Sunday, 25 June 2017

In the ordinary - Back to Christ

This last week has been spent in Margaret River.  A somewhat wet and drear experience, weather wise.  However, Professor Andrew McGowan, lightened the mood with his talks for the Clergy School on "Aliens and Strangers".  In coming back to Perth I was struck by the fact that much of what he spoke of had relevance for today's readings as they speak about being baptised into Christ (Romans 6.) and the need to realise that it is an allegiance to Christ that makes us Christians over and above our 'family' / 'culture' or even way of life (Matt. 10.37-39).  In understanding our own situation and our own place in the sweep of history we come to understand, as it was constantly put during the week, that we have been here before.  Not only as Christians but also as members of humanity.  For us of course it is the first part of this statement that should be true and the latter may follow as a consequence.

In taking up the cross of Christ, if we have done so with true faith and fervour, as a result of our baptism and latter acceptance of the Christian call upon our lives, we place ourselves within the category of alien and stranger.  Christians have always done this and it is something that Christ calls us to with his call upon our lives (Matt. 10.37-39).  It is perhaps something that we ourselves have forgotten living in this age, living secular lives.  If we take offence at this, being Christian not secular, just stop and reflect on the derivation of the word secular.  It comes from saeculum which means "belonging to a generation" in its most original sense.  Our sense of living for and of this time is the secularity that we live and yet as we live this we are also called into Christ and to present the reign of God to those who are also living in this saeculum.  If we understand this we also understand that we are different to those around us, or should be, as we are called into Christ, we are called to identify so deeply with Christ that we identify with his death upon a cross (Romans 6).  I am fairly certain that the majority of us when asked "who are you?" will reply "I am so and so, from this place and I am an Australian / Sri Lankan / Brit etc".  It may occur to you to label yourself as a Christian somewhere down the line but  not as a first option.  In doing this, I would perhaps suggest that we are definitely very secular as we identify with this current age and not with our Christianity, our apparent call into Christ.

Can we be modern martyrs by being true witnesses to our faith?

For us identification with our faith is not at the forefront of our lives unlike some of the early Christians.  For people such as Polycarp, Perpetua and the like the identification was completely with their faith.  Perpetua's father trying to dissuade her from the course that led to her martyrdom receives the response from Perpetua along the lines of "You see this vase, you cannot call it anything else for that is its being.  You cannot call me anything else for that is my very being, a Christian."  How many of us are as faithful to our calling.  Just as in the age of persecutions in which Perpetua and others lived we to live in an age where we find the Christian faith journey is of little account and declining, however much we try to bolster it.  Yet, if we are to be true to our faith calling we need also to live in the hope that is Christ so that we also may be lights to future generations.  Our sacrifice may not be as physically painful as Perpetua (after all she was killed in the arena, as part of a birthday celebration), but it still needs to be a making of sacredness in our lives.  Our call is an identification with Christ within the community in which we have been set, not for our own contentment, but as a call into the world around us to feed the poor, to encourage the fainthearted and to be present to those around us.

Even as outcasts Hagar and the child are given the hope of God's presence (Gen 21.18-20), even if we believe that we are outcasts we are present to God and given God's hope for the future.  It is only when we begin to realise this and live its reality in a world that derides the institution will be when we begin to evangelise and bring the Good News into the hearts and minds around us.  We evangelise not for an institution but for a life in Christ.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sent out in faith

Sometimes we think we can do it all.  I can undertake all the ministries in the Church and in the world.  All I have to do is put my hand up and I will be there.  If we are excited to participate we jump all over the place and try and put our hands on the wheel, so to speak, in as many different places as we can.  What happens is that we get ourselves mixed up and eventually cause a disaster as we tangle everyone else up.  Christ sends his disciples out in a deliberate and calculated manner (Matt. (9.35-10.8 ff) having understood what was required.

At baptism we pray that the child / adult will be filled with the charisms of the Holy Spirit.  If it is a child, I do not think that we expect him/her to jump up and speak in tongues immediately.  These gifts take time to develop and come to maturity just as the child grows.  The same is true for an adult, occasionally the gift manifests itself immediately but often there is a period of maturing and discerning before the full gift is manifest in the life of the individual.  There are times when we need to set time aside and pray about our situation before undertaking a course of action.  This is of course quite easy for a child as it has its parents and God parents to guide it in its first tentative steps towards making a decision in faith.  But what of an adult, as we can be extremely impulsive especially when it comes to our likes and dislikes, our comforts and our intrusions, our future and our past.  We have a tendency to see where others are not stepping up and feel that we need to fill the gap.  At the end of the day we become rag and bones because we are not doing what God wants us to do but what we want to do.
Only in listening and in harmony with God do we grow

There are a number of questions that we need to ask ourselves as we grow into our charisms and as we educate our children towards the next step in faith that they need to take.  In asking these questions of ourselves we take a step back and allow God's Spirit to interact with us through prayer, contemplation and the discernment of others.  We need to ask, Is this truly what God is calling me to and how am I to know that this is God's call on my life?  In answering these or encouraging our children to answer these questions we actually have to do some work.  It is not a question of "Oh this is what I think I want to do"  which is typical of children taking their first steps towards adulthood.  It actually means that we have to sit down and discern where God is calling me. How?  By listening to what others are saying and reflecting on in relation to the choices that you are making.  By spending quiet time with God and allowing God to speak (we so often speak and don't actually listen to God).  By allowing God's Spirit to call to you in the quiet moments of your life.  Only through such a process do we discern a true call into ministry.

We allow our children room to discover these options of listening through their lives if we are being true to our baptismal call.  We go out of our way to encourage others to rightly discern the paths of God's Spirit in their lives through encouragement and listening.  We are present to the other as sounding boards so that we discern with the community the charisms of our neighbours and our fellow sojourners in Christ.  It will be Christ who leads us as he becomes manifest in our lives and as we are encouraged in the path of discernment for ourselves.  Only when we recognise the Christ that is indwelling in our own selves will we understand the gifts of the Spirit and how we release them into the community.  It is only when the gifts begin to hep the other and encourage those who are lost that we can know that the Charisms of the Spirit are invigorating the community.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Conceptions of God

At this time of year our thoughts move in the direction of God, if they are not already there.  Once a year we celebrate and worship the Trinity, I believe the rest of the year we celebrate and worship...well perhaps God the father or Jesus God the Son (probably more often than not) and rarely God the Holy Spirit, once a year on Pentecost.  We have one way or the other seem to have forgotten that God is three in one which is the real difficulty that other monotheist religions have with Christianity.  How can we say that we worship one God but have three who are one?  A definite paradox that we all struggle with at some point in time.

The presentation of this paradox has been enunciated most clearly by the various early councils of the Church as they struggled to define the reality of faith in which they lived.  The challenge for us today is that we hardly understand the meaning and thought processes that went to formulate what we know as the doctrine of the Trinity.  The result is that we focus our attention on specifics that we can understand rather than the whole that we cannot understand.  In this way we may focus our lives on an understanding of Jesus as being the Son of God or Christ.  We celebrate this in the incarnation and the story of the Resurrection. Or else we celebrate the Spirit and turn our attention to the spiritual gifts as given in scripture.  We concern ourselves with the fact that we are speaking in tongues or are evangelists and if we are not then we are not 'true' Christians.  In using our limited expectations in this manner we are able to cope but forget that we are sent out to make disciples and then to baptise in the name of the "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28.19).  One way or another we will focus our proclamation on one of the three and not all three; we will make disciples who follow one of the three not all three; we will teach about one of the three not all three.  How can we do it any other way when we do not understand it in the first place?

It is fascinating to obtain an understanding of Aboriginal cultures around the world and fantasy genre.  The reason for this is that there is a ubiquitous understanding of relationship that is found when interacting with these topics.  I would say that all aboriginal societies are soundly based on a concept of relationship and community rather than the individual.  Most fantasy genre literature enunciates the struggle between the two in some form or another, usually with the community/relational aspect being the favoured outcome.  In coming to understand God we need to overcome our more individualistic tendencies and strive towards a holistic understanding of the nature of God.  It is only when we turn our attention to a more holistic approach to our faith that we will begin to understand or have a glimmer of understanding of what it means to worship God.

Only in relationship is the whole perceived

Each of us has a preference as to how we interact and perceive God and we would be foolish to let our prejudices inflame the rifts and arguments over God.   All that this means is that we become 'Jesusians' or 'Spiritians' or 'Fatherians'.  We should be able to at least acknowledge that God is more than we conceive.  Just as in the scientific disciplines, where we have a tendency to narrow the field of study, it does not mean that the narrowed field of study is the full story.  Each aspect must be seen in conjunction and as part of a greater whole, one that we only glimpse of in our halfhearted attempts to explain a Trinitarian God.  Today as we turn our thoughts towards God we turn our thoughts towards a complex community in relationship that leads us towards the formation of complex interrelations in our own lives.  If we focus only on one aspect we will tend to isolate and wither our lives to the detriment of our own communities.  Just as the Aboriginal culture sees the worth of the individual in relation to community so we need to understand that the worth of our conception of God (Jesus, Spirit or Father) is only made whole and holy when formed in relation to the other.  Only then should we go out into the world to make disciples and baptise and then teach otherwise we will skew our worship of God and will not be doing as God has commanded.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Resisting the call of the Spirit

Our faith journey takes place within two communities both of which often display signs of distrust and envy.  The two communities that we are contending with are the community of faith to which we belong and the wider community in which we work out the lived expression of that faith.  Elements of the one may be contained within the other but this is not necessarily the case.  In both cases we are asked to live our calling and display the gifts that God gives to us in our faith journey.  Paul quite rightly says that those gifts are multitudinous in their occurrence (1 Cor. 12.4).  Quite often we overlook those gifts which God has given to us preferring to live our lives in obscurity as part of the general background of both communities. The alternative reading for today demonstrates how we often misinterpret God's effective call as we are not open to exploring God's communication with us (Numbers 11. 24-30).  We close ourselves of within the faith community by not recognising or dividing God's gifts into categories (This is from God, this is not from God).  In our non recognition of the gift as being part of God's bestowal we close ourselves of from God and then get frustrated as it seems we are not progressing in our faith and in our community. Yet, the release of the Holy Spirit into the community on Pentecost opens up and enables us to explore new territory and new horizons of possibility when we faithfully journey as members of the faith community.

Exploration of anything takes courage and communication to those around us.  Any exploratory work demands of us an open mind otherwise we will not be able to take up the challenge that we are called into through our growth in faith.  Ask any scientist with regards to seminal breakthroughs in their fields of expertise.  You will be told how there had to be an openness to new thinking in order for the breakthrough to occur.  That thinking has to be communicated to those within the community and also to those outside of the community so that we are all brought along with the new paradigm.  The Corinthian congregation was stuck in a pattern of thought that reflected the community and society in which they lived.  A society of Roman patronage that increased the welfare of those that conformed to their patron's way of thinking and doing, even if this tended to bring despair and poverty into society.  Paul is communicating a new paradigm, a new way of thinking within the faith community that will ultimately be reflected in general society.  The Corinthians' open themselves up to God speaking through Paul and the notion of many gifts coming from God not just the elite few.

If we do not look for assistance we will never get out of our rut

In closing down the exploratory mindset we narrow the ability to communicate God's presence in our lives and fail to hear God's offering of the Spirit, which comes through gifts and communication that we do not want to hear or deal with.  We do this in our everyday lives as much as we do it in our own faith journeys.  In becoming comfortable with the status quo we often fail to move out of the comfortable rut into which we have fallen.  God continual calls us into something new.  The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was unexpected but opened up channels of communication that expanded the incipient Church in many ways.  However, look at the reactions of society.  There is an accusation that the disciples gifted with the Spirit are drunk (Acts 2.13).  We do the same thing when there is an idea or an inspiration that is either not ours or outrageous.  We dismiss it and resist the change that takes us into a new place.  Only when we take on an attitude of openness and trustfulness to God do we begin to realise that God is pulling us out of the deep ruts of comfort that have bogged us down.  The act of communication is a two way process, we are often very good at the speaking part but very poor at listening to God.  Our prejudices and our own comforts blind us to the openness of exploration that the Spirit brings at Pentecost.  Like Joshua (Numb. 11.28), we want to close down those who have not been selected or those who are speaking differently to others.  The Spirit opens our hearing to a different voice, an exploratory voice that communicates a new thing, however uncomfortable that may be.  Let us open ourselves to the gifts of the Spirit and recognise that they may not bring the comfort that we think we deserve.