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Whitestarhaven's Ramblings
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Steps in the Right Direction.

January 24, 2020 - 3:56am
The crucial moments in which we choose directions for our lives aren’t
usually marked with caution signs, bright red flags, or even the feelingthat we are about to make a big decision. Some of the decisions that matter most slip by without our even noticing. Some of the choices that seem small are bigger than the ones that appear big. Because the sacred is present in the ordinary, we can’t be sure that any decision is unimportant. Because life is holy, every moment matters. Every day and hour are crucial.
Jesus is walking beside a lake one afternoon ion this week’s scripture reading from Matthew 4, when he sees two men in a rowboat waiting for unsuspecting fish to wander into their nets. It’s hard to believe what happens next. Jesus offers them a job with no pay, and they accept: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  So, the four fishermen drop what they are doing and head off to God-knows-where, to lives they can’t imagine.
People always try to explain away big-fish stories, and this one is noexception. Some commentators suggest that young men often left their occupations to become students of a rabbi. They say it sounds more unlikely to us than it would have to people in the first century. We read the story and assume that this isn’t the disciples’ first encounter with Jesus. Surely, they knew Jesus before this.
The disciples’ instant acceptance of Jesus’ peculiar invitation is as dramatic as any moment we will ever encounter. On occasion, we face big decisions about family, jobs, and faith. We stand at a fork in the road and need to choose. We have moments when we feel that we need to act in a particular way for reasons that we cannot completely explain. We feel the need to sacrifice something we would rather keep in order to follow. We have taken a few big risks. But most of the time, it isn’t that dramatic. We don’t drop everything to start a new life very often. The calling of the disciples is more spectacular than what happens to us most days.
Most of my life is routine. I have gone to work each morning often with a list of things to do. There are phone calls to return, e-mails to respond to, and meetings to attend. There are a dozen administrative details to take care of. The urgency in what I do is usually the urgency of keeping up. Most of it doesn’t feel that holy at all. One positive thing is that often my day is filled with pleasant people.
I receive too much credit for what I do. My work is enjoyable, but it’s not spectacular. My life doesn’t feel as adventurous as that of the disciples, leaving their nets and following Jesus into the unknown. There are women and men who live each day in danger because of their faith. There are people who do astonishing, heroic works. Maybe someday we will do something spectacular. For now, most of us feel called to less-dramatic discipleship.
Maybe Jesus’ disciples had days when their lives didn’t seem sensational, as they walked up and down Galilee from village to village. Maybe they had days when they thought things were going too slow. On those days, perhaps their faithfulness was more modest. We tend to forget the importance of details in the journey of faith. We focus on dramatic conversions, overwhelming encounters with God, and powerful moments of prayer. We search for peak experiences and end up assuming other people are born with a spiritual talent that we just don’t have.
But God is in the details. God calls us every hour of every day. God invites us to be friends, practice kindness, and pray for our daily bread. We live out our faithfulness in worship, work, and study. As Christians the routine, everyday ways in which we follow Jesus, the way we read scripture, welcome strangers, and love the people with whom we live are all crucially important.
God is at work in a variety of unspectacular ways. God is present inevery way that grace is shared, hope is proclaimed, and healing comes. Love spreads word by word. The bucket fills drop by drop. Wrongs are righted one by one. Our calling is to be faithful, to live God’s grace on routine days in ordinary ways.
There is no event so commonplace that God is not there. Every moment and every word have possibilities. Slowly but surely our priorities change. On the day they first followed Jesus, the disciples were brash, impulsive, stubborn, and they smelled of fish. They had to learn day by day how to be the church. We grow in faith, not only in memorable, never-to-be-forgotten moments, but also in forgettable moments when we decide to pray instead of turning on the radio, to do better with the next hour than we did with the last, and to give something that we would rather keep.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Come and See.

January 17, 2020 - 5:28am

How would your life be different if you were A Christian or for that matter not a Christian? For some of us who have lived surrounded by Christian people, it’s hard to imagine, but what if you had no interest in God? So, I am going to explore the question from the perspective of a Christian reflecting on how different my world would be without my faith. How would your life be less or more or just the same? What would you miss about church? I would probably resist singing out loud in public were it not for church on Sunday.                         Which of your friends would not be your friends? If you had never met the people you have met in Sunday school, how great a loss would that be? How would your family change? How would you spend your time differently? Would you be at home reading the Australian? What do you do because you are a Christian that makes you happy? Which religious activities could you do without? What would be easier if you weren’t a Christian?  Do you feel good about the time you spend helping strangers? Do you wish you still had all the money you’ve given away? Have there been experiences you would hate to have missed—hope-filled books you are glad you read, experiences of God’s grace in worship, times you’ve cared for hurting people?
If you were not a Christian, would your life be less interesting? Every once in a while, the disciples thought about how different their lives would have been if they had never met Jesus. It started so quietly. John the Baptist is standing with two of his students when Jesus walks by. John says, “That’s the one. You know how cocky I can be, but I’m not worthy to tie his sandals.” The two disciples are understandably curious. They start following Jesus. He turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” They answer nervously, “We thought we would see where you’re staying.” In other words, “We don’t have anything better to do, so we’re wondering what you’re doing.”
Jesus offers the invitation that will change their lives: “Come and see.” They stay with Jesus all day because he’s interesting. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They don’t know that they will end up leaving behind their nets, boats, homes, friends, work, and retirements. They will end up changing their ideas about almost everything. Andrew goes to get his brother. “You have to come and see this guy,” he says. Simon is dragged along, going more so that his brother will leave him alone than out of any great faith. When Jesus meets Simon, he says, “Your name is going to be Rock.” The often-confused Simon is anything but a rock, but everything is starting to change.                                     Most of the time, we move toward God in small steps taken as much out of curiosity as out of faith. So, what are we looking for? What are we looking for in our world today, in the actions and life of the Church? Why do some join Church and worship in a church? Some of those attending worship are in Church because their parents didn’t give them a choice. For some, their mother’s voice told them to go to church and somehow this has lodged in their minds, and they can’t get rid of it.
Some are in church because it’s easier to come than to argue with their spouse about it. Most of us didn’t attend with great expectations. The religious reasons we have for being here are mixed at best. We’re interested in thinking about how we could live better lives, but only up to a point. If we’re in worship today for no good reason, that’s okay. Lots of people find their way by accident.
Jesus says, “Come and see.” The disciples stumble along, following without knowing where they are going, discovering well after the fact that they have wandered onto a path that leads to grace. “Come and see,” Jesus says. In John’s Gospel the disciples soon taste water turned into wine, watch in horror as Jesus clears the temple, and listen with amazement to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, that the spirit of God blows wherever it wills. They stumble onto a way of life they have never imagined.
So, what are we looking for? Deep in our souls, are we looking for something to believe in and hold on to, something important enough to live for, and something big enough to claim our passions. Are we looking for challenge and purpose? Are we looking for God? What begins with curiosity becomes a step toward grace. The emptiness we feel from time to time is God calling us to the paths that lead to meaning. God lets us know that we can look beyond our computers and coffee cups into the enchanted possibilities of grace. God is the one who makes us long for something that lasts. God draws us toward life even when we don’t recognise what’s happening.                                    “Come and see” is how the disciples’ story begins. It’s a wonderful line and a great way to start a story. “Come and see” is the invitation to explore, discover, and travel without knowing exactly where we are going, but to know that if we catch a glimpse of God, we will also catch a glimpse of who we can be. Come and see. Come and look for places where we’ve never been. Come and see what it means to hope, believe, and follow.
By being in church we open ourselves to God, who will lead us to new places. The people who follow Jesus end up doing the things Jesus did. They care for the hurting, listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, pray for the broken hearted, bandage those who are wounded, do more than is expected. They look for God and find extraordinary lives. The spirit of adventure is what calls Christians to worship.
Christians are seeking the meaning of life, joining with people on the journey, and asking God to help them see where grace invites them. We are there to look at the gifts we’ve been given and the needs of the world. We come to worship together to discover the possibilities. If we worship God, if we share our lives with other people looking for God, we will see beyond what we have assumed. If we look for God, we will find that God is looking for us, offering life.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

To Belong to God.

