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You Are Not Alone.

October 20, 2017 - 9:36pm
Here’s something I like about Moses in this week’s Sunday Scripture readings. No matter how many times he saw or heard from God, he wanted more. Not content to rest on the burning bush, or the magic powers, or the pillars of smoke and fire or the receiving of the tablets bearing The Law, Moses says to the Lord: “Show me your glory, I pray.” I understand this. I am one of those people who cannot hear enough times that I am loved and I am one of the beloved. I appreciate displays of affection.
I get Moses, and I love the way God responds. “Okay, mate, I’ll show you my glory, to the extent you can take it in, and I’ll even protect you from looking at me too directly, sort of like one of those pinhole things people use to keep from blinding themselves during an eclipse.” If you have ever needed to reassure a child who did not want to go to school or to day-care, you probably know why one could picture God as an Awesome Mama here. This image is one I read in Margaret Spong’s writing and I find it apt. Little one, go and stand over there where it’s safe, and just to be extra sure, your parent will cover your eyes for you with their Big Giant Hand.”
Much of the time, this is what we need. My observation is that even for my wife it seems at times, she wants to do this for her two grown boys. Yes, they are far away, but there are times when she still wants to do this for them, and not being supernatural, I cannot see how she can wave a magic wand to achieve it. Instead we need to pray for them, pray that they will find their way in this adult world as creative young people and not starve to death. Frankly, we could use a dose of proof right about now, and I’m guessing many of us, worried about the general state of the world, could use it, too.

But Moses! Why did he need it? Hadn’t he gotten more than enough? Can you get enough of God? Perhaps not. Perhaps they had a relationship so intimate that one appearance could not suffice. Because apparently God enjoyed their little talks, too. Another thing I love about Moses is that he talked to God the way I do when I am driving the car or doing the cooking of a meal. “Oh, Lord. What can I do to guide those whom I have care of in this world?” “How can I best help the people at church?” “Why can’t that person see things the way I do when the answer is so clear?”
Moses came to God over and over with his doubts and his frustrations, and by doing just that, he found favour in God’s sight. It doesn’t matter that he was impulsive. It doesn’t matter that he was initially doubtful and frankly resistant. He gave God his all, his flawed and human all, and he found favour with God. Maybe that is something I can do.
In the story of the exodus, presence is also a constant theme. The wilderness was disorienting. The goal was so far away, even after years of being nomads. In the cloud and fire, they somehow found strength and presence. They could sense the connection between their selves and God, and they could also see that God never left, day or night, whether they were traveling or staying still. Sometimes God’s absence is more palpable to us than God’s presence. We look for God but find . . . nothing. We long for God but feel nothing. We pray to God and maybe we hear nothing.
But then there are moments. Moments when in the midst of a horrendous day we have the sense that we are surrounded by a warm cloud of God’s love. Moments when in a sleepless night we think we might see the flame of God’s peace that has not been extinguished. When these moments come, we latch onto them, so we can remember them when neither fire nor cloud is visible.
For me, the moments of cloud and fire usually come through the love and actions of someone else. A kind word from someone. A look of understanding. The touch of my hand and the response of the person in a hospital room as I sit with them and as they face the end of life or a long time of healing. It would be wonderful if we would be able to know the presence of God in those around us, and at those times offer God’s presence to those who need it. From all this remember, you are not alone.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Everybody Loves a Party, Right?

October 13, 2017 - 9:20pm
Everybody loves a party, right? Wherever there is food and fun, people will follow. The words “You’re invited” have a welcome ring to them. This Sunday’s readings from scripture abound with images of celebrations, feasting, food, and of course, humankind’s uncanny ability to make a mess of things. In Exodus 32, the people of Israel are tired of waiting for Moses and start their own “party” with a god of their own creation— a golden calf.
“They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel,” says the writer. But things don’t go so well for the impatient partygoers, and they end up drinking the dust of their own idol. In the Gospel scripture from Matthew, Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet and unwilling and unprepared guests. Again, things don’t go so well for those who fail to follow proper party etiquette.
Fortunately, outer darkness, weeping, and gnashing are not the last word. The Lord of Hosts is much bigger than our messes and will not permit us to spoil the divine banquet. God has other plans and, as the consummate host, continually invites us to the divine party. The Hebrew Scripture Isaiah 25 and Psalm 23 speak also to us of feasting, of bountiful tables spread, of overflowing cups, of well-aged wines and rich food. There are no tears and no fear when God is the host, only goodness and mercy.
Sometimes it’s comforting to be reminded that our instant-gratification culture is not a by-product of the digital age, nor a particular failing of “young people these days.” Unwillingness to wait, desire for immediate tangible results, and impatience with the mysterious slowness of spiritual life seem to go back millennia, rather than being a hallmark of the Millennial generation. we are worshiping something that is decidedly not God.
Part of the difficulty is that, at least initially, the idea seems to make sense. People desire a deeper relationship with God— how can we resist giving it to them? Resist we must, because no preacher, teacher, pastor, or parent has ever been able to simply hand spiritual depth over on a golden platter. Building a relationship with anyone let alone our God takes time. Even face to face, it took many days for Moses and God to get to know each other well enough to reach the point where the commandments could be delivered, let alone where they spoke to each other “as one speaks to a friend.”

Desire for relationship is the first step, and the Israelites certainly had that. But a spiritual life, whether that of an individual or a community, also requires effort, energy, honesty, perseverance, endurance, and trust. We have to be willing to wait, to “trust in the slow work of God,” to sit in silence, to put in the same amount of time both listening and speaking as we would with a human friend. But it is so much easier to work with something we can see and touch.
As a leader, it is so much easier to offer the cheap facsimile than to nurture true spiritual relationship. Look at our leaders not only around the world but here in Australia. After what appears to be too tough times we elect leaders who promise us the world, promise us that we will be great. These leaders don’t tell us the journey we need to go on to reach there. No, they tell us we can have it now.
But as we know if we have read this scripture, this story ends strangely with Moses convincing God to reclaim the people as God insists they belong to Moses. (God having apparently forgotten how much work it was to convince Moses to go back to Egypt in the first place!) Yet even knowing this story, the temptation is great. It takes a long time, and “we don’t have a clue” what is happening during the time when nothing appears to be happening, and suddenly we are sacrificing and dancing and giving our hearts to something hard, cold, and unforgiving.

We may tire of wondering what the golden calf looks like in our community. It is important that our own spiritual lives are strong, so we don’t fall into Aaron’s trap of believing we can provide people with anything more than tools and space to seek, no matter how uncomfortable or anxious they (or we) might be. The invitation is explicit though. God’s desire is to include us in the never-ending salvation celebration. Come with rejoicing and thanksgiving to the table for Communion, for a potluck and fellowship, and for eternity. Celebrate the goodness and mercy of God!
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Holding on to What is Precious.

October 6, 2017 - 10:21pm
The images of clean-up after a disaster are haunting and heartbreaking. Three days before I arrived in Invercargill, Aotearoa (New Zealand) to take up my first appointment as a clergy person over thirty years ago, a third of the city was flooded and that flood included a backwash of sewerage. It was a difficult and sad time for those people in the suburb of Waikiwi. But also, there came from this event many a story of kindness and compassion and people found the gift of being a neighbour come to the fore. 
Sadly, with the sewerage having been up to 2 to 3 metres on peoples walls the instruction came from the authorities to destroy all property and send it to the tip. For many, this was a devastating thing to have to do and to watch for that matter.  Someone from the churches had this bright idea to invite all people effected to bring their precious items of crockery etc. and linen to the church halls and members would wash them and disinfect them so that the people affected had something to hang on to. It was a time of grief but a time of great love and compassion.
During that time, my role was to help find people to ensure their well-being and help people find their precious property. I also assisted some of those people in getting their bits and pieces to those doing the washing and cleaning. One day I watched as a woman, who was ignoring the television news camera pointed at her, as she found something she recognised in the rubble. She exclaimed out loud that she had found her favourite object, and I watched as she ran to the object, dug her hands into the debris, and pulled out what could only be described as a fragment of what could have once been that precious item. She clutched it to her in shock as if it had been made of gold.
She seemed so glad to have found something she thought she had lost in the flood. In this place of loss and grief, even a part of a precious object that is recovered seemed like a treasure, for it may have symbolised for the woman a truth she had known but could not prove: “Once upon a time I lived here. I had a normal life, I had a job, I had a car, I had this object which was precious. This is a precious object.
Saint Paul, who wrote some of the letters in our Scriptures and has had many others attributed to him, gave a message to the church which comes in a time of turmoil and chaos; suddenly everything the followers of Jesus thought to be true about the fellowship of believers has been turned upside down, and St. Paul reminds the church to take stock, to count every earthly gain as loss, and to count any suffering that has to be endured for Christ’s sake as ultimate gain. What are the remnants of our earthly selves that we search for, in an effort to hold on to something that reminds us that we exist, that we count for something in this world? What scraps would we hold dear to our chest as if they were gold?
For St. Paul, the answer is this: “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” That’s it. That’s the bottom line. After taking stock of his conversion on the road to Damascus, after accounting for all the church plants he created, after being arrested and thrown in prison for the sake of the gospel, it all boils down to this one truth, and the symbol for it all is the cross. The cross is the piece of a precious object you see. In every church that ever has burned to the ground, or has blown away, the cross— or even the idea of the cross if we couldn’t find a physical, tangible one. And as Richard Rohr states, if there was one phrase to describe the Christian faith, it would be the “Way of the Wound”
It is the evidence that, God loved the world, came to earth and dwelt among us and died for us, and we have life because of it. We are good at rules: making them and then breaking them. St. Paul reminds us that, when we gain Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we receive exactly what we need— forgiveness, grace, hope. God declared us beloved children which brings us a confidence that, whatever we do, we can do it well because we are already equipped and already approved— that’s a lot to live up to. We strive to fulfil the confidence that God places in us, knowing that God spurs us on, having already declared us winners.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Messy Ordinariness.

September 29, 2017 - 9:46pm
In this week’s reading set from Exodus, you can hear Moses’ frustration. So far in the readings from Exodus over the last few weeks, they have told us about how God delivered the people from Pharaoh’s army, delivered the Hebrews from starvation. And now, this week they are thirsty. Yet again the Hebrews doubt that God will see them through. So, we get the question, “Why are you testing the LORD?”  It’s a foolish question really. It’s a question for humanity today also. Why do we doubt God’s power or God’s favour? The Hebrews were very like us. This is the way humans seem to continue to act today in our relationship with our God.  
So, the question comes, why do we doubt God’s power or God’s favour? It seems to me that it has something to do with the fact that we are human and therefore fearful. We have experienced before in our lives times when our hopes did not work out, when things or people we needed were not there for us. And, truthfully, we know how frail our lives really are. Lack of water in the desert seems an occasion more appropriate for panic than for trust. But let us note the reactions and behaviour of Moses.
Does the reactions of Moses sound familiar? Does it sound like leaders we have known? Moses, like the people, is in danger from thirst, and he fears their anger: “They are getting ready to stone me.” In fact, while the people complain to Moses, Moses complains about them to God. One begins to wonder if Moses is more concerned that the people doubt God or that they’re on his case. Yet our God does not seem very concerned about the people’s testing, not in this passage or throughout the wilderness journey.
What is God’s response to the people’s need, their doubt, their fear? The response is water. It’s not more commandments, not punishment, not a new teaching. Just water. Here we see a difference between God and Moses. Moses, perhaps due to fear, questions the people’s faith and memorialises their quarrelling. So often we get side-tracked with our own baggage. God goes straight to the point of need: “You’re thirsty? Here’s water.” You doubt God’s care, God’s steadfast faithfulness? That’s okay. God’s graceful providence is not frustrated by our weakness. Have some cool water, straight from the rock.
You know, this ordinariness, the reality of everyday life is at the same time scandalous and appealing. If we move now from considering Moses and his ordinary problem with the physical need for water to Jesus response to human needs and ordinariness. The very Son of God is limited by the things that limit all the rest of us: time and space, living and dying, illness and health, the actions and expectations of others, good and bad relationships. Every day Jesus had to figure out how to get food, where they were going to sleep. Someone needed to be in charge of the money. They had to figure out what road they were going to take to the next town, and sometimes they were running late.
God chose not just to view the messiness that we call humanity from some other plane, but to enter this messiness and to be at home in it. The spiritual and the physical are so intertwined that they cannot be separated, not even in the Christ. Neither is holier than the other. Each is made holier by the other. Wouldn’t it be something if we could see the intertwining of spirit and physicality today? We do, but in an even messier way than Jesus lived it: it is called the Church.

The church is the body of Christ. We worry sometimes that we are not spiritual enough. And we’re probably right. But it’s also likely that we are not mundane enough. One without the other is not the body of Christ. The mundane must be infused with the spiritual, and the spiritual with the mundane. This gets messy, and we make lots of mistakes trying to get it right. We’re limited by our location, our resources, our personalities. Jesus, too, chose to be limited. That puts us in good company.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Who Stands With Us?

September 22, 2017 - 10:44pm
This week in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus 16:2-15) the Israelite's are in the wilderness just six weeks when they start living in the past. Hungry and cranky, realizing they don’t know where they’re going or how they’ll get there or how long it will take, with no established religion or government, no social safety net, and no leftovers— they complain. “If only we had died in Egypt where we sat around and ate as much as we wanted!” (Ah, flawed memories!)
God again listens to their cries and provides abundance they could never have imagined. This is the central wilderness experience, the first of many lessons in the making of a people. God says, “I will be your God,” calls them “my people,” then needs to teach them what that means— they have to work the vision making process and discern a mission statement (“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself,” seems pretty good!).

They need to wander in order to discover that God will lead them if they will follow. They want to look back without rose-coloured glasses so they can look forward with hope. They need to learn that God is love and discern who God is calling them to be. This first lesson is learning to rely on God’s goodness and abundance. It sounds cliché and naïve now, and I suspect then, too— but alone out in the desert, the Israelites literally depended on God for their daily bread, their safety, their lives.
Even as they learn the stark truth that we are all dependent on God despite our perceived independence, they learn of God’s faithfulness. They learn that hoarding doesn’t get us anywhere. They learn that God’s abundance comes along with justice— not whatever I want, but what we, the community, need. The story is a familiar one. It happens again and again, not just on the Hebrew people’s trek through the wilderness, but in our communities today. When times are tough, when we are threatened, when we are afraid, it is hard to remember our blessings, and very easy to focus on what is lacking.
Nor should we underestimate the difficulties of life in the desert. The routines of Egypt— whatever their hardships— were a known quantity. Life as slaves is difficult, but survivable. The wilderness, though, has no known support system. But when the waters of the sea closed over Pharaoh’s army, God burned any bridge back to Egypt. The story of manna in the desert is rightly understood as God’s providential care, God’s mercy for the people, and God standing with them to see them through— bread from heaven, indeed. What are we to make, though, of the Lord’s purpose? The Lord speaks to the peoples. God needs to “test them to see whether they follow Instruction or not.”
“What is it?” the people exclaim, when they encounter this manna. Apparently, this is a test indeed. This manna is food (the Egyptian word mennu means “food”), but it is strange food (the Arabic man hu means “This is insect secretions”). God will faithfully send manna throughout the time in the wilderness. Is the “testing” a part of the Lord’s teaching process, reinforcing again and again that God is trustworthy and worth following?

Today it is enough to remember that we are tested like this all the time. More than a thousand years after this story, Jesus will teach that asking for daily bread is enough to pray. We might wish for a lifetime supply of our favourite delicacies, but can we be thankful for what God provides? For the gift of life? For all that God has done and has promised?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Have You Really Been Saved?

September 15, 2017 - 11:22pm
We hear that phrase so often as a question tossed off by proselytisers. This is especially so in Sydney as some of our brothers remain so hung up and focused on the phrase. I bet some of you are surprised to hear me asking this question. It may just roll past, but I’m really asking— have you been saved? For an experience of being saved, of being plucked from the fire, is crucial to Christian faith. We’re not talking about finding a parking space when you’re running late. Perhaps that kind of experience might serve as a pale proxy, a way to imagine salvation.
Well, before Jesus’ resurrection, God was in the salvation business. The exodus (along with exile) is a central story that shaped Jewish faith as Jesus knew it. The God of Israel, the God of our scriptures which we Christians call the Bible, the God of Jesus does not make sense without this experience of being delivered from imminent disaster. The movie version cannot do this scene justice. Imagine yourself in the sandals of those Hebrew slaves. With your back to the sea, you can see the dust of the chariots coming. When they catch you, they will kill you and your family and everyone around you, except for the “fortunate” ones that they will beat, rape, and drag back to slavery.
If you have not knowingly been that close to the brink, I guarantee that someone you know has. Listen for those stories. Just recently I heard of a parent whose house went up in flames in the middle of the night. She’s not quite sure how she got out the window to summon help, but she is sure about the firefighters who went in and brought out her child, and about the medical teams who kept the firefighters’ lungs working past the smoke damage. To her, salvation is very real.
Part of salvation is to participate in forgiveness. In our scripture, this week from Matthew 18, Peter reflects on this. To show that he had a magnanimous spirit, he says, “[ Should we forgive] as many as seven times?” Seven times seems like quite a bit, doesn’t it?! In the Jewish mind, seven is a number that represents completion and finality. Surely this would be more than enough!
Jesus answers with a word play on the number seven and says that we should forgive seventy times seven. He doesn’t mean that we should keep track and forgive someone four hundred ninety times, but rather that we must throw away the calculator and live a lifestyle of continual forgiveness.

