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


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.