theunfamiliarname

Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Veni, veni Emmanuel

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2009 at 10:57 pm

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Preparing for Advent Sunday C

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 11:01 pm

“…all the promises we made
from the cradle to the grave…
when
all
I want
is you”.

That seems to me very peculiarly the message of Advent.
We wrap it up in symbolism and sentiment,
but Advent has been always about
longing.
And about trying to quantify that longing.

About longing, as the song says, for
a river in a time of dryness,
a harbour in the tempest,
a highway with no-one on it
.
We long for what we do not have.
We speak about what we long for in metaphor and simile.

In Church, we light candles and we say
“Come Emmanuel”.

Do we know what we are inviting and invoking?
Often not, I suspect.
Our longings are unformed, or oddly nuanced.
We make deals with God.
Or with something that seemed like God at the time.
This or that and not the other.

But Advent is put here in the Church’s year specifically to remind us
that after
“all the promises we made
from the cradle to the grave…”
that
“all I want is you”.

God is the centre of all our longing.
And Advent is about naming that absence.
Our faith is actually about, at some level, absence.

We long for God, we need God, we wait for God.

We wait for God.
That is our task in Advent.

Advent is a penitential season.
The juxtaposition of the richest colour, purple,
tells us that Advent is like Lent, a season of fasting.

But this is a season of fasting in a time of luxury.
Look around you,
at your invitations
to parties and break-ups
and tell me it’s not so…

Yet this is also a time of luxury in a season of fasting.
For alone among the voices in this crazy time of year,
is that of the Church
telling you to pay attention to you and your expectation,
to grant yourself the luxury of being a pilgrim:
going on a journey and being explicitly aware of that.

You and the journey are the central elements of Advent,
not just some late December destination.

Advent demands
your expectation take centre stage.
What is it you long for?
Advent gives us the gift
of looking towards a beginning and an end –
because in this great season of the Church we look to Bethlehem,
but also to the end of time –
and in all of that we understand that we are pilgrims on a journey.
To be aware of that journey is the gift of Advent.
To be in touch with our expectations and misgivings about the journey.
To find the gaps in our lives that The Warehouse wants to fill in
and to live with them as something given by God.
That is Advent.

To examine our own living, in this stressful, busy season,
and to be given the luxury of self-reflection,
that is Advent.

To be forced to question all our comfortable assumptions about us
and God
and what really matters.
That is Advent.

“all the promises we made
from the cradle to the grave…
when all I want is you”

That is Advent.

The time when we adjust priorities,
and try to reconnect with what was really,
once upon a then and future time, important.

This Advent season,
may we rediscover what we really want.

Advent is coming…

In Hymns on November 15, 2009 at 10:16 pm

1.  Come among us, come: Advent hope, Advent glory;
Promise of fulfilment that summer heralds here.
What will be awakened amidst such expectation?
What will be the whisper warm upon the sunlit air?
Come Emmanuel, come to save us.

2.  Coming to restore human hope, human wholeness;
Binding up our broken and setting captives free.
How are we to ready the earth for such a wonder?
How to open ears and eyes to let the blinded see?
Come Emmanuel, come to save us.

3.  Coming to cast out all revenge, all injustice;
Judgement is alone his who comes on cloud and air.
Why then should we fear coming reconciliation?
Why must we resist the Prince of Peace as he comes near?
Come Emmanuel, come to save us.

4.  Coming to transform every power, every hunger:
Mountain meets with valley, our weeping turns to song.
Where shall we uncover the coming of this Kingdom?
Where may we discover all those things for which we long?
Come Emmanuel, come to save us.

5.  Coming to a world under stress, under starlight,
Coming to be born where we do not think to look.
When the earth is sleeping, or caught up in consuming,
Then may the foundations of a busy world be shook!
Come Emmanuel, come to save us.

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 33B

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Small hordes of tourists jump off their coaches,
pour into the back of the churches and cathedrals
– and art galleries and monuments – the world over,
point and click and smile and snap and chatter and zoom,
then pour out the door and back onto the bus to the next tourist checkpoint.

It happens.
Tourism is a reality in this world of global travel.
Some of us may have been guilty of it in other countries.

If the disciples in this morning’s gospel had lived in our age,
they might well have been pointing and snapping away as they,
good old country boys, marvel at the architecture of big city Jerusalem.
The disciples are this morning tourists:
“Look teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
As usual, Jesus doesn’t leave them simply smiling and snapping.

The world of Church missions can all too often be to us
like some sort of exotic place we smile and point at,
we focus our attentions on and give to as we’re able.
But it can be to us as shallow an experience
as running through the door of some great building, pointing out how big it is,
a quick snapshot to prove we’ve been there and we’re back on board the bus.