January 10, 2020 - 3:53am
John Milton, who once marvellously celebrated the birth of Jesus in his "Ode to the Morning of Christ's Nativity," later attempted a sequel upon the Passion. After writing a few stanzas he ceased in despair and later published the fragment he did write with an appended note: "This subject the author finding to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and not satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished." Whatever our years may be, they do not mature us to deal with a theme of such magnitude as the suffering and death of our Lord. When we have said our finest word about the whole redemptive drama, there is something that breaks through language and escapes. Similar words could be uttered about the Baptism of our Lord. As we move into that dim borderland where our reach exceeds our grasp, we must be measured at last in terms of our splendid failure to say the impossible.
In the movie The Apostle, starring Robert Duval, there is a powerful scene. Duval is running from the law. He has bludgeoned the youth pastor in the church where he was pastor. The assumption is that he has been baptised and ordained as a minister of the Gospel. The scene in the movie shows a contrite and repentant Duval baptising himself in a river. He announces to God and to no one else that he is baptising and ordaining himself as an apostle. (There is an old black man who has just finished fishing who witnesses the baptism and ordination. Duval is not aware of his presence.)
The scene raises questions about the Baptism of our Lord. Why did he not baptise himself? Why should he seek out John the Baptist and insist that John baptise him? Perhaps an even larger question without an adequate answer is: "Why did Jesus feel a need to be baptised?"
At the risk of attempting to answer questions that have difficult answers, perhaps some conjecture will suffice. John the Baptist, recognising the difficulties in this situation, refused to baptise Jesus. He insists that Jesus should baptise him. Someone has suggested that Jesus "is baptised as a witness to God's claim upon him. He is baptised and by that action says, in effect, 'I belong to God.'" In Baptism, Jesus identifies with a community. We do not know all that we would like to know about John the Baptist's community.
We do not know who was present at this baptism, other than John the Baptist himself. We can surmise that there were others in the community who witnessed this Baptism. While we are now in the season of Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus is a ratification of his Incarnation. He identifies with a community and with the people in that community.
In our Baptism, we too gain an identity. At the time of our Baptism, person carrying out the rite makes the sign of the cross on our forehead and announces that we "are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever." We become a part of what God has been doing in the world since the time of creation. Baptism is the initiatory rite into the church and indicates full inclusion into the household of faith. Like our Lord, we too become incorporated into the human condition.
The season of Epiphany is the season in the Church Year in which the identity of Jesus is made clearer to his followers. Baptism calls us to claim our place and our power. There is a period of silence in the life of Jesus from about the age of twelve to his thirtieth year. From the time of Jesus in the Temple, we know little until his Baptism. Out of his Baptism comes a clearer view of what his life's work was to be.
Gabriel Marcel Marques, in his book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, writes about a village in Central America. A virus strikes this community and the effect of the virus is that is causes amnesia. It becomes necessary to hire a person from the outside world to help them recover their memory. This person, from the outside world, goes about the village putting signs on all things with their names. The signs remind the villagers that "this is a ceiling," "this is a floor," "this is a table," and all through the village everything has a sign naming what it is.
Outside the village, the outsider places two signs. On one sign is written: "This is the village of Macondo." A sign posted above that reads: "God Exists." Our Baptism and the Baptism of our Lord are signs and symbols of God's delight in us. Each time a person is baptised, it is a sign that God exists. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds the world that God exists. It is also a sign that the Creator takes delight in us and calls us to the community of faith.

So for those familiar and those who have never read or heard it let us again hear again these words drawn from the baptismal rite:

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith baptising them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sharing the Light.

January 4, 2020 - 8:51am

It seems that I have either lost track of time or my mind has switched off having almost missed putting up my Blog this week. I think we were out at Coles Bay area yesterday and driving from Swansea to Cradle Mountain today through haze and smoke most of the way. Little in comparison to those in the South East of Australia where we have been focused for the last week or so. Thoughts and prayers are with all those supporting the battle or who have been affected. Certainly needed some sharing of the light in places as we were driving. Also had a visit to Marakoopa Caves and there was so much beauty that one would have missed without light. But back to thoughts about the upcoming feast.
Well, the Twelve Days of Christmas are ending in a burst of celebration and light. The Christmas biscuits and cake are nearly all eaten, even the fruitcake has been nibbled down, and the tree is starting to shed if you have a real one. The presents, every last one of them, are open -- and lots of them are already in use. I think I’ve spotted a couple of bright new ties, some wonderful shirts, and a fancy new dress or two out there! Did you get everything you wanted? What? You didn't get seven swans a-swimming or eleven lords a- leaping? Well, never mind. Maybe you will get them next year.
This year, at least, we got what we always get: the carols of joy, the angels' promise, the shining star, the glowing faces, the mysterious hush of the shepherds and animals, gathered around the newborn baby. And in them, we got the age-old promise: that there is peace, there is joy, there is hope. God will not leave us alone, stranded, lost in darkness and misery. God will come to us in joy, in light, in peace.  Here on this very last of the days of Christmas, we celebrate another part of the promise: that God will come to us ALL, everyone, if we seek his presence, if we invite him into our hearts.
Through these twelve days of Christmas, while angels and shepherds and donkey’s and sheep have surrounded the baby, a group of three stargazers have slogged along their weary way, day after day, seeking the promise, coming to find the baby. And today -- this day, this blessed day -- they have arrived at last. Have you spied the three figures, on their camels, moving closer, every day, to the crèche?
At last, here they are. And who are they? Oh, you know: "We three Kings of Orient are, one on a tractor, two in a car, one on scooter tooting his hooter following yonder star...." No, no, I've got it wrong: "We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar..." And you probably even know their names: Melchior, and Casper, and Balthasar. And you know that they brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. But who are they?
Well, you know something, they are us. You may have noticed, when we read the gospel, that it doesn't say anything about "Caspar, and Melchior and Balthasar." Those names date from stories people told of them in the Middle Ages, not from the Bible. And the Bible doesn't even say that they are "kings."
It calls them "magi" or "wise men." Scientists, scholars, learned students of the stars and the signs, they were, and not necessarily "kings" at all -- though Isaiah's prophecy, that "nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning," has helped us come to think of them as royalty, not researchers.
But most important, scripture says, they are "from the East." They are from outside Israel, outside the ancient covenant with the people of Israel. They are foreigners and strangers. Isaiah tells us, "Foreign nations will stream to your light and the rulers of the whole world will be drawn to you because you are a beacon of light, a sign of peace, of shalom." The Israelites are called upon to make room for the "stranger and sojourner". As the phrase goes all are called to welcome the strangers, to offer hospitality to all comers, to receive those who would come to live among them.
Matthew's story of the visit of the Wise Men says that the matter was decided by God, long before Peter and Paul fought it out. These "wise men from the East" were Gentiles, who saw the star -- a sign from God -- and followed it. And when they saw this King, Jesus in the manger, they knelt down and offered homage to him and in that sign permanently committed themselves to follow him. They were welcomed -- as we are. How do we know they were welcomed? Well, their gifts were accepted and symbolised the whole meaning of the life of this newborn King.
The gold, which represents wealth and royalty, was the sign that he would be king. The frankincense -- incense, which was burned daily in the Jerusalem temple as a holy offering to God was the sign that he was holy, our "Great High Priest". The myrrh was a bitter spice used to wrap the bodies of the dead, was the sign that, royal and holy though he was, he would die. And so, it was.
This newborn baby was given by God to be a king of a new and spiritual kind for all the people who come to him. We are the gentiles, called to be part of the covenant of love and peace, the promise of God given through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Not very many of us actually have to cross a trackless desert on camelback. But we do have to transcend our own barriers: our scepticism, our self-centeredness, our pride.
Remember, there are still strangers and sojourners in our world, people seeking light and truth, the love of God and the peace of Christ. The stable door is always open -- to all. And we, those of us who have arrived earlier, are called upon, like our Hebrew ancestors, to welcome the stranger and sojourner to the stable, to the table, to our hearts, and to the life in Christ.
This Feast of the Epiphany not only marks the end of the Season of Christmas, but the beginning the season of Epiphany. Through centuries of tradition, Epiphany has been the season to remember and celebrate the mission of the church, as it spreads throughout the world. As the light of the sun strengthens and lengthens each day of this season, so we are reminded that the light of Christ reaches ever further into our hearts and the hearts of the world -- even into its most troubled corners. As Christians we are called to move steadily into the world, bearing the light of Christ -- to the places we work, the places we study, the places we play. And we are called always to welcome all who come to share in the light.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Precious Days, Precious Meaning.

December 27, 2019 - 8:01am

This is the Sunday of Christmastide when we begin to consider what God has done in the birth of Jesus. In some homes by now the tree has been taken down, perhaps decorations put away. Stores are advertising year-end sales. Some people have already bought presents and cards for next year at significant savings. In the church though it is still Christmas. We have 12 precious days to focus on the wonder of God's love and what it means.
Here are some principal ideas about what the birth of Jesus means. Each of us can find insight in them and grow in our understanding of why the church has held these days to be a festival second only to Easter. For those who wonder, the 12 days of Christmas run from after Christmas Day until the festival day of Epiphany on January 6th.
The first principal is the Incarnate Christ: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us - in the Hebrew Emmanuel." God decided to enter into a personal relationship with humanity. God became like you and me—flesh. God could have chosen simply to watch and see what would happen, but instead chose to connect, interact, and experience the human condition. Not only that, God limited the experience to ours—no special privileges. God took on the living conditions of the time: the smell, the thirst and poverty, the ravages of disease and discomfort. Jesus was not offered anything better than others because of who he was.

So, what does the Incarnate Christ mean for us? It means God wants a relationship with every one of us, not just a chosen few. God wants us to know we are loved, valued, and worth saving, that we are precious. God wants to draw us together into a kingdom of life that is abundant and rich, that has lots of entry points and that involves many different people. Yes, we are all the beloved and loved despite many not knowing or not wishing to know this.
The Incarnate Christ also gives us a guide for mission. If God chose to come and live among us and be like us, then our mission is to seek out those especially who are marginal, lonely, lost, in prison, hurt, angry, afraid, and unsuccessful right where we live—and hang out with them. We can be their light in the darkness, and we can experience God's grace in solidarity with them. If some think that is socialist and to be avoided, sadly they have missed God’s purpose and the love offered and the grace given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This leads to the second principal - the Redemptive Christ. Helen Keller, whose life is depicted in the classic movie, The Miracle Worker, lived in a world of deafness and darkness. Her teacher, Ann Sullivan, after much frustration in trying to communicate, takes her to the family well, pumps water over her, then spells the word W-A-T-E-R into Helen's hand, and then pronounces the word as she holds Helen's hand to her throat. Suddenly, the world becomes real and connected to Helen, and her life is never the same again.
Redemption is something like that. God decided the world was worth redeeming and chose to act by coming among us and giving us a model for humanity in Jesus Christ. We no longer have to stumble in the dark, wondering who we are supposed to become. God has begun redemption in each of us through our Baptism. It's a life-long work of remodelling and rebuilding. But Jesus has moved into the neighbourhood, and nothing will ever be the same because of it. Instead of God saying, "Let's see what they do…" God says, "Here is what I am going to do". God acted in a profound way, and we celebrate the action in every Eucharist, reminding ourselves of God's project and of our part in it.
A third principal is that of the Cosmic Christ. Jesus didn't simply show up one day, and he wasn't adopted. We are not just enjoying a chummy relationship with a guy from Galilee. When we are baptised, we enter into a personal relationship with everything that is created and with the divine creator. This principal has never quite caught on in our culture, but other cultures, including many first nations of many countries including the Maori, Aboriginal and Native American, have always known and believed in the sacred relationship of all life.
Having a relationship with the Cosmic Christ means the world is not ours to possess. The title deed already belongs to another. It is rather ours to care for, and includes the land, water, the animals, and plants, and the people of this earth. How we live as a people of the Cosmic Christ should be notable in terms of how we use things, preserve and recycle them, and what we leave behind for others. Since we as Western Nations consume much of the world's available resources while others are in want, believing in a Cosmic Christ should make us want to do everything in our power to see, out of our abundance, that all people have what they need. The Cosmic Christ expects nothing less.           
We have come quite a distance from the babe in the manger. Our journey should not be one away from the crib but into it, for the babe of Bethlehem has brought to us profound power for relationships that redeem. Although many will be glad to see the old year pass away, especially with its turmoil, terror, and upheaval for all of us, we can greet the New Year with something more than relief. We can with joy celebrate what we asked for in Advent: Emmanuel—God with us!

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Emmanuel – God with Us.

December 20, 2019 - 2:47am

As any introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures will emphasise, biblical prophets were not predictors of the future, but rather social commentators, analysing their own time and describing the consequences that would result from current political practices. When Isaiah tells Ahaz that a young woman is pregnant and will have a baby named Immanuel (God with us), he does not mean this will happen some seven hundred years later. Instead, he points to a pregnant woman right in front of them and says that Ahaz’s political distress will be over before that child is old enough to know right from wrong.

It is easy enough for us to understand that as we read through Isaiah 7, but what do we do with the fact that gospel reading for this week from Matthew 1 seems to identify that child with Jesus and not with a child of the eighth century BCE (Before Common Era)? More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew is concerned with demonstrating ways the life of Jesus aligns with Hebrew Scripture prophecy. He makes connections wherever he can between the Scripture he knows and the story he wants to tell.
But even if we discount a literal association between the Isaianic prophecy and its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus, we should not be quick to dismiss the ways that both Isaiah and Matthew are, in their own ways, answering the same question: in times of great distress, when uncertainty looms, when we are faced with “wars and rumours of wars,” where is God? Isaiah assures Ahaz that God is with us, and he offers the king a sign of God’s presence in the child whose birth is imminent. The birth of Jesus assures us that God is with us, not just as a sign, but as God incarnate. “Do not be afraid,” say Isaiah to Ahaz and the angel to Joseph. So, too, says the word of God to us today.
Further, a newborn child evokes so much hope. The miracle of a child’s first breath and the powerful love that binds a parent to a child inspires poetry and song alike. The trappings of Christmas so often associate Jesus’ birth with these inspirational notions. And yet the story Matthew recounts is dotted with threats. Like the many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures when God’s promises seem to be at stake, it is the faithfulness of God’s followers, their trust in God’s promises, that make all the difference. Unlike Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, Matthew focuses on Joseph. In this account, Mary never speaks or acts.
Instead, it is Joseph who is the recipient of an angelic visitor, Joseph who must take a step of faith. Upon learning that Mary is pregnant, Joseph seeks to act in a righteous matter and do the right thing. He will “dismiss her quietly” and avoid placing upon her the opprobrium that too naturally falls upon women in such situations, a harsh criticism or censure that Joseph may want to avoid for himself as well. The angel intercedes, pointing to Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be a living confirmation of God’s promise that God would never desert God’s people. This is but the first of many threats that would loom over this child’s young life according to Matthew.
If we pay close attention to the contexts of Isaiah’s prophecy to a king worried about encroaching armies and Matthew’s application of this prophecy in the context of imperial domination, we see that Jesus’ birth is not to be avoided or escaped and is political. Why else will Herod react with such naked violence in just a few verses? In short, Jesus’ birth declares an end to the reign of fear that threatened his life from the first and would eventually be the cause of his death.

Another thought from this week’s reading from Matthew 1 is as to what this word ‘Emmanuel’ means and why is it used and how does it engage us today. So, we hear that they shall call his name Emmanuel—to be called, only means, according to the Hebrews manner of speaking, that the person spoken of shall really and effectually be what he is called, and actually fulfil that title. Thus, unto us a child is born—and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace— that is, he shall be all these, though not so much nominally, as really, and in effect.
And thus was he called Emmanuel; which was no common name of Christ, but points out his nature and office; as he is God incarnate, and dwells by what Christians call Spirit in the hearts of God’s people. It is observable, the words in Isaiah are, you/thou (namely, his mother) shall call; but here, they—that is, all his people, shall call—shall acknowledge him to be Emmanuel, God with us. Which being interpreted—this seems to be proof that St. Matthew would have been writing his Gospel in Greek, and not in Hebrew, even though he writes for the Hebrew people. Sometimes these insights help us understand who Jesus is for us today and is for all time.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Is This too Risky for You?

December 13, 2019 - 6:05am

When I was growing up, I did not have the extraordinary experience of going to any of the large Royal Agriculture and Pastoral shows in NZ. For many country people, I believe going to these shows can be an extraordinary experience in their childhood. I suppose the Expo in Brisbane in 1988 would have been an extraordinary event for those able to attend. The closest thing to such an event I had experienced in my childhood was the local Agricultural and Pastoral Show. It wasn’t until my late 30’s that I got to the Hawkes Bay Royal A and P show that I was able to experience such a thing.
There was a time when country people would drive long distances to see, exhibit and participate in such events and often stay with relatives.  I wonder what you, who have had such experiences, reacted like when first going to such events.  Often there would be a central place or exhibit where many would get their picture taken. I also wonder if you reacted with that Wow reaction to sights and sounds of the cities or large regional towns these events were held in, especially if you didn’t often go outside your local area.  
Let’s return to the scripture readings for this week though, especially Matthew 11.  Jesus appears and says to the crowd that day, regarding John the Baptiser, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind. What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes. Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?”
I have a suspicion the people that day were just as taken aback by what they saw along the Jordan River as many of us from smaller towns have been wowed when arriving at a major event in a big city. Many of us would have gone expecting to see a show that would take an afternoon to survey. Instead we probably found a mammoth fortress of exhibits that a week’s visit couldn’t traverse. The people that day went out to the river probably expecting to see a madman putting on a religious show. What they got was a man announcing the advent of God’s Messiah. Many weren’t ready for what they received.
Perhaps we’re still not ready. Expo’s and Agricultural and Pastoral Shows showcase todays corporate culture. The scene that day along the Jordan River could be described as a showcase of God’s call to redemption—John the Baptist–style. It was probably a pretty good show. Can’t you see the religious dignitaries’ heads popping up over the heads of the locals and trying to get a glimpse of the long line of people responding to John’s message and requesting baptism? They went to see a showcase of Israel’s popular religious culture. Instead, what they found was quite disturbing. It didn’t take long for people to determine it was not a sideshow. In fact, what they witnessed was life changing.
They went thinking they would find a local minister doling out religious tracts and favours, a religious carnival of sorts. What they didn’t realise was they were witnessing the forerunner to God’s Messiah. John wasn’t calling them to a once-in-a-lifetime experience of God’s redemption and then a quiet return to their religious comfort zones. John was calling them to live redemptive lives— the rest of their lives. As we read this episode, we too are challenged to reconsider what we expect to find when we leave the safe and acceptable confines of our own churches, communities or context.  
What do we expect to find in our neighbourhoods once we leave our safe zones? Who do we anticipate will be the recipients of what we do in our lives? Do we expect to move and work in settings that meet our expectations of the good life, where people think, act, and dream like us? Even more if we see ourselves as a disciple of Christ, do we manipulate our worlds so that we are comfortable and have all the amenities and creature comforts of the Australasian way of life? Are we, speaking truth to the powers that exist in our day and time, or do we fear ridicule and chastisement of those who pay the bills?
Do we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to injustice so that we won’t upset the people who are the power brokers? If the answer to such questions is a painful yes, then we seek to treat the way we live and if we are Christians ministry as “a reed shaken by the wind” or “someone dressed in soft robes,” as Jesus put it. The image here is not only soft Christianity but also soft humanity. It lacks any spiritual backbone to confront injustice. Jesus’ cousin was in prison because he, as one writer puts it, “was incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it. He had spoken too fearlessly and too definitely for his own safety”
In the twenty-first-century humanity and the church is being called once again to leave its safe and unthreatening confines and enter the world, shocked by what it finds. Our shock is to motivate us to speak truth to injustice just as John, Jesus, and his would-be disciples did in their own day. But let’s be honest. It will take disciples, not just admirers of Jesus, to do this.
We have a choice in the matter. Many left Jesus that day, perhaps because he was too demanding. They preferred a life more defined as “a reed shaken by the wind” or “someone dressed in soft robes” than a life of servitude marked by sacrifice and compassion. What John and Jesus were bringing was too risky, too demanding. They preferred “admirer”-ship over discipleship.
Consequently, they walked away. I find the news that some walked away encouraging because we are called to discipleship by a Christ who won’t dilly-dally with us. He wants us to know up front what we can expect when we follow him. To follow Christ is to speak truth to injustice and be willing to accept the consequences. To follow Christ is not just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To follow Christ is a journey even “the least” among us can take.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

From the Root a Branch.

December 6, 2019 - 6:02am

We hear in the reading from Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 11 this week that from the roots of a bulky stump, a branch emerges. The extravagant hope of Israel will come from a shoot, a branch. The branch will have wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord, justice and equity, righteousness and faithfulness. That’s some branch! Or more accurately, that’s some hope!
As confused and dark as our world often seems, we are living in a time of great imagination. Our economic system is in transition and we pray that the greedy will not prevail. Political power is up for grabs and may those who stand be compassionate and reflect God’s love. Scientists have grown beyond the boundaries they previously knew. A global community has adjusted Religion. The internet has created equal footing for art and literature. Our culture is reimagining; we are dreaming together.
But with this hopeful activity comes a measure of fear. As if the rug has been pulled out—or maybe a more poignant picture—it feels as if the roots have been pulled up. As I write this, I am reminded again like last week of parts of Townsville post cyclone when there are trees lying on the side of the road, the debris and damage from the storm is so visible. I’m also imagining the damage that is still being repaired after a storm a number of days ago here in parts of Sydney. The tree roots seem to mock us, saying, “The world is uncertain, unsturdy, unreliable.” Karl Barth says it is less like we are rooted or standing firm and more like we are being upheld by the winds of Spirit.
I wonder if the hope of Isaiah is less about being rooted in David and more about being upheld by the Spirit. Because this prophet dreamed big, really big. So big that dependence on the stump was out of the question. But dependence on the Spirit, it’s all over this passage.
It is very difficult to sustain an undivided view of reality. There is within each of us a desire for unity, wholeness, and inclusion; yet the moment we are hurt, affronted, or challenged we want to cut off and remove the offending person or group and the unity ends. We pay lip service to nonduality, inclusivity, and holistic living, as long as you agree with us. Cross us, or even disagree with us, at your peril! A number of world political leaders act like this and often their decisions seem irrational but probably come from the fact that they believe they have been crossed.
I am told that if one grew up in apartheid South Africa, there was an ironic slogan printed on all their coins at that time, “Unity is strength.” Just how bizarre that statement was became evident as history unfolded. Perhaps we attempt to counter the very darkest of our shadow material by projecting it into the world as our mottos and visions? So, in this week’s readings Isaiah dreams of a nondual world where lions and lambs lie down in unity, and children don’t get bitten by snakes. Paul encourages the Romans to create harmonious welcoming communities. And John the baptiser speaks of a level freeway to God.
Sadly, the words are hardly cold when he spews venom at the vipers from Jerusalem who oppose him. The key to nonduality is the centrality of love. Call it life, or call it God, when you realise that there is only One reality that includes all of us and them and those others too, then it all comes together and makes infinite sense. It is a freeway indeed. Sadly, the on-ramps to the “I-One freeway” may be hard to find. Nonduality is difficult and harmony is hard. That shouldn’t keep us from seeking it though.
I am going to finish today with the words from a hymn which provide much to reflect on:
God, Send Your Prophets Here (Tune Leoni)
God, send your prophets here, For all around we see The sinful, broken values of humanity. Accepting death and fear, Our nations go to war And so, deny that peace is worth our struggling for.
Send stewards of the earth, For it’s becoming plain: This world we haven’t cared for cries aloud in pain. Forgetting nature’s worth, Consuming for today, We never realize what it is we throw away.
Send ones who love the poor, For leaders arm the lands; They buy their tanks and take the food from children’s hands. With greed, we long for moreWhile others cry for bread; Remind us that we can’t be full till all are fed.
Who are your prophets here? We wonder, Lord, and search— And then we realize you are calling us, your church. Your kingdom, God, is near; You show what life can be! So, by your Spirit may we answer, “Lord, send me!”
Text: Copyright © 2011 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Expect the Unexpected.

November 29, 2019 - 6:15am

For the nine and a half year before coming to Sydney we lived in a part of the country frequented by cyclones and previously I had experience of these storms in Darwin and the Solomon Islands. It was a rude awakening for this Kiwi who had lived deep in the South and started life in Australia in the South, and who grew up with cyclones being mentioned rarely on the news prior to moving to Darwin, the Solomon’s or Townsville. One thing I did learn about cyclones was to expect the unexpected.
More than once, a beautiful sunny morning has turned into an overcast day spent in locked inside one’s house waiting in front of the TV weather report with the echo of sirens warning us in the background. My previous storm experience growing up was rain, snow and the resultant floods. This included days of weather coverage, allowing plenty of time to head to the grocery store for bread and milk, prepare for potential power outages, and pray that the storm would only be bad enough to close school for a couple of days!
In terms of expecting and waiting for the Messiah, the Jewish people seemed to have more of this second kind of weather experience. After all, their Messiah was prophesied for generations, giving them theoretically plenty of time to prepare. Yet, what God intended for their salvation was something totally unexpected. Today as we begin our Advent season, we can read various scriptures about waiting. The scripture passages in Luke tell as part of the story of a devout Jewish man performing a sacred duty only to encounter something completely unexpected.
As a priest, Zechariah no doubt had spent his life waiting for the promised Messiah. Longing for the salvation of his people, he probably spent many hours praying for the fruition of God’s plan. He probably believed that he had a handle on what to expect from the Messiah. As he prepared for his once-in-a-lifetime service opportunity in the temple, Zechariah’s main concern was most likely performing his service as perfectly as possible. He surely wasn’t anticipating a powerful personal encounter with God. As Luke 1 opens, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, are what we might call “seniors or elders.” They are upright Jews who have lived righteous lives. Like other Jews, they have probably spent their lives expecting the Messiah.
Expectation has filled their home in other ways for many years, however. Zechariah and Elizabeth are childless. No doubt for years (millennia before medical science could address such things) Zechariah and Elizabeth waited, expected, anticipated a child, only to be disappointed year after year. I can imagine Elizabeth’s prayers to God as she remembered the miracle stories of women like Sarah and Hannah. By the time of Zechariah’s temple service, however, any hope or expectation for a child has long subsided. It is probably the farthest thing from Zechariah’s mind that morning as he prepares. He may be expecting, even hoping, for a God moment, but he never expects that God’s plan for the redemption of God’s people will personally involve Zechariah and Elizabeth, answering their personal prayers in a way they never could have anticipated.
Upon entering the temple to burn the incense, Zechariah encounters the angel Gabriel. Startled by the presence of the angel, he is immediately told not to be afraid and then informed of God’s plan to send a son (named John) to him and Elizabeth, including John’s destiny as the predecessor to the coming of the Lord. I have often thought at this point that the angel is a little hard on Zechariah. After all, this is a lot of information for a priest who thought he was going inside the temple to burn incense. He may have been concerned that the angel had the wrong person. After clarifying with he is struck silent until the time that his son is born.
I can imagine an excited Zechariah exiting the temple anxious to share his news, waving his arms around in a kind of crazy charades-like sign language, only to be stared at by the onlookers. Months will pass before Zechariah’s speech returns and he names his son John. Expectation was a powerful part of the belief system of the Jewish people. They expected God to send someone to restore their people to their status as God’s chosen people, evident to all through the strength of their kingdom. They expected God to operate as God had throughout the ages. They expected miracles and wonders ushered in by a powerful chosen man of God.
They were expecting what Isaiah 9 describes, one who will reign on David’s throne, establishing and upholding through justice and righteousness. They were not expecting God’s plan to begin with an elderly priest, his wife, and a young peasant girl. To be fair, this plan would have shocked no one more than it shocks Zechariah. As he processes this over his months of silence, I imagine Zechariah spends hours thinking about God’s plans, and how very different it is from what he expected. God was sending a Messiah for them personally and this plan may not have included a new monarch or a military victor. God may not have chosen to crush their enemies in some miraculous way.
Even better, however, God chose to send a Messiah to intersect their lives personally. Just as Zechariah experienced in the temple, God intended to draw God’s people closer than ever, by meeting them personally where they were. On this first Sunday of Advent, we are expecting the coming Christ. We are reflecting on God’s promise to God’s children throughout the ages to send One who will offer salvation to all. Let us remember as we begin this journey the great news that God is the God of the unexpected. Just when we think we’ve figured out how God works, God does something in our lives that is totally unexpected. Our God meets us in those places we least expect, just as our God met Zechariah.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Thoughts on a Feast for the King.

November 22, 2019 - 5:39am

This week in the calendar of the three-year lectionary we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Even though this is what we mark and celebrate this week, I find, and I would think some of you also are left with a question about what it means. Back around the time when the Reformation was taking place, it wasn’t uncommon to hear clergy say, even lament, that confirmation was a sacrament needing a theology. In many parts of the Christian faith our understanding of baptism has changed, and with it, the understanding of confirmation.
With baptism leading to full inclusion in the church and welcome admission to communion, the rite of confirmation is no longer the rite of passage that people have to undergo in order to be considered full members of the church and to receive the body and blood of Christ – The Communion, the Eucharist. Confirmation used to be the necessary “ticket,” but with the change in theological understanding of baptism, confirmation is of more questionable need.
In similar fashion, the Feast of Christ the King is a celebration in need of a reason. In many parts of the Church we mark it on our calendars and in our liturgical celebrations every year on the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost. Some people celebrate it as a sort of “New Year’s Eve,” marking the last Sunday of the church year before we roll over into Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. For some, it is observed in a fashion similar to the Feast of Pentecost, when people sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, marking the beginning of the church, when the disciples were visited for the first time by the Holy Spirit.
So, what is this feast many will mark this week, especially on Sunday? What can we say about the Feast of Christ the King? Not much, even if we look to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.  So, really what does it mean for us today when we hear the word “king”? George, son of Duchess Catherine and William of Wales, newest prince of the realm, has been recently hailed as third in line for the English throne. King! It’s fine for the British to hail George as their future king, but here in Australia I wonder sometimes what our experience of kings leads us to think, especially if the person is a king of the political sort.
“The King.” Say that to Americans, and they think of Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll? Or for some who are somewhat younger,kl what about Michael Jackson, crowned the King of Pop? Some might say, the Americans have a king in the Whitehouse in Donald Trump, who certainly acts as if he thinks he is a king, there are teams named the Kings in in all sorts of sports, king snakes, kingfishers, king crab, chicken a la king, king of the mountain, the Rev. Martin Luther King. Is it starting to become clear? The Kings of Leon for rock and roll fans, and B.B. King for fans of blues, Stephen King, and Burger King (known to Australians as Hungry Jacks). Carole King, king salmon, the Lion King, Steve Martin singing “King Tut” and the King James Bible.
But, has the notion of “king” taken on a different meaning for us? It seems that “king” is no longer the most effective, most evocative, of titles. As Christians we could say, instead, “Christ the Messiah,” but isn’t that redundant? And lately “messiah” has become weakened, perhaps even trivialised, by its popularity as a name. I even hear that Messiah is becoming a popular name for children.  Prince and Princess are both becoming popular names as well, but the popularity of King as a baby name has risen faster than all other “royal” names.
Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of a book called, “Narcissism Epidemic,” told “Good Morning America” that the rising popularity of the royal-sounding baby names “mirrors a current preoccupation with money, power and fame.” That’s today. And remember: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in the 1920’s, to counter a sense of growing secularism, Pope Pius XI declared that there should be a celebration of the reign of Christ marked by a special occasion set aside proclaiming Christ as King. Other churches have done similar things in marking and keeping this observance.
So, what does all this tell us about ourselves, or about the Christ we celebrate as King on this day? Once upon a time, Christ might have been hailed as king in the midst of a people who understood kingship, and particularly Christ’s kingship over them. But we no longer understand kings, as evidenced by the naming of our children with this title. We need a corrective to our consumer culture that puts us at the centre of the universe, whatever our name. Maybe, the point of the Feast of Christ the King in this time is to remind us that we are not the centre of the universe; Christ is.
Maybe it is to challenge us to gird ourselves (now there’s an old-fashioned word) for whatever will come, whether the Day of Doom or Christ’s return in glory. To give praise and thanks and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We talk a lot about kings, name many things with this title, but in the end, there is for Christians only one King who matters for our life together in this world and the next: Christ the King. And that Christ the King is the pattern for our living and loving in this world.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Are We In.

