Sunday, 17 September 2023

Forgiveness - a process not an instant

We all know what forgiveness looks like, even if we do not wish to entertain it when things go against us. Peter asks how many times to forgive and Christ ripostes with a parable (Matt. 18.21-35). This hard response is what we consider to be forgiveness. The ability to give a person the benefit of the doubt and to ignore the hurt to ourselves. Or at least subsume it in a way that will not effect our own psyche. To reach out in a loving manner knowing that it hurts to embrace someone who has wronged us and is capable of re-offending, time and time and time again. What about the person who has done the wrong thing or voiced the wrong concerns or demeaned the other and thus requires forgiveness? Is there something here in this action of this person that requires us to rethink ourselves, for it is us we are referring to when we are in the wrong as much as the other? Forgiveness also has to rise within our own selves when we are that person who is acting so against Christ and not loving as we should.

We are so guilty, especially in the small things in life, let alone the greater. How many times I wonder do people complain about others, in a faith setting, when it comes to the contribution that they are making? or perhaps when things do not go quite the way we want them to and we lash out at authority simply to rid ourselves of our own frustrations? We are so judgemental of those around us that we forget to look closely at ourselves. Paul in his letter to the Romans makes this clear (Rom. 14.1-14) and yet we are still so dreadful at fulfilling our obedience in Christ that we blame everyone else. We are asked to give of ourselves. We are not asked to make a judgement on whether others are doing the right or wrong thing in the eyes of God. Yet, we so often do, we make judgement calls on what everyone around us should or should not be doing. We do not respect other's decisions with regard to what God has asked of them but wish to impose what we think they ought to do. Or more often what we think God wants them to do. We often make decisions for others because 'we know them' rather than allowing them to make their own decisions. We often assume a response rather than allowing others to express a response. Even a negative response is a response that needs to be taken seriously.

When we begin to forgive ourselves we shatter the chains that bind us

Once we begin to look closely at our actions we then need to actually begin the process of forgiveness by loving ourselves. In the acknowledgement of our judgementalism we begin to see our own interactions in the light of God's love. We begin to understand that God has called us out of our own slavery to the hubris, pride and sin of thinking that we are up there with God. In beginning to understand our own faults and loving ourselves we begin the process of redemption. Just as the Joseph's family had to trust in God fully and understand that Joseph did not desire retribution but understood God's purposes of forgiveness by seeing the long trajectory of God's plans (Gen. 50.15-21). Only when we truly surrender to what God requires of us we will be able to give to the extent that God requires. By giving way our judgements we allow God to judge. By allowing God to flow into our lives we are able to allow our love to flow into the things we give.

In asking how many times to forgive we forget that each time it means that we have to (for)give our selves. We also need to be strong enough to stand up and state the truth of our forgiveness / God's demands even if we are afraid of reprisal from those around us. We need to have the humility to accept God's wishes and give ourselves fully.  It is we who are so often on the wrong side of Christ that need to learn how to forgive our own selves before we begin to turn to others in hope of their forgiveness.

Sunday, 10 September 2023

Sacrificing for God

 The passage from Romans (Rom 13.1-10) has Paul telling us to be submissive to the authority of governments and those who have a valid authority over us.  This is a fine sentiment but when it comes in a time when our authorities appear to have no sense of justice or enabling peace we doubt the wisdom of this course of action. Yet, for us this is a point that we need to ponder especially when that authority asks us to give taxes, financial support, etc to the rule of law. As Christians are we right to withhold such things if the financial offerings are not going towards the cause of justice and righteousness?  We may say yes and others would say but hang on we all live in this world and some of the money is being used correctly and so we should go with the benefit of the doubt. What pertains to the wider community also pertains to the smaller communities that make up our society. How can we ensure that justice and righteousness prevails within our faith community if we are not brave enough to stand up for what God wants?

In Matthew's gospel Christ speaks about going after the one rather than the many (Matt. 18.12-14). We have a greater tendency in our lives at both the societal level and the faith level to turn towards the majority rather than going out of our way for the minority or even the embattled singleton. Either that or we overlook the faults in one rather than looking to those who suffer as a result of power. In the one case we render to the will of a large group what may be undeserving and in the latter we submit in fear to the implied power of a minority, which is the reverse of what following Christ implies. Quite often our decision is based on fear which has been provoked by those with power who stoke that fear for their own purposes as we can see in the current dialogue around the Voice referendum. We are asked to render to those in need not to those who have or to a status quo.  Our sacrifice in terms of money, power, time, etc is for the benefit of those who are unworthy in our eyes but are worthy in the eyes of God. It means going out of our way to respond to those in need over and above our own.

