Christ the King 23rd November 2008
Proper 29 (34) 23 Nov 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Christ the King/Reign of Christ A Textweek
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
Twenty–Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 16th November 2008
Proper 28 (33) 16 Nov 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +27 November 16, 2008 Textweek
Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
The Old Testament readings in the last weeks [have shown] the unfolding of history and the unfolding of life. Today we’ve moved on from the story of Joshua; there’s been a shift in authority from the prophets to the judges. And as that movement continues, another movement will take us from the judges to the kings, which could be viewed as a movement towards the secular, but equally and in a more positive vein, as a movement towards accepting and realising the Divine authority that we have received. In the early books in the Bible, God was clearly in charge, humanity had no part to play. Some Christians still think that and that we’re the chess pieces that he moves where he wills.
The movement though takes us on. The word of God, instead of now coming from the mouth of the Divine, is spoken through the prophets - the word comes from humanity in line with the Divine. From the prophets, humanity then sees that it holds the word, and so the power of God, so judges are appointed. So now the wisdom of God is brought into human hands. From the judges we then move to the kings - not only is the wisdom of God now in human hands, but the authority of God, the power of life and death is claimed by humanity. It’s good to be aware of these movements in scripture. They tell us of an evolution that is not only experienced culturally and also individually. So these are also movements of life that are grounded in us. It’s a narrative that also speaks about us growing into our fullness, and the parallels are very easy to see when we appreciate the movement from the child, totally controlled by the parent, to the child that then fully realises their adult humanity. This is also a movement, as history tells us and as we experience, that is so easily corrupted and perhaps that’s why Paul encourages us to keep awake, be alert.
We don’t get all the story of Deborah, Barak and Sisera and if you are not familiar with the story it, read through it; it’s got an amazing surprise. It has many elements that awaken us to the forces we’re subject to in the present day. There are the issues of gender that we find in Deborah and Barak. [But] Deborah and Barak invite us into a new paradigm, into a new way of seeing. The might of Sisera’s army - this is a guy who has chariots - is comparable to nuclear powers of today, and the interesting thing is the story is that he fails. And yet we continue to invest our talents in the US enterprise. We look to the US as the source and force of power that will take us into the tomorrow. Deborah and Barak invite us into a new paradigm: that is not the only option.
In Thessalonians, Paul says, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, … and there will be no escape!’ This is given not as a threat or to create fear; it is Paul sounding the alarm, calling us to wake up. In today’s context this is global warming, Darfur, refugees, the global credit crisis. Paul says, ‘Keep awake. Rise from your slumber’. If he was on face-book he’d just put ‘Get real!’
Sisera’s forces, in the face of suffering great unexpected, unexplainable losses, have decided to meet; they’ve called a G20 conference. Their focus: to rebuild what we’ve lost, to seek the peace and security they thought they had previously secured with their might. Question: will we choose to sleep with them? Or will we be awakened by the invitation of Deborah and Barak into a new paradigm, a new possibility? Paul provides a clear orientation: ‘Build up each other’. Build, create, not bury.
The Gospel today illustrates the same challenge and awakens us to the same orientation of the Old Testament. The G20 slaves are busy burying their talents, digging a hole in which they can hold on to what they have, a process that is exactly the opposite of Resurrection. To evolve, to live for tomorrow is to take a risk, to risk resurrection - not more of the same, there is no risk and no life in more of the same.
To risk life in a new paradigm, life that is given through faith in the Divine, Deborah, a prophetess, summons the weaker forces. The unexpected overcome the mighty forces. There is a change in the status quo; something new and unexpected is created from the place where it was least expected – a motley crew against the might of the chariots. And in that story, in that movement, as it’s echoed in the Gospel, is the whole point of being church. If we want to bury our talents, to leave things as they are, then let’s follow Sisera – let’s put our hope in the mighty US.
But if we’re really ready to risk our faith: what if it’s true that that hero we worship who walked the earth years ago, when he said ‘greater things you will do’, what if he actually spoke the truth? What if we can actually heal the sick? What if we can raise the dead? Surely that’s worth the risk. Surely that points more toward life than those digging the G20 hole in which they will seek to pour more and more money, so that they can hold onto what we’ve already got. If we’re really ready to take the risk, then here, in this place and from here towards tomorrow, build up each other.
Twenty–Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 9th November 2008
Proper 27 (32) 9 Nov 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 27A/Ordinary 32A/Pentecost +26 November 9, 2008 Textweek
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Before we look at what threads the readings hold for us…..
The Second reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 gives us an excellent opportunity to really appreciate the importance of context…… Because we can see that Paul is addressing a particular issue to a particular group at a particular time……….
From verse 15….,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air
His teaching is clearly grounded in the cosmology of the day…. Heaven above and Earth below… His view of resurrection is very physical… and he believes that the second coming of Christ, again a physical event, will occur in his lifetime….. What he is then seeking to do is to assure those who are grieving that the dead will be brought to life first and then he, and the others will join them as all are taken up in the air to the clouds………..
In its time…. This teaching would have provided assurances….. However… it makes absolutely no sense for us to receive the same assurance for we inhabit a quite different world…..
The essence of Paul’s teaching however can be considered, and re-considered, within the context of the present…..
Paul affirms that death is not the end…. That there is a bigger picture to life…. And that the whole orientation of life is toward a unity that will include all peoples…..
He affirms the church community… he acknowledges their love for each other and for all….
And he then urges them (v10)…… beloved, to do so more and more…
In regard to living in the presence of the Divine….. In regard to being the Body of Christ… we too can hear Paul’s encouragement to do so more and more…….
And there is both encouragement and direction in the other readings… and in the context of the Present times in which we live………..
We live in times of change….. I know every time is a time of change but this week in particular we’ve been bombarded with news repots that speak of and analyse change……
And when we are confronted by change we often ask the same question….
From the First reading…..
Is Joshua the one who will realise the settlement of the promised land?
From the Second Reading
Is Paul the One who will herald the resurrection to the church in Thessalonica?
From the Gospel
Is Jesus the one who will bring us into the Divine wedding banquet?
And from the Newspapers……
Is Barrak Obama the one who will turnaround the Global Credit Crisis?
Perhaps we look to the literal in the text because we desire an easy, simple answer… We want someone to take responsibility… we want someone else to make it all right for us……. [which is also the misguided motivation for the Atonement theology that suggests that Jesus died for us… to make it all OK]
The Gospel today provides a challenging differentiation between the wise and the foolish……
This is not a story of the clever and the no-so-clever…..
The wise … are not those ‘in the know’… not those who have the greatest knowledge..
The wise are those who are prepared to take responsibility, and to participate fully .
Here Jesus is teaching that we have a part to play in bringing about the kingdom of Heaven…… Its not going to just fall out of the sky!
Likewise Paul… He is not saying he has the answers and all are do what he says… rather he says (v18)… “encourage one another”…..
Joshua…. (v1)… gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel……
And in verse 15…
“choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living;”
Look at the past…. And look at the present…. Look at where your faith is invested… and then CHOOSE your path forward….. Who will you serve….
Barak Obama… speaks with a similar voice….
‘This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time ….. and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.
The threads of scripture weave themselves into the present moment… and the Divine calls draws those threads toward an eternal tomorrow…..
Each of us has a part to play in bringing about the future…… Our political votes determine the shape of our government……
Our orientation toward life…. Our participation in Realising the Promise of God… and our voice, our activity and our example… shapes our life…..
Like Joshua we stand in the Land of Promise……
Like tribes of Israel to Shechem… we have choices to make……
Choices are not always simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices…..
And there is not always clarity for us to even determine what the choices are….
What is apparent from the readings is the ‘direction of life’ that serves as a foundation for choice…..
Choices are never made in isolation.. there is a WE that underpins the direction of life
And it is WE, in integrity with, and mindfully awake to, the presence of God…..
The fix on Wall Street is not isolated from the people of Darfur….
Peace in the Middle East is not to be found without including Arms manufacturers…
In seeking life – in all its fullness – we each of us will contribute to the shape of tomorrow…….
Our choice (whatever that may be) is to be awake to the Divine, and to look to each other, to encourage each other…… together we have the capacity to create a feast of Light……
Together we can choose a new tomorrow… that takes us beyond the idols of our past …. That takes us across the river that divides us from the Divine…. That moves us on from the idols of gods of where we are into the unity of and the presence of the Divine…..
Twenty–Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 2nd November 2008
Proper 26 (31) 2 Nov 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 26A/Ordinary 31A/Pentecost +25 November 2, 2008 Textweek
Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-1
The gospel reading is often given a reading that seeks to make us smaller. It asks of us humility, and the Anglican version of humility makes people shrivel and shrink and eyes downcast, clothed in unworthiness, seeking to be a doormat to the world. But humility is perhaps the place where we might find our strength and our fullest selves. I say ‘might’ because it’s a place that I still seek;. The best insight I have for that place of humility is the life of Teresa of Avila, and quite often the lives of others give us a glimpse of something that encourages us on that on-going journey.
The gospel is built on the Old Testament reading, because I think if you start with the book of Genesis, the rest is built on it. It’s not that the book of Genesis is the beginning, it’s more like a foundation – the next lot of stories retell and build on it. By the time we get to the gospel, we are rebuilding on a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and tradition, retelling, seeking to make more clear.
So let’s look again at the Old Testament reading and the person of Joshua. Joshua hears and has faith in the word of God. Twelve men are then selected to carry the Ark of the Covenant and are told of the crossing of the Jordan; they too believe. The twelve then step into the river, the waters are parted and they walk into the middle of the river on the dry ground. Then all of the people cross the Jordan on dry ground. That story recalls the crossing of the Red Sea, and it’s that link that gives us a clue to the value of the story and the scriptures. Not only are we invited to recall previous stories that parallel the one we’ve just read, we’re also invited to seek our story that parallels these stories.
The crossing of the Jordan and the crossing of the Red Sea are not coincidental events, and I would set aside the beliefs of many that think that these events are actual and that they are located in history. These stories seek to illustrate life events, a process of life lived in accord with the divine word. These are the stories of humanity, of life. The crossing of the Jordan is a retelling of the crossing of the Red Sea, [but with] some important differentiations. It’s not the same story, just as your story when you live your life and find fullness of life, your story won’t be the same as that of Christ; it will be different, and yet there will be parallels there.
The first hearers probably appreciated more so than we, the link between the stories because certain words are the same. [In] the description of separating the waters it says the waters formed a heap. It’s exactly the same word in the crossing of the Jordan as it is in the crossing of the Red Sea – the same process is being spoken about. So if we look to the iconography of the story, we then see there are even more parallels. The separation of the waters already takes us straight back to the beginning of time, to Genesis, where the waters were separated by the word of God in order for there to be dry land; the story of Noah and the flood - it’s a retelling and a reversal of that same story, that same life process.
Let’s come back to Joshua. Joshua was empowered by the word of God and by the commissioning of Moses. Matthew, Kirsten, Frances, Elise, Eunice, Lia, Rhonda and Bill were commissioned last week through their confirmation by Bishop Kay. Let’s look to our own baptismal call or promise, and seek both the Joshua and also the place of those who responded to Joshua, within ourselves. Do we hear the word of God, or is it drowned out by other noise? Do we have faith in the word of God or is our faith and belief only a learned response that takes us as far as the church? Are we aware of the Jordan that we are called to cross, or have we been convinced by fear to stay exactly where we are?
When Moses crosses the Red Sea and when Joshua crosses the Jordan, they both act in accord with the word of God, the word that became flesh and dwelt among us; they both follow Christ, and they do it out of time. To follow Christ is not to walk behind the bloke. Joshua did it, Moses did it; we are called to do the same. They also both acted not for themselves but for the good of the common; they were seeking a pathway whereby all could cross.
One of the distinctions in the activity between the two stories is the context in which they are set. The crossing of the Red Sea has a military setting; it’s described as a military manoeuvre that outflanks the Egyptians. The crossing of the Jordan is described in a liturgical setting, with the twelve being described as priests, who carry the Ark of the Covenant, the word of God, on behalf of the people. What we can learn from that distinction is that the word of God has a place both in the midst of the world as a power to overcome the forces of the world, and also in the midst of community, as a power to take us forward, to take us beyond, on our journey to the word of promise.
Both these narratives recall and retell for us the very process of life. They’re applicable to all life and in each and every context. These are stories in the midst of the world. And that’s where Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel. He speaks to all, to the crowds and to his disciples, and he says that those who hear should listen and follow the teachings that come from the scriptures, but should not do so to become like those in the religious institutions. We are called to listen and to follow the teachings of the scriptures, but not so that we can become church-like. We do not come together to do what our teachers do; rather we come together to go beyond and to go further - to realise the person of Joshua within and to realise our Christ-likeness. We come together to know that among us is the living God.
And the Gospel finishes by saying we’re not called to exalt ourselves, nor to exalt the words that the world teaches. We’re called to carry the Ark of the Covenant for the community, to separate the waters of chaos as we journey together, forward, onwards, toward the promise of a new tomorrow for all people.
As we recall and honour the lives of those who’ve gone before us, we do get some real sense of life’s journey. It’s a valuable reflection to look back to those whom we honour, to become aware of what they gave to us in order that our journey might continue, become aware of what was received and what was rejected; become aware of what it is that we will pass onto others when we find someone placing our name on the altar, on an All Souls’ Day in the future. What will the placer of our name have taken from us in order to further their journey towards the land of promise?
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost 19th October 2008
Proper 24 (29) 21 September 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 24A/Ordinary 29A/Pentecost +23 October 19, 2008 Textweek
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
Receiving the word of God with joy is what happens when I sit down to reflect on the Sunday readings, because once again, the three readings have got so many threads. Each one of those threads is asking us to explore more fully ourselves, our relationship with God and our relationship with each other, and there’s a sense that there is something constantly, something more for us to find.
Exodus gives us another of those intimate encounters - a conversation between Moses and God. It’s a conversation about movement, about seeking where we are being sent; about direction, the need for guidance in determining the way forward; about seeking divine ways – "Show me your ways,” says Moses. And very much it’s a conversation about divine presence. Moses says ‘For how shall it be known unless you go with us?’ These people that have come seeking freedom out of land of slavery; they’ve had some stunning ups and downs in that journey. They’re now at a crucial point: the one thing Moses knows clearly is that there is nowhere and no way to go, unless the divine presence walks with. It’s a place that we’ve yet to find in our culture, probably because we’re still wedded to slavery, rather than to freedom.
The Old Testament reveals an early tradition, and one of the ways that we can see the threads of holy scripture is to take the earlier tradition and compare it with what we glimpse in the New Testament. What is the revelation in and through the person of Christ? Because [seeing both] traditions can put us in touch with our own primary traditions and foundational experiences. When we look at the New Testament compared with the Old, we become aware of movement – the in-process nature of theology, of encounter, of humanity, [and] the in-process nature of God. We see our evolving worldview and the worldview that we create through our evolving.
The reading from verse 17, Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; …. But you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." Moses cannot possibly see the face of God. To ancient peoples, to see a god’s face was to invite death - very understandable, because to ancient peoples gods inhabited the realm beyond death, so if you were to meet them, you were entering that realm. The religious traditions have accepted and taken that simple, primitive understanding and built on it. It’s obviously got nothing to do with ‘I will die if I see the eyes and ears and the nose of God’. Yet the church, much theology, still holds that there is a god who will not permit anyone to his/her face. It’s more fully appreciated if we see the dialogue symbolically: the naming of the reality that the human mind and the self are not able to comprehend the fullness of the divine reality; God is so much more than we can even conceive of, that the attempt to grasp God is beyond our capacity.
Another way of looking at it is, when we see the face of God, we will die. Not in the sense of our mortality, but in the sense that is picked up in, ‘In order to find your life you must lose your life’. When we see the face of God, when the encounter with the divine is that close, then yes, we will die, to that which we are enslaved by, and the fullness of life will be so different that it will be a death to this life.
Now we’re still exploring this within the paradigm of Exodus, an early worldview that has become frozen into our orthodox tradition. Why did we not defrost those early understandings when we encountered Christ? Jesus reveals to us the face of God made manifest in humanity. And you can actually do a nonsensical religious flow chart that says ‘Well clearly if you see the face of God you will die; Jesus is God, God incarnate, so really all the disciples should have died when they met him’. We’ve got to throw out the stuff that we’ve been hanging on to from our infancy; we need to bring our theology into our maturity.
When [some of us] were kids, to communicate you needed four-pence, to know the difference between an A button and a B button, and to look for a red box. The world of mobile phones is unimaginable in that worldview. Theology is the same – because the church has hung onto it for 2000 years doesn’t make it right.
Today we’re invited beyond it, to find the truth that seeing the face of God will lead to a dying; we need to find the truth that calls us into life: being made in the divine image. We are to give ourselves to the Divine. If we stay with the classic view we will perpetuate wars. Moses and God, the primitive view, speaks of separation; it’s a pre-Christ understanding [and] the understanding of the child. When we were small, we encountered the world as quite distinct and separate from us because as a child our knowledge is so experiential that we are the centre of the. So the Exodus paradigm is one of separation – there's Moses and there’s God - that’s what’s been embedded, frozen; that’s what distorts our understanding of the Gospel. Moses says in verse 16, ‘how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth." Distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth. Here we have the genesis of ‘God’s chosen’, the separation of the church from the great unwashed of the world, this misunderstanding that has created wars. We can see how it’s even been carried through into the Christian tradition, even though Christ reveals there is no separation between humanity and divinity: they come together in the fullness, in the wholeness of the Christ.
But if you look at Paul’s letter, ‘we know, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, that he has chosen you,’ Again that notion has embedded itself into the culture of the church: we’re chosen, they’re not. The Gospel today has been used to underline it: ‘"Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God’s." If we look to the teaching that accompanies the story of the coin: "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.’ Christ does not reveal deference; Christ does not reveal partiality or separation. If we switch our listening on to that part of the story, so our understanding changes: give to the emperor those things that hold the image of the emperor, and give to God those things that hold the image of God, the divine image. What Christ is saying: we are to give ourselves to the Divine – just as the coins of the emperor belong to the emperor, so we are the currency of the Divine. In some sense Paul appears to pick that up, but because we have this early, primitive understanding, frozen into orthodoxy, again we have to dust Paul off. Paul affirms the church: ‘you turned to God from idols, to serve a loving and true God, to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues you from the wrath that is coming’.
I think we should stay with the story of the coin; it’s not a teaching of the wrongness of wealth, it’s about the currency, the movement, the process associated with living. As we watch the developed world attempt to shore up banks, stabilize the share market, just hold the image of emperors stamping their image onto the face of coins. What if we turned to God from idols? What if we seek wealth in community, in closing gaps of separation, in the opening of ourselves toward the Divine face, trusting in the loss of life that it will bring? What if we turn towards the divine activity of creating a sustainable and just tomorrow, investing, giving of ourselves into the divine activity, investing in the good of the whole and the wholeness of that which is good? In the next few weeks we will continue to be flooded by financial advice [and] motivated by fear. Contrary to much financial advice, now is the time to buy shares. The question is, shares in what?
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 21st September 2008
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Proper 20 (25) 21 September 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 20A/Ordinary 25A/Pentecost +19 Textweek
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
Exodus tells of the people complaining in the wildness and Matthew tells of the people grumbling against the landowner. Doesn’t seem to matter where they are, there is always complaining. Is that the human condition, is that just how we are? So let’s look to the Bible, because as a generalisation the Bible does provide a reflection of and for the human condition. But its value is that it provides that reflection in a divine context; it asks us to pause and look at the human condition, to look at ourselves in relation to the Divine. If we bring the Exodus reading into the present day, we find the whole congregation of the Anglican Church complaining in the wilderness: but who or what do we complain about, and where is our wilderness. It was a sobering exercise for me to list out all that we complain against. Politicians, the media, institutions, authorities, political parties, service providers, the government, the USA, fundamentalists, developers, interest rates, banks, industrialists, mining companies…… it rolls off! There’s also another whole range of non-specific complaints, generally against differences – social background, race, gender, religion, sexuality, nationality….. Closer to home we have all of those complaints that are against those who we know and love – our family and our communities: we complain about those who want change and those who want no change; those who hold different views and different priorities… And that doesn’t even include football codes.
It’s a sobering exercise and yet at the same time, we get some perspective and some reference points to where we are. If we be still and start to list the things you complain against, picture placing them around you, they start to describe a landscape that you inhabit. As we acknowledge our complaints, we plot a map or create a shape that speaks of where we are. We get a sense of our wilderness and in turn, that can help us to identify our hunger. There’s an important distinction that’s made in verse 7. The story starts out with the complaints being made to Moses and Aaron, but then we find, ‘the LORD has heard your complaining against the LORD’. It’s an enlightening shift, which gives us another opportunity for reflection. The landscape in the wilderness that our list of complaints describes might look quite different if we make a list of the complaints that we have against God. And maybe that’s the list that will enable us to identify our true hunger. What is it that is not being fed? What is the food that I need to satisfy my hunger? Most of us at some point or another, some of us many times a day will have prayed ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. What is it that we’re asking for in that prayer? If we look around us for the food that the Divine provides, are we going to be like the Israelites and when the mist is lifted and the divine food covers the earth and is there before our eyes, be unable to see it even when it stands out?
What is the bread that the Lord has given us to eat, the bread that will satisfy our hunger and be food for the journey that takes us from the wilderness, into the wholeness of the Promised Land? These very questions and reference points that enable us to see our inner landscape are the very same issues that Paul wrestled with seeks to assist others with. Paul comments, ‘Since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have….’ and then he goes on. Paul’s struggle is our struggle. It’s actually quite good to get that, because we can then take Paul off that saintly pedestal and sit him next to us in the pew. We actually walk the path of saints, the journey that Paul walked. In verse 27 he gives us a rule of thumb, another clue to life’s path: ‘Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ Paul often seems to come up with a phrase like that. In Ephesians he asks us to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called - the worthiness of our life, its worth.
The gospel gives us an unusual spin on notions of worthiness. It’s so easy to picture these workers lining up, being given work and then at the end of the day, receiving their pay, and when you first read it through, don’t you think there’s a rightness about their grumbling? One worked all day and gets given the money, another works for an hour and gets given the same. Imagine how that narrative would unfold if we then introduced the trade union movement – be a completely different story, there would be blood at the end of it; you could actually put identities and faces in it, you could put Kevin Reynolds and Len Buckridge in there and just watch them go.
So there is a rightness in the complaining. It speaks of the daily notions we have of equality and fairness. Most of us would say, ‘I’m fair or I seek to be fair and to treat others equally’, but it doesn’t take a lot of reflecting to see that that’s a cultural image that we seek to fit in with; and the evidence of the world around us would say that fairness and equality are not characteristics or outcomes of the way we live.
But what if we follow the gospel thread and what if we leave the call to equality and embrace rather the reflection on generosity? For in the gospel narrative today, that’s the divine activity; the divine activity is not about creating or being seen to be equal, the divine activity is centred and based on generosity. Maybe there is a divine inequality that's born out of abundance and that’s born out of abundant generosity, a divine inequality that whereby the last will be first.
The Lord be with you.
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 7th September 2008
Proper 18 (23) 7 September 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 18A/Ordinary 23A/Pentecost +17
Sep 7, 2008 Textweek
Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Today’s Old Testament reading narrates the Feast of the Passover, the Passover meal, the meal that was that later celebrated as the Last Supper and for us continues to be celebrated in the feast of Holy Communion. It is therefore [another] story that is foundational and that we bring into the present. This is the story of movement in our spiritual journey, of movement in the true journey of life; it’s a story of creation and re-creation and of our movement toward oneness in faith. It narrates the very making of, and it acknowledges, our community identity. And it begins with a shared meal, just as we will share a meal here today. The feast of life, the feast of freedom is a call into community and into communion.
