Sunday, 20 August 2017

Politics of reconciliation

In a world that is filled with hatred and violence religious and faith communities throughout the world use the language of reconciliation to try and foster peace.  In the life of our faith journey it is not something that we often consider for ourselves or even practice.  Embittered by division and inter-personal hatreds families, parishes and denominations splinter apart to find their own way in the world and fester wounds that should have been healed before they even began.  The war between Joseph's human need to exact some form of punishment and his need to reconcile with family comes to an end when he reveals himself to his brothers (Gen. 45.1-15).  A turning point in our understanding of how to treat those who are different and heal the rifts of race and difference comes in Christ's interaction with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 21-28).  No matter who or what is the root cause of the division it is our response that matters.  At the end of the day our response is a political decision, but we must be careful as the decision may be a aligned to human politics rather than God's politics.

Wait, God has politics? Yes, something we perhaps overlook is, as one author puts it, "There is no such thing as trust in a king [ruler] that is spiritually neutral or separated from one's trust in God. And there is no such thing as trust in God that is politically neutral." so no matter what we do we are political.  Choice is a matter of politics.  How we choose to respond to our everyday decisions and our everyday dilemmas is a political decision.  In belonging to the Church that calls God "creator" we automatically align with God as our ruler.  How can we not?  If this is the case, and I for one would be hesitant to disagree, then our responses to our everyday and our human political challenges need to be responded to in a manner that is in alignment with the politics of God, that may not be Green, Labour or Liberal.  Our concern must be with regards to the challenge of God's directives in our human interactions, hidden or open as the case may be.

Only by reaching across the gap do we begin to be reconciled and loved.

God gave to Adam and Eve a mandate to rule over all and be a good steward to the Earth  Made in God's image we have the same mandate but it is a mandate that is ruled by God.  If we accept a triune God this means that our politics should be mirrored on this relationship of mutual understanding and interaction.  Until we can meet our obligations of respecting each other as being mad in the image of Gd how on Earth can we get our politics correct.  The debacle in National politics this last week and in International politics over the last little while shows a distinct lack of respect for those made in the image of God.  It is no wonder that we are in such a chaotic environment.  The story of Joseph and his brothers and the interaction with the Canaanite woman show us how our interactions need to be both at a local and an International level.  Poor word choice and poor familial relationships are overcome by the judicious use of wisdom in our lives.  An ability to see beyond the current debate to ascertain what is beneficial nor all not just a few.

Once we make the initial move towards a life of reconciliation we can move into a life of abundance.  Both the Canaanite and Joseph's family come out with joy as they are prepared to embrace the fact that we can have our prejudices but see beyond so that benefit for the community and not the self is found.  Consider some of the things that we proclaim as the Church on one hand  and yet on the other raise barriers to through our pre-judgements and our inability to see justice and righteousness.  Forgiveness starts with understanding the process of reconciliation, it does not end in this process.  Only by understanding that the two sides needed to be reconciled did Christ and Joseph begin to reconcile the gulf.  That healing led to abundance as it followed the path of God's political agenda and not man's presumptive agenda.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The challenges of dreaming big

There are I am sure quite a number of people across the country who are attempting to assist their children to dream big and assist with the choosing of their education for the next two years.  Year ten anxiety levels rise to a high level at this time of year for our dreamers who are attempting to dream big.  It is practically impossible to get a young person in to the courses they would like to further their career when schools and colleges are more concerned with ATAR results and the academic standing of the school.  Joseph must have found it just as frustrating with his dreams that were always being denigrated by his brothers and the community (Gen. 37.12-28).  The disciples may have thought they were dreaming when they saw the reality of Christ on the water (Matt. 14.22-36) yet this dream was one of faith realised.

So what is it about our general attitude towards others with dreams.  Why do we find our own institutions importance comes before our fellow human's dreams?  Is it that we are jealous of their possible achievement?  In some circumstances (often in the services) the threat of someone lower down the pyramid is enough for others to place obstacles in the way.  Can we not sit back and relax in allowing someone to attempt their dreams, especially when they are younger or must we be pessimistic and close the dream down?  To some respects like Joseph and his brothers it is a matter of tradition.  We have been brought up as sheep farmers that is what the family is we cannot have any other dreams around this place.  Like the brothers we are comfortable in this role and do not want to look beyond.  Yet in faith we are always being drawn out to follow God's dreams and that will always make us uncomfortable.  We cannot rely on tradition and always be in the same place.

Do we allow others to dream God's dream?

There is an old proverb about allowing a bird to go free and if it is yours it will come back to you.  We just have to allow ourselves to allow others to dream.  Christ encouraged Peter out on to the water (Matt. 14.29).  No matter how insubstantial the medium looked to Peter Christ was firmly standing there so why couldn't he.  Peter took a leap of faith and stepped out having been encouraged into his dream to be with Christ at that moment.  In following the dream Peter walked where no man had walked before it was only when he was confronted with his fears and those of his community that he began to sink.  This is what we as a community do to others around us in approaching the Christian faith.  We do not allow God to draw them into God's dreams and welcome their dreaming.  Rather we state what the tradition is and have them fit to our way of worshipping God.  We feed them with fears and not the freedom that God gives through the dreams that are dreamt.

We do not husband their dreams but rather like the student counsellor who says "Well, you have no intelligence so you are better of going to secretarial college then even bothering following your dream into medicine."  How many Einstein's and Barnards have we managed to turn away from their dream of making God's world a better place.  Oh, well some doors open and others close, go with the flow.  God's dream is persistent and leads me into joy, exuberance and adventure.  To a world of peace and prosperity, a place of joy and sustainability...but that is just a dream...isn't it?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Political farce

I have been appalled by the poor performance of elected officials in the Australian parliament lately. So what is new. The latest inability of elected officials to reach a decision that is decisive and worthy of the title leadership is one of the most spectacular debacles I have seen in politics.  It rates as highly as the inability of the South African Parliament to pass a no confidence motion.  This would imply that the Australian government is no more than a third world country with third world immature political decision making.

The government holds to the notion that because it has a majority (of 2 in the lower house and none in the Senate), it has a mandate to undertake its policies.  Following this notional authority of mandate has led many parishes and other institutions into a lot of strife / division and uncertainty.  Yes, the government was elected as a result of its policies but not as a result of any one policy.  The poor majority gives those in power the limited mandate to govern justly not a mandate on every single policy that they said they would undertake.  If they want a mandate on each policy the people should have been given the opportunity to vote on each policy (not a very good way to elect a government) or else they should hold a clear majority in both houses.  I suspect that if they had the single policy of a plebiscite on marriage they would not have a majority in the lower house, slim or otherwise.  Good governance suggests that those in authority have been elected for their (supposed) wisdom and ability to lead in times of divisiveness and  struggle.  This means that they should have some flexibility of thought and understanding of what the community wishes.  In terms of their limited majority situation it means that they have to enter into dialogue and compromise with all other members of the parliament to achieve a way forward into a less divisive future.

The tug of war between sides.  Where is love and acceptance?

What is even more farcical is that the elected government, who bleats at every possible moment about the lack of financial stability, is even considering a vote (you do not have to vote vote now) which expends finances that could be better spent on those that are at the lower end of the economic spectrum or sorting our matters of more importance, i.e. health inequality, etc.  The fact that the vote is non-binding is even more farcical.  If the vote is "no", the government has a "mandate" not to change the marriage act, if the vote is "yes" it means that there is a "mandate" to vote in parliament which is 'non binding' and can be either as a conscience or directed vote on party lines.  This is nuts.  It still ends up as a vote in Parliament if it is yes, Why, spend the money, just to ease a conscience on a promise (one of many) made at an election?  Is this good governance?

In terms of the debate around the understanding of "marriage", this becomes even more farcical when you have proponents saying that this is a Christian institution and must uphold to an individual or a denominations interpretation of God and God's intention.  (I am uncertain if I know of anyone who knows the mind of God).  The sacrament of "marriage", as I understand it, the outward expression of the inward grace, is at the point of the freely exchanged vows between the couple in the presence of GOD. (As Christians maybe we can debate this especially as many Christians do not accept marriage as a sacrament.  Only Baptism and Eucharist are sacraments given by Christ.)  This is within the Christian interpretation seen as between a man and a woman.  However, this is the sacrament, the outward expression of an inward grace. "Marriage" as it currently stands is a civil and legal requirement of government which should be looked at from this viewpoint.  The religious view is for those committed to a faith path.  If we want a biblical marriage maybe there is room for a polygamous one?  As Christians we would be hypocritical to deny the legal expression of a person's love for another.  I would prefer to see committed love rather than an increasingly acrimonious statistic on divorce and broken relationship.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Wrestling with the future

Decision points in our lives brings on a tremendous pressure which unbalances our outlook.  We only have to look at the statistics with regards stress which point out that moving house, divorce/break up, death in the family and changing jobs are all high stressors.  These all symbolise struggle in our lives as we give up the old comforts and take on new challenges.  Such challenges face our faith journey as well.  These can be as life changing as those which we undertake in the secular world.  We only have to glimpse at the story of Jacob wrestling with "God" on the edge of the creek, Jabbok (Gen 32.22-31).  It is his determination in the end to hold onto the opponent that brings about the change in name to Israel, one who has contended with God and man (Gen 32.28).

In discerning our path both as individuals and as corporate bodies we have to have a certain amount of perseverance.  It is not an easy matter when we are confronted with change that is or appears to be monumental and life changing.  Jacob uses all his human skills to try to ameliorate his brother's 'perceived' attitude towards his return.  Gifts, the splitting up of his forces, the sending away of his close family, etc.  All the ways in which we to try to fend of disaster in our personal lives.  Finally Jacob is left with no option but to confront head on his own fears and faith during the night hours.  Having reached this stage we are at the bottom of our evasive arsenal.  Often what happens is that we give up the struggle and go about our business without having resolved the issues.  In doing so we allow the same issues to become a continuing part of our lives that nag and disrupt the life that we should be living.

Only when we begin to wrestle and discern the way forward do we find God with us.

In wrestling with God and issues of our faith journey we are confronting our most basic uncertainties.  The areas in our life that we (sometimes unknowingly, sometimes knowingly) hand over using avoidance tactics throughout our lives.  In subjecting ourselves to others and their beliefs we abstain from the struggle as being too hard or as being too life changing and fall back into lives that have stagnated.  The one thing that we cannot avoid is that God calls us on a journey.  The implication of this as all who have been on a journey know, the scenery is constantly changing.  We cannot find ease on a journey until we accept the changes that are taking place around us.  Our faith lives are no less so then the lives that we live on a day to day basis, indeed they are significantly intertwined.  No amount of prevarication will prevent the consequences of delayed decision making on our quality of life.

Seminal events such as Jacob's wrestling, ultimately change us, just as Jacob became Israel and limped, so we too will be changed.  The comforts of yesterday are changed by the difference of today.  Too many of us, on both our life and faith journeys, are complacent and wish for the comfort of familiar things.  Joy comes to us only when we begin to look at new things and new ways.  The most complete people I have been friends with are those that have embraced the chances and changes of life.  Those who have wrestled with God throughout their lives, to find the new life into which we are beckoned over our objections and hesitations.  They are the ones forever seeking new paths to be trodden and renewing their lives as they struggle daily with their faith and what it means in today's world.  Bilbo Baggins was dragged kicking and screaming into an adventure that changed his life.  Can we do anything less?  Only when we struggle do we find the answers that we seek.  The fruit of the tree of knowledge came easily, everything else has been a struggle.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Seeking treasure

We chase our dreams, for ever searching for that which will fulfill us and the lives we live.  Society around us holds up for us the dreams of an ephemeral nature that are here and then gone in an instant.  These are the dreams that we are conditioned by society to chase.  The hearts desire for a life of freedom through wealth, freedom through fame and freedom through power.  These are the things that society offer us.  We strive for and are induced into pathways of pain and exhaustion towards an ephemeral moment of fame, power and fortune.  Our lives are exhausted ghosts floating on the leavings of others and fleeting dreams that turn to dust as we pursue them for nought.  Faith offers us a different path, one that leads to a concrete treasure that is everlasting (Matt...).

The modern world is one that involves us in seeking out other peoples dreams and trying to live the lives of others. We very rarely sit down and take stock of where we are going or even where God is calling us.  We are led by others whose dreams appear to be more fulfilling and therefore must be better.  This path is a path to envy and the green monster is not very hard to find in our lives.  Every thing we hear on the radio is a plea to that monster to consume us.  Just think about the political and not so political stances of various societal sectors.  This group is getting more or the other group over there is going to be given a break "What about us/me?" is the cry.  If you give to them we deserve to get as much or more.  Every sector in society stands up to fight for / argue for / deserves more than the other sector of society.  We are conditioned to stand for this or that and then work for their dream.  God grants to us a gift of his love but we have to recognise that gift in our lives and when we do we need to do everything possible to keep the gift and not sully in it the wormhole of envy for what others have got.

have you found the pearl within yourself?

In discovering the true beauty of the unseen pearl that resides in our lives we discover how to live in the world.  In not allowing the greed of the everyday overwhelm us we allow the hand of God to direct our living.  This does not mean that we stop being involved in the world.  It is an achieving of a balance that allows the grace that God bestows upon us to come to the fore while dis-allowing the capricious call of our own wants to overwhelm our everyday lives.  By recognising the light of God within ourselves we are empowered to bring God's word into the everyday ordinariness of our lives.  We begin to be led away from the competitiveness of the world and bask in the glory and knowledge of God.  It is only in the recognition of the Christ within each of ourselves and the neighbour or other around us that we start to be a force for the good of God.  In owning this inner life in allowing this to rule our actions we start to see the pearl that lives within our own selves.

The parable tells of how the people concerned bury or go away before returning to the treasure.  This is something we all must do, once we have found the treasures that God gives to us through God's grace we turn away. Why?  Simply really to do the most costly thing of all, just like the people in the story. We turn away to rid ourselves of everything that draws us back into the word of ephemeral fame, power and fortune.  Only when we have sold everything, rid ourselves of our own faults, longings and desires are we ready to afford the pearl and the treasure that lies hidden within ourselves.  It is amazing how many people say "I am saved" but are still fixated on the dreams and desires of this world rather than on the offerings of God.  The evangelist who has not let go of the world is not an evangelist from or of God but of their own self indulgence.  God delights in a humble heart not necessarily one worth millions.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Future seeds or future weeds

Christ tells us stories (Matt 13.24 ff) that come from an agricultural landscape that we are probably unfamiliar with in today's world of high tech and vicarious pleasure.  As with last week, it is story set in the seasonal growth of a growing period and not the fast paced www highways that extend around the world.  It is about looking towards a future that is down the long road and not immediate, it is about looking at our fast paced lives through the eyes of God.  The human agenda is strewn with details and minuscule events that in actuality turn out to be non-entities in the bigger picture world that is the God story, the story of salvation.

We are sometimes pathetically upset by the long way round or are fascinated by the view of time held by those who work the land.  We often fail to see the driving motivation and become agitated when the result is not immediate.  Often we have moved this attitude into our modern farming productive methods because we want to have immediate results.  Unfortunately, nature and God do not really work like that no matter how much we would like it to be.  Like God we need to start to look towards the future, it may not happen in this generation but if the seeds are correctly planted no matter what the vicissitudes of life there will be a harvest at the end.  We sometimes concern ourselves overly much, like the servants and the workers in the Matthew parable, with obtaining an immediate satisfactory perfection.  This can be applied to any situation within our spiritual as well as our mundane lives.  Yes, occasionally, there is a need to act with haste and immediacy but we need to remember that there is a consequence to every hasty action we take.

Can you tell the difference?  What is wheat in God's eyes and what is a tare?

The servants and stewards in the parable want to remove the weeds immediately but it is the sagacity of the owner who reminds them that in taking out one weed the probability of taking out good plants is high and therefore likely to reduce the final yield.  We want to focus on the irritants, we want to dive in and save the day with our programmes and our schemes.  Once again we forget that God is the one who is leading us along the path to redemption and salvation. We only have to look at our hasty actions of the past (reminding ourselves about the effectiveness of hindsight) when it comes to our goals in terms of the environment and our human sustainability.  We see the immediate benefits of something and jump in to utilise that for our benefit.  In this day and age it would have been thought that we would have learnt from the hastiness of the past and be more deliberate about how we take up new things.

Looking at our political decisions in recent months it is fairly obvious that greed is the motivating force behind most decisions and not the good of the world or for the long term benefit of humanity.  Even when we consider the benefits for a country we only consider the economic benefit in the short term not the long term.  We do the same thing within the church.  We look to solve the short term issue and not look at the long term issue.  Christ shows us God's view point in this parable, a viewpoint taken up by God in the vision that Jacob had on his journey (Gen. 28.10-19).  This is not a dream of the immediate goal but a dream of a long term vision.  A dream that takes Jacob into a blessed future but one that does not suggest that there will be no hardships.  In looking to the future whether politically, spiritually or in our everyday lives we need to hold to the dream not to overcoming the small irritants and details.  They have a way of working out but not the way we either expect or necessarily want in our own minds.  Yet, they will be what God wants.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sowing seed for life

The old saying is that we reap what we sow in life.  So what is it that you sow or have sown during your life?  Looking back we often find that we have regrets somewhat like Esau, who sold his birthright (Gen 25.32-33), had later in life.  Ours may not have been as great a foolishness but looking back it often rankles and hurts.  Yet, sometimes what we perceive to be a disaster is what God is asking of us as he plants a seed to mature in the time to come.  Retrospective looks back in time are said to be 100% and that is how we learn.  Yet the ramifications from our regrets may actually be positive in the lives of others.

In the parable that Christ sets up in Matthew's gospel (13.1-), the sower does not appear to understand what it is that he is doing.  Seed appears to be scattered willy nilly all over the place.  Some falling here and other times some falling there.  Surely, one has to ask, the sower should be a little more deterministic when it comes to the scattering of the seed.  If we want a good harvest we must direct the seed into good ground.  There is no point in scattering it around.  I would have fired the sower, if it was my farm, I want a good yield not a bit of this and a bit of that (100% or nothing).  That is how we operate in today's world.  No matter what we do the expectation is that the out put of our work will be beneficial to the company for whom we work.  I suspect in earlier times the same would also be the case especially with regards to the distribution of valuable seed. In looking at the church or the parish in terms of what we do, a recent trend has been to emphasise mission based programs.  We are told you have to do this, or you must do this or this is where you will achieve growth in the church, follow this evangelistic method / program / etc.

Do we know what seed we have sown?

God does not work with programs, God works with the world the way God wants the world to be.  God calls us into difference not sameness.  Each programme of evangelism that is promoted is looking for sameness not difference.  God determines where the seed should fall, by placing all our seed into the one basket of programme evangelism we deny God access to the fruits of the seed.  Our evangelistic programme may well be scattering the seed on a well trodden path that does not allow for it to grow.  I suspect that more often than not, this is precisely what is happening; we continue to sow good seed onto the well trodden paths of human expectations only to find it trodden under foot.  It is only when we allow God to direct the sower of the seed that we begin to see the fruits of God's labour.  We talk of good and bad ground as if these were dualistic opposites.  Perhaps yesterday's poor ground maybe today's good soil as God directs the seed and the growth.

Paul reckons us to live on the level of the Spirit not on the level of what has gone before (Rom 8.5-6) when we live in Christ.  Yet we tend to live in the world and ignore Christ except as a passing whisper or throw away line.  If something has achieved good results elsewhere then surely it will achieve remarkable results here in this place all it requires is the 'minister' to put in the energy.  Or if what has worked in the past should be re-iterated, again and again and again, then we will achieve the same results now as then.  In undertaking these thoughts we actually undermine God. We are second guessing where the seed that the farmer has granted to us through grace is to be planted by our knowledge not by the farmers understanding of the fields to be sown and then reaped.  Only when we understand that it is by allowing God's hand in our work for God that we achieve the remarkable. It is not in following previous things or other programmes as these may not be what God is calling us to in the present.  In living into the Spirit we live into Christ and we allow Christ's guiding light to be ever present in our hearts.  We go where Christ wills not where we will.