Sunday, January 27, 2013

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing

Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus chooses a passage from Isaiah, and then sits down. At this point, it would be expected he would preach. But Jesus does more than this.

 We get a little insight into how worship in the synagogue in Jesus’ time. The time would have begun with the Shema from Deuteronomy, like we did today. A proscribed reading from the Torah would have followed.

Now we reach the action of today. A rabbi, or teacher would stand, and read from one of the prophets, a passage of their own choosing. Then they would sit down and preach on this passage.

This is what Jesus did.

He chose a passage and preached on it.

Well, preached on the passage is a bit of a stretch.

His sermon was a single sentence:

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

By Jesus saying this, he is saying that Isaiah wrote this passage about him. Jesus is the fulfilment of this passage. So, the sermon is really himself. The person who sits before them, Jesus of Nazareth is the sermon.

So, what is it in this passage of Isaiah that led Jesus to choose it as his first teaching?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

The proof that the spirit is upon him is in the message he has to proclaim, and who he is to proclaim it to: the poor.

He is to proclaim release to those who are captive.
He is to recover the sight of the blind.
He is to free the oppressed.

This is what he will do. His sermon, the single sentence, is a manifesto of what his mission will be, but it is more than that.

It is today that this is fulfilled. The presence of God incarnate, Jesus Christ means this is happening.

This can only happen by the God’s doing, and it can only happen by God dwelling with us.

We only have to follow the rest of Luke’s Gospel to see how Jesus went about fulfilling these divine fixes.

People were held captive by a religious system that demanded some were kept from God’s presence. They were captive to a fear of God that they couldn’t fulfill, they were captive in a system that kept them down and out, with no help of release. They were oppressed along racial, class and gender lines.

People were blind in the way they understood how God worked his way in the cosmos. Jesus healed those who were blind due to his frustration of a system that would not see God how he was. The blind were on the outside. But those who were the blindest were the ones controlling the inside.

By Jesus saying

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

He was removing the whole concept of who was out and who was in. His presence among ALL people meant they were in God’s presence: the oppressed and the oppressor.

The presence of Christ among all people means the idea of in or out was completely redundant.

In our time, it is the same. The Church, the body of Christ continues this work. It is our job to be sure that we are not keeping the system of in or out alive. It is our job the recover the sight of the blind, to proclaim the good news of Christ to those who cannot see it. It is our job to release those who are captive.

Who are the captive? Who are the oppressed? Who are the blind?

The captive is a woman in line at the shop being bombarded with messages about diets, makeup and tips to improve her sex life.

The oppressed is a man who feels he has to earn so much money to buy things he doesn’t need, just so he can be part of society.

The blind are those who have been rejected by the church due to their status, ethnicity or sexuality and can now longer see God as being there.

These are the things that the gospel speaks to today.

If we who have heard Jesus say

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

believe that this is true, we should proclaim it to all, in word and deed. Look for where oppression is in our town. Look for those who are captive. Look for the blind.

As the body of Christ, it is us who now need to say

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

It is the church’s duty to proclaim the moment when Jesus, the son of God, announced the coming Kingdom, and to not only proclaim it, but to actively facilitate it’s coming to being.

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Scripture was fulfilled on that day, and not just that day, but nearly 2000 years later, Jesus asks us to keep his word.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

When my sister and brother in law were planning their wedding a few years back, they were given a selection of readings to choose from, one of which was this passage we have just heard. As I was the churchy one in the family, my opinion was asked. I strongly suggested using this passage.

“Why?” I was asked.

“Well, it is about a wedding. I really like it.” Not the most convincing argument.

“But what about what Jesus says to Mary?”

Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?

“I can’t have that at my wedding! It is just rude!”

So, the choice ended up being the reading from 1st Corinthians. And in all honesty, Paul’s words about love have much more to do with a wedding than this passage today. You see, this passage has very little to do with marriage at all. The wedding is place where something far more significant is happening. As John states:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him

So, what actually happened?

