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Comments on Readings from three year Lectionary for Sunday Services. Whitestarhaven's Ramblings
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Waving Palms

April 2, 2020 - 10:41pm

This Sunday we in the Christian faith celebrate Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on an ass. Our scripture is from Matthew 21 and I believe we like those present want to ask, “Who is this?” It’s no wonder they asked. We wave our palms and smile at the children and feel the joy of—well, what is the joy we’re feeling, exactly? We’re likely remembering being little children ourselves, going to church and having something to do that wouldn’t happen any other day of the year, marching either from outside near the Church building and into it or around the sanctuary and waving the palms. We feel festive!
Palm Sunday is one of the few days in the church year when pastors wear red vestments and we use the red hangings or ornaments around the Church. It’s a party! Even good Australians, many of whom would never want a king, love King Jesus riding into the city, and the sweet hosannas being sung, asking him to save us. Who is this? A man on a donkey, riding into town, was not the amazing sight. It was the people around him and their clear adoration of him that got the attentions of the authorities, which set the events of the rest of that week in motion.
In the days to come, we will remember events more dramatic and less celebratory. We will follow Jesus to the upper room, and out to the garden of Gethsemane. We will hear him pray and feel his disappointment when his friends can’t stay awake and wait for him even for an hour. We will shudder at his arrest and trial and crucifixion. We will wonder how anybody could think of betraying him.
Maybe for a minute we’ll realize that we would have been just like the people around Jesus, as helpless to stop the earthly powers, as sleepy as the men and as silent as the women who followed him from Galilee into Jerusalem, the same friends and followers who started the week cheering for him.
Maybe, just maybe, we will step outside of our own stories and wonder how it felt for Jesus. The letter to the church at Philippi stresses that Jesus lived the human experience right up to the end. He had both the form of God and the form of a human. He rode into Jerusalem on that donkey as both. He did not use the power of God to save the mortal body. He rode in that day prepared to take whatever would come.
And that makes me want to celebrate, although the form my joy takes, feels as solemn as it does festive. We come to the end of Lent, to the beginning of this Holy Week, and we gather to worship God who loved us enough to be one of us: to live as one of us and to die as one of us.
Who is this? The whole city asked the question, says Matthew. It must have been on everyone’s lips. And the answer is simply “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee”
Notice that here the crowds identify Jesus as a prophet.  Can you think of current figures who have received such overwhelming support, only to quickly fall from grace shortly after? This is a passage that aches to be visually depicted in our Christian congregations who meet this Sunday for worship. That’s why we wave the palms. We need to see it, experience it, and be part of it. Is the triumphant entry like a protest march? Upsetting the order of the day?
There are other dreadfully practical ways to welcome Jesus as well. Be a peacemaker; love and pray for your enemies; go an extra mile with someone; stop striving to be first or best or most powerful. You may say that these practical instructions amount to being nice to others and being a good person but carry very little spiritual weight. We would all prefer merely to contemplate the mystery of God’s coming near and follow Jesus’ journey with a spiritual devotion to the suffering servant.
It is true that many of these instructions don’t seem spiritual in themselves. We must do them, not because of their own spiritual weight, but because our hearts are very small. We clutter them daily with concern for ourselves, misplaced loves, and hurt feelings. We must make room for Jesus in order to welcome him properly. Somehow this practical work done with spiritual attention prepares the way of the Lord as nothing else can. It changes us. It makes room in our hearts that Jesus can fill with the kingdom of heaven. This is the way to make straight the path of the Lord: self-emptying.
There is no other way to let Jesus’ message sink in, and there is no other way to follow our Lord than to walk in his footsteps. Jesus’ life was one of self-emptying and service to God and humanity, and so we make our lives in his likeness. If there was ever a week to get this right, this is it. If there was ever a point in the Christian narrative to step out of the way and let the story of divine love continue, this is it. Let this work be the homage you pay to the king as he comes.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

