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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

Called to be Disruptive.

May 24, 2019 - 7:08am

My inner response to this week’s Scripture from Acts 16 is best described by the word disruptive. It’s troublesome and unsettling. We move from fortune-telling slave girls to demons being cast out, dark prisons of Philippi, Paul and Silas incongruently singing in chains, earthquakes, and forgiveness for jailors. It almost makes you think that the Acts of the Apostles may be patterned on Homer’s Odyssey, the epic journey coming home from the Trojan War. This is the early Christian version of the epic trials while spreading the gospel.
The passage starts with disrupting injustice. What happens to this woman, who gets mentioned only as a “slave girl”? I hate it when a character enters the story for a few sentences, her already difficult life is turned upside down, and the scene moves on without knowing what happened to her, let alone her name. She is literary collateral damage. The slave’s disappearance from the story disturbs me because of what I have observed, listened to and read about the work in homeless shelters and with the homeless over my lifetime. Much of my response comes from watching the work of the City Missions in Aotearoa (NZ), the Exodus Foundation and the Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross.

If one involves oneself in such work you can watch many people briefly emerge from homelessness or addiction and then disappear from the scene. There sadly will be so many that you will struggle to remember their names. They come from jail, rehab, psychiatric hospitalisation, and fleeing domestic violence; their stories a cascade of overlapping oppressions. Just as we would cast out one demon, another would possess them and carry them back into the hopeless chaos. They would disappear from the life of those working with them as did this slave woman in Acts.
Despite Paul’s intentions, casting out the demon from this woman does not make her life better. He has relieved his own anxiety, can now say he did something about “the problem,” but she is worse off than before. We have done this enough to know that it is impossible to go back and “fix” the situation, and the sufferers disappear too quickly from the scene. I bet he never forgot her, even if Scripture does.
I wonder what other behaviours we practice in our lives as humans that isolate others, ignore them or just be there for a one off support as with the slave girl. I wonder why we as humans but especially as Christians are unable to walk with those who are broken as God calls us to and shows in the life of his Son, Jesus. You know, we all know games of false righteousness: how men will hold the door for women but keep them out of the boardroom; how churches will build ramps but find reasons not to ask people in wheelchairs to be deacons; how sex becomes a commodity rather than an intimacy; how races and cultures are considered grotesque by people who love Jesus; how being good becomes a matter of looking good; how Sunday becomes a looking-good day.
Our politicians can be masters at this insincere fake if you like behaviour. We have just been through two Elections in this state and got our fair share of it. Sadly, it has to be noted that such behaviour seems often to win and the homeless and others are left frozen our yet again.
The gospels present several Sabbath (Holy Day like Sunday) healings: the bent-over woman, the woman with a bleeding discharge, the man with dropsy, and this poor fellow, lying in the Sheep’s Gate entry to a healing pool provided for the afflicted, yet no one will help him into the pool. Each story is a version of Beauty and the Beast. Beauty sees in the Beast what the rest of the world does not. True Beauty refuses to see a being unlike herself. Jesus, who is Beauty in gospel tales, embraces many who are considered grotesque, and presses us to see as he sees, to love as he loves. Those in need carry the face of God whom we are to love deeply and fully. This is the journey of the groups from our communities such as a City Mission, the Wayside Chapel, and the Exodus Foundation exist to become. To be the beauty of Jesus.
Jesus breaks Sabbath rules by healing. In our culture, the rule-break would be “without a license.” Sabbath, he struggles to make clear, is a day to recognise that our lives are not what we make of them but what we find in them. Each life includes something grotesque, something beastly. But that is not all we are. For Jesus, Sabbath is a time to receive Beauty’s kiss, a time when distinctions fall away and the blessing of God is heard. A time to become inclusive not exclusive. In the final act of Jesus’ story, he will become the Beast, betrayed by a kiss. And in his grotesque body, he will be set free by love, and on the Sabbath day.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Makeover with Love.

May 17, 2019 - 6:43am

It has been hard not to get caught up in the hype and false information coming out of the political party old and new machines as they try and buy our vote. It makes one have to choose what we would see as the least dishonest of them all Let me tell you that it is not easy and I find requires the Wisdom of Solomon. Sadly we have been bombarded with policies that fail to encourage us to live as Jesus lived, to love as our God would have us love.
For a number of parties we are encouraged to be greedy and compassionless so that a few can have power and secular wealth.  One would hope that this Election here in Australia would strike a new direction that would see God in the other, see God in those who are homeless, hunger, suffering and affected by war. See God in all and bring a willingness to share what we have equitably. One would hope that a pattern of life would be advocated that helps make all things new for all creation.
In one of the readings set in the Three Year Lectionary for this week is a passage from Revelations 21 about making all things new. This is a familiar and beloved passage, frequently read at funerals, as a comfort and hope of the day when death—and its sting—will be no more. For me as for many passages of scripture taken from Revelations I confess, these words are a stretch. Sometimes they help, other times they fall flat in the face of an immediate reality that is so personal, so painful, and so consuming that the promise of death’s end seems at best cold consolation. It seems impossible.
Perhaps you remember a loved one’s funeral when the reality of death was right in front of you, and the promise of resurrection a vague mystery in some far off, quite possibly imaginary, place. Perhaps you look at the world and see the vast gap between the pain and injustice we live with, and this crazy vision that someday in some alternate reality the ruler of time will proclaim that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Perhaps after our Election in Australia, some might be in mourning because those they supported lost the election or didn’t get the power they wanted. Maybe just maybe we have another opportunity to think and act on inclusiveness rather than trumpet exclusiveness.  
I don’t know if this is true. I do know that I hope it is true. What good is God if God’s dream cannot be unbelievably bigger than mine? How sad to go through life with only the hope of things getting a little better? I might settle for 10 percent less suffering, but God’s dream is far bigger, beginning to end. God called this seer John out of his ordinary reality and into a vision of a new heaven and a new earth—that’s exactly what the text says — because the first heaven and first earth need more than a makeover. Please note: this vision is not disconnected from our reality. It’s consistent with our proclamation that God does indeed dwell with us, and it does not pretend that all is well.

