Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homily for Advent III

The Preaching of St John the Baptist 
Bartholomeus Breenbergh 

What should we do?

The brood of vipers that has come to be baptised by John
hears his warning of how things have been,
how they will change,
and how the people will no longer be able to rely on their ancestral heritage
to keep them safe in the coming age.

Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire

Harsh news.

What then can we do?

What can we do to be safe?
How can we avoid being thrown into the fire? they say.

John outlines a few things the people can do:
tax collectors are only to collect what they are supposed to.
Soldiers are to not abuse their status, and are to be happy with their pay.
If someone needs a coat, give them one. If someone needs food, feed them.

John’s preaching is one of things being fair.
The hungry will be fed, the cold will be warmed, and everyone will do their job as it is supposed to be done.

And, in this view, God will look after the good, and punish the bad.

It will be fair.

The people start to think that with this, God’s reign will start, and that maybe, John is the Messaih as predicted by the prophets.

No, he tells them. He is not.

The one who is coming will have a His winnowing fork is in his hand,
to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary;
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

John has expectations of what will happen when the messiah does arrive. In John’s view, he will do what has been suggested by the prophets, and what he has preached himself.

This view sees the Messiah as bringing forth a massive final counter offensive against evil in which all evil will be exterminated.

John’s expectations are to be challenged by the one who is to come.

The coming one, the Messiah, Jesus Christ will bring a different understanding of God:

he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Matt 5:45

he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Lk 6:35
Such a message differed so much from John’s expectation, that later, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus is he really was the Messiah

"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 
Lk 7:19

John was proclaiming a radical change, in which God would do a final sort of good and evil. But Jesus message was far more radical.

How radical Jesus message was can be seen in the example of the coats.

John says. If someone needs a coat, give them one.

Jesus takes this to another level:
  and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt 
Luke 6:29

With John it is give your coat to someone who needs one.
But with Jesus the implication is that if someone takes, or steals your coat,
you are not to ask for it back,
rather you are to given them your shirt also.

But Jesus message is far more radical than even that.

John saw the messiah as bringing a final judgement.
But Jesus saw judgement as not an end, but rather a beginning.

The fire that Jesus speaks of is not one of punishment,
but rather purification,
not annihilation, but redemption.

Judgement is no longer the last crushing word of a failed life,
but the first word of a new creation.

Jesus lived this life with those who religious establishment had regarded as outsiders and sinners, those who were thought of as enemies of God.
He did not wait for them to repent, to become respectable, and to do works that would redeem themselves or gain divine forgiveness.

He just forgave them.


Everything is reversed.

You are forgiven, now you can repent.
God loves you, now you can look upon God
You were enemies of God, and God accepts you.
There is nothing you must do to earn this.
You need only accept it.

This is radical stuff, and it is no surprise that John sent his disciples to ask if Jesus really was the Messiah.
It is no surprise the religious authorities wanted to kill him.
It is no surprise that billions of people have heard this message and have encountered the love of God in their lives, even when they were so called enemies of God.

So the answer to those first hearers of John the Baptists preaching,
the answer to their question “What are we then to do?” is simple.

You don’t need to do anything to earn your way out of the fire.
It is easier than that.

You only need accept the fact that God loves you.

(With much thanks to Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink for much of this sermon)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homily for Pentecost 25

Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished? 

Israel assassinates the military commander of Hamas.
The Palestinians send bombs into Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem.
Over 150 Palestinians are killed by Israeli attacks on Hamas targets.
Israel calls up 70000 reservists ready for a ground assault on Gaza.

That same day there are mass strikes and protests in Europe.
Workers and union leaders call for everyone to stop work in protest of new austerity measures.
Police and the army arrest 100s in Portugal, Spain, and Greece.
In Spain unemployment has reached 25 %.

In these same days, there is a solar eclipse.
The sky is darkened, and the sun gives of no light,
other than a bright haunting ring that blinds those who dare look at it.

Earlier in the month there is a hurricane in the east coast of the US and Cuba.
Hundreds die, hundreds of thousands are left homeless.
Those with homes have no power.
Looting takes place, there is no food in the shops, there is lawlessness.
People are scared and hungry.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed;
this must take place, but the end is still to come. 
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 

Some see our time as the end times.

Some seem to gain much comfort from the fact that the period they are living in God has chosen to be the final stage of humanity.
This is where Christ will return, and all the redeemed of the earth will be raptured.
Many take comfort from the fact that those who disagree with such ideas willing fact be left behind.

These ideas started way before Jesus, as we heard from the book of Daniel earlier:

At that time Michael,
the great prince,
the protector of your people,
shall arise.
There shall be a time of anguish,
such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.

In Daniel’s understanding, the archangel Michael will rise and protect the people of Israel.

Jesus doesn’t really talk about the end times. He talks about some things that must happen before the end times can occur.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed;
this must take place, but the end is still to come.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 

Since Jesus time, there has rarely been a time of peace. There have been periods where there has been less conflict, or conflict on a smaller scale, but always some conflict. Our own time is one of the worst for international war.