Opening ourselves up to God allows a small ripple on the face of creation

In making our wants into the wants of God we are not submitting ourselves before God but rather placing ourselves on the pedestal to try and emulate God. We know best. In coming to render to Caesar within our parish or faith lives we surrender to those whom we believe have power and not to God. In submitting, we should submit to what God is asking of us not what others are asking. God takes our lives and asks us to reach out in compassion and justice to those around us. But it means submitting to God's asking.  In rendering our obligations both financial and service we render them to God and ask God to do with them as God wills not as we will. God asks us to lay our lives on the line and go out of our way to assist those who are weaker and more lost then ourselves. God does not ask us to look after the 99. We reach out our hands here today to receive the sacrament of God's flesh and blood to strengthen us so that we may give to God that which God asks for. So what obligations are placed upon us at this moment of receiving?

It means a burden that is more than we think we can bear. It means losing those things that we want and allowing those things that God wants. It means fulfilling the obligations that are laid upon us, through our faith in God and our belonging to a faith community. It means that the community of God comes before our own needs and it means sacrificing our ideals for the ideals of God. Only then can we truly say that we have fulfilled what Paul would have us do and what Christ commands us to do, so that there may be rejoicing in God's presence and here in our lives. At the end of the day it means that our small decision to reach across the divide has a ripple effect on our community and our society.

Sunday, 3 September 2023

God - permanent and impermanent

 Jeremiah (15.15-21) laments his relationship to God and his ongoing suffering as part and parcel of this uncertain understanding of God's presence. In the Exodus reading set for today the classic interpretational issue which has been debated in both Jewish and Christian scripture, God's response to Moses, "I am / I shall be what / that I am / shall be" (Ex. 3:14). What does God's response in terms of name mean let alone the uncertainty of Jeremiah?  This interpretive conundrum is not really one that can be answered, I suspect, in any form of certainty as all responses have a validity when it comes to God. However, we can make our own interpretive guesses both as theologians and as ordinary people, depending on our interest and education. In the midrashes there are a number of interesting points that can be raised both psychological and spiritual that have an effect on the ongoing interpretation of the Exodus story. Perhaps the most important, at least of equal importance to other interpretations, is the underlying understanding of permanence that is created in the translation of the Hebrew words at this point.

It is important for us to remember that translation and interpretation are not one and the same. It is also important to note that these initial settings come at the start of a dialogue that frames both Jeremiah's ongoing relationship with God as a person who is sitting in suffering and Moses' ongoing relationship with God as a person. God's relationship with Moses, in some sources Moses is the writer/represented by, is deepened in the book of Job which in turn relates in a profounder way to Jeremiah's situation. Whilst there is an understanding of permanence to God's presence there is also an understanding that this is based on trial and not just peace. It is the constancy of God's presence in the face of an ongoing presence of slavery and imprisonment, disaster and exclusion implicit in the wording and the request. This is the burden we bear (Matt. 16:24) as it is often our own selves that creates the burden which is ours in these often uncertain times. Our self doubts prevent us from discovering God in the midst of adversity much like the Israelites and Moses and even Jeremiah. In taking up the cross we take up Christ's burden for the other and we look not at ourselves but at the other in community. In doing so we begin to feel God's presence with us easing the burdens that we have or are laying down. This enables us to do what Paul asks his recipients to do in the letter to the Romans (12:9-21).

In the impermanence of  life we see seeds of the permanence of love

The practicality of our ministry to others in times of adversity is often something we struggle with in our lives. We are assailed by our own uncertainties, which cause us to enable, rather than dis-able, the destruction of our communities through bias, hatred and our own prejudices of those who are different to our self understanding. Paul, at the start of the Romans' passage (12:10b), states the obvious but necessary way forward. The norm for society is to suggest that we are better than the other and to look down upon those who do not subscribe to our own pet desires and understandings. Whether we are the Shreveport shooter, Indigenous person or a regional farmer we each believe that we are better in our lives than those around us. The culture we live in brings us to this belief through our normal jokes, sly remarks and disparaging of those from outside the community. Whether those are age old Irish put downs or more recent remarks about Russians or Muslims. We need to remind ourselves that each person is created in the image of God. Speaking in terms of the legacy of formalised prejudice the "Arch" (Archbishop Tutu) suggests that in accepting someone for something they can do nothing about, being a woman, whilst at the same time not accepting someone for the same reason, skin colour, ethnicity, etc, then we are extreme hypocrites. If we cannot accept the other from outside the community than how can we accept the other because they have lived in the community. We love each person for who they are, even in the worst of circumstances, with respect and gratitude. 

Impermanence is often a constant in today's world as we are constantly evolving and changing but in our understanding of God we should see the permanence of the presence of love. We draw alongside those who are in difficulty and struggle just as God drew alongside the people of Israel in the midst of slavery and exile. This is not a temporary measure, something that is given away once they are free from their struggle, but a permanent understanding much as God's presence is permanent in our continued struggles. Too many times in recent years and months the Church has offered God's love with one hand but then turned its back on those that are in fear and suffering in the long term. If we are to mirror God's presence then we as a faith community in the impermanence of today's society with its constant call to go beyond that which we are comfortable with must remain consistent and permanent in the lives of our communities. Just as God is permanent and consistent in the life of the faith community. Treating everyone with a mind turned towards justice, love and acceptance rather than one dependant upon our own prejudices and ideas borne out of an earlier generations' fear.

Sunday, 27 August 2023

Seeking justice in a time of doubt

 Today there is a remarkable number of injustices being perpetrated upon the world and its people.  From racist comments to the incarceration of those looking for new homes. From ideological maniacs seeking their own power to those who have rights blocked by bigotry and hatred, with a misplaced and unshakeable understanding that will fracture at the slightest push. In Isaiah God seems to indicate to us that his presence alone will give us the plenitude we long for even in the midst of desolation (Is. 51.1-6). Sometimes we need to assist the changes that God will bring by making a small protest to change the bigger realities. In the midst of trial and labour brought about by the rulers of the day the Israelites managed to assist life by a small protest (Ex. 1.17-20).  The world around them seemed to be falling apart for their people and yet by their simple act of defiance they allowed their people to have an opportunity at the start of a journey toward the realisation of becoming God's people. Their protest brought life not death and in doing so secured a new future for the world.

Our instinct is to protest against the injustices of the world, which is right and proper, but sometimes our instincts can lead us astray and we have to take care that we are not being led down the wrong path. However much good we think we are generating or however much we think God is leading we can and are led astray. This seems to be counter everything that we might think is right. It is often the smallest protest that sparks the road to life and not the major undertakings of change that bring about Christ's freedom in our lives by initiating God's swift deliverance rather than shouldering the issues ourselves (Is 51:5).  The midwives, in the Exodus story, did a small thing, they delayed their coming to the scene of birth and as a result allowed new life into the world contrary to the law.  In allowing life into the world they allowed the seed of hope that was Moses to become a moment of grace and change later in life.  The major protests of the world have been sparked by a small change in someone's attitude, a small protest against and injustice which has slowly built, sometimes over generations. I wonder how many people actually thought that protesting against the incarceration of refugees at off shore processing plants was a dumb idea at the time or get fed up with the protests of those wishing to see change in climate policy?

Are you a midwife of life and faith or selfishness and despair?

Peter confesses Christ (Matt. 16.13-20) but just shortly after this he is rebuked by Christ as in his enthusiasm he reaches out to over protect Christ. For him a seemingly small protest but one that goes awry. Peter's protest was not a protest for righteousness but a protest for self preservation. He protested for himself and for the concern for his future not for the concerns of those who suffered. In comparison the protest of the midwifes was for a community.  In our individual lives we need to be careful about what we are protesting. Our protest, even if it is a small one, needs to be a protest for the wider oppressed community and not for our personal survival in the world. We need to be honest in our reflection of God's justice in the world.  We need to remind ourselves that at the beginning of creation God made humanity in his own image; a humanity that strives towards the life that God has given to us. The signboard outside the Gosford Anglican church is used a a small sign of protest for many things. It names for us those things that we feel ashamed of because we do not say anything. The midwives also named something because the rest were not. Each of us are capable of stepping onto the faith journey and naming the things that are detrimental to life. The moment we do this we invigorate those who are suffering and bring hope into the world and we bring God's righteousness into being. We become the midwives of new birth and new life in faith. In reflecting on the midwives and on Isaiah's message we need to ask for ourselves: In our protest are we protesting for ourselves or for the oppressed and for God's justice?

Sunday, 20 August 2023

The politics of reconciliation

 In a world that is filled with hatred and violence religious and faith communities throughout the world use the language of reconciliation to try and foster peace. In the life of our faith journey it is not something that we often consider for ourselves or even practice. Embittered by division and inter-personal hatreds families, parishes and denominations splinter apart to find their own way in the world and the wounds that should have been healed before they even began fester. In the main reading set for today, from Genesis, the war between Joseph's human need to exact some form of punishment and his need to reconcile with family comes to an end when he reveals himself to his brothers (Gen. 45.1-15). In the Isaiah reading (Is 56:1-8) God's message is conveys the same meaning in terms of reconciliation of difference on a grander scale. In the Gospel there comes a turning point in our understanding of how to treat those who are different and heal the rifts of difference between race /gender / the other comes into focus with Christ's interaction with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15.21-28). No matter who or what is the root cause of the division it is our response that matters. At the end of the day our response is a political decision, but we must be careful as the decision may be a aligned to human politics rather than God's politics.

Wait, God has politics? Yes, something we perhaps overlook is, as one author puts it, "There is no such thing as trust in a king [ruler] that is spiritually neutral or separated from one's trust in God. And there is no such thing as trust in God that is politically neutral" so no matter what we do we are political people. Choice is a matter of politics. How we choose to respond to our everyday decisions and our everyday dilemmas is a political decision. In belonging to the Church that calls God "creator" we automatically align with God as our ruler. Or we should, how can we not? If this is the case, and I for one would be hesitant to disagree, then our responses to our everyday and our human political challenges need to be responded to in a manner that is in alignment with the politics of God, that may not be Green, Labour or Liberal. Our concern must be with regards to the challenge of God's directives in our human interactions, hidden or open as the case may be.

Only by reaching across the gap of difference do we begin to be reconciled and loved.

God gave to Adam and Eve a mandate to rule over all and be a good steward to the Earth. We who are made in God's image have the same mandate but it is a mandate that is ruled by God. If we accept a triune God this means that our politics should be mirrored on this relationship of mutual understanding and interaction. Until we can meet our obligations of respecting each other as being made in the image of G-d how can we get our human politics correct on earth. The ongoing political discussion over the The Voice to Parliament shows the same either / or misunderstanding of each other and the other. The story of Joseph and his brothers and the interaction with the Canaanite woman show us how our interactions need to be not only at a local level but also at a national and an international level. Poor word choice and poor familial relationships are overcome by the judicious use of wisdom in our lives. An ability to see beyond the current debate to ascertain what is beneficial to all not just a few or rather not just me or my political cronies and our human aspirations.

Once we make the initial move towards a life of reconciliation we can move into a life of abundance. Both the Canaanite and Joseph's family come out with joy as they are prepared to embrace the fact that we can have our prejudices but see beyond to the benefit for the community and not the self is found. God offers this to all people who accept his leadership and political agenda (Is. 56.6-8). Consider some of the things that we proclaim as the Church on one hand  and yet on the other raise barriers to through our pre-judgements and our inability to see justice and righteousness. Forgiveness starts with understanding the process of reconciliation, it does not end in this process. Only by understanding that the two sides needed to be reconciled did Christ and Joseph begin to reconcile the gulf. That healing led to abundance as it followed the path of God's political agenda and not man's presumptive agenda.

Sunday, 13 August 2023

Walking on troubled water

 Reliance on our own understanding often leads to issues and challenges in our lives that are frequently beyond our ability to cope. In doing so we may interpret situations and form our own interpretive story that fits with our view. Through our interpretation we form an understanding of the world around us and its impact upon our lives. Joseph's story starts, for many sources, a long and convoluted interpretation not of Joseph but of Jacob and his whole family (Gen 37.1-ff). It is a story of the loss of connection with God leading to a re-imagining of familial and community connections over time. For those interpreting in this manner it is not a simple story of betrayal and remorse but one that sees the actors as caught within God's plot rather their own individual autonomous tale. In seeing this story from this perspective our own interpretive perspective is altered as we in turn look at the story of our lives and our community.

These interpretations point to our own lack of imagination when it comes to our faith and how we engage with our communities. We are in a similar boat to Jacob in that to a large extent we seem to have lost our connection to God as a community. Not just as a parish community but as a community in the much wider sense both nationally and internationally. Peter's attempt to walk on water demonstrates that failure of the imaginative process in our own faith journey (Matt. 14:28-29). Peter is called out of the boat onto the water by Christ but is almost immediately side tracked away from the impossibility by the mundane. There is a certain amount of imagination that is needed when we encompass our own faith journey. An imagination that suggests we can do anything beyond the normal that Christ / God calls us into overcoming the mundane that pulls us away from God.

Only by our faith can we walk in our imagination

For most of us we are, like the brothers, unable to come to terms with the imaginative process so that we become caught up within the mundanity of our lives and concentrate solely on the ever increasing calls upon our time that is the world in which we live. Our response to the act of imagination that is the faith journey, is to hide it away in a hole or sell it of to become enslaved to situations that we are unable to comprehend or become involved in. The sleazy normality of the flux and flow of the ties that we have to the modern society prevents us from rising above the waves that overwhelm our lives. The very concept of retreating from the everyday into prayer or reflection or the imaginative process is abhorrent to modernity. The press of society around us is towards an evermore efficient lifestyle that is filled and, at the end of the day, exhausting of our life energy.

The retreat into the imagination to allow ourselves to take the step that enables our feet to walk upon the fluid surface of the water is an almost forgotten understanding. It s being retrieved into modern life by the more esoteric spiritual journeys of the Far East and alternative culture. The church appears to have lost itself within the fabric of modernity without realising that it has lost the imaginative process. This allows it to be divided by the self delusion that a reading of scripture is best interpreted by a literalist or someone embedded in a specific understanding and outlook. This dogmatic thinking is robust but static and does not allow for the breaking in of God's presence to lead us into the wonders that God's love brings to those who dedicate their lives in contemplation and reflection of that love. Our failure in our worship, in our lives and in our understanding of God's fluid and changing nature is re-lived in a lack of commitment to the belief that God can perform the imaginative miracle even while we shiver in the fear of overwhelming mundanity.

Sunday, 6 August 2023

Transfiguring our perceptions

 The human being is under constant strain as each person changes on a daily basis in small and large ways.  These changes may be a simple as re-newing our skin each day or the more complex mental and social changes that come with the break up of a partnership.  So often at moments of stress with the implications of change to our perceptions narrow down and focus on anything we can think of to become an anchor (Mk 9.5).  Individuals and organisations all respond in similar ways by re-casting a new foundation that stops the change process and builds a new structure that can bring comfort and solace.

Yet, social change is inevitable as we continue to adapt to our burgeoning knowledge and competencies in new technologies.  This creates instability within our lives as can be seen for example by changes to the energy sector in Australia. Those who presumed that their livelihoods were in a sense guaranteed by the resource sectors burgeoning profit have become uncertain in the face of changing economic realities and the global impetus towards a sustainable energy future. There is now a vacuum in which people are existing attempting to find some solidity to their future and the future energy needs of a burgeoning society. The mountaintop experience drops into this vacuum announcing the possibilities of a new future and hope. In such circumstances the new vision / hope is subsumed into a twisted reality that falls back onto known ideals and systems that have served over decades becoming fixated in a manner that does not allow for the hope expressed to become realised.

The mountain top gives us a fleeting look at the way ahead

In the purview of religious and faith structures the same thing happens and we have a tendency to be like Peter grasping for the familiar in a new and changing landscape. In keeping with all moments of transfiguration or change the moment is fleeting and disruptive. The sudden understanding that this, whatever this is, is a momentous moment that has an lasting impact upon our lives. It leaves us drifting with no anchor and a need to find ourselves in a familiar haven. The mountain top experience is a liminal space and place that is unique in that it brings to the fore a glimpse of the hope for a future yet centering it in the uncertainty of the present. That hope is now our centre, a vision that needs to come into reality within our lives as we cement it into a new way of being / doing / thinking. Our challenge is to see the hope made reality rather than an anchor in the past to subsume the hope. The disciples are looking for an unchanged reality that they can cope with and are familiar with, rather than to formulate a new understanding based on the hope that they have seen.

The hope that appears in the mountain top experience is not necessarily something that manifests immediately. Just look at the disciples it was years before they realised that hope and only after the resurrection. The experience is but a signpost and something that invigorates us for the next part of the journey. Showing us that hope is present it is not something that needs to be grabbed but rather it is something that needs to be followed. It is a breaking into the present of an intimation of the future requiring us to acknowledge it and act upon that knowledge to bring about the hope that has been expressed. There are as many downs before the fulfilment of the hope as there are ups towards it. However, if we cling to the familiar we will never move into the future journey that brings us so much joy, laughter and love.