do God's will. Why would God have enlisted so young and inexperienced a person as Jeremiah for so immense a task? The obvious answer is that our God calls people for qualities other than gifted speech. We can be certain that Jeremiah's success rested, not within himself, but on God. This is what God promised this very reluctant prophet. We see that all the power and success of Jeremiah's life resulted from this new relationship with God.
You know, God would love Jeremiah as no other would love Jeremiah. That's not the end though and we Christians don't get off lightly and don't get comfort just learning about God's dialogue with Jeremiah. The blowing of God's spirit amongst us moves in our day as well. So we might ask, "Are we, too, called by God as Jeremiah was called?" Often we must confess our reluctance to heed God's call. We can always find a reason not to continue the journey of faith and commitment to which we feel God calling us:
I'm too old or too young. I don't speak well or know enough. I'm too busy. I can't do that. It must not really be God calling. I can serve, but not now, maybe later.
However, if we are willing to engage in a dialogue with God, we might see something else. We are called to look beyond and continue to dialogue with God. This will allow God's spirit into our lives. We are all called into a relationship with God that is challenging. It is we who choose to accept or not accept this call. God tells us, that he will be with us, sustain us, and love us as no other does. We can rest assured of God's support and guidance and strength to sustain us in the task.
Some of us respond eagerly and some will be reluctant, like Jeremiah. But, if we engage in dialogue with God, we can learn to respond positively. We too, are assured that the God who calls us remains forever with us. The living God continually speaks to us, through many forms and media. God speaks to us at unexpected moments: through the created world around us; through the hands and voices of other people; and even in the silences of trials and unanswered prayers.
The God who has called us is always with us, speaking, if we will listen and, if we will accept it. God, who is always there for us, will give us love and support and nourishment, with the same grace that inspired Jeremiah. Despite any hesitations and uncertainties that may attack us, we can learn from Jeremiah's dialogue with God to be as steadfast as this prophet was in discovering God's call and in heeding it.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Where Do I Fit?

January 25, 2019 - 11:36am

Get yourself a cup and ball and maybe have some paper in the bottom. By the way the Ball needs to be small enough to put in the cup or use a container that will take the ball easy. Get someone to watch you very carefully. Then what you do is drop the ball into the cup. Tell your assistant that you are going to drop this ball into the cup. Make sure they are ready and watching. Drop ball in cup. Then ask your assistant which parts of your body you had to use to drop the ball in the cup, (Hands, eyes, brain). Could you have done it with your eyes closed? What if you didn’t have any hands? What if your brain wasn’t working right? By now you realise that you need everything working correctly to make the ball go into the cup.
This week our reading from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12 talks about how all of us are like a body. We all do special jobs, and together we get things done. For instance, which people on any Sunday at worship are important in making the church worship work? Some of those involved include the minister, greeters, readers, intercessors, musician(s), children, the congregation, the stewards and if there is to be Holy Communion someone to get things ready, flower people and so on.) All of these people have their special part to play in making the worship of God work on any Sunday and whenever worship is held.
All of us have special talents and abilities to use to share with others which reflect the story of Jesus and God’s great love through his son. Think about the workings of your hands. We can talk about the fingers and the thumb needing to work together to pick up a coin or food. We all have gifts and we help make our community work by using our gifts. In the Church we Christians use our gifts also to let others know about God’s love and grace through his son Jesus.
All of our gifts are important and I bet you that you have a gift that you can use. A gift to help you help others in the making of a working community. Maybe today at your family meal you could talk with your family about the gifts that you have for sharing with each other and making the household work. Again for Christian we can talk about how we use our gifts to share about God’s love and his son Jesus. Christians talk of their faith as being of the body of Christ and individually members of it. Each one of us is a part of that body. This body would not work without you, or without all of you. Everyone in this community today is very important part of the body especially of creation.
In a lively community of caring people and especially in a caring group of Christians there are many functions shared among those who make up the community. One member can speak in a way that conveys profound things straight to the soul. Another has a gift of helping and caring for people and bringing hope to those who suffer. Yet another can explain ideas with such wisdom that it infuses a new, vital strength into our faith.
Still others can have the ability to organise, and another the gift of leading, while another has an understanding of people that is the source of deep consolation for many troubled hearts. You may have seen all this, and yet the one thing that strikes us in such a community is the presence of one spirit in all of them that ties it all together. Since for Christians the gifts are varied expressions of the one Holy Spirit, who distributes them freely, then it is unthinkable that they may be at odds with one another – they are called to and meant to act in harmony.
The gifts that are given I have learned, are not meant for personal satisfaction, their purpose is to serve. They are given for the benefit of all, that the fellowship of believers may be extended and encouraged in love. Such gifts cannot give rise to rivalry or disorder. While St Paul considers that there are certain special gifts which affect the life of the community as such, he also tells us that each member has particular gifts for the good of all. Therefore each of us need to be content and thankful for the gifts that our loving God has given to us.

St Paul in this scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 12 presents the community as a body, and asks, “If your whole body was just one eye, how would you hear anything? If it was an ear, how would you see anything? Instead of that, God put all the separate parts into the body on purpose. If all the parts are the same then how can it be a body? If you do not seem called to some special task, do not underestimate what God is actually asking you to do in the community or neighbourhood where you are. No matter that the daily grind may seem monotonous and not very meaningful, we all belong to the whole body by belonging to that place. God has chosen this for us and calls us with great love.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Abundance is ours.

January 18, 2019 - 6:33am

There are many challenges to churches today: Some are small and struggling, hoping to grow and not finding their numbers increasing. Others have congregations where there is barely a spattering of people under 75 years of age. Others have problems finding qualified clergy or raising enough money in pledges to balance the budget. Others have significant repairs to do on their buildings and lack the funds for the project. And some are in conflict with broken relationships in need of healing.
The scripture readings set in the three year lectionary for this week address the conditions in which so many churches find themselves. In the Isaiah 62 passage, for example, the community had been in exile and lost its vision and focus. Some countries seem to have elected governments that have lost their way and any vision that benefits the whole of creation. The promise of God's restoration spoken by the prophet in those majestic phrases could well be for today's struggling churches: "You shall no more be termed, Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate" (Isaiah 62:4). The theme of hope when there seems to be nothing but a failing future is strong in these passages, and it is a stirring piece of prophecy for all who lose hope.

