Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 13B

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2009 at 11:32 pm

It is the antithesis of the emergency services,
that you stop in the middle of a callout
to help someone else.

If you possibly can, you go where you are called.

The idea that you stop mid-callout is unheard-of.
That it should be someone old, or at least, older
makes no sense, if you are doing the maths,
and a 12 year-old lies dying.

Yet Jesus this morning stops.
He asks.
He talks.
He speaks healing.

Not once, but twice.

In the face of the laughter of mourners, darkest sarcasm and scorn,
Jesus speaks life.

To a woman, at least in her middle years
and to a girl not yet a woman,
both noted by the gospel-writer as suffering on one hand from her condition,
and in being,
twelve years old.

Jesus challenges our compartmentalising mission.
In pursuing the salvation of youth,
Jesus does not ignore a woman much older.
Quite the opposite,
he notices her slightest intentional touch.

As I’ve written in the Trumpet,
hers is not just a physical, but a social condition.

If we fail to see this, we do not see the fullness
of the power and symbolism of what is going on.
When women bled, they became in Jewish Law, ritually “unclean”.
Such was the power of the processes of life and procreation,
society placed restrictions of women’s contacts
and their integration in the everyday.

This woman had then been ritually unclean for twelve years.
Money gone, friends and family nowhere to be seen,
desperate, she dares to break the Law that keeps her isolated
by touching Jesus’ clothes.

Making him unclean, according to the Law.

Our Lord does not pass by, he notices.
He knows.
And of course he does not let the letter of the Law
overrule the law of compassion.
In a number of encounters,
we can read a bit of life case law in Jesus’ interactions,
his conversations with Pharisees and other wise persons.

Jesus is naïve enough to be clear
that those in front of him in need are important,
and that the law of compassion trumps all other laws.
That’s the message of the Good Samaritan parable too.

He is able to know when the immediate is also the important.
And to speak hope, when a cause seems lost.

In both the account of his healing,
and in his raising from the apparently dead,
Jesus pronounces, gently but emphatically,
God’s power:
in the face of human marginalisation,
in the face of human cynicism,
in the face of both those who weep, and in perverse grief laugh,
after news of a young girl’s death…
Jesus speaks life.

We have the very words of Christ this morning:
the Aramaic talitha kum
speaks to us in Jesus’ own words.

We are invited to rise
from death, from despair, from our mourning, our cynicism,
to become more attune to what is actually important,
and to be naïve enough to trust
that Christ’s love
and Christ’s Body, the Church,
is broad enough to be able to hold us,
even when the urgency of special intention – towards youth, towards whoever,
comes to the fore.

Christ calls us to arise,
and to be part of the compassionate, aware, life-giving Church of God.


Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 13B

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 9:42 am

The Church exists as a parable of the hospitality and the radical inclusive call of God in Christ Jesus.

Today happens to be Refugee Sunday, and in an odd way, our long Gospel speaks to alienation, need and hospitality: a microcosm of the story of salvation.

Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him to help his critically ill daughter. While en route the story is interrupted by a woman who touches Jesus’ clothes.  The key detail is that this woman has been bleeding, haemorrhaging, for twelve years.  Hers is not just a physical, but a social condition.  Under Jewish Law, she is ritually “unclean”.  This woman has been essentially outcaste for twelve years.

She might meet Jesus in a crowd, but is utterly alone.  Her money is gone, spent on doctors and failed cures.  Desperate, she dares to break the Law that keeps her isolated by touching Jesus.  Making him unclean, according to the rules.

Perhaps such a story makes sense to the refugee: those who have had to leave the ordinary world they know; the roles and relationships that give life shape and meaning; the security of language and land, of money and even identity.  People who in desperation often have to break the rules.

Our response to such people should surely be modelled on Jesus:  compassionate, aware.  Finding time and space for them, even when there are other critical demands.  Returning them to, making for them, a place of inclusion in the world.

We live in a land of plenty.  We are called – as are the Corinthians in Paul’s appeal for the Church at Jerusalem – to be generous:  Generous in our giving.  Generous in our attitudes and our dealing with those who are different to us.  Generous in our welcome:
We saw a stranger yesterday, we put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place,
And with the sacred name of the triune God
He blessed us and our house, our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.

Celtic Rune of Hospitality

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 12B

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2009 at 10:00 am

He was a disappointment.
A deserter.
A young man whose courage failed him when it really counted.

At least that was what St Paul seemed to think.

His name was John Mark, often known simply as Mark,
and Tradition identifies him with the Gospel that shares his name.

A missionary companion to Paul and Barnabas,
John Mark deserted them in Pamphylia.
He ran away.

As the earliest of the canonical gospels,
I wonder how much, without realising it,
we get to view things through Mark’s eyes.

The story of the young man at Jesus’ arrest
who runs away naked when the crowd grabs him by the cloak:
I wonder if there’s a little of the author’s self-confession there.

This morning we have fear and a journey:
fishermen, Jesus’ disciples, reduced to terror in the face of turbulent waters.

Do we see this also through Mark’s eyes,
the enormity of Christ’s call
on a disciple only too conscious of his failings and his fear?

There are strong parallels this morning
with another text the compilers of the Lectionary haven’t given us.
The story about someone asleep in a boat.
Storm and fear and desperation.

Jonah, world’s most reluctant prophet,
tries to flee from the presence of the Lord,
to sail in the opposite direction from where God directs him.
Asleep in the hold, he is woken by a ship’s crew desperate for every prayer,
every miracle-giving divinity they can muster.

And of course Jonah ends up in the ocean,
swallowed – as if this was a fisherman’s yarn –
by an improbably “big fish”.

The disciples of course, at least some of them,
are supposed to be fishermen.
That’s their trade, and will be reframed as their vocation as Apostles.
What sort of gale is it that makes seasoned professionals so desperate?

There’s a traditional Celtic fisherman’s prayer that goes something like
“Dear God, be good to me; The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.”

Not the understandable panic of our gospel story,
but the sense of it all being so beyond us, so overwhelming.
And I think this is where we meet Mark in the telling of this story.

Because it is a parable.  Told for our benefit.

I’ll ask you to raise your eyes to the rafters.
Note the shape of the roofline, its ribs and timbers.

Now, if I remind you that you sit in a part of the building called the nave,
you might see where I’m going.

Navis, nave, means “boat”.
And, drawing on the imagery of Noah and the Ark,
the Church has long understood that as a metaphor for herself.

We are afloat on mighty waters, preserving, saving,
journeying in a missional and in a metaphorical sense
from here, “across to the other side”.

The sea is wide,
our boat, while roomy, can feel very small indeed.

Like the disciples in their panic,
do we, I wonder, forget the power and the peace
of the one who travels with us, by whose name we are called?

Our gospel last week had Jesus preaching from the boat.
Now he is, incongruously, asleep while all about is chaos, wind and noise.

Mark puts these words to paper – or at least papyrus –
in the first throes of the Church’s persecution.
Pictures painted with language evoking tumult, fear and death-come-near
would have a very real resonance for First Century Christians.

The plea of those called to follow Christ is all the more desperate:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus’ response, his Lordship over chaos and danger,
is emphatically heard in his “Peace! Be still!”
Words that may have reverberated like claps of thunder,
or been whispered in the silence of Creation’s youth.

We, who do not live in that kind of fear,
who are not confronted with that kind of cost to our faith,
are still being addressed and challenged.

There is no-one drawing breath who literally “knows no fear”.
It is part of being human.

It may be death, it may be pain, it may be darkness, we fear.
Loss of control, loss of face, loss of loved ones…
The Word that called the cosmos into being,
whether heard as big bang or still small voice
speaks peace to us this day.

With words of comfort and challenge.
“Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

God in Christ Jesus has overcome death,
has bourne every terror and trouble that causes us to tremble.
The Resurrection proclaims that
“nothing in death or life, the world as it is or the world as it shall be
can separate us from the love of God.”

Let us allow that to resonate within us.

The Church is not called to live in fear, but to speak with boldness.
To not be apologetic for our faith,
but to give gladly of ourselves in God and others’ service.
To proclaim justice and hope and compassion
with our tongues and with our touch,
in liturgy and loving service.

Each of us a coracle of Christ.
A little boat on the great journey.
Each of us with Christ himself present and proclaiming peace.

Dear God, be good to me;
The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.

