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Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homily for St Stephen 2010

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

The angel’s song yesterday was “peace on earth”.

If you happened to be a tourist, let alone a shepherd in Bethlehem
you could not help but be struck by a pretty powerful proclamation
of something other than peace and goodwill.

The Israeli “separation barrier”, 9 metres high
slices through the holy city,
and even in the very heart of the Christmas story
we have a symbol speaking of separation and violence. And fear.

The naivety of our Nativity scene
is brought pretty dramatically down to earth
by the days after Christmas.

We have Herod’s scheming and the murder of Holy Innocents,
and of course today the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

We live in an age
with a renewed fascination in and fear brought on by martyrdom.
Much of it happens in the region Jesus was born into.

We read of young men, mainly, who on the promise of heaven
cause all hell to break lose.

The concept of martyrdom has a tarnished ring to it.
Yet the “take some of them with you” mentality of the suicide bomber
is totally alien to the kind of martyr we meet in Stephen.

Martyr means “witness”.
And what we see in Stephen is a reflection of the Christmas story,
when God in full knowledge of the cost and vulnerability,
speaks the divine Word, God’s very self,
into creation, into time, into our lives.
This act of proclamation God makes, this self-disclosure,
does not shy away from all the consequences of such love,
including rejection and ultimately the cross.
God does not hold back.

Someone once said to me,
‘a good Christmas carol always has a hint of Good Friday’.
That’s the difference between saccharine and supreme love.

Here is a young man who dares to speak his truth
in the midst of a hostile world.

And does not stop to speak
when he is challenged and violently opposed.
Instead, he prays for those who are his killers.
Following the example of Jesus from the cross,
Stephen pleads for his attackers.

And that prayer bears fruit, at least in one extraordinary case,
for present at the killing of this young man is another,
Saul of Tarsus.  The figure we know of as St Paul.

…And we see that Good Friday is not the end of the story.
Not ever.
Not for the self-styled martyrs of terror today,
nor for those who speak the truth in love
at great cost to themselves.

God has another word to say.
And the word of Christmas is the word of Easter:  Love.

Even confronted with the fear and hatred of the mob,
God’s word to us is unchanging, as is Godself: Love.

On a recent retreat, Bishop Kelvin suggested
that only two forces work within us, fear and love.

In the First Letter of John, we read that “God is love.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him…
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We love because he first loved us.”

Rather more recently, Australian cartoonist & writer Michael Leunig, wrote
there are only two feelings – love and fear
there are only two languages – love and fear
there are only two activities – love and fear
there are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks, two results

love and fear, love and fear

May we learn to be as fearless as Stephen,
as willing to pray for those who hurt us,
and as willing to put ourselves into God’s hands.
As willing to surrender ourselves, simply and supremely, to love.

That is what it means to be a martyr, a witness,
to the Love come down at Bethlehem.

And all the walls in the world, all the fears they represent,
cannot silence the song of the angels.
“Peace on earth”, “goodwill”, “good news of great joy”.

Some more Leunig words to conclude with:
love is born
with a dark and troubled face
when hope is dead
and in the most unlikely place
love is born.  Love is always born.

Homily for Christmas Day 2010

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm

You only get one chance to make a first impression,
so you’d better make it snappy, make it pithy, make it memorable.

The writer of John’s Gospel certainly knew that,
and this morning we have the glorious poetry of his prologue,
words that reach before time, before anything “was”
reaching into our very lives and our experience, … this day.

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory…

These are among the most famous, the most profound,
the most all-encompassing words in the whole of Scripture.

And they still speak to us,
as they did to the early generations of Christians,
as in a few short lines,
John tells the story of creation, incarnation, redemption, faith and hope,
a whole theology on a single page,
gently foreshadowing the whole story he will tell
in the Gospel that bears his name.

Without tinsel or glitter,
without the cuteness of babies and shepherds and angels,
John manages to tell not just the Christmas story,
but the meaning of that story.

In a world where form wins out over content every time,
John demands we examine what the birth of a baby in Bethlehem
says to us and our world.

A world, it is not denied, where darkness exists,
but one where that makes life and light all the brighter,
and our need for that light the more urgent.

The light shines in our darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

In this beautiful passage we are presented with “the Word”.

Words have power, they describe and shape that which is.

“The Word” too is a Greek philosophical notion, logos,
of some overarching force or reality or reason,
some disembodied glue that holds the universe together
and in that makes sense of it,
or some perfect image of that which is.

Something akin perhaps to the abstraction,
the fluffiness we speak of at this time of year, “the spirit of Christmas”.

Something like the indistinct cloudy concept many have of “God”
In John’s Gospel , he makes it clear that in Jesus of Nazareth,
such nebulous abstractions
put on flesh and blood.

For only in doing that, can we touch them and be touched.
In this little child, lying in the storybook setting
of a stable, in a manger,
we are told that God the idea
becomes God who intersects with every human life.
That the God who creates all things,
the timeless source of the cosmos,
is as close to us as our own creative potential,
as our families, as our own skin and bone.

In this child,
we are shown that yes, every life is holy,
and yet that in the child born today in the city of David
we glimpse the goodness and the glory of the eternal God.
We are gifted light and power and rebirth ourselves.
And we cannot help but be changed by that.

We are invited to reclaim our place as children of God,
and to enter into the wonder of God at work with us and our world.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Midnight Mass – Christmas 2010

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm

We’re not far off midnight.

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Words you might recognise from this month’s Magazine
by poet U.A. Fanthorpe.

Earth and heaven, time and eternity, before and after
met in a moment and forevermore, the Incarnation.
We know the story well,
how Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem
because the Romans are having a census,
wanting to tax that little bit more effectively,
Caesar Augustus
is calling all the Roman world to be numbered.
In short, Rome is thinking big.

While God, at that pivotal point in history,
for all its epic quality, is thinking small.

As small and as particular as we can cope with –
a single new, tiny life,
soft and fragile and beautiful
and open to the pain and perfume of the world.

Those tiny fingers that instinctively grasp a mothers’,
those beautiful little feet
“of the messenger who announces peace,
brings good news, announces salvation.”

Good news uttered in a weak newborn cry.

A three year old girl lies down on her tummy,
peering into the home nativity scene
she says with some delight: “God’s my size!”

There is something there we need to recapture.
This is God not encountered in the abstract,
the big thoughts and words of theology,
but in the undeniable reality
of a needing, loving, demanding child.

And isn’t that where most of us really discover
all that is meaningful?
In human interaction, in relationship
and the delight, the drama,
the dialogue and demands of living?

Hold a tiny child who loves and is in need of love,
and you have a veritable library
on the mystery of the Incarnation.
Scripture tells us, “God is love”.
And love must reach out,
extend itself, embrace.
That love we celebrate this holy night.
US Catholic Social Activist Dorothy Day wrote,
“It is not love in the abstract that counts.
Men have loved a cause as they have loved a woman.
They have loved the brotherhood,
the workers, the poor, the oppressed
– but they have not loved [humanity];
they have not loved the least of these.
They have not loved “personally.”   It is hard to love.”

It is easy and quite seductive to think big,
as the Romans did.
When perhaps the message of the Christchild
is that it’s the thinking small that counts.

Small thoughts, real thoughts,
lead to real actions, real relationships.

We can pray for world peace, an end to global warming,
the completeness of the Kingdom of God,
but the epic hope will come to nothing
if our actions and our words and our loving
does not make it real, make it tangible, make it alive.
If we do not notice the smallness, the uniqueness,
the beauty of the God who comes so near to us
that our very being is embraced.

The babe of Bethlehem points us towards (with vast vision)
thinking small, thinking specific:
thinking lovingly and intentionally
about how we relate on a human level
and where that might take on a larger life of its own.
And acting on that, embodying the faith we proclaim,
the love we aspire to be.

It is perhaps not so very hard to love a small child,
but we are confronted – perhaps most explicitly at Epiphany
when the wise men brings their gifts of great symbol –
that this baby does not stay a child.

God does not come among us
to be wrapped up in cotton wool, or in tinsel:
the risk of being born
is the risk of embracing suffering, loneliness,
the wounded, and ultimately death.
God gives completely,
and we are invited to receive God completely.
To be so changed that be can look with God’s eyes
upon the new day that will dawn,
to choose to reach out in and to need.

We are invited to ourselves be born anew this Christmas,
to become more like the God who comes to us in Jesus.
More generous, more vulnerable,
more completely giving of ourselves,
but above all, more loving, not of life’s abstractions,
but of those God has given us to love.
That small group of the world’s people we encounter,
and the multitudes we affect
in our small, real, everyday decisions.

This holy day, and the days ahead,
let us unpack what it means that “God’s my size”.
That allows the Incarnation
to speak fully into our small reality.

This Christmas think small.
Small is beautiful.

Homily for Advent 4A

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm

110 years ago, Sigmund Freud published his work,
The Interpretation of Dreams.
In it, he suggested that dreams are not the inexplicable,
incomprehensible things we might believe them to be.
There is meaning hidden
beneath the fanciful and fantastic images
which haunt our sleeping hours.

Now, if you know anything about Freud,
you can probably imagine what some of those issues
were, hidden in the dreamer’s subconscious.
Let’s not, for all sorts of reasons, go there.

What we might want to see, though,
is that Freud’s understanding
of a deeper meaning behind dreams
is nothing new.

This morning we have the wonderful story of Joseph
– good reliable, righteous Joseph,
not wanting to shame his fiancee Mary
when it becomes apparent that she is pregnant,
and he is not the father.
Joseph has a dream, and in it he hears the message of God
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph, like his Old Testament namesake,
is spoken to by God, and more than once
in Matthew’s early chapters, in dreams.

Dreams in the ancient world,
as increasingly again in the modern,
are not simply dismissed
as too much rich food before bedtime.

Dreams were a rich seam of human discovery.
For all sorts of cultures this is still very much the case.
The most obvious case in point
is the aboriginal peoples of Australia
and their very strong sense that dreaming
is a point of contact with some ultimate reality,
hence “The Dreamtime”.
Matthew the gospel writer
seems at pains to have us realise
that we need to be alive to the quiet promptings of God.

The wise men, remember,
will be “warned in a dream” not to return to Herod.
Joseph is told in a dream
to flee to Egypt with little Jesus, and to return.

For Matthew, God lives, perhaps glimpsed most clearly,
in the hopes and joys and fears
and feelings of our dreams.

So, what are your dreams this Christmas season?
Do you need to be prepared, to be encouraged,
to be kept safe, to find wisdom?

Where do the echoes of the message of the prophets
about justice and peace and hope
find resonance in your being,
your conscious or subconscious?

Where might you see the name, the metaphor,
the promise made real:  “Emmanuel”: “God is with us”?
Advent has been a season of expectation and hope.
It is no coincidence
that our hopes are often described as “dreams”.
In fact the two words go together, “hopes and dreams”…
the place where our expectation,
our desires for the future,
meet our imagining and our possibilities.

Matthew the gospel writer
seems at pains to have us realise
that we need to be alive to the quiet promptings of God.

God lives, sometimes glimpsed most clearly,
in the hopes and joys and fears
and feelings of our dreams.

When we dream, in whatever sense,
we are somehow open to the reality of God.
Open to the naively expansive horizon of the possible
and the seemingly impossible.
Our over-active, rationalising mind
moves into the background,
and we are laid bare.
We might easily claim Joseph’s dream,
bearing those words from the prophet Isaiah,
as the dream of the whole Jewish people of his age.

That awareness of God
which stayed with Joseph upon waking was the
culmination of generations of expectant women and men,
looking towards the coming of the Messiah.

In the dream that stayed with Joseph when he woke,
he found his fears calmed. He found his hope renewed.
He found that voices from long ago spoke in a new and an illuminating way;

That passage from Isaiah:
“Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel”
– somehow, that obscure ancient passage made sense.

No doubt Joseph knew the text well.
He and all his contemporaries.
The spark which transformed his world
was in his understanding that here, in this dream,
was God breaking open the Scriptures for him.
His prayer and his pondering found an answer.
His very specific dream is a very real way
an answer to the hopeful, expectant dreams
of the whole People of God.

We discover in the Nativity story, Bethlehem,
no room at the inn, the manger, that God has
a disturbing habit of turning up in unexpected places.
Of answering our questions and our longings
with words we wouldn’t have imagined were for us.

What would have happened in the gospel story
if Joseph had not been open to the unexpected voice of God?

Joseph hears and is responsive. He hears, he is encouraged,
fears are calmed and hope renewed.
Ancient voices speak with clarity
and Joseph wakes from sleep, to take as his own,
to nurture and to name the Christ-child.

How about us?

A prayer to crown our Advent anticipation
from the Prayerbook:
God, you shape our dreams.  As we put our trust in you,
may your hopes and desires be ours
and we your expectant people.  Amen.

Homily for St Andrew 2010

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

What, I wonder, do we know about St Andrew?
Patron Saint of Scotland.

Actually, Andrew’s patronage is shared quite widely.
He’s patron too of Russia, Ukraine,
Romania and Prussia, as once was.
He’s said to look after fishermen, his first profession,
and to assist unmarried women, would-be mothers,
old maids, mariners,
singers, performers, golfers
and is even good against gout.

The veracity of all those invocations
of St Andrew’s name and support
I cannot vouch for,
but he is a significant figure
in the story of the Church.

Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother,
his name meaning “manly” or “brave”.
He was a disciple of John the Baptist
until Jesus of Nazareth appeared.
On John’s prompting, Andrew followed Jesus,
and brought his brother Peter
to meet and follow him also.

He was an Apostle,
once of the inner circle of twelve disciples
who was sent out to carry the Gospel of Christ
into the far-flung corners of the Mediterranean world.
Early tradition has it he was a Missionary to Asia Minor, into the Caucasus,
and up the Black Sea coast into the Volga and Kiev,
also that he founded the bishopric of Byzantium,
modern Istanbul.

He paid for his witness to the gospel
with his life,
a Martyr in Patras, Greece.
And legend has it that his death
was on an X-shaped cross or “saltire”.

Quite how St Andrew came
to be associated with Scotland
has several possibilities in legend,
all of which may to some extent be true.

Relics of St Andrew
were said to have been taken centuries before
to found the settlement that bears his name in Fife.
Ninth Century King Angus MacFergus,
facing down an invading Angle army,
was said to have seen a white cloud
floating like a saltire cross across the blue sky.
After his victory he decreed
that Andrew would be his people’s patron saint.

It may also have been a statement of defiance
after the Roman Catholic Church
had become established in the South,
overshadowing the indigenous
Celtic Christianity of the British Isles.
When the Church of Rome, of St Peter
appeared to have won the day,
I’ll just bet a few soon-to-be-Scots took issue.
It was after all St Andrew that led his brother Peter
to Jesus, and not the other way around.
Peter might be called junior to Andrew.
And the ancient Celtic Church had certainly been there first.

But back to more solid ground.
Andrew was called as a disciple by Jesus,
but had first been following in anticipation John the Baptist.
John is called in Eastern tradition the Forerunner,
last of the Prophets and first to recognise Jesus.
His call of course is to take the words of Isaiah:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'”

Roadworks.
I had a bloke from the Council come this week
and show me the plans for road-works near St Luke’s.
It affected us not-a-lot.

The call of the Prophet, the call of John the Baptist,
the call of Christ that was St Andrew’s and is surely ours
takes us on a journey that could and should and would
have us discover something more than just
a reseal, or some new cobblestones laid down.
Something is called of us
more than just going through the motions this Advent.

The Kingdom of God, and repentance, metanoia,
literally, turning around.
John the Baptist called people away from their homes
into a barren land that offered very little
but the challenging message of a voice in the wilderness.

John’s call is made to us also,
in these days of Santa Parades and special offers,
we are called to self-examination,
an enlargement of the space we give God
in this Advent season of preparation,
and we are called to a commitment to justice,
forgoing some of our privilege,
or at least using it to make some voices heard.
As we journey through this Advent season,

God grant us an openness to repentance,
a willingness into preparation,
and a vision to challenge presumption and privilege,
in ourselves, and our world.

May the God of the journey give us vision to see the road-works needed on our path,
the places to be made smooth, the mountains to be levelled,
the valleys to be raised, direction to be changed, hope to be reawakened,
a place to be prepared for Emmanuel, God-with-us.    Amen.

Homily for Advent 1A

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Come, Lord, and cover me with the night.
Spread your grace over us
as you assured us you would do.
Your promises are more than all the stars in the sky;
Your mercy is deeper than the night.
Lord, it will be cold.

The night comes with its breath of death.
Night comes, the end comes,
but you come also.
Lord, we wait for you day and night.

An Advent prayer from Ghana.

We might well have begun Advent a week ago.
We and all the country know something
about hope and expectation.
About the Advent theme of light in darkness.

There are some families who know only too acutely
the shock and disruption we heard in our Gospel,
with ordinary life turned upside down
by a sudden emphatic interruption.
How do we make sense of this last week,
of hope delayed, and then it seemed, dashed?

I’m not about to give you any glib answers.
Did God will those 29 men to die at Pike River?
No.
Did God want to deprive parents of sons,
women of partners, children of fathers?  No.
Our journey today is precisely that of the first Christians,
who struggled to understand why Christ did not return soon,
and end persecution, and sin and suffering.

And the words they heard
as the season of Advent began to take shape
were those we’ve heard this morning:
“Keep awake” Jesus urges us.

Advent is a season of mindfulness,
of readying ourselves, of penitence.
Of reminding ourselves
that we do not know the hour or the day,
that, mortal, we will die, but are invited to live here fully.
Without reticence.  Without reservations.  Without regret.

Advent holds together the beginning and the end.
The coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us,
sharing all human sorrows and joys,
vulnerabilities and griefs
in the Child born in Bethlehem,
taking the Cross that all dying might be redeemed.

The coming of Christ as Judge and culmination of time itself,
the prism through whom all loving, living and dying
makes sense,
and in whom every human life finds its place,
whether years be few or many.

The idea that this hour is unexpected
would have us live, present to our hopes & our longings,
sharing those of God’s very self,
that war & poverty & disease & injustice & ungodliness
be transformed.
That in this, we too are transformed and conformed
to the Christ who comes among us,
born that we might know a life that cannot die.

Advent, while just four short Sundays,
as the world outside gets hectic and harassed,
is a state of mind.
A new start to the Church’s year,
our pilgrimage with Matthew’s Gospel,
a journey onwards, not a four-stop destination
but an invitation to make right, as much as making ready.
To watch, and to be wakened to the life that knows no end.