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Sunday 25th July
The 10 am service is interactive, without a sermon as such (although certainly a message!), this is the meditation offered at 8 am.
What signs point you to Jesus?
If you’re like many people
you look for signs that might emerge from a Cecil B. DeMille production–
large, grandiose, cinematic visions of the Divine presence.
Thunder, raging storms, brilliant sunsets,
mighty winds may come to mind.
Maybe the signs you envision
are rare glimpses into the divine nature such as a baby’s first cry,
the dawn breaking at an Easter sunrise service to the sound of trumpets and singing,
or standing on a mountaintop gazing into the distant valley below.
The reality of our life on earth is
that we don’t spend much time on mountaintops;
most of our days are spent traveling
the plains and dusty roads of daily routine and responsibility.
Where are the signs pointing you to a gracious and loving savior
when your house is a wreck
and you’re dog tired from a hard day of work
or when the bills keep piling higher
and you’re burning fossil fuel running a car all over town?
Where in the world can you see the One who sustains you,
who saves you, who never leaves you–
not even in the worst and most chaotic train wrecks
life can throw at you?
Here’s a hint:
think small and simple.
Jesus is found in the ordinary and everyday stuff of life.
This week’s gospel reading reminds us of that.
John points to Jesus in simple signs of bread and water.
In these verses Jesus uses a few loaves of bread
and a shortcut across the stormy lake to sustain and calm hungry and fearful folk.
Yes, bread and water
say a lot about Jesus’ identity and presence,
not only in the sacraments of baptism and communion but in daily life.
So the next time you feel lost and alone
and in need of some direction that will point you to Jesus,
remember that you don’t have to look very far.
You’ll find signs of God in each raindrop and every tear.
You can see God
and hear hope
in the joyous play of children in a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day.
You may hear signs of Jesus in the gentle lapping of water
as you stroll along a lakeshore,
or remember a sign of your baptism
whenever you fill a glass of water from the tap.
When you are hungry for a sign,
take a walk past your local bakery
and smell the fresh, yeasty scent of rising dough.
Next time you bite into freshly buttered toast,
take it as a sign of God’s daily provision and care.
And when you gather with your brothers and sisters around Christ’s table
for a bit of bread and wine,
be assured of the real presence of Jesus.
Miracles and wonders need not happen in the clouds.
All creation is sacred and each moment infused with the divine.
Bread and water are wonder enough.
and you will see signs of God incarnate
at work in the world and at work in you.
Sunday July 18th
….take for example, the story of the apostle’s decision, in Acts 1: 15- 26, to replace Judas.
It is the time between Jesus’ ascension and the week of Pentecost. reading the first chapter of Acts, one gets the impression that elevating a woman to leadership in the post-resurrection movement was the furtherest thing from anyone’s mind.
That despite her faithful service, her leadership among the women her contribution to the ministry and her witness to Jesus’ resurrection, Mary Magdalene’s name never came up.
But then neither did any other woman’s’ name come up, for that matter.
Can this be the full story? Were those whom Jesus had left in charge of his church so hopelessly provincial and bigoted that not a one of them could bring himself to imagine having a woman as a colleague?
How different history might have been if Peter and the other apostles that week leading up to the festival of Pentecost had the courage and vision to elect a woman to replace Judas.
Had the apostles elected Mary, perhaps those of us with leadership gifts would not be forced, as women have, for centuries, to defend our right to preach, teach, and hold leadership positions in our church and in our culture.
Just imagine how many women might have been spared being burnt at the stake, being branded a witch or heretic, have escaped depression and madness, been rescued from feeling maladjusted spiritually, and been saved from the pain of ridicule and ostracization for being born a gifted female instead of a gifted male.
How could Matthew, himself a previously despised tax collector and outcast within the group, or Simon the Canaanite who, because of his militant political leanings, was a pariah among a group made up of mostly humble fishermen, not notice the omission of Mary’s name?
How could Peter have not stepped forward and dared to defend Mary’s candidacy? He who dared not long after, to accept gentiles into the early church, to the horror of the all-Jewish congregation?
How could they forget Mary’s strong leadership and contribution to Jesus’ ministry, and that, as one of the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection, she was especially qualified for the job?
If they had dared to think beyond the square, the church today would probably be a radically different place for both its male and female followers.
But they did forget- or omit- or ignore. And instead the names of two previously anonymous men, Barsabbas and Matthais were proposed over Mary. And in so doing, they chose the expedient over the prophetic. The safe thing over the right thing.
Sadly, Mary Magdalene fades off the scene after the gospel writers have finished telling of her encounter with Jesus at the tomb and her testimony to the disciples about what Jesus proclaimed to her.
You would think that from the biblical record, Mary quietly receded into the background and without a murmur gave the spotlight over to the men.
You would think that Mary and the other women (Joanna, Susanna and others) were content with being invisible. But I wonder…. More before and after on Sunday…
Sunday July 11th
It’s one of those mornings when it seems a little odd to be saying:
‘Thanks be to God”
in response to our gospel reading.
It’s odd because in worship
we expect to get uplifting messages,
and affirming words of faith,
in other words a never ending exercise
of praise and warm fuzzies.
Yet this morning
We heard the brutal story of John the Baptist’s
His head served up on a platter
To please a queen with a vendetta.
I for one,
Applaud the fact
That the compilers of our weekly readings
Don’t behave like the PR consultants we know and love
That spend their days airbrushing and spin-doctoring
To keep us all happy and complacent on a Sunday Morning.
It might mean we don’t score highly in the popularity stakes
Of nice things to spend your time doing in your spare time
But it will keep us real
About the real costs there are,
For those of us, like John the Baptist,
Who choose to take following God seriously.
Ask most people what they remember about John the Baptist
And they are not likely to remember anything
too serious about him at all-
More likely one or more of the following:
his mother was what is now termed ‘an obstetric hazard’,
judged well past her use-by-date when it comes to childbirth;
or that his father Zechariah was struck dumb
until he agreed to call
this miracle child of his declining years John,
or perhaps that to us
he seems to have grown into a rather odd person
who lurked in the desert,
wore camels hair and lived on an uninspiring diet
of locusts and wild honey,
or that he came to such a gruesome end.
Yet John the Baptist’s life
stood for something much,
much deeper than that…
just like his untimely and gruesome end
stood for something much, much deeper than that.
There are many other aspects of his character
that we could well do to emulate- and celebrate
which go unremembered.
So who was this man
What is worth not only remembering
In terms of what he stood for
And what he was born,
lived and died for?.....
find out more on Sunday!
Sunday July 4th
This Sunday is“Refugee Sunday.” Our gospel reading centres on Jesus’ return to his hometown, teaching there, and his subsequent rejection by the community in which he was raised. That story is followed by Jesus sending out his disciples, two by two, with essentially nothing and instructions about what to do based on whether the town receives them. Interestingly the shaking of the dust off the disciples’ feet (in response to a rejection from a particular village or town) is a nod to eschatological judgment.
This story is often read and interpreted as a call to discipleship, a call to go out into the world and live and embody the prophetic and liberating way of Jesus - preaching the good news, resisting evil, and healing people. This interpretation of the passage is undoubtedly valid and vital and must continually inspire, challenge and form us as disciples of Jesus. We must never lose slight of the fact that Jesus calls and sends us to be his hand and feet in the world.
However, what might we learn if rather than positioning ourselves as sent disciples we instead located ourselves in the position of those who were to receive and welcome the disciples? Those charged with welcoming the out of towner, the stranger0Are we families, a church community, a community, a country that will welcome those who arrive with no food, no bag, no money? Those fleeing conflict and violence? Those fleeing religious or political persecution? Or are we a community marked by piles of dust at our doorstep left by those we have rejected? Is this question that is especially important as we remember, pray for, and think about how we might engage in the plight of refugees and the work of Christ-centred justice, liberation and transformation.
- 79.5 million displaced people worldwide at the end of 2019, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events.
- 45.7 million people are internally displaced
- 26 million are refugees
- 4.2 million were asylum seekers
- 6.6 million are from the Syrian Arab Republic
- 30-34 million refugees are children
- 85% are hosted in developing countries.
- 4.2 million stateless persons
A Powerful Spoken Word Poem
(READ TOP TO BOTTOM AND THEN BOTTOM TO TOP – very important!)
Or watch it on YouTube HERE
by Brian Bilston.
They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way.
Sunday June 27th
I have been reading a fascinating book entitled “Mark, Mutuality and Mental Health. Encounters with Jesus”, which has provided me with the inspiration to look at this week’s gospel, the story of two healings sandwiched together, in quite a different way than usual. The following is the conclusion of the presentation, which will take place at the 10 am service, and I will include the prayers as the reflection for this week.
I think there are three very different interpretations that can lead to a response to this intriguing Markan healing sandwich.
The first is
Isn’t God great?
All we need is faith and we will be healed, too.
The second is
Isn’t it awful that illness/women used to be treated so inhumanely?
Isn’t it good that we don’t hold such attitudes today.
And the third is
What does this gospel tell us about ourselves
And how we are to live as Jesus’ hands and feet in this world?
I wonder how God feels when even in this age of inclusion, antidiscrimination legislation,
awareness of difference, medical wisdom,
and ever superior technological expertise;
The age-old fear of those who are different to us,
beginning with that first unguarded thought we have when we see another human being, is still commonplace,
even in those places where ‘wokeness’ has become the modus operandi?
That original stereotype, if left unchecked,
Will always lead to
of those who are not like ‘us’.
If we are serious in our claim to be Christian,
And therefore recognize the image of God imprinted on every other human.
We need to become more aware
firstly of our own assumptions,
And the barriers they might be putting in place
Regarding access to justice and healing for all;
And then the assumptions of the society we live in,
The barriers that our systems and structures
Place on some to the advantage of others.
It’s a life long, humbling challenge…
As Jairus and our woman have shown us.
Let us continue it in prayer…
Sunday June 20th
Sunday Sermon Snippet
If you have heard of the book of Job, you probably connect it to suffering. This is true. Job lost everything important to him, family, health and wealth, and is left desolate.
But the book is about more than how to handle life’s suffering. It is about the existential crisis that goes with suffering when we start asking why. Why me? Why did I lose my job, get cancer, or suffer a great injustice? What did I do to deserve this? And why do good people suffer terribly and some real jerks seem to breeze through life untouched by tragedy?
The existential questions about suffering, the anxiety of why, can be nearly as painful as the cause of suffering. Sometimes people recover from the immediate effects of a serious blow, but don’t recover from the assault on their worldview. I thought the world was safe. I believed that God loved me. I supposed that life was fair. Losing our trust that life has meaning, that there is a loving God, and that life is fair makes our suffering worse. These existential losses can last a lifetime.
Job and his friends spend many chapters discussing the reasons behind his suffering. Their debate is rather narrow to the modern ear. How many times have you heard someone say, “What did I do to deserve this?” Job searches his life and comes to the conclusion that nothing he did could warrant this suffering, in fact he is a rare person that can’t think of anything he did wrong. Job’s friends just can’t accept this answer. If Job had said he secretly embezzled money, had multiple affairs or killed a man in bar fight when he was young, his friends would have said, “Oh Job, that’s bad. Now we understand why you are suffering, but we love you.” But they could not accept that Job was blameless. That wasn’t how their worldview worked.
This is the core to understanding the entire book. Much of religion focuses on the need to be moral. Do this, and don’t do that. And if you do the right thing you will be rewarded, and you do the wrong thing and you will be punished. The book of Job is a rebellion against the conventional wisdom of the Bible, that proclaims that everyone will get what they deserve in the end. Because Job, and many of us, know we won’t.
Sunday June 13th
Facebook has some very smart little tricks to it. None smarter, in my opinion, than the one that allows me to ’hide’ those extremely banal and uninteresting posts that pop up interminably, like what someone had for breakfast, which character out of Harry Potter they resemble, or even when they’re washing the dog.
Too much information I say!
So click- Out it goes!
However, I’m not prepared to click Facebook out of my life altogether- not yet anyway. Because every so often someone posts something that is both enriching and enlightening, like the quote posted recently, which for me, sums up the wisdom found in this week’s bible readings:
“many times life does not turn by your own hand”.
Who ever said it is right. We’re all amateurs of our own mysterious lives…
Sunday, May 30th - Trinity Sunday
Any discussion of the Trinity, I think, needs to being with the acknowledgement that, ultimately, the Trinity is a mystery. The Mothers & Fathers of the Church, and teachers and theologians have been wrestling with how to explain the Trinity since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the Church.
St Augustine, who wrestled with the idea of the Trinity perhaps more than any said, “If you comprehend something, it is not God.”
The Trinity is always beyond us, defying explanation, and any reflection on the Trinity, and its implications for us as followers of God is, ultimately, only a shadow of the mysterious, beautiful, complex, life giving, life redeeming, and life sustaining inner life of God.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t, with humility, reflective creatively about what the Trinity is and what it might hold for us as followers of Jesus, and for humanity.God, one in three and three in one.
God, unity in diversity and diversity in unity.
Unity in diversity.
Often unity is equated to sameness, to uniformity, or to conformity. Unity is none of these things. Unity is not sameness. Unity is not uniformity. Unity is not conformity. For genuine unity to exist, there must be diversity.
God is not sameness. God is not uniformity. God is not conformity.
But God is one.
Richard Twiss says this, "In order for there to be unity, there must first be diversity. God is One because [God] is Three."
Unity is impossible without diversity.
May 23rd - Pentecost - The Winds of Change
This Sunday, 23 May is Pentecost Sunday, and it will take the shape of what I term an “All Age Service” which, although it follows the usual form of our Sunday Services, involves a little more action than usual, and involves candles, disciples, doves and helium...
Our theme- Winds of Change, focuses on the disciples reaction to the ‘arrival’ of the Holy Spirit, and how it transformed, not just their lives, but the shape of billions of others ever since.
“Today’s story shows us that the Holy Spirit has the power to bring about extraordinary change. By filling the disciples with confidence, strength and the ability to communicate, the Spirit transformed a group of friends into the beginning of a world wide faith. The Holy Spirit is the wind of change which can breathe new life into us all. She can inspire us and empower us to do things we had never thought possible!”
More about that Wind of the Spirit…
It’s Pentecost, our celebration of the origins of the church by the coming of God’s spirit. Check out the story in Acts 2.
Jesus’ friends are depressed, frightened, closed in, praying, alone. The spirit strikes suddenly, frighteningly—like a mighty wind—and blows them out into the streets. Things change. New ways of being God’s people are forged.
The spirit can be a mighty wind. As a matter of fact, the word πνευμα (pneuma) means both spirit and wind.
When the spirit wind blows into a community of faith or into you, it is the kind of thing that knocks you off your feet with wild unpredictability. It is getting accepted to the school of your choice or landing the job you’ve always dreamed of. It is like new love, or like a dog hanging its head out the window of a car going 60 miles an hour, or like Justify storming down the home stretch in the Derby. It is the exhilaration of welcoming a soldier home from combat. It is getting great news from the doctor. It is a bunch of children giggling, squirming, singing at their after school program. It is the faithful rallying for hunger programs or getting excited about new and old forms of worship.
But the spirit isn’t always mighty wind. Pneuma can actually be translated three different ways: as spirit, wind, or breath. Sometimes instead of wind, we get only a breath. A whisper. The tender hug of the One who cares, supports, loves, rather than the fist bump of exhilaration. Not the excitement of new love, but the familiarity of a long-time love. Not the dog hanging its head out the window of a speeding car, but dozing in the sun. Not the stallion streaking down the track but foals grazing in the field.
The whisper of the spirit is the exhale you make after you’ve heard bad news and realize you have been holding your breath. The whisper of the spirit is the sigh of a sleeping child. The whisper of the spirit is the breath of a bugler playing taps for the soldier who didn’t make it home. The whisper of the spirit is the quiet voice of encouragement to get up and try again after you didn’t get into the school you wanted or land the job you dreamed of. The whisper of the spirit breathes life into a home or a community that needs it. It gathers up the ones who are chased by the wind out of an upper room where they had waited alone and whispers, “Now what are you going to do?”
Alone and worried doesn’t work for the spirit of wind and whisper. What works is gathering, and then dispersing. What works is finding the right words and acts to be Jesus to your own community. What works is using your own energy to take God’s mighty wind and quiet whisper out the doors, so that everyone might experience the wind of exhilaration and the whisper of encouragement.
This is both power and gentleness. This is the legacy of spirit.
Sunday May 16th
Prayer…entering the force field of God’s Love
Why pray for others?
It’s a sensible question; a reasonable question; a logical question. Trouble is,
it’s a question that inevitably creates further questions rather than a straight-forward, concrete answer…. Like in this this theoretical conversation:
Q: Does God really care about all the little details of our lives, such as selling a house or finding a carpark outside the shop we’re wanting to go to or finding just the right pair of fluffy slippers we’ve been longing for all winter at a knock-down price??
A: Yes, God cares for each of us intimately.
Q: Well then, what about the hurricane that flattens a city or the tsunami that washes away a quarter of a million people? Why does God seem to pick and choose exactly if and when he intervenes on this chaotic planet?
A: Well that’s easy, it’s all about Quantity- that is, the more a certain prayer is prayed the more likelihood there is of receiving a quality answer.
Q: I don’t know if you can be quite so sure about that one. Students and teachers at the University of Louvain back in 1483, debated that very issue: Do four-minute prayers on consecutive days stand a better chance of being answered than a one-off twenty-minute prayer? They debated for eight weeks, longer than it had taken Columbus to sail to America the previous year. And, unlike Columbus’s voyage, didn’t come up with anything concrete at all.
A: Well then, no, definitely not. My answer must have been wrong. Prayer does not operate according to a mathematical formula in which God calculates the total amount of prayer-pressure applied.
Q: Please don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember that in places like South Africa and Eastern Europe, mass prayers have and do make a difference.
A: And the Bible itself includes some examples, such as God responding to the Israelites in Egypt because “I heard them crying out’. The prophets pleaded with entire nations to repent and in some cases (notably Jonah’s Ninevah) they did. Paul solicited group prayers from places like Corinth, Ephesus and Rome. So apparently the shared concern of many people can and does have an effect.
So, you can see that the question ‘Why pray?’ Is very, very difficult to answer adequately.
But there is a question about prayer for others that I can ask - and answer - with certitude… And it is this:
How does God feel about me or about the person I’m praying for?...
Sunday May 7th
This week's gospel, as was last week's, is set in the upper room, in the context of a meal. Jesus is offering some final words and encouragement to his disciples before he embarks on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
Jesus talks about remaining in him, abiding love, sacrificial love, and loving one another. And amid all that, Jesus talks about joy.
To me, that seems an odd place to talk about joy. Joy amid community, joy amid loving one another, joy amid the heartbreak and difficulty of life.
What is this thing called joy?
What is the Christian experience of joy?
Is it at odds with the kind of joy we see and hear on the radio, TV, and on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat feeds?
In the ups and downs of life, particularly in the downs, is joy possible?
Jesus says it is, but it is radically different to what we are feed by the likes of McDonald, Coke & Johnny Walker. Where do you experience joy?
Join us on Sunday as we reflect on joy, what it means, and what its source is. See you there.
ANZAC Day — April 25
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields,
The poppies grow
Between the crosses,
Row on row.
That mark our place;
And in the sky
Still bravely singing,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn,
Saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,
And now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
Be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,.
Though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian artillery officer and military doctor wrote this poem back in 1915. He was one of the soldiers fighting in Flanders, Belgium, during World War One. In May 1915, he conducted the funeral of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had died in the Second Battle of Ypres. In the adjacent cemetery, red poppies blew gently in the breeze- a symbol of regeneration and growth in a landscape of blood, destruction, and senseless waste of lives. Distressed at the suffering and death around him, couple with the amazing but bizarre sight of the poppies, McRae scribbled the verses in his notebook. He threw the poem away, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it to the English magazine ‘Punch’- where it was published. Three years later, on 28 January 1918, McCrae himself was dead, a victim of pneumonia and meningitis. As he lay dying, he is reported to have said, “Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep’.
Many people were moved by the pathos of his poem. Among them was Moina Michael, who worked in a YWCA canteen in New York. Two days before the signing of the Armistice (11 November 1918), she wrote a reply to McCrae, stating: ‘We shall keep the faith’. She also set herself a mission: to have the red poppy adopted as a symbol of remembrance, which of course it has been, not just in her home country, but globally.
New Zealanders embraced the new symbol early on in its history, albeit on a different day of the year than that observed elsewhere. Poppies were supposed to be available here on Armistice Day, 1921, but the ship carrying the supply from France was late, so they were not sold till ANZAC Day, 1922, raising over 13 thousand pounds and starting a tradition for poppy-wearing on ANZAC Day which has continued.
Red poppies did not only flourish in that cemetery glimpsed by John McCrae in 1915. They were known to flourish amongst the graves of French soldiers killed in the Napoleonic Wars, and at other sites of battle during World War One. It was commonly said by soldiers at the time, that a fresh field would quickly turn red with battle, as the blood from fallen soldiers turned into the blood red petals of the poppy.
However there are a couple of rational, scientific reasons for this onslaught of poppies immediately after a battle. The poppy was a symbol of death, renewal, and life long before the First World War because the seeds of the flower can remain dormant in the earth for years, but will blossom spectacularly after the soil is churned- as no doubt it was as the scene of stupendous disturbances during those terrible, bloody battles. Also it seems that few poppies grew on Flanders, and those other fields before the Great War, because the soil was not rich enough in lime to allow the poppies to flourish, however the rubble produced from fighting introduced great quantities of it, causing the fields to become packed with the vibrant blooms immediately following battles. Of course, as the lime was absorbed by the poppies, the flowers begin to die slowly till none were left.
Whatever the reason for the sudden exuberant growth of poppies- it seems an immense contradiction… the grey, muddy desolate fields of death and the sight of the red poppies, flourishing there apparently against all odds. And they symbolise for me, a deeper contradiction- the contradiction we confront today- the contradiction of love and hate which is experienced most graphically during times of war. And I believe that, as the worst of war and the destruction it wrought could not stop the poppies flourishing, the worst that we can do to each other can never destroy love- the love which comes from God.
On the face of it, the idea of God’s love seems so useless, so weak, so airy-fairy when we’re confronted with the brutal realities of war. But God’s love is a power which has outlasted every ideology which has ever sought to destroy it. And at the heart of this power is a God, Jesus Christ, who came without any weapons, who did not use physical might or coercion to make us follow him. The God who said “Love your enemies”.
And this God asks us to take the risk of being invaded not by might or greed, but by a vulnerable and relentless love. This love is not about warm fuzzy feelings. It is not about acting in the interests of others because we are forced to. It is not about giving something to others for the sake of what we’ll get back. It’s an individual choice. It’s a Love that demands we question the values we have been asked to accept, a love which shares the cry of every victim of war. a love which even death cannot destroy, love which can flourish in the most hopeless situations- love like those red poppies blossoming on the war fields of Flanders.
Low Sunday - April 11th
I referred to this information last year, but I think it is so interesting I thought it wouldn’t hurt to re-print again!
I have often wondered why this Sunday is often referred to as “Low Sunday”. It always sounds so dreary- we have the high of Easter Day- and hardly get time to enjoy the celebration before we’re into a ‘Low’. So I have done a little research on why today is called “low’, which shows there is certainly more to the meaning than meets the eye!
There certainly is an obvious connection between the contrast of the pomp and circumstance often present in Easter Day liturgies, and the relative simplicity of the rest of the Easter season. But the plot gets thicker!
In the Roman Catholic Tradition, Low Sunday is known as "Quasimodo Sunday", named for the first two words of the opening Antiphon at Mass that speak especially to those baptised at Easter, from 1 Peter 2:2. Translated, it reads:
As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Rejoice to God our helper. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob.
And that is because today is the day that, traditionally, the newly baptised officially put away their white robes, hence, it is known liturgically as the "Sunday of putting away the albs."
And yes, the name of this Feast is the origin of the name of the hunchback, Quasimodo, in Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Poor Quasimodo was a foundling who was discovered at the cathedral on Low Sunday and so was named for the Feast.
I’ll leave to your imaginations or research the connection between Quasimodo and Low, and there a a number of other reasons for the name, but I cannot resist leaving you with another tradition which I do not encourage you (for health and safety reasons among others) to repeat this week.
In England, at one time anyway, on the Monday after Low Sunday, between the hours of 9 and noon, there was the strange custom by which men "captured" women (often by lifting them up in chairs) for a ransom which was given to the Church. On Tuesday the women reciprocated by capturing the men. These two days became known as "Hocktide."
Enough of that.
Time to begin our service, knowing that as with the word Low Sunday, there is also more to our reading today about Thomas and Jesus, and what that says about the depth of resurrection, than meets the eye!
A Sermon Taster in preparation for Sunday…
I can just imagine the disciples
After Jesus’ crucifixion.
In a room somewhere in Jerusalem.
Imagine how devastated they must have felt.
who had given up everything-
their jobs, their homes, their families
to follow Jesus.
Now left without their leader
Their hopes and dreams dashed.
What would they do now?
And not only do I think they were devastated,
Shocked and grieved.
I strongly suspect
That they were terrified.
they locked their door.
Now that might not seem particularly compelling
Living, as we do,
In a world
Where doors are locked as a matter of course,
But in the disciple’s world of the first century,
Things were different.
Doors were rarely locked,
And when they were,
It was considered highly suspicious.
A communal way of life
Meant that my home was your home-
And vice versa,
Just as my business was your business-
so woe betide the person trying to keep a secret!
Children were often commandeered to be spies or snoops
And slip in and out of other people’s homes listening to what was going on
And reporting back any new tidbits of gossip to the adults.
By our individualistic and privacy obsessed standards
Theirs was a very nosey society
Where everyone knew everyone else’s business.
So, with this in mind,
It is therefore logical to jump to the conclusion
that the disciples must have been terrified.
Why else would they have risked locking their door?
The disciples would have been terrified of being attacked
By townspeople who recognised them as followers of Jesus.
They would have been terrified of being arrested
and crucified themselves.
But I wonder, if the terror may also have stemmed
from Mary Magdelene’s news
that she had seen the resurrected Jesus.
Those disciples had let Jesus down
And they knew it.
Easter Day, April 4th
Commentary Mark 16: 1-8
By Rev. T. Denise Anderson
Do we ever consider the mechanics of a sunrise? The earth spinning at 1000 mph, traveling an orbit of 584 million miles around a star that’s about 1 million times the size of our planet is dizzying. But because we’ve come to expect sunrises every day, we’re not always impressed by them. Often we sleep right through them. That doesn’t make them any less awesome or miraculous. Easter is as familiar to Christians as a sunrise. We know the story—at least one variation—and we likely expect to greet the day the same way every year. But if we’ve been sitting in the tension of last week, we may be able to experience this day differently. Mark’s gospel is, again, straightforward. There are no frills in this resurrection account. There’s not much joy in it, either. Sunday morning was a time of profound grief for those closest to Jesus. Consider those first few days after you’ve lost someone and the liminality between their death and funeral. There’s no closure yet, and mornings are reminders that the nightmare is real. It’s hard to imagine how you’ll face the day. Friday’s terror gives way to new terror as the women arrive to find the stone removed and a strange young man with an outlandish story. Remember that nothing about this sight is recognizable to them. This isn’t comforting. They run away terrified, unable to even speak of what they saw! But resurrection still came, even if they weren’t yet able to receive it. Things can be scary and okay at the same time. Again and again, the sun rises on a new day, often without embrace or acknowledgment. The same is true of resurrection. Whether or not we discern what’s happening, God is literally and figuratively turning the world around In her artist statement for “The Promise,” Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity writes: “Just after sunrise, they come to the tomb. They come to do what far too many cannot do in the wake of COVID’s rage—to touch and anoint the body of their loved one, to provide a proper burial, to honor the life lost with a memorial.”15 How has the pandemic shifted (and limited) the ways we honor the dead? What new funeral rituals or memorial practices have emerged in this time? How have families found—or lacked—closure in the wake of losing their loved ones? Scholars believe Mark 16:9-19 was a later addition. In telling the good news of Jesus, why would Mark end with verse 8? What does this ending say about Mark’s Christology—and, perhaps, his intended audience? What does this ending say about Mark’s understanding of the resurrection? Where do you see glimpses of renewal—places of resurrection that are both the “already and the not yet”? What feels held within the promise of resurrection? “
In her artist statement for “The Promise,” Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity writes: “Just after sunrise, they come to the tomb. They come to do what far too many cannot do in the wake of COVID’s rage—to touch and anoint the body of their loved one, to provide a proper burial, to honor the life lost with a memorial.”
- How has the pandemic shifted (and limited) the ways we honor the dead?
- What new funeral rituals or memorial practices have emerged in this time?
- How have families found—or lacked—closure in the wake of losing their loved ones?
Scholars believe Mark 16:9-19 was a later addition. In telling the good news of Jesus, why would Mark end with verse 8?
- What does this ending say about Mark’s Christology—and, perhaps, his intended audience?
- What does this ending say about Mark’s understanding of the resurrection?
- Where do you see glimpses of renewal—places of resurrection that are both the “already and the not yet”?
What feels held within the promise of resurrection?
Commentary on John 19: 1-30
By Rev. T. Denise Anderson
“A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY”
These words were stitched onto a flag that flew outside the Manhattan headquarters of the NAACP between 1920 and 1938. When a Black person was lynched, the flag was raised the following day. This began after the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington. The NAACP distributed the grotesque photos of Washington’s lynching to raise awareness and rally support to fight racial terror.
Thirty-nine years after Washington’s lynching, Emmett Till met a similar end. His mother insisted on an open-casket funeral. Photos of the 14-year-old’s mutilated body were published widely, catalyzing a movement. In 2018, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery, Alabama. Eight hundred markers carry the names of thousands of victims of racial terror (including a relative of mine). Their “offenses” included protesting low wages, refusing to be undercut in a business deal, and “standing around.”
You should understand that what happened to Jesus was a lynching. I don’t say this to shock. The late Dr. James Cone deftly made the connection in The Cross and the Lynching Tree. While the word is a Revolutionary War relic, the practice of publicly punishing dissidents to discourage and terrorize their community is much older. Lynching can be state-sanctioned or extrajudicial. For Palestinian Jews under Roman occupation, the cross was a tool of repression and terror. Know your place, or you’re next!
Today a mob handed over an innocent man to be tortured and killed. Members of his own community chose Empire, while Empire feigned innocence. His mother, like Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, and Mamie Till-Mobley after her, witnesses. Behold your son… brutalised.
Do not look away and do not rush to redeem this violence. A MAN WAS LYNCHED TODAY.
Again and again we find ourselves... here, where even Jesus is groping for God.
Historian and theologian, Jeffrey Spier, details the early symbolism of the cross: “Depictions of the cross did not become widespread until the time of Constantine. . . . Imperial appropriation of the symbol followed in the early fifth century, when the cross appears on coins and in the hands of the emperor in the form of a scepter, signifying his divinely appointed authority.”
- Throughout history, what meaning and symbolism does the cross hold?
- What is your theology of the cross—and how does your theology impact or shape your relationship with God?
Commentary on John 12: 20- 33
Lights. Camera. Action! We begin the high drama of Holy Week with a reading in 3 parts
Lights: In John’s gospel, the role of the sometimes-mysterious woman who anoints Jesus before his death belongs to Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus resurrected from death. Judas objects to the act’s expense, but Jesus points out there are still opportunities to address poverty, if that’s Judas’ desire (it’s not). The spotlight is on someone we now understand as a scoundrel and who’d later play a major role in the crucifixion plot. Everyone’s motivations are exposed and the week’s events foreshadowed.
Camera: The word “photography” comes from the Greek words for “light” and “writing.” Essentially, photography “draws the light,” and cameras are modelled after the construction of the human eye. All eyes right now are on Jesus. That’s a problem for the chief priests, who then set their eyes on Lazarus to undermine Jesus. We witness what is both secret and open.
Action: Everything is now set in motion. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a spectacle. It’s a protest, a counternarrative to the Empire’s extravagance and repression. It happens opposite the Roman governor’s own parade into Jerusalem for the Passover. It’s the people’s declaration of a different reign. The use of a donkey is Messianic imagery. This is political theatre, and it would ramp up the plots against Jesus’ life. “Courage” derives from Latin word “cor,” which means “heart.” When we consider the full Palm Sunday picture, these are frightful times. So much is happening that is both hopeful and terrifying. Tensions and tears are plentiful. But the Word will remind us to “take heart.”
Again and again, we take heart amid the drama.
The script is unsettling, but we have not yet reached “The End.”
How do you define courage?
How do you access it?
What events in your life have required the most courage?
In this scripture reading, note each character who draws on courage and each character who avoids it. What does each character risk and what do they gain?
By Rev. T. Denise Anderson
Lent 5: Sunday March 21st
Commentary on John 12: 20- 33
The year 2020 will be remembered as one of pestilence, pressure, and protest. Even as a global pandemic disproportionately affected marginalized people, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and others joined the already-long litany of Black lives lost to police violence and the imaginations of armed civilians. Everything was changing, but too much remained the same. The unrest was almost constant.
Consider then what must have been brewing in Jerusalem the week Jesus was crucified. Our reading jumps ahead to that week and the moments after Jesus’ protest march into Jerusalem (more on that next week).
Imagine that the air is charged as an occupied people remember God’s liberation of their ancestors from another empire. They’re aware of Jesus’ wonders and are anxious for restoration. As his lore grows and visiting Jews from the diaspora seek him out, Jesus telegraphs the vision. In order for the seed to bear fruit, it must die. Those who follow him must go where he goes. Whoever tries to retain their life will ultimately lose it.
This is troubling because the Messiah was expected to live forever. Jesus is again defying expectations. But for those who were worried, a voice from heaven confirms Jesus’ identity.
Change, even when welcomed, means death. I once had the unenviable task of pastoring a church through dissolution. We realised that change would happen either with us or to us. We could die to some things so that we could live to others, or we could hold onto what is and die with it. Only one of these is a faithful way forward. Again and again, we are being reformed. The process is uncomfortable, but the status quo is untenable. When change happens with us, what could possibly take root and flourish?
By Rev. T. Denise Anderson
Sunday March 14th - Lent 4
John 3:14-21 By Rev. T. Denise Anderson
John 3:16 is arguably the most recognisable verse in the New Testament. It’s a full and true statement by itself. But, like all verses in scripture, we miss so much without the context around it. The passage is part of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus, a religious leader who visits him at night for a conversation. Jesus speaks of being born from above, but Nicodemus is confused. Jesus breaks it down this way: I know what I’m talking about because I came from heaven, and I came so that the world might be saved from condemnation, though there are many who prefer to remain hidden because “their deeds were evil.”
John’s gospel doesn’t intimate this, but it’s speculated that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to keep this conversation a secret. Jesus wasn’t exactly popular among Nicodemus’ set because he challenged them. If this is true, I wonder if Nicodemus saw himself in Jesus’ comment about those who love to remain hidden. (Note: While light [phos] and pigment [chroma] are different, I choose not to use “darkness” here because there’s an historical practice of distorting scripture’s light/dark dichotomy to reinforce colourism and anti-Blackness around the world.)
What about us? Do we identify with those who avoid being exposed? Systemically, we remain invested in collective narratives that valorise our past and gloss over (or completely ignore) our ugliness. But I also don’t like this kind of scrutiny for myself. There is vulnerability in being fully seen. We risk being defined by our blemishes. I trust few people with that picture, and only because I know they love me.
And there it is: love.
Again and again, God’s love calls us into its redeeming phos.
Can we trust this love enough to draw the drapes of our souls?
What associations or memories do you have related to John 3:16?
In the past, perhaps when you first encountered this famous verse, what was the meaning you gleaned from it?
What meaning do you glean from it now?
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night.
What questions, longings, or wonderings stir you awake in the night?
Consider Rev. T. Denise Anderson’s commentary on phos and darkness (and the historical practice of using this dichotomy to reinforce anti-Blackness). What is your theology of light, or phos?
What is your theology of darkness?
What practices allow you to transcend dualistic thinking?
What is God’s redeeming phos exposing in the world right now?
What is it exposing in your community, your church?
How are we being drawn back to love in the midst of being exposed?
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.
- 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?
- Have you ever known yourself called on such a pilgrimage? What was its outcome? How were you changed?
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)
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?
…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.
Love the God who loves you
And cherish the person who meets you.
It is as difficult
And as simple
And as freeing
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.