Sunday, 22 October 2017

Caesar's recompense - the obligations of tithing

We all complain about the taxes that we are required to pay.  We all complain about the amount of money that the local council demands from us in rates.  After all even Christ suggests that we should give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar (Mtt. 22.17-22).  We all give generously to the needs of our clubs and societies to which we belong whether it be the Embroider's Guild, the Art Appreciation Society, Rotary or some other group such as the Golf Club, etc.  The difference being the fact that we want to do those things that we belong to and we moan about anything imposed on us by "authority".  Let us just think about this in a different manner.  What would happen if we did not pay our taxes as a collective, our rates and our club dues?  What difference would it make to anything if we did not give?

In looking at the situation from this viewpoint we automatically see that things would start to become significantly problematical for us.  Let's us the council rates as an example.  If I was the Council and did not receive what was asked what would happen.  Well perhaps, one could start by withdrawing services, no rubbish collection for that household.  Any repairs to roadways outside the house be put off.  Perhaps spend a little less on the upkeep of the local park, the local services (library, sport venue, etc).  We soon see that there is an inconvenience placed on the householder that begins to affect the neighbour and then ultimately the community as resources keep on being diverted away from the area in which the house is situated.  We can obviously take the implications of this on to the larger problematic of taxes to the Federal government with the resultant consequences.  I am sure that Christ was equally aware of these same consequences in his era and the time.  Our society and our community does not depend purely and simply on goodwill.  At some point in the complexity of society there has to be a means of ensuring that essential works are undertaken,  By choice we make this an issue of financial return.

Is our tithe barn empty?

It can be seen that we would also be breaking the commandment of love of neighbour should we be so neglectful in our duties.  The same applies at the lower level of clubs and social societies as these would inevitably fold should there be a lack of income to pay for their modest upkeep and continuance.  This situation equally applies to the Church as without income there is a challenge in terms of material continuance in a specific place.  In the absence of such income there would necessarily be a downgrading of services and structure in any locality.  However, for the Christian church there is a further obligation (Mtt. 22.21b).  Here, Christ is referencing the tithe that goes back to Abram's interaction with Melchizedek (Gen. 14.20) that amounts to 10 percent.  A tithe that was to be made for the making of wholeness (Holy) in ones life (Deut. 12.5-6).  This tithe was used for doing God's will making justice, righteousness and peace something that in times past was undertaken by the Church not the government.  So what is our response.  Usually towards those structures that move towards justice and relief of poverty which is not always the Church.  It is towards making life holy and in conformance with God's love.

So we have two obligations as members of the faith community to which we belong the tithe that must go towards making our lives and the lives of our community.  Restoring justice, alleviating poverty, care for the aged and the vulnerable and creating communities of peace.  This can be through our faith community or through our actions.  This is our obligation to God.  Our second responsibility is towards our structures, our services and our faith home; this is the obligation to Caesar.  We forget either and we forget that we are a community.  We either forget our holiness or we forget our need to build community.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Invitation - Do we accept or not

Recently my daughter had an invitation to go to a get together with "mates".  She was not sure whether they were going or had pulled out, did not want to bother her Dad if it was going to be a non-event, had no way of contacting the others (surprising in this day and age of instant comms) and all the other incipient anxieties that many of us have experienced one way or the other.  Who hasn't?  The invitation says 6.00 for 6.30 and no one is outside at 6.05.  Do we dress or do we go casual?  Anxieties that are so common place for some that they are really only irritants.  We boldly go with what we think is the correct response.  So what if we are early.  Perhaps we can ask to look inside if our friends cannot be seen outside.  These are easy response to soothe the troubled mind.  What if the questions are of a bigger or rather greater nature?  The Israelites were waiting for Moses and were filled with the same fears (Ex. 32.1-14).  They had an invitation from God but were waiting for him.  Their fears were expressed in the form of an alternative to God, the golden calf, as God did not appear to be with them at the time.

Those that were invited in Christ's parable (Matt. 22.1-14) find themselves trying desperately to get out of going.  If we worry about the minor details we are also prone to saying yes as a matter of politeness knowing that we will not turn up for the event in any case.  We have no qualms about this.  We want the person to know that we are friends but are really not wishing to be put out.  It is we that matter not anything else.  We are invited by Christ to form a relationship with Christ and with God and just like those other invitations we accept out of politeness. To be honest means that we have to change our lives and centre God above everything else.  It is like changing our clothes to go out to that gathering to which we have been invited.  In deed changing our clothes is perhaps easier than changing our lives for Christ.  Often we pretend, as it easier to wear an appearance than it is to make an inward change.
When will you accept God's invitation?

The invitation we accept but have no intention of going to.  The social grace of the appearance of intentionality in attending rather than the actuality of attending.  If we were to truly accept then our lives may actually be changed.  The invitation that we actually accept and participate in is the one that changes our lives totally.  Even when we have our last minute doubts outside the venue or whether our friends are actually going to be there.  In loosing heart at the last minute we condemn ourselves just as much as when we chicken out with a polite acceptance that means nothing.  We find other things to attract our attention and divert them away from God / Christ, just like the golden calf.  If we are to be honest with ourselves our whole life should be different to the one we have accepted as we pretend to live as Christ has invited us to do.  The abundant life that is Christ has been subverted by structure that is in place for our convenience.  We have had innumerable opportunities through out the ages to make changes in how we live our lives in Christ.   Each time we have been invited out of our own lives and out of the lives we have made for ourselves we become frightened.  We are like those that sit outside the venue debating as to whether anyone else is going to turn up.  If we do not see our friends we turn away.  We use any excuse to drive away and do it ourselves.  We find any excuse, rules, regulations, societal pressures to not attend or accept the invitation honestly.

We are invited into abundant life in Christ.  We are invited to love God and our neighbours as our selves.  At what point are we going to see that acceptance means change.  It means a move away from our own self indulgences into a more permanent life that is filled with the abundance that comes with the grace of God.  It means a move away from petty cruelty of lost invitations and moments to a life filled with God's presence and opportunities.  It means a fulfillment of our desires without the worry and struggle that comes with the task of doing it ourselves. SO when will you truly accept Christ's invitation?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Commandments and authority

Do we have to obey the ten commandments (Ex. 20) or are they just moral guides to our living in the world?  What happens if our moral guides become so over interpreted and restrictive that we can no longer reflect God's love into the world?  Earlier this week I posted on the legalistic viewpoint that we have turned our faith communities into following as opposed to the rule of love that is expansive and welcoming of all.  In today's reading we follow Moses reception and delivery of the basic tenets of the third covenant, the 10 commandments, and so I pose the question above.

In trying to understand these laws both the Judaic and Christian faith have interpreted them in many different ways.  According to scripture at the time of Christ the interpretation was rather legalistic and Christ kept on poking at religious authorities with this in mind.  The writer to the Ephesians (whether Paul or Timothy or some other) has this same thing in mind.  Despite having been brought up in a culture where the Law mattered the author is still striving towards a perfection that is beyond the Law (Phil. 3).  If this is a true reflection of our own journeys in faith then we too should be striving to go beyond that which is laid down by law.  Only when we fully understand the ramifications of the law will we be able to surpass the law.  Yet, we strive only with the interpretation and simply to fulfill our interpretations by being legalistic around what, where and how we should respond.  The exact interpretation of the law is the requirement to our mind and yet we bend that to our will and our wishes rather than seeing beyond the legalistic response. Let us look at the commandment at Genesis 20.15 (Do not steal for those that did not know).  What is theft?  Does the Australian government steal when it unfairly distributes the GST revenue or is this acceptable?  By whose interpretation of theft do we go on?, How do we determine whose right? and we could go on.  In which case lets set up judges, but do they have it right? what about juries, etc, etc, etc.  The interpretation of the three words Do not steal. depends on point of view and who instituted how property was distributed, etc.  We become bogged in a quagmire of interpretation when we actually need to see the crux of the whole.

Do we steal when we eat well?

Christ circumvented the interpretive dilemma by giving us a complete "law" - Love your neighbour as yourself.  This "law" is a condensate of the final laws of the 10 commandments (Ex. 20.13-17) and forms how we need to relate to each other.  The golden rule so to speak. A rule we are unable to fulfill because we are so weighed down with our interpretive quagmire that we think we can not reach dry ground and must delve deeper and deeper into the marshy depths of our own wants and needs.  It really is simple when we think about it.  However, because of our own requirements for power, prestige, authority, admiration from others, etc we flounder in how we treat others.  We do not really care about what our neighbours want, we only care for our own benefits, our own fitness to rule. It is the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest that consumes us not the requirements of the other.  Indeed when our deficiencies are highlighted through the action of a prophet we become enraged and try to obstruct, obscure and otherwise discredit the one who is pointing our faults out.

Such behaviour is outlined in Christ's parable of the vineyard (Mtt, 21.33-46) a telling story against the religious authorities of the day that is as equally relevant for the Church today.  It is only when we actually begin to give away our limited power and authority do we begin to live as Christ wants us to. Protection of what we consider to be sacrosanct is not necessarily what God holds to be sacrosanct.  It is only God that matters not our human made rules and regulations.  God requires us to fulfill the commandment of love not our needs, because in fulfilling God's requirement the rest comes through God's grace.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Legislation removes love

It is clear that Christ offers us an understanding that 'not one jot or tittle of the law' (Matt. 5.18) will be denied its purpose and fulfilment.  However, the law being promoted here is the law of God which is the law of love as enunciated in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.  Why is it then that the Body of Christ is insistent on leaning on and promoting its own laws, the laws of a man -uf(r)actured institution?  Irrespective of denomination the laws of man have been promoted over the laws of God as the more institutionalised the Body of Christ becomes.

We are happy to model the Church in a manner that is consistent with our spiritualised understanding.  If we look at the models that are promoted in literature on the Church we find the wonderfully, parableistic models of "family", "body of Christ", "communion", "servant", "disciples" or even "the perfect society" and the "bride of Christ".  These models engender a belief in and an actuality that is based in the sentiment of love.  Such models are superbly conceived and have much to commend them but hardly model the reality of today's world and the institutional demands of a society gone mad in legislative overload.  They are models of perfection that are difficult to uphold when faced with a society that looks to corporatize faith and do away with the concepts of hope, justice and love.  Concepts which elude formalisation within the bounds of legislation and law but are rather found within individual interpretations of calling and difference.  Modelling in this manner lead us into complacency about the modern Church and its role in society.  Fencing off the divine from the mundane and not allowing the two to interact or become one in Christ.  Rather it becomes a battlefield of broken souls that slowly sink into a quagmire of violence and spite; the complete opposite of the command of God.

How many broken souls can we afford in our faith institutions?
(Mirror Of A Broken Soul by loba-chan)

We resort to law when we feel our power and authority is being undermined or challenged.  This is the response of the ages and is seen as being opposed to the law of love in our scriptures.  The legalistic religious authorities of the Hebrew and New testament scriptures are challenged time and time again by the outrageous outpouring of love from God as such love is not controlled or controlling.  In becoming agents of Christ we become subversive of all and any structure that seeks to impose authority and control.  The majority of such control and authority manifests within civil / mundane society.  The followers of Christ are agitators for dialogue and community, justice and love, peace and friendship across divides that are created by humanity for the purpose of false comfort and ease.  Yet humanities love for control and authority lead us time and time again into a response that is governed by legislation and not love.  Legislation that is used to muffle the noise of debate and protest against injustice and violence.

When we are threatened in our faith community it is to this violence of legislation that we resort, whilst the way of a loving resolution of difference is shown in our own scriptures (Matt. 18.15-17), it is often ignored in practice.  Law is sometimes required but is not and should not be the first and only recourse even if society requires it.  The faith community's legislation is built out of the legalities of modern mundane life not in the realities of faith.  Such legislation is combative and confrontational designed not out of love for our enemies but to destroy them so that our position is upheld.  But God is the epitome of love and as such calls us into relationship, which needs to be nurtured over and above our own wants.  We are required to portray that love in action rather than the destruction implicit in legislative attempts to undermine God's presence, however difficult we find it for ourselves.   Our faith legislation should be built on God's law not on the adversarial law of society.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Promises, promises

Promise keeping in today's world does not rate that highly.  The old adage that you are as good as your word does not resonate well in business circles with its unending demand for contracts and legally binding clauses to keep everyone doing the things that they promise to do.  Looking at Christ's parable of the two sons (Matt. 21.28-32) seems to indicate that this was the case even way back then.  Indeed if we look at Moses actions at the pool of Meribah (Ex.17.5-7), which is further expanded in Numbers 20.10-13, we see this in action.  What promises do we find hard to complete and what promises do we find easy?  It really depends on our attitude as does everything we do in terms of our Christian walk.  The attitude is brought out in Christ's parable supremely well.  It is not just about doing but also about doing for the right reasons and in obeyance of God.

Our promise keeping is desultory at best non existent at worst.  We require of ourselves written contracts to maintain the promises we keep.  Even when we are considering our bond to a person for life we hesitate and hesitate until we become content in a less formal relationship.  We are unable to make the commitment of a promise to a person we wish to live our lives with.  Either because of legality or because we are too scared to make that commitment.  We promise our children the earth but force them to undertake a style of education that is better suited to 100 years ago than to a world that has changed.  We make a commitment to our faith at baptism and again at confirmation only to find ourselves breaking those very promises each time we turn around.  We are happy to make voluntary commitments if it does not inconvenience our life style or what we believe should be the manner in which we live.  Moses breaks a promise to obey God when he strikes out at the rock for water to come.  We break our promise to God each and every time we fail to stand up for someone who is less fortunate then ourselves.

Are we obedient and good at promise keeping?  Which dog are we?

Like the first son who promises to work the fields and then goes to his pleasures we often neglect that which God demands of us.  We place our own selfish desires before the obedience to a promise we have made in our baptism and confirmation. We often do this in small things, neglect of our community, for our own pride and vanity. Unlike more indigenous cultures who are brought up to place community first we who pride ourselves in following Christ place ourselves first.  It is the humbleness of heart that allows us to give to the other that which we want that sets us apart from everyone else.  Christ shows us the way by stating the position of the second son.  We can renege, if we are honest, but that very honesty allows us to turn around to find the grace and assist. in acknowledging Christ in our hearts we mirror his giving in our lives.

Part of our promise keeping and obedience to God is to be honest in all our undertakings in God's name.  Christ critiqued the institutional church much to their chagrin in many ways.  In doing so Christ enabled others to see the true face of a compassionate God in their lives.  Whilst we strive to do God's will within our structures it is often more important to be honest with our own obedience.  This means that we may be at odds with what is perceived to be unwarranted promise breaking within our own structures.  Yet, in order to fulfil God's commands we need to ensure that our own promises and our own commitments are true.  We need to be involved with and committed in our time, our giving and our obedience to God's will.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A workers reward

Equal pay for equal work.  That is a motto for today and has been for an extensive period of time.  Indeed it is or should be equal pay in the world around us for an equality in work and contribution.  Yet it is often the case where some are more equal then others and where there is an inequality in power the likelihood of an inequality to exist increases.  In Christ's parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20.1-16) there is an inequality in pay and work and power.  Or is there.  Yes, perhaps what the owner does is of consequence in levelling the playing fields but he is using an inequality in power to do so.  I think if I had worked in the fields for longer than everyone else I would also be a little bit peeved in seeing the inequality that power has created to benefit the "lazy".  Do I not have rights as well?  I was able to be up at dawn and willing to work just as much as the others could have been.  There is a certain amount of inequity in this situation even if the owner can do with his money what he likes.  We always consider it from the owners point of view not from the viewpoint of the workers.  What does this largess mean for those who have worked?

There is no question that the power of the owner is sufficient that he can do what he wants.  That is not an issue.  If we are to be concerned about equality what question needs to be asked in terms of those who have been employed?  I am sure a rights lawyer would quite rightly say that one has to look at the contract before signing. True.  We also know that the contract with the later workers was a bit loose as the wage mentioned was "fair".  From the later workers perspective the wage received was probably a very fair one but each group was probably somewhat miffed that each group after received the same.  The question I ask is what justice is there here when power is greater and it is at the whim of power that generosity is created?  Is the expectation then for us that no matter what we contribute we should receive the same reward?  That would certainly rock the economics of the system that we currently have.  If those with power were expected to have the largess to contribute equal wages to all.  Then we could truly realise that any and all contribution to our own commitments should be as equal by all.

Did we come late and is our pay equal?

We would then ensure that everyone has the ability to contribute to our faith endeavours, our social endeavours and our environmental endeavours as equally as everyone else.  That would be an expectation which we could hardly deny and our ten percent would be equal to everyone's ten percent of giving.  However, this is not the economic reality.  We live in inequality of both power and finances.  Our true dilemma is not one of equality but one of sacrifice.  How much are we willing to sacrifice to ensure that there is a semblance of equality or at least a striving for equality?  The Philippians author in his struggles of commitment (Phil. 1.21-24) brings this to the fore.  It is a struggle to determine what is the best for the community rather than ourselves.  Power inequality notwithstanding suggests a certain amount of "I" in decisions. In our circumstances the greater faith demand is for the "We".  Our sacrifice is for the greater good.  Those working early need to realise that it is there sacrifice to allow for a greater equality for all as they do not know the circumstances of the later arrivals.

We ourselves do the same when we try to make statements around equality.  We do so from our own power bases rather than looking at the good of the other and the community.  What we believe to be right as far as we are concerned is the right answer but this may and often is not correct.  In looking at the whole we actually need to factor in the experiences of the other which we cannot do without listening and loving with a compassionate heart.  We have to sacrifice something of ourselves to enable community to form.  We actually have to sacrifice our power and our authority to enable community to form.  We cannot expect others to do the work and expect to get the same wage.  We must contribute our own worth to enable the whole to come together as a functioning whole.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Forgiveness through different eyes

We all know what forgiveness looks like, even if we do not wish to entertain it when things go against us.  Peter asks how many times to forgive and Christ ripostes with a parable (Matt. 18.21-35).  This hard response is what we consider to be forgiveness.  The ability to give a person the benefit of the doubt and to ignore the hurt to ourselves.  Or at least subsume it in a way that will not effect our own psyche.  To reach out in a loving manner knowing that it hurts to embrace someone who has wronged us and is capable of re-offending, time and time and time again.  What about the person who has done the wrong thing or voiced the wrong concerns or demeaned the other and thus requires forgiveness?  Is there something here in this action of this person that requires us to rethink ourselves, for it is us we are referring to when we are in the wrong as much as the other?  Forgiveness also has to rise within our own selves when we are that person who is acting so against Christ and not loving as we should.

We are so guilty, especially in the small things in life, let alone the greater.  How many times I wonder do people complain about others, in a faith setting, when it comes to the contribution that they are making?  or perhaps when things do not go quite the way we want them to and we lash out at authority simply to rid ourselves of our own frustrations?  We are so judgemental of those around us that we forget to look closely at ourselves.  Paul in his letter to the Romans makes this clear (Rom. 14.1-14) and yet we are still so dreadful at fulfilling our obedience in Christ that we blame everyone else.  We are asked to give of ourselves.  We are not asked to make a judgement on whether others are doing the right or wrong thing in the eyes of God.  Yet, we so often do, we make judgement calls on what everyone around us should or should not be doing.  We do not respect other's decisions with regard to what God has asked of them but wish to impose what we think they ought to do. Or more often what we think God wants them to do. We often make decisions for others because 'we know them' rather than allowing them to make their own decisions.  We often assume a response rather than allowing others to express a response.  Even a negative response is a response that needs to be taken seriously.

Only when we begin to forgive ourselves do we truly forgive

Once we begin to look closely at our actions we then need to actually begin the process of forgiveness by loving ourselves.  In the acknowledgement of our judgementalism we begin to see our own interactions in the light of God's love.  We begin to understand that God has called us out of our own slavery to the hubris, pride and sin of thinking that we are up there with God.  In beginning to understand our own faults and loving ourselves we begin the process of redemption.  Just as the Israelites had to trust in God fully and leave their wants and selves behind in the flesh pots of Egypt They had to journey away from self repression towards the fullness of God allowing God to dispose of the delights in the waters of the Red sea (Ex. 14.19-ff).  Only when we truly surrender to what God requires of us we will be able to give to the extent that God requires.  By giving way our judgements we allow God to judge.  By allowing God to flow into our lives we are able to allow our love to flow into the things we give.

In asking how many times to forgive we forget that each time it means that we have to for give our selves.  We need to have the humility to accept God's wishes and give ourselves fully.  It is we who are so often on the wrong side of Christ that need to learn how to forgive our own selves before we begin to turn to others in hope of their forgiveness.