Whereas, St Paul, in Corinthians, takes another tack which is one that is a hopeful sign to churches that are feeling bereft. He says there are a variety of gifts for building up the Body (the Church) distributed by the Spirit. All gifts are needed, and every person is gifted for service. In the Gospel from John 2, Jesus goes to a country wedding and takes the ordinary (water) and transforms it into very good wine. When things seemed to be running out, when there was scarcity about to spoil a very good time, abundance took its place and the feasting went on.
In our society let alone in our religious organisations we are plagued by scarcity. There is never enough, and another group often seems to have all the blessings while ours has the leftovers. The things that will meet the needs of all humanity seem to be held in the hands of a few and only doled out in meagre amounts at a high cost to the receiver. Yet, if God can take a group of exiles and restore them to greatness, and if ordinary people are gifted by the Holy Spirit with what it takes to be the Church, then how can we dare say we do not have enough without insulting God's promise?
Throughout the world people are building faith communities and communities with nothing in terms of wealth. They succeed because these people have caught the spirit of the Gospel where God will use what appears to be the lowly and unimportant to accomplish it. So, if you are waiting for better days in the world and especially in the church know that they have come. If you are waiting until the right leader appears know that the time is now. If you are feeling low because of the things you don't have, take an inventory of the assets you have. Most people are surprised when they discover the talent that is there and the resources that are at their disposal.
The transformation of the lives of women and men is not expensive in terms of the world; and in God's economy, it is free. Our task is to lay aside the things that daunt us, make us afraid and captive to scarcity. Putting on the garment of light in Epiphany means moving into a sharing mode now. So, rejoice with Isaiah that God finds your community or church worthy of delight. Celebrate the gifts given you by the Spirit to move forward in life. Vow to be part of the work of the Gospel which transforms water into wine and God's people into a holy communion of faithful people.

Once there was a church that began to say it was dying and in many churches this is being faced. Some of its members had moved away in a very short time. Other members had become unhappy and quit coming. There was a faithful core, but they were burned out from assuming the many duties of running the church with fewer folk to help. One woman spoke for many at the annual meeting when she said, "If we don't do something there's going to be a funeral -- mine!"
Three people in the congregation decided to pray daily for renewal and growth. At the end of a year they discovered that there were six more people in the congregation, there was a vision about starting a day care for those in a low socioeconomic people and a person who had agreed to run it and there was a new sense of energy among them. Now for many congregations this may not mean doing things as they once did or even having a church building. For many it will mean listening for where our God wants us to be and where our God offers resurrection.
At meeting they asked to speak to the assembly and told the people not to give up hope. They believed God was waiting for them to realize they had to be dependent on God's grace alone before they could be renewed, and they testified that their faithful prayer had been answered.
"When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said, 'They have no wine.' Jesus said to them, 'Fill the jars with water.' “If the Lord can take what we have as abundance to make what is needed all we need to do is ask, and abundance is ours to behold and taste.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Marked and Signed as the Beloved.

January 11, 2019 - 12:25pm

The Lion King is perhaps old hat these days. But there is a scene in that story which is helpful as an illustration for baptism. At Simba’s birth he is held up for all the animal kingdom to see. The wise monkey Rafiki baptises, Simba. Mixing some concoction in a half coconut shell, Rafiki then places his thumb in the concoction and then makes a mark across Simba’s head. Simba is marked forever. Later and following Mufassa’s death, Rafiki suggests that Mufassa is in fact still alive and can show Simba. He takes him to pool of water … Look ….. But that is only my reflection says Simba. Look harder …….. Simba sees his father in the reflection... Rafiki reflects: see your father lives in you Simba. Our father and loving parent God lives in us. Our lives reflect our loving parent and father, God. “And the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit shall be placed upon them”

Today in the Churches Calendar many remember the Baptism of Jesus and do so as a big event. There are a lot of things that come together in Jesus' baptism. There are a lot of things that come together in our Baptisms. First, there is John the Baptist. John is a wild man. He came from the wilderness. He dressed in camel hair but it wasn’t an elegant camel's hair coat as we know it today. He ate locusts and wild honey. This is hardly a conventional diet, either then or now. His sermon said, "You den of poisonous snakes, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" This was not an approach designed to gently convince people that they should come to a conclusion about God in their life.
The people who came to John for baptism were desperate to change their lives. The crowd is identified as a mix of tax collectors prostitutes, soldiers and religious people like the Scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees may have been there to spy. They may have been there to determine whether or not John was the Messiah. Most likely, they were desperate to know the move and peace of God just like the obvious sinners. John said he wasn't the Messiah when he was asked if her were. John said "Jesus is." John's baptism was a washing for repentance. And he believed Jesus didn't need to repent. So, Jesus' baptism changed the meaning of baptism.
As Jesus was praying after the immersion, the heavens opened. The Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form, like a Dove. This is a strange event. Something outside of the normal is happening. Then a voice, a thunderous voice said, "you are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." This is God's anointed. God is well pleased, God loves him. He is even identified as God's son. Presumably, Jesus then looked out and saw the gathered tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners who had been baptised with him. These are the things that happened to Jesus in baptism.
He was given an identity...God's son.He was identified as the focus of God's love.He was identified as being very pleasing to God.He was physically given God's Holy Spirit.He was joined into a new group, those who were baptised by John.
Jesus changed what baptism means for us. We receive the same gifts when we are baptised. We receive the gift of water. Water is life. Without water there is no life. We are given an identity. The meaning of our name is transformed. It is now a name given by God. Some of us have had the experience of being a sponsor, a God parent or parent, at a baptism. When the name is pronounced and the words "I baptise you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are joined to the gift of water a new person or creature is proclaimed. A child of God, where life with spirit and power is held up. The new person, known as a child of God, is in our midst.
Well for Christians when a baptism takes place we are named as beloved by God. In the same way that God announces that Jesus is beloved, we are announced as beloved. We are given a community. We join with the people present at our baptism who are baptised and with everyone who was ever baptised. In fact, one of the ways we know that God loves and accepts us just as we are is because God loves and accepts other people who are as messed up and as sinful as we are. For Christian people baptism is a big deal. It is a chance for people who are desperate to change their lives to gain the same identity, in God's eyes, that Jesus has. It is in a way, the event that leads to salvation. Jesus bought us this gift and God gave us this gift. Also the Holy Spirit sustains us in this gift.
To quote that wonderful song from ‘Life of Brian,’ “always look on the bright side of life.” God has given us a magnificent gift. The gift is the unconditional love and presence of God in our lives.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Camels Story.

January 4, 2019 - 6:29pm

While we are at Tauranga Aotearoa (NZ) and relaxing, I thought I might share a story that comes from the Epiphany which I enjoy. This is namely the story of the Magi, wise people from a camel’s point of view.
Ships of the desert, my eye! Being a beast of burden is probably not all it is cracked up to be when old nothing but dust for brains Adam named us camels. It was the same when Isaiah proclaimed that a multitude of us would cover the land of promise bearing peoples and gifts from all corners of the earth to come and see the brightness of the light of God's people shining through the thick darkness covering all the earth. But still, without the bunch of us lugging all the supplies and tents, and also those precious and somewhat odd gifts for a baby shower, the Wise Ones would never have made it by the twelfth day. It was by today actually, all those years ago. Well I’m one of the lucky ones who only had to carry one of the Wise One's.
By the time we got to Bethlehem, it was no longer a town bustling and bursting with people and commerce like it had been for those few days of the census. It had returned to its sleepy self after everyone had been counted and gone home. When we got there, the place was empty. There was just a man, a woman, and between them the baby. But there I go getting ahead of myself again. Thank goodness for the camel boys who saw to it that we were fed and watered and had a rub down. This was because the Wise Ones as usual had their heads full of the stars. All the time they were looking out at them. If they were not gazing at the stars they were talking about them, charting them, interpreting them, and searching for this special person.
They were searching for the one that would relieve them of their endlessly restless and yearning spirits. The wise one’s searched the heavens and earth for something they kept calling "the truth." The rest of us in the caravan saw to it that life was lived and everyone was taken care of. They often missed the most interesting exciting parts of the journey. They were so absorbed and preoccupied with their own concerns and interests. Like the mouse who smuggled herself into the saddlebag of Gaspar's camel, Lucky. This was a teenage mouse that had had a terrible fight with her parents. But there I go again. I'm getting off the point.
So where were we? Oh, yes; certainly not at that dreadful King Herod's place. There was plenty of company for all of us camels amidst his livestock and barns, and plenty of water and grain and other good things to eat. But even we could sense the terrible feeling of darkness and death that surrounded his part of the Roman Empire. And who was this Caesar he kept talking about? Herod seemed troubled to hear the Wise Ones talk about the stars and a new King of the Jews and asked for directions to the place where the child lay. Herod didn’t know the way but wanted us to return and tell him where the little one was so he could go there to pay his respects. It wasn't what he said but how he said it that made even the fleas on my humps crawl with uneasiness.  Surely there must be another way out of here, we all thought. And as it turned out, we did head off in a new direction.
We found them at night and it was very cold. The smell of the hay was very sweet, and the cattle's breath, like ours, came out in little puffs of mist hanging in the air. Of course I a camel wasn't supposed to come into the place where they were. In fact, it was such a tiny little cave of a place and there wasn't much room. We had come so far, travelling for so many years to find something, someone, somewhere. It seemed possible that we really might have to search no further. I figured it couldn't hurt if I just stuck my head in for a peek.
So while they were unloading the gifts off the back of my cousin, and the Wise Ones were still consulting their charts and graphs to make certain that this truly was the one they were searching for, I stuck my head in. Well, it was a bit surprising. The scene was so ordinary. I don't know what I had expected, but after years of carrying these Wise Ones and all their gear and supplies all over the place. I guess I thought there would be crowds, and family, and all kinds of hoopla. I mean, even when a new camel is born amongst the herd, there is more attention and excitement as the new baby tries to stand for the first time.
There was none of that in this little place in Bethlehem. There was a man, a woman and, between them the child who at the glance I caught, seemed to be a King." I could see that this little child was true light itself. It is really curious how little babies like this one cannot even get up on their legs the way we do. They just lie there, so, still and vulnerable. Even I could see that stars might bow down before this one, he could teach creepy old Herod a thing or two about being a king. I could see that the heavens and earth and all creation were somehow about to be made new by the presence of this one baby in the hay.
It's too bad the Wise Ones did not seem to see all that. I mean they put their gifts in there, and bowed down on bended knee and all. But then it was back out the door, and looking into the stars again. Soon we were being loaded up and herded down the road and out of town. All of us except that mouse who stayed behind moved on. She just could not bring herself to leave those people alone. She was not going anywhere. She was staying right there with him, the one born to be King. She wanted to live the rest of his story!
Just that glance, a peek in the door was enough to know that this Jesus reveals to you how much God watches over you and loves you. Even I could see that this Jesus calls us to follow him so we might do something beautiful with our lives and bear much fruit. Even camels!
The one thing I saw that night was that the world needs you. Jesus needs you. They need your love and your gifts and your light. Isn't that the funny part of it all? The Wise Ones are off all the time looking at the light in the stars, when the light that is the light of the world is right here in the midst of us. He shows us that. Any camel with eyes could see that! Know, my sister, my brother, that there is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives and his light shines!
This is a deep secret that even the Wise Ones overlook most of the time. Let Jesus live in you. Go forward with him into the whole world. Let your light shine, for the light that is the life of the world is coming into the world. Keep looking at the babe in the manger, offer him your gifts, and you will see all that there is to know and see! You will then see some more and then even some more. And who knows, maybe if we all offer as much as we receive, we just might in fact make it through the eye of a needle!

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Anticlimax or Actually Climax.

December 28, 2018 - 7:48pm

This week on Sunday we celebrate the first Sunday in the Octave of Christmas or the put more simply the first Sunday after Christmas. Many of us see it as an anticlimax, a time of letdown after the Big Day, when we have gathered all the family and shared all the gifts and eaten all the food. Far too often, this is a day when "Sabbath” means that we are resting up to prepare for the upcoming New Year blowout. However, as the Church we mark our New Year from the First Sunday of Advent and our Scripture then offers us a different vantage point.
Sunday, after all, is always an Easter feast, a remembrance of the Resurrection. Therefore, we are called today to put Christmas and Easter together for the first time this year. This enables us to see the birth of Jesus in the wider light of his whole life story, as one who was born, who lived, suffered, died, and lives still. We Christians celebrate him as Immanuel, "God with Us," the one who came and walked among us to teach us how to live in this world.
This, in turn, forces us to take another look at this world of ours, seeing it as the world into which Jesus himself was born. Jewish society of his time was a society that differed in many ways from our own -- and yet, the world is ever the same. It is a world full of sickness and sin that needs the transforming Jesus. It is a world that cries out for great change in attitude to enable humanity to be the beloved not only of God but to each other. It is a world that is reaching for the hope and promise that we Christians ourselves believe we have received by faith in Christ. Due to that faith, we Christians have much to offer to the world today,
As "Christmas Christians," we experience the blessedness of life given to us by the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. As "Easter Christians," we celebrate the eternity of life given to us by what we call the victory of Jesus. It is something that allows us to stand together and bear witness to the power of God to touch and heal and transform. We celebrate the God whose spirit led to the bringing of good news, light into darkness, and freedom from bondage, healing from sickness, and gladness in sorrow, and alleviation from suffering.
We are reminded that we have received grace upon grace from God's fullness. The abundance of God's love overflows in us and impels us to make Gods Presence known, through our own efforts to bring righteousness, peace, and justice into the world in which we live. On this particular Sunday Christians remember, this is not an easy proposition and never has been. The culture of violence that is celebrated in wider society is a problem for humans and from time immemorial, people whom God has chosen have used holy writings in unholy ways, not to bring people to God but to set as a bar against the gateway to faith.
We would do well to look again, because the situation is reminiscent of another one much closer to us in time and space. In our own nation's history, Melanesians, Indigenous people, Irish, Chinese, and various other ethnic groups have all experienced what it was like to be treated, by Christians, as lesser creatures. These people were considered unfit and forced to worship in the open or separate chapels." Their existence was seen as a deviation from some inflexible standard, against which they would always be measured and found at a disadvantage.
When freedom came, these people of faith could experience much more of the Christian life that the St Paul described in Scripture. In the fullness of God's time, they could come to worship and experience the fullness of membership in the household of faith. Like the biblical people of the Exodus, they had made their way through the darkness of bondage. They followed the light of Christ into the fullness of a freedom that no human could give them and no law could diminish.