I imagine the disciples responded much as I would, absolutely dumbfounded at such a notion. Here’s the problem. We understand intellectually the notion that we forgive because we have also sinned and been forgiven, but sometimes the sins against us seem out of proportion and unforgivable. A person once told me that they had been seriously injured in a car accident. The person had gone through many hardships during recovery and had been very bitter toward the driver who hit them.
Guilt at the inability to forgive had plagued the person, doubling their misery. “Then one day,” the person said, “I realised that forgiveness is not a duty, it is the answer. When we forgive the grace comes to heal our hearts.” Working out forgiveness in the complexity of life is a subtle art. There are no simple formulas that will take care of the problem for us. Yet we can’t walk away from forgiveness.

Going through the process of forgiving is painful work, but so is living with the open wounds of unresolved anger and resentment. Forgiveness is not a virtue that comes from within, nor is it a duty we owe to someone else. It is a cry to God that says, “Lord, heal my heart.” Heal my heart and bring me salvation and I will be saved. Forgiveness is not an easy answer to our problems, but it is the most powerful answer.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Apply Minds Hearts and Duct Tape.

September 8, 2017 - 9:01pm
In the dynamic process of communicating our experiences of God we tell stories. These stories explain why things are the way they are: stories of our founders— how they coped with crises, triumphed or failed— stories justifying our present traditions. Stories are our common vernacular. As many will realise I find that story telling for me is the best way I can communicate my understanding and experience of God.
The Hebrews told stories about their formation as a nation and culture. They told of dialogue between God and Moses. But, did this communication happen as recorded? Did God really want all that blood and mutton? . . . Well this type of thinking gives me a problem. Is it what really happened? Storytelling continued for centuries. People close to the significant events relayed and recorded what happened. As the stories passed down, they picked up layers. These bits were accumulated and the story grew. They were attempts to justify present actions by claiming they originated by instruction of the founders.
The Gospel records Jesus giving instructions on church discipline at a time when there was no church. In the narrative, he damns unrepentant members to be treated like “Gentiles and tax-collectors,” the very people he ministers to. Furthermore, he suggests that coalitions of church leaders can act unilaterally as long as they have a quorum. Did Jesus really say that? . . .
And I wonder today whether the debate here in Australia over making marriage a universal possibility for all couples has been hi-jacked by this type of thinking and by statements condemning members of God's creation whom we are called to love. Statements that may have come from people who have layered things for their own purposes and not Gods. Remember we are all the beloved of God and we are to treat each other as beloved.
Well this thinking gives me a problem. As the story of God in human experience continues to unfold, we will continue to tell one another the stories of God. There are times when we will baulk at the blood and we will even go as far as to blackball the text we are telling. Does that mean we should quit? The Apollo 13 astronauts didn’t. They applied their minds, and duct tape! They put square boxes into round holes and survived. Perhaps we “Wordonauts” can do the same?
In light of the problems we have with the current text it’s easy to rush to the good stuff in Matthew’s passage from Chapter 18: whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we agree upon, God will do. But trust me, that’s not the most important part of this passage. The most important part is the difficult but essential truth that community— real community in Christ— is hard. Real community demands that we confront one another in love, that we speak the truth to one another in love, that we be willing to accompany one another through difficulty and disagreement . . . all in love. 

That’s what Paul speaks about, too. All of God’s law— the gift of knowing what is right and wrong that we may tend one another’s well-being— is summed up in a commandment that is as clear and simple as it is challenging: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That’s why I think that Jesus was not simply laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict. It’s rarely that easy. Different conflicts— and different contexts— will invite different methods of resolution. What’s clear, however, is the need to regard one another in love to keep the well-being of all in the forefront. And currently some of our brothers and sisters sadly are not able to do that believing they have the only truth and seem to fail to listen for Gods truth.
Why is that so difficult? The obvious answer is because of our sinfulness, the way in which we continually turn our faces away from God and Gods call to us. But it’s also more than that, as we need to recognise that we have little practice in demonstrating love during times of disagreement. We live in a culture that is far quicker to rush to judgment, preferring polarised positions and the rhetoric of blame and accusation than speaking truth in love.

One only needs to listen to Trump and some of his so-called followers on various issues such as race and gender. We face this same difficulty in Australia as our current government tries to side step giving all members of our community the same rights. As we face these issues laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict is not the answer, and as we have seen increases the acts of bigotry and hatred. For this reason, we will need to nay are called to practice patience, practice forbearance, and practice love. But if we do . . . what, then, can we not accomplish this in the life and love of our God?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

You are Loved Totally.

