Christ the King 25 November 2007
Readings for Reign of Christ the King Proper 29 (34) 25th November 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Christ the King / Reign of Christ 25th November 2007 Textweek
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Song of Zechariah; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Today could be the turning point, a new beginning in a time of great opportunity and it’s not about the election results, it’s actually about the feast of Christ the King. This is the end of the liturgical year; it is the end of one cycle, one lifetime in our reading of the scriptures. And next Sunday, a new year begins, a new opportunity opens up. However, we need to be clear of what our future orientation asks of us. And forever in today’s world there will be others informing us what that orientation is or should be. The future is something that we’ve got to find within ourselves.
To make today a turning point in history, we might prepare ourselves to come to the first Sunday of Advent with a new sense of direction - not with a destination in mind: We’ve got a good start: our faith and our belief. The question is, to what will I look, in what do I place my trust? Because as we go through Advent our understanding of the divine will get confused with Father Christmas. We will be drawn back to a childlike understanding of what the true meaning of Christmas is. Our faith and our belief in God should not be a handing over of the power that has been gifted to us. Our faith and our belief in God can only be realised through our faith and our belief in each other and in ourselves. We con ourselves if we think by having faith in God, all will be OK. Without finding faith in ourselves we will never glimpse God.
As we reflect on the week, realise the part that understanding will play in the unfolding of the future, can we at least grapple with a new understanding of Christ? Christ is not going to make everything OK. Rather, that is what is asked of us.
‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people…. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."’ - our righteousness. ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel …. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Words of prophecy and the delight of Zechariah. These can easily be read as the celebration of Christ, but they point to even more, to the divine presence within humanity, to that which is within ourselves. Too often we interpret prophecy in the light of Christ and then we dress Christ up as the one who will save all, just as one party dressed up John Howard and another party dressed up Kevin Rudd: ‘they will do it all for us’. The revelation of Christ is, that the gift of bringing birth to tomorrow is within. It is the gift that is the divine in all life.
In Colossians we have an understanding of Christ that becomes a prayer for all: ‘May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.’ It is your inheritance, not Christ’s inheritance, it is your inheritance to share with the saints in the light.
These are carefully chosen words that underline the spirit of Christ. ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and things invisible, … all things have been created through him and for him.’ Very easy to ascribe everything to him through whom ‘all things have been created’. The carefully chosen words are, ‘He is the image of the invisible God’. Maybe we need to be reminded that we, humanity, is also made and formed in the image of God. We should hold onto the truth that Christ, is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ‘He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead’. Behaving as if the God in all life matters is the opportunity to bring about change in the history of our lives and so in the history of our common humanity.
The Gospel reading, ‘When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.’ It’s amazing: we contemplate the end of the church year with an Easter narrative from During the week as we look towards Advent, hold onto the image of the crucifixion at the place of the Skull. ‘They crucified Jesus’ – (‘He is the head of the body’) - ‘there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.’ On the right and the left of our heads are our hands. In what ways is the work of our hands like criminals? How much of our doing is or is not, aligned with the glimpses of the divine that we have seen and that we understand?
It’s an amazing image, two criminals, one on his left and one on his right. And yet there’s a truth in the middle, a truth that is glimpsed and a truth that deeply is known: the divine is incarnate in humanity. If the work of our hands does not reflect that truth, then are not our hands like the criminals’ at the place of the Skull? ‘The leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself!"’ Little did they appreciate that the only way to save oneself is give one’s life for the many.
While I was away I was reading a book of essays on the Gita, the Hindu scriptures, and I came across this lovely little Easter truth:
‘For existence is one, and its divisions must found themselves on
some law of mutual dependence, each growing by each and
living by all. The mutual giving and receiving is the law of
life without which it cannot for one moment endure.’
Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 18th November 2007
Readings for Proper 28 (33) Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 18th November 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 28C / Ordinary 33C / Pentecost +25 Textweek
Full sermon Theo Mackaay
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 14th October 2007
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-12; II Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Readings for Proper 23 (28)Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 14th October 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 26C / Ordinary 28C / Pentecost +20 Textweek
Jeremiah speaks to a particular situation at a particular time; the prophetic voice however, reaches beyond the particular and speaks into the universal. The prophet speaks the word of the divine, of God, the voice of creation, the voice of life. It’s therefore a word to be heard in every age and speaks to us to this day and to our particular situation.
‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ Each of us might hear that in relation to our own situation, from a different inner landscape, but it also identifies a universal principle that fits for all of us. The seeking of our welfare is not about looking after ourself: seeking the welfare of the whole is the way to finding our own wholeness. It’s an obvious truth that most of us know, it’s the herd instinct, it’s the attraction of community and it’s the way we find our belonging. In the present age that becomes quite a radical concept, it goes against the tide of our booming consumer society. The modern quest to be self-sufficient and to be self-funded actually denies the prophetic voice and so too, the divine word of creation. If we listen to another voice it may the voice of uncreation that we hear.
Paul in writing to Timothy says, ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things’. Later on he writes, ‘if we deny him’, if we deny Christ, if we deny God, then Christ/God will deny us. Paul is one of those characters who has grown up - that’s what the whole road to Damascus is about, it’s to do with growing into one’s truth. He’s moved beyond a God who looks after everything, regardless of what we do. Paul is aware that in Christ there is revealed an intimate relationship between humanity and divinity: we are integral to and we are participants in the divine unfolding of creation. Life in Christ or in denial of Christ has consequences, and Luke uses a really simple illustration to make the same point: ‘your faith has made you well.’ Our orientation, that in which we place our faith, determines our creative unfolding, our wellness. Where I place my faith will lead to my unfolding, my wholeness or my lack of it. ‘You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ – therein place your faith.
There’s more for us to contemplate. The Gospel lays some emphasis on movement: ‘On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.’ Obviously was important to Luke that we get a feel for Jesus being on the way from somewhere to somewhere. It suggests that we might contemplate, where are we going? Where are we on the way to? As it is perhaps in our movement, our going toward, that we find encounter, and once again the modern world somehow has distorted that process. Encounter can now be found sitting on the sofa by the television; encounter can be found in sport – great example of encounter in movement, but it’s a movement going nowhere, all contained within the field of play where we can keep an eye on it.
I wonder, are we afraid of going ‘on the way to’? Is there is a primal ‘afraid of movement’ that’s got to do with the movement from birth to death? Seems that in the modern world that’s a movement that we constantly wish to deny, and I wonder if in our denial of it we actually suppress a fear and so seek to be always where we are, rather than on the way.
In 2 Timothy there’s a wonderful list of ‘ifs’: ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him’ - overcome the fear of death and we open ourselves to movement. The ‘ifs’ that Paul writes are for us to say where are we in relation to the if’s, to become aware of what stops us from moving; to reawaken, to rekindle the whole idea of life lived in the knowledge of consequences, life that we can grab, life that no longer is controlled by God on his keyboard but rather that is sung into being by us. Life that seeks the welfare of the whole.
The Lord be with you.
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 7th October 2007
Lamentations 1:1-6; Psalm 137:1-9; II Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Readings for (Proper 25) Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 7th October 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 25C / Ordinary 27C / Pentecost +19 Textweek
‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night.’ The reality of Lamentations is the same reality that Jesus confronts in the Garden of Gethsemane. [But] our reality is based on another quite different myth: we’re supposed to be happy because we’ve got more than most people, but what’s the reality?
Although the lamentations are for Jerusalem, that reading and its feelings so readily translate into a lamentation for life lived with sacred awareness, life that is determined by a divine orientation, life in Paul’s terms that is lived for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ. It is that very promise of life that is in Christ that draws us to prayer, which then draws us to church, to monastery, to temple, to ashram, to those who are also drawn together in faith.
[But] seeking the promise of life is not a matter of coming into the religious supermarket, taking it off the shelf, going home self-satisfied. We’re drawn to seek and to create life in Christ, but as soon as you turn on the TV we realise how easy it is to forget a life lived with sacred awareness.
We then hear the lament of the psalmist: ‘Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.’ There’s a really worthwhile pause there: ‘my highest joy’. Consider that: what is my highest joy? Paul speaks of recalling tears, of longing to see ‘that I may be filled with joy’, of being reminded of sincere faith and of being called with a holy calling. Paul has known and knows the place of lament and so too he knows ‘my highest joy’, for, ‘I know the one in whom I have put my trust’.
So once again the readings provide some reference points for us in the present to find direction and movement toward the future: contemplate ‘my highest joy’, look for the feeling that gives life; look for the place: where is the Jerusalem of your joy? Then lament, give imagery to the poetry of Lamentations, know yourselves as exiled from the Jerusalem of your desire, from the very place of your creation - I no longer dwell there, I am an exile in a foreign land. Next affirm yourself, for you are no longer children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, and affirm yourselves as called with a holy calling - you are called with a holy calling, entrusted with good treasure. Then acknowledge the Holy Spirit living in us - not in me, not in you - in us.
They’re reference points that will lead us, as Paul says, to rekindle the gift of God that is within you. And as that flame is rekindled, it’s actually at the point you feel the flame being rekindled, then it’s worth receiving the Gospel. The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…’ Our faith, our divine awareness is not about quantity, it’s all about quality, quality the size of a mustard seed.
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2nd September 2007
Readings for (Proper 17) Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 26th August 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 17C / Ordinary 22C / Pentecost +134 Textweek
Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
The reading from Jeremiah - ‘What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me?’- gives us an opportunity as we reflect on Fathers’ Day, our ancestors, to follow the links because where we’ve got to is not like Dr Who and the Tardis, we don’t suddenly arrive in this time, we are a culmination of our history.
In the lead-up to an election it’s as if the parties seek to mirror the work of Jeremiah and they actually give us a distorted parody of the prophetic process. The work of a prophet is to speak what is, what can and what will be, in relation to the divine promise of life. Like any prophetic vision, Jeremiah’s words can be analysed and/or encountered at different levels. At the individual personal level, the local or the national level, the global level and at the level that embraces all, the universal level – what is this word or vision for me, for us as a nation or to us as a culture, and the prophetic voice for all? As we reflect at those different levels, we can start joining the dots – am I a part of or am I apart from those other layers?
Now the same actually happens with party political broadcasts, except they are spun always toward the individual level to elicit an encounter, that is, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Jeremiah is really doing the same thing but going beyond the individual in a way that seeks to gather us into the universal, so he confronts us with the questions that we so often fail to ask. ‘Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?’ Are we the product of worthless ancestors? It’s a sobering exercise just to acknowledge the question, let alone to seek an answer. How did we get so far away from the divine promise of life that our worth is now linked to the sub-prime mortgage rate in the US?
Jeremiah asks us to look at where we are in relation to God’s promise, individually, as church, as nation, as Western culture, as one world. Two thirds of the world are hungry. Play that back through the layers, so too two thirds of our culture, two thirds of our nation, two thirds of ourselves are hungry. Why? For what do we hunger? As we start to hear the question within, so we’re engaged by the prophetic process. Jeremiah identifies two evils: ‘they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water’ and ‘they have dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water’. Interesting analogies of evil, particularly pertinent here in WA. We fumble trying to sort out the fountains of living water, we put restrictions on them. We’re not sure where to dig out the cisterns for ourselves – should we dig a long one from the Ord River down to Perth or will it be cracked and hold no water?
The contrast of where we are in relation to the divine promise of life in all its fullness is underlined: ‘I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and good things’.
And our ancestors’ response to this gift? ‘You defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination’. Verse 8 then points the finger at the church, our public institutions and our system of government. By implication therefore, Jeremiah is telling us that each of us needs to take our own responsibility, for we did not ask the right questions, we did not know the divine and we transgressed against the divine. Jeremiah says to us: look at all the levels, the right questions weren’t not asked, the divine was not encountered. Therefore, each of us must take that step for ourselves, each of us becomes the father of the next generation by the actions we undertake in the present. Just as we start to reflect on that - the past that led me to the place that I am in and also the past that I will create as I walk forward from this place, Paul gives us some concrete points of reference.
Paul creates lists of things to lead us towards a full realisation, he balances his texts so that they are balanced and whole. But he uses specifics to illuminate universals and gives us some directions in how to exercise our choice. Verses 1 and 2 provide us with the creative principles that Paul is talking about. ‘Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels.’ Paul speaks in direct opposition to our current government policy and practice. He then outlines a wonderful balance of social justice and of self-care and I think that we can seek to align our life with his points of reference.
But as we reflect on what brought us to this place, it’s good to be aware of theological spin. Jeremiah has asked us to consider where are we now, based on the journeys of our ancestors who went astray. In verses 4 and 5 we see two things: ‘Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled’ – tick; and ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have’ - tick. We would all agree, probably with both of those. But with Jeremiah in the background it poses the question, why has the church been so hung up about verse 4 and at the same time so relaxed about verse 5? Why have our ancestors, the scribes and the Pharisees who created this place, given us so much legislation, teaching, guilt about the marriage bed and yet let us get away with greed and rape and pillage of the planet? There is a going astray there – our ancestors in this place is our church history, let us not accept it as gospel. We need to take responsibility to the word of God that is revealed in Christ and so revealed in and through us. It’s not done yet. If it was done the world would be different.
Paul balances his reference points with the affirmation of the divine word: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ That is comforting, but it also keeps us on the hook: always and forever the divine is with us seeking to be revealed in the world. ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ If we could get that we would change our lives, but we are afraid, which is why we go with the flow. As we write history, we write with the divine or we can follow and join the dots from our ancestors and follow on down that path, creating wars, taking as much as we possibly can to the point that others will go without.
Luke sees exactly the same claim to the power of love that is revealed in Christ as a challenge to the lawyers and the Pharisees, as a challenge to the state and to the church. As we contemplate where we are in relation to the scheme of things, we find ourselves quite small. Excellent, for that is the place from where we can be exalted - humble players on a world stage and yet according to the Gospel, each and every one of us is the place of exaltation.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 26 August 2007
Readings for (Proper 16) Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 26th August 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 16C / Ordinary 21C / Pentecost +13 Textweek
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
The readings today seem to confront us with the enormity of our faith. They invite us into a depth that lies beyond the shallows of the established church. Each one of us is consecrated, commissioned, called, baptised and delivered, in and through the divine word. Like Jeremiah, our response to this consecration and calling is understandably cautious: ‘Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only human, only a boy’.
‘I’m only human’ is a classic theological mistake perpetuated by the dominant Sunday School theology of the orthodox denominations. The divine response to the excuse affirms a greater truth: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you’ - to bring you to birth, to bring you to birth into the fullness of life. And ‘today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms’ – this is you he’s talking about – ‘to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’
It’s an amazing responsibility – no wonder we choose to stay in the shallows. But we can only choose to stay there if we push our energy into a delusion that tells us that by staying in the shallows we will live. By rejecting the divine consecration we become complicit in the undoing of creation rather than in the unfolding of creation. It says, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’ Our birth, our very being is formed in the divine; to declare ‘I’m only human’ is a weak excuse. Our faith takes us beyond the world of scientific rationalism into the wholeness of mystical truth. As we say week by week, we are the Body of Christ; we are formed in the divine.
As we contemplate Jeremiah’s words about our formation and our being delivered, so too we can contemplate our birth, our delivery and our consecration, and as we contemplate our truth - ‘Who really, really am I?’ – then we encounter our fears, our delusions. We realise that so much of our human journey is devoted to creating the delusion that we are in control. In fact we go beyond that, that we are God, rather than participants in the divine unfolding of life and they’re so close together, you can see how easy it is to think of ourselves as God: ‘Not only can I control my life, I can control the generations that come in my wake’. We look like God: the mistake we make is, we fail to see that we are participants in the divine.
Paul seeks to illustrate that and at the same time to illuminate the movement from the shallows into the depth, from a simplistic cult-like worship of a god who stands outside ourselves, to a divine in the image of a consuming fire. And what is consumed by the fire becomes a part of the fire, just like the sacraments that we consume become a part of our being. It is fear and ego that keep us from the flames. But stay with the image of the fire and we realise that to stand and watch is to witness the fire dying. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you’: you are part of the fire; this is our truth and our faith and only our fear can deny it.
The Gospel provides another illustration of the life to be found in our encounter with the divine, and Luke provides in one line a purpose for being the church: ‘Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath’ which is seen by Luke as a place of teaching and learning. I wonder how many churchgoers when asked why they go to church respond with ‘for learning and/or teaching how to become fully alive in the divine’. Another thing to appreciate is that Jesus was not on the staff. It’s a reminder of our consecration and our responsibility one to another.
The incident that Luke then narrates is an opportunity for us to see ourselves: ‘Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight’. This woman is me, this woman is you. What is the spirit that cripples us, keeps us bent over, weighed down, depressed? What is the spirit that takes away the playful energy of children, that orientates us towards death rather than towards life? As we see ourselves in this woman be aware that we too are unable to stand up straight, to reach our full height, to attain our integrity with the divine.
Some of us are still able to do the mental gymnastics that say, ‘I’ve reached my full potential’. How do we do that? We look at others; it’s one of the reasons we keep two thirds of the world starving, so we can delude ourselves that we stand up straight. But just scratch the surface and there’s another truth in the image of this woman. In fact, we choose not to realise our full potential in the divine, we make another choice. ‘When Jesus saw her, he called her over’, and that’s the good news, for we too are called over by that same word. Are we open to hearing it? Can we see beyond our ego, fear and self-preoccupation to the divine calling us over?
‘When he laid his hands on her….’: she was touched by the divine. Our encounter with God is the encounter of touch, that’s how close it is. Luke presents a model of church that’s not the china-shop church where you look but don’t touch, nor the sporting club church, where you watch the game that others play; rather it is a place of encounter and of touching, and in that place, ‘immediately she stood up straight’.
God is a consuming fire. As we stand up straight reaching our potential, the divine potential within each of us through encounter, teaching and learning and participating with each other, so too we realise the activity and the potential of the synagogue. We become the Body of Christ, we become the fuel for the fire. We overcome our Jeremiah fears, leaving the womb to realise our consecration.
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 19th August 2007
Readings for (Proper 15) Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 19th August 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 15C / Ordinary 20C / Pentecost +12 Textweek
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
If we listen to the readings this morning without really attending we engage the same process as when we watch TV; a more ancient process we have means switching on imagination and finding within the feeling or the place that’s being addressed in the text and listening from there, and the place to listen is from where you have been deeply loved or where you have deeply loved.
The reading from Isaiah sets the whole context for today’s readings. ‘Let me sing for my beloved my love-song’ – just imagine that: the Divine, the creator of life, is to sing for us a love-song. It’s an allegorical love song therefore, about a vineyard on a fertile hill. Hear the word ‘fertile’, feel the rise that lifts us from the everyday. It’s a song filled with expectation and the giving of all: ‘what more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not before?’ We begin to connect with the place in which I gave all. Like so many love songs it becomes a lament: ‘He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry’:
The psalm is another song of love and the response captures the dynamic of love. ‘May your face shine upon us, that we may be a light to the world’ – that exchange that occurs in love, that when we receive the shining face of another, we too are able to shine. The psalm is a love-song that holds together all three readings: it acknowledges the vineyard that was birthed in love, it acknowledges the journey into freedom that is the promise of love; it also contains the consuming fire of love that confronts us in the Gospel. The cry of love in the psalm is a call for restoration, a calling back into wholeness what was birthed in love. And if the psalm sings of the process of love, then perhaps we’ll see the substance that makes up the voices or the verses of that love song in the other readings: what is it that gives flesh to the song of love?
The reading from Hebrews speaks of perseverance in love. The litany that we began with last week underlines and emphasises acts undertaken by faith. ‘By faith the people passed through the Red Sea, by faith the walls of Jericho fell….’ Faith and love are as intimately connected as doubt and fear. Perseverance by faith in love is not a simple ‘hang in there’, rather it’s set in a context that more fully realises the powerful energies of love.
The power of love is captured through a number of quite diverse illustrations: mocking, flogging, stoning, chains, imprisonment and much more. At the end of such a list, we’re left wondering at the power of love and the very process of love. Our Hollywood appreciation of love speaks of binding together and being happy ever after. The readings today suggest that our expectations of love and desired outcomes almost deny the very process of love and so the very power of love.
Adam and Eve provide us with an entry point to the power of love in the same way that Barbie and Ken dolls provide our children with an entry point into understanding relationships. But the power of love, the passion and the pain of love is the force of creative shaping and movement. When all is said and done about love, love is the activity of God, is the divine activity; to ascribe it anywhere else other than that, I believe is to diminish it. To experience it is a glimpse of something more; to have and to hold is to leave the very process of love unrealised.
Perseverance in love is not about holding on and hanging in, it’s about maintaining a faith, such that as it says, ‘we can endure the cross that leads to the throne of Glory’, just as the psalmist cries out, love is the power of restoration, the arrow that points forever to life, in, through and beyond death.
Luke also employs a powerful and confronting image. Fire is quite often employed as a symbol of passion, the flame of love and its all-consuming nature. But Luke uses fire in the context of a refining force, a making perfect, which is another way of looking at restoring to wholeness. Again, we might wince at the divisions within family that Luke introduces. ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, rather division!’ But if you look at 54-56, ‘When you see a cloud you say, 'It is going to rain'; when you see the wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat’, the easterlies. I wonder how many this morning have already engaged in a conversation about the weather? And the process and the power of love? Nah, we don’t go there, we leave it contained and constrained within the family context; we clutch our Barbies and Kens and we hold on to our desire for happy ever after. That in turn becomes a fear of anything that might change or interrupt the status quo.
Today and every day we’re invited to accept Christ, the revelation of the divine as a consuming fire, to open ourselves to the power of love that refines and so restores us to fullness of life. For those who wish to hang on to their Barbie and Ken and wait for the end times when all will be revealed and judged in glory, verse 57 asks, ‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ To persevere in faith assumes that we participate in faith. Each and every one of us is called to make real the power of love. ‘I came to bring fire to the earth’: if one uses one’s imagination to picture that coming of the divine, you can hear Metallica playing in the background words of one of their songs, ‘Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire’.
Let us be aware of the desires that we have and that we hold, be aware of the refining, the being made perfect that we invite with open hands. Be aware of the possibility that we and no one else are the vineyard: we are the Body of Christ.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 12th August 2007
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16;
Readings for (Proper 14) Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 12th August 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Proper 14C / Ordinary 19C / Pentecost +11 Textweek
‘The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting’ [from Psalm 50], is the divine call for the whole of creation for the whole of time [which] affirms that the word of God, the creative activity of the divine, the activity of Love is in the present and is in every present moment. And the vision of Isaiah, from about 700 BC, speaks [also] of our tomorrow, just as it spoke of a tomorrow in years long ago. It is for everyone to grasp in our moment.
Isaiah speaks of creative orientation. ‘Listen to the teaching of our God’: listen to the voice that births in creative abundance. He then goes on to say that worship is not enough, nor faith in God, nor attending church and then recalls our baptismal promise: ‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes’. He then speaks of the realisation of our baptism: ‘learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’.
Before we all dash out to do that, be aware that they are inward as well as outward activities. In order to bring justice out we need to bring justice within: ‘learn to do good’ means find the place in your own landscape where that is your desire. Seek justice: don’t look to the legal systems of the world, find the place of balance within. The realisation of our baptismal promise and the vision of Isaiah is in each and every moment; it’s a realisation of the divine activity. ‘Come now’ again puts it into the present … ‘Come now, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow’. See beyond thinking we’ve amassed so much scarlet that we can never look like snow. Isaiah’s call for justice is a calling into the realisation of the faith that we profess.
The reading from Hebrews underlines the vision of Isaiah. Verses 1 and 2 provide a wonderful understanding of faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for and as the conviction of things not seen’. A lot of our time is spent living in a place that looks like hope [but] hope, delusion and denial get awfully confusing. This is the assurance of things hoped for. Then follows a litany from Abraham to Moses that underlines acts of faith, attributed to the foundational biblical characters [but] they’re actual characteristics of our own formation in faith. ‘By faith Abraham set out for a place, not knowing where he was going’ calls into question our goal-orientated and our outcomes-based culture. ‘By faith he stayed for a time living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, for he looked forward to the city whose builder is God’ - instead of accumulating in this world we’re called to attend to the divine estate and to look beyond our mortality.
‘By faith he received power of procreation’ is not a recalling an old man and a barren woman having innumerable kids, but the power of the creative activity, the divine activity that gives life. It’s a call to look beyond the Cross and see the empty tomb; look beyond the ills and the burdens of the years and realise our capacity to create in every moment; whether we are old and barren, in every moment we have the capacity to create. Arguably the younger we are the more energy we have to do it; arguably the older we are the more wisdom we have to do it. Then he tells us that we’re part of the divine vision - each of us is a part of its realisation. ‘By faith Abraham offered up Isaac’, and through offering all without reservation, the future was realised. We get that story again in the self-offering of Christ, the divine activity realised in humanity and it’s what our faith calls forth from us. This is how we grasp the moment, we move into that inner landscape where we can offer up all we have.
‘Isaac invoked blessings for the future’ maybe calls us to ask what is it that we invoke for the future. Joseph gives voice to freedom from oppression and ‘Moses chose the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures’. It’s worth looking back to fleeting pleasures and seeing how much they mean today. They’re still are a delight because you can still pick up the energy of them [but] in the scheme of things, it’s not that big. The reading from Hebrews is really a litany of orientation and rather than emphasising faith as a virtue, Hebrews doesn’t even go there. It’s about acts of faith - what is the realisation of our faith?
Both the vision of Isaiah and the litany in Hebrews affirm that acts of faith are really a lifestyle choice [which is] what Luke’s Gospel is about. The whole Gospel reading except the first verse seeks to make clear the vision that Christ speaks: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom’. Luke is illuminating the lifestyle choice that Christ reveals – if we act out the faith we have in the divine then we become participators in the divine activity of creation. What choices does that call forth from us? Global warming and a meltdown of the Dow Jones can force lifestyle changes upon us. Christ calls us to choose for ourselves, to participate in the divine vision, and every moment is the moment of that choosing.
We must be very careful that we don’t misread Luke’s Gospel: ‘You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ has been interpreted under a theology of the Second Coming which is as flawed as thinking that the earth is flat. There is no Second Coming, don’t bother waiting for it; it’s held the church up for years. If you read beyond the obvious, the Second Coming is us making the choice in that moment to realise the divine activity in us. All has been given, nothing withheld, the only waiting we need to do is as we seek within ourselves the landscape shift and lifestyle shift that enable us to realise the Christ-likeness in us. It will come that the theology of the Second Coming will be reinterpreted as a movement within. It is the divine pleasure to give us everything; it is our choice as to what we receive.
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 5th August 2007
Hosea 11:1-11;Psalm 107:1-9, 43;Colossians 3:1-11;Luke 12:13-21
Readings for (Proper 13) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 29 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 13C / Ordinary 18C / Pentecost +10 Textweek
Psalm 107 begins with a very clear affirmation: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; and God’s steadfast love endures forever’. Alongside ‘God is Love’, ‘God is good’ would have to be one of the primary Biblical and theological affirmations. However, to argue for the goodness of the Creator based on evidence of creation is not that simple or straight forward. With the dualism in the forces of light and the forces of dark we can see a fracture, where trust and doubt come into conflict with each other. Does the arrow of creation point toward good or evil, light or dark? Is the unfolding of creation moving towards death or moving towards life? Is it good or evil that is the most powerful influence in our lives? The psalmist provides a litany of evidence to illustrate God’s goodness [which] are the acts of love and in the reading from Hosea there is very much that same sense – the nature of God, the goodness of God is evidenced in acts of love.
The backdrop to the reading from Hosea is one of social turmoil. At this point the Hebrew nation is divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom is falling to the armies of Assyria. The people of Israel have turned toward other gods and we find in Hosea an illumination of God as a parent toward a child. It is a love that is committed and unconditional, that experiences and endures with the other the anxiety when that love appears to be rejected, torn by compassion in tension with anger.
Hosea captures the divine agony of Easter and he makes real the conflict of trust and doubt that is the result of taking the risk of love. Creation is the risk of love that is occasioned by the Creator. We are holders of the divine agony as we too wrestle with trust and doubt. There’s a great healthiness of sitting with trust and doubt, feeling and knowing that they draw us and pull us in different directions. And as we’re constantly called by the gravity of the world into the security of our own ego, we might just catch a glimpse or an echo of the divine word that Hosea captures: ‘I am God, the Holy One in your midst’. If we can hear that echo then we can hold the tension – not giving ourselves over fully to trust nor fully to doubt, not allowing gravity to pull ourselves fully into our own ego but knowing that we are called out of ourselves, a light calling out of darkness.
Paul hears the echo within the tension; he turns from the darkness of what was a very successful life. Paul had a certainty and strength of character so clear that he sought to put down the emerging church because it spoke a different way from the religion of his culture. And yet he hears the echo, from the darkness he sees the light flickering and he grounds that echo into the everyday where that tension is not just held but is resolved: ‘Seek the things that are above’. He then goes on, ‘When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory’. Not Christ in your life, not my life lived like Christ. There is no other for Paul: ‘Christ who is your life’: the two are the same. In that renewal, he goes on, ‘but Christ is all and in all’, and that also is a revelation of ourselves; when we find ourselves our life in Christ, we find ourselves all, fully, whole and in all, a part of the wholeness and fullness of Creation. Those three affirmations of Paul, seeking the things that are above, discovering Christ who is in your life, revealing yourself in glory and the renewal that leads to Christ being all and in all, have got the potential to reshape our whole theology and our whole being, individually and as church.
Hosea uses the analogy of God as parent and God’s people as children; we tend to get stuck with that analogy from Sunday School or by osmosis from the culture which got it from the doctrines of the church and so we end up with the divine image is parent and child. The divine agony, the divine risk is that creation, which is the risk of love, is revealed in Christ, Christ the divine gift; all is given in Christ and Christ is our very life.
Luke explores the dynamic by giving us a very brief, everyday encounter that most of us have experienced over and over. The question seeks to engage Jesus in a conversation: ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’, to get Jesus to resolve another tension, and it’s all about division. And because the question follows Paul’s ‘In that renewal, Christ is all and in all’, we discover, ‘Ah, this must be a question that belongs before renewal’. There is a world in which that question would be ridiculous if voiced; it is a world where all is in all, where the forces move not towards division but towards wholeness.
The parable about the rich young man tells of someone who acted prudently - that’s us; a modern-day economic rationalist. The rich man is prudent and on the surface he’s a good steward. The parable seeks to identify that he acts in an isolated way, unaware that his welfare has got anything to do with anyone else’s. He would certainly be at home in our world.
Love is the power that connects and commits itself to every other. It risks the divine agony. Love is the arrow of life and it’s an arrow that constantly draws us out of ourselves. We find it in one to one encounters quite easily; the arrow continues to point beyond that. It says the power of life is to reveal a love for all from within. Let’s be aware as we contemplate the parable that this is the life we live, in the midst of the life we live, not in some faraway place, in the midst of it, ‘I am God the Holy one’. Love draws us together. As today unfolds, as tomorrow unfolds from today, hold the parable and be aware of the arrow of your own life, the arrow of this community, the arrow of our nation, the arrow of our world.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 29th July 2007
Readings for (Proper 12) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 29 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C / Pentecost +9 Textweek
Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
The backdrop to the reading from Hosea is the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah and the impending fall of Israel to the Assyrians. But the important thing is to reawaken an awareness of the prophet. Hosea speaks with the voice of the prophet - as if he sees with two different sets of eyes - seeing and naming the socio-political situation and the unfolding of the immediate world, in relation to the divine unfolding of creation, and seeking to bring those together and to speak of where there are gaps.
If Hosea were to visit a modern day therapist he would probably be told that the narrative is a transition dream, and that it’s probably all about himself and for most people that would be a reasonable starting point. But the prophet differs, because the prophet is attentive to the divine and has an orientation that is not to self but of being part of a whole in its unfolding, that itself is divinely inspired. With the eyes of a prophet, the opportunity is there to see the unfolding of the whole, so one question that comes out of the reading is who looks at the world today with the eyes of the prophet? An even more telling question, how do we find such sight and such insight? We’re bombarded with agenda-driven, commercially-orientated images given us in a guise of sociological or political unfolding and it is becoming harder to discern where are we going, where are we being led and where is there alignment in our world with the voice that calls us ‘children of God’? Where does the whole align with that calling?
Today probably is a good time to give a passing thought to the movements that have been realised: a hundred and fifty years ago there was an opening up of this land and an encouraging invitation to people of many different lands and cultures to participate. Equally there was a cost to all that. Today, we live in a world that is filled with fear and that withholds or cancels visas in order to protect what it has. The shifts that we see, happen almost without our seeing because our seeing is constantly distracted.
We find in Paul almost a progression or a later development of the prophetic voice, providing an illustration of living out those transitional dreams. The prophetic insight is given grounding in the every day - this is to be lived. Paul’s teaching makes real the prophetic truth that is there in every age. You can run through this text and see Paul’s grounding it - the truth and the vision that he’s seen - into the every day: ‘you have received Christ, live in Christ’; ‘your lives rooted and built up in Christ’; ‘see no one takes you captive’; ‘Come to fullness in Christ. Christ is the head of every ruler and authority’. Paul then provides two pairs of reference points to identify or to take bearings for our life’s transitions: ‘buried in baptism, raised in faith and power’, and ‘dead in trespasses, alive together with God’. And then he continues to explore the implications of those insights and points towards our growing up in a way that ‘grows with a growth that is from God’.
The Gospel then becomes quite apt because it provides us with a starting point for our prophetic transition: how do I move into that place of insight, and having seen, how do I ground that in the every day? It provides us with an entry point, which is the disciples’ question, ‘Lord teach us to pray’, and before that question an illustration, by the fact that Jesus was praying. The fact that Jesus prays and that Luke captures that in the Gospel and uses it to set the scene for the disciples to ask a question of such import, means that it is itself an important point to get: Jesus is fully human, Jesus is fully divine, Jesus is fully alive, in prayer. The disciples’ question, ‘Lord teach us to pray’, is their entry point into realising that same fullness. The disciples are asking, ‘Lord, I too want to be fully human, fully divine, fully alive. Teach me the path that you walk.’
Jesus then teaches them a mantra, the Lord’s Prayer. It is a mantra for orientation, a compass, a direction, which is like the plumb-line we heard about; it’s the place, the cornerstone, the starting point. It’s like a line on which we will find prayers that are spoken from us and to us. He then tells those two unusual stories in which he’s teaching the process of prayer. Paramount in prayer is persistence; Paul got that: ‘Pray without ceasing’; Paul constantly comes back from prayer and constantly goes forward from prayer.
What we learn from the Gospel is that in prayer we are to ask: ‘ask and it will be given’; and we are to seek or to search – ‘seek and you will find’; we are to knock on the door and the door will be opened. So one of the ways that we may reflect on our own life transition is to consider the outcomes that have been identified in the Gospel. Ask of yourself, what have I received from the divine? What have I found in my searching for the divine? What has been opened for me?
As we look at today’s teaching on the prophetic transition into fullness of life, we might also contemplate the last hundred and fifty years of our life as the body of Christ. We might wonder: are we stuck between those reference points, between baptism and resurrection? If we looked at the history of the Diocese of Perth and the Church we would find it stuck between baptism and resurrection, forever asking, forever searching, forever knocking. And that leads us to wonder then, are we unaware, or worse still are we unexpectant of outcomes? Are we unaware and unexpectant of what is given?
What is given: the revelation of the divine in Christ is that all is given and so ‘greater things than these you will do’. What is found? If we’re looking, are we not seeing the wood for the trees? What is opened? Because in the culture that we live we are constantly being asked to ignore or reject what is divine. The Church is the same as the world in that position, caught between the promise of baptism and the realisation of resurrection, distracted, forever.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 22nd July 2007
Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Readings for (Proper 11) Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 22 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 11C / Ordinary 16C / Pentecost +8 Textweek
The Gospel narrative doesn’t require a lot of unpacking and yet somehow it can create some unease. We seem to be torn between Mary and Martha, and we can sympathise with and have empathy with all in the narrative.
Taking scripture in a literal sense still leads to that confounding unease, forever giving us choices that seem to negate each other. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet – the classical posture of worship and the social position of the servant, and our religion worships Jesus. But Christ offers the opposite – he comes to serve and to exalt the lowly, he does not come to seek worship, and it’s helpful to reread the Gospel without or even beyond that simplistic understanding that it’s all about Jesus. Seeing the Gospel as a witness to what Jesus reveals about us, then we become the import of the Gospel, not Jesus.
Mary and Martha are not two sisters, one doing the right thing – worshipping Jesus - and the other doing the wrong thing; they are about humanity and about us, the seeking of balance within our lives. To be worried and distracted by our many tasks we know only too well is not a life-giving orientation, rather it becomes a path of struggle that leads to retirement as a prelude to death. To listen with an orientation to the divine is life-giving, and ‘will not be taken away’. It is the path that leads beyond death.
This is a story about ourselves and the positions that we can take within - an orientation that will lead us towards death, to the seen and the known and the busyness that will eventually wear out, or that part of us that sees beyond and knows that there is more.
Within the Bible itself there is a development of theological understanding and to the surprise of many in the Church that progression continues each and every day. The Church tells us that this is a book that’s got all the truth in it, that it is shut and there is nothing more; believe it and you’ve got everything. Yes, it’s true on one level, but surely we are called to read it and in its reading, it takes on a different shape to what it did in its writing.
The vision of Amos had at least two interpretations for the people of its time. It spoke of the religious and political reality for the people of Israel. It also can be read as a vision that speaks of the end times, a coming day of judgement. The flat-earth theologians actually thought that the day of judgement was going to come at a certain point, just as eighty percent of the Christian church talks about the Second Coming. Yet the world continues to unfold.
When we look at the Amos reading and seek our encounter with the divine in it, in the present moment, today, then we can find an echo of our every day experience in the text.
We find ourselves looking into the reality of a famine and a thirst, a thirst for hearing the word of the Lord - is this not Mary’s hunger? We find ourselves wandering from sea to sea, and from north to east, running to and fro - is this not Martha’s busyness?
Is it Amos or the basket of fruit that is important? It’s neither. The same applies to the Gospel – it’s not Jesus, nor the actual event that is being described and narrated, but it is the process of vision. It is engaging the divine in the every day and being moved and motivated towards the divine.
Paul gets it and engages the process of vision; he understands what Amos saw and he integrates Mary and Martha and he gets it in a sense that shapes his own reality: Christ is more, much more than Jesus to Paul. ‘He is the image of the invisible God and in Christ, all things hold together’. Paul sees that Christ is the orientation toward life, ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’.
Paul recognises that there is a real implication for each and every one of us in the Gospel. The hostile, those doing evil deeds, those outside of the faith – the Gentiles - even Martha is included in the process of vision that Paul perceives, and what has been revealed is, ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery’.
Is that not what we seek? Is that not what we experience when we come together? We glimpse the riches of the glory of the divine mystery, which is - he even spells it out in case we miss it – ‘Christ in you’. That’s what it’s all about, the whole book beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation. It is all about Christ in you.
Mary didn’t hear Martha whingeing in the kitchen; with an orientation toward the divine mystery that voice in her heart was still. She listened, she ate and she drank, putting an end to the famine of her struggle; she got up, she thanked her visitor for his presence and then she lived a life that shone. Mary gave birth to the divine that was birthed in her when she said yes to the divine that called her name.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 8th July 2007
Readings for Proper 9 (14) Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 8 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 9C / Ordinary 14C / Pentecost +6 * July 2007 Textweek
II Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-24
Going through the readings during the week is like looking through the travel pages of the paper: you get these glimpses of other places, places that we’re drawn to, that have something that we delight in and that we know, ‘I don’t have it here but I know it, I actually can see it’.
Yesterday, we, the community of St Paul’s had a busy bee. For much of it I was reflecting on the text in today’s Gospel: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’ And obviously that probably resonates for each of us in our encounter with the everyday. But it’s only a part of the text because it continues: ‘therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’, and I wondered what that part of the text really means. I can feel it makes sense of the first part and yet I’m still seeking to understand what sense it is making. It’s a good example because quite often with scripture we’re partially enlightened. When you come across those texts, stay with them for a bit longer - the questions that the Bible raises are far more important than the answers it provides, because it’s not a book to provide answers, it’s a book in which we’re to find ourselves as the answer.
The first reading from II Kings contrasts the power struggle of our worldly conflicts: you can read into this story any of the conflicts in the world and so too we can find within it our own inner disturbance. Naaman, the commander, the great, mighty warrior, is given life from his weakness, his leprosy, from an unnamed young girl, a captive and a servant. It’s a story of trust and of mistrust, of networking, of community and communities overlapping and working together. But it’s a story of healing, your healing and my healing and the world’s healing, not in terms of healing from sickness, healing in its fullest sense: the making whole, the making full, the bringing to life. The healing occurs close by and is very simple, so close and so simple it’s even annoying - he almost says, ‘Look, I wanted a miracle’. Go and wash in the Jordan: the path to wholeness is very, very close; the steps to wholeness are not miraculous steps.
We could readily adopt [the Galatians text] as the eight commandments of Holy Scripture. As someone who gets bored easily, I don’t often look at the Ten Commandments; they are so old, so obvious, so simple. Paul comes up with eight: restore in a spirit of gentleness; take care that you are not tempted; bear one another's burdens; test your own work; share in all good things; do not be deceived, for you reap what you sow; be not weary in doing what is right; work for the good of all. They seemed to have an appropriateness and to be a little more real. Why we got the ten is a church thing, it’s not a God-ordained thing. God didn’t say, ‘Here are the ten things, just do those and nothing else’. That’s an early interpretation; Paul now gives us a later interpretation and if we could truly recognise ourselves as church and not as people visiting a church, we would also come up with an interpretation for ourselves that more than likely would be truer and more appropriate than Paul’s or the ten. The orientation of those eight, Paul’s orientation, is what draws Paul forward: ‘a new creation is everything!’
There’s another little sermon sitting in verses 12, 13 and 14. I haven’t worked it out yet, but it’s worth looking at. Verses 12 and 13 speak of St Paul’s, the community that’s here on a Sunday. Verse 14 then gives an orientation that probably will spark something within each; you might not see the spark because it’s one of the glowing ember ones, which means it’s at the bottom and underneath a whole pile of ash. ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ There’s the seed of life I think in verse 14, but we’ve got to get verses 12 and 13 first.
The Gospel reading - the harvest and the labourers - draws some threads together from the other readings. It’s as if the Gospel steps back and says if you take the other readings and the teaching within the Gospel and step back what will you see? It’s not a ‘thou shalt’ Gospel, it’s an invitation to look at the world, the universe, to look at our life and the part that we play in it.
The Lord’s appointment of seventy reflects the cosmology of the Hebrew world at the time, the seventy known nations. This is a text about being Christ-like in the whole world. The Gospel speaks of a rejoicing within the divine trinity: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants’. There’s a rejoicing between the father and the son - not dad and the boy - this is the trinity, the dynamic of life rejoices in the revelation. It’s a rejoicing that’s echoed in the first reading: ‘You have hidden these things from the wise’ - you have hidden these things from Naaman – ‘but you have revealed them to infants’ - you have revealed them to the young servant girl. It’s a rejoicing in the trinity that Paul has formed and that have formed in Paul the eight life commandments that we read in the second reading.
It’s a rejoicing within the Trinity that’s echoed in the Gâyatrî Mantra that we began the service with: ‘May the Divine enlighten our Intellect’, which turns the prayer book around. The Church has spent so long with the intellect enlightening the Divine; priests have for so long told people, ‘this is the divine, I can give it to you’. What we get it from all three readings today is that it’s the other way round.
It invites us to consider the process that enlightens us. What enlightens you? What do you engage to be enlightened - do you engage the place of wonder, the place of possibility, of creativity, of perception, of imagination, of play: the place of infants? Or do you engage the place of knowing, of observation, of analysis, deduction and purpose: the place of the wise?
If not the divine, where does your enlightenment come from? Where do you find the revelation of life? ‘Blessed are the eyes that see, blessed are the ears that hear.’
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 1st July 2007
Readings for (Proper 8)Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 1 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 8C / Ordinary 13C / Pentecost +5 Textweek
II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Hearing the readings again this morning made me think everything that’s in [the Bible] is in the service sheet. The symbols in the readings are really the symbols of life. [But] what relevance can a story about two old prophets, Elijah and Elisha, have for me and for you today?
There’s a clue in the first line. ‘Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven …’ In the Bible there are very few people who are taken up to heaven; most of the characters in the Bible die which suggests that this is quite an important reading, [especially] when we look at the first line of the Gospel reading: ‘When the days drew near for him to be taken up ….’ The two opening lines set the scene and provide a context for the narratives that follow, but they also echo a similar process: these are not stories about people from a past age, they are holy and sacred writings about the process of life and of living. The story of Elijah and Elisha is the story of Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Exodus, the Prodigal Son, Jesus and the disciples; it’s our story that illuminates our relationship with the divine and so gives context to our life.
There’s a lot in it. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here’; Elisha said to Elijah, ‘I will not leave you’. Where is Elisha coming from, what is his orientation? When we look within we can glimpse that Elisha is holding fast to all that is truth and it becomes clear that Elisha’s decision was the right path. We have Elisha who chooses not to listen to the word of God, that spoken through the prophet Elijah. He does not wait for direction from outside, rather he walks with the divine.
Exactly the same process is illuminated in the Gospel: ‘He set his face to go to Jerusalem.' The orientation for Elisha, like that of Jesus is difficult for us to get. We live in an over-governed society that is motivated by fear, that drains us of power and blinkers our choices. Elisha and Jesus reveal a process that is motivated by life and by love, by the abiding presence of the divine.
That’s why we’ve got all this parting of water going on. It is not about trying to get to the other side. It echoes the very work of the divine, the very work of creation, when the waters were separated so that the land would know its boundaries. It speaks of choosing a path through life – water is the symbol of life, the symbol of our baptism: what is the path that I will walk through that? It speaks of bringing order to the chaos, and in every religious tradition to still the water is to find that clarity. So tearing one’s clothes in Elisha’s case is the tearing of the curtain of the temple; it’s not about mourning. Elisha tears them in two, he rips the curtain in half; he takes off all that is in the way; the veil is removed – ‘this is my truth’. He takes on the mantle of the divine; he takes Elijah’s coat and with that is able to part the waters of chaos and to find a journey through life that is sure. It’s a wonderful story.
By verse 12 Elisha is at Gethsemane. He finds that same place that Christ comes to. The journey initially looks as if Elijah has had a change of mind because now he says that you will have blessings if you continue to be with me, rather than before when he said he was to go alone. Here the divine is revealing a dynamic response that is not independent of our part in the story. If we look back to Abraham or Moses or forward to Jesus, we find there’s an interaction with the divine: God responds to the life initiatives that we undertake. We move into the wonderful field of heresy here: there’s a flat-earth view that the divine has got a predetermined, happy-ever-after to the story of life. Well check out the last book, because it says the story unfolds with our interaction - like any and every relationship, the life of the relationship is the outcome of those in relationship. God is not driving the show, we actually participate in it: we too are gifted with the power to separate the waters of chaos and to bring forth dry ground.
Elisha speaks his deepest desire, he declares his life direction: ‘Let me inherit a double share of your spirit’. Elijah responds, as Christ too responds in a later narrative, ‘greater things than these you will do’. God’s blessing, Elijah’s spirit and Christ’s enfleshed word are not one-off gifts located in history, they’re the very unfolding of history. The blessing, the divine gift of life is that which is passed from one to another.
The reading from Galatians illuminates the process by taking it out of that mystical world of spirit-filled prophets and locating it into the everyday. Paul says we have freedom, [but] the freedom that we have is that there is no excuse; let us not look to another and say but my hands were tied; we actually have freedom. Paul says do not submit again, do not give away the power that God has birthed in you, the power to separate the waters of chaos, for you were called not to self-indulgence but to serve each other, to give and to receive, the work of blessing, that passes from Elijah to Elisha. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ means do not live in fear, live in love. ‘If you bite and devour one another, take care’: just pause and think of the Western world and the Third World, consider the pillage of Africa. ‘If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.’
When we come together to make Eucharist, we come to give thanks and to share the sacraments. We come to consume the body and blood of Christ. And do we also come to acknowledge a different path, to know ourselves not as consumers in a world of over-consumption, but as those who desire to be consumed in the divine and to be fully given in love?
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 24th June 2007
I Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Readings for (Proper 7)Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 24 June 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Third Sunday after Pentecost Proper 7C / Ordinary 12C / Pentecost +4 Textweek
Everything from the readings has been pulled all together in the Collect. The Collect seeks to bring us together, collect us into the word of God. It’s adapted so that we might move beyond the dominant rote of ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ and a childish appreciation of the divine.
Week by week we discover the wisdom of stories from the Old Testament - many different stories, people and styles – and we find ourselves in the stories and the stories in us. Elijah gives us an insight into the perils of the Christian spiritual journey, the journey of the deer longing for the divine. Elijah does what is right and worships God. Ahab and Jezebel, the Coalition of the Willing, have killed all the prophets: Elijah is alone. Elijah, for us today, is the Church, alone, unheard.
In Elijah we find a reference point to reclaim our voice and the voice of the Church. Elijah was fed by angels: perhaps we should become aware of the angels that visit us in our sleep, the angels of the unconscious, rather than the angels of the conscious mind, become aware of them and the food that they provide. Be strong; Elijah was fed by angels that he might have strength. Be strong for the time that you will stay alone, in the wilderness, not your own personal wilderness, but the unheard voice of the Church. Forty days and forty nights - it’s like an echo of the flood and of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. It is clearly a symbolic time.
Stay in the wilderness for the forty days and forty nights of your own life: the purpose of staying there and holding onto the strength that we’re given through the food of angels is to seek an encounter with the divine. Stay in the wilderness until you hear the silence.
We’ve got plenty of options of possible voices to be heard: [from] John Howard and The West Australian [to] the Dali Lama and the Archbishop of Canterbury. They’re all distractions as well. God can be found in the silence of our souls, abiding in us. ‘As the deer longs for the flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.’ That is an inward longing for what is to be found within.
There’s a link to Paul in the Old Testament reading: ‘The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.’ We are almost asked to see Paul’s journey as a continuation of Elijah’s. In Paul’s writing to the Galatians we find Christ redeems us, frees us from the law. Interestingly enough when we get that, we find ourselves even more alone. The law we received as children from our parents, we abrogate to the law of the land and the state. We hand it on to Ahab and Jezebel. Christ asks us to know our aloneness, so we may know the blessing of Abraham. Don’t look to the laws of Ahab and Jezebel, look to the sheer silence.
The law is invested in us; it’s a matter of finding that truth within that will bring life to the world. And only when we find our aloneness can we know our oneness with all, because it’s when we find that place exists outside of the law that we let go of our childlike and tribal insecurities, for we know ourselves at one, an integral and a complicit part of the whole, and so participators in wholeness.
From Galatians, ‘Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed’: there is a way of living to be imprisoned by the law and that’s a way of living before faith. ‘Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came’ - this doesn’t mean back in history, but the coming of Christ to our place of silence in the wilderness. ‘But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian’: there’s a shift, the reference points of life are shifted. ‘For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith’ - we find ourselves as one. ‘As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’ - there is no longer male and female. Yesterday I signed a petition for the equal honouring of same sex unions - that’s so stunningly biblically based. The Christian Right denies that we are all one in Christ; it seeks to divide the sheep and the goats, and in so doing denies the blessing of Abraham.
The Gospel continues to illustrate this same process that began with Elijah - of ourselves becoming into Christ, becoming fully alive and finding and realising the fullness of humanity. Jesus comes to the place of the naked man who lives in the tomb, the very same place that we find Elijah, running away, stripped of everything, the only prophet left in the land. I would argue that it’s the same place that we find the church in the modern world, naked and living amongst the dead. When Jesus comes to that place, he doesn’t kill the demons, he changes the locus of power. We see that in a story of pigs jumping off a cliff; if we stay with what’s actually told in that story though, the power shifts. We quite often get caught up with looking at the demoniac, [but] keep your eye on Jesus in this story: when the people saw the shift in power that was occasioned by Jesus’ healing power, they were afraid. And as we realise Christ’s healing power in us and as we make that manifest in the world, so too we will find ourselves, like Christ, taking leave of those who live in fear, who are imprisoned by the law, who live by the ways of the world.
The readings look like one story and they are then brought together into the Collect. This is us drawing ourselves together to realise the word of God that we’ve heard:
Pour out upon us, O God,
the power and wisdom of your Spirit,
so that we who have been baptised into Christ
and made your children through faith,
may know your Divine power to heal,
and being made one in Christ,
may overcome all barriers that divide us.
May this be our contemplation as we rise in the morning. And may it also be our prayer as we seek food from the angels at
Third Sunday after Pentecost 17th June 2007
I Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Readings for (Proper 6) Third Sunday after Pentecost 17 June 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Third Sunday after Pentecost Proper 6C / Ordinary 11C / Pentecost +3 Textweek
If we can appreciate that when we look into scripture we’re looking into a pool of eternal truth and seeking our reflection, then we might look a little further than the obvious moral teaching [in the readings].
The first reading from Kings is about power and its interplay between the powerful and the powerless, Ahab and Naboth. The interplay of power is manifested around possessions and in the modern world power is often acted out in relation to possessions. So there’s an opportunity for us to now locate ourselves in the interplay of power: what do we want, need, covet; what do we want to hang onto? As we start to consider those things so we awaken for ourselves the forces of power that we’re complicit in maintaining. Power is not something in the hands of others - that is to deny God. We have each been empowered by the divine. What we do with it and what we realise with it, that is the choice that we make.
The Gospel reading is also about power, but it’s far more subtle and introduces a new dynamic into the process of power. The interplay of power in the Gospel reading is illustrated by the Pharisee and the sinner. Once again we’ve got an opportunity to find ourselves in this - maybe we could consider the self-righteous stand that we take against those who we judge as wrong or where we have accumulated a credit, where others owe us a debt.
The new dynamic that the Gospel introduces is the power of forgiveness and it’s important to appreciate that forgiveness is not part of the same transaction. Where the interplay of power was between the powerful and the powerless, the power of forgiveness doesn’t get added to that equation. ‘Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love’ – she was not forgiven because she showed great love; she showed great love because her sins were forgiven.
Paul does the weaving and the wrestling; he looks into the eternal pool of truth and finds a reflection that brings these narratives into the every moment. Here we find the truth of justice and the place of our being justified. Paul finds a sense of being that we probably still have to find or a process that we might engage as part of our orientation towards a fuller life. All of us, generally, culturally, have reference points for living many of which are about possessions.
Possessions form the basis of our primary reference points for life. The readings suddenly jump from the Old Testament into the present moment - no longer is it a vineyard, it’s now an oil well; no longer is he taken out and stoned, rather we drop acres of bombs instead. In terms of power management, justice and our sense of being justified, in the modern world most of the time the reference points for justice and being justified come from the law. This is where Paul, like Christ, turns the world upside down, for Paul says, ‘if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing’. I would read that as, if our sense of justice comes through the law, then Christ dies for nothing.
We live and move in a Pharisaic world, driven by the law. Much injustice is based on and supported by the law; in our own lives we use the law to justify injustice. The dynamic of forgiveness diffuses power, not by forgiving after the fact, but as with the woman who anointed Jesus feet, it’s knowing forgiveness as a place to be and abide, so that all of us can live a life which is creative and giving of great love. It’s the end of that great Christian myth, original sin – St Augustine got it wrong. We discover the power of forgiveness that is the place and the given, in order that we might show great love. It’s revealed in Christ, and Paul gets it in the Damascus road process: it’s a process, an orientation, the place of being fully alive, to know oneself as forgiven, not as filled with guilt or constantly struggling to stay within the law. The law is being corrupted and is not the truth. The whole interplay of the Pharisees in the scriptures is to give us that. It isn’t to give us freedom from the law, but to give the law back to us, because that’s where it is entrusted. The divine power is given to each and everyone made in the image of God.
We’re asked to think about our reference points, the points we use to steer our course. Be aware of the law of the state and church, and be aware of living in Christ - another way to live, a way in which we become empowered to be creative of great love: ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ This is our truth.
Second Sunday after Pentecost 10th June 2007
Readings for (Proper 5) Second Sunday after Pentecost 10 June 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Second Sunday after Pentecost Proper 5C / Ordinary 10C / Pentecost +2 Textweek
I Kings 17:8-16, 17-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
What have we heard and how have we received the three resurrection stories? The two that grab our attention have physical resurrection - the miracles. Through the eyes [of a fundamentalist Christian] they are all about the power of God, God working his miracles. Well, if that’s so why does God leave 40,000 children to die today? And why just these two characters from history to demonstrate his mighty power?
I believe there’s a part in each of us that says, ‘No’, that wants and desires more than a god who can intervene when he wants to. But maybe we also have to recognise a part of us that wants [that], because if we fail to, we might be tempted into staying with that notion forever: ‘God can do it all, so I don’t have to, because I have faith that God will’. Since these narratives were written and interpreted as stories of miracles and God’s mighty power, we’ve actually progressed and learnt a lot on the way.
In the world of quantum mechanics, what religious fundamentalists call miracles are turning out to be the stuff of the everyday; the power of God being turned on and off, is turning out to be the very nature of life, the natural phenomenon of our being.
We are, in the quantum world, dead and/or alive, and the actuality is only realised in the moment of observation. I think that’s stunning!
Together with the physicists, some theologians are also reconsidering the very nature of time – amazingly after all these years, we join with the mystics and begin to understand time as not linear. We are discovering the context of eternity and so the context of life, and evolving an understanding for life, death, after-life, before life.
What is asked of us is to hear and attend to the Word of God, in scripture and in the moment, but with our full critical faculties, not to see these stories as fairy stories. The three readings narrate a process - of movement, energy, orientation, belief, faith and of the everyday encounter with the divine.
You can go pretty well anywhere in the world and ask people, ‘What do you know about Australia?’ and they’ll say ‘Kangaroos and cricket’. [If] you come here you find out there’s a bit more. That’s our understanding of the Bible: unless you actually go to that place and live it, all we will ever know about the Word of God is kangaroos and cricket, smoke and miracles. There’s much more.
The stories speak of possibility, potential, change, life, the activity of creation, the divine activity that is born in love; they speak of that activity in us, our birthing into the process, our participation in the work of God.
There’s no definitive answer to the questions that today’s stories raise. I like that - resurrection stories raise questions! If there was an answer then we would know God. But as it is, we seek and we desire to know God. We can pretend that we’re full of the knowledge of God - the miracles, the power of God. But deep within there’s something more that we seek and desire, both here now in our life and beyond.
Why is it the sons of widows who are resurrected? Here we find a clue to the process of life that these stories are about. Without her son, the widow would be destitute, she will die. What we find is that as we receive life from the divine, so too we bring life and give life to others. When we turn away from the divine as the source of life, the process goes the other way round: 40,000 children will die of starvation, because I choose a life from somewhere else, I choose a life for myself, not a life lived in the divine, just me.
That’s what Paul’s Damascus realisation was; it changed his life, orientation and actions. We abide in God and God abides in us. We live in the abundance of creation. ‘I tell you that the oil and the flour will not will not run out until it rains’ is the paradigm of abundance contrasted with a world of doubt-filled scarcity - ‘this is all I’ve got, I’m just about to go home and bake a cake with the last of what I’ve got and die’. I’m hanging on to what I’ve got until I die. They’re two completely different worldviews.
When we attend to the stories and seek our deepest desire we can and should expect miracles - acts of divine transformation - as we align ourselves with a life that accepts itself, myself, as a being of divine creation. If I can find that place within and honour it, then what the fairytales spoke of as miracles will actually be the accepted, normal paradigm of life.
Let’s forget the fairytales. When we had the understanding of children they spoke of a delightful world filled with promise and a divine power, a world that looks different to the world we see with our eyes. The Feast of Corpus Christi is quite often celebrated with a focus on the body and blood of Christ - the body and the blood, the seen and the unseen, one giving life to the other, one holding the other, sustaining the other.
Let us be aware of the divine life that we desire, which is clouded with shopping, the next television show, the film I must see, the place I must go. Where is our deepest desire, the desire for life and being fully alive? Let us look forward together to participating in the miracles.
Day of Pentecost 27th May 2007
Readings for Pentecost 27 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Pentecost Textweek
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-36; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)
Maybe it’s in the finding of the unheard self that we can utter the divine word into creation.
It’s important to appreciate that the day of Pentecost and any day from the holy scriptures are not event, but process [so that] instead of being located in history it becomes history-making. The divine scriptures constantly reveal to us the creative activity of the divine: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come’ is about movement.
‘The crowd was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. In our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.’ To drive that point home we then have a list of languages which we can read as a list of voices of the known world.
It asks the questions: who does not hear you; who do you not hear; what do you listen to and what do you hear; to what is your language aligned? We could stay there in the stillness and ponder those questions.
But begin further afield and it becomes quite easy to find the answers: does Israel hear Palestine; does anyone hear the children in Darfur? Do the politicians hear the people; does Australia hear the refugee? Does the conservative Christian hear the Muslim? Does the USA hear?
We can all readily make lists, examples of living without Pentecost - the not hearing, the not being in one place. But then come back and consider what you do hear, what you listen to and equally important, consider what you speak into being - what others hear from you. Becomes quite daunting when we become aware of the power of the word that we have.
In light of the Pentecost story it can almost drive us to silence – I become conscious and aware of I utter into being. Everything around us is of our creation; the lists that we make of living without Pentecost is us putting that onto others so we can avoid the responsibility ourselves.
If we go even deeper within we can discover just how much of ourselves we do not hear – we make a noise that serves to distract even ourselves from who we are and who we are called to be.
The up-side of that is imagine how much more of ourselves there is to listen to and to find, and maybe it’s in the finding of the unheard self that we can utter the divine word into creation.
I guess that eighty percent of what we say, we’ve said before and probably of the remaining twenty percent we’re just regurgitating the words of someone else that we’ve heard.
The voice of creation, the wind of Pentecost, the divine breath is the word of creative life that speaks into being for the whole. When do I utter that word? In our being together in one place, we glimpse an opportunity to find our true voice, to speak from that place which is our divine truth and to hear the divine truth that is spoken creatively into the common.
We glimpse that, but we often will just stand back wishing, ‘I wish I could utter the divine truth of creation that is gifted in me’. In Christ the divine was made flesh, divinity was incarnated in humanity: at Pentecost the voice, the word, the very breath of God sets us aflame.
In the Gospel: ‘Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." He’s the prototype churchgoer – comes in, ‘Here I am, I’ve sacrificed my Sunday morning. Show me God and I’ll be happy.’ It’s a stunningly self-centred and self-seeking approach to the divine and it’s one that the church has almost institutionalised.
It’s a danger area for priests, because the temptation is to stand there and pretend, well I know, I can show you God.
It’s good for us to hear the Christ response in the Gospel. What’s the incarnational response, from those within Pentecost, not without Pentecost? And the response comes from a knowing: ‘that I am in the divine and the divine is in me. The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the divine who dwells in me does his works’.
Verses 12 to 27 are a gentle unpacking of the process of Pentecost. ‘Very truly’ - this is the holy scripture word for ‘Listen’ – ‘greater works than these you will do’. One of the hardest things to believe in the scriptures – once we know the story of Christ, the divine being made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, we think ‘I could never ever, ever be anywhere near that or like it’, so we settle for worshipping that. There’s nothing in the Gospel where Christ says worship me, turn me into an idol.
Constantly, the life and the work and the teachings of the Christ are to reveal the divine in human form - that is, in us. ‘Greater things than these you will do’, and the reason is what is given in the Christ child at the nativity, in servant of Christ on the Cross and in the tomb, given in the dancing flame of Pentecost.
The gift is, ‘the Spirit of truth who abides with you and will be in you’. The Spirit of truth who abides with you - that is lives with you, that is in community. It’s with you as you participate because you bring the Spirit of truth into the community of the Spirit of truth, so that the Spirit of truth may be realised in one place, ‘together in one place’.
Verse 27 introduces a slight degree of difficulty: ‘I do not give to you as the world gives’. Hence the missing of the point from Philip, who wanted to receive the gift as the world gives. The divine gift enables us to live without fear, and it is given in the violent wind of the divine; the violence of the divine breath is the bringer of the spirit of truth and its violence is the violence, the birth pangs, the growing pains, the truth which hurts.
And yet how can this be if this is the word of love? Because the violence only affronts and is violent to our self-centredness. It is not a violence to our common humanity but to our sense of self. The flame of Pentecost draws us into one, into love.
As we follow the story of the Acts, look into them and see them reflected in the moment and in your life. Then approach what is being revealed in Gospel as if it were true.
If the divine lives in me and the divine lives with me, become aware of where that hurts, because the self in me does not want to believe that because it stands over and against the divine.
It is letting go of the self-centredness and embracing the largest Self that is to be found in the common. That’s the journey and that’s the process that leads to the spirit of truth, because the spirit of truth is that the divine is incarnate in us. No less.
Pentecost: listen, hear, be silent and then speak the divine into being.
Readings for Seventh Sunday of Easter 20 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 7 Textweek
Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Rev. 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
It’s quite difficult to hear today’s readings without an anticipation of Pentecost - there’s a real sense of preparing for and becoming ready for the flame and the Spirit of Pentecost.
But the readings are set in the context of Easter and the community that gathers having witnessed and encountered the events of Easter. Each of the readings offers a reference point, an opportunity to reflect, whereby we can draw together our own Easter encounter and then with the whole of our Easter, turn and commit ourselves to the realisation of Pentecost.
Pentecost is not some magic act where flames are sent from God to appear over our heads: it is our engagement with the divine.
The reading from Acts provides a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect and review our own journey, because it seems to collect together life events, as if the whole cycle of life is there in the reading, so gives an opportunity to ground our own life events in the divine story.
The starting point is ‘as they were going to the place of prayer’ and it begins with the meeting with the slave girl, the lowest and the least powerful of all. Maybe that’s our starting point – to meet that person in ourselves, the lowest and least powerful of all that is within me, and to meet that person, that I Am, in a place or space of prayer.
There are two miracles – the first one is created through the words of Paul, and it’s born out of annoyance; the second miracle comes within the earthquake, a breaking in by the divine quite unexpected - reference points that enable us to ask with what words shall we call forth miracles and in what unexpected earthquake will we find them? We then come to the suffering of Paul who disturbs the city and is beaten for it. This is normative for the day and our day. The legality of what happened to Paul was based on homeland security legislation, same legislation as we have. The Romans had some legislation designed for those who belonged to different cults who suggested different pathways, which could be wheeled out when it was appropriate and it enabled you to do almost anything with the person to whom your applied the legislation. Stunningly contemporary stuff we’re reading here.
It appears right in the middle of the reading and maybe it’s crucial and central to our being a post-East community, central to us being the body of Christ, because this is the point in the story where most of us exit. To be true to our calling, we will disturb the cultural norms and we will suffer rejection by those who are complicit in and locked into maintaining the power that is.
And if like Paul, we decide that we will stay with the story, the second part illustrates the practical outworking of this. Paul goes on to save the life of his oppressor, the prison guard - loving neighbour, loving enemy and bringing creativity to the whole. The reading concludes with baptism and rejoicing – bringing into oneness and celebrating the same.
We can almost read that reading, align it with our Easter journey, align it with our life, and use those pointers to find out to where we point: where are we going, where am I going?
The reading is followed by a delightful psalm. The psalmist sings to the abundant glory of the divine: ‘Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!’ It calls us to rejoice in the Lord, echoes the reading from Acts and invites us forward to the readings that follow, and as we come to the end of our Easter experience, so too we come to the end of the Book of Revelation. [But] it’s hard to see this as an ending because it is so full of anticipation.
There’s an inclusive call from the bright morning star to all who have ‘washed their robes’. If we recall the scene of the Transfiguration what is noted is the brightness of the white of Jesus’ robes, we begin to see where the imagination of the Book of Revelation is and what it’s trying to illustrate for us: to our transfiguration, to our being seen in a completely different light.
The final verses are a call to all who live in truth, wholeness and integrity, because it leaves outside those who practise falsehood. And yet it’s an inclusive reading – ‘for all who live in truth’ – not the truth of the world or the integrity of those around but rather an integrity with all that has gone before. That’s why there’s that bit at the end – don’t add to this and don’t take away from it, it’s all here. The image, the story, the symbol, the calling are all held within the dream that is the Book of Revelation, that is held within the Bible. If we can find ourselves living in truth with that, then we hear the call that is so evident in the reading: that all who are thirsty come, ‘the water of life is a gift’, ‘Come, share in the tree of life.’
Read through that after you’ve heard one of the election broadcasts - doesn’t matter which party. You don’t have to use your head to know where I want to align myself. [But] the name that I want to put my tick against is not on the paper. There’s a great freedom there, because the tick on the box actually is irrelevant: we want to create far more of a disturbance in the world than any shift that a ballot paper will create.
Today’s readings finish with the prayer of Jesus [which] gives shape and form to our orientation both post-Easter and in anticipation of Pentecost. It an amazing prayer: ‘I ask on behalf of these’ – it’s a prayer on behalf of those present and it’s also a prayer for those to come: ‘not only these but those who will believe in me through their word.’ We could say that this is a prayer directly for us, a prayer of the present and a prayer of the future. It echoes the divine calling to oneness: ‘that all may be one.’ This is not a prayer of pre-emptive strikes or fear and it is not even a prayer of hope; it is an echo of the divine call in each and every one. It’s not to be waited for or hoped for, it’s not to be found in my doing; it recognizes the divine in each and every one.
What we see in Christ, what we worship in Christ - often mistakenly – what we adore, what we desire, what we encounter in Christ is already gifted: ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them’ – [this is] the son to the father. When we reflect on any image that we have of the Christ, on that which draws us to worship the Christ, just hear again in that prayer: ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them.’ If we can believe that, we too will disturb those in the city.
Readings for Sixth Sunday of Easter 13 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 6 Textweek
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29
The Gospel this week is from Jesus’ farewell speech to the disciples at the Last Supper. We can recall the times that we have said farewell at airports - the tears, feelings of loss, that part of us that wants to stay and that part that either has to or also wants to go, and the tension between the two. Particularly with death there seems to be an acute sense of separation and emptiness for those staying behind. There’s great power in those transitions, those farewells: we know because they are so easy to recall.
Quite often we want a reassurance that this isn’t always going to be a separation –‘we will be in touch’. The Gospel today is all about this and more: ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ There is a leaving, an acknowledgement of love and then a promise of coming and abiding. The relationship - that movement of separation and yet also completeness - is mirrored in the words that follow: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’ By now this is not making sense to the disciples, and those that have got a clue are already tapping into doubt. So in the words of Jesus: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid’ – listen and stay with what I’m speaking, what you’re feeling and what you’re glimpsing.
The Gospel invites us to look at relationships with new insight, with a vision that goes beyond what we see. And at airports and funerals we look beyond what we can see - ‘I will stay in touch’ makes no sense unless you’ve tapped into the unseen. In the last discourse at the Last Supper the divine invitation is being offered: we are creatures of the divine, created in the image of the divine and we are at one with the divine, called to see the unseen and to bring about something more than what is.
‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’ That peace is more than the absence of war, rather, it’s our relationship with all. At different times in our lives we catch glimpses of the divine imagination, glimpses of understanding: I know what that means, ‘peace I give to you’. We glimpse it and it’s as if we can see a rightness beyond all of the wrongness.
In Acts, Paul had a vision, he saw beyond the confines of his eyes and acts upon the vision. He left where he was and moved in the direction that the vision led him. Paul moves from one culture to another - Macedonia was in the Roman province of northern Greece. This is Paul’s first movement into Europe and he baptizes there and finds hospitality.
The vision led him, but to where and what was unknown, so what we read about are the fruits that are born out of vision. The vision and the visionary movement is not about seeing the end result, it’s about seeing the direction and the journey, and the result then appears and is made manifest. If we align ourselves and move, then the fruits appear. In that image from Revelation, the stream of living water that flows from the throne has got the trees either side of it that bear fruits every month of the year and their leaves heal: do not worry about the journey, do not let your hearts be troubled; just follow the road, follow the vision, follow the glimpse; move in an alignment with the divine imagination.
The Acts of the Apostles illustrates the possibility that can be realised in faith: they glimpse and then there is an active re-orientation, a turning toward the light, not toward the peace of the world, but to the peace that is given.
Revelation tries to provide a total impression: it’s the last book of the Bible so it’s got to have a bit of guts to it. The picture that is painted underlines and colours in every glimpse of the divine imagination that we will have - every dream, every wish, every desire, every hope. ‘And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance of a very rare jewel’; and, ‘the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light.’ It’s a wonderful image.
The readings call us through and with the divine to a movement and to a creative endeavour. We cannot leave things as they are, nor can we accept that others will create for us, because in Christ it is us, it is the ‘we’ that are called to be the creators of tomorrow. The context of these readings was a world already hierarchically organized, in the hands of the state and the church, ruled by self-serving, corrupted officials. The world was filled with fear, there was oppression, there were occupying forces; the world was filled with those who saw power for their own ends. The world that the scriptures come out of and speak into is not a world of the past, it is the world of today.
Like so many, we too will be drawn into the world that our eyes see. But what we get through the scriptures and through those wonderful glimpses is a world that looks different, a world illuminated by divine light. Each of us has some sense of what the New Jerusalem is and yet it is not up to me or you to do it, but it is up to us. As One Body we are called to realise the New Jerusalem - our calling is to participate in the work of the One Body. Maybe that’s the gift of peace, quite a different peace from the peace of the world. It’s a peace that enables us to know our oneness.
So as we continue our journey from Easter to Pentecost, from the Cross, from the tomb, towards the dancing flame of the divine spirit, let’s be aware of what we have faith in. Look at the trends and the path that you’re on from the tomb to here, from Easter to today. Become aware also of where we are lost, or afraid and where we don’t have courage to let go. What we hear in the readings today is, ‘No, let go’.
The Book of Revelation gives us a lot of help and encouragement. ‘See I am making all things new’, ‘to the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life’, and ‘I will not leave you orphaned’ - we’re not going to be left alone in all this.
Pentecost is a movement within for us to find and make real. Choose to live in the divine flame, a flame which gives light and at the same time consumes all into itself. Be aware of how much time and energy we spend maintaining what is, rather than realising what we might become and so become a part of.
Remember that Resurrection is not a one-off event: it’s a vision, an orientation; it’s eternal; it’s what calls us into the New Jerusalem. Mothers’ Day is a celebration of birth: each and everyone is called to birth the divine, so today and every day, let’s celebrate each other.
Readings for Fifth Sunday of Easter 6 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 5 Textweek
Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Do the readings that we hear week by week within the context of worship make any difference to our being, to who we are? Do they provide a reference point for the orientation of the week ahead and for your future?
It’s good to consider what we do use as our reference points: what it is that does make a difference in life. The SNP have a majority in the Scottish parliament, John Howard and Kevin Rudd are tossing IR policies as if they were flipping pancakes, the West Coast Eagles won their last game. ‘Tell me to what you attend and I will tell you who you are’ - it’s a wonderful piece of wisdom from one of the church fathers. The readings that we have from Holy Scripture, read in the context of the Eucharist, to one theologian and commentator, are the word of God as voiced in the moment.
There’s a wonderful debate in theological circles as to what is the word of God. We’ve all come across those Bible thumpers that hold up Bibles and say, ‘Here it is!’ What one would argue is, no it isn’t at all, until it is proclaimed in the moment, spoken and given voice to: that’s when it becomes the word of God. How the word is then heard is very much up to each and every one of us and it’s in our hearing and receiving that we might find an attentiveness that takes us by surprise.
The three readings today provide plenty of scope for confusion and so for inattentiveness. But there’s always something to be discovered there for each of us and in the present.
The reading from Acts is about the unfolding of Easter. The second reading [is] classically understood as apocalyptic - about the end of time. Then the Gospel takes us back pre-Easter to a scene at the Last Supper. It can look like I’m being pulled in all different directions - voices from three different and distinct ages, all seeking to be heard and realised in the present moment. The word of God, voiced in the present moment and in every moment, is the voice of creation, and so as we listen we should be listening for creative reference points. Do these readings from distinct ages and different places, different times - have a word of creation that will come together for me in the present?
The first reading is about the realisation of inclusion. It’s played out in the contrast between the apostles and the Gentiles, between Peter, who’s out in the field, and the Jerusalem church, between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, and it begins with a question: ‘why did you go with the uncircumcised and eat with them?’ We can translate the question to the boundaries that we draw, the norms that we not just subscribe to but are complicit in creating. Then there’s an insight: 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' The short reading shook the foundations of the church. It was about realising the fact that creation was made by God and it was good and that we must not profane what was created and made good. If we hear this reading, then we too should find that our foundations are shaken.
The second reading is stunningly bad news for beach-lovers - the sea will be no more. ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.’ In Genesis it’s the breath of God moving over the waters that is the activity of creation. The new heavens and new earth are those that emerge from the watery chaos, and it says, ‘I heard in a loud voice, "See, the home of God is among mortals”, and "See, I am making all things new." The reading provides a reference point, to turn us toward a divine future, not at the end of time but in each and every tomorrow. Look for and see a new heaven and a new earth; see the home of God among mortals: heaven is a place on earth.
The third reading speaks of the glorification of Christ: humanity revealed in the divine and of our hope and our claim each time we echo the words, ‘We are the body of Christ’. [It] spells out plainly how we will be known. Remember, tell me to what you attend and I will tell you who you are: “By this everyone will know you, they will know who you are, if you have love one for another.” This is the reference point of creative activity out of which tomorrow is made real. The divine tomorrow will be actualised in our relationship, our love for one another.
Three readings, unrelated, written in different times, speaking about different times and yet they speak into our present moment; they provide us with the opportunity to identify reference points which will enable us to choose a path: the realisation of inclusion and the shaking of our foundations, the divine future, knowing that heaven is a place on earth and the knowing of ourselves, the creative activity in which we will find ourselves in our love for one another.
Readings for Fourth Sunday of Easter 29 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 4 Textweek
Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
One of the quests of the church for two thousand years has been, which one of these [images] is Jesus - the one with the beard, the one with the moustache blowing a horn, or the one of the lamb with a cross? That really is what a lot of the church has been about for a long time and it’s the question that we heard in the Gospel that the Jews are asking: ‘We want to know who you are.’
Good Shepherd Sunday gives us one answer and the truth that we celebrate in the image of the good shepherd has been unwittingly distorted. It’s a very simple image and tempting image that we can quite readily feel drawn to, and in churches it’s an image that’s reinforced by the space and the position. If someone came from Mars and heard us talking about shepherds and sheep, it’s pretty obvious I’m the shepherd and you’re the sheep. Just by the space we actually create an understanding that might be distorted. If we started afresh there’s a good chance there would be more churches built as circles. It would make a difference.
‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.’ The classical understanding of that text in its Sunday School simplicity is, ‘Christ died for me, all is and will be okay; the Lord is my shepherd and I am his sheep; if I accept Jesus as Lord then I am saved and safe.’ If we look at it again, ‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want’: I shall not be wanting. I shall not be wanting: my needs for safety, security, shelter and sustenance shall be satisfied. Why then, if the Lord is our shepherd do we still want: five bedrooms two bathrooms, superannuation, an investment plan, border security, protection from refugees, the coalition of the willing for war. Why this list of wants if the Lord is our shepherd?
In the Gospel we hear the Jews wanting to know the truth about Jesus. Their ‘who are you’ is also our question, and it’s more than identity that we’re seeking. ‘Tell us if you are the Messiah’ - the Messiah being that which the Jewish people were looking for, their wanting, the fullest realisation of themselves as God’s people. ‘Jesus answered them, “I have told you,” and for us today, that answer still resounds. The divine promise and the divine purpose has been revealed; it is not withheld; there is no one not telling. There may be some not hearing, but there certainly is no one not telling; it has been revealed. But as it says, ‘you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.’ And then he goes on to say, ‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’ It’s a wonderful interaction to contemplate for ourselves with the divine. Sheep trust in and believe in their shepherd because their need for safety, security, shelter and sustenance is both found in, and realised in, their relationship with the shepherd.
The reading from Revelation is a dream-like vision that paints a picture in a thousand words. The Book of Revelation is a wonderful way in because instead of having to read lots of words and try and understand theology, you can build up an inner cartoon that you can then walk through.
The part that we hear today, ‘the great multitude, every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages’ is a dream vision for the world: absolutely no one is not in the picture. The Lamb, robed in white: who is the Lamb, robed in white? Then there are those ‘with robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb.’ Who are these? Then ‘the Lamb will be their shepherd’. In this vision and its subsequent dreaming, is a revelation of Easter that totally leaves behind our Sunday School understanding that Jesus did it on my behalf, for the Lamb became the shepherd. The Lamb became the shepherd, became the Lamb, becomes the shepherd - like the sound of one hand clapping, that short verse stretches our intellect. The shepherd and the sheep are not one and an other: as it says in the last line of the Gospel, ‘The Father and I are one.’ The divine and the Christ are one, the shepherd and the sheep are one.
The Acts of the Apostles - the unfolding of the church - is located in a context of new understanding. Peter and Barnabas’ mission is changing focus from the Jews to the Gentiles, so the context of the early church is the context of us today. We are trying to realise ourselves as the church in its fullest sense, in its promise. This is exactly what was going on then, the Church being the Jewish faith. And now we have Peter and Barnabas realizing that this is a revelation for all the world. The revelation of Christ is breaking out of its religious orthodoxy, challenging all the previous norms. They’re all being seen as if in a new light, the new light being the light of Easter.
There’s a throwaway line at the end of the first reading: ‘Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.’ That itself is a complete change in direction because tanners in the Jewish tradition were considered defiled because they dealt with animal carcasses. Peter chooses to stay with one who is defiled by his religion. He has seen something new that requires breaking out of what’s already there.
[In] this short reading in the Acts of the Apostles Peter parallels Jesus. The raising of Tabitha recalls the raising of Jairus’ daughter. In Mark’s Gospel the words used are, ‘Talitha cum’. I don’t think it’s any mistake that the naming here is of Tabitha, it’s as if, ‘I want you to hear the echo’. The process by which Peter raises Tabitha is exactly the same: others are sent out, there is prayer and there is an invitation to step back into life from death.
Jesus the shepherd had a follower called Peter who was one of the sheep. [In] last week’s Gospel, the shepherd handed over command to the sheep: ‘Feed my sheep’. Now the sheep, Peter, has become the shepherd and he works with the same power of the good shepherd - this is not a cut down version, he raises the dead. Other miracles, water into wine must be simple once you’ve raised the dead.
Peter is doing what Christ did. What if we could realise that same truth? What if we could get the fact that we are the good shepherd – not Jesus, we are the good shepherd? Deep down we know it, every Sunday we speak it – ‘we are the body of Christ’. We are the good shepherd: somehow together, let us keep looking for that one step that will enable us to believe it, because when we believe it, we can actualize it.
Readings for Third Sunday of Easter 22 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 3 Textweek
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
The readings are not essentially about Paul and his conversion, or the apocalypse, nor are they about Jesus and his breakfast. They are the living word of God, the voice of the divine, spoken to us in the present. Always and forever, holy scriptures from every tradition are about our being in relation to and with the divine. What we want to know is where are we, where is this story in the present?
Last night - at Lucy’s art exhibition, which was more like a feast - someone came up to me and said very emphatically and in a very real way, ‘This is community.’ And it was, there was a real sense that that’s what it was. It was a sense of community that went beyond family into other realms and that contributes to my/our fullness of life. I thought, yes, family is very important; family is actually about the creation and the nurturing of life that provides or maintains a basic biological process. Community’s quite different: community is the realisation of life in all its fullness; it doesn’t appear to be a biological process; it’s of a different order and it comes from a different realm. Eighty percent are probably unaware that there’s any differentiation.
As Christians, or Christians-seeking-to-be, we are called to make real that which is unseen. Look again at the reading from Paul: what was his blindness about, what was the giving of sight from Ananais about? There are different ways in which we can inhabit the space that we inhabit – what we see, what we can see through, what we can see beyond. We are called to realise what eighty percent are unaware of: it’s a call to bring that sight to the whole, just like the leaven in the lump, the yeast that permeates the whole of the dough.
My guess is that most of humanity are happy to be alive; most of our being is in that same state - eighty percent of me is also happy to be alive. It’s good to appreciate that that’s that same state that a piece of Ningaloo Reef has – it’s alive, fullstop. Like Ningaloo Reef, that part of us is constantly threatened; there is a fear of things that threaten that life, like global warming.
However, the unseen, that part which does not settle for ‘alive’, which desires to be fully alive, is a part that is not driven by fear, it doesn’t react to life-threatening phenomena.
And when we do glimpse the divine, then the greatest fear is not to realise life in all its fullness. Imagine – I have seen God and all I’ve settled for was to reside in a state that equates to being a piece of coral. All of creation, each and every one of us, feel, intuit, know and desire something that is more than alive. There is within us a call, we’re drawn towards something more than life. This is what the Resurrection’s about; it’s this call to ‘more-than-alive’ that is illustrated in the story of Paul; it’s illuminated or imagined in the Book of Revelation and it is realised to us in the life of Christ.
In the first reading, the divine asks a question of Paul: ‘why do you persecute?’ What we might wonder is, what is the question that the divine utters to us?
Paul was three days without sight and he neither ate nor drank. Three days is more than seventy-two hours – it is a significant time. Three days is the time from death to Resurrection. Paul was without sight for three days and neither ate nor drank: I believe that that’s the place of the modern world. That is the norm, that’s the eighty percent space – being blind and never being satisfied, always thirsting, never filled, couldn’t see – it’s the place of the modern world.
And are we not delightfully surprised when we do see that which is divine, when we are truly fed, those last-night moments?
The first reading gives us the opportunity to explore these places within ourselves. God asks something of Paul and he asks something of Ananais. The response from Paul is, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The response from Ananais is, ‘Here I am Lord.’ From where do we respond to the divine voice that calls us? Which of those responses would you spend eighty percent of your aliveness in: who are you, what is it all about? Or, here I am?
The wonderful reading from the Book of Revelation: what does it suggest, what’s the closest approximation in your experience? Perhaps it’s a dream, or perhaps it’s a celebration, something that we shared in. What’s the closest approximation that I have to being there in that heavenly court? Maybe it’s here, now, making Eucharist together, because we can glimpse, if only for a fleeting moment on a Sunday morning, being fully alive in the presence of the divine and we glimpse for a moment where the unseen is revealed.
You don’t have to understand all the words that are uttered: there’s another word, unseen, that is working, that gives us a glimpse of what is beautifully painted in the Book of Revelation.
The Gospel reading in light of the other two is really helpful because it gives us an appreciation of the life movement, the pilgrimage. What we see in the Gospel is, move from ‘I am going fishing’ to ‘we will go with you’. It’s a movement from being self-centred to abiding in and with the divine for others and it’s a movement that gives sight to the unseen. It’s a movement that will enable us to see the Christ waiting and watching from the beach, ready, waiting, to share bread. This is the companion, the bread-sharer, waiting for us to make the movement from ‘I am going fishing’ to ‘we will go with you’.
Through the person of Peter we’re shown the promise of that life movement. Peter’s three denials are realigned in the reading today by three divine questions, ‘do you love me?’ Three is a significant number: it’s the number that takes us from death to Resurrection; when the Gospel talks about three denials it means any number.
Go back and list out the daily denials of the divine that each and every one of us makes. What the Gospel reading says today is, ‘That’s not what it’s about’ - don’t dwell there because the divine is constantly asking of us ‘do you love me’, and will ask that as many times and if not more times than the denials we bring forward.
And the affirmative response to that question is the catalyst to the fullness of life: feed my lambs, tend my sheep and follow me.
May we stay with Easter for that bit longer, so that we can understand and become aware of our life movement.
Readings for Second Sunday of Easter 15 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 2 Textweek
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
The gospel must live. Easter’s not about a life that came to life years ago, we’ve got to draw into the present. When we draw it into the present we will rewrite it.
The readings Sunday by Sunday are really quite important. The liturgy hasn’t been put together as an entertainment package that fills an Anglican hour on a Sunday morning; rather they are there to help us with what is revealed and what is being revealed.
You’ll notice that we’ve ditched the Old Testament all of a sudden. Before Easter we were happily going along reading from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Now we’ve got two readings from the New Testament, the reason being that the readings are mirroring the shift within the liturgical year. A new day has dawned and we’re reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the book of the church that was birthed from the empty tomb, [which] gives us a great insight into the orientation of the early emerging church, those who gathered after their experience of Easter.
Like us, when they gathered they sang Alleluia very quietly; they too were not sure. They didn’t make a great deal of noise, they were a little bit afraid, a little bit ashamed, a little bit let down. Maybe still a flicker of hope because I’m sure they could give voice, and the fact that they gathered said something.
[But] very quickly, the energy which emerged from the tomb raised questions and called into question the authority of the contemporary church, the contemporary religion of the day. Very soon the energy of that emerging church started to become a challenge, because the new church that gathered in the light of Easter was in integrity with Resurrection.
It didn’t believe in Resurrection or have any faith in Resurrection: it lived in integrity with Resurrection – amazingly different. There are a lot of things that we believe, there are a lot of things that we have faith in: what is that we live and from where do we find life?
The early church had an orientation to the divine in all life. ‘And we are witnesses’: there was a seeing beyond what was, what was accepted, what was religious, the worldview of the day.
There was also an alignment with the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical calendar we mark the end of Easter with Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s only a marking, it actually didn’t happen on the fiftieth day after Easter. What we’re trying to do in the ritual of the church is to give life to that which already has life, to enable us to see beyond the everyday.
The Spirit is already given, it is revealed, nothing is withheld at Easter.
The place where you come from when you really get that is echoed in the psalm and we can ask ourselves, can we sing or read with the same integrity as the composer? Is Psalm 118 my psalm or do I just mimic the words of someone else? Likewise, can I speak and live with the same integrity as that of the early church or is that something that is back there in history
Yes we can, we can make Psalm 118 our psalm, we can sing it if we look beyond what is within our given field of vision. If we live in integrity with the new insight of Easter, Psalm 118 becomes our psalm if we leave the tomb. If we leave the tomb and live in the light of Easter, we too will sing that psalm as the composer sang it.
‘Grace and peace from…..’ Where does it come from? Not from the hero of last Sunday, the superman who came off the cross and broke the power of death. No, grace and peace from ‘the one who is and who was and who is to come.’ Again we’re being asked to look beyond that which is in our foreground.
Our culture today asks us to stay just with your foreground and extend that for as long as you can; that’s where we’re asked to look, that’s the frame in which we live. Is it the frame in which we live? Is the world we live in just what we see, either around us or on television? No, it isn’t, it isn’t at all.
We can all see that there is an unseen world that we participate in, that what we see, what is real for us is not necessarily seen or real for the whole. The Book of Revelation seeks in symbolic language to paint that world that is beyond our own foreground, our own self-interest.
The grace and peace now is named from Jesus Christ, but the emphasis that John gives is not to the name. John constantly asks us to look to what is revealed in and through Christ: ‘the faithful witness’ – the one who sees in and through faith; ‘the firstborn of the dead’ – the one fully in integrity with Resurrection; ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ – an authority that is divine and is beyond all authority that we know.
John goes on to speak of his and therefore our relationship with all that is revealed: ‘the one who loves, who frees us and who made us to be a kingdom and priests serving our God’ - the relationship of orientation, of capability, of purpose, of activity.
John speaks with great confidence of the outworking of Resurrection, confidence in the truth, not of the story of Easter, but the actuality of Easter. There is a truth in Easter that is to be actualised, to be lived and made real within us. John speaks with confidence of a new day that dawns, a new vision that is to be seen beyond that held by the church, by the state and by the world, and against the backdrop of these two readings, today, the Sunday after Easter, we’re introduced to the character of Thomas.
Thomas is not written into the Gospel because he was one of the twelve. Thomas is in the Gospel because Thomas is within us: Thomas is the voice of doubt, the voice that is hesitant with the hymn singing, the voice that cannot believe – I would lose too much if I believe; he is the voice of the world, shaped by the consuming passions of our own self-centredness.
Thomas is the voice that calls us back into the tomb and yet when he got in touch with the Resurrection, he too saw that which was divine.
Easter is fifty days, to journey like Lent. Don’t be disappointed if Lent wasn’t finished, wasn’t completed in Easter, because Lent takes us to Easter and now we stay with Easter. The fifty-day journey has begun well. The wedding feast that we celebrated yesterday is a sign of new life, it is a sense that there is a community here with a spirit where love is made manifest and real.
We’ve got fifty days to live in integrity with Resurrection, or to stay out of touch, to not even go where Thomas has gone but to go back into the tomb, roll the stone and stay the dark. Fifty days to move into light. Let’s do it! Amen.
Readings for Easter Sunday 8 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter Textweek
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
Easter, like Christmas is filled with symbols and stories, with rituals and with remembrances and provides us with a narrative of paradoxical birth: at Christmas we’re presented with the birth of a child from a virgin’s womb; at Easter we’re presented with a birth of a dead man from an empty tomb.
The mystery or the unseen secrets of these two events have been explored and encountered by the church for over two thousand years and yet each and every year they call us to encounter them anew. Is the mystery of Easter, the Passion of Christ, an event to be realised, or perhaps is it a process that is in the process of being realised?
In preparation for Easter, I checked out a website, ‘goodfriday.com’; if you click on one of the options which is ‘Christ’, it goes to another page containing a list of options, which begins: ‘We couldn't find any results for: Christ. Try these instead.’
The life of Christ is not the heroic story of Jesus of Nazareth: rather it is through this one, through Jesus of Nazareth, through the story, that the divine life is being revealed to all. Good Friday and Easter become our story. We could not find any results for Christ, try these instead: the ‘these instead’ is us; it is our story. Today we celebrate and acknowledge that that story continues.
It’s quite understandable that the cross became the church’s symbol, after all the egg was already a pagan symbol and the church, as the church always seems to do, had to create a division, had to differentiate itself.
Thank God we haven’t lost the symbol of the egg, for the egg takes us beyond the cross and it invites us again to ask questions: what is being birthed this day? Not this day being Sunday, not this day being Easter Day, but this day being this time in your life: what is being birthed? What has left the tomb empty?
Easter, without doubt is a socio-political event, it is potentially life-creating, it is certainly a life-changing process. Much of the church, much of our culture, doesn’t even recognise that, but sees it as a religious event located in history, and much of the church has therefore adopted a cult-like worship of Jesus, making him the point of the story: it becomes his story, not our story.
Here in Australia, coinciding with Lent, the new AFL season kicks off. The AFL and the Christian church have much in common. Once a week thousands head off to the temple, they head off to follow their adored players, week-by-week the colours change and different saints are venerated. The experience at the temple creates, even if just for a while, a sense of community and unity, and at the same time, a cause for division. There follows endless theological debate, for there is always the possibility of a future promise. There are tears of jubilation, disappointment and celebration. Once a week, thousands head off to watch the game.
To understand the Easter mystery and to encounter the power of Easter, we have to appreciate that it is not a spectator sport. Maundy Thursday gave us that symbolically – serving and being served in community. We’re actually called to play the game, to live the life of Easter, not to watch it.
The second unexpected helpful reflection was a one-liner I found in a book, Christ, Krishna and You. ‘There is a very simple truth that we are forever as a culture complicit in denying: like Christ on Good Friday, we are not going to survive. You will not survive.’ That simple truth can be the Palm Sunday of our life.
It gives us great freedom to embrace the truth that we are not going to survive. As we embrace that truth, it frees us from accumulating treasures on earth as we invest ourselves in creation, taking a bit part in the eternal and the universal story of divine unfolding.
Today and every day we are given the cross and we are given the egg. Receive both, for in our dying we will find life, and in our living we give thanks for all that is revealed in Christ: ‘Greater things you will do.’
Readings for Liturgy of the Passion 1 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Liturgy of the Passion Textweek
Liturgy of the Passion 1 April 2007 The Most Reverend Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth
quoted a prayer/thought by Kaj Munk quoted in "Exiles" by Michael Frost, from Rich Johnson's Blog He runs St Pauls in Auckland New Zealand
Readings for Fifth Sunday in Lent 25 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fifth Sunday in Lent Textweek
Fifth Sunday in Lent 25th March 2007
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover and Christ is going somewhere new. In Isaiah we read, ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ Psalm 126 is a song that rejoices in restoration, when the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion. Paul speaks of straining forward to what lies ahead and Christabel announces that we are going forward to restore and recreate the East End of the church. How amazingly auspicious today’s readings are: they’re auspicious for us and for Easter, and if we can get it, they’re auspicious for the future of all.
They affirm our endeavours, but they also set them into a context that reaches beyond our own parochial needs. The significance of today’s announcement and of today’s readings is a significance that is pregnant with possibilities: as we engage together in the task of re-creation, so we engage together in the activity of Easter.
My guess is that most Christians, [past and present], don’t believe in Easter. They believe that the Church celebrates Easter and that Easter is an important God-event and so they’re drawn to participate in the celebration, but they don’t actually believe in Easter.
Our calling is not to remember Easter, not to think back to Easter, but rather to re-member Easter, to put back the arms and the legs, and to re-member, reconstruct, rebuild ourselves into Easter.
When we hear Isaiah say, ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it’, we’ve been taught to hear that as the prophet Isaiah telling the people what God is about to do. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and left as it is that understanding becomes quite disabling, because we are left passively waiting for God to do a new thing. I mean we read this three years ago and we will read it again in three years time.
Christ, God’s fullest revelation, never once tells us to sit and wait and let God do everything for us. Rather Christ reveals and affirms our divine capacity.
The ‘I am about to do a new thing’ of Isaiah takes on a much fuller meaning with the question that follows it: ‘do you not perceive it?’ By implication, if we perceive it, then we become active participants in it, ‘it’ being the divine activity.
Well-versed in Isaiah, Paul gets it and he names the experience: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’ by becoming like Him.
Mary also gets it; she perceives the divine orientation and becomes at one with it. ‘Taking a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard ….’ She spares no expense; she gives what is valuable to the enterprise in which she believes. The process becomes clear: leave behind the worldly values which distract us from our participation in the divine activity of creation and turn toward Jerusalem.
Easter is not about Christ’s resurrection, it is not about the event that overcame death. We know that because Lazarus has already been called back into life. Easter is not about the resurrection of Christ, Easter is about our resurrection. Easter is about us, our participating in the divine activity and our being called back into life, the life that we were given before we were born.
Readings for Fourth Sunday in Lent 25 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fourth Sunday in Lent Textweek
Fourth Sunday in Lent 18th March 2007
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; II Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
A theologian once said if you retain the story of the Prodigal Son, you retain it all. In the story of the Prodigal Son is everything that is contained in the whole of scriptures. [This can be compared to] the image of the hologram which if you just take a piece of it out, it still contains the whole picture - the part contains the whole and the whole contains the part; so the Prodigal Son contains the whole, just as the whole contains that narrative within it.
‘While he was still far off his father saw him and was filled with compassion.’ It’s probably quite easy for us to find a substitute for the ‘he’ and the ‘father’ and so see that this text is really an allegory and it’s speaking of God’s orientation towards us.
Further on in the parable we read, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours’; that text is another illustration of God’s orientation towards us.
The subtlety of the parable is that these texts which speak of the divine orientation towards us, are spoken to two different sons and we have compassion with both. That’s surprising because the parable goes to great lengths to provide quite different, almost opposite characters of the two individual sons.
How is this linked to the circumcision we read about in the book of Joshua? Circumcision was and is, a mark of differentiation. In Joshua it’s a differentiation between Israel, the people of Israel, and Egypt, the people of Egypt. And we only have to glimpse slightly beyond the literal to see that this is a differentiation between God’s chosen, meaning those who are in relationship with God (Israel), and Egypt, those who have turned to other gods.
The differentiation that we hear about in the book of Joshua was given to celebrate and to mark the coming into the land of promise.
If we read it carefully we see that on that very day, they ate the produce of the land; they could eat of the land that they were promised, but at the same time the manna ceased – no longer did they receive the divine food from God.
Most of us have been taught quite simplistically that God is always there: no matter what you do, where you go, what you think, how you behave, God is always there. We were taught that because it’s a truth and we were taught it as an absolute truth and we were taught it correctly because it is an absolute truth.
But equally true is the relativity of our perspective to the divine being there: the two sons in the parable were both unaware of the divine presence and were both encountered by the divine presence. So too are we in our daily living.
It’s that relativity that gives us the opportunity to discover our mark of differentiation, our sense of place, our sense of being and our orientation. Paul sums it up quite beautifully in 2 Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’
We encounter that differentiation in every moment; in every moment our perspective is shifting or has got the opportunity to move and to shift. Being diagnosed with a brain tumour is … very much a circumcision moment. If you’re told you have a brain tumour - I’ve heard this on good authority – things suddenly become new, the old passes away, the world changes. And then not long after, the flint knives come out, in fact!
The parable and the readings today, as always, call us to look at our dying and our rising, to look at those moments of differentiation in our lives, to look at what it is that will mark us, and who we are to be marked by.
They call us to be constantly aware of our movement into Christ, for as Paul says, ‘In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. God is not the reconciler of us, of our life or of the world, that is entrusted to us.
In Joshua verse 4, ‘All the warriors had died during the journey through the wilderness’. The clue there is that the force of reconciliation and the gift, the entrusting of it to us, is a trust that says as you go through the wilderness so you will let the warrior die - I give you, and given to you is the power, the spirit and the future of the reconciling of war.
Paul clearly speaks to us in Lent. He calls to each of us and says, ‘Be reconciled to God….’.
Be reconciled to God.
Readings for Second Sunday in Lent 4th March 2007Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Second Sunday in Lent Textweek
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:1-9
Where are we in our forty day Lent experience; are we aware at all of an impending Easter?
The readings during Lent have a quality of being with us as we travel through Lent. [We can] discover in them some point of reference that will discover something about ourselves and look at our life journey alongside [that of] the figure of Abram, the archetypal ancestor.
The readings themselves have a quality of unfolding about them, so as we hear ourselves resonating in the text we also have an opportunity to find ourselves and our orientation, our harmony, with the Divine and so with life.
The first reading from Genesis: ‘The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." The question is, what is the divine word that comes to you; what is the word you hear?
By the time we get down to verse 6 we’ve got Abram believing in the unbelievable. So there’s a second question to give us a point of reference: what vision do we believe in? Abram hears the word of God; that word speaks something to him that is unbelievable; he believes that vision.
One of the wonders of sacred text is that if we can’t hear or find what the divine is addressing to us, we can borrow the divine word that is addressed to someone else. That’s why we have these archetypal figures – God did not speak to Abram back in history [in] a private conversation – God speaks to the archetype in each of us in every age.
‘Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ Sit with those three lines, allow them to be spoken to you as they were spoken to the ancestor in all of us.
Having heard the divine word even faintly echoed within, we’re invited by the psalm to give voice to the word that echoes in us: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’
The words that we hear shape us: the words that parents give to their children shape their lives and so shape the world.
Equally the words that we utter give shape to ourselves and so also shape the world. So seek the psalm that resonates from you: it too provides a reference point for both place and orientation.
From the reading in Philippians is the space that is illuminated by the reference points that have just been established. It’s as if the intersecting of the divine word that I hear, and the divine word that is uttered through me, create a place: our citizenship is in heaven.
Paul seems to have found both place and orientation. The same truth is being made manifest in other ways and in other voices: global conflict, global warming, and global economies are already making it very clear that the tightly held-onto belief in nations and nationhood is a sham.
It’s delightful to think that the old idea of heaven and earth is a very narrow appreciation: our citizenship is in heaven.
So far we’ve looked at the divine word spoken to us, the voice of God that was spoken to Abram, the divine word that can be uttered from us through the voice of the psalm and at using those as reference points to find a sense of place and from that, a sense of direction. Now the Gospel seeks to bear witness to the divine word that is alive in us: the purpose of the Gospel is to see that Christ is located with us.
If we can ‘transform’, so that our minds are not set on earthly things, then we see beyond the earthly things that fill our eyes and our hearts and our minds.
Twelve days into the forty day journey of Lent and the Gospel tells us ‘unless you repent, you will perish as they did’. In the modern world, our watering, driving and energy consumption habits will all have been transformed by that Gospel.
The fact that we have seen the outworking of those words so many times in our lives gives us some encouragement to hear them now much deeper: if we want to live a life that transcends the divide between heaven and earth, then we need to seek and to find a new direction.
The parable is the Easter story. It is a dialogue between the man and the gardener, a divine conversation, giving an insight into the Word, the divine dialogue of the Trinity.
Listen to the voice of the gardener: is this the gardener that Mary met on Easter Morning when she went to the tomb? The gardener says, ‘One more year: if it bears fruit next year well and good; but if not you can cut it down.’
It’s at this point that we all go ‘Bugger’, because the hope was that we’d find there was some easy way forward. It’s one of the hardest processes for humanity to get involved in; Anglicans find this stunningly difficult. ‘If it bears fruit next year well and good, but if not we’ll give it another year’, is the Anglican expression. That’s not what the Gospel says. We need to make life choices, to be aware as much of what needs to go as of what is to come.
We block any opportunity because we’ve not let go of anything and so we do not have hands to welcome that which seeks to come.
If you continue to struggle finding your place and orientation in Lent, in the wilderness, in the wilderness of the present, if you can’t hear the word of God, if you can’t speak the word of God, or have no reference point in which to find a divine space, then contemplate the words that have been spoken to others and consider carefully the fruit that you would bear: what is the fruit that you will bear? And then give yourself time to bear it.
Readings for First Sunday in Lent 25 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out First Sunday in Lent Textweek
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
The first Sunday in Lent is obviously the beginning of something, the catalyst that has got the potential to change the world.
We can, if we choose, or perhaps if we find the place whereby we can choose, participate in the bringing about of change.
We can use the ritual and the time of Lent to create or recreate within, a life direction. Lent is an opportunity for us to check life’s compass and to set or reset a true course.
Deuteronomy demands the giving of the first fruits, the first fruits of our harvest, giving them to the Lord…….. How can one translate that into ‘give up something for Lent’?
The psalm asks us to ‘make the Lord your refuge and the Most High your dwelling place and no evil shall befall you’. If we could hear the truth in that, we might choose to invest more in education than we do in defence. What would the world look like if we did that?
Romans identifies some startling revelations: Christ is the end of the Law and so the door to righteousness for all. What does it mean, ‘Christ is the end of the Law’?
There is more in Romans still to be heard: ‘there is no distinction between Jew and Greek’ - no distinction between Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Christian, gay and straight, black and white, indigenous and alien. [Yet] we live in a world that at times appears to only have distinctions.
Lent is an opportunity for us to listen to the divine word – not the divine word that has been taught for two thousand years or that has been institutionalised into the museum of the Church, but rather the divine word that will allow the voice spoken in these scriptures to be heard in us and change us.
[At] Christmas, the Divine is given to humanity. In this narrative what we have is Christ revealing the potential, the spirit of fullness that we all have already.
[In the Gospel] we see Christ in his fullness immediately after his baptism; he stands and he is in the place where the Church claims to stand.
Like us, immediately from standing in that place, he’s confronted by temptation, so those of us that are confronted by temptation can find ourselves once again in the narrative.
‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread’: what on earth has that got to do with today? Think of the mining industry that converts stones into bread, an industry that creates life based on digging stones and converting them to bread, to livelihoods. Listen to our politicians talk of the mining industry, the saviour of our economic future; there’s a thread there that suggests that if one sees the world in economic terms one can almost see the conversion of stone into bread as representing a life direction.
The temptation of the glory and authority of all the kingdoms: the Roman empire, Spanish empire, British empire, the U.S. empires have all risen and fallen or are falling, by the same temptation.
The third temptation, taking place on the pinnacle of the temple, is about the need for security and protection. Could we in the modern age even begin to trust in the protection of angels?
But what do we put our trust in and what do we put our faith in? Somehow defence budgets seem to be directly proportional to the number of refugees [as well as] the number of wars in the world and number of people who starve on the planet: maybe it is time for us to hear what on earth is being meant when we’re asked to trust in other forces that are not of our own making.
The Gospel narrative ends with Jesus continuing his journey undeterred by temptation. The question is where will we be in our life journey by the end of Lent? Deuteronomy says. ‘When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance…’. This is not about establishing the nation of Israel, or creating borders and owning a land: When you come into a new understanding found in your wanderings through Lent, then and maybe only then will we find a new generosity and our fullness of spirit, our empowerment.
It’s couched in a language that looks to be about the land, but the landscape that the Bible talks about is always a landscape within. The psalm describes this new land: it is not a place, this is actually about presence: ‘You who live in the shelter of the Divine.’
If we can find this place and know this place and stay in this place, a place of Divine presence, then we discover the truth of Romans; we will discover an end to the Law. That doesn’t mean mayhem, it actually means an end to that which controls our cultural norms. And from that place, bringing an end to that Law, we find there are no distinctions, we will find it is all for one and one for all: one body in Christ.
Transfiguration 18 February 2007 Last Sunday after Epiphany
Readings for Transfiguration Sunday 18 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Transfiguration/Last Epiphany Textweek
Full sermon Sermon by Frank Sheehan
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany 11th February 2007
Readings for Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany 11 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek
Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
I grabbed this incident report off the Net yesterday. It occurred off the coast of Newfoundland but it could have occurred here. I just want you to picture it: it occurred at night at sea; it is very, very dark at night, at sea. This is the actual transcript of a US Naval ship with Canadian authorities in October 1995.
The Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
The Canadians: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid collision.
The Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
Canadians: No, I say again, you divert your course.
Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States’ Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees to the north - that’s one five degrees north – or counter measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
When we see something, we interpret it, we perceive, and that’s what gives us a certainty about what we’re looking at. Without any change in the material world [or] change of substance, we can be given an insight that changes our perception and so too changes our certainty.
The story about the ship and the lighthouse is like our spiritual or faith journey. We too sail in the dark, seeking guidance from lights and in turn, hopefully giving guidance by our own light. Being made in the image of God, our dialogue with the divine parallels the dialogue between the captain and the lighthouse keeper – two lights engaging each other, and like the captain, we often see ourselves as the greater light.
Jeremiah speaks of living in the present and of living lives that are either cursed or blessed.
Cursing and blessing are not the activity of God; rather they result from our encounter with the divine and our life orientation, and it is us who are the creators of blessing and/or cursing. If the ship does not change course it is cursed, but it’s not the lighthouse that curses. If the ship does change course it will be blessed and it will know its blessing as it continues on its way. Again it’s not the lighthouse that blesses; the lighthouse is the lighthouse, is the light.
Jeremiah provides us with a comparison of lives – a life like the shrub in the desert and a life like a tree planted by water.
A few days ago I had a call from my Zen Master, Joan Matthews. She said, ‘If you let a green tree grow in your heart, it might attract a singing bird’. Along with Jeremiah, Joan was talking about orientation, about life direction, about the course that we choose to steer. Do you think that your life is all important or do you see a lighthouse on the horizon and are you open to changing your course; are you aware of the orientations of blessed and cursed?
Jeremiah was talking about life in this world, in this moment. Paul speaks of an orientation to life that is not bounded by mortality; our voice in a continuing and unending conversation, a conversation that we spoke ourselves into at our birth and a conversation that continues after our death. Our self and ourselves as part of the whole, not just one with the present, [which] doesn’t mean all of them and all of you, a part of the whole means being at one with all, in all time, time that is, time that was, time that will be.
‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ Why? Because Christ reveals to us a self that reaches out to embrace the all in every age. It’s a self that reaches out, it’s a me that reaches out to the all of you, in every place, in every time.
The narrative in the gospel is not telling us what to do, rather, it reveals to us options for life – 15 degrees to the north, 15 degrees to the south. The Gospel stands there as a lighthouse for us to look at, to engage with and to encounter.
‘He came down with them and stood on a level place.’ He stood on a level place and from there he spoke about life options. The level place where he stands is where divinity and humanity stand together; this is not a god out there, this is one who stands with us, on a level place with us and we stand in a level place with God, humanity and divinity as one. From that place we can see clearly the options of life.
All who came to hear – just to hear - were healed, they were made whole. Verses 20-23 of the Gospel identify the fifteen degrees to the south, the course that we may steer that is the course of blessing. Verses 24 -26 identify the course of woe, which is the cursed’ of Jeremiah and that is the course of not hearing. Verses 17 to 20 speak of the power that came forth to heal all, the power that came forth to heal all.
It was not the power of the captain of the USS Abraham Lincoln, it was the voice, the confident voice from the lighthouse.
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany 4th February 2007
Readings for Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany 4 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek
Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13); Psalm 138; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
The Sunday readings, just like the supermarket shelves, are having to move along at quite a frantic pace. They’re leading us or calling us into the movement from Christmas, towards Lent and then into Easter, and we really don’t have very long to do that, so they are seeking to create some momentum for us. It’s not a church movement, this is our movement.
The readings are talking about us, so they give us an opportunity to see and to reflect; they’re not going to give us any answers, but there are opportunities to find ourselves in relation to the divine and also in relation to our becoming: who are we, who am I, where do I stand, what am I called to be, to become?
Rather than seeking to join the dots of today’s readings, let’s see ourselves as one of the dots. See how you compare with Isaiah: what are the similarities, do you like him, do you like what he says, is it something that you can say, does it echo within? Can you say, ‘I saw the Lord’ or are we still caught up in some Sunday School teaching that says, ‘For that to happen I’d have to see a burning bush or someone dressed in white and shining with glory’.
Can we relate to Isaiah when he says, ‘I am lost and of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips’? I find it stunningly easy to do that bit, especially the last bit – I’m okay, but I’m among a people of unclean lips! See what I mean – we start to get in touch with the Isaiah that we are.
Have your lips been touched with a live coal from the divine fire? Have you heard the voice of the Lord and can you within yourself, find the place where you can say, ‘Here am I; send me!’ The ‘send me’ of Isaiah is exactly the same response that we hear in the Gospel - they left everything and followed him.
To reflect on our movement and direction you need to have a look at the figure of the seraphs. The seraphs had six wings - with two they cover their face, hiding their appearance; with two they cover their feet, hiding both their direction and their movement; with two they fly, they rise into the heavens and they find a perspective that sees all. The seraphs covering their faces perhaps echoes the experience of Isaiah when he says, ‘Woe is me! I am lost’ – I cannot see and I am not seen.
Almost in complete contrast to that we have Paul speaking really confidently of that which is of first importance: ‘Christ appeared to Cephas … to the apostles and to me.’ The appearance of the divine, the revelation of the divine, seemed to be the created place of movement. The movement is from ‘woe is me, I am lost’ to ‘here am I, send me’, a movement from unseen towards being seen.
Luke narrates this movement in a fishing story. We find that nothing is asked and yet everything is given. Jesus says to Simon, ‘just do what you normally do, go about your everyday occupation. Hop into the boat, put out to sea, throw the nets overboard’: there’s nothing being asked that is out of the ordinary. We know that if that word is heeded, if Simon Peter can listen to what is being revealed in Christ, this is going to end up with abundance. We find that Simon Peter then sees the abundance - the boat is filled with fish, life-threateningly so, it could sink. He also realizes that this is an undeserved abundance. And it’s that realization that spins him into the space of ‘Woe is me I am lost’. He finds himself in a place of fear, in that space in which fear is created, and immediately, there’s that response from the divine: ‘Do not be afraid’.
Having encountered the space where we realise an abundance - not a self-generated abundance, an undeserved, by-grace abundance - we need to hear accompanying that insight, that realisation, ‘Do not be afraid’. Do not be afraid, because now what you have seen, what has brought you into being seen, will create a change of focus for you, for your life and for your relationship with the whole of creation. Your relationship will move from the waters of chaos, from the fish, to humanity; you will move through the days of creation; you will find yourselves in relation to all, and then we hear of that movement: they left everything they had they followed the Christ.
We probably during each and every day, find the place of fear, the ‘Woe is me’ of Isaiah; we know the ‘I am a sinful’ voice of Simon Peter. We know those places very well because we live in a culture that emphasises those places, directs us to be afraid, and all too often is ready to identify our sinfulness and so we become a people who fear change and movement. At least that’s a part of us.
At the busy bee yesterday morning I delighted in cutting things down and what I saw was pruning, cutting, mulching, clearing, cleaning, pulling up and throwing away. These are divine activities of destruction; [in] the last few verses of Isaiah you can hear again of that destructive divine force – this is the divine busy bee. If we leave the gardens and grounds as they are, they’ll just stagnate. They’ll certainly look like one, they’ll look like a blob of green. Without that destroying we can’t bring forth the true beauty of what’s there.
Just as we do that outwardly, so maybe that’s what we need to do inwardly, [like] Simon Peter, James and John: I need to get rid of these things in order to move. Sometimes we create false realities of movement: the Ikea sales are a good example of that - it’s so convenient to create change, to change your world.
Or we create life milestones to pretend there’s change, and there was a delightful life milestone last night as we celebrated Gwenda’s sixtieth birthday. There was delightful conversation had during that time about how long we thought we had left to live. A sixtieth birthday looks like a shift, there is not necessarily movement. Quite often [when] we mark our birthdays and anniversaries we become aware of moving closer to death. The ridiculous thing is, in every moment of your life your nearness to death never changes. You do not move nearer to death in the time between fifty and sixty at all: at fifty, death could be in the next moment, just as it could at sixty. Become aware of the movements that are real, not the movements we create.
Nothing we do will change our nearness to death. The question of movement that we’re asked in the scriptures is to be aware of our nearness to life and whether we are moving closer to it. Today, this minute and in each and every moment, do I move nearer to life?
Readings for Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany 28th January 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany 28th January 2007
It has been argued that Jesus was a religious man and believed in God, yet when he spoke the believers of the day were filled with rage and threw him out. What enraged the faithful churchgoers, and after 2000 years is the situation still the same?
Perhaps the church today has a faith perspective that is so far from the divine revelation that is spoken in Christ that we too would be enraged if we heard it.
We feel safe when things don’t change, when we know what is right and when we know we are right. It’s a simple delusion [to make us] believe we’re in control and immortal. The synagogue provides a sanctuary of added security for it also knows God, and the Church is right with God and can therefore, by inclusion and exclusion, exercise a power that is, unless questioned, deemed to be of divine origin.
The readings today are a cause and a call for disturbance. The opening words of Jeremiah is the word of God coming to the prophet, the divine word given human voice, an Old Testament incarnation of Jesus: ‘The word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” ’ Rather than accept what the church sells, why not contemplate the prophetic, Christ-like word spoken to Jeremiah? Seek to know who you are – the ‘you’ before you were born, the ‘you’ that was consecrated along with every other human being.
In seeking our consecrated selves, we might uncover the word that Jeremiah heard: ‘I appoint you’ - no one else – ‘over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
No wonder the church was filled with rage – just when we thought we were already doing the right thing, so the divine voice calls us, consecrates us and appoints us to pluck up, to pull down, to destroy, to overthrow, to build and to plant.
It’s amazing that we’re just beginning to hear that climate change will require us to make changes, yet we still haven’t heard the word of God revealed in Christ two thousand years ago that [also] asks of us to make changes for the life of the whole. Why is that? Well, it is not easy. Like Jeremiah we too will respond: ‘Truly I don’t know what to do. What can I do, I’m only one person?’
It’s exactly the same dilemma that Paul seems to have wrestled with: ‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, I am a noisy gong.’ But hope that we will each and together find our true voice.
Hope is born in faith, that’s why we’ve got in Jeremiah, ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you.’ It might not be easy, but there is hope. And Paul speaks of exactly the same ‘I am with you’, which he attributes to love. The ‘Do not be afraid for I am with you’ in Jeremiah, is realised in Paul as knowing that his voice will carry and bring creation if I have love.
The passage on love points to where we come from, that place within ourselves that we speak into being.
We need to find a place within where we can give voice to our true selves, that we may be known as an ‘I Am’ before ‘God, I AM’. Paul attributes the process, the breath that gives voice to our true being, as Love, the love that consecrated us before we were born.
We need to find a place in us where we can be small enough to know that we do not hold the answers and the control of everything, to be open to a force and a power greater than ourselves. It’s the gift of Global Warming.
We blindly go along in life until weather patterns change and someone points out that it could be because of the way we live …. If we could only find the same space to approach the divine.
Paul speaks of love as the creative expression of the divine – God is Love.
Genesis tells of creation having been spoken into being: the divine word moved over the waters of chaos and drew into being, out of love, all that is created.
So hope, [which is] our future orientation, is to be found in faith. Faith is our knowing of ourselves in relation with the divine ‘I AM’ and then our future orientation is given voice in and through love. What is said is an expression of tomorrow: it tells of where I am, where I am going, what I am creating.
The gospel gives expression to the creative revelation of God in Christ that is found and passed on to us in the person of Jesus.
The Gospel says, ‘All were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.’ We too would be amazed at the gracious words that would come from that mouth - this is the divine enfleshed, so the voice that is spoken is the word of creation - and yet they filled the church with rage: words that called forth change, new life, a new tomorrow; now, January 28th, I have put my words into your mouth. As the word of the Lord appointed Jeremiah, so too the Word Made Flesh appoints us.
‘I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, and I appoint you to pluck up and to pull down.’ Let’s stop looking towards the nations and the kingdoms for the answers – it’s us - and if we look deep within we know what does need plucking up and pulling down.
‘I appoint you to destroy and to overthrow’ - I doubt many of us need that many clues as to what could be destroyed and overthrown.
‘I appoint you to build up and to plant’ - we are appointed to create hope, through faith, by giving voice to divine love. And giving voice to divine love is our creative expression of life.
‘Before I formed you in the womb’, each and every one of you, each and every other, ‘I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’
Readings for Third Sunday after the Epiphany 21st January 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Third Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek
Third Sunday after the Epiphany 21st January 2007
Second Sunday after the Epiphany 14th January 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Second Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Once upon a time there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…. For many and for many years this delightful story has been understood within the broad genre of fairytales.
My guess is John was not writing fairytales. If we look again at the story as a sacred text, because then we hear it in a different context and in a context that is alongside other sacred texts: there is a fuller understanding of the wedding feast at Cana that is illuminated by the abstract, the almost poetic oracle that we heard first from Isaiah.
Isaiah seems to be talking about the land, about place and about places – Zion and Jerusalem. ‘You shall be called by a new name, you shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, you shall be called My Delight Is in Her.’
At the same time and within those same words, Isaiah speaks of a marriage, of a becoming – a becoming is not the same as, but it’s like a birth, it’s an event that warrants a new name.
Isaiah illuminates the activity of creation when he says, ‘as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you’ – a marriage between creator and creature, a marriage between divinity and humanity. And isn’t this the same symbolic union that is operative in the first sign that’s recorded in John’s Gospel?
These sacred texts seek to bear witness to the incarnation as evidenced in Christ ….. It’s quite possible John has created this event in the Jesus story in order to recall, to recreate and to retell of the divine marriage that Isaiah first speaks of.
If we look once again at the Gospel reading with Isaiah as a backdrop, not as fairytale: ‘On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…’ It doesn’t start ‘Once upon a time’, but it starts ‘On the third day’: the third day speaks of a significant event, a significant time, a significant movement.
‘A wedding’ - we can see John’s significance in omitting the names of the bride and the groom, they are yet to be discovered. ‘A wedding in Cana of Galilee’ – the place is named, so this is a sacred text that is grounded, it is in place, it is therefore with us.
‘The mother of Jesus was there’: there’s already a distance from the familiar Mary to now ‘the mother of Jesus was there’, and we can actually appreciate very much that distance. This is a new voice, this is a new telling; this is not a continuation of the Mary and Jesus story that we’ve been contemplating over Christmas.
‘When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said, "They have no wine." They have no wine in Baghdad, they have no wine in Darfur, they have no wine in the Centrelink queue, they have no wine in the refugee camps.
‘Jesus said to her, “Woman, my hour has not yet come." The impersonal address of ‘woman’ is quite important – it tells us that this is not a personal story, rather this is a dialogue, between humanity - ‘woman’ - and divinity; it is the same dialogue, the same space from which Isaiah has spoken.
The significance of ‘My hour has not yet come’, we might appreciate more fully when we look at the sacred texts of Easter and to another event that occurs on the third day.
‘His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mother, like Mary in Advent, once again has an orientation towards the future and a knowing of how the future will unfold.
She also addresses the servants, the lowest of the oppressed: the geometry of tomorrow is voiced by the bearer of God, just as we had in the Nativity. The bearer of God gives voice to tomorrow, and in this narrative we find that the divine word made flesh is directly linked to the lowest, to the oppressed, to the servants.
The water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, vessels filled to the brim, [are] metaphors perhaps for ourselves, empty vessels waiting to be filled with divine fullness.
This would have been familiar stuff – purification, baptism, celebration and abundance. It’s a movement that John’s captured just in the image of those jars.
The steward is the one in control, the one in authority: tellingly, he ‘did know where it came from’.
As we read the text as a sacred text we can see that there are many, many strands in it, strands that tell an eternal story and that draw us towards an eternal truth: this was not ‘someone’s wedding’. This text speaks of my marriage, my marriage and your marriage; Not the individual ‘me’, the personal, self-centred, ego-centric ‘me’, but the ‘me’ that knows itself only and forever as part of the ‘we’.
‘For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.’
Readings for Baptism of Our Lord 7 January 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Baptism of Our Lord Textweek
Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after the Epiphany) 7th January 2007
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Baptism of our Lord is a fitting celebration for our first Sunday of the new year and the way the readings work together provides us with an opportunity to engage in the beginning, to start a new year off.
There are quite a few place names [but] be aware that they’re not place names in the Middle East, they’re actually landscapes within yourself. So when you hear about the wilderness of Kadesh … look within and discover those places.
[There’s a] wonderful sense of journeying through the reading from Isaiah: ‘But now thus says the Lord who created you, O Jacob, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned.’ A stunning contrast to those government travel warnings – ‘Unless you have urgent business, don’t go there.’ There is a real sense of this is coming from another part of the landscape.
What is the difference in those paradigms? I think if we strip it back, what we discover is the place where the shepherds stood, where we can clearly hear the voice of angels [which] always begin with, ‘Do not fear, do not be afraid.’ It’s that ‘do not fear’ that creates the difference - but the ‘do not fear’ has value, is real and tangible, if it is closely followed by a hearing of the word of God.
Isaiah [is] giving us a wonderful opportunity to look at where we’re at: knowing where we stand in turn gives us an opportunity to become aware of our vision. If we know clearly where we stand and we know what it is we’re looking at, there’s a good chance that we’ll also have an awareness of where we’re going.
Knowing where we are in relation to the divine, I think, is the process of finding out who we are called to be. So if we can discover the place we stand in relation to the divine we have the opportunity to discover who we are; who we are gives us the opportunity to discover who I am called to be.
What does Isaiah have to say about our relationship with the divine? ‘I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine, I will be with you, you are precious in my sight and honoured, and I love you.’ If we could just read those words over and over again for the next few days and say, ‘this is where we stand in relation to the divine, at the beginning of each and every new year, each and every tomorrow.’
We’re honoured, we’re loved, we’re precious, the divine is with us, we’re called by name – ‘you are mine’. If these words can echo within our landscape, then surely we will have confidence for the year ahead and for the journey ahead. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you.’
Our celebration of Christmas seeks to acknowledge the truth, and yet it’s interesting because Isaiah found what we would say is a Christian truth before ever Christ walked the earth. Isaiah’s confident knowing goes before - he speaks of a divine truth, a reality that names our being, and he speaks it before and therefore beyond the Christian faith; he speaks it in a context that’s out of time and if we can hear it that way we have the opportunity to hear it spoken into the present.
The words that Isaiah speaks that are the truth, that are revealed in Christ at Christmas, are spoken at the beginning of 2007 - that’s where they are real; and they are spoken at the beginning of every next moment - that’s where they are real.
There is not a time where we will be able to find a worldview in which God does not love us, in which God will say, ‘No you are not mine’. And I wonder if that’s why the symbol of the vulnerable child is so hopeful at Christmas for revealing a truth that Isaiah could reveal way before Christmas, because as our eyes begin to open in vision, so we look around in wonder and the next thing we do is to question what is it that I see? And that’s so easy to see in a child, even babies - their heads turn all over the place and the minute they master language they begin to ask questions. This is the process that post-Christmas we’re invited into
There is nothing in the Bible that asks us just to accept without thinking; the indication in the Bible is to come and find ourselves in the question. 2007 is an invitation to stay with questions, not to accept answers.
The invitation today on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord is to have a look at and question our own baptism and our encounter with the divine as those who are post-baptism. Now let’s question what it’s all about. Have we only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus?
Some churches teach that baptism is the mark of salvation, it is the alignment with the divine. . The Emperor Constantine kept putting off his baptism, because he knew that once aligned in baptism you went straight through, you were in, you were with the One. He put it off until he was on his death bed and when there was nothing more that they could do for him, they rushed a bishop in and baptized him, and he didn’t sin between that moment and death!
Other churches think we need to become slain in the Spirit in order to find this alignment, this mark of salvation.
What the reading from Acts suggests is that our alignment with the divine, our baptism and our empowerment in the divine - the Spirit upon us - become realized when we are touched by those who are apostles.
If the first reading opens for us the idea of vision and this second reading takes us from vision into questioning, by the time we get to the Gospel we’re being asked to consider choosing and choice.
Make a choice between wheat and chaff. Wheat and chaff is not us and them: the winnowing in the fields – bring the geography from outside to inside. We become one in love: go back to the words of Isaiah – what is the relationship between us and the divine? ‘I love you, I am one with you, I am with you wherever you go’ - there’s a oneness there.
This hymn ‘Breathe on me, breath of God/ till I am wholly thine.’ is picking that up – I want to, I want this movement Isaiah speaks of - ‘until this earthly part of me/ glows with thy fire divine.’ Come back to the Gospel and what you see is, the chaff will be burnt, so we need to know our ‘wheatiness’ and we need to know our ‘chaffiness’ and not to go, ‘Ooh that’s a horrible part of me, I must make that nice.’ But know that that can be consumed by divine fire. Maybe it’s the entry point, maybe it’s where you throw yourself onto the divine fire or into it.
Those who don’t have the capacity to choose - that is some of us - just acknowledge that … and then follow one whose path leads towards fullness of life; follow one who is more fully alive than you - doesn’t matter who it is, doesn’t mater what faith, what colour, what language - someone who is more fully alive than you, follow them; have confidence in an Other: ‘You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.’
There is a movement to vision to question, to questions that open up for us choices to be made. And the choice that we make, whether it is a choice to take steps in a direction or to follow, the choice returns us to the realization of vision.
Those few words from Isaiah give us a stunningly confident kick off to 2007. May they now and forever echo in your heart.
Readings for First Sunday after Christmas Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out First Sunday after Christmas Textweek
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
The Sunday after Christmas is known in some traditions as the Sunday of the Holy Family, which is probably why we have two family narratives today.
We would have heard echoes of the Nativity [in the reading about Samuel] - a boy wrapped in linen and his mother and father being there. And the narrative is both uncomfortable and yet at the same time, it is confirming.
It’s uncomfortable because we realise that the parents gave the child away, and yet at the same time, quite deeply, we know that there is rightness in that narrative: Samuel was a gift to the Lord. So is that reading a reflection of the divine giving we encounter in the Nativity - the divine giving the divine child away?
[In] the Gospel reading, we hear that Mary and Joseph found the boy Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers after three days. And again there’s a bit of uncomfortableness with the idea of losing your child for three days, worse still giving your child away, especially to the church!
But let’s look at the narratives inwardly rather than outwardly. Psychology explores the idea of the inner child; developmental psychology has posited that there are a number of life stages that we might move through as we move from childhood through to maturity.
It’s also managed to note some of the difficulties there are of leaving one life stage in order to cleanly embrace the next. We start to discover that our inner journey is also about movement, as much as it is about moments - our being and becoming is always in process.
I think it was Germaine Greer who suggested that the average Australian male takes approximately forty years to complete adolescence; there’s a wonderful truth somewhere there that suggests that the path through life is quite uncharted and we often take meandering routes as we seek to develop from child to adult. In an Eastern paradigm, it’s the same developmental journey that is seen as the path to Enlightenment - the movement from being an object of the temporal world to being a part of the eternal world.
If we now visit the Holy Family narratives with our inner child and developmental growth in mind they become stories about integration and orientation towards fullness and towards wholeness in our life.
Samuel was a gift that his mother had made to the Lord - this is an Old Testament narrative about life orientation. From birth, our orientation as humanity - humanity with divine incarnation - is an orientation as a gift to the Lord.
The Gospel says the same thing another way – Mary also bore a child, a gift from the divine and a gift to the divine.
Luke’s gospel is not there for the purpose of describing the boy or the man Jesus, but to narrate the revelation of incarnation. Luke’s gospel [is] seeking to reveal to us, to open up for us, what does it mean that the divine became flesh?
Now consider for a moment the orientation you received as a child and the orientation that you provide to our children and to our culture. Church and State, it would appear, actively seek to deny the truths that are revealed in the readings today. Our culture of self-centred family and the broader self-interest of nationality are actually inhibiting our development. Imagine what our world would be like if we had the detachment of Samuel, the detachment of the boy Jesus and a whole-of-life orientation toward God and toward all people.
Most of our adult orientations when looked at in relation to the narratives of Samuel and the boy Jesus, can actually be seen as childlike processes, rather than as movements towards becoming mature spiritual beings - as Iranaeus would say ‘humanity fully alive to the glory of God’. One of our culture’s primary orientations is to owning your own home; contrast that with Samuel and the boy Jesus who found themselves at home in the house of the Lord.
Christmas has become an experience of gift-buying and gift-giving and gift-receiving. There’s something delightful in that, but we also miss the event of gift-realisation – of ourselves realising ourselves and each other as gifts. When we look at these narratives today and put our lives in perspective with them, it feels like we are avoiding growing up, becoming that which we’re called to be.
Much of the teaching of our religious culture supports the status quo and so we remain quite passively childlike, looking to others to take responsibility – ‘why don’t they do this, isn’t it about time the Government did something about global warming?’ Our power, which is the power of Christmas – the divine became flesh - there’s a transfer of power there, there is a giving, a gift to be realised – we give that power away to the world, we render unto Caesar that which belongs to God.
Samuel and the boy Jesus have an orientation that is beyond family and beyond national self-interest. They realised themselves as gift, a gift made to the Lord. They had an orientation that looked beyond [retirement plans and border security].
If this Christmas is to be anything more than a prelude to the sales, then we need to contemplate more the example, life and reflection of Samuel and the boy Jesus. There is an orientation that they suggest to us and our orientation is the direction in which the future is created.
Does [wishing someone ‘Happy New Year’] naturally have an orientation towards God? Does it hold a future orientation for all people? Or are you actually wishing something for one other and excluding all others? Is the ‘new’ in New Year truly a desire or are we actually hoping for more of the same?
Nativity of the Lord Christmas Day 25th December 2006 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 96; Titus 3:4-8; Luke 2:1-20
I wonder whether we’ve seen Christmas for many years the wrong way round. If you’re in a railway station alongside another train and then one of the trains begins to move, you’re not sure: are we moving and they’re being left behind or are they moving and we’re being left behind? Now what if we’ve done that theologically with Christmas - when they talk about the waiting and the coming and just get the wrong train? What if it’s not our call to wait for Christmas – what if Christmas is waiting for us?
And what if, with the coming of Christmas it’s not the coming of God into the world but it’s actually our coming into being - divine revelation in the world? And now we’ve got an opportunity to look at it again and to actually ask what is Christmas waiting for from us?
The coming of the divine into the world must have already have occurred. Think about it: just imagine if we lit this candle four Sundays ago and when we lit it we knew that God was going to deliver something in four weeks time. Imagine what sort of a god that is – ‘You light a candle and the day you do I’m going to let 40,000 children die of starvation every day for four weeks; then when you light the big candle I’ll come and sort things out.’ Does not make sense.
No: the gift is given, always and ever. So Christmas is about us, it’s about us. And the thing that we practise at Christmas - giving and receiving - I think we need to have our understanding of the Christmas story shifted onto the right train so that we know what order: the gift has been given; it is now for us to receive and for us to give so that others might receive.
He is waiting for us, and the promise of Christmas is the promise of life, of growth, of wonder, of abundance, of peace - all of those are promises, waiting for us. As it said in the first reading we had today, ‘You shall be called, "Sought Out". Who is doing the seeking? Christmas seeks you out to become the true gift.
Fourth Sunday of Advent 24th December 2006
Fourth Sunday in Advent 24th December 2006 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)
The Gospel reading, the Song of Mary in place of the psalm, our hymns, is all pointing towards Mary. Is it because we’re getting close to the birth, is today about setting the scene for the nativity? The answer of course is, yes - at least in terms of what we might tell our children. Mary precedes the Nativity, just as letters to Santa precede the event of the jolly old man coming down the chimney. Is it enough or do we somehow know there is more to it than setting the scene for a story we’ll shortly hear?
What is revealed in the story? Does the story change anything? What shaping has the story provided; what shaping can it provide?
An exercise to do at home is ask of yourself what draws you to [your favourite TV show or film], who is the character you identify with and why? And as we do that, become aware of the narratives that you listen to and look at, for they do give shape to our inner world; they provide reference points for our being and for our becoming.
So here’s the second part of that exercise: go back through time and identify previous favourite TV shows and favourite films. Consider what drew you to those particular narratives and also, what was the best, the number one all time favourite for all eternity? For most of us that’s going to be stunningly difficult to pick one from our list, because these texts have been integrated. They’ve shaped and they’ve formed, they’ve created reference points and they’ve shifted reference points.
We have changed: we have new reference points, new insights, new understandings, new vision, new being, and so also a new view of what might become. If we just stay with one narrative and retell it and call it and make it sacred, then isn’t that an indication that there’s no movement, there is no change, there is no integration of the reference points that narrative provides?
[The Nativity story] is not about Mary: it’s about you and me and us. It is not a remake; it is a new narrative. Mary is not going to have a baby during Midnight Mass or on Christmas Day. But are you? Are you going to bring something to birth in this divine season? Are you or are we going to respond with a ‘yes’ to the creative call to bear God into the world? The narrative of Mary calls us, it carries us into our place of birthing.
The reading from Micah identifies the place - that part of us that knows that there is something more. That ‘little town’ within our inner landscape, Bethlehem, ‘one of the little clans of Judah’ – that’s within. Mary and Micah speak to the place where our prayers are uttered, where, when we speak in prayer, there is a bounce-back which is a divine echo. ‘And from you one is to come forth whose origin is from of old’ – deep within – ‘who shall be the one of peace.’ Birthing and becoming, the narrative of the Nativity narrates our story.
What Paul is saying [in the passage from Hebrews] is don’t put it out there, but rather a body, a realization, a manifestation, an incarnation of that which desires to be birthed in you.
That delightful Gospel encounter between Mary and Elizabeth narrates our encounter with each other. This is our narrative. Who is it that fills you with the Holy Spirit? Who calls us to magnify the Lord? Where do we experience a leaping for joy when you see the Christ in another?
Somehow there’s something different about this Advent; there is, this year a pregnant pause, there is an anticipation of something forming. In practical terms let’s not look for the familiar. Rather let’s look for, ‘I am making all things new’: let’s attend to that which is seeking to be birthed.
I was thinking about multinova cameras and hand-held cameras - they provide the perfect icon of prayer. I think you could confidently say, eighty percent of the adult Christian church in the world continues … [to] send out lists to God.
The multinova sends out its … whatever, but it’s only informed when it gets the bounce-back. That’s how we should pray with Hail Mary and with any other prayer – speak them, send them out over and over, because what we’re looking for in our prayers is the divine echo. What is it that then comes back to the place from which I pray? What is the word that is spoken to me? Listen for that voice through the season of Christmas.
There are no crib figures this year but we have trees, to remind us that the divine is to be found in the whole of creation; we have trees to remind us of birth and becoming; we have trees to draw from us what narrative is it that we’re grounded in. What is the soil of our being and to where do our branches reach out; what is it that we seek to embrace?
Magnify the Lord, rejoice in God.
When we look for the Nativity scene this year, seek to be aware that we are in it. There’s not a baby in a manger, it’s not the Son of God in a manger, it’s not Jesus in a manger with Mary and Joseph looking on and us looking on them, it’s us: we are birthed in the divine manger. Mary and Joseph gaze on us, wondering what their child will be.
Third Sunday in Advent 17th December 2006 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Today’s texts, all of them when you put them together one after another, would absolutely delight the TV evangelists. ‘He has turned away your enemies’ [Zephaniah].
And from Luke: ‘He will gather the wheat into his granary’ – that’s us – ‘and the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ – that’s them.
The sad thing is that such a reading of the text is not a caricature: for many it affirms their truth; it’s a truth that sponsors division and it’s a truth that is sponsored by the Church.
[For example, from the Collect]: ‘Let the fire of your Spirit purge us of all corruption’ - thank goodness we don’t have to do anything, the fire of the Spirit can do the purging for us – ‘so that purified, we wait eagerly for Him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near, your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’. If you read it and believe it, then forever you will remain in the pew, waiting for the day to draw near, waiting for the one who comes. It’s not going to happen, it’s all a load of drivel. It’s really good to get that: we must grow up into the Word of God.
We will be given the image of a babe at Christmas: let us not stay there, let us not stifle the growth of that child; we must get beyond this.
It just needs us to be aware that what we see is always and forever relative to where we stand and relative to our orientation; what we see is impacted by where we turn and where we are.
The sacred texts, the Bible, don’t point the way, if they did, then we would be there by now. Rather what they do is they reflect our way. They help us to see where we are and they call from us a deeper vision: look beyond that which fills your eyes.
Let’s look again at the readings knowing that love and fear are reflections of ourselves, knowing that we shape the world as much as we are shaped by the world. Let’s look again at the readings knowing that the divine is birthed in humanity.
Zephaniah calls us to sing aloud, to shout, to rejoice and to exult: it is the prophetic call of hope.
The prophet speaks with a consuming passion, and so that voice calls to us. It calls us to question, what am my consuming passions? Where will I find that space within where I find myself singing, shouting, rejoicing, exulting?
Imagine within yourself, singing – even those of us that can’t sing, we can imagine it; shouting – not at the kids, shouting to the universe; rejoicing – that’s when every joint in your body seeks to separate itself from every other joint; and exulting, looking as high as high can be. Imagine that place.
As we contemplate our place of hope, we need to heed the words of the Baptist, the last two weeks of Advent that have brought us here: prepare the way, straighten the crooked paths.
‘The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies’. … This is actually descriptive of what we need to do to move into the place of hope. Know that our judgments are taken away – that is also that critical voice within. Imagine going through a day never once having that inner judge tell you what to do, what not to do and constantly diverting your course.
Not only that but imagine a place where there are no enemies turned towards you: it is a place where you are 100% safe, it is a place where you are 100% free, it is a place where 100%, whatever you do, will not bring about condemnation or criticism, but will be creative. Imagine that place and already just in imagining it, the signs of hope shine through like rays of light.
Zephaniah’s speaks of freedom from cultural norms, from institutional oppression and from religious fundamentalism.
Both Zephaniah and Luke speak of incarnation as a present reality: the Lord is in your midst. Not coming at Christmas, not coming for Christmas, like the in-laws. The Lord is in your midst.
The prophet speaks into eternity a truth for every time and for all time. The prophetic insight is an insight into the present as the whole of eternity: the Lord is in your midst.
Take that as the starting point and the readings today change completely; take that as the starting point and what Christmas is all about changes completely. The Lord is in your midst: one of the questions for Advent is therefore, what are we waiting for?
Second Sunday in Advent 10 December 2006 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Malachi 3:1-4; The Song of Zechariah; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-6
We are the messengers of the thing in which we delight
[The shift of focus from the second coming to the first coming of Christ] makes sense when we can appreciate that these comings are one and the same event and they’re the very same event that we await in our present Advent.
To assist us in our contemplation of Advent, to the coming of the Christ, to give purpose and direction to our waiting, we have today the figure of John the Baptist - the herald, the forerunner, the prophet of truth.
The symbolic element of earth is there to symbolise and call us to ground our contemplation of the coming of Christ in this place, at this time.
Like the church, John the Baptist points to Christ and prepares the way for His coming, be it the first, the second or the present.
The language [Malachi] uses of refining, purification, would have been readily understood by the artisans of his day, in a culture that makes things with their hands.
[In] Buddhist spirituality the process of refining and of purification are associated with the stilling of the mind, the renouncing of all distractions, for the desired clarity in which peace can be established.
Malachi also gives us an understanding of the desired outcome from our Advent waiting …. as we turn towards the orientation of the baptiser. The outcome is that we can present offerings to the Lord: ‘an offering that will be pleasing to the LORD’.
As we await the divine giving of God, the gift of God to us, at the same time what lies in waiting is our gift to the divine.
Luke locates the prophetic word in the present, in Luke’s present and that’s how we should read it today, to see the word of God the prophetic word, being revealed in our present.
For Luke, birth and revelation are important John-events, just they’re important Jesus-events, and perhaps therefore, they call us to reflect on our birth-event - that which earths us – and also to our revelation event - that in which we bring earth to others.
To see John the Baptist as the Church is to see ourselves in these Advent narratives, to look into our birth, our baptismal naming, our calling, our promise, our purpose; to look into our revelation - the revealing of ourselves as the Body of Christ.
Malachi calls us ‘the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight’. What a stunning and apt identity for the church! What a stunningly apt identity for our very sense of being. Maybe that is who we are: we are messengers of the covenant we delight in.
The Song of Zechariah is a song filled with hope. He sees clearly that by divine mercy, God has remembered his holy covenant, even if we forgot.
God has remembered his holy covenant, so that we ‘might serve the divine purposes without fear’. Just a clue there in what keeps us from the divine purpose – while we wait during Advent, just become aware of the fears that have been given to us, that distract us from the divine purpose.
The Song of Zechariah is filled with a sense of promise: as soon as we turn away from those distractions we will find ‘the one who remembers the covenant.’ Luke again affirms exactly the same promise in the Gospel reading: ‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God. All flesh - you will not be left out.
So what’s required of us? ‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.’ Right, OK, but I’m still wondering how, what is asked of me, what do I do, how do I begin preparations? And the answer is given in the word of John the Baptist, very simple: repent. Repent, turn, change direction, course correct, look for an alternative way. This is the call of Advent.
One of the other stunning signs of hope is that the Advent call to repent is being heard everywhere in every land, parliament, university and just about in every coffee shop, repent is being heard. It is the gift, I believe, of Global Warming and maybe that is a gift that is another coming. It is a calling, like the Baptist, to new directions, new ways of being, new ways of living and new ways of relating, to each other and to the whole as one flesh and as all flesh. ‘By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
First Sunday of Advent 3rd December 2006 Vanderbilt Lectionary
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Today we begin our new liturgical year, so we open ourselves anew to an encounter with the divine. We open ourselves anew, not again, because we do not walk this path in the sense of again.
The season of Advent is a time of preparation. Funnily enough it’s actually an opportunity for us to be still.
The idea of taking a time of preparation, of stillness is so we can know and also clarify our theological orientation, our orientation, our pointing toward the divine. The busyness of our culture, the many and diverse theological distortions and distractions that are constantly at work to draw us away from ourselves. If we become distracted from ourselves, then we also become distracted from any real encounter with the divine.
The three readings are only twenty verses and yet they contain twenty-seven references to time. Quite naturally there’s a focus on time: we’re beginning a new year, this is Advent, the time is surely coming, and yet if you step outside, the world has got a focus on time, our culture’s got a focus on time at the moment.
The themes do line up, but it’s very easy to be distracted by the one, away from where the other is seeking to draw us. Jeremiah is pointing forward – Jeremiah points forward in promise. The reading from Thessalonians is a reading giving thanks in regard to return and restoration. The reading from Luke again points forward, to what is coming and points forward to what will pass away.
In our everyday world there are other theologies, hinting at the same, supporting the same, distorting the same and distracting from the same, distracting us from our Advent preparation. The world we live in is a theological minefield.
Coles-Myer have got a very well-oiled Advent preparation machine. They change the look of their dwelling place, they clean out the old and bring in the new, bringing in that which is attractive. They identify clearly the themes that will lead them toward Christmas and then create an integrity, a oneness in their packaging, so that all points toward the one theme. They look ahead to what might be needed, what might be wanted and they seek more than they are currently getting. These are not bad Advent themes – see how easy it is for us to start to follow a theology that is led by another voice.
Our symbol of fire is to recollect us not to the cricket but rather to Ash Wednesday, to Palm Sunday, to the divine voice which was uttered in the burning bush.
Everywhere we look in the weeks to come, the weeks that lead us to Christmas, we will encounter Advent theologies. The world itself revolves around these theological understandings – waiting, waiting for the birth of truth, and we, like the world, do the same.
We don’t wait in the same sense as those in the bus queue. Rather we wait with hope, a hope that is expectant, for it is the hope of a pregnant Mary. We wait in a hope that is founded on a foreknowing, a promise of what will be when expectation is made real.
The symbol of fire and the Advent theme of hope, give us an orientation toward Christmas, toward the incarnation of the divine. As we look toward birth, may we trust and therefore hope in the Biblical promises that are told from Genesis to Revelation, that new birth is there: just as we await in Advent, so new birth awaits for us, and that birth is a promise for all – for the pregnant and for the barren alike.
Christ the King 26th November 2006
II Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
We’re being asked once again [in considering the readings] to contemplate a different worldview to the sensate world of our everyday experience, to leave behind the language that we know around us, which is our familiarity and go somewhere else. But it’s not going to a place that’s unfamiliar, it’s as if we’re drawn to a place of deeper knowing.
We’re asked to consider our everyday life experience. Is the truth or reality of life that which we apprehend around us or is there a reality of life which we know deeply within us, that seeks to be made real and so to become the reality of life that we find around us?
Our minds and our intellects may well have been shaped and formed by a post-Enlightenment self-centredness, but our imagination and our deeper knowing are still open - we’re open to the obscure and the abstract, to that which shapes and forms the possibilities of tomorrow.
Picture ‘one who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land’. One who rules – now is the image that you have John Howard, Kim Beazley, George Bush, Tony Blair? Those words that invite us to look at a ruler didn’t take us in the direction of the rulers of this world. And so they ask us to look within….
The psalm provides us with a human response, not necessarily directly to those words, but the psalm has been chosen to echo and reflect on the last words of the oracle that is David. So there’s a dialogue set up between the oracle and the words that we have in the psalm between creature and creator, and it’s an opportunity for us if we can mirror that as a process, to dialogue also with the divine, to discover within ourselves not just a response to how we hear the divine word, but maybe also where the divine word is being heard, because we don’t hear everything with our ears. The piece of music, ‘A Candle is Burning’ was not heard with our ears, it was heard with an inner knowing, with a memory that is much deeper within us.
[The words of the psalm are] a desperate cry that seeks to reclaim a covenant. It’s as if in the encounter with life the psalmist suddenly realizes, there is more than this; I know there is more because deep within, my deepest desire tells me so. I want you back, is what the psalmist is saying, remember the covenant, I have remembered, and now my plea is that you will remember.
‘Grace and peace from the one who is and who was and who is to come’ - not from three persons and not from three moments in time: this is the divine singularity, the eternal One. This is the constant birth, death and rebirth of Love - who is, who was, who is to come.
It goes on: ‘and grace and peace from the seven spirits who are before the divine throne’. The seven spirits, like the seven charkas, speak of wholeness and fullness. Wholeness and fullness? We can recall that somewhere within.
‘And grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ.’ This is not the Mel Gibson man from the Hollywood Easter story, this is Jesus Christ. ‘Grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness’: we are the body of Christ. ‘Grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead’: we are the body of Christ. ‘Grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the ruler of the kings of the earth’: we are the body of Christ.
The Book of Revelation imagines a paradigm of wholeness and integrity; there is a process where birth and death, Alpha and Omega, are one, where creation - that which is birthed in love - is and was and will be.
Pilate [is] taking on the role of the twenty-first century Christian, because Pilate wants to know. In verse 33 he asks, "Are you the King of the Jews?" It’s an important question, because like us, Pilate actually knows himself as the ruler. And yet he asks this question, He really does want to know. By the time we get just a little way in, he betrays the fact that his truth is his own not knowing. He wants to be told in black and white; Pilate is asking of Jesus, ‘Give me a simplistic, evangelical “YES”, that’s what I want.’
Jesus replies, ‘I was born….’ It’s the start of the process – it’s birth, it’s creation, it’s genesis. ‘I came into the world’ – there is presence, there is incarnation, making real, making manifest. ‘I testify to the truth’ – I make evident and bring into evidence the reality of life. Then he finishes with ‘belong’: ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
Belong to my voice - we are the body of Christ.
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 19th November 2006
I Samuel 1:4-20; Song of Hannah (I Samuel 2:1-10); Heb. 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8
We need to move beyond that mechanistic orthodox view that we have of God – the supreme creator and us the fallen human creature – and look to the dynamic relationship, that which is alive and which enlivens the divine in all, to actually be aware of movement of the divine, rather than the being of the divine. And it’s maybe difficult to do because our religious culture constantly enforces a more static and more orthodox view.
Before [the Net, Foxtel, CNN], as soon as we heard the word ‘tomorrow’, we would have been aware that there is something being birthed in the present; there is something that can be brought to birth in the present.
Out of the seventeen verses [of I Samuel 1:4-20], ten of them are given over to narrating the motif of prayer. And perhaps we can glimpse in this story that prayer isn’t just an orientation toward God but also an orientation towards birth.
Hannah explains her prayer, and maybe in explaining her prayer she provides us with an insight into the process of prayer
She’s not pouring out her soul to God, but before the Lord, it’s quite different, to pour out one’s soul before the Lord, in the presence of, rather than directed to or at, it is done in the presence of.
After the initial misunderstanding the process of prayer is revealed. It is and it becomes an orientation for Hannah toward the creative activity of God.
The apocalypse or the escaton, they give religions a determination and a destination; they provide a conclusion to the story. The end times hold a primitive and a primal fascination for the whole of humanity, for I think they encompass our primal fear, the fear of death and dying. It’s the ultimate fear and maybe it’s also the first that we have.
The end times provide a singularity and they provide a conclusion that somehow betrays the sensation of life. And so it takes us into the realm that is beyond comprehension, which is why it takes us into the realm of faith. If we want to look for the genesis of faith my guess is that we will always find it in death. Primitive humanity no matter where you want to pick it up, when it’s engaged in life, it reads the world through its senses, we read the world through our senses. Death is the fear because we have no senses with which to read it.
In the modern world we have gained much by understanding and as we extend the boundaries of our understanding, the other thing that happens is we equally extend the realm that is beyond understanding
We’ve also in the modern world, lost that understanding of the symbolic, the language that is employed in apocalyptic thinking - the Book of Revelation, the stories of Daniel seem like wild dreams to us. Therefore we must be careful as we approach apocalyptic paradigms because the language of the mystic, the ancient language of the one who glimpsed into the realm that is beyond comprehension, is a different, quite different language from the language of the psychotic. The mystic speaks from a place without fear, a place without need, a place that knows the power of love.
The classic story of the end times is that some of us, and it’s going to be the more religious ones of us, will make it through at the end. When the whole world caves in and the heavens open and the new Jerusalem comes down, 144,000 of us will be picked up and placed there and the rest will just burn in the fires and whatever.
Mark’s Gospel tells us something quite different, it actually points to something that is far more than that. For the end times in Mark’s gospel are seen in this way: ‘This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.’
‘When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.’ Most of us probably think, ‘Gosh that’s where we are now’: if that is where we are now, if we’re seeing the signs of the end times, then just let’s hold on to the Gospel, for according to the Gospel of Mark, the signs of the apocalypse are signs of genesis.
We are called into an orientation towards birth, into the prayer of Hannah; the end times call us and ask of us to reveal ourselves more fully, ‘For the creation waits with eager longing’ for us to reveal the divine activity. And as we see any signs of the end, then see them as the birthpangs of what lies beyond that. We participate in the birth of tomorrow: not just in the day after today but in the birth of every tomorrow.
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost 12th November 2006
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
The narrative of Ruth offers a balance to the orthodox theological framework we are very familiar with [and] invites us to look beyond family and that family-first theology, to look beyond the rightness of a nuclear family.
[The importance of] Ruth is underlined when we realize that our culture and our religion have established a set of givens. There is a set of values, a set of norms and understandings that provide us with precepts and principles, and these in turn shape the way that we behave and they shape our environment. And so in that shaping, they also then come full circle and shape our culture and our religion. It’s very easy to take one principle and one precept, to allow that to do some shaping and then from the reshaped place to come back, take the same precept and principle and again use it to reinforce. Now if we pick the wrong one at the beginning, we end up in a spiral of reinforcing a culture that perhaps got off on the wrong foot right at the beginning.
As Christians, followers of Christ, we are called to question and to shape our culture and our religion, to bring into realization a new heaven and a new earth.
This is a story of widows – Naomi, Ruth and Orpah - a story of the powerless, the dispossessed and those without the capacity to create. And yet it’s also a story of birth and it’s a foundational story, it’s an Easter story, it is a Christmas story.
It was women who witnessed at the foot of the Cross; it was women who revealed the empty tomb and heralded the resurrection; it is these same women that now declare the blessing of Naomi. The declaration of this birth of blessing is made not to the mother, but to the grandmother of the child.
Naomi is the Israelite widow; her daughter-in-law, Ruth is the Moabite widow, a foreigner - not only dispossessed by her cultural position but also dispossessed as being on the outside of God’s chosen. The declaration of blessing from the women to Naomi is therefore made within the body of the faithful, Israelite to Israelite, and it is honouring of the foreigner and in fact, the blessing is brought about by the foreigner.
This blessing is not accidental; rather it was a deliberate and conscious activity that brought about blessing; this is quite a conscious and deliberate participation in the creation of blessing.
As a foundational narrative, this is a story of the leaven in the lump and it’s a story that is predicated on the principle that the divine is for all and permeates all. It takes us outside of Israel; it sees blessing initiated from outside, from the dispossessed.
There is some stunning emphasizing in the narrative: ‘The child will be a restorer of life and your daughter-in-law ….. your daughter-in-law is more to you than seven sons.’
Psalm 127: ‘Sons are indeed the heritage from the LORD. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.’ More to you than seven sons: the daughter-in-law, the Moabite, the foreigner, the widow is more than a full quiver of arrows.
This narrative calls us to realize tremendous changes in the status quo. The widow, the powerless, the foreigner, the one who is outside of our faith paradigm, is the person and place of creation.
There’s a further underlining in the last verse, and once again this is given to the voice of the witnesses of the Cross, this is given to the voice of the revealers of the empty tomb: ‘the women of the neighborhood gave him a name…’; already we’ve got echoes of the Genesis story, the naming of creation.
‘They named him Obed: he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.’ This is the lineage of Christ: ‘O root of Jesse, o son of David’. This is the Genesis story, a Christmas story, an Easter story, the birth of Christ, which is our birth. This is a story of the divine becoming incarnate, the divine being realized and made manifest in us.
If we go to Mark’s Gospel, we get a far more stark teaching than we find in Ruth. It’s as if the threads of the Ruth story have been found hanging; Jesus picks them up with immediacy and with clarity, so that they might be rewoven into the fabric of life. ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.’ It’s very easy for me to point to Christabel and you to point to me, [but] just because we live in a land of shorts and thongs, don’t think that we’re not weighed down by long robes.
‘They devour the widows' houses.’ It would hard to find another metaphor that is more damning of the status quo.
‘This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.’ The contrast in Mark’s Gospel between the many rich people and the poor widow is even more poignant today. At least in Mark’s Gospel the many rich still put in large sums. The many rich in our culture today are even further – the gap between the many rich and the poor widow has become even wider since the Gospel was written.
We, as church and as creators of our culture, might therefore ask of ourselves, to what do we contribute? What do we give? Perhaps even more importantly, from where within does our giving come – from our abundance or from our poverty?
Baby-boomers and Christians of the twenty-first century alike do not look much like Moabite widows and so they do not stand in the place of creativity, in the place of birth. They look more like the ones who devour widows’ houses than the ones who are restorers of life.
As we consider what we contribute, what we give and from where we give, we are considering our orientation toward life ….. or death.
Imagine if we entered into the same Christ-like enterprise that is being spoken about in Hebrews, giving of ourselves to realise heaven on earth, knowing our poverty and giving from that place, because if we can give from our poverty, then we too become restorers of life. Then He will appear, for we will make manifest that which is divine.
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost 5th November 2006
Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
It’s good to think what echoes you hear in the story of Ruth and Orpah, Mary and Martha, Peter and Paul, James and John. Quite often when there are two people in a narrative it’s an opportunity for us to look at two sides of ourselves in our own narrative.
I think that the story [of Ruth] is there as a balancing text.
This is not an oppositional view, it is also not a corrective view, it is not trying to point out one thing is wrong and this is right, but rather it is there to bring balance.
It is a story that narrates and illuminates and gives credibility to relationships that extend beyond our nuclear family paradigm.
Another way to read it is to only read the movement in it. …. There is an amazing amount of movement. Undeniably this is a dynamic story and that in itself is suggestive of the Trinity, the movement of the Spirit and the creative activity of the divine.
The psalm, quite subtlely underlines the threads that are being exposed and explored in the narrative of Ruth: ‘The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow’ – those without family – and thus the psalm draws our attention beyond family.
The brief theological teaching from Hebrews heralds the Gospel, it calls us to the purifying revelation of Christ and it therefore clearly asks us: ‘purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God’, the divine dynamic that is alive and enlivening of all.
Today’s Gospel is amazingly clear and simple … but our lives, our culture, our religion and our values somehow betray that very simplicity. We might question where has that distortion crept in?
The question that is put by the scribe in the Gospel is … a device used by the writer of Mark in order to give us by way of the response, the teaching that is revealed in Christ: which commandment is first?
It’s something that scribes would discuss, it’s something that we discuss day by day, minute by minute, in every decision we make in our lives; from the moment the toothbrush hits the teeth in the morning until we fall asleep in bed at night, this is the question that you ask yourself throughout the day. Which commandment is first, what will I follow, what steps will I take, where will I go, what priorities will I set, to what will I attend, to what will I give my heart, to what will I give myself?
Which commandment is first? ‘The Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God.’ As soon as that’s uttered Jesus carries on, he adds a second to the first. He redefines what was the traditional first commandment, redefines it into a new, into a contemporary and into a fuller first: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. Those two commandments brought together as one provide us with a context in which we can set our understanding of relationships.
The Gospel has got the same explosive capacity [as Guy Fawkes], and the established order of state and church will actively seek to prevent us from lighting the fuse.
To love God and to love your neighbour as yourself will ignite the divine that abides in all: no longer manipulated and controlled as fear-ridden consumers, we will realize our spirit-filled power. We will become like explosives, uncontrollable. We will not be afraid; we will not be afraid of women bishops, gay marriages, refugees, Muslims, we will not be afraid. We will lose our blindness and we will see again and so have the opportunity to reclaim the creativity of love, which overcomes forever and always, the dumbing-down of fear.
Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost October 29, 2006
Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
What we get today [in Job] is just a bit more than that classic ending ‘and they lived happily ever after’ - at last Job’s misery is ended, all is restored, we can now forget about his wrestling with the divine and get on with trusting that God makes all things well.
[But] look once again to Job and follow the path or the process of Job - there’s a shift in there, there’s a turning point. ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.’ It is a movement in Job that initiates restoration, resurrection, re-creation – ‘but now my eye sees you’.
I think that movement is exactly what Mark is underlining as he takes that narrative, bringing it into the context and the life of the early church.
Jesus asks the question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ This time the question is asked of a blind beggar, and the answer: ‘My teacher, let me see again.’
Bartimaeus sets Job into a new context, into the present world of Mark, into the context of the emerging church, so it’s quite a powerful narrative for us in this present context, in ourselves as emerging church.
Mark has already shown us the misunderstanding and the blindness of the disciples, who still do not quite actually get it. Now from a blind beggar we hear the politically-charged reality – Jesus, ‘Son of David’ – the blind beggar names the reality: this is the Messiah.
It is a naming that challenges the established order of everything: Church and State are challenged by the insight of a blind beggar, Church and State are blind to the emerging new order that is revealed in Christ.
When the blind beggar speaks … the response he gets: ‘many sternly ordered him to be quiet’. The crowd, the disciples, are not only the blind ones, they actually don’t want to hear. But as Bartimaeus calls, Jesus, the divine, responds. This isn’t another miracle - Jesus healing someone who is sick - this is humanity initiating a response from the divine. This is one seeking, in his blindness, to see that which is true, that which gives life.
We can pick up the echoes of Isaiah, the prophetic voice. Isaiah says of the Messiah, ‘He will give sight to the blind.’
This is Mark telling us that in the prophecy is fulfilled in Christ. But it actually isn’t Christ who is the doer of the fulfilling: we need to initiate. We need to initiate by seeing the revelation.
If we are to realize the divine possibility of tomorrow, then we must read and contemplate the gospel narrative of today, recognize our blindness, recognize that which is revealed in the divine, and then from our blindness, from the place in us that is the blind beggar, cry out from there and call truth into being, and then - this so important - throw off our cloak, reveal ourselves.
‘Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.’ If we remain cloaked, if we can’t reveal ourselves, then let’s not kid ourselves that we will ever speak the divine revelation into being.
Don’t worship, don’t idolize, but rather follow him on the way. It requires a radical change; it’s a movement from reading this as we read it in Sunday School, to actually getting that there is something of life, my life, our life, all life, spoken in these words.
The world is changing all the time. Its change, its revelation, is in response to what we see, what we choose to see, what we hear, what we choose not to hear.
We must read these scriptures in the present moment. Don’t hold onto the past, don’t hold onto your understanding, it doesn’t fit. If we hold onto an understanding from the past that no longer holds true, then we inhibit the unfolding of creation. The Gospel is the Word of life and for life: it is not recording a past event, but calling us into life.
Contemplate the gospel from the place of the Blind Beggar in yourself - from the place that desires to see. Know that the world has changed and so contemplate the Gospel for the present and for the future, not the past.
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 22 October 2006
Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45
To be offered the opportunity to be ‘slave of all’ probably doesn’t rank very highly on your list desires, so we do need to understand what’s actually meant by slave of all, and it is about serving, giving, orientation. Rather be a slave of all than a slave to one’s possessions.
We’ve got cosmic examples of divine greatness and these are used perhaps to give us some perspective on Job’s smallness; they also give us some perspective of who we are and where we are in relation to the whole.
‘Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?’ -there’s a subtle distinction between wisdom, which is located in the inward parts and understanding which is located in the mind; it’s a subtle distinction that’s almost lost in the modern era.
Since the Enlightenment and the dawn of the scientific age our culture has placed a primary importance on understanding – knowledge is power. We are actually engaged in a quest to know the mind of God.
Without question we have drunk of the scientific cup, drunk to the point that we now see ourselves as God-like. And why not? It’s a perspective that actually becomes quite natural when you look at the advances that humanity has made.
We have an unprecedented capacity to create; we have knowledge and/or access to knowledge that makes previous generations look almost stone-age and within all this there’s been a subtle reshaping of our relationship with the divine.
If we look deeper for the meaning that lies behind that subtle distinction: wisdom, located in the inward parts comes before understanding that is located in the mind.
What is this wisdom? Wisdom, Sofia, is related to the logos, to the word, to the spirit, to the feminine aspect of the divine. It’s not that the scientific mind, the masculine energy of the patriarchal society is wrong, it’s just that it’s only half the story.
In the gospel reading today that same subtlety is underlined: ‘Whoever wishes to become great must be your servant.’
Great equals ruler, equals king, equals male, equals knowledge, equals science, equals father; servant equals slave, equals female, equals wisdom, equals creativity, equals mother. We begin to see the calling into balance.
The divine dialogue [in Job 37] … illuminates, not understanding but wisdom, and it underlines wisdom with a list of creative activities.
We need to contemplate what is meant by ‘the wisdom that is in my inward parts’. We need to contemplate it; I think we will have a knowing of it, but it belongs in a past age: we will have to reclaim it within.
If we can locate it and value it and then see it as operative alongside or even before understanding, then I think we will reshape our world. We will see the world around us with different eyes and with a different comprehension. If we get that sight then the world around us also will be seen and will change. And the change that we will see and the change that can be realised is a change that will enable us to serve the life of the many, to bring life to the whole.
15th October 2006
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
[It’s important to get that] long before Christ there were narratives and there are narratives in the holy writings, in the scriptures that reveal the Word. ….. Quite often the church has taught that the Old Testament teaches one thing and then Jesus came and brought something new, which undervalues the ancient teachings that were there before Christ and it also undervalues the eternal nature of God’s word. God’s word is not spoken to a person in an age: always and forever it is revealed for all throughout all time.
What is it that we reveal that is in Christ? Not only do we have the opportunity to be revealers of God’s word, but one might argue that that’s exactly and only what we are called to do.
There’s a pretty good bet that most of us might know that experience of God forsaking us, of God’s absence.
I think in our modern world such experiences - the absence of God, the absence of the divine, being forsaken - provide a doorway that we go through and the doorway that we go through is the doorway to depression.
Job is actually inwardly aware and confident of the place in which he stands …. And that is also a reflection that we will also see revealed later in Christ. It echoes the dialogue of the Garden of Gethsemane, it gives integrity to the words on the Cross - they actually become a dialogue that speaks of relationship with God.
A man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him – that actually is an unusual action; it doesn’t occur in other places, it’s got a sense of urgency about it and it’s got that unusual sense of worship. People didn’t run up to Jesus and drop to their knees; this wasn’t a culture that knelt to pray, and yet there’s this outward show of real piety.
What he’s looking for [is] eternal life. He appears [from the list of commandments] to be upright; he appears to be coming from the same place as Job.
But … the commandments listed are only those that deal with human relationships – there’s something missing. Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus acknowledges, ‘Yes, there is absolutely nothing wrong, you’ve done them all. However, what about your relationship with God, primary, in the first commandment? Where’s that one? That’s missing, it’s unsaid, it’s unspoken.’
Unlike Job, perhaps what we have in this narrative is an example of modern man (sic) …… The man that we find in the gospel is almost perplexed by his own emptiness.
He looks to Jesus, he runs to Jesus, he kneels, he worships, he keeps the commandments. But, and it’s the ‘but’ that is then revealed by the response that we have in the words of Jesus: ‘Sell what you own.’
Now at this point we can quickly shut down because all of us here today know this is not the commandment, this is not a gospel that we are going to follow. But stay with it, because this isn’t a story telling us that wealth is wrong.
Jesus perceives that the man has put his trust, his faith, in his own piety, his own ability, his own achievements, his own wealth, his own possessions - that’s where he’s coming from, that’s where his faith is.
Mark is saying that these - your wealth - these are the very things that can get in the way. Not only can they get in the way of our relationship with the divine, as we all know too well they can replace our relationship with the divine.
A focus on wealth and possessions is either an orientation away from the divine or it’s a barrier that hides from us the glimpse of the divine. It’s not that we are God-forsaken, it’s just that we fill our field of vision up with possessions.
I think this is the same gospel narrative that we find in stories of Jesus healing the demoniacs – casting out those who are possessed, for the modern world is possessed by its possessions.
The last bit says we cannot come into that place of divine uprightness ourselves. So we can’t leave going, ‘Right, I really heard that this morning, I am going to do something to change my life’, because we’re now back into the same place of ‘my self-sufficiency’.
What the remainder of the gospel today says is, it is to be done in relationship with God.
Don’t go and sell everything; I would actually go out and say, ‘I heard something today about my life being chocka-block, possessed, blocking a vision of the divine, in the same way that the life of this man is blocked.
All who turn from their sources of self-sufficient achievement - that is, home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land and turn toward the divine, will become whole, forever; they will, for eternity, have a Christ-like experience.
The last will be first, birth and death will change places, the place and the process of dying will become the place of rising, rising to the creativity of life.
8 October 2006 Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The diversity [in the readings] provides us with a reminder that scripture requires the same contemplative process that prayer requires. It’s a different process to our normal reading.
The focus in today’s excerpt from the book of Job is echoed in the psalm. Job 2,‘he still persists in his integrity’; Psalm 26 says, ‘I have walked in my integrity’
The outward sign [of Job’s testing] is loathsome sores - this would indicate to all that Job is cursed by God, a sinner, one who is out of integrity.
The flat-earth theologians who developed a theology of marriage from the more primal creation mythologies determined a set of laws that supported the socio-political structures of the time. It was … a man’s world. But Mark, witnessing the revelation of the divine in the life and word of Christ, opens up the whole question, he brings to light a deeper integrity that scripture seeks to reveal.
Quite deliberately Mark brings together two quite unrelated teachings of Jesus: the pharisaic question of divorce and therefore by implication marriage, and then the image of children as the ones to who the Kingdom of God belongs.
In the Eastern culture of the time children were non-persons, invisible, silent; they were the possessions of men.
In ancient societies and even today, marriage laws were a method of providing both control and protection for women who could not own property, those who had no power to determine their own futures. The gospel reading is not teaching about marriage and divorce …. Rather, Mark addresses the true primal relationship of all humanity: the integrity of the strong and the weak, the integrity of the powerful and the powerless.
In a man’s world, the integrity of husband and wife in marriage is the integrity of the strong with the weak, and so it is illustrative of the integrity between creator and creature, the integrity that is there between the divine and the human.
In the first part of the Hebrews reading, we see in Christ ‘the reflection of God’s glory, we see the exact imprint of the divine being, we see in Christ the sustainer of all through the power of the divine word, we see the purification of sins’.
The second part of that reading from Hebrews we see in humanity, in ourselves, ‘creatures lower than angels, yet crowned with glory and honour, given divine power’, a divine power so that all is given for our realisation and that which we do not yet see is made visible in Christ, and what is made visible in Christ, is our reality.
As we come together to contemplate life in Christ, we seek integrity, one with each other, one with every other. We seek integrity, for our primal relationship is that we are one body, loved into being by the divine.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 24th September 2006
Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
[The reading from Proverbs] is a truth of another age, it is a truth, it is not the truth and therefore it is not necessarily our truth. We actually have to … look beyond and find what is the truth, the word of God, in here, for me, in this age, in this moment.
The divine word in this quaint little reading speaks against the political status quo and provides an alternative perspective on life. It opens up a totally new paradigm and so it orientates us toward the possibility of a new world order.
Psalm 1: ‘happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish’. It’s the first psalm in the Book of Psalms and we are called to discern the way, to discern the truth; it actually requires an engagement from us.
This is what James says: ‘For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.’ Was James writing this for today? Envy and selfish ambition – these are creative of disorder and wickedness. Where do we find disorder and wickedness? Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan. Envy? Oil. Selfish ambition? The economic empires of the West.
Let’s go a few verses forward: ‘Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are all within you?’ We actually get it in two lots – the first time is to bring to our attention the cause of disorder and wickedness, and we look out. Then James says, now look within: you want something and you do not have it and you commit murder. You covet something and cannot obtain it so you engage in disputes and conflicts’.
One thing must be clear – surely we can hear these words as being addressed to us in the present moment.
Verse 32 [of the gospel] says ‘They did not understand what he was saying and they were afraid to ask him’. The narrator here is talking about the disciples; the amazing thing is, it describes so well most of present day Christianity.
They did not understand what he was saying and they were afraid to ask – ‘let’s just leave it alone, the priest can look after that. We’ll go in on Sunday and just leave it; I don’t really want to go there, I don’t want to ask’. Verse 34 says they were silent, because they had argued with one another as to who was the greatest.
‘He sat down and he called the twelve.’ He is no longer interested in addressing the crowd; at this point he’s given up on the crowd, now he seeks to address the twelve. These words of teaching and encouragement are for the leaven in the lump. He called the twelve and sat down with them and he said to them, ‘whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’.
This is the call to serve, the call to give of ourselves, to give to creation, to be imitators of God, in the image of God, co-creating with the divine in and through love.
Now having spoken it, Jesus puts his words into action – the word became flesh - he took a little child.
We’re called to follow, for it is ‘the one who sent me’ that we are called to en-flesh.
The divine gift of life is creation and its creatures - this has been betrayed into human hands. At Christmas that same gift was given, was given. Betrayed into human hands.
Humanity is made in the image of the divine, we are the imitation of Christ. But in verse 32, ‘they did not understand and were afraid’. Many of God’s children are silent and are afraid.
Others argued among themselves as to who was the greatest. They argued so hard that greatness itself became a distortion, the Son of Man is betrayed and killed; the gift is profaned.
In Verse 31 there is hope: ‘the son of man will rise again’. This is not a divine promise, it is a divine gift and its realisation is in its hands
Whether given or betrayed, the realization is in our hands, and how will it come to be? ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ The world changes, the world changes completely when we put the whole before the self.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost 17th September 2006
I want something different, I can feel deep within that there is something different.
The dawning of a new day is shaped by that in which we invest our fear.
No wonder ‘the voice cries out in the street’! The voice of wisdom cries out and my guess is there’s a part of each of us that aches with exactly the same cry – you know, you get those moments, sometimes they’re decades – whereby you just want to tear your hair out because of the way that the world is around you. You read these[junk mail pamphlets], the false prophesies, and you think, ‘just don’t want to be here, I want something different, I can feel deep within that there is something different.’
The delight and the power of being a people of free will is that we, alongside all of humanity, can choose our tomorrows. … The delight of free will though, is a two edged sword. Verse 29 says ‘Because they did not choose the fear of the LORD, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own desires’.
We each of us are participants in the unfolding of tomorrow and what we hear in the readings today is: ‘Make a choice’.
If we were to do a quick poll and say what is it that you fear here in our culture today, we would come up with many answers. Terrorism … an overwhelming influx of boat people …. interest rates … petrol prices. I doubt fear of the Lord would even register.
The dawning of tomorrow is not caused by or created by John Howard or by a change of government, a papal encyclical, an archbishop’s back-flip or an academic conference. None of those create tomorrow. The dawning of a new day is shaped by that in which we invest our fear. That’s what shapes tomorrow.
The letter of James … is actually warning we’ve got to be careful what we say, but it could equally be a warning that we should be aware of what it is that we listen to, because we are guided by words and we use words to guide others. We are influenced by the words we receive, we are shaped by that which we choose to listen to.
The gospel … is all distilled into a very simple question: who do you say I am? The purpose of the dialogue between teacher and disciple is to engage us and to enable us to encounter that same dialogue.
When Jesus asks ‘Who do you say that I am?’ he’s questioning our sense of being, our becoming – he doesn’t want to know who he is, the question is actually for us.
Initially the question is asked generally: ‘Who do people say that I am?’
Then the question is brought specifically down: ‘But who do you say that I am?’ The response from Peter is one of wisdom, insight and truth: ‘You are the Messiah’.
You would expect an affirming ‘Good on you Peter, yes that’s right, I am the Messiah’. Instead, he sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him: ‘Ssh, shut up, don’t tell anybody. For God’s sake don’t start a church!’ That’s what he’s saying…. Why? Because the question is not about him, it’s about us. …‘Don’t go off now you’ve worked it out now, I’m the Messiah. Don’t put a building up a and tell everybody that you’ve got the answer.’
Jesus now teaches that the process of becoming which will include suffering, rejection by both the political and the religious leaders, dying and rising to new birth, to new life, to a new world order.
You can glimpse dying and rising in a stunningly pain-free way – go away on holiday. When you go away on holiday you’re in a completely new place, new culture, new surroundings, you feel somewhat different. Now the reverse of that process works well too: if you can find that place whereby you are different within, then everything around you changes, then everything around you changes. You see, who we are and who we become are actually creative of the world around us.
The dialogue with Peter is the dialogue the divine has with each of us.
“He called the crowd with his disciples’: there is a divine dialogue that is spoken with and to all people everywhere, the crowds and the disciples, he calls them together.
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves’: it is an opportunity for us to create a tomorrow, a tomorrow that’s not based on escape and also not about watching tomorrow unfold in an electronic box. There’s an opportunity for us to participate in the creation of tomorrow.
It is our choice, we are actually called to know ourselves as Christ knows us.
‘Who do you say that I am’ is a question we could ask of each other, of ourselves.
Within us there is a finding of the divine; it is a place without fear because it is a place orientated towards life.
We tend to choose other fears because our orientation is towards death: three score years and ten or if you’re good four score, and if you’re in good health, five score. That’s our orientation.
The other orientation is to go beyond that to seek life, and the only fear that we have then is a fear of the Lord. What a delightful thing to fear - fear of the Lord.
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 10th September 2006
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
The voice of the Bible, the divine word … is an alternative voice. It’s a voice that speaks to us and calls us into a new world order, a new way of being. The divine word is uttered in Christ and there too, we will find ourselves uttered.
The words that we come to hear and desire to hear … seek to take us somewhere else, to speak of something that is beyond that which is seen.
These [verses from Proverbs] are not one-liners that are spoken from the place of the world that we live in, but rather they speak from a place that sees beyond that which is seen.
James tentatively locates the time and place for living in Christ in the present. James makes it clear that faith, a faith that is alive, will always, will always and forever occasion works - and I think without knowing it, James thereby articulates a kingdom of God in the present moment, to be found in the present and in every present.
Mark has managed quite deliberately to pull together into a short narrative three restorative movements - the casting out of the unclean spirit or the demon, the opening of deaf ears, and the curing of a speech impediment – they all come one after another.
What is the unclean spirit that pervades our world and our worldview? Is it not a spirit of fear? To overcome this spirit we’re constantly asked to place our trust in our political leaders who will provide us with security to overcome our fears.
However, … we glimpse an alternative worldview - that which is alluded to by ‘works produced by faith’ that James refers to.
What might we realise if we open ourselves to an alternative worldview, to a worldview that is not dominated by the unclean spirit of fear?
If we could step out of fear and into Christ and be opened, then we may become a prophesy realised, because it’s in the last line of the gospel that we can appreciate that this narrative is not about a healing for one man.
With the background of Isaiah we see that in today’s gospel prophecy is realized – that’s not a future hope, it was seen in the unfolding of the narrative that that was in the present. The faith, the word, the action, the kingdom of God is realized, brought into the present.
The revelation of Christ is a revelation that calls us into Christ, it is an invitation and an opportunity for movement, movement from this world of unclean spirits into a world that is the world of the divine.
Be opened and allow your light to shine, be opened and see the reality, the possibility, the promise; be opened to a path that leads to perfection, be opened and be holy, for that is our calling.
Mercy triumphs over judgement: we cannot find that truth in this world within the present systems of which we are a part; mercy triumphs over judgement is another worldview.
What we learn in the readings today is if we truly witness the gospel unfolding then no longer is this a prophesy from Isaiah for the end of time, but rather it is our calling to be created in the present.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 3rd September 2006
We actually create tomorrow in the present moment, and the creative activity is love.
That which we beget, that which is of ourselves – that’s the place from which tomorrow is created.
It’s as if the parallel of life lived in the spirit is brought alongside life lived in the world
The Song of Solomon ... almost has a sort of Romeo and Juliet quality about it: she sees him coming and she delights, their love offers freedom, and that freedom, that love is then reflected in the abundance of creation
I wonder if instead of seeing allegory in scripture we might consider more the idea of narratives that run in parallel - love leading to creativity, leading to abundance in creation.
The action and the intention of love provide an orientation that actually parallels the divine activity and so contributes to the unfolding of creation.
The story of Genesis, the creation of the world, is actually an act of love but also it is every act of love, for the beginning of the world occurs all the time.
We actually create tomorrow in the present moment and the creative activity is love.
In the letter of James there is a clear echo of the loving intent that was expressed in the poetry in the Song of Solomon.
We’ve moved from poetry and said there’s an outworking in life of what is expressed in the Old Testament reading.
The poetry of love is then directed towards activity; it’s as if the parallel of life lived in the spirit is brought alongside life lived in the world. ‘Be doers of the word and not merely hearers….’ - the activity of love asks something of us.
The Song of Solomon is [there] for us to hear and then translate and then do.
Love has got both an intimate physical expression - its orientation to an other - and then it also has a universal expression - its orientation towards all others.
Love finds its expression in generous giving, for giving is the activity of creation, giving is the divine activity.
Love expressed in generous giving is the orientation towards fullness of life, and so to the abundance of creation and the unfolding of creation in which we share and participate.
[In] the gospel narrative, Jesus confronts the religious practices that have institutionalised love and confined it in the chains of the doctrines of the church - no longer do we see the love that sets free.
When we put the three readings together we find the power and potential of love, the source of our creativity, has the capacity for good and for evil, for creating and creativity and for destroying and destruction.
The three readings really do ask us to reflect on the power of love - love as the divine activity, love as that which gives birth to tomorrow.
On Fathers’ Day, there’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on that which is birthed in love.
We need to make a distinction, which is why we had the symbol of Father as a symbol of God. If we just had God as creator then what we’re left with is an image of creating. We can create outside of ourselves, so we can build things, we can build houses, we can build homes, we can create cars, we can create bridges, bombs and war planes.
So there’s a distinction made between begetting and creating - begetting is an act of love, an act that goes beyond creating because to beget is to create of oneself: rather than to create from without, we create from within.
The story of Genesis is of God creating in love - giving birth, creating of God’s self.
We are made in the image and the likeness of God - not as a statue that looks like, but rather of the being of God.
I think we can, if we look within, discern between that which we create and that which we beget. That which is of ourselves – that’s the place from which tomorrow is created.
Tomorrow is actually created from the place in which we beget something of ourselves for the whole, for each and every other.
As we re-read the readings today, let us pray that we might give them expression and so reflect the divine activity of love in the creation of tomorrow.
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 27th August 2006
I Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
What is it that we need to put on so that we might move, quite deliberately, in a direction that of itself is a proclamation of peace?
Always and forever, the pathway to the divine the dwelling place of the divine is a place of ‘we’.
Scripture is like a mirror that reflects life - we have an opportunity to glimpse our place in life. Scripture is not a book of rules, nor is it a text of absolute truth; scripture and faith provides us with a window into relative truth: truth relative each other, truth relative to the divine. Refugee Sunday is an opportunity for us to reflect on where we are and where we are at home, in relation to others.
What do we see in the mirror of today’s scripture readings? First of all, Solomon is not an Australian; secondly, the location and value of the original street directory; thirdly, the weakness of military power; fourth, the ill effects of wearing thongs; fifth, I discover who George Bush’s dresser is not, and sixth, confirmation that the Australian immigration policy is not given by God.
Solomon is not an Australian: Solomon has just built the temple, the dwelling place of God on earth and … the Ark of the Covenant has been placed in the Holiest of Holies in the temple and a cloud now fills that space. The dwelling place of God on earth: this is an Old Testament telling of … the story of Emmanuel, God with us. Solomon acknowledges the divine presence, he acknowledges the covenant relationship between the divine and the chosen people: ‘O Lord, God of Israel’. But further on: ‘likewise, when a foreigner who is not of your place, Israel, comes from a distant land ….’ Solomon acknowledges the same, the exact same covenant relationship. Solomon … does not seek to exclude, he does not fear the foreigner, he does not create an ‘us’ and ‘them’. For those who find that a little disturbing, if I was preaching this morning in Paris I would say that Solomon is not a Frenchman either.
The location and value of the original street directory: in Psalm 84: 5: ‘Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion’. We tend to look outside for directions. The psalmist calls us to look within, to find in our hearts an orientation towards the divine, for there and therein lies the signposts to life’s fullness.
The weakness of military power: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power’. What on earth can that mean? And also, what is it say about the investment of $309, 397,169,615 in a war? … Paul witnesses what was and what is revealed in Christ: there is a strength and power beyond that which is the primary investment for security of our Western culture.
The ill effects of wearing thongs: ‘As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace’. What is it that we need to put on so that we might move, quite deliberately, in a direction that of itself is a proclamation of peace?
George Bush’s dresser – who he’s not: the dresser mentioned [in Ephesians] puts on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, etc etc. Clearly not the clothing that’s put on by our leaders.
Confirmation that the Australian immigration policy is not God-given: Jesus says, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father’. In regard to those coming to these shores, we’ve certainly got the ‘no one can come to me’ bit of this text.
[Are we saying] that we have a God-given right to be here and that no one else does have that right? Or is it that we think we are like God and that only those who satisfy our agenda can come here and be made welcome? Simon Peter’s response in the reading today is that of humanity enlightened. He says ‘where can we, where can we go?’ and we might add to that also, ‘where can we, where can we live?’
The ‘we’ in both those acknowledges that all have a place - the place of common humanity in relation to the divine. Always and forever, the pathway to the divine the dwelling place of the divine is a place of ‘we’.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 20th August 2006
I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
The readings today, like our faith everyday, provide an orientation towards living and giving.
The revolution of faith is already glimpsed [in the passage from Kings]. Here is the word - the divine utterance is heard and the word is echoed, just as later on it will be more fully revealed in the incarnation; an orientation towards life that is not bounded by the years of this world, a life that is gifted and life that is made full when it listens to the divine – ‘ask what I should give you’; a life that is full when it receives from the divine.
And that receiving, as it is pointed out in the reading, is not for yourself, but for the people of God, knowing ourselves as ‘in the midst of the people whom you have chosen’.
The giftedness of life in the reading from 1 Kings reiterates the giftedness of life in Genesis. The interesting thing is that the orthodox view of the gift in Genesis has turned it into the fall of humankind. ‘Give to your servant an ability to discern between good and evil’. Remember the story of the apple? That was also about discerning between good and evil. It’s as if in Kings, in the inauguration speech of King Solomon, there’s a deeper understanding that this is actually about life.
‘Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’: life and gift, live and give.
In baptism we acknowledge our part in this same truth: ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’ - it’s just the other way round. ‘Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’, ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’: we are given life in Christ so that we may give life in Christ, and that perhaps is the divine activity of the creator.
We come to the gospel, that which is revealed in the word made flesh, that which is revealed in the life of Christ: the gift of life, the giving of life, the wholeness of life – not life from birth to death, but Life, life that is not bounded by the smallness of the world.
What is it that grabs our attention? The living bread, whoever eats will live - does that grab our attention, is it that which we turn towards or are there other things that come to mind and seek our attention?
Obviously the ways of our culture, the world and our worldly needs tend to be the attention grabbers, the guideposts in life. Throughout the world on a Sunday people walk through little arched doorways, thinking ‘I know that’s not the right signposts, reference points, I’m going to walk through this arched door and seek others’. There’s a desire inside to know another path, to seek other reference points.
Here in the church, the question comes with us, we can’t leave it on the doorstep. We come in and immediately there will be things that grab our attention. But we also need to discern, what path do they lead us to and what and why do I seek to look that way?
Most of us put the font behind us; we actually seem/seek to be unaware of it. … We come in and it’s behind us. The font is the birthplace of our ministry - I think that’s why many of us put it behind us. I actually don’t want to own that, I’m not prepared to go there, I want to be able to walk out the door at the end of the service, not go to where that font will lead me.
The altar is the table around which we gather, it really is the table of Christ and the disciples - it’s around, looking into the eyes of each other.
Many of us are distracted by [the Bible]. The evangelicals and the fundamentalists think this is it – this is it…. For [Anglicans] there’s an English history of pride in The Book – Cranmer’s Book … [For] the Catholics the little box with the candle becomes so holy that no one can touch it except the priest and only when the priest is vested …. Others are distracted by the church itself – not just the building, all of it - its synods, bishops, priests, archdeacons, sacristans….
The gift of the priesthood … is the fact that I get to sit here. The thing that distracts me most, that grabs my attention most from here is you. That’s what I get that you don’t get, and it’s stunning. That’s what gives me growth, that’s what feeds my faith. That’s where I see the bread and the wine, that’s where I see the word of God, that’s where I see the altar filled, that’s what I see gathered round the font. This is the place to sit - it’s not the place for the priest to sit, it’s our place to sit to see each other.
Become aware of our orientation – what is it that we look toward, because it does shape us, it does shape us. What we see calls out from us a reaction. Be aware and attentive to that which we see. Be aware that the words that we hear are spoken to give life, to cure our blindness: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. If you will walk in my ways then I will lengthen your life. Be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ.’
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 13th August 2006
II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Readings for Proper 14 (19) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 14B/Ordinary 19B/Pentecost 13 August, 2006 Textweek
The forest of Ephraim so readily mirrors the towns of southern Lebanon, the streets of Gaza, the terminals at Heathrow and even the comfortable suburbia of Fremantle as we turn on the television news broadcasts.
The cry of King David is the true noise of war - the cry of grief, pain, suffering and loss, the cry so deep that it leaves one isolated and alone. And yet as we read that Old Testament lesson today we find that the cry of David is the cry of the victor.
‘Good tidings for my Lord the King’: it’s just worth noting how opposite those good tidings are from the good tidings brought by the angels to the shepherds - David’s people - at the birth of Christ.
Absolom is both David’s son and David’s enemy on the battlefield. Once again David’s son creates another echo for us, for we know more fully who the son of David is.
Absolom, David’s son and David’s enemy, is the name that is always and forever the name of our opponent in war. There is no enemy is the whole of creation that is not also as dear to our very being as our own children. Grasp this, and then we can realise why Jesus says, ‘Love thy enemy.’
Verses 9 to 15 describe the fate of Absolom, and also the cause of the hollow victory. ‘Absolom was left hanging between heaven and earth’: when we go to war, when we seek victory through the slaughter of our enemies, then our children, all children, our very future is left hanging between heaven and earth. Our future sits on that knife-edge and is balanced between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar.
The final blow that wins the war tolls the bell that heralds the hollow victory: the war is won but the future is lost. The enemy is destroyed and so is that relationship destroyed that is creative of our very being.
Let’s just consider the final twist: ‘The King was deeply moved’ – suddenly there is a realisation. ‘Would I had died instead of you, O Absolom’, and in this narrative that comes too late for King David. But if we look ahead to the gospel narratives of Christ, David echoes the very revelation we find in Christ: ‘Would I had died instead of you’ is the way toward divine realisation.
In Christ we see, we glimpse the potential for a victorious future that is not hollow, for Christ doesn’t leave Absolom hanging between heaven and earth, Christ doesn’t seek to kill Absolom, rather it is Christ and therefore we, that take the place of Absolom hanging on the tree.
‘Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another’ Paul sees that we do have a choice – we have a choice to create relationship or to undo relationship.
Like so many, David thinks that he is or has the answer … Like so many, David can’t see that he is part of the problem, not working towards the answer.
What a contrast with David. ‘I am the bread of life’ - the one who sustains; ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ – the divine orientation, that which will give you life; ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’ – a divine food that brings life.
In Centuries of Meditations, Thomas Traherne had this one line: ‘I will not by the noise of bloody wars and the dethroning of kings advance you to glory, but by the gentle ways of peace and love’
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 6th August 2006
II Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Readings for Proper 13 (18) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 13B/Ordinary 18B/Pentecost 6 August, 2006 Textweek
As we give voice to the word made flesh, there is a part of us that can’t help but glimpse and know it as true: Christ abides in me.
If we look close enough, if we look deep enough, [at the readings] … somewhere we can see a reflection of life, a reflection of ourselves, a witness to the word made flesh, we can glimpse the overlap, the place where humanity and divinity dwell together.
The reading this morning from Ephesians is one of those readings that’s never required thinking about. Somehow it just speaks – it’s as if it speaks to my soul rather than to the part of me. It’s one of those readings that I understand and yet without having explained it even to myself. The words make sense and I’m sure that occurs for all of us in different times and in different ways - the word of God from the Bible or whether it’s something that’s glimpsed, even just the tint in the clouds in the morning - something makes sense without having to think it through or work it out. There’s a resonance and it’s those moments of resonance, those moments of grace, that we have the opportunity not just to glimpse outwardly but also to glimpse inwardly, for the eye that sees them is the eye of the soul.
As we come together then Sunday by Sunday, we come together to make Eucharist. It’s as if we’re drawn, we’re drawn because of those moments of grace, we are drawn to create them, to actually bring them together in thanks. And as we do that so we create even more opportunities.
Week by week I sit with these Sunday readings and reflect on them and I just wonder, what is the word of God, what is it that these words are speaking to us as a community? And it’s not always the Sunday readings that speak - what struck me was the songs that had been chosen for this morning: ‘The Church’s one foundation’, ‘Spirit of Life’, ‘Take my life’ and ‘We are pilgrims on a journey’. And I wondered, as we sing, as we sing the liturgy do we actually sing into being a sense of movement, do we actually sing a story into being, a tune that we can then follow?
Let’s just think of these songs as being stages of our journey, the realization of our truth, our faith, and the one foundation of the church becomes our starting point.
When I think of the church’s one foundation, more often is to go to the early church in the Acts of the Apostles – it all seemed more real and more close to the truth, and yet it’s still there, the same energy is still there, not in the institution of the church but it’s to be glimpsed in our seeking to become and to create the church.
And I thought, as we repair the foundations of the buildings, so too we have an opportunity to reconnect and to reclaim the foundations that call us to become the church.
Churches were built as icons of the living presence of the divine in the world. And in many places they’re built on hills – they stand out. These are icons – the living presence of the divine abides here.
As we rebuild, repair, reclaim, so we establish ourselves as an icon of the living presence of the divine. As we build and reconstruct around us, we are rebuilt and reconstructed within us.
This is also a place in which we come to hear stories, to listen to the priest break open the word of God, and perhaps then like David … we might hear a word that generates not necessarily anger, but great passion within that enables us to see where like David we also have moved away, and also like David see and also take the opportunity to course-correct and move back toward.
We all have a right foundation because we hear in the letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift’. It’s given, we each have it, there’s no letting off the hook.
Each of us has been given grace, the right foundation, an orientation towards the divine, then we have an opportunity to make real the spirit of life.
Not that flame that was given at Pentecost – like a red balloon it lasts for a few days. This is the life force, the spirit and energy that re-creates within us. This is the spirit of life; this is the potential for us to bring an end to war. It’s the place within that is generative of peace; it is that within us that is aligned with the divine; it is that which sees and seeks God. It is that which wants to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called – it’s that spirit of life.
We have many opportunities to engage other, more worldly spirits of life. The scientific world gives us opportunities to deconstruct, to reconstruct, to break down and to build up – it’s almost as if that spirit is able to do anything … There’s a spirit of life though, that can make real the grace that was given to all of us. It’s that place which is generative of peace.
We sing [the offertory hymn]‘Take my life’ and as we do, we will be giving a part of ourselves symbolically into the offering plate.
[It’s a tricky one, but] stay with the song – ‘Take my life’ – stay with the symbolic action of giving of ourselves and perhaps, perhaps the song will sing us into being.
‘We are pilgrims on a journey’ - we are not alone, we are walking together, we’re getting lost together, we’re bumping into brick walls together, we fall off cliffs together and yet we also find our way again together, we pick each other up together. As we follow the songs that we sing, step by step, bit by bit, along the way, our souls, our desires are sung into being.
We declare, we proclaim the word made flesh, and as we give voice to the word made flesh, there is a part of us that can’t help but glimpse and know it as true: Christ abides in me.
It’s only made real, these songs are only given voice, when, like the scriptures, we find ourselves in them, because we are the church, we are the singers, we are the song,
What is our calling, what is a life that we can call worthy?
Being Hiroshima Day it’s quite a good day to contemplate: we’re part of a nation that supports war in Iraq, Afghanistan, against Lebanon, against Palestine. Is this the spirit of life within us? Is this the calling to which we have been called?
The unity of the spirit in the bond of peace: the staples of life, the basics of life are often symbolized in bread – ‘I am the bread of life’. For us bread is a symbol of sharing a symbol of giving thanks and a symbol of divine presence. If we can utter the words, ‘I am the bread of life’, if we can echo the words, ‘I am the bread of life’, then we do become pilgrims on a journey, pilgrims of peace.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 30th July 2006
2 Sam 11:1-15; Psalm 1; Eph 3: 14-2; John 6:1-21
[The story from 2 Samuel] gives us an opportunity to reflect on the corruption of divine power, the divine gift that is given to us and to all.
This is the story of Bill Clinton, remember? This is the story of George Bush. He sends others to war and he stays at home and looks after his own selfish lust. That’s what the story is about. It’s also stunningly sadly, our story as well.
We can see where David has strayed, we can see where Bill Clinton strayed, we can see where George Bush strays, funnily enough we can often look at each other and see where the other has strayed as well. But where have we ourselves been diverted from the very call of life? What is it that takes us off life’s path?
Paul [provides] his understanding of life with an orientation toward the divine: ‘I bow my knees before the divine from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that according to the riches of God’s glory, you may be strengthened with power through God’s spirit and grounded in love, filled with all the fullness of God. Now to the one who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to that one be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever.’
There’s a sense in that reading of power and abundance and of expectation.
Jesus says, ‘Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these’.
The readings from Ephesians and the gospel call us and re-call us to the revelation that in each and every moment we can choose between abundance and scarcity. We can choose between them in our attitude toward each other, our own lives, the world and toward the creation of a common tomorrow.
It’s that choice that reveals and reflects our vision of what is real, the reality in which we live and also our willingness … to have faith in the divine power that has been given to us that we might accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
Central, right slap bang in the middle of the gospel today, is this verse: ‘Then Jesus took the loaves. When he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated’. It’s as if John deliberately sets the Eucharist in the middle of that narrative of divine revelation … as the central focus of divine orientation, the centre of divine realization – giving thanks, receiving sacramentally the divine presence and then an orientation toward giving and feeding the common.
We can come to the church and hear the stories of miracles or we canbecome the church and actualize these same stories.
We can easily see where David has strayed, but maybe it’s not so easy for us to see where or why we have been diverted from the very call to life. I wonder .... if the church has become diverted and has turned the life of Christ into an idol to be worshipped. How much of our liturgy, how much even of our own personal devotion, our own language, our own inner reality is about worshipping Christ?
It’s almost the opposite to what his life and his words were all about: ‘Greater things than these you will do.’
Have we lost faith in the word that is revealed through Christ because we’ve been diverted to look at Christ as the worker of miracles, rather than the revelation of us becoming the worker of miracles?
Every time we come together, particularly here, particularly here when we come together for worship, but every opportunity of our being together is an opportunity to find and to renew the power of the divine that is to be ‘grounded in love and filled with all the fullness of God’. In every moment we choose: we choose our grounding and we choose that which fills us, we choose between abundance and scarcity; we choose to either store up for ourselves the food we need for our life journey or we choose and can realize the abundance of food that will eternally feed all.
In our fear-filled world it’s so easy to be distracted from abundance and from love. The messages that the world gives us are not messages of love and they’re not messages of abundance.
What’s central to our life and becoming alive is our building together as church, to be a revelation of the divine, within ourselves, to each other and to the wider community.
Our giving in thanks, in and from the abundance that we can see, is creative of who we are and where we go. It is in our feeding, our creating life where there is hunger, our recognition that we can only truly eat and be fed if all can sit down and eat and be fed.
As we make the church real so we become real ourselves, we become alive.
When we know and when we believe in the word made flesh, the word that speaks to us and to all, the word of life that calls from and into all of eternity – when we know that then we might hear again, ‘Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will do the works that I do and in fact will greater works than these’.
If you follow the geographical movement in the gospel, then reflect on that movement within yourself: Jesus went to the other side – what does that mean for you in your journey? It probably doesn’t mean you staying where you are.
Jesus went up to the mountain – what does that mean for you in your journey? He then withdrew again to the mountain by himself and his disciples went down to the sea - what does that mean for you in you journey?
David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet”. We know what David was asking of Uriah. It’s really quite interesting to think that when we come together on Maundy Thursday we actually experience something that we don’t experience at other times – but that we wish we did. There’s an intimacy there that’s picked up in that little one liner.
The readings call us to reflect very much on where we are, where we are in relation to, and also to what it is that we are moving.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 23 July 2006
Readings for Proper 11 (16) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Ps 89: 21-38; Eph 2: 11-22; Mk 6:30-34,53-56
Christ is our peace’ - peace is a given
The truth here is given to us for one purpose – to make us whole, to bring us into the fullness of life – ourselves and with each other, and to create peace.
[The reading from 2 Samuel] is about the foundation of, the building of, the house of the Lord, a dwelling place of the divine.
Only when the king is safe and secure in his own house, does the divine contemplate a dwelling place.
The dwelling place of the divine is given - its realization is given - to the offspring of the king.
The one thing that we get from the reading from Samuel is it when peace is realized and when we are at rest from our enemies, then that is the time that we will find ourselves at home, ‘the Lord will make you a house’.
Our offspring - this is not our children - our offspring are the children of ‘dwelling in peace’ - the children of peace shall find the divine dwelling at home with them. It is in peace that humanity and divinity dwell together.
‘He, Christ is our peace; in his being (and therefore in our fullest humanity) he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.’ The dividing wall - between the uncircumcision and the circumcision, between Israel and Palestine, between Christian and Muslim, between women bishops and right-reverends, between homosexuals and heterosexuals, between suburban Aussies and refugees.
What we get in Paul is the theology of London Transport: ‘Mind the Gap‘. Christ is the word of integration, Christ is a proclamation of wholeness, it’s a theology that’s counter-cultural and points to a vision that not only goes beyond the great Australian dream but also goes in a completely different direction.
What is it that we follow, what is our orientation? As we follow the Israeli distortion of the Old Testament tradition and build walls of fear, or as we follow the American distortion of the New Testament and create separation and fear, so Paul calls to us, he calls us into Christ, into a new humanity, into a vision of ourselves realised in Christ together, a dwelling place a place for God without separation. And where there are no gaps, then no fear, no terrorism can enter in.
[The gospel reading] is not talking about 'those apostles', it’s talking about 'the apostles', those who follow. They weren’t absorbed in debating divisions and separation …. The verbs in the gospel narrative describe a very different orientation: the apostles were gathered, gathered around Jesus.
By their actions, the actions of the apostles – this is the leaven in the lump again – by their actions, by their activity, by their teaching and by their telling, many, many saw them and recognised them and were touched and were healed.
It’s as if the gospel that speaks of creating peace and creating a place where the divine is at home in humanity, it’s as if we now hear that’s a simple activity to bring that about, and it doesn’t require everyone to do it, because the minute we think this is a word for everyone, we disempower the word itself: Christ says, 'Let those who have ears hear‘.
As we contemplate ourselves as church we find that we are baptised into one body, into Christ. And we might recall again the understanding that Paul brings to that oneness: ‘He, Christ is our peace’ - peace is a given.
‘He has made, Christ has made - not wants to make, or is about to make, or will make in the twenty-first century – he has made both groups into one and broken down the dividing wall.
Paul has glimpsed a natural and divine order of creation - the gaps, the differentiations, the ‘us and thems’ of this world, is not the orientation that the apostles had, neither is it our orientation.
The divine orientation calls us into one body without gaps, without divisions. It is the world and the gravity of the world that separates.
Contemplate how in our following the teachings of this world we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that there are so many ‘us and thems’ and therefore a need to differentiate ourselves. Imagine, if that was bullshit and this is the truth and if there isn’t an ‘us and them’, those divisions were given to us by the world for another purpose.
The truth here is given to us for one purpose – to make us whole, to bring us into the fullness of life – ourselves and with each other, and to create peace.
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 9th July 2006
Proper 9 (14) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
“We are, and if we are not, we are called to be and to become, the Body of Christ.”
We see that David’s leadership was ‘as shepherd of my people’. There was also a covenant leadership, a covenant, ‘that was made before the Lord’. We can leave it there as a story of David … or we can take look at our own Davidness - that part of us or that whole of us that is of the line, or in line with Jesus. Both individually and as community, we are invited through David to reflect on ourselves: what are we, what am I, a shepherd of? What do we care about, what do we give direction to, under what covenant made before the Lord do we build and continue our lives’ becoming?
Where are we, where am I, becoming greater and greater alongside and with the Divine? … As soon as you speak it inwardly – just ask yourself, ‘where am I becoming greater and greater alongside and with the Divine?’ - and it’s quite likely that the first thing that happens is everything about you cringes and shrivels: ‘Surely not me? Not supposed to be great.’ Made in the image of God.
Walk through your life, look at it, all of it, from every perspective. Count its towers – identify that which stands out, that which can be seen by others; consider well its ramparts - consider well your strengths and the walls you have built up; go through its citadels – visit and revisit the places within where you offer shelter and hospitality. ‘That you may tell the next generation that this is God’ – from your being, what is it that you tell the next generation? Where within do you proclaim ‘This is God, our God, my God forever and ever?’ Where, like Zion, do you make real the divine guide of life?
Paul is [talking] rather about the torment ‘to keep me from being too elated’. I wonder if we might see this thorn as the wound that comes from the crown of Christ, the paschal crown. It is a thorn, a wound, a torment that the Lord seeks not to remove, but rather to use as the opening for grace, a Christ-like infliction that keeps us from self-inflation, from over-emphasising our worldly greatness. It is a thorn that enables us to be and to become grounded in the grace and the power of the Divine, power made perfect in weakness.
And I think as well that the same wound, the same thorn, serves to draw us away from being elated in our human weakness - it calls us away from being victims, into the realization ‘that the power of Christ may dwell in me’ - not in the church, not in the archbishop, not in the pope, not in those people that we sit near that do good every week - but that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
The gospel of Mark … in the context of the previous readings, serves to underline and give us permission to step outside the cultural contexts that hold us in slavery, the things that shape us and ensure that we do not reach the power inherent in us, in each other and in all: in your own house, with your own family, in your own community, your prophetic power will not be realized. I’ve always had the thought that that awful notion of ‘family first’ is a conservative and pharisaic worldly oppression to keep us from realizing the fullness of Christ.
We see in Christ a call to grow up, to look beyond the blood of family, to a universal family. It is a call that asks us to go beyond home, to leave home, to establish a covenant relationship with all. Take no tunics, you won’t need a bag for this or a money belt, do not be waylaid by the fears of financial insecurity.
And also don’t leave and go and blindly establish a covenant relationship with all. There’s a beautiful nuance in the gospel: Christ is the one who accepts all and asks us to have the same orientation - to be open to and giving to all, but at the same time to discern … ‘If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet’. Do not become grounded where the Divine is not welcome.
The readings today give ample reflection to realize ourselves with the Divine, to know that the word is enfleshed, not in the past, but in us. We are, and if we are not we are called to be and to become, the Body of Christ.
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2nd July 2006
What is revealed in Christ, should be revealed in us.
‘Do not fear, only believe’
Proper 8 (13) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary II Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
The daughter, we can actually see is a symbol of purity, maybe even as a symbol of the bearing of the Divine … The woman bleeding would be seen as someone who was unclean … not just removed from the Divine but also physically removed from the presence of the Divine …. So underneath the Gospel there are those symbols at work as well: that which is divine, clean, pure. That story is being told in amongst the story of that which is away from the divine, unclean, stained by sin.
The story of David is overshadowed by the story that we hear of Jesus … and I wondered whether St Paul’s Anglican Church … might continue the story and overshadow Jesus…..
This super hero toy [Jesus Super Hero] does more closely represent our understanding of Christ than that which is told in the gospel today. This is the Christ that the church has served us up over the last two thousand years and if you scratch the surface of your own Christology … we aren’t that far away from a theology that is represented in the packaged toy.
If we can hold Christ as a revelation of the Divine, the Word Incarnate, the Divine in human form, then we begin to read the gospels at another level. For what is revealed in Christ, should be revealed in us.
The scriptures seek to speak about life, life in the eternal present. That’s why we can read them at any time, in any age, on any day. They’re not talking about a super-hero of history, they’re talking about life, the gift of the Creator in the present and the eternal present - the present now, the present then and the present that will be.
The gospel also speaks of healing and making whole, an equal reality for all. And what the process hinges on is so clearly highlighted in the text today: it hinges on touch …
Because we’ve got this super-hero image of Jesus, you’ve got this sense of his power is - he can feel his power coming and going. But we know that touch … Just think about each and every encounter: every time you bump into someone or see someone.
That touch informs our being … You know those encounters we have - someone comes and asks for what you know you can’t give - you can feel it, regardless of the words. Some ask for more, than we either have to give or want to give; some come and give; some neither ask nor give – you know those really ‘beige’ encounters? Canadians are good at them apparently. Some will ask and yet they don’t really want to receive – you can feel it; some will take what is not theirs to take.
There’s a whole language that we have of encounter that is at a feeling level, regardless of what’s spoken. What we get in the gospel message today is Jesus revealing that the essence of encounter is touch.
The other thing that’s revealed is the process of wholeness. The process of wholeness is the coming to Christ in faith with a desire to touch that which will make us whole. Imagine doing that. Imagine giving vent to your desire to be made whole!
‘When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side’. It’s not a throw away line: creation, the word of the creator moving over the waters of chaos. We know that line, that line we heard in Genesis. That’s the line of the creation of life – this is where Jesus is - he’s crossing that same water.
‘The leader of the synagogue begged for healing and for life.’ And I wondered … how many religious leaders are even close to uttering that same prayer in the modern world.
[Jesus is] speaking of life in every moment, he’s revealing life in every moment. The purpose of that story is, ‘Do not fear, only believe’.
The modern world … has deserted totally this gospel and where it hasn’t deserted it, it’s distorted it so that we no longer recognise it.
‘He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James and John’. Welcome back to the idea of the leaven in the lump.
If you know what Jesus reveals when he says ‘Do not fear, only believe’, then follow, because if you know what’s meant then you know your calling. Follow.
Three times in that reading [from 2 Samuel] we hear, ‘How the mighty have fallen’.
Christ didn’t die for us … that’s part of the super-hero-making. What he’s done is he has given to us a revelation of life.
Imagine if the worldview as we know it, if the political systems, the social structures, the financial frameworks, if all of those fall - no, we can’t imagine that, we’ve got far too much invested in it. And that’s what it’s all about, the weeping over Saul, the lamentation. You see we don’t really, really, really want to follow. We want to hold on to what we’ve got and that’s where fear is. Fear will hold us there, it does hold us there, all of us, are held in that fear.
What if I do actually let go of the paradigm that is my culture, my environment, my life - what if I let that go?
If you know what Jesus reveals when he says, ‘Do not fear, only believe’, then follow, for that is our calling
Third Sunday after Pentecost
25th June 2006
Peace! Be still!
The first giving, the first giving in love was the giving to humanity – the Creator created and the birds of the air and the animals were given to us.
The Philistine has rejected that initial gift of the Creator and therefore, instead of creation being the gift given, he will be given to it.
The gospel account of Jesus in the boat, when I first looked at it, tongue in cheek, I thought, maybe it’s a proof text, to show that Jesus was in fact a church-goer, probably attended synod and most likely was an Anglican. And the way I got to there was, he is safe in his own boat, even though there’s a storm raging outside and he was in the stern asleep on the cushion.
The story of David and Goliath - Israel and the Philistines - and for those who think religion and politics should not be mixed and that priests should stick to the scriptures and let politicians stick to the ‘gospels’, this is one of many texts that show that religion and politics are totally, totally inseparable.
Goliath of Gath is presented as a weapon of mass destruction.
David provides us with an early telling of the gospel narratives. [We] encounter that story in the story of Christ … later on in the story of Stephen … in the story of Paul and … all the way through scriptures, till we get to ourselves.
So we have the story of David from the Hebrew tradition … Jesus in the Christian tradition … Mohammed in the Muslim tradition … Vishnu in the Hindu tradition. It’s the story of Luke Skywalker in the science fiction tradition … of Neo in the I Tech tradition and so it goes on. Why are these stories being told about these people over and over and over? Because they hold an eternal truth; they hold a truth that can be told and retold to everyone, in every age, at all time, everywhere.
David, Christ, call us to see the obvious - the dominant paradigm - and ask us to look in a different way with different eyes to the eyes that the world looks on and with.
‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him.’ This huge weapon of mass destruction, this threat: it’s a story of courage … ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father’: it is a story about just being who we are.
This is a story about valuing your vocation, your calling, and also knowing its strength no matter what it is: do not give your power away to the dominant world view.
David’s … actions are aligned to his faith in the power of the Divine that has been given and entrusted. David doesn’t need to change who he is or what he is, because he has faith that the power of the Divine is with him.
The more we listen to the story of David, we begin to see that he is, and points us towards being counter-culture. When he’s clothed in the dominant paradigm, when Saul seeks to load him up with armour and fridge magnets and all of that sort of stuff, what does he say? ‘I cannot walk with these’ so David removes them …. He operates outside of the dominant paradigm and we detect by the time that we get onto the field, a complete absence of fear.
[‘I will strike you down …. so that] all may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear’. This is clearly not a gospel that the ‘coalition of the willing for war’ want to hear.
[In the gospel reading] it’s as if Mark has taken the almost believable narrative of David and Goliath and then magnified it both in import and impact, by pitting Jesus against a great wind storm. David and Goliath - the ante is now upped, and we have Jesus versus storm and sea.
‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ Being true to himself, Jesus realizes his power and gives voice to his power. ‘Peace! Be still!’
It might be helpful for us to reflect on who is it that speaks these words today? For where they are uttered in truth, there and perhaps only there, can Divine power be realized.
Why are you afraid? Perhaps we’re afraid because we’ve lost three words from our vocabulary: Peace, be still!
Second Sunday after Pentecost
18th June 2006
I Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; II Cor 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
Second Sunday after Pentecost Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
The kingdom of God, Heaven … is the unseen reality of eternity
in the present
The realisation of the kingdom of God is to be manufactured
here and now, in any and every moment
[The reading from Samuel is almost] the Old Testament version of the Easter mystery. It’s about the overthrow of worldly power – King Saul; it’s about the recognition and anointing of a new power….Death is almost a given as part of the process: ‘if Saul hears of it, he will kill me’; it’s about sacrifice, the giving to the Divine: ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord’. The elders, those in authority, are fearful. It contains a lot of the New Testament’s reflections on Christ: the last shall be first, ‘a shepherd will lead them’, ‘there remains yet the youngest but he is keeping the sheep’. And it also contains that wonderful scene of Christ’s baptism, in verse 13: ‘the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David’. It’s all there, it’s all there.
The scriptures are not a historical sequential narrative … the purpose, the point, the value in the scriptures, is they seek to reveal to us an eternal truth. They seek to make seen that which unseen. And the purpose of that is to give us the opportunity to realise or to make real something that is more than that which is before our eyes.
We can continue our walk through life looking and seeing and living as if what we see is what there is, no more and no less. Or we can reflect on these words and seek to look beyond what the eyes show to us.
There is a new creation, the new creation, the kingdom of God, heaven – the new creation is the reality of the word made flesh, in incarnation of the Divine in the world, through humanity revealed in Christ.
We do well to contemplate the kingdom of God, Heaven: it is not an ‘other world’, it is the unseen reality of eternity in the present.
Our exploration of space has clearly dispelled any reality that the kingdom of God is on the other side of the pudding basin, and yet rather than look deeper for an understanding, the church holds on to its theological position and the only result of heaven being displaced by space travel is that God has been moved further away.
The simple yet profound example of seeds being sowed and a full head of grain being realised is perhaps, a lovely entry point to contemplate the kingdom of God.
It’s good to remember that seeds and their growing into a full harvest is a natural process, it is of the created order.
And slap-bang in the middle of that parable - verse 28 - is that little one line summary, which is the conceptual principle if you like, that is what the parable is seeking to convey: ‘the earth produces of itself’.
‘The earth produces of itself’ - it’s a parable, like the first reading, like the mystery of Easter - echoes once again the revelation of Christ: Christmas - the seed is given; crucifixion - it is entombed in the soil; the resurrection - it rises to bear fruit; and the ascension - the harvest is returned to the hand that gave it. The earth produces of itself.
There is no God in some far away place called Heaven that is playing the role of production manager.
The earth produces of itself: the kingdom of God is for us to make real.
‘The earth produces of itself’ - what all the scriptures point towards [is that] the realisation of the kingdom of God is to be manufactured here and now in any and every moment.
There’s great hope in [the examples of the fall of the Berlin Wall and dismantling of Apartheid]. What they point to is there are tipping points. There are points at which things tip and change from one order to another order, and the changes can be quite radical, quite different.
The idea that we looked at in Lent – the leaven in the lump: the yeast is added to the dough and in there somewhere is an unseen process that changes the whole into bread – no longer yeast, no longer dough, there is an unseen process, the outcome being bread.
Our call is to be part of the leaven, to enable and to facilitate the process of a new creation: to bring about change that makes real the kingdom of God.
The great news is it only needs a few committed to all things new and if a few remain committed to all things new, then they will see that everything old will pass away.
Trinity Sunday 11 June 2006
Trinity Sunday Isaiah 6:1-8;
John 3:1-17 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
‘The Trinity is the largest embrace in the universe’
What if we see the Trinity as a divine dance that draws us into a living and moving relationship, of divine relationship?
We find a call to us to also become an expression of the Divine
The Trinity is a divine dance of love, a living relationship far more intimate and more whole than our post-Enlightenment expression of self and other.
The reason that some, we, are wary [of church doctrines] is that doctrines we know often seek to capture and to describe and to define, that which is always and forever undefinable.
Was there a truth that was glimpsed, and in seeking to capture the truth - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - it’s as if we lost the initial glimpse.
So maybe we should look again and explore the paradigm of a divine Trinity; let’s look at it as an invitation to more closely appreciate, to more readily apprehend, to more closely encounter and engage the Divine.
What if we see the Trinity as a divine dance that draws us into a living and moving relationship, of divine relationship?
Rublev’s icon … like all icons, provides a window through which we can see the unseen.
And it’s in being drawn into and through those windows that we glimpse a landscape of divine expression, and there we find for ourselves an invitation
Just as were drawn through the window of an icon to glimpse an expression of the Divine, so what we find is a call to us to also become an expression of the Divine.
The Divine can be realised in humanity.
We can be led in our contemplation of the Divine toward that promise of our baptism – calling us to shine as light in the world.
If you contemplate a circle, with God in the foreground then you can begin to form theological statements for yourself, to find an understanding and to enter into the mystery, for a circle is a line with no start or no end: it says something about God.
A circle is all circumference – every point on a circle is similar in relation to every other point, so a circle becomes a good image, a way symbolically to give voice to our experience of the Divine.
The fact that a circle has no start or no end enables us to start thinking of the abstract concept of eternity.
When we look at a triangle, what we find is that one line leads on to another – it begins to become a circle.
If we start bringing lines into the triangle, so that it becomes a square and so on and so on and so on, the more and more lines we add, the closer and closer it takes the shape of a circle. Maybe that says something about the movement of humanity towards divinity.
I cannot live on my own as one line, for there is only then start and end. If I join to another it does add something to my life, but it still leaves a beginning and an end. It leaves maybe an openness or maybe almost a parallel direction but always pointing somewhere different. Only when I bring another line in is there a sense of being joined.
It’s only when we go beyond that [the family], to reach out and give outside, that we engage a different process altogether.
If we constantly keep looking at adding lines to the line of our life and joining them together, then surely, geometrically we move toward an image of the Divine, the image of God.
The Trinity I believe can be used to enter into those seeking questions that Nicodemus raises. It draws us from the dark into an encounter with mystery. We can begin to look at being born from above, being born after having grown old - what might that mean?
Perhaps the movement through life is not the movement from youth to old age and death. … What if there is a movement that we’re actively involved in today and in every moment, which doesn’t end in death, which continues?
The Trinity is not a definition of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it’s not a description of reality; it’s an invitation for us to look and go beyond reality.
The Trinity is a divine dance of love, a living relationship far more intimate, more intimate and more whole than our post-Enlightenment expressions of self and other.
The truth that the Trinity invites of us is to contemplate that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not - they are not and they are not to be - the objects of our sacrifice or worship.
The process, the activity of the Divine, the living nature of … that which we call God is relationship, calling us into its wholeness; the Trinity takes us beyond the concept of ‘me and God’. It takes us beyond the concept of not-me and not-God, rather it invites us into the paradigm of the ‘and’. Not ‘me and God’, but the ‘and’, the relationship, the activity, the process, of making whole. ‘The Trinity is the largest embrace in the universe.’
Pentecost 4 June 2006
Full Sermon and Pictures
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 24-35b; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition) Oremus Bible Browser
You sang in a stable, you cried from a hill,
Then you whispered in silence when the whole world stood still
When divine expression was given, they all understood
The flame of Pentecost is within
Pentecost is at the base of the spine of our becoming.
Some people get totally stuck [in grief], because they cannot let go of the one who has died.
Pentecost is about [letting go]: if we don’t let go of Jesus, then we end up stuck with one who has gone and it’s almost as if the Christian church has been in grief since the first Easter.
What we get in the readings is ‘now let go, let go of the one who has died, ascended, has left, because then you can find that power that the love that was shared has left with us.
Traditionally, this is about gifts – the giving of the Holy Spirit and/or the empowering with the Holy Spirit; traditionally also this is the action of Jesus – sending the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
Let’s look beyond that and see whether this is an event that is itself a revelation of the Divine activity, because I think Pentecost could be the defining event that constitutes the Church, in the same way as, with equal weight and equal consequence, to the Last Supper and the Eucharist.
The Pentecost narrative, like the Christmas narrative and the Easter narrative, is a revelation of the Divine. …. Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, they’re calling us into fullness, into wholeness, into a life that is lived, a life lived in glory to the Divine.
Let’s look at Pentecost as an event that illustrates or reveals the activity of the Divine.
The Eastern tradition speaks of our progression into full humanity as a journey through and an integration of, the seven chakras or energy centres, and these are symbolically located in the body.
The first chakra, the beginning of that journey into fullness and wholeness, is located at the base of the spine and it governs our very existence. The colour associated with that chakra is red.
Just looking at the colour red in our tradition and in that eastern tradition, perhaps we can learn from outside, that this really is a foundational event. This is at the spine, the base of the spine of our becoming.
‘All together in one place’ is an inclusive and universal revelation about life lived in the Divine.
The divided tongues of fire that we have in verse 3 - the word that’s used for ‘tongues’ in ‘tongues of fire’ is exactly the same word that’s translated later on in verse 4 into ‘languages’. We could read this as ‘divided tongues as of fire appeared among them and the tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues’……
The tongues of fire - the revelation of the Divine, is what will be given expression when that revelation is realized.
Our true expression is when we speak from the Divine within, from that which abides and is incarnated in us. When we speak from there, then we speak as if those tongues of fire were appearing above our own heads.
‘How is it, how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’ Clearly, when divine expression was given, they all understood.
They were all there, is what Luke is trying to say. Jews and Greeks, Muslims, refugees, terrorists, the Axis of Evil, the Coalition of the Willing, they were all there, all of them. The interesting thing is that when divine expression was given, they all understood. So different, so different to the modern world, where one cannot even begin to hear another.
The Pentecost event is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story, where a people who did all understand each other and spoke with one language, sought to make themselves greater than God, and so they lost the plot, they lost the ability to hear each other, they lost the ability to express themselves.
This event is telling that story the other way round: if we find our true voice, the voice of the Divine within us, it will be understood by all, because we will also from that place, hear all.
John, verse 8: ‘When he comes’ - when the Advocate, when the Spirit comes, when we find the voice of the Divine within, when we can express ourselves as the Divine has sought expression in us – ‘then he will prove the world wrong about sin and about righteousness and about judgement’.
Pentecost calls a church into being, not as a social club, not as a home for strays, not as an institution that manages and preaches about sin, righteousness and judgement, but rather, Pentecost calls a church into being a church that is seeking full humanity, a church that is seeking to realize what we are created to be – an image of the Divine.
We and all people are spirit-filled, filled with the Divine.
The flame of Pentecost is within. The opportunity, the call of Pentecost is to find an expression of that flame, so that we might shine as a light in the world.
Seventh Sunday of Easter
28th May 2006
The House of the Gentle Bunyip was … a community which sought to live out the life of discipleship, taking seriously the call to follow Jesus as the way to wholeness. For Athol [Gill] the only purpose in reading the gospel was to study and live out what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the one who came in God’s name, saying ‘Follow me’. And such following only happens in community, with others who also respond to that call.
It’s never easy, shaping a community. As the old saying goes:
To dwell above with the saints we love,
Ah, that will be glorious;
To live below with the saints we know
Is another story!
How much do we choose to belong here and how much are we placed here? Jesus says that God has given the disciples into his care and teaching; he affirms that everything belongs to God and is within God’s love to give the disciples to Him.
These disciples are to be the sharers, the bearers of God’s love, the love that God has given them in Jesus. They are to have a peculiar relationship with the world, even, and to be bearers of God’s glory in Christ. That’s us … we are to be the sharers and the bearers of what Jesus did in the world.
We are a community, we hold things in common - our worship life, Sunday by Sunday, our love and care for each other, our commitment to maintaining a witness to God’s presence in this community, generation after generation after generation.
We enjoy beautiful gardens because of the commitment of some of the people among us; our buildings bear witness to the commitment of generations who have been here before us, and we’ve also gone beyond our generation and started to look at the buildings for the generations to come, as we start grappling with the wall. … We get to rejoice with beautiful music because of the commitment of our singing group, All these and more are shaped by our sense of community and they shape our sense of community.
Being here is a two way movement – God gives us to the community and we give ourselves to God in this community.
Each community has to take up the task of shaping itself within God’s love.
Every decision, every action shapes us, sometimes for better sometimes not; even deciding whether something is for better or for not is difficult. To not decide, however, is to actually make a decision.
It takes boldness and courage to live in and shape a community. But there is a word from Jesus about that – ‘Do not be afraid little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
21st May 2006
‘Whatever is born of God conquers the world’
What is it that will be my joy and enable me to bring light to the world? It’s that greatest love, the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends
We have been called friends by Christ, the Son of God
All has been revealed, all has been given
In the gift of Bethlehem, the child was entrusted to us
‘While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.’ If we take ‘fall’ out and put in things like permeated, gifted, inspired, overwhelmed, graced, blessed with the divine, gifted in Love, then we can start to get in touch with, hey, some of that is here in me, in us.
One of the things in the modern world is it’s become harder and harder to hear - we’ve lost what the world sounds like without a lot of noise.
If we are to discover the falling Spirit, the divine love that permeates the whole of creation, we’ve got to be able to hear, become aware of what we’re hearing - what we hear within the church, from each other and what we hear from without the church.
In [the words of John Howard and the Opposition] I hear fear, fear born out of the deafness to the divine word.
‘Whatever is born of God conquers the world’ - perhaps that’s the sort of intervention we should be listening for.
From [the commandments that are not burdensome] there is an opportunity to discover what is born of God and so to bring life to the world.
There’s something permeating the whole of creation, all that is seen and unseen, all that is born and yet to be birthed
What is it that will be my joy and enable me to bring light to the world? Well, it’s that greatest love, the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends.
We have been called friends by Christ, the Son of God.
‘I call you friends and I have given you everything; I have made known to you everything that I have heard from the Divine’.
All is revealed post-Easter – abide in my love, for you know everything.
Loving one another, putting the life of another before our life, is actually the act of creation, the activity of the Divine.
Turn the fridge off and with it the radio and the TV and the newspaper and our Government and our Opposition and the voice of the past and the voice of my parents and the voice of the Church and the commandments I had in Sunday School rubbish – turn it all off and sit with ‘abide in my love’.
‘Abide in my love’ brings to my mind the image of mother and child - it’s a lovely image and it’s an image in which we can perhaps feel some sense of comfort, some primal sense of value: us being held in the arms of God, abiding in God’s love.
Take the image then and turn it round and place ourselves as the mother and the Divine as the child, because in the gift of Bethlehem, the child was entrusted to us.
The truth that’s been given to [the disciples] is that all has been revealed, all has been given.
‘No longer are you servants with me your lord and master, no longer are you children with me your loving parent, no longer are you sheep with me your shepherd; I told you last week, I am the vine and you are the branches - we are one together. This week, I tell you that we are friends.’
The shift that is spoken of in the gospel today is a shift into taking our part with the Divine in the unfolding of creation. We can stay as children, accepting God as our Father: if we do that then we stay, we do not move.
The movement that is asked of us is to accept the light that has been given and to shine as a light in the world: to become friends and co-create with the creator.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
14th May 2006
The fruit of the vine becomes the wine that Christ uses to say ‘This is my blood and this is what will always and forever hold you together and give you life’.
We are the branches of a vine that has an orientation towards bearing a fruit that will be consumed so that we may know ourselves as being a people
in whom the Divine abides.
No one can see God and yet we’re told we can know God: it changes the context of Easter and Christmas - we’re not looking at God, we’re not looking at the Son of God.
We are not, and cannot be, are not called to be, even if we were couldn’t be, spectators of God, rather we are participants of God
In the first reading that we heard, it’s there already: it is a reading about a journey. How many Easter stories, post-Easter stories, contain journeying?
Gosh, when I was at Sunday School I thought I learnt that Easter was it, that was the destination, that’s where it all happened, that’s where it all ended up. Why after Easter are we looking at journeys?
Those words from the cross, ‘It is accomplished’, do not speak of what was done, they do not provide an instant in human history where it is, it was accomplished. The destination isn’t the hill, the green hill outside the city walls.
The voice that says ‘it is accomplished’ is a voice for us, it is a word for us to seek and to speak and what we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, is that that requires journeying - movement toward a knowing rather than a seeing.
We have to get up and move and journey and today’s journey has got that little bracketed bit, ‘this is a wilderness road’.
The knowing that is revealed at Easter sends us out into the wilderness in a completely different way [from our Lenten wilderness journey].
The Ethiopian eunuch - that is not a title that one should aim for in life, just in case you were thinking of it!
The Ethiopian side of [the story] says that he came from the edge, he came from far away. Ethiopia to the writers here was the end of the earth; there was nothing beyond it. The eunuch side says this is not someone who was generative or creative or who had the capacity to generate or create.
The fact that he’s a eunuch denied him access to the court of the Lord.
The Ethiopian eunuch I think is almost an icon of modern Western humanity. Relationally, it is totally about self, so much so that it no longer has the capacity to create life and have intimate relations with another. It can achieve whatever it wants for itself and yet there is still a seed and a thread, and you can often find modern man and modern woman, sitting on a couch reading a self-help book, thinking that this might enlighten them.
What we’re asked to do is to sit with the image of the vine with one word that says ‘abide’, ‘abide’ in me and another that says ‘bear fruit’.
Where else and in what other contexts the Greek word for abide is used: abide can be to remain, sojourn, to tarry, not to depart, to continue to be present, to be held, kept continually, to continue to be, not to perish, to last, to endure to survive, to live, to remain as one, not to become another or different, to wait for, to await one.
The image of the vine is very, very helpful; it dispenses with quite a lot of Sunday School theology and introduces another layer of depth. It takes out God the Father as separate - it says, ‘No, not at all. I am the vine, you are the branches’; there is nothing, nothing separating at all. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’: there is a oneness that is being spoken of …. a oneness between all of humanity and the Divine, as one … an organic network that is growing and changing and that also gives life to each other. Imagine - giving life to the Divine, instead of passively sitting down, allowing the Divine to give life to me.
It also speaks of community and speaks of the necessity of community in order for there to be life. The Ethiopian eunuch in his little box with his little book had to come out of there to be baptised into a community. The organic network of the Divine has roots, a trunk, branches and leaves, which means that some parts of it are in the soil and in the dark. some are in the sun and the rain; some receive water directly, and others receive it via their connection with those who receive it directly.
The network changes shape constantly: it is a vine that is growing into a vine in order to become a vine. It has an orientation towards the true vine and it has an orientation towards and a collective purpose in, bearing fruit.
The interesting thing about the fruit of the vine is that it becomes the wine that Christ uses to say, ‘This is my blood and this is what will always and forever hold you together and give you life’.
We are the branches of a vine that has an orientation towards bearing a fruit that will be consumed so that we may know ourselves as being a people in whom the Divine abides.
We will consume the very fruit that we together seek to create in order that we may find ourselves in the Divine.
Fourth Sunday of Easter 7 May 2006
It is easy to make an idol of Jesus and the “name of Jesus” rather than appreciate the “power” of Jesus being revealed and made real in and through the activity of the disciples.
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us”. It is not “for us” as in ‘on our behalf’, and it is not “for us” so that we don’t have to for ourselves. Rather it is “for us” in the context that Love is hereby revealed “for us”.
Christ (WE) can (are called) to lay down our life in Giving: This is the womb of resurrection and the power of creation – that we lay down our life in Giving – in creating life…
Each time we hear the Scriptures or read them there is an opportunity to find new insight and/or to drawn into a deeper/clearer understanding……
The first reading Acts 4:5-12, gives us some insight into the understanding and the activity of the early church, the community post-Easter, and those seeking to live in the light of resurrection…. The disciples are questioned (in verse 7) with these words…. “By what power or by what name did you do this?”… and we can see therefore that “power” and “name” are synonymous or very much related in terms of the community at that time….
The Acts of the Apostles provides us with an account of a community, living in the light of resurrection, proclaiming a new world view and a new world order… by their being, and by their activity….
On the surface – a simple reading of the narrative - this text appears to validate the claims of the Evangelical/Pentecostal church… However, the same ‘church’ does not equally reflect the depth of the text!
Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”(v8) – heals the sick and proclaims (v12) “we must be saved”… in the name of Jesus… for “there is salvation in no one else.”
It is easy to see how this text can so readily be taken out of context…. It can so easily succumb to what might be called “The Gary Ablett Syndrome” – that is kick a couple of goals and people think he’s God!
In this instance, it is easy to make an idol of Jesus and the “name of Jesus” rather than appreciate the “power” of Jesus being revealed and made real in and through the activity of the disciples.
Easter is not an event that serves to create a cult following for the person of Jesus.
If we consider this narrative in its post-Easter context we can appreciate that it is about Revelation – received and responded to.
There is not a mechanical formula for being “Spirit filled” and there is no eternal insurance policy for salvation that is underwritten with “the name of Jesus”.
Certainly, stepping out of the Tomb – the womb of resurrection - into a paradigm of “Life in Christ” can very much give the appearance that the Evangelicals/Pentecostals seek to indoctrinate; however, this is a text of Incarnation not indoctrination!
We find in the second reading (1 John 3:16-24) a more refined and contemplative appreciation of the Easter revelation…..
In verse 16: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us” - a simple summary that has occasioned a variety of understandings….
And the “for us” in this expressions is the key to such understanding.
It is not “for us” as in ‘on our behalf’, and it is not “for us” so that we don’t have to for ourselves. Rather it is “for us” in the context that Love is hereby revealed “for us”.
And in verses 17 & 18 we find that such a revelation illuminates that the Easter revelation is one that calls for our participation:
How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Not in word or speech, but in truth and action:
Not in the name of Jesus but in the divine activity, the power of Jesus
in truth and action:
The movement (paradigm shift) into truth (full humanity/integrity) and into (Divine) action, IS the process of Resurrection.
The Gospel reading (John 10:11-18) continues to emphasise the resurrection process…
Verses 11,15,17 and 18 all contain “lays down his life”
Most (many) will only lay down their life in death
Christ (WE) can (are called) to lay down our life in Giving.
This is the womb of resurrection and the power of creation – that we lay down our life in Giving – in creating life…
The contrast of the ‘good shepherd ‘ and the ‘The hired hand’ in the Gospel reading is the echo of the contrast between the leaven and the lump….
Many will Retire their lives – they will lay down their lives almost as a consequence of retirement….
Some – The Shepherds – will lay down their lives in Giving…
And such an understanding echoes the adage from Thomas Traherne that we considered during Lent – “Live to Give”.
As the appreciation and the implications of resurrection took shape in the early church it is easy to understand the Gospel writers using the image of “The Good Shepherd” – for it was an image already alive for them in the Hebrew Scriptures….
Psalm 23 – so often read at funerals – and so appropriately as it looks beyond death –– already has within it the characteristics of life in the resurrection (It has a resurrection orientation)…
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
The Shepherd takes away our wanting
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
Makes/creates an abundance in the desert
he leads me beside
Third Sunday of Easter
30th April 2006
Our life has the capacity, the potential, the orien still waters;
Leads me to the still water of Clarity and Peace
3 he restores my soul.
Restores me to wholeness and integrity
He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
Leads me – provides an orientation toward Life
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
Comfort is given to take away fear
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Hospitality in the face of Hostility
you anoint my head with oil;
you bless, crown and honour me
Life from the womb of resurrection
Life in Christ
Love incarnate – made flesh in Humanity
my cup overflows.
tation, to be authored in the Divine
Those who bear witness, receive the revelation‘
‘Christ is risen’ is a harmony and a chorus that is sung by the creative activity,
the divine spirit in the leaven in the lump
’The phrase, ‘You killed the author of life’, relates to our everyday experience: our life has the capacity, the potential, the orientation, to be authored in the Divine.
Does it feel as if your life is being authored in the Divine, divinely written? It has nothing to do with age. It is in the present moment and is about our participation in the divine activity.
Do I have a sense that my life is moving towards loving creation into its fullness?
‘See what love that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’ If we know ourselves as children of God then we’ve really got a sense of being authored in the Divine. Suddenly the reality of Easter can start to take shape.
The cross is a living tree, it has roots, its roots will reach down within us and the branches of the cross will reach out from us.
Easter was not a world event, it is not a world event: Easter is the passion, the intimate revelation of the Divine, the revelation of the Divine to the leaven in the lump, not to the world, to the leaven in the lump. Those who bear witness receive the revelation.
The narrative [from Luke] is filled with descriptors of the community: startled, terrified, had doubts, disbelieving, wondering. This describes modern Australia.
The perspective that we choose gives us a worldview. The resurrection introduces and reveals, a new paradigm, a worldview, and it does it very simply – not by changing the 'out there', but by changing the place that we look from.
The resurrection is an invitation to see beyond death, to see outside, to see through, to see beyond those paradigms that are limited by coming from ourself.
The resurrection is not an outside event, it’s an intuitive reality that is creative of, and thereby created by, our bearing witness to the Divine that is revealed in us.
‘Christ is risen’ is a confirming call; ‘Christ is risen’ is a harmony and a chorus that is sung by the creative activity, the divine spirit in, in the leaven in the lump; those who bear witness harmonise with the call of ‘Christ is risen’. They’re not trying to tell others of something that’s happened, they're echoing the divine activity.
Luke, addressing his flat-earth audience, modern Australia, invites us go beyond: go beyond the phantom appearances, see ourselves beyond death, see ourselves not bound by life.
What is revealed in the Passion is everything.
The fulfilment of everything is in the hands of the acts of the apostles.
23rd April 2006 Second Sunday of Easter
“All and everything that dies provides a womb of birth”
Thomas didn’t just believe, Thomas doubted first, he then sought, desperately, to see and to touch the risen Christ, and then believed. It’s a much more powerful journey than some of those who just believe, it’s a journey of struggle…
It’s good to get in touch with [doubt], bathe ourselves in it, and say, ‘From here, where do I wish to go, where am I drawn and where am I called?’
‘Held in common’ - three words that somehow create a picture of community; three words that are stunningly at odds with our modern self-sufficient, self-seeking society.
Where will we go from here? Will we ignore, will we avoid, will we deny or will we actually get that every moment is the moment of opportunity to find fullness of life...
The fallout from Easter: the rising to new life, the awareness that all and everything that dies provides a womb of birth. If we can again get that within our own life, then perhaps we do tap into the great power that comes from it.
‘What was revealed by Easter and what can I, and what can we see from Easter?’ … By asking these questions, we begin to see that Easter is not an event done to us or done for us, but rather it is a revelation of life that we can engage with.
If we walk in the light, if we walk as He himself walks, then we have fellowship with one another.
We ourselves become engaged in the process: rather than being the recipients of the event, we become engaged in the process of atonement, the making of all things one, the bringing together of humanity and divinity as one, as Christ, in Christ.
Being saved is something that must and can only occur in the common, which is why ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ was breathed on them.
‘Peace be with you’ - perhaps this is the word of life that was referred to earlier, and perhaps it’s the result of what will occur when we realise ourselves ‘with great power’.
For Easter to have any relevance at all we must encounter it as a process. The gospel makes this so clear: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.’ Maybe it indicates that we are called by the resurrected Christ to continue the Christ-ening of life.
He has not died for our sins, otherwise why would we be called to forgive each other’s sins?
His death reveals our dying and our rising. Like Thomas, let us look for the wounds of Christ, let us look for the wounds of Christ that we hold in our own hands, and then look for the wounds of Christ in the hands that we hold, for there we will find life revealed.
16 April 2006 Easter Day
16 April 2006 Full sermon Photos
Easter caused a rewriting of the birth of Christ, so perhaps it has the potential to rewrite our own birth narratives: the story that you have lived from your birth may be rewritten in this event.
• Jesus never, ever sought to create Christianity. It’s got nothing - there’s nothing - couldn’t have been further from his mind. I think if he was still there, he would turn in his grave, if he could really see where it had gone… and he never, ever thought that his Word revealed would create an institutional church.
• Jesus was and is a divine revelation; we hear it over and over again - the Word made flesh. The Divine as human - and you can bracket and/or there - the human as Divine.
• We need Christmas to complete Easter, because the whole emphasis is on birth. Jesus came - death, resurrection, ascension: in his coming he came to bring about change and it is a change that has an orientation towards birth, for birth is the orientation of creation and creation is the divine activity. The activity of God is birth.
• The theologies that stay with sacrifice, atonement and forgiveness have been emphasised in order to excite our guilt. Rather than emphasise the gospel of birth, it is much easier for an institutional religion to emphasise a gospel of guilt and fear, because fear and guilt enable us to be controlled. But as any woman in labour will attest, birth is not something that one can hold in control and so it offers a threat to the institution.
• The doctrines of sacrifice, atonement and forgiveness also require an amazing degree of separation between Father and Son.
• The son reveals the divine activity within humanity. Amazing! The outworking of God within humanity: Christ is a revelation of life in the fullness of the Divine, creature in full accord with Creator.
• We are creatures of divine origin; we are made in the image of the divine, and our wholeness, our path, our way, our orientation, our journey, is one of dying and rising.
• There’s a lovely simple phrase that I came across in reading Thomas Traherne - it so simply reduces everything: ‘Live to give’. The giving up of self-interest that we see revealed in the passion of the cross is the door to life - life in all its fullness. The tomb becomes the womb, the dark becomes the light.
• So our choice - and let’s not put it onto anyone else, but hold it as our choice - is to select from the Easter specials. We can take our pick ….. or we can realise our divine specialness this Easter: realise ourselves as children of God.
• Recognise that Easter is really nothing to do with Jesus - nothing at all, he’s a vehicle - Easter’s actually about us. In our hands, the whole of creation has been given, entrusted.
• We’re children of God, we’ve been given the gift of Life and the opportunity to bring creation into its fullness.
• May we live as children of the resurrection.
9 April 2006 Palm Sunday: Sunday of the Passion Sixth Sunday in Lent
9 April 2006 Full Sermon Photos
Mark has given us … something to be enacted. And at the same time, it’s more than that. ‘I don’t want you to act out something about this man called Jesus; this actually is the story of life revealed in Christ. Now act it.’
For two thousand years the revolution that started on Passion Sunday has not come about, because somewhere the revolution was sidetracked.
That walking into Jerusalem was about turning the world around.
The Divine is revealed in and through us. No, it is not in Jesus, it is not the super-hero of two thousand years ago.
We are called through the Gospel to walk the path of revolution, to walk to bring about change, to walk toward that which is divine, to walk toward that which will unfold creation, so that all may be fully alive.
That the whole of creation will sing in praise. And that picks up everyone and every living thing, and the realisation that we are part of a whole.
We’ve got the whole of Holy Week to just reflect on, what is the path that I walk, where am I going, where is it leading? Is there any part of me that then seeks the divine path? And what might that look like?
This isn’t a tale about Jesus, this is not trying to create something special about Jesus, but rather to say, this is the play in which you participate.
As we walk, we do walk away from something.
Let’s use this week to look at where we stand and to see what it is that we need to walk away from - in order to be fully alive, to be fully alive and one with everyone else’s fullness and aliveness.
The divine has taken on flesh … the play is now waiting to unfold. And the enfleshed Divine is us and our participation in the play.
26 March 2006 Third Sunday in Lent
26 March 2006 Full sermon
One of the delightful experiences of Lent is that there’s …more of sense of a sharing in the theological enterprise. As a community it’s as if we all get involved with a bit more intent about unfolding the word of God. …all of [the activities and conversations] pointing to the fact that it is not the priest in a community that is the holder of wisdom, but rather it is us together in our seeking to know God, that we move and are shaped and perhaps find ourselves.
[On the symbol of the serpent]: I think that it’s as we read and as we see the world in symbols that we have the opportunity to move beyond the world of our senses….if we read the world in symbols then we find a world that is beyond the world of the everyday; we move from the seen to the unseen.
Is not wisdom the seeing and the seeking to understand the unseen?
… if we read the world in symbols we will see beyond that input that we receive through touch, through taste, through smell, through sight, through hearing - there is something more, something that our soul desires and thirsts for.
‘This [the ‘Adam and Eve and the serpent’ story] actually is part of my story; this is my beginning and my creation, this story’.
‘Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ That’s what this word ‘saved’ is about. … In verse 6 of the Old Testament we had God sending poisonous serpents. Now in John’s gospel we’ve got God sending his Son…. John makes the link for us, just in case we didn’t quite get it: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’. We’ve now got a link between the serpent and Christ.
To condemn is not so much about judging and writing off, but rather when something is condemned, it is given an orientation towards death.
Saved isn’t so much the giving of life. If we picture someone being saved it’s almost as if they’re being taken away from death, so that they then have an opportunity for life. So this idea of condemned and saved is very much about the orientation that we have.
Do we condemn ourselves, do we condemn each other, do we condemn the universe, do we condemn the planet by the way we live? Or do we move towards life, do we save those around us, do we save the planet, do we save the universe, do we bring life rather than death?
The opening up of the word of God will take us beyond the little bits that we’ve been fed throughout the years by the church. There is whole world that still waits to be uncovered and discovered.
We must push further [than Sunday School theology], because the symbol of the serpent perhaps is one of the keys to our life or to our death.
Our choice is to continue to read the world with our senses and think that this is it, in which case the quest that we will have will be the quest for long life, good health and wealth.
There’s another quest though that goes beyond all that … and that is the fullness of life that we are called on to be. It’s touched on in John’s gospel: ‘Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God’
And it’s in coming to the light that we find ourselves in Christ, Christ-like - we move into a realm beyond this world.
Jesus said ‘the pharisees and the scribes have taken the keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They did not go in and those who wished to go in they did not allow. But you, you be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’.
19 March 2006 Third Sunday in Lent
In this gospel narrative we find the violence of birth - the violence that accompanies the drawing life out of chaos, love out of fear, hospitality out of hostility.
There is no passive path that leads us towards behaving as if the
God in all life matters.
Easter is the place of our recreation in the divine, our recreation
as the Body of Christ.
One of the difficulties with the way the commandments are presented in Exodus - it makes it sound as if there is a way of being that is already clear and well defined. … But imagine if we are defined by community on something that is even before the rules; what if we’re defined as community by desire?
As we approach Easter … the movement [of Advent] is being called from us again.
In the covenant with Noah, God promises not to deal with sin simply by wiping it out destructively. What we’re looking at in sin is the uncreative acts of not recognising or acknowledging the Divine. Sin is very much about orientation, about movement and about that to which we attend.
The first covenant, the one with the rainbow, is a movement already: ‘I will not deal with sin by wiping it out’.
The second covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God promised to deal with sin with a creative act, through Abraham and Sarah, creating a people that would be a blessing for the whole world, so that blessing would overcome, would outweigh, sin.
Now in the covenant with Moses, God provides the commandments - if you like, guidance - for creating a people of blessing.
If we look back through cultural-political history you can say, yes, we have shifted, we have evolved, in the way that we do deal with our relationship with the Divine. There is a movement that we might be able to detect through those Lent readings that is a movement within ourselves, a movement toward the divine beings that we’re called to be.
Likewise I think the covenant relationship can be seen in personal terms and so as a progression within ourselves, of ourselves becoming whole, our growing in Christ and into Christ.
In the covenant with Noah we see the covenant or the calling of an end to denial, no longer whitewashing that which is sinful within ourselves.
In the covenant with Abraham and Sarah as we look within ourselves, so we find that there is a promise, a promise of creativity, a promise of birth.
Then we come to the covenant with Moses. The practical guidance that we need - not a blue print of how to live, but rather some milestones, some reference points - that will enable us to determine our orientation towards life.
The idea of challenging the order of the temple, the movement of taking the temple from a building out there to a temple within, all of that is emphasised right at the beginning of the gospel.
The new age that this act illustrates, in John’s gospel is given to us as having arrived. If we briefly go back to Advent, we can see that the Advent star led to birth. That birth in John's gospel is now being evidenced in this activity, that in turn is leading us toward Easter. And Easter is the place of our recreation in the divine, our recreation as the Body of Christ.
The violence that is so often debated in this narrative is not the destructive violence that we find in our world; it is not the violence of political power; it is not the violence of greed; it is not the violence of competition, nor the violence of institutional corruption. Rather, in this gospel narrative we find the violence of birth - the violence that accompanies the drawing life out of chaos, love out of fear, hospitality out of hostility.
The activity of creation, of reorientation, of engaging covenant with the Divine, is the activity of birth. There is no passive path that leads us towards behaving as if the God in all life matters.
12 March 2006 Second Sunday in Lent
When the Divine is enfleshed in us, then we too will need to
discover our name, our new name
What we find in Christ is the living giving life to the dead
This Lent it could be that this little community here
brings about world peace.
The second Sunday in Lent, and a new paradigm is taking shape. The mundane of yesterday is being imagined into a new creation of tomorrow; the old religion is beginning to crack and the light is getting in; the orthodox ways that upheld for the law are being questioned into submission. The reality of today is at last being called, for it is not the reality of divine promise.
The conversations around the parish of Lent are already becoming rich and full –theological reflection is being tasted and now sort after as something to delight in. Being, and being here is giving way to becoming, and to becoming in Christ.
Abraham is given a new name and is re-created. The important thing that we can get from that is that the Divine promise, the covenant, is inclusive: it is given to all – ‘a multitude of nations’ - and it is given for all.
‘Deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me’ [can be] an invitation to victimhood, an invitation to beat yourself up, to make real your smallness, to go round bleeding, to tell everyone how hard it is to be a Christian in the modern world. However, the ‘denying themselves’, denying yourself, parallels the renaming of Abraham.
Mark’s gospel as a context is actually a witness to the new order that is established when the Divine is enfleshed in Christ, when the Divine is enfleshed in us. Then we too will need to discover our name, our new name.
Baptism is a very ancient tradition of recognising that when something is newly born and created, it changes the whole of self to the point that you need to rename what that self is.
The original context for denying self was about denying or letting go of tribe, kin, race and belonging, and we’ll get this later on with that wonderful scene where Jesus’ mum comes in and says he’s not the Messiah he’s just a naughty boy and the disciples tell him this and he says, ‘No, that’s not my mother, they’re not my brothers and sisters - these are’.
There's a movement in Christ that says we must not belong here, not hold on to these that we call family, that’s a glimpse of another order: the fullness of life in the Divine, which doesn’t mean that we reject or ignore our family, our community, those around us. But it means that we might actually do so much more if we look beyond that world.
If we stay within our world of family and community it will be a path toward our own self-ish-ness, our staying with self. We must move beyond that to another self, to another name.
‘To follow me’ is not be bounded in our own small world and its systems of inheritance - the dead passing on to the living. What we find in Christ is the living giving life to the dead.
The divine promise - to be fully alive - is a promise and a gift to all. The realisation of that promise does not require all to take it up. A few can change the whole, but they change the whole not by being over against the whole but by being and recognising the part they play in the birthing and the creation of the whole.
The call of Lent is a call to follow. Self-denial - leave it alone if you’re in that traditional framework of denying self and trying to make life hard.
Look for Life, look for the part you play in bringing life to others, because in the world in which we live, we might, this Lent, have the opportunity to realise ourselves as the salt in the soup. It could be that this little community here brings about world peace.
5 March 2006 First Sunday in Lent
Aligned with the Holy, we enter into that divine covenant,
we find ourselves in that rainbow embrace
Walk the forty days knowing yourself to be a child of the Divine
The word of God never was, nor will be, an event, for it lives and seeks life
- the word of God forever seeks life
Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan - the divine activity is initiated
with human hands
The word of God is not an historical event, it is not incarnated or incarcerated in history. The word of God never was, nor will be, an event, for it lives and seeks life - the word of God forever seeks life. It is therefore forever, in process.
‘Every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth’: the divine voice of creation is fully inclusive - it does not recognise the boundaries of faith, of nation, of class, colour, gender, sexuality, politics; it does not recognise and is not held by any boundaries. The only distinction or discernment is in the adjective ‘living’.
In the Old Testament world-view the flood was symbolic of the chaos, of the uncreation. At the very beginning, the symbolism that we are given to express the process of creation is the separation, the heavens and the earth, the boundary between the waters and the dry land. The flood narrative is … a reversal of that creative process.
It’s as if the forces of creation are not quite enough to draw life out of the uncreated, and so the deluge, the chaos, the uncreated, comes back in and floods the creation.
The force of creation is the divine word unfolding in the direction of life, and the sign of the rainbow therefore, is a link between heaven and earth that is made visible and real, the link between divinity and humanity made visible and made real.
Lent gives us a time of reorientation towards life: not long life, not retirement planning, not wealth, not health, but Life with a capital ‘L’, life in its fullness, in its creativity, in its giving of itself to the whole, life lived in the Divine and in-lived by the Divine.
He suffered for sins: in the New Testament paradigm the idea of sins is the equivalent of the idea of flood in the Old Testament. ‘Suffered for sins’ [means] felt the pain of chaos, the force of the uncreation.
‘He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit’. We can actually live this text, find this text and feel this text within ourselves in the present day. Turn on the news, feel the pain of the chaos, leave the news on for more than two minutes, discover the force of uncreation - that which is actively, actively engaged in unloving the earth.
‘Was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit’: do a simple start-of-Lent stock-take, work out how much time you spend alive in the spirit and how much time you spend dead in the flesh. Just two columns - ‘dead in the flesh’, ‘alive in the spirit’: trawling the shopping malls- which column will it go under? Watching those banal TV series - which column will it go under? That show, waiting to see which one of the fat ones is going to get knocked off - alive in the spirit, dead in the flesh?
Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan - the divine activity is initiated with human hands.
And now we have baptism as the parallel to flood - the idea of water, the symbolism, is still with us.
As he was coming up out of the water - as he rose above the flood water, above the chaos, above the uncreated, rising beyond sin - so the heavens tore apart. The Spirit descended, the divine force of creation: all Love and that which gives life, met.
A voice came from heaven - this is the voice of creation that creates each and every moment - a voice came from heaven and a relationship was established:
‘You are my child, that which I love, and with you I find pleasure’ - life in all its fullness.
When we hear that spoken and addressed to us the fear is that we too will find this world, our world, an unacceptable place to be: we recoil from the force of worldly gravity, from that which floods our life, drowns our spirit.
When humanity embraces the Divine, when we are held in the red-rainbow embrace of God’s divine love, we no longer find the world we inhabit an acceptable place to be.
‘The time is fulfilled’, once again, is not an event to be located in history: the word of God lives, is in process.
When we find our fullness, we will find ourselves close to the Divine - the kingdom of God has come near.
We will find ourselves in the living presence of the Divine and we will repent - a reorientation of life, of ourselves, of our being, of every word and every action.
Therefore aligned with the Holy, we enter into that divine covenant, we find ourselves in that rainbow embrace.
Listen for the word of God, for if you hear it, if you hear it, the place from which you will hear it is the leaven in the lump, it will be from the place of life within your own world. Just as in the whole world there is living flesh and dying flesh, there is the created, the creation and the uncreated, so too we will find the same in ourselves.
Listen for the divine word to find that place in yourself where there is life, life seeking life. And walk the forty days knowing yourself to be a child of the Divine.
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
22nd January 2006
It is our responding to the word of God that is creative of the word of God.
We bring about the return of Christ in our becoming the Body of Christ, the Word incarnate.
By our actions and by our inaction, we shall create tomorrow.
Repent means change your life, turn around and take a new direction; move towards something other than that to which you are currently moving.
What we are called toward is to seek that which is unseen and yet is as present as that which is seen. So the call to repent is … a movement to look beyond that which holds our attention and seek that which calls to us - call us from Eternity and into Eternity.
The story of Jonah … tells us that God changes his mind… What it gives to us is a dynamic relationship between us and God … God has not created the world and said ‘Look, no matter what happens, believe in me and everything will be well because I’m looking after it’.
What we learn from the story of Jonah is that it is our responding to the word of God that is creative of the word of God. If we can hear the call of the Divine and respond to it, then we become creative of the divine call.
[Paul] is saying, ‘What we put our attention to in the world is actually of little import compared to the event that is the promise of the Gospel – the Second Coming….The Second Coming is in our hands: we bring it about. We bring about the return of Christ in our becoming the Body of Christ, the Word incarnate: what we do, and to what we attend, is creative of, or un-creative of, the return of the Divine in the world.
[Mark’s gospel] suggests that our time in the desert, our time alone and in prayer, is really a time of preparation for something. And the ‘preparation for’ is for us to be Christ-like, to be in the world calling and leading all to a new understanding and a new possibility for fullness of life - a fullness that goes way beyond anything and everything that we could possibly possess or acquire
If we think we can settle for what is, then we must realise that our energy is being directed towards denial, towards avoidance and toward an un-knowing of the Divine.
In order to settle for what is, we have to put energy into un-knowing God, not hearing the Word. We have to put energy into draining the Spirit from ourselves.
What we hear in the readings today is that we, we are creative of that future. By our actions and by our inaction, we shall create tomorrow.
Jesus says to us: ‘Follow me, and I will give you the capacity to hold all people.’
First Sunday after Christmas Day - The Naming of our Lord
1st January 2006
“A lot of the world have no idea that … we are the shapers of time and space.”
Myers’ motto this year was ‘The Star of Christmas’. It’s amazing to think that the whole Coles-Myer empire had thought that they would follow our journey, share it with us through Advent.
But … the day after, all of the signs and the symbols of the story were actually on sale at less than half price.
I wonder whether we don’t do the same? When we tidy up after Christmas, … do we put all the symbols away and discount the story by at least fifty percent?
The idea of staying with the story is to fight against that worldly gravity - the story of light, the story of blessing.
The first reading from Numbers, talks of the handing on of blessing; it speaks of blessing, the place in which we have the opportunity to live.
The place that we are called to through Christmas is that overlap [of the dark and the light], the place of blessing.
In Galatians we look to where [the handing on of blessing] is heading: ‘You’re no longer a slave but a child, if a child, then also an heir, through the Divine’.
Our future, all future, hinges on the child of Bethlehem, and on us not being a slave but a child and also an heir.
What’s our response, so close to the event, to all that has taken place? Because it will be our response, our passing on of the story and our orientation towards where that leads, that will shape this year.
And in shaping this year we have great power, because a lot of the world have no idea that that can take place; they have lost track of the notion that we are the shapers of time and space... That’s the place of blessing: time and space are given to us in our hands.
Fourth Sunday of Advent 18th December 2005
… it’s quite delightful to reflect with the kids on what Christmas is about - to actually realise in the different sizes and shapes of presents that it is not all equal, it is not all fair, Christmas is not about a levelling of the world where everybody is given the same and becomes the same, it’s not about that at all.
It was interesting in the pulling of the crackers to see the weighing up about what is the role that force play in creating the winner…
… it’s so important that we do in fact connect it to ourselves because if it’s someone else’s story, (a) we’re not going to believe it ….
… what if the story of Mary is the story for each of us?
The house of David gives a lineage, it gives some generations to the whole story that tell us that this is a story in every age in every time.
… to make sense of it [we need] to take these stories from of old, to bring them into the present, to bring them into ourselves.Somewhere the story of Mary and my story and your story are one. What is the link? I don’t think Mary was chosen at all; I think what Mary did was that she responded to the Divine that chooses all. We are all seeded with the Divine. The question is, will we like Mary say ‘Yes’ to that, and therefore give birth to the Divine through us? Or will we leave it as a story back then, or are we stuck between Santa and God, not yet ready to believe one or the other.
Christmas … just by being there, is the one retelling of a story that stops wars, even if just for a cigarette, they stop momentarily, they pause.
…. let’s pause this week, so that when we come to the story of Christmas we might find it revealed in us
Second Sunday of Advent
4th December 2005
“Where will we go, to what will we listen, what will we follow?”
“see Yourself in the story”
The second Sunday of Advent gives us an opportunity to ask where are we going, maybe to reflect on what is it that is leading us or perhaps, what are we following?
There’s an aesthetic delight that we are being given that is wonderful, but there’s a shift as we do it. It’s almost as if we’rereframing, recasting, the symbols, taking them out of their story, until such time as we’ve stripped the story of them. I just wonder whether in a beautiful way, we are actually accelerating the secularisation of Christmas.
The Magi … are being led away from their own culture, away from their own home and family, and they’re being led toward an expectation of a new rule, a new king, a new world order.
The whole purpose of that journey being told is it is a journey for us to make within, and also within community and within the world. It’s a journey that we are called to make.
You can study [the readings] for as long as you like and read the best minds on them and still draw a blank, or you can look atthem and see yourself in them, see your face reflected in them and see that there is another way of seeing
Our encounter with the Divine … is not going to come to you, it’s not going to be given to you: in the wilderness, there is a way being prepared, but only in walking that way … then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. The movement comes first.
Isaiah also calls us to repent … which means we will be called to turn and walk a different way, to go in another direction, to change, to move on a different path, and that movement will lead us to the glory of the Lord that shall be revealed.
Isaiah uses the image of the shepherd - he will feed his flock like a shepherd. The shepherd has an assumption that if I do that they will eat. You don’t see many shepherds leading their sheep to green pasture, picking it and ramming it down their throats.The idea is that once led there, if the way is prepared, we surely will walk the way; we’re not going to be spoon-fed, we’re being led by a shepherd who is patient and who will wait until we wake up and see the green grass around us and think, ‘That is what I will eat, that is what I will feed on’.
The shepherd has shown us the way. It’s now up to us to initiate the movement that will then reveal the glory of God.
John was preparing the way, and that required of people a movement to the point to even begin to start that journey.
It’s sometimes helpful to see many of the characters – John, Mary, Paul, Peter, Stephen, the one they threw stones at - see them as prototypes, archetypes of a way of being that is within us.People go out to John … in order that they can acknowledge the change that is required and the change that will bring about a change to the whole world order - the same change, the same expectation that has sent the three wise ones on their journey from the East.
As we move towards Christmas maybe we also ought to be considering about where is the power in our lives, where are we empowered, where are we disempowered?
Recognise that there is a power to be revealed that will change the world so that then the glory of God shall be revealed.
13 November 2005
[Referring to Judges 4: 1 -7, about Barak and Debra]: This is one reading where it’s a wonderful entry point to look at the Bible afresh. It’s one of the texts that in the past probably didn’t get a lot of airplay - doesn’t quite fit into the patriarchal framework …. just hearing it again this morning I wondered whether there’s something in there about the male energy, the masculine energy, which is fear-based and the feminine energy which is love-based.
[Referring to Parable of the Talents]: The gospel reading is one of those that is quite familiar…. and it’s one of the parables. And the idea of the parables is they make it easy for us to understand - ha, ha!
The talent was about 75.6 pounds of gold. We are not talking about something small that was given; this is not a token gesture on behalf of the master. The master gives everything, an enormous amount of money. One reference that I read suggested that a talent was the equivalent of what a poor person would earn in fifteen years - we’re talking huge stuff. Everything that the master had is given to these servants.
[The parable] speaks of the master saying, ‘Everything that I have, I give to you’, and the interesting thing is it is given in trust. The trust of the master is what really comes out.
The other interesting thing is why didn’t he just divide it into three and give them each a third? It’s another interesting reflection on life - of course we’re not given the same. That is not what makes life fair. We are all given a different starting point, but the interesting thing is we all have the same capacity to respond.
What are the lessons we can draw from it? Well, the first one is that waiting for the Lord’s return is not an option; passively avoiding trouble is not an option; saving what was given, holding onto it, is not an option. What the parable encourages us toward is to engage fully with all that we have been given, take risks; act from confidence rather than from fear.
The master has an expectation that the servants would act, would behave and would transact in the same way that the master does. Isn’t that interesting - made in the image of God - why wouldn’t there be an expectation that we would engage the world in a God-like way, in a Christ-like way.
And as we glimpse that, perhaps we can then see that for things to change, for the world to change, we don’t wait for Christ’s return: for things to change then first I must change. Change from my self-ishness, into my Christ-likeness.
Go out into the world with all that has been given and continue the work of the Creator, with the same trust that was entrusted to me, knowing that there is a capacity in each and every one, no matter how much or what was given, a capacity for each and every one, to multiply that which was given: to continue God’s work, the work of Creation
6 November 2005
‘Choose this day whom you will serve’ ‘Aspire to live’
[Referring to contradictions in the Bible]: ... some of those contradictions create difficulty [which] manifests itself in doubt and erodes faith. I encourage you to stay with the doubt, because doubt is where faith grows. And … never to ignore the contradictions, but to seek to find them because the contradictions we see will very often point to the contradictions that we are. So they’re wonderful places to seek and to find.
We are rapidly coming to the end of the church year, and as we come to the end of things ... we prepare ourselves for loss. We’re going to get to the end … and it will not be seen again, and we will experience loss. We do it quite naturally … in the course of our lives and it’s why we have things like New Year’s Eve parties and write ourselves off, or some people do.
The period of Advent … asks of us … to expect an encounter with the Divine at Christmas.
So the readings … are actually preparing to take us through that journey and to help us come out of that trough, … the trough being that there is a another year gone and the kingdom is not yet realised. Everything that I’ve done in the year gone past, what fruit has it born? What expectations remain unfulfilled? All of that will come up, but even as we look at the readings, there is encouragement to say, maybe the year just gone was all preparing for the year to come.
Choose this day whom you will serve - serving in this context is the giving of self: choose this day where you give yourself.
Listen to the scribes and the pharisees ... because they’re reading from the scriptures, just don’t do what they do. We need to take the word in for ourselves and then discover to where our self-giving will be directed.
Aspire to live: It could even be worth just taking that line - ‘aspire to live’ - home and seeing how it fits. When I wake up in the morning do I aspire to live? What does it mean, where does it fit with me? ... Paul incarnates, he becomes a part of the aspiration, he becomes a part of the direction in which he’s moving.
We must stay awake to that reality: that the aspiration of life that we have, needs to be beyond death.
If you hope for a comfortable old age ... whereby you can do all the things that I really want to do now, then your orientation does move towards retirement planning, investments and all those other things. If you hope to leave the world a better place than you found it, very good, then your orientation will be towards other things. But if you hope to be fully alive to the glory of God, death is actually not one of the parameters that you need to factor in.
The choices that we make in the present moment will obviously contribute to the next moment. Whatever happens, we will be and are complicit in the unfolding of tomorrow. Choices are always made in the moment, choices that will be fashioned by our orientation, to what we seek to give ourselves.
But if we look beyond death and so beyond the self, to a self-less orientation in the present moment that is heartily inclined toward the Divine, then our in-the-moment choices will be creative of a new tomorrow, a tomorrow that is yet unseen and a tomorrow that is a promise that we have contributed toward realising.
We must be aware that the end of one year is coming, a new year begins, a new encounter with the Divine. Our choice: where will we give ourselves in this moment and the next?
Peter’s first sermon after returning from India
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
30th October 2005
Full sermon 30th October 2005 Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
For weeks now we’ve been reading from the Book of Exodus - the Law. There was just that delightful sense that I’m not coming back into the confines of the Torah, but rather into what unfolds from the Law.
[The reading] begins with Joshua … not only hearing the word of God, but believing it. It’s a good starting point. And the word of God then points toward a movement … that is aligned with the word of God.
[Joshua] has heard, he believes, he has a knowing of the truth that ‘among you is the living God’.
The reading frames a movement in life. There's a mystical telling or a mythological story that is given to us to frame a movement in life - the crossing of the Jordan - and we’ll find, as many of us know, the Bible full of those life movements.
These aren’t stories about things in history in other lands, they’re stories of life movements in us, as we seek to realise the words that we have heard. It’s a very different movement to wandering around Garden City. They’re movements about encounter and engagement, rather than movements of escape.
Paul says, ‘we were gentle, deeply caring’… Caring takes on a completely different meaning when you put the word ‘deeply’ - ‘deeply caring’ requires that we come from a different place.
Our appearance is often driven by where we are coming from, what our orientation is toward life and what life movement have we engaged or encountered.
What is creative of our appearance? … In each of us the divine seed is there [so] we can look for the foundation on which we have built our appearance.
The Gospel it begins with a wonderful honouring of the word. We’ve got one of these ‘Jesus’ encounters with the scribes and Pharisees’. This is the encounter that occurs for each of us when the Divine that is within us seeking to be fully realised, hits the wall of the Church and feels crushed.
Jesus says… in the stories and the scriptures, the truth is there. It is held in the tradition … It is relevant to your life, it is relevant to life, but be careful, … the way is not one in which you can believe what someone else tells you, it is rather a way of finding it for yourself. The Word is true, but it is true when it is made real within you.
That’s what we’re asked to do - to search for an understanding [of the Word] and become it - and become it.
‘You’re the ones that need to hold this, you’re the ones that need to make this truth real.’
Everything - the movement in life and how we are to appear - is summed up in the words: ‘The greatest among you will be your servant’. The one who appears whole and fully alive, the one in whom the divine spirit fully is revealed, is the one who moves in service to others: giving of self and receiving fullness of life.