November 15, 2019 - 5:46am

As we reflect on the reading from Luke 21 this week, we find the bright sun stunning the disciples as they strolled out from the majestic temple onto the bleached limestone. Hand-chiselled, these giant stone blocks measured eight feet on a side. A grown woman could walk two or three paces per stone, and watch hundreds of people milling in the courtyards and patios outside the temple. Rising far above the streets, these massive boulders were hewn from limestone cliffs. They. Were. Big.
The stones were here to stay, and the delicate, gorgeous temple made you gasp. As this was the holiest place in all Israel, the disciples were surely in a state of awe. Someone said, “Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” Everyone marvelled at the grandeur. So, you can imagine the disciple’s dismay when Jesus asked, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
All will be thrown down. Really? Who invited Apocalyptic Jesus? All will be thrown down. What happened to “Come to me, you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”? Well, buckle your seat belts, good people of God, because Advent is around the corner, and Apocalyptic Jesus is at the wheel. Who does he think he is, talking about the temple’s demise when he’s at the temple?
Can we relate to the disciples’ frustration? We love our houses, cars and clothes, our health, our wealth. We like the occasional shiny building, the thriving city, the world’s most powerful military. They make us feel safe, these things. We’d rather not hear that moths destroy, and rust consumes, that our possessions are short-lived, temporary like mist. We don’t want to lose our material status. This economic system works – for some – and we move mountains to prevent its crumble. We have a dark fear: Eventually we will die, and we’ll go back to God with nothing. Everything we’ve built on earth will stay here, and we’ll be gone.
Mortality is a scary thing and talk of the end makes most people fidget. But the bulk of the gospels come from messianic and apocalyptic Jews who spent their days waiting for the end.  How do we live in the present when we do not know the future? As Jesus forecasts the temple’s destruction, the disciples also wonder: How do we live today when we do not know tomorrow?
As Matthew and Mark tell the tale, the disciples must have been nervous. They catch Jesus at the lunch break. Sitting at the Mount of Olives, they stare across the valley at the temple. They’re probably munching on bread and olives. Peter, Andrew, James and John ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Jesus’ response is less than helpful. He tells them, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place.”
Thanks, Jesus. We ask you when, and you tell us bad stuff will happen. How do we live today when we do not know tomorrow? Come on, Jesus, we really want to know. We’ve got plans to make! How do we live in the present when we do not know the future? This is a disturbing reading, and perhaps it’s unwise to release the tension. That’s not what church is for, by the way. Real life is more complex. In place of an easy answer, consider what Jesus offers all of us: the profound truth that God is still in charge. God calls us to love with radical abandon. This is less of a dream, more of a concrete movement.
We don’t know what comes tomorrow, but we know God calls us to love neighbour as self and to work indefatigably toward just society and loving community. How do we live in the present when we don’t know the future? We partner with God, giving all that we have. God has work for us to do! Jesus tried to start a revolution in which the last are first, the proud get scattered, the lowly are lifted up. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.
Jesus tried to start a revolution in which the sick, get healed, the poor are blessed, and we are all beloved children of God. Jesus tried to start a revolution. But it depends, in part, on us. Are we in? Martin Luther adopted this posture when asked what to do if he thought the end was coming tomorrow. His advice? “Plant a tree.” In other words: Invest hopefully in the future. Something we need to take seriously as the recent Fires haven proven to us. Dealing with Climate Change and wise stewardship of creation is long overdue, yet we fail to listen to and see our God’s desire for us to stop the greed and abuse of power that is steadily destroying much of creation.
Have you ever prayed in a time of uncertainty, in a time of waiting? How do we live today when we don’t know tomorrow? We draw strength from God, who invites our participation and endures long after the cities and buildings and stones have crumbled. We adopt a posture that asks not what God can do for us but calls us to bring the Kingdom of God just a bit closer. We love neighbour as self, and we strive for just societies and a stable planet- new heavens and a new earth. This is the revolutionary Good News of Jesus Christ. Are we in?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Easy to Mock.

November 8, 2019 - 5:35am

As is fairly typical, in the story from Luke 20 this week, Jesus replies to a conundrum with a conundrum. He’s given a sort of riddle about a woman who marries seven times – and just not seven times, but seven brothers, in succession. Each brother dies, leaving her a widow. After all, marriage vows are only valid while both partners are alive, right? “Until death us do part,” as we used to say, or “until we are parted by death.” And the Sadducees, who are among Jesus’ critics, want to know: “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?”
They don’t believe in the resurrection, you see, and so they are trying to mock him, to show how silly and unworkable an idea eternal life is. They are trying to demonstrate that the things we hold dear in this life, including the bond and covenant of marriage, will make no sense in the next life. And they are trying to depict Jesus as a kind of oddball faith healer and snake handler, whose fundamental claims just don’t make any sense. And, of course, they are right.
Jesus is very easy to mock. Eternal life is a silly and unworkable idea. And the fundamental claims of Christianity really do not make any sense – especially when compared with the values of the secular world. This was true in Jesus’ time, and it is still very true in our day.
Let’s start with the most striking of the implicit assertions made by the Sadducees: The fundamental claims of Christianity just do not make any sense.Let’s see – love God and love your neighbour. That’s fundamental, right? But most of our world is obsessed with power, prestige, wealth and control. If we but admit to the existence of God, then we have to acknowledge that the things we have are simply lent to us. We are stewards of our possessions, including our earthly bodies. All that we have is a gift from God, and only of value while we are alive on this earth.
But the culture we live in says this is my home, my money, my whatever. And I can do with it whatever I want. But when we acknowledge the existence of God, we also acknowledge that we are not in control, not the ultimate judge, not the great power of the universe – or even the family. But the world says otherwise. Our society is full of people who insist on their own way, on their own individual authority. It happens at the simplest levels of human interaction, and it happens at the highest levels of government and industry.
And those two points – not owning things and not being in ultimate control – they are just the first two steps toward acknowledging that God exists. It’s still a long, long way before one can love God. And what about loving our neighbour? Our society doesn’t always uphold this, does it? So, loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself – these two great commandments to those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians: They are not the values of our country, of our society or of our world.
Then there’s the idea of eternal life – a silly and unworkable idea. The Sadducees have shown us that. When we think of eternity like this, we are failing to use our imagination. The problem is that they – and we – have failed to imagine it as something we will actually like. And yet we are promised ineffable joys, never-failing care, the strength of God’s presence, rejoicing in eternal glory, being received into the arms of mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and being reunited with those who have gone before in the paradise of God.
When you talk about those things, on that kind of scale, then wasting a lot of energy on whether we will live forever, or to whom we may be married, or whatever – well, it seems a whole lot more like another manifestation of that power and control thing, doesn’t it? “I demand to know, and I can afford to pay for the knowledge” or something like that. Yet, the fullness of God’s love and truth is not known to any of us – not yet. And that’s exactly why Jesus is so easy to mock.
We don’t know everything. As St. Paul says it, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly.” Remember, that in the first century, a mirror was not likely to be one of today’s manufactured, perfectly smooth and clear glasses. Looking into a mirror was like looking into a brook or stream, or into a highly polished rock. Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but when the end comes, “we will see face to face. Now, I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
So, we have a call to live the way of truth, the way of hope, the way of love. The journey of faith is not a life lived without doubt or questions, the life of a Christian is not one without trial or travail, and the earthly pilgrimage is not about control and power. It’s about truth, hope, and above all, love. And all of this begins not with “I insist” or “I own” or “I want” – but with the simple, elegant and hopeful proclamation, “I believe.”  