September 2, 2017 - 2:26am
We live in a time when there is a most peculiar notion generally present in our culture. It is the self-help notion. There are books by the crate-full, videotapes, audiotapes, and hundreds of devices and processes designed to assist us or guide us as we help ourselves. We can gain weight, lose weight, become a highly manipulative personality, or a very passive, reflective person. There is a self-help program for every perceived need.
One Minister tells of sitting on an airplane next to a woman, draped with various crystals. She explained all of the wonderful things that the crystals did for her. Then she proceeded to denounce "organised religion" in general and Christianity in particular as being foolish and a waste of time. She then told the Minister that he was a charlatan and should be barred from taking advantage of people.
Jesus might have said to the woman, "What if you gain every crystal in the world and lose your soul?" What he actually said in this week’s reading from Matthew 16 is, "What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?" This is a scary question. It comes in a scary place in St. Matthew's Gospel. Jesus has started on his journey to the cross. He is explaining this to his disciples.
Peter responds by rejecting the whole notion and stating that God will not allow this to happen. Jesus rebukes him. Jesus repulses Evil. Then he explains that God's thoughts are not our thoughts. And, he says that we must follow him and take up the cross. In short, Jesus denounces, rebukes, self-help and calls us to lives of self-sacrifice. Jesus tells us that a life of self-sacrifice is the way to have a soul. At this time in the Gospel, Peter and the other disciples probably thought that Jesus was going to restore the political integrity of Israel.
This is a self-help notion. All politicians promise help. The more conservative politicians promise greater opportunities for self-help. The more liberal politicians just promise more help. So, we are to help ourselves as we vote, one way or the other. This is the way human beings think. Peter was a normal human being. Jesus rebuked his way of thinking.
Self-sacrifice is the way of the soul. One parent said this, "I didn't know how to love or really receive love until we had the baby. Before the baby, what I though was love was really a sort of exchange of favours. It was delightful. But it wasn't love. With the baby, we learned about love. The baby cried, we responded. It didn't matter whether or not we were tired, or doing something else, we responded. The baby did not do anything for us.
But in these sacrifices of time, energy, money, and all of the work that goes with having a baby, we found out what love means. A smile from that child fills us with joy. We can't do enough for that baby. We began to see each other in a new way. We began to sacrifice ourselves for each other. Sometimes it was a simple, "I'll tend to the baby, you sleep." Other times it was deeper. We both realized that we had parents who had lavished love on us. We began to see ourselves as recipients of love, not because we deserved it, but because we are alive."
Jesus calls us to sacrifice ourselves because that is the way of love. In sacrifice, we learn to love. In sacrifice, we learn how much we are loved. Sacrificial love is the food of the soul. Whether we give sacrificial love or receive sacrificial love, the soul is fed. Jesus acted this out for us in the way that led to the cross, his death, and resurrection. We are the recipients of God's absolute, unconditional, sacrificial love.

So, the next time you are tempted to self-help, rebuke the temptation. Respond by embracing God's sacrificial love. You are loved completely just as you are. You may think you need improving. God thinks that you are worth loving completely and totally just as you are. 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What to do?

August 25, 2017 - 10:56pm
As human beings, our natural tendency is to think of ourselves as right and everyone else as, well, wrong. The way we do things seems to us like the best way to do things. And it should. If you grew up driving on the left side of the road, then it will feel wrong to drive on the right side of the road. Your way is not necessarily better, but it will feel better to you. And, that is okay. What you do with that feeling is what matters.
In our scripture, this week from Romans 12 we are challenged not to think about ourselves more highly than we ought. Notice that it does not say we are not to think about ourselves. Rather, it says, we are to think of ourselves reasonably. We are to think about ourselves in light of God’s goodness and his work in our lives. We are not to pretend we don’t have anything to offer. We are not to act as if we ourselves are the saviours of the world. We are to see ourselves rightly.
The scripture continues to say that we are many parts of the same body. God designed the body well and each part has a unique function. Don’t compare yourself to someone else wishing you had what they have. Don’t see yourself as less important because you aren’t able to do the same things as those around you. You were created uniquely. Your gifts are unique. It is possible to spend so much time looking at what you don’t have that you never take time to realise and appreciate what you do have.
The truth is that we need you to do what you have been graced by God to do. And you need the other parts of the body to do what God created them to do. We need each other. “Individually we belong to each other.” Whatever gift you may have, you would do well to recognise it, understand how it fits with the other parts of the body, and offer it wholeheartedly for God’s glory!
There is no gift, no profession that God can’t use for his glory and to benefit his people. In the reading from Exodus 1 we see some unlikely heroes. In this passage, some God-fearing midwives carry out their profession in faith and faithfulness. As lowly service-oriented people, they stand up to the powerful. And, God blesses them. And, he uses them to bless and prosper an entire people.
They did not say, “We are lowly midwives. What can we do?” They lived out their calling in faith and faithfulness. How might you leverage your gifts, your profession, your calling for the glory of God and the good of his people? Also, we see clearly highlighted in Isaiah 51 that it is God’s blessing that prospers us. We do not make ourselves. God is the one who prospered Abraham and made him the father of many nations. It is the same God who blessed the midwives in Exodus 1 and blessed the entire nation of Israel through them.
Many of the scripture readings during the past few weeks have spoken of the tension that exists between what the Bible often calls "the world" and the Christian community. It is not easy for us to understand the radical nature of Jesus' claims.  Yet, it is the very same God who gives Peter revelation to understand who Jesus was and to speak the truth out so boldly and clearly. And, it is the same God who graces us with different gifts as Romans 12 points out.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Blessings of Outsider and Sojourner

August 18, 2017 - 11:41pm
In the light of a recent stunt in Parliament and watching what’s happening in the USA and places like Spain and Finland I have decided to stray from this Sunday’s lectionary and instead look at Isaiah 56. In Isaiah 56 we are confronted with the mention of immigrants and outcasts. For some of us being an immigrant, being an outsider has been part of our family life albeit for some it has been more painful.
But do we all know what it is like to be on the outside looking in. I would hope so. We all know what it feels like to be left out of an inside joke or conversation. We all know what it is like to feel as though we don’t belong somewhere. God’s heart has always been for the outsider. Even when God was choosing to bless Israel, it was not at the expense of all the other nations of the earth.
We tend to think in an either/ or mentality as if God has to choose one nation over another. Instead, God chose to bless the nation of Israel in order that all the families of the earth would be blessed through them. Please note that in order to bless us all. I am reminded once again that in Gods eyes we are all the beloved even though some of us may want to destroy this state of being the beloved.

