theunfamiliarname

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 17B

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2009 at 7:35 am

Today is Social Services Sunday, an occasion that gives us opportunity to acknowledge, celebrate and pray for our community-facing Ministry as Church.

We are this day mindful of the City Mission, the diocese’s Aged Care services, hospital, tertiary and prison Chaplaincies, family and children’s services, community and school programmes.  A number of these are grouped under the “Anglican Care” banner, and I hope we can feel a sense of ownership of this work done in our name.

This does not, of course, let us off the hook!  Jesus charges us all with care of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned (Matt. 25:31-46).  Service to others is an intrinsic part of service to God.  Some of that happens when we gather our gifts together, as we do in our helping agencies.  Much of that happens when we respond to the needs of those we encounter ourselves.

Our gospel this morning offers a parable enacted of God’s goodness and bounty, born out of the seed of a boy offering his small resources.  Whatever we give, in whatever kind we are able to, Christ takes, blesses and breaks – and the needs of many are met.  This is the parable enacted also in the Eucharist: our bread and wine, simple and small, at Christ’s Table become the Feast of Heaven.

This week may we have our eyes open to the capacity we have, however meagre it may seem, to meet the needs of those around us:

Seven times a day, as I work upon this hungry farm,
I say to you: “Lord, why am I here?
What is there here to stir my gifts to growth?
What great thing can I do for others
– I who am captive to this dreary toil?”
And seven times a day you answer,
“I cannot do without you.
Once my Son lived your life,
and by his faithfulness he sowed my mind, my kindness, my truth.

But now he has come to my side, and you must take his place.”
– Hebridean Altars

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 16B

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2009 at 7:17 am

Today’s readings – including that most famous of texts, Psalm 23 – are to do with sheep and shepherds.  Very comfortable words, Beatrix Potter-esque, pastoral.  Or not.  For there’s more than a subtle whiff of the political around that metaphor.  Most of us don’t get to be the shepherd in this scenario!  Those of us described as sheep – then or now – are unlikely to appreciate the allegory…

Jeremiah the Prophet reminds us of the fact that God is constantly calling new shepherds.  The ones we have so often let us down, but God still seems to trust the model.  Shepherds are called and recalled, constantly taken from the flock itself, to lead God’s people.  We need only look at the symbolism of a bishop’s crozier (crook) to be reminded of our continuity with this ancient agrarian image.

And yet shepherds always disappoint.  The profundity and power of the 23rd Psalm is the realisation that we trust only and ultimately in one unselfish, unswayable shepherd, God and God alone.

We enter into the model, mindful that our mortal rulers and guides, temporal and spiritual, are as we are: human, frail, fickle.  Bearing this in mind, we are called to conform ourselves and our leadership to something different from that which the prophets criticised.

God in Christ Jesus proves to be so different to all those who, in the words of the Old Testament, were supposed to “shepherd my people Israel”: kings and leaders of all kinds.  God is contrasted with every illegitimate oppressive regime and impersonal institution – the Church at times included – before and since.

Our Shepherd models what it is to both serve and lead.  Traditionally, Middle Eastern shepherds lead from the front.  They don’t ask sheep or goats to go anywhere they themselves haven’t already been.  That’s the metaphor.  Ours is to be not a powerful, top-down leadership. Ours is to be a nurturing, empowering, compassionate shepherding that is ultimately a reflection of God, the Shepherd of Psalm 23.

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 15B

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2009 at 9:59 am

You know that as a preacher you’re in trouble
when you come across commentators who say things like:
I have never heard nor preached a sermon on the passage, and for good reason.
Things don’t improve greatly when you read on and are told:
You can put your ear to the ground and listen as hard as you can,
but you will not detect a single note of authentic joy or hope
anywhere in the vicinity.
What you will hear is a sordid tale of anger and revenge, resentment and death.

The Lectionary, the Sunday cycle of readings
that takes us through the Gospels and other parts of Scripture
every three years
doesn’t let us off difficult passages, hard sayings, sordid tales.
The discipline of the Lectionary is that sometimes we have to mine a little deeper,
work a little harder,
to hear “what the Spirit is saying to the Church”.

On the face of it,
the story of the beheading of John the Baptist is hardly uplifting.
It is a story that seems to intertwine inappropriate relationships
with manifest injustice.
None of the protagonists looks good from beginning to end:
Herod has imprisoned John
for his criticism of his affair and marriage with his sister in law.
She, Herodias clearly wants and wanted John terminally silenced.
Herod vacillates, partly afraid and partly captivated by his prisoner:
his peculiarity, his piety, his popularity.
The step-daughter, niece, also called Herodias, dances –
in what manner we can only speculate
– for Herod and his guests,
and the ruler bombastically promises her anything she desires,
up to half his kingdom.
And on mother’s demand, she asks for John’s head.
Herod is clearly torn, but a promise was a promise
and a ruler could have nothing without honour before his friends.
The Mediterranean world was built on a system of honour and shame.
The irony should not be lost on us that,
just as a prophet was without honour in his hometown last week,
so it is on honour’s account that Herod has John murdered.

On a very simple level, it’s a cautionary tale.
Bad behaviour, ignoring the call to repent and re-order relationships,
painting yourself into a corner
and having your hand forced by a foolish promise…
We have little but contempt for Herod.

But that whole story merely sets the scene.
Because nearly all that gospel reading is actually the back-story.
The more powerful message is that in death, as in life,
John the Baptiser is a parable at work,
a prophet, and a pointer to the truth of God in Christ Jesus.

Herod, racked by guilt and fear, sees Jesus as John come back to haunt him.
John has huge power over Herod.
The weakness of the would-be powerful is profoundly exposed.
The emperor, petty local variant though he may be,
has no clothes.

Even from beyond the grave,
it is the witness and the truth of John’s words
that have Herod looking over his shoulder.
So much so that he sees in Jesus, John.

The truth will not die.
If we dare to speak it.
And whether it is in the guise of John or Jesus or Elijah
or a thousand political prisoners, or you and me,
the truth of God demands to be told.
Is the “truth” something we are committed to?
Or is it a malleable, pliable, blurry substance
that can be created and reshaped as our context and our conscience let us?
How many of us live in a world were sometimes the easy lie
is more acceptable than the hard truth?
A little lie can be so much more seductive that the big truth.

We. You and I,
are the heirs of John and the disciples of Jesus.

We are called to be critical, to be engaged,
to be listening for and even to be speaking truth.

And not just a narrow, spiritualised, morality-based truth.
I believe – and I see in John and Jesus
and the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament this absolutely played out –
that we are called to stand before the powerful
and talk not just about personal relationships and peccadillos
but about justice and economics and the values of the Kingdom of God.

And do all of that, knowing that that will not endear us to them.
But, remember that other soundbyte from the gospels
on the subject of truth –
and it applies both to the dispossessed and to the powerful –
“the truth will make you free”.

There are people in our midst who are not free,
because of truths they cannot tell about themselves,
because of structures and prejudices that belittle them,
because of words we are too afraid or unwilling to utter in their defence.

There are countless peoples in this world
whose captivity is economic or literal,
sometimes cultural or in the apprehension of others.
To all those languishing in prisons of their own or others’ making,
dare we have the courage to make the legacy of the prophet our own?

Dare we discover how subversive our faith really is?

The truth will not die.
Rather it resonates in history and in heaven,
with the one, the only Truth, the “I am” of the Godhead.

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 15B

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2009 at 11:23 pm

If last Sunday’s readings prompted us to hear our call to be prophets, however without honour we might feel in that, this week’s gospel gives us a clear sense of the cost of that calling.  Herod loses his head at a banquet, and shortly thereafter, so does John the Baptist: prophet, teller of truth before the powerful.

The story of John’s beheading is well known, and it may seem strange that such a gruesome episode should feature in our “good news” for this day.

Questions of identity are where the account begins, so for clarification:

This King Herod is not the Herod of Jesus’ birth. He’s not even, really, a “king”. Rome doesn’t like “kings”. Herod the Great is dead, with his kingdom divided among his three sons. They rule as tetrachs. Herod Antipas rules Galilee and Perea, a compromised collaborator who wants his people to see him as a Jew but who lives and looks far more like a Roman.

Herodias is Herod’s wife. She was married to his brother, Philip, ruling across the Sea of Galilee. While they were all in Rome, however, Herod (also married) fell in love with her, and they went home together. It’s the kind of incestuous story that could be plucked straight from a soap opera. Indeed, the furious father of Herod’s first wife later goes to war with him, and Herod’s army, betrayed by his brother’s people, is routed.  All of which many see as his just deserts, and some sort of divine retribution for the death of John.

Herodias, the daughter, often named by tradition Salome, was the child of Herodias’ first marriage.  Quite what we should make of her dancing at the birthday banquet of her uncle and step-father, pleasing Herod and his guests so greatly is open to huge interpretation. The willingness of Herod to offer her anything she desires might mean that this was a party and a dynasty getting rather out of control…

John the Baptist challenged Herod and Herodias, who presented themselves as Jewish royalty, to behave as their faith should determine. That their relationship, perceived as immoral, was initiated at the heart of the Roman Empire only served to underline the political statement inherent in challenging Rome’s puppet ruler.

So John, though influential, finds himself like so many prophets and tellers of truth, political and spiritual, in prison.  His legacy Jesus upholds, in continuity with the Prophets of the Old Testament.  We often speak of Christ as High Priest and King, as Lord.  How does our image change when we also honour him as Prophet?

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 14B

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2009 at 11:26 pm

If you’ve ever been close to a story reported in the media,
you may have found it a disconcerting experience.
Often, because when we know what’s actually going on,
we can see the way it’s often misrepresented on the page or in the soundbyte.

Yet all too often we feel compelled
to sacrifice our better judgement for the nicely packaged take on things
afforded us by that most ubiquitous of modern media manifestations,
the visiting or video-linked “expert”.

It has been said that “the expert” is a species
consisting of anyone in a suit more than twenty miles from home,
however bewildered or ill-informed.
…Because we trust such people, and by implication
we do not have so much confidence in our experience, expertise or observation.

We live in a culture that, with the notable exception of rugby,
struggles to have faith in our own commentary, our own voice.
Don’t get me wrong, in the arts, in popular music and on the telly,
we’ve made huge advances over the last twenty years,
but the legacy of cultural cringe is that more often than not
we look outside for the people who will tell us the way the world really is.

The prophets.  The truth-tellers.  The people who shape our view of the world.

Jesus, in this morning’s gospel challenges this.  Challenges us.

“Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown”.
Outside our own is where we look for what is true and transformative.
Unable or unwilling to see the gift of God that walks among us, or within us.

But one of the messages of Christ and of the Incarnation
is that the truth, the encounter with the living God,
the vision of what God hopes for us
is not something external and far off, expert-driven.

It is in our midst and with us,
grown in our soil and speaking with our accent.
Prompting us, calling us, sending us in service to the world which we inhabit.
Yet we paralyse the saving work of God by being unable to accept this.
By being unable to accept that we are part of that work,
that ours are to be the healing hands, the journeying feet,
the truth-telling voice of Christ.

The frightening part of this story, and the most unpalatable,
is the prospect that we might, like Ezekiel,
be called upon to speak what even we do not want to hear
and say “Thus says the Lord”.

It is not a popular message,
and one not well designed to win friends or easily influence people.
There’s also the uncomfortable feeling
that should we feel such certainty about what God is telling us
we’re probably a few snowflakes short of a snowman.

But God has always spoken to people and called them to speak to others.
Think of the prophets of recent history:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Te Whiti o Rongomai, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa,
Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, …
none of them perfect.  A number not even Christian,
but strident voices for truth and peace and human dignity.
For justice.

Prophets.

Prophets are ideally people a long way off and preferably dead.
The idea that prophets walk the earth is disturbing.
The notion that they might be in our midst is alarming.
That they might be just like us is inconceivable.

We are not cut out to be prophets. We know that.
No-one as ordinary as us could be such a messenger.
We’re all too aware of our weaknesses, our limitations,
and all the very good reasons
why we could not possibly find the challenging words of God upon our lips.

The Prayerbook of 1928 has something we might pray:
Remember, O Lord, what thou hast wrought in us
and not what we deserve;
and as thou hast called us to thy service,
make us worthy of our calling…

Jesus sends out the disciples this morning without any provisions.
“No bread, no bag, no money, only the clothes you’re wearing…”
They will learn about trust.
They will learn about vulnerability.
They will perhaps understand as Paul did,
“My grace is sufficient for you”.
In God’s grace, you are enough.

No true prophet, no disciple, no apostle
every felt supremely confident merely in and of themselves.
But if we have trust in the message, the good news we carry
and the God who has given it to us,
we are a more powerful force
than we could ever imagine.

We may feel we are without honour at home,
but we are in good company.

We may feel unworthy to bear or share the gospel,
but God transfigures our poverty.

We may feel that the prophetic, compassionate, transformative
missionary task of the Church is something that happens overseas
and out of sight,
but here is where our gospel message is most needed.

We should not be too timid in naming what we see
and in speaking the words God will give us.

I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them,
“Thus says the Lord GOD.”
Whether they hear or refuse to hear …
they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

They shall know
that there has been a prophet among them.

Let us in the silence, listen for the voice of God.