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

When the Saints.

November 1, 2019 - 6:14am

“Oh, when the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.” Many of us have sung this old gospel hymn with such joy and gusto and our Men’s Group, I believe will be singing it again this year. But really when you reflect on it, sainthood is not a fun-filled path. I would suggest that you look up the verses to this popular song about saints, and you’ll find words that are not nearly as joyous as the refrain. The verses remind us that the path toward God is not usually an easy one.
In this week’s readings from Daniel 7, Daniel’s spirit is troubled, and he has a vision of kings arising like beasts from the earth. Yet God promises that the holy ones will inherit the earth. And in Luke 6 the writer offers future blessings to the poor, the hungry, and the righteous of God. However, the timing of all this blessing is unknown. Luke cries “woe” upon the successful and satisfied of this world, but his promises of later laughter for the saintly are not all that comforting when one is racked with grief.
I’m not sure I do want to be in that number with the saints as they go marching toward God. They march with burdens of martyrdom. They march with the weight of the world. They march with suffering for the needs of others. They march with a willingness to carry earth’s deep sorrows on their back. They march all the way to the cross. They march with persistence and perseverance against all odds, working for God’s realm to come to this earth. Okay, well honestly, maybe I do want to march with them. But does the cost have to be so high?!
I read somewhere and reflected on this thought and was challenged deeply. It goes: “Woe to me, for yearning for an easy path, for I am destined for a bumpy road toward God.” I don’t know about you, but the road toward God being a bumpy has certainly seemed to be my life pattern
Anyone can love when life is good, when the path is easy, but can I love when it is risk-filled, when I will not get a fair return? If we look at his life, Jesus does not back off in proclaiming woes to the rich and self-satisfied in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, and most of us would be happy if he stopped there. In the next breath he calls us to love those whom he has just denounced, that we are to be merciful as our God is merciful. Loving my enemies is the hardest part of the gospel. Jesus is naming the reality that if you want to bring the Beloved Community—you will upset a lot of people.
Have you ever thought about the fact that most of what we admire about Jesus made someone angry? “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” has been Jesus’s bumper sticker since before there were bumpers, and we all love our nice neighbours. But what about those Samaritans? Or Muslims, or Gang Members, or immigrants, rednecks, socialists, Trump followers—you name them—are they the neighbours I must love? When Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword, he is not saying pick up your sword; he is acknowledging that if you want to follow him in the way of love, then expect conflict.
Despite the Beatles claim that “All you need is love,” humanity doesn’t always want to love. We are often a greedy, selfish, suspicious species. Jesus did not say, don’t make enemies. Sometimes you can’t help having them; clearly Jesus did. The point is to not let your heart be consumed with hatred, for that dehumanises you and the other. Don’t destroy yourself by fighting battles you cannot win, and don’t destroy yourself from within by giving in to hate. Continue to bless, even if your neighbour has earned woe.
So, the call of Jesus is that God wants us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The amazing thing is that if you live this way, people will be shocked. You maybe even be declared a saint. Some of what you do will seem to go unnoticed, but there are those who will never forget. Your actions will be remembered. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is exactly what it says. It’s not really a golden rule.
It’s a sweaty, frustrated, teeth-gritted, trying-not-to-be-resentful effort toward acting in the right way toward your neighbours, your co-workers, your family. It makes a nice platitude, except that you know that’s exactly what Jesus did not mean for it to be. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not mean be a doormat. It is not an excuse to accept abuse or poor treatment. It is a creed for all who believe their worth has been determined by God—that they are valued and beloved. Thus, you treat others with the respect they may not give themselves.
You remove yourself from harm, from danger, from trial. You do not allow others to grieve their hearts by hurting you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not a saint make. Instead it is the motto of our adopted family—the family that has received us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is the work of our family and the family who will help us to live out this verse. Sainthood will be for those who do this and never see it as work.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Persistent Justice

October 24, 2019 - 9:40pm

The parable of Jesus found in Luke 18 is commonly called the story of the unjust judge and the widow. It is a troubling parable. It ends with the promise that "justice will come quickly." If you are satisfied that justice has come, then you are excused from listening. Please pray, while not listening, for those of us who have some doubt that justice will come quickly. The parable also gives the impression that we can "wear God down" by praying. There is no easy resolution of the difficulty in today's Gospel lesson. So, what is the good news in it? Also the parable that follows it raises questions about how we see ourselves and the the way we view our status.
Here are two stories, both true. They do not resolve any questions, but they point to the truth in the Gospel. The first is a prayer story. A congregation had an old, tiny, historic church that was falling into serious disrepair. It could be Marsden Road Church where I serve. As much as they loved it, and they did love it, they prayerfully decided that God wanted them to move to a new place and build a new church that would enable them to minister and grow. They had few members and little money. There wasn't any way in this world that the dream could be realized. They prayed.
The Minister prayed every morning about this for 5 years. One day, a wealthy member of the congregation summoned the Minister. The question asked the Minister was, "How much money can I give to this project?" A year later the congregation moved into and consecrated a beautiful, spacious new church facility on 9 acres of well-located land. And, it was all paid for the day they walked in it. Somehow the prayer and God and the generosity of the wealthy person are connected. But this can't be turned into a formula. Five years of daily prayer equals a miracle. If miracles could be predicted they wouldn't be miracles, they would be science.
Now, let us look at a real justice story. Two very different people, one the Captain of a Slave Ship and the other the son of a rich and powerful English family who were heavily involved in politics were brought together by God to bring justice to those who were slaves. Now, that justice is not fully here. But there is more of it now than 200 years ago and it is coming.
The Slaver was John Newton. Off the coast of Africa, in a slave ship, he experienced conversion. God seems to have a sense of timing and placement that is beyond logic. Newtonbecame an Anglican Priest and, among other things, the author of the much loved "Amazing Grace."
John Newton was serving as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London when Wilberforce, the rich young man, came to him. Wilberforce experienced conversion while reading and discussing the New Testament on a stagecoach, going across France to the Riviera for a holiday. After that experience, he came to Newton seeking guidance. Newton told him to go into politics. He did. His cause was the end of slavery. A brief time after his death the British Parliament passed legislation that outlawed the Slave trade for British Citizens and gave the mission of enforcing that to the British Navy. That fed the Abolitionist Movement in the United States of America, which led to a great war to end slavery in the United States. Legal slavery ended in the 19th century when Brazil became the final nation to act.
Only God could achieve this by entering lives that were unconnected and joining them for holy purposes. But what if people had not prayed for years for a new church? Or what if Newtonhad rejected Jesus in favour of the money to be made in the slave trade? Or what if Wilberforce had rejected Jesus and decided to live as an idle, rich gentleman? Or, what if he had accepted the Lord and then entered the ministry rather than politics? Or what if he had yielded to the temptations of political power? How many of these holy plots to bring justice has God launched? How many were derailed because someone responded rationally, rather than faithfully? We can't know.
However, there is good news in this text from Luke 18. It is displayed by the good news in the two stories. The good news is that we can pray a lot and respond faithfully to God's call to us to join him in bringing justice quickly. We don't have to. That is the kind of freedom God gives us. God has such abhorrence of slavery that we will never be forced to do Gods will. God has such respect for our freedom that it will not be transgressed, even for the holiest of reasons.
That is troubling news. We don't always choose the right way and live in prayer. One only has to read/watch the News or listen to it to see the number of different forms of slavery still being practiced in our world. The way some employees of franchise groups and other industries are treated and paid is one example. The best news is that we can respond to God, pray a lot and live faithfully and work to removing the stain of these forms of slavery. God is helping us. So, where do I fit in this? What is the part I am to play in healing the injustices of this world? I will leave you to ponder those for yourselves.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Hopeful Expectation