There Is a Scene ………

March 27, 2020 - 12:22am

There is a scene in the movie Return of the King, based on the third volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga The Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn gives dead soldiers who deserted their king a chance to regain their honour and be restored to peace if they will help to defend the City of Kings which is under attack by evil powers. He enters a cave through a small crevice in the mountain. It is dark and the sound effects make it clear that this is not a pleasant place. He steps over piles of dry bones heaped up against the walls of the cave and it appears that these are nothing but dry skeleton bones. 
Suddenly, in the centre of a large room, these skeletal creatures begin to threaten, but they are not really alive. Aragorn offers them a chance to redeem themselves by making good on their pledge to defend good against evil, and to be a part of a community that will restore the kingdom.
The prophet Ezekiel has had a similar experience in this week’s Hebrew Scripture well known reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14. In a vision or dream, he is with God in a valley of dry bones. God tells Ezekiel to instruct the bones to listen to the Lord. Then God tells the bones that God will restore their bodies with muscle and flesh and give them breath, resurrecting them to life and knowledge that God is the Lord. God calls upon the four winds to bring life back into the bones and they are alive again. This powerful image of God’s Spirit being breathed into the bodies so that they may live brings us back to the creation story in Genesis.
God communicates with Ezekiel through a vision or dream. God needs Ezekiel to tell this story to the people of Israel. They have lost hope and are feeling disconnected from their relationship with God. God wants them to know that only God gives life and has the power to restore the community to fullness. It has a semblance of applying to our world today as we face the requirements asked of us to stop the spread of Covid-19. God wants Israel to know that feeling powerless and hopeless is a form of death that sucks the life out of them, creating despair. Ah and this is what we too meed to hold on to; But they can be restored if they will just be faithful. This vision of hope for the revival of their nation as the children of God comes from God’s word and Spirit alone.
Both of these stories are about restoration, not of individuals but of communities being redeemed. They both have a prophet who is the messenger to the people. They both reject death and trust the stunning freedom and power found when the whole community is restored to their call to action and faithfulness.
As we near the end of Lent, we are being reminded that God’s Spirit is the source of our life as a community. We are not only being prepared for Christ’s resurrection but our own. As we read the Gospel, we have to look beyond the obvious. This account of the resurrection of Lazarus seems strikingly similar to the account we will hear of Jesus resurrection in a few weeks. In fact, it is this story that precipitates the plot against Jesus and leads to his death and resurrection. Jesus acts, not on his own, but from God’s guidance and not at the urging of others. It is another account of life coming from God and no one else.
Jesus is told that his friend Lazarus in Bethany is ill. But Jesus does not go there for two more days and not until after the disciples remind him that Bethany is the place where the people wanted to stone him just a short time ago. Jesus takes the opportunity to tell the disciples that he will go there so that they might believe. He is the prophet in this story, and it is up to him to bring God’s message of life.I will leave you to read what actually happens but as a part of our Lenten journey we are given yet another opportunity to walk a path toward restoration with Jesus. But we must walk that path as a community so that there may be a resurrection into new life. We are reminded that only God gives life. These stories give us hope that God will continue to give life even over death. Even in these times of pandemic that promise, and that hope is still valid.
We are living in a new time but first we must experience Easter. We can make some choices about how we get to Easter. We can choose not to focus on the things of the world that distract us and drain our life from us. We can choose to resist loving or accepting some more than others because they are different or think differently. We can deny those things that satisfy a sense of artificial power based on material things. We can choose to nurture a sense that we are individually more important than who we are together, as a family.
Or we can be restored by allowing the Spirit of God to give us life. We can choose to live as Jesus lived. We can live into our call to be a community of faith focused on the strength of our unity. We can give ourselves over to be restored by letting those things that separate us from God and each other die and be resurrected in Spirit to life as faithful believers.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Refreshed by Grace.

March 20, 2020 - 2:58am

Over the years for Christians, even those on the fringe of Christianity, Lent has often been seen as a time of intense self-reflection. But self-reflection without understanding the power that God holds to make something beautiful of our clay vessels, our little lives, is to defy the power of the God of Love. According to the psalmist, in Psalm 23 set for this week, the valley of the shadow of death is where God is. It is in the presence of our enemies that a table is set, and, deep in our own muck, we are led beside the still waters.
According to the book of Samuel, again one of the scriptures for this week in our lectionary, God picks David, a young child, to fight Goliath and to be king of all Israel. And through that kingship, which has its times of horror and times of victory, God makes David the king Israel needed for the moment. In addition, in the Gospel of John, the blind man suffers consistently throughout his life because people look at him as deficient, as sinful, as someone not worthy. Self-reflection in all these cases would bring us to a place of despair, but in the hands of a good and merciful God? Something beautiful happens.