From that time, they were called, just as we are today called, to proclaim the righteousness of God and to celebrate the gift of life. In the words of the gospel hymnist, we "lift our hands in total praise," and worship the God who loved us into life, whose Son leads us through life, and whose Spirit sustains us throughout our faith journey. Just like Jesus, who brought us grace and truth in this world, we make God known in this world through our witness to God's love.
We strive to learn from those we consider different from us, instead of imposing our views and challenging them to prove themselves to us. We recognize in those "less fortunate than we" people who can teach us a great deal about the Providence of God. We grow in a trust that enables us to share our gifts and talents with one another, not out of our wealth but out of a poverty that recognises the Giver of everything we have.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Unseen Guest is Always with Us.

December 24, 2018 - 1:24am

I grew up in a three-room house: living room, kitchen, parent’s bedroom, children’s bedroom. Well, four if you count the sleep out Dad and mates built at the back of the house for the oldest child at the time. On Christmas Eve, the children went to bed by 11 pm, the two or three of us in one room depending on wider family sharing Christmas with us, all under age around ten. Dad reminded us every Christmas Eve that if we heard noise in the night we should stay in bed, because Santa would take our presents back if he caught us peeking.
Very early Christmas morning, we slipped into the living room after ensuring parents were awake, so we had permission to go to the tree. We opened our presents and filled our mouths with nuts and sweets as we ripped paper and viewed with awe and wonder. However, we never had the following experience which might have been a salutary lesson for us. I read of this family who having gone into the living room and to the tree just like we used to, became aware of a presence in the room. They turned and saw a large man with white hair and a beard sleeping on the couch, his huge belly going up and down with every snore.
They were, to use a biblical phrase, “sore afraid.” They were sure they knew who this visitor was. They did the only thing they could; they gathered all the toys and sweets and hid in their beds, cowering in the dark and cold, waiting for him to leave. Mid-morning, their parents came to see why they were not up. “Is he gone?” they asked. “Is who gone?” they responded. “Santa,” they whispered. The parents laughed so hard the house shook. Their visitor was one of the family’s older relatives, who had shown up around midnight, on foot and a bit tipsy, with nowhere to go. And their parents put him to bed in the only place they had, the living room couch in front of the Christmas tree.
So, I learnt from this story of Christmas that you never know who will turn up. Also at this time of year God calls us to be welcoming to all visitors. This was again bought
home to me when travelling overseas for work or even living overseas at Christmas-tide. I was on my own far from home, despite my mother sending one of her Christmas Cakes with me. When working in Darwin over the University summer break just before Christmas, I was approached by members of the Christchurch Cathedral congregation and asked what I was doing to celebrate on Christmas Day. They then with some pushing involved me in their worship as a Server/Censer and allocated me to a family for Christmas luncheon on Christmas Day. I valued their love and fellowship. I give thanks to those warm hearted people as I was able to share with a family on that day. No sermon or story ever taught me more about the true meaning of Christmas.
But let’s look to one of the scripture readings for the day. Luke’s account of the nativity opens like a grand, epic movie. It’s so wondrously regal that one can almost hear James Earl Jones’s narration. The emperor issues a command to the whole world, and the whole world hears and responds. The impressive name of the governor of Syria is invoked, and a certain man whose lineage includes David, king of Israel, rises and goes to his ancestral home to fulfil the wish of the emperor.
The woman to whom this man is engaged makes the journey with him, and when they arrive, she bears their child. Oh, it’s just so wonderful! So dramatic! A fairy-tale beginning. But then the action shifts, and all of a sudden, we’re brought to . . . a manger. A manger? How incongruous after all the talk of emperors and governors and kings and such. Then, just to add insult to injury, the scene moves to a field brimming with smelly sheep and smelly shepherds doing their work on the third shift. Couldn’t those angels have sung their “Gloria’s!” to a more august audience and in a more proper setting?
Luke writes the story of Jesus’ nativity with whiplash built in. The shift from emperors and angelic choirs to mangers and shepherds is abrupt to say the least. “Majestic” becomes “homely” very quickly. Jesus did not come to hang out with royalty issuing their decrees from the splendour of marble palaces. The austerity of the manger and the shepherd’s field wondrously shows how Jesus came to live among all God’s people: the meek and the lowly, the poor and the lame, the sinners and the saints. Us. So on all days, but especially on Christmas Day, all God’s people are called to welcome all, high and low and share our love with all.   

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Expectancy of Redemption.

December 21, 2018 - 6:04am

A common experience, a shared expectancy, is presented in the narrative of Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth. Two mothers different in age, attached by blood, yet uniquely challenged by societal milieu are connected by their unrealised promised potential of their sons. Their meeting is the result of divine impartation and for purposes of affirmation. A redeeming of personhood and significance experienced by one considered less because of age and barrenness. The second, bothered and vulnerable to the unethical, yet permitted, cultural practices of devaluing of women, particularly the unattached.
The account records that Elizabeth’s child, later known as John, leaps for joy while in utero—a reverent response to being in the presence of the “sent one” for whom he serves as forerunner. The power of the Spirit is highlighted and transcends, marking a revival of prophetic activity. Such activity has been seemingly absent from the lived reality of persons during this period. This text captures the essence of the Advent season: the promise of something and someone that will not simply make life better—rather, the assurance of the Word incarnate, and of a life full of meaning, a promise of life lived and of life everlasting. Elizabeth’s prophetic encouragement and her respect for Mary’s sacred identity, “mother of my Lord,” and her recognition that Mary is “blessed” echoes across generations reminding us that those not named are also blessed.