The narrative tells us that the whole congregation of Israel participated, and all were also ready to move away from being at home and into the unknown of faith, into another world. Exodus is a call into freedom and it’s a divine freedom that only a few have glimpsed. It calls us to look beyond the deluded freedom that we all believe we have already achieved, for that deluded freedom is the freedom of the Egyptians. We’ve just experienced an expression of Egyptian freedom –we’ve had an election. In a free country, we exercised our freedom to choose, and I wonder though, if it was freedom that most people experienced yesterday? Confined by the numbers one to six or one to twenty nine, choosing between one who didn’t deserve to win and one who did deserve to lose - it’s a deluded freedom that we pretend we enjoy. In the theological context, the same occurs with the notion of free will. Our understanding of free will suffers from the same delusion: it’s freedom that is subject to the confines of nature and of the culture, readily confined by information, misinformation and spin. We can think we’re free thinkers in a free country, and for those who are satisfied with that as the experience of freedom, then Exodus has nothing to say. But the Exodus story speaks much deeper of a journey of freedom that is a journey into wholeness. A freedom from self-possession, self-sustainability and self-sufficiency, a freedom that takes us away from ‘I’ towards ‘I am’.
The communal meal of the Passover had all involved, all were ready to move, their loins were girded, ready to participate together in the creation of a new tomorrow. Yesterday ’s election fools us into choosing a name [or] party that will do the creation of a new tomorrow for us. Somehow inside, we know that’s not going to happen, because we know deep inside that we each have a part to play in the unfolding of tomorrow; no one does it for us; there isn’t a ‘them’ to look after it. Each of us must gird our loins ready to participate in tomorrow, and today’s gospel is quite empowering in that regard. Regardless of good or bad shepherding practice, we discover that a shepherd can leave the flock and search for the one sheep. Initially one might think that puts the flock at risk, but in fact the reason the shepherd can leave the flock is that the flock in being together, is of itself a shepherding force and act. In community and in communion, we undertake and participate in the divine activity; together as a flock we make real the force of shepherding.
Later in the gospel we find that the divine commission that was previously given to Peter is here extended to all. The orthodox tradition has been shaped by the commissioning of Peter - when Peter’s given the keys to the kingdom of heaven: ‘You are the rock on which I will build the church’ and so has shaped our church, giving an authority to the priest via the lineage with Peter, a handing on of the divine authority. In light of today’s gospel reading, it would be better understood as the priest receiving an authority from the communion, who together are in receipt of the divine commission. If we can understand and reorganise the model that way round, we end up with a completely different shape and orientation of who we are as church.
The day after an election is a wonderful way to underline the reflections in today’s readings. We might elect a government, we might choose one from six or one from twenty-nine; what we hear today is that we too are elected, divinely chosen. When God votes, God votes for you, God votes for me and God votes for us. Enjoy your new term of government.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 31st August 2008
Proper 17 (22) 31 August 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 17A/Ordinary 22A/Pentecost +16
August 31, 2008 Textweek
Exodus 3: 1-15; Psalm 105; Romans 12: 9-12; Matthew 16:21-28
The Bible or holy scriptures are actually written into the present, they’re the living word of God; they gives us an opportunity to reflect the word of God into the present as the word of God for us: it’s a different way of reading it from the literal way that tends to venerate the scriptures into the past. So as we build up images, they’re our images and they break open the confines of [Sunday School]. We've got to break out of that confine, which we’ve probably done in every other sphere of life [where] we’ve ditched what we didn’t need, and we kept what we did and moved on and to learn from the world around us. If we do the same with scripture and it comes to life. Moses is somewhat reluctant hearing of the divine voice from the burning bush, and it contrasts well with the voice of George W. Bush - enough for us to ask of ourselves, what voice and what voices do I listen to? What calls am I eager to hear and which ones am I reluctant to hear? And so we find ourselves in the place of Moses – where do I find myself in that place?
The text from Exodus is another foundational text, it’s a piece of the jigsaw and it illustrates through the archetype of Moses the journey of faith, our journey into life. In verse 1 we discover that Moses is like Joseph and Jesus: Moses is a shepherd. But it’s a statement of orientation not of occupation. Maybe Moses is similar in orientation to the midwives we read about last week and to Mary, who bore and nurtured the lamb of God. This is a story of divine encounter and it takes place once again on a mountain. We’re told that so that the orientation, the place, echoes for us with other stories; the Transfiguration is echoed. Or simply, it speaks of a process that occurs above the everyday in which we are immersed. Why is it when we go on holidays, when we head down to Albany, we’re drawn to the Porongorups and the Stirling Ranges? To climb, to get a different view, to see more. This is an encounter that occurs a result of that seeking to see more, to have a fuller view. Then, we hear the bush was blazing yet it was not consumed, and that is the great sight that Moses saw.
As we contemplate that vision, Jesus teaches in today’s gospel: ‘those who want to save their life will lose it, those who lose their life for my sake will find it’. That verse and the image of the burning bush, are two visions of the divine word that say the same thing. Moses responds to the divine word with ‘Here I am’. That response again echoes the prophets who have gone before. It’s a response of readiness; it asks of us, ‘Where do I make that response; where do I speak, ‘Here I am’? It’s a very simple yet profound statement and it’s uttered again at the end of the narrative, where it becomes a part of the divine response: "I AM WHO I AM." It’s a response of presence, of being, and of encounter. When we read through the dialogue between Moses and the Divine, again we find some similarities to a story we read a few weeks ago of Jacob’s wrestling in the dark - the asking of names, the giving and receiving of knowing, the giving and receiving of power.
Many read the Bible seeking divine direction – ‘what does God tell me to do?’ Some seek divine commandments – the shoulds and shouldn’ts that conform life into a certain scripted performance. This text illustrates the divine word as a call into being, and in losing ourselves, losing what consumes us, we find our selves, our being, what inflames us, which enables us to know clearly ‘Here I am’, and from that place we find ourselves standing on holy ground.
The naming of the place of encounter as holy ground becomes important. The Divine and the human together in one place – ‘I am who I am’ at one with all, I who sent you, I will be with you. The shepherd and the midwife of life, creating the very same in us and of us - standing in the one place. The image is quite important: the bush was blazing yet it was not consumed. At the end of the reading from Romans today Paul says, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ One consumes – ‘overcome by evil’ and one inflames – ‘overcome evil with good’. That one image of the burning bush starts to find itself asking questions of us all the way through life – where is the fire, the fire within us and where is that which consumes us?
We’re all familiar with the Ten Commandments, another foundational story that has actually now become part of our culture. That verse, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ comes at the end of a very short passage, but if you look back through the passage you find that there are twenty-eight commandments in it. It’s almost like a little charter for life in there – it’s as if Paul is spelling out that these are the steps of life, these are the things that have enabled me to find my orientation and this is where I’ve got to - to not being overcome by evil, but rather overcoming evil with good. Any news bulletin, we can see different forces at work in the world. We can see fires that clearly consume; Paul saw the same in his world, but also saw a flame that did not consume, that would overcome evil with good.
Throughout the whole of the Bible there are people, archetypes and stories that can enable us to find our orientation, to glimpse the Divine. Sometimes we will choose to engage, sometimes we will choose to ignore, we will get lost, the fear being that we will be consumed. It’s a fear that the image of the burning bush asks us to look beyond, to look for an orientation whereby we find life, not as a flame that will end up in ashes, but rather as a flame that does not consume, that constantly brings to life. Maybe it’s our inability to hold that image constantly before us that gives us today’s gospel reading.
Last week’s reading, Peter was the rock, the one who was given the keys to kingdom of God. Today Peter is Satan, a stumbling block; we know this Peter very well as well – I know this Peter very well! We all know both within: we know the person within who has been given and gifted the keys to the kingdom; we know the rock, the place within us in which the church can be built, the sacred ground. That’s the fire, the flame within. We know also the Satan, the stumbling block, that which constantly consumes and turns to ashes. If we know both these, then the question is, which one will we feed? At each and every meal, imagine that we are feeding one or the other.
And as we prepare to eat together, let’s hear the final words from today’s Gospel. We prepare now for a meal in which we will share; we will receive divine food. What are we going to feed within ourselves? “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." There are some sitting here who will not taste death.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost 24 August 2008
Proper 16 (21) 24 August 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
Proper 16A/Ordinary 21A/Pentecost +15
August 24, 2008 Textweek
Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12: 1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
One of the things that comes out when preparing the sermon is how important it is to read the Bible, [because] as we read Sunday by Sunday, [it’s] like a jigsaw - only when you put all the pieces in place are all the details revealed. Over the last few Sundays we’ve been going through the stories that illustrate the foundations of our faith; we’ve encountered Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Jacob. These are archetypes that reveal the Word, the divine light, and with each we’ve found parallels that show a Christ-likeness. It’s as if we’re being asked to see the same in ourselves; each one of these figures holds a Christ-likeness and we’re being asked to look at ourselves.
Today we get the nativity of Moses. It’s another deliberate birth narrative, a deliberate writing to reveal the nature of the Divine; this is not an account of what happened at Moses’ birth. This has been written to illustrate, through the person of Moses, something revealed of the Divine, another piece of the jigsaw. So we might just look at ourselves. How many of us consider ourselves to be law-abiding citizens? Those who didn’t put their hands up, there will be a service of reconciliation,. I will hear [your Confession] and unlike the Catholics, the penance won’t be Hail Marys and Our Fathers, but substantial amounts of money of course. Now my guess is that the answer we got this morning here would be pretty representative of the wider church - the majority would hold to be law-abiding citizens.
But have a look again at the birth narrative of Moses. Like the nativity of Christ, it is a story of revolution, a movement against the order of the culture into a creative possibility for the future. Moses’ birth has as its backdrop the fear of the Egyptian empire of those who were different; they built up great defences and their fear turned into an orientation of destruction toward others. If we live this narrative into the present, we see the same, an orientation of destruction: our cultural policies in regard to Global Warming are reflected in verse 22: it’s like throwing every boy in the Nile; the U.S. military policy of planting nuclear missile silos in Europe is like throwing every boy in the Nile. What the birth narrative of Moses asks is, are we, and is the church, midwives? Are we assisting in the birth of tomorrow; are we giving of ourselves so that the future, a future may be birthed? Or are we law-abiding citizens? As we engage the Divine that is revealed in Christ, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, we engage our participation in the life of all. The midwives broke the law, and rather than starting a revolution, they point us toward the part we all play in bringing about tomorrow.
In Romans, Paul seems to appreciate the same perspective: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God’ - what is the divine unfolding of creation, what is its direction, what is its movement? Paul sees our divine potential and our oneness, there’s an embracing of our diversity into the wholeness and oneness of humanity: ‘we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.’ In verse 1 Paul appeals to us that we see ourselves ‘as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God’. It’s a good one to check out in the mirror and see if you can see a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. I’ve been cleaning mine to see if I can!
Why has this revolution of midwives not delivered? Why has the divine outcome that we glimpse as we encounter the creative call of God not come to birth? This is where the reading of scripture becomes important because in the next chapter, Romans chapter 13: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God. And those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.’ Is this the same Paul that we heard earlier this morning? Those who hold that scripture is black and white generally will speak about the law; the teaching of the church, driven by the religious right, speaks of the authority of the church; the history of the church is one of maintaining a position of authority; it is not the voice of the midwife.
Today’s gospel is another foundational narrative and another text that has been abused by the church. Christ is revealed as the Messiah, the son of the living God. Simon by Jonah is revealed as Peter, the rock on which the church will be built, and Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven: ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Here begins the authority of the church and from that text we have a carefully crafted doctrine of apostolic succession: every priest carries the keys, the keys that were handed in succession from Jesus to Peter, from Peter to those in authority in the church. What doesn’t get much airplay is the same text two chapters on. Matthew, chapter 18, verse 18: ‘Truly I tell you whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ It’s the same text, the same charge, only this time it’s spoken to the followers of Jesus. Those same keys that are handed on to Peter, the rock on which the church is built, are also and equally, handed on to all who follow.
The texts today talk about our participation in realising the divine promise. We are called to be midwives of tomorrow, bringing to birth a culture that is based not in fear, but a life lived in creative love. We are called to break the law.
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 17 August 2008
Genesis 45: 1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:10-28
Readings for Proper 15 (20) 17 August 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 15A/Ordinary 20A/Pentecost +14
August 17, 2008 Textweek
Last week we entertained the idea of Joseph being an archetype of Christ, a revelation of the Divine in humanity, and the purpose of readings from scripture is to provide a reflection of the Divine in all life, not to listen to stories about people of long ago. The themes in today’s narrative of Joseph again provide us with insights into divine orientation, into what does it look like, feel like, was is it, when God enters humanity, or when we embrace and encounter our divine gifted selves?
The orientation to the Divine is a way of seeing and a way of being that knows life not as a journey towards death, but rather as a movement into the divine life. The purpose of Joseph’s life and our life, is revealed today: ‘God sent me before you to preserve life’. Joseph’s is a journey towards reconciliation with his brothers and with his father. Benjamin is highlighted in the narrative, the son of Jacob’s first wife and so Joseph’s full-blood brother, a representation therefore, of the divine inheritance, that which is handed from the father to the son, the gift that we celebrate each Christmas. Today’s narrative is filled with anguish, tears and joy; it’s a story of life’s movement into wholeness. It has the passion of Easter and its orientation is towards Resurrection.
On first reading, the story seems to identify or analyse the divine purpose in hindsight. As it unfolds so you have Joseph saying, ‘It’s okay, God led me here. You didn’t know it at the time, God had a hand in all that unfolded”, and if we witness the story from that perspective then it’s easy to understand how the early theologians came to an understanding of God as the divine puppeteer, controlling a Hollywood ending, even when things looked bleak from the point of view of the puppets. It was no fun for Joseph getting from where he was to where he is, but the divine puppeteer sits there knowing all that, moving all the pieces and the outcome is pure Hollywood. That’s a classic perspective to take in relation to this and pretty well every story in the Bible. But the story makes sense from the point of foresight as well. Look at the character of Joseph and forget the puppeteer: we find someone going forward in harmony, moving with the creative energy, for ever open to bring fullness and wholeness to all. This is not someone who walks forward with bitterness, with resentment, with a need to get revenge; this is someone who crosses boundaries with an openness to what might be experienced, someone who doesn’t fall into a pit and sit there whining.
[In] Romans, Paul is wrestling with the enormity of the Joseph story and with his orthodox understanding, and is seeking to make sense of the activity of the Divine. Paul, I think, is very often like us, trying to make sense. The conclusion that he comes to in verse 32 is not a conclusion I would come to and I think it betrays the confines of his past with his legalistic frame of reference. It says, ‘God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all’ - the reason that we suffer is so that we can appreciate good things? I just can’t make sense out of that sort of mathematics, and sadly it’s in those simple conclusions seeking to wrap up the mystery of faith that we just lose the essence [and] the mystery.
Those simplistic conclusions are dotted throughout the Bible and it’s interpretation through the fathers of the church. They provide a neat solution, but also maintain a simplistic understanding, because they’re based on an understanding of God in control of each and every activity. Paul seems to hold that God and man have a one-to-one interaction, and that God intervenes in history in specific and selective times and places. Now we probably would all say, ‘Yes that’s okay’, because we’ve all experienced something that feels like a one-to-one interaction and we’ve all either witnessed or heard testimony of exactly that [intervention]. So it’s very easy for the theologians and the creators of church liturgy and orthodoxy to say this does make sense, let’s keep it wrapped up in that little neat box. The beauty and the mystery and the profound reflections of scripture take on new dimensions when we see the divine relationship as a dynamic that embraces all, not a one-to-one relationship. If you read the scriptures and see that the place of humanity is always the all, then not only do those simplistic conclusions hold, but they hold with more depth. Of course we will glimpse one-to-one relationships with God, but know they are always with the whole of humanity.
When we then read back, I think the scriptures make a lot more sense. The dynamic between divinity and humanity is always the collective. It also makes more sense then, because it enables us to lose that image of the divine puppeteer. If we see that God and humanity as having a one-to-one relationship we’ve got to leave God in control, because if only I have a relationship with God and the rest of humanity doesn’t, the world looks to be a very threatening place. But if the gift, divine is given into the common, then no longer is humanity a threatening place - somewhere in the common, in the whole, is the Divine. It actually encourages me to seek that in all, rather than to be afraid of all. Joseph, like Christ and like you and like me is sent to preserve life, to lead creation away from death and into fullness and wholeness.
That's then underlined as always in the Gospel. We’ve got two gospel readings today. The first one, verses 10-20 [is] very clear. Just to add a little more depth to it, we should also appreciate that the teaching is Jesus teaching against the orthodox teaching, in direct opposition to the religion of the day; he’s actually speaking a new way of seeing and of being. And it’s the second gospel reading that gives us another appreciation of the divine interaction. The Gospel opens up the reality of our participation in the divine unfolding. Gabby has put a great picture with the Gospel. We’re familiar with the image of Mary at the feet of Jesus, the delightful images of washing feet with tears, wiping perfume with hair. Look at this image – here the woman is face to face. She stands before Jesus, she speaks; the position of their hands shows that this is an interaction of equality. Jesus is moved, there is a change in the divine – bang goes the divine puppeteer! We’ll find the same in the Old Testament – Moses was pretty good at changing the mind of God.
It’s important to get that interaction. There’s a creative dynamic of humanity and divinity, and that divine dialogue we hear in the Gospel has opened the way for healing, for life to be found; it is the energy of reconciliation, the movement from scarcity to abundance. Jesus moves from owning the lost sheep, the children, to include also the Canaanite woman, the dogs. It’s a movement from a few to a sharing with all, from family and national boundaries to an embracing of all. And it’s that embracing that is one of the keys to preserving life, to participating in the unfolding of creation. And that embracing isn’t as simple as a hug, rather it’s an opening of the heart and an orientation towards participating with the Divine. Once again if we remember the image from last week, this is stepping out of the boat and walking on the water, this is getting off our knees and standing before Jesus with our hands and our face fully engaged with the Divine.
We can imagine when we look at that picture following the conversation the two walk together, they walk as one. That is our journey, it’s Christ’s journey, it’s Joseph’s journey. May we always and forever see ourselves reflected in the scriptures.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 10th August 2008
Readings for Proper 14 (19) 10 August 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +13
August 10, 2008 Textweek
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Today we hear the start of the Joseph narrative, and I wonder if the church has ever grasped its full import. In verse 2 we hear that Joseph is a shepherd and he is with his brothers; verse 3 tells of a special relationship between Israel and Joseph and draws attention to Joseph’s long robe that the father made for him – Joseph is clothed with his father’s making. The story of Joseph is the story of Jesus. In verse 4, Joseph was hated by his brothers, specifically because of his father’s love. In verse 13 Israel says, ‘Come, I will send you’ and Joseph replies ‘"Here I am." It’s the classic God and prophet dialogue: Joseph becomes the one who is sent; Joseph becomes the Christ.
To drive the Christology even further, Joseph is called the dreamer. We recall that it was Jacob, his father, who dreamed the stairway to heaven. So here we have a son named the same as the father – the gospel writers will pick up the same theological point in the revelation of Christ – the father and the son are one. So we’re reading the story of Jesus. Reuben takes on the role of Pilate; Judah plays a part that will later on be played out by Judas Iscariot. Joseph and Jesus are the dreamers: they envisage a new future, a change in the power structures that support the present culture. It is a dream and a change that is based on love and it becomes a threat to those who would uphold existing structures. It’s a threat that generates hatred.
Paul explorers the whole dynamic in terms of law and faith and suggests that arguments of faith based on law, regardless of the direction, are no basis for integrity with faith. Why is Paul, a man of the law, now speaking completely against his past teaching? The penny has dropped for Paul: ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’. Just like the Joseph narrative, that verse illuminates a profound Christological insight: the Word, the logos, the breath of creation, the Christ, is on your lips and in your heart. That’s what Resurrection is. If only the church could realise it. The recent GAFCON and Lambeth conferences are both set within a legal context: the brothers plot and argue, the scribes and the Pharisees debate. Imagine, dream of a gathering with the purpose of knowing and realising Christ is on your lips and in your heart, the very dream that challenges the very structure that the brothers are seeking to attain.
The Gospel narrative tells us, ‘Those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."’ It’s a striking image of the church as it is today and it’s one of the saddest pictures of the church. The one thing that Christ didn’t want, the one thing that he sought to reveal the opposite of: the church sits in the boat and worships Christ. It’s so not what it’s about.
We get a glimpse of what it’s about – it’s about leaving the boat and walking on the water, with the doubt that might cause us to drown, but with the faith that might enable us to walk. ‘Christ is on your lips and in your heart’ and yet we sit on the boat looking out, worshipping and idolising a Christ that is not on our lips, a Christ that walks on the water out there.
Within the story though, there’s the wonderful stepping outside, walking on the water. It’s a poignant story: at the core of it is the tragedy, ‘when the disciples saw him they were terrified and they cried out in fear’. In the Joseph narrative, the same fears infected the brothers and created separation and distance, and if we look to the Joseph narrative for what is being revealed there, then it might well cast light on the revelation of the Divine that is brought to us in the gospels through the life and person of Christ and that’s the significant implication. For if we do that then we accept a stunning heresy – we accept that Christ is revealed in the Hebrew scriptures, and then we might also be open to the idea that Christ is revealed in the Hindu scriptures; [and] in the scriptures of Islam. And if we can look beyond, we might find a greater illumination, a deeper insight, a connection and an encounter that we’ve not yet found through the Christ as revealed in the Gospel.
Genesis reveals the divine purpose in the person of Joseph, (and so Jesus). When asked in verse 15, ‘What are you seeking?’; ‘I’m seeking my brothers’, is the answer. That’s what Christ is all about, the revelation that we have: don’t be afraid, Christ is seeking my brothers; the Divine enfleshed seeks you and I. And the word, the Word, the Christ being sought, is the one that is within, on your lips and in your heart.
When we pray, just take a moment to ask the Divine, ‘What are you seeking?’ The answer will always come back, ‘I am seeking my brothers’. It’s an invitation to leave the boat, an invitation to walk on the water, to rise above the chaos, to know a different way, a way that the world will forever hate, a way that is born in love that has great power.
The Lord be with you.
(The image is a Byzantine icon of Jesus walking on water)
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
3rd August 2008
Readings for Proper 12 (17) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 3 August 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 12A/Ordinary 17A/Pentecost +12
August 3 2008 Textweek
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
The psalm response for today provides an echo for each of the readings: ‘We shall be satisfied when we reflect the face of the Divine’. The first reading is an unusual narrative; it’s got a mystical quality and seems to have something really important for us to understand, and yet that’s just beyond our grasp, and I wonder if it is not meant to be translated through the mind, but rather through a feeling for and a knowing that is deeper than just the head stuff. The reading is very careful in its setting of the scene and of the actions. Verses 22 and 23 suggest the individuation of Jacob, a growing up, a separation from family and possessions.
It parallels the same space that Jesus created for himself. It is a place that is amazingly counter-cultural. It suggests that growing up, individuating into the fullness of self, is counter-cultural.
Jacob finds himself alone – he is at one with all and in this space he encounters and wrestles with a man, he wrestles with the Christ, for the man in this narrative is God. The encounter and the wrestling is at night, it’s alone and it’s in the dark. The man, God, ‘does not prevail’, so he wounds Jacob and there is something in that movement that brings up the Easter story, like it’s adding something to our understanding to Easter, rather than the simplicity of the Atonement.
This is not a message that Christ died for us and all is okay, this is an encounter and a wrestling with the Divine. In verse 26, the man, the Divine wants to leave before it gets light. It brings to mind the service of light on Easter morning. What is the space we find ourselves in before it gets light, before daybreak, before the rising sun? The man wants to leave, but Jacob requires a blessing, the same thing from the Divine that he sought from Isaac his father, and yet they are a world apart, there is a movement there – ‘I now seek from the Divine that which as a child I sought from my father’.
Verse 27 then blurs the whole idea of an all-knowing god, for the man, God, asks Jacob his name. Traditionally this is the divine question that is asked by humanity of God, so we might wonder if this nameless encounter with the Divine is representative of an internal encounter between humanity and divinity. In verse 28 Jacob receives a new name, which is the very process of creation that we read about earlier in Genesis – God names into being the creation. Jacob’s power, his spirit is recognised and named by the Divine. Then Jacob asks the Moses question, our traditional understanding of the divine question, it’s a reversal of what occurs in verse 27: Jacob asks of God ‘please tell me your name’. When Moses asked the same question at the burning bush, he was satisfied by the answer, ‘I am who I am’. The answer that satisfies Jacob is "Why is it that you ask my name?"
What is so satisfying in that answer? Is it that the divine name is revealed in humanity and so our name is the divine name. Or is it that the divine is known in action rather than by or in identity, and is this why we know God as the name above every other name.
If we hold the images and questions and confusion it brings up and then look at the second reading, we get some understanding. Paul - still using Jacob as a reference to provide his teaching - identifies that we’re not chosen by place or lineage but rather by promise. I wonder if that is one of the profoundest shifts that’s revealed in Christ? That’s the counter cultural move. The world would teach us something different, that’s why we have border security; we want to be known by place. The world tells us that that’s our knowing – we’ve got a passport to prove it. Likewise, with families that go to absolutely ridiculous lengths to accumulate possessions and pass them down the line.
Jacob was not the inheritor, Esau was. Jacob had to do a shift [and] break the mould to receive and he seeks that same breaking of the mould with the Divine.
Then Paul draws a distinction between ‘children of the flesh’ and ‘children of the promise’ – not an 'us and them', but rather two possibilities within each of us: to be children of the flesh, to hold a pride in our place and our name within a family; or to be children of the promise – to separate from that and find ourselves children of the divine promise.
To fully appreciate [this] we’ve got to appreciate the subtlety of ‘chosen’. God does not choose as if he’s picking players for some divine football team in heaven. Chosen is what is realised in our response to our encounter with God. Perhaps the easiest way to appreciate that is to look at Romeo and Juliet, at relationships, look at you and the one you love. Two people do not choose each other, rather it is the response of their relationship to one another that realises them both as chosen. So being chosen, rather than being an activity of the Divine, is our response and a mark of our relationship with the Divine.
In the last verse Paul gives an affirming encouragement. ‘It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy’. And again we want to hold that in context with the understanding of chosen, because God’s mercy is again is not something God chooses to give to some and not others. The mercy that’s being spoken of by Paul, the understanding that Paul has of God’s mercy is like our understanding of gravity, it is always and forever available and operative. Again it’s our response to God’s mercy.
The Gospel reading, which looks like a miracle to some people, is perfectly placed today to underline those other two readings. Children of the flesh cannot be satisfied, for their orientation is skewed by fear. They live in a reality of scarcity - nothing but five loaves and two fish. Children of the promise looked up to heaven and broke the loaves and gave. Children of the promise are satisfied in the divine promise of abundance.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 27th July 2008
Readings for Proper 11 (16) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 27 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 11A/Ordinary 16A/Pentecost +11
July 27 2008 Textweek
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The genealogies in Genesis actually are quite important because they provide shape, structure and a history to the people of faith [and] impart qualities associated with being God’s faithful people. One reading is to see them just as a specific family tree, as named people in history and this is their story. Another reading is to read them as a generic family tree, that provide a history and a background to our divine oneness., Just as we would talk about our parents and grandparents to give some understanding of where we are and where we’ve come from, so these narratives do that, but in relation to our spiritual self, that part of us that is at one with all others. That’s where we can trace that generic tree back to an Adam and Eve: if we are all one then it makes sense that there is one beginning.
Today’s narrative tells of Jacob taking a wife and it seems pretty harsh and alien. There’s unfairness and a dishonouring in there. Now a few have probably done it – woken up in the morning and realised the person they slept with wasn’t the person you thought you’d gone to bed with, but this isn’t after a Saturday night in Freo. It’s a family story but it does offer us some interesting reflections on life and faith.
Early on there’s a contrast between Leah and Rachel: ‘Leah's eyes were lovely’, whereas with Rachel’s description of just two words describes the whole person: graceful and beautiful. Laban deceives Jacob, and we’re reminded that Jacob deceived Isaac - here is the story being repeated. Laban’s deception was only accomplished by the fact that when the bride was taken – and remember we’re talking of a culture where the women were chattels . The father who owned this chattel, as he did the cattle in the field, would take the bride into the bedchamber, and the bride would be veiled. So the deception took place because her eyes were covered and it was her eyes that distinguished her from her sister.
Jacob’s deceived; Isaac was duped into honouring the youngest, Jacob, before the firstborn; now the same deception occurs for Jacob. I guess for biblical literalists today’s reading is just another episode in the soap opera Day’s of their Lives. But what if we reflect on our narrative: what is the story of our faith and development? What is your inheritance in and as a member of God’s family? What is the part you play? And what are we providing in that family as an inheritance for the faithful development of our children and the unfolding of tomorrow? And where are we deceived?
Bear in mind these are very ancient texts, an early understanding of our relationship with God, so they’re set in a family context because that was the primary context of relationship. In time that gives way to a deeper understanding, and Paul in Romans is exploring the same divine relationship but using a more personal dynamic. Paul is exploring it in terms of our maturing into a fuller sense of who we are in relation to and with God. It’s interesting to note Paul sees Jesus as the first-born. It’s an amazing insight, because from the narratives of Isaac and Jacob, and Laban and Jacob, we can see that the first-born is realised in those who come after. Sure, the firstborn owns the inheritance, but that inheritance is realised not in Esau but in Jacob, not in Leah but in Rachel, not in Christ but in us.
Paul sometimes has a real insight in relation to humanity - it’s as if sometimes he sees us in our fullest sense; other writings of Paul that see us as lists of sins, so I think all of us is seen by Paul. Verses 29 and 30 are quite affirming: we are foreknown, predestined - in other words there is a divine future there to be seen for each and for all. We are conformed to the image of Christ, called, justified and glorified. Leading up to that affirmation of who we are, Paul identifies the Spirit as the creative force within; the spirit is a force of prayer, a prayer beyond words into the mind of the spirit that is found in the heart, and so when Paul asks, ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ he’s not suggesting that God is on your side, he’s saying much more. He’s saying that God is a side of you, that part of you that has an orientation towards wholeness.
Today’s reading from Romans is full of affirmation. The incarnation of Christ is shown as being within; the union between humanity and divinity is shown as being amazingly close together. It’s revealed in Christ, but we are in that same image. The gap between humanity and divinity is therefore a gap that we create, because as Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Humanity and divinity cannot be pulled apart. Maybe it’s just we’ve become used to operating out of two quite different sides of ourselves, rather than becoming aware of what draws us together, into integration or wholeness, rather than what pulls us apart.
The closeness, the unity with the divine, is also echoed in the Gospel reading. The kingdom of heaven is not presented as something that’s far away [or] at the end of time. Rather the kingdom of heaven is illustrated in tangible expressions and identifiable experiences. The kingdom of heaven like a mustard seed – potential, something we all have; the kingdom of heaven is like yeast – transformation, we all can change; the kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure, a capacity within; all of us know that we have unrealised capacity; the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great value - one of the hardest things to honour ourselves as a pearl of great value. Luckily we can acknowledge others as pearls of great value, so too we can find that within ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is like a net full of fish – realised abundance - not what we’re missing, it’s not what is in short supply.
Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven in everyday terms and Paul says, ‘we are being killed all the day long’. There's an invitation there, to attend to heaven in the everyday, in the eternal every day; not in death at the end of life, but in everyday. In the dying we do today, let us attend to heaven, let us look toward the place where divinity and humanity come together. Let’s not put it off until judgement day, till the end of time. Surely if we bring it into the everyday, then we realise judgement day in the moment.
In the present we are called, justified and glorified, as we participate in bringing about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven is a promise to be realised. Every now and then we glimpse it, it’s as if it’s there, you know, like the gate on Stargate which is just like a film of water. It’s as if we go through it but then come back again.
The orientation that Paul speaks about, knowing ourselves in the image of Christ, gives us an opportunity not to look around at the problems of life but rather to look within at the unfolding of life and the bringing about of a new world, a new way of being, a life that is lived in love and in abundance.
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 20th July 2008
Readings for Proper 10(15) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 20 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +10
July 202008 Textweek
Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Genesis gives us the story of Jacob’s ladder, or the Led Zeppelin version, ‘Stairway to Heaven’: ‘And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it’ -which illustrates the movement between heaven and earth, between Divinity and humanity. ‘And the LORD stood beside him’: it’s a Christological story, a narrative of incarnation. ‘The Lord he came down to earth from heaven’: it is a Christmas story in Genesis, [that] predates the Christ’s nativity. The divine promise is reiterated in the nativity, through Christ. ‘And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.’ When the Divine is incarnate, enfleshed, standing next to us, the future, the inheritance is ensured, and abundance is promised and realised, for ‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. To read this story as a literal promise to one man called Jacob, naming only his offspring as a chosen race in a land that they shall forever own, is an amazingly narrow-minded distortion. It’s a distortion that is only paralleled centuries later by the reading of the nativity and the Passion of Christ as also being about one man and one group of people.
We need to come out of the dream like Jacob: ‘Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." For Jacob there is enlightenment, knowing the Lord stands with me: the house of God, the divine dwelling place is here. The gate of heaven, eternal life is here. When and where will we, like Jacob, name our place ‘Beth-el’, the dwelling place of God, the gate of heaven?
In Romans, Paul is also talking of the stairway to heaven, the movement and realisation of Divinity in humanity. Paul speaks in terms of orientation to the flesh, i.e. to the small ‘s’ self, that is only in the world, and of orientation to the spirit, to the large ‘s’ Self that knows the Divine within. ‘All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’. Why don’t we get this? Just go to the next verse and what we hear is ‘fear’, fear is the spirit of slavery. When we fall into fear we lose sight of the spirit of adoption; we lose sight that the Divine is birthed within. Paul has the same insight of awakening that’s revealed in the Jacob story. ‘We are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’. It’s an awakening from worshipping or dreaming Christ, to realising ourselves in Christ. Just like Jacob, Paul sees the world differently when he awakens to the calling to be children of God and knowing the Divine within. The answer to global warming is not a technological problem to be solved, it’s actually about finding who we are, for then, ‘the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay’. Each of us must find our freedom from our bondage to decay, realise ourselves as children of God.
The Gospel picks up exactly the same dynamic but in the language of parable. And it finishes with a stunning play on words that probably only happens in the English: ‘Let anyone with ears listen’. Remember the parable - is it about ears or ears of wheat? Let anyone with ears listen. The weeds and the wheat - it’s not an ‘us and them’. Weeds bear the fruit of the ground unprocessed, giving of no goodness other than to the procreation of self; wheat is the basis of bread, a symbol of divine presence, a symbol of sustenance the basis of communion and of companions, bread-sharers. It’s easy to appreciate how the early theologians created a picture and theology of heaven and hell; it’s easy to see how they translated it into an 'us and them' division: a distortion of texts, that perpetuates the spirit of slavery and holds us in fear. The current Lambeth Conference is conducted in that very paradigm. But after reading these texts isn’t it just as easy to appreciate the breadth and the depth that these life-giving texts have?
The promise of tomorrow, the gift of God, the feeding that we receive in communion has an orientation towards realisation. We come not to worship Jesus, a man of the past, we come to realize ourselves as joint heirs with Christ. May we know ourselves and each other as children of God.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 13th July 2008
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Readings for Proper 9 (14) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 13 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 9A/Ordinary 14A/Pentecost +9
July 13 2008 Textweek
‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ That was the echo from today’s psalm that I heard as we went through the other readings this morning.
Genesis gives us the story of Esau and Jacob [which] is designed to legitimise the birthright of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham: one God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. This story is a writing into history, and that becomes even clearer if we can appreciate the subtlety of the Hebrew language. Esau being red-haired is very significant: red in Hebrew is a play on the word Edom; likewise ‘hairy’ is a play on the word for Selah, the region of the Edomites. ‘Jacob’ [is] a play on the Hebrew word for ‘heel’, meaning ‘he supplants’. The two sons have distinctly different and rival ways of life: the hunter, Esau, and the shepherd, Jacob. Esau is shown to be easily disenfranchised when hungry; his brother takes advantage of him and attains his birthright, his inheritance and his future. It’s interesting to pause there and hear what Paul says, ‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.’ It’s as if you can hear Paul speaking to Esau and Jacob: Esau is hungry; he sets his mind on his immediate needs and so loses his life, his inheritance, his future.
According to the Oxford commentary the story is intended to explain why Israel gained ascendancy over Edom, though Edom became a nation first, so we see the unfolding of history. And then there’s a writing of that history into the story of Esau and Jacob, the sons of Isaac. Now initially, one could argue, ‘I thought this was holy scripture; isn’t it just a story that’s being told to explain movements in history?’ Well I think the fact that it does that adds to its value as a sacred text. And it’s good for us to move beyond seeing the Holy Scriptures in that simplistic ‘word of God’ package that the church gives us. They are much more. Here we have the story of two brothers, two nations, two sides of life. In Genesis we see the context of history written into the divine story, or even more valuably, the context of the divine story as the narrative for understanding history, which is really amazing when we fully appreciate that history is being written in the present moment. The divine story becomes the context for understanding the moment, for understanding where I am and for understanding where I go from here.
How do we write our story into the divine story? ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ That text from Paul is in verse 6: ‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace’. Once again we’ve got to move beyond a simplistic Christian-right understanding, beyond a notion of ‘flesh’ as referring to sexual expression. We also need to open our understanding of ‘Christ in you’. It’s about a faith and a knowing of the divine incarnation within; we’ve got to move beyond seeing Jesus as the incarnation of the divine, and see Christ as a revelation of the divine incarnation, of divinity in humanity. It’s not about Jesus, it’s about a relationship between the divine and humanity: ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’
‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace’. The wisdom of that saying [is] re-presented in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a simple pyramid: at the bottom of the pyramid are our basic needs for shelter, security and sustenance. What the model suggests is that only when those basic needs are met can we move up the pyramid to higher things. You can’t contemplate God while you’re starving [or] you live in fear of your life [or] if you have no shelter. Very simple model [that] picks up exactly what Paul is saying. If we constantly seek to meet our own needs and to satisfy the ever-expanding needs that we have for security, shelter and food, needs that are being constantly expanded by our culture, out of all proportion: the fears of terrorism, the desire to build ever-bigger ‘Mc Mansions’, an endemic obesity. If we continue to broaden the base of the pyramid so our basic needs are not met, then that is where our mind will stay and we will not ever look to higher things, to the Spirit.
‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ We then come to the parable of the sower. It provides us with an opportunity to locate ourselves in regard to hearing the divine word, just as that phrase ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word’ is our call to the Divine. ‘Lord, give me life’: it’s a call from where I am. So the parable of the sower gives us an opportunity to locate the place where I am in relation to the Divine. ‘A sower went out to sow’, so begins the parable of life, of relationship, relationship or interaction between us and God. Some live like seeds on the path, caught up by breakfast at McDonald’s, sporting engagements, caught up by fears of immigrants that have different beliefs. Some live like seeds on rocky ground, only taking root in their own self-interest. Many of us live like seeds among thorns, all the goodness being sucked out by mindless TV shows and political debates about five cent fuel increases. And some live like seeds in good soil, excited by the divine, open to the light, searching and reaching for higher things.
‘Lord, give me life, Lord gives us life, according to your word.’
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 6th July 2008
Readings for Proper 8 (13) Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 6 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 8A/Ordinary 13A/Pentecost +8 July 6, 2008 Textweek
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
As we work through the book of Genesis we’re looking at the written history of the Hebrew faith and it’s written-back history, rather than a recorded history. Someone has written-back this history in order to establish and to create a sort of faith-pedigree.
Last Sunday the GAFCON meeting occurred in Jerusalem – the Global Anglican Future Conference - and they prepared the Jerusalem Declaration, which seeks to reaffirm in the eyes of some, an Anglican pedigree. Now we can sit on the sidelines and watch these pedigrees being promoted, but it might be helpful to ask of ourselves, what is my pedigree and what is the pedigree that I seek to establish? In what line, in what lineage do I stand and what is the line and the lineage that I seek to create?
The question asked in Matthew is, ‘to what will I compare this generation?’ As we engage that question, we start with comparisons of one age to another. Invariably there will be some looking back toward a golden age, but very soon what comes to light is there are also cultural comparisons that are probably equally influential in forming and shaping who we are and where we go.
Last week instead of worshipping in a church, I went to a service in a mosque and joined the Muslims in worship. It is amazing to find in another language in another culture in another faith, a sense of being together and at one in what we do. The real question is to look at ourselves in comparison to our culture and/or our generation. Where am I in relation to the hallmarks of my culture? Where am I in relation to this generation? What do I create as a foundation for the next generation? Maybe we might also look at the different generations that we have lived within ourselves. Go back and compare them: look at childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and the many generations contained within those. Where have I grown, and where have I remained? What do I hold onto; what have I let go of? What changes, what influences have unfolded me, and what changes and influences have inhibited me? Then we can start to look at what changes do I comply with, what changes am I creative of? The church is changing – am I a part of that change, in bringing it about, in fostering and/or hindering its unfolding, in setting new directions or in maintaining current courses? Each of us has a part to play and each of us plays a part.
In Romans we read of Paul’s struggling with self. There’s a glimpsing, a knowing of the Divine; Paul knows within himself the place of the Divine; at the same time he knows another law, ‘making me captive to sin’. What is that other law that makes Paul captive to sin? What holds us back? What is the operative law within ourselves that holds us back from reaching our divine potential? Jesus, when he spoke to the disciples said, ‘Greater things you will do’: why two thousand years on do we still look back and say, ‘Wow, didn’t he do wonderful things!’ What is the other law at work that Paul wrestles with? I wonder if it’s fear. I think that fear is the force of inertia, it’s the force that holds us where we are and it’s captured beautifully in that Paul reading we have today: ‘Better the devil you know’. Is there another law making me captive to sin? Is Paul’s struggle our struggle, your struggle and my struggle and therefore also the struggle of the church?
The GAFCON conference will now be on the agenda at the Lambeth Conference, even though its members will boycott the Lambeth Conference. They seek to draw a line between those who want to take the church into a new future and themselves who want to go back to past traditions. And as the debate unfolds, we might consider exactly the same being played out in our own lives. In our lives there is that part of us that wants to hold on; in our church is a part that wants to hold on, and the same at the political level. Rising oil prices are already generating a culture of future-fear; global warming is adding to the same future-fear. From those fears there are economic implications, they in turn, add to the culture of future-fear. And it’s in that culture of fear that political and religious fascists have a message that will be heard: they will offer a return, a going back to security.
Returning is not the orientation of tomorrow. Repenting is – turning toward a new wisdom, a new way forward, that’s the struggle of Paul in today’s reading.
It’ll be the struggle of Anglicanism at Lambeth, and it’s our struggle, as we seek to create a sustainable presence of the Divine in this community and in our hearts. Jesus said, ‘Come to me’. ‘Come to me and you will find rest for your souls.’
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 22nd June 2008
Readings for Proper 6 (11) Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 22 June 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 6A/Ordinary 11A/Pentecost +6
June 22, 2008 Textweek
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” If you just hold for a moment what it is you believe about Christ, what was revealed, what the good news was about, there must be something grating when we hear, ‘I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ It’s good to hold that tension because the classic, the orthodox teaching of the church still tends to give us an illustrated or child’s view of the Bible. [The] illustrations make clear the story, but fail to seek the true wisdom that the very same story is seeking to illustrate. The orthodox teaching gives us the opportunity to become familiar with the story but does it take us to the place as to what that story is about? Where is my life in that story?
In the Romans reading, Paul is teaching on sin, grace, baptism and resurrection. He’s trying to impart to his readers or hearers the very process of dying and rising, so that, ‘we too might walk in newness of life’. However, our understanding of sin is central to Paul’s teaching and so to our understanding of the divine promise that Paul is trying to reveal. If our notion of sin is being naughty, [or] not doing what the church says, then chuck Romans away, it does not make any sense at all. However, if we look again at sin, then we can look again at the whole of Paul’s teaching. Consider sin as an orientation away from God: consider sin as a non-participation in the unfolding of creation; even worse, participation in the uncreation; consider sin as an orientation to self, rather than to my being a part of the whole. Immediately it changes the relationship between sin and grace. Baptism becomes a participating act, an engagement with the divine process, not some wiping clean of the ecclesiastical slate; and Resurrection becomes a reality, not a magic act starring JC, a reality in the moment. Look at verse 4 then in full: ‘Therefore we have been buried with him (with Christ) by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Divine, so we too might walk in the newness of life.’ If we can get it, it’s stunning - all those stories about Jesus and the Resurrection, the Garden and the white bit, everything looking great thereafter, that’s us ‘walking in the newness of life’. Already we can see that it’s not peace, but it’s the sword of death that is instrumental in that process.
Paul explains that further. ‘Our old self’, not Jesus, is to be crucified. Oh, that changes Easter, doesn’t it? The whole story begins to change. ‘The body of sin is destroyed’ – the sword cutting us free from our enslavement to sin; the sword, the instrument that will break us away from our self-orientation so that ‘we might be free’ – Easter morning, Resurrection, outside the tomb. And then in verse 9, ‘We being raised from the dead, that we might walk in the newness of life’. [But] it all falls apart if one building block is out of place – ‘Oh, I thought sin was not being good.’ We just cannot get anything from Paul’s teaching unless we look again at some of those fundamentals.
The Old Testament narratives give us glimpses of the process Paul is speaking about, glimpses of movement, by giving us characters that illuminate a part of ourselves and a part of life’s movement. It’s not like an old version of Neighbours, which just seeks to replay the lives of others, it is using characters so we might make connections with the characters within ourselves. In the first reading from Genesis, it is so easy to get caught up in the story of Sarah and Hagar and Abraham. But if you look at it again: ‘Abraham made a great feast. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac." Don’t we each know the energy of Sarah? The wanting for self at the expense of an other? Just a note: it’s estimated that 40,000 children die of starvation each and every day. This week it was revealed in the news that Australia has achieved first place, above the U.S., as the most obese nation on earth.
Back to Sarah. She comes from a place of differentiation, of creating a separation of the other from me and from mine. It must be one of the most prevalent worldviews in the contemporary age in the western world, a gap between me and mine and the other, and life becomes a balancing act with a credit card of just managing the gap.
In verse 16, we glimpse the abandonment of Hagar. Initially, when you heard it did you feel sorry for Hagar? It’s very cleverly crafted, though, because it can also be seen as Hagar withdrawing into herself and whether it’s abandonment or a self-withdrawing, again they are familiar life experiences for each and every one of us.