As human beings, we look at vulnerabilities as weaknesses, as those places that need to be thrown out or erased, denied, or refused. But it’s in our weakness and vulnerabilities that God reveals God’s self. It was in the choice of the smallest and youngest son that God revealed the king. It was in the valley of the shadow of death and in the presence of enemies that the poet knew that his God anointed him with the most fragrant oil and his cup ran over. And it was in the man’s blindness that the Holy One’s spit and a little mud helped him see in John 9.
But we live in a world where the expectation is that we are always and forever at the top of our game or we are punished. We live in a world where admitting our weakness is to admit defeat and to encourage harassment. We are in a world where we hide our hurt or we will be further damaged. We live in a world where panic and greed control which we have seen in the hoarding as people panic about the Covid-19 sickness the world is facing. And yet our God says, “It’s in our vulnerabilities that we find the grace” and that finding grace and mercy is the ultimate goal of human existence within the Christian faith.
John Wesley hoped we would become perfected but being perfected meant perfected in receiving and showing mercy, not in our perfection in a particular moral code or a sense of our own “doing it right.” That is the transformative power of the Christian faith. The ability to receive and swim through the muddy and spit-filled complexity of life with a merciful, loving creator.
And now a comment on the reading from John 9. The blind man could have been a “seeing” man—it is not the healing of the man’s blindness that is the ultimate experience Jesus hoped to address. The ultimate experience is God making us whole; God’s work is in making us whole. The one who was blind from birth was surprised by grace (there’s that word again), surprised by Jesus, shockingly loved and chosen, and his vulnerability became the place where the good news that he, too, was deeply loved was made manifest. To God, we are all the beloved. Each one of us is both beloved by God and the beloved to each other. It’s just sometimes we don’t recognise this or choose not to recognise this.
The real injury in the blind man’s life was the criticism from society, the damning from the religious leaders, and the selling out of his parents.  The ultimate holy experience, and one that is throughout scripture, is to experience God as one who does not see as mortals see—who does not see us in all the ways others have judged us, raced us, held us down, and been aggressively jealous or arrogant toward us. Yet it is facing those judgments, oppressions, imprisonments, jealousies, and arrogances, and reflecting and focusing on God’s love, grace, and mercy that will heal us.
The ultimate is that we are all yet beautiful, full, alive, living this life with the Spirit of God deep in our hearts. The ultimate is that God chose to birth us from love and mercy, continues to love and give us mercy every day of our lives, and, at the end of our life, will receive us into arms of love and mercy. The love of God is the grace given to us as we are created before we were born and continues with us throughout our lives.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Assumptions out of context.

March 13, 2020 - 3:40am

There are usual suspects that possibly come first to our minds when reading this pericope in John 4 from the readings set for this week. Over the years, I’ve heard them all: the woman with five husbands, Jesus and the Samaritan, the adulterer turned evangelist and so on. None of these are bad but, frankly, they’re unoriginal, and over the years I have wondered if woman dread the references. It is difficult as a man but over recent years the growing societal non-acceptance of the treatment of woman within our society has caused me to think and I have begun to wonder how these portrayals were used in keeping woman from taking the role God calls them to in our communities and culture. But what if instead of looking at this passage as an indictment of this woman’s sexual lifestyle, we focus on the things not said.
I read about a great theologian, sister, who was mentor to many woman, Dr. Loida Martell-Otero, who said to someone once, “You have to learn to read scripture against the grain and discover the things that are not on the surface but below it.” In her former life, she was a veterinarian who dealt with large animals in Puerto Rico. She reminded those taught by her that when examining animals, veterinarians always run their hands against the grain of the animal’s skin and coat, slowly and methodically to see if they discover bumps and bruises that can’t be seen on the surface. What if we did the same here?!
If the woman’s reputation is so bad, that she has to come out to get water at a certain time of day, then how is it that instead of turning away from the conversation with Jesus, a man who is not a Samaritan, she instead engages with him in deep theological conversation as though she had every right to be there, defending her well and defending her way of worship? She never backs down from Jesus’s conversation and instead allows him to enter into her space so that he can discover things about her own life.
Another thing that I have pondered along with many is whether she indeed had such a bad standing with the community. How is it that upon her encounter with Jesus, she runs and tells the entire village and they follow her to come and see this man who has told her everything about herself? Sometimes we read a lot of our own biases into scriptural texts; there really is nothing in there that can confirm that she was an immoral woman, and it’s really not hard to do, given how we have been shaped to believe about women in general, especially in scripture. The harder task is to go against the grain and see her not through our eyes, but perhaps through Jesus’s. Do you know how incredible it feels when someone sees who you really are and recognises the value that you bring to this world? So, I wonder how that would be for woman. I think it would be as refreshing as a drink of living water.
In the current debate on violence against woman and our failure to protect and support woman in such situations it is certainly something to ponder. I have been concerned that continually parts of the church try to use scripture, sometimes subtly to hold power over woman. This path that leads to abuse and violence thus negates the way Jesus has shown and called us to in dealing lovingly and compassionately with each other, especially I our diversity.

 Just like Jesus, Moses finds himself in need of provision for the people who are in the middle of the wilderness called Sin (how’s that for a theme?). Water as an overall theme is an important spiritual symbol. Water is creative, and water is restorative. Water is destructive and can demolish, as we have seen in floods here in Australia and other places around the world. A lack of water to feed and nourish has also been part of our lives over this summer in Australia.
Water can also be a symbol of justice and righteousness, and the renewing peace of God that restores the strength of all people who are thirsty and seeking a way out of their own wilderness experience. If we are talking about the life-giving water that God can provide, we can be sure that with it comes change. Clearly the people who are arguing and fussing with Moses aren’t ready for the change, even though they had found themselves in the midst of slavery and oppression, but Moses hasn’t given up on them and neither has God.
I wonder if that’s why it is that they call it life-giving water. Is it because grace never runs dry? During this season of Lent, the challenge will be whether or not we allow this life-giving stream to transform and create in us a new heart and a new life. I would also like the leaders of the world including Australia to take note and take drastic measures to deal with climate change. Without water there is no nourishment and there is fire and death. A poignant reminder of the stewardship of creation we are called to by our loving God.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Primal Symbols that Call.

March 6, 2020 - 3:56am

John’s Gospel begins with the primal symbols of darkness and light, and these are interwoven into descriptions of the physical settings of Jesus’s ministry as well as spiritual conditions. There is a difference between night and day, and John’s Jesus insists that the reader, the hearer, the believer must choose. There are no shades of grey in this test of discipleship or in this familiar text from John 3. “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil.”  
William Temple wrote: “Don’t wait till you know the source of the wind before you let it refresh you, or its destination before you spread sail to it. It offers what you need; trust yourself to it.” Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, perhaps so that he won’t be seen by his highly critical Pharisee brothers, but perhaps also in a state of intellectual or emotional obscurity. Cautious, concrete, literal-minded, entrenched in his beliefs and practices, Nicodemus is genuinely curious and humble in light of Jesus’ signs.
In his encounters with people, Jesus finds the weak spot as the locus of transformation. For Paul it is the mysterious “thorn” in his side. Paul begs God to remove it, but hears instead in 2 Corinthians 12, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” For Peter, it is his threefold denial. After the Resurrection, Jesus will ask three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21). For Nicodemus, it is his knowledge: “How can?” “But?” Jesus meets the Pharisee’s literal-mindedness with a frustratingly wild metaphor. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus, a respected leader and teacher, comes under the cover of darkness to ask the hard question: “Is it possible that everything I know is wrong?” He clearly recognizes the signs of God in Jesus; he knows wisdom when he hears it, but that wisdom is making a fool of him. He’s an old teacher who is still hungry to learn, but he doesn’t expect to be demoted to preschool. Jesus doesn’t make it easy. He uses the one word for “birth,” anothen, that has two different meanings: “born again” or “reborn” and “born from above.” Nicodemus goes for the literal, turning the Spirit’s work into a laborious affair.
John’s Jesus is a code talker, using symbolic language to distinguish between those who are children of light and those who have chosen the shadowland. If we draw back from this dramatic staging between this teacher of the law and the One who is Wisdom, we can also hear the post-Easter community of John speaking to the religious authorities who were colluding with Rome to ostracise converts to Christianity. “I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony.”
Leaders like Nicodemus may be the spiritual guardians of the holy of holies, but they resemble the Romans trying to guard an empty tomb. “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It seems that Nicodemus doesn’t appreciates the lesson or the question. He simply slips away into the night, disappears from the Gospel scene.
But in the darkest moment for the followers of Jesus, Nicodemus shows up again. It is Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who anoint and wash Jesus’s body and prepare it with spices for burial. It’s an intimate and courageous witness. Near the Gospel’s end, Nicodemus steps out of the shadows into the public square of Rome’s empire and choses the Light.
The images of pilgrimage and the language of the Spirit’s new birth are linked in these scriptural texts in the season of Lent. Both present the reader/hearer/believer a choice. Do you trust the One who is the Way? Will you begin a pilgrimage of faith, filled with assurance of the God who guards and shelters? Have you been born by water and the Spirit?

Both scripture passages offer the believer life filled with assurance and the power of the Spirit. This theme of assurance connects this Lenten gospel and this psalm. Fanny Crosby’s hymn “Blessed Assurance” would provide the musical affirmation of faith in a trustworthy God and Jesus, the Christ. This is story filled with assurance of the God who guards like a mother and shelters like a father. This is the song of a child of God, an “heir of salvation” in and through Christ. We are “born of his spirit” and this is our story and our song.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Seek to be a Means of Grace.

