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Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 21C

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2010 at 11:46 am

We live in the era of Sunday shopping.
It’s got to the point that I pleasantly note
when a business is not open 7 days a week.
That is, unless it’s a Sunday and I feel some urgent need.
Funny how many “urgent needs” have arisen
since seven day trading came along 18 years ago…

We used to revere Sunday as the Sabbath, back in the good old days.
Although the fact is that Sunday is not the Shabbath
but the Lord’s day, the day of Resurrection.
The first and mystical eighth day of the week.
The day we are reborn and know our liberation
in the light of an eternal dawn.

Which is all very poetic, you might think.

Let’s look at our gospel.
A woman is healed.
A woman whose condition has seen her bent double for eighteen years.
Intriguingly chiming with the age of our Sunday trading laws.
A woman, probably not even able to look Jesus in the face,
is healed, without a word passing her lips.

She doesn’t even ask.
People are always asking Jesus for healing,
one woman even had to argue that she should be healed.
Yet this woman does not.
It’s clear, though,
as she straightens her hunched body and praises God,
that she has been waiting for deliverance.
Jesus says to her, simply and powerfully:
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

That’s one part of the story,
but not actually the one that occupies most attention.
It’s the response of the leader of the synagogue where all this takes place;
the synagogue – forerunner of this type of gathered community,
where people meet to worship and read the Scriptures and hear teaching
– it’s his response that is the foundation for the teaching in this story.
Because this happens on the Sabbath.

The community is particularly gathered on the Sabbath,
and it is on this day that Jesus heals.
Of the Ten Commandments, the fourth is this:
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.
Six days you shall labour and do all your work.
But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God: you shall not do any work.

The leader of the synagogue says to the people
that Jesus’ behaviour is simply not on.
They could come and be cured on any of the other days.
The sabbath is not for work.

Notice he addresses the crowd, not Jesus.
He does not acknowledge what he has just witnessed, this miracle, at all.
Instead he argues a point of cannon law.
He has so much invested in his synagogue and system
and the sabbath the way he sees it,
he not only doesn’t see the human need right in front of him,
he completely misses the moment
when a sign of the kingdom breaks in to his world.

The Sabbath was not simply a day.
It was a symbol.
The sabbath was what made the Jewish people
distinct from all the other peoples around them.
Other peoples did not have one day off a week.
They had holy days, but not like this.
More than that, in the Old Testament,
that Commandment to remember the sabbath
is tied not just to creation, when God rested on the seventh day,
but also to the redemption of the people of God from slavery in Egypt.
The sabbath is about liberation and restoration.

And here in our gospel passage, on the sabbath,
what does Jesus offer this woman bent double?
This daughter of Abraham?
This woman who did not presume to ask to be healed?
“Woman”, says Jesus, “you are set free from your ailment”.
The word in the Greek is the verb luo.
The classic New Testament word for liberation of every sort.
The word used to describe untying an animal.
To set free from bondage.

Jesus is not just saying by his actions
that it’s alright to do this on the sabbath day,
because the law of compassion overrules the strict interpretation of sabbath
offered by the leader of the synagogue.

Jesus is offering a sign,
that the sabbath is the most appropriate time to liberate,
and to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world
for those who can but see.
The Messiah of God is pointing to the real meaning of the sabbath,
restoring this woman to the full humanity of her creation,
in the image of God.

Re-creation, in its most literal sense.

And what of our world, with Sunday shopping and the choices we make?
If our day of gathering, this Sunday, the Lord’s day, is a symbol,
what is it a symbol of?
Surely that same liberation, that weekly celebration of our Easter faith,
of our redemption from bondage, our restoration as the people of God.
Re-creation.

How do we live that faith?
I’m guilty of popping down to the supermarket on a Sunday.
I got myself in trouble in Fiji when I went fishing on a Sunday.
(My fishing prowess is such, that nobody should really have been concerned.
Certainly no fish were harmed that day).
Those for me are more the concerns of the synagogue leader.

What Jesus is concerned about is life in all its fullness.
Those whose families are hurt by parents working weekends.
Those whose sweat and poverty
manufactures so much of what we buy and consume.
Who will see those, here and far away, who are bent double in need, unnoticed?
Who will proclaim liberation, good news, real hope, to them?
Who will lift a hand to untie them?

Jesus reserves his harshest criticism for those who say one thing, and do another.
Who proclaim redemption, and keep people imprisoned.
Who would untie an animal of use to them,
but wouldn’t acknowledge a person set free.

How then will we live?
Healing in Jesus’ presence
is about shining light on the unnoticed and the self-deceived.
May we respond, with eyes newly opened, with justice awakened,
with compassion alive to the needs of the world.  Amen.

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Homily for the Assumption (The Blessed Virgin Mary) 2010

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I found myself on this day last year
at St Michael and All Angels’, Christchurch,
the most “high church” and Catholic
of Anglican parishes in this country,
where most Sundays was prayed a prayer
not usually associated with middle Anglicanism:

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.

And I was forced to do some workto decide what I made of that.
It hadn’t previously been part of my tradition.

It is a prayer at least a thousand years old,
and carries with it much popular preconception –
visions of confessionals and priests
prescribing its recitation as a doctor might aspirin.

But it is also a prayer which combines
Scripture, intimacy, and hope.

The figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord,
has always been important to the Church.
Protestants, however,
have been known to express discomfort or disquiet.

As part of a tradition that is both Protestant and Catholic,
what are we to make of this day,
and of this key figure in the story of our salvation?

In the figure of Mary we meet both humility,
but also the honouring of one woman, called to respond
to Gabriel’s greeting and invitation to say “yes” to God.

That Mary does emphatically
in the words of the Magnificat we’ve just heard.
Mary captures the vision of God in that song of praise & hope.
She agrees with God, and becomes – as a mother must be – active and engaged, rather than passive and demur.

Her words are words of justice and change
and the transformation of the world,
the coming of the Kingdom.

There is a reason she was chosen to bear the Christ.

Mary stands
not just as saintly inspiration,
one among many,
but as the one entrusted with the very
bearing into the world of Emmanuel, God-with-us,
his care and nurture, in this
ridiculously vulnerable expression of God’s love for us.

Mary, Mother of our Lord is vitally important to our faith, yours and mine,
because she
– in the language of the Eastern Church –
is Theotokos, God-bearer.
She is a yes to God’s invitation,
and an active accomplice in agreeing with God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is not
some passive channel for God entering the world,
rather an active participant in liberation,
holding before us
– as in so many ikons and depictions –
the Christchild.

Holding him,
having endured the struggle and danger of birth.
Holding before us her own questions
about who this Jesus is, as he grows
and she ponders in her heart what all this means.
Holding before us the broken body of her son
at the foot of the cross.

Holding before us in life and in death
what it means to bear God into the world.
Well me might ask her to teach us, to pray with us and for us
in companionship with all who now know God’s presence,
in our living and our dying,
as we seek in much less literal but equally vital ways
to bear Christ into the world.

Mary, bearer of Jesus,
is the pattern for what we might be in our time,
a “yes” to God’s invitation.
Bearers of God through struggle and joy
and questioning and pain to a world
which needs the liberating Good News of the Incarnation.

In celebration of her witness, and in hope of spring,
the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen
wrote and sang these words:
O greenest branch, I greet you,
you who budded in the winds
of the questioning of the saints.
The time came for you to blossom in your branches,
I salute you!
The sun’s heat distilled in you the fragrance of balsam.
For in you bloomed the beautiful flower
which gave fragrance to all the dried out spices.
And they all burgeoned in their strength and greenness.

Let us use this celebration as an occasion of renewal,
filled – like the Hail Mary prayer –
with Scripture, intimacy and hope.

Viewed another way,
the promise, the presence and the practise
of our faith.

By our ongoing “yes” and enactment,
making real the bearing of Christ into our community.

Homily for The Transfiguration 2010

In Uncategorized on August 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

A mountain.
Bright light.
A cloud.
The voice from heaven.
A good dramatic story, that, the Transfiguration.

Reminds us of another Bible story perhaps,
of Moses on the mountain,  receiving the Ten Commandments.
Remember his face shone?

And perhaps, almost, reminiscent of a rather different, 20th Century story.
On the Feast of the Transfiguration in 1945,
the Enola Gay flew beyond Mount Fuji, symbolic in so much Japanese art,
and Hiroshima became forever infamous,
as the place where a bright light, “no ordinary sun”,
a distinctive mushroom cloud,
and after the thunder, God alone knows what voice from heaven,
spoke volumes about fallen humanity.

Apparently the Japanese character used for “transfigure”
is the same as that for “disfigure”.
And there’s a sense today that we have to combine the glory of the mountain top
with the depths of our inhumanity,
the Transfiguration of Jesus as the Christ, the image of the invisible God,
with our disfiguring of that same image.

Today is kept as Peace Sunday, and we commit ourselves as Christ’s disciples
to follow the Prince of Peace.

Jesus climbs a mountain with his closest disciples. There is a dazzling light,
they see Moses – the Lawgiver – and Elijah – greatest of the prophets.
A cloud that overshadows them, and they are terrified by the cloud, and a voice.

And in the middle of all this Peter wants to build tents, booths, dwellings.
Which we interpret as a misguided attempt
to hang on to this extraordinary experience.
To freeze the moment of revelation and encounter with God…
but we know we can’t live on the Mountain.

Though perhaps it’s also a reference to the Jewish Festival of Booths.
The harvest celebration of God’s abundance,
re-enacting the wandering in the Wilderness by building huts…
A Festival that used the images of light, cloud, and “the turning of the year”
as an expression of expectation and the end of Exile.
This is a pivotal moment in those disciples’ experience of Jesus.
So, whether this was at the same time as the Festival or not,
Peter naturally seizes on an image that helps him understand what’s going on.

And we have that rather 1950s advertising image
of Jesus’ clothes and face becoming dazzling white.
Not the cue for a laundry powder commercial,
but an expression of the Shekhinah, the Presence of God.
We are told that when Moses spoke with God, his face shone.
Jesus is in the Transfiguration revealed to be the expression of God’s Shekhinah,
God’s Presence, and his whole body and being shines.

And, flanked by those representative figures of Moses and Elijah,
Jesus speaks of what Luke calls
“his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”.
Which brings God’s glory starkly into focus with the Cross.
And so we have the beginnings of Transfiguration in a wholly different way,
where the darkest depths are transformed,
not just the mountaintop moment.

Transfiguration and disfiguration.
It is through Christ’s disfiguration on the cross
that God’s glory is revealed.
Not only is suffering the means of reconciliation,
but the transfiguring of suffering itself is attested.

These are the words of an English Priest,
whose father, Leonard Wilson, was Bishop of Singapore during World War II.
A Prisoner of War, removed from his interment camp for months
and tortured by the Japanese on suspicion of being a spy.

He survived, and after the war returned to Singapore
and had the great joy of confirming one of his torturers.
“One of those who had stood with a rope in his hand,
threatening and sadistic.” he said.
“I have seldom seen so great a change in a man. He looked gentle and peaceful.
His face was completely changed by the power of Christ.”

Michael Ramsey, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury wrote:
“Transfiguration is indeed a central theme of Christianity,
the transforming of suffering and circumstances,
of men and women with the vision of Christ before them
and the Holy Spirit within them.”

We are called,
as we reflect on the disfiguring pain of Hiroshima and Ngasaki,
as we hold in prayer all the violence and waste of conflicts the world over
– and especially this day that in the Congo –  we are called
to hold before ourselves and our world the possibility of Transfiguration.
The mountaintop offers us a glimpse of God.  Our Lord in glory.
But the Cross changes what that means.

Transfiguration glimpsed and maybe understood through disfiguration.

Reformed theologian Karl Barth wrote:
“Our tribulation without ceasing to be tribulation is transformed.
We suffer as we suffered before,
but our suffering is no longer a passive perplexity
but is transformed into a pain which is creative,
fruitful, full of power and promise.
The road which is impassable has been made known to us
in the crucified and risen Lord.”

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 18C

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2010 at 11:33 am

Useless, useless, … all useless.
What an uplifting beginning!
Or in another translation:  “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
and that’s got nothing to do with bathroom design.

It’s easy to feel cynical and a little depressed when reading Ecclesiastes.
The author, who calls himself Philosopher or Preacher or Teacher
and implies that he is King Solomon,
struggles with the apparent futility of life and the certainty of death.
There are some moments of light –
“for everything there is a season” being one of them –
but on balance he takes comfort only in the pursuit of Wisdom,
and the simple pleasures of eating, drinking and finding fulfilment in one’s work.

Is that a familiar feeling?  Fulfilment seems in short supply these days.
We live in a consumer age, the instant gratification generation.
At times our lives seem little more than a collection
of credit cards, pay-slips and product placement,
as we work and spend and eat and drink and be merry
… and feel miserable about it.

Like the rich man in the gospel, our barns have got bigger,
our retail stores more cavernous,
while our lives collectively and individually seem more impoverished.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “work-life balance”.
How are you doing on that front?
How many of us work too long and too late
accumulating what we may never get the chance to enjoy?
How many of us store up treasures for ourselves,
while in fact we’re patently not rich in the slightest, beyond that façade?
How many of us can acknowledge that we have more than enough,
and examine the quality, not just the quantity of the life we enjoy. Or not.
Could we say, could we sense, what it might mean to be rich.
To be, in Jesus’ words, “rich toward God”?

The gospel parable is far more than simply saying “You can’t take it with you”.
Jesus has us hear that expression “rich towards God”.
What could that mean?
To paraphrase the age-old gift-giver’s conundrum:
“what do you give to the One that has everything?”

What can we possibly give in order to be rich towards God?
What does God want that God doesn’t already possess completely?

Quite simply, and you know it, God wants you.
Your worship.
Your justice.
Your intention and presence.
You.
A wondrous child of God, to know the One who called you into being.

Being rich towards God might be the cue for a sermon on stewardship,
and you will hear that sermon at some stage,
but it is about far more than your dollars in the offertory plate.
Being rich towards God means giving God what is really valuable.
Giving God your time, your attention, ultimately yourself.
Not cluttering up the space where God is to be encountered
with things, with the desirable and unnecessary.

Not being so busy chasing the cheque,
building our barns and filling up each hour of the day,
that we ourselves become like the empty husk
rather than the rich kernel of the grain.

Not being so enamoured with the extras
that we miss what is important and eternal.
Paul tells us that in the mystery of the Resurrection,
our lives have been hidden with Christ in God.
We are, if we have been risen with Christ,
no longer grounded in the tangibles,
the gadgets and values of a self-distracting world.

We are, if risen with Christ,
rooted in a different, enduring set of assumptions about the world,
about living and about dying.

Religion has traditionally been seen
as some sort of insurance policy for the Afterlife.

Often specifically, one has to say, fire insurance.
I would like you to think about the financial services metaphor somewhat differently.
Many have had cause to think carefully about investments
in the last couple of years.

Being rich towards God is about investment.
Investment carries risk,
Investment speaks of hope.
Investment looks for growth.

We all know the value, some of us after hard lessons,
of sound investment.

And so the question is for us,
how do and how will we invest ourselves in our faith?
What do we need, what must we have, what will we let God have of ourselves?

Investment.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.

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