God does not wave a magic wand and make tears disappear. Instead God will wipe away the tears that come from a torn world. And, God knows, we need to be consoled and healed to enter this new world. This dream is not for the satisfied. In a real sense it is for those who are thirsty for the water of new life.
As we reflect on this let us draw also on the Gospel scripture from John 13. Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” At first glance, this commandment does not seem “new.” Moses told the people of God that they are to love God with all their heart and all their mind and all their strength. Jesus had already added neighbour and self to this Divine directive. What made it new this time?
Perhaps it was Jesus addition, “as I have loved you.” To love as Jesus loves takes the commandment to a whole other level. It is a love that sees others just as they are and accepts them without reservation: even those we don’t agree with or who despise us or betray us or intend us harm. As Jesus’ actions were expressions of love, it means a depth of compassion that is so profound that the soul is restless until it has seen the sick healed, the hungry fed, and the imprisoned set free. Jesus’ complete submission to God’s will empowered him to be available for the works God accomplished through him.

Living the love of which Jesus spoke requires deep and sometimes painful letting go of self-will, self-desire, and self-interest. It means moving through our racism and sexism and homophobia. It means not fighting and struggling with God anymore about the people and places and things we cannot change. So this commandment is new, because it meant the disciples not only needed to know it—they had to live it. Maybe this love brings out the new world that Revelations talks about. Maybe this is what we as humans thirst for.
So that challenges us to ask of ourselves the question of how we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  By deepening our relationship with God so we recognise God in ourselves and as a result, in every other person, situation, and circumstance. Reflect on that and see how it changes what we do personally.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Gods Handiwork.

May 10, 2019 - 12:00pm

One of the readings from scripture this week continues the reading we had last week from Acts 9. When Peter first arrives, it’s your average pastoral care call. A friend dies, and they call the head pastor, Peter. He arrives in haste. I’m sure he is greeted with solemn faces, many tears. There are hugs and loving touches for all who grieve. The house appears full of mourners—widows who had received the love and compassion of a woman named Dorcas. This is a common sight for us humans as a loved one dies and we go to comfort the family and friends while seeking our own comfort.
Once Peter makes his way through the crowd, the widows begin telling stories. Isn’t that what we do? We tell stories of our loved ones when they have died. We remember together. And apparently remembering Dorcas meant remembering her craft. “All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” I imagine many were wearing those tunics and clothing. It seems a wonderful tribute to Dorcas—a living fashion show. The work of her hands walking around while stories are told of her love and compassion. It is the fashion show of her life. They are showing her off by showing off her handiwork.

But then Peter dismisses the others. Alone, he entered the room where Dorcas is. The last time he had done something like this, he wasn’t alone. He was with their friend Jesus and a couple other friends. They entered the room of a daughter who had died. Jesus told her to get up and she did. Peter imitates Jesus. He tells her to get up. And she does. And then calling the saints and widows—Peter shows them Tabitha. Not the work of her hands but the work of God’s hand, the work of the Spirit to resurrect, to give life, to recreate, to lift up. Peter shows them God’s handiwork.
Further, we don’t know how Tabitha died. Had she been an innocent bystander at the finish line of the Joppa Marathon? Was she working at her job when the factory caught fire and exploded? Did she have a cancer diagnosis? However Tabitha died, we know her friends were devastated. They had gathered around her, preparing her body for burial, grieving through tears and by sharing memories, showing Peter the clothing she had made, putting together slide shows with pictures from her life.

Perhaps there was a memorial like the ones we see today, with flowers, candles, and teddy bears, ribbons woven through the links of her chain link fence. The friends rushed into that place of vulnerability to show their love for their friend. They are described as widows, a nameless crowd of women who knew their own kind of loss. They had lost husbands, at the least. And they rushed in to care for Tabitha upon her death. When Peter arrived at Tabitha’s bedside, he found people who offered love and presence in the face of death.
Resurrection happens in those moments. Every time people run toward danger to help others, resurrection happens. Every time people choose love instead of hate, resurrection happens. Every time people come together instead of dividing, resurrection happens. In this season of Easter, we remember we who are Christians are resurrection people. With the disciples who left their locked room to go feed Jesus’ sheep . . . With the widows who rushed in to care for their friend Tabitha. . . We are called to offer resurrection.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Finding a Place of Shalom.

May 3, 2019 - 6:29am


Reflecting on John Glover, “Ullswater, Early Morning,” c. 1824, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Sometimes I wonder if we ever take real notice of some of the Psalms. This week’s Psalm for this Sunday in the three year lectionary is Psalm 30. With the events of that have assailed our senses so far this year we certainly need to seek a restoration of our lives and a place to find this inner peace. We have had fire, flood, and shootings so far this year In New South Wales here in Australia we have not only in the midlle of a  Federal Election but also we have had a State one. All of which will have probably tried our wellbeing. So the Picture I have started this blog with is from John Glover and speaks to me of peace. In Aotearoa (New Zealand) I always valued the early morning sunrise in the mountains or near the lakes high in the Southern Alps.
John Glover was a famous English landscape painter. His painting of Ullswater Lake was likely on or near land that he owned. Glover moved to Australia on his sixty-fourth birthday (my age) in 1831, and purchased a large tract of land in what is now Tasmania, where he became known as the father of Australian landscape painting. It seems fitting that “Ullswater, Early Morning” should hang in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It’s as if God himself is bringing together the best of England and Australia and blessing both of them.
When one looks at this landscape, for many it speaks with one quiet word—shalom—a Hebrew word that can be rendered in English as “flourishing.” In this painting, all is well with a stunningly beautiful yet tranquil world. Why is it that we so seldom experience shalom? We get so busy that we forget that for which we are striving. What is “that,” if not shalom? What if we could make some time and space so that shalom could be found, not merely at the end of the journey, but in every day and every moment of it? This is what the gospel offers to us, if we will only create the time and space for it to take root in our souls, families, and circles of influence.
The God of Psalm 30 turns the mourning of depression into dancing. This is another picture of shalom. Where is a place of shalom, that God has given you?
And now I will wander to another topic that I often wrestle with and is highlighted in this week’s reading from Acts 9. The question again during this year has been, have you ever been wrong about something? It’s a question I think we all need to ask ourselves particularly our leaders and politicians. This is because in our modern world our wrongs seem to be pointed out to us fairly quickly and don’t lie hidden for that long.  The reading from Acts 9 tells us that Saul, before he became St Paul, was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” What began, perhaps, as a zeal to uphold religious doctrine had gone awry.
Saul had become a man possessed. It was no longer about right or wrong; it was about winning the battle and inflicting the mighty blow. Again sounds like some of our politicians and leaders. Only a blinding light from heaven and the voice of the Risen Lord would convince him that he was wrong and stop him in his tracks. For anyone who has ever been bloodied in a theological fight, this could sound like good news. But only if one is absolutely certain that he or she is not playing the part of Saul of Tarsus in the church drama.

