Sunday March 7th - Lent Three

What does it take to believe?

Even as the gospels attempt to tell the same story, each has its own motivations. John’s gospel is invested in Jesus’ divine authority and kinship with God. The cleansing of the temple is only the second vignette in John’s narrative and shows Jesus disruptively asserting authority over temple activities. He upends the business of the sellers and money changers, objecting to these things happening in the temple (or perhaps at all).

He’s effectively inciting a riot, and the religious leaders demand of him a sign to prove that he has any standing to do this. In John’s gospel, Jesus is divine and powerful, but doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, particularly those who insist on being intransigent. He often rebuffs calls for signs and answers, choosing instead to turn the proverbial tables on the inquirer. We’ll see this happen again in the coming weeks’ readings as we stay in John. Remember, John identifies Jesus as the Word that has always been and through which all things were made. Since the Word has always been with us, it shouldn’t need to prove itself. It should already be familiar to us. We’ve been taught righteousness for generations. Failure to respond probably won’t be corrected by a sign. The Akan principle of Sankofa holds that it’s not wrong to go back to get what you need to move forward.

Taking inventory of our life, where have we let other values encroach upon our spiritual identity? What everyday miracles and lessons do we need to revisit before we ask for new ones?

Do we welcome the Saviour’s authority, even if it upends everything around us?

Again and again, we are shown the way.

May we fearlessly and with gratitude receive what we’ve already been given.

 

Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

 

Sunday February 28 - Lent Two

I’m a Black woman who does antiracism education and advocacy in a very white denomination. I do that work often in the face of fierce opposition from fellow Christians, but it’s not hard to understand why. Think of the times we’ve tried to quiet a friend who was going through a tough time, or averted our eyes away from someone asking for money at a street corner. Approximately 75% of sexual assaults in the U.S. go unreported for a reason. We don’t exactly incentivize the telling of hard truths.

Hard truths trouble the waters of our understanding and challenge notions of what is real. For Peter, hearing Jesus foretell his agonizing death and resurrection must have made no sense. Just before this, he had named Jesus “Messiah” (and, according to other gospels, Jesus in turn named him “Peter”).

How could the Christ talk like this?

Peter wants to quiet Jesus. Jesus would instead quiet him.

At Jesus’ transfiguration, a sight that may have been more in line with Peter’s Messianic imagination, he wants to build altars to mark the event. But again, Peter is quieted. He is told to listen.

The Lenten journey calls us to examine the things in which our hearts are invested. How important is comfort to us? Would we be willing to listen to hard truths and be changed by them even if it proved to be difficult? Or are we committed to the status quo because, though it may be imperfect, it’s at least familiar?

Again and again, we are implored to listen, especially when what we hear is unsettling. Repentance means changing direction. Like a heavenly GPS, Spirit is highlighting a new path. May we tune our sensors heaven-ward, despite the difficulties along the way.

—Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission

 

 

Sunday February 21 - Lent One

Again & Again God Meets Us

God meets Jesus at the water before he is tempted in the wilderness—this is important. First and foremost, God claims us. God meets us in the liminal space, at the water’s edge, at the threshold of something new, and names us Beloved.

God’s covenant with all of creation reminds us that God meets us where we are—in the midst of our reluctance, doubt, eagerness, or weariness—and proclaims we are good.

My personal story is, though my family wasn’t very “churchy,” I somehow came to religion in my teens. I came to my denomination in seminary after learning more about the Reformed tradition. Reformed theology emphasizes God’s initiative, which is consistent with my own experience. I can’t tell you that I ever really found God. It was God who found me, and kept finding me throughout my life. Whether I was observant or indifferent about my faith, God was always close by.

Mark’s gospel serves as source material for both Matthew and Luke’s gospels. It’s the shortest and most perfunctory of all four gospels. In just seven verses, we learn of three significant events in the life of Jesus as he began his ministry.

The first is his baptism, where God claims him as God’s own beloved son. The second is his experience in the wilderness, where God sends angels to attend to him as he faces the Accuser. Lastly, after John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins proclaiming God’s proximity and reign while calling for repentance. The common thread in each account is God’s closeness. In pivotal moments, God is extraordinarily present with Jesus and those around him, and for good reason. In the Black church we sing of how God picks us up, turns us around, and places our feet “on solid ground.” God’s proximity informs our trajectory. God approaches us to claim, equip, and send us to do God’s will.

Again and again, God meets us where we are, but doesn’t leave us there. We shift from sinking sand to solid ground, navel-gazing to community, personal pietism to justice for all, and away from behaviours, both personal and systemic, that frustrate God’s vision for the world.

 —Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency,and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

 

Some Questions to ponder

While each gospel begins the story of the good news differently, they all include Jesus’ baptism as the precursor to his ministry. This consistent detail emphasizes a number of things. It aligns Jesus with John the Baptist’s countercultural movement for repentance and change. It shows that Jesus begins his ministry with those on the margins, as he travels over 100 miles from Galilee to wade into the Jordan river near Jerusalem. It places Jesus with the crowds, showing us that his ministry is one embodied through solidarity with the broken, the poor, and the weary. It reminds us that God’s goodness refrain (Genesis 1) echoes through Jesus—and in all of us—also. It reminds us that God didn’t just send Jesus to suffer; God delights in Jesus, expressing joy for his belovedness. It reminds us that God does not delight in what we do, but rather, in who we are.

  • Why else is Jesus’ baptism significant?
  • How has God come to you, time and again, in your life?
  • What does it look like to live with belovedness as our essential core and essence? How does this change how we think, love, and act? What happens when we forget or neglect the belovedness in ourselves and in others?
  • God meets us at the edge of things—in suffering, uncertainty, reluctance. God meets us at the edge and promises to stay with us, watching over us through the wilderness of our lives. Where are the edges in your life right now and how is God meeting you there?

Again and again, we are invited inward. The common thread here is the focus on expressing love for God in secret, not for the recognition of others, but as an outpouring of devotion for God alone.

I think the references to spiritual disciplines are less about the particular acts themselves and more about the intention fueling the action. The intention affects the quality of the action itself. Does your outward action align with what’s going on inside of you?

There are times when I’ve been with friends and I’ve felt this tug to document the event and share it on social media. This impulse yanks me out of the present moment, away from my friends, and I find myself focused on how the event might be perceived by others. Ultimately, it’s as though the moment isn’t actually happening. I’m not present in mind, body, or spirit; I am elsewhere, fixated on my phone. Have you heard this before: “If you didn’t post it, did it even happen?”

I think that is a great question to consider. Are we so caught up in the amplification of our actions and how they are widely perceived, that the actions themselves are void? If we are more concerned with how our public prayers and acts of allyship are received, are we actually praying? Are we actually being an ally?

God invites us into thorough self-examination and authentic relationship. In this image, a person kneels with arms extended, basking in the glow of God’s all-encompassing love. It is in the true pursuit of God, this intimate, inward turning, that God sees you. It is in our full, embodied intentionality that we find deep connection with God and ourselves. This is the reward.  

by Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman

 

Sunday January 31st

Candlemas Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

 

Sunday marks the festival called Candlemas. Also known as the Festival of Lights, because it is the day in which all the candles in the church are blessed for the coming year.  Candles were vitally important in the days before electricity, and they also symbolize God with us, Jesus,  the light of the world, among us, always. 

 

Candlemas day traditionally marks the midpoint of winter in the northern hemisphere, but where we are, in the South, it’s halfway between Christmas, which is our longest day, and Autumn Equinox, which is at or about Easter people used to believe that the weather on Candlemas Day would forecast the weather for the rest of Summer.

 

If Candlemas day be sunny and bright

Summer again will show its might.

If Candlemas day be cloudy and grey

Summer will soon pass away. 

(adapted by me for the Southern hemisphere)

Hmm- I wonder what sort of weather might be in store for us?  Let’s see on Sunday!

 

In our gospel reading Jesus was brought to the temple to be blessed. There he was seen and recognised by an old man, Simeon, who had been promised that before he died he would see the Messiah.  He took the baby Jesus in his arms and said he would show all people about God.

 

They were ‘in the dark’ about God and Jesus would bring light so that people could see for once and for all. 

 

So Candlemas is not only the midpoint of Summer, and the returning to school, or old routines. It is a time to remember that no matter what this year brings, we carry the light of Jesus with us in our lives, as we move from one season to another.

 

So at our 10 am service on Sunday we will bless all our candles for the year, then we will light candles to remember all the light that our community here shares together and everywhere we go.

 

Then we will bless our school-agers backpacks (along with a candle that looks like a pencil), as a reminder that we take Jesus’ light with us to school and beyond.  Then after communion, everyone is invited to light a candle from a flame off someone else’s candle, as a reminder that we are not alone- today or any day!  The light of God is with us!

 

Sunday January 17th

Can anything good come from Nazareth?

An Excerpt from Sunday’s Sermon regarding assumptions

 

"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathanael’s assumption about Jesus is one of those refreshingly human sorts of comments that the Bible is full of- if we care to look.

I mean- how could anything good come out of a backwater little village like Nazareth?  It did not even rate a mention among the sixty-three villages of Galilee mentioned in the Hebrew Talmud or the forty-five mentioned by first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who knew the area well.  If ‘Lonely Planet’ had been around in those days, it wouldn’t have got a rating- far less a mention either.  It was an insignificant little town, with an estimated population of between one hundred and four hundred people, farmers, shepherds and labourers, many whom built their homes in around the area’s soft limestone caves- which was the least expensive form of housing at the time and a sign of relative poverty.

Why wasn’t Jesus raised in Sepphoris, a nearby town with a population of thirty thousand, where the wealthy lived in luxury villas with extravagant mosaic tiled flooring, which had shops and theatres aplenty that one could look good in?

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Can anything good come out of whatever ‘ism’ we have learned to look down on and despise?

More insidious still, can anything good come of the ‘ism’ assumption that we don’t even know we hold- it’s been embedded, unquestioningly in us for so long?

And if we are so mired in such assumptions that they affect our ability to see others through the eyes of love, can anything good come from us?

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book, ’Blink’, our assumptions about others

bias our ability to actually hear what people are saying or see them for what they are. Often such assumptions come from generalisations or misinformation. And none of us are immune. Assumptions sneak into the way we think, speak, act and behave.

And there we have a great example of one when we are invited to stumble into the conversation between Nathaniel and Jesus…

 

 

Sunday, January 10th 2021

Torn Apart – regarding the Baptism of Jesus

 

No shepherds. No angels. No wise men. No star. No stable.

Not a word about Mary and Joseph.

 

There's no list of ancestors, as in the gospels of Matthew and Luke; and none of the cosmic wonder that opens John's Gospel:

"In the beginning was the Word

and the Word was with God

and the Word was God."

 

Mark's word is far more ordinary and direct:

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan."

 

His story of Jesus begins at the river, where he enters, as countless others had, to be baptised. Up until this point in Mark’s gospel, it’s been a fairly ordinary sort of story – God’s arrival is unexceptional to say the least.  The Kingdom does not come with sensational public displays, sirens blaring and bombs bursting in the air. God has come quietly and inconspicuously. That is, until what happens next…

 

When Jesus came up out of the water, probably in the process of pushing his wet hair away and rubbing the water from his eyes, he looked up and, according to Mark, Jesus saw the heavens torn apart.

 

Torn apart- not cleanly and politely opened as Matthew and Luke’s gospels describe, but torn apart.

 

The Greek word Mark used here is a form of the verb schizo as in schism or schizophrenia, and it is not the same word as open. I open the door. I close the door. The door looks the same. When something is torn, however, it never, ever looks the same again.  The ragged, jagged edges will never fit together perfectly neatly again- it is changed for ever.

 

 

Epiphany 2021 – On Magi And Journeys

It is difficult to read this piece of the Christmas story and not picture three youngsters wearing Sunday School Pageant finery and sporting ill-fitting crowns, making their way down the centre aisle while the congregation sings, "We Three Kings."  And yet, my imagination is taking me in a different direction this year as I consider the story before us now.  Oh, yes, there is the truth that the gifts these royal travellers presented appear to point to death for this newborn baby.  And yes, there is the wonder that all the world was coming to kneel at his feet.

Still, I find myself wondering about these travellers themselves and what compelled them to take such a journey in the first place.  And so it is that I find myself returning to the poem by T.S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi."  For what a journey it must have been for those who first followed that star.  Indeed, Eliot imagines it as difficult all the way through from beginning to end and his poem asserts that the challenges did not cease for them once they returned home.  And how could it have been simple after that?

For they had, no doubt, risked their fortunes and their reputations to travel far --- only to have their purposes nearly thwarted and their lives threatened by a paranoid ruler.

For they had travelled to see royalty and they were led to kneel before a baby born of poor parents in an out of the way place.

They must have had dreams and nightmares both about this particular journey for the rest of their lives as they wondered at its meaning for them and for all the world.

And so find myself thinking of those wise men, those magi, those kings and I find myself wondering about what stirred in their hearts to compel them to risk so much.  What deep yearning for something other than what they had known led them to travel so far?  And as I think of them, I find myself thinking of all of us and wondering at other journeys taken...and what it is that makes such journeys possible, necessary, preferable, even, to simply living the life that is right before us. What sign in the sky, what communication from God, would make me go that deep, that far to discover its meaning for me?

And then it strikes me that those travellers to Bethlehem were simply living their lives to their natural conclusions.  For apparently their life's work was studying the stars.  And when they saw a star which seemed to hold such meaning, all they could do, if they were to be true to who they were called to be, was to follow its direction. So having studied the stars and having felt the prodding of one particular star to take this incredible journey, when they came to the place to which the star led them, they were met there by God.  We know this could not have been at all what they expected --- at least not God in the form and circumstance before them there.  And it may well have been true, as in T.S. Eliot's estimation, that things were never quite the same again for them --- and perhaps in ways that were not all that pleasant.  Still, in that baby, they met the 'Holy One,' God's Own Son. And all they were doing was what they believed they were made to do.

And yet, at the same time, this was probably more than what they bargained for when they first started out --- for packing up to travel to far flung places was probably not in the job descriptions they first accepted.  Indeed, in what they set out on here and in what they experienced in and through this journey, there was a whole lot more for them now than sitting in a quiet, familiar place, taking notes on parchment and sharing their insights with others.

Perhaps this is so for all of us.  As we use and develop the gifts that God has planted within us... as we become all we were made to be, with eyes and hearts open, perhaps we, too, will encounter God there as well.  And yet, there must be a point, it seems when we follow God's leading out of our most comfortable places in order that we might encounter the Holy One as well.   And it could be that it might not look like we thought it would, but in the surprise itself, perhaps God resides.

And so for those who teach, and those who preach, and those who visit, and those who build, and those who nurture children, and those who clean, and those who invent and those who heal and those who....well, you fill in the blank.  Maybe like those magi from so long ago, our first calling is simply to be who we were made to be.  And then to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to when we are called to step out in faith, somehow taking those gifts of God to their natural conclusions. Those times will come to us all, that's guaranteed. And when they do, and when we follow God's leading within and beyond them, it is also a sure thing that we will encounter God, perhaps in unexpected ways and places, too.  And it is also certain that our lives will never be the same again.

 

  1. Put yourself in the place of the travellers in the story here.  What must have been their thoughts, their hopes, their fears as they began this incredible journey? As they ended it?
  2. Have you ever known yourself called on such a pilgrimage? What was its outcome?  How were you changed?

 

Christmas 2020

Stars and Scars

 I’m a big fan of Banksy, the street artist, whose work pops up in all sorts of unusual places, and provides people like me with challenging food for thought.

 

Last Christmas, the piece of art you see here was unveiled at the ‘Walled Off’ Hotel, which boasts it has the worst view of any hotel in the world, as it looks at the border wall which divides Palestinians from the state of Israel.

 

 

It’s aptly named The Scar of Bethlehem, because along with a conventional nativity scene, it replaces the usual star with a scar – a bullet hole piercing an imposing grey wall.

 

Banksy understands how unconscionable such walls are.

They separate people. They divide families. They promote injustice and inequity. They create scars which often never heal – both between and within people and are often replicated for generations.

 

Little did Banksy know when he created this artwork that more scars were going to wreak havoc in the world in 2020 – caused by an insidious and deadly virus.

 

More walls have been created – through distancing and lockdowns, economic challenges, fear of what might happen next, over run hospital systems and death… So much death.

 

With all of that in mind, it may seem a little naïve to be promoting hopefulness and joy in the face of a world which is changed for ever.

 

Are we engaging in what some have called religion – the ultimate tranquiliser? Taking an hour to bury our heads in the sand, forget about the scars and indulge in a superficial pious fantasy?

 

I don’t think so. Scars hovered at the time of Jesus’ birth just as obviously as they hover over Bethlehem today. Just as they hover over us.

 

The world in which Jesus was born into can be compared to that of Russia in the 1930’s under Stalin.

As a Jew, he lived under subjugation to Roman Overlords who wielded power with efficiency and callous disregard for their underlings. Scarcely a day passed

without a local execution under this regime. Citizens could not gather freely for meetings. Spies were everywhere. No one was safe.

 

Jesus’ own local King, Herod, was a Roman collaborator, a man with an obsessive lust for power who would stoop at nothing to keep it in his grasp. His atrocities included the liquidation of his own wife and three of his sons.

 

Augustus Caesar himself said of Herod: “Better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son’. It is easy to imagine him meeting the magi who had come to find Jesus, weaving his PR slime, asking to all intents and purposes benignly where this new king – this threat to his power was; And then, acting on his fear by ordering the massacre of a number of young children (which we remember as the slaughter of the innocents), all to keep hold of power.

 

So Jesus – God with us – Entered the world as one of the oppressed. Was hidden in Egypt as a refugee with his parents to avoid a senseless and brutal death at the hands of Herod’s killing machine.

 

He may not have dealt with Covid, or the scars of machine guns… or bombs but his scars were real too, unjust, unfair, excruciating… Yet that is how God came.

 

Why this way? Now since God is the creator of the universe, I guess God could have come any way God wanted; a heavenly procession, thunder and lightning, clouds of glory, a shooting star perhaps. But God didn’t.

 

If God had, we could never have connected with God the way we can. We would be puppets on manipulated string, rather that people made in God’s image who are given the freedom to make choices _ for good or for ill.

 

That baby born in a manger makes sense of it all to me as much as anything can. By coming the way he did – and, unlike us, choosing to come the way he did – vulnerable to a world full of dirt and disease, political injustice, murder, starvation, poverty and greed, God showed us in a way nothing else could have the scars that hovered over his life connect with the scars hovering over our lives. Because he’s been there too – AND… He is here too.

 

God coming as a vulnerable baby, tells me that there are strange things we call God’s compassion and grace and healing which enable God’s love to be not only born, but to spill out from within us and heal the scars of both our lives and the lives of others through every single moment of this messy ambiguous process that we call life.

God’s way of love has eternal meaning and is the best way to live in a world full of scars… and beyond.

 

At Christmas, the truth of that love was born, despite and because of the scars of the world, as a tiny clenched little hand.

 

 

Sunday December 20th

FOUR: Love Is Born…In The Most (Dark) Unlikely Place

Sunday’s gospel tells us that Mary- perhaps the one who had the most to lose in the whole Christmas story not only recognised the light of God’s love- in a most (dark) unlikely place- herself, but rejoiced in it.

 And I say she had the most to lose because she did.  Females living in her place and time, were secluded and separated from all males except those in their immediate family and were often married as soon as they reached puberty.  Virginity was the most valued quality a girl could offer a prospective husband.  In becoming pregnant before her marriage (and not to her prospective groom) she was not only risking the annulment of her betrothal to Joseph and the loss of her bride-price to her family- she was also risking being stoned to death, her ‘evil’ purged from her community’s midst for the dishonour she had bought on both her husband-to-be and her family.

And yet Mary, according to our Gospel today, not only accepts God’s love growing within her but considers that she is highly favoured.

 She, of all people had every good reason to reject the love of God growing within her, but she didn’t. She models to us that it is possible not only to recognise that God’s love is born in very unlikely places, but to accept Gods light of love within ourselves.

So what makes her so different to the doubters?

It’s actually really simple. She trusted God.

And she co-operated with God.

Mary responded to the Angel’s mind blowing, logically impossible message of her pregnancy in faith. She may well have been surprised and doubtful, but she did not dismiss it. We don’t read here any “But I can’t do it’s”, or “It’s impossible” or “No, I can’t possibly be good enough to bear God’s son” or “What about all those stretch marks?”.  She was prepared to take the risk. Because she trusted God’s promise that God would be with her along the way.

And her acceptance of God’s love in the little baby growing within her not only changed her life – it changed the world!

Mary’s story tells me that there is hope for us, too. If we can accept that God is indeed with us, we can discover God’s light of love in ourselves, and that may take us completely by surprise, may be unrecognised by the world, may be risky and potentially dangerous, but is there all the same, shining way, enabling those with the faith to see and trust in a loving God to discover who they really are- no matter how unlikely it may seem!

 

Sunday December 13th

THREE: Love is born… where hope is dead

This week’s worship focuses on finding love in the midst of the most uncomfortable, unfair situations.  Dan will be sharing his wisdom on the topic- so be prepared for an enlightening Sunday Morning!

 

Sunday December 6th

TWO:  Love is Born… with a dark & troubled face

What a few weeks it has been! Good news abounded in the form of a substantial grant for the Cathedral Project, which brings us to a total of 12 million dollars. There was also the news that we can progress with building and refurbishing, due to the judicial findings communicated early in the week. Add to that, the loveliness of people gathering and doing their generous bit towards fundraising, via the Gala last Saturday.

It’s important, though, to remember that there are many in the world who were not the recipients of such glad tidings last week. By this I refer to ‘the dark and troubled faces’ around the world, faced with poverty, injustice, bad news regarding health, and loss. For every triumph, it appears there is a tragedy to mirror it.

Leunig’s cartoon reminds us of the very real troubles that faced Mary and Joseph as they made their way to Bethlehem. It certainly cannot have been easy for that vulnerable couple….

Yet Leunig reminds us of God’s promise to be with us always. Love is born, often with a dark and troubled face. God is with us, in our bad news as well as our good news. Sometimes it is very easy to forget it- this week’s Advent message encourages us not to

 

Sunday November 29th

ONE: Love is Born… & We Are Waiting

Why all the waiting? I can’t answer that question for sure. (I tend to be very careful answering “Why?” questions when it comes to God.) At the very least, though, the waiting hopefully reminds us that while we are waiting for something concrete to occur, God is actually with us in our waiting.  

It also reminds us, slaps us in the face at times, that we’re not the centre of the story. It’s not about us, and things don’t always (often!) go the way we’d like. Finally, all the waiting helps us think differently about both the present and the future: valuing the present as a gift, cherishing the future as our ultimate hope.

Will that change the way you feel as you burn through forty-five minutes waiting for the doctor to call you in for your appointment? I don’t know. It might, or it might not. But maybe it will give you the chance to view that time differently.

 

Sunday November 22nd – Celebrating the Kingship of God?

In celebrating “The reign of Christ” this Sunday, we confront a number of issues.  One in particular is that the world we live in has turned, and there are few kings anywhere. For the Western world, the monarchs who remain have nothing like the power of an emperor; they are figureheads who work cooperatively within constitutional monarchies.

 So what do we mean when we affirm that Christ is King? What are we celebrating?

How is this monarchy part of the Good News?

The notion of the kingship of Christ, over against the reality in which we live, begs the question: Are we behaving like citizens of the kingdom? Are the hungry and thirsty, the poor and neglected better off because of us? Is the reality of the expansive, all-encompassing love of God visible in what we do? In the end, this gospel says, that’s what matters in human existence.

 When we make choices about where to spend our time, our money, our energy, and our best gifts, we are making choices that build the kingdom – or don’t.
We are called by today’s gospel to understand ourselves as those who are called to embody the kingdom in the here and now, so that it can come in its fullness, and Christ will be king – because we choose to dwell in that kingdom.

What Sunday’s feast day affirms is twofold: that Christ is King, all evidence in the current time to the contrary; and that what we do, the choices we make, matter very, very much.

 

Sunday, November 15th - Lord Take Away Pain

  …Three people are given exorbitant sums of money by their master and told to look after it until he returned. 

When the master came back, he found that both the first and second people had doubled their money. The Master said to them: “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.’

The third person had, instead, buried his money.  When he returned it, safe and sound, the master’s response was:  “Wicked and slothful servant!”  He took the money from him and gave it to the first person, then he cast him into the outer darkness, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So- if the money in this parable is substituted for pain; then this parable could be telling me that it’s not a good idea to bury it.  Because my pain is part of who I am, and if I bury that, I also bury along with it all that makes me most alive.  The third man was never able to become who he might have been, because he put what could have made him most real, most alive, deep in the ground.

And perhaps the outer darkness the Master casts him into is not to be thought so much of as a punishment, rather as the inevitable consequence of what it means to bury your life.  If you bury your life, you don’t live your life. You don’t meet other people who are alive. You are alone.“From him who hath not, it will be taken”

Hard words for a hard reality. If life is buried, if pain is somehow covered over or forgotten, or used as a way to get sympathy, or as an excuse to perpetuate the very same pain on other people-instead of growing, you shrink. You become less; you become diminished. You do not make the most of the gift of life that you have been given.

The positive side of this parable, is, of course, the first two people- the ones who come back with more than they started out with.  They traded with their money- they traded with their lives. They faced the pain, honestly, openly, courageously, by recognizing it and living with it, by sharing it appropriately with others and by letting others share their pain with them…

 …And there is more on Sunday!!!!!

 

Sunday November 8th - Faithful waiting and watching

We live in interesting times. The US election is currently unfolding which, whether we like it or not, has implications for global politics. We, in Aotearoa, have just been through our elections. COVID-19 continues to loom large both nationally and internationally. And we face an ever-increasing climate emergency. These things, politics, pandemics, climate change, they affect us, our families and communities. "Interesting times" is a bit of an understatement. Unsettling times. Chaotic times. Tumultuous times. These words perhaps describe the state of play more accurately. Amid these times and signs, we often ask questions. Where is God? What is God doing? Is this the end? And these questions often lead to one of two things: anxiety or apathy. Fear grips us and immobilises, or we throw our hands up in frustration at all that is wrong with the world and withdraw.

Crazy times, and the anxiety or apathy associated with these times, isn't a new phenomenon. People, communities, cities and nations have experienced this before. Jesus' disciples experienced these things. The Christian communities Matthew was speaking in his gospel have experienced uncertain and chaotic times. The parable about the wise and unwise bridesmaids that Jesus tells in this week's gospel reading acts as a balm against anxiety and apathy. 

Jesus has told his disciple no one knows, not even Jesus, when he will return. This week's gospel reading is a story about ensuring our focus isn't so much "out there" but, instead, on Jesus. On watching for Jesus, trust in Jesus, preparing for Jesus' return by embodying the ways on God's Commonwealth now, on active waiting, that's what this week's gospel is all about. And as we focus on Jesus, we find ourselves delivered from anxiety or apathy and into life despite what might be unfolding around us.

Where is your focus today? Is the state of the world overwhelming you? Are you worried? Do you feel all is lost? Do you need to refocus on Christ?

 

Sunday November 1 - Blessed to be a blessing

There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers.

Do you know what I mean? When I hear the Beatitudes, it's hard for me not to hear Jesus as stating the terms under which I might be blessed. For instance, when I hear "Blessed are the pure in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," I tend to think, "Am I pure enough in spirit?" or "I should try to be more pure in spirit." Or, when I hear "blessed are the peacemakers...," I think, "Yes, I really should be more committed to making peace." At least with "blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," I have the assurance of knowing that on those occasions when I am mourning I will be comforted. But, to be perfectly honest -- and if you'll pardon the pun -- that's relatively small comfort because the truth is I don't want to mourn, and hearing this beatitude doesn't make me any more eager for additional mourning. (Ditto for being persecuted!)

Maybe this predilection is peculiar to me, but I don't think so. I've heard too many Christians -- whether in the pulpit or pew -- complain about the Beatitudes over the years not to suspect there's something going on here. Reading them again this week, I began to wonder whether our difficulty with the Beatitudes isn't symptomatic of a larger problem most of us have; namely, that we are far less eager to be blessed than God is to bless us. Or maybe "eager" isn't quite the right word. Maybe it's more that we have a hard time believing God wants to bless us in the first place. It may be that our picture of God is distorted, that we can only imagine God as a stern, demanding law-giver, and so it seems out of character for God to bless without requirement. This isn't the primary picture of God in the Bible, but it may be the one that we were taught and have a hard time letting go.

But let's be clear -- or at least pay attention to the fact that Matthew is quite clear -- Jesus isn't set up conditions or terms but rather is just plain blessing people. All kinds of people. All kinds of down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at the bottom of the ladder people. Why? To proclaim that God regularly shows up in mercy and blessing just where you least expect God to be -- with the poor rather than the rich, those who are mourning rather than celebrating, the meek and the peacemakers rather than the strong and victorious. This is not where citizens of the ancient world look for God and, quite frankly, it's not where citizens of our own world do either. If God shows up here, Jesus is saying, blessing the weak and the vulnerable, then God will be everywhere, showering all creation and its inhabitants with blessing.

So therefore I’d simply like to bless all of you this week.

God loves and adores you,

God wants the very best for you,

God esteems you worthy of not just God's attention but God's blessing.

Blessed are you!

But…How do you feel when you hear those words?

Often we're either so used to hearing the words that we don't really listen, or so convinced that we don't merit God's blessing that we have a hard time believing it.  My job is not to give you warm fuzzies or get brownie points for being nice. My job in reminding you that are a blessing is that, in actuality, it is commonly acknowledged that we become what we are called. And if myself and others continue to call you blessed, the very words will over time transform you to be God's blessing in and to the world.

In the middle ages when someone sneezed you said "God bless you" fearing that they may have the plague. The mantra we repeat so regularly developed, as a way to ward off fear of evil, disease, and death.  I challenge you this week, to help reclaim those three powerful words to signify

not fear but joy,

not disease but delight,

not death but God's new life.

In doing so,

we may just reclaim not only the beatitudes

but an essential element of the Christian life itself:

the insight that God is a God who delights to call us blessed

because we are blessed- to be a blessing.

God bless you!!!!!!

 

 

Sunday October 25th  - Love with all you’ve got! (Matthew 22: 34-46)

 

INTRODUCTION…

Do you love God

With all your whole heart

And all of your soul and mind and strength?

Do you love your neighbour in the same way?

These are tough questions.
Tough for those listening to Jesus two millennia ago.

Tough for us here today.

Because it’s easily said.

But how many of us think we are good at loving God

Or for that matter each other?

Do we know how to go about it?

And do we actually understand what love really means?

 

 CONCLUSION…

…Our all-knowing and all-loving God knows that this is life of deep loving…is the only way to true joy, happiness & peace.

To let go of anger,

To let go of the bitterness,

To let go of self-righteousness

does not right the wrongs that have been done

But it is the door God has opened

For joy and peace in my life

And in yours.

SO…

Love the God who loves you

And cherish the person who meets you.

It is as difficult

And as simple

And as freeing

As that.

 

 

Sunday October 18th - It is NOT all Good…  (Matthew 22: 15- 22)

…It is not all good in this world.  We often find ourselves having to bear the brunt of consequences not of our own making.  God won’t take our ability to make choices away from us or remove the consequences of ours or others actions from our lives.  But God will be part of it with us, enabling us to make the right decisions, empowering us to decide the best places to put our energy, helping us to understand what is really important, and what really will last.

 

That Roman coin, the centre of so much energy and controversy… it didn’t last.  It has no power, only as a museum piece, that is. Tiberius died, as all people, even divine emperors do. The Roman Empire was over-turned and now has no more power than as an archaeological relic. Over what, in the end, was Caesar rightful Lord?

 

Yet God, and God’s love for us does last.  Not just in the good bits of life but also in parts that are not good. And that love is with us for eternity. 

No, life is not ‘all good’…but it is ‘all God.’

 

Sunday October 11th  - God's wild parties of welcome (Matt 22:1-14)

In this week's Gospel reading, we have a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son, and despite the efforts of the king's servants to gather the guests, no one shows up. In the face of the snub, the king throws the doors open and invites anyone and everyone. Like last week’s gospel, this gospel is an attack on the religious leaders. It is a story which tells them they have missed the point. But that's not what struck me this week.

What struck me this week was the idea of the kingdom God as a party! A crazy party where all, good and bad, are invited and have a place. The gospel reading reminds me of a story that Tony Campolo once told about a party he threw for a prostituted women in a diner at 3am in the morning. While at the dinner Tony Overheard a woman mention that it was her birthday the next day and that she had never really had a birthday party before. Tony arranged with the diner owner to throw her a surprise birthday party. The next night when the women arrived, she was meet with a crowd of people singing "happy birthday," cake, and a decorated diner just for her. The party blew the women away; it moved her to tears as the people gathered surrounded her by love, perhaps for the first time in a long time. After the party, the diner owner looked at Tony and said, "Hey, I didn't know you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?" To which Tony replied, "I am part of a church that throws birthday parties for hookers [sic] at 3am in the morning." 

This gospel reading reminds us that we are guests at God's party. We have a place at God's party despite our missteps, failures and wrongdoing. This gospel reading is also a reminder that we, as the church, need to be throwing the type of parties God throws. Wild parties of welcome, invitations that extend to all, parties where everyone can experience the transformational love of God.

 

 

Sunday October 4th – The Circle of Life

The Pet Blessing Service has been a regular fixture of St Mary’s liturgical life for a while. It’s a lovely opportunity to “do something different” and include God’s creatures in our worship.

I know personally just how precious and special pets can be.  In some ways I feel closer to my two pets (Minnie and Elliot) than I do most people.  That, in part, is because I spend so much time with them.  They are part of my everyday routines and share so much of my life. They are simply there, and enable me to de-stress just by their presence.  They are also a great source of fun. This picture depicts Craig protecting Elliot from the over enthusiastic interactions of Minnie our dog!  Lots of fun!

So why would you consider bring an animal to a church service and having it blessed?

Simply because it is a way of remembering that God loves and care for us and all creation, through good times and times of stress. Offering our animals to be blessed is a way for us to show we care for them as they care for us, we care for each other, and God cares for all God’s creation.