Monday, 28 March 2016

Dawn and renewal

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!

But how do we approach this new thing, this new life that is given to us in the darkness of the pre-dawn.  Does it actually mean anything to us as we gather at the place of worship or is it another thing that is on the agenda for this weekend?  Take the kids of to some exciting camp ground or to the coast or to a secluded spot away from it all  isn't that better than going to a stuffy old church and listening to another boring old sermon?  and if we do go away do we go to a distant church were no one will know us just for the tradition that tells us we should go to church?

In this age when people are less drawn to the concept of a commitment to a place or an institution where we find those that do are becoming older and more frustrated as they feel the demands of 'religion' placed upon their shoulders, what does it mean to celebrate new life and the mystery that is the Risen Christ.  How can we re-capture this mystery within our lived lives in a manner that will draw us into Christ's presence in our lives and those of the community?

The darkness of our daily lives appears not to be dispelled by the new fire that is lit for us.  It brings an image of warmth and community as we gather around to bless the candle that for us becomes a symbol of Christic love in the world.  We have survived the previous days challenges, the death of a human upon a cross.  We saw the humility, the graciousness with which the anointed one died.  We sat on the sidelines without interfering, much as we do today in light of injustice and power.  So here we have gathered as a community; we have heard Luke tell the story of the women approaching the tomb.  Are we approaching this day as they are?  Full of trepidation and a certain amount of uncertainty?  Are we to confront the mortality of our humanness once more as we anoint the corpse of  the anointed one?

New fire for new life

We become aware that it is our mortality that has been surrendered, our frailty that has been given in the body of the anointed one as we are invited to new life by those who are at the tomb.  The body is not here, we gave up our lives on the cross when we surrendered to Christ's love in our lives at our baptism.  We have been invited away from our old lives. We were reminded of that surrendering on Good Friday.  Both visually and physically as we wept at the foot of the cross, a weeping for our old lives.  We have been washed in the waters of baptism and cleansed so that we too might partake of Christ's risen life.  He has gone on before us and as we renew ourselves within the waters of baptism so we commit ourselves once more to that call from outside of ourselves.  We lift ourselves on the journey that is embedded within our lives a journey towards Christ so that we may fulfill God's commandments.  We are once more called to love our neighbours as ourselves, not only as a saying but as something that we do all of our lives.  We have recalled our sorrows, we have turned once more towards Christic living and we pledge our selves to the call of a kingdom that is to come in the world through the grace of God's presence in our lives.

Each year we move further away from our call as we bog down in the minutiae of  our mundane lives and each year we are recalled by the cross into new life with trepidation because of our past failures.  We renew our vows to a covenant of  love through baptism.  We are energised as we are welcomed once more with the words that speak to us out of mystery that Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Monday, 21 March 2016

A procession of events

Holy week begins for Christians this Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion or more commonly Palm Sunday.  This Sunday makes a good start for Holy week as it gives us an overview of the events of the week in the reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus the Christ.  Not just a focus on the procession that enters into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week.

If we look at the whole rather than the specifics we can see that it is a procession of events that starts with the procession into Jerusalem.  This first event is a parody of the entry of civic leaders at that time people, such as Caesar or the governor Pontius Pilate.  An entry that we still see in the visiting of foreign or famous dignitaries into town's and cities of Australia.  Just think of the crowds of well wishers that attended the visit of Prince Charles.  Is this event pointing out that popularity is not what it is about but rather for people of faith to attend to the deeper things in life that call to us.  Things such as justice and love rather than the playing the popularity game.  Does this event not charge us with the vitality to call for a greater love in the world a love that relies solely on a freely given commitment to love's call on us rather than one seeking reward?

Our next real event for the week is on Thursday with the hosting of a supper for all.  An open hospitality that asks of us to invite all into communion with each other in the presence of God.  Christ welcomes all his followers to the supper including the one who was to betray him.  Our welcome is so often spoilt by the fact that it is the select few that are welcome, and those are friends, whilst we shun those we deem unfit or not part of us.  This event draws us into a community that embraces all of God's people no matter who or where they are from.  It is also an event that embraces the concept of service to those who appear to be lesser than ourselves.  Traditionally a select few people (often 12) are drawn upon to have their feet washed by the leader.  In other places, many people have their feet washed (all who wish to come forward) by one person or by those who are leaders in the place.  In thinking about this what we really need to decide is; Is this a show or is this a real service of submission in the heart to serve God in the least of God's people?  Is it fun or is it a deeper sense of service that we would otherwise not achieve?  How does this event challenge our thinking in the way we serve the community within and without the Parish community?  Do we go out into the world following the service with a deeper understanding of our own role to which we have been called as Christians or do we go out with a feeling of self fulfillment having participated in a liturgical event which has little to do with everyday life?  Do we wash the feet of our 'political' / 'business' / 'social' rivals and betrayers to show them that despite all we still serve them as well?

At the end of the night we are reminded that we go into the darkness of a trial and the nightmare of an event that reverberates around the world to this day.  Can we cope with the devastation of a meaningless legal tribunal that appears to be subject to the whims of political expediency rather than the seeking of true justice in the world?  Even in the present day this trial (event) is often repeated day after day by governments around the world as they seek to appease their own guilt by casting around to find scapegoats to offer up as sacrifice to appease the popular vote.  In looking at our systems of justice and democracy we find such grand concepts lacking as we search for our personal goals and outcomes or even politics (see the arguments and disruption caused by the proposed appointment of a new judge in the US Supreme Court).

Three crosses. Which is ours?

We draw closer to the cross and death as we walk the route of the stations, slippages in time that call to us to stand up and become what we are called to become as a people.  In the end we too chastise those that are 'guilty' and scourge those that have been found to be wanting in society.  We fail to offer the assistance of unconditional love to those who are weighed down by burdens to hard for them to carry.  We ring our hands in despair and weep because of our failures to stop the procession towards injustice and hatred in the world.  We stand on the edges and watch while others nail our ideals and aspirations on the cross of expediency rather than protest for fear that we too will be hoisted on to that same cross of shame.  We bear witness to the death of all that is good that we name God.

Yes, God does die in the process but then today we need to acknowledge that the anthropomorphic God(s) that intervene/s should die to allow for the call of God to become real in our lives.  We cannot depend on an exterior force but rather we must show the face of God in our own actions to our own fellow sojourners created together to form relationship.  The face of the Christ to all of creation from which we derive our existence.  We need to become God bearers and Christ presenters to our communities.  Seeking the call of justice and for a love that never materialises until we ourselves reach out to our neighbours without seeking something from them or for ourselves.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A new thing

In the reading from Isaiah this week (Is 43.16-21) God tells the prophet that he is about to do a new thing for the people of God.  Having just reminded them of the marvels of the Exodus he tells the people "Stop dwelling on past events" (Is.43.18) because here in this moment I am about to do something new (Is. 43.19).

Herein is the conundrum that makes us hesitant about change and its effects.  For all our attention is on the past, no matter how we try to capitalize on something innovative it is our past experience that colours our experience of the innovation.  No matter what the change is, we are shaped by what has gone before. It may be a past Rector, it may be a past government or it may even be our past liturgical experience.  Our experience of what has gone before shapes our response to the new and innovative within the context of our lives.  Unless we can understand the requirement for change in terms of that past there is a reluctance to move into the uncertainty of the future that is being created by God's presence in our lives.  This is normal.  Our fears ground us in the present which is shaped by the past and has little to offer towards the future.

Sometimes though we come to a point where the way forward is so new and different that we are unable to come from the past and bridge the gap into the future.  The Israelites probably felt this chasm of uncertainty at the time that Isaiah is prophesying.  They cannot see beyond the gulf that irrupts in front of them preventing them from moving into a new future and leaving the past behind.  Even if, like Moses, they need to be led into the desert to see the life giving water that God will provide (Is. 43.20).  Our laws, our interpretations, our worship experience are nothing in comparison to Gods working in our lives and yet it is on these that we focus our attention in the present.  How can we tweak this to make it more of an experience?  How can we ensure that everyone gets the same experience?  We lay down our methods and stick to them like laws. We legislate to ensure that the Church's interpretation is accepted?  But God is doing something new each and every day...

At this stage in our Lenten journey we need to be acutely aware of God's presence in our lives.  We cannot stay embedded within our past lives even if they influence our future and are acknowledged in the present.  Paul clearly believes that there is something new happening as he writes of all that has gone before (Phil 3.7).  Don't mistake him or me, the past has formed us and influences us.  What Paul and I am saying here is that we should not be dwelling in the past.  Our past ceremonies, creeds, beliefs are all open to God's doing something new.  If we cling to tightly to our past lives, our past way of living we do not grow towards Christ and we do not gain anything from our Lenten journey.   We are unable to see the new that God is creating.  We are re-formed as we approach the cross, we are re-formed as we move into the liminal space of Holy Saturday.  God calls us into newness as she/he/it/? continues to do something new in our lives each day if we are prepared to open our hearts and eyes to the newness of God's call.

What cost are we prepared to pay to enter into new life?

Judas' expectation is of a continuation of giving to the poor rather than the extravagance of the completely unexpected event of Mary's anointing Christ's feet (Jn 12.3-4).  Our understanding is often one that sticks with the tried and true.  The response of Judas leaves us open to a continuing pattern of hand outs to those who are looking for betterment.  It is best summed up in the proverb about giving and teaching within a fishing context (Give a man a fish and he will be hungry within an hour: teach him to fish and he will feed his family).  If we are creative in responding to God's presence in our lives we will be able to bring that joy and love into the lives of others.  Yes, by all means help those who are without but at the same time acknowledge that our inadequate response is not going to alleviate the continuing presence of the poor, if anything it is only going to exacerbate the issue, which does not mean we give up.

Mary's response is extravagant.  She empties everything of value at the feet of Christ.  She does not cling to what was probably very precious to her and in her life.  She emptied it out.  Until we change the structure of our society and the structure of our lives.  Until we learn to do away with what is most precious to us, the have nots are going to continue to exist.  Until we understand the extravagant giving of God's love in our lives we will be unable to appreciate the things that God is doing each and every day.  Unless we have the faith to follow God's call into what appears to be places of dryness and non-welcome we will miss the new thing God is doing.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Prodigals - all of us

I have been following, as I am sure most have, the continuing saga of the Royal Commission (RC).  Surprisingly or maybe not so this coincides with some thinking around the parable of the Prodigal which is the Gospel for this fourth Sunday of Lent (Lk. 15.11-32).  I have been refreshing my memory of the work of Kenneth Bailey in The Cross & the Prodigal. Luke 15 through the eyes of Middle Eastern peasants while reflecting on the RC and other situations.  The RC and the recent publicity around the Oscars with the film Spotlight has also made me think of the recent trial of an old man for Nazi war crimes.

In the Prodigal son there are many thoughts to be drawn out but perhaps two need highlighting.  Bailey points out that the initial thoughts of the son are with regards to himself and his future stability in the life of the community.  He knows that the village from which he left, the community, will perform a ceremony that will exile him from that community itself if such an offer of restitution is not made and accepted.  It is utter rejection that he faces not just his Father's possible anger and hoped for forgiveness. His plan as he conceives it, is to become a servant of his Father and then make financial restitution through his work and wages.  In doing this he secures for himself well being and a return to a semblance of life.

The second point is the Father's reaction to the Son's return.  The Father discards all honour as befits a man of his status, by 'running' as in a footrace.  Robes girded around his waist, running through the village street to meet his son on the border of the village before any ceremony of rejection can be undertaken.  Servants and villagers follow.  The son in seeing the Father's great love shown to him comes to realise that it is not the financial aspect that has caused the break but the relationship between Father and Son.  His Father is willing to loose all respect for him his son.  He therefore does not fulfill his plan but simply asks for forgiveness saying he is unworthy of the love that has been displayed.  His Father responds by kissing him in welcome and telling the servants (must already be there) to dress him in the finest robe and to give him the seal of the house (signet ring).  He then invites all to an extravagant feast with the killing of the fatted calf.  In doing this he ensures the son's acceptance by the servants and by the village elders; returning him to community.

Reconciliation is more than a static thing it is flowing looking to the future not the past.
Reconciliation Statue, Belfast, Northern Ireland

We have heard this all before but when I look at how we behave in light of our own removal from community as a result of abuse or failing I have difficulty in seeing the Father's presence both as individuals and as members of society or institutions.  At what point does our need for retribution stop?  At what point does our need to inflict our revenge and the removal of people from community stop?  When will we start acting as if we had compassion rather than anger in our hearts?  I am not supporting those who have abused or who have covered up abuse.  I am not unsympathetic to the hurts, disruption and harm such abuse entails.  Although I have no personal experience of such long and deep disruption of relationship I still wonder what must take place for healing?  If, the Prodigal's story can do nothing else it must surely point us in one direction and one direction only, forgiveness and restoration of relationship must start by releasing our griefs and sorrows by discarding our own honour that requires the satisfaction of revenge / restitution / etc.

How can we nurse a hurt for 74 plus years in such a manner that we want someone to 'pay for it' with jail?  If this is what we have done for our life, allowed a wound to be fester in our hearts, what has become of that life?  Yes, the abuse was horrific, yes we feel better that someone has been brought to account, yes we have all been hurt by the horror of it all.  I no more and no less than everyone else, as part of the community, has been torn asunder by the perpetration of such horror and abuse within the community.  But does money, does life in jail, does restitution in these terms bring healing to the community and the victim and the perpetrator after this period of time?  Are we not left with a bitterness in our mouths that continues, a bitterness that does not allow the community to knit and become healed?  We do not see a future but only a past.

For all it's faults the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa brought this aspect to the fore.  The healing of a community rent by abuse requires both truth and reconciliation.  This path is not easy.  It is one that is fraught with difficulty but it is the one taught to us by Christ in this parable and the ones preceding it.  We cannot stop the abuse that has occurred.  We can only open ourselves up to the truth and seek our re-commitment to a love which is far greater than our selfish needs.  In doing so we put into place within the community the safeguards that will protect us from abuse in the future.  We recognise the failings that have allowed such abuse to occur and we respond in love not retribution.  We recognise our own abused 'honour' and allow that to go in the face of a love, which accepts the need to bring those who have fallen back into love.  We recognise our 'honour' as a barrier to that love as we recognise the other beyond the barrier we have erected to prevent our failings from showing.  In the same way a mother loves a child who has wronged.  There is no price on that love who are we to put one there?  We can only step into a new future healed by love and not marred by hatred.