Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

'Today this is fulfilled...'

Doing upfront stuff on your home turf or in front of family and friends for the first time, can be tough. Those people are very often your most ardent supporters but also your harshest critics - because they know you, they always have. They knew you first as a snotty-nosed child, they knew you as a slightly awkward adolescent and none of that helps your confidence.

Is that how it was for Jesus as he returned to his hometown of Nazareth, and on the Sabbath went to Synagogue? Did he find the pressure building like it does at the immanent arrival of a thunderstorm? News had spread about him, crowds were gathering, a buzz was building about what God was doing in and through Him.

In Nazareth, amongst many, He was still Jesus son of Joseph and Mary. And as He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, was it this extra sense of pressure the reason that Jesus said so little? Here was an opportunity to tell those who had always known Him the realities of the Kingdom, and yet they only get a few words... Or was it that God was already speaking for Himself but just not being heard?

Jesus reads from a section of what we know as Isaiah 61 - of the long longed for hopes of God’s people; for God’s transforming presence in the world, not just to be experienced spiritually, but in ways that could be seen and touched. But as is so often the way, God’s transforming presence in the world upends the normal expectations of life where the rich get richer and everyone is kept in their ordered place in society - by the poor hearing good things that offer them hope, the captive hearing of their immanent release, the blind seeing fully and clearly once more, and the oppressed freed to be members of family and society once more - are all signs of the favour and presence of God Himself.

Those soundbites from the prophet, to a people living under the aggression of Roman rule, sound like sweet music to the ears, like a waking dream, but one that once you have left the synagogue you are rather rudely awoken from.

Oh, back to earth with a bump. No. ‘Today,’ says Jesus, ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing...’ What? Now hang on... Generations stand at arms stretch across history between Jesus and Isaiah the prophet uttering those hopeful words of God. And yet somehow, today, in the present, in the now, amongst us together, they are completed, what was once only a yearning now is made whole and possible - there is real, wild, unabashed, brazen hope.

At the moment I can’t hear much good news for the poor, for the captive or the oppressed. In fact just the opposite in the current economic climate. And yet Isaiah and Jesus remind us that these are physical signs of God’s presence amongst us in His coming Kingdom. But they aren’t just dawning on some distant future - today says Jesus these find their fulfillment.

We are good at spiritualizing longings like these, to the exclusion of their outworking very practically. Of course God’s coming amongst us is about good news for the poor in spirit and releasing those blinded by the oppression of sin, but that’s not just it, not by a long shot.

Jesus’ interpretation of Isaiah’s words, are consistent with the message of Christmas.  Mary sang of filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty while the angels sang of goodwill to those on whom the favour of God rests.  And here, Jesus reads of all of that summed up.

That ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ was the the year of Jubilee when debts were cancelled, slaves freed and slates wiped clean - according to the Old Testament law. Jesus says that today, amongst us begins a new time where debts are wiped and spiritual and physical and economic freedoms are brought in.

But they are brought in, not legally like some sort of policy decision that ends when the law is changed. God’s Kingdom is lived out this way in lives filled, just as Jesus’ was, with the power of the Holy Spirit. Lives that live out the topsy turvey values of God’s kingdom are radically lived out where the spiritual and the economic justices are bound together.

By virtue of our baptism, and our regular sharing in the Eucharist, we too are filled with the values of the Kingdom and empowered by the Holy Spirit: we too are to seek to find the fulfillment of God’s words today - where good news to the poor or release to the captive might look like time serving at the foodbanks locally or working with organisations like the Church Urban Fund or Christians Against Poverty to help people manage their time and money more effectively; where recovery of sight to the blind might involve looking out for and supporting work with that which we are blind to or turn away from - the homeless on our streets, people trafficked for sex, but also with those who do not see themselves the way that God does because of their screwed up self-image because they are supposedly the wrong colour or aren’t thin enough; where the oppressed being freed involves us scrutinizing the way we vote or shop -  because each of us plays a part in keeping millions across our world in poverty so we can have cheap goods. It has to stop - today these words are fulfilled in our hearing, in our praying but also in our living.