February 28, 2020 - 6:51am

The book of Genesis offers deep metaphors for the season of Lent, a season of reflection, repentance, and renewal. These passages teach a timeless lesson on God’s provision and desire for deep communion with humanity. These verses also shine a light on the destructive consequences of egotism and selfishness.
One of those metaphors’ states; that when God breathed God’s pneuma into dust and placed those souls in the garden, a full and perfect relationship of love, communion, and trust was created. Through the gifts of collaboration and community, they were empowered to be in relationship with creation, to tend and enhance creation. The equilibrium and sacredness of the garden was interrupted when humanity succumbed to the temptation of self-aggrandizement over against complete trust in and reliance on God.
A forest of shame borne of the seed of selfishness then separated humanity from full communion with their creator. What selfish motivations are wreaking havoc in our personal lives, churches, and communities? Where have we given sway to egotism over an abiding communion with God? How might our lives be more peaceful and fruitful if we resisted destructive temptations?
In our postmodern Christian discernment, there is often a tension between whether sin or love is the overarching message of our faith. Genesis offers a both or and response. God is love, and yet the depth and breadth of God’s love cannot be fully understood without acknowledging the presence of sin. Perhaps our disdain for acknowledging sin rests in the failure to tell the rest of the story. After acknowledging their actions, God does not respond with consequences alone; rather, God also continues to offer provision. How can we fully explore the message of Genesis without the overworked either/or analysis?
Lent offers a precious opportunity for Christians and non-Christians to reexamine what is creation and/or God’s intent for creation, to earnestly repent of our sins and failures and renew our covenant. As we journey these forty days and nights, the beloved community has the opportunity to become the church God envisioned. Those who are the beloved, that is all of creation is enabled to seek God’s vision for the world. As we do, the church then becomes the place where others who are broken can find wholeness. Those seeking deliverance, healing, hope, and love can experience the transformative inertia of the church’s blessing.
The themes of temptation, trust, and humility are highlighted in this week’s reading from Matthew 4. In juxtaposition to the actions and attitude in the garden, the writer of Matthew illustrates the faithfulness of Christ as he humbly relied upon God and God’s word and revelation. Even in his starvation, Christ demonstrates the strength inherent in feasting upon every word of God rather than the empty words of humanity. Another prescient theme to be explored is the problem of half-truths. How did knowing the fullness of God’s word enable Jesus to withstand temptation? What strength can be drawn from the humility of relying on God’s word as we wrestle with the demons in our lives?

I’d like to share the following from a recently written article by a friend Andrew Semple. He wrote:
“The early church was a movement that had diversity both in organisation and practice; unique on the one hand, but a mixture of influences principally from Judaism, but also from Greek philosophy, Greco-Roman paganism, and a number of ‘mystery’ religions on the other. It did not have a singular form, nor was there an ideal structure upon which each community was based - that structure emerged later along with the statements of faith. Baptism, however, was the sign of becoming part of the church and a way of being welcomed into God’s family. While the Eucharist became the sign of participation in the life of the church and the exercise of personal membership of it.
Diversity within the church resonates with St Paul’s ‘body image’ in 1 Corinthians. It also sits comfortably within the ‘mixed economy’ model of church presented by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (‘Making the mixed economy work’ - 6 May 11). Diversity is good for the church because it allows many people to participate in it and belong to it.
The church is meant to ‘be’ the body of Christ in the world, acting in Christ’s name to ‘do’ those things that bring justice and righteousness. Sadly, ‘being’ and ‘doing’ often end in conflict if one dominates the other. Rather, we are meant to be a little bit of both – the church is meant to both ‘be’ and ‘do’; one cannot exist without the other.”

He goes on to remind us of the transformational community the Church is to be.     ‘…to be a transformational community built on the love of God and worked out in the ministries of word, sacrament and incarnation’.
“The church is also meant to be prayerful (that is, be in communication with God), while pursuing those things about which it prays. In other words, we should not pray for the poor if we are not going to be generous, we should not pray for peace if we are not going to condemn conflict and violence, we should not pray for refugees if we are not going to show hospitality to them, and so on. We should therefore not claim to be ‘the church’ if we are not going to bea means of bringing God’s grace and salvation into the lives of others. Telling people to leave the church mitigates against this position.”
I will leave you with these thoughts for Lent’s beginning as we all work out our response to the love of God and the work the Church is called to.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Smudge of Change.

February 25, 2020 - 2:51am

For many years, I questioned in my mind the practice of donning ashes at the start of Lent as it seemed, to me, to be at odds with Jesus’ exhortation to perform our spiritual disciplines in secret. For many, that will be the only time of the year when we make a public spectacle of our repentance, perhaps even our faith. As I grew up, it wasn’t a discipline observed in my particular Anglican upbringing. However, the first time I did participate in this ritual, having ashes placed on my forehead by a beloved Anglican mentor, I was so moved by the experience that I vowed to seek the opportunity to participate in or make this observance accessible wherever I ministered.
There is something in the donning of ashes that speaks of change for us and the world around us—a symbol of change that needs to be publicly displayed and not hidden away behind locked doors. The dark smudge on my forehead feels dry and grainy. Felt cool and damp as it was placed there. Already it has changed. I found the following from a service written in an article by Jenee Woodard that helps state what it means.
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.Dry, sobering words. God forbid that any should forget their humble beginnings or equally humble, inevitable end summed up in a smudge of ash! Sobering if that were all: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. But, there’s more. In those ashes lies not just a salutary reminder but an exhortation — a call to turn from sin and live out the gospel, an affirmation that, from those humble beginnings, we are called to great things.Turn from sin and live out the gospel transforming the dirty smudge on my forehead into an aspiration of service changing its weight and import into a sign of hope that this ancient holy day ritual still has import. In a world rushing on to the next thing ashes become symbols of love carrying all the potential to spread love as the gospel is lived out in ordinary peoplein humble people who don ashes to change the world.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Light of Experience.

