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Is This too Risky for You?

December 13, 2019 - 6:05am

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

From the Root a Branch.

December 6, 2019 - 6:02am

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



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Expect the Unexpected.

November 29, 2019 - 6:15am

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Thoughts on a Feast for the King.

November 22, 2019 - 5:39am

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Are We In.

November 15, 2019 - 5:46am

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Easy to Mock.

November 8, 2019 - 5:35am

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

When the Saints.

November 1, 2019 - 6:14am

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Persistent Justice

October 24, 2019 - 9:40pm

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Hopeful Expectation

October 18, 2019 - 6:32am

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Gratitude.

October 11, 2019 - 5:38am

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

In a Cryin’ Mood

October 4, 2019 - 5:44am

I’m as blue as anyone can be. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I’m in a cryin’ mood.             (Ella Fitzgerald, “Cryin’ Mood”)
Most of us obviously can’t sing those words like Ella Fitzgerald, but some of us certainly identify with the mood they convey. No doubt many of us have been in a cryin’ mood at some point in our lives. When one looks at some the events around our world leaders it’s hard not to be in a cryin mood. Various events— whether they were good or bad—move some of us to tears rather easily. Others of us (me, for example) have not been accustomed to crying. Sure, there is the occasional shed tear, but weeping has been foreign to us, particularly in our early lives. Our culture writes songs about weeping and produces movies that cause us to cry, but do we really talk about crying or shedding tears?
And, if we do cry, we may even try to do so in private or conceal evidence of the tears that have rolled down our cheeks. Yet this week’s readings from the Old Testament (Psalm 137 and Lamentations 1:1-6) will not let us turn our heads from those who weep or shy away from those things that demand tears. Indeed, these passages bring weeping to notice and may even call us to be in a cryin’ mood. Some of us might be tempted to wonder what there is for the Israelites to cry about.
The readings are set to a background where many people have survived the Babylonian invasion. Many families of lower social standing have been left in Palestine to farm and raise cattle. Granted, the upper echelons of society have been taken into exile in Babylon, but they’re alive and well. In fact, they might even prosper. Life is not perfect, but it could be a lot worse. For the prophet, however, what’s not to cry about? Jerusalem is empty. Zion is lonely. Majesty is gone. Princes have fled. Judah departed a slave. Priests groan.
The psalmist includes weeping as an appropriate response to the devastation of Zion. Zion is only a memory. Harps are hung on willows (listen to the song, “By the Rivers of Babylon sung by Boney M). Captors taunt and torment. Edomites are to blame. Neither of these passages’ recoils from the horrors of exile; both are brutally honest about the most pressing issues of the day: religious backsliding, military failure, and incapable political leadership. The prophet and the psalmist express the concerns, worries, fears, and thoughts while also giving voice to a communal consciousness of lament. Just as we have our young feeling so desperate, that they openly march and lament what previous generations and us the current elders still alive have done to creation – the earth we have to live on and in.
Lament may not be a practice incorporated into most contemporary Christian worship, but for followers of Yahweh in the ancient Near East, lamenting was a familiar and necessary practice. Somewhere along the way, I’m afraid we’ve lost our ability, or possibly the willingness, to lament. Maybe this has something to do with the rugged individualism and optimism that can be traced to the early Australian and Kiwi experience. Or could it be a rampant identification of the gospel with particular political parties or patriotic concerns? Whatever it is, we don’t know how to do it—and we don’t know how to be around those who do.
We are hesitant to pay attention to our world and the suffering and injustice that inhabit its many dark corners. We refuse to name inequality or admit our culpability. We refuse to accept or want to see the trashing of God’s creation for which we have been appointed stewards for. In our striving for things, riches and our desire for all consuming growth without considering the consequences of our actions. We are hesitant to lament the widespread greed practised and espoused in our communities along with the desire for power to lord it over others.