I wonder how God would view our current Australian approach to those immigrants, whom we place in camps and denigrate and demonise. Yet, these people are outcasts trying to find a place to call home, a place of peace and acceptance. Sadly, our corporate approach as a Nation led by our politicians does not reflect our call as Christians to open our hearts to the outsider.
Notice the words of blessing for immigrants in Isaiah 56. They are active words; actions God will perform. God will bring them to his holy mountain. He will not merely hope that they come on their own. His welcome is intentional and proactive. God will bring them joy in his house of prayer. His desire is not that they simply tolerate or find a place to exist in his house, but that they rejoice and thrive. He will accept their sacrifices and worship.
This is in direct contradiction to what was happening when Jesus saw the money-changers in the temple many years after Isaiah wrote these words. Jesus saw foreigners being excluded and taken advantage of and not allowed in the temple. And, he was angry about it and took serious action.
Along with the readings from scripture this week we can see both acceptance and blessing. Jesus recognises he was sent specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel” and yet, he honours the faith of a Canaanite woman and heals her daughter. We can see that even though God has wholeheartedly accepted Gentiles into his family, he has not rejected his own people, the people of Israel. Our God desires to have mercy on all. Also, we can see God’s control of the details of life.

Both Isaiah 56 and Genesis 45 reference someone who is outside of their country/ culture of origin. Joseph was an Israelite living in Egypt. The people God is gathering into his house in Isaiah are “immigrants.” To help one understand this call by God to welcome the stranger and the sojourner, I suggest it would be helpful to talk to an immigrant and to hear their story. People come regularly to our communities from overseas and having been one of those who albeit from close by has experienced being an outsider, not only here in Australia but during my time in the Solomon Islands.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Move Beyond and Above

August 11, 2017 - 8:36pm
Scripture is full of the natural elements of our world that we all know and experience in our lives -- earth, air, fire, and water. Since we all have some experience of each of these elements in intimate, daily, personal ways, they can provide amazing keys to our understanding of the God that created them -- and us.
Today we encounter water -- and vividly -- in all its dimensions. We know that Jesus' first disciples were fisherman, people who risked their lives on the water and drew their sustenance from the water. Water is essential to human life, we all know that, and it was an especially sharp reality for the people of the Holy Land, where water was frequently in short supply and very precious indeed.
There was also something mystical and frightening about the precious element. It could be the water of Baptism. It gave you, life -- but it could also drown you! It sustained you in the desert but the hidden creatures of its ocean depth might swallow you whole, as was the case with Jonah in his encounter with the whale, the great leviathan. What delivered the doubting Jonah from the depths? His anguished call to God for help when he was sunk deep below the waves in the belly of the whale.

Our scripture for this Sunday from Matthew's Gospel tells one of the most famous of all the stories about Jesus and how he explained the transcendent power of faith to his disciples -- disciples who were charged with going out to the world to preach his message (a perilous business at best). The disciples were at sea in rough waters and Jesus walked out to them, showing them that the faith that he embodied could overcome the natural world, its rules, and its deepest fears.
If you read just beyond today's Gospel, you will see how Peter, like most humans and the disciples, faltered in his belief when he tried to repeat Jesus' amazing act of walking on the water. "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
These stories we read in our scriptures are really about the act of belief itself. Real belief must rise above the earthly, the everyday, even the logical. Logic would say that in the event a human was swallowed whole by a great whale, he would "stay swallowed," or drown. But in his extremity of fear and "unbelief," Jonah called out with his whole being and the very roots of his faith, and was saved by God.
Our logic would say that no one could walk on the rolling waves. But we do read and state that Jesus did walk on the water because his belief was absolute, and, more important, he showed his disciples, those people who would have to endure many hardships and even death in his name, what their faith could do, what their faith could overcome. In fact, the evolving Gospel story is about, on an even deeper level, the way in which the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, changed utterly what we might once have believed were the "facts of our lives."
We were to be new people living in a new world. And the writers of the Gospels had a very keen sense of how people might be led to understand the mysteries of the faith. Certainly, from humankind's earliest days on earth, water and the journey over and through water, have been central to our understanding of our place in the world. From the days of the ancient world, the cycles of our life and experience have been told in terms of perilous journeys on water.
But the Christian message is different from that of the Norse legends and the Greek epics in one important way: it tells us we can and must move beyond and above the world we know and its restrictions and, with faith, enter into the domain of perfect freedom. Our faith must allow us to walk on the disturbed waters of life and it must save us from the depths of the sea when we fall.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

God is Good: All the Time

August 4, 2017 - 10:28pm

Sometimes thinking in the Church is too sophisticated. Sometimes, we tend to miss simple truths, stated plainly and simply. How many of us would feel comfortable in a congregation where the people express a form of what is called the “old-time religion?” I heard of one such church which developed a kind of chant that expressed a simple truth. The preacher would shout, “God is good.” The congregation would enthusiastically reply, “All the time.” It was their way of affirming truths about the power of God to provide for God’s people.
Is this a fundamental truth of the Christian Gospel? This week we do learn anew from our scripture from Matthew 14 that God is God—that God will provide what we need. We re-learn, that God will lift up among us resources to accomplish holy and life-giving purposes. We encounter hungry people being met by a suggestion from the disciples that Jesus send them away to get something to eat. But Jesus had something else in mind. Maybe it was his way of saying, “God is good.” But the disciples didn’t know how to reply, “All the time.” So, Jesus told them not to send the hungry people away but to give them something to eat themselves. He was saying, “You don’t think there is enough for these hungry seekers, but the truth is—there is enough because God will provide.”