February 21, 2020 - 3:31am

When thinking about the Gospel reading for the Transfiguration from Matthew 17, I began to think about mountain experiences. Things happen on mountains. When I was younger growing up in Aotearoa (New Zealand) I spent a lot of time in the mountains and hills with family or friends. Sometimes we would be out for up to a week. When you go into the hills and mountains in Aotearoa you need to be careful and prepared for all types of weather and condition. You also have to trust, build fellowship and care about those with you. Sometimes I went with just one person and sometimes with a good number.
One trip we were hiking from Glenorchy at the top of Lake Wakatipu. We set out from Glenorchy and walked into the start of the Routeburn Track.  The next day albeit overcast we walked to the Harris Saddle expecting to camp out somewhere near there. As we got there though and rested for a crashing storm tracked its way across the mountains until it arrived at the Saddle where we were with brilliant lightning, booming thunder, slashing rain and then snow. Initially we huddled in fear and awe at the power and for me of our God made manifest in this display of creation.
That was a singular weather event in all my years on the mountains We then quickly made our way despite a minor injury to my walking partner to the next shelter/hut at Lake McKenzie. Boy was I glad of the companionship and support of my friend despite his injury. We pushed hard through the rain that had set in and arrived at Lake McKenzie before dusk. There were a couple of people already in the hut. We were delighted to find others there as we were concerned about getting support if things with my friend got worse. We expressed our gratitude at arriving at a nice warm hut, a cuppa and then we all prepared a nice warm meal.  
Before eating, in the quiet of our surroundings I expressed my thanks and gratitude to myself for the experience together we had and our safety despite the conditions. While in those mountains I was reminded of the story of transfiguration — of the notions of being changed from the inside out and prayers that this glow, this obvious work of the Spirit, this being kept safe despite the experience would transfer back to where we had come from. I was reminded that coming out of the normal often allows for these “mountaintop experiences.”
The transfiguration of Jesus is seen as a divine light that emanated from his body that revealed to the disciple’s truths, they had not understood through Jesus’s words alone. Jesus knew they would not be able to comprehend the resurrection, so they were provided with the unforgettable visual teaching method. The hardest lessons that we learn in life stay with us because we witness them with our eyes. As humans, we believe what we see and not what others see for us. Jesus knew that the coming events of his suffering, death, and resurrection would become the “good news” throughout eternity if told through the eyes and memory of the disciples.
So, the question I reflect on these days is, “How does this sense of belonging, this bond of acceptance, this trusting of each other, this trusting of God, this unconditional love and non-judgment become the norm in our lives every single day, no matter where we are?” Our prayer always was, “How do we become the bearers of goodness, mercy, and love that transfigures each and every space we enter?” This is a critical message for our bodies of Christ gathering to hear a rallying cry in our houses of worship. Transfigured through mountaintop experiences, we go to shine in a world of dimness.
Exodus 24 the Hebrew Scripture set for the Transfiguration Feast talks of how rules affect our lives. In a world of ambiguity and vague language, how do we translate rules written in stone for our daily lives? Ethical decision-making with a lens that sees and considers the broader impact of what we say and do is much needed in our world. Can our churches be places that not only encourage this but teach and demonstrate it? In what ways are the Ten Commandments a guide or a hindrance to decision-making in this day and age?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Watering with Love.

February 14, 2020 - 6:21am

According to one of the readings set for this week Deuteronomy 30, everyday life and death, blessing and curse are set before us. It tells us that Blessing is waiting for us if we would love the Lord, walk in his ways, and keep his commandments. Conversely, if our hearts turn away and refuse to listen and obey, it will mean death for us. What will we choose? From that we can draw from this reading is an understanding that God’s commands are for our well-being.
Following God’s commands brings happiness and wholeness to our bodies. But the blessing God desires for us goes deeper than that. God desires that our hearts be at rest and whole. Yet in another of the readings set for this week, Matthew 5, Jesus makes it clear that he takes God’s commands to another level: “You have heard that it was said . . ., Don’t commit murder. . .. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. . .. If they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.”
It is not simply about refraining from killing someone else. It is about being careful to care for their hearts and to take care that anger and malice are not in control of our own hearts. Every day we choose. Every moment we choose. Will we choose life or death? Will we disobey God and reap the destructive consequences in our minds, bodies, hearts, and relationships? Or will we obey God’s commands and receive the blessing he offers? God desires to bless us. God desires that we would not merely survive, but that we would thrive.

Yet, we hear many purporting to follow Jesus and his teachings advocating exclusion, advocating violence, advocating their own power and position. It would seem that our world has chosen to follow such leaders both in Church and Secular government. In the Church by seeking a literalism that advocates violence against those we believe are different or who might be seeking a fuller understanding of their relationship with their God and how to live out the life that Jesus demonstrated. The heart and compassion are key to our understanding of following our God’s commandments.
In Matthew 5 is one of those places where Jesus poses traditional law versus God’s law of Love that he came to fulfill. Human beings desire according to the desiring of others, which leads to reaching for the same objects of desire, and thus sow the seeds to human conflict. A second involves the sacrificial logic that founds and shapes human culture: attempting to substitute a lesser or sanctioned violence for the unwanted violence arising from our desire. The violence ensuing from our desire threatens to unravel human community; sacrificial violence is what we trust to cohere human community.
Jesus fully understands this, and it can be unpacked for modern ears such that we can make use of it in more fully understanding the antitheses between traditional human law and the fulfillment of God’s law in love. A deeper understanding of the Ten Commandments can also assist with understanding these antitheses. Human beings are always at jeopardy of breaking the commandments due to the desires over our neighbour, because we are hard-wired for these desires. The rivalry generated by desires results in increasing envy, resentment, lust, and anger (and ultimately violence).

So, we read that Jesus poses that the anger caused by rivalry (coveting) as on a continuum with slandering our neighbour and even murdering our neighbour. Likewise, lust is akin to the breaking of the seventh commandment on adultery. The problem of human violence must be addressed at its root. The ultimate solution is the Greatest Commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.
Otherwise, we are left to continue our sacrificial solutions of human law based on human councils of judgment and on sacrificial solutions. Any solution less than following the complete love of God coming into the world through the Son is from the “evil one.” These lesser solutions characterise all of our lives if not for the “complete” love of the parent of Jesus Christ that graciously rescues us.
Each one of us has a role given to us by the Lord. Some plant, some water. We don’t get to decide what our role is. There is blessing for us if we will gladly accept the role that God gives us. There is joy for us when we stop comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could do what someone else does. It is up to the wisdom of our God. In scripture we are told that some plant, some water, but God makes growth happen. We do our jobs, but truly, apart from God’s working, our best efforts are worthless.

 We don’t have to make everything happen. It is not our job. We must release ourselves from that kind of pressure. We must be faithful to do what God has given us to do. We will receive our own reward for our own labour. And, we can delight in the reality that the almighty God of the universe allows each of us to play a unique part in his work.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Duality We Live In.

February 7, 2020 - 4:48am
In one of our scriptures for this week from the three-year lectionary namely Isaiah 58:1-12 we are reminded of the dual context in which we live. Remember: the Israelites are in exile, torn away from their home and suffering from their falling short of God’s vision by being a conquered nation. But even in the stark reality of their oppression, they continue to harm each other by unjust practices and seeking selfish gain. So, they cry “Lord, Lord” and yet turn their back on God by taking advantage of others for their own benefit. They falsely practice their faith through inauthentic fasts, practicing an “empty ritual” while “oppressing all their workers.”

The fact that God chooses is one in which they will feed the hungry, provide a bed for the homeless, and clothe the poor. Only then will they be healed, as their light will shine in the darkness and flood their world with the glory of God. Those who know God act justly and righteously. God hears their cry of exile and will come to deliver them. How will they be allowed to go home if they only mirror the oppression that keeps them captive in the here and now? So too we in the present time are living in a dual context. We live in a consumeristic society that values the things of the world, hungering for power, fame, fortune, and always more accumulations.
Even the churches that we attend have been co-opted by desiring more—more people, money, reputation, and influence. In seeking these things, our fasts are hollow and empty. We long for real meaning in our lives, and more material possessions never satisfies us. As Christians, Jesus demands the same actions from us as the Israelites: feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and clothing the naked. Only when we practice our faith in such a way will God hear our cries. Until then, we are in exile, foreigners in an alien land, looking to return home to God. Real spiritual meaning only comes when we reach out and care for the least of these in our midst: the poor, the prisoner, the immigrant, and any who are oppressed. In doing so, our light will shine forth, and God will send meaning and hope to flood our lives.
Further, in the Epistle text from 1 Corinthians 2, we see the dual contexts between limited human wisdom and unlimited spiritual power from God. The unspiritual will never see the twin contexts we live in. This is only accessible by living in the mind of Christ, but we need to remember that no one in the secular world will understand us. Likewise, in Matthew 5, when we care and tend to the least of God’s creation our light shines forth for all to see. Our light is the good deeds we do, and some may give glory to God because people will see why we do such good.
Historian Rodney Stark reports that when the Black Plague ripped through the Roman Empire in 260 CE, Dionysius (Bishop of Alexandria) wrote that the non-Christians pushed those who suffered away and fled for their lives. Christians lived with the Easter conviction of another world instead. They had contempt for death. “Heedless of danger,” writes Dionysius, “they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
So, where are we in light of such information. Sadly, our world in its shift right seems to value the greedy, self-preservation and power hunger of this world. A bit of the haul the paddle on board Jack, I’m alright. This is not what our God called us to but instead called us to live as his son Jesus lived, to follow his example of love, compassion, grace and joy.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Walking in the Haze.

January 31, 2020 - 7:16am

When Wendy and I were first married we had in our house a machine. This machine lived quietly alone most of the time and this is an elliptical machine. Its paddles turn a big wheel, encased in a plastic shell. Each time we get on it, we pushed the pedal, and you would hear the wheel spin, heavily. Sometimes when I used this machine which it would be nice to still have, I reflected on the Beatitudes and it struck me then that these verses have a familiar rhythm of their own. They come around, again and again.
My mother used to caution my brothers and I whenever a squabble broke out amongst us (which was often, and I remember quite often being on the receiving end of my brother’s actions): “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Having said that I wonder if she knew where it came from. I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. I only knew what my mother meant. Stop fighting with your brothers. I did, for some reason, believe it was my job to keep the peace, even if it meant giving in to make the fight stop. Take the blame if you must. It turned me off the Beatitudes. I eventually heard the Beatitudes where this came from by reading the Bible and being informed of this by Sister Childs of the Church Army, our Bible Class Teacher in my early teens.
I read them all, and I thought they sounded sad, mostly. Still, it was clear they mattered, that I was supposed to attend to them. They reflect the human condition, the elliptical way of a spiritual life. We know we are working hard, but we wonder whether we are going anywhere. I’ve gotten on the machine when some other member of the family used it last, someone stronger and taller, and found I could not make the pedals move at all. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well, didn’t activate, until the pedals went around. So, in order to change the level of resistance from someone else’s 6 or 7 to my level of around 1 or maybe even up to 4, I had to find a way to make the wheel spin first.
The way of Jesus will sometimes feel like the elliptical on an exercise machine set unexpectedly at level 10. When we feel as if someone is persecuting us for being the kind of person we believe we’re meant to be, the kind of person God calls us to be, it’s hard work to turn the wheel, to get things in motion again, to feel actually blessed by God in the moment of challenge. When I have to get the actual elliptical started under those difficult circumstances, I remember that gravity is my friend, and I step on and let my weight carry the paddle down, hoping the batteries will come to life.
Or we could ask for help, if someone stronger is nearby. In our effort to be disciples of Jesus and live the way our God calls us to, we may need to let the weight of the moment carry the pedals around, slowly at first. We may need to ask for the help of others who have been there before. God blesses their faithfulness in the face of resistance. God will bless ours, too. So, what does that mean. What is our life to look like if we are taking the Beatitudes seriously?
If we go to one of the other readings of scripture for the day from Micah it says: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; / and what does the LORD require of you / but to do justice, and to love kindness, / and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NRSV). This time of year, (Post Christmas) I become a lot more conscious of walking. Walking is normally a pretty natural thing for me. I don’t think much about it when I put one foot in front of the other. We’ve had a lot of ash, haze, particle dust lately, though, and walking takes more concentration.
We need to take care. In December when I had been to an appointment I was walking through the haze in Sydney and was concentrating so much on the path in front I failed to see the branch that whacked me in the head. Once of course the haze clears walking is fun. The prophet Micah says God’s people are called to walk humbly with God. Walking with God can be treacherous, easy, fun, or difficult. Sometimes it requires great concentration to decide what is the right thing to do, how to act in a tough situation. Sometimes it’s easy; we know exactly what to do from the beginning.
Sometimes it’s frightening, because walking the right path can lead to change, and change isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes it is dangerous to pursue justice, or even to love kindness. When we challenge the societal norms, we can put ourselves at risk of being ostracised, or worse.
Walking simply takes practice. The more we practice prayer, being kind, justice-making, the more natural those things become. That doesn’t mean we won’t make a wrong step, slip, or fall down. But we continue to walk with God anyway. The more we walk, the more at ease we become, even on the hazy days.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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