Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Some thoughts on Glory

So today, again, I was presiding at the Eucharist for Recovery - 12 Step Communion at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. It's always a welcome space for reflection and prayer and the opportunity for a short 'mini-sermon' gives me the chance to touch on a subject and, hopefully, begin the process of engaging with a subject rather than trying to give too many answers.  The thoughts below are my reflections on the reading set for today - John Chapter 11 verses 1-10

The Glory of God

How do you picture glory? Lots of bling? Lots of bright light? Big ancient buildings full of beauty and art and tradition? Huge skyscrapers or outstanding buildings? Is it the wonder of nature, mountains and cliffs? Or is it the pinnacles of human achievement, in sport , or business, or entertainment, or music, or art?

We often associate glory with ‘big and impressive’.  Or outstanding beauty.  When we talk of the glory of God we think in terms of a God who is great and powerful and wonderful and overwhelming – who is AWESOME (to use one of my favourite west coast terms in its proper way)

But how does Jesus – God in the flesh – talk about glory? He prays, in today’s reading, that God is glorified in the work he, Jesus, did.  And that the work of glory is to bring fullness of life to people.

How was that done? By parades and processions, outstanding artwork and buildings, by splendour and majesty?

 The glory Christ showed, the life he shared was found in washing the feet of his friends.It was found in reaching out to the unlovely and unloved.  It was found in the healing, and blessing, and praying, and loving Jesus did. It was found in tears and laughter, in eating together, in teaching and learning. And ultimately the Glory of God is seen on the cross, where the cost of love is shown.

In words attributed to Ireneus of Lyon, a saint from the second century, we hear "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God” – in more contemporary language we might put it like this “The glory of God is a human being fully alive."

By this we see God’s glory, when there is healing for our brokenness, hope in despair, joy out of sadness. Wherever there is a movement towards wholeness, there is a movement towards holiness – and God’s glory shines.

 God’s glory doesn’t shine only in pomp and ceremony, but every movement any one of us makes towards God’s desire for our healing is an act of glory, where the wonder of God is made present.It may not feel like it – but the glory of God is in the dirt, and struggle, and death that leads to resurrection.  And God’s spirit is right there, working with and in us as we open ourselves up to the glory of God, as we learn, and re-learn God’s love for us even at rock bottom.

Even at our worst. When we feel nothing but shame and failure, God’s love is there for us, accepting, affirming, inspiring, healing – and in turning to that love. we are a part of the glory of God working in our world.

Jesus knew things would be tough for his followers, in today’s reading he is praying before his death, and it is only through the death of the cross that we get to the new life of resurrection. And it is only then through Christ leaving his disciples that we get to the point we will celebrate this Sunday as the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people – whether or not they – or we - feel worthy of it.

This is the glory of God, found in healing and welcome, inclusion and new life, found in the hard things which Jesus friends would encounter as Jesus prayed “I have been glorified in them.” that acceptance of new life, by recognising Christ in the trials and by moving towards healing, then Christ is glorified in us.

As we move to fullness of life in Christ, we will indeed be able to be examples of God’s glory, For the glory of God is a human being fully alive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Another unshared sermon - Proclaiming Healing

And here's my sermon from the Tuesday in Holy Week service for healing that we have as part of our lead up to the Triduum at St John the Divine

Proclaiming healing

As you probably know, I grew up a full on, high octane, almost Fundamentalist Conservative Evangelical.  I was high on salvation, and down on sinners, I was big on Jesus’ blood, and knew little of social justice. I was keen on songs, and not so good on theology, I was content to condemn people to some kind of eternal punishment but not so sure about grace being for those outside the church….

And I carried a WHOLE load of guilt around about readings such as our one this evening.  A reading which told me to go out, or so it was interpreted, and tell everyone about Jesus, and let them know that they were going straight to hell if they didn’t believe the right stuff in the right way.

At least that’s what I thought the 70 disciples of Jesus were doing when I read about them, or heard about them in my swinging-from-the-chandeliers-rock-n-roll-we’re- all-going-to heaven-lads-waheey church in my later teens.  And I think I was terrified because I was being told that it was no simple harvest, but there were ravening wolves out there waiting to tear my little lamb-like self to shreds.    I think I was terrified also because I was being told to ‘preach’ at these people…

How wrong I was.

I was wrong both in what the message of this story from Luke’s Gospel is, and in my own understanding of how faith, real faith, real love, real peace, is received by a world beyond the walls of our churches. And by what we, as the bearers of Christ to the world, are called to do.

When we see the message Jesus gives to his disciples to share it begins not with ‘you’re all going to hell, folks, unless you believe in Jesus’, nor was it the still popular ‘you must be convicted of your sinfulness’ which so many Christians seem to continue to delight in – nope, Jesus begins with ‘peace be with you’.  And the calling he gave to the disciples was not to evangelise, in the narrow understanding of the word as I had been told it, the message was ‘be satisfied with what people give you, cure the sick, and point towards the life of Christ’.

This is the very essence of our healing ministry.  Reaching out, learning contentment, praying for healing, pointing towards Christ.

The healing ministry of the church, as I have said a number of times in this past three years (I checked my old sermons…) is not to do miracles, or at least not the kind of miracles that many of those who claim to be healers talk of.  I believe miraculous things can happen when we are open to the divine within, between, and around us – though I might have a different interpretation of what a miracle is than the signs and wonders movement I belonged to once.

The miracle of Christ’s healing is found in the touch of love for those who feel unlovely and unloved.

The miracle of Christ’s healing comes from the energy of the Spirit that is shared in the healing touch.

The miracle of Christ’s healing is found in listening, opening ourselves up to divine encounter and allowing ourselves to be transformed from within.
The miracle of Christ’s healing is peace, and grace, and faith, and hope, and love.

And the miracle of Christ’s healing is shared.  It’s not undertaken by special or specialised individuals – clergy or otherwise – but by all those open to the working of the Spirit of God.

This miracle is our proclamation – but not a proclamation of words, more of presence, more of prayer, more of learning to be Christ in the world – through the indwelling and energising of the Holy Spirit within us.

The calling to healing is the calling to be people of peace, the true healing – shalom – the wholeness which God offers. The calling to healing is to be prophets, declaring the presence of God who is all in all.  the calling to healing is to be open ourselves to the healing power of Christ and to live into that healing as we share it with those who surround us and those who we meet.

And the ultimate calling is to point to the life which Christ offers us, the healing which is offered to all peoples and to be able to say, with grace and love, the kingdom, the reign, the presence of God, has come near.  Share with me as we reach out to touch it, to receive the Divine healing and comfort which is open to all.

It’s still somewhat scary, as it involves being open to God and open to one another – but it is a journey taken in partnership – with the community of healing and faith which is the church, and with our Divine Creator, the wounded healer who is Christ, and the comforter who is the spirit.

And as we reach out to one another in this act of healing today, we are proclaiming in our healing touch and in our prayers for one another: Look, the kingdom of God has come near to you.

Thanks be to God. Amen

A sermon that didn't get shared elsewhere - Yelling At God

Once every month or so I get the great privilege of presiding and preaching at the Tuesday Afternoon 12-Step Recovery Eucharist at our Cathedral: Christ Church Victoria.  It's a quiet, healing, thoughtful Eucharist at which I normally offer a few thoughts... I'm sure I speak more than most visitors, but I've never really got the hang of 'reflection' - I seem to be much better at 'chatter'.

So here's my thinkings from last week...

Yelling at God

In this Holy Week – leading up to Good Friday and finally to Easter, we are confronted with the stark reality of human suffering. We see suffering in the last hours of Jesus (traditionally known as ‘The Passion’ – which comes from the Latin Passio, meaning suffering, or enduring) but we also get a glimpse, as in today’s Psalm, of the suffering that all of us go through, which is also a part of the reflection of this Holy Week.

In today’s Psalm the writer, we don’t know who it is, but many of the Psalms are traditionally considered to be the work of King David, is struggling.  He (or perhaps she) feels beset by those who speak and work against him or her.  “Rescue me, O God, from the hands of the wicked’ they call out to the Lord.  And then the writer goes into some detail about the troubles they are undergoing, where it feels that everyone is against them, trapping them, trying to trip them up.  Before ending with a commitment: “I will hope continually, and will praise you more and more.”

We see something of that in Jesus’ words today too, from the Gospel  of John. Jesus sees that the end of his ministry will be his death ‘unless a grain of wheat falls in the ground and dies it remains but a single seed’ he says, hinting at the end result of his own life.  He talks of his soul being troubled, but  also proclaims that God will be glorified even in this.

“And the point you want to make is?” you may ask.

There’s a strand within Christian faith that seems to want to say that everything is OK, it’ll all be alright in the end, it’s fine, God is in control – and, yes, we do believe that there is nothing in this world or any other beyond the touch and the presence of God. You can get the ‘it’ll all be fine’ message from certain parts of Scripture, maybe even from todays’ readings.  But more deeply than that, at the heart of both the Hebrew and Christian traditions there is a profound and powerful statement – that it’s OK not to be OK.  And it’s OK to let God know that.  Even, sometimes, to shout at God.  God can take it.
Our scriptures and our tradition are filled with people who cried out to God, who expressed their anger, their frustration, their pain, their loss, their devastation and despair.  The cry of Jesus from the Cross distils this into one powerful exclamation “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  That overwhelming feeling of abandonment coming from the one who was the personification of the divine, the Son of Man,  the one who we know as Son of God.

It’s OK to yell at God.

You don’t need my permission to do so – but sometimes we need to hear that.  God can take what we bring, good and bad, that we can express our deepest desires and our deepest fears. That we can know God in the light and in the darkness which is within and around us.

All things are within God.  That does not mean that God sends us all things or is trying to use all things, or that suffering is God’s way to teach us a lesson.  Rather the Scripture says that God is with us in the best and the worst that we experience. God is beside us, and understands the pain we feel, and feels it with us.

The message of Good Friday, when we remember the suffering and death of Jesus, is – at its heart – a message that says that God is not distant or remote, that God knows the true pain of suffering.  God is not detached, but involved intimately in all we go through.

So, it’s OK to yell, and to cry, and to feel all the things we feel when life is tough.  It’s not just OK to share that with God, God longs for us to reach out to God whatever we are going through.  And the message of our Bibles and of our faith is that God is with us. God loves us. God gives us the resources and the strength to get us through all of these things.  And then, as we pass through these difficulties, as we know the love and presence of God, then we can commit ourselves – as our Psalmist did, and as Jesus did in his own walk – to facing each day knowing that the love of God, the life of Christ and the power of the Spirit are with us in our pain as well as in our joys.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St Patrick on the radio

Actually, it was me on the radio, earlier today, talking ABOUT St Patrick, so here it is in all it's SoundCloud glory - starting at about 18 minutes and lasting for 10 or so minutes:

Happy St Patrick's Day

A little thought for the feast day of St Patrick...

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Singing and Saying what we do (or don't) believe??!!!

A number of conversations, particularly centered around a hymn chosen for this past Sunday, have prompted me to resurrect this blog... or a least post something, just this time, maybe with a hope to dropping by every now and then with a thought or two.

Oh, I'm well, thanks. Life at St John the Divine, Victoria, continues apace.  There are some immensely good people and immensely good things going on here, and those I am privileged to work with and alongside are a blessing to me.  I have been writing every day for Lent on the church website, and often find that rather than returning here, many of my thinkings end up on the staff blog there.  You'll also find many of my thoughts on the sermon podcast (as well as some very fine preachings from my colleagues) as well.

So, back to the hymn.  The hymn in question was 'And Can It Be?' - a great Wesleyan Ode to the redemptive work of God in Christ.

 Here's a Songs of Praise (UK TV show) version:

It's a hymn that takes its imagery and narrative of atonement from a very clearly 'Jesus blood was shed for us' (aka Penal Substitution) viewpoint, and it's safe to say that as a liberal, progressive congregation there are very few (including the Rector) who would use such language to describe what happened on the Cross - an event that the Church spends a lot of time meditating upon at this time of year.  And yet I was happy to sing it, indeed I really enjoyed singing it, enthusiastically and joyfully.

Why so?

For the same reason that I don't skip the Creed in Church on a Sunday, why I don't have any difficulty with using a rite of penitence in the Eucharist, and why I continue to read all the Scriptures, including the bits that set my teeth on edge, in Church - not just a selection of the ones I like. Because there's more to this whole story than the bits I agree with.  I am part of a greater community, a greater narrative, a greater mystery, than my relatively puny intellect can manage.

When I join in the worship of the Church I don't do so for my own entertainment, nor to bolster my own point of view. I do so to be a part of community, a community that existed long before me, and will exist long after I am gone.  I may interpret and understand in different ways to that which my forebears in faith did, to those who walk that road alongside me, and to those who are to come - but I am challenged to not just align myself with those who think (or look, or sound) like me, but to embrace the breadth of humanity that makes up the Church.

Also, I am growing in my ability to embrace metaphor, poetry, imagery; the depth and breadth of human condition.  I don't take Scripture literally, but recognise the layers and multiple meanings that are within our holy books.  I don't take Creeds literally, but echo Bishop Spong's understanding that they are 'love songs to God' from our forebears. I don't take prayers literally - as I don't believe that our hearts have knees, or that they can be raised up, or that they actually burn within us.  I don't think hymns or songs need to be taken literally either; I don't think that Jesus danced in front of the scribes and pharisees, I don't think that I am going to put on breastplate and sword, I don't think that I am in a dungeon. (Tell me in the comments if you've spotted the three hymns referenced there).

We do alter some of our hymns and songs, particularly in terms of inclusivising the language within them - and I realise that we have had an imbalance in our language in the Church where our language to refer to the Divine has been almost exclusively masculine.  We don't change all of our hymns, though, as many of these texts have an integrity of their own, and offer a poetic and metaphorical sense that we are in danger of losing if we are overly prosaic about our use of language.

I also recognise that I need to be challenged, even offended, by Scripture and by the Tradition of the Church - in order that I can come from an informed, thoughtful perspective when I disagree with a particular interpretation or understanding.  If I hit a brick wall (metaphorically speaking) when I hear a bible verse (take this Psalm - 137 - for instance, and read the the last verse carefully) then I need to know that it is OK to question, to challenge, to be shocked, and to come to a different conclusion to the writer.  It's the same with hymns and prayers - we need the tools, the freedom, to disagree, but to do so from a place of understanding and wisdom and not only a visceral, or knee-jerk, place.

So yes, there will be things I find myself saying, or singing, in Church that my intellect doesn't get, or agree with. I can still say these things with enthusiasm knowing that God does not need my approval, or even my understanding, that there is mystery and depth beyond my capacity to grasp. I can glean from these things - good and bad - meaning for my own walk with Christ; for instance the sheer exuberant joy and sense of freedom in the Wesley hymn lifted my spirit even as it challenged my theological grounding.

And if I do have all the answers, and a perfect liturgy, hymnody, and style of service to satisfy all of my theological and personal quirks, I'll let you know: but I can guarantee that it's only me that will like it.