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Whitestarhaven's Ramblings
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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

Apply the Mountaintop Experience.

March 1, 2019 - 12:29pm

Put yourself in the Holy Land - 2,000 years ago as we can in our imagination and as we read the passage from Luke 9: 29-36 from the lectionary for this week. Imagine that you are one of Jesus' leading disciples. He calls you apart from your colleagues to go with him on what turns out to be a great adventure. You start walking, happily chatting, and following him toward the high country. At the start, you figure, this is one more time when Jesus needs to get away from the crowds - to rest and refresh and restore his spiritual strength. You, too, are ready for a rest.
When Jesus leads you to the destination, you recognise it as a holy place of your faith-set apart for connection with the greatest meaning life has to offer - a place to encounter God. You begin to think that maybe this is not going to be an ordinary retreat, even by Jesus' standards. Suddenly you see Jesus changed - his face has changed and has become dazzling white. You are not sure what to make of this. But you know something extraordinary has happened.
Then, you are startled again to see the two most honoured leaders of your faith, Moses and Elijah, long dead, standing there beside Jesus. You do not know what to think or do. Your friend Peter suggests setting up dwellings so they could stay there permanently. But before anything else can happens, you hear the voice of God-"This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"  Now you know the purpose of this adventure. Here is the answer to what you should do.
It is clear that you are not to look to Moses and Elijah-not to look back to the old, but to reach forward to the new, listening to this beloved one of God, this Jesus and listening to him only. Then, it is time to go back down the mountain and return to the others. They will be the same, but for you everything is different. God has done a new thing. Everything in your life is transfigured - transformed - changed - to a new reality of God.
It is meant to be easy for us, as followers of Jesus, to put ourselves in the place of James or John or Peter. We go through the same kind of adventure in our daily lives; we recognise the same Lord. And we hear the same message from God: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
We too have our "mountain tops." Each of us needs places and times set apart for us to take a good spiritual breath. Often this can happen in the midst of worship or Bible study or prayer groups or whenever we gather with fellow believers or even as we share an experience with God’s creation. The "mountain tops" of our lives are also represented by times when we are alone with only silence around us-not with a radio blaring or a television yakking or a computer clicking. This is our personal prayer time and time for meditation and reflection - being still so we know God for what God is, specifically, in our lives. If you have ever sat upon the mountain top or in the bush and watched and listened as the new day dawned in all its glory will now what I am referring to.
All of us though, too, gain recognition and insight into God when we go to these mountain tops set aside as holy places and holy times for us to focus on God. In the stillness of our quiet and solitude as we watch and wait we learn to see and hear what our God says and does and how God moves us. The presence of God can astonish us in the beauty of creation and the generosity of the love we are surrounded by.
And we too can listen most attentively to the beloved of God. In these times of quiet prayer and meditation and self-examination, we listen for the words and the truths of our Universe and our God through Jesus. We do this through reading and reflecting and through studying the examples of others whom we Christians call the saints. We connect with the saints of old and the godly people of our own day and communities by opening ourselves to recognise the power of the spirit moving among us and those around us, changing lives to better reflect values of God s kingdom.

However, we too must come down from our "mountain tops," knowing what is possible for us in every part of our lives. We can count on the amazing power of God to transfigure and transform and change what is old into what is new-what is ordinary into the extra-ordinary, into what can be.
The truth of the Gospel affirms that each and every one of us - even if we are lost, blind, misguided, self-centred, and arrogant - can really be transformed into God's beloved children and his faithful disciples. God can transform our sadness and frustration and despair into joy and hope. God can transform our apathy and lack of concern for God's commandments into an active love that brings God's kingdom more closely into being. God can transform our weakness and fear into courage and strength. God can transform our earthy, broken humanity into faithful members of the Body of Christ.
We live our lives at the base of the mountain. If we have heard the transforming word of God we will continue to listen to Jesus our Lord and we will pray continually the collect connected with today's Gospel.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Love in the Face of Power.

February 22, 2019 - 12:03pm

This week we extend our scripture reading from Luke 6 taking in verses 27-38.  In chapter 6 we believers are reminded that our faith is an act of resistance. In a time wrought with indifference and when we are divided across numerous social constructs of inhumane historical precedent, practicing unconditional respect and uplift of others is challenging. Verse 27 of Jesus’s words transitions from the assurance of blessings to responsibility, to siding with the poor, to the divine imperative of loving enemies. This instructional discourse grounds the Christian ethos. In this text, Jesus is detailing the ways in which God’s priorities, which are antithetical to the ways of the world, should shape our actions.

The purpose of Jesus’s directions for relinquishing material goods or to practice civil disobedience is to challenge systems, that is to say, Empire. The world’s systems, laws, and processes are inherently inhumane and absent of love. We lock people up away from society on Islands and deny them treatment for political ends. We walk past those in need of the basics of life with no comment or no attempt to right the inequalities that put them there. Yet our God asks that we challenge the power that gives rise to these situations.
Those called of Christ are required to embody and exercise love upon all creation. The narrative notes that love is shown in sacrifice of our stuff and ourselves. This text provides us with a new way of being in relationship with one another. Jesus calls us to respond to others according to God’s love. This means that we must abandon our urge to “get even” in order to respond in a way that shares God’s love and protects our humanity.
When Jesus suggests turning the other cheek after being slapped previously, he is not simply challenging antiquity’s “shaming” culture, but encouraging an early exhibition of civil disobedience in the face of dehumanisation. These actions are representations and expressions of truth in the face of power. Jesus’s teachings, like all kingdom pathos, are antithetical to the world’s assumptions and norms. Democratic, legislative, and social ideals grant allowance for equal or greater response to hurt, harm, or danger if upon an individual or that which they control.
When someone mistreats another, it is neither unusual nor unacceptable, across cultures and spaces, to reciprocate such mistreatment. Rather, Christians are called to work in the example of our ultimate ethical witness—Jesus Christ—showing compassion as did the progenitor.
You know the Wesley’s who are credited with founding the Methodist denomination had some very profound things to say about the way we Christians are called to live by our God. A hallmark of Wesleyan practice is adherence to doing no harm, doing good, and loving God faithfully. The word puzzle like the poetry of Psalm 37 gives credence to such basic instruction. The psalmist reminds believers not to get upset over the wrong in the world. We live in a world that is defined by competition. We are constantly compared to others, and often we internalise this behaviour and begin to measure ourselves in relation to others.
We ask why bad people receive good things while we continue to struggle. At times, it is easy to look at others and become angry. Harbouring anger and rage serves to be unhealthy; those in relationship with God release themselves and others of such. They are admonished to do so knowing that the wrong, evil, and ungodly will not last always. Even in our struggle, God shows Godself to be present, powerful, and purposeful. The help of the Lord can come in many ways and forms.
In the verses 39 and 40 of our Psalm for this week we are reminded that God is our refuge in the face of uncertainty and evil. We are called to reside in God’s love, allowing it to transform us even in our moments of anger and resentment. While we may never understand why bad things happen to good people, or why it sometimes seems like the evil are rewarded, God’s love and presence in our life endures. We Christians are comforted knowing that God is always with us, even when we are lost in struggle and confusion.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

How Do We Measure?

February 15, 2019 - 6:15am

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

To Be Touched.

February 8, 2019 - 5:21am

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Reluctance to Answer our Life Call.

February 1, 2019 - 6:24am

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Where Do I Fit?

January 25, 2019 - 11:36am

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Abundance is ours.

January 18, 2019 - 6:33am

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Marked and Signed as the Beloved.

January 11, 2019 - 12:25pm

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Camels Story.

January 4, 2019 - 6:29pm

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs