Sunday, 22 October 2017

Caesar's recompense - the obligations of tithing

We all complain about the taxes that we are required to pay.  We all complain about the amount of money that the local council demands from us in rates.  After all even Christ suggests that we should give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar (Mtt. 22.17-22).  We all give generously to the needs of our clubs and societies to which we belong whether it be the Embroider's Guild, the Art Appreciation Society, Rotary or some other group such as the Golf Club, etc.  The difference being the fact that we want to do those things that we belong to and we moan about anything imposed on us by "authority".  Let us just think about this in a different manner.  What would happen if we did not pay our taxes as a collective, our rates and our club dues?  What difference would it make to anything if we did not give?

In looking at the situation from this viewpoint we automatically see that things would start to become significantly problematical for us.  Let's us the council rates as an example.  If I was the Council and did not receive what was asked what would happen.  Well perhaps, one could start by withdrawing services, no rubbish collection for that household.  Any repairs to roadways outside the house be put off.  Perhaps spend a little less on the upkeep of the local park, the local services (library, sport venue, etc).  We soon see that there is an inconvenience placed on the householder that begins to affect the neighbour and then ultimately the community as resources keep on being diverted away from the area in which the house is situated.  We can obviously take the implications of this on to the larger problematic of taxes to the Federal government with the resultant consequences.  I am sure that Christ was equally aware of these same consequences in his era and the time.  Our society and our community does not depend purely and simply on goodwill.  At some point in the complexity of society there has to be a means of ensuring that essential works are undertaken,  By choice we make this an issue of financial return.

Is our tithe barn empty?

It can be seen that we would also be breaking the commandment of love of neighbour should we be so neglectful in our duties.  The same applies at the lower level of clubs and social societies as these would inevitably fold should there be a lack of income to pay for their modest upkeep and continuance.  This situation equally applies to the Church as without income there is a challenge in terms of material continuance in a specific place.  In the absence of such income there would necessarily be a downgrading of services and structure in any locality.  However, for the Christian church there is a further obligation (Mtt. 22.21b).  Here, Christ is referencing the tithe that goes back to Abram's interaction with Melchizedek (Gen. 14.20) that amounts to 10 percent.  A tithe that was to be made for the making of wholeness (Holy) in ones life (Deut. 12.5-6).  This tithe was used for doing God's will making justice, righteousness and peace something that in times past was undertaken by the Church not the government.  So what is our response.  Usually towards those structures that move towards justice and relief of poverty which is not always the Church.  It is towards making life holy and in conformance with God's love.

So we have two obligations as members of the faith community to which we belong the tithe that must go towards making our lives and the lives of our community.  Restoring justice, alleviating poverty, care for the aged and the vulnerable and creating communities of peace.  This can be through our faith community or through our actions.  This is our obligation to God.  Our second responsibility is towards our structures, our services and our faith home; this is the obligation to Caesar.  We forget either and we forget that we are a community.  We either forget our holiness or we forget our need to build community.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Invitation - Do we accept or not

Recently my daughter had an invitation to go to a get together with "mates".  She was not sure whether they were going or had pulled out, did not want to bother her Dad if it was going to be a non-event, had no way of contacting the others (surprising in this day and age of instant comms) and all the other incipient anxieties that many of us have experienced one way or the other.  Who hasn't?  The invitation says 6.00 for 6.30 and no one is outside at 6.05.  Do we dress or do we go casual?  Anxieties that are so common place for some that they are really only irritants.  We boldly go with what we think is the correct response.  So what if we are early.  Perhaps we can ask to look inside if our friends cannot be seen outside.  These are easy response to soothe the troubled mind.  What if the questions are of a bigger or rather greater nature?  The Israelites were waiting for Moses and were filled with the same fears (Ex. 32.1-14).  They had an invitation from God but were waiting for him.  Their fears were expressed in the form of an alternative to God, the golden calf, as God did not appear to be with them at the time.

Those that were invited in Christ's parable (Matt. 22.1-14) find themselves trying desperately to get out of going.  If we worry about the minor details we are also prone to saying yes as a matter of politeness knowing that we will not turn up for the event in any case.  We have no qualms about this.  We want the person to know that we are friends but are really not wishing to be put out.  It is we that matter not anything else.  We are invited by Christ to form a relationship with Christ and with God and just like those other invitations we accept out of politeness. To be honest means that we have to change our lives and centre God above everything else.  It is like changing our clothes to go out to that gathering to which we have been invited.  In deed changing our clothes is perhaps easier than changing our lives for Christ.  Often we pretend, as it easier to wear an appearance than it is to make an inward change.
When will you accept God's invitation?

The invitation we accept but have no intention of going to.  The social grace of the appearance of intentionality in attending rather than the actuality of attending.  If we were to truly accept then our lives may actually be changed.  The invitation that we actually accept and participate in is the one that changes our lives totally.  Even when we have our last minute doubts outside the venue or whether our friends are actually going to be there.  In loosing heart at the last minute we condemn ourselves just as much as when we chicken out with a polite acceptance that means nothing.  We find other things to attract our attention and divert them away from God / Christ, just like the golden calf.  If we are to be honest with ourselves our whole life should be different to the one we have accepted as we pretend to live as Christ has invited us to do.  The abundant life that is Christ has been subverted by structure that is in place for our convenience.  We have had innumerable opportunities through out the ages to make changes in how we live our lives in Christ.   Each time we have been invited out of our own lives and out of the lives we have made for ourselves we become frightened.  We are like those that sit outside the venue debating as to whether anyone else is going to turn up.  If we do not see our friends we turn away.  We use any excuse to drive away and do it ourselves.  We find any excuse, rules, regulations, societal pressures to not attend or accept the invitation honestly.

We are invited into abundant life in Christ.  We are invited to love God and our neighbours as our selves.  At what point are we going to see that acceptance means change.  It means a move away from our own self indulgences into a more permanent life that is filled with the abundance that comes with the grace of God.  It means a move away from petty cruelty of lost invitations and moments to a life filled with God's presence and opportunities.  It means a fulfillment of our desires without the worry and struggle that comes with the task of doing it ourselves. SO when will you truly accept Christ's invitation?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Commandments and authority

Do we have to obey the ten commandments (Ex. 20) or are they just moral guides to our living in the world?  What happens if our moral guides become so over interpreted and restrictive that we can no longer reflect God's love into the world?  Earlier this week I posted on the legalistic viewpoint that we have turned our faith communities into following as opposed to the rule of love that is expansive and welcoming of all.  In today's reading we follow Moses reception and delivery of the basic tenets of the third covenant, the 10 commandments, and so I pose the question above.

In trying to understand these laws both the Judaic and Christian faith have interpreted them in many different ways.  According to scripture at the time of Christ the interpretation was rather legalistic and Christ kept on poking at religious authorities with this in mind.  The writer to the Ephesians (whether Paul or Timothy or some other) has this same thing in mind.  Despite having been brought up in a culture where the Law mattered the author is still striving towards a perfection that is beyond the Law (Phil. 3).  If this is a true reflection of our own journeys in faith then we too should be striving to go beyond that which is laid down by law.  Only when we fully understand the ramifications of the law will we be able to surpass the law.  Yet, we strive only with the interpretation and simply to fulfill our interpretations by being legalistic around what, where and how we should respond.  The exact interpretation of the law is the requirement to our mind and yet we bend that to our will and our wishes rather than seeing beyond the legalistic response. Let us look at the commandment at Genesis 20.15 (Do not steal for those that did not know).  What is theft?  Does the Australian government steal when it unfairly distributes the GST revenue or is this acceptable?  By whose interpretation of theft do we go on?, How do we determine whose right? and we could go on.  In which case lets set up judges, but do they have it right? what about juries, etc, etc, etc.  The interpretation of the three words Do not steal. depends on point of view and who instituted how property was distributed, etc.  We become bogged in a quagmire of interpretation when we actually need to see the crux of the whole.

Do we steal when we eat well?

Christ circumvented the interpretive dilemma by giving us a complete "law" - Love your neighbour as yourself.  This "law" is a condensate of the final laws of the 10 commandments (Ex. 20.13-17) and forms how we need to relate to each other.  The golden rule so to speak. A rule we are unable to fulfill because we are so weighed down with our interpretive quagmire that we think we can not reach dry ground and must delve deeper and deeper into the marshy depths of our own wants and needs.  It really is simple when we think about it.  However, because of our own requirements for power, prestige, authority, admiration from others, etc we flounder in how we treat others.  We do not really care about what our neighbours want, we only care for our own benefits, our own fitness to rule. It is the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest that consumes us not the requirements of the other.  Indeed when our deficiencies are highlighted through the action of a prophet we become enraged and try to obstruct, obscure and otherwise discredit the one who is pointing our faults out.

Such behaviour is outlined in Christ's parable of the vineyard (Mtt, 21.33-46) a telling story against the religious authorities of the day that is as equally relevant for the Church today.  It is only when we actually begin to give away our limited power and authority do we begin to live as Christ wants us to. Protection of what we consider to be sacrosanct is not necessarily what God holds to be sacrosanct.  It is only God that matters not our human made rules and regulations.  God requires us to fulfill the commandment of love not our needs, because in fulfilling God's requirement the rest comes through God's grace.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Legislation removes love

It is clear that Christ offers us an understanding that 'not one jot or tittle of the law' (Matt. 5.18) will be denied its purpose and fulfilment.  However, the law being promoted here is the law of God which is the law of love as enunciated in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.  Why is it then that the Body of Christ is insistent on leaning on and promoting its own laws, the laws of a man -uf(r)actured institution?  Irrespective of denomination the laws of man have been promoted over the laws of God as the more institutionalised the Body of Christ becomes.

We are happy to model the Church in a manner that is consistent with our spiritualised understanding.  If we look at the models that are promoted in literature on the Church we find the wonderfully, parableistic models of "family", "body of Christ", "communion", "servant", "disciples" or even "the perfect society" and the "bride of Christ".  These models engender a belief in and an actuality that is based in the sentiment of love.  Such models are superbly conceived and have much to commend them but hardly model the reality of today's world and the institutional demands of a society gone mad in legislative overload.  They are models of perfection that are difficult to uphold when faced with a society that looks to corporatize faith and do away with the concepts of hope, justice and love.  Concepts which elude formalisation within the bounds of legislation and law but are rather found within individual interpretations of calling and difference.  Modelling in this manner lead us into complacency about the modern Church and its role in society.  Fencing off the divine from the mundane and not allowing the two to interact or become one in Christ.  Rather it becomes a battlefield of broken souls that slowly sink into a quagmire of violence and spite; the complete opposite of the command of God.

How many broken souls can we afford in our faith institutions?
(Mirror Of A Broken Soul by loba-chan)

We resort to law when we feel our power and authority is being undermined or challenged.  This is the response of the ages and is seen as being opposed to the law of love in our scriptures.  The legalistic religious authorities of the Hebrew and New testament scriptures are challenged time and time again by the outrageous outpouring of love from God as such love is not controlled or controlling.  In becoming agents of Christ we become subversive of all and any structure that seeks to impose authority and control.  The majority of such control and authority manifests within civil / mundane society.  The followers of Christ are agitators for dialogue and community, justice and love, peace and friendship across divides that are created by humanity for the purpose of false comfort and ease.  Yet humanities love for control and authority lead us time and time again into a response that is governed by legislation and not love.  Legislation that is used to muffle the noise of debate and protest against injustice and violence.

When we are threatened in our faith community it is to this violence of legislation that we resort, whilst the way of a loving resolution of difference is shown in our own scriptures (Matt. 18.15-17), it is often ignored in practice.  Law is sometimes required but is not and should not be the first and only recourse even if society requires it.  The faith community's legislation is built out of the legalities of modern mundane life not in the realities of faith.  Such legislation is combative and confrontational designed not out of love for our enemies but to destroy them so that our position is upheld.  But God is the epitome of love and as such calls us into relationship, which needs to be nurtured over and above our own wants.  We are required to portray that love in action rather than the destruction implicit in legislative attempts to undermine God's presence, however difficult we find it for ourselves.   Our faith legislation should be built on God's law not on the adversarial law of society.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Promises, promises

Promise keeping in today's world does not rate that highly.  The old adage that you are as good as your word does not resonate well in business circles with its unending demand for contracts and legally binding clauses to keep everyone doing the things that they promise to do.  Looking at Christ's parable of the two sons (Matt. 21.28-32) seems to indicate that this was the case even way back then.  Indeed if we look at Moses actions at the pool of Meribah (Ex.17.5-7), which is further expanded in Numbers 20.10-13, we see this in action.  What promises do we find hard to complete and what promises do we find easy?  It really depends on our attitude as does everything we do in terms of our Christian walk.  The attitude is brought out in Christ's parable supremely well.  It is not just about doing but also about doing for the right reasons and in obeyance of God.

Our promise keeping is desultory at best non existent at worst.  We require of ourselves written contracts to maintain the promises we keep.  Even when we are considering our bond to a person for life we hesitate and hesitate until we become content in a less formal relationship.  We are unable to make the commitment of a promise to a person we wish to live our lives with.  Either because of legality or because we are too scared to make that commitment.  We promise our children the earth but force them to undertake a style of education that is better suited to 100 years ago than to a world that has changed.  We make a commitment to our faith at baptism and again at confirmation only to find ourselves breaking those very promises each time we turn around.  We are happy to make voluntary commitments if it does not inconvenience our life style or what we believe should be the manner in which we live.  Moses breaks a promise to obey God when he strikes out at the rock for water to come.  We break our promise to God each and every time we fail to stand up for someone who is less fortunate then ourselves.

Are we obedient and good at promise keeping?  Which dog are we?

Like the first son who promises to work the fields and then goes to his pleasures we often neglect that which God demands of us.  We place our own selfish desires before the obedience to a promise we have made in our baptism and confirmation. We often do this in small things, neglect of our community, for our own pride and vanity. Unlike more indigenous cultures who are brought up to place community first we who pride ourselves in following Christ place ourselves first.  It is the humbleness of heart that allows us to give to the other that which we want that sets us apart from everyone else.  Christ shows us the way by stating the position of the second son.  We can renege, if we are honest, but that very honesty allows us to turn around to find the grace and assist. in acknowledging Christ in our hearts we mirror his giving in our lives.

Part of our promise keeping and obedience to God is to be honest in all our undertakings in God's name.  Christ critiqued the institutional church much to their chagrin in many ways.  In doing so Christ enabled others to see the true face of a compassionate God in their lives.  Whilst we strive to do God's will within our structures it is often more important to be honest with our own obedience.  This means that we may be at odds with what is perceived to be unwarranted promise breaking within our own structures.  Yet, in order to fulfil God's commands we need to ensure that our own promises and our own commitments are true.  We need to be involved with and committed in our time, our giving and our obedience to God's will.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A workers reward

Equal pay for equal work.  That is a motto for today and has been for an extensive period of time.  Indeed it is or should be equal pay in the world around us for an equality in work and contribution.  Yet it is often the case where some are more equal then others and where there is an inequality in power the likelihood of an inequality to exist increases.  In Christ's parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20.1-16) there is an inequality in pay and work and power.  Or is there.  Yes, perhaps what the owner does is of consequence in levelling the playing fields but he is using an inequality in power to do so.  I think if I had worked in the fields for longer than everyone else I would also be a little bit peeved in seeing the inequality that power has created to benefit the "lazy".  Do I not have rights as well?  I was able to be up at dawn and willing to work just as much as the others could have been.  There is a certain amount of inequity in this situation even if the owner can do with his money what he likes.  We always consider it from the owners point of view not from the viewpoint of the workers.  What does this largess mean for those who have worked?

There is no question that the power of the owner is sufficient that he can do what he wants.  That is not an issue.  If we are to be concerned about equality what question needs to be asked in terms of those who have been employed?  I am sure a rights lawyer would quite rightly say that one has to look at the contract before signing. True.  We also know that the contract with the later workers was a bit loose as the wage mentioned was "fair".  From the later workers perspective the wage received was probably a very fair one but each group was probably somewhat miffed that each group after received the same.  The question I ask is what justice is there here when power is greater and it is at the whim of power that generosity is created?  Is the expectation then for us that no matter what we contribute we should receive the same reward?  That would certainly rock the economics of the system that we currently have.  If those with power were expected to have the largess to contribute equal wages to all.  Then we could truly realise that any and all contribution to our own commitments should be as equal by all.

Did we come late and is our pay equal?

We would then ensure that everyone has the ability to contribute to our faith endeavours, our social endeavours and our environmental endeavours as equally as everyone else.  That would be an expectation which we could hardly deny and our ten percent would be equal to everyone's ten percent of giving.  However, this is not the economic reality.  We live in inequality of both power and finances.  Our true dilemma is not one of equality but one of sacrifice.  How much are we willing to sacrifice to ensure that there is a semblance of equality or at least a striving for equality?  The Philippians author in his struggles of commitment (Phil. 1.21-24) brings this to the fore.  It is a struggle to determine what is the best for the community rather than ourselves.  Power inequality notwithstanding suggests a certain amount of "I" in decisions. In our circumstances the greater faith demand is for the "We".  Our sacrifice is for the greater good.  Those working early need to realise that it is there sacrifice to allow for a greater equality for all as they do not know the circumstances of the later arrivals.

We ourselves do the same when we try to make statements around equality.  We do so from our own power bases rather than looking at the good of the other and the community.  What we believe to be right as far as we are concerned is the right answer but this may and often is not correct.  In looking at the whole we actually need to factor in the experiences of the other which we cannot do without listening and loving with a compassionate heart.  We have to sacrifice something of ourselves to enable community to form.  We actually have to sacrifice our power and our authority to enable community to form.  We cannot expect others to do the work and expect to get the same wage.  We must contribute our own worth to enable the whole to come together as a functioning whole.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Forgiveness through different eyes

We all know what forgiveness looks like, even if we do not wish to entertain it when things go against us.  Peter asks how many times to forgive and Christ ripostes with a parable (Matt. 18.21-35).  This hard response is what we consider to be forgiveness.  The ability to give a person the benefit of the doubt and to ignore the hurt to ourselves.  Or at least subsume it in a way that will not effect our own psyche.  To reach out in a loving manner knowing that it hurts to embrace someone who has wronged us and is capable of re-offending, time and time and time again.  What about the person who has done the wrong thing or voiced the wrong concerns or demeaned the other and thus requires forgiveness?  Is there something here in this action of this person that requires us to rethink ourselves, for it is us we are referring to when we are in the wrong as much as the other?  Forgiveness also has to rise within our own selves when we are that person who is acting so against Christ and not loving as we should.

We are so guilty, especially in the small things in life, let alone the greater.  How many times I wonder do people complain about others, in a faith setting, when it comes to the contribution that they are making?  or perhaps when things do not go quite the way we want them to and we lash out at authority simply to rid ourselves of our own frustrations?  We are so judgemental of those around us that we forget to look closely at ourselves.  Paul in his letter to the Romans makes this clear (Rom. 14.1-14) and yet we are still so dreadful at fulfilling our obedience in Christ that we blame everyone else.  We are asked to give of ourselves.  We are not asked to make a judgement on whether others are doing the right or wrong thing in the eyes of God.  Yet, we so often do, we make judgement calls on what everyone around us should or should not be doing.  We do not respect other's decisions with regard to what God has asked of them but wish to impose what we think they ought to do. Or more often what we think God wants them to do. We often make decisions for others because 'we know them' rather than allowing them to make their own decisions.  We often assume a response rather than allowing others to express a response.  Even a negative response is a response that needs to be taken seriously.

Only when we begin to forgive ourselves do we truly forgive

Once we begin to look closely at our actions we then need to actually begin the process of forgiveness by loving ourselves.  In the acknowledgement of our judgementalism we begin to see our own interactions in the light of God's love.  We begin to understand that God has called us out of our own slavery to the hubris, pride and sin of thinking that we are up there with God.  In beginning to understand our own faults and loving ourselves we begin the process of redemption.  Just as the Israelites had to trust in God fully and leave their wants and selves behind in the flesh pots of Egypt They had to journey away from self repression towards the fullness of God allowing God to dispose of the delights in the waters of the Red sea (Ex. 14.19-ff).  Only when we truly surrender to what God requires of us we will be able to give to the extent that God requires.  By giving way our judgements we allow God to judge.  By allowing God to flow into our lives we are able to allow our love to flow into the things we give.

In asking how many times to forgive we forget that each time it means that we have to for give our selves.  We need to have the humility to accept God's wishes and give ourselves fully.  It is we who are so often on the wrong side of Christ that need to learn how to forgive our own selves before we begin to turn to others in hope of their forgiveness.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Rendering and submission

The passage from Romans (Rom 13.1-10) has Paul telling us to be submissive to the authority of governments and those who have a valid authority over us.  This is a fine sentiment but when it comes in a time when our authorities appear to have no sense of justice or enabling peace we doubt the wisdom of this course of action.  Yet, for us this is a point that we need to ponder especially when that authority asks us to give taxes, financial support, etc to the rule of law.  As Christians are we right to withhold such things if the financial offerings are not going towards the cause of justice and righteousness?  We may say yes and others would say but hang on we all live in this world and some of the money is being used correctly and so we should go with the benefit of the doubt.  What pertains to the wider community also pertains to the smaller communities that make up our society.  How can we ensure that justice and righteousness prevails within our faith community if we are not brave enough to stand up for what God wants?

In Matthew's gospel Christ speaks about going after the one rather than the many (Matt. 18.12-14).  We have a greater tendency in our lives at both the societal level and the faith level to turn towards the majority rather than going out of our way for the minority or even the embattled singleton.  Either that or we overlook the faults in one rather than looking to those who suffer as a result of power.  In the one case we render to the will of a large group what may be undeserving and in the latter we submit in fear to the implied power of a minority, which is the reverse of what following Christ implies.  We are asked to render to those in need not to those who have.  Our sacrifice in terms of money, power, time, etc is for the benefit of those who are unworthy in our eyes but are worthy in the eyes of God.  It means going out of our way to respond to those in need over and above our own.

Have we rendered or submitted to evil rather than to God's promises?

In making our wants into the wants of God we are not submitting ourselves before God but rather placing ourselves on the pedestal to try and emulate God.  We know best. In coming to render to Caesar within our parish or faith lives we surrender to those whom we believe have power and not to God.  In submitting, we should submit to what God is asking of us not what others are asking.  God takes our lives and asks us to reach out in compassion and justice to those around us.  But it means submitting to God's ask.  In rendering our obligations both financial and service we render them to God and ask God to do with them as God wills not as we will.  God asks us to lay our lives on the line and go out of our way to assist those who are weaker and more lost then ourselves.  God does not ask us to look after the 99.  We reach out our hands here today to receive the sacrament of God's flesh and blood to strengthen us so that we may give to God that which God asks for. So what obligations are placed upon us at this moment of receiving?

It means a burden that is more than we think we can bear.  It means losing those things that we want and allowing those things that God wants.  It means fulfilling the obligations that are laid upon us, through our faith in God and our belonging to a faith community.  It means that the community of God comes before our own needs and it means sacrificing our ideals for the ideals of God.  Only then can we truly say that we have fulfilled what Paul would have us do and what Christ commands us to do so that there may be rejoicing in God's presence and here in our lives.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Picking up and laying down

Today we have such a storm of opinion running through the Australian public that is becoming increasingly audible and I am certain will become increasingly vitriolic.  The discussion around same sex marriage is hard to divorce oneself from at the present time but it is something that actually needs to be contemplated in terms of what are we prepared to give up to God?  In today's gospel from Matthew Christ is clear when he says "Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine must renounce self; he must take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16.24).

In looking at the marriage debate all I see are those with egos trying to impose their own distorted views of what God wants on others.  They are holding on to their own egos to take the place of God rather than listening to God's heart and following in her steps.  If we call ourselves Christians and are so involved in our own fears our own misunderstandings and our own wants then we have failed in the first step that Christ asks of us.  In the end this way leads us away from obtaining those things that God has prepared for us.  If we look at the burning bush episode (Ex. 3.1-15), which appears to have very little to do with Gay rights or anything else, we can discern through the Judaic interpretations that Moses may have been clinging to other ideals apart from God that were relevant for his time and culture.  In doing so he angered God and started to fall away from the possibilities that God had in store for him.  The ideals which may have been admirable, concern for his older brother's status, in the culture were contrary to what God had in store for him.  It is something that he had to give way to, to give up, his own self perceptions in order to fulfil God's commandments.

Give your life generously. It is not the burden you think it is.

While we can think of the larger picture of the debate around Equality in marriage we also need to draw this understanding to our own views on our faith journey.  For example, one of the things we have difficulty with is giving to God on an individual basis. Moses eventually gives his all to God but as a result of his resistance to God's will he is actually barred from taking on the priestly role later in life.  In giving as God requires us to give we give of our all not halfheartedly as Moses did.  In not taking up the burden that God has set for us we do not reap the full benefits of God's grace as in the same vein as Adam and Eve we deny God's will.  Christ reminds us that we are asked to take up the cross, the burden may be something we think is hard but in fact is light as a result of God's grace.  It is when we make the sacrifice of our beliefs and begin to give ourselves over to what God wants is when we begin to grow.  This means that we need to pray because how can we know God's wishes if we do not talk to God.  It means we have to listen because if we do not listen how can we carry out the things God wishes us to do.  It means that we undertake to do those things that we have heard and commit to a path that God wishes.

So, if we are asked as we are every year to give of ourselves to God by the Church, the parish, the charity, the job, etc what do we do?  Well usually we are flippant and say that it does not concern us or we cannot as we are over committed or... and we make up our excuses.  We do not pray, we do not listen, we do not commit.  We choose for ourselves and not for God.  We turn away from the source of grace in our lives.  We believe that our lives are more important rather than the life that God wishes for us.  In these times of political turmoil and when we are asked to give more of ourselves we need to pray to God and listen to her response.  Our giving should be sacrificial but it may be more sacrificial in aspects that we least expect.  It is when we pick up the burden that God gives to us that we find ourselves guided and directed by God's grace.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Small stands big changes

Today there is a remarkable number of injustices being perpetrated upon the world and its people.  From racist comments to the incarceration of those looking for new homes.  From ideological maniacs seeking their own power to those who have rights blocked by bigotry and hatred, misplaced and unshakeable understanding that will fracture at the slightest push.  It is in similar circumstances that the midwives of Israel found themselves and yet managed to assist life by a small protest (Ex. 1.17-20).  The world around them seemed to be falling apart for their people and yet by their simple act of defiance they allowed their people to have an opportunity at the start of a journey toward the realisation of becoming God's people.  Their protest brought life not death and in doing so secured a new future for the world.

Our instinct is to protest against the injustices of the world, which is right and proper but sometimes our instincts can lead us astray and we have to take care that we are not being led down the wrong path for however much good we think we are generating.  This seems to be counter everything that we might think is right.  It is often the smallest protest that sparks the road to life and not the major undertakings of change that bring about Christ's freedom in our lives.  The midwives did a small thing, they delayed their coming to the scene of birth and as a result allowed new life into the world contrary to the law.  In allowing life into the world they allowed the seed of hope that was Moses to become a moment of grace and change later in life.  The major protests of the world have been sparked by a small change in someones attitude, a small protest against and injustice which has slowly built, sometimes over generations.  I wonder how many people actually thought that protesting against the incarceration of refugees at off shore processing plants was a dumb idea at the time?

Are you a midwife of life and faith or selfishness and despair?

Peter confesses Christ (Matt. 16.13-20) but just shortly after this he is rebuked by Christ as in his enthusiasm he reaches out to over protect Christ.  For him a seemingly small protest but one that goes awry. Peter's protest was not a protest for righteousness but a protest for self preservation.  He protested for himself and for the concern for his future not for the concerns of those who suffered.  In comparison the protest of the midwifes was for a community.  In our individual lives we need to be careful about what we are protesting.  Our protest, even if it is a small one, needs to be a protest for the wider oppressed community and not for our personal survival in the world.  We need to be honest in our reflection of God's justice in the world.  We need to remind ourselves that at the beginning of creation God made humanity in his own image a humanity that strives towards the life that God has given to us.  The signboard outside the Gosford Anglican church is used a a small sign of protest for many things.  It names for us those things that we feel ashamed of because we do not say anything.  The midwives also named something because the rest were not.  Each of us are capable of stepping onto the faith journey and naming the things that are detrimental to life.  The moment we do this we invigorate those who are suffering and bring hope into the world.  We become the midwives of new birth and new life in faith. In reflecting on the midwives we need to ask for ourselves: In our protest are we protesting for ourselves or for the oppressed and for God's justice?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Politics of reconciliation

In a world that is filled with hatred and violence religious and faith communities throughout the world use the language of reconciliation to try and foster peace.  In the life of our faith journey it is not something that we often consider for ourselves or even practice.  Embittered by division and inter-personal hatreds families, parishes and denominations splinter apart to find their own way in the world and fester wounds that should have been healed before they even began.  The war between Joseph's human need to exact some form of punishment and his need to reconcile with family comes to an end when he reveals himself to his brothers (Gen. 45.1-15).  A turning point in our understanding of how to treat those who are different and heal the rifts of race and difference comes in Christ's interaction with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 21-28).  No matter who or what is the root cause of the division it is our response that matters.  At the end of the day our response is a political decision, but we must be careful as the decision may be a aligned to human politics rather than God's politics.

Wait, God has politics? Yes, something we perhaps overlook is, as one author puts it, "There is no such thing as trust in a king [ruler] that is spiritually neutral or separated from one's trust in God. And there is no such thing as trust in God that is politically neutral." so no matter what we do we are political.  Choice is a matter of politics.  How we choose to respond to our everyday decisions and our everyday dilemmas is a political decision.  In belonging to the Church that calls God "creator" we automatically align with God as our ruler.  How can we not?  If this is the case, and I for one would be hesitant to disagree, then our responses to our everyday and our human political challenges need to be responded to in a manner that is in alignment with the politics of God, that may not be Green, Labour or Liberal.  Our concern must be with regards to the challenge of God's directives in our human interactions, hidden or open as the case may be.

Only by reaching across the gap do we begin to be reconciled and loved.

God gave to Adam and Eve a mandate to rule over all and be a good steward to the Earth  Made in God's image we have the same mandate but it is a mandate that is ruled by God.  If we accept a triune God this means that our politics should be mirrored on this relationship of mutual understanding and interaction.  Until we can meet our obligations of respecting each other as being mad in the image of Gd how on Earth can we get our politics correct.  The debacle in National politics this last week and in International politics over the last little while shows a distinct lack of respect for those made in the image of God.  It is no wonder that we are in such a chaotic environment.  The story of Joseph and his brothers and the interaction with the Canaanite woman show us how our interactions need to be both at a local and an International level.  Poor word choice and poor familial relationships are overcome by the judicious use of wisdom in our lives.  An ability to see beyond the current debate to ascertain what is beneficial nor all not just a few.

Once we make the initial move towards a life of reconciliation we can move into a life of abundance.  Both the Canaanite and Joseph's family come out with joy as they are prepared to embrace the fact that we can have our prejudices but see beyond so that benefit for the community and not the self is found.  Consider some of the things that we proclaim as the Church on one hand  and yet on the other raise barriers to through our pre-judgements and our inability to see justice and righteousness.  Forgiveness starts with understanding the process of reconciliation, it does not end in this process.  Only by understanding that the two sides needed to be reconciled did Christ and Joseph begin to reconcile the gulf.  That healing led to abundance as it followed the path of God's political agenda and not man's presumptive agenda.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The challenges of dreaming big

There are I am sure quite a number of people across the country who are attempting to assist their children to dream big and assist with the choosing of their education for the next two years.  Year ten anxiety levels rise to a high level at this time of year for our dreamers who are attempting to dream big.  It is practically impossible to get a young person in to the courses they would like to further their career when schools and colleges are more concerned with ATAR results and the academic standing of the school.  Joseph must have found it just as frustrating with his dreams that were always being denigrated by his brothers and the community (Gen. 37.12-28).  The disciples may have thought they were dreaming when they saw the reality of Christ on the water (Matt. 14.22-36) yet this dream was one of faith realised.

So what is it about our general attitude towards others with dreams.  Why do we find our own institutions importance comes before our fellow human's dreams?  Is it that we are jealous of their possible achievement?  In some circumstances (often in the services) the threat of someone lower down the pyramid is enough for others to place obstacles in the way.  Can we not sit back and relax in allowing someone to attempt their dreams, especially when they are younger or must we be pessimistic and close the dream down?  To some respects like Joseph and his brothers it is a matter of tradition.  We have been brought up as sheep farmers that is what the family is we cannot have any other dreams around this place.  Like the brothers we are comfortable in this role and do not want to look beyond.  Yet in faith we are always being drawn out to follow God's dreams and that will always make us uncomfortable.  We cannot rely on tradition and always be in the same place.

Do we allow others to dream God's dream?

There is an old proverb about allowing a bird to go free and if it is yours it will come back to you.  We just have to allow ourselves to allow others to dream.  Christ encouraged Peter out on to the water (Matt. 14.29).  No matter how insubstantial the medium looked to Peter Christ was firmly standing there so why couldn't he.  Peter took a leap of faith and stepped out having been encouraged into his dream to be with Christ at that moment.  In following the dream Peter walked where no man had walked before it was only when he was confronted with his fears and those of his community that he began to sink.  This is what we as a community do to others around us in approaching the Christian faith.  We do not allow God to draw them into God's dreams and welcome their dreaming.  Rather we state what the tradition is and have them fit to our way of worshipping God.  We feed them with fears and not the freedom that God gives through the dreams that are dreamt.

We do not husband their dreams but rather like the student counsellor who says "Well, you have no intelligence so you are better of going to secretarial college then even bothering following your dream into medicine."  How many Einstein's and Barnards have we managed to turn away from their dream of making God's world a better place.  Oh, well some doors open and others close, go with the flow.  God's dream is persistent and leads me into joy, exuberance and adventure.  To a world of peace and prosperity, a place of joy and sustainability...but that is just a dream...isn't it?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Political farce

I have been appalled by the poor performance of elected officials in the Australian parliament lately. So what is new. The latest inability of elected officials to reach a decision that is decisive and worthy of the title leadership is one of the most spectacular debacles I have seen in politics.  It rates as highly as the inability of the South African Parliament to pass a no confidence motion.  This would imply that the Australian government is no more than a third world country with third world immature political decision making.

The government holds to the notion that because it has a majority (of 2 in the lower house and none in the Senate), it has a mandate to undertake its policies.  Following this notional authority of mandate has led many parishes and other institutions into a lot of strife / division and uncertainty.  Yes, the government was elected as a result of its policies but not as a result of any one policy.  The poor majority gives those in power the limited mandate to govern justly not a mandate on every single policy that they said they would undertake.  If they want a mandate on each policy the people should have been given the opportunity to vote on each policy (not a very good way to elect a government) or else they should hold a clear majority in both houses.  I suspect that if they had the single policy of a plebiscite on marriage they would not have a majority in the lower house, slim or otherwise.  Good governance suggests that those in authority have been elected for their (supposed) wisdom and ability to lead in times of divisiveness and  struggle.  This means that they should have some flexibility of thought and understanding of what the community wishes.  In terms of their limited majority situation it means that they have to enter into dialogue and compromise with all other members of the parliament to achieve a way forward into a less divisive future.

The tug of war between sides.  Where is love and acceptance?

What is even more farcical is that the elected government, who bleats at every possible moment about the lack of financial stability, is even considering a vote (you do not have to vote vote now) which expends finances that could be better spent on those that are at the lower end of the economic spectrum or sorting our matters of more importance, i.e. health inequality, etc.  The fact that the vote is non-binding is even more farcical.  If the vote is "no", the government has a "mandate" not to change the marriage act, if the vote is "yes" it means that there is a "mandate" to vote in parliament which is 'non binding' and can be either as a conscience or directed vote on party lines.  This is nuts.  It still ends up as a vote in Parliament if it is yes, Why, spend the money, just to ease a conscience on a promise (one of many) made at an election?  Is this good governance?

In terms of the debate around the understanding of "marriage", this becomes even more farcical when you have proponents saying that this is a Christian institution and must uphold to an individual or a denominations interpretation of God and God's intention.  (I am uncertain if I know of anyone who knows the mind of God).  The sacrament of "marriage", as I understand it, the outward expression of the inward grace, is at the point of the freely exchanged vows between the couple in the presence of GOD. (As Christians maybe we can debate this especially as many Christians do not accept marriage as a sacrament.  Only Baptism and Eucharist are sacraments given by Christ.)  This is within the Christian interpretation seen as between a man and a woman.  However, this is the sacrament, the outward expression of an inward grace. "Marriage" as it currently stands is a civil and legal requirement of government which should be looked at from this viewpoint.  The religious view is for those committed to a faith path.  If we want a biblical marriage maybe there is room for a polygamous one?  As Christians we would be hypocritical to deny the legal expression of a person's love for another.  I would prefer to see committed love rather than an increasingly acrimonious statistic on divorce and broken relationship.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Wrestling with the future

Decision points in our lives brings on a tremendous pressure which unbalances our outlook.  We only have to look at the statistics with regards stress which point out that moving house, divorce/break up, death in the family and changing jobs are all high stressors.  These all symbolise struggle in our lives as we give up the old comforts and take on new challenges.  Such challenges face our faith journey as well.  These can be as life changing as those which we undertake in the secular world.  We only have to glimpse at the story of Jacob wrestling with "God" on the edge of the creek, Jabbok (Gen 32.22-31).  It is his determination in the end to hold onto the opponent that brings about the change in name to Israel, one who has contended with God and man (Gen 32.28).

In discerning our path both as individuals and as corporate bodies we have to have a certain amount of perseverance.  It is not an easy matter when we are confronted with change that is or appears to be monumental and life changing.  Jacob uses all his human skills to try to ameliorate his brother's 'perceived' attitude towards his return.  Gifts, the splitting up of his forces, the sending away of his close family, etc.  All the ways in which we to try to fend of disaster in our personal lives.  Finally Jacob is left with no option but to confront head on his own fears and faith during the night hours.  Having reached this stage we are at the bottom of our evasive arsenal.  Often what happens is that we give up the struggle and go about our business without having resolved the issues.  In doing so we allow the same issues to become a continuing part of our lives that nag and disrupt the life that we should be living.

Only when we begin to wrestle and discern the way forward do we find God with us.

In wrestling with God and issues of our faith journey we are confronting our most basic uncertainties.  The areas in our life that we (sometimes unknowingly, sometimes knowingly) hand over using avoidance tactics throughout our lives.  In subjecting ourselves to others and their beliefs we abstain from the struggle as being too hard or as being too life changing and fall back into lives that have stagnated.  The one thing that we cannot avoid is that God calls us on a journey.  The implication of this as all who have been on a journey know, the scenery is constantly changing.  We cannot find ease on a journey until we accept the changes that are taking place around us.  Our faith lives are no less so then the lives that we live on a day to day basis, indeed they are significantly intertwined.  No amount of prevarication will prevent the consequences of delayed decision making on our quality of life.

Seminal events such as Jacob's wrestling, ultimately change us, just as Jacob became Israel and limped, so we too will be changed.  The comforts of yesterday are changed by the difference of today.  Too many of us, on both our life and faith journeys, are complacent and wish for the comfort of familiar things.  Joy comes to us only when we begin to look at new things and new ways.  The most complete people I have been friends with are those that have embraced the chances and changes of life.  Those who have wrestled with God throughout their lives, to find the new life into which we are beckoned over our objections and hesitations.  They are the ones forever seeking new paths to be trodden and renewing their lives as they struggle daily with their faith and what it means in today's world.  Bilbo Baggins was dragged kicking and screaming into an adventure that changed his life.  Can we do anything less?  Only when we struggle do we find the answers that we seek.  The fruit of the tree of knowledge came easily, everything else has been a struggle.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Seeking treasure

We chase our dreams, for ever searching for that which will fulfill us and the lives we live.  Society around us holds up for us the dreams of an ephemeral nature that are here and then gone in an instant.  These are the dreams that we are conditioned by society to chase.  The hearts desire for a life of freedom through wealth, freedom through fame and freedom through power.  These are the things that society offer us.  We strive for and are induced into pathways of pain and exhaustion towards an ephemeral moment of fame, power and fortune.  Our lives are exhausted ghosts floating on the leavings of others and fleeting dreams that turn to dust as we pursue them for nought.  Faith offers us a different path, one that leads to a concrete treasure that is everlasting (Matt...).

The modern world is one that involves us in seeking out other peoples dreams and trying to live the lives of others. We very rarely sit down and take stock of where we are going or even where God is calling us.  We are led by others whose dreams appear to be more fulfilling and therefore must be better.  This path is a path to envy and the green monster is not very hard to find in our lives.  Every thing we hear on the radio is a plea to that monster to consume us.  Just think about the political and not so political stances of various societal sectors.  This group is getting more or the other group over there is going to be given a break "What about us/me?" is the cry.  If you give to them we deserve to get as much or more.  Every sector in society stands up to fight for / argue for / deserves more than the other sector of society.  We are conditioned to stand for this or that and then work for their dream.  God grants to us a gift of his love but we have to recognise that gift in our lives and when we do we need to do everything possible to keep the gift and not sully in it the wormhole of envy for what others have got.

have you found the pearl within yourself?

In discovering the true beauty of the unseen pearl that resides in our lives we discover how to live in the world.  In not allowing the greed of the everyday overwhelm us we allow the hand of God to direct our living.  This does not mean that we stop being involved in the world.  It is an achieving of a balance that allows the grace that God bestows upon us to come to the fore while dis-allowing the capricious call of our own wants to overwhelm our everyday lives.  By recognising the light of God within ourselves we are empowered to bring God's word into the everyday ordinariness of our lives.  We begin to be led away from the competitiveness of the world and bask in the glory and knowledge of God.  It is only in the recognition of the Christ within each of ourselves and the neighbour or other around us that we start to be a force for the good of God.  In owning this inner life in allowing this to rule our actions we start to see the pearl that lives within our own selves.

The parable tells of how the people concerned bury or go away before returning to the treasure.  This is something we all must do, once we have found the treasures that God gives to us through God's grace we turn away. Why?  Simply really to do the most costly thing of all, just like the people in the story. We turn away to rid ourselves of everything that draws us back into the word of ephemeral fame, power and fortune.  Only when we have sold everything, rid ourselves of our own faults, longings and desires are we ready to afford the pearl and the treasure that lies hidden within ourselves.  It is amazing how many people say "I am saved" but are still fixated on the dreams and desires of this world rather than on the offerings of God.  The evangelist who has not let go of the world is not an evangelist from or of God but of their own self indulgence.  God delights in a humble heart not necessarily one worth millions.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Future seeds or future weeds

Christ tells us stories (Matt 13.24 ff) that come from an agricultural landscape that we are probably unfamiliar with in today's world of high tech and vicarious pleasure.  As with last week, it is story set in the seasonal growth of a growing period and not the fast paced www highways that extend around the world.  It is about looking towards a future that is down the long road and not immediate, it is about looking at our fast paced lives through the eyes of God.  The human agenda is strewn with details and minuscule events that in actuality turn out to be non-entities in the bigger picture world that is the God story, the story of salvation.

We are sometimes pathetically upset by the long way round or are fascinated by the view of time held by those who work the land.  We often fail to see the driving motivation and become agitated when the result is not immediate.  Often we have moved this attitude into our modern farming productive methods because we want to have immediate results.  Unfortunately, nature and God do not really work like that no matter how much we would like it to be.  Like God we need to start to look towards the future, it may not happen in this generation but if the seeds are correctly planted no matter what the vicissitudes of life there will be a harvest at the end.  We sometimes concern ourselves overly much, like the servants and the workers in the Matthew parable, with obtaining an immediate satisfactory perfection.  This can be applied to any situation within our spiritual as well as our mundane lives.  Yes, occasionally, there is a need to act with haste and immediacy but we need to remember that there is a consequence to every hasty action we take.

Can you tell the difference?  What is wheat in God's eyes and what is a tare?

The servants and stewards in the parable want to remove the weeds immediately but it is the sagacity of the owner who reminds them that in taking out one weed the probability of taking out good plants is high and therefore likely to reduce the final yield.  We want to focus on the irritants, we want to dive in and save the day with our programmes and our schemes.  Once again we forget that God is the one who is leading us along the path to redemption and salvation. We only have to look at our hasty actions of the past (reminding ourselves about the effectiveness of hindsight) when it comes to our goals in terms of the environment and our human sustainability.  We see the immediate benefits of something and jump in to utilise that for our benefit.  In this day and age it would have been thought that we would have learnt from the hastiness of the past and be more deliberate about how we take up new things.

Looking at our political decisions in recent months it is fairly obvious that greed is the motivating force behind most decisions and not the good of the world or for the long term benefit of humanity.  Even when we consider the benefits for a country we only consider the economic benefit in the short term not the long term.  We do the same thing within the church.  We look to solve the short term issue and not look at the long term issue.  Christ shows us God's view point in this parable, a viewpoint taken up by God in the vision that Jacob had on his journey (Gen. 28.10-19).  This is not a dream of the immediate goal but a dream of a long term vision.  A dream that takes Jacob into a blessed future but one that does not suggest that there will be no hardships.  In looking to the future whether politically, spiritually or in our everyday lives we need to hold to the dream not to overcoming the small irritants and details.  They have a way of working out but not the way we either expect or necessarily want in our own minds.  Yet, they will be what God wants.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sowing seed for life

The old saying is that we reap what we sow in life.  So what is it that you sow or have sown during your life?  Looking back we often find that we have regrets somewhat like Esau, who sold his birthright (Gen 25.32-33), had later in life.  Ours may not have been as great a foolishness but looking back it often rankles and hurts.  Yet, sometimes what we perceive to be a disaster is what God is asking of us as he plants a seed to mature in the time to come.  Retrospective looks back in time are said to be 100% and that is how we learn.  Yet the ramifications from our regrets may actually be positive in the lives of others.

In the parable that Christ sets up in Matthew's gospel (13.1-), the sower does not appear to understand what it is that he is doing.  Seed appears to be scattered willy nilly all over the place.  Some falling here and other times some falling there.  Surely, one has to ask, the sower should be a little more deterministic when it comes to the scattering of the seed.  If we want a good harvest we must direct the seed into good ground.  There is no point in scattering it around.  I would have fired the sower, if it was my farm, I want a good yield not a bit of this and a bit of that (100% or nothing).  That is how we operate in today's world.  No matter what we do the expectation is that the out put of our work will be beneficial to the company for whom we work.  I suspect in earlier times the same would also be the case especially with regards to the distribution of valuable seed. In looking at the church or the parish in terms of what we do, a recent trend has been to emphasise mission based programs.  We are told you have to do this, or you must do this or this is where you will achieve growth in the church, follow this evangelistic method / program / etc.

Do we know what seed we have sown?

God does not work with programs, God works with the world the way God wants the world to be.  God calls us into difference not sameness.  Each programme of evangelism that is promoted is looking for sameness not difference.  God determines where the seed should fall, by placing all our seed into the one basket of programme evangelism we deny God access to the fruits of the seed.  Our evangelistic programme may well be scattering the seed on a well trodden path that does not allow for it to grow.  I suspect that more often than not, this is precisely what is happening; we continue to sow good seed onto the well trodden paths of human expectations only to find it trodden under foot.  It is only when we allow God to direct the sower of the seed that we begin to see the fruits of God's labour.  We talk of good and bad ground as if these were dualistic opposites.  Perhaps yesterday's poor ground maybe today's good soil as God directs the seed and the growth.

Paul reckons us to live on the level of the Spirit not on the level of what has gone before (Rom 8.5-6) when we live in Christ.  Yet we tend to live in the world and ignore Christ except as a passing whisper or throw away line.  If something has achieved good results elsewhere then surely it will achieve remarkable results here in this place all it requires is the 'minister' to put in the energy.  Or if what has worked in the past should be re-iterated, again and again and again, then we will achieve the same results now as then.  In undertaking these thoughts we actually undermine God. We are second guessing where the seed that the farmer has granted to us through grace is to be planted by our knowledge not by the farmers understanding of the fields to be sown and then reaped.  Only when we understand that it is by allowing God's hand in our work for God that we achieve the remarkable. It is not in following previous things or other programmes as these may not be what God is calling us to in the present.  In living into the Spirit we live into Christ and we allow Christ's guiding light to be ever present in our hearts.  We go where Christ wills not where we will.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

To be or not to be

Hamlet's famous question is perhaps a good place to start as we ponder our lives as Christians.  Paul writing to the Roman's enunciates this question in as weird a way as possible (Rom. 7.14-25) which leaves us wondering what it is he has actually said.  It is the reality of our struggle that Paul writes about showing us clearly the confusion in which we approach our normal lives.  We distinctly cut up our lives into a continuum of dualistic mannerisms that are constantly opposed to each other.  Not only is it our own actions but also the way we perceive the other.  Dualism is embedded into our lives from the moment we are born and yet when we come to baptism we are released from this dualistic thinking into Christ.

At baptism we are brought into the life of Christ, an initiation into the Christian faith but also an initiation into Christ-likeness.  In attempting to live our faith, not I hasten to add our religion, we are asked to embed ourselves into Christ and become like Christ.  Here is the issue for us as we divide Christ and us as being two separate things.  In doing so we create for ourselves a schizophrenic pattern that imbues the remainder of our lives.  Christian life asks us to do this but we are inclined to do that (the essence of Paul).  To be or not to be that is the question suggests Hamlet.  To live a Christian life or to not live a Christian life.  Our being is embedded into how we live, at baptism we ask the parents and godparents of the child to embed into their child a sense of Christ.  For the child the tension should not be there as they are succoured by their guides in life on the Christian way.  Yet, because we ourselves, as parents and godparents, are filled with our own doubts as to how we live as Christians so we form the dualistic thinking within the child.

Our source of division is within ourselves

The child is being formed by the environment in which it is raised, so if the parent or godparent is doubting as to the purpose of Christ in their lives or the life of Christ in their lives then the child will pick this up as it grows and will be as confused or as uncertain as their parent or godparent.  This does not mean that the parent or godparent should go around quoting the bible and the scriptures and pretending to be holier than thou.  This is just to say that we as parents or godparents are just as dualistic in our thinking as any other person.  We have to undertake a real transformation within ourselves before our children can start to become less of who we are and more of who Christ is.  The Romans dilemma will always be with us, no matter who we are, until such time as we live the life that Christ gives to us.

We are hesitant to take up Christ in our time as this is counter intuitive to the world around us.  A world that is pervaded by a dualistic thinking and a view of self that is grounded in the individual.  Christ(ian) life is found in the extensive network of relationships that enhance our selves as relational people caring for the other.  This throws out all of our society's preconceived notions that the individual is greater than the community.  We regress to become more, we throw out some of ourselves to become greater; we die to sin and are born again into new life.  Our struggle with our own being is a struggle to understand ourselves and to grow towards divinity in Christ.  We are bound each day by this struggle of identity within our lives: To be Christlike or not to be Christlike that is the question!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Commitment - a way of life

Many people in today's world do not see a need to put themselves into something so thoroughly that they do not deter from the goal that has been set.  We can see that in the modern career path.  In previous generations a person chose a career and was in that career until their dying day.  Today, the likelihood is that the majority of people will have anything between 10-12 times if you are from an older generation, newer generations consider changing careers and jobs approximately every three years. We can perhaps sometimes see this within our churches and parishes if we number count.  When we do look closely at faith the journey we take is not as pliable and faith jumping or church jumping is not something we should be looking at.  Rather we have a different standard and that is the constancy of God in our lives.  If this is realised then we should be looking at a constant, persistent and committed journey not one that is looking to change direction every five minutes.  We need to look to Abraham to see this commitment worked out (Gen. 22.1-14).

We may find it wrong to think of the story of Abraham and Isaac as a good model.  How can God ask for something so horrendous as this sacrifice?  We can see all the wrong things about this but do we actually see what it is telling us about making ourselves sacred.  At the end of our service each week we offer ourselves as "living sacrifices", that is our prayer and yet we are not fully committed to this.  To be sacred is to be an offering to God, just as Abraham was asked to make of Isaac, a living sacrifice to God.  In taking up our roles as Christians we are baptised into Christ's death and resurrection, not only his death.  Yet behind this offering of ourselves and Abraham's offering of Isaac there flows on thing that we need to take cognisance of and that is the word "commitment".  Abraham has committed himself to God, he has made himself sacred in his actions.  He has laid down his wishes to take up the cross that is God's call upon his life.  God tests this vocation by demanding obedience and acknowledgment of God's presence.  If we are to shirk the command of God God is no longer with us.  If we are to make ourselves living sacrifices we must undertake all that God requires of us.

George Segal's sculpture captures the sacrifice; are we as prepared as Abraham?

Matthew tells us that Christ asks us to "receive him" (10.40) and so we receive God into our presence.  If that means we must let go something of ourselves than this is what we must do.  God gives to us more than what we have let go.  God gives us more when we let go.  It is not be grasping that we gain but by giving fully of ourselves, making a sacrifice of our lives to God.  Anyone who has seen Kung Fu Panda 3 knows what happens when we take too much.  In parish and Church life we often want more than we are prepared to give to achieve that which we think we desire.  It is only when we give of ourselves and commit to that giving do we start to see the fruit of God's grace in our lives.  In becoming leaders within our community we need to understand that we need to give before we can receive the benefits of our community's interaction with us.

Our community cannot know us unless we begin to give of ourselves.  In opening ourselves up we are offering ourselves to Christ and thus to God.  Matthew goes on to state that offering a "cup of water" to one of the little ones will not go unrewarded (Matt. 10.42).  What cups of water are we offering to the community around us?  The simplicity of the act opens us up and creates a space for sacred interaction and holiness.  It is not about our own needs but the needs of others.  We have the freedom to act on God's call or not, that is what God gives to us.  In taking and acting on God's call we should be committing ourselves to a life that is lived in Christ.  A commitment that is or should be a commitment seen in the actions of Abraham.  Even when we think that the act is going to be wrong, when we believe that the act is going to be detrimental, when we believe that the act is going to diminish us that is when we renew our commitment to God for if God calls us we need to respond.  We have offered ourselves, we have committed ourselves to becoming sacred, a sacrifice to God.

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 that 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.