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The Order of St John

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 7:40 pm

It’s my privilege to speak, and briefly,

this morning, as the different parts of St John

get together in a way we often don’t,

and at St Luke’s we’re honoured

to share in your company.

 

There are of course,

some who can’t be with us this morning,

because they’re on call, on duty.

 

Operational staff have in my experience,

a good sense of humour.

At times, it can be fairly dark, so I thought I’d begin

with a treatment related joke, but a safe one.

Unless you’ve got a pet duck,

in which case, it may be in poor taste.

 

In the middle of the duck-hunting season,

a bird was shot and brought home.

And this is actually a true story. 2007.

It spent two days in the fridge,

and when it came to cooking it,

the lady of the household found the duck was still alive.

While the duck concerned actually survived,

for the purposes of the joke let’s continue.

Rushed to the vet’s surgery, on arrival,

the duck’s condition was said to be “delicious”.

 

No. On arrival it was found to be dead.

 

The vet passed the sad news on to the woman

who had brought it in, she was adamant: save it at all costs.

The Vet says, “it’s dead. It’s a dead duck.”

“I want a second opinion”

The vet says “It is no more? It’s ceased to be?

It’s expired and gone to meet its Maker!”

“Tests” she says, “I want tests done”.

“OK” says the vet, ‘bring in the dog’.

A black Labrador Retriever is brought in

who looks around and barks loudly…

A cat is invited into the room,

gives a collegial nod to the dog

and looks around intently.

Suddenly there’s a sign of life with the duck.

An old-fashioned photographer rushes in.

“Cheese!” They pose for ages

while black and white photos are prepared.

“My duck?” says the woman.

“What are you doing about my duck?”

The vet says, “Well,

we’ve done the Lab report, we had a cat scan,

and there was a moment of hope

where we tried sepia. AHEM.

There’s no more we could have done.

That’s one dead duck.”

 

Can I remind you of St John’s beginnings?

A thousand years ago

Christian Brothers understood the essence of their call to be:

to care for the stranger and the pilgrim and the sick.

In the Holy City of Jerusalem

they formed a community of care.

We claim that idea in the by-line “first to care”.

 

We claim those words more fully

in this country when our front-line folk

rush to the emergency room

because what was offered by those first brothers

gave us the word “hospital”.

They took the name of St John the Baptist,

and offered “hospitality”.

A bed for the night for the pilgrim.

Care for the sick and infirm.

As followers of Jesus, they had this challenging phrase

“our Lords, the poor and the sick”.

A reminder to us all

of what service in Christ’s name looks like.

Of what service in St John looks like.

 

This is a Christian Order.

St John’s has at its beginning the Gospel.

Good News in Christ Jesus.

Healing and redemption

with the sense that God has come to us,

stood with us, and offered wholeness

in our weakness and our need.

 

That’s been 1000 years in the blood of St John.

St John’s has at its beginning the Gospel.

Its symbol is a cross. It is full of sacrifice and service.

 

And in a very tangible way

it works that Good News out.

 

In loving service. In self-giving.

In community-building. In mindfulness of others.

In giving a damn.

In what we could call in our inexpressive culture, “love”.

 

 

 

“Hospitality” leads from a bed for the night

to “Hospital”, “Hospice”, “Hospitaliers”.

 

And to those who give of themselves every day

in service to us through their willingness

to serve and stand in places most of us would struggle to.

 

And the place of most struggle is probably

back where it all starts for the Order of St John.

 

The place where “hospitality” began.

The place where the Order of St John

still offers welcome and care.

Offers in The St John Eye Hospital

care to Arab and Israeli,

Christian and Muslim,

to Palestinians cut off by Israel’s occupation and Wall

a care that reaches out and that transforms lives.

Offers sight, where darkness and sightlessness reigned.

Profoundly biblical and Christian language,

and signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom.

 

 

We are invited

to pray for and support the Jerusalem Eye Hospital

as a symbol of our common claim of this outreach,

but also as a direct connection.

 

One Nurse at the Hospital, Samia,

has been “adopted” by St John NZ.

Samia wears a St John New Zealand nametag

to link her with us in a unique way.

She lives in Beir Zeit, a village near Ramallah.

She rises at 5am daily

to make her long daily trip to Jerusalem.

This trip is often delayed at checkpoints

or by road closures and rerouting.

You’ll see something of her story at the door,

where you’re invited to make a donation

towards the Hospital.

 

A picture allegedly tells a thousand words.

 

The St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem:…

SS Peter and Paul

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 6:23 pm

There are so many of them,

it would be churlish not to begin with a

St Peter at the Pearly Gates joke:

A man dies and is greeted by St Peter at the gates of Heaven.

“Welcome,” he says. “Rather like earthly immigration,

we operate on a points system. 100 points and you’re in.

What can you tell me about your life and conduct?”

“Well,” says the man, “I was married for 50 years,

and never once even thought about being unfaithful.”

“Excellent,” says St Peter, checking his notes. “3 points.”

“Oh. I was a faithful churchgoer for all my life.”

“Good. 2 points.” said Peter.

“Gosh. I tithed 10% of all my income?”

“I can probably give you a point for that,” Peter replies.

“A point? … I volunteered at the Foodbank,

and started a soup-kitchen, an afterschool programme,

oh yes, and an international charity?”

“Well done,” says Peter, “2 more points.

You’re well on your way.”

“But…,” says the man, “I always tried to be faithful in prayer.”

“Fantastic. 3 points.” says the Saint.

“I’ve got no chance here!” says the man.

“How but by the blinking grace of God Almighty

does anyone ever get in here?!”

“Bingo!” says St Peter, “In you go.”

 

So we have that image of St Peter at the gates of Heaven,

because of this morning’s gospel.

Simon Peter’s declaration of faith

– his recognition of the Messiah –

a wordplay and metaphor around this being the “rock”,

and the gifting of the keys of the Kingdom

to Peter, Cephas in Aramaic.

Peter was without doubt the leader among the Apostles.

Flawed, hot-headed, eager, quick to lay claim to faith,

but able to breathe denial of even knowing Jesus when scared.

Peter is us. He’s the absolute model and example

of who Jesus calls, and who Jesus changes.

After he is restored on the lakeside after Jesus is risen,

he’s given responsibility to care for and to feed the flock, the Church.

He grows into that role, leading the Apostles.

And Jesus also tells him that when he is old

“you will stretch out your hands,

and someone else will fasten a belt around you

and take you where you do not wish to go.”

Because Peter will be a witness for Jesus,

literally, a “martyr” under the Roman Emperor Nero.

Today we also commemorate Paul, or in Hebrew, Saul.

As we first meet him, certainly: flawed, hate-filled, calculated, zealous,

and to be blindsided by an encounter with Jesus

on the Damascus road.

The likely winner of “most bigoted zealot”

around AD 35

becomes the leader in the Early Church who

recognises what Peter’s declaration means.

The Messiah, the whole arc of Scripture and history

has been pointing to the proclamation

of good news to the Gentiles.

The man who once could not tolerate that followers of Jesus

existed among his own people,

becomes the messenger, ambassador, Apostle,

who will take Christ’s gospel

to more nations and peoples than anyone else.

He will travel on three extraordinary journeys,

by foot and by boat, at up to 4500km each.

He will contend with initial mistrust by the church,

beatings, shipwrecks, abuse, petty power struggles,

the privations of his travels, imprisonment

and ultimately, like Peter,

martyrdom – and probably at around the same time.

Both Peter and Paul

become something they had not imagined themselves being.

Both open their understanding of Jesus’ identity

and mission to include Gentiles,

those of us once outside the Covenant.

They clash, and while they clearly respect one another,

they disagree at times. And they disagree

about the “them “ and “us” of Jews and Gentiles.

Peter struggled within himself, about how to be a Jewish Christian,

and yet to share with Gentiles.

Paul was committed to the equality of Gentile to Jewish Christians,

but struggled with the communities he had founded or visited

throughout the Mediterranean world

that he tried to keep in communion,

in unity of belief, and in compassionate interrelationship,

especially with the Church at Jerusalem.