This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. 

The disciples ask when the end times will occur.
Jesus answers later:

But about that day or hour no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father. 

Not even Archangel Michael, who Daniel informs us, will be the precursor knows when these things are to occur.

The conflict in Gaza and Israel, the strikes and economic woes of Europe, the hurricane in the US and the solar eclipse aren’t signs of the end times. Jesus warned against predicting such things. He in fact taught the opposite:

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today's trouble is enough for today. 

Be present to what is happening.
Being present and like Christ is being aware, being ready to help, noticing and acting upon injustice and suffering.

The way of Christ is to renounce all violence in the Israel and Gaza, not to take sides, to unmask the cause of the violence.  It is to make sure those who are injured are healed and those who are hungry are fed.

The way of Christ is to fed, clothe and home those who have suffered through the hurricane.

It is natural to worry about the future.
We all want to know what is going to happen.
But Jesus reminds us to be present to where and when we are:

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today's trouble is enough for today. 

Look at what is happening around us, not in some way to predict the future, but to be truly present to what is actually happening. Be present like Christ was present to the suffering he witnessed

It is by being present to what is occurring that we can be like Christ: helping, healing, teaching, showing the light and love of God to all we meet.

Instead of trying to work out when the end is to happen, Jesus tells us to present to the suffering and anguish that is around us, in our present time.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today's trouble is enough for today. 

But about that day or hour no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homily for Pentecost 19

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.

The importance of children in Jesus mission and teaching is clear and once again, we find children in the presence of Jesus.

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 

Let the little children come to me; Do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs

In these three examples, Jesus is stressing the importance of children in the life of the kingdom.

We aren’t to be stumbling blocks for them.
We are to welcome them. By welcoming children, we welcome Christ himself.

It is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.

Such as these. People like these. Brothers and sisters whose hearts are like that of a child.

Jesus isn’t saying that the Kingdom of God belongs to children.

It doesn’t. It belongs to all who believe, and of course that will include children, but not children exclusively.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

And here we reach the reason why children are important for Jesus.

Yes, they are important in themselves,
as people,
as a fellow brother or sister in Christ,
they are of equal standing with anyone else.

The church belongs as much to children as it does to priests or wardens or organists or any of us.

The church works at its truest when it understands this.
The church is at its best when it is what it needs to be for
an infant,
a  9 year old,
a teenager,
a young mum,
a father of two,
a grandfather of 8,
or a great grandmother of 32.

The church belongs to all these, equally.
No one’s needs are more important than the other.
They are different needs, but of equal significance.

But Jesus uses the idea of children in a deeper way.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

It’s a bit like this: above my desk I have pictures of Archangel Michael, and another set of the four archangels. They are wonderful paintings, with great detail and style. The expressions an all the faces are real and the they are moody.

However, underneath, there is a picture Ivy drew of the angel of the resurrection from Matthew’s gospel. It is a child’s drawing. It isn’t realistic or as stylised as the others. But it is beautiful. The angel has a bow in her hair, is holding flowers and has large lipstick covered lips. She is smiling, looking right at me from atop the stone she has rolled away. Now as a dad, of course I am going to love this picture, but there is more to it.

As a child, Ivy has managed to express her faith and love in a way that is pure and uncomplicated. It is as a child she has received this story, and as a child she believes it. As a child she has drawn it. It is innocent. It is from her heart. It is pure.

We are to be as a child in how we believe.

And how does a child believe?
How does a child receive the Kingdom of God?

Most children do not have theology degrees.
Most children have not been going to church for 50 years.
Most children do not argue about where the altar should be placed, or what flowers there are, or what colour vestments are worn.
Most children are not going to give you an indepth reasoning of how miracles occur.

All these things are obviously superfluous.
That is not to say they are not important, interesting and essential in some way.
It is just that they are not deal makers or breakers in when receiving the kingdom of God.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

This is another way of saying Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

A child approaches Christ with openness. A child accepts Christ as he is, not as they want him to be.

It is from here, it is from the heart, not the intellect that a child receives the kingdom of God.
It is from a place that is unsullied by worldly nonsense and useless information that a child is with Christ.
It is from here.

But we are to be careful. Jesus tells us to receive the kingdom as a child does. We are not become children. As St Paul tells us:

when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

Our belief is to be pure, like that of a child.
But we are not to become childish.
Our faith is not to become childish.
We are to keep the essence of our faith in that pure childlike state, where we are with Christ in a way that is honest and clear.

It is the essence of our faith, and I believe it is the essence of ourselves that we are to keep pure, and in doing so we will be able to receive the Kingdom of God as a child.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Homily for Pentecost 18

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

Stumbling blocks.

Something in the way, that will cause someone to fall, that will cause them trip and not be able to continue on their journey.
Somethi ng that will cause someone to stop where they are.
Something that will not only stop someone, but may well injure them.

 But the point that struck me today is about the stumbling blocks we place before others.

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

And with this I thought about baptism.

As you know, the way we go about baptism here has changed over the past 6 months.
The baptism now takes place within the eucharist, and we have a bunch of families here, with their friends, families, godparents all seated at the front.

But there are stumbling blocks aplenty within this.
We only baptise once a month. This can cause some to stumble.
We baptise in groups. This can cause some to stumble.
 We baptise within a full eucharist. This can cause some to stumble.

You see, the families that contact us for baptism do so for many reasons.
Sometimes it is because Great Aunty Doris wants it to happen, other times it is simply because it is the done thing.
And sometimes, it is done out of true desire to become members of the  body of Christ.

Who are we to make ANY of these people stumble?

What is going on within baptism families in terms of faith, God, baptism is really between them and God.  We have no idea how that might look or feel for them. And we cannot become a stumbling block in this earliest stage of their journey.

But what of what happens when they are here at 9:30, sitting in the front seats, waiting.

What stumbling blocks do we have here that could cause them to stumble, even at this stage?

We will all have our own ideas about how we could make the service more baptism family friendly.

Think of it like this.

Lets say I have decided to watch the grand final later today.

I don’t know a thing about rugby league, but you do, and you have been waiting for me to say I want to get into the footie.

What would you do to make me enjoy watching the game?
You would explain the basic rules,
tell me about the teams,
tell me about the star players,
tell me about any rivalries there are.

You would explain all terms and jargon.

You would invite some other mates around to watch with us.
You’d make sure the tv was working, the sound system loud enough.
You’d make sure there were drinks and snacks.
You would maybe decorate the lounge in team colours.

You would also make sure I had a way of getting home safely, or offer me the couch to sleep on.

Basically, you would do as much as you could to make the day as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.

Now, think of baptism.

Do we do this?

Our baptism service can be a stumbling block to many.
And as a church we need to think of ways to reduce that.
We need to find ways of making the baptism a meaningful and spiritual experience for all who come to be a part of it.

At the moment it is almost like being taught the rules of AFL, but watching the NRL.

We can do this.
We can make baptism a beautiful experience for all involved, including ourselves.

But Jesus gives us a warning:

Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?

Here Jesus warns us of not losing what it is that makes us Christians.
We are not to water down the gospel.
We are to remain true to the message of peace and love, and eternal life we find in Jesus Christ.
 If we lose that, we are like saltless salt.

So, this is where it stands. We are not to be stumbling blocks, and we aren’t to become saltless salt.

I leave you with this:
What can we do as a parish to make sure we do everything we can
to make baptism for those who know very little about what we do here,
the wonderful experience we know it is,
while at the same time keeping true to the gospel of peace and love, and life in the body of Christ?

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Wives,be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife
just as Christ is the head of the church,
the body of which he is the Saviour.
Eph 5:22-23

The husband is the head of the wife.

The husband is in charge.

The wife is to do as the husband says.

As Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife.

Any of you who know me and Sarah, will know this is not the way our marriage runs.
I remember  just after becoming a Christian, reading this passage to Sarah.
There was no way our lives, our marriage was going to work like that.
Our marriage has always been a partnership.
We are subject to each other in different areas of our lives.
Sarah is in charge of some stuff, I am in charge of other stuff.
Most of the time we discuss what ever it is and agree on what to do.
We are subject to each other.

Is that wrong?

Is Jesus angry at us for being so?

A lot of how we understand a wife being subject to her husband will depend on how the husband understands being the head.

As Christ is the head.

What was Christ like?

What is Christlike behaviour?

We know that Christ was not a bully.
He did not demand that people do as he said.
He did not hit, abuse, insult, domineer, silence, those he loved.

He loved them.
He invited them to walk with him.
He encouraged the downtrodden, and chastised wrongdoers.
Those who would dominate he put in their place.
Those who were treated as worthless, he treated as invaluable.

So, when we think about a wife being subject to her husband,

For the husband is the head of the wife
just as Christ is the head of the church

we need to think about how Christ was with others, and how Christ is with us.

If the wife is to be subject to her husband, what is the husband to be like.

love your wives,
just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Eph 5:25

Husbands, love your wives.


What is that like. What does Paul think Love is?

Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1Cor 13:4-7

Husbands love your wives,
just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

As on the night before he died,
Jesus took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.”
1Cor 11:23-24

And the next day he suffered and died on the cross, he gave himself up for his church. He gave himself as completely as was humanly and divinely possible.
That is how Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

And that is how husbands are to love their wives.

My body for you.

Self sacrificing.

So we know form Paul what Love is.
We know how Christ loved and gave himself up for the church.

It is these two things we need to remember when we say wives, be subject to your husbands.

What the wife is to be subject to is the husband who is to love his wife.

To be subject to a man who will love her, will support her, who will give himself as much as he can for her.

This is what a wife is to be subject to.
And nothing less.

Paul means this as a two way street. It isn’t about one being subject and the other in charge. Rather Paul is saying what a marriage should be like.

Subjection to love.  

Love that does not insist on its own way.

So, wives, you are to be subject to a husband that loves you, a love that does not insist on its own way.

And it within such a marriage, where each person can say to each other, my body for you, and in such way we witness the love Christ has for us and for his church.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.
Mark 6:31

The twelve apostles have returned from their first mission. 
They had been sent off in pairs.
Jesus had ordered them to take nothing with them except a staff sandals and a single tunic.
No money, no food, nothing. 
Their mission would be tough.
They would be reliant on the goodwill of others.
On their mission they cast out demons, healed the sick and called everyone to repentence.

This was the first mission by the first believers.

It must have been an amazing and exciting time.
The fervour of new belief, the conviction of God’s truth and the immense sense of purpose, combined with the authority to heal and exorcize must have been quite a heady feeling for this bunch of ordinary everyday men.

Filled with their excitement, they return to Jesus to tell of all they had done and seen, the wonders and the let downs, the anger they would have encountered and the sheer joy they shared in.

We can imagine them all talking over each other, each insisting their story was more significant. They were coming and going, some were hungry, others needing to see their families and friends others coming with serious questions, others needing affirmation, others arguing with each other about what was really happening. The whole scene is a hustle and a bustle, energy flying around everywhere until Jesus says:

 Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

Now, Jesus could be saying this because he thinks the whole scene is getting out of control, and it that is possible.
All this energy isn’t helping anyone.
So much energy on things that have happened things that are in the past, this isn’t allowing the present to be.

But there is a greater lesson in what Jesus says to the apostles.
There is a greater lesson in these words to us.

Jesus is affirming in their energy, yet he commands them to use it differently

Come away.

He doesn’t tell them to go away.
He tells them to come with him.
He is going to go with them.
They are to go away with him, not apart from him.
He isn’t sending them off to sort themselves out.
His being with them is integral to what they are going to do.

We need to go away and be with Jesus.
It is important that we have time to ourselves, to reflect upon what we have been doing looking at our ministry and thinking about how we can use our time and talents better.
But it is even more important that we take Jesus with us as we do this.
Invite him into those conversations.
Listen to what he says about what is going on.
Be present to yourself and be present to Jesus.

 To a deserted place, all by yourselves

With Jesus they are going to go somewhere where they won’t be interrupted.

This may be even more of a challenge to us than it was to the apostles.
We need to escape from 24 hour TV Facebook, Twitter, email, mobile phones.
All of these things are distractions from reflecting on what we do.
All these things are distractions from time spent listening to Jesus.
When we are hooked up to the computer phone or TV, we are in reality pushing Jesus out of our space.
We are distracting ourselves to the point where he is just a small thing that occupies a small space in our lives.

Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves.

Remove the distractions; be present to Jesus in your life.

And rest a while.


The time spent away from everyone and everything, just spent with Jesus is a time a rest, a time of refreshment, a time to stop and be.

This is crucial time.
If we spend all our time racing around and doing and being busy, we can’t be who we need to be.
We can’t be who Jesus needs us to be.

It is important that we rest after doing.
We need to stop and contemplate what it is we have been doing.
If we just keep doing and doing, there is no way we can know if any of it has been of any good.
The times we stop are important.
We need to rest and refresh ourselves.
But also note, that Jesus says “for a while”

This is not a permanent rest. Jesus isn’t suggesting we full stop. It is a rest.

None of us are any use to each other, ourselves, or to Jesus if we aren’t rested and have given ourselves time to reflect on what we have been doing.

None of us are any use unless we stop our busyness, be still, and be present for Jesus.

While it is true that while we are working in our ministries, we are doing his work, it is also true that when we are resting from our work, we are to be resting in his presence.

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

In our society today, busyness is seen as a badge of honour. To say I worked a 70 hour week is to be seen as something praiseworthy and admirable. But Jesus tells us something different. By all means, do your work, and do it well. Give yourself to it completely. But remember also to rest, rest completely, and within that peace and quiet away from doing, be present to Jesus. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Homily for Trinity Sunday

"We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. 
He comes stating what he knows, what he understands about Jesus.
Nicodemus says  “We know”.

We know.

Nicodemus thinks he is being positive and complimentary to Jesus by saying what he does.
He thinks he is showing an awareness of what is happening.
He thinks he is showing an awareness of who Jesus is and where he is from.

Jesus’ answer shows him how far off he is:
"Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."

Jesus has heard what Nicodemus has said.
He hears the long struggle Nicodemus has had with his thoughts to get to this point.
Jesus sees that Nicodemus has reached a certain point of understanding.

It’s not that Nicodemus is wrong.
Not at all.
Rather it is just that his understanding is at a certain stage.
Jesus’ reply reveals the greater depth that Nicodemus is ready for.

This is how this Jesus stuff works.
We come along thinking we understand it, or have some idea of what it is we are doing, only to have our concepts changed or altered or enhanced.
It never is how we think it is.

Our understandings of
who Jesus is,
where he is from
and what he did,
and what he will do in our lives
is always different than what we discover when we open ourselves to listen and be present
rather than insisting on our understanding and ideas.

And it is like that when we come to church. “We know this is what goes on here. We know that Jesus is here. We know…..”

And when we do approach church or our faith in such a way and don’t allow ourselves to be present to what is really going on, we may miss what is really happening. We are like Nicodemus.

But Jesus is like Jesus in the passage we heard.

We think you have got it, we understand what it is all about and our place in it, and then Jesus comes along with something that will make us realise that our understanding is only a pale reflection of what it will be.   

This is the way of faith.
This is the way of the journey. 
We learn to a certain point and feel our way around that and feel comfortable in it and then can state it with some certainty.

Then it is revealed to us that it actually goes deeper.

This is how faith works.
Whether you have been doing this for 70 years or this is your first time here.

Words or phrases we think we understand are all of a sudden shown to have a meaning far beyond what we thought. And that is a wonderful thing.

Faith is journey, not an on and off, not a left or right, not an up or down, not a dark or light. It is all those things. We stumble run jump and crawl our way through it all.

As Jesus pulls Niocodemus out of his understanding into a place where it can grow even further,
he does the same with us.  
When we say, “we know” Jesus listens and invites us to go deeper.  

And the way we are asked will always depend on where we are, and how ready we are.
And how the asking happens will depend on how present we are to what is happening.
It may come from being at church,
or it may come while watching some rubbishy thing on the telly.
 It may come from a sound a baby makes,
or it may come from the way the wind feels. 
As Jesus says to Nicodemus:

"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Being present to God does not mean understanding what it all means. It is rather a state of gentle readiness.
Saying “we know” is really saying “we are ready to know more.”

Monday, May 7, 2012

Homily for Easter 5

God is love,
and those who abide in love
abide in God,
and God abides in them.

At the end of the Gospel according to John there is a section which states:

But these are written so that you may come to believe that
Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The purpose of the gospel is to tell people about Jesus, so that they will believe. By hearing or reading the Gospel, they will understand, and feel, that he is the Son of God, and because he is the Son of God, it is a good idea to follow him and live and love according to his way.

The first letter of John has a different purpose.
It is written for people who have accepted the Jesus as Son of God idea.
It is written for people who are following Jesus.
It is written as a kind of set of proofs or “how to’s”
It is like a users manual of Christianity.
Kind of.

The wonderful section today is such a section.
This magnificent writing that slowly spirals around,
gradually removing words and adding new ones,
 that ever so slightly, but significantly deepen the meaning.

The spiral reaches points that are no more definable or alterable.
They are so pure and perfected that they have to be left as they are.

God is love,                                                  and those who
abide in love
abide in God,
and God
abides in them.

It is a perfected sentence. It is beyond refining.
It is dense in its collected meaning from all that has gone before.
It is resonant in experience and wisdom.
It is filled with truth and depth.

God is                                    love
and     those who
abide              in                                                                     love
abide              in                       God
and                                                                              God
abides            in                                                                                       

As God is love, so where love is, God is,
and the permanence of love in us
means that we are permanently dwelling in God
and God in us.

This presence of love is proof of the presence of the Spirit of God,
and the presence of the Spirit
is the guarantee of the mutual indwelling of God and us.

This is the meaning.
Union with God.
The letter expresses this in terms of mutual indwelling.
God in us, and us in God.

God is Love.

Love can come from no where else, other than God.
Not only is God the source of all love, he is love itself.
Anyone who really loves, is of God, and knows God.

On the other hand,
as God’s very being is love,
someone who is loveless or selfish shows they do not know God.

It might pay to pause there for a moment.

selfishness, nastiness, and  jealousy,
our pettiness,
our need to always be right,
our self absorption,
our ego driven need for recognition
are all signs that we are missing the point about God.
They show the parts of our hearts that God doesn’t get a look into.
God does not abide in such thoughts, feelings, and actions.
When we act, think or feel in such a way,
we are pushing God out of the way.

These are acts, thoughts and feelings that we own and they come from us.

Love is different.

Love doesn’t belong to human nature.
It doesn’t start from our side toward God.
It is the other way. God started it.

He sent his son to reconcile us to himself by the sacrifice of his life.

The love of God
incarnate in Jesus
has to become
incarnate in Christians,
and love which is received
in and with
divine life,
must like that life
be active.

In God we see love as the sacrifice of self for humanity.
It is that sense of sacrifice and giving of self
to our fellow brother and sisters that we need to follow.

 God is
and those
who    abide in               love
           abide in              God
and                               God
         abides in                       them.

Over the past few weeks, a group of us have been exploring the work of Julian of Norwich. She had many things to say about God’s love. Her whole understanding of God could be reduced to God is love.

After receiving her visions, and contemplating, meditating and praying upon their meaning, she wrote:

I desired in many ways to know what was our Lord's meaning.
And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said:
What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing?
Know it well, love was his meaning.
Who reveals it to you? Love.
What did he reveal to you? Love.
Why does he reveal it to you? For love.
Remain in this, and you will know more of the same.
But you will never know different, without end.

Love was his meaning.

is love,
and those who abide
in love
abide in God,
and God
abides in them.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily for Easter 2

DOUBTING THOMAS by Bob Kessel after Caravaggio

Do not doubt but believe.

The risen Christ and the doubting Thomas.

This is the whole climax of John’s Gospel. In this interaction, the whole essence of faith, and what belief actually is and how it works in illustrated in one scene.

Jesus has visited the disciples and given them the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is in many ways the Pentecost of Johns Gospel. This must have been a huge joy filled occasion.

But, Thomas, was not there.
We don’t know what he was doing, but we can hazard a guess that he was on his own, mourning the death of Jesus.

Thomas, of all the disciples shows the most human qualities. He is impulsive, he is forthright. He doubts.

He is called the twin, or didymus. Didymus can mean twin, or double tongued. It can mean being in two minds. It is the idea of there being another side to what there is. The two sides we are dealing with here are faith and doubt.

So, the disciples come and tell Thomas in all their joy, “We have seen the lord!”

Thomas is sceptical. “What do they mean, seen? What have they actually seen? How can it possibly be Jesus? We all saw him die on the cross.”

Thomas has so many reasons why it could in no way be Jesus that they have seen. They must be deluded, or have been conned by some charlatan.

He states his criteria to them. 

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

Physical proof. Unless he can see or feel, he will not believe.
Seems fair enough.  That’ll show them.

A week later, Thomas gets his chance.
What he had suggested, probably in an attempt for them to see reality, happens.

Jesus appears, and says:

"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.   Do not doubt but believe."

Jesus is saying “Whatever you need Thomas, whatever it will take, whatever it is you have asked to believe that I am Christ who has conquered death, who has risen and is now here in front of you. If you need to touch, here I am. Thomas, I will do anything it takes for you to believe.”

Thomas is obviously overwhelmed. He doesn’t need to touch Jesus. He only needs to see him, and he says:

"My Lord and my God!"

Jesus has managed to bring Thomas from doubt to faith.

From a fading belief to a full profession of the Christian: belief in the divinity of Jesus.

The thing here is that Jesus wants Thomas to believe. He wants him to be with him where he is.

This is same for us, for everyone. Jesus wants us to be with him. He knows that we are all different. He knows that we all here today in different stages of our journey.  He meets everyone where they are. He meets those who don’t know him, and patiently waits.

But Jesus doesn’t let him off the hook so easily:

"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
And it is here that we come in. This is really said to us. It was said for the first believers who were not present at the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. It was said for all those who have followed since.
But we have all been like Thomas at some point.
Moments where we have doubted parts of the faith, or even doubted the whole thing.
Dark times where it seems there is no point, and God has forsaken us.

Doubt is a part of life.
Doubt is a part of faith.

It is impossible to have faith without doubt. They are two sides of the same thing.
Without doubt there cannot be faith.
To have doubts means we have accepted that faith is not static but is a journey.

Thomas was despairing because the one who he was following had been put to death.
In that darkness he was doubting all he had been through. 
But from that doubt, he found faith.
From within his doubt, Jesus pulled out faith.
Within our doubt, we find faith.

Jesus says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.” 
He wants Thomas to believe, he wants us to believe.
Jesus is prepared to meet us where we are, and that can, and often is, in a place of doubt.

Unlike Thomas we don’t Jesus physically coming to find us. But what we do have is the knowledge that those who have not seen and yet have come to believe are blessed.

To stay in a state of doubt is not what we want to do, and it is not what Jesus wants us to do. As he says to Thomas: Do not doubt, but believe.

However, there is the idea that from within doubt there is belief, within the despair there is hope. From within doubt, faith will arise.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Homily for Maundy Thursday

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

We have begun the Great Three Days.
And here we are, in the upper room.
This evening where Jesus shares his final meal with the disciples.
This evening where Jesus washes the disciples feet.
On this evening Jesus shows us what it means to serve, and also, he teaches us how to accept being served.

Jesus shows the disciples what dignity there is in the Kingdom of God by serving them in the most menial way he could.

He is possessed by a special sense of his divine commission and authority. And how does he express this? Does he ask for a throne to be placed in the middle of the room? Does he ask for a crown?
He got up from the table,
took off his outer robe,
and tied a towel around himself.

Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

We shrink from this.
We are ok with being humble before God.

We don’t want him to be humble in his dealings with us.

We want him to be glorious.
We want to be in that presence,
but when we are we may sometimes think we are entitled to pride ourselves on that achievement,
We may begin to think we might be better than others.

But, the worship of Jesus makes a nonsense of such ideas.
The worship of baby for whom there was no room at the inn.
The worship of jesus who humbles himself to kneel and wash feet.

If worship is genuine, any sense of pride is eliminated. Jesus who we worship is humility incarnate.

This divine humility shows itself in service.  As Jesus says “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,”

But our humility doesn’t come from serving, but rather our willingness to be served.

There can be much pride and condescension in our serving.
It is only really true when it is spontaneous and comes from a place of love.
Any offer we do that is planned or forced is flawed and comes from our own will,
rather from that of God.
We are doing our work, not God’s.
It is self centred not God centred.

It is difficult to show our humility in our service.

Our humility will come from our willingness to be served by others, and by God.
To accept be served by someone is to admit dependence on them. The desire to not owe someone, or to be beholden to them is ultimately unchristian. It is as unchristian as to take all and offer nothing.
 As Jesus loved the disciples, we are to love each other. Also, we are also to accept that love. That is in many ways more difficult. It is difficult sometimes for us to let someone do something for us. It is difficult because we are proud. We like to think we can do on our own. Our sense of self is diminished when we feel we need help. Our sense of who we are can crumble when we can’t accomplish something we need to do, or something we used to be able to do.

To let others serve us is to show great humility. As Jesus showed divine humility by washing the disciples feet, we can show our human humility by allowing others to serve us. To allow ourselves to be vulnerable and admit that we sometimes need help. To admit there are things we can’t. As Jesus served the disciples, we are to serve those around us. And as the disciples accepted that service, we are also to accept being served.

Love is not a one way street. To love one another means also accepting love from one another. It is sometimes hard for us to believe that someone else may love us for who we are.
Jesus loves us for who we are.
He asks us to love one another, and he also asks us to allow ourselves to be loved by one another.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

 “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

How we live, how we struggle, how we love, how we let our selves down, how we sort things out, is all dependent on how we see things.

Our point of view in any situation is going to govern our response to what is said or is being done. Our difficulty is that we don’t always see as we need to, or we don’t see as God wants us to see.

This is the state we find peter in this morning. Peter knows that Jesus is the Messiah. He has all sorts of understanding of what that means. It may have meant some sort of warrior who would free Israel from oppression. He would be a political victor who would lead Israel to a life of peace and abundance.

Peter is about to find out that the way God sees things is different to how he humans see things.

Jesus tells Peter and the disciples that he, the Son of man must undergo great suffering,
and be rejected by the elders,
the chief priests,
and the scribes,
and be killed,
and after three days rise again

Peter doesn’t get it. This goes against all his ideas and dreams about the messiah. He has just confessed that he believes that Jesus is the Christ, then he gets this news.

It doesn’t tally with what he believes.
There is great dissonance between ideal and reality.

He rebukes Jesus, and Jesus casts Peter in the role of the great tempter, Satan, then
For you are setting your mind not on divine things
but on human things."

The way Peter is seeing things and the way God wants him to see are different.

But just previous to this passage, mark gives us a great clue to what is going on, with the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida.

Jesus lays hands on the man’s eyes, and asks him “Can you see anything?” The man looks up and says “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” Then Jesus lays hands on his eyes again. The man looks intently, his sight is restored, and he sees everything clearly.

This is the same with Peter. He has rightly confessed that Jesus is the Christ, but he sees unclearly. His inability to accept the concept of the suffering messiah is like the blind man who sees people, but they look like trees walking.

He sees, but his perspective is off.  This like the first touch of Jesus on the blind man’s eyes. It will take a second touch for him to see clearly. This second touch won’t happen for Peter until after Jesus death and resurrection. It is only then that he will see clearly. It is only then that he will see as God wants him to see, not as he wants to see. But until then, Peter is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things."

Jesus follows this with what it will mean to be a disciple. This advice is for all who want to follow him, including us.
He does not offer us any easy way out. 
He does not offer us an easy way out of our trials.
He offers us a way through them.

This way through, is very counter cultural.

It was then, and in our world today it is even more so.
It goes against nearly everything our society and we in turn, stand for.
The way through requires seeing differently.
It requires seeing God It demands that we see ourselves differently.

Deny yourself.

Take up your cross.

To save your life you must lose it.

For what will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?

When we follow these, we commit everything we have and are to God.
We give up our desires and our self interest to those of God.

But our society tells us to look after our individual wants and desires.
But to take up our cross means denying ourselves, not fulfilling our desires.

This is tough.

It requires us to see things not as we want to see them, but rather as God wants us to see them.

To take up our cross is to reorder our desires.

It is to bring to the surface the greatest desire: the desire that leaves beneath all desires and that only God can satisfy.

This desire that overwhelms all desires is the desire for God.

Following Christ means our minds and hearts are filled with this desire until every other desire pales in comparison.
Our desires are reordered, we see as God wants us to see.

When our minds are set on divine things rather than human things, our lives start to be reordered.

We realise that we don’t need to possess flash things to be satisfied.
We know that our value isn’t to be found in our wealth or possessions.
By looking toward the divine, we understand that what it is that makes us us is not the position we hold, or the power we wield, rather it is who we really are, it is how God sees us that find our true worth.

With our minds focused on God, our desires for control over ourselves and others start to seem meaningless and foolish.

We thrash around trying to force our will, but always to no avail.

By denying ourselves, taking up our cross, we reorder our desires to those God.

Our minds begin to be set on divine things.    

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Homily for the Last Sunday after Epiphany: The Transfiguration of Jesus

Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;

The Transfiguration of Jesus atop a mountain is one of the amazing events in his life, yet outside of the church, it is very unknown. In terms of paintings and music, is very under represented. It seems that it is a confusing event for us, as it was for Peter.

It is good for us to be here.

This is what Peter says when he sees Jesus clothes dazzling white, so white that no fuller could bleach them so.

Not only is Jesus whole appearance in a state of metamorphosis, glowing, radiating as the sun, the source of this light being himself, he is joined by Moses and Elijah, the two most important old testament prophets.

I would suggest that this scene is, as Peter says, “good.”
It is more than good, this is truly marvellous.

Peter was given a taste of the perfect harmony of the divine life. The veil of mystery was for this moment lifted, and Jesus divine nature was revealed.

That’s “good.”

But Peter is saying more than “good.”

The word means more than good as in behaving well, or good that it was fortunate he was there, it means more like beautiful and wondrous.
Peters cry is really a recognition that he knows he is sharing in the beautiful, he was sharing in something divine.

We need to remember that six days before this event, Jesus had just given his first prediction of his coming passion, that he must suffer, die and rise again.

He had also informed the disciples of the true cost of being a disciple, that they were to take up their own cross if they were follow him, that they were to lose their own life. Heavy stuff.

With this is mind, it is no surprise that Peter was carrying on that it was good.

This moment of divine glory was a respite from daily ministry and a relief from thinking about the cost of discipleship.

He likes it so much he suggests that the moment be prolonged:
let us make three dwellings, he says

He wants this to go on forever. He looks back and sees the grind of daily ministry with its persecutions, and looks to the future and sees suffering.
It is understandable that he would want to keep this wonderful event going forever.

So, why was it good that Peter was there?  What did he make of it?

It can be seen as a promise.
It was promise to Peter, that although life was tough, and was certainly going to get tougher, it was going to work out.

The transfigured Christ was almost a sneak preview of the resurrected Christ.
It was a reassurance that though he, Jesus will be crucified and die, he will rise again.

But even more so, it was sign his divinity.

Peter had recognised the Jesus was the Christ. Here Jesus was revealing the full story. His revelation showed that he was beyond the norms of physicality and time. He was showing his true divine eternal nature.

But what about us. Why is it good that we hear about the transfigured Christ?

In fact, there are many Christians that think of the Transfiguration as unimportant.

But, Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters think quite the opposite. For them, this day is third in importance only to Holy Week and Christmas.

But for us, we celebrate the Transfiguration before we go into Lent.

It is a last glimpse of Christ in glory before we celebrate the Christ in suffering of Good Friday.
And this makes some sense.
In Mark, once we are up the hill and Christ is transfigured,
we descend the mount,
and all sign and sights lead to Jerusalem and to the cross.

But the eastern Orthodox celebrate the Transfiguration in its own right, the transfiguration as a significant event in the life of Christ.

And their understanding of it as such is different.
For them too the transfiguration is a promise, but of a different kind. 

It is more a revelation of the potential spirituality of the earthly life in its highest outward form.

They see it as Jesus showing the capacity of humanity, he is showing what those who are united with him, are being lead to.

For the Eastern Orthodox, the transfiguration shows where we are heading.

And this is why it is good that we are here.

We can understand the transfiguration as a final piece of Christs glory before the wilderness of lent, an image of majestic divinity before we are confronted with the idea of a crucified God on Good Friday.

Or, we see in the Transfiguration the potential of humanity’s spiritual nature revealed by Christ to Peter and his companions and to us.

Either way, it is good that we hear about and pray about it together. 
You see, with other events in Christs life, we have to come to some understanding of them.

We need to get our heads around the incarnation. We need to confront and be confronted by the cross.

The transfiguration is different. It doesn’t demand an understanding.

But what it does do is invite us.

It invites us to go deep into prayer and contemplation.
The transfigured Christ invites us to deeper into our spiritual nature.
The transfigured Christ invites us to be united with him.
The transfigured Christ reveals his divinity for us to see,
and he invites us to share in that with him.

The transfigured Christ says to us “Come ”

So it is good that we are here.

It is good that we are here to be together as we contemplate the meaning of the transfiguration.
It is good that we are here to be reminded to prepare ourselves for Lent.
It is good that we are here to experience Christ’s presence in the eucharist.
It is good that we are here to be invited to share in Christ’s divinity with him.

As Peter said, It is good for us to be here.