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.