Sunday, 31 December 2017

A New Year a new resolution

Today we face the reality of an approaching New Year with its attendant resolutions, most of which will have been broken within a 24 hour period or slightly longer.  The resolutions that we make may well be made with fervour and real striving but will fail ultimately because there will be no one around to assist or help or walk alongside as we strive for the goal.  In Isaiah the prophet is rejoicing because the possibility has been achieved because God has walked with the people (Is 61.10-11).  As a Church and a Denomination and a Parish we too need to make a resolution and each of us needs to walk with each other and with God to achieve the resolution.  If we need to make a resolution what is that going to be?  Perhaps, a fairly pointless question as each one of us will have a different resolution to put forward and it is highly unlikely that any of us will agree fully on the way forward, in the end it will be the best fit rather than the one thing everyone wants.  Adjustments have to be made to accommodate everybody and in the end this will mean that a true goal is not aimed for or reached.  Why?  Simply stated we are all political and want to attain what we as individuals see as being optimal for us as individuals.

The prophesy for Mary was as individual as they come.  Simeon starts of revealing greatness and ends with sadness (Lk. 2.28-35).  Greatness in the Saviour sadness in the heart of Mary.  If our resolution aligns with Christ and God perhaps it is inevitable that some will feel sorrow.  However, sorrow is sometimes pointing to our own inadequacies rather than to the poverty of the outcome of the resolution.  In seeking for the future, we must allow the future to embed itself within us rather than being something that we drag up from the past to make into a "future".  In allowing God's Spirit into our lives and following the will of the Spirit we open ourselves to sadness and joy.  Just as Mary is foretold to have her heart rent (Lk. 2.34b) we too will have our hearts rent.  Simply this is a result of our own wants being dashed, maybe not as drastically as Mary but in some respects in a very similar way.  Mary would have wanted her child to have a long and productive life.  Maybe even as the prophesied King or even as a favoured prophet within the Judaic way.  She certainly did not wish or want an early death let alone one upon a cross.  However, she did not cling to what she wanted but she allowed the Spirit to direct her place and her dreams so that we to could dream with Mary of a new world.
God walks with us if we allow him to but it means giving up our wants

Our inability to allow ourselves to be taken by God and shepherded by God, and companioned by God draws us backwards rather than towards the new life that God promises all his children.  We companion our children through life, some not as well as others, but if we can do it why cannot we allow God to undertake this with his children (all of us) (Gal. 4.7).  We ourselves were companioned by others as we grew up and as we entered into the workforce.  Is it only because we have been taught that spiritual reality is not a true part of life? or is it because we do not want to give up our desires for the greater good of our communities?  Reading "The Well Tempered City" by Jonathan Rose made me stop to think what we would really be like if we lived out the dreams of God in community, if we stopped to consider the rest of our community rather than just ourselves, if we actually managed to be advocates for those who are the poorest of the poor in our communities, if we had the capacity to build using the environment as a partner rather than as a usable and disposable commodity?  Perhaps, our New Years resolution is to follow the call of God and not be persuaded to follow our dreams, to put up with the sadness but to live the glory.  Only when we have become a place of peace and justice will we really understand what it means to be part of God's call.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

A peace that passes all understanding

In a year that is coming to an end that has been filled with hate, war and violence in all it's forms we wonder what is peace?  Is this concept ever going to be achievable within our lifetimes let alone the lifetime of the world?  Our conceptions of a peace that effects all people in a grandiose idea of harmony amongst the peoples of the world is a dream beyond our abilities to attain.  In saying this I realise I may be destroying a dream but in reality I am destroying an illusion that we have generated for ourselves in place of the reality that is beyond our understanding.  It is only beyond our understanding because we over complicate things rather than simplifying our lives.  If we are to understand we need to look at 2 Samuel and Luke linking them in our hearts and acting them out in our lives (2 Sam 7b.11; Luke 1.38).

The first realisation is that it is God's dream and God's will that brings the peace that we desire and that God seeks.  In placing it within the realm of humanity's striving we denigrate God's presence and dream.  It becomes all about us rather than all about God, no matter how we conceive of God.  In doing this we will never achieve peace as we will always have separate views of who/what God is and who/what God wants etc.  We cannot decide for ourselves how to worship God in our own denomination / faith let alone accept the other's view of God.  How then can we achieve peace, if all our dreams of peace are fantasies dreamt up by ourselves that devolve into our own in-fighting as to how we actually go about starting to achieve that peace?  Peace the concept is difficult to get our heads around in the first place as each person has a different notion of what peace is and here we are trying to reach out for God's peace.  Who knows what that is?  This is not for us to achieve, promote yes, achieve no as it requires God or at least Christ's presence in our midst.  Not something that we have cultivated in our lives with great relish.

Only when we let go of ourselves do we begin the process of peace

So what is the realisation that we need to take on board at this crucial time of the year (one sleep to go).  Can we achieve God's peace the one that passes all understanding?  Unlikely, as it passes all our understanding.  We limit ourselves to our conceptions.  Can we at least begin to comprehend or start the process that leads to God's peace; a peace that perhaps we yearn for but do not achieve as it is not possible through our own efforts.  How hard is this beginning for us?  It is both easy and hard a celebration and a sadness.  Mary (Lk 1.38) gets it right, perhaps in her naivety or rather in her honesty before God, Mary lets go of her life.  She lets go of control and she lets go of her wants, needs and desires.  Simple.  Straightforward. Easy.  However in doing so she gave up everything that we hold dear, which is where the sorrow comes in for us.  The unimaginable sadness of letting what we perceive to be right go without any doubts recriminations or hesitancy.  Once again the ugly head of our own reticence and selfishness rears up as we determine what it is that God asks of us to achieve a peace beyond understanding.  We want control; we want our peace; we want that which eases our souls not what eases the burden on others.

This is not the lesson to be learnt in these passages.  God's peace comes with God, for us to be participants in that peace is to be like Mary.  Mary accepts.  Even in her youthful state she is more aware of the response that is required to attain God's peace.  Even in the heartbreak of the death of her son she knows God's peace,  Even in the knowledge that life is not going to be easy she finds peace by accepting the call of God.  This is where we need to look for God's peace for it is only God who can give such peace it cannot be achieved by our own efforts, however much we strive for it.  In letting go we find God, in letting go we find God's peace beyond all our understanding.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Hope in the midst of despair

Again we hear the cry from Jordan's bank but we also hear within it the cry from further back in history, the prophet Isaiah with its classic vision of hope amidst ruin (Is 61.8-11).  Today, towards the end of a tumultuous year is perhaps the time to reflect on the hope that Christ brings.  It is perhaps to be expected that the majority of people would have a somewhat depressed view of the world and our society following the events of this year.  Threats of nuclear war, the cruelty of a government with respect to those seeking asylum from war and deprivation, the excesses of people in authority, the inability of people to accept responsibility for abuse, ... We could go on and on listing those things that were so unfavourable and unjust to the people of the world, God's people.  This is what the media play on through out the year, bad news sells, good news does not.

In such a depressive atmosphere how do we hope?  Such an elusive thing that cannot be described or held in words or thoughts but experienced in joy and love.  Yet hope for Isaiah comes in dreams and visions.  Something that we have perhaps let go of in our rational based society.  Hope cannot be captured in words or rationality it comes in springs that appear in the desert.  The desert of human empathy that occurs as a result of our manifest violence on the other.  Violence in terms of words, attitudes and actions both physical and psychological.  Violence that we bring upon ourselves or on the other either purposely or as a side product of our own ineptitude and non-empathetic way of living.  Our ineptitude at recognising the truth of God's kingdom here in this place, at this time results in our blindness to the violence we help create. We concentrate so much on the rationality of programmes that we forget that hope comes in the form of dreams and visions not in percentages and numbers.

Hope is dreaming of the future in the desert of despair

God's vision for us is to bring hope into the community.  A hope that we see in the incarnation of God.  Christ gives to us a hope of living in harmony and in love with all those who are other.  Christ shares with us through the Gospel story the idea and hope that all of humanity are made in God's image.  It is not just those that are part of this church or that denomination but all of humanity no matter who they are.  How they express their identity as part of God;s world is not for us to judge it is for God to condemn.  In reaching out to those who are so different from us we begin a conversation that draws us into the presence of God.  We exchange something from us for something from the stranger and we build that into our dreams, our visions for a world that is filled with hope.

Hope is elusive and hard to catch hold of that is because it cannot be encapsulated in numbers and rational statistics.  A recent article in the Spectator talks about the deniers and the panickers but in reality they are talking about the dreamers and the rationalists.  Christianity is formed in the heart of God and expressed in the visions of God's prophets.  It is not a science that we can control but a call that is weak and unassuming that plays on our hearts with visions and dreams.  WE have to be bold in the eyes of a rational society by proclaiming the dreams of God for the intangible realities of a stress free world.  A reality that is based on hope for better relationships, a dream of peace and a vision of non-violence in everything that we do.  In this manner we change the reality of the world and strive to change the rationality of our community.  We find love in despair, peace in war and conviviality in sorrow.  Hope strives for a future that is built on the clouds of dreams.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

God calls - The cry from Jordan's bank

I will always remember the opening of Godspell and John the Baptist's cry from below the balcony seats at Bournemouth theatre.  A magnificent tenor voice resounded through the auditorium as if coming from no particular place "Prepare ye the way of the Lord".  The soul wrenching sound came out of nowhere and extended an invitation that was hard to deny.  It is a call that echos throughout the world at this time of year a constant and repeated reminder of our call extending through life from the moment of baptism to our mortal final hours on this planet.  A call that is reiterated in every injustice and war that we initiate, participate or allow through our inaction in response to Gods call.  Mark repeats the call of Isaiah "prepare the way of the Lord; clear a straight path for him" (Mk. 1.3; Isaiah 40.3) and the question in our hearts must be "How are we to respond?".

At baptism for anyone young or old, we re-affirm our response to the call that God places on us.  Parents and Godparents do this for the child and as older adults we undertake the response for ourselves.  A response that places the other in front of our own wants and desires.  A response that brings to the forefront of our lives the elusive concepts of justice, peace and love.  We straighten the paths of our lives by living to the truest form of God's call.  We place behind us the concerns that beset our everyday lives to which we surrender on a daily basis. We place to the fore a concern for the person least likely to draw our attention in the work place and the social havens we inhabit.  The social outcast the one who is alone at the bar.  It is our barriers that the baptist's call breaks so that we can respond with compassion and understanding.

Can we answer God's baptismal call and walk in an other's shoes?

The breaking into our lives of the baptist call reminds us to try to grapple with the elusive concepts that we label justice, peace and love.  The call is an irritant on our lives that is expecting something from us but we are not sure what.  we strive for the elusiveness of the concepts when we see things that are abhorrent to what we find acceptable for our society.  The malfeasance of incarceration of those seeking peace and refuge.  The aberrant behaviour of a few in terms of their use of power over the innocent and how we are to grapple with the consequences.  It is at the time of failure that we see hear the insistent call of God but are unprepared to answer in truth.  We find it difficult not to dissemble and squirm our way out of blame.  The insistence of God's call from baptism onwards disarms are rational minds as everything we think of favours someone and disfavours another.  We want our lives to reflect the good but we want those who are less fortunate to obtain the privileges and rights of justice and peace.  Yet, we privilege ourselves in the battle for justice and not those who are different.

Baptism calls us to break the cycle of privilege and reiterate the call for justice.  A quiet insistent voice that calls us into acts of defiance to highlight the plight of the disadvantaged.  It is quaint to champion our own doubts and terrors but it is powerful when we fully engage in / with the plight of those caught in a cycle of deprivation and poverty. What is it in this community that calls to us from our baptism?  What is it in the world community that calls to us from our baptism?  As young people it should be the concerns expressed in the conversations of our parents and godparents turn us to address the reality of life and find an answer to God's call on us.  It is when the future breaks in upon the older generation through the love and wonder expressed by the younger that we begin to create that which God calls us to do.  It is not generated by the old for the young but by the young for the experience of the old to craft.  So let us listen to the young who are closer to God's call as they have not privileged themselves by their prejudices and fears. In doing so we respond to the future that comes to us in Christ, incarnated and as judge.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent - A new year begins

Yes, it is here, a new liturgical year for us to begin.  We know the signs of the times, decorations in the shops, Merry Christmas signs, trees and tinsel.  Christmas bargains, mince pies, Christmas puddings, etc.  Is this really what we need to be caught up in.  These are the signs of our times but are they the signs of our faith lives.  A repetitive round of festivities that culminate in Midnight Mass or some other Christian service to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Is this what the liturgical year is about a never ending show for the Christian that turns up at church?  A show that the critics can argue about throughout the year if it is not to their liking; it is not fulfilling my needs!!  However much we dress it up our faith journey must be more than this.  Isaiah says it "we are the clay, you the potter" not "you are the clay to be moulded to our wants" (Is. 64.8).

If we are to be moulded by God we need to respond to God's call as disciples under discipline and under instruction from God.  This is a sacrificial following of God / Christ as we leave our own lives behind, not just for an hour each Sunday for the satisfaction of proclaiming our religiosity (Bonhoeffer would say that this is cheap grace) but rather to understand what Christ is asking of us in sacrifice.  At the start of our year we ought to be looking to our future in faith.  We should be looking at the signs around us to help us discern the path of sacrifice that Christ is asking of us in this day and age.  Just like looking for signs of new growth in the plants around us (Mk 13.28) we need to be looking for and discerning the patterns of new service and sacrifice that God is calling us to.  It is easy for us to hark back to what has been done rather than to discern new life.  This repetition of thinking does not bring about newness of life but rather like a decaying orchard left to its own devices it soon produces bitter inedible fruit.

Do we think of ourselves as the pot or the potter?

Good stewardship and responsible discipleship tells us that we need to clear away the invasive weeds and choking growth that prevents our own following of Christ.  That may look like severe bleeding to us as plants are hacked away and damage appears to be done to the surroundings that have grown comfortable and comforting.  This is costly to us and often required in response to God's call.  We, of course, do not want to undertake the next bit of rejuvenation.  It means that we have to get down and dirty and dig the soil.  The roots of the tree need to be fed.  Even if we feed it concentrated manure we still have to dig it in and that takes effort.  Effort for ourselves as we attend to God's word and the food that is given to us.  We may think that the food being ladled out is not good for us or else we do not want to dig it in or else the offering appears to be extremely rich and rarefied.  Unfortunately neglect means that we have to make even greater efforts for ourselves and for those around us.  It is not helpful when soul food is offered and we just allow it to pile up to rot because we cannot make the effort.

Lastly, having started to understand the feeding and having cleared away the growth we still need to prune.  Dead branches and poor growth needs to be cut away so that new shoots can appear.  This means we have to allow new understanding in and not block it with old branches.  The Church finds it easy to repeat what has occurred but is not good at seeking pathways to new growth.  When we do we often allow the growth to be stifled by old branches that have not been pruned.  In our understanding, in our governance and in our outreach we allow old growth models to stifle new ways.  In looking for new growth we have to allow the potter to mould us into the pot that the potter requires or the orchardist to prune away old branches and allow light and nutrients to bring new shoots that are unencumbered by the old.  At the start of this year are we ready to allow the potter to mould us and the orhardist to prune us so that we can become as Christ to God's people?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Goat and sheep - Have we got it wrong?

Christ as King.  Perhaps an archaic form of celebration that brings forth all sorts of images that reveal our obsession in our own worth.  If we look back through time we have images of a person who is willing and not so willing to die for "his" people.  Prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, even to death and no I am not speaking about the Christ bit of the statement.  Put together with Christ it takes on all sorts of other meanings as well.  However, if we think about the image it is Christ as the King in a formal authority of justice figure that we are actually attempting to celebrate.  It is the call of God to undertake righteous judgement for justice that is being examined, not the sacrifice.  In Matthew's gospel we find the reading about the judgement of the sheep and the goats (Mtt. 25.31-46).  A separation and judgement of each person's attitude rather than each person's actions.

This story is displayed in the Kellock window at All Saints, Kempsey.  This triptych displays a central Christ on a throne with two sets of people on either side.  It is the attitudes of the people in the two side windows that we need to focus on when we hear this story from the Gospel.  From the description in the Guidebook:

Do we belong on the right or the left?
the southern panel represents the sheep, those on the Son of Man’s right. The figures robes and colouring are suggestive of a more humble approach to the truth of the judgement and an ability to point to the truth of Christ’s presence in their lives. As pointed out in the descriptions above the figures in the northern panel appear to have an attitude of “Who me!” and disbelieve. The colours are also mirrored but are subtly darker in hue suggestive that these figures are ones that perhaps paid lip service to God’s word but did not live their lives in light of Christ.
When we think about attitudes in our lives we are often unable to accurately assess our own.  It requires an independent judge to see into our own hearts and minds.  In assessing our corporate attitudes it becomes increasingly difficult as we are attempting to judge not only ourselves but those around us.  We would all like to assess our attitudes as being on Christ's right.  A humble  ability not to point to ourselves but to point to Christ.  However, the moment we start making such a call we place ourselves on the left.  The corporate body of Christ's church have pointed to themselves as the path to righteousness.  At the end of our liturgical year it is perhaps a reasonable time to reflect on ourselves not as individuals but as the body of Christ, not only in our places of worship but also in our Dioceses and denominations as a whole.  Are we getting it wrong by expecting people to follow us when we are not demonstrating that ability to point to Christ in our midst and say "Who me?".

In our own conceit we think others should follow but we ourselves are in need of salvation and instead of saying how good we are we should be acknowledging our corporate faults and striving to do better in the coming year.  Advent next week reminds us that we need to prepare, not only for Christ's coming but for our judgement by Christ the King.  If we think that we are on the right hand we are probably wrong and need to place ourselves on the left not knowing and not anticipating what God has in store for us.  Only when we begin to humble ourselves as the body of Christ both institutionally and corporately will we begin the transformation Christ requires of us.  Only when we acknowledge that we do not know God's will and refuse to bow to our own wills do we begin to undertake the required penance.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Return on your gift

We have a number of challenges that face us in today's society.  In a fluid job market and an world were certainty is a word that can only be used with caution we often find ourselves in difficult positions as we grow older.  Difficulties are not only monetary but also emotional, psychological and spiritual.  If we have been wise over our life we may have been able to make a number of investments that will stand us in good stead as the inevitability of age eases into our lives. The question is do we make similar investments in the other areas of our lives in the same way we do with our money?

Christ's parable with regards the giving of bags of Gold to the servants (Matt. 25.14-30) refers to monetary investment but let's just change the perspective and think in terms of the gifts that are given to us by God.  We are all given gifts of one sort or another.  We may think of them as things that we ourselves have developed over time, something we seem to be extraordinarily good at, or just something that we are asked for each and every day.  Often we hide these things that we are good at and only allow a few people know.  Even if it is a simple thing it is a gift given to us from God.  Trouble is we do not see the investment potential in these things.  They are just abilities that we have nothing more.  More often then not we allow them to lie idle for months on end or even years.  All of a sudden somebody says something and Auntie Ada knows all about it.  We all turn around and say "AUNTIE ADA!!" with astonishment.  In the long run when we consider community and the way of life that a Christian needs to lead it is this hidden asset that is important and needs to be cultivated just like the monetary investment we make for our old age.

An extraordinary gift given in love rejected with scorn

Just as much our own gifts are not invested in, except poorly, our spiritual gifts are even less wisely invested.  We lack the time and the interest to invest any amount of improvement on our own spiritual well being.  As a result we are poorly prepared for any involvement in activities that are of a spiritual nature.  We turn aside from the pursuits that our parents and grandparents found so satisfying and involve ourselves in those things that at the end of the day bring no benefit to the soul.  We are much like the servant who buries the gift and gives back only what was given.  We are asked to surrender ourselves totally, instead we halfheartedly give to God what God has given to us.  We now approach Advent a time for preparation, a time that allows us to ensure that we are ready to meet God in the incarnation.  This is the time when we need to start to invest some thought and time into our spiritual and emotional investments.  If we cannot allow ourselves to do that then we are no longer walking the way that God wishes us to walk.  This means that we all have to bring our gifts to share with each other and with God.  As a recent post said "God did not call the Lone Ranger he called the twelve apostles".  This means that we are in this together as a community.  Our investment must be in our compassion, our justice and our willingness to be what God wants us to be.

Unlike the person given the least we must not be afraid of the consequences of investing.  There are risks as with any investment but the rewards are God's to give and ours to receive.  Yet in fear and trembling we hide away and do not offer our gifts to friends, family and community thinking only of the benefits for us.  The other reason we do this is because we are also so judgemental of others.  Deborah did not judge Barak (Judges 4.1-10) she just advised him of God's gift to others who would use the gift that he spurned.  Are we willing to spurn the gifts of God and judge those around us who use theirs.  How often I wonder have we sniggered over someones ability because it is not to our standard, perhaps it is to God's standard and that is all that matters.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Being prepared - Ups and downs

We are asked to be prepared for the coming of he Lord as we do not know either the time nor the place as is highlighted in the parable told in Matthews Gospel (Matt. 25.1-13).  The village situation that brings this to mind is the progression of a bridal party.  In a village wedding the whole community is involved and the bride and groom move in a progression through the village.  Some stops take longer than others, hence it is not known when the main participants, in particular the groom, will arrive at the final stop for the wedding feast.  The procession takes from early afternoon until late at night when the main meal begins.  Being prepared means that the unmarried girl guests need to be ready at any time of the night for the grooms arrival.

In preparing ourselves as a Church for the arrival of our Bridegroom, Christ, we need to be as prepared in all that we do.  Our preparation begins with baptism.  We attempt to instill in the parents and Godparents the understanding that they are charged with this preparation.  It is by no means an easy task.  The chances are that there will be ups and downs along the journey.  Like the Israelites in the acceptance of God and God's commandments (Joshua 24.14-25) the Godparents and parents accept a duty of following and teaching.  This does not automatically mean that everything will be alright.  Just as the Israelites failed in their journey so we will expect that, being human, children and others will fail on their journey.  Yet we must understand at the deepest core of our instruction to those beginning their faith journey is an instruction to parents and Godparents that is enduring, just as the instructions to the Israelites are enduring.  We acknowledge this failure and yet persevere on the the journey into new life.  It is not an easy task.

Are we protecting our source or squandering our resources?

The women with the lamps are probably childhood friends of the bridegroom looking to be amongst those who are taken in to enjoy the feast and joy of the marriage feast. They have journeyed through life to this point with the rest of the village.  Is it wrong that their irresponsibility should deny them the opportunity of the feast?  The light of their lamps are their passport into the safe haven of the feast.  Their identification and invitation.  Those that did not take care of that invitation are denied entry.  In the same way our responsibilities not only as Godparents but also as members of the body of Christ, are to take care of the life that has been given to us to guide.  It would be wrong for us to throw away the opportunity that God has given to us.  We do so when we become involved in our own lives and miss the opportunity to form a relationship.  The relationship that is given to us as is lifelong one which is often neglected for one reason or another. 

Yet in neglecting the ingredients of a life that is whole and has been given an invitation to become holy amounts to foolishness.  Yes, the Godparents role is often neglected but it is our way of daring those who are growing to consider the fuller aspects of life not just the mechanics.  In order for any person to become greater than themselves it is necessary to guide them into a new and fresh aspect of life that may not have been considered.  (W)holeness can become empty of meaning a hole that drains life. or filled with the holy as we take on the wisdom of our spiritual and faith journey.  It is up to our lifelong guides to bring the reality into being.  Yet as the story of the Israelites who accepted God's promises and covenant shows us this is a journey that has ups and downs.  Sometimes we are doing the things that make the community Holy and whole whilst at others we are thinking solely of our selves.  We constantly remind ourselves of our journey as we ourselves relate to God's presence.  The question to ask ourselves is are we foolish (neglecting our wholeness and identity) or are we wise (nourishing ourselves with the oil of gladness and keeping the flame of God's Spirit alive).

Sunday, 5 November 2017

For all the Saints

The many glorious saints of yore are celebrated each year at this time.  The many who we know of and celebrate throughout the year and the many who just are even if we have not heard of their deeds.  What precisely are we celebrating here and what is it that we are yearning for within ourselves as a result of this celebration?  We can point to a number of readings from scripture that highlight what we would expect of a saint and say that this is what we strive for.  Yet, each reading we point to can have an alternative view that destroys our thinking.  Take the reading from Matthew's gospel 5. 1-12 that is in the lectionary today.  This is the classic beatitudes passage.

I am sure that we can see these as a basis of what to strive for as we reach out and embrace the concept of sainthood.  The symbolism captured by Christ's opening to the sermon on the mount is perhaps something that is beyond the ability of mere mortals.  For some, especially when reading Luke's  version (6.20-26), it seems a cruel and biased charge that castigates the rich and happy whilst elevating lives that are spent in poverty and weeping.  Do we some how see a reversal of what we consider to be of value by placing the hell holes of poverty and misery as must see / live places in the world as opposed to the Beverley Hills and posh waterfront areas?  An individual recently asked, after hearing an exposition of Luke's version, does this mean that I cannot be a Christian if I am rich and happy?  The dissonances in such a reading of Christ's propositions and our celebration of the Saints should be obvious, yet, how many actually believe these interpretations thus negating any increase in faith or movement towards saintliness?

The walls we create to divide rich from poor, hungry from full....

Perhaps we need to approach these readings from a different perspective and see for ourselves a window of opportunity that takes us beyond the walls that are erected around the dichotomies of wealth vs poverty, happiness vs sadness, emptiness vs fullness, etc.  Instead of seeing the dichotomous nature of these things let's rather view them as a spectrum and suggest that all of God's people are somewhere on this spectrum.  It is not that the rich are more or less important or that those who are hungry are better than those who are full but a recognition that living in the world produces a spectrum as a result of circumstance and the individual's outlook on life.  The second thing, which I believe is as important or more so in light of a Gospel of love, is that we are relational in everything.  Our whole society as a collective humanity is based on relationships.  Relationships, however, are influenced by perceived and actual power, which is often based on the dichotomies that are the focus of this reading.

In bringing these two together we have the path and the circumstance that we celebrate today.  In recognising our relatedness we understand our responsibilities in how we use our situation in life to the improvement of those who are not as fortunate.It is not for us to preference either the poor or the rich it is for us to utilise our wealth (finance, happiness, food, etc) to bring about a change in tthe circumstances of those who are less fortunate then ourselves.  In doing so we bring forward the gospel of love into the hearts of those who are in need. We become saints when we entertain the idea of hospitality to those who are at the opposite end of the spectrum.  We bring our laughter, our love, our food, our financial wealth into the need of the world rather than concentrating on the dichotomy between rich and poor.  We tear down the walls of division and open everything up to the presence of God's Spirit.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The centrality of love

The commandment to love is a central tenet of the Christian faith that is proclaimed by Christ as he sums the law of God given in the commandments of God's covenant with the Israelite people (Matt. 22.34-40).  This is perhaps the essence of the Gospel that is given to us to proclaim in our everyday lives.  Yet, these concepts seem to be hard work for the majority especially when it comes to the display of political or institutional power.  Once authority is achieved it seems that these two basic commandments fly out of the window of consciousness rather than being the basis upon which we form our authority.  Although love of God comes first it is out of our love of neighbour that we can even begin to conceive of God's love in our lives as we express that love in our relationships with those around us.  So what is this love that we must give to another in the same way that we give to ourselves.

Love of self is what we do on a constant basis as we place ourselves at the centre of our lives.  It is self love that drives us in an economy that expands on the expression of our self love.  The basis of our whole economic structure is a basis of love of self as we strive to obtain those things that we desire and those things that will please our inner selves.  Consumerism is based on our own self love and we drive that search for the ideal in everything that we can obtain irrespective of its origins in marginalisation or injustice.  There is no weakness here as we strive to strengthen ourselves through the obtaining of our desires. It is circular driving force as we have to have the next thing as it is better and shows our love for ourselves.  We have no thought for anything outside of our own wills and our own needs that drive us in a perpetual striving for fulfillment.  In understanding our own love for ourselves we need to understand the downside of that love.  We need to understand and acknowledge that it is our love for ourselves that does not allow us to look outside of ourselves.  We have to provide for that burning and driving love with no regard for those outside of ourselves and thus we come into a continuing spiral of depression and dis-ease as we are made to be communal and not monadal / singular.

To meld into the other risks our own self love in weakness

Christ commands us to use this love that we apply to ourselves to those around us.  In other words we need in terms of the Gospel to turn our inner love's drive into those outside of ourselves.  This means that we must leave the circle of security which drives our lives.  In leaving the circularity of self love we open ourselves up to dissonance and disruption.  We deliberately make ourselves vulnerable so that the other can claim a part of our self.  This disruption weakens our own inner love and we feel ourselves being drained of our own self realising power as we see the reality of the other.  This is a deliberate subsuming of our desires below the desires of the other, whatever or whoever that other may be.  We do this not in recognition of gain for us as this would be no more then the exercise of our power over others to the glorification of our self (in other words a re-iteration of self love to the detriment of the other). We are asked to do it in the framework of a non-expectatiory move that relegates our self motivations to the back and seek only the well being of the other as we have sought the well being of ourselves in the past.

This non-expectatory move frees us from the cyclical nature of self love as the other responds to our weakness and fills the void created with creative force.  The force of love given freely in return that forms the bonds of relational living and the acknowledgement of others outside of self.  This is the love that God calls us to through Christ's re-iteration of the commandments.  A love that can change the world but only comes to pass when we begin the process by allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in our own love of self.

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.