So now, we who hear these words 2000 years later discover that they make good sense to us also. They remind us of what matters to God, what God requires of us. The prophet Micah reminds us of God's loving care. The writer of the Gospel brings before us a cherished story of the early Christian community that remembers two remarkable women who knew that strength and mercy and compassion for the poor sprang from God the Creator, a God of good promises.
In Micah 5:2-5a, we are reminded that even in times of despair, God has a plan to deliver us. With the nation’s capital under attack, God reassures the people of Israel that everything is going to be alright because help is on the way. Ironically, that help is going to come from a place that is home to “the least significant of Judah’s forces.” Bethlehem, which held little significance outside of being the birthplace of King David, would now give birth to a new king. One who will bring restoration and be known throughout the earth as the Prince of Peace.
When we have wronged another person, we often find ourselves reflecting on ways to make amends. Usually, a simple apology or act of repentance will suffice, but sometimes those displays cannot easily reverse the damage that was done.  Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice has restored us into right relationship with God for good and I was moved by the following written recently in a letter by Father Casamento to the staff at a University. It rang full of truth worth noting for me.

He said; “Not surprisingly, the Christmas Day scripture readings do not mention shopping or any of the commercial mania generated by the “Christmas media”. Instead, we hear of Jesus being sent to be the light and life of the world so that we might become children of God. John the Baptist came to prepare the way to experience this light and life and gives an example by being one who points to Jesus. To live in the light and experience the divine life in our lives, we, like John, are called to make God the centre of our life.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Some of the more injurious images of God are images that see God as the one who never lets anything bad happen to us, or the image that portrays God as the one who gives us whatever wewant. And, finally, the image of God as the old man with a big stick who is just waiting to catch us doing something wrong. While these images may be laughable, for many of us, they operate in our life when we pray to pass theexam  we have not studied for, or when we believe we can do whatever we want and there will not be any consequences, or that God is intent on making our life miserable with the list of all the things we cannot do.
All of these beliefs cloud our vision of God, and we need to let go of them in order to experience the gift of Christmas, when we are once again reminded that it is the faith of the little child who goes about life without anger, prejudice, or blindness. This little child accepts God, people, and situations as they are, not as we would like them to be. The promise of Christmas is that God is there to be at our side, to be the light in our life.
In reflecting on these readings set for the Sunday before Christmas I am reminded that there are some things that are essential in life. Things which this story of Jesus coming into the world remind us of. So, let us then fill this season with compassion. Let us remember that God is not looking for external sacrifices from us but for obedience. And, let us remember the lowly and the poor and the oppressed as Mary's hymn – the Magnificat - reminds us to do.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Comfort in Our Anxiety.

December 14, 2018 - 7:56am

We have seen all sorts of really traumatic and difficult things over this past year and it would not be difficult to become anxious and depressed. Yet we have also seen things that encourage and bring hope such as the rescue of the soccer team boys in Thailand. So as the stress and hectic rush leading to Christmas begins to overwhelm us, we are reminded in scripture not to be anxious. The Apostle Paul tells us not to be anxious—not to worry—about anything. But we tend to be people who worry about everything. Some of us plunge into worry quicker and deeper than others.
We worry about what will happen if someone doesn’t show up for the big family Christmas dinner (and also about what might happen if they do!). We worry about getting into the right school or university and about the financial aid package coming through. We worry about the cancer coming back and about our company being bought out. We worry about the security of our jobs and the safety of our children. The congregation I serve has had a difficult year with the death of a number of deeply faithful and involved members who had been part of the fellowship for 30 to 40 years and the distraction of problems with the local City Council over some work done. I would not be surprised if a number of our members were worried about what the future will bring and how long we can last as an entity despite over 150 years of life as a congregation.

With so much to worry about, how is it that St Paul of Tarsus can tell us not to worry and not to be anxious? When Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in his Nazi prison cell, he penned a poem that included these words to the effect that we fearlessly wait, come what may, because God is with us on every new day. St Paul, writing to the church in Philippi from his own prison cell, says something similar. Why is it that we need not be anxious or afraid? Is it because whatever we are worried about is really “no big deal”? Or because God guarantees that everything will turn out for the best? Or even because God won’t give us any more hardship or pain than we can handle?
No. St Paul says that we need not be anxious or afraid because “the Lord is near.” That is the good news to which everything else in this text is tethered. “The Lord (our God) is near,” even while we wait for God to come in all fullness. In fact, St Paul says, God is as close as a prayer. And when God’s children take their worries and anxieties to their Lord in prayer, God will exchange their anxiety for a peace and calm for their worried hearts filled with love.

The sight of a mother cradling a squirming child in her arms and singing lullabies over him until he finally goes limp may be one of the sweetest and most serene things we can witness in this life. It’s a scene as old as time, and perhaps it is what the prophet Zephaniah had in mind when he wrote one of the final (and most famous!) verses of his book: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, ............; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). When heard in the context of the other lectionary passages for the Third Sunday of Advent, God’s often anxious and worried children can receive these words as an invitation to climb into the lap of their heavenly parent so that our heavenly parent might sooth them with the songs of love and care.
Then, having heard these songs, they might offer their God one of their own, perhaps borrowing words from the prophet Isaiah: “God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2). While the Apostle Paul seems to be doing everything, he can to free us from anxiety, John the Baptist seems to be doing everything he can to create anxiety in us. John’s words are so full of alarm, he seems so determined to set us on edge. For John the Baptist, the news that “the Lord is near” is not only a promise that ought to comfort the afflicted. It is also a promise that ought to afflict the comfortable!

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Comfort in Our Anxiety.

December 7, 2018 - 12:25pm

We have seen all sorts of really traumatic and difficult things over this past year and it would not be difficult to become anxious and depressed. Yet we have also seen things that encourage and bring hope such as the rescue of the soccer team boys in Thailand. So as the stress and hectic rush leading to Christmas begins to overwhelm us, we are reminded in scripture not to be anxious. The Apostle Paul tells us not to be anxious—not to worry—about anything. But we tend to be people who worry about everything.
We worry about what will happen if someone doesn’t show up for the big family Christmas dinner (and also about what might happen if they do!). We worry about getting into the right school or university and about the financial aid package coming through. We worry about the cancer coming back and about our company being bought out. We worry about the security of our jobs and the safety of our kids. The congregation I serve has had a difficult year with the death of a number of deeply faithful and involved members who had been part of the fellowship for 30 to 40 years and the distraction of problems with the local Council. I would not be surprised if a number of our members were worried about what the future will bring and how long we can last as an entity despite over 150 years of life as a congregation.
With so much to worry about, how is it that St Paul of Tarsus can tell us not to worry and not to be anxious? When Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in his Nazi prison cell, he penned a poem that included these words to the effect that we fearlessly wait, come what may, because God is with us on every new day. St Paul, writing to the church in Philippi from his own prison cell, says something similar. Why is it that we need not be anxious or afraid? Is it because whatever we are worried about is really “no big deal”? Or because God guarantees that everything will turn out for the best? Or even because God won’t give us any more hardship or pain than we can handle?

No. St Paul says that we need not be anxious or afraid because “the Lord is near.” That is the good news to which everything else in this text is tethered. “The Lord (our God) is near,” even while we wait for him to come in all his fullness. In fact, St Paul says, he is as close as a prayer. And when God’s children take their worries and anxieties to the Lord in prayer, he will exchange their anxiety for his peace and calm their worried hearts with his love.
The sight of a mother cradling a squirming child in her arms and singing lullabies over him until he finally goes limp may be one of the sweetest and most serene things we can witness in this life. It’s a scene as old as time, and perhaps it is what the prophet Zephaniah had in mind when he wrote one of the final (and most famous!) verses of his book: “The LORD your God is in your midst …. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). When heard in the context of the other lectionary passages for the Third Sunday of Advent, God’s often anxious and worried children can receive these words as an invitation to climb into the lap of their heavenly parent so that our heavenly parent might sooth them with the songs of his love and care.
Then, having heard these songs, they might offer him one of their own, perhaps borrowing words from the prophet Isaiah: “God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2). While the Apostle Paul seems to be doing everything, he can to free us from anxiety, John the Baptist seems to be doing everything he can to create anxiety in us. John’s words are so full of alarm, he seems so determined to set us on edge. For John, the news that “the Lord is near” is not only a promise that ought to comfort the afflicted. It is also a promise that ought to afflict the comfortable!

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Full of Emergency!

November 30, 2018 - 7:03am

Well I am early this week with my blog and I could say I am so excited as we begin the season of Advent on Sunday. A Sunday when we remember to find hope and not to get swamped by a world that seems Full of Emergency! But I have to be honest and say that the excitement of preparing for God's entry into the world hasn't quite gripped me yet and I have still to build up my feelings of hope. I am early simply because I have time and doing the blog now means I will hopefully get rest earlier on a Friday night.

But back to this weeks reading from Luke on this first Sunday of Advent. The events Jesus describes in Luke 21 would be enough to make even the bravest souls run for cover. This chapter is “full of emergency …. it’s a whole drum roll of disaster.”  Seas surge. Planets shake. The earth groans and threatens to come undone. The world Jesus describes is full of events both terrible and terrifying. In other words, the world Jesus describes is not unlike our own. Wars? We’ve got those. Persecutions? Yes. Leaders kowtowing to vested interest of a few? Sure. Leaders who lie and cheat so that those who are poor and struggling become poorer?  Yes, they exist. Greed and Abuse that destroy innocence? We have them.         We’ve got all those and many locally here in Australia. Natural disasters? Yes certainly as we fail to deal with the reality of Climate Change. Why only in the last 2 weeks there has been flooding and storms in both Australia and Aotearoa (NZ) and fire storms in California and Queensland here in Australia. Have you visited News websites lately? Jesus’s predictions seem to be ripped right from the latest headlines. Are these terrible events a sign that the end is indeed near? Are they an indication that Jesus might come, in all his power and glory, next Tuesday afternoon? Perhaps. But perhaps such speculation misses the point. Perhaps the point is that it always feels like the end of the world somewhere. That somewhere might be in a Bola-stricken village in Africa or in the bombed-out streets of the Middle East.
But that somewhere might also be in the heart of the person in the pew who was laid off last week, or who was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or who is facing their first Christmas alone. All these things can feel like the end of the world and can make us want to run for cover, to cower in a corner and quiver with fear. Yet Jesus insists that we need not be afraid. Instead, when things seem to be going from bad to worse to worse again, Jesus invites us to stand tall, to lift up our heads, and to strain our eyes toward the horizon because it is precisely at such desperate moments that he promises to come.

He may not come to us today as he will one day—riding on the clouds, with all his power and glory on full display. But he will be there by his Spirit, he still promises to come. And that is good news for today—even if the world does not end tomorrow! Sometimes we struggle to see this possibility in the depths of the problems of our lives. Often, we find it difficult as humans to believe and find the patience to await and be prepared for the promise to be fulfilled.
Patience may be a virtue. But it is not one most of us want to cultivate. Instead, we download apps on our phones that let us skip the line at the coffee place that is “in” at the moment, pay for subscriptions with on-line companies that entitle us to quick delivery of our latest purchases, and spend our Friday nights watching whatever is available on Netflix Instant. We do not like to wait for coffee or a slow Internet connection. And we do not like to wait for God. We do not want to be patient and I am on that list at times. Like many, I want my phone connection to be working right now, my lunch in five minutes not fifteen. I often have to be reminded or remind myself about patience.

As one Anne Lamott observes, believing in God is easy. It is waiting on God that is hard.  Psalm 25 and Jeremiah 33 come as encouragement to those who are tired of waiting for God and who may be ready to give up. These texts from this week’s scriptures set for reading assure us that the one for whom we wait is faithful. Because he kept the promise he made through the prophet Jeremiah in Christ’s first advent, we can trust that he has not forgotten us, but will remember us according to his unfailing love.
Someone I read but can’t remember the name of once wrote that the greatest challenge for people who believe in Christ’s second coming is to live the sort of life that reflects God’s call and Jesus’ example. It means that people will observe and say, so that’s how people are going to live when Gods call and example in Jesus takes over our world.  God’s people are called to act with love grace and righteousness. We are then assured that all such a life is not ultimately a result of our own striving but is the gift of the one who makes us “blameless in the sort of life that reveals God’s call to us. God would enable us to see a picture of holiness with a promise to “increase and enrich [our] love.” Such behaviour would be a sign to all that we are able to be  lead into paths that are “loving and faithful.”

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Things Are Not How They Appear.

