Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 30C

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 at 9:13 pm

This morning’s gospel is a familiar one.
It’s a perfect example of why Jesus chose to use story,
parable, to make his points.
It’s memorable,
and we can see pretty clearly what is being said.
No amount of exegesis,
digging up meaning within the passage,
is going to give us something radically different
from the obvious point, a need for humility before God.
Yet, there is a little more to the parable of the Pharisee
and the tax collector than that.
Let’s begin with the two very different characters.

Pharisees were the people renowned
for their righteousness in First Century Palestine.
We entirely miss the impact of the parable
if we don’t realise that the Pharisee in it was,
by all the standards of his day,
seen as a genuinely righteous and respected person.
His spiritual discipline included a twice weekly fast.
Can any of us say the same?
He gave away 10% of his income. How many of us do that?
He kept the Law meticulously.

The world of the tax collector on the other hand
may be hard for us to get a handle on.
Try to combine the feelings variously brought on
by the labels “Nazi collaborator”, “debt collector”,
“fraudster” (or these days
“failed finance company director”) and you might get close
to the way the Jewish people of the first century
felt about those who collected tax for the Romans.
In the world that Jesus inhabits,
the tax collector is the recognisable face of sin,
dodgy people representing an oppressive system.

A fact we might easily overlook
is that both characters are “at prayer”.
Love them or hate them, both caricatures are praying.

But what are they and we doing when we pray?
Who are we talking to?
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God”
said St. John Damascene.
But when we pray,
do we speak from the height of our pride and will,
or “out of the depths” of the human heart?

Can we truly pray, as the Pharisee seems to,
totally self-absorbed, looking only to others
in gratitude that we are not as they?
Can we pray when we’re so very and contentedly alone?

The Pharisee has managed to find himself alone
at the heart of his faith.  In the Jerusalem Temple,
the milling, busy, passionate heart of the Jewish world –
this man “stands by himself”, we’re told.
Praying by himself.  Praying, perhaps, to himself?
Where is there room here for the
“raising of one’s mind and heart to God”?
Where is the fruit of all his spiritual discipline?
Where is righteousness?

The Pharisee hasn’t digested the summary of his faith,
“love the Lord your God with all your heart …
and your neighbour as yourself”.
In his self-righteousness, he looks on his neighbour
and shares nothing of the vision of God.
He sees the Other, the hated, the despised,
a man beyond the pale. An outsider.
And Jesus consistently challenges that kind of exclusion,
that compartmentalisation, as incompatible with the Kingdom.

Human righteousness is the imitation of God:
“Be holy as I am holy”.
The Pharisee misses
that which is at the core of God’s holiness – mercy.
He condemns the very person God would redeem.

At the core of righteous, at the very core of God, is love.
If you miss that,
all the “righteousness” and religion in the world
will get you precisely nowhere.

What if we took that thought away with us
and examined our economy, our prisons,
the little judgemental moments we all have every day?
What would we see differently?

The tax collector has discovered something profound.
In the words of English mystic Evelyn Underhill,
“as we gaze upon our sinfulness, we see God.”

Why is it we begin each celebration of Holy Communion
by acknowledging our fallen nature,
our need for forgiveness?
It is not until we acknowledge
our need for something beyond ourselves,
until we admit our brokenness and our woundedness,
that we can embrace the love and mercy
and healing and hope
that is held out to us by God in Jesus.
Perhaps it’s not until we see ourselves clearly,
that we may see the outstretched arms of Christ.

Until we know our need, we cannot know our healing,
cannot bare our true selves before Love’s true self.

Let’s not lose sight of where this parable
leads the Pharisee, the tax collector and us,
from the Temple down to our homes –
out into the real world,
where prayer and humility are in short supply.
The real world where people are,
by our attitudes and their own actions,
excluded and marginalised.

We are called, again and again,
to look to God and neighbour:
righteousness cannot happen in a vacuum.
Let’s not give up on the discipline
that marks the Pharisee as a man apart.

There is need
for his thankfulness and abstinence and generosity.

But the tax collector beckons to us,
the more real, the more human figure here.

The more honest before God.

In all the complexities and compromises of daily life,
the challenge of the parable
is its uncompromising clarity.

The prophet Micah
points us towards the simplicity we need
in this complicated world,
whether we can fast and tithe
and live the disciplined life of the Pharisee or not:
“what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?”


Homily for St Luke’s 2010

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 at 9:09 pm

A hybrid of the children’s and adult’s talks…

We have a rather special connection with St Luke.

There is a direct link between us
and Luke’s writing down of the teaching he received
concerning Christ and the early Church.

You will be aware that the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles
are parts 1 & 2 of Luke’s writings to Theophilus,
a socially significant potential or recent convert to Christianity.

Luke was gentile, a physician, a companion of Paul,
a writer who draws his readers’ attention to the kingdom of God come near,
and to this good news
and its special attention to the poor, to the excluded,
to women, to the disadvantaged.
All of which is an interesting way to be addressing Theophilus,
embodying the very opposite.
Yet, be aware that “Theophilus” translates as “Lover of God”,
so while he was most likely a real figure,
perhaps Luke always had us in mind.

Luke’s Gospel could be usefully compared, believe it or not,
to a game of ‘pass the parcel’ or celestial ‘chinese whispers’.

Think of Luke’s story.

He begins with an angel speaking to Zechariah,
and later an amazing response – the Benedictus –
an angel speaking to Mary,
and an amazing response – the Magnificat.

We have more angels speaking to shepherds,
not the travelling kings of Matthew’s story,
but a few very ordinary people witnessing the birth.

An old man, Simeon, sees the child and we hear the Nunc Dimittis,
Anna the prophet understands the child’s identity.

The child is lost, sitting in the Temple with the teachers,
while his parents search.

These are all Luke’s stories.

John the Baptist, son of Zechariah,
prepared before birth in Luke’s gospel to be the forerunner
passes the mantle of ministry and identity to Jesus.

Jesus himself claims an older identity – Isaiah’s words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

That is passed to the disciples at the end of Luke’s gospel
when Jesus says “you are witnesses to these things”.

The good news that we are witnesses to
is itself passed to Paul and his companion Luke.

That missionary impetus that sent Luke and Paul on their epic journeys
ultimately sends faithful embodiers of the Word to Aotearoa.

A.N. Brown and Charlotte his wife
settled ultimately at Tauranga in 1836.

A group of children were being evacuated after trouble nearby
and were attacked.

Tarore, daughter of the Ngakuku, aged twelve was killed,
as the gospel of Luke that lay as a pillow beneath her head

The gospel urged her family to pledge themselves to  forgiveness.

And the gospel of Luke, Tarore’s Gospel of Luke,
lived on.

Uita who led the party that killed Tarore, took it.
But Uita couldn’t read.
Ripahau his slave could, and read from the gospel.
Ultimately this led to the reconciliation of Uita and Tarore’s father.

Ripahau was freed and returned to Otaki
coming in contact with Te Rauparaha’s son, Tamihana.
Reading from the Scriptures, Ripahau taught Tamihana to read.
But this was piecemeal, and they needed a complete text.
Ripahau sent a messenger for more books,
and brought back Tarore’s Gospel of Luke.

Tamihana took this same copy of the Gospel
when he came to preach peace to his father’s enemies in Southland..
This is our story – Luke’s story is one that does not stay still.

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 28C

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Have you ever been a foreigner?
Have you walked the streets
and seen faces and heard language that is not your own?
Have you ever felt uncomfortable, at the margins, unrooted?
One of the least comfortable experiences for me
when a theological student in Fiji
was to walk the less salubrious streets of Suva
and to be the only kai-valagi, the only white face, in sight.
I used to wear a sulu, the formal lavalava,
and to try to fit in,
but clearly I didn’t.

There’d be words in Fijian or Hindi followed by laughter
and I’d wonder whether I was the source of amusement.
Wandering the urban South Pacific,
past beggars and shoe-shine boys,
somewhere that could have been
anywhere in the Third World…
and to not belong.

And to be confronted with disability.

We in the so-called First World
are not used to human deformity.
“Leprosy” is only as close to our experience
as the occasional giving envelope for the Leprosy Mission
secreted at the back of the church.
At a distance, without intimacy.

We do not have beggars on our streets,
and when we see them in countries like Fiji,
there is an internal struggle.
Do we walk by or do we respond?
We don’t know how to act. We don’t belong.
They, in their own way and in their own world,
don’t belong.
This has been Mental Health Awareness Week.
If we were looking to those at the margins,
those who don’t belong in our world,
those who are as lepers in our society,
perhaps there is something there
for us to consider.

Distance is a theme of our readings this morning.
Lepers – even rich and powerful lepers –
are outcaste, do not belong.
Naaman, a high military man,
is inexplicably struck with leprosy.
He hears that there is a powerful man of God,
a prophet in Israel, and seeks him out.
Naaman is horribly offended that Elisha
doesn’t even come out of his house to meet him,
an important officer from the local military power.
There is distance here. The distance is significant.

In the gospel, Jesus enters a village,
and ten lepers approach him.
They keep their distance,
calling out to Jesus rather than coming near to him.
The distance is significant.

One of the lepers there, pointedly does not belong,
for he is a Samaritan. Those people the Jews loved to hate.
A people, remember, who were a constant reminder
to the Jewish people of their years of exile.