The Church may feel small and swamped by waves of change and challenge,
but we carry in each collective and individual vessel
the presence of the Lord, the Prince of Peace.
By our Baptism, we are Christ’s, and Christ is ours.
“Of whom then should we be afraid”?

The response of the disciples to the stilling of the storm
is one of awe:
The “fear of the Lord” that is not actually fear at all,
but reverence, amazement, beauty, humility,
and words for which there are none.

In prayer, in adoration, in this Sacrament,
the Church of God is built up, and brought to peace,
despite our fears, our anxieties about the present and the future.
Christ’s Church – and Christchurch – needs us
to be more anxious for the Gospel than for ourselves.

John Mark met his fear, found his peace,
and grew to become a faithful witness and Evangelist.
He was reconciled to Paul and preached the good news.
His witness endures after twenty centuries.

Jonah, despite himself, brought the people of Nineveh back to God.

What remarkable and everyday-extraordinary things,
things ultimate and intimate,
will we be party to,
trusting in Christ’s peace and the faith that is in us?

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 12B

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2009 at 12:18 pm

How often have you felt all was turbulent and chaotic around you?

The story of Jesus stilling the storm touches something real and visceral about life and grief and anger and anguish.  How often might we have said with the disciples, “do you not care that we are perishing?”

Like Job, we press our case with God; and Almighty God speaks words that seem aloof, unapproachable.  Our literal or metaphorical day in court does us precious little good.  Who can argue with God?

This morning, Jesus is woken by his terrified disciples, caught with them in the maelstrom of a sudden storm.  This has mythic creation story echoes, of course: the idea that chaotic waters preceded life has both biblical and scientific resonance.

But this is a story of the Incarnation.  Jesus is not removed from the swell, the sweat and swearing.  He says to the wind and waters – and to us – “Peace! Be still!” – and against all reason, they are.  Are we?

Without being overly simplistic, or unhelpfully trite, do we allow ourselves to have the presence of mind when all is unfolding appallingly, to hear those words in our hearts?  Peace.  Be still.

Our faith is very often found unequal to our fear, let alone our distress, but Jesus challenges us, comforts us, calls us to dare believe what we profess.  And in that to touch the peace of God, which passes all understanding.

Walter Hilton, 14th Century mystic, wrote words that speak to me of Incarnate God sailing with us in our shaky vessel on dark and turbulent waters:
Jesus, you are both love and light,
and you are in the darkness
whether it brings pain or peace.
You are at work in my soul.
You move me to anguish with desire and longing for your light,
but as yet I do not rest in your love.

That rest, that peace, is our life’s work.  And our hope for eternity.

Homily for Corpus Christi

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Corpus Christi.  A feast celebrating the feast.
Thanksgiving for the Eucharist itself.
A recognition that the Body of Christ, the Church,
is in constant need of nourishment.

A feast of the church which didn’t become part of the calendar
until the 13th Century,
but it recognises something that was fundamental to the Church
from the very earliest of days.
That there wasn’t a feast before this time is for the same reason
that John’s Gospel has no Last Supper account like the other three:
its reality and experience and symbolism permeates the whole.

Eucharist…  The breaking of the bread has been,
from that evening on the road to Emmaus,
central to the Church’s common life.
Jesus used the breaking of bread, the feeding of multitudes,
as a parable of God’s goodness, of God’s hospitality, and of community itself.

The Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper
is the centre of the life of the Baptised.
While undervalued or sidelined by some traditions,
it is with Baptism the common thread of all who call themselves “Christian”.
The whole Body of Christ.

This is where we encounter the God who is beyond our language,
beyond our thought and our imagination.
Yet placed into our hands as free gift and Saviour,
tangible, present, incarnate.
Somehow in this mystery we meet in the particular,
this unleavened bread and this watered wine,
the absolute, the infinite wonder of God.
Like the Children of Israel we might ponder this manna.
Manna:  literal meaning: “what is it”?

What are we doing here?
We are touching a holy mystery, certainly.
We are, at our Lord’s command, remembering.
Anamnesis is the Greek word,
and it is what essentially all traditions within Christianity agree on
as at least part of what the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is about.

We are remembering.
But we are not merely in this present moment
calling to mind what has happened –
as we might remember childhood, or last week –
but we are re-membering –
participating in the embodying again in our action and presence,
Christ.  God among us.  God incarnate.

That most holy and wholly improbable and impractical thing we believe –
that God, that same God who created and sustains the universe,
that God reaches out to us and meets us in human form,
embraces our experience,
meets us here in elements as common as bread and wine.
And that by being aware of this presence, by anamnesis
and the work of the Spirit, we somehow enter into the mystery of God.

So, what does it mean for each of us, day by day, week by week,
to receive the Body and Blood of Christ?
This I would not presume to know.
St. Augustine in the 5th century said
“It is your mystery, the mystery of your life
that has been placed on the altar.”

Yet something draws us to this Sacrament, outwardly bread and wine,
but inwardly nourishing us where my and your need is.
An inexpressible expression of the God of the universal and the particular.

We are, simultaneously, in the Eucharist, in and out of time.
One with the whole Body of Christ – called literally Corpus Christi –
the Church living and dead.  The Church yet to be.
As we take the Sacrament
we are touching promise, presence and hope: past, present, future
to the One who holds all things together.
We tell the story of our salvation, in our Creation and our calling,
in Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross for our salvation,
in the knowledge that God nourishes and transforms our lives still, in the Spirit.

Christ, present in the Eucharist, makes all alive to him:
in life and in death and in life yet to be,
in fortifying us here and in foretasting heaven,
within these walls, and into the whole world,
in common wine and bread, broken and shared
in sacred symbol of hospitality, solidarity, sustenance and feast.

Dom Gregory Dix, English Anglican Benedictine, wrote 60 years ago:
[He] told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning
‘for the anamnesis’ of Him, and they have done it always since.
Was ever another command so obeyed?

For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country
and among every race on earth, this action has been done,
in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need
from infancy and before it,  to extreme old age and after it,
from the pinnacles of earthly greatness
to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning
and for criminals going to the scaffold;
for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat;
for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation
or for a sick old woman afraid to die;
for a schoolboy sitting an examination
or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
in thankfulness because my father did not die…
because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
…  for the settlement of a strike;   for a son for a barren woman; …
while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;   on the beach at Dunkirk; …
tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
furtively, by an exiled bishop
who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc —
one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this,
and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month,
on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly,
across all the parishes of Christendom, the presbyters have done this
just to make the plebs sancta Dei — the holy common people of God.

This very morning I did this with a set of texts
which has not changed by more than a few syllables since St Augustine …
used those very words at Canterbury … in the summer after he landed in 598.

Yet ‘this’ can still take hold of a man’s life and work with it.

May we, women and men, members of the Body of Christ,
know that for ourselves,
as we receive and adore Christ in the Holy Sacrament.  AMEN.

Homily for Trinity Sunday

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm

I’m going to ask you to go on a journey.
Back to your earliest memories.
To your parents, or those who cared for you.
And what you called them.

For most of us, that’s something like “Mum” or “Dad”.
Or, if your memory is better than mine, “Mama” or Dada”.

Baby talk.
Words almost universally related, because it’s the sort of sounds babies make:
“Mamama”, “Dadada”.

“Mum” and “Dad”.
Barely words at all, but words that only have meaning for us,
because of the relationships they carry with them.

We don’t, most of us – however liberal the household –
grow up first calling our parents “George” and “Mildred” or whatever,
but we express in our earliest utterances
relationship, and dependence.

So it is with the Trinity.

I am happy to admit
that the Trinity is in some ways unsatisfactory.
In some ways inadequate and indistinct.
It is the baby talk of the Church.
We have no other, better, more refined ways
to talk about what we experience.
God, as Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Our relationship in a sense, with a relationship.
Those three titles are themselves about relating.
Spirit, called elsewhere the Advocate, the Comforter.

Trying to hold the page
for ideas that cannot be committed to paper:
the conception of the Universe, the Creator,
the idea beyond imaging,
the reality beyond realisation,
the being beyond what is, has been and ever will be…
God whom Jesus called, and we do,

Who is also shown to us
in the specific and the incarnate,
flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone,
alongside us, in our form and our fellowship:
Jesus, who shares in our humanity
and in the divinity of God, fully and wholly,
Christ, by whose name we are called,

Who is also experienced by us
in this moment, in this body,
in this place, in this relational point of encounter,
as both that which draws us towards the One we seek
and a sense of connection with God.
The spark within our being that knows of and longs for God,
the deep that calls to our deep,
seeking it out and blowing it to flame:
At the heart of God,
or at least the words we have at our disposal
to try to express something of God,
we have relationship.

And it’s in relationship we encounter everything we know
and ever will
about God.

God calls us to relate.

The Trinity is not about arcane, dispassionate, scientific calculations.
How many angels can dance on the head of this doctrinal pin.
It is and always has been about how people found God.
And how God found them.

The Trinity is about love,
and what with human participants we would call prayer,
and hospitality, and solidarity, and absolute integrity
and a thousand thousand thousand other words
we haven’t yet thought to invent.

Words, our baby talk,
should not limit our touching and being transformed by this relationship
any more than they limit God.

The famous image of the Trinity by the artist and monk Rublev
has the three figures
gazing at each other, fascinated and loving,
and subtly, almost imperceptively, letting that gaze fall on us
beckoning us in.

And in that is an image of the Godhead.
Whatever words we might find useful in giving expression to that,
it is that energy
that loving intensity,
that self-giving and delight
that reaches out to us
and would have us know,
even as we are known.

And those unfashionable, outdated, patriarchal words we use
to try and talk of this – the Father. Son and Spirit –
here have meaning over newer, equally valid triads –
because these terms are in themselves about relating.
Father. Son. Spirit.
Not simply descriptive of what God does,
but trying to grapple with who God is.

For while we know God from experience,
it is our experience, not another’s,
that makes God real for us.

And here is the greater mystery
about a God who is both Three and One.

This is a relationship that opens out
and we ourselves are brought within the loving dialogue
that is God the Trinity.

We are invited to engage with and to experience God
as we relate with God, and with each other.

Preparation for Pentecost B 2009

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Pentecost marks the passing of the great “week of weeks” after Easter.

Seven weeks ago we discovered that the tomb was empty.

Today we hear the good news of how the Resurrection could not be contained by any group of individuals, ethnicity or language.

Today we lose any sense that we can control what good news looks or sounds like.

Today we are reinvigorated in faith and re-empowered in action.

The colour of the day is red, evoking energy, life and passion.

The symbols of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are fire and breath/wind:

Burn, burn Everlasting One in love, as when you burned in love’s first dawn
before all things when the Son was breathed forth
and in Creation we were born in that same love to be his limbs.
Hildegard of Bingen

Today, we are re-commissioned for service and for ministry.  All the baptised are rightly called “ministers”, and in the Spirit’s power we are all imbued with gifts of grace and goodness.

This is also the last day of NZ Music Month, and – as someone who has a real passion about the spirituality of contemporary song – I feel the need for a local lyric.  Here, from a “secular” musician – then in the process of rediscovering his faith – Dave Dobbyn’s Naked Flame, with its delight, possibility and vulnerability before the symbol of Pentecost:

And I watched the bloom – only one of its kind –
grows to fill the room, and the room goes on for ever:
Sudden staring at a naked … flame.
I’m new to dancing: I catch my breath, I catch my breath
in the middle of a dance with you.
All this fire in the room started with a candle,
candle blew over, catches fire to me and you.

Sermon, Evensong Pentecost B

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2009 at 1:05 pm

God does not leave those God has called alone.

That in a nutshell is the message of Pentecost.
We are not left comfortless.
We are not to stay locked away for fear of anyone.
We are not simply reliant on ourselves and what little faith we possess.
This is not what God has called us to.

The Holy Spirit is the impetus that touches and moves us,
that sends us out to touch others and to trust
that with God we are able to be what we are called to.

Pentecost marks the passing of the great week of weeks after Easter.
Seven weeks ago we discovered that the tomb was empty.
Today we hear the good news of how the Resurrection
could not be contained by any group of individuals or by any ethnicity.

The people of God are from this moment sent out,
charged with the wind and fire of the Spirit which cannot be controlled,
which rages where it wishes.
Not civilised and living in a house,
but travelling and tenting across the deserts of our age.

Those disciples who were sent on this journey
had no idea where they might end up,
but the wind of that encounter with God twenty centuries ago
washed our forbears – and the bearers of the faith we share –
on these shores.

The languages of Pentecost resonate with more than one Old Testament image.

As the tree of the Garden of Eden is mirrored in the Cross
and the garden of the Easter morning encounter,
so Pentecost speaks of restoration of that universality
that was lost at Babel,
where mythic human self-satisfaction conspired to over-run the heavens.

Today, heaven speaks,
and a hundred generations of language and life experience
hear the truth of God proclaimed as grandiose and as intimate
as flame.  As very breath.

On this day,
the barriers of language are blown down.
The Jewish face of Christ is transfigured,
becoming “a spectrum of all races and all cultures”.

And yet, in this very embracing of all people by God in the Holy Spirit,
comes the affirmation of diversity.
The one flame divides and rests on each of the disciples.
Each bystander hears in their own tongue.
Each is offered hope,
and the fullness of a divided humanity,
now made whole in Jesus,
taken into the very heart of God.

Like those first Believers, we need to listen – to expect to hear –
what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

The Spirit present among us is our comforter, our warrant,
the sign of our hope,
our reward and the collective cattleprod of the Church.

By the Spirit we are encouraged into places we might not want to go,
we are built up and brought down to earth.
Scattered, sometimes, but not abandoned.

The Spirit, if we really do believe the stuff we say about her,
will be with us.
That doesn’t mean we don’t take our part in being Church seriously.
On the contrary, we are those who are lit and thrust out,
like some sort of ecclesiastical molotov cocktail,
to set the world on fire.

And yet the Spirit is also named “Comforter”.
A distinctly feminine voice within the music of the Godhead.

So we add our voices to the song of people, Spirit-filled.
Saints, among them Hildegard of Bingen.
Her song:
O fire of the Spirit – Comforter, life within the life of all creation,
holy in giving life to all.
Holy in anointing those who are not whole,
holy in cleansing dirty wounds.
O sacred breath, o fire of love,
o sweetest taste in my breast
which fills my heart with a fine aroma of virtues.
O most pure fountain, through whom it is known,
that God has united strangers and sought the lost.

You always draw out knowledge,
bringing joy through wisdom’s inspiration.
Therefore, praise be to you, who are the sound of praise
and the greatest prize of life, hope and richest honour,
giving the gifts of light.

Homily for Easter 7B

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I have to confess I have an odd mind.
It seems to set off on tangents even I think are tenuous.
For much of the week I’ve been sitting with this morning’s Gospel
– all the language of being “sent into the world” and yet being not “of the world” –
and have had a strange returning metaphor:
the life of discipleship as somehow a dance.

“The dance of discipleship” has rather a nice ring to it.
Poetic. Evocative.
Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.
Because I have in mind a very specific dance.

You’re in the world, and yet not of the world.
Sent into the world, but not belonging to the world.
Jesus is speaking somehow inside the world, but no longer within the world,
coming as he is, and as he has, to the Father.

There seems a lot of standing outside the world, doing things to and in it.
Rather like, to my warped mind, …the Hokey Tokey.
“You put your left leg in, you take your left leg out,
“You put your left leg in, and you shake it all about…”
That was my great theological insight of the week.

Nobody was more surprised, and disturbed, than me to discover
that there are strong arguments for that dance and that form of words
originating with an American Christian intentional religious community,
those radical Protestant near-monastics, the Shakers.

There’s nothing quite so confusing and deflating,
as when reality starts to conform itself to your own personal lunacy.

And yes, in another season of the church’s year,
we might together ponder at length the significance of
“you do the Hokey Tokey, and you turn yourself around”
the classic New Testament language for repentance.

However, we are on rather firmer territory when it comes to the refrain
on this Sunday in Ascensiontide, these last days of Easter,
floundering as we are between rising and falling,
movement in and movement out,
between heavenly Ascension and Pentecostal descent.

In the immortal words of the cockney dancehall on discipleship:
“That’s what it’s all about”.

Movement in, movement out.
One foot in the world, the other rooted elsewhere.
Not in a tentative way.
Fully committed we should be to “shake it all about”, to look stupid, to lose our balance.
But equally aware we stand on solid, immoveable ground.
Enlivened in and by the dance.
Not alone.  But anchored elsewhere.

“That’s what it’s all about”.

The Ascension shouldn’t distract –
that’s not the right word –
shouldn’t “abstract” us from the call to put our hands and feet to work
in “the world”.

I am greatly drawn to St Teresa’s prayer printed in my Trumpet letter.

But we need to know where and why we stand as Christ’s disciples.
Understanding that the truth we possess is liberating and joyous,
but not without challenge – and great challenge often –
to the life of the the world,
its presuppositions and prejudices,
not all of which are washed entirely out of our systems at baptism.

We are, though, anchored in the eternal.
Archimedes, great mathematician of Ancient Greece,
postulated that if he had an immovable place and a lever of sufficient length,
he could move the world.

“The world” is, not surprisingly, shorthand in John’s Gospel,
that most allegorical, richly symbolic of the gospel narratives.
It is a dark, brooding, shadowy expanse,
epitimising the forces and figures who oppose or are blind to the light of the gospel.

God’s love for the world, seemingly so far off and forlorn,
was shown in this way:  that the only begotten Son was given,
that whoever belives in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.
The true light that enlightens everyone
was coming into … where? … into the world.

John tells a story of hope and salvation for the world,
but he writes as a realist,
keenly aware of pain and persecution,
of the realities of life in that world.

The world that is beyond these walls,
not so much injuring as ignoring us to death.
Our Lord, praying for his disciples – then and now –
asks not that they and we might be taken out of the world,
protected from all the beauty and ugliness of humanity,
and from the reality of experience and evil.

But truth, the truth that Jesus names this morning, will not be silenced,
and next Sunday the power and passion of Pentecost
will throw the closed doors of this building open
when we discover afresh the power of God at work in us.
The dance of discipleship then will not want us as wallflowers.

For, as St Teresa’s prayer reminds us,
we are in a way that Jesus of Nazareth is no longer, “in the world”.
The world may hate those who do not “belong” to it,
yet into that very world we are sent,
by and as the One who was sent by the Father.
…for our joy, made complete in ourselves.

Archimedes thought that with an immovable place and a lever he could move the world.
Jesus’ ascension, and us with him, reminds us that we have one.
We are grounded in the secure, immoveable rock that is God.

We are charged with moving the world, you and I.
Transforming and challenging all that is not of God.
Claiming the compassion and light of truth,
a rock on which to stand rather than to beat people over the head with.
The lever we have is comprised of our own hands and feet,
shaken all about, or surgically precise and still.
The dance of discipleship.

“That’s what it’s all about”.

Children’s Homily for Ascension

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2009 at 12:52 pm

5 -4 -3 -2 -1

Was it like that?

When Jesus went into heaven
did he take off like a rocket?

Did he rise gently like a balloon?
Up into the clouds ’til the disciples lost sight of him?

Was it more like the waft of the incense?
Smoking and snaking into the air,
so you just can’t tell where the smoke ends and the sky begins?

Or is it more like a word picture,
with the disciples trying to describe something that happened,
but the kind of thing that really can’t be put down on paper?

I wonder what it would have been like to have been there,
when Jesus took his friends to a place just outside the city,
he blessed them, and disappeared from their sight.

Jesus returned to heaven,
and the disciples went home without him.

Only they didn’t feel like it was without him.
It felt like Jesus was now not just where his hands and feet,
like you and I have, were,
but that he was EVERYWHERE.

Not just in Jerusalem, or Nazareth, or Bethlehem,
not just two thousand years ago,
not just someone whose story had a beginning and an end,
not just someone who looked a certain way and spoke one language,
instead of this,
the disciples came to realise that Jesus was now present with them
all the time,

And they discovered something else.
Now that he had returned to heaven
with a body like yours and mine,
somehow that made every body holy.

Just as God came to live among people when Jesus was born,
now part of what it means to be human
was at the heart of God, in heaven.

And so what we do with our hands and feet becomes really important.
By being kind, by being generous, by caring for others,
we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.

By respecting and loving other people
we remember that Jesus shares our nature, our humanity,
and that that is in God’s heavenly presence always.

There’s a lovely prayer that says:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet he will use to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands he will use to bless people now.

That’s pretty amazing,
and it makes every moment of every day, with everyone
special and holy.