In truth, each of us can point to at least one time when we were wrong and did not know it. The good news of the passage is that the story of Saul’s conversion points to the possibility of reconciliation—even under the most extreme circumstances. What may not be immediately evident is that all concerned parties have a role to play in this reconciliation. The reconciliation in this story began with God who has the largest interest in the outcomes. Jesus appeared to Saul, a Jewish leader whose life’s goal was to destroy “The Way,” as Christianity was known, and then to Ananias, a humble follower of Christ who may not even have been in leadership.
Imagine if the ending of this story had either decided to explain away the God-given vision or to shrink from the difficult task. We cannot help but think about troubles not only in our world but also in our church when we read this passage. Do we dare to obey the heavenly vision? Do we dare to step out and seek to bring shalom to the world around us? Do we dare treat all as the beloved and love the whole of God’s Creation? This is quite a challenge for the world, let alone the church.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Squirrel or Jesus?

April 26, 2019 - 7:30am

Once when a preacher launched into a children’s sermon, she was confronted by a visiting child, an eight-year-old friend of a regular member. The boy was new to this church, but was a regular attendee at another congregation that did not have children’s sermons. Nevertheless, the visitor tried his best to follow the line of the preacher’s effort to connect with the children.

Attempting to hook the children with something familiar before making her point, the priest asked the children to identify what she would describe. “What is fuzzy and has a long tail?” No response. “What has big teeth and climbs in trees?” Still there was no response. After she asked, “What jumps around a lot and gathers nuts and hides them?” the visiting boy could stand the silence no longer. He blurted out, “Look, lady, I know the answer is supposed to be ‘Jesus,’ but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
Isn’t it natural for humans to want to give the right answer? We church members want to please those in religious authority. Most often, we don’t want to doubt or challenge leaders or stand in the way of accepted norms. So, when we have our doubts, we tend to keep them to ourselves. That is the safe way. The eight-year-old in this story had more courage than we usually do. Sure, he referenced what he considered the accepted norm, but he also found a way to show how much he doubted it.
This week’s scripture reading from the Gospel of John, reveals to us St. Thomas—who was put in a situation similar to that of the boy at the children’s sermon. Thomas was the one who had not seen the risen Jesus when he first appeared to the disciples. The others told him they had seen the Lord, but he was sceptical. He doubted. Still, Thomas must have wanted to fit in. He might have said, “Look, friends, I know the answer is supposed to be that I acknowledge that you saw Jesus, but it sure sounds like a ghost to me.”
Jesus wasn’t a ghost, of course. He was the risen Christ, as Thomas later found out when he had the chance to see for himself. Still, Thomas’ questioning and doubting must have been as difficult for him as it was for the little boy trying to understand a preacher’s illustration about a squirrel. And it had to have been as difficult as life is for us when we struggle with matters that seem clearer to others or seem to vary from accepted norms. The story of Thomas’ honesty and forthrightness gives us hope and empowers us in our moments of doubt. We don’t have to accept mindlessly whatever seems the expected or accepted answer or view.
You know, even for Christians it is OK to be confused and bewildered and afraid and doubtful. Ours are troubling times, and many of us are bound to feel uncertain, even doubting that God is still coming to us. For some, the threat of terrorist attacks in the world seems ever-present and frightening. For others the continuing wars in places like the Middle-East is puzzling. For many a depressed economy is devastating. Some are torn by political rhetoric in a season of elections and an inevitably divisive election campaigns lying ahead in the next year or two.
Across the Church, there are sharp divisions over decisions made in recent years at Synods and meetings, and few congregations are free from controversy, leaving many in doubt about where God stands in all this. Since doubt and fear are bound to come upon us, we do well by facing the truth of these feelings, like the little boy in church and like Thomas of old. Let us remember that both were in a good and safe places to question and then to see and learn.
We are here either reading this or in worship because this is a place where we can encounter the risen Christ, patiently and lovingly leading us into all truth, just as he led St. Thomas. Whether Christian or otherwise, if we are willing to work through our fear and our doubts, we will find the other side of today’s reading from St John that teaches us also about faith. If we are honest in our relationships with one another, we can experience mutual support in learning to believe what we cannot easily see. If we are willing to express our doubts, wrestle with the questions then we will find strength and our faith journey will become one of joy and discovery.
However if we believe we have all the truth and back it up with exclusive use of scripture then that fails. It fails to present us with the true journey God has called us on and shown us in the life Jesus live. Based on our life with God we can recognise the power of the Holy Spirit at work among us, providing new possibilities that can move us beyond doubt and fear and anxiety and psychological paralysis. We will learn that through the power of God, miracles happen—that which we would doubt possible can come to reality. Dreams can be fulfilled, forgiveness offered, obstacles overcome, pain relieved, sickness healed, hunger fed, spiritual longings relieved, good brought from evil, love experienced in all the Easter glory of the risen Christ.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Do We Dare Domesticate?