We see ourselves in the lives of Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar. Poor old Abraham, he’s torn, ‘distressed’, and again each of us knows that place, thankfully, where we are distressed by those movements that we know somehow are out of integrity with the unfolding of life. Verse17 introduces the Divine as seeing quite beyond any temporal differentiation: ‘I see both of these children.’ The divine perspective is shown once again. God does not understand Hagar’s withdrawal and it’s not a lack of understanding, it’s actually not a part of the divine process, for the Divine was already aware of the nameless child, so there's almost a sense of surprise: ‘Hagar, what’s the matter?’ She’s withdrawn, she sees the nameless child as forsaken, and when the divine comes back into play the Divine has already seen and perhaps it’s Hagar that is not aware of the divine process. So then in verse 19, God opened her eyes. It’s got a Hollywood ending: the nameless child goes on to be a Middle East version of Robin Hood, playing with his bow in the land of Paran. That Hollywood ending’s quite important because it illustrates that when Hagar can see the divine perspective, and, get off her bum, stop crying and participate in it, then she walks in newness of life. The world changes from death to life.
I think the reason [the Gospel] reading is picked is that Matthew also affirms the divine awareness of the nameless child and it’s this affirmation of that opens us from our own Hagar moments. Verse 31, ‘do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.’ We probably know the place where we have sat and not even known that that was true. That’s the Hagar moment. Matthew is reaffirming what Paul is teaching, what’s there in the characters of Genesis. But there is another aspect from the Gospel in relation to abundant grace. You can’t go through today’s readings without the really affirming sense that the abundant grace of God is there for all. Now the other aspect that brings that into reality is our response and our participation. ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ Let’s keep looking; we’ll get there; we’ve got to ditch a lot though. Accept the sword that's on offer today, not the peace, accept the sword. Take it home and together let’s work out what needs to be cut away and destroyed, in order that we may walk in newness of life.
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 15th June 2008
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
Readings for Proper 5 (10)Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 15 June 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 5A/Ordinary 10A/Pentecost +5
June 15, 2008 Textweek
Pick a number between one and twelve: when you hear Jesus called the twelve, we must know ourselves as one of those twelve; the Gospel makes no sense if you think those twelve were somewhere else. He called the twelve: read the Gospel again thinking of that number, it reads quite differently.
Now I want to talk about Abraham. Abraham encounters the divine trinity. And just as we pick a number to find ourselves as one of the disciples, again we can look at Abraham and seek parallels with ourselves: he is there that we might see ourselves.
Where was Abraham for his encounter with the Divine? ‘He sat at the entrance of his tent’. The tent is quite symbolic: the tent is not a settled place, and yet it’s a place of being at home anywhere and everywhere; the tent suggests movement and transition, going somewhere, shelter for refugees, a place of rest for pioneers and the tent also has many parallels with the church,. ‘He sat at the entrance of his tent’ – the place of welcome, the place of coming and going. Just in that first line our attention is drawn away from a suburbia that gathers round a shopping centre, we’re drawn away to another place that we know within ourselves. The place of Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent is a place within each of us.
When did Abraham encounter the divine? It was in the heat of the day, not in the stillness of night prayer; he encounters the Divine when the heat is on, when it’s uncomfortable, when it’s not cool. As we start to look closely at the narrative it’s so easy to understand how the icon writers wanted to capture the image that we’re reading today, there’s so much to be seen, and the reading itself leads us through a doorway in which we can find ourselves.
Verse 2: ‘He looked up’. Abraham has an orientation towards higher things, an orientation to the Divine, a looking and a seeking beyond the sensate world in which we sometimes feel so weightily grounded. Verse 3 sees him making an offer of hospitality. There’s an openness in that offer, a desire to give and to share, not what I have, but rather a desire to give and to share with an orientation towards the need of the other. And then the hospitality is described in some detail. We have water, the washing of feet and rest from the shade and the heat. There’s almost a Christ-like honouring of the guest and a giving of comfort. Bread -‘that you may refresh yourself and pass on’ - calls to our minds the Eucharist, the place of Holy Communion, companions sharing bread. Then a really wholesome recipe: ‘choice flour’, ‘a calf, tender and good’. Go back to early chapters in Genesis - these are the foods of Cain and Abel, children of Eden. Then there is ‘curds and milk’, the food of nurturing from the mother’s own body. Together, the recipe gives us the very foods of creation, an offering from Abraham (from us), the food of creation to the creator.
Then the Divine speaks and signals a complete break with tradition, a fracture in the status quo: "Where is your wife Sarah?" In the context of the culture it’s a stunningly irrelevant question, because the men always ate alone; they would be served by the women, but the women would not be present. The fact that the Divine speaks that question into being illustrates the divine inclusiveness, as if the Divine is completely unaware of the segregations and the exclusions that we make. "Where’s Sarah?" -surely the assumption is that everyone is included and together. [Then] there’s the promise of a future, a new creation, a birth, a future that is beyond the present imagination. Why is it beyond the present imagination? Because Abraham and Sarah are caught within the bounds of their own mortality, they do not look beyond their years. Sarah laughs at the possibility of pleasure, at the possibility of a life lived in Eden because she has grown old. Sometimes it’s good to contemplate how many ‘growing-olds’ we go through in our lives, those times where we lose sight of promise and possibility, those times where we consign ourselves to the front of the TV set.
And then the Divine responds to Sarah’s laugh, to Sarah’s doubt: ‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’ It’s a divine way to question unbelief, because there’s an implied answer, ‘Of course not.’ And in the asking of it we become aware of the paradox; we laugh at the promise, and yet we also hold a faith that any and every promise is possible.
Having got to that point in the narrative, we then jump to Chapter 21. We read about the promise fulfilled. [It’s] amazingly auspicious in the light of today’s Annual General Meeting, [with] the tagline ‘the 2020 vision’. 20 is the chapter before 21, the chapter before the fulfilment of promise. And perhaps that’s the place that we might seek to find ourselves in, in the chapter before the promise being fulfilled.
Romans [is also] quite interesting in the light of the AGM. We might adopt Paul’s vision statement: peace with God, access to divine grace and the hope of sharing the glory of God. And Paul affirms that these are fruits of those who are justified by faith, suggesting that ‘justified by faith’ provides us with a place to come from where that vision might be realized. We then get one of those typical lists found in the writings of Paul: ‘suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope’, and the important line, ‘hope does not disappoint us’. There is a chapter 21 for us as well as for Abraham - hope does not disappoint us.
The important thing to see in that list is not to see it as a sugared lolly to take because we’re suffering - ‘It’ll be all right, bit of endurance, you’ll end up with character, that’ll lead to hope.’ This is not where Paul’s coming from, he’s providing a movement and the key word he uses is ‘produces’, it’s the word of creation. It’s the word of a tent-like people, not stuck in any one state, not stuck in suffering: I will pack up that tent and move on to a place of endurance; I will then pack up that tent and move on, becoming more full in character, and I will pack up that tent and move on in hope, a hope that will not disappoint, a chapter 21. Paul is amazingly confident in the hope that does not disappoint. It’s a confidence that the divine promise and our vision can be aligned. The confidence comes ‘because God's love has been poured into our hearts and the Holy Spirit that has been given’. He underlines that confidence in the last verse, the proof of Christ: ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.’ ‘While we still were sinners’ is really linked to Paul’s notion of weakness. Now that proof is not about a payment or a verification, it’s not, ‘Look, I know you guys don’t really believe this so here comes Jesus, I’m going to prove to you what this is all about’. It’s like a proof-sheet: just have a look at this proof-sheet like we do with photos, then it needs to be developed and exposed in order to bring to light the full image. That’s the proof that Paul speaks about.
And Matthew also calls us to realise that proof. We’re shown an image of Jesus as teaching, proclaiming the good news and caring, an icon of plentiful, an icon of abundance. We’re shown an image of crowds; they’re harassed, helpless, and like sheep without a shepherd, an image of scarcity, of few. Then Jesus summons the disciples and calls them – this is where your number comes in. He calls them, to develop and make real the proof, to live divinely empowered.
As we contemplate how we live and where we go in this place, let’s just hold in mind that we’re called to live at the entrance of our tents. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is so very near, it’s so very near. There’s a sense that at the entrance of my tent, I am ready, welcoming, open to realize what the proof of Christ has given, that the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts: the love of God is a given. Just as I pick a number to be one of the disciples, the ask of them, as they encounter the Divine in the entrance of their tents, the ask of them is to do and be as Christ.
Evensong at the cathedral June 22, 2008 Theo Mackaay Full sermon
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 8 June 2008
Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Readings for Proper 4 (9) Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 8 June 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 4A/Ordinary 9A/Pentecost +4
June 8, 2008 Textweek
Today’s readings give us an opportunity to get back to the basics, to reflect on our genesis and the genesis of our faith. A lot of the stories in the Book of Genesis are stories about beginning and about creation, so they’re therefore stories about this moment in relation to the next moment, and in the reading that we hear this morning, Abram is given divine directions. [And] although it appears to be about Abram, he is not the important person in the narrative at all, we are. The stories in the book of Genesis seek to provide a revelation of the divine: a revelation of the Divine for humanity in every place in every age. So the story is for us to find, hear and see ourselves and our lives reflected in.
The divine directions are given in the very first verse: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.’ These are divine directions for the spiritual life, for life’s pilgrimage, for our journey into the fullness of life. In one verse we’re given the principles of life and at the same time our cultural dependencies are called into question. ‘Go from your country’. How much easier it is to stay where we are, watching Australia go one-up in a three test series and so quietly confident that we are a great nation. ‘Go from your country’ is the divine direction that impels us into life, so we should question those forces that keep us from moving and growing, that hold us staying in the same and in the familiar.
‘Go from your kindred’ – we can almost wince when we hear that one. Go from your kindred; kindred, family, clan - our place of birth, of nurture, of becoming, of being known. Families also have a darker side: they can be self-interested, exclusive, fiercely protective. Within the darker side are the seeds of competition and discrimination, and so also the seeds of war. ‘Go from your kindred’ has a truth that we can all acknowledge, for we know that our children will and should grow up and leave home. To remain in the womb of nurturing is to remain in the tomb of Easter’s promise.
‘Go from your father's house’ – it’s getting harder. Here the emphasis is placed with the future, not with the past that we inherit. In our culture, inheritance is almost a form of protectionism, and for most it’s primarily about retaining possessions, keeping it in the family. The divine direction calls us beyond that self-centred worldview and asks us to reach out and find ourselves as a much wider family, to look not to our birth and our birthrights, but rather to look at what we might bring to birth and to the rights of all peoples.
‘Go from your country, go from your kindred, go from your father's house.’ Where do these divine directions take us? We find that out in verse 2: ‘I will make of you a great nation, I will make your name great, I will make you to be a blessing.’ And just to underline that point, ‘in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. In you – life’s quest and the divine promise is not about you being blessed, so there we can just put a line through all that salvation theology, ‘accept the name of Jesus and you can be saved’. This is not about you being blessed, nor is it about your family. ‘In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. ‘In you’ and ‘in us’ is the shape of tomorrow, the future for all people and therefore our future. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed: ‘in you’ is a response to global warming, ‘in you’ is the end of poverty, ‘in you’ is peace on earth.
Paul uses the same understanding in his teaching to the Romans. ’The promise that he would inherit the world’ - and that’s a promise that each one of us receives at our baptism, that you will become and be inheritors of the kingdom of God - ‘the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.’ The divine promise to Abraham (to us) or to his descendants, (to our future), did not come through doing what is right, from what is expected, doing what we’re told to do, maintaining the status quo, from being good Christians, but through the righteousness of faith.
What is our faith in the Divine? In verse 17 and 18 we learn of the God in whom Abraham believed, in whom Paul believed, the same God in whom we believe, the God who gives life to the dead, who calls into existence the things that do not exist. Quite often I notice when I light a candle and make a wish, the wish is calling into existence that which does not exist. This is the God in whom we can hope against all hope.
The God of grace who called Abraham to go in faith is revealed once again in the person of Christ. The call to Matthew is also our call, a call of divine direction and for those of us with short attention spans, it is made very simple: ‘Follow me’. That simple call is a path that takes us away from our self to a much larger self, calls us into an existence whereby we are and know ourselves as a part of a great nation, a nation that is the whole of creation. ‘Follow me.’
Third Sunday after Pentecost 1 June 2008
Readings for Proper 4 (9)Third Sunday after Pentecost 1 June 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 4A/Ordinary 9A/Pentecost +3
June 1, 2008 Textweek
Genesis 6: 9-22, 7-24, Psalm 46; Romans 1: 16,17 3:21-31; Matthew 7:21-29
The story of Noah and the Flood seems on the surface to be almost contradictory to the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Genesis tells us of the saving of the few and destruction of the many; Paul however, asserts that that all have sinned, and also that all are justified through faith by the gift of divine grace.
Genesis and the story of Noah are stunningly misunderstood if they’re seen as historical and literal. Noah, like Santa, is an archetype through which we can see ourselves, or at least a part thereof, and what we get to glimpse is an orientation from within. Archetypes enable us to determine where we look from our inner landscape, and that shifts; as we move around our inner landscape, so we see and look in different directions and at different things. So as we look at Noah we can glimpse ourselves with a particular orientation. Noah walked with God: I have glimpsed that place, I’ve imagined it and desired it; I know that place within and I believe that everyone can glimpse that place, we all have an inner landscape that includes somewhere where we know what it is to walk with God.
Most of us for much of the time are turned away from that place by other distractions. There are very few models for living out walking with God, and yet many experiential accounts that would evidence that it is a possibility. So what stops us from walking with God? Fear, the fear of walking a path that is different, walking a path that is counter-cultural.
Let’s continue to look at Noah: he had three sons. Have you ever wondered why we were given that bit of information? It’s only a real question if we still are stuck with the historical and the literal. ‘Noah had three sons’ identifies his future orientation; he’s not self-focussed, he’s not looking at retaining the status quo, rather his orientation is towards the future. It’s an orientation toward the other rather than the self, and [one] that goes beyond one’s own mortality.
We then have the dialogue between God and Noah and it gives us a number of affirming reference points; it’s a revelation of the Divine where there’s a dialogue with God; something is being revealed, just as in Christ the Divine is revealed. The divine dialogue first of all gives voice to the obvious: the violence of the earth is not the way of God. There are then the instructions for building the Ark - there’s value in those instructions, again not in their literal sense. They speak of divine guidance, of a process that we can trust in; they also speak of an ask. The ask of Noah is the ask of us: that we commit ourselves fully to the process. Then we have the Ark itself. The Ark reveals the place of community, a community of faith. The Ark is a community again that sees beyond and sails beyond the destructive way of the overwhelming worldly culture. It’s a community that establishes itself to preserve life and this is not done selfishly: ‘every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive’. Just beware of the literal again: ‘alive’ in this context is quite different to ‘existing’, rather it points to the ‘divine alive’, to life’s fullness.
So what we learn as the story unfolds is that the Ark community brings about re-creation. This is the Easter narrative, the story of the Resurrection: there is the divine community, a covenant community, established forever. It offers abundance for all, every kind; it offers life, it offers a tomorrow that cannot be drowned by the dying waves of the world.
Paul seeks to establish and encourage that very sense of community. He seeks to make real the revelation of the flood narrative, which Paul heard told again and revealed again in the experience of the Resurrection. And I think Paul begins quite unconsciously by acknowledging the archetypal nature of revelation, because he says, the gospel is for everyone. ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’. This is an overarching story. ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, "The one who is righteous will live by faith" – will live as Noah lived. We can see that Paul is actually embodying what the archetype of Noah reveals. ‘All have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God’ – this is the overwhelming reality of the Flood. ‘They are now justified by his grace as a gift’ – this is the Ark.
Then Paul speaks of atonement and sacrifice and it’s a theology that parallels the transaction that’s involved in the flood narrative. Paul would have also held a literal framework for the story of the Flood. He wouldn’t quite have got to that point of appreciating its mythical, archetypal nature, and so the transaction that’s involved in the flood, the killing of the many for the few and then the signing of the covenant with the rainbow, has to be translated and it’s from there that we end up with theologies of atonement and of sacrifice.
As we open ourselves to all that the story reveals there’s another subtle movement within it. Consider what changed; consider who changed: we find that not Noah, but rather God changes. Noah’s response to the Divine changes the divine dance. And so re-creation is reshaped, the world looks different and the Gospel today invites us to really think about these readings in a discerning way. ‘Beware of false prophets’: become aware of every word, image or activity that distracts us from walking with God. We’re told in the Gospel if you hear the divine word and then act on what you hear, then your house will be built on rock. The ark of Noah becomes the ark of the covenant, becomes the house that is built on rock.
So let’s accept the invitation of the Gospel and contemplate these narratives. As we do so we look around at the world again with eyes of wonder. I wonder if global warming is a retelling of the same story and certainly for nearly two weeks, it’s astounding to think that Australia has been distracted by a debate of should it be three cents or five cents off the price of petrol. If we need indications of false prophets they really do stand out, just turn on the television.
The psalm sings into the present the readings that we’ve heard today. In verse 6, ‘The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; the earth melts’, and then in verse 7, ‘The Lord of hosts is with us’.
Second Sunday after Pentecost 25th May 2008
Readings for Second Sunday after Pentecost (Eighth Sunday after Epiphany) 25 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Epiphany 2008 used 2 after Pentecost in 2008 25 May 2008 A Textweek
Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 3: 18 - 4:5; Matthew 6: 22-34
The Gospel asks us to look at ourselves, for we’re told, "No one can serve two masters”. Another question calls us to consider the perspective of our life: ‘Can any of you add a single hour to your span of life?’ There are voices inside your heads saying, ‘Yes of course I can, that’s why we’ve got health insurance.’ The question’s much deeper. And at the end of the Gospel we’re then encouraged in the light of these questions to ‘strive first for the kingdom of God’. In the old language that was ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’ - strive for the kingdom of God, strive first.
Now to just frame those questions and to underline the encouragement we’ve got the readings from Isaiah [with] this wonderfully affirming theological view – a God who helps, a God who frees, a God who feeds and a God who guides. And when we feel that we are forsaken by that God, there’s that beautiful reminder that we are inscribed on the hands of the Divine: ‘I have carved you in the palm of my hands’ and so always we are in touch with the Divine, and forever we are touched by the Divine. If you read again the image in Isaiah, there really is this wonderful sense of divine rightness in the world. The people of Zion feel forsaken, and then the Divine says, ‘Makes no sense, because look, you’re carved on my hands.’ It’s good to maybe just pause and let go of that old worldview that divides everything up into states of being – either the world is good and divine, or it’s not, it’s fallen, it full of sin. I don’t think there’s a movement from one state into another state; rather both are there. And it’s why we get that reading at the beginning of the Gospel, ‘the eye is the lamp of the body’.
There’s a lot in the readings about what we see, and we need to contemplate that the reality that we see, that’s what we’re being directed to discern today. The Divine is forever touching us, and forever we are in touch with the Divine. If we can hold that and then seek a path through life, we will actually start looking beyond a lot of the everyday, we’ll be seeing through it, we’ll be seeing where there is life. As the reading was going on I thought of the image of [Rublev’s] Trinity. The garment that the Divine wears: is it gold or is it blue? You know that material that changes as the light catches it? I think the world is like this. The Christian call is not to get out there and stamp out evil at all. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the world; there’s an us and them within ourselves. Read Isaiah and see what the world looks like – seek ye first that world. As I seek, if I look for the Divine my journey through life will be quite different: I will add the world up differently and therefore create the world differently.
Paul is trying to take those questions from the Gospel and ground them into the church with the church in Corinth. He’s taking the affirming theology that we find in Matthew and Isaiah, and he sees that material and its shimmer, he speaks of the wise and the foolish, questioning the standards of the world. He talks of human leaders and servants of Christ – not different people, different ways of being. He talks of judging and of being judged, and he understands that in Christ the Divine is revealed and so too ‘the purposes of the heart’. The purposes of the heart are revealed in Christ.
So where do we then go with it all? We’re going to step out into the busyness of the day; can we even hope to hold the words that we’ve heard, let alone the divine word that’s revealed? When we go into the world we will be bombarded with other messages. Can we reflect on these readings, can we keep our sight and our orientation in such a way that we can look through and beyond what we meet face to face? It’s a difficult one. I’ve heard a fair bit of preaching this week. At the consecration of Kay Goldsworthy, I listened to a bishop from New Zealand. She saw something beyond what others saw and named it, and changed the shape of what was happening, brought it into the Divine. Then I heard Barack Obama’s ex-spiritual guru, McCain’s two ex-spiritual gurus speaking, absolutely stunning. I share the planet with these people! I give thanks that I can see beyond most of that. Look for something else.
Look to our leaders maybe? At the Federal level, the issue of the week for this nation is 5cents on the price of petrol, the benefits of taking it off or leaving it on. That is absolutely amazing that at this point in the life of the universe, that’s the thing that we really need to get on top of. At the local level, it’s a matter of who can stay in pole position with the least naughty activities. It’s not even in the frame! Globally, Australia like many other nations is seeking to offer aid for the traumas and tragedy occurring in Burma. Admirable. At the same time, it is trying to defend the purchase of cluster bombs and wiggle out of an international treaty banning them. We need to look through, look beyond. Seek ye first the kingdom of God: identify a path towards creation, towards life.
So come back to where am I in all this. Where am I in the word of God? Where do the readings provide me with a point of reflection? And what is the image that is reflected back from the word of God when I look into it? Strive first for the kingdom of God: where have I striven for the kingdom of God this week? What contributions have I made toward this community, toward the unfolding of life in its wholeness, to the realization of the divine in the world? There’s an easy exercise here: divide your week up and just do the numbers. Put in those things that the eyes have taken in, and those things that have taken in your eyes. To what have I attended? My guess is each of us will be surprised by how little; we’ll also be surprised by how much. And what we might discover also is how valuable it is to seek the kingdom of God, however the numbers come out.
We responded to the psalm this morning with ‘Our hope is in the divine now and forever’. Consider the lilies of the field: like all plants they seek, they strive for the light in order to blossom, in order to bare fruit in order to recreate. In each and every moment we invest in tomorrow. Hope is not a passive wish, hope is not the investment we make, it is an orientation that in turn determines who we are. So as we consider the lilies of the field, let us seek to find in ourselves that process that they illuminate for us.
Trinity Sunday 18th May 2008
Readings for Trinty Sunday 18 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Trinity Sunday A,18 May 2008 Textweek
Exodus 34: 1-8; Song of the Three; 2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Any classical analysis of the doctrine of the Trinity will invariably bring up the question about the substance of God; it invites us in to question who and what is God, and the logic and the language creates an assumption very early on of the person or three persons of God. I actually think the doctrine of the Trinity can be quite unhelpful, because it does almost unconsciously underline the dominant stereotype of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. As an entry point that’s quite helpful, just as the book of Genesis is a helpful entry point to reflect on life, its beginnings and to what is [life] orientated? But let’s leave the doctrine of the Trinity and look at the readings, still holding a desire to know, to understand God.
The first reading presents us with the God of Moses, the God of the Exodus, a God who is mediated via and through Moses - ‘I want the rest of you to stay off the mountain. I’ll talk with Moses and Moses will talk with you.’ We find a God who is remote, who holds the power to forgive, and yet we hear, ‘By no means clearing the guilty’.
The second reading gives us just a glimpse of the God of Paul. ‘This is a God of love and peace’, a God of grace, of love, of communion. Then in Matthew ‘s Gospel, we find the God of Christ: ‘this is a God in heaven and on earth’. This is a God ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. And perhaps in all of those glimpses it’s the word ‘and’ that’s important, that brings them together.
We’re still, however, left with the question: Moses, Paul and Christ – are they speaking of one God? It’s a question that probably resides at the core of our faith and at the heart of our doubt. It’s a question that’s been debated constantly by the church and that we subconsciously ask as we seek to understand ourselves and to become fully who we are, [but] we’re very unlikely to show a proof of the answer. A more productive course of action might be to consider the God that we/I experience. Consider the God that I encounter – not the one I read about, or the church teaches about. And then consider the God that we, that I abide with, the God that I spend my life with, the God that eats and sleeps with me. And as we consider those images, that Trinity of the divine, then maybe we discover that’s the God that I can now see reflected in the scriptures.