There’s exile present in our other readings, too.
A young girl is captured from Israel and taken to Aram.
She tells Naaman’s wife of a prophet
– who, ironically is in Samaria.
Healing of course happens,
but in both cases without touch,
without intimacy, without magic.
Naaman in particular misses the magic.
Healing is expected and in both cases, happens,
even at a distance.

But in both stories, there is something incomplete
until Naaman and that Samaritan leper
return to the man of God who has made them well.
It is not until this return
that Jesus can say to the Samaritan leper
“Get up and go on your way;
your faith has made you well.”
The key word here is “return”,
for these men are, you will have noticed, foreigners.
They are both in a strange land – they are in exile.

Jesus the Christ represents the return from exile.
His ministry begins in the River Jordan,
the border of the Promised Land,
and it culminates in Jerusalem, the heart of Israel.
Jesus’ mission is about moving from the margins
to the heart of God,
about restoration, the end of exile.
About those who had no hope of belonging
suddenly being welcomed into the people of God.
Samaritans and other Gentiles like you and me.
The people who don’t belong in our polite social company.
The excluded, the difficult, the disabled,
the down-right maddening and misanthropic.

The return from exile is less a physical or geographical state,
but one of relationship with God.
An acknowledgement of our need
to travel towards and to fall at the feet of our God.
To recognise the distance in our lives,
a need for healing and restoration
that goes beyond illness and disease.
We might pray for healing, and I have every confidence
that God grants that to some of us.
You, like me, have probably seen that happen.

But we might more often pray and work
for a closing of the distance between us and others,
between our interior and exterior personas,
between us and God.
For a “wholeness”
that is more than simply a body working well.
For a healing that can give us a thankful heart,
one able to cope with the effects of “being made well”.
To recognise those little moments of homecoming
we experience,
when we do encounter change and hope and wholeness
and well-being – being where we belong.
Exile ended.

When and where we are invited to stop,
like the Samaritan leper,
and not just do the normal ritualised things we do
to give expression to our faith,
but to celebrate in humility and joy at the feet of our Lord.
Our hope and home for now and for eternity.

Homily for St Francistide 2010

In Uncategorized on October 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm

“I thank you … because you have hidden these things from the wise
and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Those are words of the gospel reading for St Francis.
Francis the fool for Christ,
who like a child turned his back on all his age had to offer:
soldiery,  wealth, a certain rather attractive social life,
the expected and the easy.

Turned his back on them, not as an escape,
so much as with a childlike unwillingness to accept
that this is the way things always have to be.

In some ways Francis never grew up.
He was this sort of compulsive figure his whole life long.
He would just do things.
Things that damaged his standing and even his family relationships.
He gave things away without thinking.
He made promises that were hard to keep.
He renounced his family and their fortune.

But part of what Francis did was to clear some of the rubbish we feel,
as grown-ups, we need to surround ourselves with.

It was a message he brought not just to his own life,
but to the Church of his day.
A huge challenge, a kind of carbuncle of integrity
festering away on a soft and well rounded ecclesiastical behind.
Francis loved the Church,
but he could see
in the kind of way that the child who knows the Emperor has no clothes can see.
Francis followed the Crusaders,
and came away deeply disillusioned with the face of faith he saw there.
St Francis died, all too young, at 45.
The last two years of his life were marked by the gift, for so he saw it,
of the wounds of Christ, the stigmata.

Modern eyes have seen in this a disease of the poor – tuberculoid leprosy.
Francis and his followers had deliberately chosen from the very outset
to live and work beside a colony of lepers.

These were the wounds of Christ, the stigmata,
and to this day we know the word that shares its origin,
the word Francis tried to challenge by his radical living out of the gospel:

This is a man who embraced poverty
and who prayed for the wounds of Christ.
And whose life came to an end bearing those wounds.

That, as an image,
is both profoundly disturbing and beautiful beyond words.
What other reaction should a saint prompt in us?

Francis was a preacher, a man of words,
but he was also a man of symbol and action.
And it is the image of the childlike Francis preaching to birds,
talking with wolves,
stripping before his bishop,
that we have inherited most vividly.
Picturebook images that are our entree
into asking those most basic, naïve and uncomfortable questions
of ourselves and our lifestyle.

A view of the world that dares to delight in all aspects of the Created order –
in his Canticle, up to and including death.
A view of the world that chooses to confront comfortable expectation.
A view of the world that sees what we get a glimpse of as children:
a world awash, charged with the grandeur and the presence of God,
as if a conversation of the things we encounter:

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no-one is worthy to mention Your name.

Praised, be You, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Death, from whom no mortal can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.  AMEN.