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.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The challenges of dreaming big

There are I am sure quite a number of people across the country who are attempting to assist their children to dream big and assist with the choosing of their education for the next two years.  Year ten anxiety levels rise to a high level at this time of year for our dreamers who are attempting to dream big.  It is practically impossible to get a young person in to the courses they would like to further their career when schools and colleges are more concerned with ATAR results and the academic standing of the school.  Joseph must have found it just as frustrating with his dreams that were always being denigrated by his brothers and the community (Gen. 37.12-28).  The disciples may have thought they were dreaming when they saw the reality of Christ on the water (Matt. 14.22-36) yet this dream was one of faith realised.

So what is it about our general attitude towards others with dreams.  Why do we find our own institutions importance comes before our fellow human's dreams?  Is it that we are jealous of their possible achievement?  In some circumstances (often in the services) the threat of someone lower down the pyramid is enough for others to place obstacles in the way.  Can we not sit back and relax in allowing someone to attempt their dreams, especially when they are younger or must we be pessimistic and close the dream down?  To some respects like Joseph and his brothers it is a matter of tradition.  We have been brought up as sheep farmers that is what the family is we cannot have any other dreams around this place.  Like the brothers we are comfortable in this role and do not want to look beyond.  Yet in faith we are always being drawn out to follow God's dreams and that will always make us uncomfortable.  We cannot rely on tradition and always be in the same place.

Do we allow others to dream God's dream?

There is an old proverb about allowing a bird to go free and if it is yours it will come back to you.  We just have to allow ourselves to allow others to dream.  Christ encouraged Peter out on to the water (Matt. 14.29).  No matter how insubstantial the medium looked to Peter Christ was firmly standing there so why couldn't he.  Peter took a leap of faith and stepped out having been encouraged into his dream to be with Christ at that moment.  In following the dream Peter walked where no man had walked before it was only when he was confronted with his fears and those of his community that he began to sink.  This is what we as a community do to others around us in approaching the Christian faith.  We do not allow God to draw them into God's dreams and welcome their dreaming.  Rather we state what the tradition is and have them fit to our way of worshipping God.  We feed them with fears and not the freedom that God gives through the dreams that are dreamt.

We do not husband their dreams but rather like the student counsellor who says "Well, you have no intelligence so you are better of going to secretarial college then even bothering following your dream into medicine."  How many Einstein's and Barnards have we managed to turn away from their dream of making God's world a better place.  Oh, well some doors open and others close, go with the flow.  God's dream is persistent and leads me into joy, exuberance and adventure.  To a world of peace and prosperity, a place of joy and sustainability...but that is just a dream...isn't it?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Political farce

I have been appalled by the poor performance of elected officials in the Australian parliament lately. So what is new. The latest inability of elected officials to reach a decision that is decisive and worthy of the title leadership is one of the most spectacular debacles I have seen in politics.  It rates as highly as the inability of the South African Parliament to pass a no confidence motion.  This would imply that the Australian government is no more than a third world country with third world immature political decision making.

The government holds to the notion that because it has a majority (of 2 in the lower house and none in the Senate), it has a mandate to undertake its policies.  Following this notional authority of mandate has led many parishes and other institutions into a lot of strife / division and uncertainty.  Yes, the government was elected as a result of its policies but not as a result of any one policy.  The poor majority gives those in power the limited mandate to govern justly not a mandate on every single policy that they said they would undertake.  If they want a mandate on each policy the people should have been given the opportunity to vote on each policy (not a very good way to elect a government) or else they should hold a clear majority in both houses.  I suspect that if they had the single policy of a plebiscite on marriage they would not have a majority in the lower house, slim or otherwise.  Good governance suggests that those in authority have been elected for their (supposed) wisdom and ability to lead in times of divisiveness and  struggle.  This means that they should have some flexibility of thought and understanding of what the community wishes.  In terms of their limited majority situation it means that they have to enter into dialogue and compromise with all other members of the parliament to achieve a way forward into a less divisive future.

The tug of war between sides.  Where is love and acceptance?

What is even more farcical is that the elected government, who bleats at every possible moment about the lack of financial stability, is even considering a vote (you do not have to vote vote now) which expends finances that could be better spent on those that are at the lower end of the economic spectrum or sorting our matters of more importance, i.e. health inequality, etc.  The fact that the vote is non-binding is even more farcical.  If the vote is "no", the government has a "mandate" not to change the marriage act, if the vote is "yes" it means that there is a "mandate" to vote in parliament which is 'non binding' and can be either as a conscience or directed vote on party lines.  This is nuts.  It still ends up as a vote in Parliament if it is yes, Why, spend the money, just to ease a conscience on a promise (one of many) made at an election?  Is this good governance?

In terms of the debate around the understanding of "marriage", this becomes even more farcical when you have proponents saying that this is a Christian institution and must uphold to an individual or a denominations interpretation of God and God's intention.  (I am uncertain if I know of anyone who knows the mind of God).  The sacrament of "marriage", as I understand it, the outward expression of the inward grace, is at the point of the freely exchanged vows between the couple in the presence of GOD. (As Christians maybe we can debate this especially as many Christians do not accept marriage as a sacrament.  Only Baptism and Eucharist are sacraments given by Christ.)  This is within the Christian interpretation seen as between a man and a woman.  However, this is the sacrament, the outward expression of an inward grace. "Marriage" as it currently stands is a civil and legal requirement of government which should be looked at from this viewpoint.  The religious view is for those committed to a faith path.  If we want a biblical marriage maybe there is room for a polygamous one?  As Christians we would be hypocritical to deny the legal expression of a person's love for another.  I would prefer to see committed love rather than an increasingly acrimonious statistic on divorce and broken relationship.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Wrestling with the future

Decision points in our lives brings on a tremendous pressure which unbalances our outlook.  We only have to look at the statistics with regards stress which point out that moving house, divorce/break up, death in the family and changing jobs are all high stressors.  These all symbolise struggle in our lives as we give up the old comforts and take on new challenges.  Such challenges face our faith journey as well.  These can be as life changing as those which we undertake in the secular world.  We only have to glimpse at the story of Jacob wrestling with "God" on the edge of the creek, Jabbok (Gen 32.22-31).  It is his determination in the end to hold onto the opponent that brings about the change in name to Israel, one who has contended with God and man (Gen 32.28).

In discerning our path both as individuals and as corporate bodies we have to have a certain amount of perseverance.  It is not an easy matter when we are confronted with change that is or appears to be monumental and life changing.  Jacob uses all his human skills to try to ameliorate his brother's 'perceived' attitude towards his return.  Gifts, the splitting up of his forces, the sending away of his close family, etc.  All the ways in which we to try to fend of disaster in our personal lives.  Finally Jacob is left with no option but to confront head on his own fears and faith during the night hours.  Having reached this stage we are at the bottom of our evasive arsenal.  Often what happens is that we give up the struggle and go about our business without having resolved the issues.  In doing so we allow the same issues to become a continuing part of our lives that nag and disrupt the life that we should be living.

Only when we begin to wrestle and discern the way forward do we find God with us.

In wrestling with God and issues of our faith journey we are confronting our most basic uncertainties.  The areas in our life that we (sometimes unknowingly, sometimes knowingly) hand over using avoidance tactics throughout our lives.  In subjecting ourselves to others and their beliefs we abstain from the struggle as being too hard or as being too life changing and fall back into lives that have stagnated.  The one thing that we cannot avoid is that God calls us on a journey.  The implication of this as all who have been on a journey know, the scenery is constantly changing.  We cannot find ease on a journey until we accept the changes that are taking place around us.  Our faith lives are no less so then the lives that we live on a day to day basis, indeed they are significantly intertwined.  No amount of prevarication will prevent the consequences of delayed decision making on our quality of life.

Seminal events such as Jacob's wrestling, ultimately change us, just as Jacob became Israel and limped, so we too will be changed.  The comforts of yesterday are changed by the difference of today.  Too many of us, on both our life and faith journeys, are complacent and wish for the comfort of familiar things.  Joy comes to us only when we begin to look at new things and new ways.  The most complete people I have been friends with are those that have embraced the chances and changes of life.  Those who have wrestled with God throughout their lives, to find the new life into which we are beckoned over our objections and hesitations.  They are the ones forever seeking new paths to be trodden and renewing their lives as they struggle daily with their faith and what it means in today's world.  Bilbo Baggins was dragged kicking and screaming into an adventure that changed his life.  Can we do anything less?  Only when we struggle do we find the answers that we seek.  The fruit of the tree of knowledge came easily, everything else has been a struggle.