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Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Homily for Lent 2A

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm

History is full of misunderstandings.
People saying one thing & being heard to say another.
So is the hymnbook.:
Comedian Billy Connolly talks about singing with great gusto as a small child of “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear”,
some sort of stuffed toy in need of an optometrist.
Of the Christmas carol, “A wain in a manger”
(“wain” being a scots word for baby).

In broader pop-culture, there’s that famous moment
in “Purple Haze” when Jimi Hendrix sings,
“’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.

In our gospel this morning
we have a classic case of people not mishearing
but misapprehending each other.
Speaking across each other.

The scenario is this: Nicodemus, a Pharisee,
one who takes the letter of the Law very seriously,
comes to Jesus.  At night.
This is a big hint in John’s Gospel.
For light and darkness, day and night,
are used as metaphors in his account
for those able to grasp what God is doing.
Remember in his Prologue John says of Jesus,
“in him was life, and the life was the light of humanity”?
And “the light shines in darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it”?

Nicodemus comes by night.

As Jesus’ body is taken to the tomb, John’s Gospel points
back to this encounter,reminding us that Nicodemus
“first came to Jesus at night”.  Suggesting that he was
in a very different place by that point.

But for the time being, they speak,
Nicodemus the wise teacher, expert in the Law,
and Jesus, teacher and prophet from marginal Galilee.
And if you know John’s Gospel well –
and the next few Sundays we will be with John –
it’s an intriguing  encounter to happen so early on,
for Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem,
causing a stir by cleansing the Temple.

The other Gospels all have that event
much later in Jesus’ ministry.
I would simply say to you that in my opinion
John’s Gospel is organised and constructed
in a very different way to the other three.
Chronology, what happened when,
is not John’s key interest.

Now I’m sure he and those he wrote for
were aware of the other Gospels written.
What John does is give us a theological canvas
on which he paints the events of Jesus’ ministry,
for a community who already know the basic events
of Jesus’ life, and particularly of Holy Week.

John’s Gospel is structured as more of a reflection,
a meditation on Jesus’ life,
than just a biographical account.

John, for example,
famously doesn’t tell us the details of the Last Supper,
but that’s only in the same way
that a fish might not tell you about the sea.

The theology and symbolism of the Last Supper
and the Eucharist are simply everywhere in John,
and so he makes another, very profound point
when he focuses on Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet.

But back to Nicodemus.

He and Jesus converse.
Nicodemus the Pharisee, expert in the letter of the Law
cannot comprehend what Jesus speaks of.
“No-one can see the Kingdom without being born from above”.
The same words mean “born again”.

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, for whom words –
godly words – are  very important.  He takes them literally.
“How can someone be born a second time?” he asks.
Jesus is confronted with someone
who is so fiercely and narrowly focussed
on what for them constitutes God’s truth,
that they leave no room to manoeuvre.
No room for God’s Spirit, God’s grace, God’s poetry.
For renewal and revelation.

Jesus gently challenges Nicodemus,
trying to draw his eyes from the page
to the Spirit at work in the world,
not contained or constrained by what we define
as “the rules” under which God might work.

It’s a gentle but cautionary tale
for any of us who would be gatekeepers
of this of THE Church.
God famously moves in mysterious ways.
And those who would serve God
must also be receptive to
“what the Spirit is saying to the Church”.

Nicodemus is in some ways a character
representing all who have a vested interest
in the religious status quo.

All of us who cannot comprehend
what God might be doing,
in or through or despite us.

We are invited this Lent,
this season of Annual General Meetings (of all things)
to open ourselves to the Word that was in the beginning,
Christ Jesus, through whom all Scripture is read afresh,
to see and to hear and to feel
where the Spirit might be leading us,
beyond the confines of these walls,
to places and to people that are longing for light.

“For…
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but may have eternal life.”

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Homily for Lent 1A

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I don’t know how catholic your musical tastes are.

Mine generally don’t stretch to 1970s funk R&B,
if that expression means anything to you.
But when pondering today’s Gospel,
and the theme that greets us every beginning of Lent,
the word that stands out is “temptation”.

By the vagaries of internet word association,
I came across a reference
to that famous music group, The Temptations.
And to an album they released in 1980 called “Power”.
Which, while I’d never heard the record,
struck a chord, so to speak.

Because I think those two words,
temptation and power,
are very much to do with this season we call Lent.
With Jesus’ wilderness experience,
and with our lives, collectively and as individuals.

Temptation is about power.

Temptation is the domain of people
who have power of one kind or another,
and of things that seem to have power over us.
Temptation is about how we might use power appropriately.
Temptation is about power.

Jesus is led by the Spirit to the wilderness.
A sparse, hostile place.
A place without distraction.
A place to run away to, precisely because when there
you can’t run away from who you are.

Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness
are a deliberate re-enactment, a reliving,
of the 40 years of Israel in the wilderness.
The wanderings borne of Israel’s
giving in to temptation again and again.

In the wilderness,
Jesus is presented
with temptations that draw on all sorts of powers
and all sorts of hungers.
So are we, each and every day.
Lent is about power.
Power – and about taking it back.

The ancient world looked at the way things were,
and saw all sorts of disembodied
powers and spirits at work.
Maybe they weren’t so far off the mark.

We are ensnared by all sorts of power
that we don’t have mastery of.
This is the landscape of temptation,
this is the terrain of ‘sin’.
This is us not being ourselves,
but caught in the orbit of something
that warps our true shape.

Adam and Eve are confronted
with the lure of one sort of power,
and – as we know – are undone by it.

Jesus is confronted with the lure of power
in several subtle guises,
and is able to recognise what would prevent him being
who and what he truly was.
The devil says to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God”…
And Jesus is not simply offered
food, glory and a chance to prove himself,
his whole mission is questioned.  What is he to be?

Will he be the miracle maker,
turning a stone into bread to feed the very real hunger
that he and others feel?
Is he to be the magician, satisfying desire with a word?
A star?
No.
Jesus says there is more to human existence
than the physical and material.

Will Jesus claim political power for himself?
Glory and authority are there to be grabbed,
untransformed, unredeemed,
if he but denies his real self
and the divine purpose of his ministry.
No.
Jesus points to the One who sent him.

Taken to the centre of the Jewish world, the Temple,
challenged to be exactly the superhero Messiah
his contemporaries expected,
will Jesus reveal himself with power and with signs?
Will he hold his humanity light,
throw himself down,
and have God keep him from hardship and suffering?
Is he to be not super- but in-human?
No.
We know were this story takes us: to Jerusalem, yes,
raised high, but on a Cross.

And before the Cross –
that ultimate confrontation with the powers of this world –
the struggle in the garden
with the cost of being who he claimed to be.

If, in his forty days, Jesus is challenged
to address what it means to be who he will claim to be,
to confront the powers
which threaten to warp our very souls,
how much more is that true for us
in our forty days of Lent?
If nothing else, I would invite you
to travel these desert days with two things.

One, the traditional tasks of this season.
During Lent we are called to three actions or approaches
that challenge power’s expectations:
Prayer.  Fasting.  Almsgiving.

Prayer:
because we often feel we don’t have to talk to anyone,
let alone have any sense of accountability.

Fasting:  because we live in a perpetual sense
of affluence and satisfaction,
and we begin to believe we are totally self-reliant.

Almsgiving:  because we misapprehend
our privilege and prosperity,
and are called to re-evaluate the justice
and the generosity of our lifestyle.
Our focus for generosity should be widespread,
but I would encourage you to remember
both our friends in Christchurch
and our work in Christian Missions this Lent.
The other thing I would invite you to do
this lenten season is to pray one simple prayer.
The prayer in which we ask
to be kept safe from all that tempts.

One of the medieval mystics said,
pray only this prayer, but make it last an hour.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial – lead us not into temptation-
and deliver us from evil.

I would invite you to do,
if nothing else this Lent, simply that.

Sit with that fundamental prayer.
Let each line, word and image resonate within you.

Hear it, pray it, understand it, as if for the first time.

Let the power of familiarity be tempered by intentionality.
And be ready to respond.
For we believe and we pray, The Kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen.

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 9A

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Aren’t we sometimes hit
by the timeliness of our lectionary readings,
those passages appointed for today?
Even to the point of them coming a little close to home?

Parables of buildings collapsing
seem just a little callous right about now.

And yet timely.
Speaking into something real, rather than hypothetical.

“The wise man built his house upon the rock”.
It’s a simple, but obvious allegory
with which Matthew chooses to end
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

A wise man, and one foolish.  The sensible, and the silly.
One who acts on sound teaching
and integrates it into faithful living,
and the other who’s not too concerned
to cut some fairly major corners.

A bit like a recent rendering of a well-known fairy tale:
“The Three Little Cowboy Builders”,
highlighting the issue of poor porcine building practice
in a world without apprenticeships.
Previously, the Sermon on the Mount
has seen crowds coming to sit at Jesus’ feet,
to listen, to be challenge and changed,
to hear the words of their faith reinterpreted to them,
put in a context that speaks of the spirit
rather than the letter of the Law, the Torah.

How many of us find the time to sit, listen, hear?
Where do we take time to let Scripture and prayer
change us, teach us?    How are we apprenticed,
discipled to Christ if we cannot do this?

How many of us –  and I speak to myself here – want
to build great mansions of ministry, spiritual stately homes,
architecturally awarded abodes for the soul,
… and don’t pay attention to the spadework,
the boring, mundane preparation
that makes the site in any way tenable, sustainable, safe.

Our whole approach to assisting Christchurch
has seen numerous websites and appeals set up,
but let’s remember the on-the-ground mucky spadework,
the students and the Farmy Army, dealing with silt, and smell,
and what can be politely be referred to
as DIY sewerage arrangements.

And I wonder
whether we’re not in getting-ready-for-Lent-mode:
Still to come, is the logical outworking of the cautionary tale:
finding time to check the lay of the land:
how we are, and who we are, before building.
Making sure we have a foundation on which to build:
a prayer- and inner life, time spent in conversation with God.
Gathering the resources we need together,
Scripture, our tradition, fellow pilgrims and workers.

The house Jesus had in mind – rather like the piggy fairy tale –  was probably made of bricks.

Not those mass-produced,
but born of the builder’s sweat and labour.
Some of which we’ve seen brought down in Christchurch’s heritage buildings, but mixed from the mud and rock of real life, the soil of where we find ourselves, with the straw of a enquiring, engaged intellect to give it body and strength.
Fired in the suffering and beauty of what it is to be human.

Jesus’ allegory begs a question:
Are we building wisely or well?
Are we, perhaps, building at all?

“Blessing and curse”
says that hard reading from Deuteronomy.
Blessing and curse.
To act in accordance with what we believe,
to look for and to strive for God brings blessing.
To be unfaithful to who we are,  and all we believe,
is curse.

What and how and if we build is important.
Ultimately, emphatically, important.
There is nothing moreso if we are to “enjoy God forever”.

To “dwell in the House of the Lord forever”.

What we do and who we are
is not an afterthought to God.
Each of us is made and called to be blessing to this world.

It might seem in rather poor taste that we
should have this reading so soon after the earthquake.

But such tragedies ask us
hard questions as people of faith,
might have us asking those same hard questions of God,

but they do underline for us
something our ancestors knew
and that we sometimes forget:
that human life is fragile,
more delicate than we would like to admit,
and that what we build is quickly unbuilt,
unless we find a place to invest our labour
that is solid and sound.

While there is breathe and life in us,
we are invited to build a house not made of hands,
to integrate who we would like to be
with who and how we really are.
To build a house that is not hollow,
that has about it integrity and beauty,
a resilience and a hope that will endure
and that will rest upon the Rock of our Salvation.

The God who is,
in and for all time and all eternity.  Amen.