theunfamiliarname

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Homily for Easter 6A

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2011 at 12:06 am

The wide-eyed tourist has long been a figure of fun,
whether stereotyped with a big camera and bad English,
or the North American drawl and few ideas about how
we manage to live here on the edge of the world,
or the freedom-camping free-loader,
most often from Europe,
who has a comical accent for good measure.

St Paul is this morning a tourist,
something of an innocent abroad.
He wanders, wide-eyed, we might imagine,
around one of the greatest cities of his age.

The people of ancient Athens
were amongst the most civilised and sophisticated
people of their era.

Athens was the centre for a culture,
for much of the philosophy that underlies
even our world today,
a “great city”
and centre of intellectual, cultural
and religious prestige and influence.
Athenians were famous for being open
to theological and philosophical development,
or to put it slightly less kindly,
they were always on the lookout for a novelty..

They had a whole pantheon of gods on offer,
their own, and no doubt a few of the regional specialities
of outlying areas and powerful neighbours.
To keep all bases covered,
they also evidently had an altar
to any divinities they didn’t have knowledge of,
but whose good humour they sought to maintain.
Hence the altar to an unknown god.

Paul,
disturbed by the sheer number of idols on offer in Athens,
does see the glimmer of hope in this openness
to an unknown, unnamed God, the God
whom Paul declares is actually the only one true God,
maker of heaven and earth.

He goes on to talk about the difference
between his God and the idols he sees.
The latter are shaped and waited on by humans,
as if to be placated and managed
by what people wanted and hoped for.

The unknown universal God does not work that way.
God is not to be managed or manipulated
or served token offerings of food and drink.
The God who is, is to be honoured and worshiped
in the whole of one’s existence,
and in awe at the bounty of creation,
because this God is the source
and the sustaining force permeating all things.

Paul even quotes one of the Greek poets, Epimenidies:
‘In him we live and move and have our being’.

And so we come to our gathering,
our week-by-week focus for community and faith.
Holy Communion.  A token offering of food and drink?

Of course the theology of what’s going on
is quite different,
we ourselves being nourished by the bread and wine,
blessed and made different, as we are through it,
but do we allow this Sacrament
to stand in place sometimes
of a real, living relationship with the real, living God?

Holy Communion, the Eucharist
has at its heart an intimate, incarnational mystery,
but do we ever move beyond this encounter
with the “unknown God”?

As St Paul tells those who will listen to him,
the one true God is not far off from each one of us,
has in fact created us to search after Godself,
and in Christ Jesus has known our flesh and blood,
that we might know God.
The God “in whom we live and move an have our being”.

Seven days a week, not just on a Sunday morning.
Every time we break bread with another,
not just in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
As we pray, and read Scripture, and give thanks,
not just as consumers on a Sunday,
but as part of God’s creative work in the world,
each and every moment of our living.

We are coming towards the end of this Easter season,
and we might carry with us
the metaphor of a life un-entombed.
Of a God in Christ unable to be contained by mere rock and rational expectation of death’s dominance.
A God, not able to be managed,
not enshrined, not reserved for special occasions.
But “in whom we live and move an have our being”.

Joy Cowley writes,
Everything here is holy in its being
Every fern, tree, rock, drop of sea,
exists as a prayer of thanksgiving,
and together they speak a chapter
in the gospel of wonder
which is laid upon our lives.

We are called to recognise God in our lives and our world,
to grow and to ourselves bear fruit,
fruit that will nourish us and others,
that will bring life and strength, justice and joy to the world
and all its people.  Amen.

Homily for Evensong Easter 5 2011

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Evensong, Easter 5A                  Zechariah4:1-10                  Revelation 21:1-14

Well, we’re still here.
You may have noticed
that the Rapture did not happen yesterday at 6pm, here or in any time zone.

The certain prediction of a US evangelist that it would
is just one of many that have come and gone over twenty centuries.
Harold Camping’s date was determined by his reading of biblical numerology – numbers and their use in the Bible.

Now, it’s not completely mad: numbers are very significant in Scripture.
Providentially, we have some significant numbers in our readings tonight,
which we can explore.

But of course there is a world of difference
between the symbolism of biblical numbers,
and thinking we can gain secret knowledge through them.

One is about the richness of the many layers of biblical meaning and poetry;
the other is almost a form of gnosticism, the idea that a chosen individual or few
have special, hidden, almost magical insight into the mind and will of God.
One is thoroughly in consonance with orthodox Christianity and biblical study;
the other very much a fringe cul-de-sac.

First, though, let’s just remind ourselves of,
and put in some sort of context, our readings.

Our passage from Zechariah
is a vision concerning the rebuilding of the Temple,
at a time when only some of the exiles had returned to Jerusalem.
The figure of Zerubbabel mentioned was of Judah’s kingly line,
a descendent of King David and ancestor of Jesus.
It was he who was to take the leading role in rebuilding the Temple,
clearing away the “great mountain” of rubble from the first Temple’s destruction,
and from “small things” building again the House of the Lord.

The prophet Zechariah’s vision is evocative of a restored Temple Sanctuary,
with its menorah, its lampstands, and even two olive trees to give fresh oil,
symbolising the restoration in Jerusalem
of both priestly and royal service.

The Book of Revelation has another vision, once again of Jerusalem.
Almost certainly written
after the destruction of Zerubbabel’s rebuilt Temple in the year 70AD,
this is a vision of a world remade, heaven and earth,
symbolised by Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down from heaven,
of the fulfilment of the Incarnation when God dwells fully with humanity.

In this vision, there is – if you read on – no need for a Temple, or for lampstands,
because the throne of God and the Lamb – the Risen Christ – are at its heart.

The Church, the bride of the Lamb, the spiritual new and forever holy Jerusalem,
is seen as a city beyond beauty and imagination, glinting like a jewel.

And in both these visions we have numbers.
Specifically sevens and twelves:
Seven lamps, seven wicks (or lips), seven eyes…
Seven angels, seven bowls, seven plagues…
Twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundations, twelve names, twelve apostles…

Clearly there is something to the numbers the Bible uses.
But what?

Seven is the number of days of Creation,
it represents completeness, wholeness, universality, the sabbath.
The Jewish menorah, lampstand, has seven candles to symbolise this,
to bring to mind enlightenment and the promise of God.

Twelve is the number of those God chooses, the people of God,
the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles.

Other numbers are also significant:
The Lord your God is one God.

 Three symbolises the Trinity,
but also in a number of places in Scripture, the day on which God acts.
This is demonstrated no more clearly than in the Resurrection,
when on the third day Christ rises from the dead.

40 is an important number, signifying as a round number a generation
or a period of time between “a few” and “a great many”.

More than this, both Hebrew and Greek gave letters numerical values,
A B C – aleph, beth, gimel, – alpha, beta, gamma
corresponding to 1, 2, 3  and so on.

In this way we get symbolic values, most famously 666,
the Book of Revelation’s “number of the beast”,
probably from adding together the value of letters from the Hebrew title of Nero,
first Emperor to persecute the Church,
and thus shorthand for every latter persecution.

So, numbers in the Bible are important, are meaningful,
but need not be limited to the literal.
They give us insight, often, into what is being evoked or intended.

I think I would want to suggest to those disappointed
by the non-appearance of the Rapture
that both, as Jesus tells us, “no-one knows the day or the hour”,
but also that Scripture’s inspired authors
were more often allegorical proclaimers, prophets, poets,
than – with the greatest of professional respect – accountants or quantity surveyors
(or, in Mr Camping’s case, civil engineers).

God give us eyes to see, ears to hear and wisdom to discern
the richness of the gift of Scripture.
And humility to let God speak.

Homily for Easter 5A

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm

House moving.

Most of us have done it.  The hassle, the upheaval.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that
more than one of us has probably
at some stage procrastinated,
put off taking on a new opportunity
simply because of that sheer inertia of being settled,
and the horror of moving house.