I can’t help but feel that’s God’s sense of humour at work,

after our recent conversation within the Parish

that we have Peter and Paul today.

We have a “them” and “us”.

Heaven knows the whole Church is still caught up in that,

as you’ll know if you’ve read a Papal Encyclical lately.

“Them” and “us” looms large.

But we are called, like Saul and Simon, Paul and Peter,

to a place beyond where we are now.

Looking to the future, to the one Body of Christ

that is beyond the “them” and “us”,

towards the unity Christ prays we’ll know.

Not just as a Parish, but as the whole people of God.

We have, can and will hold meetings.

But it is only by the grace of God and by a sharing

in the vision and the purpose God alone will give us,

that we will grasp the transformation of identity

and the good news that Jesus calls us to embody.

When we remember Saints,

we do not do so as some sort of insect-in-amber interesting.

Saints are those who are alive to God,

and in a very real sense alive to us.

And we are invited to think about our timekeeping.

Those who went before us,

who built this magnificent edifice as an act of faith

and really, as an expression of intent,

would not, I’m sure want us to be gazing ever backwards.

Martyred Archbishop of El Salvador Oscar Romero had a pithy phrase.

He said, “we are prophets of a future not our own”.

Maybe we spend far too much time – and I ask myself this too –

facing in the wrong direction. Dealing with the problems

and the work of preservation with which our past encumbers us.

We have a faith, a faith we share with Peter and Paul to pass on.

Our safe arrival at the Pearly Gates is not the end of the story,

and by God’s grace there are those who are not part of the Covenant

who are yet to be welcomed in.

Who will tell them about the good news, if not us?

Homily for Easter 4A

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2014 at 2:02 am

On reflection it struck me

that I’ve been short-changing you on the “jokes” front lately. During the week I found

the self-described

“number one source of sheep related puns on the internet”, so here we go.

 

Now, a shepherd likes a quiet night.

When none of the sheep

need to be ushered back into the paddock.

At night, no ewes is good ewes.

 

If one does escape,

the shepherd will go and bring it back.

When it’s dark, that’s known as re-ewe-nighting.

Being so dark, some have suggested

re-ewe-nighting-lighting,

by using more rural lamb posts.

 

A “lamb post”, of course,

could be thought of in rambassadorial terms,

a sheep sent to the Ewe Ian (UN).

“Ian” is a very unusual name to give to a ewe, but still…

Sheep who have the opportunity to travel,

as North Otago’s history will attest,

prefer to do so by sea.

And of course,

they like to make sure everything is absolutely sheep shape.

 

I’ve got them all here, “The Wolf of Wool St”,

“Sheep of fools”, “woolly jumpers”,

“The Shaun Identity”

they start to get pretty weak after that.

 

You’ve made it this far, no doubt, by shear determination.

 

Well, the fourth Sunday in Easter each year

presents us with sheepy imagery.

This year, we have a glimpse of Jesus as Shepherd,

and by virtue of that,

the ancient image that we are somehow sheep-like.

But also that unique image of Jesus as the Gate.

 

Throughout John’s Gospel,

Jesus makes a series of profound “I am” statements.

The whole “I am” idea itself

points us back to the burning bush,

and Moses being told God’s name, “I am who I am”.

But Jesus chooses to reveal who he is to us

in these statements:

I am the living water

I am the bread of life

I am the Resurrection and the life, and others.

But this morning “I am the gate for the sheep.”

I don’t know about you, but the idea of a gate

doesn’t quite have the same poetry or profundity

as some of the other “I am” statements Jesus makes.

 

We know about gates.

They’re functional.

A bit rusty sometimes.

Some take more effort to shift or to shut

than they rightly deserve.

 

But Jesus isn’t comparing himself

to a farm gate as we know it,

he’s talking to farming people

who know about a different scale of stock to us,

where you know each one of the animals, by name,

and by names more meaningful than “Mint Sauce”.

Where the flock and the shepherd were an odd sort of family.

And the shepherd was, quite literally, the gate.

 

At night, when the flock was gathered up,

it was pastured somewhere safe,

where wolves and thieves couldn’t pick them off.

And the shepherd made his bed across the entrance,

so if you wanted to get out or some sort of predator

wanted to get in, the shepherd would know about it.

That’s the image Jesus uses.

“I am the gate for the sheep”.

 

Protection. Knowledge. Care.      If we’re sheep,

and that’s the image the Bible uses for us, often,

we are offered a place where we can be safe,

and if we stray or if predators come near,

we’re told that Jesus

is in that place of encounter or danger with us.

 

God in Jesus our Shepherd is with us in all these things.

Beside still waters,

in the valley of the shadow of death,

in the presence of our foes,

in Christ Jesus, God is there. The gate.

Making it meaningful, making it bearable, making it holy.

 

Illuminating all of it with resurrection light.

 

Like last week on the road to Emmaus,

Jesus is alongside us.

When all seems dark and done-with,

Jesus opens the gate of glory.

We are an Easter people.

We are standing in resurrection light today,

but in a very real sense

we’re still dealing with the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Jesus the Shepherd, the Gate

is there to make sure nothing fearful interrupts

our going out and our coming in.

 

There’s nothing unreliable or mis-hanging about this gate,

and we can trust for ourselves

and for those we place in God’s hands

that the pathway to God’s eternity

and the gate to God’s glory and light and love

is held open for us by the Saviour who has journeyed through all pain and passion to declare emphatically

that God-is-with-us, Emmanuel,

and that as he lives, we shall too.

 

The sheep of his flock, the people of his pasture.

Life, and in abundance. Today, and into eternity.

Easter 2A

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2014 at 10:41 pm

These things did Thomas count as real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.

The vision of his skeptic mind
was keen enough to make him blind
to any unexpected act
too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
whose raw, imprinted palms reach out –
and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Words by US poet and Professor Thomas Troeger.

 

His namesake – Thomas, Doubting Thomas,

is with us every Low Sunday.

He claims a space for us and those moments

when we wonder if last Sunday really happened.

When it seems just too hard to believe,

to set aside the perverse, reliable, comfort of hurt

or sheer rock solid refusal

to trust what someone else is saying.

Thomas missed the boat last week,

absent when the Risen Lord appeared that evening,

suddenly there in the midst of gathered, frightened disciples,

themselves apparently unconvinced

by Mary Magdalene’s testimony and Easter morning encounter.

Thomas missed that moment, and wasn’t going to have

a bar of this belief in something he could not touch.

Not even willing to engage in any sort of meaning

beyond the tactile, flesh and blood of reality.

Perhaps a bit like the slightly joyless – it seemed to me –

woman I heard interviewed on the radio this week,

who writes books for children

debunking fairytales from a scientific perspective.

Now it’s a week later, for Thomas and for us,

the first day of the week,

and now also the mystical eighth day,

the Lord’s Day, the day of new creation, new life.

Thomas is there this time when Jesus stands in the disciples’ midst. And Jesus takes him at his word.

Touch, he says. See. Reach out.

Do not doubt but believe.

And it turns out Thomas doesn’t need to touch.

Not in a literal sense.

He needs to know.

To know for himself.

To let go of the narrative he’s drawn over Jesus’ last days:

You might remember that he says to the disciples

that in going to Lazarus at Bethany, they will die with him.

 

And now Thomas needs to write a new chapter

to the story of death and darkness,

the fate he was so sure was theirs.

The world as he saw it has indeed died.

And a new life, new possibilities

replace the implacable rock of doubt and death.

 

From this moment of recognition,

of faith and belief reborn,

comes the most profound and complete statement

of trusting faith we have in all the Gospels,

words that from Thomas,

the outsider to news of the Resurrection,

become the testimony of the whole Church:

“My Lord and my God!”

How often do we stand with Thomas,

imagining our story’s stuck?

Our new beginnings over with?

Too hurt, or grief-stricken or tired or intransigent

to let things be different.

To believe Good News.

To change, to let go of the safety of a well-nursed doubt,

or a past slight, or the harsh judgement of self and sin.

 

James K. Baxter writes of his own journey,

Love is the answer to the dark voices

Of the demons that trouble us when youth has gone,

Saying, “You fool, you have had your day

And wasted it.” The spirit of a spring morning

When the wind moves gently over the grass

Is enough to tell us that the stone at the door of the tomb

has been lifted.

 

Alleluia. Adonai.

 

It seems to me that Thomas takes a week

to roll the rock of all of that away

from his understanding of the tomb.

It seems of profound importance too

that Jesus knows Thomas’ need to come to terms

with what has been so wounded and so broken on the cross.

What was such weakness is now glorious victory.

What was shattered is remade and redemptive.

Now transformed, the wounds of love on Jesus’

hands and side are not denied by Jesus’ resurrection.

They are real, and they are what a God

who chooses to be one with us,

to wear our flesh and blood, carries

in Christ risen from the dead

as emblems of that love, its cost, and of its triumph.

 

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities worldwide

for people with intellectual disabilities, writes:

Jesus invites each one of us, through Thomas,
to touch not only his wounds,
but those wounds in others and in ourselves,
wounds that can make us hate others and ourselves
and can be a sign of separation and division.
These wounds will be transformed into a sign of forgiveness
through the love of Jesus
and will bring people together in love.
These wounds reveal that we need each other.
These wounds become the place of mutual compassion,
of indwelling and of thanksgiving.

We, too, will show our wounds
when we are with him in the kingdom,
revealing our brokenness
and the healing power of Jesus.

Easter 6C / Harvest Festival / Fair Trade Fortnight

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

You may be aware of the phenomenon of “Ear-worms”.

Those tunes that stick in our heads,

and simply won’t go away.  It’s not just you.

They do exist, they have a name.

Smart people have studied them.  So it’s not just me.

But I’ve had a particularly bad one this week.

A very quirky song

with an intriguing invitation and metaphor.

So, possibly as much by way of therapy as anything else,

I’d like to share with you the title and line

so annoyingly stuck in my head.  It’s in your pewsheet.

“Make a little birdhouse in your soul”.

It’s a song 20 years old,

and it’s from the perspective of a nightlight,

a bird-shaped nightlight, a “little glowing friend”.

Now, using a little something called the interweb,

I’ve put those words beside the Fair Trade logo

in our pewsheet.

Because I rather thought

they sat well together, and provocatively.

“Make a little birdhouse in your soul”.

Which is a little random. Quirky. Far, perhaps, fetched.

But let me put that image

“make a little birdhouse in your soul”,

beside the voice of a man from Macedonia saying

“come over and help us”;

and a woman from Thyatira, Lydia, a trader in purple cloth,

an extraordinarily valuable & expressly international commodity,

who welcomes Paul, his companion Timothy,

and given it’s narrated in the first person, we assume, Luke.

Paul, Timothy, Luke, all good names.

A cry for help;

a global businesswoman;

and people who happen to be rather representative of us.

Plus that odd invitation, that I’ll throw into the mix:

“make a little birdhouse in your soul”.

Now the latter’s certainly not biblical

and has none of the power or permanence of such metaphors,

but I rather like it.

As we approach Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s

heavenly dove, the invitation to make a little room,

“a little birdhouse in your soul”,

strikes a chord for me.

Let’s talk food: I can almost guarantee

that, however wonderfully self-sufficient,

you have eaten in the last couple of days

food from around this country, and overseas.

You’re almost certainly wearing garments

made in places you and I have never visited.

By workers we won’t ever meet,

and we probably don’t think of for more than a second.

Like it or not,  we’re intimately connected

with the people who make our underwear!

In the news over the last ten days

has been a tragedy, a bit of a parable, far off, but real.

A huge building, first cracked and then collapsed,

and then on fire,  where at least

377 garment workers lost their lives.  In Bangladesh.

Ten times as many worked in this one building.

That is part of global trade.

Part of our world.

As we celebrate our giftedness

and God’s goodness on this Harvest Festival,

there are those aspects,

like maddening songs, that will not go away,

the voices that urge us

to “make a little birdhouse in your soul”.

To not forget the world’s poor

who share a planet and a commercial system with us.

Because these are brothers & sisters, daughters & sons.

We simply cannot claim a distance

from people who touch the garments we touch.

As we give thanks for the bounty of God’s good earth,

we must recognise those who share it with us.

That’s what Fair Trade is about.

About making sure that those who harvest and produce,

enjoy the fruits of their labour.

That is a profoundly biblical image: fruit each month,

and Isaiah’s imagery:

people sitting in satisfaction under their own trees and vines.

Our bounty cannot be built on the backs of others.

At this harvest festival, we must allow

our celebration of God’s goodness

to be part of theirs too.

We are connected in trade with people we will never meet.

But they ask us to treat them fairly.

Like the man from Macedonia,

they plead with us to help. In our own little way.

The gospel asks, commands us, to love one another.

As we heard last week, Jesus says,

“by this people will know you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another”.

We might call “love”, respect.  Fairness.

We couldn’t call it the opposite.

Love, respect, fairness.

Qualities we’d express not only to Christians,

or to the good people of Kakanui, but of Kazakhstan,

and countless other places I can’t pronounce,

where people, workers God loves, are.

And we’re part of their lives, as they’re part of ours.

With our Harvest Festival

we’re beginning Fair Trade Fortnight.

Two weeks when we might be intentional

about listening to those distant voices

asking us for help,

asking us for what is right, for what is fair.

Mindful of trade, and all that comes with it.

Wondering whether we might make

“a little birdhouse in our soul”.

A birdhouse we can take shopping.

Homily for Ascensiontide_11

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2011 at 2:53 am

“Parting”, Shakespeare’s Juliet famously says,
“is such sweet sorrow”.

And it’s that oxymoron around leaving
that we share with the disciples this morning.

Jesus, conqueror of death and darkness,
takes his friends outside Jerusalem’s walls
forty days after that first bright Easter morning,
having repeatedly appeared to them
and spoken about his Kingdom,
– and there, instead of establishing a theocratic state,
as some of his disciples still seem to have expected,
he blesses them and leaves,
promising the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ Ascension is about his returning
to the God from whom he came,
about his physical being no longer being on earth,
in Palestine,
in time
and with all the limitations of human existence
– ethnicity, gender, language…
In fact, all those accounts
about disciples not recognising the Risen Christ
point us clearly to the realisation
that Christ is now not limited,
not contained, not entombed
by any one culture or ethnicity or family.
Nor in the Ascension
to any one time or region or language.

Jesus is taken into heaven,
whatever we understand that story to be telling us,

Jesus expands, the fullness of him who fills all in all,
to be present in and to the Church
beyond then and beyond now.

Jesus ascends, that we and those first Christians
might be freed from the limitations of his humanity,
his time and space,
that we might be his witnesses in every age,
in every language, every culture,
that we might be made ready to receive the Holy Spirit
which overcomes all those barriers of our expectation.
That sends us out “like sparks to set the world on fire”.

So, the Ascension is not about leaving, really.
Not about parting, but presence.
Not about absence, but
“the fullness of him who fills all in all”.

Hear again those wonderful words of St Paul,
his prayer for the Church,
for you and I:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation
as you come to know him,
so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened,
you may know what is the hope
to which he has called you,
what are the riches
of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness
of his power for us who believe…

[God] has put all things under his feet
and has made him the head over all things
for the church, which is his body,
the fullness of him who fills all in all.

hat does that evocative phrase mean, do you think?
“The fullness of him who fills all in all”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that,
as in the Ascension
Jesus carries our humanity into God’s very self,
we can understand
Jesus’ humanity taking into it
all the difficult, resistant, unpleasant bits of our humanity,
taking them into the heart of love
where alone they can be healed and transfigured.

Paul talks about the Church as Christ’s Body,
his humanity,
a humanity that is affirmed in the Ascension,
but that is also still being transformed and redeemed
by our proclamation,
by our loving service,
by our giving voice to the voiceless,
by our prayer, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
By our being the Body of Christ.

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.