We somehow lack the will (whether it be spiritual, moral, or political) to be brutally honest with ourselves in private or in public. We don’t lament; I doubt we even want to know how. We’ve forgotten what it means to weep over devastation and injustice. And in the process, I fear we’ve come to settle for explanations and justifications of the status quo, a status quo that overwhelmingly favours a few and ignores the plight of the vast majority. We’ve come to settle for explanations and justifications of a gospel that is more obsessed with personal blessing than universal justice and the exercise of compassion that Jesus demonstrated to us.
We’ve (and I include myself in this) have settled for explanations and justifications of a gospel that falls short of acknowledging our own shortcomings and blames only the sins of others. Our politicians cannot see a wider good for all humanity somehow. I’m afraid we’re ignoring the raw nature of passages like Lamentations and Psalm 137. Or, maybe the church is just not in a cryin’ mood and it’s utterly annoyed by those who are. Now, just as weeping and tears are powerless to change the past, bear in mind that neither of our readings implies that such honesty directed toward God effects an immediate reversal of undesirable circumstances.
It is commonly assumed that a good cry can be quite healthy, whereas rigid avoidance of tears is unhealthy, which gives me hope that we are capable of recovering the practice of lament as seen in today’s readings. Individual and communal laments are voiced for us and by us, but they are ultimately directed toward God. God alone is the ultimate recipient of our honesty, anger, rage, discontent, and lament. So, come sit by the river with me and hang your harp next to mine; we’ve a song to sing of Zion, and I’m in a cryin’ mood. I’m in a cryin mood as I sit writing and reflecting on today’s world gifted to us by God and our failure to steward it wisely.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Do We Get the Point?

September 27, 2019 - 1:33pm

Prior to this parable in the second part of Luke 16 in the three-year lectionary, we have heard a lot of talk about wealth and poverty. Having heard or read these scriptures do we get the point yet? No? Backtrack to last week, where in the first half of Luke 16 we met a financial manager who was similarly caught up in the things of this world. This man saw his own economic stability fading because he squandered the wealth of one of his clients, and only upon finding out that he was about to lose it all did he become an imaginative and energetic financial whiz. This was due primarily to the fact that, like the man for whom he worked, he had made wealth his master.

This week we meet a rich man and a poor man. These two, along with Abraham, have taken up residence in the afterlife. Abraham was the consummate waiter, a man who was promised some land and some descendants, and then waited, and waited, and waited. After the long-awaited arrival of his son Isaac, Abraham was later willing to give up his own flesh at the behest of God. It seems, then, that Abraham is the perfect figure to mediate between the rich man and Lazarus.
Famously rich himself, Abraham’s willingness to part with Isaac makes it seem as though any other material thing would have also been sacrificed had God asked him for it. At any rate, he is clearly in a favourable position in the afterlife, and a man who was previously a beggar in his earthly life finds some comfort right next to this famously wealthy Old Testament figure. Meanwhile, the man who was rich in the earthly life can’t find any relief.
Do you find some comfort in the rich man’s eternal torment, in this reversal of roles from one life to the next? Do you, like me, even want to hear Lazarus taunt the rich man from the safety of where he is? The rich man, after all, ignored the hunger of others while having plenty of leftovers at home in the fridge. Well, the exchange seems just right to me. However, I would have to ask you not to confront me with the fact that I should be able to see that I too am among the wealthy (you, after all, are probably right there with me).
It might seem refreshing—this word about justice—coming from this man Jesus who is always preaching about grace. But most important, all of our passages from this series make the point that following God is not simply about intellectual belief. In spite of what many have said, belief in the right God or doctrine is only part of what it means to be a person of faith as it is depicted in Scripture. Jesus presupposes that there will be solidarity.
The faith presented to us by other Gospels and epistles talk of this. Paul implies in Romans that the renewal of our minds will lead to the transformation of our character. James emphasizes that “faith without works is . . . dead.” Or remember Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats. You know, the one in which he boldly teaches that in as much as you have helped or harmed “the least of these,” the poor among us, you have helped or harmed God and will be judged accordingly?
Christianity is a belief in the sense that you are so attached to a truth that it causes you to go out and do something. As James put it, you are to become a doer of the Word. Even in Jesus’ time, this understanding of following God was not new. Jesus could immediately envision Abraham saying to the rich man who wanted to “go back” and warn his relatives, “Listen, they have Moses and the prophets . . . you had Moses and the prophets.” I imagine Jesus himself saying later to a few of the disciples, “Look, some of this is old stuff, it is tried and true. I’ve just come to fulfil this.”
He knew that Deuteronomy 15 emphasized that the rich have a moral responsibility to help the poor, that Amos’s God is relentless in his criticism of the people when they do not care for the poor. Amos even proclaims that of such unthinking persons, the Lord says, “I will crush you.” All of Scripture, then, tells us that our faith doesn’t stop at intellectual belief, and that piety cannot end at our front gates. Justice and righteous as given to us by God and shown to us through his Son Jesus Christ don’t stop before it’s our turn to act. It doesn’t stop before it gets to our hearts. We are the bearers of justice and righteous for all God’s creation here and now.
Lazarus in his earthly life slipped right through the cracks, kind of like that old lost coin from our Gospel reading two weeks ago. Lazarus too is found by the great Searcher, but the Gospel for this week is just as tough: whereas we have found Lazarus, we meet a rich man who is utterly lost himself, and we must wonder whether he will ever be found. Not because of his wealth— again, Abraham better than anyone knew wealth—but because he was blinded by it instead of using it for good. Is this just? Is this love? May God use these difficult words to give us a heart for the lost—the poor and rich alike.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.

September 20, 2019 - 7:48am
Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England in 1512, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves. 


As the dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.


Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us see continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In Deuteronomy, Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.
The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 
Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Citizens of the Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. More “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. This day, may our prayers for ourselves and for each other be to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us, and, thereby, discovering the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Disturbing Quality.

September 12, 2019 - 10:40pm

Fifty years ago, many of us were fascinated by a set of images or words coming from our media that became part of who we were. Images of the far away moon and representatives of humanity walking there have become part of who we are. Eighteen years ago, a set of images became part of our culture. The collective consciousness of the world expanded to include images of buildings and people falling, images of planes crashing and exploding, images of exhausted first responders. Alongside those images are sets of mental pictures, where we were and who was with us on September 11, 2001.
In the days of the exodus, a set of images became part of Israelite history. God’s chosen people amassed images of their escape, of the destruction Yahweh brought down in plague after plague, of an angry pharaoh chasing after his slave labour as they fled into the desert. The exodus created images of walls of water piling up for the weary nation to cross a riverbed; and in the journey to their freedom, the people of God gathered up images of pharaoh’s great army swallowed up in an unforgiving sea.
Yet in Exodus 32, we struggle to understand a people who conspired together to form a more concrete image of a god, one they could create and touch, one they could understand and control, one they could move and manipulate. The images of past deliverance were not sufficient for their faith. They sought more than the image of a past experience. They pursued an image of God’s presence; but like many of us searching for certainty, they shaped an image of God’s absence. The disturbing, living quality of Yahweh, God is that no image can hold God’s full presence.

And, while images of our life and world will replay around us, we are challenged to see God somewhere in all of them— in that first step onto a far celestial body by humanity, in the first responder’s courage, in the trembling wall of water on either side, in the idea that sometimes we need to change our minds. But as we come back to earth and focus on what is important what are we asked to do by our God.
As we pick up on the reading from Luke 15, we are given a challenge to our focus in life. What do I owe the ninety-nine? I wander far, slipping heedlessly over sliding gravel, jumping doe-like over crevices, relying upon my own grace. Maybe not so much wandering as running away. Panic obscures my memory and my motives. I descend through the canyons until I’m immobilised by abysses that stretch too wide to cross, rock buttresses too narrow to squeeze through. Weakened, I can’t retrace my steps. Just as I surrender to despair, there you are. You sought me and found me and carried me home. Our God has been with us and supported us as we have taken this journey to seek those who are lost.
Here’s my question and a challenging question for us all. What do I now owe the other ninety-nine? The ones waiting patiently, staying obediently with the flock? Did you see their looks of envy and reproach? How do you get to nuzzle against his shoulder, carried on his sweet back? You don’t deserve it! We were faithful, we stayed with the flock and look at you carried shoulder high like a triumphant athlete, laurel leaves for your lies and selfishness!

Like the prodigal’s older brother, they refuse to come to the angelic party given in my honour. What do I owe them? I’d drink to their happiness—if I hadn’t given up drinking. They reject the gift of my gratitude. The ninety-nine banish me to the solitude I sought in the first place. They turn me into a fool. A fool for love. And wiser than I was. Our world can gape in awe at events both positive and challenging in our history, but they pale in the eyes of our God and yet again the question comes of how we acknowledge our God’s presence.
In these scripture readings Jesus and the writers tell us that there is a God who comes to save the lost. God knows us, knows our hiding places and the little nooks and crannies that we slip into from time to time, and he comes to save us. Salvation always looks different than we expect it to—sometimes pleasantly different, and sometimes it looks like rehab, marriage counselling, a job you wouldn’t ordinarily want—but a job is a job is a job.  
We should also never forget that God has a body, the church, and that sometimes God retrieves us through this body. Pastor is Latin for “shepherd,” and in a sense, we are all called to be pastors, shepherds— gatherers of lost people—through our comings and goings, our liturgies, our various gifts. As Christians we ask that our God may give us the diligence to search for the lost and the wisdom to know what to do after we find them.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.

September 6, 2019 - 5:46am

Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves.

At that time, the medieval style of interpretation of scripture had concentrated on identifying an element of church doctrine, enumerating it point by point, and developing a supporting argument through the use of selected biblical texts and quotes from Church Fathers. In contrast, Colet began with the biblical text and developed a direct interpretation of it. He focused on the writer of the text and its context, rather than focusing on doctrine and tradition.

Colet felt that the teachings of scripture could be taught in such a way as to be easily understood by almost anyone. His approach was to read a whole unit of text, as opposed to an isolated passage. Then he tried to discover what the original writer had tried to say.  In Colet’s hands, the Epistles of Paul were not a string of riddles but the letters of a real people. Colet wanted to understand for himself, and to help others understand, what the writers intended.

As the Dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though, his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.

Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.

The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 
Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Generally citizens of Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. It seems that more “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put
the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. I wish that this day our prayers for ourselves and for each other be prayers of seeking to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us. This would then enable us to discover the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Rocky Dinner Party.

August 30, 2019 - 7:47am

For those who follow the three year scripture cycle for Sunday reading todays reading from Luke 14 suggest we leave out five verses. It’s almost as if when a parent forbids a child to look at a certain chapter in a book on the living room shelf, so we just have to take a peek to see what is in those forbidden verses. We need the full context here. Luke 14:1 tells us that Jesus had been invited for a dinner party at the house of a “prominent Pharisee.” But why was Jesus invited? He was not a real popular person among the Pharisees, after all.
I like many suspect he was not invited out of love. In fact, it looks like they were setting Jesus up as many Priests and Ministers will have experienced themselves. As such, it is neither accidental nor coincidental that Jesus immediately encounters a man with dropsy. Dropsy was what today we would call oedema (Fluid gathering in the wrong places particularly at the extremities, which likely meant his breathing was laboured, and also his face, legs, feet, and hands were swollen because of a cardio-pulmonary problem that caused fluid to build up throughout his body. Likely he looked pathetic.
As his devious hosts suspected, Jesus cannot resist the urge to help. “Would it be all right by you if I healed this man? Is that a lawful thing to do on the Sabbath?” Silence. The dinner party is off to a really rocky start! But it gets worse when in reaction to people’s jockeying for the more important seats at the dining table Jesus begins to urge a bit of humility rather than brashly trying to get the best seat in the house. Did the people blush? Probably. But Jesus is not done. He has more to say and it is not what you’d call Emily Post etiquette or here in Australia June Dally-Watkins etiquette to say what Jesus does at this party.
Ultimately Jesus tells us a parable that was a direct rebuke to his own host or not caring more about the last, least, lost, and the lonely of the world the way God wants us to. Luke doesn’t tell us how that Sabbath-day dinner party ended. But you get the feeling that when Jesus left his hosts were not smiling and saying to Jesus, come again. When we next see Jesus at a dinner a chapter on in Luke we see that Jesus is dining with sinners. In this dining experience while Jesus is dining with the so called sinners the Pharisees are on the outside looking in. Looking in and sneering at Jesus in judgement.
You know, the Pharisees, as often with leadership that has got stuck and rigid didn’t get it. They didn’t get it ever and I wonder how many of us could easily or do easily slip into this sort of judgement. We hear clearly who Jesus’s kind of people were. The question we need to be asking ourselves and of each other is whether Jesus’s kind of people are our kind of people.
The writer Dallas Willard in his book, “The Divine Conspiracy,” noted that we that is humanity, not just those professing to be Christians, often forget what the goal of our life is, our discipleship, and our vocation. The goal is to live like Jesus, follow the way he engaged with people and exhibit great compassion and love for creation. This is not a metaphor or some overblown aspiration but is to be a bright centre for our lives. I have to add that this may also involve us in suffering and sacrifice of various kinds.
There is always a danger, like anything good humans get their hands on, it can be diverted and corrupted. The danger is that the attempt to live like Jesus can be turned to tempting us into acting and believing that it is our obedience that gets us the reward and a free trip to heaven (whatever we believe that to be).  Sadly we seek to look for a system to make sure that God will love me again this week – we look to hear and preach as I heard it once described, “Shouldy sermons.”  We are to go with Jesus to the outside and recognise it’s not about us and that it’s all about grace and for which we continually give thanks.
In Hebrews 13 we have these parting words:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

“Also an anonymous soul has expressed it well:
Love is the spark that kindles the fires of compassion.
Compassion is the fire that flames the candle of service.
Service is the candle that ignites the torch of hope. Hope is the torch that lights the beacon of faith.
Faith is the beacon that reflects the power of God.
God is the power that creates the miracle of love.




Categories: Syndicated Blogs