But do you remember the other side of it,
before the moving truck catches up with you?
Can you recapture the feeling
when you stood in a new room, yet to be furnished?
A world of space and possibility.

Do you remember, like I do,
running as a child from room to open room,
simply soaking up the space and wonder of it all?
A manic kitten in a new and vast open space?
A little vision of heaven?
A house with many dwelling places,
many nooks and crannies for a young heart to embrace.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
But when we’re a little bit older,
when the reality of moving’s
not always something that fills you with enthusiasm,
that open room, that space can look a little different.
Daunting. Depressing.

A sign of work yet to be done, of corners to be filled,
shelves to be arranged
and boxes upon boxes to be unpacked.

An empty room from this perspective
isn’t always such a thing of joy and wonder.

And if our moving house
is part of our adjusting to new circumstances
– through changed employment, through retirement,
through ended relationships, through bereavement:
how much more can that be daunting and disheartening?
How much more are we aware
of the emptiness that confronts us?

We are still in the season of Easter.
Of new life and new possibilities and hope renewed and joy
and our identity rediscovered.
But how often do we find that, hard on the heels
of the Day of Resurrection,
we are roughly shaken back
by our encounters or emotions or experiences,
by disaster or disappointment or depression,
and it could be almost as if
that early morning at the empty tomb has yet to happen.

It is perfectly possible to find ourselves
somewhere that feels and looks a lot like Good Friday,
even as the Alleluias of our faith and life still ring in the air.

And that can make it all feel a bit hollow.
That can make us feel a bit hollow.

It can seem as though the new and empty rooms
of our elation, even the empty tomb itself,
have become the strangely hollow
disconnected world of some sort of after-Easter blues.

Where we just know we’ve heard the good news,
that we’ve got the picture, that we’ve travelled through
the mystery of Cross and Resurrection,
and we know that makes us different, but – well –
somehow it hasn’t made things around us different.
Thomas and Philip this morning speak for us in that place

Their words are before the Cross and Resurrection,
part of Jesus’ leaving,
but we hear them today knowing the Resurrection story,
part of our living as an Easter people.
“Lord, we do not know where you are going.
How can we know the way?”
“Show us the Father”

And the response we receive back is very simple:
“You know me. Believe me.”

“You know me. Believe me.”
The invitation to a mature and honest relationship.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life”.
You may not think you know where you’re going,
but you do know me.  Let that be enough.

That’s a pretty big ask.
Trusting God – trusting anyone – is a huge step
in the development of that relationship.  It’s hard.

It’s much easier to ‘believe’
in an abstract concept called “God”
than to take the bungee jump of faith that Jesus suggests.
“Believe”, he says, “in God”.
But “believe also in me”,
the Word made flesh, dwelling among you.

“Believe” in this case, meaning “trust”.

Trust leaves us open to confronting
the clash between the worlds of our expectation
and our experience.
Trust means accepting
that we don’t always know where we’re going,
but we do paradoxically know the way.
That we’re open to what God might be doing in our lives.

Trust is such a fragile flower.
It will not bloom overnight.
This is a life’s work.
It is our life’s truth.
It is the way of the disciple.

Our way, our truth and our life
are caught up in developing
and deepening a trust in God.
A trust that can let us discern,
as we stand on the doorstep of each new dwelling place
– fully furnished or empty as anything –
a trust that can let us discern
how this place has been prepared for us,
and how we have been made ready for it,
and that, above all, we are not alone,
in our wonder or our despondency.

For wherever my journey to God takes me –
whatever pathways, whatever is truth and life for me –
there is Christ, my way, my truth, my life.

A number of the Easter stories
are centred on the recognition of Christ.
Where once only emptiness was,
comes the recognition of Jesus
as friend and companion on the journey, and as Lord.
Let us hope to grow in our trust
and through that in our recognition of God
in our after-Easter time.

Homily for Easter 4A

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm

There’s a famous brain teaser.
It involves two doors, identical,
guarded by two gatekeepers.
One leads to heaven, one leads to hell.
You can ask only one question
to one gatekeeper about this situation
before deciding which door you will take.
The gatekeeper for heaven only tells the truth.
The other, only lies.

What one question do you ask?

Lest you spend the next few minutes
absorbed only in that puzzle,
I’ll tell you the answer:
you ask either gatekeeper what the other would say.
And that answer actually identifies their own door.

You have to be pretty bright
to get to that answer without help.
And our passages of Scripture today
don’t put great faith in our intellect
or in our common sense.
Because we are sheep.
“The Lord is my shepherd” kind-of means “I am a sheep”.
Perhaps a little stroppy, but often quite dim,
dependent, and easily led, if not fleeced fro time to time.
[Note:  I am told that I have unfairly besmirched the reputation of ovine intelligence, for which I unreservedly apologise to any sheep who may be reading.]

In this morning’s gospel,
Jesus speaks of himself in two ways:
as the shepherd of the sheep – the theme we have
every Fourth Sunday of the Easter season –
but also in John’s Gospel as the gate.

In one of those key “I am” statements we find in John,
Jesus says “I am the gate for the sheep”.

I wonder what he means?

Those who first heard these sayings
obviously struggled with them,
which may mean we need to do a bit of work here, too.

“I am the gate”.

The gate is question, in Jesus’ farming world,
is one of protection.
It keeps the sheep safe.
The shepherd himself sleeps
over the only entrance to the enclosure
where the sheep are corralled for the night.
If a predator or a rustler wants to get in,
or a dopey sheep wants to wander away,
it’s literally over the shepherd’s body.

The gate is about protection, and belonging,
not some sort of imprisonment.
This gate allows those within and without
who belong to the flock to come and go
in safety to find rest and pasture.

Back to our opening teaser.
We know about (often self-appointed) gatekeepers.
Our Gospel isn’t speaking about our role to keep the gate.
Those who would take on that role are challenged, if Christ is the gate.
We are not called to lock people in or out.
To say who gets in or who stays out,
if Christ is the gate.
We simply have no right, no role like that,
if Christ is the gate.
Jesus calls his sheep, and they follow him.
It takes a pretty stubborn, strange kind of sheep
to choose to stay apart from the flock
going out to find pasture.
Or a creature very afraid.

Afraid of the possibility of life
and nourishment outside the walls of security.
Afraid even of the shepherd, the gate.
Afraid of having life and having it abundantly.

If that is us,
then what would it take for us
to be assured, comforted, calmed?
What might we discover in this Easter season
about not letting our lives be ruled by fear?

Love conquers fear.
Casts it out.

The God who in Jesus Christ has sought us out,
who calls us by name,
does so because of the Love that is God.
We can trust that.
We can trust
that the promise of abundant life is made to us.
Now.
Not a life where we are never hurt or unhappy,
but the fullness of our existence
– here, in this place and with these people,
and with the promise
of our being in God’s presence beyond time and space.

“I am the gate” says Jesus.
But I’m not sure that’s a message of exclusion
in the way some Christians would have it.

There is no other who choses who comes and who goes.

No place here for those of us who would be gatekeepers.

Which both affirms the uniqueness of Christ
in our theology,
and challenges any presuppositions we might have
about who will be able to enter and be saved.

Even the Church with a capital “C”
doesn’t get to play gatekeeper here.
The allegory of the Easter tomb,
with its stone rolled away,
the guards powerless to keep the Risen Christ within
or the women and other witnesses out,
takes away any sense of the power of the gatekeeper.

Takes away the power of what in other metaphors
we might describe as the one great gate, death itself.

Christ’s victory over death brings life, and abundant life,
not the judgement and annihilation we expect.

Jesus claims the power
we would give to and we fear in our own dying.
Jesus has not only entered there,
but has assured us that our death is not the thief we fear,
who steals and kills and destroys.
Christ, risen from the dead, is the gate –
even when we stand at the portal of death.

In Christ we will enter – and can touch already –
life in its abundance.
That is our Good News,
and nobody and nothing can take that away from us.

Homily for Easter 3A

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2011 at 10:12 pm

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ great words,
as percussive and contemporary in theme as any rap lyric.

With ANZAC Day on Easter Monday,
if you had ventured into a supermarket on Holy Saturday,
you could have been forgiven for thinking
some great catastrophe was about to hit,
that larders needed to be well-stocked
for fear of coming hardship and horror,
rather than simply a day and a half
when you couldn’t pop out to get a frozen pizza.

Did people behave well?
It certainly wasn’t the best advert for our species I have seen.

The goodness and grandeur of so much of our common life,
this good earth and the other things we hold in common
is so often seared, and soiled, and spoiled with trade.

The labels, luxuries, fittings and fixtures
of the super-mega-discount-market-warehouses that so lure us
see us more and more, to quote Joni Mitchell
“pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Today’s harvest festival coincides with Fair Trade Fortnight.

Trade is as old as human history.
Ever since people had more of one thing than was useful
and a need for something else,
trade happens.

Since you could decide you liked the contents of your lunchbox
less than what the other children had,
trade happens.

Trade is the basis for civilisation,
for communities bigger than the extended family.
I feel I can say with some certainty
that God has, on general principles, no problem with trade.

Again and again, though, we read in Scripture
that God does take issue
with exploitation and economic injustice.

Such behaviour is a form of violence,
and violence has never been the way of Jesus,
who comes to “bring good news to the poor
and liberty for those who are oppressed”.

Who is it Jesus comes to,
stranger on the road in our gospel this morning?
Who are the disheartened figures
trying to make sense of what they’ve seen and experienced?

Trade, like the Emmaus road, is about more
than simply getting stuff from point A to point B.

Rich countries offer subsidies to produce goods
which smother local industries.
Poor nations are forced to restructure their economies,
to farm cash crops on boom-and-bust cycles,
and to alienate land to global corporate interests.
Drugs that might keep millions living with AIDS alive
are patented to protect huge profits.

Desperate workers produce daily hundreds
of big-name shoes or shirts,
garments they could never dream of affording
with the pittance they receive in wages.

The world’s poor stand at our side
whenever we wander round the supermarket
or the Warehouse.
Our own little journey to Emmaus.

The rules of international trade,
and the conspiracy of the powerful
work to keep the poor just that, poor:
trapped …in vulnerability, hardship and hopelessness.
That is not the story of the Resurrection.

And we, we become unwilling collaborators,
ourselves entombed in the hollow house of consumerism.

The Easter story is about releasing all of us.

A fairer system of trade is one step on that Emmaus journey,
where we encounter the reality
of hope restored and life renewed.

A journey begun when we decide to care about what we buy.

When we support Fair Trade initiatives and products.
When we ask our shopkeepers, our companies and politicians
where the benefits from trade are going, and to whom.

The resurrection story proclaims our release
from the things that bind us and dehumanise.
God in Jesus speaks, in life, in death, in life beyond death,
about a fullness, an abundance of life.
Not existence … by mere subsistence.
But life in all its grandeur and its glory.

John Paul II was declared “blessed” this last week.
His staunch opposition to communism was noted, but
he was equally vocal in his rejection of unfettered Capitalism.

Ideology, financial systems, markets…
when they are put above the humanity Christ lived and died,
the people our Lord releases from bondage
and restores to fullness of life in these days of Easter…
such systems that only understand people
as commodities and consumers
are not part of the coming of God’s Kingdom.

The model of God in the stranger on the road to Emmaus is this:
he took their bread, blessed it,
broke it and gave it to back to them.
This is the model of the Eucharist,
the heart of our worship together.

In some ways it was nothing more than they deserved,
their own bread.

In this simple act his followers recognised the Risen Christ,
the face of their Lord in the stranger’s guise.

St Ambrose wrote in the fourth century, this:
It is not from your own possessions
that you are bestowing alms on the poor,
you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right.
For what was given to everyone for the use of all,
you have taken for your exclusive use.
The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone.
Thus, far from giving lavishly,
you are but paying part of your debt.

Let us pray:
O Lord Christ, who became poor that we might be rich,
deliver us from a comfortable conscience if we believe or intend
that others should be poor that we might be rich;
for in God’s economy,
no one is expendable.
Grant us instead the riches of love.
AMEN.

Homily for Easter 2A

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Imagine I have in my hands a glass.
Containing the beverage of your choice
filled to a point equidistant from the bottom and the top.
What do you see?

People famously see either a vessel half-full, or half-empty,
depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.

Among the more pessimistic, usually,
is the subgroup of the cynical.

One of these is Thomas, doubting Thomas,
patron Saint of the cynical.
And not just cynical, sceptical, a bit fatalistic,
but traumatised by the death of his leader and Lord.
Grieving, angry, wounded, disoriented.

And in this place of pain,
as he is away from the other disciples –
maybe even in some sort of self-imposed emotional exile – his friends have the audacity to say to Thomas:
“We have seen the Lord”.

How do you think that translates to Thomas’ ears?
As the world around him descends more and more
into madness and chaos,
after betrayal and Cross and tomb,
Thomas isn’t even granted a place
in the collective unravelling of sense, as he sees it,
the delusion he imagines his friends are suffering from:
“We have seen the Lord”.

People see, of course, what they want to see,
and what disciple
whose eyes had seen the events of the last days,
and whose feet had led them running, fearful & guilty away,
what disciple would not want to see life restored,
the world back making sense,
to hear words of peace and forgiveness?

Thomas is not going to play that game.
To hang on to false hope
and the utterly improbable.

The one thing he has as his world falls to pieces
is the rock
of rational, cynical, solid, reasonable doubt.
Not the impulsive Peter’s rock, that disciple’s impromptu,
un-thought-out proclamation of faith
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
the rock that Christ will build the Church upon,
but intelligent, intransigent unbelief.

Yet the Easter story, that account we heard last week,
is full of the power of God to deal with intransigent, obtrusive, ultimately unhelpful pieces of rock.

The tombstone is rolled away –
the heavy weight of rock and the power of death –
the very rock of the earth shakes,
and in that space hewn from rock,
the tomb where all seemed darkness and done-with,
there the light of a new day reveals
more than simply hope, new possibilities, but new life.

And that,
that, even cynical Thomas is confronted with,
the reality of the Resurrection.

The Resurrection calls us forth
from wherever we feel entombed.
Calls us through and beyond those times of struggle,
of searching, of stubborn “I will not believe unless…”
that time of when we hold our dark,
our cynical stone of self-doubt with God.

We need to travel with that stone sometimes,
but we do not live fully with it in our hands.
We cannot grasp, in any sense,
what God would do with and to us, while we carry it.

Thomas hears of others’ encounter with Jesus.
But it’s not his.  Not yet.  Not until he is called and responds.

We’re called to take seriously others’ experience with Jesus,
but we too yearn to touch ourselves the Risen Christ.
To experience and to know.
We too might enter into that ancient prayer:
“Lord I do believe. Help my unbelief!”

“Blessed are those who have not seen
but have come to believe”.

What is the belief we are called towards,
we who have not seen as Thomas saw?
A belief in that which gives us hope
and the prospect of a life transfigured.

Belief that we need not clutch
at old stony certainties and fatalisms.

Belief that death has been overcome,
and that we need not fear dying, our own or those we love.

Belief that what we hear and see and touch with our hands
in the Sacrament of the Eucharist
and in the sacredness of each human moment
is life… and fellowship with the one who gives life.

Somewhere in us,
in a room which seems to have its doors firmly locked,
we are invited to affirm our faith,
not so much in the words of the Creeds
as we do week by week,
but in our own authentic outpouring
of recognition and worship.

Somewhere there I hope, we are able to make
that central acclamation of John’s gospel
and with Thomas say this Eastertide,
“My Lord and my God!”.    Amen.