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.