Sunday, 30 December 2018

Clothing for the year

The attraction of the Boxing day sales is often too much for people. They dive in to find new inexpensive luxury clothing that would otherwise not be purchased. The sales are a good time to make these changes, although one wonders if in reality you are getting a bargain or is it that the store is ridding itself of old stock at a healthy markup.. The question is, as we reflect immediately after the frivolities of the season, do we need to find new styles of clothing that we should be wearing as Christians in the coming year? It seems a silly question but what we wear does say a lot about a person. Especially, when we are assessed by others by our outer clothing and how we stack up in a society that is focused on fashion. The writer to the Colossians says "Put on, then, garments that suit God's chosen and beloved people" (Col 3.12),

We occasionally take Paul and St Patrick's stiff armour of God a little too seriously and are caught out of time and place. So, let's take a look at some of the older fashions that we like and exchange them for some newer fashions, which are more attractive. Modern garments are somewhat more flexible, although older styles are still glamourised or over indulged by Christians. The stiff laces and whalebone corsets are often much admired as we focus ourselves on things that cannot change in our eyes or are seen as the traditional manner in which to comport ourselves. The inability to be open to the newness of God's life often renders our attitudes old fashioned and stiff. This does not mean to say that we should never look at old clothing but rather recognise that it is sometimes inappropriate for our closets. However, openness and a free flow is not always appropriate either in clothing. The fit and style needs to go with the circumstances of our lives as Christians and in some senses the basic style should not change but our presentation of them should, so that they are a compliment to the age in which we live.

Are we conscious of what we wear on the outside as Christians?

Perhaps, its because we think that our clothing needs to be cut from truth but actually our clothing should be love that is woven with truth. This gives our clothing a remarkable resilience in the face of abuse. If we prepare our clothing only with truth we are liable to become very stiff, like the breastplate and we get caught out wearing last year's armour. If, we have the main fabric as love then we are well on the way to showing the world how we can pleat it with compassion and hem it with humility. It allows us to be tolerant when others change the design slightly so that they can wear a more practical cloth for the work that they do in the community. This acceptance of the other brings joy into the hearts and minds of those we minister to rather than confronting them with stiffness and formality as we try to develop clothing only made out of our truth.

Of course, the cloth made of love that is threaded with truth is like teflon and kevlar, so that the stains of other's words against us do not penetrate and are easily removed with forgiveness. This clothing is unlike any other that is worn today as many people still wear the garments of hatred and anger such as found in 1 Samuel (2.26). Modern garments are light to wear and enable us to have a spirit of joy and laughter in our hearts. We wash them and care for them as we come into God's presence. We do not have to be brash about it but like Christ we do need to be in communication with God at all times (Lk. 3.49). In away this is what makes our clothing unique because it comes to us free when we are constantly in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to God's presence through prayer, worship and praise..

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The word made flesh

The first chapter of John's Gospel is not something we associate with the joy that permeates Christmas and yet the 'birth narrative' of John is one of the set readings for Christmas day. At midnight we hear the Lukan story, which can also be repeated with slight variation in the morning. (Not to burst a balloon or anything but our interpretations of Luke's story are overlaid with misinformation and cultural bias which often lead us astray). John is forthright in his narrative, if somewhat dense, it is almost as if it comes directly from a Jewish midrashic sensibility that shows the fecundity and possibility that is redolent in the birth of Christ.

It is a narrative of possibility that leads us into a deeper appreciation of the spiritual reality of the incarnation that opens up our imaginative juices to the possibilities that are inherent in God's presence. We can see within its progression an interpretation of the originatory story in Genesis made concrete and human bound allowing us to access the wells of possibility that are present in genesis and the creative moment. The be-coming of God into human form brings forth a hopeful expectancy that is awaited for in creation. The imagery of light and darkness gives us structure to the possibilities of the future. There can be no distinguishing between two things unless there is contrast introduced by the strobe of light reflected outward and into our lives. We cannot imagine, in the wells of darkness, something that is different and hope filled unless there is a contrasting element. For us that element is the incarnation of God in the midst of frailty and suffering.

Light affords us contrast and words afford us community

In John there is an understanding of a reading that is associated with the history of the Jewish people. We can perhaps imagine the author reminding his community, with Christ's non-recognition, the understanding that only the forefathers walked with God whilst now, as a result of fear of God's presence, we need an interface (the Law / Torah) for communication between God and God's people. In seeing the Christ we see God's presence directly once more but are unable to recognise this as a result of our dependence on an interpretative structure such as Scripture. The incarnation thus becomes for us a light to God's presence in humanity brought into being in the meanest of places as we read in the other Gospels. It means that we can once more have direct access as humanity to the hope and love that is God. We no longer require the intermediary but like Abraham we are able to walk with God on a human basis.

This is furthered by the simple understanding that the first thing was the word. This suggests that the first thing in our relationship, as with any relationship, is the ability to communicate. The first word spoken is "Let there be light" (Gen 1.3) the beginning of discernment that allows us to formulate relationship. Words are the things that are required for us to form relationship and harmony whether they are lingual or physical. Words enable us to express love and beauty, faith and praise, happiness and joy, gratefulness and forgiveness. It is in our realisation of God's undying presence incarnate amongst us that enables and participates in the joy of creation, the creation inherent in conversation, partnership and community.

In reflecting on the multitudinal possibilities that comes with the expression of God's word amongst God's creation we can begin to see the possibilities that are created in our lives as we celebrate this day. A celebration that should fill our hearts with the hope expressed in the Christ child and our own lives as we own God's presence as part of our humanity this day.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Pregnant waiting

The imagery of pregnancy (Micah 5.3; Lk. 1.39-45) is one that is filled with hope for a new beginning and for a future that is filled with life. There is no negativity within the image itself. The pain and struggle of the actual birth process is not part of the image and often that pain is fleeting with the passage of time. Like all pain, that is not constant, there is a memory which may be shaded in any direction. However, the joy that is redolent in the image is infectious and brings sighs, memories and a glowing happiness of both the past and the future. It is also an image that brings comfort perhaps as we hark back to a time when the womb surrounded us and protected us from the harsh realities of the world or to the simple comfort of knowing that something loved is growing quietly away from the cold realities of life.

In some respects, this seems all wrong, as the reality appears to be filled with angst around the time of birth. There is much fear and of course pain during the birthing process. On occasion there are challenges that have to faced perhaps around existing medical conditions or the possibility of premature delivery, perhaps even around the possibilities of unknown conditions that are likely to generate hardship and challenges over and above the normal. No matter the final outcome, it is more often then not, joy, love and happiness, which is what we take away from the whole process at the end of the day. Life in some respects can mirror our expectations and our own experiences both the negative and the positive. In facing the coming of the incarnation it is our role to pick up the positive aspects and to discard the negative. In our services and the lives that we share together should be reflections of that never ending joy.

Faith, Joy, Peace all come together with love as we await the incarnation

Mary spontaneously bursts into praise and song when Elizabeth tells of the kick she received from her son as Mary approached (Lk. 1.46-55). A effervescent, bubbling up of response to God's nearness and presence in each others lives. Achieved through an attitude that is firmly set within the confines of God's presence. The one thing that no one can remove from ourselves and can only be determined by the responsive self to any and all situations. Mary chose to celebrate and praise God, Mary chose to be a vessel of God, Mary chose to be joyful in the face of hatred and ostracization. She probably prepared for her visit to Elizabeth by reading the start of 1 Samuel and so as she is greeted, the praise song of Mary pours forth. In approaching God we come with joy in our hearts and praises on our lips.

Does this speak to our situation today? Naturally. In planning for the future we of necessity listen closely and reflect on God's leading. This is where Martha and the other Mary jostle our lives for prominence. The birthing process is painful and on occasion it wants to rush into being while being called to slow down and not be born prematurely. At others there is a need to push forward and not allow ourselves to be retained and held up, which can also cause severe challenges. Yet the whole process is one of joy for the birth of new life and should be approached not with reflections on what was but on what is to come. In newness of life we find changes to our perspective (every child born changes the life of those tasked with caring for the child) this is what we need to open ourselves to and experience God's presence.

In the same manner we  approach the incarnation of our Lord, not with fear and trepidation but with throats sore from the shouts of praise and worship. To make our own decision as to the attitude that we approach God and not be bullied by our past or our present experiences. Just as Mary accepted without complaint and moved into new life with an attitude of joy. The inability to express our joy at God's presence reflects an inability to see the myriad possibilities that new life brings and to turn away from God's love which is always present and waits in pregnant anticipation for its release into our lives as it becomes incarnate in the world.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

God's shalom...looking past war

We have binary vision. Yes, we have two eyes but that is not what I mean. We just think and view things from a binary perspective because this is what we are taught to do from an early stage. Everything must come with an either / or perspective and when we look at bigger picture issues we see it as either this solution or that solution. A classic example at the present, or rather two to ensure we understand what we are looking at. Either: coal and fossil fuels, these are inexpensive and therefore we should use them. It maintains jobs and employment. Don't forget it brings in finances to the few. Or renewable energy sources; there are no jobs in this sector, we cannot maintain the prices at a low level, we cannot reap the financial rewards. (Simplistic I know but the picture is there either coal (inexpensive etc) or renewables (too hard basket etc)). Immigration: Either they are all undesirables, do not belong, are terrorists, deserve to be locked up, do not come in the right way or they are just humans in need, we should find homes for them, they will contribute to the economy, etc (Again simplistic but summarises the either or situation).

Let's now talk about peace. Well we cannot have peace without the cessation of war. Either we have peace or we have war, in other words violence or no violence that is peace. Is it? or can we re-think our way out of the either / or situation? The direction in Philippians is "then the peace of God which is beyond all understanding..." following the understanding that God is near and not to be anxious (Phil. 3.6-7). This seems to me to bring a new meaning to shalom, a meaning that takes us beyond the binary of war and peace. The passage does not retain any sense of violence in the physical but rather harks back to the disintegration of Jacob's family. Just think of the familial troubles that are rooted in not knowing themselves and their own siblings (For more on this read: The Beginning of Desire by AG Zornberg). This then requires us to think a bit more laterally then normal and when we do this we have an entirely new understanding of God's shalom in our midst or the lack thereof. It is precisely because of this re-imagining of peace that we recognise that it is all beyond our understanding if and while we have binary vision.

The re-integration of ourselves brings peace

The direction is Philippians is a personal direction to the recipient "if you...". In other words it us the individual that is targeted not the collective. It is we who need to integrate ourselves into harmony that is the key to a greater peace with the wider community. If we think about this then we can see that this is ultimately the corrective that brings about God's shalom in the world. In our current age more and more of us are suffering from a disintegration of our selves. We are no longer whole. We rise to the least threat to ourselves and create violent solutions for our issues and solvable challenges. We only have to look at the rates of violence against women, children and the marginalised to see how true this is. We need only look at the continual challenges we face with road rage, king hits, etc as a result of a momentary breakdown of our social selves. Our jobs or the lack of jobs; our infantile responses to change climate or otherwise; our disintegration into challenge politics rather than listening and dialogue. All of these things point to our own self disintegration which ultimately leads to challenges at an international scale which results in violence and war i.e. the lack of our own peace and God's shalom.

In approaching the coming of the incarnate one we need to set our minds free of those things that divide us. This is an important aspect of our faith life together for in order for us to form a harmonious community we need to look to our own harmony. It is our shattered lives that are the root of disharmony and we cannot place the blame solely on the other. If we are to be light bringers we are also bringers of peace or God's shalom but we ourselves must be prepared to re-integrate ourselves into wholeness in the presence of God. We will continue to bear shattered lives if we do not look to ourselves for re-integration into the story of faith in our own lives before we bring the light of God's countenance into the lives of those around us.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Beginnings

Every story has a beginning, our life story, our faith story, our institution's story, etc. The story of the Christian faith journey also has a beginning, no not the start of creation, nor the start of the Covenant but rather the start of our baptism. The idea of an initiation rite and the acceptance of a person into a "club", "faith", life journey is as old as humankind. It begins with a call, a call that is responded to in the deepest parts of our hearts that requires a response. Often the first step of that response is taken for us by the initiator of that call and those who are older (perhaps wiser) than ourselves. In responding to that call we are responding to a blessing from whom the call originated, a blessing that for us as Christians calls us into a world that praises those who fill themselves with their own self worth so that we may convey love and humility.

The start of anything is always filled with wonder as we begin a new beginning. There is no difference in the joy and wonder and love that comes as a young person takes these first steps at the behest of their parents and godparents. In love they are called to be at the start of a faith life, this is a beginning that can lead anywhere. Just as there can be disbelief which ends with apparent disaster only to be sung out in worship and praise as what is forecast comes into being (Lk 1.68-79). We cannot see into every child's future as they are brought to the font of life through baptism. However, we can rejoice and praise God for the blessings that are showered on those who have heard God's call on their child's life. In celebration we testify to God's love in the presence of family and friends we do not allow our secular nature to overcome us so that we can brag at our collective experience.

To begin we have to start. All life begins at some point.

We move into our Christian faith journey by showing God's love to the world around us as God has shown love towards us. It is not our lives that matter it is the life of Christ that is on display and the glorification of Christ in our lives that is a celebratory event for all. We are given permission to display God's love to the world. It is not as if we are being guided and directed every step of the way, it is rather that we are given permission to be compassionate, to show love and to become a blessing to others by doing so. Only when we allow ourselves to become as Christ to the world does the world become filled with the joy and love of God's presence. It is our decision, just as it was Adam's, Eve's and all of those who have been before us. What happens when we treat God's presence as conventional orders, you must do this, you cannot do that is that we twist those things to become beneficial to our own way of thinking not towards God's presence. It creates power for us rather than the freedom that Love brings.

If we look at God's covenant it is a covenant of love not of legality. We are asked to look at what God has said and use our minds not to blindly follow but to open our eyes in love and show others the way. The shepherd leads from the rear by prompting the sheep and keeping an oversight on the whole to ensure the wayward follow the true leader who knows where sustenance is found. We must decide to follow the example of Christ or be curtailed by the legalities of our own power. It is love that brings us closer to each other and begins the stories of our lives. It is love that calls us to lead the communities in which we live and work not whether we have power, authority or legality to berate others with. In approaching the incarnation we approach the embodiment of love within ourselves as we reach into the hearts of those around us to sustain the community that we build together. So let us wonder together in praise of God as we begin again our lives showing God to the world by our wishes not by someones command.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Looking forward...Looking back

Today is the start of the new year for those who involve themselves with the liturgical church. The start of the year four Sundays away from Christmas. A time when we need to start looking forward into a new year of Christ's revelation and looking back to determine what we missed when Christ came past. The readings for this Sunday reflect somewhat this looking forward looking back. We look back as we turn to Jeremiah the prophet of lament (33.14-16). We look forward towards an unimaginable future with Christ (Lk 21.25-38).

Looking forward looks too much like the rear view unless we have faith

The problem is or rather the challenge is that when we are creative in our looking forward looking back we need to ensure that we are not captured by the one or the other. In looking back we may find ourselves looking into the face of Medusa and become paralysed so that we cannot turn towards the future but remain constantly looking back petrified in reminiscence. In looking to the future the same challenge presents itself but more uniquely as it turns us back to the past because of our fear of God's purposes in our future. We are once again petrified because of our uncertainty as to the future with an inability to place our faith in God's presence but rely solely on our own contrivances. The purpose of looking back is to understand where God has been and to remind ourselves that it is we who have missed the opportunities that God presents. Sometimes it is in our petrified fear that we cannot grasp what God calls us to and so we refuse the joy that would come in God's presence.

The missed opportunities that we need to look for are those times when we did not give joy for others to receive. When we were to wrapped up in our own miseries that we were unable to spend a few minutes with an other to perceive their pain and walk along beside them. How often have we failed to ask the question, so much so that we have to have a day dedicated to it, "Are you OK?". How often have we been a visible face of Christ to those in pain and we have missed the opportunity of receiving the joy that comes when Christ's love is expressed in the lives of another person? As the writer to the Thessalonians puts it "It is the breath of life to us" (1 Thess. 3.8), for this is where the joy is found. This seems awfully negative but when we look to the past it is to discover the missed opportunities so that we can ensure that we do not repeat them because if we do, then yes it is joyless, yes, it is depressing and yes, it is petrifying for we are not growing in faith, in love and in joy.

What then of the future? Is it as depressing as we believe or have we the ability to rise to greet Christ and find the joy of God's presence? Christ's apocalyptic words do not appear to be encouraging (Lk 21.25-36). Yet, the warnings are warnings of the past for if we recognise those moments that we have just relived we will have the opportunities of sacrificing ourselves for the other and find Christ's presence. It is only when we do not learn that the effects of dissolution and disappointment begin to effect all that we do. We look to the future with faith, constantly in prayer and recognising God's presence around us. We strive for the community to which we belong and sacrifice our own needs for the needs of the other. We refuse the enjoyments that we are used to and find ourselves with the joy of Christ as we minister and labour for the justice and peace to bring a community out of despair into Joy. We are the harbingers of Joy as Christ becomes manifest in the incarnation but only if we ourselves become joy bringers.

I look forward with faith, knowing God's presence in my life. I rely on God's guidance in the face of tragedy and I try to bring that faith into being as I minister to family, and community, friends and strangers. Only when we truly believe these statements, only when we manifest them to the greatest of our ability, only when we live as Christ will we begin to bring the changes that God demands of all God's people.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Celebrating the tangible over the intangible

In the very recent past the Australian public has followed with eager anticipation the doings of the young royals. Indeed if you have a news feed going I am fairly certain that almost every other piece under entertainment or social has a mention of royalty. We celebrate their existence, we speculate on their thoughts , we follow their fashion sense (or lack thereof), etc. That is even if we are not royal watchers, those whose every hour is intimately spent discovering what the royals are doing. Yet when it comes to our faith we need to be pc around the words we use, kings, princes, etc are non pc rather we must use words such as "Reign". Yes, this is correct when we refer to the basiliea but when we turn this around in our liturgy we are denying ourselves a purpose.

The purpose of celebration at the end of the year is to prepare for the coming of Christ and celebrate Christ's rule of our hearts. The last Sunday in the church's calendar has been known as "Christ the King" but we are now encouraged to deny the "king" and think of the "reign". Mayhap something to do with the concept of male authoritative figures. Hang on let us think this one a little deeper, the apocalyptic readings (Dan 7.9-10) and the acknowledgement of Christ at the end of the age in John's apocalypse (Revelation 1.8) point to male figures. Yes, perhaps it comes from a male dominated society, but hey Prince Harry is male. For us we celebrate Christ who was male as the authority over our lives. What is our purpose today if not a celebration of authority and our love of God's presence in the form of that authority? Even Christ in front of Pilate recognises the authority figure that the King reveals (Jn 18.33-37) even if it is a word in Pilates thoughts. This is the crux of Christ's thought here - the truth that is revealed in our hearts. We need to follow a tangible we cannot celebrate the intangible, at least very few of us can. What do I mean? Well a reign is a bit of a difficult concept to celebrate, unless the monarch is tangibly present, and a reign which is future based even more so.

The King we celebrate is on the margins in love 
(Icon of Christ on the margins, Br Robert Lentz OFM)

There is like all things a danger present as we open ourselves up to the truth of worship and the presence of God's Spirit as we celebrate the tangible presence of Christ our king, our Lord and our master. The danger is political as a celebration of our King is a political event and if we do not recognise the political we will allow ourselves to defer into what is pc rather than what is true. In celebrating the King we are sending a message to the powers of modern authority that we will be counter their rule of selfish reward and promote the rule of justice and relational love between all peoples. Unlike the leaders of nations those that follow and worship Christ do not rule by or celebrate kingly power as that is not what we celebrate but by granting respect to others and building the works of love to bring harmony and community into the world around us rather than division and anger. This is power but the power of love which we celebrate as personified by Christ our King. IF we see beyond the personalised power of the King we see into the hearts and minds of those who form relationship in love.

A further danger for those who follow Christ is that in misleading ourselves by celebrating Christ's reign (that is not yet) we are leaving ourselves open to a false high. Just like the wild celebrations of Saturnalia and the overpowering worship present in some Charismatic churches the experience becomes the need not the worship of God. In worshipping God we should be becoming more Christlike so that we can worship our King. This worship is not the high of the Saturnalia or the overload of the Charismatic but the joy that comes with knowing Christ is present. Only when we understand our own standing with God do we come to terms with the joy of worship in God's present that should be the celebration at the end of each year. We give thanks to God for God's presence in our lives. We give thanks to God for guiding and directing our lives so that we can bring joy, justice, peace and love into the hearts of our community. Only when we taste the joy of celebrating our King and Lord do we understand the gravitas of God's presence in our lives. It is this celebration of God's presence that should fill us with joy at this time of year. For in celebration we look forward to the incarnation.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Firm and steadfast...wasted hope

In today's age we are fully aware of the diminishing returns that are found in the pews. Not only are numbers falling drastically but when they do it is always the leaders responsibility and not the person who follows Christ. It is as if we void the responsibilities that are placed on us at baptism and confirmation or its equivalent in the denominations around us. We believe in Christ that is all there is to it, we do not have to do anything; it is the responsibility of others in faith to take that responsibility and lead us out of our present distress. At this time of year and as we approach the coming of Christ we actually need to face up to our own faith journey and the realities that this places on our selves as we bring Christ into the lives of those around us. We need to remember that it is not our personal tastes that are important but rather the tenants of our faith; love of neighbour and love of God. This love is overwhelming as it is for someone other then our own selves.

The author of the Hebrews text lays it out quite succinctly (Heb. 10. 23-25). It is our joint responsibility if we are "firm and unswerving in our faith" but we are so unaware of each other that this becomes an impossibility. The times have changed from when these words were written but if the author was having trouble then with people unable to come to worship then it does not bode well for us, unless we take these words seriously (Heb 10.24-25). We are all aware of the concerted programmes such as "Back to Church Sunday" or "bring a Friend to Church Sunday", which are there to assist faith groups to bring recalcitrant and ex-church goers as well as a few non-churched into pews (hardly ever to be seen again). Is this the reality that Christ dreams of outside the Temple (Mk 13.1-11)? or is it something profounder, something more tangible in the hearts of those who follow God? Christ speaks of persecution, of destruction, of devastation in the presence of the Temple, is this perhaps what we see happening in these programmes to sustain our lowering viability?  The destruction of our own faith, the persecution of what we stand for and thus our shame for bending away from it, and denying our journey.

Do we look to far in advance and not acknowledge our journey in faith?

The sins of the past have a habit of catching up to us especially when we align ourselves with a faith journey that is about justice, love and humility. These are goals which we find so hard to maintain for ourselves let alone the world around us. These are the virtues that are on display in the story of Hannah (1 Sam 1.4-20) which she proclaims in the inspiration for the more famous Magnificat. A song that we need to align ourselves to in all that we do so that when we have the courage and fortitude of our faith convictions we can bring others into God's light and love in such a manner that we can in all honesty of life and action praise God in the continuing and ongoing company of strangers. To bring the other closer to God through all that we espouse and hope in this is the goal and challenge of our life together.  Yet it is not smooth sailing it is not filled with joy. If we just focus on Hannah for a little while longer we remember that she is the one that is bullied and has suffered. She is the one that is condemned for her faith in God's presence, even Eli has a problem, thinking it is drink not faith.

This soul wrenching journey is what it means to be baptised and each time we come to worship we need to affirm our faith in God. We need to remind ourselves each and every week as we come to the table of Christ's offering that it was offered for us and we are committing ourselves once more for our faith. We need to bring others with us on our journey to show Christ in our worship. This is not something that we wish to hear, we want to hear the beauty, the hope, the love but unless we are able to see that in the other there will be no stories. Unless we ourselves can see the hope of faith in the other, the love that shines out of the eyes of the stranger and the hope that is found in the despair of the disenfranchised we will not find those things for ourselves. God reverses all our expectations.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Widow's might

The year's roll round one after the other and history is constantly being written by those who survive the turmoils of everyday life. One of the continuing anchors of our yearly round is the knowledge that we will celebrate the heroes and the fallen in silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Indeed in Australia we have two days for this act of remembrance, yes each has a slightly different theme but each points to and remembers a past that is described by the winners. I do not in anyway demean or dis-honour those who have fought and died in violence that sundered countries and indeed the world. Yet, as a Christian I must ask myself a simple question, which I have on a number of public occasions, If Christ died in violence for us to bring God's kingdom and God's peace, why do we continually remember the violent sacrifices on the war zones of the world and not the life of peace? A simple question which is yet to be answered.

Is it the sea of blood or is it the widow's might that we need to remember?

The Christian call has always been to care for the widow and the orphan, those who have been disenfranchised through violence and death. Ruth the widow and her daughter Naomi, a widow, both struggle (Ruth 1-4) until the justice of the gate is administered and they are brought once more into the community (Ruth 4). Our focus here is on the justice that is meted out to the two of them not on the misfortunes of the past, not on death per se but on life. The injustices of the past are remedied by looking past the forming history towards a future that is calling in justice and peace. Christ's observations regarding the narrow focus of the ruling caste who bring about the injustice that is seen in the widow (Mk. 12.38-44) remind us again of where our focus should be. Injustice, because in the life of the world it is the widow who should be the focus of the rulers not the insistence on the finances of the Kingdom. The mite that she gives is her food and ability to live which she should be receiving from the wealth of the Temple. Yet, it is her might and the might of the widows Ruth and Naomi that are examples for our future not the disasters that created the situations. It is their perseverance and good will that is remembered in history. It is there courage and sacrifice that becomes our guide into the future as we celebrate God's presence in our lives.

The reason for remembrance day, "lest we forget", is forgotten in the triviality of the spectacle; for we have in reality forgotten. The day has become a ritual of pride in service and sacrifice occurring in zones of violence that are not diminished but rather re-created every generation. Korea, Vietnam, Rwanda, the Balkans, the Falklands, Syria, Iraq...and so on it goes. Let alone, Nauru, Border walls, etc. The creation of more widows and more orphans rather than the peace that God brings. In our remembrance, "lest we forget", we are reminded of the perseverance of the widows in adversity, the damage to the orphans and the re-living of the violence within our own communities as a result of the lack that we have in showing God's love to the other. It is these forgotten "heroes" that we need to remember and care for in our remembrances of violence and not the heroes of violence perpetrated in history told by those who survived. Yes, remember their sacrifice but also, "lest we forget", the Christian message that is to bring peace to the consequential survivors who suffer as a result of our neglect in remembering the message of peace.

Christ overturns the traditions of power, pride and honour that lead to violence to bring dialogue, peace and service that lead to a better life and community. Everything Christ does overturns the ruling histories of the age by imposing a different perspective that lowers the self to humility that seeks friendship and not authority. Just as Naomi, the real hero of Ruth, seeks to accompany her friend and mother towards an unknown future that reveals her strength and might we to need to seek the other in friendship and service to build the trust that is embodied in community.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The saints rejoice while we fear death

The gloom and doom brigade is present all over the world. The whiners who can find nothing right unless they look to the past. "The church is dying". "Bring back the joy we used to have." "We used to be filled with joy. We are no longer". All to often familiar words from the mouths of congregants in many parishes and faith centres as they struggle with falling attendance and a lack of financial wherewithal. A need to look to new celebrations and old sources of joy fail to enliven tired and old people with a lack of their own faith in God's presence. It is always a job for someone else, as if it is an SEP (someone else's problem, a well known Douglas Adams field effect) the 'leadership' or the 'boss', to lead like Moses towards a promised land flowing with milk and honey. But even that community had their golden calf and failed to live up to the promise until they understood the fact that God was with them. At the beginning of November every year we celebrate the 'Saints' and 'All Souls' who have gone before. In doing so we glorify and remember their deeds as we have them in the hagiographies and histories that are extant. We celebrate their lives and all that they did but like all good histories that are written, in the end, by the survivors, remembrance is selective. In creating this joy and this celebration without understanding the fullness of each life we fall into a trap. This trap is one that says "The past was always bright and filled with joy."

Only when we rip away the bindings of the old life do we find the new life in Christ

Not all of those that we celebrate in November had lives that were filled with joy every single moment as we seem to think. They all struggled and had crises of faith. Many faced horrendous deaths, just think of Cecilia who apparently continued to survive after being bashed, cut with blades and unsuccessfully had her head chopped off (I think three times). In fact looking at the Saints that we celebrate it is their deaths that are remarkable for the cruelty imposed or the poverty in which they died. Yet, this was not what they feared. Death was not something that they were terrified of, perhaps the means but not the end, for they had a strong understanding of Christ in their lives and God's presence surrounding them. It is this that we celebrate each year. The barbarity of their deaths is in complete contrast to their acceptance of death in Christ. The author of the Wisdom of Solomon puts it neatly "in the sight of men (sic) they may suffer punishment, (but) they have a sure hope of immortality...Those who put their trust in him will understand that he is true" (Wisdom 3.1-9). It is in this hope that we place ourselves in Christ irrespective of our hopes and dreams for only then will we see the end of death as God dwells with(in) us (Rev 21.3-4).

It is in death on the cross and in the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11.32-44) that we become aware of the glory of God. Mary weeps and rails about what could have been (the past) she does not see the future in Christ's presence. Unlike Martha, who is specifically asked about the Messiah, Mary is trapped within the past and cannot or refuses to see past this moment when Jesus could have saved her beloved brother. Christ must reveal the future as being physically present in Lazarus' return from the tomb, shambling and bound to be freed to new life from the trappings of the old. In celebrating the saints we must not lose sight of both life and death for we cannot have the one without the other. In the struggle to bring forth new life we need to remind ourselves that this only occurs when we are prepared to accept death and turn our attention to a future which calls us into the present. This is sacrifice, just as the Saints have sacrificed their lives for new life in the propagation of the gospel so must we understand that we are called to live as the saints of the present day.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The categorisation of blindness

Blindness is often associated in the Gospels with the inability to perceive Christ and when the blindness is alleviated the person often either praises God or follows Christ (Mark 10.46-52). It is quite useful to use this category, without being detrimental to those with poor vision, as we look at ourselves and our lives in Christ. The very first thing that we actually need to do is admit our blindness. What! I am not blind. Well as soon as we open our mouths and state this it is obvious that we are. We are all well aware that for many things the first response is denial and once we have denied we have actually admitted that we have the issue, challenge, etc. It is only when we are honest with ourselves about our own perceptions and our own knowledge can we begin to fashion a comprehensive plan of action that enables ourselves and those around us to come into the light and see for the first time. Our challenge then is to freely admit that we are blind and need God's grace to heal our blindness and lead us into a new world; a world that God has deemed ours.

At the beginning of Job's trials we can see that he was blind to the truth and yet held on to his faith. At the end Job's eyes are opened to the truth and sees how his faith has assisted him in his trials (Job 42.1-6). It is only when Job confronts and is confronted by God's presence does he realise the truth of his faith. It is only when we allow ourselves to confront God and come into Christ's presence are we able to understand the truth and how this affects our faith. We can so easily give up; we can so easily give in; we can so easily rest in the lies that surround our everyday lives. These are the friends that console us on our journey, these are the friends that lead us away from our journey, these our the friends that lend their worldly wisdom to our trials with God. We bitch and moan at every turn of our lives because things are not how they should be. Yet, if we hold to the path that God has set we are able to overcome so much, just like Job, and we are able to forgive so much just like Job (42.9-10). In doing so we are given so much by God's grace who has asked so little of ourselves.

Have you chosen your attitude towards Christ?

Yet, our attitude is one of the age, the miracle of the secular age is ours to play with and to re-invent our lives forgetting the miracle that is God's grace promised to us forever. Ours is not the attitude of thanksgiving it is the attitude that it belongs to us; the attitude of the age. If you cannot pay your way in today's society you are nobody. Well, this is where we are asked for our sacrifice if we want what we have to continue. Only when we begin to understand the sacrifice that God has given will we begin to appreciate our need to sacrifice ourselves fully and totally to God's purposes. We find it excessively hard to speak of God in our lives just as Job does; we find it excessively hard to make a sacrifice of time, talent and tarnished gold to fulfil God's purposes in today's world.

What does it take to change our hearts from stone to flesh that holds love of the other above all? What does it do to remove our own parochial blindness to see Christ in our neighbour and enable ourselves to sacrifice our lives to God? It takes the one thing that we control ourselves. The one thing that nobody can take from us no matter what they do to us. We need to approach life with one thing knowing that it cannot be changed irrespective of what is thrown our way. It takes us acknowledging and owning the attitude that says the God is in my heart and I find joy in God's presence. It takes us changing our hard attitudes to each other and to the other from the blankness of granite to an attitude that encompasses everyone with the softness of a lovers embrace. It is ours to undertake, it is ours to do, it ours to control. Once we have changed our attitude we have begun the process of removing the blindness that we all suffer from, the blindness that allows us to say "we are not blind."


Sunday, 21 October 2018

Joy or happiness

One is permanent and is found even in the depths of despair. The other is fleeting and is found wherever one can for a moment. God responds to Job by asking him questions not through levity and laughter but questions that are fundamental to our understanding of God's presence and joy in our lives (Job 38.1-7). Even when we are in our deepest depression, when all the world around us abounds in horror we can and do experience the joy that is God's presence in our hearts. It overcomes our deepest dread and our inability to give of ourselves to God in the most meaningful and sacrificial way that we can. Whilst it is an emotion that is deeper even than happiness it is without doubt an emotion that is linked to our attitudes and our hearts.

Happiness is an emotion that is available to us at the most trivial level. It is levity and laughter that is generated by others around us. We chase happiness the same way we chase our standing in society. We want only the best so that we can be happy. We want our friends around us so that we can enjoy the moment and be happy. All of these things are ephemeral and fleeting in our lives. We will find this feeling and often we are so obsessed with our need for happiness in our lives that we forget that it comes from outside not from inside. Just like a drug that gives us a momentary high. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being happy, of course we should achieve happiness in our lives. We do however need to realise that happiness is fleeting and can easily be destroyed. It is something that others can assist ourselves in achieving or destroying through their attitudes and actions. Whilst happiness will lead us into joy, joy is much more than the fleeting insubstantialness of happiness.

Only when we accept ourselves at the deepest level do we find joy

Joy does not come through the antics of others. Joy is generated in the heart that is willing to sacrifice itself for others so that others may come to find joy in their hearts no matter the circumstances of their lives. It is a much deeper emotion and one that is understood through our own attitudes rather than through the attitudes of others. It is a fundamental change in our hearts so that we too may experience the suffering others feel to bring joy and love into the hearts of the other. Christ understands this when he his requested by the Sons of Zebedee to bring them happiness by elevating their status (Mk 10.35-37). The sons of Zebedee are looking for temporal happiness they are not looking for the deep joy that comes with the presence of Christ in our hearts.

This deep joy is also alluded to in the Hebrew scriptures and in the epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 1.1-10). The greatest joy to be found is in the sacrifice of the Priest Melchizedek, thought to be the son of Moses. It is not a simple sacrifice but a sacrifice of dedication to God beyond everything. It is our sacrifice when we allow ourselves to go the extra mile and not hold back our hearts and our efforts. It is Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross to grant us the grace of God's presence and salvation. If we are to find joy we need to adjust our attitude towards the other and not towards ourselves. If we are looking for Joy because we have lost it we are looking for the ephemeral happiness of the everyday rather than the deep joy of God's presence. It is our attitude towards each and every person who build up the community of Christ that expresses joy in the midst of disaster or destroys its presence. God asks us at our baptism and confirmation to sacrifice ourselves totally. It is only when we do this on a daily basis that we begin to experience the true joy which is God's presence in our lives.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

The extent of faith

One of the ongoing words that I often speak about is "commitment". In today's society this word surfaces almost daily within the faith community usually accompanied by words that are negative, i.e. "not", "fails". "under", etc. Yet no matter what portion of the scriptures we read the word comes up time and again in a positive light. Often associated with praise or at least as an example for those that are hearing, seeing the story develop around them. Mark's gospel is graphic and forms a delightful picture, no matter how we interpret its origins (Mk 10.25), on the need for us to be committed. However, the wider passage that this small sentence is embedded in is so full of our need to ensure that we are fully committed to our faith and its journey in our lives (Mk 10.17-31). If we still think that this is a passage that holds up only on its own then we need to look further to see that there are a number of texts that speak to this commitment in faith (Job 23.1-9; Heb 4.12-16).

A small total commitment means that we share the greatness of faith

The commitment we make is a commitment from baptism onwards, it is not one off, it is persistent throughout time as we grapple with our own faith journey. There are times when we are right on the edge such as portrayed in the passage from Job there are others which are not quite so knife edged and yet we fall back from that full commitment that we make within the promises of baptism. In embracing our faith journey, irrespective of what that may look like, whether it is enjoying the presence of the Spirit and singing with manic delight or sitting quietly contemplating God's presence it requires a total commitment to our life in the journey towards the Christic indwelling in our hearts. This is not a simple commitment to say a date. The whole provision of our faith is a journey towards God and a movement towards becoming Christlike. For Job this is the culmination of his faith to speak to God and demand answers of the most puzzling questions that we can think of.

It is also a commitment that is beyond the petty. We can quite easily commit to one thing and at the end of the day say well done we have achieved the goal through our single commitment. However when we are talking about our own journey in faith this a a work of a lifetime not a single moment. It is a total culmination of the whole of life rather than a small piece of life. It does not discriminate on who we are but is totally inclusive of all believers. It is this wholeness that makes the faith journey something to undertake for our selves and our community. It is simple, we do not have to undertake a journey, we do not have to undertake a fast, we do not have to undertake any of these things. All we have to do is to ensure that our whole life is part and parcel of God. That means that no matter how rich or how poor in financial, time, or even talents we place everything to the fore for God's use. Our commitment must be such that not one thing is left to the vagary of chance but our whole life is placed on the line. A commitment such as this is seen in people like Theresa of Calcutta and the other saints. This is what makes them saints.

We are not loose change people when it comes to our giving. We should not be the type of person that gives out of the loose change that they find in their pockets. In other words we do not give to our faith the small amount of time we have spare between our round of golf and the family dinner party. Our commitment in faith must be greater than this for it to achieve the desires of our hearts for the community of God. It is only by committing our greater resources and only leaving the change for ourselves that we are able to achieve that which God desires.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Complaints - The Good and the Bad

Have we learnt anything over the past 2000 years or more? Probably not, even if we are meant to learn from history. Job was and is held up as a person of supreme faith within his community (Job 2.1-10) and yet as a result of that faith appears to have everything go wrong. On the face of it we are always confronted with some form of disaster or another and are asked to overcome it in some way through our faith. The disaster may be a natural one such as the recent earthquakes in the Indonesian peninsula or the threat of extreme weather events. It may on the other hand be a change in our lives that has upset our equilibrium or it may be that our faith community is in the throes of struggle in an unending series of setbacks. Consider our response in each of these cases and any other that we may confront. We actually have a series of decisions that we personally have to make and these decisions impact on our lives and the lives of the community that we belong to.

What do you see? Despair, hope or picture

Response: Positive energy. In the midst of doubt when disaster strikes it is possible to find a path which consumes us with positive energy. Such a path is one that is generated by God's presence encouraging us to not only give of ourselves in time and expertise but also to give of ourselves to the greatest possible sense. This is the path of Job; the path of integrity to our faith and to our baptismal vows. It is a remembrance that irrespective of the good and the bad we are committed to the presence of God in our lives. We give thanks to this presence by in turn, dedicating our lives to the presence of Christ. This means that we give fully of ourselves in everything to our faith our work, our time, our finances, our lives, etc. It is not a part time commitment that is only as deep as our interest in the present time. It means that if we have committed to giving 100% of ourselves to God then we can not and should not fall away from that commitment. Often when we financially or time commit ourselves we often vary our commitment depending on our own circumstances in the world. Yet, God commits 100% of God to ourselves irrespective of the circumstances. Can we not do the same in our own faith commitments? If we say we will commit time to our faith can we not continue this no matter the circumstances or is our commitment to our faith journey but a move towards the supermarket? This is the hope seen in Job's response; the hope that is embedded in the shema. If we lose this, we just trash that which we do not use and move on to some other thing that becomes important to us allowing our faith to slowly become beached in the narrow shallows of some forgotten creek.

Response: Leave everything as it is. This is a very Australian way of looking at life. She'll be right mate, just leave it be everything will turn out ok. It has worked in the past it is guaranteed to work in the future. God does not give us the opportunity to grow God just allows us to be. We can keep on repeating and repeating the mistakes of the past and not worry because God will keep it going. Yet, God is the God of change and metamorphoses. God continually draws us forward so that we can willingly follow as children follow their inquisitiveness to discover the next thing in their growth. Just like children we are encouraged to explore the depths and heights not just sit and do nothing whilst surrounded by possibility. Christ blesses the children (Mk 10.13-16), not in indolence but in activity. In exploring the children invest themselves in the future so we to as members of Christ body, as children of God, need to invest ourselves in our faith journey and those instruments that assist us to grow. We cannot just leave things be but rather invest time, money and work into our tools and places that help us to look to God.

Response: Give up. This for some is the natural response. To lie down and roll over so that nothing bad will happen. For us as people of faith to do this means that we give up our response at baptism to Christ. We declare that every single vow or promise that we have made is void. This means even those promises that appear to be secular in nature. We give ourselves up to the void of depression and an endless cycle of grief and sadness. We all know of someone or some structure that has appeared to give up. Job in his response to disaster is also tempted by his wife to just give up (Job 2.9). This can never be our response as people of faith rather like Job we need to respond with an understanding that all things are possible even recovery in the deepest of disasters.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Angelic hosts celebrating

The apocalyptic visions that come out of the scriptures can be somewhat overpowering and leave the modern person with a question "What on earth were these people smoking?" to give them such stupendous visions (Ezekiel 1.4-12; Rev. 12.7-12; Dan 7.9-10, 13-14). Most likely younger generations may want to find a similar experience through the use of what we now fear synthetic and man made drugs. Some may even be driven towards more natural substances such as marijuana, peyote, etc. All of these natural substances have cropped up in religious induced ecstasies of one sort or another through out history. So the question with regards the visions of the scriptures is not such a poor one after all. Can we afford to dismiss these as the ravings of a drug induced mind or are they something that we need to pay attention to and celebrate?

In esoteric literature through out the Western world and indeed with variations through out the world there is an understanding of the fight against the good and the evil. Even when we look at books that are grounded in fiction many of them that deal with the esoteric borrow and expand on this suppressed mythos. We can perhaps see it in the Star Wars franchise or even in the books of people such as Katherine Kurtz  and others. The whole perspective is shifted into a glorious technicolor vision of the unending battle that we as humans participate in at one level or another. In the scriptures it is the glorified Son of Man who is the hero or the Archangel Michael and his angelic host who is celebrated in the Church's calendar. In typifying the hero we are able to raise our hopes towards the eradication of evil and evil intent within our lives. Our goal is not apocalyptic destruction of the earth but rather the apocalyptic destruction of evil and its consequences. We are shown the archetype in the lost heroes of mythology and cinematic glory but it is we who need to personify that archetype in the conduct of our lives.

In the absence of God we descend into instant gratification and chaos

What we term evil / corruption etc. is our understanding of how we should behave towards others. Christ is our path towards refining our own lives to live them in harmony with the understanding of good and evil. The rampage of  "evil" is allowed because we enable it in the way we live our lives in jealousy, hatred, etc. The visions that we read of in the scriptures is the undoing of this thinking. Their apocalyptic nature is a result of the apocalyptic devastation that occurs when we turn away from these darker aspects of our own lives. The explosion of emotion and turmoil that results in our lives as we turn towards or away from the darker aspects is enormous and impacts on the lives of those around us. As Christ followers we need to become aware of the enormous positive backlash that comes when a person changes their outlook from a negative one to a positive one. It is almost as if we are always on the search for the opposite and celebrate that each day. Our news headlines and our social media are always concerned about the negative not the positive.

Our lives should be like the prophets of old who had these visions. They took them as signs of the positive involvement of God in our midst. When the youth and not so young turn to the psychedelic dreams of synthetic drugs they close their minds to the reality of God's blessedness in their lives. In our chasing of the new or the vibrant in modern society we encourage others to devolve into our cultures happiness pill rather than to seek the glory of God. We celebrate Michael and the archetypal angelic host as they overcome the temptations to follow the short term highs of mortal synthetic hope for the longer term and greater high of God's presence in our lives. It is not the quick release but the longer effervescence of the Spirit's presence. This is more work for greater gain rather than the modern quick fix for an immediate but short high. Only when we realise that it is through constant contact with God that we find our greatest delights will we be able to put aside our short term solutions for a long term challenge.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Stop...Pray...Think...Speak

How many people have we, each of us, hurt with the use of our tongues? Speech as the letter to James is extraordinarily clear about, can so easily harm our neighbours (James 3.1-12). We react with a verbalisation quicker than we can process the effect our words will have on those around us. I have spent a greater portion of my life being shown the error of my ways for it is not only what we say but it is also the tone in which we say it or the attitude in which we deliver it or the silent communication that attends it. I spend a whole session with prospective couples prior to their marriage delving into this aspect of a true partnership Communication upsets whilst sometimes due to an obvious irresponsible word is more often than not a result of our inability to understand the effects of all our other communications have on the words we use.

Whilst James rightly spends time on the role of the spoken word, there are other dimensions of communication that affects what we say that need to be seriously considered. Proverbs can be seen as being rather misogynistic there is at the end of the book some valued words that need to be attended to not only, as implied by the text, by women but also by everyone without exception (Prov. 31.26, 30). We concentrate very hard on an acknowledge our skills in the verbal arena. Thus, when Proverbs praises the wife who opens her mouth to speak wisdom this should be our goal as well. Yet if we do utter wisdom we sometimes utter it in a manner that is unbecoming of the God we hold sacred. We use our ability to shower scorn on others by changing our tone and our non verbal communications so that the good words we speak become the words of destruction. Yes, we need control of what we say but we also need control of how we say it. This is the true measure of wisdom in our language and our lives.

It is not only our tongue that becomes overheated

In our speech we tend to forget that we have other ways of communicating and more often than not it is our non-verbal communications that constantly create the challenges that we find in life. How many times have I wonder, we heard the cliche from an grieved person "I didn't say anything wrong". We scratch our heads and nod wisely when we actually hear the words agreeing that yes they did not say anything wrong. The issue is in how or in what manner that they stated the innocuous words. We can say I love you in so many different ways that some are loving and others convey our utter distaste. Children say what they mean without any form of or degree of attitudinal change as this is a learnt behaviour. Sometimes the learning is unconscious as this is how they obtained what they wanted and were not chastised as a youngster. However, when we begin to acknowledge that we need to be aware of non verbal communication we can begin to correct our own behaviours as well as those around us. We need to mirror the attitude of the young child with their innocence rather than manipulate to obtain what we want through tone, and misplaced attitudes.

In participating in an act of communication we need to be aware that all our ways of conveying information are open to abuse. We just need to look at the Evangelical Christian voice as they criticise the Graham dynasty to see how easy gaffes create issues. In receiving others as a young child we welcome the unconditional love which is God's and begin to convey it to those in our community, we begin to prove our words by the wisdom and action of our hearts. It is not just the sleight of hand produced by our tongues. In controlling our communication we are more able to convey God's love and the Christ that lives within us.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Wisdom in applying faith

There is something to be said about not mixing politics and religion but there is also something to understand about this statement. In suggesting that we must not mix politics and religion it says nothing about mixing politics and faith. These two are integrally entwined and cannot be divided as the one informs the other and without it there is little wisdom in politics. Most recently this debate in my mind has been sparked by our readings and by an article referring to Archbishop Justin's speech regarding economic policy. If we are to act in the community to bring God's presence closer to those around us we need to be aware of our own faith and how it interacts with our politics.

Our faith should by its very presence in our lives guide our decisions. Politics is about making decisions that affect the community. If we are to utilise our faith in works that enable God's presence then we must operate at the political level. However, there are an infinite variety of ways that this can take place and the choice of our intervention must conform with the faith that we hold. We can see this taking shape in the discourse outside Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8.27-38). Peter jumps in immediately following his announcement and belief in Christ. His faith is right but his actions that follow are wrong as they are politically motivated but do not conform with the faith he has just announced. It was his own agenda that was being followed or his political agenda and not his faith. The two must marry up in a complete conjugal joining. Our centre is God's call to us to participate in the Eucharist and to take this out into the world in the form of action. Eucharistic action that is filled with the wisdom of God and brings justice, peace and God's presence into the lives of the other.

This should not be a crossroad. We should merge into a single road.

We are often too quick to respond by using our own thinking rather than responding in Christ to which we have been baptised. Faith without works is too inward and leaves the practical wisdom of God behind closed doors. However good works that are without faith  have no life and do not bring light into the world. They may temporarily ease the pains of those we minister to but do not ease the soul which is slowly dying behind the false gratitude that is displayed. How can it  be anything less? To bring faith into our works we must spend the time to discern and walk with the other, it cannot be a quick fix either of faith or of good works. The quick fix of faith leads to a shallow religiosity often found in mega churches were there is little time for the individual or else we spend our time in retreat from the world pretending that what we are doing is spiritually rewarding but leaves us dry and unrewarded so that we move onto the next incarnation. The quick fix of works leaves us flitting from one good agency to another trying to help everyone by spending our money.

God's wisdom should pervade everything that we participate in. If we lock God out and rely on ourselves we become cold and heartless. Only when we are able to encompass the wisdom of God that is freely offered into our hearts we can then become true people of God integrating our politics and our lives into one. By divorcing the one from the other we make the misery of the world rather than bringing the light into the world. At the end of the day the question that we must ask ourselves when we throw ourselves into our good causes and our never ending cycle of programmes and  works is: does our decision conform to the faith that we believe in or does it arise out of what we perceive to be the right thing for ourselves? Are we making a name for ourselves or are we actually following what God would have us do?

Sunday, 9 September 2018

The exclusive inclusive club

How often has the church been labeled as being exclusive and not welcoming of the other within its doors? I was listening to the interview with Fr Rod Bower with Sarah Kanowski on Friday which started of by him explaining why he started the Billboard sayings outside the Church in Gosford. An account of the perception of exclusion, which was turned into an account of inclusion. His illustration (Go to the interview for more) is a Godly reminder to us that the Church while being perceived as being exclusive (which it is) is actually extremely inclusive. How does this work? and how do we undo the work of ages to break down the barriers so that we who are within can see that our exclusiveness is not a barrier and should never be a barrier to inclusiveness.

This seems to be getting very complicated but is in actual fact very straightforward. The reading from James tells of a congregation that privileges those that they see as being themselves (James 2.1-3). This is what we do regularly in many Christian congregations we place a barrier up to say you are not welcome. Indeed the first barrier that we put up is that of baptism. Then we note those who are acceptable to our criteria, you have to speak in tongues, you cannot be LGBTQ, you can not be divorced, you have to accept..., you have to deny...and so our rules multiply much as the pharisees made rules. In doing so we make our selves an exclusive club as you cannot be part of us unless you fulfill the criteria. Our rules are required otherwise there would be no order. It would be a farce as we actually would not know who belonged and who did not. Yes, sometimes rules are required but the rules are there to guide us not constrain us when they are given to us by Christ and God.

Who are we kidding when we say we are inclusive?

The two commandments are simple love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. In trying to do the latter we create our comfort rules. God requires us to be inclusive because how can we love our neighbour as our selves unless we are inclusive. That means that our petty rules need to be abandoned for God's ever present love. We like, Rod Bower found himself reflecting, need to reflect on our own inbuilt barriers to inclusiveness. These can range from not accepting someone because of who they are to something simple like telling someone not to sign a card because they haven't contributed. God accepts all people including, and probably more than anyone, those who are outside of the system. We just have to look at Mark (7.24-30) to know that it is irrespective of who someone is as to whether they are loved by God or Christ. Is it right to set our barriers to the norms that we require? No, its not. Yet sometimes our institutional community requires it of us. In these cases we exclude but we need to work around the corners to show that God includes them all.

No matter how we look at it some denominations are more exclusive than others. Simply because they adhere to a stricter form of human laws. If we are to truly to follow Christ we will be the includers in a regime that is fully inclusive of the whole of humanity. That is who we should be but we often see the wood rather than the trees. We keep to the rigid patterns of inclusion and exclusion thinking and perceiving that we are correct but not realising the fact the God has changed all the rules on us. Baptism is asked of us not as a requirement but as a choice. Membership is asked of us not as a requirement but as a choice. We do not exclude as a result as we are more than willing to accept all people, it is only a perception of yours that we exclude. In that perception we create the division that is the barrier to inclusion.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

A persistent darkness

The flaws of our political system were highlighted to such an extent last week that I think the world was left wondering what on earth are the Aussies up to. Yet, if we think about it this is an age old issue which we as Christians have not been able to overcome.The Church is not immune to this but rather is more than likely to harbour it within their gatherings like no other. Christ is very clear on this in Mark (7.14-23) but it is something that the average Christian has not taken to heart. I can see the shock and horror on each face as Mark is read but at the end of the day there is truth in this statement. Power, authority, and the need to express my own agenda and not the agenda of God is the motivating factor. If we do not understand this as a political manoeuvre than we do not understand ourselves and understanding ourselves is of paramount importance if we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.

The first thing that we do if we do not get our way or if we think that our understanding is not being considered or if we are feeling sidelined is to look for dirt. If we want to undermine, destroy or otherwise remove objectors from our path, note it is our path, we use innuendo, smear and outright lies to bring the other down. We only have to look at the political aftermath in our own country to see that this is the case let alone any other country. Unfortunately, we also do this as part of our innate freedom, the freedom of speech, but only when it suits our purpose. No matter who we are we are responsible for the words that we speak and we are responsible for the consequences of what we speak. The letter of James gives us the direction that we need  (James 1.26) as do the words of Christ in Mark (7.14-23), We are given words of life and truth in the faith of Christ. In living as Christ and speaking as Christ with truth in our hearts we then reveal God's love to the world.

Are you prepared to speak love or will you continue to sprout hatred?

Yet, we forgo the understanding of love the moment we open our lips with words that are created to harm. We leave Christ on the corner as we turn away to deliver words of spite and hatred. In listening to others we are also apt to pick up on their hatred and perpetuate the spite in the community that surrounds us, especially if it fulfills our own agendas. We try to find power by undermining others and if we obtain access to privileged information we must be very careful that we actually know from whence that information comes, If we are gullible enough to believe in our hearts everything that is told to us then we are likely to fall from Christ. In repeating what others have said to us we repeat the un-truths that come from their mouths without first ascertaining the truths for ourselves. In this way we undermine others and gain power for ourselves. This means that we are not looking at the consequences of our actions but rather at the gain for our own egos / power bases / political agendas. In turn we perpetuate the darkness in the hearts of others without seeking the truth in the love of Christ. Only when we have truly understood how we utilise our own words to bring disharmony and disruption in the lives of others can we begin to preach the love which is in Christ.

Our hearts and our wishes are the well spring from which our actions and words spring, No wonder that Christ tells us that it is not the food that we eat that defiles but the words from our hearts. The only worthy thing that should be in our hearts is the love of God and of neighbour. Unfortunately, looking at the world around us we can only see the idolatory of our hearts in the blackness of our words as we perpetuate darkness rather than light. Remind our minds that our tongues destroy more people than our wars.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Truth and lies

An increasingly depressive thing in current Australia is that very few are able to tell a truth. We only need to look to our leadership in parliament over the last week to determine the veracity of this statement. Even if current leadership of the Australian people claim a link to the Christian faith the basic principles of that faith have clearly not made it past the facade of attending a service. I have no insider knowledge of parliamentary shenanigans as anyone else but we have undoubtedly heard the saying that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In the midst of such turmoil within the political system what is or should our response be as Christians and how does that effect our own mission? Christ states the truth of his presence in John's gospel (Jn. 6.56 ff) and it is the first thing that is proclaimed as the armour of God (Eph. 6.15) but as can be seen in John's gospel and in our own lives truth is a perception created from our own viewpoint. Indeed, Pilate is famous for asking "What is truth?" in the Johanine version of Jesus' trial.

If, truth is as labile as it appears to be, how do we as Christian's respond when it comes to our own lives and the way we interact with our fellow citizens and companions. If we all have our own versions of what truth is how can we even begin to behave as Christ and bring the light of God to the citizens of the world? Perhaps our advantage is that we are able to form a community or rather take companionship along the margins of our society. Make no mistake, we as Christians are on the margins and not in the public square. Those that are in the public square are unable to voice the truth. If we are to form community and companionship on the margins then we must realise that it is only through fellowship that truth arises. This then is the truth of the Christian message, a truth that we can proclaim to all. The gospel is a Gospel (truth) of accepting the other and changing with the other to form the companionship and peace that is borne out of Christ's presence.

A change in our perspective allows us to meet the other in the limnal space

Stephen Pickard suggests that we are a verandah people worshipping a verandah God. For us to be Christians in the truest sense we need to be people of hospitality and the other. It is in the acceptance of the other that we become truth bearers and truth formers. The limnal space of the verandah between the outside and the inside is where we meet and commune. Each space that acts as a meeting place becomes a place of acceptance of the other; a place for the Christian fellowship to meet and become. In accepting the other we accept the bread of life and blood of salvation given to us in the life of Christ, who was forever accepting the stranger on the fringes. It is when our spaces become the verandahs of social interaction and the companionship of Christ's presence that we become truth purveyors. We begin companionship with acceptance of the other which means that our version of truth becomes changed to include the other's version of truth. In doing this we come closer to THE truth that is God's presence in our lives.

Only when we have encompassed the other will we come to the truth of Christ's presence and not be bound by our individual truths. Only when we partake in companionship, fellowship and community do we partake of the bread of life and the cup of salvation. This is what is rejected by the scribes, the pharisees and Christ's disciples the ability to accept the other and the truth of each persons life. We do this only because of our discomfort in the alternate of Christ's discomforting words and the rejection of the others perspective in our search for truth.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Challenging politics

We are undoubtedly political animals when we get down to the nitty gritty. Everything that we think and do revolves around our own petty political selves. We just have to look at the political analysis of this week to see that the only model that we have for good political behaviour is how to get away with slanging and sledging or knock over the tall poppies. Irrespective of our political, religious, sexual bent we only follow what is presented to us as being meaningful political behaviour - "Get the B**** before they get me". This does not leave much for us to ponder or wonder greatly how the world managed to wind up in the mess that it is in currently. It seems fairly straightforward when you look at it. Of course that is at the National and International level... well it is not much different when we consider ourselves and our families and our groups because where do we think the ideas came from in the first place?

Once we understand that the world we live in is the world we have created we may be able to do something about it. If we look at the first verse of the reading from Ephesians (Eph 4.25) that is allocated for today we can see the start of our actual Christian lives. There is no lily livered lies here it is a simple truth that we keep on forgetting as we play politics with the lives of those around us in our communities. The Gospel is about truth. Christ is about truth. Our lives are about politics which amounts to falsehood. There is absolutely no need for us to play the game of politics unless we are on our own power trip and are looking for our own little kingdom to rule with an iron fist. In telling it like it is we are often condemned and shunned. The political propaganda machine goes into overdrive to convince everyone around us that we are making it all up. Of course what do we do? We lap it all up and convict the person telling the truth. All we have to do is look at how we approach climate change, border control and our own internal prejudices. What does it take for us to truly accept Christ in our lives because the moment we start being political we deny Christ.

Only when we look into the other's eye can we see love

I heard somebody say the other day that whoever voted for a certain political leader to the left of centre was a fool. However, like Christ I would say that whoever votes for a political party is an idiot because you are not voting for the truth. We have been reminded over the past three weekends that Christ is the bread of life and it is only through Christ that we come to see God. John 6.41-51 is no different, we need Christ's presence in our lives so that we can speak the truth. It is only when we truly love as Christ loved that we can form community in a manner that respects each person. Only when we entertain the notion of truth speaking in our lives, the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the power of love, the truth of God's presence will we begin and I repeat, begin the life that Christ proclaims. How can we approach a person with a disease as if they are a number or a bed? How can we see each other if we only see a street number, telephone number or snap chat address? I have heard it "Go and see the old girl that lives at number 3". Who? Do you follow a snapchat address or do you interact with a person? To do the latter we have to speak the truth to do the former we can hide behind our persona created for the internet.

God calls us to love and to tell each other the truth that is in our lives. We cannot do that solely by referencing a phone or a computer or other device. If anyone has seen 'Ready Player One' knows this as bonds are formed when we look into the eyes of the person not the eyes of fantasy.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The changing taste of food

During our childhood we have a number of distinctive likes and dislikes when it comes to our choice of food. Some of these carry through into our adult years. I am still somewhat leery of aubergines / eggplant or whatever name you know it by. Imagine if you will trying to eat boiled aubergine, the best description is perhaps (pardon the graphic) "swallowing glutinous snot". This I imagine would put most people off the vegetable for life. We are also aware or should be that taste changes as we mature and even as a result of hormonal change within the body. I know this because I have had to manage the consequences on a monthly basis. Our taste and our ability to digest a meal is often determined by our experience, our age, our hormonal status, etc. If this is the case then what does the bread of life taste like to you?

In scripture we are given to understand that the bread of life is the word of God and the presence of Christ within our midst. The author of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul or a disciple, is clear what the taste of life is when played out in the world (Eph. 4.2-3). Yet, it is also clear that the author is of the opinion that the recipients of this letter are no longer children and have grown into adulthood within the faith journey (Eph. 4.14). However, as we have seen our taste and our ability to consume, digest and even utilise food is determined by our physical and hormonal and emotional disposition. No matter how hard I try I am always somewhat averse to eating aubergine because of my early interaction with this food. I suspect that we are also coloured in our preferred digestion of the food of life by those who have come before us. Occasionally we have to revisit our understandings in order to ensure that what we have been fed is the true food and is lining us up to function as a whole as a community. How are we to know what is good to eat?

Do we really know what the bread of life tastes like or have we seasoned it too much?

Usually we are taught by our parents and by those who are older than us. No matter what culture we come from the food that we eat is prevalent in that culture and we soon know what is good and what is not. Our tastes change as we know but we often come back to what our families and parents gave to us. In our faith journey we are only as good as the food that we have been given in the past and the actions of those around us. If we have seen true love and neighbourliness being given then we are likely to mirror this in our own lives. But what happens if the food for our faith journey has shown us a different aspect one that does not increase love but rather one that ensures bitterness and division as normality within the Church family.  Our immediate reaction is to say no way not possible. Then if that is the case why have we not got those who are younger present worshipping God in places of worship? Is it perhaps that they have seen fallacy in action rather than love, have they heard words that have enticed without actions to form reality?

If we are conformed to Christ we will taste those things which are good, we will be drawn to those things that sustain. To often the food that we have had in the past colours our palates and if that food has been rich and misleading in flavour we may not recognise the simplicity of God's message. We may find that the food that has been disguised by the flavours of the server are not the simple flavours that come with God's love. Is it any wonder that we do not go for food when we have previously been poisoned? How do we recover from food poisoning? We go back to the simple foods of the nurturing family that we came from and begin again. We take each step slowly. Expanding our tastes so that we retain the simple flavours of Christ's loving presence as we engage with others around us.