October 18, 2019 - 6:32am

We love to count and rank events, people, athletes, books, and so on. It seems that just about any time I turn on then Sports Channels or wait in line at the supermarket; I am bombarded with rankings and comparisons. Countless bookstore shelves and Internet pages are filled with sundry “Top Ten” lists. It’s not all that different when we come to our Christian Scriptures. Many of us probably have a verse that stands out and influences much of what we do, and that’s okay.
I think if we read the Christian Scriptures carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. This is not to diminish the lesser known, more minor elements, but there is no denying that certain parts of the biblical story give meaning to the rest and inform how the subsequent narratives are read. We would certainly argue for Jesus as number one on our list of “Top Ten Bible Characters.”
However, without previous events and figures (for example, creation, Abraham, the Exodus, and David), the narratives surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus wouldn’t be nearly as rich or meaningful. In fact, the four Gospels ooze complexity and meaning primarily because of that history.Jesus’ own self-understanding was greatly influenced by his understanding of his own religious heritage.

Another event that should probably be in our top ten, is the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of Israel, for their theology, and for their future. The fall of Jerusalemfundamentally challenged the predominant view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of the Lord looks like. This has become an ongoing need and concern for Christians also.
The tragic failure of the Davidic royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanations and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presence. We remember from my blog two weeks ago that part of this painful search for meaning and truth includes authentic lament and truth-telling.
As devastating and traumatic as exile is, there is still a word of hope. This hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that it never ignores the past or present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn’t need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. In fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugar coated, fuzzy notion.
We may take this to heart when we hear the statement from Jeremiah 31:27-34 the remarks concerning the people’s current status? He says: “I have actively watched over you, my people, but not in ways you might have hoped or thought.” Now that sounds good. I like the sound of that as a follower of God. This spiritual path I’m on isn’t always easy, but it’s good to know that God is watching out for me. But God wasn’t done: “I have watched over [you] to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil.”

What kind of watchman does that? That’s not the kind of shepherd we want—certainly not the kind we think we need. The promised “coming days” are just around the corner, but they don’t erase a difficult past. Looking to the future means understanding how we arrived. Hopeful expectation means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we are powerless to make it happen
This knowledge is an indispensable ingredient of life in exile; this is a part of living away from one’s true home. But God isn’t finished with hope as we hear the powerful verbal images to describe the “coming days”: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all anticipatory verbs pointing to a new beginning, a new chapter. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins with the digging of a hole for a seed or with words like “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never really gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; troubled relationships don’t heal fully overnight; new habits are not formed in a day.
That’s probably just how most of our top ten biblical stories begin. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the reeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small but committed community of people who dare to bear the name Christian.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs


October 11, 2019 - 5:38am

This week I have been reflecting on how we respond to those who have treated us with care, loving and grace as we journey through life. Having lamented what, we have done to creation last week my thoughts turned to gratitude for the gift we have in creation and comes from reading Luke 17:11-19 from this week’s lectionary. Then I was reminded of the following little story I once heard and was struck by:
Her name was Edna Miller and she was about as plain as her name implied except when she was inside the walls of a classroom with chalk in hand. She stood barely five-foot tall yet could look eyeball to eyeball with the biggest bully in the school and stare him into repentant submission. And could she teach. Man, could she teach! She began teaching in 1922 and taught until she was compelled to turn in her chalk at the age of 65. She taught through the Depression, making fullness in the emptiness around her. She taught through World War II and was with the children as the telegrams, "we are sorry to inform you," began to arrive with the notice of their brothers' or fathers' death.

Through the years a middle aged woman with a parade of children and a husband would stop by her frame house and say, "you don't remember me, but you taught me in 7th grade and I just want to thank you for the difference you made in my life." Letters would appear around Christmas - "you probably don't remember me but you taught me in high school and believed in me until I could believe in myself....I have a good job now and a loving family and I just want to thank you." At the 50th class reunion of 1945, there was a huge celebration in her honour. And shortly after that, at the age of 95, Miss Edna Miller quietly slipped into the arms of God. But she died with joy. She had been thanked and remembered with gratitude.
As I reflected on this I was also reminded of a teacher I knew in Townsville that finally retired in her 70’s and I wondered what all those students who began their schooling with her over the years would say about the loving grounding in life she sought to give them which was based on her Christian faith. It also reminds me that we need to ask the question: Do we remember God, do we thank our God, and do we turn back with joy and gratitude? Do we remember that "we are the Lord's and not we ourselves" and pause to remember that it is God who protects us, feeds us with honey from the rock, cares for and nourishes us?
Returning to Luke’s story for this week we have with the returning grateful healed leper even more blessing because of his attitude of gratitude. Jesus said to the leper, "Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well." There is healing within the act of thanksgiving. The medieval Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck, says, "Those who do not praise God here on earth remain silent in eternity." Praise affects us - forever.
We live in a materialistic, individualistic, opulent society. And we forget the one to whom we owe all that we have - the God in whom we live and move and have our being. All too easily we think we did it all ourselves and glory in our rugged individualism. We cast in gold the bootstraps by which we believe we pulled ourselves up. Those who do not need God cannot know God. Dependency and thanksgiving hold hands when we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts of ourCreator.
One of those with the disease leprosy that had been cured turned back - and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. We are called to allow these proud hearts of ours to declare at the feet of Jesus that we love our God, need our God and thank our God. Praise and thanksgiving come from the same word in Hebrew. They can be interchanged, one word for the other. When we thank God, we are praising God. And when we praise God, we are thanking God. The word "yadaw" in Hebrew for praise and thanksgiving means literally "to hold out one's hands." It is both a physical attitude of supplication and of receptive thanksgiving.

It is the posture we see on Sunday’s when the celebrant celebrates Eucharist with us, hands lifted as the prayers are said.  At the liturgy we pray, "Lift up your hearts...we lift them to the Lord." And at these words I can’t help but lift my hands in thanks which some of my congregation may find a bit puzzling. Then there are the words, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... It is right to give him thanks and praise." And indeed, it is right and good that we should praise and thank our God with our hearts, our lives, our very being.
Eucharist means literally "thanksgiving". Thanksgiving is the central act of worship, through the Eucharist, for gathered Christians. It is the heart of our worship together. God gives to us all that we are and to God we return it with thankful hearts. Thankfulness is the key to all true spirituality. Above all Christian’s remember the love Jesus Christ had for us one Friday afternoon upon a cross. "Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice."

Categories: Syndicated Blogs