September 27 – Snippet from a Meditation on this week’s Gospel:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
…It would seem that at least some of the people whom the religious authorities branded as sinners didn’t deserve to be so stigmatized.
In fact, it would seem likely that the whole system of religion
was to some extent an elaborate self-justification for the self-righteous.
The authorities who were often deceitful and malicious
got to designate themselves as “righteous”
whereas people who may have been guilty
of nothing more than being poor or destitute were designated as “sinners.”
But designating them as sinners
only gave the “righteous” a convenient way to avoid facing their own foibles
by diverting the attention to others,
and enabling them to keep up appearances with their sham religion.
This kind of behaviour
was not the exclusive prerogative of the self-righteous in Jesus’ day.
Religious leaders throughout the ages
have exercised a great deal of control over people
by their power to determine who gets branded sinners
and who gets to be righteous,
and religious people of all levels have identified others as “sinners”
as a way of justifying themselves.
But whenever we use our religion to make ourselves look good at the expense of others,
we’re really only deceiving ourselves.
We’re deflecting the attention away from ourselves
so we can keep up the appearance of righteousness,
and avoid facing our own foibles.
In “the Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus preached,
that kind of hypocrisy will not do.
In the way of living that puts into practice God’s justice and peace and freedom,
there is no room for making yourself look good at the expense of others.
But as I said before, this kingdom is one that operates completely differently
from the way things work in our everyday lives.
In this strange kingdom,
those who are the so-called “sinners”
can be way ahead of the supposedly righteous
when it comes to actually doing the will of God!
Our gospel lesson confronts us with hard truth
that our religious devotion can often turn into something harmful.
Unfortunately, there is something in religion
that can turn it all too easily into a way of simply making ourselves look good.
But that kind of hypocrisy doesn’t just hurt those we identify as “sinners.”
It also hurts us.
When our religion is about justifying ourselves,
it easily turns into an obsession—
and obsessions rarely do us any good!
But when we leave behind the need
to make ourselves look good
and simply seek to put into practice “the way of righteousness,”
then we experience the peace and freedom of the kingdom of heaven—
September 20 – A Warm Welcome To Our Whanau
This Sunday we celebrate with joy the baptism of Zaria Wiseman; daughter of Thomas and Marizaan Wiseman, grand daughter of Ruth and Paul, Magda and Hennie and Mauritz and Angelique, and great grand daughter of Mary and Barry Vinnicombe.
Our whanau rejoices at this baptism and remembers that we are beloved children of God and welcome in the family of Christ. Our gospel reading on Sunday reminds us of the simple instructions we, as followers of Christ have been given. To go, make disciples, baptise them and teach them His ways. He tells us the Holy Spirit will be with us to guide and help us. Sounds pretty simple right? How often do we forget how simple this command is? Do we hesistate, as the disciples do, unsure of the risks it takes to worship Jesus? Or as a child, are we open and willing to just take a chance?
On Sunday we will welcome Zaria to the family of Christ and we will committ to be with her day by day as she learns more about Jesus. As it says in the Baptismal Hymn which we shall sing”
“No promise we can make, can force a child to choose, to love and serve God all its days and all its talents use; but our example here, in all we say and do, can help a child accept the love which comes, O Lord, from you.”
I invite you to pray especially for this treasured child and her whanau this week as they prepare for her Baptism. And enjoy the photo of this happy, beautiful child of God.
September 13 – How often should I forgive?
Matthew 18: 21-25
Peter’s question is as apt today as it was more than 2,000 years ago. Or at least I have heard it asked in one way or another and I have been known to ask it myself on many an occasion. How much forgiveness is enough, after all? How much do we need to forgive? How often should we be doing all we can to wash away the stains which weaken the bonds between us, which take their toll on our own sense of well-being — our very own peace, not to mention the peace between us?
We know the answer, of course, you and I who know deep down that this is the very hallmark of what it is to live as followers of the one who Forgave All in Us. The well of forgiveness is endless. In fact, Jesus is saying now that we are to forgive often and completely — as often and as completely as it takes — just as, as we hear in the vivid parable which follows — as often and as completely as we have been forgiven.
And yes, I have heard or have spoken aloud all the arguments against such as this. I know there are those who are not repentant, who perpetually seem to ‘offend.’ And I have, for instance, heard the heart wrenching stories of those whose abusers held their ‘requirement to forgive’ over their heads. ‘Good Church People’ who have used these words of Jesus as weapons to ensure that their victims would remain victims. And oh, I can’t help but believe that Jesus would have some choice words for those who would so twist the goodness of what is offered here into a servant of evil itself. But even with all of this, we still return to this. To follow the one who Forgave All in Us means to be People of Forgiveness.
And yes, I have also witnessed this truth in others who have every reason not to forgive — this ability to somehow let go, move beyond, sometimes even speak words of forgiveness to those who perhaps have not even asked for it, who surely may not deserve it — and in so doing to set themselves free. This is not an action I would ever insist someone else should take, but I know for me and for many, not forgiving — and not forgiving as often as forgiveness is called for — is the beginning of my own descent into precisely the kind of ‘torture’ spoken of in today’s Gospel for I have known myself to be held hostage by resentment and wounds that refused to heal as a result of my holding on to my hurt for too long.
We can all take a lesson from the Wonder Woman film (released in 2017).
As she battles Ares, the god of war, who tells her humanity does not deserve her protection, Diana of Themyscira tells him, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love!”
God doesn’t measure forgiveness in what we deserve, but in love. Why can’t we?
September 6 - When Two or Three Have Gathered… (Reconciliation in Matthew 18)
(For this week's meditation - CLICK HERE)
This week’s gospel reading is that old chestnut from Matthew 18- Jesus’ advice regarding conflict- and how best to deal with it. Unfortunately, there are a numerous instances when Jesus’ advice has been misinterpreted – as I have learned the hard way (more about that on Sunday!). John Paul Lederach, a sociologist, considers that here Jesus is giving advice to enable reconciliation to occur- reconciliation which protects and respects all parties involved in the conflict or misunderstanding.
Jesus was very clear about who he was and how he saw things. Yet he met people, wherever they were, in ways that showed how his love overcame fear of the ‘other’. He sought to build relationships, a way of being connected with others. They have a parallel to what is now promoted, two thousand years later, in family systems theory.
In a nutshell:
Go to the person: Define yourself without projection or threat. Be clear about who you are. Seek vulnerable transparency. Encourage others to do the same.
Take along one or two witnesses: Foster a non anxious presence. Do not get upset, pull back or be fearful of others when they define themselves differently to you.
Take it to the community: Interactively engage the difference rather that reacting or trying to control. Move toward the difference and not away from it.
Relate as with a Tax Collector (Remember Jesus ate with them): Maintain relational and emotional contact. Stay connected. Eat with each other, in so doing you will find reconciliation at the center of your relationship- mutual humanity.
Sound sensible advice that I for one, need reminding of – often!
August 30 - Community Instead of Invidualism
This week we find ourselves dealing with one of Jesus' "hard sayings". Maybe the hardest. Jesus has outlined the way forward for himself: a confrontation with the powers, death, and resurrection. Peter finds all this suffering talk abhorrent and incompatible with his understanding of what a messiah looks like. To Peter's objections, Jesus gives him a telling off and proceeds to tell the disciple what his way actually looks like, what discipleship looks like. And what does it look like? It looks like picking your cross and denying yourself.
What struck me, however, is the movement from Peter to the disciples in this week’s reading. Jesus tells Peter off, saying his mind is on worldly things rather than on God, but instead of continuing on the conversation about what following Jesus looks like with just Peter, Jesus talks to all the disciple about it. A group, not an individual. A community of Jesus followers, not an individual Jesus follower. In our Western hyper-individualistic society, we perhaps individualise this passage a little bit more than we should. Dull it down. Couch it in terms of bearing something like having to put up with an annoying uncle when what this is really about is shaping the ethics of the church, how we live the way of Jesus together, how the cross shapes our collective life as a community of faith.
Together, as a community of faith committed to the way of Jesus, a cross-shaped life calls us to embody a way that priorities those who are vulnerable, put others first, resists violence and works for peace and walks with hope through the suffering that inevitably comes when we embody a way that stands in contrast to the ways of the world. Living this ethic is easy, but it does lead to hope, beauty and life. More about all this on Sunday!
Grace and peace, Dan
August 23: Flawsomeness - An Antidote To The Glitter Of Perfection!
My last address to the students at Waikato Diocesan School
(doubling as a long meditation for this week!)
“Flawsome,” (as the adjective suggests)
is used to describe something- or someone
that is awesome because of its flaws-
and lets face it, we’ve all got plenty of those!
So flawsome is about embracing you,
as you are, and being okay with it.
It is about building confidence in yourself-
from the inside, out.
One of the reasons why so many people struggle
With respecting themselves
is because they believe there is a more “perfect”
version of themselves that must be achieved.
Unfortunately, perfection lives somewhere near
Deception Island, Antarctica in the form of a small cloud.
Even if you find a ladder tall enough to reach it,
you still won’t know when you’ve arrived at your destination.
(By the way, Deception Island is a real place off the Antarctic Peninsula.)
So young ladies-
stop shrouding your confidence with garbage bags full
of myths you’ve been taught to believe
about your appearance or your abilities.
Believing in perfection is believing in falsity.
But the very nature of flawsomeness
Goes further than self appreciation and self confidence-
Although they are profoundly important.
Flawsome is certainly about recognizing
your unique value and talents
but it is also about having the courage
to improve and grow into your best self-
the person God has given you the potential to be.
So reach your personal goals.
Finish a project you started.
Dare to make a mistake and try again.
Reflect on the daughter, the sister, the friend you are
Dream about what you can do to make the world a better place-
And do it.
Which brings me
To the most important thing I want to say today.
In my experience,
I only found the courage, resilience and inner security
to truly embrace my flawsomeness
when I discovered that God was real.
And as I’ve got deeper and deeper into a relationship with God
I have discovered this:
God is love.
We’ve been loved from before our beginning
And will be loved after our earthly end.
Without love you wouldn’t be here
and neither would anything or any one else.
Without love there would be no life at all,
no hope, no meaning.
Knowing in your heart
that there is a loving God who does care for you
and wants to be part of everything you do and are
will make a difference to your life-
and will give the resilience to deal with anything
that other people or life throw at you.
I believe that it is God’s love
That puts the awesome in the flaw!
So this is my last word to you-
Have the courage to live your lives
embracing and challenging your unique flawsomeness.
Know deep inside yourselves that you are powerfully and wonderfully made
You are profoundly loved-
Just as you are, yes-
But also for who you uniquely have the potential to be.
Thanks for the privilege of sharing with you!
August 16: Peace Be Sill
“There’s a ship out on the ocean at the mercy of the sea. It’s been tossed about, lost and broken, wandering aimlessly. And God, somehow you know, that ship is me”.
Yes, that ship is me. And you. And every one of us. Life isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t fair all the time. We all have times when we feel like crying out “Don’t you care if we are perishing”, when stories of Jesus’ miracles, his power over life and death come flooding back and we ask “Why not me?” Faith is about remembering that empty cross-that symbol of suffering which tells us of the power of God’s love for us. Unqualified love, unconditional love, absolute love that we cannot ever earn or buy because it was given to you and to me. It tells us that God won’t necessarily rescue us from the storms of life, and that as humans, we can’t understand the whys and wherefores about everything that happens to us.
The main thing to remember is that God is there with us in the boat,
on the cross,
through this appalling epidemic,
wherever we’ve suffered and grieved.
“Peace, be still. Know that I am God. I love you and I am with you always”.
August 9: The Means Justify the End
A Reflection of the story of Joseph and his Brothers
Sunday’s sermon will explore the concept often used to exonerate despicable actions- “The end justifies the means”. My contention is, that instead, our lives can be lived by reversing that notion- ‘the means justifies the end’. Here is the end of the sermon…
If I’m serious about following God, even a supposed furthering of God’s plans can never justify even slightly questionable means. It is not for us to worry about what the end result is, or to second guess God in thinking we have some inside information on divine plans. For us, it’s the means that must justify the ends, and as we see through the life of Jesus, it is no easy task. It means trusting God now, not hedging your bets, like Peter in the storm; It means being truthful, even though the result may lead to loss or crucifixion; It means taking responsibility for the times you do make mistakes, admitting you were wrong, and trusting that through the grace of God, healing, wholeness and wisdom will flow and good will come.
Joseph, Jacob and the rest of his unruly family may not be in a position to be able to learn this wise, wise lesson from the past, but we certainly can.
The end doesn't justify the means. The means justify the end. We may fail miserably in this world— in our churches, our businesses, our jobs, our associations, even our families. But if we can say that we did what we did with integrity, with kindness, with grace, with honesty, with faithfulness, our conscience will be clear, we will know we have done our best to leave the world better than we found it and one day we will be able to stand before God and hear:
Well done, good and faithful servant.
August 2: Living in changing times. Where is God in our struggles?
Our Genesis reading on Sunday demonstrates an alternative view of God and God’s relationship to us in the midst of the struggles of change- and not a very comfortable one, either. The mysterious nature of Jacob’s struggle with ‘the man’ has led to many struggles over this ancient story.
Who is ‘the man’ Jacob struggles with? Is it his brother Esau, zapping himself onto the scene for a bit of brotherly revenge? Or the shadow of Jacob’s father? Maybe it’s not a ‘man’ at all, instead a river demon or an avenging angel? Or could it be God? A God in disguise, a vulnerable God who begs to be let go? By remaining unnamed, ‘the man’ could be any of them, or all of them.
I too, have struggled with this story. And the only way I can make sense of it is if I understand that Jacob is actually struggling with himself. Jacob is struggling with change. As he prepares to face the past and take on a new life in the land of his birth he is facing all of fears, his hurt – himself. And God is there with him.
It’s difficult to comprehend, isn’t it? The story of two men wrestling seems much simpler than this deep psychological drama. But reading the story this way has provided me with what could be some answers to my struggle to find God in the midst of changing times. I invite you to struggle along with me as I retell the story of Jacob from this perspective – where Jacob,
facing his own changing times, struggles with himself. And where God identifies with Jacob and struggles, not against him, but alongside him…
July 26: Where is God with the Family?
Some Questions that may encourage your thinking after reading the story of Jacob’s Family (Genesis 29-35)
- Which qualities you do you most and least admire in Leah, Rachel, Laban and Jacob and why?
- These characters translate easily into our own century. Where do you see these characters active in our world? Eg: Leah and Rachel: Extended families which include step children
- Jacob’s obvious and enduring love of Rachel was perhaps a major reason for tension in the family. We strike the same problem earlier in Jacob’s story with his mother Rebekah’s favoritism of him over his brother Esau, and the ensuing tensions between the brothers; and also later in his life, with his favoritism of Rachel’s son, Joseph, and the tensions that causes between the sons. Read Genesis 25: 19-27 and Genesis 37 and discuss.
- As you can see, a negative pattern of behavior has repeated itself in Jacob’s life, spilled out to affect the relationships of those closest to him and been the catalyst of a (near) tragic situation with his own sons. Have you seen such patterns in books you have read/ films/ television programs you have seen? Can you see such patterns at play in your own life?
How can we (or others) love those close to us (our family)
in a way which reflects God’s love for us,
rather than the love we have received from other human beings that is so often flawed?
And where is God in our family relationships?
July 19: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
(a snippet from Sunday’s Sermon, based on Jacob’s story in Genesis)
Caught between a rock and a hard place- a well-known phrase which describes a dilemma, a situation which offers two possibilities- neither of which is particularly acceptable.
So it was for Jacob at the beginning of this Sunday’s reading from Genesis. Faced with a rock for a pillow, and finding himself in a no-where place, an unknown place, which was certainly a hard place, with no-one, no hope of returning home and a long unknown journey to relatives he had never met ahead of him.
He was indeed- both literally and figuratively between a rock and a hard place…
And there he found that he was not alone- God was with him, as God is with all of us- always.
July 12: A bit of cultural background- What constitutes ‘Family” in Genesis?
Families were incomplete without children, notably sons.
- Sons are the ones who stay with and contribute to the father’s household.
- Daughters are “given’ (in actuality ‘sold”) to other families.
- They invest in other father’s families as the wives of other sons
- Because a daughter will eventually be lost to the family anyway, the lack of daughters is never viewed with the same disappointment as lack of sons.
- Therefore, daughters-in-law assume priority over daughters
- Sons must have wives for the family to grow and the line to continue, wives who will fit well into the family.
Fathers are essential to families
- Without fathers, families disintegrate into widows and orphans, unconnected and marginalized citizens at best.
What about mothers?
- Essential to families- temporarily
- Needed to bear children, but once children are weaned, they tend to disappear from the biblical narrative.
The stories in Genesis both mine and undermine this understanding of family.
- Fathers are primary, but they are often ineffective.
- Mothers lack the authority of fathers, yet they play prominent roles in the structuring of the family, often shaping the structure of the next generation by determining (by strategy or identity) which son will inherit or be favoured
- Sons tend to end up due to the patriarchal system of primogeniture, in competition and conflict.
- Daughters, when present at all, are for the most part ignored or are used as pawns in men’s business dealings.
- Daughters-in-law exert more influence on the family, usually in efforts to secure their own economic and societal position. They must actively make inroads into the family power structure, which they can do most easily by giving birth to male children who will assume the leadership of the family.
Rebekah is the quintessential daughter-in-law who becomes a mother.
- Leaves her own family to join a family she has never seen before and geography forms a permanent barrier to her family of origin. It is imperative she establish and safeguard for herself a respected place in her own household.
- Rebekah then quickly moves to the center of the action.
o She is a woman of initiative, knowledge and a woman whose story takes a bittersweet turn.
o She is also the woman who upsets the status quo
- When we meet Rebekah in Genesis 24, Abraham is old; Sarah is dead. Isaac, the son of the promise is ready to take his place. Daughters neither exist, not are they missed. It is Rebekah, the daughter-in-law that will make all the difference in this family’s story.
- The story is structured around a patriarch’s commission and a servant’s quest. The objective of the venture is to find a wife for Isaac- a suitable wife. A woman from Abraham’s family is the goal.
- The servant departs with ten camels loaded with gifts to secure his prize. He meets Rebekah at a well. She offers him a drink and volunteers to water his camels. Her timely generosity and her lineage convince the servant that she is the woman for Isaac.
And who better to tell the rest of the tale, that the woman herself- Rebekah…
at ten o’clock on Sunday!
Extreme Faith (June 28) Click HERE for this week's meditation
In my opinion, the only way to describe our reading from Genesis this morning is X-treme. And no, I haven’t made a bad spelling error this time! I use X rather than ‘ex’ on purpose because X is used whenever there’s an unknown factor to account for- an ‘x’ factor-in this case it stands for the mystery of God. It also stands for X-tremely uncomfortable, as I am confronted with what being X-tremely faithful really could mean.
The notion of God telling Abraham- or anyone for that matter- to sacrifice their child- is more than x-tremely uncomfortable. It’s morally and ethically reprehensible, and has, when taken literally, led to some unspeakably atrocious acts claimed to be done in the name of God. For instance, in 1990, Christos Valenti killed his beloved daughter in supposed obedience to this scripture. “It was an order directly from God”, he claimed. “How could I say no?’ A verdict of insanity was returned by the court.
After much prayerful consideration, I believe that this story, as every part of the Bible, is inspired by God and does have something vitally important to tell us. But I can only hear what God is telling me through this story if I do not take it literally. If I can see it as a metaphor, identifying with Abraham comes to represent the challenge of keeping faith when all I most value in life is stripped away from me. Keeping faith- keeping a relationship with God under the most x-treme conditions that life can throw at me….
God who sees (June 28)
Genesis 21:8-21 Sarah tells Abraham to cast out Hagar, then God tells Abraham to do as Sarah has asked. Abraham, though distressed, casts out Hagar and their son into the wilderness. Hagar and her son are about to die of thirst when God opens Hagar’s eyes and she sees water. “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy.” (v. 17)
Are you in the midst of some sort of wilderness? Is the path ahead unclear? Perhaps in some way you feel as if you are about to perish. Are you, in some way, crying out for help? May you, like Hagar, the slave and outcast, sense that God hears your cries and asks you to pour out your heart, knowing you are heard by the God who has not forsaken you, even if others have. May you hear those oft-repeated words, “Do not be afraid.” But this time, may you hear them on a deeper level, allowing them to find their way from your thoughts to your feelings to your core sense of identity. You are a person who need not fear. Not this wilderness. For you are not alone. You are accompanied. Heard. Understood. And may you sense God opening your eyes, to show you exactly what you need, perhaps what was right in front of you, all along.
Abraham and Isaac
Genesis 24: 34-38 42-49, 58-67
Isaac and Rebekah
Genesis 25: 19-24
Genesis 28: 10-19a
Jacob between a Rock and a Hard place
Genesis 29: 15-28
Jacob, Leah and Rachel
Genesis 32: 22- 31
Jacob crossing the Jabok
Joseph and his brothers