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Whitestarhaven's Ramblings
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The Disturbing Quality.

September 12, 2019 - 10:40pm

Fifty years ago, many of us were fascinated by a set of images or words coming from our media that became part of who we were. Images of the far away moon and representatives of humanity walking there have become part of who we are. Eighteen years ago, a set of images became part of our culture. The collective consciousness of the world expanded to include images of buildings and people falling, images of planes crashing and exploding, images of exhausted first responders. Alongside those images are sets of mental pictures, where we were and who was with us on September 11, 2001.
In the days of the exodus, a set of images became part of Israelite history. God’s chosen people amassed images of their escape, of the destruction Yahweh brought down in plague after plague, of an angry pharaoh chasing after his slave labour as they fled into the desert. The exodus created images of walls of water piling up for the weary nation to cross a riverbed; and in the journey to their freedom, the people of God gathered up images of pharaoh’s great army swallowed up in an unforgiving sea.
Yet in Exodus 32, we struggle to understand a people who conspired together to form a more concrete image of a god, one they could create and touch, one they could understand and control, one they could move and manipulate. The images of past deliverance were not sufficient for their faith. They sought more than the image of a past experience. They pursued an image of God’s presence; but like many of us searching for certainty, they shaped an image of God’s absence. The disturbing, living quality of Yahweh, God is that no image can hold God’s full presence.

And, while images of our life and world will replay around us, we are challenged to see God somewhere in all of them— in that first step onto a far celestial body by humanity, in the first responder’s courage, in the trembling wall of water on either side, in the idea that sometimes we need to change our minds. But as we come back to earth and focus on what is important what are we asked to do by our God.
As we pick up on the reading from Luke 15, we are given a challenge to our focus in life. What do I owe the ninety-nine? I wander far, slipping heedlessly over sliding gravel, jumping doe-like over crevices, relying upon my own grace. Maybe not so much wandering as running away. Panic obscures my memory and my motives. I descend through the canyons until I’m immobilised by abysses that stretch too wide to cross, rock buttresses too narrow to squeeze through. Weakened, I can’t retrace my steps. Just as I surrender to despair, there you are. You sought me and found me and carried me home. Our God has been with us and supported us as we have taken this journey to seek those who are lost.
Here’s my question and a challenging question for us all. What do I now owe the other ninety-nine? The ones waiting patiently, staying obediently with the flock? Did you see their looks of envy and reproach? How do you get to nuzzle against his shoulder, carried on his sweet back? You don’t deserve it! We were faithful, we stayed with the flock and look at you carried shoulder high like a triumphant athlete, laurel leaves for your lies and selfishness!

Like the prodigal’s older brother, they refuse to come to the angelic party given in my honour. What do I owe them? I’d drink to their happiness—if I hadn’t given up drinking. They reject the gift of my gratitude. The ninety-nine banish me to the solitude I sought in the first place. They turn me into a fool. A fool for love. And wiser than I was. Our world can gape in awe at events both positive and challenging in our history, but they pale in the eyes of our God and yet again the question comes of how we acknowledge our God’s presence.
In these scripture readings Jesus and the writers tell us that there is a God who comes to save the lost. God knows us, knows our hiding places and the little nooks and crannies that we slip into from time to time, and he comes to save us. Salvation always looks different than we expect it to—sometimes pleasantly different, and sometimes it looks like rehab, marriage counselling, a job you wouldn’t ordinarily want—but a job is a job is a job.  
We should also never forget that God has a body, the church, and that sometimes God retrieves us through this body. Pastor is Latin for “shepherd,” and in a sense, we are all called to be pastors, shepherds— gatherers of lost people—through our comings and goings, our liturgies, our various gifts. As Christians we ask that our God may give us the diligence to search for the lost and the wisdom to know what to do after we find them.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.

September 6, 2019 - 5:46am

Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves.

At that time, the medieval style of interpretation of scripture had concentrated on identifying an element of church doctrine, enumerating it point by point, and developing a supporting argument through the use of selected biblical texts and quotes from Church Fathers. In contrast, Colet began with the biblical text and developed a direct interpretation of it. He focused on the writer of the text and its context, rather than focusing on doctrine and tradition.

Colet felt that the teachings of scripture could be taught in such a way as to be easily understood by almost anyone. His approach was to read a whole unit of text, as opposed to an isolated passage. Then he tried to discover what the original writer had tried to say.  In Colet’s hands, the Epistles of Paul were not a string of riddles but the letters of a real people. Colet wanted to understand for himself, and to help others understand, what the writers intended.

As the Dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though, his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.

Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.

The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 
Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Generally citizens of Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. It seems that more “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put
the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. I wish that this day our prayers for ourselves and for each other be prayers of seeking to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us. This would then enable us to discover the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Rocky Dinner Party.

August 30, 2019 - 7:47am

For those who follow the three year scripture cycle for Sunday reading todays reading from Luke 14 suggest we leave out five verses. It’s almost as if when a parent forbids a child to look at a certain chapter in a book on the living room shelf, so we just have to take a peek to see what is in those forbidden verses. We need the full context here. Luke 14:1 tells us that Jesus had been invited for a dinner party at the house of a “prominent Pharisee.” But why was Jesus invited? He was not a real popular person among the Pharisees, after all.
I like many suspect he was not invited out of love. In fact, it looks like they were setting Jesus up as many Priests and Ministers will have experienced themselves. As such, it is neither accidental nor coincidental that Jesus immediately encounters a man with dropsy. Dropsy was what today we would call oedema (Fluid gathering in the wrong places particularly at the extremities, which likely meant his breathing was laboured, and also his face, legs, feet, and hands were swollen because of a cardio-pulmonary problem that caused fluid to build up throughout his body. Likely he looked pathetic.
As his devious hosts suspected, Jesus cannot resist the urge to help. “Would it be all right by you if I healed this man? Is that a lawful thing to do on the Sabbath?” Silence. The dinner party is off to a really rocky start! But it gets worse when in reaction to people’s jockeying for the more important seats at the dining table Jesus begins to urge a bit of humility rather than brashly trying to get the best seat in the house. Did the people blush? Probably. But Jesus is not done. He has more to say and it is not what you’d call Emily Post etiquette or here in Australia June Dally-Watkins etiquette to say what Jesus does at this party.
Ultimately Jesus tells us a parable that was a direct rebuke to his own host or not caring more about the last, least, lost, and the lonely of the world the way God wants us to. Luke doesn’t tell us how that Sabbath-day dinner party ended. But you get the feeling that when Jesus left his hosts were not smiling and saying to Jesus, come again. When we next see Jesus at a dinner a chapter on in Luke we see that Jesus is dining with sinners. In this dining experience while Jesus is dining with the so called sinners the Pharisees are on the outside looking in. Looking in and sneering at Jesus in judgement.
You know, the Pharisees, as often with leadership that has got stuck and rigid didn’t get it. They didn’t get it ever and I wonder how many of us could easily or do easily slip into this sort of judgement. We hear clearly who Jesus’s kind of people were. The question we need to be asking ourselves and of each other is whether Jesus’s kind of people are our kind of people.
The writer Dallas Willard in his book, “The Divine Conspiracy,” noted that we that is humanity, not just those professing to be Christians, often forget what the goal of our life is, our discipleship, and our vocation. The goal is to live like Jesus, follow the way he engaged with people and exhibit great compassion and love for creation. This is not a metaphor or some overblown aspiration but is to be a bright centre for our lives. I have to add that this may also involve us in suffering and sacrifice of various kinds.
There is always a danger, like anything good humans get their hands on, it can be diverted and corrupted. The danger is that the attempt to live like Jesus can be turned to tempting us into acting and believing that it is our obedience that gets us the reward and a free trip to heaven (whatever we believe that to be).  Sadly we seek to look for a system to make sure that God will love me again this week – we look to hear and preach as I heard it once described, “Shouldy sermons.”  We are to go with Jesus to the outside and recognise it’s not about us and that it’s all about grace and for which we continually give thanks.
In Hebrews 13 we have these parting words:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

“Also an anonymous soul has expressed it well:
Love is the spark that kindles the fires of compassion.
Compassion is the fire that flames the candle of service.
Service is the candle that ignites the torch of hope. Hope is the torch that lights the beacon of faith.
Faith is the beacon that reflects the power of God.
God is the power that creates the miracle of love.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Who is First, the Person or the System?

August 23, 2019 - 7:45am

Have you ever reflected on this question? I often have as I have come to realise that yes we need systems to enable the fairness and inclusion of all I touched on in last week’s Blog. However as Jesus often demonstrated in his engagement with people the compassion and inclusion he practiced worked counter to where the system had gone. Sadly, like many things, systems can start out to help those least able to help themselves than in our society but end up being manipulated by those desiring riches and power to beat others with to bring them into their way which is not what God is calling us to be.
I love the following story that has helped me at times in dealing with whether I beat the person who seems to have failed or love them instead: “A daughter complained to her father about how hard things were for her.” As soon as I solve one problem," she said, "another one comes up. I’m tired of struggling." Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen where he filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots; in the second, eggs; and in the last, ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
The daughter impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. After a while, he went over and turned off the burners. He fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He poured the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her he asked, "Darling, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled, as she tasted its rich flavour. She asked, "What does it mean, Father?" He explained that each of them had faced the same adversity--boiling water--but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg was fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. By being in the boiling water, they changed the water. He asked his daughter, "When adversity knocks on your door, which are you?"” The woman who had been bent over for eighteen years had experienced eighteen years of adversity. Perhaps the woman who had been bent over for eighteen years started out with the sternness of a carrot, only to find that she had been softened by time with the fading hope of a solution to her problem.
Better still, perhaps she was like the uncooked egg representing a character quality that resembles meekness only to end up over the course of those eighteen years in her heart like the character of the boiled egg---hardened. In any event, she needed someone to come along and help her fix her problem---someone who would change the atmosphere much like coffee changed the water.
Jesus changed people everywhere He went. He always reached out to those on the outside and loved them. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are accountable for how we treat those whom we come in contact with. By our actions we can bring changes for better or worse. To condemn and vilify because we might interpret something written in a particular way is nor what we are called to be. So, are we like the carrot or an egg?
By our actions we can change the hearts of the hard-hearted and make them soft or the soft-hearted or just the opposite, we can make the meek hardened in heart and attitude. Like Jesus we need to change the atmosphere around us by being the salt of the earth and the light of the world so that those standing on the outside can find a haven---a refuge.
Does it show love to keep people in need standing on the outside?  “Government and the religious establishment are too often in collusion when violence against the poor occurs. How can people love only those who are just like them? How can we honestly say we honour the mandate of scripture to “love our neighbour as we love ourselves” if we are passing by “on the other side” of their pain? Are we showing love by keeping people who are in need standing on the outside? Jesus included everyone in His mission.

Jesus included those who were considered sinners and outcasts. But if the truth be told, we are all sinners who hunger for the love that God so freely offers to everyone. Yet, not everyone accepts God’s offer of unconditional love and forgiveness. We are called to be and need to be more like Jesus, in our actions as well as in our words. We need to love like Jesus. What good does it do for us to love only those that are just like us?
“An anonymous soul has expressed it well:
Love is the spark that kindles the fires of compassion.
Compassion is the fire that flames the candle of service.
Service is the candle that ignites the torch of hope. Hope is the torch that lights the beacon of faith.
Faith is the beacon that reflects the power of God.
God is the power that creates the miracle of love. 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Drive Them Crazy with Love.

August 16, 2019 - 8:11am

This week I have decided to wander off from following the lectionary and would like to reflect on the passage of scripture - Matthew 20:1-16a. This scriptural lesson is hard for those of us who are concerned about fairness. It seems to tell us that God is not fair. The story is simple: Jesus describes a hiring process. Some workers are hired early, some at mid-day, some in the afternoon, and some just before quitting time. At the end of the day, they were all paid the same wage. Those who had worked all day felt that they should be paid more than those who had worked only part of the day. But the employer said, "You all agreed to the wage before it was paid;" and more significantly, "it's my money and if I want to pay everyone the same thing, I can."

From this do we learn that God is not fair? Is it not rather than being fair, God is lavish. One priest, in commenting on this text, said, "I am so glad that God is not fair. If God were fair and gave me what I truly deserve, I would be tortured slowly before being consigned to hell for ever." But fairness is the highest ethical stance of many in our culture. Some would even choose fairness over lavish love. Children see fairness as the standard. They are especially keen on fairness if they believe that they have been treated unfairly. All who are parents are familiar with the cry of outrage, "That's not fair!" This may be accompanied by that other great ethical benchmark of children, "But all the other kids get to..." All good parents have a set of responses to these statements that they heard from their parents.
Children seldom raise the issue of fairness when they are being favoured. In fact, almost no one raises the issue of fairness when they are favoured or privileged. There have been some first class church fights grounded in unfairness. We have the recent and current debates over acceptance and inclusiveness, free speech and vilification of groups in our community despite the call and example of Jesus to live compassionately and lovingly as our God does.
Even sometimes it comes within the Church and it is a group of spiritually aware folk trying to guide the life of a congregation in a more "holy" way. And they are not treated fairly in the decision making. Sometimes it is a group of long time church members who have laboured long for the sake of the congregation and they are excluded from decisions about congregational life by a newer group of members. Sometimes there is even conflict between the clergy and laity. Frequently all of these problems are identified as "fairness" problems. And they are. There is a lot of unfairness in churches, in our community and in our society. There is a lot of unfairness in life. Anyone who wants to fill their heart and life with resentment will have ample opportunity to do so.
Jesus invites us to move beyond fairness and into boundless love. The kind of love Jesus calls us to, is grounded in, and is in his own sacrificial love. This love was won on the cross. Suffering preceded Jesus' death. Jesus' death was unjust. We might see it as a cosmically unfair event. But that awful death became the door to Resurrection for Jesus. In Jesus' Resurrection we see the meaning of suffering, the meaning of injustice, and the meaning of death transformed by God's power into our experience and knowledge of God's limitless love. Even in the process of death, Jesus was transforming meaning. He said to the thief on the cross, who admitted that his death sentence was fair, "Today you shall be with me in paradise."
Jesus said to God about those who were killing him, "Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing." Both of Jesus' statements were cosmically unfair. Both of Jesus' statements are signs of God's lavish love for us. Jesus' Ascension may have been the most extreme example of God's lavish love. In the Ascension Jesus left a particular time, place, and group of people to be present for all time and in all places and with all people. This act insures that we, even 2,000 years later, thousands of kilometres away, and without any personal knowledge of Jesus' disciples can know that lavish love in the deepest and most personal ways.
So, when you think you are being treated unfairly, rejoice because it reminds you that God loves you lavishly. Also it’s interesting to check out whether what we perceive as unfairness is actually that and not our own greed etc. Once you think you are being treated unfairly do something to make those who you think are treating you unfairly feel really crazy -- forgive them and share with them the love you have received. Not easy I know but that is what we are called to.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Summoning Love toward Life.

