Sunday, 30 April 2017

Breaking bread and open Scripture

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Formals and confirmation

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 April 2017

New life or the same old same old

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Leadership pointers

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Protest or Acclamation

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

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

Acclamation for Christ or protest against tyranny?

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

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

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Rise from the dead

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

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

Can we accept God's gift of life?

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

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