April 19, 2019 - 11:37pm

Well we have come to Easter Day in our Christian Church year and it’s a time of celebration for Christians. Of course those who aren’t still seem to celebrate without knowing why. So, what does it mean to us both church member and nonbeliever? Is it just another holiday or is it time to remember how our God met us and rebuilt a relationship when Jesus was raised. You know, book after book, magazine article after magazine article, movie after movie, all try to tell us just who this Jesus was. Or, more properly, is! When to pin Jesus down as being this or being that is only to place him back into some kind of tomb.
When we pretend that we know just who Jesus is, we simply domesticate him to be the person we need him to be and close him up in another tomb of our own making. We only have to look on Facebook to see much of this happening as people seek to convince others that they know exactly what or who Jesus is and what God intended.
There was much to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb. Courage and survival are some of the attributes that were seen and still are seen. Have you ever seen photos of breast cancer survivors who have allowed their mastectomy scars to be acknowledged and celebrated? I heard of a photo spread a few years ago of some beautifully artistic, breathtakingly honest photos of women—survivors—who had allowed the most dark period of their lives, the cellular, chemical, and surgical invasion of their bodies, to be photographed.
The photos were hard to look at at first. We are used to seeing topless women only in a certain contexts, something shameful to be ogled, or for the gratification of the person looking at them. We certainly aren’t used to seeing surgical scars in a magazine spread. But these were badges of courage. In every one of those beautiful photos a woman was saying, “I was broken, I fought, I was scarred; and yet, I live. These are my battle scars.” In the showing of his battle scars, in the declaration that he lives, Christ the unbreakable Saviour declares for us life eternal.
We are flesh and bone as he was. We need and we hurt, we struggle and we overcome, and ultimately we are healed. In Christ the flesh and bone Saviour we are forever intimately connected to God in a way that we could have not have been had God not decided to become flesh and dwell among us. If we take the incarnation seriously, if we truly believe as best we can that we are made in the image of God, then we are free to reveal our wounds, our scars, our disappointments, to God, and to one another. We serve a God who was bruised, scorned, cut, and pierced on our behalf. And yet, in the flesh he declares that he lives again. And in that revelation, we are made whole.
Yet, Easter is the day we rehearse the story of the Resurrected Christ. Joyous bells ring. Choirs sing, and the people of God rejoice! Some gospel accounts feature the spectacular: earthquakes and angels in lightening white clothes. Others portray the empty tomb as conundrum for Mary, Peter, and John. Sermons race to their climax when the Risen Christ appears confirming the resurrection and defeat of death. We, in jubilation, shout “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And that is the end of the Easter story . . . or is it?
The Gospel’s particularly John’s seems to say, “Wait there’s more.” For some reason, it puts the tomb and Mary centre stage. What can we learn from Mary? While she grieves outside the tomb, Jesus appears and calls her by name. Then he says “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the God my parent.” Do not hold on to me. Jesus had more to do. Maybe for John, Jesus’ glorification has three parts: death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus told Mary to let go and tell his disciples that he was going to ascend. So what are we to take from the scriptures we have used on Easter morning? Well the most important is that the good news of Easter continues beyond the empty tomb and resurrection.
Sometimes we cling only to part of the sacred story. Sentimentality surrounds the Christmas and Easter holidays. At Christmas, we like gifts and we want Jesus to remain a cute infant with chubby cheeks who never grows up to become sovereign Lord. The Easter holiday bears its own sentiment: the hot cross buns (which have been in our stores for months, maybe like in the USA a special outfit, maybe a special dinner with family, and the big worship service with pomp and pageantry. Easter is a time to celebrate the Resurrected Christ while leaning forward to anticipate the good news the Jesus that has been resurrected and who is glorified will bring us. Easter is a time to celebrate this point or event or miracle in God’s sacred story, knowing the best is yet to come.
Our faith is a journey, a growing, a wrestling with how this resurrected Christ relates to the way we live – the way we are inclusive and not exclusive – the way we are in relationship not only to our God but with each other. So, where are you?


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Challenge of the Day.

April 18, 2019 - 7:06am

There is no doubt that we are surrounded by evil in this world. Injustice. Racism. Greed. Genocide. Human trafficking. Pride. Exploitation. Not only did our God leave heaven to make his home in this evil-filled world . . . not only did he stare evil in the face on a regular basis but on the cross of Calvary Jesus allowed himself to be cursed and afflicted by evil. If we are too familiar with the scene, it may be easy for us to forget that, on the cross, something terrible was happening. A completely innocent man was brutally killed.
The death of Jesus Christ was a beautiful tragedy. It was tragedy, because Jesus did not do anything to deserve such treatment. He was accused unfairly. He was sentenced unjustly. “He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes” (Isa 53:5). Yet, Jesus’s death was beautiful because of what it accomplished for us. Isaiah 53:5 goes on to say that “he bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds we are healed.” Because Jesus was betrayed, we have been treated with kindness that we don’t deserve. Because Jesus was arrested, we have been set free. Because Jesus was denied, we have been accepted.

Because Jesus was condemned, there is no condemnation for us. Because Jesus was mocked, we have been commended. Because Jesus was cursed, we have been blessed. Because Jesus was abused, we have been comforted. Because Jesus was dishonoured, we have been honoured. Because Jesus was beaten, we have been healed. Because Jesus’s body was torn, we have confidence to enter the holy places of God. Because Jesus was forsaken by God, we have been welcomed by God. Because Jesus was killed, our lives have been spared. From Jesus’s anguish comes our peace.
On this sorrowful day, we remember the suffering that results from great love and compassionate concern for the world. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is one who takes on the world’s sorrows out of humility. Although Jewish thought attributes the nation of Israel with this role of “servant” throughout Isaiah’s writings, Christians traditionally attribute these servant songs to Jesus. In either case, a message emerges that is profound and troubling.
Innocent people suffer in our world. One who would be a light to the nations has his life snuffed out due to an unjust and torturous world. This is the sorrow of Good Friday. This has been the sorrow of Jewish communities who have suffered under pogroms throughout history and in recent history in the Holocaust. It has also been the sorrow—and continues to be the sorrow—of oppressed peoples and individuals who strive for justice, advocate for peace, and live radically compassionate love and mercy. Jesus is not the only one who bears our infirmities.
This is a day to remember the suffering people whom Jesus represents in his innocence, his compassion, and his prophetic courage: peacemakers; justice-seekers; and innocent children suffering in poverty, war, or abuse are just a few of the many suffering servants who bear our iniquities. Thinking about the suffering servant in this way challenges the quiet contemplation of this day.
What if the sin that the servant bears for me is the sin of my consumerism borne by a child labouring in a factory? What if my iniquity of prejudice is borne by the political activist imprisoned for her advocacy work? Where am I the darkness that overcomes the light? When have I pierced God’s love with cruelty and even hate? These are the hard questions of Good Friday. Ones we desperately need to reflect upon.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Emotional Swings.

April 12, 2019 - 12:21pm

Most of us try and steer clear of violent emotional swings. Elation is wonderful as long as it isn’t shattered by the cold slap in the face of disaster. Driving along a mountain road, taking in the scenery, alive with a sense of joy and wonder is one thing, but to be hit head on by a speeding SUV coming in the other direction is something else. I wonder if that’s how we feel now that the Elections in Australia have started with all sides partaking in falsehoods and nastiness from the get go. Well, in this week’s readings from scripture for Palm Sunday St. Paul writes to the Philippians and the scripture set comes from chapter 2. St Paul can write lyrically about the events that begin with Palm Sunday and end on Easter Day without having experienced, first hand, the highs and lows of the Passion.
That is not to say that Paul isn’t moved. The passage contains some of the most beautiful language the apostle Paul penned, and perhaps fragments from a very early Christian Hymn. Paul proclaims that Jesus is “in the form of God,” is “equal with God.”  That’s a hard subject for a first century Jew to contemplate let alone write about. St Paul believed passionately that there is one God and one God alone. Yet here he is in this passage, through belief and experience, stating that Jesus is God: But what sort of God? And with some of the recent claims by various prominent figures in our society and our politicians or would be politicians this question is extremely valid.
Here’s the scandal. Jesus, who is God, willingly empties himself to become a slave. It’s nearly 150 years since slavery was abolished .in the United States. None of us in Australia or New Zealand have any living memory of that vile institution. However, in Australia our history of treatment of our first peoples and our historical involvement in blackbirding in the Pacific Islands late in the nineteenth century could be classed as forms of not only racism but slavery. A slave was or still can be the lowest form of humanity, with no rights. He or she was owned as if a cow or a horse.
 Imagine God as a slave. Here, God is placed in a position of utter vulnerability, with no defence. The God who is utterly human humbles himself to death. Almost without a pause, in Philippians 2, St. Paul then jumps to the resurrection. Perhaps some of you who are Christian have sung that great hymn, “At the Name of Jesus” recently? Yet St. Paul’s thoughts as we enter Holy Week are so much easier to digest than St. Luke’s story in chapter 19. Now some of us may only hear about the entry to Jerusalem but others will hear Chapter 19 of Luke. Read it and see what brutality Jesus was treated with. There’s been much criticism about the violence portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie of “The Passion”. But to hear and read the Gospel readings for this coming week, is to find ourselves engulfed in a brutal narrative.
Those crucifixes streaming with blood more accurately portray the Passion than our chastely engraved crosses of gold or silver. Nor is St. Luke’s story in the least bit anti-Semitic although it may be used in such a way by hateful people. The rogues of the story are not Jews, but some people who happen to be Jewish and some people who happen to be Roman and of course the mob. Mobs can appear in any country. One can look around our world and see the violence of a mob.
Yet we can say, how wonderful it was for the disciples to enter Jerusalem with their King. They made such a noise that the religious elite, the Pharisees, asked Jesus to shut them up. The disciples were elated. Most of us have experienced moments of religious elation when heaven and earth seem to come together and nothing possible can ever be wrong again. But then the story takes us swiftly down the steep slope of reality.
In the garden Jesus kneels in anguish and terror as he takes in all that now will happen. He is betrayed by a disciple, arrested and dragged before the cynical and the important who will do anything to keep their jobs, preserve the status quo, and get rid of a trouble maker. Then comes a trial before that bloody-thirsty wretch Pilate, the henchman of a disgusting paranoid Emperor. Then troops beat Jesus half to death and burden him with the cross, made to stumble along to the hill of execution, and there executed brutally.  St. Luke then writes: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

It’s the distance that is the problem for me because I think the action of many of us is to put distance between ourselves and violence when we see it. We are so used to looking at violence from a distance. We see innocent people killed and mutilated almost daily as we watch TV and chew a hamburger. Perhaps during this Holy Week we will be so far apart that we won’t even give time to be in church to keep watch as the drama of our redemption unfolds in the liturgy. We are called by God to get closer, to imagine the mystery of a God whose love is so great that he shares the worst that can happen to us in order to bring us to the best that can be.
Those of us who work hard to avoid suffering, who have no earthly idea how to deal with tragedy, loss, death itself, those of us who may skip Good Friday, preferring the joy of Easter Day, are challenged by these readings to come closer. We are called to stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary the Mother and St. John. We are asked to reach out and touch that Body and that Blood “given for us.” For in a way we cannot explain, the Cross changes everything for us and for the world. Our loving God forgives us, and would make us new.  To return to St. Paul, we are all to bow our knees, at the Name of Jesus, and proclaim in our hearts and lives that Jesus is Lord, to the Glory of God. Maybe it’s something worth doing  right now.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Extravagant Love.

April 5, 2019 - 5:49am

Two things stand out as classic teaching points for those who follow or are interested in the Christian Faith in this week’s passage from John 12. First, when Mary washes Jesus’ feet, everyone knows it. It isn’t something that she hides, but rather, it is out in the open, for the fragrance of the perfume fills the room. The amount of perfume is so ridiculous that everyone has to know about it. Just as Noah sacrificed an offering as he went out of the ark and a pleasing aroma went up to God, so too, here, we can sense the sacrifice made. We can picture the pleasing aroma of the perfume bringing great pleasure and meaning to Jesus. It is a sacrifice, and Jesus is getting ready to become God’s sacrifice for the world.
The second teaching point comes with respect to extravagant gifts. Many of us, like Judas Iscariot, try to put a dollar value on extravagant gifts. We think about what that money could have been used for, or we make some judgment call on the need of a certain gift. Jesus implies that we should always be helping the poor as prescribed in Deuteronomy, but there is also a time to do something extravagant because of our faith. We don’t need to offer to God or others something that costs us nothing, but rather, we should be about giving sacrificially and abundantly.
Anointing, with oil or extravagance in another form, can serve more than one function. You can commission a person as a witness, you can convey the Holy Spirit, and you can even pray for healing. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, said, “The Gospel of Christ knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.” He went on to say, “You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”
I would like to take a brief look at the main people in this week’s scripture reading from John 12. The setting is rather simple: Lazarus’s sisters are hosting a dinner for Jesus.
Martha.The only thing we know about Martha is found in verse 2. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served. Poor Martha. It may speak volumes that when her sister pours the equivalent of a year’s wages onto Jesus’s feet, Martha doesn’t say a word. And Martha not speaking may reveal to us just how far she has grown since their last interaction. For Martha, literally serving Jesus, her family, and their friends is how she lived her life as an offering.
Lazarus.Lazarus is identified with what Jesus has done for him. Let’s pause here for a moment. What would our lives look like if we, like Lazarus, were identified first with what Jesus has done for us? Lazarus is “one of those at the table with him [Jesus].” We hear in scripture that Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead. Aside from walking out of the tomb, we never hear Lazarus do anything more from scripture.
 In all of scripture, he never says a word, never talks about what death looked like, or what it was like to be raised from the dead. What we do know is that Jesus loved him and that Lazarus welcomed him for dinner when he was in Bethany. We also know that after Jesus had dinner with Lazarus’s family, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Lazarus because his life was a living reminder of the power of Jesus. Lazarus’s greatest service to the gospel message was simply being loved by Jesus and living. He may not have done or said anything profound. . . but God used his life in amazing ways.

In our communities, we have people who battle addictions of all sorts. Some of these people rely upon the support they get from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many other like support groups. Many of their lives serve as a living reminder of the grace of God. Choosing life and facing your demons/problems each day can be viewed as a testament to God’s faithfulness and love. And that, for some of us, is an incredible expression of service.
Mary.Mary served in a most unusual and personal way. While Jesus reclined at the table, as we have indicated she poured costly ointment on his feet, and then wiped them with her hair. Scripture says that the house was filled with the aroma of perfume. When was the last time that you experienced the love and power of God in such a real way that you reeked from it? What would our lives “look like” if we bore the aroma of the Holy Spirit? What if grace and love and compassion poured out of us in an intoxicating way?


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Saints and Sinners.

March 29, 2019 - 11:24am

This week’s passage from Luke 15 is considered to be one long teaching moment by Jesus. It’s helpful to remember that in the Greek, there are no punctuation marks. No periods, commas, and exclamation points. In order to translate a passage in Greek, the entirety of the text must be taken into consideration. The prodigal son is one of the more fully developed parables that Jesus told. Many who don’t belong to the Christian faith know and use the teachings of this parable.
None of the characters are two-dimensional. All three express strong emotions in such a way that they invite readers to connect with them. From the perspective of the elder son, it’s the story of how he is steadfast and faithful while his feckless, prodigal brother squanders a fortune and is then welcomed home. From the perspective of the younger son, it’s the story of how he foolishly asks for, receives, and then wastes his inheritance on dissolute living. Chastened and nearly starving, he realizes his father’s servants are better off than he is, and so he formulates an apology and returns.
From the perspective of the father, this is a story about losing a son and, in fact, regarding that boy as dead. It was very unusual that a son would ask for his inheritance before his father died, yet even knowing that this was not a wise choice on his son’s part, the father acquiesces. In giving the inheritance to his son, the father shows surprising disregard for his own rights and honour.

The drama of this story takes off when the younger son practices his apology over and over. In it, he confesses his sin and recognises that he has forfeited his position as son. When the father sees his son across a field, he runs to meet him and we get a sense of hurried excitement. Some theologians wonder if the father is running to protect his son from scorn from his village. The father never seems to judge the sincerity of the younger son’s confession and never waits for explanation. Instead, he orders slaves to “put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it.”
Though honour and reputation were valuable commodities, the father again seems to care little for his own honour that was likely damaged through this incident. His joy is palpable. And later, when confronted by the angry, hurt elder son, the father responds with compassion. He calls his elder son teknon, which means child. It is a form of affection that affirms their relationship. The father pleads with the elder son. He reminds him of their bond as parent and child, saying to him, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” He tries to persuade him to accept his younger brother, “this brother of yours.” In the end, we don’t know what the elder son chooses to do. Neither do we know what happened to the younger son. To be forgiven can catch us at our most vulnerable state. We have no ground to stand on; we simply accept.
Through this parable we can see that the church is to be a means of grace and a herald of truth—not either/or.  We Christians often can’t seem to decide whether we are a museum for the saints or a hospital for sinners.” Many Ministers would say that their fears about choosing one of these options should not, perhaps, form competing visions for local church life, but sadly they often do. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is the same kingdom of God he enacted, and it is the same kingdom to which he summons the church.
The church is to proclaim and practice reconciliation, that being the essence of the kingdom: the reconciliation of all of us to God and the reconciliation of each of us to the other, and neither the proclamation nor the practice of reconciliation can finally exist without the other. Either emphasis, without the counterweight of the other, leads to ruin. The “hospital for sinners” model can leave believers awash in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” namely, “grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.
It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God . . . the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” The “museum of saints” model, on the other hand, can chill non-believers and even the faithful with a cold and impassive shoulder. An austere, compassionless rendering of the gospel leaves people knowing that they are not righteous but also not necessarily that they are forgiven.
In either view, what might be called true doctrine and true community seem independent of each other. For Saint Paul, however, authentic community and particular doctrinal confessions of the gospel are interdependent. The church is not a group of volunteers who have chosen Christ, but saints chosen by Christ—called and given identity through a particular confession and hope: truth and grace; ministry and message; not one without the other.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Facing Our Own Nature and Suffering.

March 22, 2019 - 12:35pm

The agricultural theme continues in the sayings of the psalmist for this week’s readings and the prophets. Both texts open with a longing for water, a basic necessity for all living things to survive. We in New South Wales Australia have seen the suffering caused by the lack of water bought about by the Climate Change we continue to bring on ourselves. Cotton and Rice Growers us up so much water there is little left and we see the massive kill of fish in our rivers which are now but a series of ponds. 

We see it in the contamination of our water table and supply by greedy miners who don't care what happens in the future unless there is quick profit in it. Like the fig tree, the psalmist is feeling dried up and deteriorated, like a “dry and tired land.” Yet, both the prophet and psalmist are able to claim joy because they see in God a chance at new life and grace. Isaiah attests to the higher ways of God that transcend the conventional wisdom of our broken world.


We might question the nature of suffering and be challenged by other deep questions for which there are no easy answers. But God’s ways and plans are higher than ours, and that promise can give us hope. Likewise, the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s strength, which enables the psalmist to speak praise with joy, and to cling to God with his whole being. The question for us is where we can make personal connections to both texts here. 
Consider how at times you feel like a dry and tired land, or how you feel thirsty and hungry, or how your behaviour might be that of the one whom God is calling to abandon such ways, lifestyle and schemes. Reflect on what you do individually to the land you have care for and stewardship over. Think about how you use this worlds limited resources to the detriment of us all.

Christians are called to see Lent as a time for us to consider a sober assessment of our spiritual state and how we choose to live our lives. Both these texts prompt such introspection. But they both also offer redemption in God’s grace. There is an invitation here to consider how we might like to assess our lives, assess our actions and see where we have experienced God’s love as “the richest of feasts” or a “rich dinner.” However, we also need to asses where we in our greed have pillaged God's creation and given wise stewardship.  The celebration of the Holy Communion is a natural connection to this imagery, inviting people to join together in the heavenly banquet that God has prepared for us in Christ.
Further I think as human beings we can admit that we are uneasy with the connection that both Jesus and St Paul appear to be making in this week’s Lectionary Readings, between sin (wrong behaviour or the turning away from God) and suffering. In the Luke 13 reading, people asked Jesus to theologically explain why people had to suffer. They used as case studies two groups: the murder victims of Pilate and the victims of the destruction of a tower.
In both instances, the questioners pondered a connection between their sin and their fate: “Did their sin cause their suffering?” It is a conclusion that we would rather not consider, for obvious pastoral reasons. That’s why Jesus’s answer to the question is so disturbing. “Unless you change your hearts and lives,” Jesus told them, “you will die just as they did.” Does Jesus really believe that such suffering is caused by our sinfulness, our bad behaviour? Fortunately, there is an answer to our uneasiness, in the parable of the fig tree. When the owner of the fig tree sees that the tree is bearing no fruit, he proceeds to do what any rational vineyard owner would do: cut it down and start over. That would be a reasonable cause and effect to assume.