November 23, 2018 - 12:39pm

“Is Jesus really the king?” It was Pilate’s question in John 18. But it is ours too. In a world that seems to be constantly falling apart (despite Psalm 93’s insistence that the King of kings has set it firmly in its place), it can be hard to believe that Jesus is really the king. Yet our faith tells us he is. But as Jesus reminds us in John 18, he is a different kind of king. Sometimes, he chooses to clothe himself in weakness instead of strength. As we read in the Psalms from our scriptures sometimes, he robes himself in meekness instead of majesty. Sometimes, he comes as the king of the cross instead of the king of glory.
Australians it seems are like North Americans in that they seem quick to blame their politicians when things go wrong but slow to give them credit when things go right. Although I must admit in recent times it is harder to find the things that are going right. King David it seems knew better and he uses soaring poetry to celebrate the difference a good king can make and to declare that another king (an even greater king than him!) is coming. David declares that it will happen. And thanks be to God, we Christians have faith that in Jesus Christ, it has.
I read somewhere that some years ago in the USA the company, Allstate Insurance ran a popular advertising campaign featuring a character named “Mayhem.” In each ad, Mayhem takes on a new form (a satellite dish, a texting teenager, or a poorly secured Christmas tree) to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting. After each incident, an ominous voice says, “Mayhem is everywhere. . . are you in good hands?” In a world full of mayhem, those Christians who come into worship this week may be wondering if they are in good hands. We hope that they may leave with the assurance that they are because Jesus is king.
As we think and reflect upon Kings and kingship I am reminded that there is a scene in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and her friends have finally gained an audience with the legendary Wizard. Smoke fills the air, his voice booms around them, and the four friends quake with fear—until Dorothy’s little dog Toto slips away, pulls back a curtain, and exposes the real Oz. That is when Dorothy and her friends discover that things are not how they first appeared. The great and powerful Oz is not so great and powerful after all.
Something similar happens in our scripture from Revelation 1 this week. Only this time, when the curtain is pulled back, the situation is reversed. With an oppressive emperor sitting on the throne in Rome and persecution breaking out all around them, John’s congregations may well have wondered if Jesus Christ was so great and powerful after all. It is chaos, not Jesus that appears to rule their world. Yet Revelation 1 insists that things are not how they appear. When the curtain is pulled back, Jesus Christ is not only revealed to be the one who will be the ruler of the kings of the earth.
No. He is spoken of as the one who is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Despite how things may first appear, his power and reign are seen as a present reality. John the writer of Revelation’s drives this point home when he twice insists that the Lord God is the one who is and was and will be (if you read Revelations 1 note how John breaks the expected sequence of past/present/future in order to place the present tense in the emphatic position). The “isness” of God’s presence and Christ’s reign are what the church celebrates on this Christ the King Sunday. Yes, we use the image that someday every eye will see him coming on the clouds. But those who have the eyes of faith can see that God is with us—today. So those of faith then say that Jesus is king—today. So he deserves our worship and allegiance—today.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs


November 16, 2018 - 8:44pm

When we woke up this morning, many of us stepped into a world of expectations. This was not a conscious decision; it's just where we live, in a land where life is so good we have the luxury of taking many things for granted. The air conditioning stayed on, so we could awake to a comfortable room temperature; and if it was dark when we awoke, we reached for a light switch, so the invisible dangers could be revealed. Then we walked into a room with running water inside the house. On a Sunday some of you will be even listening to my voice over the sound system you expected and hoped to work so you could hear me when I turned the switch on. However this Sunday will be different in that we are in Melbourne but the expectations are still there.

So many things we expect in life we just take for granted until something doesn't work. The alarm doesn't go off. It's hot in the house. The light switch is non-responsive. We panic for a minute. We get frustrated. Then we think, "This is not how my day is supposed to be. My life is supposed to play out in such a way that I have all that I need to be comfortable. However, this morning, somebody or something flipped the script. And now I have no power when I'm supposed to have power."
Most of the rest of our world plays out a very different script; a minor power outage is disappointing. Outside of our country or outside of our neighbourhood there are problems and concerns many of us can't even begin to comprehend. There are illnesses that can't be treated, people dying in need of food, political and civil unrest, and overt exploitation and abuse of humanity and nature. A power outage in most of the world is a good day. Yet many of us see the discomfort and shock of power outages in this country, natural disasters like hurricanes and weather-pattern changes, wars in places where wars have been waged since the beginning of recorded history, and some of us interpret these events as "the sign of the times."

Where we live, 'be alert' became more a catch-cry in the 'war against terror' or a tool in the weaponry of road-safety campaigners, than an issue of spiritual 'safety'. What kinds of spheres do we need to be alert in where we live? What do we expect our world to be like in such an environment? One field in which we certainly need to remain spiritually alert and informed about our expectations is in the face of the multitudinous cranks out there, peddling extremist, fundamentalist versions of what Jesus is on about.
Not just in what we consider 'extremist' churches, but within mainline ones these days. The recent debates and news about abuse issues and about same gender acknowledgement are some examples. It can happen!
It doesn’t just happen out there somewhere but can happen right here amongst one’s own community.  How can we live in our time and God's time at the same time, in the world and in the church as Christ's Body, and do it free from fear? 'Perfect love casts out fear' says John. Persecution of Christians these days in some of our societies is just as likely to come from fundamentalist protestant or catholic factions within churches more than from outside.

Those out there in the wide margins can still persecute and the possibility is growing within in some quarters. The places where misguided people try to draw in church margins tightly round fellow Christians. Isn't it ironic that that's the way Jesus' warnings may be fulfilled today? That Jesus speaks of wars, earthquakes, and famines, as 'the beginning of birth-pangs' could be a helpful way of exploring the pains that our world still - as always - labours under. We have become very comfortable with the expectation that all will remain the same or get better. I really wonder where our focus might be. Is it in the expectation of all the comforts being there and available all the time?
On the other hand, is it on where God calls us to be and is it on the most important thing of God’s great love for us. What do we really have to bear to bring something worthwhile to birth? Have we even thought about it? Have we thought about what it is we are meant to be doing here and now?  As distinct from theological philosophising, what practical and constructive steps must we take to 'endure to the end'? I will leave you with some more questions to ponder over the next weeks before our focus is taken to shops and parties and gifts and all the other trappings of our western Christmas lifestyle.
Are we as Christians or even those outside the faith listening for what we say and working out how we act in love as we face those whom we meet day to day? And what is this end that Jesus talks about? Whom, is the end for and is it important? Is the Christian call to be working to enable God’s kingdom to be here and now in his love the most important thing? Is this scripture passage too close to the bone?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Societies Fringe Dwellers.