Looking back to the Sunday before Lent, the Transfiguration, Christ was in white with Moses and Elijah - an image of the Trinity. As we walked through Lent, we had Christ in the wilderness, Christ in communion with the twelve, Christ the triumphal king entering Jerusalem. Then we came to the great three days of Easter, the Paschal Trinity: on Thursday we had Christ washing feet, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ the criminal, rejected by the faithful. We moved into Friday: Christ betrayed by Judas, Christ denied by Peter, Christ crucified by Pilate. Then we come to the day of Resurrection: Christ risen, Christ found by Mary, Christ encountered on the road to Emmaus. Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost: Christ the living flame, Christ the wind, the breath of peace, Christ enlivened, made alive in humanity.
The Trinity is a very ancient abstract; it predates Christianity. It’s an opportunity for reflection, used in every faith and discipline, because it does provide such a helpful process to enable us to think. The enneagram, a way of looking at personality types, speak about us as constructed of head, heart and gut. Head people speak and act through their thoughts, heart people through their emotions, gut people through their feelings. Transactional Analysis speaks of us in relationship with another as parent, adult or child. The Trinity in its simplest form - three circles overlapping - we [can] take any three aspects, to know them on their own, but then also to bring them together, to know that where they overlap something different is created. And then where the overlaps overlap in the middle, something different again is created.
If we look at the Trinity as a cubic equation, let’s put ourselves immediately after the equals sign. If we want to reflect on the Trinity in the simplicity of steam, ice and water, let’s drink from the refreshment the water offers. And if we see the Trinity as a dynamic dance, a dance of love, then allow ourselves to be seduced by its movement. Perhaps the Trinity is an embrace that holds three points of the universal compass in order that we might find our true direction, a direction moving forward in the only way possible suggested by, held by the divine embrace around us. If we can find ourselves in whatever image we have of the Trinity, if we look for ourselves within it, then we look for our encounter with the divine.
The arguments [about the Trinity] started or finished with the council of Nicea. I don’t know that [what a group of bishops said in the year 300] is going to give me an understanding, a grasp, a satisfaction of the Divine. [But] the more I tune into an ‘encounter of’, an ‘experience of’, an ‘expression of’, then I find exactly the same with myself - an encounter, an experience, and an expression. At the end of the day we’re all made out of Leggo – you can pull the pieces off and put them back, and if we’ve got the imagination that we were birthed with, we too can pull ourselves apart and remake ourselves........
Day of Pentecost 11 May 2008
Readings for Day of Pentecost 11 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Pentecost Day A,11 May 2008 Textweek
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23
There are some auspicious similarities in celebrating Mothers’ Day and Pentecost. Both are celebrations of creativity, birthing, giving in Love, and of the gift of life. Mothers’ Day is quite straightforward; Pentecost however, is of a quite different order, and if we treat it with the same simplicity then we will lose the very gift that it seeks to reveal.
Pentecost can be seen as the birthday of the church, as the event that initiated the disciples and motivated them into becoming the church. It therefore locates our beginning as church into history and in celebrating it year by year we acknowledge a life span of the church. Such an interpretation of Pentecost however, is based on an understanding of the Bible as a historical record. It’s an early misunderstanding and [one] that’s still perpetuated, for the Bible is not a historical record, it’s much, much more than that. It’s a mirror for our soul, it’s a reflection of our very being, and it’s a revelation of the Divine.
So with that as the framework, let’s look again at the Pentecost narrative [and] seek reflections, for there is in the Pentecost narrative a hint of the experience that we have in our eucharist, or perhaps in our eucharist there is a hint of the experience of Pentecost: ‘They were all together in the one place’. That doesn’t mean geographically; again, it’s more than that. Together, with a common orientation, an orientation toward the Divine, together, seeking to look beyond the distractions of the world, they were all together in the one place. And then we hear, ‘divided tongues, as of fire, appeared and rested on each one of them’. In their being together there is a common experience, but their individuality is still acknowledged: ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages’. First we note the inclusivity of that phrase, ‘all of them’, and then immediately we hear of the different languages; it’s worth a pause to consider the implications of speaking in different languages. Israel speaks a different language to Palestine, America speaks a different language to Iraq; closer to home, the AFL speaks a different language to the NRL. Here we also find parallels with the tower of Babel, one of the ancient texts that was then drawn into the Old Testament, [which is] now told again in the narrative of Pentecost. It suggests a timelessness in the narrative, that there is something to be found and to be revealed to everyone in every age.
Having introduced those different languages, the bulk of the text emphasizes the important part of this narrative, and in that our question is asked: ‘What does this mean?’ What was it that amazed and astonished, what amazed and perplexed? Well, we find out: ‘how is it that we hear, each one of us, in our own native language?’ Filled with the Holy Spirit they could hear and be heard. Imagine if Israel could hear Palestine and if Palestine could hear Israel; imagine if America could hear Iraq and Iraq could hear America; imagine if I could hear the pain and joy of another and another could hear my pain and joy. In that imagining, we would find ourselves all together in one place.
Pentecost is one of the stories or myths, to reveal our giftedness. Our giftedness is that which is indicative of the abiding presence of the Divine, of our Christ-likeness. The purpose of placing this narrative in the Gospel, appreciating that the Gospel in its wholeness seeks to be a narrative that speaks of the revelation of Christ, is to make clear the point that when Christ goes, which is the feast of the Ascension, another comes. And the ‘another’ is the Holy Spirit, but we then need to hold, as we will next Sunday, that God, Christ and Spirit are one. When Christ goes, the Divine abides.
The Pentecost event is there to stop us from worshipping Christ, so that we might know that we can reveal Christ. That’s the movement that Pentecost asks of us. Do not worship some man in the past, reveal the Divine that abides in the every moment. Paul underlines the universal nature of that revelation: ‘To each’, in other words to everyone, ‘is given the manifestation of the Spirit’. The gift of Christ, the presence and the power of the Divine is given to each, ‘for the common good’.
‘When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”’
Seventh Sunday of Easter 4 May 2008
Readings for Seventh Sunday of Easter 4 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 7, 4 May 2008 Textweek
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, I Peter 5; John 17:1-11
The Ascension narrative provides us with a great question, ‘why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’ For some reason the Ascension of our Lord doesn’t get the same attention in the Anglican tradition as the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. [although] for some in our own tradition this is the pivotal text: this is the place where movement occurs in the process of living and of being fully alive.
That reading provides a very common picture of the church: we come together, we stand, in other words we remain in the same place looking up toward heaven, looking for what? Many in the church, having read verse 11, which goes on to say, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" - many will remain looking up, because they’re waiting for Jesus to come again, and so we have a whole theology of the second coming.
But can we really believe that the journey, as described in the narratives of Christmas and Easter, point to a process of life where we stand in one place, gawp at the sky and expect Jesus to come again and sort the mess out? Certainly that’s not what was revealed in the Nativity scene, [nor] on the Cross of Good Friday, [nor] in coming forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday. If we’re going to stop and wait and look, then what’s the point of Pentecost?
But an alternative reading asks much more of us and that is to contemplate living the narrative of the Ascension, contemplate it as ‘my narrative’ just as Christmas and Easter are ‘my narratives’. Don’t leave it in the hands of Super Jesus. And again it’s so much more common in the traditions of the East, to contemplate living a movement that transcends the sensate mortality of worldly existence, a movement from where I am, into the divine space, the eternal dwelling place, the place of creation, the womb of all Love, the birthplace of wholeness. Contemplate that movement, that ascending of myself toward the Divine.
There was an interview on the TV this week … with Kevin Rudd; he, or the government are introducing legislation to remove discrimination against same-sex couples. It’s the secular version of the church moving to ordain women bishops and he was asked: ‘Why, if you’re removing discrimination [in] just about every legal aspect – healthcare, welfare, ownership, inheritance - why not allow also same-sex marriages?’ And he had no answer, [although] there was a real sense that his head and his heart were very much in the right place, as if ‘I’ve got this framework of removing discrimination and I find myself in that frame’, but there was one step that couldn’t be taken and that was the step into a new paradigm, into a completely new worldview.
The Ascension presents us with the same dilemma. The revelations of Christmas and Easter invite us into the right frame, but the Ascension reveals a new paradigm; it asks us from that frame to take the completely new step.
So what might we take from the readings today? First of all maybe we should acknowledge that we can stand together and yet still see from quite different perspectives. A good example is those who believe in the Bible literally can have a worldview that’s in a very similar frame to those who’ve seen beyond a literal interpretation. Both can stand together, in fact it’s almost iconic of the Anglican church, that regardless of the frame we can stand together. However, when we look for the movement for that which will shape tomorrow, what or who will we follow? It’s all right while we remain standing, there’s no movement; you can actually stand alongside those that have a quite different perspective because we’re held in that same frame. Who [or] what are we going to invest in when it comes to tomorrow? Are we going to follow those who want to stand in the existing paradigm, or those who are seeking to live into a new creation?
For many, believing in Jesus is the path to salvation, in fact most of us have probably been confronted by someone saying ‘Accept the name of Jesus and you will be saved’. As a word of caution about believing in Jesus as the answer to salvation: Adolf Hitler, George Bush, John Howard and Kevin Rudd would all share that same frame, all standing, usually in fear, looking toward heaven.
[In] the second reading, verse 10, ‘the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.’ The movement of Ascension is that which establishes us, makes us fully who we are.
If you read the first verse of the Gospel again, John 17, verse 1, you’ll see that Jesus is put into the same frame that we’re in. He looked up to heaven, but instead of standing he spoke, he uttered himself: "Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you”. St Irenaeus picks that up and gives it back to all of us: ‘The glory of God is the human being fully alive and to be fully alive (established) is to glorify God’.
Sixth Sunday of Easter 27 April 2008
Readings for Sixth Sunday of Easter 27 April 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 6 March 27 2008 Textweek
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; I Peter 3:8-22; John 14:15-21
The readings today are quite complex [which] is quite valuable because it illustrates the point that to find the Divine we must actively seek the Divine and to seek the Divine requires something of us. There is no way that we will understand the revelation of the word of God hearing it as a one-off on a Sunday morning.
I came across this [commentary] on the net on I Peter 3, verses 8 to 23: “These verses have been considered some of the most bizarre and obscure in the New Testament. They have occasioned a variety of interpretations, and are the foundation for the belief (which was included in the Apostles' Creed) that Jesus descended into hell after the crucifixion in order to preach the gospel to people who died in the Old Testament. I want to stress that this is not a biblical teaching, and while not overly harmful, should nonetheless be rejected.” Fat lot of good that insight was, wasn’t it!’ There’s a temptation now to explore that whole issue, what the Greek iconographers written in icons as the “harrowing of Hell’. There are some wonderful icons of Christ in that time in the tomb harrowing Hell, breaking into the gates of hell to draw all out into the Resurrection and he sort of pulls them up out of the earth.
Rather than go there though, let’s just stay with the commentator’s position: ‘some of the most bizarre and obscure in the New Testament’. It questions one of the fundamentals of the Apostles’ Creed, so where do we go with it? Well of course to other commentators, but many of the commentaries go back to the 1800’s, 1700’s. How many other disciplines regularly refer to reference works that are so out of date? Imagine going into Fremantle Hospital and a doctor pulls some archaic book off the shelf and uses that as the point of reference. Consider some of the early explorers and how they mapped out the known world - they explored and charted and where there was an unknown, they filled it in either with a best-guess or an invention based on their own limited understanding. And that’s why some of the maps are stunningly odd; we can see bits of the world as we know and bits that completely and utterly off the planet. Likewise with theology – seeking to chart the life and the path of God, there are some bits that are really, really clear, and there were other bits where all they could do was make a best guess, or use their limited understanding, or, if we’re cynical, employ their own agenda to tie bits together.
So with that in mind, let’s look at Luke’s account of the ministry and the teaching of Paul. Paul is in a foreign land, speaking to a different culture with a different worldview, [so] he could be heard by us here today. Let’s listen to what this foreigner has to say to us. We find in verses 26, 27 and 28 the cornerstones, the foundations of Paul’s theology: verse 26, God is the creator of all – one God one people. Verse 27, his understanding of life’s purpose, and that is to ‘search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him’: purpose of life, to ‘search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him. Paul has given us place, purpose, and then he gives us process: ‘In God we live and move and have our being'. These three verses alone might be enough to motivate us to engage in a theological quest. Life is not about existence [or] number of years, but about fullness; a fullness that is to be sought, to be groped for, and a fullness that is to be found in the Divine.
The first part of the I Peter 3 reading, verses 1 to 17, don’t actually belong with the rest of it. Take them home and read them and encounter them - set some time aside, read them slowly, then read them again; become aware of the map they draw within yourself; try not to follow the questions but rather be aware of the parts of myself within that know or don’t know the places the readings are taking me to.
As for the ‘bizarre and obscure’ verses, don’t bother googling them or checking them out with the Apostle’s Creed as if they’ve somehow got to match, rather look at them with fresh eyes. Verse 18, ‘Christ was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit’. Is this a process that I am familiar with, put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit? We all know that place, consider the unending demands and desires of the flesh – plasma television, mobile phones with internet access, cars with heated steering wheels, security, a [big] bank account. Consider how consuming they are. Consider the times when you’ve been alive in the Spirit –those moments when you know that if you actually stepped off the cliff all you’d do is fly. Become aware of the reality of dying and rising as part of the everyday - as soon as I become aware of the reality of dying and rising as part of the everyday, I become aware of the Easter within, and myself within Easter. Verse 21 of this ‘bizarre and obscure’ text gives a definition of baptism – an appeal to God. Is that the baptism that I knew and still know, an appeal to God? What is my appeal to God, how do I make my appeal to God?
We will struggle in our search and perhaps even grope as we seek the Divine. Rather than get downhearted, we’re asked to stay with the struggle, and we’re affirmed in it, and the Gospel today is just a wonderful affirmation, to say, ‘Look, if you engage this quest, if this is the map that you seek to draw, then the spirit of truth abides with you and within you.’ Not only that, but ‘because I live you also will live’. Super-Jesus – let’s get away from the fact that he died for our sins, get in touch with the fact that he lives and is life so that we too may live and have life.
Fifth Sunday of Easter 20 April 2008
Readings for Fifth Sunday of Easter 20 April 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other refections, check out Easter 5 March 20 2008 Textweek
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; I Peter 2:11-25; John 14:1-14
Whenever I write notes for the sermon I begin by writing today’s date and then the liturgical date, Easter 5 at the top of the page, and it dawned on me last night that it’s a very simple ritual that provides context right at the beginning of engaging the Word. It puts today alongside the fifth Sunday of Easter, the fifth Sunday of the Resurrection; they sit there side by side. Mark Twain, I think, captures the importance of that same context when he says, ‘The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes’.
The first reading gives us an account of the stoning of Stephen. Already we’re taken away from that simplistic idealisation of the early church. At the same time, it gives us some important parallels, it rhymes with the past: ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened…”’ The first part of that reading rhymes with the narrative of the Transfiguration. In the every day of his church experience, his following, his accepting of his calling in following Christ, Stephen encounters the mystical experience of Transfiguration. It rhymes with his life.
Then there’s a deliberate not hearing: ‘they covered their ears and they rushed against him’, which rhymes with the experience that was the response that Jesus encountered. Then if you read through that last part, [it] clearly rhymes with the whole paschal narrative of Easter - you’d think you were reading about the Crucifixion rather than the stoning of Stephen. These rhymes in the life and death of Stephen are there to be found in the present.
In the rhythm of our lives and of our very being we will find ourselves contextualised in scripture. And what stands out is not the rhyme of the Transfiguration nor of Easter, but rather that verse in the middle: ‘they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him’. Just as we choose what music we listen to, so also we make choices about the rhythm of life that we will follow. The Divine is eternally revealed and our response to that revelation is always active. We cannot opt out of divine revelation; we will choose either to hear or we will choose to cover our ears, to follow or to rush against.
The reading from 1 Peter tries to make some sense of the choices that we have as we respond to the call of the divine, as we seek our orientation towards God. It’s quite a difficult reading because it is grounded in such a specific historical context, which is a very good reason to look for the rhymes in it rather than the rules in it. ‘Abstain from desires of the flesh’ rhymes with ‘abstain from that which is only self-seeking, from that which disturbs the soul. ‘Conduct yourselves honourably among the gentiles’: ‘among the gentiles’ rhymes with ‘those who are not like you’, in other words, conduct yourselves honourably with everyone else. And if you go through it this way it’s very easy to find the rhyme - to find myself spoken of in Peter’s words.
Verses 18 - 20 however, become more difficult because they belong to a worldview quite different from our own where slaves and authority and beatings were part of the cultural order. This is not our worldview anymore, although it is still [for] many. It enables us to be reminded that we have changed, and so we should be looking again for understanding that which is revealed in the scriptures, at the revelation of the Divine in the world.
The last part of that reading seems to hold a contradiction: ‘to this you have been called, to follow in his steps’ - you have been called to follow in the steps of Christ. That line seems to conflict with the verses that follow because they seem to say that Christ has done it all for us - he came, he suffered for us [which is] worth looking at anew without the classical theology of atonement, the whole idea that Christ died so that we could just ponce around doing nothing, because it’s all been done for us. If you ditch that theology [as] we ditched the idea that the earth was flat, that whole last part becomes an emphasis and an underlining of the call to follow. The motif is clearly the motif to follow. And that’s picked up when we turn to the Gospel reading.
John pushes it to its logical conclusion. The notion of follow - where will that end up, where will it go? ‘So that where I am, there you may be also’: that’s the whole point of following, not to just tag along behind, but to get to the place ‘where Christ is, there you may be also’. And then pops up the question of Thomas, which is so often our question [and which] is then answered, (and the answer reaffirms the teaching of previous Sundays,):‘I am the way and the truth and the life’. I am the gate - I am the way; I am the gatekeeper - I am the truth that opens us up; and I am the shepherd - the life, the life in Christ.
Philip then pipes up and he wants proof. His question is the question in which we find our own, the question that keeps us away from the whole idea of following: I want proof. And then we have the Christ question: ‘Do you not believe?’ [and] the Christ answer: ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these’.
And so we either cover our ears or we choose to hear; we either rush against, or we choose to follow. The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these. Let’s see if we can rhyme with that.
Fourth Sunday after Easter 13th April 2008
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; I Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Readings for Fourth Sunday of Easter 13 April 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 4 , 13 April 2008 Textweek
By way of context, let’s remind ourselves that we are a post-Easter people, seeking to live in the light of the Resurrection and fumbling with the possibilities that Easter reveals. It’s good to recapture our experience of worship over Easter, of being here at Easter, the readings and the promise. Now we’re in that place post-Easter, grappling with what was revealed.
The early church gives us some insight, which can serve as a reference point for us to take stock of where we are. And the reading from the Acts gives us a few points to look at: “they were devoted to teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers”. We might underline ‘devoted’, and then put ourselves as a question mark following it. They experienced awe, ‘because many wonders and signs were being done.’ Again, just put a line under ‘awe’. And they spent much time together - they moved from a place of ownership to a place of sharing, ‘with glad and generous hearts’. ‘Devoted’, ‘awe’, and ‘together’ might well be the keys of insight that we find in that reading, [but] it’s also good to remember that the early church also, treated men and women unequally, saw homosexuality as wrong, promoted celibacy, thought the earth was flat, emphasised sin and emphasised it as an act rather than an orientation and had a primary view of humanity as being fallen. So it’s good to underline the insights, but that doesn’t mean we have to take the whole lot as if there’s a ready-made answer for us.
The second reading gives us some early teaching, very much in integrity with those insights of the early church. The reading suggests that we need to be attentive to the process of Easter, be aware of our alignment and also of the corruption of that alignment; to seek continually to stay with the revelation of Easter and not nick off on the road to Emmaus. We get in that reading by way of process is ‘rid yourselves’, ‘long for’ and ‘grow into’. Now if we parallel those words of advice and encouragement with the insights from Acts, we get: ‘Rid yourselves of that which takes you away from, so that you may be devoted; long for that which is awesome, and grow into a togetherness’. There’s a real sense of the Easter promise in Peter’s words and there’s an affirming and encouraging view of us. We are told ‘you are a chosen race’ - not fallen humanity; ‘you are a royal priesthood’ – sounds like more than sheep; ‘you are a holy nation’ - you are God's own, not a state in Israel, you are a holy nation, God’s own people. And that reading finishes with a wonderful reflection for us: ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people’. It’s good to stay with that one; there’s an insight there that tells us that life is not a clock that starts ticking from the moment of birth, but rather life is a transformation from ‘not a people’ to ‘God’s own people’.
When I got to there I wrote down, ‘It feels as if there’s enough in today’s readings to take us all the way through to Pentecost’. But we’ve not yet looked at the Gospel and I do want us to look at the Gospel, not to unpack it but rather to see it.
We begin with the gate of the sheepfold, an entry point. So Alan, you can be gate; we’ll have the sanctuary as the sheepfold. It talks about the thief and the bandits - Theo –the ones who do not enter by the gate, [but] come in by another way. Then we have the shepherd of the sheep and by implication, the sheep: ‘The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep’. Let’s have three sheep – you’re already in there. Verse 3: ‘The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd’. Susan – the gatekeeper opens the gate to let the shepherd in; the shepherd goes in, he calls his own, the sheep, then he goes ahead of them, leads them out of the gate; they follow.
We get to verse 6 – ‘they did not understand’. One of the reasons we don’t understand is that we’re far too focused on Jesus as the shepherd; it’s pretty hard to see that Gospel and not think of Jesus as the shepherd and the minute we do that, we put ourselves into the role of the sheep. But verse 7 says, ‘I am the gate for the sheep’. The next interesting thing is that ‘thieves and bandits came before me’. We’re now talking about the thieves and bandits that came before Peter Smith. Notice that the sheep can go home without the shepherd and we’ll come back to that. Thieves and bandits came before him, but no one listens to them – they can’t actually achieve much.
‘I am the gate’, Jesus says, ‘whoever enters – sheep - will come in and go out and find pasture.’ The question that comes up, the not-understanding, is who the hell is Christ in all this? I thought he was the shepherd, I thought we were the sheep, but this is telling us much much, much more than that. This is saying we’re more than sheep, because they can come in and out without the shepherd; they can behave as if they were the shepherd; they can behave as if they were the gatekeeper.
There’s a contrast between the sheep and the thief and the bandit – Theo (the thief and the bandit) didn’t have to do much at all. The contrast is that the thieves and the bandits take for themselves - quite deliberately chosen. Thieves and bandits, the takers of life, play no part in this story of creation. Rather it is the sheep, the seekers of life, the seekers of abundant pasture, where there is movement. And Jesus, [is] not the shepherd - following Jesus you’ve entered a cult that is worshipping Jesus, not the gate..... we’ve gone off track or have we?
[The] saving grace is the doctrine of the trinity, where we have the gate, the gatekeeper and the shepherd, but be aware that for two thousand years we’ve been sold the story of Jesus as the shepherd. Put it down, the earth is not flat; pick up the whole book with the gate, the gatekeeper and the shepherd in and realise that we are called to come and go as the shepherd.
It’s good to see it; what we do with it who knows, but we’ve seen it. Share it, reflect on it, pray/play with it, find its meanings, its insights its light.
Third Sunday after Easter 4th April 2008
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Readings for Third Sunday of Easter 4 April 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 3 , 4 April 2008 Textweek
The readings today give us an image of being Church, a purpose and direction for ourselves as the church and a process for our becoming who we claim and are called to be. After Easter we have the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Old Testament to take us through to Pentecost. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the experience of the early church and so on our experience. How do we find ourselves in the light of Easter?
Peter is calling all of Judea and Jerusalem into the church and in these early days the church is very much a reforming group within the Jewish or the Hebrew church. From within the faith community in which he lives he is calling for new sight, new movement, and we find him exhorting a purpose or an orientation: "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." It’s not an appeal to individuality, it’s an appeal to each individual, knowing each as a part of the whole. Then the call to save yourself from this corrupt generation is a call to for each and everyone to participate in renewal, that echoes with the same sense of urgency and sense of promise today, and right in the middle of that first reading we have the process that gives shape and form to this calling to a new way of being: "Repent, and be baptised every one of you, so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
So there are just four very simple parts to it. Repent - turn toward the Divine, to newness of life, and it’s a complete orientation. Be baptised - own and live out the promises of faith, be aware of the promises inherent in our baptism, in our accepting the grace and the gift of the Divine. Be forgiven - do not be held in the past, allow the grace of God to bring you into a wholeness, past and present, so that all of you may orientate toward the future. And then there’s that delightful ‘and’: ‘and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’. [But] one has to then open oneself to receive it; it’s an active receiving.
So with all of that as the backdrop, we then have that familiar story of the road to Emmaus. As we contemplate that story and picture the movement, be aware of your own life and its movement, because they parallel, they mirror. This is not the story of two people trekking off to Emmaus, this is my story being told poetically so that I might hear it and look at it in another way. The two walking to Emmaus – is it representative of the post-Easter church? We’ve all seen Easter, even those that didn’t come to church. But do we now just turn our back on all of that and go back to our own journey, going back to where we came from before Easter, or do the two on the road to Emmaus represent the way of the world, of avoidance? Do they represent the eternal drift of humanity impelled by the forces of worldly gravity – is that road to Emmaus actually the non-choosing way, is that the way of drift? Is that the way that I will continue to walk if I don’t actively attend and participate?
There were other options available; they could have stayed with it in Jerusalem or they could have walked toward something that was revealed by what they saw in Jerusalem. But there is a change in the story and I think when we read about the revelation that occurred in the breaking of the bread, I actually think there’s a part of us that goes, “I know that, I was there; I’ve experienced that moment, that moment of communion, the moment that brings us back together week by week. We know ‘he was revealed in the breaking of the bread’ and I have seen that and lived that moment. It’s a moment that keeps us alive; it gives us an orientation, an opportunity to encounter the Divine; it’s a moment of promise. From that moment the two travellers turn – repent. They re-turned to Jerusalem, they found their companions, they found themselves once again with those with whom they were baptised and then they shared the experience of Christ being made known to them.
How does that then parallel my story, my life? Are we walking on our own way, on our own road, hoping now and again that Jesus will come and walk with us? Or are we called to walk alongside humanity and to reveal the Divine, so that changes and new directions are made possible? Let’s not let ourselves off the hook, let us not short-change ourselves - perhaps in that story the call of each and everyone who has known Easter is to be the Christ in that story, to be the revealer.
The second reading finishes with an amazing line: ‘You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.’ It is a change that is revealed at Easter; it is a movement out of this world. If you stay in this world there is absolutely no doubt that we will die. There’s a movement that is revealed at Easter that takes us out of that place, to the place of the imperishable seed. Seek that place, find that place and then encounter others on the road and reveal that place. The world then changes - the world looks different and if the world looks different the world will become different.
Rejoice and be glad for the Lord is truly risen in each and every one of us.
Second Sunday of Easter 30th March 2008
Acts 2:14a,22-32 , Psalm 16 , 1 Pet 1:1-12 , John 20:19-31
Readings for Second Sunday of Easter 30 March 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 2 , 30 March 2008 Textweek
Resurrection of the Lord - Easter Day 23rd March 2008
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
Readings for Easter Sunday 23 March, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter Day , 23 March 2008 Textweek
I thought to myself on Saturday, this is the best Easter ever, and there’s still some joining of the dots to work out why I felt that and then I thought surely that’s what all of us might feel, because are we not now closer to the resurrection than ever before? So we may not have got it on a previous Easter - this might the Easter.
Easter is a place where life makes sense and I was reminded of the appearance of Christ on Transfiguration Sunday -. And then we read his appearance in the Gospel today was ‘like lightning’ and his clothing white as snow. Somehow Easter has made sense of the story of the Transfiguration we heard before Lent and then spent Lent wondering about. Today there is a coming together.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians sounded completely new. The first bit I knew - one of those nagging voices: ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’. But ‘So if you have been raised with Christ…’, I don’t know that I’ve heard before. And the important part that I heard is: ‘for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’, and I thought about those times that we really, really feel alive. Think about those times when you just can’t help but smile. Those moments are moments ‘in Love’, moments ‘in Creation’, and in that loving, creative activity, we are Christ-like. We appear with our eyes wide open, we shine, we glow.
Let’s look at the icons of Easter – obviously the cross, the crucifixion; the suffering servant icon that has been with us through Lent and was at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. The tree - in the Acts of the Apostles today, we hear, ‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree’. Sometimes the icons of Easter draw us so much into Easter that we miss the link with Christmas - here we’ve got it in the tree. We’ve got the symbol of Easter eggs and the symbol of the bread and wine from the Last Supper. We have the light represented in the Paschal Candle and we have the rising sun. The risen Christ and the rising sun - the movement of the universe is echoed as the sun rises and the story of Easter is echoed. We’re able to add the equinox, baptism, full moon, and two icons on the front of the service sheet - the empty tomb the Easter bunny.
So we are, as always in our culture, overwhelmed by visual images of icons that ask something of us. An icon asks, ‘Look at me; I want your attention’. So the question of Easter is, what do I see? For those of us more prayerfully inclined we might say, what have I heard? For those of us who have already processed our images, our texts or sounds, what do I understand? Maybe we need to reduce the number of icons.
What if we said Easter is about Jesus and we did a true or false? What if we said Easter is about chocolate, true or false? Most of us would say true. I don’t think Easter is about either of them. I think chocolate distracts us from the sacrament of bread and wine [but] the chocolate Easter egg looks better, tastes better, and the important thing for our culture is, it sells better.
Jesus in the orthodox package can also be a pleasant distraction. The risen Christ, turns into one of these – Jesus, Super Hero. This is what we make of Jesus. ‘He is the ultimate super-hero. Take him on your daily adventures battling against evil forces of modern day life…. To witness these and other miracles purchase your Jesus Super Hero today.’ Jesus in the orthodox story of Easter is as much a pleasant distraction as chocolate is.
What we hear today is ‘Set your minds on things that are above’, for if we set our eyes on things that are on earth, then we have died. Christ is described today as ‘Christ who is your life revealed, so you too will be revealed in glory.’ If I look and put my mind to the things that are on earth, what I see reflected back to me is my death. When I set my mind to the things that are above, the opportunity is there to see Christ who is my life revealed. Why didn’t they teach us that in Sunday school? Why did they sell us this package? All we’ve got to do is go into church a couple of times a year and Jesus Super Hero will look after everything? In the orthodox teaching of the church I wonder how many Christs have been disempowered – ‘Do come in Jesus, just take a pew and do nothing and the world will change’. It makes no sense of all.
Life that has a worldly orientation leads to war and destruction. It is why we renew our baptismal vows, to give us an orientation toward higher things, to that which is above war, to turn ourselves towards creation. We do this with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, with Hindus; we do it in temples, cathedrals and caves. In every place of prayer there is a common prayer, there is one voice, one word, and the word that we seek is beyond the Christian Jesus - it is the Word Incarnate, the Word enfleshed. Not the Word made flesh in someone a long time ago, the word enfleshed, the Divine. This Easter we are called to glorify the Divine ‘who is your life revealed’.
Palm Sunday 16th March 2008
Readings for Liturgy of the Palms Sixth Sunday in Lent March 16, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Palm Sunday Lent 6 Textweek
Isaiah 50: 4-9a, Ps 118:1-2,19-29,Phil 2: 5-11, Passion narrative from Matthew 26:17-75, 27:1-56
This is the full sermon
Palm Sunday is positioned at the end of our Lent journey but also at the beginning of our journey through Holy Week. Today we mark the triumphal entry and we acknowledge or we remember Jesus turning toward Jerusalem. One of the ways that we can remember a journey is to join the dots of the places that we have visited or of the places that we intend to visit. And as we join the dots we get a visual – you can see the scope of the journey. But I wonder if that might be our task for Holy Week and for our encounter with Easter. We heard in the first reading the confidence of Isaiah – ‘ I have set my face like flint’. What we hear is an unshakeable orientation.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians, urges us to adopt the same confidence: ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’. Today we are called, invited, to set our faces to Jerusalem and to be of one mind with Christ. And as we discovered when we turned towards St Paul’s from Gino’s this morning, as we turn toward something, so too we turn away from, and I think that’s where we experience the degree of difficulty, that’s where we encounter Gethsemane.
To prepare ourselves for the movement - the turning from and the turning toward - we might join the dots of our Lent reflections, join the dots also of our Easter expectations and then with the echo of the Gospel narrative that we’ve just heard, with that still present, join the dots of our lives to find ourselves grounded and realized in the story of life.
We are blessed as a reflection of divine love, the face of the divine. Easter is a calling, a calling to each and every one of us. It’s not a calling to me and it’s not a calling to you, rather it is a calling to each and every one of us, as part of God’s divine whole.
Fifth Sunday in Lent 9th March 2008
Readings for Fifth Sunday in Lent 9 March, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Lent 5 Textweek
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45
The raising of Lazarus I think, is a key story for us in the unravelling and revisiting of scriptures without the orthodox spin that has distorted them. It’s one of those narratives that we can come to afresh. Here we all are, good Christians, observing Lent, journeying towards Easter, we are expectant with and expectant of resurrection, and then we find we’re reading about it already in the story of Lazarus who’s been resurrected. Easter always seems to bring up the question did it actually happen?’ Today we reflect on the promise of Easter: did Lazarus, already smelling from decomposition, come out of the tomb to live again?
Maybe it’s the wrong question and it’s asked entirely from the wrong perspective. What if we ask it this way: have we heard the divine voice calling us to come out of the tomb of mortality and into the divine life? As we wander through the wilderness of Lent, are we in the tomb or are we alive in Christ?
John uses this narrative to reveal, "I am the resurrection and the life’. And to be in Christ, let alone to be the Body of Christ, we too will find ourselves as the resurrection and the life. Logically, we too must experience death in order to experience the movement from death to life. Initially this movement was understood as an end of life event, an after life experience – there will be life after death. It’s a conclusion that’s been reached in many other faiths and many other cults - heaven and hell, re-incarnation: life after death.
But over the years a deeper understanding has led to expressions of the same movement, such as those in the rite of baptism, which seeks to capture the movement of resurrection - dying to sin rising and to new life in Christ. We’ve also broadened our understanding in light of scientific enlightenment, expressing the movement as a dying of the ego, of the self, in order to give life to a more whole and more integrated nature. We speak in terms of ‘letting go’ in order that we might take hold of something new.
I think all of those are quite valid and helpful ways for us to contemplate and consider the movement of Lazarus from the tomb to new life, and there might be even more to it. Just keep in mind John’s revelation, ‘"I am the resurrection and the life’. I think what John is seeking to reveal is a movement that is as radical again as the movement expressed in Genesis in the leaving of the Garden of Eden. This is not the fall of humanity, it’s rather a movement from the divine into humanity. In crafting this narrative to reveal through Christ the Easter promise of life’s fullness, John is revealing to us life’s fullness – being fully alive and fully human. I wonder if John deliberately chose Thomas for the words, "Let us also go, that we may die with him’ - the doubter is the one who embraces the movement that is the Easter promise. Why Thomas? Perhaps it is in our doubts in our questions that we have the opportunity to unravel the truth. It’s not that scriptures are giving us a blueprint for life, they’re giving us an opportunity to reflect on life and to see our life reflected in the mirror of scripture.
Much earlier, Ezekiel has a glimpse of the same insight. The tomb is in the middle of a valley full of bones and that same divine call, the promise that Lazarus heard, ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’ In the wilderness of Lent, we seek out the same valley, that place in our inner landscape that is full of dry bones. I believe that we’ve all glimpsed that place and I believe that as most of us come towards it we will either turn on the television or nick off to Garden City or sit down and watch the footie or the cricket, because it’s not a place where we want to find ourselves, because we also like Thomas are a Swiss cheese of doubt. If I go there, am I then lost forever, do I become another dry bone in the valley of dry bones?
‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’ Paul grounds the movement - it’s not a movement after death, [but] into life’s fullness in the eternal moment of eternity, the eternal now. Paul sums it up in one sentence: ‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.’ The orthodox spin on that went down some dreadful back alleys. Church gets hung up on words like flesh – it cannot help but associate flesh with sexual activity.
We have a clumsy understanding of the Gospel to work with, insights from people who thought the earth was flat, stories from prophets that someone thought were actual stories with dates and times in history. We’ve unbelievable narratives of decomposing bodies being called out, taking off bandages and being perfect again. These are stories of within.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace:. If our orientation is towards our mortality, we have set our mind on death; and we live in a culture that wants to avoid death, so it sets its mind on preparing for and extending the bit before. To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace – another orientation, the divine call that will take us out if the tomb of mortality into the fullness of life. And the journey through Lent is an opportunity, because as we journey and as we move, so too we change our perspective, the landscape changes as we move. As we let go of things, we re-mind ourselves of where we have been, where we have come from, and as we turn, re-minded, so we look to a landscape that is unknown, for the journey will take us to a place yet to be discovered.
We have a little while to go before Holy Week and a contemplation on the Easter mystery. Let us seek out the valley of dry bones and let us listen from that very place; let us listen from the place that entombs us. Let us listen with all our doubts, with all our failings and seek the response of Thomas, so that when we come to Easter we too can say, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Refreshment Sunday Fourth Sunday in Lent 2 March 2008
Readings for Fourth Sunday in Lent 2 March, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Lent 4 Textweek
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
The eye is a symbol of the divine that occurs maybe in all faiths, and the all-seeing eye of God is a frequently captured symbol in stained glass windows and Christian iconography. As a symbol of the Divine, [the eye] in John’s book, becomes a symbol of being without guilt, and of being without sin. Sin therefore, if we follow that thread, might be defined in terms of what we are looking at or maybe how we see. And sin can therefore be seen in terms of our orientation. Our sight is indicative of what we attend to and what fills our eyes, those windows to the soul, what grabs our attention, fills our very being and is therefore creative and formative of who we are. And perhaps that’s why we have Lent and why we are constantly called to the experience of the wilderness – to remove distractions, empty our eyes and empty our sight. Go out into the middle of the desert, and the only thing to fill one’s eyes is sand, sand and sky. So our eyes become empty and we then have the opportunity to see without the distraction of sight. No longer do our eyes draw us to look outside, but they have the opportunity to look inside. And it might be that that’s enough for us to get from the Gospel narrative, to just make those links about sin, what we see, what we attend to, what our orientation is and therefore who we are.
The first reading is almost a retelling of the whole book of Genesis. The anointing of David is the institution of the House of David, and gives us an association with Bethlehem. The story that began in Bethlehem, the coming of the light, is again told in the anointing of David by Samuel. And we’re introduced to a new movement, a new process - it’s the movement from shepherd to king. And it might be that that’s a more important or at least equally significant movement as the movement of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. David is minding the sheep, he’s the shepherd – it’s an image that Christ will later use. Samuel anoints the shepherd to be the king - already we have turned toward Palm Sunday.
In this event we learn that ‘the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." [But] in the reading there’s a delightful play –almost an invitation to us to miss the point, because when David is then brought before Samuel, we have, ‘He was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome’ – all outward appearance. Now I wonder if that’s deliberate to make sure that we mortals see him? Just in case we’ve missed the movement, just in case we’re only aware of our mortal eyes, that bit’s put in – ‘it’s important that you see this guy, and you’ll like what you see – this is David, good looking, great eyes, ruddy’.
The second reading then introduces another movement - from darkness to light - and it’s the movement from unfruitful to fruitful. It’s important that we don’t mix up unfruitful to fruitful with unproductive and productive – they’re not even in the same area of meaning. The movement from darkness to light - is it not also the same movement from blindness to sight? And in that movement, Paul asks of his hearers to be attentive: ‘Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.’ And he refers to a text: ‘Awake, O Sleeper!’ - a sleeper is one with one’s eyes closed - ‘Awake, O Sleeper! Rise from the dead’. Rise from the dead – lift up beyond your mortalness - ‘and Christ will shine on you’ – you will find yourself in the light.
These movements are then more fully revealed by John in the narrative of the blind beggar, the unfruitful one who dwells in the dark. John is not trying to narrate the story of Jesus, he’s trying to reveal the Christ - ‘this is what I understand and have seen’. Christ [says] ‘I am the light of the world’. And in our own baptism we receive a share in the same divine name, ‘I AM the light of the world’: as water was poured on our heads we were charged with ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’. In other words in our baptism, our divineness is revealed.
The link is illustrated by John in the process of healing. He begins with mud, which takes us back to the story of creation. The process of healing which is born of the earth is then brought to completion in the pool of Siloam, in the baptism. What we begin to glimpse in these movements is a movement beyond out mortal selves into our divine nature, ourselves in the image of God.
The dialogue with the Pharisees, sadly, mirrors the debate of much of the church. It’s a debate of not understanding and of irrelevance, about women bishops, celibate priests, gay people, divorced people, risk management, professional standards, and a non-appreciation of other faiths – that’s the debate of the Pharisees. And verse 29 gives us some understanding of the pharisaic debate: [which is] an inner process that each and every one of us engages in. And some of us have spent most of our life in the role and the place of the Pharisee. Verse 29: “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." That really does sum up the orientation of the Pharisee and of the church. It is an orientation back to Moses – the letter of the law; let us look back to Moses, for this is where our faith is clearly identified and spelled out. It’s an orientation therefore to the past, and there’s nothing wrong with [that], so long as there’s also a context of the present and the future, because an orientation only to the past will inhibit movement. When you drive out today try driving out looking over your shoulder – look to the past and see how far you get. Look to Moses and we’ll end up banging our heads against the Wailing Wall, that’s as far as we’ll go. The invitation to movement requires us to take from Moses, bring into the present so that we may see and look towards the future.
We do have a natural inclination toward staying where we are. It’s very easy for us to fall into that inclination of ‘Let’s not look forward’ - why look forward, the only thing that is there for you is death: you will all be buried or be cremated, it’s the Good News of the Gospel. Awake, arise O sleeper - it’s not the end of the story, it isn’t even a part of the story. The story begins when we can see beyond.
In verses 35 to 38 we have Jesus making another encounter, this time with the healed man, for even though healed, something is still not seen. The dialogue is there so that we get to hear, articulated from the healed one, ‘I believe’. The movement needs to be spoken, needs to be found; so there is movement and then there’s an understanding of the movement and a speaking that movement into being and it finishes with another reason for us not to move: there’s an important appreciation between those who see and those who don’t see. The ones who don’t see have no guilt – aren’t they the lucky ones! One of the greatest things Christians can do is to not tell anyone because the minute others see, they then take on a divine responsibility. Those who say ‘we see’, the responsibility is to then engage that movement, to come to the place that the healed man came from, to articulate the movement, to speak it out into being. Those who don’t see - ignorance is bliss, no problems with them.
It’s quite important to just become aware of what we see, what it is we look for, what it is we seek, and where our eyes are. How much of our journey is attentive to Moses, to the past, to the black and white, to what’s prescribed, to what is known, to what has always been and always will be. And how much of our sight is filled with the emptiness of tomorrow, looking with wonder at all that we don’t understand.
Third Sunday in Lent 24 February 2008
Readings for Third Sunday in Lent 24 February 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Lent 3 Textweek
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Lent is about questions not about answers: we take time to wrestle with the questions;. In the Old Testament reading we heard that ‘the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded’. And if we see ourselves, the whole congregation of St Paul’s, journeying through Lent, we might ask one of the obvious questions: where did they begin their journey? The answer is, the wilderness of Sin. So now we can ask of ourselves where do we begin our journey, and where is our wilderness of Sin? And because sin is both an actual place and in our language it’s an abstract moral concept, we’ve got the opportunity to look for two distinct answers.
Firstly we can look at where we come from in relation to who we are – our place in our environment. What has shaped us and brought us to the place that we now call ourselves - the influences from outside. Then we can look within at our inner selves, our souls, and look at the life decisions, choices, desires, delusions, the life creations that we have initiated - how we have given shape to our environment. And I wonder if we realise, and if Christ realised in the fullness of his humanity, that we come from the same place as the Israelites?
As we wrestle with the questions of Lent we will encounter great forces that will distract us, delude us, and forces that give us power to rationalise our very position in the world. These are the temptations of the desert. It’s good to hear the echo when Christ says ‘Stay with me, remain with me, watch’ - meaning sit, look and pray.
The Israelites asked a question of Moses: ‘Give us water to drink’. Jesus said to the woman at the well: ‘Give me a drink’. And this is the thirst that we too seek to discover, and as we wrestle to discover our thirst, we must beware of the teachings of the church. As we become aware of our thirst, we will be drawn to the place of our very being; we will go through the wilderness of Sin. But the church gives us an out: Original Sin, the fall of humanity that was occasioned by Adam and Eve, the sin that we inherit, ‘so it’s not my fault’ and that’s a delusion also that keeps us from discovering our truest selves. Stay with the question – where do we come from, where do we begin our journey? The wilderness of Sin, the Garden of Eden - both fall short as answersand yet both have something to say, because they are the places where we discover our thirst, rather than the sources of our being.
If we spend time in Gethsemane, if we spend time with the Israelites in the wilderness of sin, and later as we get closer to Easter, if we spend time with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, we’re in a place to discover our thirst; but the question stays open, where do I come from, from where do I begin this journey? And the answer is there, carefully crafted into both the Old Testament and the Gospel stories: the water is already there. In both cases, the question is give me a drink; in both cases, the thirst is very real, and in both cases the water is already there. The divine spirit - the overflowing well of Jacob, the rock of Horeb, the gift of God, the living water that quenches the eternal thirst - is there. And that gives us a clue to where do we come from, for we are made, we are sourced in the image of God.
Christ reveals both our origin and our orientation; Lent prepares us for that realisation. As we wrestle with our journey we become aware of our thirst. When we encounter and know and speak our thirst, we then have an opportunity to realise the water that is there, the Divine that is already given; the Divine that sits in the rock waiting for the ask; the Divine that is not to be found in the well, but rather to be found in those who come to the well.
Our journey through Lent and through the wilderness of sin is to discover where we begin the journey. Without knowing where the journey begins, we will have no awareness of its orientation. If we can find our truest thirst, then we too can find the living water.
And I draw attention to the psalm because you can hear in the words that sense of having found the water. ‘O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ As we journey through Lent, we will be looking for outs that will take us away from discovering where our journey began, that will take us around the cross when it comes to Easter, so that on Good Friday you can stand at the foot of the cross with all the other spectators.
But the promise that is in the readings - the discovery of water - that’s the discovery for Lent. Be aware that the living water is here and that no matter where you are, that can be spoken in all truth. Wherever you are, wherever you go, whether it’s with your eyes closed or your eyes open, whether it’s a physical movement or a curling up into a clod of aliments in a darkened room, the truth is always that the water is there with you. This is what we seek. May you become thirsty. Amen
Second Sunday in Lent 17th February 2008
Readings for Second Sunday in Lent February 17, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Lent 2 Textweek
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17
We continue our Lenten journey that leads us to Easter. Think of the readings as a compass or as reference points for our journey through Lent and our life direction. As we encounter reference points, you get this fleeting thought that whips past the eyes of distraction that frames one of those niggling questions: what is life’s purpose, and what is my purpose in life? Two recent markers were Sorry Day and Valentine’s Day [which] both celebrate hope in the present for the future. They’re markers that enable us to then look within: where am I engaged in hope in the present for the future?
Abram, Nicodemus have got that same future orientation: they too identify an activity in the present that is formative of the future and they illustrate process rather than event. Lent is a liturgical reminder to reflect on the process, and it’s probably why we have the wilderness as the backdrop in which to do it, so that we can reflect on our being rather than on our doing. If we can take ourselves out of our world and get in touch with the world that we inhabit that is beyond events, that is the process of becoming and the process of generating tomorrow, then we are looking to purpose, to place, rather than to activity. Of course we come up with an interesting conundrum: do we give shape to the events of our life or do the events of our life give shape to us? Both are true and we’re left with a question of balance. An interesting Lent reflection is to see how you hold that balance.
The signpost in Genesis is of Abram and Sarah being called ‘to go from your country, to go from your kindred and to go from your father’s house’, and if we watch the unfolding of the story, we can see that the call was an event that led to other events. But there’s a life process being illustrated [which] is the movement into adulthood, the looking beyond our own self-interest, it is the seeing beyond our border security and in that is the recognition that we are one with all; we are not confined, nor are we defined by family, clan or nation, but we are one with all. It’s an amazing movement to get, it’s a different order of worldview. One of the Lent readings for this week, which on the surface is completely unrelated to what we’re doing today, because this is a reading about baptism. ‘Jesus’ consciousness of sin coincides with his sense of total solidarity with all humanity. “I am a human being and I consider myself no alien to anything human” - even sin. For us, humanity begins at - and in some cases never goes far beyond - the level of self-absorbed individualism. The frontiers between self and non-self are rigidly defined and systematically policed. It takes a lifetime of growth for us to begin to breach these borders and to feel at limited communion with others. Jesus of Nazareth’s self-awareness was always and necessarily an awareness of self-in-relation - fundamentally with the Father in the Spirit, but, as a consequence of the Incarnation, also inclusive of all humanity.’
Today we hear Abram called out of that sense of ‘my world’ into a sense of ‘a whole world of which I am a part’. It is a movement of letting go, of putting our faith into a future that can only unfold once the movement is initiated. Therefore it’s an unknown future, which is why we all hold on dearly to the present. But if I hold onto the present, am I not inhibiting the unfolding of tomorrow and the creative work of the Divine? As we contemplate what would it be like to leave my family, my father’s house, my whole heritage, my country, then up will come the questions of fear and trust. These questions then shape our identity.
If we go further and contemplate the very being of Abram we find, having encountered fear and trust, we then encounter faith, and Paul seeks to look at faith in relation to the activity of life - faith and works, our being and our doing. Another conundrum, another place to wrestle in the wilderness, because we can all come up with examples of doing the right thing but from the wrong place.
Faith holds a key somewhere to the process of moving into the unknown. Now I realised that as we read these scriptures, as we engage them, inwardly we can follow these paths: the story of Abraham was my story, sitting at that table. [But] how can we begin to unfold our story in relation to the divine story just in few minutes on a Sunday morning? [But] I want to impart to you the encouragement and the excitement of doing a little bit more. Take the story home, sit with it and ask, where am I in it? What is this story, where is the Abraham in me?
As we look at the Gospel into the place of Nicodemus, then we will see that we are again participants in the Gospel narrative. Nicodemus came by night - like us, he too was in the dark and he was afraid of being seen. Nicodemus approaches Christ in the dark because he doesn’t want to be called a loony Christian, like most of us. Nicodemus shows an amazing misunderstanding of baptism that the church has actually ritualised and turned into an event. Baptism is not an event that’s outcome-based; baptism is a process.
Nicodemus can’t understand that birthing is creation and more than a one-off event - like our culture which sees birth as the production of a product, rather than the unfolding of every tomorrow in every today: every moment births the next. When Nicodemus comes to him, Jesus looks to the scriptures, to enlighten and to be enlightened. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness: all we need to hold there is the question, is this our wildness and is this the serpent from the garden of Eden? As we wrestle with the question of our life process, just hold onto the closing words of the Gospel: The divine came to abide with us, not to condemn, but in order we might live. As we seek our purpose in life I think we need to know that - that the divine is incarnate, enfleshed with us, that we might live.
Readings for First Sunday in Lent February 10, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Lent 1 Textweek
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and as we come together on first Sunday to make Eucharist, to listen to the divine word, we come also to receive food for the journey, and we have classic Lent readings today – Genesis and the temptation of Eve, Matthew and the temptation of Christ, and in between we have Paul talking about sin and death. And [so] there’s an expectation that we’ll get into that orthodox rut and perpetuate Lent as a time of penitential piety.
However, if we engage Lent in a more true and real sense, then we will engage it with questions rather than answers, an openness, a desire to find, rather than a set of predetermined doctrines. And if we do want to focus on sin, then let’s [ask] ‘what is it?’, because it doesn’t seem to be a list of tiny little things that we’ve done wrong.
The other point of focus for Lent is to look back to last Sunday. We embarked on this journey by celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration and an echo of that can still be heard, and maybe that’s a good reminder for us that we take ourselves into the wilderness of Lent. It’s quite important that we don’t step out of ourselves into another world for forty days.
We have an opportunity to reflect on the life we have, [and] on the life that we create, so let’s look at the readings - the word of God - for direction rather than for destination. It’s tricky because, particularly with stories like Adam and Eve, culturally and religiously we’re already familiar with the stereotype interpretations, but after last Sunday, all I could see was an echo of the Transfiguration.
If we break that reading up into three parts: ‘…. the LORD God commanded the man, "… of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat….."’ This is Moses, representing the Law; the boundaries have been set: this is how you will behave; this is what you will do.
“Now the serpent … said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." This is Elijah, the prophet, representing a new vision of the future.
‘So … she took of its fruit and ate… Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked….’ This is Christ, fully human, male and female. They knew they were naked – fully human; they were also fully divine, for their eyes were opened. We have an echo of the mountain scene of the Transfiguration, Moses, Elijah and Christ - what is, what can be and the creative moment; what is birthed, what is to be born and the incarnation. The parent, the child and the adult – these are aspects of life, orientations of being.
To know God we must first know ourselves; to find God we must first find ourselves; to be in relation with God we must first know where I am. The experience of wilderness and mountain-top take us out of and beyond the experience of suburbia. We’re shaped by our environment, we become a part of that which is around us and at the same time, although we often are unaware of it we shape our environment - it becomes a reflection of who we are. As we walk through Lent, in each and every moment I am/we are a part of creation and participants in the act of and the unfolding of creation.
‘Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ What does it mean? There was no being that met him in the wilderness and had a conversation with him. [It] means he was led into the desert to question his orientation in relation to the Divine. He could have not gone there, but to have assumed that ‘I live my life as the divine would have me live it’. But with the environment around us there are too many confusing noises. Just the hum of the fridges in the world destroys the space where we can contemplate the deepest of truths, so he was led into the wilderness, away from the everyday in order to question his orientation in relation to the divine – to be tempted by the devil.
‘He fasted forty days and forty nights’, which again echoes Moses and Elijah, his companions in the Transfiguration. Exodus 24, ‘Moses … stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.’ When Moses came down from the mountain back into the world and saw the partying that was going on, he fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights.
Before Elijah sets out on his journey, ‘Strengthened by that food he travelled forty days and forty nights until he reached the mountain of God.’ The echoes of the Transfiguration, the bringing into awareness, the companions who will be with us in the journey through Lent seem to be an important part of the readings we hear today.
So let’s allow Transfiguration to give us a context for Lent because Transfiguration gives us an illustration of life, a cameo of Moses, Elijah and Christ – the Law the Prophets and the Divine incarnation. It’s an illustration of life’s higher calling - the peak, the goal, the upward orientation of life. Lent therefore becomes a period of preparation for an encounter that gives shape and direction to life.
Lent and Easter are not Jesus stories, [or] past stories, to be viewed as we would view an old film; rather they provide us with a reflection of life, a chance to see ourselves and to realise ourselves in our fullest sense: life lived not by bread alone, but echoed in the divine word; life lived not by testing God, but by participating in the divine unfolding; life lived not by serving our own selfish needs, but by giving to the divine. Transfiguration provides a context for us to walk the journey of Lent, an illustration of life, an opportunity for us to see ourselves. Those who wish to make a more orthodox Lent and wrestle with sin and guilt, another beautiful quote I found: ‘Sin truly is a life of aimlessness, missing the mark, perhaps not even aiming at it. Sin is not even knowing what the divine goal of life is: if there is no goal how can we even aim our lives?’ It very much links sin and Transfiguration together.
It’s a huge ask to spend forty days and forty nights in the wilderness without food, but there’s a part of us that desires to make that journey. And let us look to each other for courage to walk through Lent so that together we might arrive at East.
Transfiguration Sunday (Last Sunday Before Lent) 3rd February 2008
Readings for Transfiguration Sunday (Last Sunday Before Lent) February 3, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Transfiguration - Last Epiphany A February 3, 2008 Textweek
Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; II Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
What is the gospel, the good news, that the Transfiguration seeking to proclaim? What’s the importance of this story as holy scripture, as a teaching to us? The narrative is mysterious, mystical, it’s got a supernatural quality. As we question the details in the story we begin to explore, to release, to realise the good news in it.
It starts off, ‘Six days later’. Why ‘six days later’? Six days later than what? Six days before this event there was the feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves and a few small fish. Immediately after that there’s the commissioning of Peter, where Jesus says ‘And on this rock, I will build my church’: I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Matthew has placed this story in a very powerful setting: in a setting where Jesus has already been revealed.
In the Hebrew scriptures, which would have been well-known, well-read and well-understood, [we find] in this morning’s Exodus reading, ‘Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.’ Has Matthew chosen the six days in order to make that connection? And are we not then reminded of the creation stories of Genesis, the six days of creation? Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights – that’s the same as the Flood narrative, so perhaps this is a re-creation story. It’s also the forty days of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty days of our impending journey through Lent toward Easter. So we begin to glimpse the connections. Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John. Why is Matthew so specific? And why only three of the twelve, and why these three? ‘Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus’ – another three are named, three-on-three. Has Matthew deliberately sought to create a balance, [to bring] equality into the encounter between humanity with divinity, and is that the essence of Transfiguration?
In verse 2, ‘his face shone like the sun’ - Jesus is transfigured. When Moses came out of the cloud his face shone like the sun, so much so that he had to put a veil on it so that people could look at him. It’s a similar encounter.
‘And his clothes became dazzling white’. In our own personal life experience we might not know the fullness of that experience, but I think each and every one of us has had moments of it. Think of moments when the furrows in here go and the creases here seem to part and the eyebrows soften? Your face just starts to lift a little bit and you’ve got that beaming sense. Most of us go through life in many many colours. Can you capture though, moments when you have shone like the sun, when you have been whiter than white? We all have had them, and momentarily we rejoiced in them. I wonder what we might learn about ourselves if we join the dots of those moments and if we appreciate them as glimpses of the divine?
The story unfolds and Peter wants to make three dwellings. Is it illustrative of the abiding presence of the divine – dwelling, here, with us, not there above us, here, grounded with us. Peter wants to make three dwellings, and yet within two verses of that the divine voice is heard and the three fall to the ground and were overcome by fear. It’s an amazing change – it’s as if the story was beautifully unfolding and now all of a sudden the divine voice is heard and the disciples fall in fear. Doesn’t that though, vividly capture the reality of the spiritual path for us? One minute we know and we welcome God abiding with us, one minute we’re moving into that place of shining, of whiteness, and the next we’ve fallen under the weight and force of worldly gravity, overcome with fear. Then ‘Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid". It is that coming and that touch and that saying, "Get up and do not be afraid" that we might seek in the wilderness of Lent.
The Feast of the Transfiguration and the mystical narrative provide us with a wonderful preparation for Lent. We might spend the time leading up to Ash Wednesday seeking to position ourselves so that we might participate in the reality that Matthew presents to us: Jesus came, he touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." For most and for our culture, that would be a transfiguration, to find that reality.
Peter has really got it: ‘We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain’. After contemplating the voice he heard he can say this: ‘You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ ‘I AM the bright morning star’ – that’s the divine voice.
The journey through Lent is an opportunity for us to truly encounter the experience of Transfiguration. There’s a starting point, a finding of ourselves, our true selves, seeing ourselves, humanity, balanced with divinity, meeting one-on-one, meeting face to face, and if we can work with that through Lent, we may come to the understanding that Peter has. The day that dawns when the morning star rises in your hearts is a dawning day, a present moment, a day of re-creation when the morning star, the divine, rises within your hearts.
We might be encouraged by the simplicity of the story and yet the complexity of what it contains, to just spend a little more time with the scriptures during Lent. The Lent material has a look at some of the core stories within the scriptures and a book to write in. Many will approach Lent with material to read –we do need to do that I think, we need to look beyond, to study the scriptures with some depth, but we also need to express ourselves, to find ourselves, to speak ourselves, to share ourselves, not to constantly read about the transformation of others - it becomes a distraction. To seek rather, the Transfiguration that is forever waiting to dawn within.
One simple exercise from today’s Gospel could be to draw three circles on a sheet of paper – Moses, Elijah and Jesus, what do they represent? Moses is the Law, the ‘what is’, the guiding forces that are now and here and in place, the forces that steer us, that guide us, that restrict us, the ‘what-is’ of life. Have a look at the Moses that you respond to within. Then move onto the next circle which is Elijah, the prophet, the voice that speaks tomorrow into being. What is your voice in creating tomorrow? Then the third circle which is Jesus, the one that we all avoid, the divine. What is the shape and the size of that circle within myself? Can I find, describe, be in touch with, the divine within? Take those circles with you into Lent. Hear, forever the divine coming, touching, asking you to arise and to not be afraid, to look toward a mountain-top experience in which you will shine, and know yourself as whiter than white.
Readings for Third Sunday in Epiphany 27 January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Epiphany 3A 27 January 2008 Textweek
Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
With the Australia Day anthem of ‘Come on, Aussie, come on’ still ringing in our ears, we hear the psalmist this morning saying, ‘"Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!" Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ I wonder if we have lost some sense of invitation in our modern use of the word ‘come’. Consider its lack of application to indigenous peoples, refugees, the poor, the divorced, the gay, the unemployed, to Muslims, to the dispossessed. When we celebrate national days we have a good opportunity to look at our contribution to the community. ‘Come’ is more than an invitation, it is a word that invites movement.
When the psalmist uses the word in today’s psalm, it is both an invitation to movement and also an orientation to the source of all movement - the seeking of the divine in our deepest and truest selves.
Isaiah is speaking with great hope of movement into wholeness, from former times to the latter time; this is the movement of life changes. Isaiah also speaks of a movement from darkness into a great light – the movement of life experience and all of us have experienced that movement from darkness into light, [and] movement from light into darkness. Isaiah then speaks of the movement from the yoke of burden to freedom - the movement of life perspective and life potential, the opportunity to let go of that to which I am yoked, in order to move toward. These do not have a [personal] orientation. He affirms these movements as being toward the common, movements to multiply the nation and increase its joy - any movement must be orientated towards the common. It’s why the Bible constantly talks of ‘a people, Israel’. It’s not those people in the Middle East who wall themselves in: the people Israel is the common people of God, the ‘us’, to which all movement toward wholeness will be directed. My guess is that if Isaiah could see these movements realised he would probably let off fireworks in a great display of joy.
Paul [is] appealing once again to the church in Corinth, because their movement has been stopped. They’ve been held up by divisions [that] come out of a misunderstanding of the divine invitation to ‘come to me’, come seek the divine face [and] just like the church in Corinth, we also seek a sense of belonging. It is a sense that is grounded in this world by our very mortality: we want to belong to our family, club, culture, church, social group, peer group, political group. It is in seeking this belonging that we blur our sense of the common, and at the same time, we undermine our vision of being in Christ - we can find for ourselves a satisfaction in belonging and being known. Being loved by our family actually feeds something within – it satisfies. We are called to move beyond that, to look at the whole, because as I meet my needs so I lose touch with the common need. You can see how divisions, quite healthily and naturally spring up – one group, one family meeting its needs over here while another meets its needs over there; there’s then a gap in the middle. What Isaiah is pointing to is a movement that does not see the gap but rather constantly sees an orientation towards the whole. The psalmist calls us beyond ourselves and at the same time into ourselves – ‘"Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!" Your face, Lord, do I seek’.
Matthew again picks up the vision of Isaiah – very important to Matthew, he almost goes out of his way to link the revelation to the prophesies of Isaiah. Christ reveals the kingdom of Heaven has come near. Matthew illustrates ‘the kingdom of Heaven has come near’ using the narrative of the call of Andrew and Peter, James and John. There’s an interesting contrast between John’s Gospel and Matthew’s. Matthew has Peter and Andrew responding to Christ’s call to follow – ‘follow me’ – [and they] accept the divine invitation. John’s Gospel has the two disciples hearing John the Baptist, and then following Jesus. And only after they take the initiative do they receive an invitation from Jesus, ‘Come and see’. They give us quite a different appreciation. Matthew is affirming that through Christ we are invited into wholeness – ‘Come, follow me’ - an invitation to movement beyond where we belong. Immediately they left the boat and their father and they followed. They left the former for the latter – they left their family, home, work. They left all about themselves in order to find themselves within the divine vision and the divine promise. John’s Gospel though is a great reminder that waiting for such an invitation is not an option: if we haven’t received such a divine invitation then take the initiative. Walk in that way, and then our ears will be opened to hear that divine invitation.
I came across some papers from a management consultant from a past life and they provided another great interpretation of today’s gospel reading: ‘The only failure is the failure to participate.’
There is a divine invitation held in that word, ‘come’. "Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!” Your face Lord do I seek’. It is food for the journey through Lent. Perhaps it’s worth keeping the psalm – cut it out, fold it up, put it in your pocket, carry it with you through Lent. For the journey through Lent again is one of seeking: we seek our original face, the face that we had before we were born.
Second Sunday after the Epiphany 20th January 2008
Readings for Second Sunday in Epiphany 20 January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Epiphany 2A 20 January 2008 Textweek
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
There is a gem buried right in the middle of today’s readings: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’ Have a look around and pick someone out [or] pick someone you know and love. Close your eyes for and let your heart speak these words to the person you’ve just identified: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’ Now still with your eyes closed, listen with your heart to these same words spoken to you: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you, you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’
It’s a gem, it’s a real gem, and the readings introduce it then they uncover it; they set that gem, that truth, into our very being. Christmas opens us up to the divine gift or rather into the divine giving into humanity. Now we explore the realisation, the making of Christmas a reality of life.
Isaiah opens up the dynamic of call and response, giving and receiving. The gift or call of Christmas is to be realised in our receiving, our response to the call of Christmas. And if you don’t quite feel up to realising the divine within, then you’ll be able to appreciate the extreme context of Isaiah’s reading, because nor did Israel. Israel also wasn’t expectant to realise the divine within; Israel was despised by the nations, the slave of rulers. Israel was God’s people in exile, alienated from their home and yet Isaiah tells them not only will they be realised as ‘my servant in whom I will be glorified’, but even more, they will become ‘as a light to the nations, that reach to the ends of the earth’: a movement from exile in captivity, to chosen and realised as chosen by the holy one. That context is also our context, a universal call of the divine, out of slavery into abundant life. It’s a call that is spoken throughout all time: as Isaiah puts it, a call to ‘me before I was born’. It is a call to me and to you, to each and everyone.
The Gospel reading illuminates this reality for us in and through the narrative of John the Baptist. It’s the ideal narrative to pick – the good news, the gospel is to be found in the echo of our baptism.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke seek to record events in the life of Christ and to give us some sense of meaning; John’s Gospel is later. John is no longer interested in recording the life of Christ. John has sat with it and contemplated it, gone up to the Hall to study groups, spent the forty days in Lent reading and talking and then he seeks to write what’s been illuminated for him, and he chooses the narrative of John the Baptist to outline the process of realisation. The gift has been given, now how is that then to be realised? John the Baptist ‘saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God”’. John had previously spoken of his coming [so] John was expectant, he was looking forward; he had spoken of this and now it is realised. His expectation and his orientation bring the appearance of Christ, the Lamb of God, into reality. Then John says, ‘I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me…’ This gives us another appreciation of John – he knew himself as sent and sent with purpose, and so he was attentive with expectation, he was open to the divine call, he was open to the gift.
The gospel reading today you can almost separate into two parts. In verses 29-34, John declares - that introduces us to the ‘call’ side of ‘call and response’. In 35 to 42, John is heard and responded to – call and response. So then we look at the second half, for we are called; we still have the call of Christmas: I was given something, I was called to another place. The response to the call that’s heard is given to us in the actions and the words of John’s hearers: they followed, they dialogued with Jesus - there’s a communication, a speaking,. They came and they saw, they made real. They then remained, they participated with – to remain with Christ is to know God with us - and then they brought others.
The Gospel enables us to see for ourselves how the gem is realised, the gem being the truth that Paul gives to the church in Corinth: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you are not lacking in any spiritual gift’. And just in case you missed it within the Gospel, the process of realisation is initiated by one question. The writer of the Gospel puts that question into the words of Jesus; it therefore becomes a divine question, in verse 38, "What are you looking for?"
"What are you looking for?"
Baptism of the Lord 13 January 2008
Readings for Baptism of the Lord 13 January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Baptism of Christ, January 13, 2008 Textweek
Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
The baptism of our Lord: what is it all about, and why now? And why did Jesus need to be baptised anyway? Surely it’s Jesus that should have been baptising John.
The baptism of Jesus is so important that it makes it into all four gospels. The Baptism of our Lord holds the key to every other narrative about Jesus, and [therefore] to our own self-realisation. Liturgically we’re in the season of Epiphanies, manifestations of Jesus’ identity in the world; this season is about the revelation that we find and see in Christ. It is therefore the season of the church, for are we not the body that makes Christ manifest? And it is also the season of life’s unfolding – the season of Epiphany is quite crucial to our on-going journey.
So in answer to the ‘Why now?’, it is perhaps so that we have the opportunity to reflect on birth and baptism. [We] are now asked to look again at birth in the light of Baptism. The birth narrative is now re-created, reframed, re-formed into the ritual of baptism, a process that’s referred to by some as being ‘born again’. We remind ourselves that the Christmas narrative was and is about divinity made manifest in humanity. It is about you and me and God – the divine, the holy trinity.
What we find today is that it is never too late. Always and forever, in each and every moment, we can realise our baptism; always and forever the divine spirit descends like a dove on you, on me and on all people.
The baptism texts narrate an adult epiphany. They’re illustrated by what would have been well-understood ritual of purification and renewal and [we] now bring that to life in order to bring to life the process of our relationship with the divine’. So we have a narrative about a ritual about a process.
The Baptism of our Lord opens for us the possibility of our epiphany; it also speaks of the intimate relationship between the divine and you and me. When we say that we are God’s children we’re using an illustration that tries to speak of the relationship that we have with the divine [which is] more fully visible in today’s texts because we start with Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights’. That’s echoed in the story that we had from Matthew: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." There’s a repetition there and the repetition is of ‘my’ and ‘I’: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. That repetition emphasises the personal and intimate voice of God.
And then we have the words ‘chosen’, beloved’, and ‘delight’, ‘well pleased’, which names the intimate relationship as the source of divine joy. We’re so used to either being put down or putting ourselves down. Entertain the possibility that you could be the source of divine joy; the source of divine joy is within you. The parallels between Isaiah and Matthew really do illustrate that this is not just a Christ event. Isaiah was aware of this divine process long before the gospels were written, and what follows the baptism of Isaiah’s servant is a call for all creation to ‘sing to the Lord a new song’.
The same call that Isaiah spoke of, that same process of baptism that leads to singing a new song to the Lord, we find in the gospels in the life and work of Christ following his baptism. At the baptism of Christ there is then an unfolding, and so too the same process is true of our own possibility and potential. Baptism is the process of divine birth, of renewal, of re-creation. Interestingly that’s also its outcome - divine birth, renewal and re-creation.
The re-creative process of Baptism is then evidenced in that little story we get about Peter that challenges his nationalism, his culture and his religion, his very being. Peter opens his eyes to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. He proclaims that everyone, everyone who follows Christ, who knows God-With-Us, is acceptable to God.
There’s another important variation in Matthew’s gospel: in Matthew’s words the divine is addressed to the community: ‘This is my beloved son’. Mark and Luke address the divine word to Jesus, the one being baptised – ‘You are my beloved son’. We can listen for both voices – the inner voice, the divine acknowledging you, in person, in self as ‘the beloved with whom I am well pleased’. The same voice can also be heard in the community – you acknowledged in the sight of those around you as making manifest the divine.
Today’s texts call us – do not write off your birth and your baptism as past events, rather see them as the process of life in which you are called to be participants. Is [your birthday] when you were fully made and fully completed? ‘I knew you when I formed you in the womb’ - your birth began before that day; you continue to grow into the fullness that is the promise of that day. Birth is a process, it is not in the past, baptism is the same. The spirit that descends like a dove is an eternal gift of the divine to you.
Soon we will move into Lent which is an opportunity for us to go back into the womb, into the process of our becoming, to re-engage it, to participate in it and to find another baptism, another dying and rising, another ‘into the water and being lifted up’. All of these narratives are the story of the process of our life, and all of them identify a process that is underlined by the divine seeing you as ‘my beloved in whom I am well pleased’.
The Epiphany of our Lord 6 January 2008
Readings for Epiphany of the Lord 6th January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out The Epiphany of our Lord 6 January 2008 Textweek
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
The line that I hear over and over in the Gospel is ‘Where is the child? And probably that is the question for Epiphany. The understanding that most of us have of the story of the three kings, is one in which we draw parallels with our own spiritual journey – setting out, as we do to somewhere quite different, coming before Christ, kneeling in worship, paying homage, giving thanks and offering our gifts. We then perhaps glimpse the church as the stable or the manger to which we come, different people from different places, kings in our own kingdoms, bringing our gifts here to this manger, for here we trust that we will find Christ.
Both of those understandings I can acknowledge and affirm, but I’d also like to explore another. Paul has this to say: ‘In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit’. Have you ever wondered why Paul was able to look creatively at theological interpretations and yet we, the church are conformed and constrained by an orthodox understanding? The answer is to be found on the road to Damascus, for there Paul did not have a conversion, but rather an enlightenment: he opened his eyes and he saw. He saw the world, the scriptures, the church, the synagogue, differently.
He continues: ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’. Probably the most important word is ‘in’: ‘sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus’, not the promise of Christ Jesus. And we affirm that Sunday by Sunday – we are members of one body, we are the Body of Christ. We have actually taken on that vision that Paul had.
So now like Paul, let’s look at the Epiphany not as in ‘former generations’, but rather with new eyes. Let’s contemplate the story not as us the kings, coming to Christ, but rather as the kings coming to us, the Body of Christ. Can we contemplate ourselves as central to the Nativity and envisage the kings bringing their gifts to us, to you and to me? If such an imagining goes against our humble sensibilities, then let’s acknowledge that this is the shackles of orthodoxy. What is revealed through the Nativity and what comes to light and to acknowledgement in the Epiphany, is the divine in humanity, God birthed of woman. It is there in scriptures and an enlightened Paul seems to have glimpsed that very truth. It is a truth that called him out of his secure orthodoxy into a journey that recognised the divine in all life. The fundamental God of the chosen, for Paul became the very source of life, as he glimpsed the divine in each and every people.
We get that in other scriptures in other texts: he came down from heaven and he was lifted up. The divine dynamic is not one way – giving and receiving create one another: They don’t exist on their own, they create each other. Allow that dynamic to now reside with you and the relationship that the you has with the divine. Isaiah says: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’. If we look for it we find that Moses climbed a mountain to be with the divine - as the divine came down so Moses arose. The very first story that we find in the Bible of Adam and Eve, finds humanity walking the very same ground as the divine. Jesus himself walked from the tomb; he came to life from the very bowels of the earth.
The implications for us today are very uplifting. We’re not called to wait in pews for God to descend on us, rather we are called to Arise, to lift ourselves beyond the everyday toward the divine, toward our highest calling. And as we make manifest the gift of divine light, as we see with new eyes, then the kings and the rulers and the authorities will come to pay homage, for this is the call of the church, of Christ and of the divine: to continue the creative act of love, to see all as members of the same body.
Paul opened his eyes and he reshaped the church of his day. The same is asked of us and of everyone in every age. Our orthodox church has been engulfed by a Roman model. That engulfing brought with it idol worship – we worship Jesus rather than become ‘a promise in Christ’. The Roman model is regimented, it has an ever-expanding conquering outlook; it is maintained by hierarchical social ordering, so too the church. This is our inheritance from former generations. Paul looked beyond, he looked outside the walls.
As we see and hear and listen to other traditions, so too we may be introduced to new possibilities, new possibilities of being the church - intuitive, experiential, inward-looking, organic, not worried about numbers, but rather looking to reveal the promise in Christ, and as we hear the call and we too like Paul, may glimpse further and fuller truths.
Arise, arise and shine. Allow the divine that is immaculately conceived in you to find birth. Come forth from the tomb of death arise and shine, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
First Sunday after Christmas Day 30th December 2007
Readings for First Sunday after Christmas Day
30th December 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Christmas 1
30th December 2007 Textweek
Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23
I had a dream last night about me being in the choir, and there weren’t many of us and we had to perform at this function. I had to sing solo – one verse, and it was the last verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’! And I was aware during the dream that we all had books and songs sheets but I didn’t know where mine was, and then we started looking it up and this hymn wasn’t in it and I had to find another one and I knew the words but I actually didn’t know how they started. I pictured the verse and thought it begins with an ‘e’ but it was ‘and’, so I thought, if I can remember that I can sing it and so on, and so on. So I really do appreciate some of the stress and what goes on in the choir, but my guess is that within that dream there was something about a part of me is not fully rehearsed in, that is fearful of, in relation to the Nativity and in relation to fulfilling my call in the world. Those stories, as with the songs that we hear when we come to church, are really layers of life and what we need to do is be able to pause and reflect on them.
[The dream] probably makes some sense as to where we are at the present time because for many Christmas is over for another year, and it’s almost as if we’re led by the calendar and drawn to look at the new year as soon as Boxing Day kicks in. There’s a pause where we can all just watch sport [which] gives the emotions of Christmas, which call on our emotions, the child within and the Christ child within - the reason there’s so much sport on Boxing Day is to distract that child. Most of us would have been engaged in sport, so it gives us a chance to look away before we start to look toward the new year, each and every one of us with a different perspective. We are almost impelled towards the next celebration, New Year’s to what will 2008 bring?
The guiding star of Advent seems to have been eclipsed by the coming of light and yet the liturgy of the Church reminds that we are still very much in Christmas and therefore we’re invited to stay and reflect, before we make the leap into 2008. Before we [list out our new year’s resolutions] we might consider what will guide us, what will give us direction as we continue our journey. Maybe as we unwrap the gift of Christmas we might use the season of Christmas just to ask of ourselves what did I/we give, at Christmas; what did I/we receive? What was revealed and brought to birth; what was made new or what was changed and what will never be the same again?
Isaiah recounts, he takes stock, of what the encounter, the engagement with the divine means. ‘He became their saviour. It was no messenger or angel but God’s presence that saved them’. And Hebrews seems to underline the import of God’s presence as revealed in the Nativity: ‘the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have the same Father’. That’s one way of describing the closeness of the Christ child and me, and you. The one who you worship and you are perhaps a lot closer than you think - brothers and sisters with Christ. Is that not the revelation of Christmas – God with us, Emmanuel?
Matthew seeks to legitimize the revelation of Christ within the tradition of the prophets; he is linking the story to the tradition. What he is really saying is that the nativity story actually belongs in our tradition, that it is not new, but its revelation will make all things new. One of the points that Matthew is making: this is a story that can make all things new, an encounter that can make all things new.
Then we have an account that illustrates how the revelation of the Nativity must be protected from the forces of the world. Mary and Joseph grabbed the gift and they had to go away. Herod represents the ruling authority that seeks to destroy the divine revelation - the forces of the world, worldly gravity, working against the divine force, that which brings freedom from fear. Another timeless narrative, the story of Herod – Al Qaida and the USA, the chicken and egg of fear are like Herod. Operating from their own fear they create fear; it is a noise so loud that we start to lose the voice of the angel, ‘Do not be afraid’.
Switch on any news channel and what we are being given is to be afraid. We need to hear the language of the world to also hear the language of the divine, and know that these two dwell together. To what then will I then give my ear? The making, the selling, the shipping and the use of arms is a fearful and unholy response to that choir of angels that sing of peace on earth and goodwill to all. God is with us. Do I hear the word? Can I put my faith in such a still small voice?
The killing of Benazir Bhutto is not an event occurring in Pakistan, [but] in our/my world. Just as the Nativity is not an event from another time in another place, but it belongs in my/our world. It’s good to become aware, to be able to read the signs of the world, read them and reflect on them in relation to the story, the encounter, the revelation of Christmas.
Here’s a headline, it’s laughable: ‘Priests scuffle inside Bethlehem church. Robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests went at each other with brooms and stones inside the church of the Nativity on Thursday, as long standing rivalries erupted.’ Isn’t that amazing – this is two days after the celebration of the Nativity in the church of the Nativity, and we have priests with broomsticks and stones. Want some good news from the headlines? Same day, same paper: ‘More than a fifth of the Church of England’s bishops could face the axe under proposals being drawn up by its leaders.’
When we read the headlines it’s very easy to be distant from them but we can become selfish and all of those headlines then just merge with the rest of the drivel that you get on the TV – none of it matters. The announcement of the killing of someone seeking to bring change to a people has absolutely no more consequence than Rick Hart’s announcement what percent you will get off white-goods in his shop. The way that we achieve that is to just come into ourselves. Christmas is suggesting that we do that even more - go in further, go beyond yourself and find the divine within, and then all of a sudden from there every headline becomes important because the world is our world, of our creation.
The gift of Christmas is one of great hope: God with us. Not in the church, not being fought over by priests, God with us, with each and every one of us: in each and every one the divine is alive. Will that make the headlines in 2008 – God with us? And as soon as we ponder that question, the obvious answer is no, because we tend to watch the headlines coming toward us. It can make the headlines in 2008, God with us, because the headlines reveal us in the world.
Nativity of the Lord 25th December 2007
Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 96; Titus 3:4-8; Luke 2:1-20
Readings for Christmas season 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Christmas, 2007 Textweek
We are followers both in time and in space as well. Quite often life does seem to be a matter of going round and round in circles [like the Advent wreath]. Even if it’s not, how often do we go round and back to the same place, only to go round again? This [candle] looks out doesn’t it? Ever woken up in the morning and looked in the mirror and seen that? It’s not out at all, it’s just that the flame was hard to see.
Our direction changes with the Christ light, it changes the whole dynamic. No longer symbolically are our eyes drawn to following, but rather they are drawn towards the unity, the coming together, the finding ourselves one in Christ, the finding ourselves, one light reflected in the other.
Hands up those who like the smell and the taste of fresh-baked, crusty, light bread? Pretty well picks up everybody, that does.
I thought we’d have a look at how we capture what we really desire, so I thought I would demonstrate - that way what we really desire, we know now we can hold it ourselves.
Freshly baked crusty bread. I’ve got it all here, it won’t take long. The primary ingredient is the flour. The recipe books – you either picked one up on the way in - it’s all in there; those of you who want more detail, the blue books at the back are called Bibles, they give all the quantities and all that. [Pours flour into dish]. This is the main thing, the flour; this is so simple – what you desire you can have at any time. It’s always good to double check – I’m using the recipe from Titus here: ‘He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.’ The water of baptism, the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. [Pours water into dish]….. It’s amazing, how it gives life. That is all we need for bread. The bread of heaven is made like this, very simple.
What we really desire is a light crusty loaf that smells beautiful and that’s got that lovely texture, and what we need to do is just to add something very, very small [holds up packet of yeast]. It’s the yeast - it’s a little thing and it transforms the whole. The whole doesn’t know it’s being transformed; the flour and the water are quite happy being flour and water, they’re quite happy being a bread that will be consumed. The yeast makes everything different - it looks different, tastes different, is different, quite different.
There’s another tiny little thing that could be added as well, but just pinch though - [hold up salt] - and it brings out another flavour. And just as I shared the bag of my sermon with my daughter this morning, she said, ‘What about sugar? …. If you add a tiny bit of sugar to the yeast, the yeast will actually become more active.’ Just a tiny little bit will make a difference.
What Christmas is about is discovering that tiny bit that makes the difference. When we look at the world and when we look at ourselves, we don’t have to change all this [flour and water], no matter how flat it’s going to come out. It’s this [yeast] that we have to find. The Nativity this year it’s so small. Somehow we have to find the way of consuming this story: it is not a story to be watched. Once we’re introduced to the story, we discover that this is the little bit that makes the difference.
It’s not a story of the past, it’s not a story that’s already happened. This is not about December 25th two thousand and seven years ago, or whatever, this is actually about an event my life in the moment. It’s the story of Genesis, of birth; it is the story of tomorrow. And it is finding that story within - what is the leaven, what is the yeast that will bring life and shape to my life; what is the leaven and the yeast that I can bring to the world?
It is always taking place. Jesus didn’t come to save the world through a manger – that implies that God had already made a mistake in the world before. The divine always and forever creates. The divine is that love which will give shape and change the whole, we heard it in Genesis – order was brought out of chaos, life was brought out on no-life. We now hear that story in the nativity – the hopes and fears of all the years are birthed in Love on this day.
When we encounter the Christmas story, let’s make it our story. Not our story as Christians, but as those who seek to be fully alive in the divine, for we then share that story with every other tradition. The story of Christ is the story of Krishna, the teachings of Christ are the teachings of Mohammed, the meditations of Christ are the meditations of the Buddha, the traditions of Christ are the traditions of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All of those stories are our stories, they’re about us, they’re about Christmas in every, every moment. This is what we celebrate at Christmas - it is so much easier than what we thought. A lot of the time we think I’ve got to change all this (flour and water], and I don’t. I need to find the nativity, find the smallness of that story deep within and allow that to be then revealed as Mary revealed that story within herself.
Second Sunday of Advent 9th December 2007
Readings for Second Sunday of Advent December 9, 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Advent 2 December 9, 2007 Textweek
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7,18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
The second Sunday of Advent and we continue to wait for Christmas and the Child of Bethlehem. We get drawn back into our childhood [by Christmas] and if we’re unaware of this, when we encounter the revelation of Christmas, we shall meet child-meeting-child. Still a delightful encounter but in fact our fullness of self will fail to then encounter the Divine.
Isaiah speaks of a divine growing:
‘A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord’.
The prophesy is so easily understood as a pointing toward Jesus, and also establishing a lineage for Jesus from the house of David. I think we need to question that traditional simplistic interpretation. Isaiah speaks about one on whom ‘the spirit of the Lord shall rest’. He’s not pointing to the Lord, he’s pointing to ‘the one whom the spirit of the Lord shall rest’. This could be you and/ or it could be me.
We can actually come to the same point another way. If Isaiah was speaking about the coming of the Christ, then when Christ comes he says,
‘The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together. …., etc, etc.
Well, why has that not eventuated? I think it hasn’t eventuated because Isaiah is pointing to more than the Christ. And it raises the question has the early church made a cult out of Jesus and so in many respects, clouded the actual meaning of Christmas? Contemplate the idea that Christmas is not about Jesus, Christmas is not about a baby’s birthday. We know it’s not about a baby’s birthday, we know it is not about Jesus. Christmas, the nativity, is a narrative that tells of the Divine entering into humanity, always and for ever, the divine entering into humanity.
Isaiah, speaking of the one on whom the spirit of the Lord shall rest says,
‘He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth’.
Quantum mechanics already has opened up the sciences to the insight of Isaiah. It’s not the obvious, or what we see and hear around us, rather it is the Word enfleshed, incarnate; the Divine within. In Mediaeval times, this was referred to as the soul – that part of each and every one of us that knows the poor with righteousness, that knows equality with the meek and it is that part deep within, deep within, that seeks and desires to encounter the Christ child.
I’m reading a delightful book on the Hindu scriptures, The Gita, and as I read them I realise the beauty of reading the Bible in someone else’s language. It’s something we’re going to have to do. The Bible is a tricky thing to read, we need other texts to shed some light. The opening of the part of this essay, ‘The Divine Worker’, reflects exactly what we are seeing in the Bible today.
‘To attain to the divine birth, a divinizing new birth of the soul to a higher consciousness, and to do divine works both as a means towards that before it is attained and as an expression of it after it is attained, is then all the Karmayoga of the Gita’ – this is the gospel of the Gita, to attain to the divine birth. ‘The Gita does not try to define works by any outward signs through which it can be recognisable to an external gaze’. ‘He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear’. ‘The Gita does not try to define works by the criticism of the world; it deliberately renounces even the ordinary ethical distinctions by which people seek to guide themselves in the light of the human reason. The signs by which it distinguishes divine works are all profoundly intimate and subjective. The stamp by which they are known is invisible, spiritual, supra-ethical. They are recognisable only by the light of the soul from which they come. For it says, what is action and what is inaction? To this even the sages are perplexed and deluded, because judging by practical, social, ethical, intellectual standards, they discriminate by accidentals and do not go to the root of the matter.’
Paul studied the scriptures within the confines of his religion. His blindness on the road to Damascus, when he starts making a journey, opens his soul to see that which his eyes could not see - the harmony that is occasioned by his encounter of the Divine, when humanity and divinity meet. He sees no longer Jews and Gentiles, but one, and he utters for all that which is found in himself:
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’
Shorter passage [from the Gita],:
‘Again the sign of the divine worker is that which is central to the divine consciousness itself, a perfect inner joy and peace, which depends upon nothing in the world for its source or its continuance. It is innate, it is the very stuff of the soul’s consciousness, it is the very nature of divine being.’
Interesting: Paul talking to the Romans, Sri Aurobindo writing on the Gita. They see in the soul the place of joy and peace.
The Gospel today then gives another narrative of divine and human encounter. John appeared in the wilderness, the place of the soul, where we’re not surrounded by all that distracts us from life. John comes out of his soul and he encounters Christmas. Why did John baptise Jesus and not the other way around? [This is] actually an icon of Christmas: an encounter of giving and receiving. It is an exchange – as we give to the divine so too the divine gives to us. Not consequentially – they’re not dependent one on the other – and not conditionally; it is the very process, the very nature of life. And it’s also the Gospel of Christ
If we can find the place of John within ourselves, we too have the opportunity to baptise God. Over and over again we hear of God’s gift to us; maybe this Christmas we might ponder our part in the equation. What is our giving to the Divine? It is revealed in the life of Christ. Ponder also what is the place within from which we give to the divine; it’s not the same place that wraps up presents to give to family and friends; it’s another order of place within. Contemplate John as our forerunner, the one who goes before, leading the way, and as a prototype, one who shows us the place and the part we play in the journey toward the divine. And then contemplate yourself baptising the Lord, an act of giving, an act of calling forth. What do we give, what can we give, and perhaps more importantly, what will we give?
First Sunday of Advent 2nd December 2007
Readings for First Sunday of Advent December 2, 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Advent December 2, 2007 Textweek
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
The first Sunday of Advent, the start of a new church year . We seek Christmas and we probably begin to wonder what it’s all about. Are we looking for the coming of Christ? Are we celebrating a birthday, the anniversary of Christ’s birth? My guess is most of us don’t know. Certainly much of the language, theology and liturgy, therefore understanding of the church, suggests there a complete lack of any understanding in relation to Christmas. We think we know so much – we know everything there is to know about the world and its sciences and we want the Christmas story to be as completely understood.
If we look toward Christmas as the coming of Christ then we’re left with a dilemma: where has Christ been up until now then and what of those Gospel narratives that tell us that he’s already been and gone? If we look towards the birthday, the anniversary of Christ’s birth, then what’s new about Christmas?
The opportunity, the adventure of Advent, is one of waking up, of discovery. The readings today have an orientation in time, but it’s not a time that is measured by clocks. In the Greek there are two words for time: ‘chronos’ time is the measured progress of time. The readings are set in the context of time within eternity, the all and the ever-present moment of time. Think of the scriptures that begin, ‘Now is the time’: they’re not dated, that’s what known in Greek as ‘kyros’ time.
So Isaiah speaks to us today of new possibilities. It’s not the foretelling of Jesus being born into the world – the church read that backwards into it. Isaiah speaks to us in the present, that the divine may be revealed and enfleshed into our world, into my world: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Isaiah also suggests a new way of being: ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ Apologies to George Bush.
Paul seeks to make that even clearer, more practical. ‘You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from your sleep’, ‘the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.’ Paul also suggests a new way of being: ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires’.
Matthew’s Gospel seeks to convey the revelation of Christ, to proclaim the eternal truth, the life that was revealed in the Christ, the word of the Divine, the Divine within, enfleshed within humanity. And he speaks with a delightful simplicity: ‘about that day and hour no one knows’; ‘For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’
Matthew uses the flood narrative, a creation story. If we take Genesis as the creation story, the flood narrative tells us about re-creation. That story is used to emphasise the divine creativity of Advent and also to illustrate the timelessness, the eternal context of Christ’s revelation. ‘As the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man’: as the days of Noah were, so will be today. He goes on to illuminate the process that we are to engage: ‘Keep awake’. Matthew’s asking us to be attentive to the Divine - don’t fall asleep in front of the TV adverts. [Then] ‘Understand this’: be informed - learn from one another, heed the wisdom of those that have life and have it in abundance. ‘Therefore you also must be ready’ – and that’s why we have to prepare for Christmas, to be ready to receive the divine gift, be ready to bring to birth that which is seeded in us and seeded in all.
The activity of Advent is then reflected in the symbols and story - our movement toward Christmas. We journey with wise ones towards the star, therefore we look towards the heavens, we lift our heads and turn our eyes toward the Divine and we move in alignment with the Divine. Isaiah uses a more earthly image: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob’. The image of the star and the house of God we can translate into our worshipping community. Here at St Paul’s, we attend to the life of this community, seeking the Divine that is to be found here. We seek in each other to find the Divine within ourselves.
Paul uses the image of light and dark [and] the Advent candle reminds us of the image of light and dark. Become aware of the light and dark in our life experience, of the light and dark that is my life experience; consider the desires that lead toward and that lead away from the light, the star.
Matthew tells us that two will be in the field, one will be taken, one will be left’, two will be grinding meal together, one will be lifted up, and one will be left.’ Don’t look around and try and work out who’s who; don’t seek to be saved, leaving others behind. The evangelical interpretation makes no sense at all. Rather look within. The two refers to the parts of ourself. Discover what within yourself the Lord of all life is seeking to raise and bring into the divine presence and recognise that we too can leave the other part of us behind.
As we move towards Christmas there is a part of each and every one of us seeking desiring to be forever in the presence of the Divine. That is the one to be lifted up; the other can stay behind. It’s Advent: stay awake, the adventure begins!