Jesus and his followers, which probably add up to seven at this point arrive at a wedding, and the wine has run out.  Jesus changes the water into wine.

It could be that he was having a great time and wanted the party to continue, but that would hardly be a reason for his disciples to believe in him.

Jesus uses this crisis in the celebration to show those with eyes to see who he really is, to reveal his divinity.
Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons

There are six jars which will be used at the end of the celebration for purification rites. The water would be used to wash the bride and bridegroom and all the guests. But Jesus uses these jars and water and changes them to wine.

By using these jars Jesus is showing that these rites are no longer necessary. By the presence of the incarnate Lord, the old way of being and doing will change.  The water of purification was a way of keeping people in and out of God’s presence. But with God being present in the person of Christ there is no issue of who is in or out. The water of the Old Testament is turned into wine.

It is significant that Jesus uses something from the old way to reveal his Glory. He doesn’t remove the water, he changes it.

As he says in Matthews Gospel:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
Mat 5:17-18

Jesus shows that the old way was not complete. His changing the water to wine is fulfilling the old for it to become the new.

And it is no ordinary wine
But you have kept the good wine until now

The steward says. Wine could not be this good before the incarnation. Jesus fulfils the old, and his presence on earth means that even something like wine fulfils its abilities.

We will see this again at the multiplication of the loaves. The stories are very similar. Both arise out of a crisis involving the sustenance of a crowd that has gathered. In the story of the loaves, Jesus uses a small amount of bread that is provided and multiplies it to feed the many that are there. Here with the wedding, he uses the water for purification and changes it to wine for the guests.  With the bread, the comparison is made with the old way:

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
John 6:31-33

In both stories the sign that is shown is that Jesus is the Son of God, and not only that, but that what he does fulfils the old. In both stories the comparison is made with the old system and how things are now different.

But what are we to make of Jesus “woman” comment:

"Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come."

It is not a rebuff really. Mary appears only one other time in John’s Gospel, at the foot of the cross. Here again Jesus will call her “woman”

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son."
John 19:26

But the difference here as opposed to the wedding, is that his hour has come.

Jesus changing of the water into wine heralds the shedding of his blood on the cross.

And at the last supper, Jesus will speak of the union of suffering and glory that he will experience in his death and resurrection. This is shown in the changing of water and the wine. The old way of thinking what the messiah will be has been changed to a new understanding.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
John 2:1-11

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tinseltown in the Rain

The Blue Nile "Tinseltown in the Rain" (1984)

"A Walk Across the Rooftops" was released in New Zealand in 1984. I remember the ad in Rip It Up (a then free and fantastic monthly music magazine). It was a quarter page black and white with a picture of the cover, and a few choice lines from reviews found in NME and the like. The video for 'Stay' was shown on 'Radio with Pictures' (a late Sunday night alternative music show). My older brother Jeremy eventually bought the album; a sale price cassette from Radar Records in Cashel St in Christchurch. 

Jeremy played the album a lot. I would hear it from his room drifting into the bathroom and kitchen. 'Tinseltown in the Rain' was more upbeat and strident. I loved the bassline.

To my 12 year old understanding, this album was classy. It seemed so adult and tasteful. The kind of music that might be played at a posh dinner party, where there might be candles. But even then, I think I got the melancholy aspect. There would be a slightly tragic element to the dinner party, like three couples, and one single, recently separated.

I started working at Echo Records in New Regent St with Chris, who was to become my best friend. We had a shared admiration for David Sylvian. It wasn't long until we both worked out we both liked this album too. We would listen to it on late shopping Friday nights. 

By 1989, I was working full time at the same shop. At the end of the year, the first news came through that The Blue Nile were releasing a new album. 'Hats' arrived, and we all went mad for the Blue Nile again. Every morning, I would open the shop and put on 'Hats.' I absolutely loved it. It was lush where 'Rooftops' was sparse. It was hopeful where 'Rooftops' was lost. "A Walk Across the Rooftops' got lost somehow. It would take a few years and a bit more life experience, but I found it again.

During one significantly depressing romance, this song became a lifeline of sorts. 

Do I love you ? Yes I love you 
But it's easy come, and it's easy go 
All this talking is only bravado yeah 

It was bravado. It wasn't love at all. It wasn't easy come or easy go. It was horrible. The song kept my spirits up, when the whole thing was soul destroying, and I knew it. I left The Blue Nile alone for a few years once again, innocent victims of a bad time.

I reacquainted myself with The Blue Nile when I moved in with my wife-to-be Sarah. Now "Tinseltown' sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world:

Do I love you ? Yes I love you 
Will we always be happy go lucky ?

We were starting out in our relationship, and these words spoke of the innocence and hope we had, yet still managed to express that in a way that was not naieve We weren't lovestruck teenagers, we were in our late 20's, and had both had relationships go pearshaped. 'Tinseltown' spoke of new love in a way that was mature and experienced, but also in a way that expressed the complete newness of joining two lives together, hoping it will last.

Years later, we had moved to Australia. I had sold my LP collection before we left, which included my Blue Nile records. (I always thought they sounded better on vinyl.) I found a copy of 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' on CD at JB-HiFi. I hadn't heard the album in years, and was excited to hear it again. It was like visiting an old friend. It was comforting, but it made me homesick. It reminded me of  my brother Jeremy's little room at the back of our house, it reminded me of New Regent St, it reminded me of getting drunk with Chris, it reminded me of many friends who shared this album: Astrid, Jeremy Taylor, Catherine. Over the years we had all listened to this album, carrying on how great it was. The album was a touchstone for many friendships.

In 2012, I returned to Christchurch fr my 40th birthdaywith Sarah and our 9 year old daughter Ivy.Christchurch was not what it used to be. The earthquake of 2011(which I wrote about here) had changed everything about the town. The Blue Nile was in the air. The biography Nileism had just been released, and Paul Buchanan's solo album 'Mid Air' was also just out.

I visited Chris, and of course we listened to 'Rooftops.' It was a deeply moving experience. We have been mates for over twenty years, and this album has been there the whole time. But 'Tinseltown' took on a whole new meaning. The song was now about the city. It hit me how much I missed my home, and the pain that it would never be the way it was before I left.

Is there a place in this city 
A place to always feel this way

 The places that used to feel like that no longer existed. The place where I met Sarah was gone. It was painful knowing I would also be leaving. I would be leaving my family and friends. The song took on greater significance than it had previously had. It was no longer about personal relationships, it was about a network of people and their home.

Tinseltown in the rain 
Oh men and women 
Here we are, caught up in this big rhythm 

It sounds a bit corny, but the big rhythm expressed the edginess of the town that was suffering constant aftershocks. Everyones life rhythms were so different to what I was used to. Travel, shopping, renting, and environment was all at such a different rhythm. And it rained a whole heap when we were there. It was cold, and the city was broken.

Tall buildings reach up in vain 
Tinseltown is in the rain 

Tall buildings were destroyed and empty. They were redundant and terrifying. The one tall building whose reach was never in vain was the Cathedral. It's spire destroyed, it no longer reached at all. 

Returning back to Australia, I could not listen to 'Tinseltown.'The idea of it upset me too much. I thought of my friends and family and their rumbled lives. It was too painful to revisit. I missed my home and the song carried so  many memories, and now was a concrete reminder of the pain Christchurch was experiencing.

One day in the car, the music was on random. I had not taken 'Rooftops'off my music player. 'Tinseltown' came on. The opening bass note made my heart sink a little bit. I wasn't ready to revisit those emotions. 

One day this love will all blow over 
Time for leaving the parade

I let the song play. I was back in 80's Richmond, Echo Records, 90's High St, 00's North Avon Rd. I was back in July 2012 sitting with Chris in his room having a cup of tea. I was back on the edges of cathedral Square, trying to see the Cathedral. 

The strings started playing in double time as Paul Buchanan repeated "Tinseltown is in the Rain," I was a bit croaky as I sung along with him. It was raining. I wished I was back home, but that wasn't the overriding feeling. It was more thankful. I was grateful that there was a song that I could go to if I wanted to 'be' with my brother, my friends, my home. I was thankful that the song had been with me over all those years and was part of my life during so many significant events. 

I kept playing the song over the next few weeks. One time when Sarah, Ivy and I were all in the car, Ivy asked "What is Tinseltown?" I was so happy. My 9 year old daughter was now part of the story.

Thank you The Blue Nile for writing such a wonderful song. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Homily for the Baptism of our Lord

Baptism is the beginning.

Baptism is the beginning of Jesus ministry. 

After this, he will go into the desert and be tempted by the devil.  
He will then go the synagogue and say “today scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.  
He will exorcise a man who is possessed. 
He will then go on to call the first followers. 
He will then begin to preach about the kingdom of God, and heal the sick. 

But it all starts at the baptism.

The crowds have gone to hear John the Baptist preach his fiery sermons about God’s coming

"I baptize you with water;
but one who is more powerful than I is coming;
I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
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."

The crowd who had been wondering whether John was the Messiah now know that he is not. 
They now know that someone else is coming. The baptism they receive from John is only one of repentance and preparation.  

The baptism they will receive from the Messiah will be altogether different.

They are all baptised, but now must be wondering who this Messiah will be.
It is after they have all been baptised, that Jesus presents himself to John.
The crowd must be watching who this man is. He is baptised just the same as they were.
Jesus goes and prays.  The heaven is opened. And here the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove. 

Do the people see this? 
Does John see this? 
Or does only Jesus? 

Then a voice from the cloud

"You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased."

Do the people hear this? 
Or is it only Jesus?

Jesus is baptised, he prays, and he is filled with the spirit. His father announces that it is now time.

It begins.

Our lives as Christians begin at the same point. 
Whether we were bought to church as infants by our parents, or somehow muddled our way through a bit and came to the faith later, our Christian lives begin at our baptism.

It is in baptism that the journey begins.

And it is a challenging journey. 
It is one that challenges the person who is baptised, or in most cases, the parents of the child who is being baptised.

Parents bring their children for baptism for many reasons. 
It may be because grandparents want it to happen; it may be because it is a cheaper alternative to a naming ceremony. 

Or it may be deeper. It may be that there is something going on that is greater than all these. The thing here is that that what is really going on is between God and those about to be baptised.

But baptism is challenging for us a church. 
In baptism we are confronted by many things. 
When we baptise we are in contact with people that have had very little to do with the church, if any involvement at all. 
We are confronted by the fact that there are large sections of our society who we have no contact with. 
We are confronted that they seem to understand very little of what we talk about, what we do, or even what we stand for.

All this is very uncomfortable. 
It is painful, because we can see that the way we have been doing things has lost one or even two generations.

Yet, many people still want their child to be baptised.  

And it is to Jesus’ baptism that we can reflect on to help us make sense of all of it.

We can remember that Jesus asked to be baptised by John. 
We can remember that it was a public happening, it didn’t happen in isolation. 
We can remember that it was the beginning of the whole Jesus movement.

But we can also recall our own baptism. 
We were either bought here by our parents, or we made the decision as adults to be baptised. 

And to be baptised means to be part of the church.
And it is more than just membership. St Paul tells us that in baptism:

it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
Gal 2:20

In our baptism we are joined to Christ, we become members of the body of Christ. 
Our baptism into him takes us to his own baptism. 

And the words he hears from the Father:

With you I am well pleased

echo down to us and to all who are baptised into Christ.