November 9, 2018 - 12:53pm

Often, something positive eventually comes from a disaster. This does not mean that the disaster was God’s way of achieving the positive. The birth of David results from Ruth’s union with Boaz (encouraged by Naomi), but the biblical events preceding that— Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s incest with his daughters, the famine and death of Naomi’s family— are not God’s preferred method of bringing grace into the world.
If we look at Divorce despite it not being ideal and not what God wants for us it is necessary because of our choices and mistakes. The way God calls us to live as shown in the life of Jesus seems so perfect, yet we are forgiven as we struggle to live in a holy way. Out of divorce can come positive things as we evaluate our own mistakes in the relationship and work towards not making them again. Out of the pain can come positive growth that enables the person going through divorce to be much more fully present and available in their following relationships including maybe a new partner.
One of the first widow’s I ever understood to be a widow was young. She was someone I had known in the community and her husband died of a heart attack while playing basketball. He was twenty-nine. Suddenly, the notion of widowhood became clear to me. It was not that a woman simply outlived her husband, but that there was a blank space at the table, an empty side of the bed, a phone number that goes unanswered, conversations that become one-sided. Widows and widowers of all ages and circumstances frequently surround us. And we forget their status.

We forget that they are among those considered most vulnerable and most wise in Scripture. We forget that God’s heart is with them. It is critical to remember that her beloved, deceased partner may not have been a saint, but she will still grieve. That the person still living is still thinking of their loved one, even if you are afraid to bring up the subject. That she may grow accustomed to her new state, but never stop missing the ones who rest in light. Being widowed, being left out of partnership, should not mean being left out of community.
Let not the community of God forsake those who mourn. It is not enough to say God is with them. We are to be the hands, words, and consolation of the Spirit with widows, orphans, and strangers. Throughout his ministry, Jesus called to attention those on the margins of society, those who had previously gone unnoticed, the poor, the blind, the lame, the beggars, the lepers, military personnel, and widows. It’s a reminder particularly as many of us in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) will be marking Armistice or Remembrance Day which falls this Sunday. These are the same people we find on the margins of our societies today. Those who still are excluded, those whom society looks down on or simply ignores. A widow, living in poverty created by the institution charged with her care. An aged person placed in a Home as there is no one to manage things for them or even visit them.
This gospel reading from Mark 12 that continues today doesn’t seem like good news: A widow giving her all to a corrupt institution, an institution that fails to care for her as it is supposed to do. But she gives anyway. And Jesus commends her giving. He commends her and condemns the system. Jesus holds her up as an example of how small but significant acts can break down a cycle of injustice and corruption.
In the culture of Jesus, widows were non-people. Without a man to support or validate them in society, they were non-beings. Vulnerable and invalid, it was easy not to see them. It is easy not to see the people on our streets living without shelter, food or clothing. It’s easy not see the desperation of the refugees trying to reach countries where they might be better off. It’s easy to blame the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, the disabled and many others who are suffering. Yet, Jesus not only notices widows on many occasions during his ministry, in this week’s text, he actually uses a widow to teach trust and reliance on God.
This gospel is not talking to us about a comparative giving table, steering the prosperous to give more. It is encouragement for those who go against the grain, who practice subversion in whatever way they can, even in the face of injustice. Who, by their subversion, make inroads into creating justice and fairness for all God’s people. It doesn’t always take placards and a lot of shouting for trends and policies to be reversed. Persistent, simple subversion also does the trick.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Vain Offerings

November 2, 2018 - 10:29am

In this week’s Gospel reading from Mark 12 Jesus has already argued with the Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes to Caesar, and with the Sadducees about the concept of resurrection. Now a scribe, overhearing their arguments and judging Jesus to be a smart cookie, poses his question. It's odd that Jesus gives him a straight answer instead of an object lesson (as when he asked for a coin from the Pharisees) or a counter-question. Perhaps he knows the scribe is asking a genuine question and doesn't have a hidden agenda?
In Matthew's version (22:34-40) and in Luke's version (10:25-28), the questioner is a lawyer who is testing Jesus. Mark's scribe seems to be honest. Mark's story is also unusual in that the scribe congratulates Jesus on giving a good answer, and that Jesus responds by saying, "You are not far from the kingdom of God.". The Pharisees and Sadducees have just been shown up by a lowly scribe! He even gets in a dig at the Sadducees' focus on the temple, "This is much more important than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
There is something touching in this encounter that offers hope to churches today. Despite those who try to control Jesus, to manipulate or discredit him, there is still hope for the few who come to him with genuine questions.

Have you ever thought about, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?... bring no more vain offerings” means for us as those who seek to live as Jesus did. Let’s try another tack. God is lonely for us. God, our Creator, our very help in time of need, longs for us, for our love, for our prayers for help, for prayers of praise and thanksgiving. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul is often quoted.
Have you ever wondered why God, our heavenly parent who formed us in her own image, longs for the companionship that comes during times of silent prayer and meditation; during times when we talk and laugh out loud with God; when we cry out in sorrow and petition; and yes, even, perhaps most especially, at those times when we scream in anger. These are the presents, the gifts that we can bring to our God who desires no material evidence of our love. What can our high spires, our golden chalices, our "burnt offerings" give to God that God does not already have?
Shall we seek to adorn the throne of the One who, according to Revelation, sits on the golden throne surrounded by worshipping creatures crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy?" Shall we expect to augment the One who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent? How redundant that would be. No, these are but window dressing, substitutes for what God really wants from us: “...and the second is like unto it you shall love your neighbor as yourself...” As the prophet Micah reminded us, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God. 

Martin Smith, SSSE, is Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA. His book, Co-Creation with God, provides profound insights into the way we view our relationship with our Creator-Parent. Martin's thesis is that God invites and welcomes our co-equal participation in the unfolding of our lives and future. Posing this provocative question, "God, what are we to make of this?" Martin counsels us to allow a partnership to form in which we jointly create our future according to the will of God.
Carter Heyward, feminist theologian at the Episcopal Divinity School and author of numerous books, says, "In the beginning was the relationship." Thus, relating to and with God enriches us and, Martin suggests, enriches the heart of God, also. How can you say that you love God whom you have not seen, when you hate creation and your neighbour whom you have seen?
Another gift that we can present to God is to mirror the love so freely given to us in our relationships of peace, harmony and justice with others in the world. This gift we can bring before God in thanksgiving and praise for God's love. We can allow that love to be a model for all of our earthly relationships. We can understand that God's will for us is that we should love equality, do justice, love our neighbors, those living anywhere in this global village, and walk in humble thanksgiving for the incredible blessings of God's love.
We are to demonstrate fairness in our business dealings, compassion and justice in our encounters with other human beings, see the face of God in both friend and foe, and invite the holy spirit to be present in all dialogues, discussions, and relationships. This is what is called for by the Prophet Isaiah and it stands as a blueprint for how God wishes us to live.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs