Saturday, 24 December 2016

Midnight special

Tonight we celebrate the incarnation and many churches through out the world will have a midnight service as part of that celebration.  This is a traditional service that brings us into the festive day with the traditional Christmas story.  A story that has become commercialised over time so that we see the stable, the inn and the shepherds in a cute over sweet atmospheric package.  Have we lost a sense of what this night of wonder is really about?  Have we lost our visualisation and theological understanding of this event?

In going back through the centuries to the night when a young woman gave birth, not in the roughness of a stable or cave but rather in a family home.  A home that was no doubt housing a large number of relatives who have gathered in town as a result of the census that Rome has called.  The family home that has not seen so many of the family gathered together for many a year. We can probably relate to that sort of atmosphere when we come together as scattered families at special times like weddings, anniversaries, and special family occasions.  Often times it is impossible to accommodate everyone.  People sleeping on floors in lounges, on air mattresses, chaos every where.  If we can imagine that we can begin to realise the chaos in the family home in Bethlehem this night.  Now let us put into the mix the youngest member of the family, heavily pregnant and because Nan has the guest bedroom she has to make do with the main family room.

Of course being in the Middle East at this time of year it gets a bit cold for the animals so they have been brought inside as well, to keep them warm but also to heat the home, despite all the extra people. Uh! Oh! she has gone into labour, no time for medical midwives in this household, lets get down and deliver.  Safe birth! Hallelujah! With no place to put the child, wrap him up in warm clothes (swaddle the child) and lay him in the warmest place, the manger that the cows have been fed from.  This is the true miracle that all of those people were there to assist the couple with the birth and that they found a place out of the cold amidst the warmth of family.  The love, the relationships and the acceptance even at the time of stress and uncertainty.  Hope comes from a loving relationship that is formed from birth and grows into old age and beyond.

Stars of hope birthed in the incarnation.

The acceptance of God within our midst at the moment of birth is an acceptance of love within ourselves.  A love that is capable of transcending all the borders and all the barriers that our fears erect.  The incarnation is the birth of hope in the midst of disarray and anxiety.  It is how we build our communities and remove them from the fears that, if allowed, would destroy our very existence as a community.  We only have to look at the chaos that is America or the ME to see this in action. In creating the space to welcome this Christ child within our crowded and busy lives we begin once more to build with hope.  We allow the unacceptable to come into and be a part of ourselves.  We make room for those things we do not like, we shun and consider to be below us, the outcasts of the world and our own society.  Just as the shepherds, outcast but necessary voices, come to share the blessings of a new birth we welcome the other into our lives.

This is a sign of hope that we can well afford to heed within our own families and communities.  God incarnate is not to be sheltered from the vagaries of life but is to welcome the lowliest and those we have judged to be outcast.  It is we, those who erect the barriers, who will find the hope embedded in this baby.  A hope that will, if we were only to allow it, transcend all of our prejudices and exclusions, all of our negatives, to find a new peace and a new accord as the future breaks upon us. Drawing us into a whole community undivided by prejudice and misunderstanding, a community that sees God in the face of those around us.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The idolisation of the cross - a reflection

The early Christian Church never used the cross as a symbol preferring the ICTHUS and the Chi - Rho among many others but since its adoption some 400 years after Christ's death it has become ubiquitous with the Christian faith.  Like any symbol it has changed from a simple Roman or Greek cross to more ornate ones such as the Jerusalem cross.  Indeed before becoming associated so firmly with the Christian faith it was associated with pagan worship.  During the reformation it became a point of dispute even amongst those who were protesting.  The traditional cross with the corpus as seen in many catholic and orthodox churches was accepted by Luther and Lutherans but rejected as being idolatrous by other protestant denominations.  In more recent times the bare cross has become more of a norm in churches than the crucifix as it is sometimes said that Christ should not be left on the cross as he is resurrected and ascended.  So when does veneration or contemplation of a symbol become idolatry?

To my mind this is an important question to ask, especially if in our liturgy the cross becomes such a focal point of worship that to turn away from it is to bring the worship experience to an experience of devastation.  I have no issues with the cross or crucifix being a point of meditation, a useful symbol that points to greater things.  In this we see that the symbol like an icon, as a path into a spiritual landscape that is beyond the immediate.  It becomes a window onto God but this is not worship and is only peripheral to the worship experience not its essence.  In the empty cross are we creating an incomplete symbol, one that is more attuned to the modern sensibilities that avoids the horror of a tortured body.  In using this as a focal point of worship are we neglecting the reality of Christ's presence in our neighbour.  We can make up any faith-filled excuse to have an empty cross (Jesus was taken down, Jesus is resurrected, Jesus is ascended) but are these just excuses for not looking at our neighbour and for not seeing Christ.

Has the cross become an idolatrous excuse not to see the plight of our neighbour?

In a chapel or circular seating arrangement for worship we are looking at each other during the worship as compared to a traditional Church seating pattern.  It may seem strange for us to see the face of the other but in seeing, truly seeing, a face we acknowledge Christ in our presence.  In seeing someone in tears during a funeral we are seeing Christ mourn.  In seeing someone's joyous expression during a wedding we are seeing the joy of Christ.  In wanting to focus on the cross we are abandoning Christ to the cross as we turn away from the joys, misery and hurt in the world.  Indeed in having a bare cross, no more nowadays than a form of adornment with no faith commitment, are we not also fleeing from the idea of death.  Death has to come before Christ can be resurrected and ascend.  It is at the moment of death, death on the cross that we see the saving work of Christ.  It is from death that the seed of new life comes in the resurrection so how do we acknowledge this, how do we accept this in today's world of denial?

As we near the celebration of Christ's birth this reflection may seem strange but what better time as we come to celebrate a new beginning to reflect how we treat the end.  If we start our new year with a new attitude towards our symbols maybe, just maybe, we will accept our neighbours and see them as the incarnation of God in our lives.  In doing so we may be more loving, more accepting and more able to challenge the injustices that we see in the world.  But if we remain focused on the cross could it be that we are keeping Christ there, crucifying him over and over and over.......again.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Love is inclusive not exclusive

In the readings from this the fourth Sunday of Advent, just prior to the actual incarnation we have Isaiah's prophesy and Matthew's description of that fulfilled (Is. 7.14; Matt. 1.23).  Of course we have the problem of the virgin versus the young woman in the translation and interpretation but lets leave that aside for the present.  The implication is here that the incarnation of God is prophesied and fulfilled within a cultural context which is filled with innuendo and shame.  Shame for Joseph and the family as a result of accepting a 'virgin' / young girl who is already pregnant for his wife. This culture will put away the woman in disgrace to be ostracised for life; hidden away from family, friends and culture; a leper who has no leprosy.

Only by loving do we accept the other.

In an extraordinary turn around from the expected ostracisation by a community we have an acceptance, yes of God's presence (a given), of a person in their own right and for who they are not or who they appear to be.  Our focus is so often on the fact that Joseph is spoken to or that their is an intervention but is this really the issue here.  All that happens is that Joseph is given all the facts, God does not make Joseph sign up all he does is give the man the facts.  The decision is always Joseph's to make.  Just think of the bigoted way in which we think today and place ourselves in Joseph's shoes.  What would our decision be?  Quite honestly, if we take away all our sanctimonious attitudes, I suspect that we would not make the decision that Joseph made.  The difference is that today we are influenced by media, by the greater community and by the politics that surround us each and every day.  It is not the well being of the person that comes to mind first but rather our standing and political face in the community.  We only have to look at the political attitudes towards those who seek asylum and the ground swell of nationalistic rhetoric to see that this is true.

If we today act out of our political presence in the world what does Joseph act out of?  The political pressures where still there and in some ways they were as horrendous, if not more so, for a village carpenter.  Yet, Joseph acts with compassion towards someone who is likely to be shamed and placed in the shadows.  He acts towards the person and with the person in mind, not towards the political sense of the community.  In looking at our interactions within our parish and within our daily lives are we ready to do the same as we draw towards the incarnation?  How can we tell whether our decisions are based on compassion or on political gain?  Do we sometimes or always err on the side of caution and fail to make the connection between our decision and the well being of our community?

To act as Joseph did is to act with a deep understanding of the other.  To make decisions with compassion is to make decisions that are deeply centred in love.  Love that Joseph shows is a love that does not bow to power, politics or opinion and yet it is a love that shares everything openly. In not sharing we ultimately deny love for political gain.  In not being open with our knowledge, insights, wisdom and in not listening to others we are not operating out of love.  We demand these things for ourselves and then neglect to reciprocate.  God gave his trust to Joseph operating out of love, hoping that Joseph would commit himself to the same having been given an example.  We acknowledge and see God's love abounding in scripture and around us in our lives.  A love that shares and is one with the other.  A love that seeks the well being of all not just of one.  A love that will weather the storms of scandal and upset without losing sight of the other. The love that we accept is a love that is totally inclusive, it is not petty thinking only of self, it is not greedy thinking only of gain, it does not shun or put others into categories to be ignored.  If we do not get our way do we throw a tantrum or do we accept all in love resting in the grace of hope, faith and joy?   In approaching the incarnation can we let go and let love guide our ways?

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Joy comes with healing

John the Baptist is worried, is Jesus the Messiah or isn't he?  John like  many of his time had an apocalyptic understanding of who the messiah was; a warrior, the scion of David, kingly in appearance one who would come to re-establish Israel. Jesus responds by reminding John via the reports his disciples will carry back Isaiah's words of healing (35.5-6; Matt. 11.5).  This is not what was expected, where was the new kingdom?  Where was the overthrow of the Roman invaders?  Where was the new society that was so hoped for?  Here we are so many years later asking the same questions, filled with the same doubt, in a world gone mad on violence and cold hearts.  What has happened to the joy that comes with God's peace and Christ's abundant love?

We feel as if we are deserted in the midst of the fecundity of present time.  Mainline churches and volunteer societies appear to be dying.  We look towards a bleak dry future so turn towards the glories of the past with reminiscences of the joy and love we felt when all things were bright and cheerful.  We yearn for a future that is filled with the joys of the past and the friendships that have been created.  What we never realise is that those joys that we are sunk into remain in the past and so we never have the ability to engage with the present to create new joys out of what we perceive to be endless sorrows.  It is only when we recognise that by dwelling in the past and attempting to re-create that past in the present we are creating our own melancholy and inability to move into the future.  In this recognition we begin our return to new life and the joy of Christ in the world.  By retreating to the past and attempting to recreate it in the present we are playing a political game that is only for our benefit, our control of the world around us, our drug of choice that pushes our own agendas without thinking of the greater whole or of Christ's life, death and resurrection.

Let the past die, mourn the past but live into the joy of new life.

Being human we are unable to let go of the memories of the past.  They haunt us in the present and deny us our future.  In the incarnation as it comes towards us we are reminded that we are mortal for God has created us and has become created with us so that we can live into the future.  A future that as we know involves dying and in dying we let go of the past.  In living into the future we recognise the elements of re-birth and newness of life as we co-create the joy of God's love.  It is only when we recognise the elements of death within our own lives that we can start to let go and let God's love in recreating joy, happiness and life.  It is through this healing power of understanding and anamnesis as we re-live the path of Christ that we come to the joy of new life.  This letting go and re-membering needs to occur within all aspects of our life.  We become hypocrites when we allow our past activities and politics to guide our present activities without first going through death to create new paths and new joys.

If we do this correctly, we mourn each death and move on into new life, this applies to parish life as much as to our lives in community.  This is the upside down world of God's coming kingdom, it is we who have to mourn not others, it is we who have to suffer the death of ourselves not others,it is we who have to forgive ourselves not others.  Christ gives us a clue to what healing in God's kingdom means as he proclaims those deeds that have been undertaken.  The poor and the outcast are given hope and joy.  The vicissitudes of life are not imposed by others but by by our own wants and needs our own rejection of the joy that is around us if we open our hearts to the other.  God's kingdom comes in the iruption of newness within the fecundity of our lives as we understand ourselves and so come open our eyes to joy and love in relationships we build into the future..

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Prepare with faith

Sitting in the balcony seats of a theatre watching the opening of Godspell. There is a hair raising moment as a superb tenor calls from beneath you - 'Prepare Ye the way of the Lord' (Godspell) - it reverberates through the theatre and sends shivers down the spine. On this Sunday, this is what we are called to do. Prepare in faith and with faith as we listen to John's vituperative outburst against those who come to him (Matt 3.7).  A tongue lashing about their own faith as they come to a preparation to receive a new spirit of God's presence in their lives. A tongue lashing that comes from the liminal spaces of the desert margins to the overly pretentious religious of the day.  A call from the margins that extends into the future to today and beyond.

John's call from the margins needs to be heard by all who profess a faith as it is a persistent call to those who believe that they are centred in God / Christ. Just as John called out to those who were not practicing their faith genuinely within the society of their time, we are also asked to be that voice on the margin.  We are all called to be voices from the margins of the societies that we live in.  However, we must remember that John called to his own and is a signpost on the way towards Christ, pointing towards a new future that must be taken in faith.  We must realise that we are required to point out our own faults and our own lacks first, before we can portray the Christic life.  In our preparations for the incarnation we often neglect John the Baptist's call to examine our own behaviours.  We are expectant in our faith journey at this time of year for the incarnation, as we should be, but are so future orientated that we forget our present circumstances.  How can we come before Christ incarnate if we have not realised our own faults and brokenness?

No matter how we perceive ourselves as a faith based community we are called by that faith to reveal Christ within ourselves and part of that revelation is to see ourselves as others perceive us. Then and only then can we be the true prophetic voice that calls to the world, reminding the world what it is to live as Christ.  For example, the Dalai Lama has reiterated and reminds us that violence in the name of any religion or faith is one that is anathema to that faith. All faiths and those that adhere to those faiths look towards a life that is premised on relationship and God's love. Yet, when we look around the world all we see is the violence that we perpetrate upon each other that arises out of our own lack.  Our own lack or willingness to embrace the other with a childlike faith.  Such a faith knows no bounds in its acceptance of the other.  Until we can come ourselves into such an acceptance we will fail in our faith journey towards Christ. And violence is only one thing that denies us the totality of living a Christic life.

You do not have to see the outcome. Just step out in faith.

We have a habit of judging the worth of someone or the feasibility of something from our own internal pre-judgements, most of which are formed from first impressions.  Isaiah that right judgement is a sign of Christ's presence (Is. 11.4).  We do not judge on outward appearances for if we do it is very unlikely that the lion will feed with the calf.  We will avoid the two and go with either this or that, for us it is incomprehensible for both this and that to come together.  Two opposites can never mix and yet Christ brings the two together as one not as polar opposites.  If we are not open to Christ's Spirit we are not open to an acceptance of another way of seeing.  Isaiah, Christ and poets often see things from a different angle.  We are asked to step into, with, and alongside faith knowing that the dream of impossibilities is open to us.  Only when we accept this faith journey (a darkness in the future that turns to light as we approach) will we come to truly understand Christ's presence in our lives.

A challenge:
Can you dream of 50 different ways to use the worship space that you attend without repeating yourself and without specifying it as worship?  In opening ourselves up in such a way we allow ourselves to start to imagine the topsy turvey world that would be if we all lived into Christ.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Living in expectant hope

A this time of year we begin our journey as Christians towards a celebration of the incarnation.  As with all beginnings we begin with hope, a hope for better things, an expectation that the world will be better afterwards, a surge towards something that will be tangibly changed in our lives.  Isaiah begins our journey with a call to the people of God to 'walk in the light of the Lord' (Is. 2.5).  This is an extraordinary call, not only for the people at the time but for Christians in today's world, as it calls us onto a journey that extends far into the future that is filled with the completion of our own desires and hopes for a better life.

Indeed, all the reading from scripture that are set in the common lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent were designed to bring a sense of hope to the people for whom they were written.  We can ask for ourselves what is this hope that these writers are trying to express? and perhaps more basically, for ourselves what is hope?  In a world that appears to have lost much of its meaning both politically and from a religious/philosophical point of view one wonders what the future holds?  This can of course lead us into despair which looking at the calls of social media and media itself, would be the way that many are thinking.  The rise of those who see no reason not to exploit either others or the things of the world for selfish gain leads to a rise in this despairing.  Yet at the start of the Christian new year we are given a glimpse of something glorious, something that has meaning for us and should have meaning for our own communities in which we live.  Hope is an intangible, a vague glimpse of something to strive for within a world that has dark clouds that stretch from horizon to horizon.

A candle in the distance brings hope to the lost

All hero mythologies are at their most basic  stories of mythic hope in the face of despair and hopelessness.  We only have to think of Tolkien, Sanderson, Kay, etc and their heroic trilogies for a sense of this.  We can of course go back even further to Arthurian style or even Norse mythology to see the same glimmer of hope being pursued by the hero.  In the Christian manner we are all heroes within our journey. We are all drawn by the hope that the Christ spark brings that is on the horizon of our future.  Hope is not generated from the past, we cannot and should not dwell in the myths of the past seeking for the solution of our present.  It is the call from the coming Christ the future that is visioned by Isaiah and found in our walking in the light of God that creates our journey's purpose.

If we allow our past to be our hope then we have failed to see the coming Christ and we dwell only on the incarnation, preparing for an emptiness that has come and gone.  Our celebrations are a celebration of what has been and looking to the hope that is generated by Christ's call into the future.  If we leave out the hope of what is to come we then spiral into the debauchery that Paul in writing to the Romans (13.13) decries.  Indeed if we look at our collective celebrations at Christmas this is what we presume rather than the celebration that comes with a knowledge of the call into the future.  The incarnation becomes for us a signpost into a new future, a signpost that is a call from the future into the past.  A call that recalls us into a newness that brings us into Christ's present.  It is only from seeing that spark of hope in the far distance that enables our ministry in the present and draws us along our faith journey towards the coming Christic presence.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The centre of our lives

Christians today celebrate the Reign of Christ or in non PC language Christ the King.  In recognising the change in terminology we recognise that occasionally we fail to confront the reality of our purpose.  Kingship was supposed at Christ's crucifixion (Lk. 23.38) as a recognition of leadership within the world view of the time.  The reign of Christ softens this leadership view to an overarching 'feel good' setting that is being achieved through implied, not direct, leadership as in 'King' (too patriarchal for some).  In deed it is time to move beyond our designations and our self perceived interpretations of words to mark the occasion by a concrete change in our lives.  All of these perceptions are fueled at heart by our own choices that are centred on our selves.  The first and original sign of this brokenness in scripture is the self aligned choice to deny God and seek self benefit through the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  Such a self centred approach is seen within the whole animal kingdom through a paradigm of survival (if I do not share I gain power, authority, and health within the tribe / pride / group), think cuckoo. Some of us cannot face this originary moment by naming it but rather would look for ameliorating words to skirt the issue blinding us to our own propensities.  Christ's Kingship asks us to turn this on its head.

The predator is no longer predator when he gives up his self interest.

The Christian journey towards a more catholic approach to life that is inclusive, non-discriminatory, life affirming and joy giving begins at baptism when we ask parents and Godparents to affirm that their child will be brought up rejecting 'selfishness'.  A profound life giving choice.   All young (human and others from the animal kingdom) have an in built mechanism that is centred around their own, well justified, selfish needs and will let the parent know in no uncertain terms what they require.  Our hardest task as Christians is to overcome this 'survival' trait as we tend to be "egocentric, narrow-minded, mimetic creatures" (Illio Delio).  In life we tend to retain this trait as our society demands it of us through consumerism, dualistic either / or thinking and the winner takes all attitudes.  In choosing this route, as shown throughout the journey of scripture, we close our hearts and minds to those who are trying to form community around us.  We build our own prisons and hells, our own disgruntlement and dissatisfaction, and our own separateness from God's presence through our closed mind and heart attitude that centres on our self contentment.  This is our choice.

Parents and godparents make the choice for the child to become like Christ, at baptism, trusting them to bring the child to an affirmation of this choice later in life.  In baptism, we place Christ at the centre and ask parents and Godparents to raise their child with a Christ centred attitude.  What does this look like in the modern world?  To start with it means that we need to begin by acknowledging that we are all self focused and not relationship focused.  By making this acknowledgement we turn away from the building of walls around our opinions, views, actions and begin to engage in life giving relationships with each other.  We centre love, justice, peace, mercy and compassion in those relationships.  By making those choices in the present we enact Christ's reign and begin to create a new future that has an open mind and heart.  We are then able or rather enabled to identify and join with Christ emerging in our midst on social media, at the football game or at a concert.

In baptism, we are reminded to turn away from all that is evil but if we think deeply about it evil arises out of our choices, our choices towards the self rather than towards the other.  In celebrating Christ this day we need to make a choice towards the other.  An enabling choice that opens our hearts and our minds, to bring joy into the world through our relationships with the other.  This only occurs when we allow the Christ to lead us in the authority of 'Kin(g)ship' so that Christ's reign becomes complete in our lives.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Coping with apocalypse

Shock, panic, horror and surprise.  These are the reactions that the majority of pundits and people through out the world greeted the realisation of Donald Trump's ascendancy to President-elect.  These are the same or similar to the emotions which are clearly depicted in the passage from Luke's gospel as Christ talks about the future (21.5-19). The emotions of people who look into an uncertain future caused by the disruption of expectation.  Yet from all accounts these results could have been predicted as some indeed did.  The emotions arise from our uncertainty as to what the future holds when such an enormous change occurs within our own lives and we need to remind ourselves of a number of things that arise out of our own faith and our own beliefs.

In determining our expectations of the future we listen to the opinions and views that we have formed within our own coterie of acquaintance.  The disruption of our expectations throws us out of kilter with a wish to foment equal disruption to what we perceive as being 'the other' in order to somehow bring it back into line with our expectations.  In a manner of speaking this has come about because of an assumption on our part.  We automatically divide everyone into groups and assume that our divisions are held by all, as they are rooted within a common understanding of disenfranchisement, injustice, neglect, etc.  In making this assumption we believe that there are no other divisions within society or the group which matters more than these.  Thus, there are the poor, the refugee, the abused 'woman', the abused child, etc.  Readily agreed marginalised groups yet amongst these groups who are served (well known} injustices there may be others who have a perception of marginalisation and injustice whom we do not readily recognise.  Yet, for those within these groups, the grievance suffered may result in their feelings of marginalisation and should be recognised as such.  Christ calls us into community and that community is in these days marginalised (unrecognised as such).  So within our own 'otherwise' communities why should we be surprised that there are others who feel just as marginalised.  We are called to stand firm within our own faith and part of that standing firm is to ensure all marginalised groups find the justice they seek in a world governed by injustice.

Isaiah grants us a vision of what a world governed by justice looks like in reality (Is. 65.17-25).  It is written in language that is poetic and in a way totally unbelievable to our own methodological / scientific thought pattern.  It is...unbelievable / fantastical...if we allow ourselves to think solely in that manner.  We consistently divide the world into groups and create divisive understandings between those groups.  Thus, we become enslaved to a mentality that reflects into the world an us vs them categorisation of our surroundings.  In doing so we create for ourselves the marginalised groups that we can then run to aid to fulfill the demands of justice, love, etc.  In the world of the poetic vision of Isaiah the groups all of sudden become inconsequential and blurred. Rusty Schweikart, one of the Apollo mission astronauts prior to the moon landing, described his last day in orbit:

"And now you're well into the last day. And you find yourself just looking. Drifting over that very familiar piece of geography that we call the Middle East. And you're looking down at this, and suddenly it hits you that there are no boundaries. Every time you have seen this before, from the time you were a child, there were always lines. And you realise there are no lines. The lines do not exist. Lines only exist because we hold them in our mind as existing. Then you realise, at that instant, that people are busy killing each other over those imaginary lines."

Just as we create economic and political boundaries so we also create boundaries within our own lives to the detriment of society as seen in the vision of our faith.

Where are the divisions / boundaries / borders in the world?

Is it a surprise than that we are frightened by an uncertain future? We are caught by our own self created blindness as to what to expect from the future. In walking with the 'other', who are different to us (in thought, word and deed), we are called to open our hearts in love, open our minds to their visions and open our wills to a common understanding of what is more than our own prejudices and self imposed barriers.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

For all the saints

Who are our saints?  Each year we celebrate and commemorate the festival of All Saints on the first of November but who are the saints that we are celebrating?  I suspect that most of us will look back through his/her-story and suggest the many heroes of the faith that are recognised by all of us, the St George's and the Mother Theresa's, the recognisably good people.  Those whom we have elevated into a semblance of sainthood because of their good deeds or their martyrdom for their faith.  Each and every country I am sure have these figures that are elevated above the normal.  Yet, all of these have their saint's days, days on which we celebrate their lives, yes sometimes clumsily all con-joined on the one day in some fashion but each individually recognised.

In the early church it was recognised that those who followed in Christ's footsteps where the 'saints' (Phil. 1.1 and elsewhere). So where are all the saints of today, they are the ones who are part of the Body of Christ worshipping this day in love and celebrating the saints not realising that is ourselves that we celebrate.  It is the ones who persevere in their faith journey and hold up the light of Christ to the community in which they live who are being celebrated this day, not the rich and famous but the low and infamous. Luke's gospel in some ways highlights this in his version of the Beatitudes (Lk. 6.20-31), which praises the lowly and brings shame on the mighty.  No matter how we read this passage it perhaps highlights for us the pros and cons of our own attitudes and how we need to go about being the incarnation of the saints down through the ages today.

Let all the saints add their voice of truth and disrupt the comfortable.

This twisted passage that seems to heap damnation on those who have it and bring blessings on those who have nothing is an elementary lesson in comportment for us as modern saints.  It is when we are rich with the world's luxuries that we forget who we are and who we are committed to becoming.  Our happiness becomes but a fleeting joy to be dashed away by the first hint of difference and misunderstanding within our relationships.  It is rather when we are in need of others attention, the love of others, the relationship that slips our grasp that we come close to enjoying God's presence.  This is because we become attentive to those around us, we listen to their story and we form our relationship as they walk beside us and we become part of them. When we are at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs we are comfortable, well fed and enjoy our extra time to indulge our senses and our sensibilities.  In doing so in our age, for that matter any age, we forget that their are others in need and it is only when we are confronted by the necessity to forage for ourselves that we become aware of desperation in others.  We are not well equipped to be thrown out of our well paying jobs and our good lifestyles.  We are unable to form relationships that aid us and fulfil us while struggling to fulfill our needs.  Is this not what we have become as a worshipping community, ones who have been cast out to fend for themselves within a wider world that is fighting for its community?  Those who have struggled to feed themselves and others are those that form community around themselves and help others on their upward journey.

This twisted reversal is best seen perhaps in the last of the 'blessings' / 'curses' (Lk. 6.22-23, 26). These lines remind us that as truth sayers into our communities we will be derided and abused.  Those who are comfortable and well off wish only to hear the soothing things not the disruptive words of truth.  We need only look at the Climate change debate, it is those who sow platitudes who are held up but the truth sayers are the ones who are brow beaten into submission and closed own.  Or even the immigration issue.  We are comfortable when we hear words of comfort but woe betide those who tell the disruptive truth for this we will crucify them.  We asked to bear Christ's cross wit him and we cannot do that if we believe the convenient truths rather than the disruptive call of God.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Accepting the new future God brings

In answering the call that is God, which is a faint indistinguishable whisper in the background of our lives, we are plunged into strangeness.  However, it is this very strangeness and difference that holds us back from embracing that call.  Fear and insecurity in the face of the unknown holds us back from a deep commitment.  We often watch and watch like a watchman keeping a look out (Hab 2.1) waiting to see or catch the sound of God's voice whispered on the wind.  Yet, when that call comes we turn aside and look inwards rather than outwards for fear of the presence of God's call.  Our security is found when we look inwards and form walls of legislation to hold the incipient call out.

No matter the wall, God calls us to open ourselves up to our neighbour.

Unlike the prophet we do not stand in anticipation for an answer but on the lookout for something that makes us uncomfortable.  This is true of all institutions and individuals in today's world.  We only have to look at the behaviour's of successive Australian governments and their pursuit of independent appointments who are the voice from the outside (aka Trigg and Gleeson).  We are all called to see the vision of the future that God brings to us, not in fear but with joy, so that we can fulfil the potential of that call.  It is a scary place, especially for those who have embedded themselves in places of power and authority, whether that is financial, political or other.  We are never sure of what God's call means and it is this uncertainty that creates a void in our lives.  We would like to own the future but God's future is more likely to own us removing our power, our authority, etc.

Scripture gives us an example of how we should act, in the spontaneity of a child and the 'rashness' of inhibition. The small man Zachaeus (Lk. 19.1-10) has the desire (vision) to see the Christ and in doing so places himself in God's path.  In doing so he has already thrown away his dignity and status by climbing a tree. He is like the watchman looking out to see the call coming towards him.  In receiving a personal call he not only acts but does so with alacrity ignoring the disapproval of the crowd.  If we have only the reports of the words asked of Christ regarding 'sinners', how much more would the insults have been for the man Zachaeus, who was already despised.  Our response often indicates the level of our fear for the new. It indicates how we can create the negative place/state that we in actuality abhor, yet this is where we retreat to in defense.  Can we looking out from our comfortable place envision a displacement of our lives from our control into the hands of a future that is uncertain and incomplete but filled with God's presence?

This starts with our neighbours, or rather it starts with our attitude and response to our neighbours.  We may not want the other to be a part of us but God's call is for us to encompass, include and walk with our neighbours.  We are to love them through adversity, triumphs and sickness not because they are rich, not because they will be able to do something for us or to smooth our path in life.  The only way we can begin to know, let alone love, our neighbour is to begin to see life as they see life.  Our problem is that we see life as a problem and so knowing our neighbour becomes a problem.  Christ challenges us to walk with our neighbours and to see through their eyes as we begin to love them.  This does mean though that we should be able to meet them in their own spaces or at least in spaces that feel comfortable for them.  Christ goes into the home of Zachaeus he does not ask him to come to him.  He does not put up a fence and make it difficult but rather opens his heart and his will to see Zachaeus for who he is as a person of the people of God.  Not judged for appearances (job, political views, sexual orientation, race, etc) but for the person who is Zachaeus.

God calls us into a new future that is different, that is changed.  How we respond is up to us as we listen to that deep call on our lives.  We can build our walls and fences even higher or we can dissolve all of those barriers and welcome God's call not in fear but in hope, not by turning inwards but by embracing those who are different and out side of us.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Imagine the impossible dream

God's work is an impossible dream.  A dream that sees a place of justice, peace and loving relationship.  A dream that we as Christians dream and believe in as we live out our lives worshiping God and moving towards Christ as we attempt to live the Christic life.  This is as hyperbolic as the trunk in my eye as I poke around in yours for the minute speck, or as far fetched as seeing a Camel pass through the eye of a needle.  Christ proposes just such an impossibility in Luke (18.25), an impossibility that is open to God's grace to transform and change to increase or decrease our response to God's love.

Throughout the scriptures there are these fantastical images portrayed as being what God is doing or what the Kingdom is like.  The desert blooms and highways are put in straight and well maintained.  What is God trying to tell us as we read these parables, stories, images, etc.?  Everyday life seems to be somewhat of a let down if we think of these things being reality.  They are dreams that someone else is having and have nothing to do with our own boring lives.  If you go onto the net and search out modern surrealism, which of course is associated with Salvador Dali, you can see these dream like images coming to life. I particularly like the work of Eric Johansson and the changing perspectives of Rob Gonsalves, who takes an Escher like view of life that suspends our normal way of seeing.  In a way this is the view of life that the scriptures point us to.  We are being asked to suspend our normal thought processes and enter into God's life fully.  A life that upsets our traditional way of thinking, a life that we will turn away from if we cannot suspend our outlook on life, just as the young rich man cannot do in the Gospel.

What do we change the camel or the needle?

This is a life that gives up everything only to find that what we have given up returns to us in new, obscure and revitalising ways.  This is what it means to answer that small insistent voice that is God.  In listening for that voice we are too often overcome by our past and our pre-conceptions that have been built on the past.  The young rich man is unable to overcome his past to which he clings.  He is disappointed because he was looking for something that he could build on that was based on his past experiences.  Christ calls him to let go of these preconceptions, just as God calls us to let go of our modern pre-conceptions as to what our 'parish is', what our 'mission' is, what our 'worship' is and even what our 'church' / 'diocese' / denomination' is.  We are asked and are being asked to radically shift our viewpoint from one that is centred on ourselves and how we perceive reality towards one that is centred not only in the other but also in God.

So the question that we should perhaps be asking is: do we change the camel or the needle?  It really depends on what we think the camel or the needle is as to what we should change.  If we think that the needle's eye represents the small opening that God is calling us from and into then it is most unlikely that we change this.  We may not listen or we may not see or we could ignore this call but we cannot change this call on our lives.  However, if the camel represents our own lives then it is we who have to change.  Only by changing our perspective will be able to pass through the small event that God calls us into and beyond.  It is our baggage and our perceptions of who we are and what God calls us to that need to change.  Not only in terms of our involvement in God's work but our involvement in life. 

We need to start seeing things from God's perspective, something that is very different  almost surreal, certainly not from our sheltered understanding of who we should be but God's understanding of who God wants us to be.  We step from the desert that we have created into the new life that God has always wanted us to have. In order to do that we need to let go of our past and embrace the call that comes to us from the future, the call that comes from God.  To see the green pastures of God;s presence and the love with which he upholds us in our self imposed wilderness.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The curtain in our minds

In this week's collection of readings there is the distinctive parable of the Pharisee and Publican found in Luke (18.9-14) which as many others have stated is a trap for the unwary when we start to think through these two characters.  Too often we come away at the end feeling ourselves prideful as a result of our own belonging and the buzz that it gives to us in our very being. The moment we come out of our comfort and are confronted by the needs of the world around us and say 'There but for the grace of God go I.' is the moment we have fallen away from God.  This applies equally to ourselves as individuals and ourselves as communities (parishes, diocese, denominations, etc).

It is a commonality of our modern society that we are pressured into a mind set that is focused on one thing and one thing only; the need to be ahead.  Those who are portrayed as being successful are the ones that we are encouraged to emulate.  This conditioning comes early in our lives as our school system encourages and celebrates such behaviour. A culture which we cohabit as we encourage our children to achieve the best and be accounted as the best. Who wants to celebrate a failure? Although even in failure we have a tendency to want to be the 'best' by over dramatising our situation to draw attention and the sympathetic ear.  At every turn we are held up in comparison to a 'gold standard' that society creates as it imagines itself 'better' than the other.  Our gurus in society are many and diverse each catering to the whims of our desires so that we can draw a curtain behind which we can hide the reality of our neighbours and the other. We follow each one hoping that at the end of the day they will lead us into a betterment of our current lives.  The 2nd letter to Timothy underscores the danger of this as it leads us away from God (2 Tim. 4.3-4).

It is only by drawing back the curtain that we can see the reality of Christ in the world.

This view of seeing ourselves as 'better' than the other that is driven by our global society, is something that we, who have classed ourselves within the Christian faith journey, should recognise from our baptismal vows and faith formation journey.  It should be abhorrent to us. This is the selfish attitude of 'I want' that is encapsulated within the story of the eating of the Tree of Knowledge.  The attitude that continues to darken our minds by drawing that curtain across those things that are true but unwanted in our own personal lives.  It draws a curtain across to say that everything that is behind it does not add to our wants and our needs, The wants of our lives rather than the needs of others are brought in front of the curtain into our attentive minds.  We see ourselves as being epitomes of Christ like living when we peak a glimpse behind the curtain, presuming that this limited giving of ourselves to the needs and aspirations of others, is all that is required.  It is only when we recognise that we ourselves are the Pharisee rather than the Sinner in our lives that we will begin to recognise that have hidden Christ behind the curtain.  The moment we place our priority above the priority of the other is the moment that we draw the curtain across our minds hiding the Christic presence.

Jeremiah calls from the past and reminds us today of what God has stated ' I shall set my laws within them, writing it on their hearts' (Jer. 31.33b).  It is this soft voice that rises within ourselves that calls us into a future that is filled with God's promise.  A promise that is governed by love of the other, a promise that galvanises our lives into an effort of giving.  A commitment we make each week as we seek to renew ourselves and undertaking our metanoic return to the call placed upon us which we fail each day.  We are encouraged through our commitment to our faith to draw back the curtain that we have placed to reveal another that is torn in two.  Confronting us is the nakedness of God's love for the other which we are induced through the call to display in our daily lives.  We are called to commit our lives to a way of self sacrifice, of loving and giving, of walking alongside and not judging, comparing and forsaking.  A life that becomes anything we want it to be rather than a life governed by the perceptions of others.  A life committed to a recognition of God's grace in our lives and the poverty of our commitment to the call to love.  We are called to live with God's laws living in our hearts, hearts made from flesh and blood not stone and concrete.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Thankfulness the imprimatur for fruitful giving

How often do we really think about giving thanks for the day or for life itself?  I would suggest that this is rare for most people as we tend to have a expectancy of the good coming to us in our lives.  This can be seen in the Gospel story from today and the tale of the lepers (Lk 17. 11-19).  Only one of the lepers returns to give thanks and here the turn in the story is seen as that one is a person outside of the religious / social structures of society.

In looking at the history of Australia it has been a place that is extraordinary lucky or rather blessed in some respects while perhaps holding true, even in 2016, to the original quote by Donald Horne.  In many respects no matter where we live we are also lucky or blessed by the fact that we are who we are, just as the country is.  In thinking about this and our life situation we concentrate often on the falls, the despairs, the bad times and are neglectful of the good times in our lives.  Ironically we often celebrate or perpetuate the story of our failures rather than the stories of our good times. The good and happy days are forgotten quickly and it is only the dark of a lifetime that is remembered or stands out in our memory.  The great things that come are way are often overlooked as we continue our lives with the understanding that this is what / how life is and should be.  This is when we are at our happiest, it is when we live life to the fullest, it is when we have life and this is when we forget as we want to believe that this is 'normal'.

In making the assumption that this is normal we appear to turn off our thankfulness.  Everything is going well so why do we need to give thanks?  It is only following times of trouble that we appear to need to say thank you for deliverance or thank you for getting to a new place as the trauma of the past is re-lived until it becomes substantive rather than the small part of daily life that it was.  The trauma tends to overtake our thinking and everything else is put on hold.  Past successes mean nothing and become dreams of the past.  Something that is recalled as myth or as a story of the 'Golden years' forgetting the heartache and the trauma that was experienced to get to that golden moment when everything seemed right.  Moments that are vividly recalled in the stress of our present trauma to call us into the dreams of the past rather than into the possibilities of tomorrow.

It is with a thankful heart we give of ourselves generously

One of the early theologians and Church Fathers, Ambrose of Milan, wrote relating Genesis 1.21a to our own situation in the world.  We are made to swim within the environment of the world, life's up and downs, the good times and the horrific but we only do so as we accept that we are created for this world and to be in relationship with each part of it including our fellow creatures.  In doing so we swim through the troughs and rise high on the crests of life as storms come and go.  We do this in thankfulness rather than in a fugue state of complete despair and loss as if we are forever trapped within the troughs rather than seeking the voice that calls us into the heights and peaks if we were only to abandon ourselves to the call.

In returning to a state of thankfulness we re-energise our lives.  We are able to reinvent what we give of our lives and our selves over to God's call.  In a state of gratefulness we are able to abandon our pre-conceived needs, those things that hold us back from our giving of ourselves.  Those things we hoard to ourselves, just in case, of that which never materialises in our own lives.  A hoard that goes nowhere, does nothing that in the end becomes no more than  memories and trinkets squandered here and there for our own self - gratification.  The transcendence of God's call that we give thanks for enables our hearts to re-envisage our neighbours.  To reach out in love and transform the lives that we come into contact with in our daily lives.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

From small things big things grow

In our fruitful meanderings over the last few weeks we have been looking at commitment and how our giving  / faith enables our structures to grow.  This is all very well and good but for these things to happen we ourselves also need to grow.  In Luke, Christ uses the mustard seed as an example of small to big (Lk 17. 5-7).  This is a perpetual journey in our lives it is not something that happens overnight.  Often we can sow seeds into the ground and nothing appears to happen for months on end, it is only when conditions are right for the seed to grow that we begin to see signs of growth and plenitude.

God has planted a seed into each and every heart as God has fashioned us in his image.  In our yearning for God we seek that presence which symbolises God in our lives.  We yearn for God in the midst of worship and we attend that worship seeking for the smallest hint of God's presence.  In seeking for that hint, the small voice that calls to us with an unending call, we are distracted by the larger needs of our selves.  In the distraction, we seek for our own comfort demanding the things that we expect rather than the things that God calls us to.  Moving into the distraction we turn our worship into a religious club that caters for our needs; by providing the servants who deliver what we want or expect rather than serving the other that calls to us.  This behaviour leads to our seeing worship and the gathering of the community as an option, one of many, that happens at a set time.  It is alright we do not have to come into community to rejoice and worship God.  Our individuality is paramount and so we become isolated from the rich source of life that feeds the seed.  This is tantamount to placing a seed on the shelve with the hope that it is going to grow without nutrition and the water of life.

Poor is our faith if it has not been nurtured or watered.

If we are to become fruitful and allow that seed that God planted to grow we need to ensure that it is fed.  It is all well and good feeding the seed with good nutrition but if it is not worked in then it is not going to do anything.  We may as well leave a lump of dry manure over the dry seed on the windowsill and still expect it to produce.  For us to work the soil and the richness that feeds us means that we actually have to commit ourselves to a lifetime of work.  Once we begin to commit ourselves to the labour that we are called into we begin to feed the seed that God has planted; we begin to work what we have been given.  The commitment though has to be full, it cannot be halfhearted.  We cannot make plans to fulfill God's promise by sitting back and belonging to a club which we attend because it gives us pleasure. We actually need to make sacrifices in our way of life to become more like Christ and reach out to the other.  Our sacrifices need to be real, not a pittance out of the corner of our pockets but something that manifests in God's presence in the world.

Once we have committed ourselves and sacrificed our lives to becoming living sacrifices to God do we start to work the soil and bring the nutrition that the seed requires to grow.  Dry soil though, however hard it is worked will not produce any crop, let alone one that will deliver 100 fold.  So we need to water that soil with the water of our lives spilled into the rich soil of God's work in us.  In giving our lives into and for the work that God has called us to we begin to bring the water that is life to the seed of hope that has been nurtured in the dry soil of our abandoned lives.  Our lives filled with happiness, sadness, wrecked by anger and frustration; Our lives which we keep to ourselves and mourn over in the stillness of the night.  It is here in our griefs, joys, frustrations, poverty, illness and health that the water of life for the seed of hope flows.  Yet, we hold it in, we encamp around it, preventing this precious resource from ever leaving us, only to find that it stagnates and queers our lives rather than the plentitudinal harvest which comes when we squander it allowing it to flow into others desperate lives.

We fail to commit ourselves whole heartedly like living sacrifices as we pray at the end of our worship.  We fail to commit ourselves to the path that God calls us along, we fail to give as the widow gave.  We see ourselves as having having cowardly spirits rather than the spirit that inspires power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1.7) and thus fail to give of ourselves to the other.  In deed I can but Lament along with Jeremiah (1.1):

How deserted lies the parish, once thronging with people! 
Once great within the Diocese, now become a widow; 
once queen among the deaneries now put to forced labour.

(Place any words you want in the verse to convey the lament for your own place)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Idiocy or a step in faith

We are so often constrained in our thinking as a result of genuine concerns over the future. These constraints on our thinking occur, more often then not, when we are facing a future that is bleak in terms of our finances. We are often unable to look away from our dire financial situation as this is at the centre of our attention with all its attendant future woes and the inescapable doom that lies as a consequence of poor financial management.  In such situations we find it extremely hard to do the risky thing as we wish to cling to our perceived security and minimise our risk exposure.  This is excellent prudent management.  Like most we would be extremely averse to placing our money into a high risk endeavour at the height of a global financial downturn or in the middle of a war purchasing land in the occupied territories (Jer. 32 6-15).

Jeremiah is told by God to buy land at a time of deprivation and war.  Jerusalem is surrounded by a besieging army and has very little prospect of being fit for prosperity.  One would have thought that this was the worst possible situation in which to undertake a transaction of land.  Yet, this is precisely what God asked of Jeremiah.  If Jeremiah had a closed mind to God's voice he would probably have said "Are you out of your...mind?".  Indeed, most of us and probably all of Jerusalem I am sure all said the same thing.  Yet, if we think about it a little more carefully, it is entrepreneurs who have this uncanny ability to move into a market or idea at the least favourable, apparently, moment who find themselves on top of a proverbial gold mine.   The fortunes that have been made by those who have invested wisely at the bottom of the market and sold at the peak are numberless.  Yes, we all marvel at their luck and fortitude, we are all green with envy every time we hear such stories.  No matter how you look at such things, there is only one way that we can acknowledge them and that is by stating quite clearly that they have taken a step of faith.

Abundant generosity of heart means taking a risk?  

In truth we have also heard stories of those who are wealthy dying in poverty of spirit despite having vast sums of financial wealth.  Wealth that has been hoarded over many years through careful and fruitful investment or as a result of instant fame.  Yet at the end of their lives they have lived in poverty and debt or else have neglected their family and friends.  The rich life has ended in reclusivity and neglect of themselves and their surroundings whilst other stories of those who have lived in neglect and poverty demonstrate an enormous heartrending understanding of friendship, love and wealth beyond understanding.  Most of the latter have taken impossible opportunities and discovered wealth through relationship and understanding. This sort of flip flop reversal is seen in the Lazarus parable from Luke's gospel (!6.19-31).  For many of us this counter intuitivity is a step too far on our journey and we fail to grasp the opportunity that God calls us into as we so often fail to listen to God's call upon our lives.

All steps of faith are steps that are taken in risk.  Myself and the family took a step of faith that brought us to Australia.  A step that had pointers of encouragement along the way, low hanging fruit that were gratefully received at the time.  Currently whether we are part of a worshipping community or not have that same opportunity in taking a similar step in faith.  Often our problem is that we lack commitment to our stated objectives and revert back into an attitude of containment and a scrabbling for the minimum to keep us sane.  God's love is genuinely free and overflows into our hearts and minds assisting us in our daily lives by provoking us into a greater and greater generosity to those around us.  Yet, so often our pragmatism bites deep so that when the opportunity presents to give back in service and finance we draw up the drawbridge and hedge our battlements with arguments as to why we cannot step outside our comfortable living.

Our community is now at such a point.  The past has shown us the generosity of God's love by our overflowing into the community around us.  Just as Native cultures around the world demonstrate to us that it is the community not the nuclear self or family that ensures the survival of the culture so as a God centred community we need to acknowledge for ourselves that it is out of our abundant generosity that we survive.  It is our commitment to our community that will enable us to grow together, to build rather than to shrink, to think beyond rather than to the present and above all to listen and respond to God's call upon our lives as we move into the future.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Our choice of master

Have you ever been torn by two conflicting thoughts or two conflicting demands on your life? This quite often arises within families, 'I want to go to the football' and 'I want to lie on the beach' scenarios or in work 'You need to reduce your overheads' and 'You need to buy more goods to reach your target'.  In trying to obtain some sort of balance, aiming for the both / and, we compromise on both demands one way or another.  This is perhaps what confronts our poor manager in the story related by Luke (16.1-13) trying to compromise for the benefit of all parties.  This often leads to pain and heartache or else a very unfulfilled life for ourselves.

In a way we are here talking about two houses.  An investment house and one that you actually live in or propose to live in.  The majority of us will spend more time and more money on the house we live in.  Indeed our commitment is to that house precisely for that reason.  Our investment will often only get the needed attention when and if it is required rather than a day to day commitment.  We often have agents or even rely on our renters, if we have any, to care for the second property.  The problem is that in most cases they will not see any need to lavish attention on the property as it does not belong to them.  Their commitment is to keep you happy, provide rent and ensure that the house is livable to provide the income.  That means that at some point we will have to either sell on the investment or else spend more money on it to bring it back up to the state at which it should be.  While we may have had a short term investment that has given us an immediate gratification it may not yield a long term gratification and eventually become an albatross around our necks.

Is our faith home an albatross?

In our faith journey we are invited to invest in two houses at baptism.  The first house is our own well being and what we do in the world.  The second is our faith journey and our interaction with God that grants to us the privilege of  having God's grace and love in our lives. We cannot neglect either house and indeed sometimes both houses need an injection of our time, financial and service commitments Yet, in looking at our investment in the religious institution to which we belong we are much like second home buyers with little interest in the property.  Our focus is on the lives that we lead and our need to have gratification immediately rather than looking to a future.  We do not invest for ourselves but for our community and a vision that is based on a future that is bright with promise and peace.

There are of course two dimensions for us to consider in this especially when it comes to our faith life and the journey we began at baptism.  In undertaking a faith journey we acknowledge the need to commit ourselves to a journey that is embedded in the spiritual but has a firm foundation within our physical lives.  The spiritual side of our journey is one that takes us towards God, it confirms and enables us when we trust in God's presence and give ourselves to that presence wholeheartedly.  The moment we fall away from that trust and that commitment in our spiritual lives we begin to tumble into despair and find things harder and harder to do.  The physical side of our journey moves us towards service rather than concentrating on the spiritual.  The turn here is towards a commitment towards a physical offering of ourselves above anything else.  In indulging on our physical undertakings we pour ourselves into things that we can do while at the same time neglecting our own well being such that we become dependant on others for our own well being and care.

In both cases we come to a dependence on others.  Instead it is we who should be utilising both sides of our inheritance in God to give of ourselves sacrificially for others, including those in our faith community.  Each week at the end of our communion with God we offer ourselves as living sacrifices and if we are true to this offer it comes in both the physical and the spiritual sense.  Not only must we commit to our spiritual lives and sacrifice ourselves in a deep manner to the things of God but we should also be sacrificing our worldly comforts for the sake of God's mission in the world.  The other side of this is that we must ensure that our sacrifice is working for God's promises and not for someone else's pockets.  This means that we should be committing ourselves to our institutions to which we belong and participating in every way possible to be part of the ongoing development and working out of our role in God's plan.  If we sit back and allow others to work we are no better than those who have removed God from their lives.  We are the hands and feet of God in our community we cannot allow ourselves to rest when God is working.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Who are the Olympians?

I am somewhat confused, which I often am these days, with regards to the Olympics.  In the lead up to the summer games in Rio we had such an enormous coverage daily on the state of things in and around Rio.  During the games the coverage was brilliant to say the least and major players in the media were excellent in providing detailed information and running commentary.  Indeed I was amazed by that coverage and truly delighted that for the first time in some while I actually sat and watched / listened to the day to day coverage.  the country was enthralled by the efforts of the athletes; was engrossed with the scandal and gossip that was coming out of the games.  The games ended and are normal daily radio and TV content returned.  Except of course now that the Olympics have returned, or rather do I have to use the discriminatory wording to distinguish the 'para' olympics from the Olympics.

However, the corresponding coverage by the media of the Olympics is no longer there.  I am aware that some are continuing to broadcast but the 'hype' is no longer there.  We normal mortals who do not necessarily subscribe to or wish to watch but rather listen are no longer able.  Listening to the radio we happen to get snippets of the results almost as a fill in rather than the enormous coverage and hype as before.  I manage to see a magnificent performance of an archer on 'Facebook' but this was not spoken about elsewhere.  Is it that the national pride for Australian athletes is reserved only for those who are made in the image to what we see as being 'normal'?  I am pretty certain that the other countries of the world are also just as ashamed and have no wish to 'hype' those who do not conform to the norms of each society.

                            The True Olympians         

If I was to look at the medal standings currently (and the games are not over) our 'Para' Olympians have a greater medal tally than the Olympians.  If this is how we are to judge performance I would suggest that the real Olympians are those we term as being 'irregular / abnormal /alongside' aka 'para' rather than Olympians.  Yes, the word choice for the Olympics that are on at present is somewhat derogatory to say the least.  I am enjoined by Christ to care for those who are outcast from society; as a citizen of this country and any country I believe I should support those who are discriminated against so that we can form communities that are safe and free from prejudice.  I would rejoice if our country would realise that everyone has the potential to be part of a community that is accepting of all people.

Should we not be rejoicing even more for our true Olympians and be watching with eagerness their exploits?  Should we not be ensuring that all athletes regardless of their physical or mental capacity have the same support, the same enthusiasm, the same coverage, the same celebration? or do we leave it just to those who are members of the athletes' families, limited numbers of the community that help with the finance, the care and the rejoicing that goes with all athletic / sporting  endeavour?  As a citizen of the country I believe that there should be an equality in funding, support and celebration by the country for our athletes no matter their sport.  As a Christian I am ashamed that we do not do as much for those who are different from us as those we idolise for their excellence in shape, fitness and image.  On an aside, I am interested to know how many drug cheats are found at these Olympics compared to our earlier Olympics?

Let us celebrate the success of the true Olympians with the same or even greater enthusiasm than the other Olympians who we welcomed back just the other day.  Let us support them to as great an extent as we do for the other Olympians both as a Nation (Government funding, etc), as consumers (demanding more from our media outlets) and as individuals as we involve ourselves in their sports.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Commitment to passion

Luke's 15th chapter cannot and should not be taken in isolation but rather should be viewed as a whole.  Yet, we tend to split the stories told here up into two, first the shepherd and the woman and then the Prodigal.  This Sunday is typical of that pattern as we look solely at the first two of the stories in isolation to the climactic final story.  However we look at these stories we need to keep one thing in mind and that is the commitment that the various main characters of the stories have.

Just coming away from the stories in Luke for a moment we need to look around the world today and see if we cannot understand something of what is going on with these characters and how it works out in reality.  It is when we look at those things that stir passion in the lives of people that we start to see the outcome of this commitment.  There are two news stories that are worth bringing to our attention as we look at this.  In the United States there is a big push with regards to a major infra structure proposal.  The Indians in Dakota have come out very strongly against the placement of a light crude oil pipeline through their territory.  The pipeline is intended to take crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in the South, as far as I understand the situation.  The residents and owners of tribal land have come out in droves against the proposal.  The integrity and passion with which the views are held has managed to bring together the other First Nations people in united council for the first time in almost 150 years.

In this country in recent and not so recent times we have seen a public up swelling of opinion against the confinement of refugees in off shore detention centres.  This has drawn out an enormously disparate number of groups all wanting the same thing.  We have the Grandmothers against detention of refugee children; Rural Australians for Refugees; Doctors, etc, etc.  Groups who only have one thing in common and for that one thing they are passionate.  It increases pressure on policy makers and those involved in the whole of the immigration issue and in some respects has forced the PNG government to re-look at the various options and close the detention facility in PNG.

Only the committed win the race.

Although not on quite a grand a scale as perhaps some of the examples cited the characters in the stories from Luke's gospel display the same characteristics as all of these more modern folk.  The major characteristic that is stamped on their actions is two fold; that of passion and commitment.  It takes a committed and passionate person to take on the responsibility of looking for a sheep in a desolated and dangerous, terrain wise, part of the country.  It would not be a good idea if the person hired to look after our livestock was of any less worth than the shepherd.  If that were to be the case it is likely that we would not have much in the way of livestock left.  In the same manner the passion of a person who is struggling and has to scrimp and save for every penny in the household to maintain that household is as equal, if not more so than, an impassioned shepherd / manager.  They will go to extremes to ensure that every penny is spent wisely and not lost in the nooks and crannies of life.

Today, the Parish is not the community that it was originally designed to be in terms of its geographical isolation.  In England it was a unit of secular as well as Ecclesial authority and every person had an absolute understanding of their contribution to the well fare and well being of the community (secular = ecclesial).  The Parish of today is created around another understanding that has implications for members of such a community.  We are gathered today more around our faith and almost exclusively around our faith that the matters of secular community are effected elsewhere rather than through the Church.  To a greater extent this means that our passion may well be divided which means that our commitment has turned inward as we commit our lives to our faith, while focusing our time, expertise on the passions of the secular society and our comforts.

However, if we are to be committed to our faith journey we also need to remind ourselves that Christ sacrificed for ourselves and need to be as passionate and committed to our public faith expressions which can no longer be divorced from the needs of society.  The Good shepherd and the woman in Luke's story both committed themselves to a sacrifice over and beyond what was totally required because of their passion and commitment.  In the parish having reconciled ourselves to a new stage of our journey together we need to bring that same sense of passion and commitment in service, ministry and finance to the plans that we embark on.  This needs to be undertaken in a prayer filled and prayerful manner that trusts in God in an absolute manner, just as Paul entrusts Timothy, knowing that our other needs will be cared for in return.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Forgiveness and giving in change

In the modern world we are subject to an enormous and continuing pressure to change.  Each moment of change is an experiment in life that either can bring disaster, a positive outcome or a mixture of both, especially when it is a group or community that is in that process.  In any process involving groups and communities it is going to be a given that some will like what is happening and others will be resistant to the new beginning preferring the old.  Yet, sometimes the design has a flaw and a certain amount of change needs to be made to create a new vessel of celebration (Jeremiah 18.1-11).

In the passage from Jeremiah however the pot that was to be is re-formed completely into a newer vessel.  The ingredients are the same but the purpose to which they have been put is entirely different.  The potter has an understanding before re-forming the vessel as to what is required and utilises the clay to re-imagine a new vessel.  In the same way each of us in our lives re-form ourselves over time.  I am not the person I was ten years ago and am certainly not the same person I was twenty years ago.  I have re-formed myself or rather God has re-directed my life in different directions and ways.  I am certain that if we were to think about our own lives none of us are the same now as opposed to twenty, thirty or fifty years ago.  Yes we have all grown older but the way we do things, our interests, our vision of the future is completely different,  In the same way we must also come to realise that our community of faith needs to be re-formed as we continue our faith journey together as we move into the future and this does not come without pain as change in life is never without hurt and sadness as we move from something familiar into something new.

How well do we listen to each other's concerns?

Yet when we are in pain and when we resist the call that is God we often forget the underlying fact that we are called in love not in hatred.  In our resistance, or in our insistence, to change we utilise our persuasive tongues in ways that are damaging to others, breaking not building relationships, which often times brings out a natural tendency to retaliate,  In this manner we become responsible for the divisions which escalate in time and in some instances, if broad enough, lead eventually to violence.  Until we are able to own our own mistakes, our own misguided visions of both the past and the future and seek to heal the rift we our unable to operate as a holy people.  Black Eyed Peas the singing group have re-released a powerful video asking "Where is the love?", a question we need to ask of ourselves in as a faith community and as a community.  The cross of our own inability to live in love and harmony with our neighbour is the weighty cross that we place upon our backs.  This cross holds us back from forming and living as the body of Christ in the world.  This is not the cross of Christ.

Part of the process is listening to the other, and all of us must listen, both disgruntled and happy, both sad and happy, both those passing by and those who are staying.  In listening we begin to understand the wealth of misunderstanding, the need to learn from each other and from others, the issues with instant response as opposed to considered advice. Having listened to each other we also have to listen to our own voices and our own tensions as it is often these unacknowledged issues that drive discord.  In understanding our own role in discord and disharmony, intentional or not,  we need to own those ideas, griefs and misunderstandings.  We need to own the times when we have been part of the problem and not part of the solution, the times when it has been our own intransigence and our own blindness that has caused the hurt.  It is at this point that the clay that is our wills and our senses and our thoughts in God's hands that start to become reformed and part of something new.

Once we have deposited our self created burdens at the foot of the cross is when we begin to come closer to being able to pick up the cross that Christ asks us to carry.  It is a light cross in comparison to the burdens we lay upon ourselves.  Yet paradoxically it is perhaps the hardest cross that we will ever have to lift in our lives.  The burden we are asked to carry is the burden that God has given to us as part of creation.  It is the burden that the Black Eyed Peas question as to where it is.  The burden of love which expands to cover all of humanity and all of the world.  It does not consider race, religion, colour or gender as a mark of distinction.  Once we accept that burden we understand that our commitment is to the spread of God's love.  In committing ourselves we give up our old lives and live lives centred in God.  This means that we give of ourselves to the ministries that we are involved in to the benefit of all and not just for ourselves.  Willingly bearing the additional burdens that this brings as we know that God will recompense our efforts on hundredfold.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Our Expertise or God's leading

In life we often  can achieve the our goals through hard work and believe that we have arrived when we our considered by others to have a certain amount of knowledge.  However, sometimes and quite often in a faith setting, our knowledge becomes a hindrance and is often not conducive to a happy and sustainable community. In life we are often honored for our knowledge and we allow this honour to become part of our expectations in all of life's settings not just in the situation in which our knowledge is recognised.  In Luke Christ warns against this type of behaviour using the illustration of a banquet (Lk. 14.7-14).

We can see this happening in all walks of life as people position themselves into places so that they can achieve power, authority and often at the end of the day notoriety. It is difficult for us not to promote ourselves within an economy that values those who are deemed to be 'expert'. (I am always reminded of the old definition of an expert which goes something like this. X = an unknown quantity, Spurt = water under pressure, a drip = an unknown quantity of water, hence expert = a drip under pressure).  Of course in any discourse that involves the subject matter that is the provenance of the 'expert' it is the purpose of the person to have their knowledge acknowledged and thus their view predominate.  In academic discourse this is part of the rough and tumble of academia and is carried out through conferences and forums that the various 'experts' attend.  In everyday life such behaviour tends to lead to cliques, clubs and politics.  We can see where that leads to as there is a tendency for those groups to use hierarchical power, the 'expert' at the top, as a means to stop conversation and deny the voice of the other.

Do we consider ourselves as being 'experts' in relationships?

In the faith setting this sort of self proclamation becomes an issue as there is a tendency to once again form us vs them cliques.  This can be clearly seen in an over exaggerated form in the issues in Northern Ireland regarding Protestant and Catholic.  In this over exaggerated case the situation devolved into violence in much the same way that the extreme fundamentalist does in any religious setting.  In the parochial setting the result may not be as vicious, in terms of physical violence, but is just as bad in terms of relational violence.  We often do not appreciate the violence that is generated as quite often the group as a whole ignores the issue and bows down to a laissez faire attitude that gives permission for the situation to continue without resolution.  Once a 'power base' has been established by the group or individual then this is used to exploit the situation and impose the view of the group/individual on the others within the community.

In many parishes there are Catering groups or Opportunity Shops that are valued as they often bring in a large proportion of the income for the Parish.  These groups tend to attract those who have a tendency for this self promotional style of behaviour.  The 'expert' is often the person who has been around in the group as a leader for an extended period of time and when attempts are made to curtail or align the group to the new direction a community is taking then umbrage, chaos and upset occurs.  Thus, breaking up the communal relationships that have ignored the growing situation as being normal and coming to understand that it is the community that has been 'bullied' into conformance as a result of their reliance on one group or another.  This is accepted and normal behaviour in many groups within modern society.  Yet, Christ offers us another and alternate way of behaviour that does not rely on our self proclamation of expertise and need for power / authority to lord it over others in however small a manner and in however 'irreplaceable' we believe it to be.

We are each of us called into ministry by God at our baptism.  It is God who calls us into the place where we may have some 'expertise' but it is also God who guides and directs us in that ministry.  God is the host who will elevate us into a more prominent position in the light of our peers but it is also God who may decide not to promote us despite what we believe or think of ourselves. Our self recognition as an 'expert' and therefore the right to be heard or even for our viewpoint to be the prevailing viewpoint,  has to be one that is counter intuitive to our desires.  Our behaviours should reflect a viewpoint that believes "Despite my belief of my own self worth, there are others who may be of more consequence than me."  Only when we realise that our own opinions of ourselves do not matter within the community will we begin to recognise that it is our relationships of mutual understanding and love that are of more importance.

It is pertinent for us, especially for those who think that they know more than others or think because they have been doing something forever, to stop and listen to others in the community.  This can not be a single event in the life of a community but an ongoing understanding of ourselves as a community. In doing so we begin to heal the rifts that our behaviours have caused and begin to listen to God's direction of our ministry and not our own self imposed authority.  But remember as soon as we start to think "I was right all along." and vindicate  a position we have held in our own situations, we fall into the same trap. We not called to elevate ourselves for the honour and glory which is fleeting but we are to await God's blessing and call for a more lasting satisfaction and blessing on the community as a whole.