Sinfulness beckons consequences which can be viewed as punishment, just as fruitlessness beckons pruning. But the gardener intercedes. The Gardener pleads with the owner to give the tree one more chance, appealing to the owner’s heart of compassion to give the tree another opportunity for fruitfulness. He offers to provide extra care and nurture: digging around it to remove competing plant life and preserve water, and giving it nourishing fertiliser to give it the nutrition that it needs. Jesus is the gardener in this story who steps into that gap between sinfulness and suffering in order to offer an irrational, unlikely second chance at life.
If the stories of Pilate and the tower reinforce the natural consequences of our negative behaviour patterns, then the story of the fig tree reinforces the certainty of God’s grace. And in the end, it is God’s grace and love, not the causality of sin that rules the day.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living into Love.

March 15, 2019 - 12:49pm

I have found it very hard to focus on my chosen title for my blog today, since I heard the news this afternoon of the murder of our brothers and sisters in Mosques in Christchurch, Aotearoa (NZ). It bought me a number of issues to wrestle with. One was as to why someone would want to, with extreme brutality, take life just because they thought differently, prayed differently or had a different way of engaging with God. The Second was that this was not the country I had been bought up in or the way I had been nurtured to view all people as equal before God and each person being a beloved of God.
I support the response of the Prime Minister of Aotearoa, Jacinta Arden who made it clear that inclusiveness and compassion were the ethos for the country and that as a country Aotearoa rejected the violence of terrorism, no matter who perpetrated such behaviour. In my life time I had never seen police armed on the streets even though I lived through Springbok Tours and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. I pray I may never see it again. However let me get back to Living into love.
There was an ad on TV the other night, another get-rich-quick scheme—something about how to make millions through real estate deals without having to work very hard.  Doing things the easy way is almost always more attractive to us than we’d like to admit, more attractive than working hard at something, more appealing than delayed gratification.  Working hard has its own rewards, as we usually learn, but it’s no guarantee of success.  So, a promise of an easier way and supposedly sure results catches our attention. A promise that it is someone else’s fault rather than our own that a new arrival is getting what we see as ahead.
St Paul in the reading from Philippians 3 set for this week is talking to the church at Philippi about a similar thing:  he cautions them not to be seduced by promises of an easier way to live the Christian life.  Paul is always very protective of his own understanding of how to live as a Christian—he often warns his followers about those who are false prophets, those who would lead them astray.  Here, he warns them again about taking the easy way out, and he uses as his example those he calls “enemies of the cross of Christ,” who allow their minds to be “on earthly things.” 
All this week’s readings have to do with covenant and faithfulness and trust.  They acknowledge the difficulty and challenge of holding true, of staying faithful.  We all want the security of connection, of relationship, of covenant.  But such connections require something of us, as well. Relationships are not one-sided, not even with God—relationship implies that both parties are involved.  But sometimes we get distracted and overwhelmed, or have what we think are higher priorities.  Sometimes we’re just tired, or we think that the other party doesn’t care about us—or a dozen other things that draw our attention away from where it needs to be. 
Sometimes it is easier to just let ourselves be distracted than to do the things that keep us in relationship, even though ultimately they nurture us. Making an effort, being disciplined, trusting, being faithful and attentive and intentional—those things take time.  They are taking the narrow way.  They are difficult, especially in a culture that does its best to keep us distracted and off-balance and wanting.  And yet in such a culture, there is nothing we need more than the depth and richness of our relationships with each other—with families, friends, loved ones, communities—and with God.
When we cheat ourselves out of these essential, life-giving relationships, those who love us suffer, of course.  But, we are the ones who suffer most of all.  We are the ones who lose the most.  We cheat ourselves when we take the easy way, when we avoid the narrow way of truth and integrity and love.  Those are the only things that matter, and when we try to live without them, it is no life at all, really.  And then it is us that Paul calls to task, it is us that Jesus weeps over.
The narrow way, is about, loving unconditionally, giving unconditionally.  It is about opening our hearts completely, and stepping to the very edge of the precipice of love and trust.  We are afraid to do these things, and rightfully so—the world does not encourage such behaviour.  After all, our hearts get stepped on and may even get broken when we make ourselves so vulnerable. 
If we’re lucky, we experienced unconditional love as children, but many of our parents were unable to provide such love.  Many of us don’t know what unconditional love looks like—we have never experienced it.  And our children, who may be the only ones we can even come close to loving unconditionally—even they can break our hearts. 
Even though we know, at some level, that God’s love is unconditional, we still all too often believe that being loved really depends on our worthiness.  So, we want some proof, because, of course, we usually believe we are not worthy.  So, we try to bargain for love, even with God, because we can’t understand any other way.  It’s how we are taught.  And after all, even Abraham when called by God asks what he will get out of the deal.
It is us that Jesus weeps over because we do not live into the fullness of the promise.  Jesus wept and I believe weeps over such things as recent events where one group of human beings are unable to include in compassion and love and instead desire hatred and violence. It means we are not living into the covenant.  We are afraid.  We believe and take on a view of scarcity rather than of God’s abundance, and we’re afraid that there won’t be enough for us. We’d rather have a get-rich-quick scheme because it demands less of us. We would rather terrorise and brutalise others because we envy them and want to be exclusive. 
But we are called to abandon our fear and mistrust; we are called to walk wide-eyed into God’s love.  It’s what Paul is talking about when he reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.”  It is what Jesus weeps for, tears meant to soften our hardened hearts, to wash away our fear, making room for love to grow.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Call is to Show Up.