Christian missions is not inviting us to that kind of relationship – or lack of it.
Missions is about something that’s far, far more substantial.
Missions calls us to become aware of the people and the stories of a place
and to recognise we’re not tourists at all, but pilgrims – they and us –
together on a journey which has so much more to it than one-way traffic,
be it missionaries or finances.

I was privileged – beyond any words I have to express it –
to have spent two years in Fiji as a student preparing for ordination.
Let me tell you a story that for me sums up what missions could be like:

For one term I visited Eneri and his family.
Eneri was a stroke victim, unable to work and living on a housing project.
One concrete block room for himself and his wife and their three young children.

When I was completing my time in Fiji I went to see Eneri,
taking a few thin shirts and lavalavas I thought I might not need in Dunedin.
And Ereni gave me a parrot.
A broken parrot.
A wooden parrot with a broken beak,
the kind I could have picked up, and undamaged, at any number of tourist traders.
It is, I must say, one of the most beautiful things I possess,
as I see now it was for him.

Like the story of the widow’s mite that was last week’s gospel,
I gave out of my abundance.  He gave out of his poverty.
And let me tell you, I went away by far the greater enriched.

How about the people of St Athanasius, in a sort of squatter village
a few kilometres outside of Suva,
where the descendants of Solomon Islands indentured labourers,
people with no traditional access to land,
worshipped joyfully on their Children’s Sunday,
and were enjoying their colourful copies of the Anglican Missions magazine,
also distributed in Polynesia,
a recognition that they are our mission partners
every bit as much as we are theirs.

The people of St Athanasius
were building a church for their growing congregation.
Already they have a large concrete block basement.
But concrete blocks cost money,
and most of the congregation were not part of the cash economy.

Or St Christopher’s home in Suva
a pretty basic group of buildings where around 45 children and older girls live,
whose parents cannot or will not look after them.
There, too, young unmarried women, pregnant and rejected by their families.
In a country without anything really in the way of social welfare,
the Sisters at the home give these children and young women a chance.
They provide food and shelter, some sort of family to belong to.

The girls attend school, there is even a chance for some to attend University.
The Home, early this decade, celebrated its first graduate –
can you imagine what a different life that young woman has been gifted
within that community?

Young people from this country travel to and work at St Christophers,
and are offered an extraordinary glimpse of the Church at work
transforming individual lives and the whole community.

I could tell you other stories, of worshipping in Hindi congregations,
because the Anglican Church in Fiji
has a strong ministry among the Indian community.

Of the Primary and Secondary schools in Labasa, and the Girls’ Hostel,
where the Anglican Church, a small church in Fiji,
is able to serve the whole region
through improved access to education.

Polynesia and Melanesia have strong connections
to the Anglican Church in New Zealand.
Melanesia was, by some misunderstanding of the huge distances involved,
given to Bishop Selwyn as part of our Province from the very beginning.

Papua New Guinea
is perhaps the only place in the Pacific where missionaries,
often the Anglican Melanesian Brotherhood,
are meeting people still who have never known
the liberating power of the Gospel,
who have never had real contact with the outside world.

And that – meeting, and being transformed – is what it is about, Missions.
It’s not about people giving their money or expertise or time.
And yet of course these are all powerful expressions.

Missions is about the recognition that we are all partners in Christ.
Missions is about wanting to find expressions for that partnership,
to learn from one another more about the God we worship together.
I was sent to Fiji to study.
But the learning was mostly outside the classroom.
About hospitality and generosity, the way people give of themselves,
people we would think of as poor.

To be invited to worship with fellow Christians, fellow-Anglicans,
and to know that I belong, that we are family.
To give and to receive and in all that to feel the work of God.

To be in Fiji as a little symbol, it began to occur to me,
that we most certainly can learn from our partners-in-mission.
It is a two-way street.

I often have to explain that where I trained
there was not a sandy, palm-shaded beach to be seen for 25 miles.
No-one quite believes you can go to Polynesia and not be a tourist.

Christian missions calls us to take off our sunglasses and our jandals,
from as far away as we might feel,
to take off those things that insulate us
from the wonder, the possibility, the reality of partnership
and recognise that we stand together on holy ground.

I would like to encourage you
to find ways to journey a bit beyond the standard tourist coach itinerary.
To deliberately set out on a pilgrimage, not a package deal.
To think of the real people and real places we build real partnership with.

Then we may discover, much to our surprise,
we will be enriched rather than impoverished by our giving of ourselves in Mission.

Adapted from homily given at Holy Trinity, Gore, 2003

Preparing for Christ the King B

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 12:13 am

I have a memory of a Sunday morning radio story – read, I think, by Danny Kaye
that seems to resonate with this great Christological image that closes the Christian liturgical year.

A story by – of all people – Oscar Wilde.
The Happy Prince.  In a highly edited form it reads:

HIGH above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince.
He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold,
for eyes he had two bright sapphires,
and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
One night there flew over the city a little Swallow.
His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he stayed behind.
And now he lands between the golden feet of the Happy Prince.
The Happy Prince had once lived a very easy life, contended and powerful,
but now the statue of the Happy Prince, it turns out, is weeping
– because he can see the sadness and the poverty of the people in his city.
He begs the swallow to stay with him,
to take the jewel from his sword and the gold from his body,
even to pluck out the sapphires from his eyes and give them to the poor.
Time and again the Happy Prince asks the swallow
to take his treasure to the poor,
even though the Swallow has to fly off to join his friends in Egypt for the winter.

Eventually the Swallow realises he cannot leave the Happy Prince,
now blind and naked. So he stays until the snow comes.
And finally the little bird dies in the cold snow.
At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the statue’s leaden heart had snapped right in two.
The next day the city authorities pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince.
No longer beautiful, he was no longer needed.
And the lead of the Prince’s broken heart was thrown on the rubbish heap.
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of the Angels; and the Angel brought to God the leaden heart and the dead bird.
“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”

It’s a wonderful story, for children and adults.
It brings into sharp relief some of our thoughts and preconceptions
about rulers- princes and kings.
Some of the rather disembodied images
we try to connect with this Feast of Christ the King.

At this Feast we acknowledge Jesus as the ruler of heaven and earth,
the Lord, the King, triumphant, enthroned in heaven,
yet Lord too of all the earth,
the King of Kings.

In this last Sunday of the Church’s year we celebrate the breadth of the claims
we, as Christians make about this Jesus of Nazareth.

Today’s Gospel account of Jesus before Pilate, as on the cross,
is a mockery of Kingship and power,
but it is also an expression of a rule, a power and a kingdom
beyond the imagination of the prelates and politicians of this world.

Christus Rex, Christ Church, Pelham

The image of the Christus Rex, Christ the King,
the figure of Christ literally enthroned on the Cross,
is a profound reappraisal of the crucifix,
a dying, emaciated figure nailed to the Cross.

It takes a fair bit of effort to recognise
that they are both speaking of the same event.

Which, though, asks us the most searching questions
about who we are and who this God is we worship?
About what it means to live and die, to suffer and to hope?
What kind of a King is this? Where is the Kingdom?

In John’s Gospel it is mocked.
The whole point of Pilate’s questioning
and that title that was hung above the cross
is that there was no ‘King of the Jews’.
Rome was crucifying hope and identity together with Our Lord.

Yet somehow in the cross this ancient metaphor of God as King
finds new expression.
As the happy prince was fully given to the sorrow he saw around him,
the power of God is fully realised in the weakness of the cross.

And in weakness and suffering we can recognise the legitimacy,
the humanity and divinity of our king.

Amidst the carnage of the First World War,
as people sought to make sense of the failure of leadership,
kings and kaisers, politicians and preachers,
Edward Shillito wrote these words:
‘The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.’

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 32B

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2009 at 11:04 pm

It has been postulated
that whole Mediterranean civilisations and economies have been predicated
on the carrying capacity of little black-clad grandmothers.

Author Terry Pratchett writes:
“The ability of skinny old ladies to carry huge loads is phenomenal.
Studies have shown that an ant can carry one hundred times its own weight, but there is no known limit to the lifting power
of the average tiny eighty-year-old Spanish peasant grandmother.”

Think of Russia under the Soviet regime.
A thousand years of Orthodox Christian tradition,
silenced and set-upon for seventy years.
Yet that faith and tradition still exist.
Who kept the gospel faith and saw that it was passed on,
until it could emerge into the open when the Iron Curtain came down?
It was the babushka. The grandmother.

Bishops and Patriarchs I’m sure had a role,
but the faithfulness of little old ladies,
formidable little old ladies – don’t get me wrong –
but figures who slipped under the radar,
kept the Church alive.

Without the fine robes, without the flourish, without the finance.
Grandmothers, widows, have given out of their poverty.
Have more than pulled their weight. Have prevailed.

This morning we have that well-worn story of the widow’s mite.
A woman, perhaps a little black-clad grannie,
perhaps a much younger woman,
but poor, vulnerable, and essentially invisible in her world.
In Jesus’ world, to be a widow was a terrible, frightening thing.
Not for nothing does Scripture talk often about caring for widows and orphans.
In a man’s world, where women were defined by their relationships to men
as daughters, wives, mothers,
in a world without social security, without the Welfare State,
widows were right at the bottom. Poor, vulnerable, invisible.

And today we watch with Jesus as,
in the midst of the good and the great coming to the Temple,
the place where ancient economics and religion meet,
a woman gives two copper coins. The lowest value currency, the lepton.
Even more pathetic than our new ten cent pieces.

Look, even two thousand years later,
you get two lepta in a presentation pack for US$5.99 plus postage & handling.

Two. Tiny. Coins.

It’s over in a second.
The chink of bags laden with silver, the opulent colour of aristocratic bling
given with due pomp and show, doesn’t stop.
But a woman passes by and drops her whole financial world
where nobody notices.

Except Jesus.

Maybe this is one of the women who’ve lost their homes to the scribes,
the educated legal types of their day,
whom Jesus accuses of “devouring widow’s houses”.
Maybe this is a last act of desperation, or hopelessness.

Maybe, just maybe, this is an act of profound and complete trust.

Regardless, this woman who has most need,
has given her all.
Everything.
Her extravagance is as complete as her poverty.
You’ll know the story about the pig and the chicken. Good friends.
Life on the farm’s pretty good,
so they decide to make the farmer breakfast as a gesture of thanks.
The chicken draws up the menu, and comes to confirm with the pig.
The pig looks at the menu, then looks at the chicken.
Looks at the menu, then looks at the chicken again.
“I’m having second thoughts,” he says.
“What’s the problem?” says the chicken “I thought you were a team player.
I thought you said you wanted to contribute”.
“Look,” says the pig, “’eggs’ is a contribution, I appreciate that.
But ‘bacon’, now that’s total commitment.”

Back to the Temple, where – the pig can be reassured –
bacon is out of the question…

Total commitment.

I like to think Jesus sees that this widow, the least in her society,
has given her all out of radical, complete faithfulness and identification
with the God of her salvation.
Far from being desperate might-as-well-give-it-away-ism,
this is a statement of trust and of power.

How power?
This woman is paradoxically so free
from the insecurity of money and possessions – she has none –
that they have no hold over her.
Where the rich young ruler – he of camels and the eyes of needles fame –
cannot let himself go, this poor widow can.

The widow’s mite, the Roman name for the lepton coin, m – i – t- e,
is in fact the widow’s might, m – i – g- h -t.

Her full statement of commitment, two copper coins,
is one with the staunchness and sacrifice of those Russian grandmothers,
who had little, but gave much.
Those who we remember this day, who have lived and died
in the cause of justice and ultimately in the hope of peace and an end to war.
Those who choose to give their all,
to know real cost for the sake of service.

 

We simply don’t value what has no cost.

I wonder, does God?

Where is the cost, for you and for me,
in the Gospel of Christ?
Where is the commitment that might see us give of ourselves,
fully, deeply, willingly.
This could so easily be a stewardship sermon, and perhaps in a way it is,
but I ask you – as I ask myself –
where is the cost in my giving of who and what I am?
Am I really giving God the whole of what I have,
however tiny that might seem?
Or, dressed up in what might be described as ‘fine robes’,
am I simply giving God what I think I won’t miss?
Out of my plenty, not my poverty.

Perhaps it’s my poverty,
the parts of myself I am most frugal with, I hold most closely and tightly,
that God actually wants me to offer?

The widow with just two copper coins knows about cost.
She does not need the approval of a world that does not notice her.
She does not shy away from cost.
She does not hold a piece of herself back from God,
just in case things don’t work out with this whole “God of Israel” thing.

There is nothing left to give.
Fully and completely she declares her power in her weakness.

Absolute trust in God and the self-giving we see in Jesus’ life and death,
we see prefigured in this tiny, insignificant, extraordinary, beautiful act.

Like the woman with the Alabaster jar,
this woman without a name, this woman who in a pitiable way
gives profoundly, prophetically, extravagantly,
“the widow” has shone down the ages,
the example, the metaphor, the parable of what it is to give fully.
To choose to hold nothing back.

We have the power to make that choice too.

Am I a chicken, or am I a pig?

What does my faith cost me?

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

Metrical setting of the Benedictus

In Hymns on November 3, 2009 at 1:57 am

The Benedictus
(Luke 1:68-79)
One of the great canticles of the Church, and used particularly during Advent.

Suggested tune:  Gonfalon Royal

The God of Israel, blessèd be,
Who comes to set this people free.
Who raises up with mighty sign
A Saviour born of David’s line.

Through holy prophets promised long,
Salvation comes to conquer wrong.
Old enmities are overthrown
As God in mercy calls us home.

In holy covenant God swore
To Abraham, our ancestor,
That we from fear and falsehood raised
Might walk before God all our days.

And you, my child, are called this day,
A prophet to prepare the way,
To speak salvation, and to bring
God’s wayward people to their King.

In tender mercy, God of love
The dawn is breaking from above,
To shine on those in death and dark,
To guide our feet in peace’s path.