August 9, 2019 - 6:09am

I’ve had in my life a few friends and people I have been pastorally responsible for who, when they were dying, immersed themselves in deep gratitude. Gratitude—not that they were dying of course—but grateful that dying awakened them to life. They lived at the last knowing the preciousness of every moment. They also lived with the hope of knowing they would be with their God which bought them great comfort. Friendships developed with those I was to be with during this period at the end of their lives for which I have been greatly appreciative. They also began to appreciate their relationships and friendships.
Then there is the shedding of bad relationships and habits that I observed in these friends. Not so much ambitiously “making the most” of the remaining time, but summoning love toward life through each moment they had left. Not so much checking things off an extravagant bucket list, as admiring the symmetry of the bucket itself. Even in diminishment, enlarging the capacity to love. I don’t mean to glamourise dying. More often, that kind of heightened consciousness is impossible through trauma and pain. I’m inspired nevertheless by these friends and fellow Christians during the end of their life journey.
I’m reminded of Saint Benedict’s admonition to “keep death always before you” for the very practice of daily waking and reawakening to life against death. Anchorites took a scoop out of their graves every day for the same reason, or stitched their shrouds so that they might remember the “one thing necessary”—that they might love the gift of life. Being rich toward God seems to me to be more about consciousness than about bustling around the church managing God’s business.
Noticing the scent of lavender and earth and early morning and still being grateful for it at the end of the day. Noticing the other: taking risks in love for Love disguised as the unlovable. Should I ever be too sick to love, I hope I can remember these comforting words from Teresa of Avila. “Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”
You know, when it comes to how we as humans face the end of our life on this planet fear seems to be the key emotion. That fear drives us to all sorts of odd behaviour and increase our pain towards the end. It is, however, also possible for fear to drive us to rather bizarre extremes in all sorts of areas of our life. For instance, if the fear of heights makes us stay in one place, or to never leave the house because we might encounter a tall building. Or if we can't go camping because someone might start a campfire to cook; this is a bit extreme, and it now is driving us to live life in an untenable way. 
And if our fear of scarcity rules us, makes us believe we can't do things; we are now driven by a reality that is only a perception.  You see, this could well lead us to agree with those that say, they are tired of churches saying what they cannot do.  If you look deep enough, what we are fearful of admitting is that we are only limited by our choices.  In other words, it is not that we can't, it is that we choose not to.  And so, an almost non-existent threat now rules our lives.
This is how fear rules us.  When Jesus says, "do not be afraid," it is likely that he was plenty smart enough to know we would be.  He also was plenty smart enough to know that to rule something out of your life; you must know you have it in your life in the first place.  We are convicted by the reality of our fear of scarcity every time we hear those words: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."   We are so afraid of this that we don't even want to look at it, or we reinterpret it in some really creative and self-serving ways, ways that make common sense, because, we are about common sense. 
We are common sense people. Abundance does not seem plausible, so we are afraid.  We've been trained that way. But, what are we afraid of?  If we would really delve into that question, really look at it, more often as individuals and especially as a people, we would serve ourselves well. Because, sometimes our fears actually teach us something, make the scales fall from our eyes as we see the things we idolise; our health, our wealth, our status, and by so doing helps us to find life and experience life as never before, and in a richer way than ever before. 

That is the trust, the faith that is described in Hebrews and in Luke today.  It really gets at what we fear about Scripture, about this man named Jesus. Because one fear we have, a real one, is that the Gospel is usually bad news before it is good news.  We have to travel through both realities. The things we fear can teach us. But, as in all things, we can't live life in its fullness or get well, until we know and admit our affliction.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living Without Trainer Wheels.

August 2, 2019 - 6:52am

Do you remember how your legs felt when your legs grew too long to ride your tricycle? Did your parents buy you a bicycle, or as our fellow primary school classmates might have called it—a “two-wheeler.” Only, for many it was really a “four-wheeler” because there were two little wheels attached at the rear tire. Did you ride your two-wheeler up and down the sidewalk in front of your family’s home until you were accustomed to riding upright? And then one day, your parent would have removed the training wheels so that you could ride without them.
Did you fall a few times before your parent jogged alongside you, holding the seat to keep you balanced? After a few laps, riding the two-wheeler it does become a little easier. Often when you made the U-turn at the end of the imaginary finish line, you’d be shocked to see your parent at the other end, watching you with arms folded and a proud grin on their face. When I was going through this I was so focused on avoiding another fall, I had no idea how long I had been pedalling without my parent. But I did it!

I remember feeling I was now one of the big kids. I could ride a bike all by myself, without training wheels or my parent’s or brother’s assistance. Once I achieved this new sense of independence, any memory of my little red tricycle, the number of times I fell, or my parent’s help vanished. It was as though I did it all on my own, but that as we all know this is not the truth.
When the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, God cared for them, raised them the way a loving father raises his child. After his own presence in their lives, the greatest gift their heavenly parent gave to Israel was their freedom from their slavery to the Egyptians. But when Israel was liberated and empowered to build new lives for themselves, they forgot the one who fed them, kept them safe, healed them, and led them into their new life.
So much so that they preferred instant gratification and the profits from injustice to the longsuffering, patient God who gave them new life. Then we hear in Hosea 11 that although Israel’s disobedience provoked great anger in God, to the point where God is ready to destroy his living creation, his overtaking compassion prevents him from bringing destruction. Like any good parent, our God will still chastise his children. Yet God is always ready to joyfully welcome us into his good graces when we run to him asking forgiveness, ready to conform to his image, and filled with gratitude.
The readings from Luke 12 and Colossians 3 take us further in our understanding of the possible relationship with God and with each other. In Luke 12 Jesus shares a parable about a rich fool, warning against greed and being self-centred. The relentless pursuit of material possessions is a powerful distraction from growing an intimate relationship with Jesus. When we become self-absorbed, we neglect to pray, study God’s word, and prepare for Jesus’s return. Nothing that may be accumulated on earth is as valuable as the eternal riches we have in God’s kingdom.
Never one to miss a good opening, Jesus seizes the opportunity to talk about much more than getting our share of the goods of life—and, thus, the “rich man” who thinks that he deserves his fate in life, and will simply “eat, drink, and be merry” to the end of his self-satisfied days! What is really important in life? It’s a tired old saw, but still pretty effective: if you knew for certain that this was your last day on earth, how would you spend it? What would you be doing that, perhaps, you are not doing now? Well, what are you waiting for?

At some stage in history what is called a new myth appeared. This was that wealth needs to be shared. Work requires just and equitable share in its fruits. The strong have an obligation to care for the weak. This new myth birthed education, unionisation, nationalised health programs, community projects, and for centuries the church stood at the heart of reform, telling the new story. Sadly it is so no longer. The myths of dominance, control, and consumption have displaced the Christ myth, and the church itself has forgotten how to tell the story of prophetic justice.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “Christ is our life” (Col 3:4). When we become followers of Jesus Christ, our nature is renewed. We become hidden in the risen Christ in that our values and lifestyles are aligned with his teachings and nature. As we conform our lives to Christ, our behaviour changes. Over time, our lives are no longer in step with that of popular culture, but in obedience to God. Submission to the way of the Lord places us in his favour, out of the way of his wrath.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Take a Break, Have a KitKat.

July 26, 2019 - 7:10am

Last week’s I reflected about keeping Sabbath time as individuals. But there is another aspect to Sabbath rest that is just as important. God doesn’t only tell individuals to rest. God tells communities to keep Sabbath time. God commands Israel to let their fields have a Sabbath, to let their animals and servants have a Sabbath, and once every few years, to let the whole economic system have a Sabbath. The world needs a vacation. Lord knows, the earth needs a rest. We have been extracting her minerals, damming her rivers, pumping toxins into her atmosphere, tearing holes in her ground, and stuffing her with our trash.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a floating island made of our plastic garbage has grown to the size of a continent, reaching out long tendrils of six-pack rings and shopping bags to trap, kill, and devour fish and birds. We feel the earth reeling, staggering under its burden of our human societies. We call her Mother Earth, but we have treated her like a slave, working the world to exhaustion. The world needs a Sabbath. The world’s people need a Sabbath too. The resources we extract from the earth go to factories staffed by eight-year-olds sewing the soles onto sneakers in steaming sweatshops, working eleven- and twelve-hour days, forbidden from taking a break even to use the bathroom.
Oh, sure, it’s tough to do anything about those problems on the other side of the world; especially when Christmas rolls around and we really need to buy our children toys made by other children on the opposite side of the planet. I know people need to buy things. Money makes the world go round. People who are dirt poor cannot afford a Sabbath. But perhaps that’s the problem because the world’s people—especially the half that lives on less than a dollar a day—desperately need a Sabbath.
God declares a Sabbath for all creation. God tells us to give the world a break. God gives Moses instructions in Exodus for a radical holiday, telling him that not only should the community take a break from work for a day out of every week, but every seven years they should give the land a Sabbath. Although they may eat whatever perennials grow in their fields by themselves, they may not plant or harvest. The land itself gets a break and then God declares yet another Sabbath. Once every fifty years, the economic system gets reset. All indentured servants will be released, all debts will be forgiven, and all land will revert to the original families who owned it. They call it the jubilee year; a Sabbath for all creation.

While it is unclear if they ever actually carried it out or not, it is an idea that crops up again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures. Release for the captives, letting the debt prisoners go free. Isaiah and Jesus called it “the year of the Lord’s favour,” and it was to them a little glimpse of that final time when God is to judge the world and set it to rights. God declares a Sabbath for all creation.
Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? Imagine going to your mailbox and tearing open your mortgage statement and reading, “Total balance due: $0.” Imagine hordes of children leaving the sweatshops to go on their first summer vacation, splashing in the river, riding squeaking bicycles down the road, playing soccer in an abandoned lot. Imagine the panic on Wall Street or at the ASX as tractor-trailer trucks stand abandoned on the freeways, their cargos of iPods and $150 distressed-denim jeans sitting idle, inventories in retail stores across the nation gathering dust. The economy would collapse!

But you’d also have no more car payments, no more student loan debt. Not only that, but the redistribution of property back to its original owners? That’sscary language. Imagine Australian First peoples, Canadian First Nations or   First Nation American peoples leaving their camps, their reservations and home areas and staking claim to George Sydney or the Sydney Opera House or maybe even Manhattan, Wall Street. It’s absurd! Our gods, the gods of the market and conquest, would never allow it. This kind of language scares us,makes us think of socialism or terrorism or communism or some other “ism.” Just imagine the chaos that would ensue.
But nobody ever said God was practical. God stubbornly insists on aSabbath for all creation. However, it’s only a short step from ignoring the Sabbath yourself to imposing your work, your agenda, and your interests on the land and its people. As written in Isaiah 58:13, we tend to put the pursuit of our own interests above everything else, setting up our own businesses as petty gods that we serve and worship. We sacrifice our relationships, our children, and our health on the altar of busyness. We sacrifice justice for the poor on the altar of economic practicality. And let me tell you, I get caught up in this to as I love my comforts and my technology.
Yet could we not see our Sabbath as a kind of nonviolent resistance to the creeping tyranny of wealth and power. Nehemiah says that even if everyone around them is buying and selling on the Sabbath, God’s people will not.  God calls them to be a different kind of community. Imagine a Sabbath for the world. Picture a break for God’s creation and all God’s people. Sure, it may seem impractical, but God calls us to be a different kind of community, a people set apart, and a royal priesthood.
God has a better vision of life for us and our world, a life that includes rest and enjoyment and even time for deep prayer which we call contemplation these days. Talk of prayer does connect us to the readings from the three-year lectionary for this week. But this is not the prayer of demand and asking that we have come to use most of the time. Well before I get carried away, that’s another story for another day.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Take a Break.

July 19, 2019 - 9:50am

I’d like to wander away from the readings from the Lectionary today and reflect on a subject that I often wrestle with. The message that often comes to us from the world and the way it operates is that rest seems like a waste of time. Most of us have a difficult time imagining a day devoted to rest. We admire people who work hard and play hard. We have weekend or day off projects, maintaining home or yard or garden. We travel or watch television. We have ball games and family obligations and hobbies. There is too much to do and too little time, and anyway, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right?
As the old saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don’t need any. So to many of us, rest seems like a waste of time. Sure, sometimes we feel the stress of busyness. We know we need a break, and we say that we should stop and smell the roses. But there never seems to be enough time for rest. We try to budget our time, stuffing time into envelopes and rationing it the way we budget money. We make distinctions between regular time and “quality time.”
We know the consequences of such stress: high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes and broken relationships, sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, and so on. Yet, even knowing these things, hearing that we “ought” or “should” try to take a break simply gives us one more thing to squeeze into our calendars between the doctor’s appointment and the deadline. Unfortunately, church doesn’t help much, with our programs and studies and mission projects, all of which are so important to our spiritual growth. How can we rest? We’re doing the Lord’s work! So although we may know we need a break, we don’t feel that we have time to rest.
We fear death. That’s really the problem, isn’t it? We fear squandering the little time we have. “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” we say, and we cling to our finite number of seconds the way a miser pinches pennies. Rest bears too much resemblance to that final rest below the soil, so that we fear rest and the passage of time because it makes us conscious of our own mortality.
Yet God rested. How strange! A God who never sleeps, who is all powerful and ever-present, decides to take the day off. We can hardly imagine it. What does God do on God’s off day? Bake cookies? Do a little gardening? And because God rested, God directs God’s people to rest. The word Sabbath actually comes from the Hebrew verb for “he rested.” God instructs his people to keep the Sabbath holy as a perpetual sign of the covenant between God and Israel. In fact, God takes the day of rest so seriously that the community should put to death “everyone who profanes” the Sabbath.
While it is unlikely this happened often, apparently rest is a serious business! Serious enough that God rested. The truth is we all die, regardless of how we spend our time. When we die we will leave behind unfolded laundry, unchecked items on our to-do lists, and unkept appointments on our calendars. Our business will not be finished. Staring at our datebooks, we realise our entire schedules should be written in pencil, because it all depends on the second-by-second beating of our hearts, tentative, subject to change at a moment’s notice.

A Sabbath rest gives us a chance to become conscious of the eternity in our time, to live mindful of the presence of God. Our time here is too precious not to take a Sabbath rest. Keeping the Sabbath is like tithing our time to God. We give to God the first moments of the day, or the first day of our week. Because we are made in the image of God, we imitate God’s rest after a busy week of doing and creating. Doing so reminds us that all time is God’s time. We make time for a little slice of eternity, and give that time as an offering to God in the same way that we put money into the offering plate.
People who keep a sabbath, whether it is Saturday, Sunday, or some other regular day of rest and reflection, often say that it helps them value their time during the week even more. There’s a paradox at work in the spiritual discipline of keeping a Sabbath. Just as people who give generously never seem to run out of money, people who make a habit of carving out time for sabbath rest never seem to run out of time. Actually, we have more than enough time. Although time is finite, God somehow gives us minutes as fast as we spend them. Look! You’ve just received another one.
God is generous with God’s time. We have more than enough time, so we are called to tithe that time back to God. Imagine your life with a regular Sabbath rest. What do you do with those twenty-four hours if God forbids work? Nap in a hammock. Swing on a porch swing, sipping lemonade. Talk with friends. The Bible tells us that the Sabbath is a foretaste of the kingdom of God, where children play in the streets and everyone sits in the shade of their own vineyard. Imagine: God wants such a life for us! An endless summer afternoon, spent in the company of people we love. God says, why wait for heaven? Start doing it now.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Bound Together and to God.

July 12, 2019 - 12:59pm

If you have ever stripped wallpaper, you know that it is a tedious and thankless job. I have known people, who before they were even unpacked in their new house get to work on wallpapering as one of the first things they do. Many still live in these houses. As one person whom I knew was working around a room, they pulled down a particular sheet of paper and saw the line on the wall where the paperhangers had put the plumb line—and I remarked to the family, “Well, now at least we know where they started when they put this ugly paper up.” They had a starting point right there in bright chalk-line blue.

The person restruck a line over the old one, because they believed you can never be too sure about the previous owner’s sense of perpendicular. Putting new paper over the crooked line would be a disaster. The plumb line that we find mentioned in Amos 7, which is set in the Lectionary for this week, is seeking to use the image to warn Israel. However the image seems to me to really be about the place where our identity begins. For the audience of Amos’ writing, it is a warning for Israel to return to the ways that God had provided.
Israel had become corrupt; the original identity of the ones chosen by God was to be their starting point, their source of identity. All the other ways that Israel had tried to had left it lost. Our identity is the starting point from which all the other details of our lives will either be aligned or skewed. Who are we? What is that thing we know so intimately about ourselves on a visceral level that prompts us to worship the living God or not? Through God’s gift of grace, we are able to inescapably become God’s own daughters and sons. However with such an identity comes responsibility.

Having been through an election and watched parties spruke visions that didn’t seem plumb, let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race. Let us honour the first nations of this land we inhabit as other colonised countries have. Let us not harden our hearts with greed and desire for power against those who are different. Let us despite our leaders misguided focus seek to bring love and compassion into our world, especially for those who seem different and alien to our context.
Yet sometimes sadly we are unable to move outside our context as God calls us to and a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own becomes a love to them which is can be the start for self-love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between people, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.
Having expressed that thought it leads me to comment on this week’s reading from Luke about the Good Samaritan. What strikes me about this familiar story is not that the Samaritan helped the Jew but rather the extent to which the Samaritan helped him. Our Samaritan exemplar was not only willing to pull over, see what had really happened, and then engage. He went well beyond that. He took the person in trouble to a nearby inn and gave the innkeeper what amounted to a blank check to do whatever made sense for the person’s healing. “The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

The Samaritan could have ended his involvement there but committed to returning after fulfilling another commitment. This Samaritan was a man who knew the blessing of grounding one’s life in faithful loving kindness to others. The lawyer whose original question prompted Jesus to tell this story could not have missed this. The issue for our lawyer was not to understand the limit of his responsibility but rather the extent of his opportunity. So it is for us. Where do my gifts, vocation, and past-times create opportunities to bless the lives of others with the steadfast loving kindness of the gospel of the kingdom of God?
If I am part of the Church, where does my church’s time, talent, and treasure offer corporate opportunities for the same? Where these answers lead is where we can validate God’s steadfast love to us by extending it to others. If we read further in our stories of Jesus from the Gospels we can see that he says to his disciples to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. He never answers that question the same way in any of his encounters but encourages us to have love and compassion for all of God’s creation. And he never does it with a shout, or a punch. But sometimes he does leave us with a story about mercy and an encouragement. “Go and do likewise,” he says.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living God’s Simplicity.

July 5, 2019 - 12:43pm

We often make life more difficult than it needs to be. We do the same thing with our faith. Christianity, it seems to me, is simple. I don’t mean anything derogatory by that. I mean that Christianity needs to be simple because it is meant to be lived. I once saw a sign on someone’s office wall: “Nothing is as simple as it seems. That is because nothing is simple, and nothing is as it seems.” I like that because it is an interesting bit of wordplay, and it does seem to have the ring of truth to it.
We live in a complex world where solutions to most problems are anything but simple. Someone lingers for years with a debilitating illness. There is no simple explanation for a thing like that. Parents who have raised their child without any real thought or plan and worse yet, without consistency, may one day discover that their child has done something beyond the limits of social acceptability. They rush to the counsellor wanting a quick fix—a simple remedy—to a problem that has taken fifteen years to develop.
There is violence in the world, and crime, and senseless destruction of people and property. There is no simple way to get a handle on these things. Don’t be naive. Simple solutions are few and far between. We also live in a world where few things are as they seem. We go to great lengths to appear to be something we are not. We want to look richer and smarter than we are. The marketing specialists push new products that bear little likeness to the items we cart home from the store. We are masters of disguise. Life is such that when we do stumble onto something that is simple, we are likely to overlook it or dismiss it as ridiculous.
So, I return to the thought that Christianity is simple. God loves us. God sent his Son to us. God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ is sufficient. There are complex problems in the world, and to seek simple answers to them is naive. But it is just as foolish to seek complex answers when simple ones will suffice. In Hebrew scripture there is a valuable jewel which answers I believe what our God calls us to be and the way Jesus showed us by practice in his life. The Hebrew Scripture of Micah 6: 8 tells us:“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Let’s “unpack that” (a pretentious little phrase I learned in my studies over the years – it means what I want to pass on about the subject here). Let us take a closer look at what God wants/requires from us. Let’s also look at what is not mentioned. The church doesn’t have a monopoly on justice, mercy, humility, or love. You can have them too—and probably already do. Three things—that’s all God gives us here. God says not to worry about fatted calves, turtle doves and buckets full of oil. These things are meaningless and certainly not “required.”
God wants us to act justly, but not in the worldly sense of justice. You do something bad and you get punished. That’s retributive justice—the flavour of justice that about 99.9 percent of the world is interested in including many who call themselves Christian. This does not interest our God. God is more interested in restorative justice—being redeemed and made whole, putting broken things back together again. This is the kind of acting justly that God wants to see us bring about, and to see happen. How do we not punish, but, rather, fix and make whole again? An interesting question I will leave you to reflect on and comment on sometime in the future.
Then God goes on to remind us that we are to love mercy. Notice that God does not just tell us to do mercy, but to love it. Mercy, compassion, love (words I have often used over the last year which seems to be a theme as we face the world as it is at this time — these are the hallmarks of how we are called to be living our lives and that with which we need to be desperately filling our hearts and minds with.
And yet, our God calls us to walk humbly with him. I find that I am moved deeply by how the verse tells us to walk with (not in front, not behind, not forcing etc. but with), to be in relationship. For me this is at the core of God’s desire: to be in relationship together. I think walking humbly with God also means that, over time, we find ourselves caring about others more and more and ourselves less and less. We find ourselves willing to be selfless more and more. This is not telling us about thinking less of ourselves but it’s about putting more and more time into the love and care of others.
To come back to simplicity of message let us begin to see the reasonableness of at least giving this style of life a try. Never withhold a word of encouragement. The final turning point is our decision to accept what God offers. Are we able to always accept what God offers? Always do what God suggests. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Not true. The miracles of faith and of a Christian life lived out by the grace of God are certain and available to every one of us. Trust in God. It sounds too simple. Still, trust in God.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Another Perspective on Life.

June 28, 2019 - 1:10pm

No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.  What kind of harsh statement is this?  And it seems at face value to be very exclusive, too.  How about unrealistic?  Undoable?  Ridiculous?  OK, maybe now we are getting carried away.  But when you read this, do you have a nagging question in the back of your mind?  The question for me is: "Then, who is ever fit for the Kingdom of God?" 
 Even in this multitasking world we live in, with every possible organisational gadget we can possibly manufacture, most people metaphorically, "Put their hands to the plough" and then look back, or leave the plough all together!!  If what this means is a never failing faith, without doubt or regret, ever, then there might well be a new word for us all—denial.  
However, as is always the case, we would do well to try to read the whole story, from Luke 9 for this week, as well as the whole story of the Gospel as it teaches us to journey on the way rather than believe in a set of rules that some human wishes to use to set their comfort zones. When we do both of those things we can see that the picture is bigger, as it almost always is.  As in so many things in this life, we like to make this an either/or scenario.  It's got to be one or the other.  Can you say—Perspective?
But take a closer look at this text: instead of an “either/or,” Jesus is really positing a “both/and.”  Notice that both of the poor souls that ask to go take care of other business are exclusive in their request as well.  “Sure, I will follow you Lord, but first, let me go bury my father." And then another, "well sure I'll follow you Lord, would love to, but first let me go tell them good bye at home; I mean they are expecting me for dinner; it would be rude to just not show up!" But Jesus is about inclusion, our God is about inclusion.
In both cases, and in many cases in this world as well, and the church is not excluded, the answer is, "Yes, Lord, I will follow, I will pray, I will give, I will work, I will whatever, BUT FIRST, I need to pay off my boat; I need to find a job; I need to get my taxes done; I need to get the clothes washed. It is the "But First" that seems to be key here.  Or we could say but at first I have to vilify those I disagree with and make money in doing so. But first I need to allow my greeg for material possessions and power be realised before I truly be with God and share the compassion Jesus taught us about.
Those who come to God and wish to follow the way Jesus lived probaly mean well. Those who wanted to follow Jesus seem to be telling Jesus, “to get on your train, I have to get off mine.”  In a sense that is true, but this thinking makes it seem like two different journeys.  It seems unlikely that we could live on the Christian journey at all if this were the truth. 
The whole notion of setting one’s face to Jerusalemseems to be a journey motif, harkening back to Elijah, with many prophetic references.  Setting your face toward Jerusalem is to be on a journey.  But is it one you must start only after all else in your life is finished?  One would hope not, or else we would never get started on it. You might well wonder, what if these people had responded to Jesus, "I will follow you AND I will go bury my father.”  “I will follow you AND I will go and tell those I love at home, about the journey I am going on as well.” 
In some ways we are meant to expect no other response. Jesus tells us and shows us: loud and clear: “You can't compartmentalise following me, you can't do it when you get time, when you clear some space on your Google calendar, after the clothes are washed. This is a way of life, which means yes, the clothes must get washed, and the bills must get paid, and the kids must get fed, and the taxes must get paid, and you most likely have to keep those appointments in your IPhone or Android Phone.”
“BUT, follow me anyway; follow me while doing those things; follow me in a way that makes you do those things in a new way. Follow me forever: no ‘BUT First’s;’ no ‘instead;’ no ‘YES AND’—not ‘either/or.’ Instead:   ‘both/and.’” To do the ordinary extraordinarily well while making all of life a prayer.  It is mysteriously in that sense when we understand that all of our concentration and focus, that which we lavish on details that really don’t matter, on so many specifics that we forget why we do in the first place, all of those distractions help us avoid the greater conversation that rises above all of that. 

It's not about what you are doing or not doing; it is instead about what and who you are being.  It is about what we finally put our hope and trust in every day, and all days.  Following Jesus is something that we do every minute of the day. It doesn't mean not doing everything else, it means doing everything else, with your heart invested in God, through the power and witness of Jesus Christ.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What are the Demons Today?

June 21, 2019 - 6:16am

No one promised this loving God and God’s creation – being a follower - thing was going to be easy. Just ask Elijah! This man of God and ordinary human being was no stranger to the rollercoaster ride of being a prophetic voice to God’s stiff-necked, yet beloved people. The work of the Hebrew Scripture prophet seems never to be done: reviving a widow’s only son, saving them both from starving during a time of famine, calling again and again for God’s people to repent and turn, and in this passage running for his life from Queen Jezebel.
Granted, he may have gone just a tad bit too far in his zeal for God; after winning a dramatic showdown against the prophets of Baal, he has them all be slaughtered. In return, Jezebel vows to do the same to him. The ups and downs of ministry — for both the everyday Christian and those called to vocational ministry — remain much the same today (although our slaughtering tends to be more metaphorical). Although the face of ministry has changed, the counterpoint feelings of elation and despair still follow a familiar tune. Elijah is so distressed that he runs for his life into the wilderness.
Elijah is ready to pack it all in and die, but our God had other plans. The Lord of the Universe meets this sinner/saint at his place of need with bread for the journey and water to quench a weary soul. He even speaks to Elijah in a still, small, and surprising voice. God speaks to us today and meets us at our point of need. Even when we make monumental messes and fail fabulously, God is still there guiding, coaching, and putting us back into faithful play in new and exciting ways. The call is to listen.

An important piece of a healthy faith is an honest humility about what we don’t know; that is to say, what we don’t know about God and about what God can or cannot do. Many who come to the faith through an event seem to believe that it is a once only happening. They seem to think at that moment they have all the truth that is our God and know God’s mind despite any other evidence. Often they rely on knowledge from flawed interpretation of the scriptures we use as our guiding light. Scriptures that were written down by humans, written with a particular context or cultural avenue to push and been altered deliberately in places over time.
But back to the strangeness of this story in Luke 8 this week that reminds us of the very important fact that, to put it in the modern vernacular: “that was then and this is now.” For the church, the mission stays the same. Methods change with the times. We are the body of Christ in the world, and we are called to continue Christ’s ministry of healing, care, loving and compassion. But — and this thankfully, perhaps — we are not limited to following his methods. Of course we are to pray for healing, love and compassion. But we also are to take action, from the simplest acts of visiting and being with those who are suffering to vigorously supporting efforts to relieve sickness and hunger and suffering around the world. 
Jesus’ bizarre act of casting the demons into the swine reminds us of our calling to fight to overcome the world’s demons of illness and division and hunger—to stand against exploitation and war and, and, and . . . the list goes on and on.

Here’s another thought. Have you ever thought about the way Jesus communicates through parables, stories, aphorism (I’ll leave you to look that one up) and often deeply obscure riddles. An example of the last is: Many are called but few are chosen. Please note that this methodology is not pleasing to systematic thinkers, a style or way my teachers of theology tried to instil in me. If I had truly communicated as Jesus did when I was training then what I wrote would have been open to misunderstanding, false interpretations and even possibly heresy – somewhat like the teachings of Jesus really. Maybe that is why I struggled to produce the academic papers that were required by my trainers as it was more natural for me to use story, parable etc. to help communicate the person of Jesus.
In Luke there was an occasion when Jesus was addressing a crowd and what he said sounds to me like some Zen-master but very apt when we approach the things of God. In response to the crowd’s question; “when will the Kingdom of God come,” Jesus tells them that ultimate reality is not here and not there which takes away from us our typical attachment to time. The ultimate reality is within you. Don’t forget it is always now and here where God acts and we are called to leave the naked now of our desires and demons for our God.

The world is full of demons/events and behaviours that possess and oppress God’s beloved children. It is our calling to follow the Christ into the world and into the field of pain and difficulty, thus supporting and seeking to deliver our brothers and sisters from the pains and sufferings, afflictions and evil forces that keep them separated from us, from God, and from each other. Note that love and compassion used inclusively are the key.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Open Love from the Spirit’s Presence.

June 14, 2019 - 1:26pm

Today I write around the simple yet complicated paradox in our Christian faith – the Trinity. Thomas Berry, the theologian, environmentalist, and author of The Dream of the Earth, once said, “The universe is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.” The greatest minds of Christendom have applied philosophical rigour to understanding and interpreting the church’s experience of the “father/parent” “son” and “holy spirit” or the Trinity which is the feast or celebration day for this Sunday  But in the end, knowing God and knowing fully God’s truth and love is as elusive as predicting a firefly’s trajectory over a field of hay after dusk, as futile as keeping track of a drop of rain fallen into the ocean in a storm, as blinding as gazing directly at the sun.
Yet contemplating Trinity offers lessons in the dynamism of creation, incarnation, delight, genesis, the interrelationship of being, of nothing, of everything, of darkness, of light. Image. Silence. And, again, nothing. Ah the return to those words from early study for me and words which are a technical language or theology for those outside. And yet, you and I, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, are invited to co-create, to enter into the imaginative diversity of the unfolding of time.
Once trained in the Trinity, it’s not a great leap to consider the God of multiple dimensions, multi-universes, string theory (to give a nod to the character  of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory TV show), and hyperspace. Opening to new perceptions of God’s self-revelation is as natural as contemplating innovations in theoretical physics. As I learn and grow, I can be open to God’s Reality more fully, if ever more humbly. Awe deepens. And yet . . . when I pray, it seems Love surfaces from the deep place where the soul touches the universe.

Is that right? Does the soul touch the universe? If that love comes not from something outside ourselves but from something deep within ourselves only, then we are simply made for love. Whether God exists or not, love lies at the heart and meaning of human life—dynamic, relational, intimate, challenging, open Love.
But rather than wander too far let us now look at one of the members of the Christian Trinity – the Holy Spirit. You know there is a whole language in the land of text speak that I and many older people have no idea about: LOL—Laugh out loud. BTW—By the way. TBH—to be honest. TMI—too much information. It’s this last one, too much information, that Jesus seems to be trying to avoid when he began to say farewell to the disciples. Jesus didn’t want to overload the disciples with information. They had more than enough to digest. He knew they simply could not process any more. Jesus also knew that they would have the rest of their lives to work things out, to measure and weigh things in the light of all that he had taught them and shown them.

With the perspective of hindsight. But, more than that, Jesus knew that they wouldn’t have to wrestle with it all on their own. And so he kept it light. Too much information is not good for any of us. We do not and cannot know everything. But Jesus could reassure his disciples that they would not be left to their own devices. That they would have the gift of the Spirit to help them in their discernment.
So as Christians we hold that still, today, the Spirit is our guide. Sadly, we often drown out the soft whisper of the Spirit. We fail to hear her prompting and make the wrong choices. Jesus intentionally did not overload us with too much information. His intention was that we should listen carefully for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And so, as our world changes, and as we are faced with more and more perplexing choices, the example of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads us to make loving choices. Choices that reflect the loving nature of God. Choices that enable us to find a way through the information overload that assails us today. TBTG (Thanks be to God)!
So for the disciples and for us it becomes a question of what to say and when? Important in any relationship. Thus, the significance of the presence of the Spirit here and now for the disciples and for us. Recognising why the Spirit is front and centre in the reading from John 16 this week at this point may provide a perspective of the Spirit that is less explored in our Christian faith. That is, the Spirit is the one who comes to our aid so as to fill in the gaps Jesus left behind.
As Jesus bids the disciples farewell, the Spirit enters into the space of Jesus’ absence. The Spirit will have a good sense of timing as well—guiding the disciples and us, sharing that which should be known about Jesus, telling them what is to come only when they are able to bear the part of the truth that will support them then. There is something touching, poignant, in this role for the Spirit. The Spirit is not only our Advocate or helper. The Spirit is the Companion that connects one breath to the next, the compassionate one.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Grace through Diversity.

June 7, 2019 - 12:50pm

“We just don’t speak the same language,” I hear myself saying. What I mean to convey is that the other person and I cannot seem to find a way to communicate. Perhaps, beyond the possibility of communicating with the other, I am more disappointed or frustrated that the other person does not hold the same values that I hold. She sees the world and God and people differently than I do. Ultimately, I am wondering if she and I will be able to work together; or if, in fact, we will work against each other. Because my base concern is to get my agenda accomplished, will she be the one to help me?

A unified language promotes a unified agenda. The question at the story of the Tower of Babel becomes a question about intent. What purpose does the one language serve? So now, I ask, “What purpose does the unified language of the church serve? Whose agenda is at stake and to what end do we use these words: sin, holiness, salvation, resurrection?” The answer matters. Our answer will clearly determine God’s response.
Also, when I look at one of the scriptures for this week, namely Genesis 11, I have to wonder if we maybe need to understand God’s actions at the tower of Babel as actions of judgment or grace. The people in this story used their common language to “make a name for themselves,” and perhaps even to avoid God’s original command to humanity to fill the earth. It’s almost as if God is intimidated by the power of a people united in language and purpose (“nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”), and so God scatters them by confusing their language.
They were doing something wrong, and God stopped them by doing two things: confusing and scattering. These hardly seem like actions of grace. This story gives an account of the diversity that we encounter, and it seems at first that this diversity is a punishment. Language is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. But have we not come to understand diversity as a gift? Who laments the rich diversity of languages spoken across the world? Who laments the rich diversity of experiences and traditions that these languages communicate?
Yet it seems that when it’s left up to us, we congregate near the people who are most like us, who speak the same language, have the same Christmas traditions, and drive the same minivans or utes. So perhaps we might come to understand God’s actions at the tower of Babel as a kind of grace. There is confusion at first, certainly, but God’s good intentions for humanity unmistakably include diversity despite our best efforts to stick with those most like us. How appropriate, then, that the actions of God on Pentecost affirm God’s resolve to promote diversity of language and experience. The spirit of God does not belong to one language group, social class, gender, or age group. Through the lens of Pentecost we can come to understand that God’s acts at Babel are not the antithesis to grace, but perhaps finally a means of grace.
The Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost and the Church celebrates this week does not erase differences among language groups, social classes, genders, races, or age groups—the image of a melting pot won’t work here!—yet there is a sense of unity between these diverse groups because of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables each group to hear and speak of the mighty acts of God (Acts 2:11). The Holy Spirit is a companion, or advocate, to all believers who constantly reminds us of Jesus’s words (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit unifies all believers as the one who brings about our adoption into the family of God and then testifies to our own spirits that we really do belong (Rom 8:14-17).
These works of the Holy Spirit make unity in diversity a possibility. It is easy and natural to be dismissive when people begin acting in unexpected ways, perhaps even more so when God seems to act in unexpected ways. The Pentecost event that amazed some left others with a dismissive look of haughty disdain on their faces: “They’re full of new wine,” or in other words, “They must be drunk” (Acts 2:13). This same response is alive and well in the church, let alone in our societies throughout the world. Exclusive Slogans like, “Make America or Australia Great” or “Whites Only”, come to mind and challenge us to speak out. Such statements and such thinking seems to be seeking to deny what God intended for his creation.

Wherever marginalised voices are quickly dismissed for being too libertine, too feminist, too inclusive, and too politically correct and so on we deny our means of grace. Being dismissive of challenging views is certainly easier than engaging them, but this dismissal comes with a great risk as well. The risk of dismissing and silencing such voices is that we would miss the prophecy, visions, and dreams that the Holy Spirit has given to sons and daughters, young and old, of all races and social classes.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Whisper of Hope not Damnation!

May 31, 2019 - 8:32am

The Ascension tide remembrance seems an appropriate time for me to take a risk and reflect on some of the happenings in our society over the last few months. I will leave the reader to look up what the Ascension was and why Christians remember it. However, I want to reflect on the sadness that I have felt over our societies reactions to religion and religious issues as I have watched the Elections here in Australia, the debate raging unlovingly over the freedom of expression of one’s religion – if we have one - and freedom of speech. With all these things and with the way we practice them comes responsibilities and consequences.
Unfortunately the voice that is becoming most strident is the voice that seems not to understand the way of life Jesus lived and spoke about. There's a certain brand of Christianity that many in Australasia will be familiar with. They are anchored to names like Israel Folau and Sydney Anglicans here in Australia and in Aotearoa (NZ) people like the Destiny Church of the Tamaki’s and those wanting us to hate and destroy Moslem believers. We have hear them on issues such as prostitution reform, civil unions, recognition of LGBTI people as humans created in God’s image and abortion reform. These men are, and yes mostly men, who seem to follow a Jesus that seems to come from a very different place of the Jesus of compassion and love that I know and follow.

It would seem that they have a belief system built in the 312AD values of Constantine, a Roman emperor who declared Christianity a state religion. When heading into battle, Constantine claims he saw a gleaming white cross in the sky with an almighty voice saying "by this you will conquer." It is this view – of the cross as the means by which we subdue the world into our vision of utopia – which as someone I read recently rightly said has been so prevalent in the headlines.
Followers of Jesus and the followers of all religions have always been at their best when their influence comes from a place of humbly bearing the weight of a broken world together. In the end, I don’t believe in the place of hell that is espoused by some of those calling themselves Christians but do believe in the hell that we create as human beings for ourselves and for the world we live in. As I have often stated, the God I believe in is a God of compassion and love. The God I believe in is love, and eternal violence against his creation isn’t in that God’s nature.
Love will always win against vengeance. Christians are called simply to love God, love their neighbours and love themselves. For my understanding, this means that the whole of creation bears the face of God whom I am to love. Yet, as those who know me, I’m not great at doing that and sometimes it sucks as some of those I meet are hard to love. Also it’s important to note that to do otherwise is to live by fear, guilt and hate. There is a wonderful quote by a person called Wes Angelozzi: “Go and love someone exactly as they are. And watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”
Have you ever considered the fact that what we see of people’s lives is just the tip of the iceberg and that makes me realise that we simply can’t be so quick to judge. Often people seem like less of a donkey once you understand what they are going through. It's the relentless tide of Christians such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr and William Wilberforce who broke the bows of slavery and poverty and demonstrate the love of God for us. Their credibility was passionate lives laid down for those who had no voice. Their credibility was the moral authority of surrendering their own lives to those who had nothing. I will grant you, this is hard, but a journey we are called to be continually on. As stated before there are some people I don’t want to “get”—people I don’t want to “understand.” However, our God calls us to this vocation.

Understanding and loving others takes more time, more energy, and more compassion. Yet, again I must say that’s what we who call ourselves Christians are called to do—to love one another. When we think back to Jesus, he was nailed to a cross and tortured within an inch of his life. He was hung on a cross, nailed in place by metal spikes driven through his hands and feet. Yet his words speak to our hearts; “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” How many Christians get that and actually practice it themselves?
Exercising compassion and understanding the other person’s story changes us at a core level—and reduces our hugely over-inflated ego. And couldn’t we all act like jackasses, because, of our deluded state. Maybe we need to act less so. Sadly many of the strident voices heard lately come from those who have accumulated wealth, power and position from which they seem to want to practice violence towards others. I sometimes wonder who has hurt them in their lives that they have to lash out at others in such a manner.
And yet, there is one whose approval we don’t need to seek, one we don’t have to “do better for,” one we don’t have to hustle for our worth. We can stop hustling for our worthiness comes from God. While the world and our colleagues and spouses and friends and family might need us to be better, God loves us right here, right now. Not because we are wondrous. . . but because God is wondrous. That’s really the nub of who our God is and how our God operates.
Rarely is anything free. Except grace. Jesus’ whole role as he lived his life while he was here, was to remind people that they were loved and that they were worthy right where they were. God would love them right there, regardless of their tithe, their Sunday attendance, the number of times they taught Sunday school, or the numerous ways in which they turned their face from God. Yet those who describe themselves as church, the institution’s requirements always seem to be higher than Jesus’ own.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Jerry Hership in his book Rogue Saints: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. Don’t be annoying and conduct oneself inappropriately. The Christian voice was always meant to be at the outlying edges, and not the centre, of society. The message Jesus brought was good news for the voiceless, and so is always suited best to gentle whispers of hope rather than brazen declarations of damnation.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs