Sunday, 29 April 2018

Operating with love

The Church has become inundated with a number of proposals as to what and how to "grow" and become relevant in society. Denominations are feeling the pinch with lowered numbers of those attending and in mainline denominations are burdened with requirements from "head office" to fulfill. Those who come to church feel burdened with the need to fulfill requirements of the "church" and then find time for the shared gospel. Perhaps the only time of solace is worship and we don't want any of that loud bangy music or a sermon that is so high powered that we do not understand half the words. We feel badgered but do not want to give up our place in the faith community's worship, we feel we don't want to contribute realistically to anything going on but rather will attend some event put on for us or the community.

So do we manage this or do we move out into mission or do we just allow the Spirit to move as it will? The literature and perhaps many of those in authority would have us believe that we must either manage our way out or go on a missional undertaking as that is the Gospel. "Prove" to our communities that we are relevant to their needs and bring the Gospel into their hearts and minds, but what is the Gospel, what do we have to "sell" that we can become more efficient like a business? At the end of the day perhaps we need to see the Gospel as an initiative that cannot be managed, be hyperactively managed or even be relevant to the local community. Huh! What a shocking thing to say for surely that is the purpose that we are asked to do in the sending out into the world? No, the heart and soul of Christ's message is in the passages from John (10.11-18), 1 John (3.16-24) and perhaps in action (Acts 4.5-12). All of these passages speak about acting and living in love, love of neighbour, love of God.  The mission of the Church is to behave in the manner that Christ behaved and by doing so spread the initiative of the Gospel, the good news, of how to live in love.

Do we programme our love or do we let love grow?

We have forgotten in the institutionalisation of the religious / faith journey that Christ interacted as another human being among human beings. He did not set up programs, schedules, etc for his disciples. He did not expect his followers to become followers of programs and schedules, mission undertakings to solve the problems of the world / country / community. Christ sent his disciples out into the world to bring the experience of love into the lives of others and in so doing bring them closer to God. We shepherd people through the example of our lives when those lives are consumed by love, not by money, not by comsumerisation, not by missional programmes or managed undertakings that make us more efficient. Perhaps we need to re-think how we let others know what it means to be Christian by extending our love into their hearts and minds.

Yes, we need to be part of our community to support each other and to operate as a Christian community within the community in which we live. Yes, we need to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices to enable others to find God and if this means that we attend meetings and plan goals and enable the faith community to work at showing God to the world then so be it. BUT this is not the end it is the means, it is not the purpose it is a way forward. We need to be flexible to be able to walk with people and not do for people, to show love and empathy not turn away in rejection. Even when we are tired and feel drained it is our continued outpouring of love that reaps the rewards of God's presence in our lives. If we are to withdraw to re-charge then we must come out of that withdrawal to reengage and form the bonds of love that are commanded of us by Christ.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

St George - quo vadis

The parish is celebrating St George this week. A Greek / Palestinian who ended up as part of the Roman army and was decapitated by Diocletian for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. The patron saint of a number of countries, including most famously England. Not much is known of him but he is considered to have been a real person, perhaps not the person we think of in terms of dragon slayer etc. Even members of the Muslim faith recognise him as a martyr having had influence in Palestine where he was born. It's his forthrightness and his stand for the faith that is to be honoured. Indeed this was at the time a political statement as the emperor had declared that all Christians in the army had to sign up for emperor worship.

The fanciful St George - How fanciful are our political involvements?

The question for us is: how do we sign up for political defiance in the same manner as St George? A defiance that is actually at the pointy end of the debate and one that is likely to involve you in a lot of pain, nowadays, social and political. Perhaps we could start in the political field and question how well democracy is working and what if anything we as Christians should be doing about it. I have just finished a fascinating read on the brokenness of democracy by the political philosopher A. C. Grayling. The book is "Democracy and its Crisis". (If you want a scathing report on Brexit and Trump, this is it). In some respects Australia is doing quite well, however, his remarks are as equally true for here as elsewhere and it is something that we need to understand in our faith journey if we are going to be like St George. George knew the political system and that is something that we perhaps do not do so well in when it comes to picking our political involvement as Christians. In asking this I wonder whether we are actually looking at the issues that we should be looking at as Christians and how effective our efforts are if we do not understand our political systems particularly well. I must admit, I am as much a part of the great unwashed as everyone else, so I am pointing the finger at myself as much as anybody else.

Don't get me wrong I believe that we need to be a voice in the public square but we need to be effective. Christian politicians or at least those that are from supposedly "Christian" parties are in it for the politics and to push the agenda of their interpretation of scripture and not for the actual role of being a Christian, i.e. love of neighbour. Going back to Paisley in Ireland you can trace this all the way through. It is as if we have no understanding of how to get the faith view point across without seeming to be either other worldly or seen it all before, blah, blah, blah. There appears to be little relevance in the way of St George. Sadly we are part of the great masses with very little to stand out for. Perhaps it is time for us to reflect on people such as George to understand what it means to be an effective Christian voice within the politics of the world. Yes, George lost his life but as Christians we must be prepared to follow Christ who also lost his life as a result of injustice.

I don't think it takes anything out of the ordinary to be as remarkable as George. It just takes commitment, understanding and the ability to act appropriately. It may not be a big thing it may be small but if it is undertaken with knowledge, commitment and faith in Christ then we can make the injustices disappear. Perhaps the only thing we need to better understand is how we can love each other sufficiently that  we an listen and debate, not listen and castigate. Love means that we negotiate and compromise to bring God's presence closer to those who have no knowledge of God's presence. So by all means enter the political arena and follow George but make sure that you know where to go.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Witnesses in a different age

Christ following the resurrection sends his disciples out into a world that is familiar with the sacred and the understanding of faith in action (Lk. 24.48; Acts 3.12-20). These words and sending out apply to us in our world but we have a greater difficulty then the disciples at the time of Christ. We have to overcome a divide that is not a divide before we can witness to our faith. It is all very easy to say follow Christ, it is all very easy to promise the world, to have a simplistic understanding that has little but fundamentalist teachings to get by on. To truly witness to Christ in our lives today takes us beyond the easy into the difficult task of melding the two views into a single definable and understandable whole.

If we think about the world into which the Christ entered it was very unlike today. It could be said, as it has been by Charles Taylor, that the world of Christ and Jesus was a world that was porous to the presence of the world beyond our own selves. Whilst today we are bound and limited in our imaginary by the understanding that our minds control our outlook onto the world. This rationale outlook has barricade our senses of anything that cannot be explained that is outside of our own walls. Thus, for us a miracle such as that described in Acts is beyond our belief and must be explainable through medical or other rational explanatory means. The possibility of some other 'magic' is beyond the realm of our own understanding and therefore  cannot be true. The Christian church in one way or another has utilised and played with this understanding through the ages. Today the possibility of extravagant over the top displays to make a point are blase, theatrical and in the end demonstrate nothing about faith. We have to look with imagination to how we live in order to prove our point in faith.

We leave Christ behind on the by ways of the internet highway to avoid our faith

Too often in the world the Christian or any faith description of the world is either countered or decried by the fact that adherents do not live up to the testimony of the scriptures or an un-compromised life in Christ. Our very nature and inability to reach the ideal of our faith journey is the very thing that holds us back and gives the faith we hold dear a bad rap. We are still in the thrall of the world as the first letter of John alludes (1 Jn 2.16). We are enticed away from the life in Christ by the riches of the world especially in this seculam when everything appears to be at our finger tips. Our difficulty is in allowing our faith to dominate rather than our greed for the things of this world. In the era of porosity the way forward would have been to enter the deserts but this does not bring us any nearer to God or become more Christ like. All it does is allows us to indulge in our own worthiness. Living in the world in faith means that we renounce the things of the world but still live in the world. We reach out to those around us who are impoverished by the world and lie forgotten in the by ways and lane ways of the modern internet highways. We need to abandon our stance of feeling as if we are the good guys and move into the stance of feeling the need of those who are starved of God's love and presence.

How many of the children in the world are starved of love as a result of the need for a presence in the cyber world? How many of our young people couch surf each night as a result of neglect and our inability to see them? We are too recognised in the world for what we propose but do not do. We need to be unrecognised for the love we show and exhibit not recognised for the hypocrisy we display. Changing our outlook to encompass both the porous and the blinkered worlds will allow us to manifest Christ to those who are neglected and starved of attention.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Self doubt can kill new life

The place of doubt in Christian life has always taken front seat in the days following Easter as we read about the doubts of Thomas the Apostle (John 20.19ff). This is an obvious doubt that is easily recognisable.  This is the doubt that states "I do not believe you." and then it is up to others to prove the case. Yet, there is another form of doubt that we do not talk about much but is even more harmful then the doubt that is displayed by Thomas. In fact, Thomas' doubt is perhaps beneficial because we can see ourselves and the resolution of our doubts in Christ. Unseen self doubt decreases our worth in our own eyes and thus our belief of peoples opinions and society in general often sending us into a spiral of despair.

Whilst similar to Thomas in that it is doubt in what has been said, about oneself, it is not so easily overcome as a simple proof test. In entering into new life at Easter we should die to our sins and leave them behind at the foot of the cross. What we often do is surreptitiously pick them up again as we proceed away from the cross. This then becomes part of our denial of ourselves and of our brokenness that is spoken about in 1 John (1.10). The very act of picking up that which we dropped at the foot of the cross breaks us once more.  We believe that we have put it behind us but are in actuality carrying it.  We then say that we are without sin whilst hauling the baggage of our sin behind us like an enormous snail. In leaving those things that we have burdened ourselves with at the foot of the cross means that they should stay there.  However, our self doubt makes us return and pick up those things that have comforted us on our journey thus far.

Do your doubts overwhelm you or do you allow Christ;s light to shine in the world?

It is this self doubting of our worth and our ability to be loved by God that directs us to pick up the burdens of our prior life. The difficulty of course is obvious, how do you encourage someone who doubts themselves? The Gospel faith that Christ asks of Thomas and all others is perhaps but a clue towards our healing and redemption. It is in Acts that we find the final answer for ourselves (Acts 4.32-37). This story of the early community that was the body of Christ demonstrates where our burgeoning new life needs to be present. It is outwards towards the formation of community not inwards towards ourselves. We begin new life in community and in the presence of others as we saw on Good Friday. In turning inwards towards ourselves we begin the process of self doubt and believe ourselves not worthy enough. Here Thomas's interaction with Christ should be giving us the confidence to trust in God and allow Christ's presence to flow into our lives.

If we are to build a new community as the Good Friday reflections suggest then that community begins in trust. Trust in God / Christ that our previous inhibitions and burdens have been taken from us; trust in our companions in Christ that they are walking with us along the way; trust in ourselves that we are adult enough to ask for God's presence and the assistance of our companions when things get tough. It is only then that our lights lit by Christ at Dawn on Easter day will glow in the darkness of the world. In building ourselves and our communities in this light we begin to brighten the world around us until we become like the dawn fire of Easter giving light to those who are in darkness around us, lifting them up from their self doubts into the confidence of Christ's presence in their lives. This is the change that Christ brings the change that we are often so fearful of, a change that we cannot and do not recognise as Christ walks alongside us until we cast away our doubts into the fire of Christ's love.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

They said nothing...

Today we celebrate Easter in a tradition that goes back to founding moments in the story of the Christian faith. No not the "Church" the faith. Just like any other faith this is a journey looking at life from a different perspective and how we change our view of reality each time we live that faith. Our perspective goes beyond what is considered rational. It encompasses the idea that we need to die in order to come to new life. Yet, this is a rationale belief as we see it happen every year of our lives when we plant seed or we see old plants die with new ones springing from the dead remains. If during our Lenten journey we have truly struggled with our lives then we have come to the cross and this day we should be able to rise into new life. But do we and if we do, do we say anything about new life in Christ? In Mark's gospel the first witnesses say nothing (Mark 16.8a) and this is where the Gospel ends everything afterwards is added.

In a couple of recent posts on social media there has been an interesting discussion on our ability to demonstrate our faith and actually say something meaningful as members of a faith group that prides itself on truth and justice. Yes, just like Christ nailed to the cross the consensus is that we too will be nailed to our respective crosses. If we thought that was safe well perhaps it is also worth our while considering the recent "National" crisis in the cricket that is in reality a few boys cheating while the actual disgrace is found in the football codes where admitted criminals are allowed to play and be hailed as heroes. Unfortunately, we appear to have lost our voices or as like as not we are afraid to open our lips in praise of what is right, in case we are persecuted. Like the first witnesses who went away too scared to say anything, we to are often too scared to say anything.

It is more real than you think.

Verbalisation and placing truths onto platforms that are readily seen by many as how we open ourselves up for scrutiny and abuse and crucifixion. More often then not this is also where we are crucified by public opinion or political reality. But then is that not what our faith demands of follow Christ and to die so that we can rise into newness of life. We have to begin at the beginning of the story and follow it all the way through. We cannot pick and chose the parts that we like and discard the parts we do not. Our faith and our faith community is formed at the base of the cross. The utter truth of our having to die and rise into new life means that we need to put aside all of those burdens we carry about what others are going to say and stand in solidarity with Christ. It is on this Easter morning that we are filled with the hope of Christ's resurrection and the knowledge that our lives have changed.

This change is only comes when we acknowledge and welcome God's ever changing presence in our lives such that we can catch the truth of God's call. Only when we have been honest with ourselves will we be able to be honest with others. Once we have achieved that, then we are able to proclaim Christ is risen! Alleluia! and proclaim the truth that needs to be spoken into the world. The scandal of the cross is the love that Christ shows for the meanest of people from the cross and in newness of life. We fail to recognise him every time he presents himself to us, just as the disciples did on that fateful walk to Emmaus.  Even now we are often so full of ourselves that we forget to look at those around us to see Christ's hands outstretched asking for our love. How true the story (here [the NTD video]) as shown on social media sites is, I do not know, but I can well imagine it happening and perhaps when we recognise our own selves in the story we will admit that we crucify God to this day.