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.

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 

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.