Monday, 27 June 2016

No place like home

At the end of Luke 9 (51-62) Christ says to a disciple that he has no place to put his head while foxes and birds have there homes.  He further tells others to leave funerals and not say farewell to family members. Yet, Christians proclaim community and the need to look to the other and assist the other before ones self.  In deed, Paul in Galatians refers to the commandment to love neighbour over self (Gal. 5. 14).  A commandment that we fail to live up to in our parishes on a regular basis.  We continually turn to ourselves and if you would our homes.  In fact we do many o the things that Paul suggests not to do when our comforts are being or about to be disturbed (Gal 5.20-21)

I am not sure what the consequences are going to be for the British people in the long term but the vote on Thursday with regards to the European Union was a clear and emphatic vote to remain at home.  All decisions as I have expounded on in other blog posts, have consequences whether they are with regard to Britain's abstention from the EU or our own perceptions of how a Church should be laid out for worship.  In a manner of speaking both such decisions are made on the basis of where we feel at home or how we understand Christ's call on our lives.  No matter how we look at it, the comfort of home is the greatest comfort we have in this world for most of us.  It is where we find the greatest safety; it is where we can invite our friends; it is where we can relax from the pressures of life.  It is also where we find that which is most recognisable and comfortable.  We do not wish to be disturbed in our homes whether it is in the form of changing the furniture (ladies/gentleman how much resistance do you get if you ever suggest this), a new way of preaching in Church or the way the liturgy is undertaken or how we approach our political life in the wider world.  Such change is undertaken with enormous angst to ourselves.

Christ in the Wilderness series:The foxes have holes  - 
Stanley Spencer (1891- 1959) - Art Gallery of Western Australia

Stanley Spencer's painting, found in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, The Foxes have holes is a rendition of this reading from Luke.  The painting portrays Christ resting against a bank in the wilderness with foxes going in and out of their dens in the bank.  Christ's body is depicted as being at home as he rests against the bank, almost as if he is at one with the earth, yet his face portrays a yearning that can only be described as a yearning for home.  A spiritual home that is not found in the mundane things of the world, a world in which his body finds comfort and rest.  The words from the gospel also supports this contention of  paradoxical opposites as 'the son of man has nowhere to lay his head'.  It is an uncomfortable feeling this being at home and yet not being home which for us Christians is a tension that we must encompass if we are true followers of Christ.  A tension that is always found in those who have journeyed in faith and look to Christ for their future. Christ calls us out, makes us uncomfortable, creates space for an-other, fills our lives with uncertainty, asks us to bring others to God.

Spencer's rendition of Christ speaks to us in this moment and as we move forward on our life's journey.  We cannot rest at ease within the comfort of our homes, yet we must rest at ease within the comfort of the world in which we live.  The rest of Luke's passage demonstrates Christ's insistence on this articulation.  Each person who raises a question with regards their personal life's journey at that point in time is given the same answer.  The traditions of the past in which we have made our homes must be laid aside as we look to the future of following Christ.  Unless we have overcome our fears that bind us to our homely comforts and rest at home in Christ we will never achieve the coming of the reign of God in this place.  That does not mean that we do not learn from the past, as Anglicans this is one of the pillars of our journey,  It means we do not cling, like Linus, to our security blanket 'tradition' but embrace the life that Christ offers to us. For us to do that we must be radical, so radical that we love our neighbour as ourselves, which means gladly leaving our comforts behind us whilst finding our new places in the world.  It is in dis-ease we should come to Christ and open ourselves to his healing balm.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Acceptance of difference

One of the most quoted parts of Paul's letter to the Galatians (3.28) makes a complete statement to us, particularly today.  Not only does it speak to us as Christians, indeed as baptised Christians, but also as members of the human species who seek a greater good in the world free from violence and prejudice.  In light of events in the world in this past week this passage speaks to our humanity and our faith.  The passage cannot be put aside as a response to the secular society of the day but must and should be taken up as part of our ongoing view of ourselves as followers of Christ.

Parents and godparents are asked to bring their children up within the Christian faith.  Their faith journey is one that starts at baptism and continues through their lives.  It is not a simple thing and we place much on the parents and godparents in this secular age as we ask them to supply the initial foundations of a life that is lived in accord with Christ.  In asking them to take up this burden we the Body of Christ are asking them to show the human side of Christ to the child.  We are asking them to guide the child into a life that is lived in accordance with the commandments that have been given to us through the covenant relationship with God and Christ's words.  These commandments have lost their appeal to us in the secular world because we see the enactment of secular law as being our religious fulfillment.

Just as the covenant laws guided the community of the Israelites in their day to day life so to are our lives guided by not things of the spirit but secular pronouncements found in the legislative volumes of state and country. The control and power over society has moved from faith based injunctions to civil authority leaving our faith understandings isolated and worthless within our societies.  Even so such control of life is a spiritual and ethical dead end that binds us into an ordered form which can only be seen as hierarchical anthills.  Such anthills also enhance, within its many runs and passages where life is carried out, the seeds that grow into festering hate, ingratitude, anger and violence against those not belonging to the anthill.  The seeds that allow ourselves to be content with our own lives and seek only that which enhances our own well being.  The consequence of this festering sore that grows within our society leads to division and dissonance within said society.  The secular nature of the law that now guides our society, in much the same way as religious law can stultify society, removes the human calling of relationship and love.

We are all one in Christ - when will we recognise that? (

In the Gospel passage from Luke (8.26-39) we see Christ reaching out to the socially dispossessed and bringing him into society much to the horror of those who should have been caring for him.  Those who should have cared for him and loved him, his family, friends and neighbours looked to themselves and their lives rather than to his needs.  In undertaking this act of compassion and understanding Christ re-positioned the man in such away that he became an ambassador for God's love. In denying his wish to follow Christ, Christ showed him how to bring God's love and respect for each other back into a possessed community.  The town's folk's 'hate' / lack of love ostracised the man from the community but Christ's love brought him back into the community.

Brendan Cox, husband of the murdered British MP, rightly said this week  "Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous", something that has been brought to the fore by not only the murder of his wife but also the mass shooting in Orlando.  Even the shooting's aftermath has shown how bigotry and hatred fill the lives of those who class themselves as 'Christians' with the local Baptist Church planning demonstrations at the funerals of Gay people. At what point will those who are Christian make a stand for justice for all people, not just the religiously 'pure',  Paul in his Galatians' passage uses the example of those who are on the periphery to state that they are all part of the human body of Christ.  We are all made in the image of God irrespective of our beliefs, our race, our gender (perceived/real) or our sexual orientation.  In pointing a finger at someone in hatred we are pointing three fingers at ourselves and it is only when we come to the self realisation that God encompasses all who are made in God's image will we find God's peace.

Elijah did not seek out God in power and authority rather he found God in the silence and the whisper of sound (1 Kings 17.12-13).  This silence begins once we realise that it is not in knowledge, as we know knowledge, that wisdom is found.  It is when we begin to question our own place in the world, our own relationship to others, rather than listening to a noisy and loud, oft misinterpreted, knowledge of the past and our current practices based on that past.  This questioning starts with baptism as our parents begin to bring us onto the faith path through what can be termed as an initiation.  Parents and godparents must teach their children as their children will come to teach them, to overcome the barriers of society's prejudices and our own reserves of disunity / disharmony / prejudice which fuel society's fires.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The issue of choice

Each day we face choices and the consequences of those choices affect our lives, In 1 Kings 21 a number of choices are made which not only affect the life of the King but also his wife's life as well.  At the end of Luke 7 (36-) Christ formulates these choices as a consequence of the unfolding drama at the dinner table.  In both stories the consequences were great for those involved and leaves us pondering as to the choices we have made and that the parish (people of Australia, Great Britain, USA, etc.) is about to make.

In the coming weeks various communities throughout the world have a number of choices to make.  These choices are going to be made by individuals and are not only going to affect the individual's life but are also going to affect the life of the community to which they belong, whether that community is as large as a country or as small as a parish.  One could almost say that at each level the choice made actually affects the world in which we live.  So how do we make our choices whether they are large or small? Do we consider the consequences of our choices or do we allow time to tell?  Is it our own needs that are the driving force behind our decision or is it the needs of others?  Do we look to our faith tradition or do we look to our political connections?  Perhaps all of these are yes / no answers for us. Yet this an extremely complacent attitude to take and is perhaps a significant indictment of our current society.  As Christians do we have the luxury of being that complacent when it comes to the decision making process that goes into the exercise of our right to choose?

The consequences of choice leave little doubt as to where Christ is.

In making our decisions, no matter what they are, we have to take into account the butterfly effect, if we are to be true to our own faith journey in Christ.  We may not be able to guess the effect that our decision is going to have on the world but we still need to consider in terms of our faith what effect the decision is going to have on the lives of those in our community.  Once our choice is made we cannot rescind it as that to will have consequences.  Having said all this we have placed ourselves in somewhat of a quandary which may incapacitate our ability to make our choice.  The two stories from Kings and from Luke illustrate the consequences of our choices most particularly when it comes to our choices made with regard to our faith journey.  In Kings the choice is a simple one.  The choice between what is coveted and what is appropriate within the Christo-Judaic faith.  Land in the times of this story was an inheritance which could not be squandered by sale to another family.  This was known and Ahab should just have bowed out of the mix but his wife having a different set of 'faith' guidelines persuaded him otherwise and then helped out in a rather unsavoury manner.  Then as we read the story the consequences come out and land up in Ahab and Jezebel's laps.

The Pharisee Simon had of course started of making inappropriate decisions in terms of the hospitality laws of the time.  Decisions that of course backfire, maybe not as spectacularly as Ahab and Jezebel, but just as effectively.  Simon comes to realise that the responsibilities of the host are important in terms of our relationships to each other and our relationship to God.  It is not the keeping of the religious laws, man made at the best of times, but the keeping of our faith laws that are important.  In denying hospitality to Christ the pharisee denies the relationship that needs to reflect our relationship with God, love of neighbour.  Christ points this out in very pointed terms as he reflects on the forgiveness of sins.  In accepting the other and the troubles that the other brings we start to forgive and so form a new relationship that is based on God's love not on our human hearts.

This is what Paul points out in no uncertain terms in Galatians (2.15-21) when he speaks of the life which Christ lives in him.  Our goal as Christians is to become as Christ, drawing closer to God and reflecting God's love into the world as Christ did in his time.  IF we are born into Christ and Christ is within us it is not our religion that we must be concerned about but our response to our neighbour and to God.  If Christ lives in us and we in Christ then it is insanity to think that we should or would neglect our neighbour either in our Parishes or in our communities.  The moment we fixate on what we want without consideration of everyone around us is the moment we slip from God.  We do not move into a win win situation but slip into a never ending story of retribution and revenge.

How does this effect our ongoing life within our communities?  Quite simply we should be making our decisions as Christians not as secular mortals who have no faith.  We make our decisions with the mind of Christ not with the mind of our own selfishness.  How we look at our various disappointments from the past and how we reconcile these into a new life depends on how much we reflect Christ.  If we cannot see the division that we will cause by our decisions than we are not aware of Christ's love in our hearts, if we cannot see Christ's actions in our votes for a new government we are not acting with Christ in our hearts, if we are so focused on ourselves and what we want we miss Christ's smile in our neighbour reaching out for relationship.  The decisions we make affect the decisions others make, let our decisions be made as Christ and others will make decisions that reflect Christ.

Monday, 6 June 2016

A life's journey

Our understanding of Paul as an apostle to the gentiles is layered with generations of interpretation of the Road to Damascus event.  Very little attention, in Parish settings, is given to Paul's own understanding of his life in Christ and what that meant for him as a person of faith as well as a 'fanatical' member of the Jewish religious authority.  The brevity of his own autobiography in Galatians (Gal. 1.11-24) with its no frills descriptions does not lend to an imaginative understanding of Paul.  Yet, this is the very journey that each person embarks on from their baptism in terms of their faith.

Paul was brought up into a Jewish tradition and educated within that system.  His faith formation was within the family and within the Jewish community.  In baptism children are brought into the Christian faith family through ritual and an understanding held by parents that God has called them to enter this faith path on behalf of their child.  In order to assist them with this task, which has grown more complex within a secular society and age, the faith community encourages them to draw into the life of the child (God)parents who act for that faith and God's call,  Just as Paul was surrounded by his faith as he grew into the man that he was to become so to do we ask parents and Godparents to surround the child with the Christian faith.  In doing so they bring the child up within the foundations of that faith just as Paul was brought up with in the foundations of the Jewish faith of his time.

Part of that faith journey is coming to understand what faith means for us as individuals and as collective communities.  In today's society we consider our faith journey to be one that is centred on the individual.  In some ways this is always true, however it is the community that orientates those who wish to explore their faith.  God parents and parents are asked to do this as part of an intimate community so that the child can proclaim that faith as they take their own vows and promises when they come to what confirmation. We fail our newly baptised if we bring them into the Christian family with failed metaphors and poorly understood messages of the Gospel.  We are continually pulled away from those things that nurture our beliefs by secular society.  Society which undermines our faith journey, a society which is very different to the one that Paul was raised.  Paul was succoured by the faith in which he grew up he was not disorientated by society but nurtured in his faith within society.  Something we tend to lack in today's world of big business, greed and consumerism.

We learn new things from our faith journey if we follow the signposts to God.

Yet, even Paul came to what we would perhaps call a crisis of faith as he propounded the tenets of his Jewishness with zeal.  No matter what occasioned this crisis within his faith journey itis obvious in this portion of the epistle to the Galations that it was a profound turning in his understanding of God and of God's presence in his life.  Unlike Luke's rendition of the experience Paul obviously took is time to come to grips with this understanding and how it affected his own spiritual and faith journey.  It was not an instant turning into an Apostle to the Gentiles but a three year journey into his own faith and what it meant for him.  He did not give up his Jewish faith, he grew in that faith and achieved an enlarged understanding of his life in God and in Christ.  So we as a community must of necessity follow this same path or like many we become stagnant mires that entrap us further and further confining us on a narrow theistic journey which turns out clones from one generation to another without fulfilling the Christian calling.

As a child we are fed things that we can consume and understand but as we grow we are able to cope with other diets that bring greater understanding.  Our children today have a greater knowledge of the world and we should be able to feed them in a manner that they can grow spiritually without confining them to a morbid and incomprehensible faith journey.  However, we neglect our lifelong learning that we utilise in every other sphere of life as we turn to our faith and spiritual development.  We continually fall back on the food of our misspent youth to inspire our new spiritual appetites, something that falls far short of what we require for healthy growth.  We lack often the spiritual environment in which Paul thrived or at least an environment that inculcates self understanding and expanded learning of our spiritual selves, not only as individuals but also as communities.

As a community of faith we require the faith understanding of Elijah's widow of Zarepeth to go out knowing that God is our goal not that which points to God.  Too often we remain stuck with the words of our tradition without questioning where they arise from and from what agendas they have been created.  The Psalmist and elsewhere in the Scriptures we are repeatedly warned against taking the word of those in authority but rather base our judgements on what God is telling us.  In other words our focus should be God.  We interpret all things but let our interpretation contain the spark of God that is formed within us rather than our own wants and needs which clearly take us away from the path that leads to God.