The feeding the 5,000 which we call a miracle reveals how God can raise up in the midst of the people of what is need because God is good: All the time. Jesus offers us hope and direction if we can see that everything is possible with God. If we see that looking to love, the love that comes from God, can be the key to meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters. Today we seem to be to sophisticated to believe in miracles—to believe that God really is good—all the time; that the power of God can, in every instance, provide more than we can imagine. Sometimes we know so much we can’t see the truth when Jesus faces us down with the familiar, “You—give them something to eat.” And yet, the goodness of God calls us always to know that God’s love, moving in and overflowing from us, can provide what God’s people need: because God is good: All the time.
In every situation in life, God’s power works toward lifting up whatever promotes love in that situation. Wherever there is injustice or pain or grief or hardship or hunger, God is there, for God is good: All the time. As Paul says so majestically in the Epistle to the Roman’s earlier than today’s reading, “In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Paul reminds us that in all things God’s abundance will, in the final analysis, become sufficient to meet our needs. Right here. Right now. In the midst of who and what we are, God will provide. Because God is good: All the time. This does not mean, of course, that people of faith will have no problems or no misery. But it does mean that God will give us the grace and aid to bear the load as we overcome and move through whatever may befall us.
Ours is not a faith of easy answers and unrealistic solutions. Jesus entered life and died on the cross for us, showing us that in whatever we experience, in whatever may trouble us, in whatever distress or threat we feel, we need not fear because God is in it with us. God will lift up in our midst what we need to make it through, because God is good: All the time. God is not far away and aloof from us. Jesus shows us that God does not stand outside of life, but is right here with us, beside us in our broken and troubled and suffering world. St. Paul reminds us that nothing in existence can ever separate us from the love of God, revealed in Christ. In whatever crisis or issue we face in life, in whatever trouble may come our way, the power of God’s love will provide what we need. From the midst of us, God will lift up the resources to accomplish his loving purposes, because God is good: All the time.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Outside the Door to the Christian Life

July 28, 2017 - 11:20pm

The title of this was a wonderful phrase, I found while reading, is attributed to a person called O. Wesley Jnr. In his writing, he went on to say that it could be hard to be a Christian in the first century. Remember, back then most Christians were Jews: if you were a Jew who was a Christian, other Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus said you sold out the faith and the traditions of Israel because you claim Jesus is the Messiah and allow Gentiles in your community.
Or if you were a Gentile who was a Christian and other Romans saw you hanging around with Jews and talking about a Messiah, they said you joined a cult. They expected you at any minute to be hanging out at the airport with a tambourine, selling carnations, asking people if they’re saved, and handing out pamphlets that explain five steps to get to heaven. There was risk and cost to being a Christian back in the first century. You could lose family, friends, livelihood. In some rare circumstances, you might even lose your life.
Maybe you had joined the church thinking God would suddenly make everything go your way. Or maybe you thought Jesus would return on the clouds at any moment so it was okay if things were tough for a short period because you would be in paradise just over the next hill. But things weren’t okay, and Jesus didn’t return. So, the early followers of Jesus asked: Is it really worth it? All the sacrifices? All the danger? All the risks? All the changes? You’ve sold the entirety of your old life to buy into this new life. But is this new life worth it?

Well, Jesus still hasn’t come back some two thousand years later, even though we check the weather report each evening to see if the local meteorologist says, “A warm front will move in to the grass overnight bringing with it overcast skies and the Son of God.” And it doesn’t look like Christians today are any better off than the rest of the population. We struggle with finances and cancer and dysfunctional home life and depression and tensions at work and fear and prejudice just like everyone else.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. But the problem isn’t only that we are just like everyone else. No, we Christians are overachievers: we add some burdens that are particular to our faith on top of the burdens that come with just being human. Small burdens like getting up on Sunday morning in the middle of the summer to come to church to hear a guest preacher when it’d be awfully nice to sleep in and wait until our Minister gets back. Small burdens like reading scripture when we’d rather be reading a trashy novel. Small burdens like saying grace before meals in a restaurant when it’s a little embarrassing.
But we Christians add larger burdens to life too. Like being honest on taxes when we could save hundreds of dollars, like giving more to charity than others do, loving our neighbours as ourselves. And of course, there are some mega burdens too, like loving our enemies, not just our neighbours, like being a peacemaker in a world of violence. Huge burdens of daily taking up our crosses and following Jesus and trying to answer the call, as Matthew says, to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect.
Reflect on this: if before the Christian life, there’s a doorkeeper on guard and you come from a Church or maybe not to this doorkeeper and ask to be let in. But the doorkeeper says that he won’t let you in right now. You ponder this and then ask if he’ll let you in later. “Maybe,” he says, “but no promises and not right now.” Since the gate stands open and the doorkeeper stands to the side of it, you can stoop down to peek through the gateway into the Christian life.
When the doorkeeper sees you doing this, he laughs and says: “If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my resistance. But take note: I’m pretty strong. It will be a struggle to get past me. And I’m only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. It will be a burden to struggle with us all.” You stand there looking through the door and ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Is it worth the risk, worth the burden, worth the struggle to get in? I wonder if the struggle is a treasure? I wonder if the risk is a pearl?” And you take a deep breath, you shift your weight on your feet, and . . .
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Love on a Turned Cheek

July 22, 2017 - 1:37pm
In this week’s scripture from Matthew 13, Jesus goes on something of a parable binge as he piles on one simile for the kingdom after the next: seeds, yeast, treasure, pearl, and a fishing net. Mostly all of this points to the apparent littleness of the kingdom— the kingdom can hide in plain sight. Tiny seeds disappear into the soil, yeast becomes indistinguishable from the larger lump of dough, the whole thing can be stumbled upon below the soil in some random field. The kingdom is real and will, in the longest possible run, be the ultimate reality for us all.
But in the meanwhile, you could almost miss it. In fact, if we bring Matthew 13 alongside the epistle reading from Romans 8, we see how Paul needs to reassure his readers in Rome that nothing can separate them from God’s love. Paul needs to do that precisely because there are so many big things in this world that surely look as though they could do the job of removing us from God’s grip. History is loud and noisy with persecutions and troubles and hardships and famines and wars.

The newspaper does not generally proclaim the kingdom of God but instead trumpets all that is happening and going wrong with the kingdoms of people. And a lot of what goes wrong with earthly kingdoms surely can feel threatening to us Christians and definitely looks larger and more powerful than most of what goes on at your average church where the kingdom is preached. But nothing can finally touch the reality of God’s kingdom and our citizenship in it. Jesus told these parables not just in order to describe the kingdom for us but also to reassure us: even when it seems weak or hidden, the kingdom is the greatest reality of them all and it is our joy if by grace we have the eyes to see it. 
Simply put, Jesus said things like, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Stun people with how generously you serve. And again, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” More gospel love grows on a turned cheek than a clinched fist. This is the power of the good news unleashed in a world that knows neither how nourishing God’s love in Christ really is nor how transforming God’s grace can be.
You know, weed control has nothing to do with pulling weeds. Weed control has everything to do with being God’s people of grace and truth, acceptance and forgiveness, generosity and hospitality in this world. The way of life in Christ is ultimately the way of love. May this week, see you being able to refuse getting caught up in causes but rather be caught up in the movement Jesus launched two thousand years ago. His movement is like a field in which a farmer sowed good seed, believing that God would one day gather a bountiful harvest from the choices we make to live the life Jesus taught us. 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Lamp to my Feet.

July 14, 2017 - 1:43pm
Having a break in Thailand with both sun and warm rain I was reminded of a time in my past when certain types of exercise were part of my life. Not just wanders around shops or around ruins in the sun or with an umbrella at the ready. Sometimes I ran or jogged would actually be a better description. This was in the dark, in the winter, when the sun comes up so late that a morning run nearly always begins in darkness. When I shifted to warmer climes I did all my jogging early, before the day got too hot. Sometimes I jogged before the sun had begun to rise, either because my schedule demanded it or because it was already warmer than I liked, and I wanted to finish early.
Often the path I covered had no streetlights, so when it was dark I needed a lamp of some kind. These have changed and developed over the years. At one stage I tried wearing one of those (very dorky) little forehead lights that attaches around your head with an elastic strap. As soon as the morning sky gives enough light for one to see without the lamp, you take it off and carry it the rest of the way (thereby reducing the dork factor, should you be seen by anyone you knew). I found the same headlight helpful when bushwalking into the night or making early starts up mountains.
The headlamp gave me freedom to run without fear of falling over a speed bump or tree root, ensured that drivers could see me when I crossed a street, and enabled me to exercise when otherwise I’d be stuck at home. These days and this generation in this country aren’t much accustomed to the darkness. Unless the power is out, we merely have to flick a switch and the lights come on. What a luxury.
Even so, being in the dark, figuratively, is part of the human condition. We never know just what’s coming next. Even less do we know what the distant future holds. We plan our schooling, imagine what job we’ll have, look for long-term relationships, save for retirement. I am confident in saying that no one’s life has ever turned out exactly how they’d imagined it when they were young.

Because we are in the dark about what’s coming, we need lights. People to whom we can go for advice or help. Friends who encourage us. Family who are our home even when we’re far away. For Christians, our light is our God, who never leaves our side. These lights help us find our way. Alone on an unlit pathway, we trip over our own feet, find ourselves in unsafe situations, grope in the darkness.
With the light of God’s presence, we are less afraid, surer of our footsteps, secure that we are headed in the right general direction. We find in Psalm 119 the words “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” to encourage us and bring us hope. We run in the dark, but not alone. With light, we begin to see with growing clarity what was there all along: purpose, meaning, love, faith, hope. As the pathway continues to unfold before us, every switchback brings something new and unforeseen. Around every turn, God is already there, holding the lamp.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Is our Yoke burdensome?

July 7, 2017 - 10:21pm

Few of us use yokes anymore— we often need to explain that a yoke is equipment used to hitch animals together and to something else, such as a plough. Machines do so much of our farming, and so few people work the land, that a yoke is an antique, a museum piece, not an everyday item. However, for Jesus and the people in his community, the yoke was both every day and held double meaning. The most obvious is the agricultural, but there was also the example of Isaiah 58, where a yoke is a system, often a system of bondage— whether that system is economic, political, or intellectual.
Sometimes people are put under the yoke by an oppressive power, as the Israelite's had been by the Babylonians, or as they were under the Romans. Sometimes the yoke is a choice— by choosing to follow a particular teacher, one took his yoke upon oneself. The yoke was the system of teachings, the teacher’s philosophy. And sometimes a system that should be life-giving— like the Torah— is turned into oppression, as we see with the wise and intelligent— the Pharisees and the scribes— who have made the good law of God into a religious and political system that oppresses people and needs to be broken.
So, Jesus calls all of us who are caught in those systems, especially those weary of following all six hundred thirteen laws to the letter and still wondering about the graceof God, especially those who believe God’s love must be earned, to come to him and trade that yoke for another. I always thought the point of breaking the oppressive yoke was to be free. But we all know that isn’t exactly true— as Bob Dylan said, we “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

The question is: will we be yoked to the letter of the law? To the economic and political system? Yoked to our possessions? Social status? Desires? Yoked to our limited understanding of God, or to what we think the good life looks like? Or will we slip into the empty side of Jesus’ yoke and partner with him in the work God has in mind for the world?
When a farmer has a new animal to train, the new animal is yoked together with an experienced one. That way the new animal learns the way while the experienced one carries most of the burden. Eventually the new animal becomes so experienced that it follows the way willingly, and finds the work easy, the burden light. Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us? Are we willing to submit, knowing it means we cannot continue to pull our other burdens (however much they may look like blessings), to walk with Jesus until we are so trained that our lives won’t go any other way?

Now, that’s quite a challenge to human beings let alone those who see themselves as Christians. Within our community there are many philosophies, events, things and ideas vying for our attention and seeking to yoke us to their way. Sadly, even within our religious organisations particularly those who would espouse fundamentalism, literalist adherence to the religions scriptures or their way of thinking are those who would yoke us to ways that are burdensome and life depleting. The choice of Yoke is ours. Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs