Saturday, 25 March 2017

Seeing with the eyes of God

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 March 2017


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

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

Do we see abundance or scarcity?

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

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

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Born again

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The coils of the serpent

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

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

The coils of the serpent surround us still

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

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