March 8, 2019 - 7:26am

Jesus, filled with God, awakened to a compelling, driving certainty that he must go into the wilderness where people often went to fast and pray. The wilderness provided the open, silent space needed for seeking direction and purpose. Tradition has it that Jesus climbed into a high cave of Mt. Quarantal, a place which is today the location of the Monastery of the Temptation. This is not the experience of the later Transfiguration upon the mountain that we talked about last week but it is still an image for us of being able to connect with our God.
This high place in the wilderness west of the Jordan, less than a day’s walk from Jericho, for centuries attracted God’s seekers. In these caves in the Quarantal, people would fast and pray, seeking needed answers. Jesus, now certain of being loved and touched by God, needed the answers that a forty-day discipline might bring. In the cold, dark cave, Jesus waited and watched. Deprived of the comfort of water, food, and warmth, Jesus tested his spiritual muscles. Three times God’s Adversary came testing Jesus, tempting him to forget his baptismal identity and to use his new power for personal comfort and gain, political influence and glory, even free himself from suffering and death. Three times Jesus turned his back on the Adversary and embraced living a life of compassion as God’s servant.
Love revealed in Jesus, shaped and tested by the forty-day discipline, has for generations called us to our own vocations. While each person must discover (or uncover) specific meanings of God’s call, all share the baptismal certainties: you are God’s child, you are God’s delight, and you are God’s love.
 Yet we deny our identity. We forget these realities. We carelessly allow confusion to rule and let fears bargain for assurances inferior to what God promises or desires. We trade love for short-term profits. Misplaced identity brings confusion and disorientation that seeks from religion personal gain rather than wholeness and holiness. Success rather than transformation becomes our mission. Worldly wealth provides the measure of our worth, instead of allowing God’s grace to grant personal significance. We make compromises that weaken our resolve to stand firm in what is good and right despite God’s promise. All this we do because, at all costs, we seek to avoid sacrifice, suffering, and death.
God surprises us by bringing transforming love through Christ’s presence. A surprising paradox reveals a God continually present and who uses sacrifice, suffering, and even death as the media through which we find love, wholeness, and life. God uses that which we avoid to provide that which we most deeply desire. Four strong yearnings shape our hope:
1.     We each yearn to belong.2.     We yearn to be loved and to love. 3.     We yearn to make a difference, to contribute. 4.     We yearn to continue, to endure, to last—even beyond death.
Each generation must rediscover God’s revealing presence that reaches into our intense longing. Augustine of Hippo walked from village to village teaching and preaching the good news that restless hearts will find peace in God. Centuries later, Francis of Assisi danced, sang, and loved his way through Europe, making Christ’s abundant love visible through the starkness of his self-imposed poverty.
If we are love, then what brings such separation and destruction that runs so freely through our personal and social histories? Two fundamental reasons echo from generation to generation. I have found that in recent times they come in the words written by Gerald May:
“First…we are asleep to the truth; we do not realise who we are and what we are for. The second reason is that we misplace our love; we become attached to things other than God” That is the bad news. The Good News is that God actively engages our lives, sending us wake up calls, one after another. Once we entertain the possibility that God dwells within each soul, then we can choose. We can choose to listen for love, seek love, and allow love to awaken within.”
The season of Lent brings opportunities to awaken to God’s love. Notice throughout the days of Lent who speaks Love to you? Who reveals God’s heart to you? Who brings you knowledge that you belong to God, that you are love, and that your significance rests in compassionate giving?
Unless you show up for prayer, unless you participate in worship, you are likely to remain asleep to the truth. Dare to trust that you have God at the centre of your being. Dare to risk praying. Dare to ask, seek, and find Love within. Learn through your personal experience that you have within you God’s still, small voice.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

"You are dust, and to dust you shall return."

March 6, 2019 - 9:37pm
 It is one of the most ancient phrases of Scripture, coming right out of the early chapters of Genesis. This is what we are reminded of by our traditions on this day each year as it forms the central theme of what we're about. We're being reminded of our mortality and our need for penitence.

But there's another theme at work deep within this sentence that we might do well to ponder as we as Christians enter the period of self-examination and renewal called Lent. Part of our journey as people of God in this season is about re-energising our spirituality and to truly stop for a moment and allow God to do some transformational work in us. We need to truly stop which are perhaps two of the hardest words to hear in our fast-paced always-in-motion culture today.
On Ash Wednesday, it seems appropriate to pause and take a hard, honest look at what drives us. Many of us are being run to exhaustion and near breakdown by fear. If it's not fear that we might lose our jobs if we don't perform well enough, it's the fear that we'll lose our profits or our investors, or that our stock portfolios will begin to drop in value. Many of us have a passionate fears about where our next meal is coming from, or how we will be able to pay our bills next week or next month. And if these fears weren't the subject of some of the deepest soul-searching in the latest political adventures of our country, what was?
We have listened to claims and counter-claims from our politicians over the last months which will continue for a while yet. The assumption that has been made, rightly or wrongly by all sides of the debate, is that the answer is to keep "moving forward," or in financial terms, "moving upwards." So we work harder, driving our bodies to the edge, shortening our tempers, destroying our environment by upsetting its finely tuned balance and stripping the earth of more precious resources. But no one seems to be asking the question, and certainly no one seems to be answering, "Where are we headed? Upwards: towards what? Forwards: to where?" Growth towards what? Growth at what cost to us God’s creation?
Even the market itself seems confused about what its goals and what they really mean. Where this all is supposed to be headed. We are guilty, in so many ways and at so many levels, of the corporate sin of "chasing the wind." And, like most corporate sins, it's a societal ill that each of us has a very hard time finding a way out of. Our businesses fail if we don't pay attention to the bottom line. Our tables and plates are empty if we don't compete and work hard.
Fortunately for us as Christians, the reminder that we hear today, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," was not written by a market strategist. In fact, it is one of the earliest scriptural statements directly attributed to the voice of God. Like so many things on Ash Wednesday, it seems a grim reminder about our own darkness, our own mortality. That indeed may be true. But there is also a great hope here, and perhaps even the beginning of an answer to our wrestling with our own corporate greed and even our fears.
We in the West have somehow forgotten that we are people of the earth. Remembering that we are dust is a call to return to an ancient wisdom that we are as much physical people as spiritual people. Spirituality and physicality are at root connected. Jesus was not born into a sterile environment, cleaned and sanitised for his arrival. He was born into all the smells and grime of a barn, reaffirming the sanctity of even the dust and dirt that make us up and the rest of the natural world.
Running around with our faces disfigured, or parading our discipline in public will gain us nothing spiritually. Rather, it is the care for our bodies, the washing of our faces, and the quiet, gentle acts of mercy and kindness to the needs of others that will nurture us as whole physical and spiritual beings. We need to be reclaiming and reaffirming our physical selves and the physical selves of others. Seeking balance with our neighbours, the earth, and our well-being is really where we need to be headed.
While the market forces driving our lives will not go away anytime soon, at least we have a way to mediate competition's effects on our lives. So, fast this Lent from some of the frenetic desperation that rules our lives. Make time to find the sleep that is necessary, to spend time with people and the God whom we love. Make time to give energy towards helping those who are in need.
Next time the tap is running or the computer is on, ask where the resources come from, and wonder who worked to bring them to us. And remember to take off the shoes and feel the grass between your toes. I ask that this year our reconnection with whom and what we really are will be our truest and best Lenten discipline.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs