Sunday, 25 June 2017

In the ordinary - Back to Christ

This last week has been spent in Margaret River.  A somewhat wet and drear experience, weather wise.  However, Professor Andrew McGowan, lightened the mood with his talks for the Clergy School on "Aliens and Strangers".  In coming back to Perth I was struck by the fact that much of what he spoke of had relevance for today's readings as they speak about being baptised into Christ (Romans 6.) and the need to realise that it is an allegiance to Christ that makes us Christians over and above our 'family' / 'culture' or even way of life (Matt. 10.37-39).  In understanding our own situation and our own place in the sweep of history we come to understand, as it was constantly put during the week, that we have been here before.  Not only as Christians but also as members of humanity.  For us of course it is the first part of this statement that should be true and the latter may follow as a consequence.

In taking up the cross of Christ, if we have done so with true faith and fervour, as a result of our baptism and latter acceptance of the Christian call upon our lives, we place ourselves within the category of alien and stranger.  Christians have always done this and it is something that Christ calls us to with his call upon our lives (Matt. 10.37-39).  It is perhaps something that we ourselves have forgotten living in this age, living secular lives.  If we take offence at this, being Christian not secular, just stop and reflect on the derivation of the word secular.  It comes from saeculum which means "belonging to a generation" in its most original sense.  Our sense of living for and of this time is the secularity that we live and yet as we live this we are also called into Christ and to present the reign of God to those who are also living in this saeculum.  If we understand this we also understand that we are different to those around us, or should be, as we are called into Christ, we are called to identify so deeply with Christ that we identify with his death upon a cross (Romans 6).  I am fairly certain that the majority of us when asked "who are you?" will reply "I am so and so, from this place and I am an Australian / Sri Lankan / Brit etc".  It may occur to you to label yourself as a Christian somewhere down the line but  not as a first option.  In doing this, I would perhaps suggest that we are definitely very secular as we identify with this current age and not with our Christianity, our apparent call into Christ.

Can we be modern martyrs by being true witnesses to our faith?

For us identification with our faith is not at the forefront of our lives unlike some of the early Christians.  For people such as Polycarp, Perpetua and the like the identification was completely with their faith.  Perpetua's father trying to dissuade her from the course that led to her martyrdom receives the response from Perpetua along the lines of "You see this vase, you cannot call it anything else for that is its being.  You cannot call me anything else for that is my very being, a Christian."  How many of us are as faithful to our calling.  Just as in the age of persecutions in which Perpetua and others lived we to live in an age where we find the Christian faith journey is of little account and declining, however much we try to bolster it.  Yet, if we are to be true to our faith calling we need also to live in the hope that is Christ so that we also may be lights to future generations.  Our sacrifice may not be as physically painful as Perpetua (after all she was killed in the arena, as part of a birthday celebration), but it still needs to be a making of sacredness in our lives.  Our call is an identification with Christ within the community in which we have been set, not for our own contentment, but as a call into the world around us to feed the poor, to encourage the fainthearted and to be present to those around us.

Even as outcasts Hagar and the child are given the hope of God's presence (Gen 21.18-20), even if we believe that we are outcasts we are present to God and given God's hope for the future.  It is only when we begin to realise this and live its reality in a world that derides the institution will be when we begin to evangelise and bring the Good News into the hearts and minds around us.  We evangelise not for an institution but for a life in Christ.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sent out in faith

Sometimes we think we can do it all.  I can undertake all the ministries in the Church and in the world.  All I have to do is put my hand up and I will be there.  If we are excited to participate we jump all over the place and try and put our hands on the wheel, so to speak, in as many different places as we can.  What happens is that we get ourselves mixed up and eventually cause a disaster as we tangle everyone else up.  Christ sends his disciples out in a deliberate and calculated manner (Matt. (9.35-10.8 ff) having understood what was required.

At baptism we pray that the child / adult will be filled with the charisms of the Holy Spirit.  If it is a child, I do not think tat we expect him/her to jump up and speak in tongues immediately.  These gifts take time to develop and come to maturity just as the child grows.  The same is true for an adult, occasionally the gift manifests itself immediately but often there is a period of maturing and discerning before the full gift is manifest in the life of the individual.  There are times when we need to set time aside and pray about our situation before undertaking a course of action.  This is of course quite easy for a child as it has its parents and God parents to guide it in its first tentative steps towards making a decision in faith.  But what of an adult, as we can be extremely impulsive especially when it comes to our likes and dislikes, our comforts and our intrusions, our future and our past.  We have a tendency to see where others are not stepping up and feel that we need to fill the gap.  At the end of the day we become rag and bones because we are not doing what God wants us to do but what we want to do.
Only in listening and in harmony with God do we grow

There are a number of questions that we need to ask ourselves as we grow into our charisms and as we educate our children towards the next step in faith that they need to take.  In asking these questions of ourselves we take a step back and allow God's Spirit to interact with us through prayer, contemplation and the discernment of others.  We need to ask, Is this truly what God is calling me to and how am I to know that this is God's call on my life?  In answering these or encouraging our children to answer these questions we actually have to do some work.  It is not a question of "Oh this is what I think I want to do"  which is typical of children taking their first steps towards adulthood.  It actually means that we have to sit down and discern where God is calling me. How?  By listening to what others are saying and reflecting on in relation to the choices that you are making.  By spending quiet time with God and allowing God to speak (we so often speak and don't actually listen to God).  By allowing God's Spirit to call to you in the quiet moments of your life.  Only through such a process do we discern a true call into ministry.

We allow our children room to discover these options of listening through their lives if we are being true to our baptismal call.  We go out of our way to encourage others to rightly discern the paths of God's Spirit in their lives through encouragement and listening.  We are present to the other as sounding boards so that we discern with the community the charisms of our neighbours and our fellow sojourners in Christ.  It will be Christ who leads us as he becomes manifest in our lives and as we are encouraged in the path of discernment for ourselves.  Only when we recognise the Christ that is indwelling in our own selves will we understand the gifts of the Spirit and how we release them into the community.  It is only when the gifts begin to hep the other and encourage those who are lost that we can know that the Charisms of the Spirit are invigorating the community.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Conceptions of God

At this time of year our thoughts move in the direction of God, if they are not already there.  Once a year we celebrate and worship the Trinity, I believe the rest of the year we celebrate and worship...well perhaps God the father or Jesus God the Son (probably more often than not) and rarely God the Holy Spirit, once a year on Pentecost.  We have one way or the other seem to have forgotten that God is three in one which is the real difficulty that other monotheist religions have with Christianity.  How can we say that we worship one God but have three who are one?  A definite paradox that we all struggle with at some point in time.

The presentation of this paradox has been enunciated most clearly by the various early councils of the Church as they struggled to define the reality of faith in which they lived.  The challenge for us today is that we hardly understand the meaning and thought processes that went to formulate what we know as the doctrine of the Trinity.  The result is that we focus our attention on specifics that we can understand rather than the whole that we cannot understand.  In this way we may focus our lives on an understanding of Jesus as being the Son of God or Christ.  We celebrate this in the incarnation and the story of the Resurrection. Or else we celebrate the Spirit and turn our attention to the spiritual gifts as given in scripture.  We concern ourselves with the fact that we are speaking in tongues or are evangelists and if we are not then we are not 'true' Christians.  In using our limited expectations in this manner we are able to cope but forget that we are sent out to make disciples and then to baptise in the name of the "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28.19).  One way or another we will focus our proclamation on one of the three and not all three; we will make disciples who follow one of the three not all three; we will teach about one of the three not all three.  How can we do it any other way when we do not understand it in the first place?

It is fascinating to obtain an understanding of Aboriginal cultures around the world and fantasy genre.  The reason for this is that there is a ubiquitous understanding of relationship that is found when interacting with these topics.  I would say that all aboriginal societies are soundly based on a concept of relationship and community rather than the individual.  Most fantasy genre literature enunciates the struggle between the two in some form or another, usually with the community/relational aspect being the favoured outcome.  In coming to understand God we need to overcome our more individualistic tendencies and strive towards a holistic understanding of the nature of God.  It is only when we turn our attention to a more holistic approach to our faith that we will begin to understand or have a glimmer of understanding of what it means to worship God.

Only in relationship is the whole perceived

Each of us has a preference as to how we interact and perceive God and we would be foolish to let our prejudices inflame the rifts and arguments over God.   All that this means is that we become 'Jesusians' or 'Spiritians' or 'Fatherians'.  We should be able to at least acknowledge that God is more than we conceive.  Just as in the scientific disciplines, where we have a tendency to narrow the field of study, it does not mean that the narrowed field of study is the full story.  Each aspect must be seen in conjunction and as part of a greater whole, one that we only glimpse of in our halfhearted attempts to explain a Trinitarian God.  Today as we turn our thoughts towards God we turn our thoughts towards a complex community in relationship that leads us towards the formation of complex interrelations in our own lives.  If we focus only on one aspect we will tend to isolate and wither our lives to the detriment of our own communities.  Just as the Aboriginal culture sees the worth of the individual in relation to community so we need to understand that the worth of our conception of God (Jesus, Spirit or Father) is only made whole and holy when formed in relation to the other.  Only then should we go out into the world to make disciples and baptise and then teach otherwise we will skew our worship of God and will not be doing as God has commanded.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Resisting the call of the Spirit

Our faith journey takes place within two communities both of which often display signs of distrust and envy.  The two communities that we are contending with are the community of faith to which we belong and the wider community in which we work out the lived expression of that faith.  Elements of the one may be contained within the other but this is not necessarily the case.  In both cases we are asked to live our calling and display the gifts that God gives to us in our faith journey.  Paul quite rightly says that those gifts are multitudinous in their occurrence (1 Cor. 12.4).  Quite often we overlook those gifts which God has given to us preferring to live our lives in obscurity as part of the general background of both communities. The alternative reading for today demonstrates how we often misinterpret God's effective call as we are not open to exploring God's communication with us (Numbers 11. 24-30).  We close ourselves of within the faith community by not recognising or dividing God's gifts into categories (This is from God, this is not from God).  In our non recognition of the gift as being part of God's bestowal we close ourselves of from God and then get frustrated as it seems we are not progressing in our faith and in our community. Yet, the release of the Holy Spirit into the community on Pentecost opens up and enables us to explore new territory and new horizons of possibility when we faithfully journey as members of the faith community.

Exploration of anything takes courage and communication to those around us.  Any exploratory work demands of us an open mind otherwise we will not be able to take up the challenge that we are called into through our growth in faith.  Ask any scientist with regards to seminal breakthroughs in their fields of expertise.  You will be told how there had to be an openness to new thinking in order for the breakthrough to occur.  That thinking has to be communicated to those within the community and also to those outside of the community so that we are all brought along with the new paradigm.  The Corinthian congregation was stuck in a pattern of thought that reflected the community and society in which they lived.  A society of Roman patronage that increased the welfare of those that conformed to their patron's way of thinking and doing, even if this tended to bring despair and poverty into society.  Paul is communicating a new paradigm, a new way of thinking within the faith community that will ultimately be reflected in general society.  The Corinthians' open themselves up to God speaking through Paul and the notion of many gifts coming from God not just the elite few.

If we do not look for assistance we will never get out of our rut

In closing down the exploratory mindset we narrow the ability to communicate God's presence in our lives and fail to hear God's offering of the Spirit, which comes through gifts and communication that we do not want to hear or deal with.  We do this in our everyday lives as much as we do it in our own faith journeys.  In becoming comfortable with the status quo we often fail to move out of the comfortable rut into which we have fallen.  God continual calls us into something new.  The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was unexpected but opened up channels of communication that expanded the incipient Church in many ways.  However, look at the reactions of society.  There is an accusation that the disciples gifted with the Spirit are drunk (Acts 2.13).  We do the same thing when there is an idea or an inspiration that is either not ours or outrageous.  We dismiss it and resist the change that takes us into a new place.  Only when we take on an attitude of openness and trustfulness to God do we begin to realise that God is pulling us out of the deep ruts of comfort that have bogged us down.  The act of communication is a two way process, we are often very good at the speaking part but very poor at listening to God.  Our prejudices and our own comforts blind us to the openness of exploration that the Spirit brings at Pentecost.  Like Joshua (Numb. 11.28), we want to close down those who have not been selected or those who are speaking differently to others.  The Spirit opens our hearing to a different voice, an exploratory voice that communicates a new thing, however uncomfortable that may be.  Let us open ourselves to the gifts of the Spirit and recognise that they may not bring the comfort that we think we deserve.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Preparing a Martyr

Words change in our life time and some words changed so much that we forget that what we are asked to do by Christ.  In the Acts reading from today we are asked to be witnesses (Acts 1.8) or rather the disciples (students) of Christ are asked to bear witness and by implication ourselves.  Yes, I said students because that was what his followers were, they were discipuli.  Indeed to bear witness is to be a martyr.  Yet, today when we conceive of martyrdom or being a martyr it is something with a bad ending.  Usually stoning, beheading or being burnt or crucified.  Of course for some it meant a multitude of mismanaged attempts to kill the person (See St Cecillia) and usually they have been turned into saints.  Yet, these were witnesses to Christ.  Looking at it from today's world the meaning is transitioning again to mean some form of terrorist.  Often the terrorist is blown up and is by this being a witness to their cause célèbre.

However, in the terminology of the church we often associate witness with a single person standing up either on the street corner with a personal PA unit spouting words about the scriptures.  Often a long winded sermon of their own interpretation or else a single person getting up in a church or worship setting and giving a witness to their life in Christ.  The two do not seem to equate the martyr of the bible and the witness of modern society.  At baptism we are asked to prepare witnesses aka martyrs for the start of their faith journey.  They are to be martyrs for Christ and the parents and godparents are assigned to the duty of preparing their initial journey until they can accept the challenges of the martyrs life.  We are life long disciples of Christ learning, just like students, to interpret that life so that we can be martyrs to Christ and God's love.  Yet if we equate a martyr's life with a modern witnesses life we are starting to loose ourselves in difficulties as the two do not seem to belong together.

Is this really what a martyr is or is it something more?

What have we done wrong?  How can we become so confused as to whether we are to be witnesses or martyrs?  The wrongness is simply corrected when we come to the understanding that there is a cultural shift that we need to account for.  Society today is an individualistic society whilst the society of the early Christians was communal.  This makes an very big difference.  The acts of witness that we speak about are individual not communal but the first thing that the disciples did was to come together as a community in prayer and worship (Acts 1.14).  It is our communal response that makes us martyrs not our individual witness.  It is our communal encouragement of each other to live in Christ that brings the response of outsiders to the unusualness of the Christian community.  In praying and worshiping together as a community we begin to find the joy and love of God in our midst.  In following our individualistic desires we break that communal bond and forever lose our sense of Christ's presence in our lives.  It is in community that we begin to recognise the other and accept the other into our midst, we do not do this individually.  Once we realise the power of living as Christians in community then we begin to understand our power of accepting the other into our own lives.  Community begins with the other not with our individuality.

If we are to form martyrs from baptism we have to ask our parents and godparents to instill this worth of community in the child.  Only when we have children growing up in our midst who reflect a joy of all and are willing to accept others into their midst do we begin to fully appreciate God's gift of grace in Christ.  Only when we are filled with God's grace can we witness bravely and fully so that we are martyrs in the present culture through our difference as a community.  those who lead may be picked out as individuals but it is the community that witnesses over and above the individual.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Following commandments - Lost perspectives

We all have to follow the law and yet we are all on the look out to find ways to evade the law.  We do not like being constrained by the law.  Most especially when we feel that the law encroaches on our own spaces and personal freedoms.  We complain if things are not going our way and really speak out if we feel that a law is unjust, even if it might be quite a good law in itself.  God and Christ give us commandments which we are told that if we love Christ we will obey (Jn. 14.15).  What are these commandments?  Simple really Love God and Love our neighbours as ourselves.  Nothing really problematic about these.  Here comes the rub.  We begin to debate with and amongst ourselves about the interpretation of these two laws.  Who is God?  Is God male or female?  Who is our neighbour?  If my interpretation of God is different to your interpretation of God does this mean that I am loving God better than you and you need to follow my way?  In these very real, to us, questions there is a need to bring in some perspective to deal with the inevitable conflicts but how do we do this when we all argue about interpretation?

God calls us to follow these commandments from our baptism throughout our lives.  In becoming bogged down in interpretation we loose the essence of the command that is given to us.  It is not in the legal definitions and interpretive arguments that we will find our way but rather in changing our perspective.  In making the effort, something that we ask godparents and parents to do for the child, to change our way of thinking will we begin to understand that the following of these two commandments are in fact simple.  We actually need to put away our tendency to look for our advantage and start to see the world from a different view point.  In today's society we have lost the true understanding of being whole, holy, in the sight of God and thus being enabled to follow God / Christ and enact the commandments of love.  Just think for a moment about the injunction to love our neighbour.

Let us change our perspective and do rather than think.

If, we are to look at scripture for inspiration on this one, we may find ourselves bogged down in wondering why, if we are to love our neighbours, is God so violent towards them in the Scriptures? or perhaps if God requires justice and peace in the world why is it that there is so much vicarious violence throughout Scripture?  What is it that we are missing?  Where are we going wrong in this exercise to find inspiration when all we have is violence and more violence with little in the way of the peace and love God commands us too?  This is the true nature of the path that begins with our godparents and parents as they are given the task of instilling their children, those attributes that bring peace and love into the hearts of our society, as they grow up.  We need to see a different world a world that is filled with the essence of our love for anyone and everyone as we share the resources of the world with each other.  The need for our children to see that everyone is the same, creations of and images of God.  It is when we instill prejudice and fear of the other in our children that we perpetuate the violence of our history/herstory.  We do this naturally, which is why the task set for the community and for godparents and parents is so hard.  It is they who are asked to change so that their children will be changed.  If we are asking them to change then we too must change as we offer our support and encouragement for them to live into God's commandments.

In changing our perspective on our own lives we begin to understand the requirements that God is asking of us.  It is not that the law needs interpreting by each individual it is that the law needs enacting by each individual.  It  is as if we have to place the question "what does it mean to me?" on hold and say "How can I perform this in reality?" By looking at the need to take an action we do away with the think and start to do.  We operate out of our wish to see the other in a better place than we are.  In doing this the other starts to look at ways of increasing our well being as they follow the example set for them.  Can we actually start to do rather than think about doing>


Monday, 15 May 2017

Anglican or non-Anglican that is the question

Political debate within the church just highlights to me how far we need to progress towards living in Christ even after all these years.  I have been reading lately a book that criticises the spate of managerialism that is apparent in the Anglican polity, particularly the English church.  At the same time I have also read with interest a recent post with regards to the prospect of a breakaway evangelical Anglican Church.  In both these cases I find that there appears to be a lack, a lack of some form of perspective that says that we are Anglican.  The first example is perhaps not as bad as the second but my underlying issue is the same.  It is an issue that crops up time and time again in all manner of situations and if we belong to the "Anglican" denomination in any form we need to make sure that we are being Anglican.

Anglicanism is a strange denomination in many respects perhaps not least is that it arose in England.  It is generally understood that the trilateral of Anglicanism is Scripture, Tradition and Reason which helps us to come to grips and handle theological dissent of one form or another.  (The more structural side of Anglicanism is founded on the Quadritlateral and the Instruments of Communion not something of interest at the present time.)  These three legs as it were are there to guide our reflections and try to be loving neighbours in as honest a way as is possible when our wants and desires push our neighbour away.  In allowing this to occur Anglicans are constantly in tension with the two ends of a spectrum.  The Catholic end draws us towards a more Catholic understanding of the central focus of the sacramental nature of the church with its rites and liturgical flair.  The Evangelical end draws us towards a literalism in biblical interpretation and a following based on Jesus.  Both ends appeal to various sections of society but the Anglican says "Both ends are true so how do we hold those truths in a manner that honours both."  How does the evangelical Anglican come to understand that the Catholic Anglican has as much truth as do they?

Holding the tension takes effort and is not easy

We are honest with each other and we respect and love each other as neighbours in the true sense.  Frustration from one end of the spectrum because they are not being 'heard' or that they are not getting 'advancement' sounds too much like the attitude of a spoilt and insecure child.  At baptism our Godparents and at confirmation, we, take vows that say "I reject selfish living".  If we are not getting our way and we go of on a rant or a tirade or we are going to split of and form our own Anglican church, is just selfish living on our part.  If we are incapable of working with the tension of the via media of Anglicanism then surely we cannot create a new Church and call ourselves 'Traditional Catholic Anglicans' or 'Evangelical Anglicans'.  In promoting a single view from one end or the other then we need to lose the 'Anglican' because we are not, we become an 'Evangelical' church the same as any other 'Evangelical church'.  Anglicanism implies the middle tension not the extreme ends of our beliefs.

Sometimes when tension is high the elastic breaks, what we need most in the Anglican church at present is a theological voice (and here I agree with my first example) that holds the tension and brings the ends into conversation.  This may mean discerning the voices that can speak from either end and including them in the leadership so that all are 'heard'.  In the tension of relationship that is Anglicanism we so often forget that community is formed by listening to the outside voice and discerning, not adamantly stating, God's calling.  From my view point the stridency of various claims from each end in the Anglican church is an act of selfishness.  Only when we can move away from our cherished and strongly held understandings, do we start to become truly Christ centred.  We put aside our Bibliathan and Jesusian and Incensian selfish understandings and begin to put God where God belongs at the centre of our lives.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Wayfarers or Car drivers?

Have you been on an extended walk anywhere?  On one of the many walking trails found throughout the World, the Cape to Cape perhaps or the Tsitsikama trail or even something a little tamer like the Big Hole track in the Barrington Tops.  All of these trails take meticulous planning and attention to detail.  They all may have their attractions and their difficulties but all of them are well posted and mapped.  They are well trodden trails that a little bit of foresight and planning will keep us on the go and reach our goal.  A little bit of excitement and plenty of beauty.  Just what we want as we walk through life.  For many of us this is what our lives are like, mapped out with little need to do anything just plod along.  Even our Christian and faith lives are much like this, all we have to do is stick to the track and we will be alright, God will meet us at the end.  We are after all known as Christians to be the people of the way, at least earlier in our history.  That is because we followed the Christ as Christ is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14.6).

It was a somewhat bumpy way when we were called that, it was actually quite exploratory, not like the well worn road and tarmac drive that we are accustomed to today.  Indeed, because we have paved and tarred the road for an easier passage, we have actually lost the truth and the life.  We are now on a freeway to nowhere pursuing our own dreams and our own needs without caring too much about the truth.  My daughter came home the other day from doing half the Cape to Cape walk as part of her year 12 syllabus.  Asking her about it she said it was hard but with a big smile on the dial she said "I made it".  How different is that response to the everyday commuter or the person driving from Perth to Mandurah?  This is the difference between our faith journey today and the early faith wayfarers.  Yes, it was still a posted track but for her it was strange and adventurous, something out of the ordinary.  We are happy to plod along the path set for us by those who went ahead.  Yet, God calls us to the truth and the life as we live the way.  In seeking to do this we will be led by God out of the smooth tarmacked roads of today onto the seldom trodden paths that lead us into new life.  They are paths that are not often travelled in this day and age and are quite overgrown so we must watch our step.  They are paths that call us out into the community to proclaim the truth, to proclaim justice and righteousness for all people.

Forging the path that God has called us to

They are paths that call us to centre our lives on Christ and live in expectation of the hope that God's love will be abundant around us.  We will see the beauty of that love in the glimpse of rare flowers that blossom along the way as we discover the way to imbue peace into our community.  It will be seen in the magnificent waterfall of God's grace that will be a sign of his abundant love as we bring truth into the lives of those around us.  It is not an easy journey, it is also not one that many will flock to and it is a journey that is undertaken with the knowledge that our own resources will be sufficient because God will fill our lives with his abundance and goodness.  It means that we sometimes have to plan for futures that are unforeseen and challenging.  It means that we will suffer hardship and heartbreak.  It means that sometimes we may have to rough it with others forming a small band of wayfarers who are sustained by God's presence and grace.  It means speaking the truth of our hearts in the presence of God and knowing that we are listened to but maybe not getting our own way.  It means struggling and wrestling with God / Christ to determine what it is that God is asking of us.  It means not accepting the broad road that has been paved so that their are no bumps but rather being jolted on the mule tracks of life, hanging from a precipice and coming through, knowing God's love in our hearts and lives.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Formation of community

The difficulty we face today is the fact that we have unlimited choice in what we want as individuals.  No one really worries, or dare I say it cares, about your choices so long as they are within the limits of the law.  This may mean that you go off to windsurf and form your community with those who do the same.  Perhaps you enjoy a glass of red and would prefer to do this surrounded by strangers, whom you may eventually get to know in a bar.  No matter what we are doing so long as we are satisfied, then who cares?  The one choice we are perhaps scared to make is a choice with regards our own spiritual journey because as soon as we make a choice in this arena we are pounced on from all and sundry.  The biases of the community to our faith journey is evident in the presumptions.  Your a Christian? those are the ones that go around drinking a persons blood and saying one thing but doing the complete opposite. Like politicians.  or Your a Muslim?  why aren't you wearing one of those covering things? aren't you all terrorists?  A Jew? aren't you the ones that say you look after the poor and the orphan but then go and create more by bombing the Palestinians?  These are hard accusations against any faith community based on limited understanding. So what makes the Christian community or any faith community a faith community?

For Christians, it starts with an acceptance, an acceptance of Christ who holds open a door into post-resurrection life (Jn 10.1-10).  Only when we truly enter into that life by stepping over the threshold of death do we begin to form the community that Christ  / God calls us into. Yet there is more to this than just acceptance and entry.  We enter into resurrection life by passing through our own deaths.  The death of our own individual wants and desires.  An entry into a life that is centred not on our own selves but on God.  It is a grouping of individuals that have allowed their trust to blossom between themselves and God in such a manner as to allow God to lead them.  It is not a community that is built on shame or on the concept of shaming someone to do something.  It is a group that builds its relationship around trust.  Trust in the other that is not myself and trust in the other that is ultimately other.  By opening the door Christ invites us into a relationship that is built on trust and love.  For us to become a viable part of that trusting community we need to shed our own desires and wants that we impose on others around us.  If we do not how can we build on trust? and in love?

Discerning the call into community not individuality
© Blake Coffee .churchwhisperer.com 

We open ourselves up to God and God's community, allowing God to direct and build according to God's will not in accordance with our will.  How is this done?  Perhaps, like the early followers of Christ immediately post resurrection (Acts 2.42-47), it is centred around the worship of God and prayer.  It is not centred around the crutches that we often depend on in today's world to focus our minds and let us know that God is present. Today, it is as if we cannot let go of ourselves and enter into God's presence without a symbolic crutch.  In those early days there were no symbols of the risen Lord only knowledge of God's presence as the worshippers immersed themselves in prayer.  We come together to form community around the table in communal worship.  It is not individual time to be with God when we come to worship; it is community being formed in God.  The joy and the hope that is formed is a joy and hope in community.  We are individuals outside of the worshipping community but we form the community in worship.  Each time we come together as a community we come together in the presence of God and allow his Spirit to affect our behaviour in Community.  If we set ourselves apart from the community, by clinging to our crutches, we no longer form as God's community but rather we come together as a bunch of individuals supermarket shopping for a Spiritual experience.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Breaking bread and open Scripture

The Easter story is a story of journeys into new life and new understanding.  We move from the incarnation to risen life through death, remorse and metanoia. For Christians it is a journey that starts at God's call on parents and godparents to bring their children to baptism and ends ... well it should not end as we are called into new life not death.  Just as on the Emmaus journey (Luke 24.13-35) our journey to baptism requires the scriptures to be opened to us.  It is an opening that invites us, just as Christ invited the disciples, to follow God more closely and in a personal relationship that opens up community.  If we do not see this in the liturgy of the baptism we have probably switched of as we have been through it sooo many times before and know the responses (ours) by heart.

The risen Christ walked with his disciples on the way to Emmaus and opened their eyes to the journey that is told in scripture.  He did this before sharing in a communal meal that brought him into community and thus opened the disciples eyes to his presence with them.  So what is the journey that we begin at baptism? The journey starts with ourselves as we enter the world we have needs that we express through animalistic expressions.  These come from deep seated survival instincts requiring us to demand attention from those around us.  Imagine a world that has a population that only makes demands for their own needs.  Oh! Perhaps, we do not have to imagine this after all.  The selfishness of a child is inherent and this is firmly portrayed in our Genesis stories of Adam and Eve and their offspring.  The originality of selfish wants that destroy community.  The Israelite's had all this in Egypt's fleshpots until they were taken out into the desert to re-affirm their communal lifestyle.  A lifestyle that was not inaugurated until they had washed themselves of everything Egyptian.  Only, of course, it is not that easy as they/we so rarely stick with the community but want their/our own wants rather than communal needs.  The Israelites/we do not rely on God but on their/our own strengths thus rejecting God's promise and so wander aimlessly through life instead.  In realising and turning back to God (metanoia), they/we find them/our-selves being washed and forgiven once more as they/we enter, via the Jordan, into the promises of God.  This is not easy and Scripture tells the story of the community's moves in and out of selflessness.  Eventually Christ re-emphasises the requirements of community, personal relationship with the other (ultimate and neighbour) and cost that we need to bear with joy.

Baptism in Christ brings us into community as we open ourselves to the other

This is our faith journey that is re-iterated for us as we come to baptise a new member of the community into the Christian way through Christ's death.  We re-iterate this journey at each of our communal gatherings to worship God as we come around the table to break bread and realise the risen Lord in our midst, as each and everyone of the community.  However, so often, just as portrayed in scripture we forget and do not see the joy expressed in our own lives.  The reason is that we insulate ourselves against others rather than opening ourselves up to others.  My personal views about how things are done become more important than the community to which I belong  This is similar to the 'prisoner's dilemma' and yet we, through our baptism, need to constantly remind ourselves that it is the gathered community around the table that is the body of Christ.  It is this that we are enjoined to mirror in the world to bring our joy and God's love into fruition in the world.  It is the communal expression that is paramount for our own relationships and fellowship with God.  In coming to Christ at our baptism, we are reminded of how important the community is and how unimportant are our own views.  It is in the breaking of the bread in the gathered community that Christ is found and the love of God is expressed in hope and joy.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Formals and confirmation

It is that time of year for the year 12 students at schools around the country.  The old "Coming out" balls are now re-vamp into the year 12 formal.  A process that indicates that our young men and women are now 'adult' and capable of partaking in life.  An easing into society and a new life.  A saying good bye to old things and a toast to the new life that the end of school should bring.  In the Christian world we have celebrated the coming into new life with the resurrection morning on Easter day.  We have said goodbye to the old and re-affirmed our vows to live as Christ.  Today at St David's we celebrate again.  We celebrate the next step in a journey for those who have given thought and consideration to their faith.  The call by God onto the path of faith is ongoing and at each step we celebrate and mark the occasion today for 9 people who have heard Christ's call and come to confirm the vows that their God-parents took on for them at Baptism.

 Confirmation, like the formal for the year 12, some will see  as a passing out from the Church, which it may well be, but it is an acknowledgement of the faith journey.  Christ does not ask his disciples to come to Church.  He asks them to worship God and to go out and make disciples.  He asks them to love God and their fellow men, women and creation as much if not more than they love themselves. If this is the case, which I believe it is, then if those who come for confirmation are not seen by the institutional church again for a long time what does this mean?  Lets look at what happens after a year 12 formal.

Are we prepared to let them go into the world and make disciples?

The young adults eventually do their examinations and pass out into the wider world.  This means that parents start to become empty nesters, we feel the loss of our 'children' as they make their way in the world.  They sometimes return on a regular basis and often we go out to meet them were they are.  Yet, it is a fact that eventually they no longer see the family home as part of themselves except as a memory or a place of comfort to return to when feeling down,  The parents love is always there for them and they are welcome to come back at any time, even if they are really down on their luck,  All is forgiven when they come into the parents arms.

Funny that, maybe we as an institutional church need to start acting more like parents in the world rather than ingratiates when the youth do not come.  Just like parents we are generationally different from the children in our outlook.  We need to let them go and perhaps have safe havens for them to come back to when they are in need rather than places of discomfort.  We perhaps need to understand our role in their lives as being somewhat different to a grasping miser who wants everything to stay in one big happy place forever.  Perhaps in their own way confirmees who go out and do not return are actually doing what God has asked of them, 'Go and make disciples'.  Maybe not in the manner the Church would like to see, increased attendance etc, but perhaps in the manner that God is calling them to.  Parents often wish to control the lives of their children instead of allowing them of the leash.  We, as mature Christians, need to allow them of the leash and allow God to lead them.  We need to be their to pick up the pieces and comfort those who have been rejected by the world but we should not be holding on to them as if we could protect them.  God calls and we have to have certainty in the understanding that God knows what God is doing.  So let us bless our confirmees and allow them the freedom to bring God's message of love through their own expressions of God's will not our thoughts of what God wills.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

New life or the same old same old

Baptism is for us the founding event in our spiritual lives.  It is at this moment that our parents and godparents set us on a path that says "Be as Christ".  In confirmation those whose lives have been given to Christ at the moment of baptism accept the path and begin to grow into that image of being as Christ.  Yet at the end of the day this commitment is in fact a scary one. Even though we make those promises, we have to be reminded on a yearly basis what that looks like.  New life is not as easy as we think for any of us.  Turning over a new leaf in our lives is full of hazards and is potentially devastating.  So it is not surprising that Christ tells his disciples "Do not be afraid" (Matt 28.10).

Only an idiot would be unafraid of a drastic change in their lives.  We are all afraid because we are comfortable with the life that we have.  In accepting the journey to be like Christ we are accepting something that will ruin the life that we live at present.  It means that unlike our fellow men and women we will not be living a life of comfort and ease.  It means that we will not have the space to do what we would like to do.  It means being available to God's call at every moment of our lives.  So yes we are afraid to make such a change that impacts on every single thing we do.  It means that we have to radically change the way we think of everything around us.  Not just what we think and say but every single action should be geared towards an expression of Christic love in our lives.  It is not easy and it is not always pleasant; and, yes, it is a tough choice that requires our whole commitment to, so that we can follow a vision of humanity that was created by God.

Greet the dawn of a new life in the midst of uncertainty

Just to illustrate what such a change actually means for our lives.  Most of us would say that we have very firm political views.  These views may have been instilled over generations which have resulted in your own voting and behavioural patterns when it comes to elections. In turning to Christ and accepting the cross that Christ has carried we are asked to question those patterns of behaviour.  We are asked to set out God's manifesto of justice (distributive), love, community and non-retaliatory violence.  Once we have undertaken that and compared it with the manifesto of our favourite political party and see if they reflect each other.  Our choice is not about tradition but rather about our commitment to the vision of God.  Parents and godparents bring their children to God as an answer to God's salvific purposes.  God asks them to publicly declare that they will bring the child up to be Christlike.  This means that they are to be taught to become selfless in their outlook, accepting of the other and form relational community with humanity.  Those of us who have been baptised are reminded of this each time that a child is brought to the font for baptism and as we renew our own vows each Easter. This is a big task.  Be afraid.

Yet, Christ says to his disciples "Do not be afraid".  Why?  Given the enormity of the task and the disruption it means to our comfortable lives.  In living our lives as Christlike  we have the comfort of God's love, it brings us joy in adversity, it brings us hope in despair, it brings us new life in death. Only when we realise and commit to living a risen life do we begin to make the radical changes that sees an end to suffering.   We begin to see with clarity the gifts of God's presence in the now and the future in God's new world free from suffering and pain.  We live in Christ and he lives in us showing us the hope, love, joy and happiness that is found in God.  Why be afraid of these things?  Can we not see beyond our own selfishness?  The risen Christ answers with hope, love and justice drawing us into his resurrected life.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Leadership pointers

Maundy Thursday is perhaps not the place one would think of to find pointers on leadership.  Yet, this is perhaps the one facet of the drama of this night that is sadly forgotten about in our rush to celebrate Foot washing and the stripping of the Altar.  However, it is also perhaps the one most essential point of focus for the night, certainly as we debate governance and transparency within our ecclesial circumstances today.  Yes, the celebration of Easter is just around the corner so why do we have to deal with the mundane when we can deal with the spiritual axis and just forget about the mundane. We do perhaps need to understand that the Body of Christ that is the Church is a multidimensional beast and if we concentrate too much on the ethereal we will not become a whole body but rather something no one wishes to be involved in.

Christ leaves these leadership pointers to the last minute in the Gospel, perhaps to emphasize their importance to a Body that has to deal with the normality of life.  I think that there are perhaps six brief leadership pointers that the readings of the Last Supper reinforce in our lives.  Perhaps the most obscure is that leadership takes place in community.  We only have leadership when we form a community.  On our own we have no need of leadership it is when we are formed into a community that we need and desire some form of leadership.  The call to become a leader takes place within the context of a communal body, it is not an individualistic undertaking but a discernment of the community.  Christ takes a leadership role only amidst the community of disciples and in the context of the Jewish communal understanding of its faith journey.  Christ is acclaimed by the community as its leader.

Loving service is humble, accepting, visionary, committed whilst acknowledging
 the community and resistance.

Christ is accepting of the views of those around him in the gathered community.  He is well aware that there are those who are dissatisfied with his leadership and are in conflict.  He is also aware of the consequences that such acceptance brings to the situation.  In accepting he is ultimately fulfilling the vision that he has propounded as a leader even if others have not. During the action of the Gospel story we are made very aware of the imminent betrayal and of Christ's acknowledgement of it.  In leadership we need to be aware and accepting that some within the community will not like the vision that is proposed and will do anything they can to undermine the process.  However clearly the vision is seen there will always be resistance to the method or plan.  Peter did not see the need to submit to Christ's washing of his feet, it was not in his vision, he resisted.  Christ was patient and accepting of his resistance but reminded him that participation and commitment was everything.  Clarity would come only with the commitment to a larger ideal than could be encompassed by Peter at the time but he was willing to be obedient and committed even in his non-understanding.  Even a leader of a small community needs to be committed to the larger vision and context in which they serve.  It is in commitment that we learn, perhaps the greatest understanding within leadership that Christ has to offer at the supper and that is humility.  The ability to humble ourselves to show others the way forward even if it means lowering our expectations of ourselves and others.

Why do we all have to understand these leadership pointers, we are not all leaders?  Yet, as Christians we are all leaders in the Community as we are sent out as missionaries bringing Christ's vision into the hearts of those around us.  Who but us are leaders in faith?  Who but us are able to bring Christ into the homes of those we are friends with?  Who but us can take the lead of faith in our own communities?

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Protest or Acclamation

Political action takes two forms, the one is protest and the other is acclamation, both have origins that extend back into history and to a certain extent are buried within religious liturgy.  Today, we see both forms in action across the country in the form of politically motivated protests around the release of refugees from detention and the other in the form of a re-enactment of Christ's arrival in Jerusalem (Matt.21.1-10).  Both of these actions are valid in their own right but on the Sunday when we read the Passion my question is whether they are appropriate for the day?

My concern arises, around protest rather than around acclamation, but there is a validity to concern around both.  In recent years the Australian public have been encouraged to take part in the Palm Sunday protests against the continuing policies of the Australian government around its immigration policies and the detention of refugees / immigrants coming to the country via 'illegal' means.  The nature of protest is to draw attention to a political reality that continues or creates an injustice within the public realm.  In doing so on Palm Sunday the Christian Church draws attention to the situation through the lens of Christ's approach to Jerusalem and the resultant injustices of the week ahead.  However, a protest, to have effect upon the body politic, it must disrupt that body in such away that it will take note and re-consider the matter.  The building pressure upon the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, is perhaps a case in point.  In this case the Primate of Southern Africa has taken the stance that the Church will continue to be politically involved and continue to bring pressure to bear on unjust politics in a public manner, having been asked to stay out of politics.  How much disruption, if any, to the body politic does the rally on Palm Sunday cause? or has it become a blase outing for the committed?  Does it not create a  minimisation of the acclamatory march earlier in the day by drawing attention away from Christ's entry into Jerusalem?

Acclamation for Christ or protest against tyranny?

In the earlier marches of the day we acclaim Christ's presence as he enters Jerusalem.  We like those who have gone before rejoicing in Christ's presence as he enters into our lives at the beginning of a week that is devoted to his passion, death and Resurrection.  The original entry into Jerusalem was one that brought crowds of joyous people to celebrate what they conceived as the Son of David coming to take his throne.  A political move of note that received the public acclaim and political approbation of the crowds that were present. A direct confrontation with the Roman powers and Temple collaborative hierarchy of the day.  In other words a disruptive protest but undertaken with acclaim.  We participate by showing our willingness to acclaim Christ our King knowing full well that this leads to his death and the Resurrection   Our willingness to join in the acclamation is a demonstration of our willingness to participate in the burden of the cross at the end of the week, to join with Christ.  It is our participation in the passion of the week that renders our lives changed on Easter morning.

The event of acclamation has a greater disruptive power on our lives than the event of protest later in the day.  Yet the event of protest minimises the event of acclamation as it draws the attention of the world away from the events of the week.  In participating in the event of acclamation and then going on to an event of protest that does little to affirm the event of acclamation or disruption of the body politic, are we fulfilling Christ's call to live his passion in our lives?  In undertaking both forms of political disruption on the same day have we removed the political intentions inherent in both actions?

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Rise from the dead

As we approach Easter and the resurrection we are confronted by are own mortality in the story of Lazarus (Jn 11).  The issue is that we are afraid of our own deaths and believe that immortality is achieved by holding death at bay for as long as we can.  The result is that we cling to what we believe is life bringing even if it only hastens our own deaths.  Indeed we parse death and flit over the topic as much as possible by using euphemisms, 'I am sorry for her passing' or 'I am sorry that you lost the one you loved.', all to avoid saying the dread word "death".  My mother replied to one such statement on my father's death "He died dear. I would be very foolish to have lost him."

In confronting our own fears we open the space up and allow God's healing Spirit in.  Instead of death we find life, instead of despair we find life.  The truthfulness of our lives confronts the seeds of destruction more than our denials ever will.  Life in God comes when we understand that we must die.  Our whole spiritual journey is about confronting death and bringing truth into our lives.  At the start of our journey we 'die' as we are baptised.  Death is there at the beginning but we are too young to understand which is why our parents and Godparents take that responsibility on for us.  We take that responsibility on board at confirmation.  Death is only a pre-cursor to life.  Next week we begin our week long journey to the cross beginning with Palm Sunday.  It is a passionate story that leads through every imaginable emotion but ends in the knowledge and understanding that God is present in every single moment of our lives even at the point of death.

Can we accept God's gift of life?

It is so often the case that we moan and complain about our lives more often than not to draw attention to ourselves.  It is our egos that are the problem and we allow them to get away with an enormous amount.  Unless we can truly understand how great God's love is for us we will be forever lost in the gray lands of death.  Ever seeking but only finding our own complaints.  Yes, we so often feel that we have been abandoned by God, like Mary and Martha, like Christ on the cross, but it is God who has carried us through our emotional upheaval to the other side where new life awaits.  In not realising this we squander God's gift.  Yet, there is more to this than just God's gift of life.  We have to accept it.  We have to receive it.  We have to collaborate with it.  Any parent can tell you that a child may not accept the offer of love that a parent brings but go their own way, only to be picked up of the floor at a later stage by the rejected love of the parent.

In our lostness we turn a blind eye to God's love feeling abandoned and neglected.  Yet, we need only accept the change that God brings and open our eyes to the working of the Spirit within our lives that we will begin to understand that we have never been abandoned.  We see with eyes of the lost not with eyes of the found.  We see with eyes of fear not with eyes of hope.  We see with eyes of abandonment not with eyes of love.  Last week I spoke of seeing with the eyes of God now we need to see with eyes that are turned outward not inward on our own depression.  Hope burgeons all around us if we only had eyes with which to see.  In place of grief see happiness, in place of loss see new life, in place of depression see hope.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Seeing with the eyes of God

How do we see?  How do we look?  How do we perceive the world around us?  We would probably, at least the majority, with our eyes or maybe through sound or touch.  Would we use terms like taste or smell I wonder?  No matter the means of our sight we interpret that through our own minds / brains and have been inculcated with a certain response to certain sights, sounds, tastes, smells, etc.  One of our challenges is to see without the interference of our senses and prior knowledge.  Samuel failed miserably in determining the status of David (1 Sam, 16.1-13) as did the Pharisees (John 9).  I expect that all of us fail in the same way as we jump to conclusions from our prior knowledge and our upbringing.

A good example is highlighted by the Dalai Lama when he reminds us of is our own propensity to see violence as glamorous rather than to see relational harmony as the preferred norm.  However, If we doubted this propensity to blindness in any way we need only look at the immediacy of the judgements of the twitter-sphere and social media over the past few days to see this blindness in operation.  It is inherent in all of us, as we make judgements of others in terms of our own experiences and our own imaginaries.   The issue with this ultimately biased view point is that we are quite capable of  not seeing the marginalised, the fringe dwellers, those that we judge as being beneath, literally and figuratively, our notice.  It is only when those that are on the margins make a big enough nuisance of themselves, the blind man (John 9), that we take notice of our own challenged views.  Even then we may do nothing about them as we are too blinded by our own thoughts that we cannot conceive of an alternate way of seeing.  This blindness can overtake us in everything that we do, not only in the public realm but also in the private and the faith dimensions of our lives.  Everything that we do is coloured by our pre-judgements.

Our blindness leads to our not seeing with God's eyes

In our Lenten journey we are asked to face up to the more difficult aspects of our lives.  One of these is really looking at ourselves and acknowledging our own faults so that we can seek God's grace and Spirit to guide us into a new space of  possibility.  It is only when we begin to see through the eyes of God that we begin to understand our relationships and develop our community.  The commandment is to 'love our neighbours as ourselves', if we are unable to acknowledge, let alone love, our own faults how can we manage to love our neighbours.  It is often this task of self acknowledgement that we neglect and avoid.  Samuel is chastised for his lack of effort at the beginning of the reading (1 Sam. 16.1-13) and proceeds to compound this lack by using his own judgements to second guess God.  It is only when David comes that he realises that God judges on other criteria and not the criteria we as humans use.  In looking around at ourselves we should be strong enough to understand that our pre-judgements are not those of God.

It is when we actually 'get over' our own self doubts and self indulgences that we begin to realise that God is actually affirming and drawing the people of God into new relationships.  The joy and the wonder that is God's presence in our lives is only truly visible when we place ourselves on hold.  Samuel finally realises that by working with God the world is changed.  Like the blind man we must accept the Spirit of God in our midst, even if it looks strange because we are seeing it with a new openness that was not there before.  We ourselves are blind until we allow God in to change our sense of perception.  To be holy is to see the world through the eyes of God and to further God's demand for justice and peace.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Thirst

One of the increasingly important commodities in the world is drinking water.  In 2015, UNICEF reported that 1 in 10 people were unable to access potable water for drinking.  The lack of fluid sustenance, water, is the one thing that is guaranteed to bring about complaints from a group of people quicker than the lack of food (Ex. 17.1-7).  Yet, we live in and on a world that has abundant water.  It is this difference between abundance and scarcity that is highlighted by Christ at the well (Jn 4.5-42).  A stunning comparison when looked at in light of the Israelite's response in the desert and that of the disciples.  We also need to re-think our response in our Lenten journey to determine if we are being like Christ or seeing through the eyes of complaint.

The pressure that is placed upon the leadership group of the Israelites through complaint comes to a head in the scene in Exodus as Moses pleads with God for a solution.  As we read elsewhere this becomes Moses downfall as he behaves in an irascible manner (in a way we cannot blame him given the moans of Israel; how many of us have been in similar situations?).  In times of pressure when people are without or believe themselves to be without we act in a way that is often detrimental to the community as a whole.  For example in our current state of 'lack' or shortage of water I am always amazed by two things.  Firstly, we allow all the abundance of God that falls on our streets to go out into the ocean in our urban areas.  A ruler, in Sri Lanka, at one stage dictated that no water that fell on the ground should go into the ocean without first being used at least twice by the population.  Secondly, some populations in their complaints will not look at the potential of recycling water to ensure a good supply.  Even parts of Africa do that.  This just shows us that we look at things from the point of view of scarcity rather than God's abundance.

Do we see abundance or scarcity?

Christ in his interactions at the well talks about abundance, not scarcity.  God as we have just seen, with the stories of water, is an abundant God, we just have to steward that abundance in a manner that is beneficial to all.  The disciples moan about Christ's interactions without seeing the abundance that is evident in God's presence as the whole community is brought into interaction with Christ.  Christ saw the need and the underlying complaints, of derision and exclusionary practices, but was not panicked into full hardy grandiose shows of power.  Rather he sets the seed into the fertile soil and allows the crop to come into harvest in God's time.  In all our own interactions, wishes, wants and complaints we need to be mindful that God acts not in the way we want but in the way God wishes that will bring benefit to the whole of the community, men, women and children.  We just have to see with eyes that are attuned to God's abundance rather than looking through eyes that are avaricious, greedy and lustful that see opportunity in scarcity.

In times of difficulty within our own lives we tend to see scarcity rather than abundance. In our inability to see the offerings of the Spirit we turn away seeking new sources of abundance rather than understanding that the arid conditions will yield a bountiful harvest in God's time when we work with God rather than for our own needs.  The joys of the Spirit our around us even in the depths of despair.  God works with the abundant overflowing joy of God's grace.  Once we turn around and see God's abundance will we come to see the abundance n our own communities.  An abundance that is waiting to be harvested just like the run off from the rain.  It may be that we are asked to see things from odd angles and different views. Ones perhaps that we do not want to engage with, re-cycled water, but will bring us into abundance once more.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Born again

A few years ago, may be more than a few, I remember that almost every second person was asking "Have you been born again?" asking of course if you had accepted 'Jesus' into your life. After a while this became boring and embarrassing, perhaps because of the overly enthusiastic manner of the asking or maybe at the end of the day thinking 'I am a Christian. Why do I need to be tagged by these embarrassing invitations to a charismatic event I know I will just shrivel up and die at.' or some other similar thought. I always felt that there tag along lines were fatuous and boring not really portraying the reality of Christian life.  Yet, Christ asks us to be 'Born again' and as Nicodemus asks 'How can someone be born when he is old?' (Jn 3.3-4).

If we are to think of these things in any manner of depth we start to realise that what puts people of from the question "Have you been born again?" was the earnest frivolousness of the poser of the question.  The question is real and needs to be thought about especially when Christ is surprised at Nicodemus' ignorance. The real response that Christ is trying to elicit is a turning or rather a re-turning towards God. A conscious movement of metanoia, the re-establishment of God's commandments in our hearts so that we can live them rather than mouth them.  Looking back towards the end of the age of Charismania  the turn off was with regards the embarrassing debacles that some had become involved in and the lack of re-turning that had occurred with great publicity.  The failure of so much is in the misunderstanding that the call to be born again is a one off.  This is not true because our lives are only human the call is a constant one that is repeated every single day.

The blind lead the blind  like lemmings off a cliff. 
 Christ leads us to new life as we are born again

The call of 're-turning' is a long and hard journey as Abram found out (Gen. 12ff).  All that Abram had was a promise from God.  All that any of us has is a promise from God.  God does not promise us an easy life all that God asks of us, in return for his promise, is faithfulness.  God knows that we are only human and have the failings of all humanity. Christ is our example of a life that is to be lived in God, re-turned to God and lived with God.  All we have to do is follow.  We follow where God leads this does not mean that we are lemmings following blindly as we run off the cliff.  Our paths are not always paths that are conducive or even easy but so often we are pulled from what God calls us to by our own petty minded wants and wishes.  It is when we focus on these that we are again reminded that we need to re-turn to God.  In focusing on God we begin to live lives that are filled with the Spirit and bring hope into the lives around us.  If we begin to believe that it is 'our' ministry or 'our' leadership, or 'our' sermon that is changing lives then sadly we have missed God.

Lent is a time for us to re-turn to the path that God calls us to.  It is a path filled with struggles, low places, high places, places of sadness and places of joy but it is a journey that God calls us to.  It is the journey to the resurrection and new life.  It is a journey that calls us to be 'born again' and 'again' and 'again'.  Each time we turn from God's purposes we turn from new life, each time we go our own way we turn from new life.  Just as our initial birth is both a joy and hard labour so our re-birth is joy and hard labour.  Lenten journeys ask us to reflect on who we are, what we have become and to re-turn to Christ-likeness on the long path to God.  Too often we indeed act as lemmings rather than as intelligent beings made in the image of God rushing after this saviour or that only to find disappointment.  God constantly calls us to re-turn and a new birth.  A change in our lives so profound that we ourselves are changed.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The coils of the serpent

The serpentine coils of temptation are with us still in an age of easy communication and persuasive advertising.  The problem or the challenge rather is the need to change gears, so to speak, and see with the eyes of Christ.  Justin Welby introduces this challenge at the beginning of his Lent book and needs to be seriously considered if we are to be true to Christ's call on our lives.  Christ offers an appropriate response as he is driven into the desert following his acceptance by God (Matt 4.1-11).  Each time the temptation arises Christ responds with a referencing back to God and God alone.  In some ways the wording and the scriptural references are not important in this passage it is the fact that God alone is the source of all things.

In direct contrast the temptation of Eve and Adam (Gen. 3.1-7), created in God's image is the same as that offered to Christ but the responses given are very different.  The same choices are given to us daily and our response is ours to give but our mindset is not that of God / Christ.  Too often our response is still the response of Adam and Eve rather than Christ / God.  Looking generally at what we are offered each day in line with the temptations that Christ / Adam / Eve are offered we can see that it is food, fame and power/authority.  We all have to have some form of energy to  live, irrespective of who we are but it is what we do with our energy source that is at stake.  Adam / Eve were placed in a garden that produced all the food that they would ever want.  The food was provided by God and if we have faith than God will provide for our needs as he did for the first humans.  Christ acknowledges this as he is tempted with food at the end of his fast.  Do we think of Eve's temptation as a temptation of food? Not really but that is ultimately the serpents approach. (Gen 3.1).  The serpent appeals to the gustatory experience and then moves onto other temptations.  We utilise our food resources for our benefit, our profit, our GDP, etc., while the world goes hungry.  We bemoan the fact that there is famine but lock up food so that no one can have the food unless we can profit from it,.  If not ourselves than certainly the multi-corporates that control our food chain.  Is this not the same temptation that is on offer.  God provides us with food but we (temptation) do not allow it out of our hands.  Have we no compassion, can we not see with Christ like eyes those that are in need, overcoming poverty and hunger may solve many of our burdensome population growth problems.

The coils of the serpent surround us still

But then we wilt lose out on our fame and fortune, to be like God (temptation 2), coming in and saving the day acting as if it is out of beneficence that we give our stocks away.  Look at the mileage that we will get out of our 'charity' rather than out of a sense of God's graciousness.  The generosity that is used to provide food is a source of pride and self aggrandisement.  The press is there we are famous for a day and a half.   Our twitter feed will go through the roof and we will have so many likes on Facebook that we will be like God.  Not only do we seek God's grace but we look for our own prosperity and popularity rather than giving thanks for the goodness God brings.  What else did Adam and Eve require when in the garden? Why did they require popularity or the notoriety of becoming like a God?  Why, Why, Why?  We look around the world today and to get on we have to become popular it would seem.  The biggest twitter feed, more likes than Donald Trump on Instagram, etc.  All God would like is our attention on God not on ourselves because then we may see the poverty and desperation around us.  The injustices caused by our incessant need for popularity.

Then of course the final installment.  Becoming like God in popularity is not enough we have to have the power.  Jesus' response is the correct one because we are not up to creation but God is and I am sure he weeps over our drive for God's power. Just stop and think about wanting power.  Remind yourselves that with power comes responsibility not only for those around you, beneath you but also those who want your place.  All of it takes time, effort and work.  Adam and Eve did not have their work cut out in the garden but as soon as they achieved power they had to work to maintain everything.  The consequence is greater than the wished for power.  We have to start relying on ourselves which eventually drives us away from all the good.  We isolate ourselves in our hunger for power.  We are thrust out of the supporting community as we seek power.  Acknowledgement of God and opening our eyes to Christ show us the relationships and support that fill our lives with love.  WE gain hope and security as we find we do not have to fight tooth and claw because God's graciousness fills all our needs.  Only when we can see as Christ will we see our own faults and driving brokenness.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Fact(ory) outlet or Education for the future

I have been encouraged by the intelligent engagement displayed by some children regarding our current educational system.  It should not be surprising in this day and age to find teenagers and young people expressing concern around how and what we appear to consider to be education in a world that is hyper-connected and has obviously moved beyond early nineteenth century enlightenment thinking.  We are now in the twenty first century and yet our educational system is designed for a burgeoning manufacturing society that expects its citizens to work as modules slotted into a productive mould. This complaint is not new and can be found through many media sites both social and undoubtedly educational.  It is however not the only system that appears to be firmly based in the early nineteenth century or earlier.

Societies have moved on from the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Today we embrace a connectivity that is not local but international.  Thoughts from Australia are validly spread to all corners of the globe within moments and yet our educational systems appear to have stagnated in a time of letter writing and communication times that were months rather than milliseconds.  Teachers appear to be immersed in a world where they are expected to churn out non-thinking robots who have the intelligence to pass a standard test but cannot operate within a complex interconnected society.  I constantly hear that the way to decrease youth disenfranchisement and violence is education.  Yet, the education on offer does not assist the youth to become engaged in their society but rather in a make believe historic setting.  The education system has not embraced changing societal norms and has chosen to remain in the past with the connivance of the 'expert' educators, politicians and lastly but certainly the most misinformed, the public  It is of interest to note that some public companies are demonstrating this need to change by not requiring high matric marks (A level, school leaver graduates) or University degrees in preference for other criteria when looking for employees.  Unfortunately, the education system in many countries not having done so now needs to seriously re-think education following two hundred years of societal change in expectations.

We may have changed our equipment (or not) but have we changed our future?

The education system is perhaps the most pervasive system that stands out as being in need of changing from a Fact(ory) outlet to something that is reflective of the needs of a changing public and society.  Religious institutions fall well into the same category and those of us who are even vaguely religious need to feel shame as to what has been offered up by educational and faith centres as fulfilling the call of God upon our lives.  The scathing criticism offered by the Catholic Bishop of Parramata regards the institution of the Catholic church is a glimpse of a Spirit driven insight.  Irrespective of your denomination or indeed your religion it is time that we need to re-consider our time worn methods of connecting and showing God's love to God's people.  So often in parishes and centres of faith the concern of the moment is a 'stage' or the position of a 'pew' rather than the communities needs.  If, we are followers of a faith, than we have a duty to ensure that our children are educated not only in their faith journey but in their journey through life as the two are entwined and cannot be separated.  If we cannot engage our young people within there life journey how can we expect to engage them within their own faith journey.

Christ said 'suffer the little children to come to me' and 'if you place a stumbling block in front of them than you are the one who is condemned.'  We are doing the latter with our educational systems that are based in the past.  We are also doing the same thing with how we undertake our parish ministry often times binding ourselves to burdens that should have been laid aside a long time ago.  At what point do we start to recognise within our Educational system and our Ecclesial system that the world has moved forward two or more centuries (in deed longer for the Church) since they were put in place as new.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Challenge and change in our lives

The human being is under constant strain as each person changes on a daily basis in small and large ways.  These changes may be a simple as re-newing our skin each day or the more complex mental and social changes that come with the break up of a partnership.  So often at moments of stress with the implications of change to our perceptions narrow down and focus on anything we can think of to become an anchor (Matt 17.4).  Individuals and organisations all respond in similar ways by re-casting a new foundation that stops the change process and builds a new structure that can bring comfort and solace.

Social change is inevitable as we continue to adapt to our burgeoning knowledge and competencies in new technologies.  This creates instability within our lives as can be seen for example by changes to the energy sector in Australia.  Those who presumed that their livelihoods were in a sense guaranteed by the resource sectors burgeoning profit have become uncertain in the face of changing economic realities and the global impetus towards a sustainable energy future.  There is now a vacuum in which people are existing attempting to find some solidity to their future and the future energy needs of a burgeoning society.  The mountaintop experience drops into this vacuum announcing the possibilities of a new future and hope.  In such circumstances the new vision / hope is subsumed into a twisted reality that falls back onto known ideals and systems that have served over decades becoming fixated in a manner that does not allow for the hope expressed to become realised.

The mountain top gives us a fleeting look at the way ahead

In the purview of religious and faith structures the same thing happens and we have a tendency to be like Peter grasping for the familiar in a new and changing landscape.  In keeping with all moments of transfiguration or change the moment is fleeting and disruptive.  The sudden understanding that this, whatever this is, is a momentous moment that has an lasting impact upon our lives. It leaves us drifting with no anchor and a need to find ourselves in a familiar a haven.  The mountain top experience is a liminal space and place that is unique in that it brings to the fore a glimpse of the hope for the future yet centering it in the uncertainty of the present. That hope is now our centre, a vision that needs to come into reality within our lives as we cement it into a new way of being / doing / thinking.  Our challenge is to see the hope made reality rather than an anchor in the past to subsume the hope.  The disciples are looking for an unchanged reality that they can cope with and are familiar with, rather than to formulate a new understanding based on the hope that they have seen.

The hope that appears in the mountain top experience is not necessarily something that manifests immediately.  Just look at the disciples it was years before they realised that hope and only after the resurrection.  The experience is but a signpost and something that invigorates us for the next part of the journey.  Showing us that hope is present it is not something that needs to be grabbed but rather it is something that needs to be followed.  It is a breaking into the present of an intimation of the future requiring us to acknowledge it and act upon that knowledge to bring about the hope that has been expressed.  There are as many downs before the fulfillment of the hope as there are ups towards it.  However, if we cling to the familiar we will never move into the future journey that brings us so much joy, laughter and love.