We cannot listen to the words of God and not act on them. We cannot hear afresh of His unmerited grace lavished upon us and not respond - to Him spiritually, but also practically today in the now. Jesus doesn’t separate spiritual from physical, actual from metaphorical - all are intertwined, and if these words are to find fulfillment in our hearing today - so must we. Amen

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Silence and Stillness

Here's what we're encouraging our Parish into this Lent...


Archbishop Kalistos Ware tells a story of a peasant had formed a habit of slipping into a certain church at a certain time of day with clockwork regularity. There, day by day, he would sit and, apparently, do nothing. The parish priest observed this regular, silent visitor.

One day, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he asked the old man why he came to the church, alone, day in, day out. Why waste his time in this way?

The old man looked at the priest and with a loving twinkle in his eye gave this explanation: ‘I look at Him. He looks at me. And we tell each other that we love each other.’

We aren’t good at sitting still and being quiet. We still tell our children sometimes that’s what we want them to do, but we really struggle to model it for them as we rush to the next event scheduled in our crammed diary, answering the email that is shouting for our attention, aware of pressing deadlines, ignoring our ringing mobile phone... If this is life for us, and for many people it is, it’s no wonder we grapple and grasp for God and long for deeper faith?

Lent is time set aside by The Church to prepare for Easter, but often we read that as 40 days of Lent study groups, extra services, fasting, extra reading and reflection on the Scriptures and so on. All of that is good and worthwhile but it can transform this period of getting ready into a time of exhausting, frenetic activity. Let our Lent be different.

This Lent, I would like every single one of us to give God at least 5 minutes of our time, to pray for ourselves, the church we usually attend and our shared life as a parish, to reflect on some scripture and to listen to Him.

From Ash Wednesday, prayer cards will be available for each of you with the following prayer on it. Please commit yourself to use it every day.  If you are comfortable using it on your own then do. If you would rather meet to pray with a friend then do that. Use it on your way to work, at your desk, in your lunch break, stick it to your fridge, have one by your bed, have it in your handbag or in your jacket pocket. The prayer will also be used as a Post Communion prayer each time we gather to share the Eucharist.  It reads:

Heavenly Father,
your Son Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness
and through it, grew closer to you.
Help us to use these days of Lent:
to grow in wisdom and prayer
and discover afresh your will for us
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On the back of the prayer card you’ll find some short verses of scripture. I encourage you to read them prayerfully. Through both, try to reflect on where God is leading us as individuals, as individual churches and as a Parish. Please do write down any thoughts or feelings that come to you - these could be specific like a project or a way to engage with the wide community. They could equally be something non specific like a desire for a deeper faith in God or a greater understanding of the scriptures or prayer. We will gather and share and reflect on these during the Easter season.

This Lent, come and be still in God’s presence. Look at Him, He’ll look at you and in quietness tell each other of your love, for ‘...silence brings: peace amidst chatter, stillness amongst clatter, essence at the end of incessance and space for God’s eloquence...’ This Lent, may God give us all space for His eloquence.

Saturday, January 05, 2013


wrapping paper (tree)We know so little about these the Magi travelers we hear about again today.  Tradition says there were 3 of them because of their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  The Venerable Bede records their names but his is the first mention of Gaspar, Balthazaar and Melchoir.  Empress Helena had a vision of where their bodies lay and their relics still lie in Cologne Cathedral.  But who they actually were we do not know.

All we know is that they came from the non-Jewish, Gentile East.  They have become known as kings, perhaps to add some royal colour to the stable scene where the Prince of Peace was born,  but they were astrologers, diviners, fortune tellers. traditional healers.  They didn’t worship God, they were sort of miracle workers, magicians, and spiritual charlatans that both the Old and New Testament warn very clearly about.  They are non Jews, Gentiles, not part of God’s elect.  What are they doing paying homage to the Jewish Messiah in the first place? 

These ‘wise ones’ will have travelled quite some distance too, possibly from as far away as Persia, modern day Iran and Iraq.  They will have travelled on foot, on horseback, on camels the 1000 miles or so guided by their star charts.  Their reading of the stars seems to have shown something else about this child.

The gifts that they brought  - gold, frankincense and myrrh reveal that they knew something of the future of this child.  Gold was the most costly of metals and was generally only afforded by royalty.  By bringing gold the Magi has discerned that this child was some sort of King.  Frankincense was the mostly costly of spices and scents, and it was burned in the Temple by Jews and symbolised the prayers of the people, the holiness and presence of God.  By bringing incense the Magi had discerned that this child was something to do with the Divine - perhaps some sort of priest.  Myrrh was a healing balm used to heal wounds a strange gift for one so young.  By bringing Myrrh that Magi somehow understood that this child was destined to heal wounds.

The feast of the Epiphany has somewhat been eclipsed by the feast of Christmas, but in some ways what we celebrate today is far more significant, but it has been lost either in the packing away of the decorations, or the supposed simplicity of the story of the birth of a child in poverty.  Christmas marks the miraculous birth of a fragile infant but it is only today that we fully realise that this child is God Incarnate the Saviour of the world.

In the arrival of these dusty tired strangers, with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh God’s lordship in Christ as King, Priest and Saviour and Healer of the wounds of sin is revealed.  As the Magi come to pay him homage God reveals through these sages that his circle of salvation is not closed around the Jews but open to all people.  This is the scandal of salvation.  This Messiah is not just for the Jews but for all people. God welcomes us all - male, female, black, white, whatever language we speak.

As God reveals to the world again today His Christ, he calls the Church with wise men, to look again with awe and wonder at His Incarnate Son.  As we look God calls all  to acknowledge His Christ as the King of all nations and peoples and to work to build His kingdom of justice and peace which extends beyond the boundaries of Israel.  In these days of gun battles in our suburbs and ongoing peacekeeping in the nations whose people were first to know who this baby is as Prince of Peace, our action cannot be that of passive concern but that of active love for each other that extends hospitality and welcome to such as those gather round his crib - single mothers, the poor and destitute, the foreigner and stranger.

As we look God calls all  to acknowledge His Christ as the intermediary and way to God and a true revealing of the nature of God - love.  As Priest for all the world, by faith Christ calls each person to have the privileged place as Son or Daughter of God no matter in what circumstances you were born.  In societies of faith and none torn apart by division and fundamentalisms, as those who know Him as His children must bring our world to God through Him through our prayers. We must also allow ourselves to be open though to bringing Him to our world through our lives.

As we look, God calls us to acknowledge His Christ as the Saviour who heals the wounds of sin. Sin being the things that mar our relationship with our past, present and future, with others and with God Himself. We can strive to live a certain way, but we so often fail. Only God can set aside the implications of our life choices that shatter those relationships. Only God can restore that which we have broken.

As the Wise Ones offer their strange gifts to the Christ, they find themselves with open hands, hands ready to receive, on our behalf, what He offers back to the world. We we gaze into the crib, ready to receive His peace, His hospitality to the outsider, His love for us as Sons and Daughters of God, His making new in us, others and Him a relationship - what can we offer to Him?

All we can offer is open hands. Open hearts, open lives ready to receive and share all that He offers the world always and for all time. The Wise Ones offered gifts that cost everything.  Nothing is held back, everthing is offered: here mirrors God’s gift. Hands are opened to receive and then to give.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer, typically used at this time of year, grasps God's open-handed gift of Jesus, and displays a Magi-like open-handed understanding of what our response can only be:

"I am no longer my own but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me and when there is none; when I am troubled and when I am at peace. Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded; when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking; when I have all things, and when I have nothing. I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose. Glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. May it be so for ever. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen."