Friday, 6 December 2019

From the Root a Branch.

We hear in the reading from Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 11 this week that from the roots of a bulky stump, a branch emerges. The extravagant hope of Israel will come from a shoot, a branch. The branch will have wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord, justice and equity, righteousness and faithfulness. That’s some branch! Or more accurately, that’s some hope!

As confused and dark as our world often seems, we are living in a time of great imagination. Our economic system is in transition and we pray that the greedy will not prevail. Political power is up for grabs and may those who stand be compassionate and reflect God’s love. Scientists have grown beyond the boundaries they previously knew. A global community has adjusted Religion. The internet has created equal footing for art and literature. Our culture is reimagining; we are dreaming together.

But with this hopeful activity comes a measure of fear. As if the rug has been pulled out—or maybe a more poignant picture—it feels as if the roots have been pulled up. As I write this, I am reminded again like last week of parts of Townsville post cyclone when there are trees lying on the side of the road, the debris and damage from the storm is so visible. I’m also imagining the damage that is still being repaired after a storm a number of days ago here in parts of Sydney. The tree roots seem to mock us, saying, “The world is uncertain, unsturdy, unreliable.” Karl Barth says it is less like we are rooted or standing firm and more like we are being upheld by the winds of Spirit.

I wonder if the hope of Isaiah is less about being rooted in David and more about being upheld by the Spirit. Because this prophet dreamed big, really big. So big that dependence on the stump was out of the question. But dependence on the Spirit, it’s all over this passage.

It is very difficult to sustain an undivided view of reality. There is within each of us a desire for unity, wholeness, and inclusion; yet the moment we are hurt, affronted, or challenged we want to cut off and remove the offending person or group and the unity ends. We pay lip service to nonduality, inclusivity, and holistic living, as long as you agree with us. Cross us, or even disagree with us, at your peril! A number of world political leaders act like this and often their decisions seem irrational but probably come from the fact that they believe they have been crossed.

I am told that if one grew up in apartheid South Africa, there was an ironic slogan printed on all their coins at that time, “Unity is strength.” Just how bizarre that statement was became evident as history unfolded. Perhaps we attempt to counter the very darkest of our shadow material by projecting it into the world as our mottos and visions? So, in this week’s readings Isaiah dreams of a nondual world where lions and lambs lie down in unity, and children don’t get bitten by snakes. Paul encourages the Romans to create harmonious welcoming communities. And John the baptiser speaks of a level freeway to God.

Sadly, the words are hardly cold when he spews venom at the vipers from Jerusalem who oppose him. The key to nonduality is the centrality of love. Call it life, or call it God, when you realise that there is only One reality that includes all of us and them and those others too, then it all comes together and makes infinite sense. It is a freeway indeed. Sadly, the on-ramps to the “I-One freeway” may be hard to find. Nonduality is difficult and harmony is hard. That shouldn’t keep us from seeking it though.

I am going to finish today with the words from a hymn which provide much to reflect on:

God, Send Your Prophets Here (Tune Leoni)

God, send your prophets here,
For all around we see
The sinful, broken values of humanity.
Accepting death and fear,
Our nations go to war
And so, deny that peace is worth our struggling for.

Send stewards of the earth,
For it’s becoming plain:
This world we haven’t cared for cries aloud in pain.
Forgetting nature’s worth,
Consuming for today,
We never realize what it is we throw away.

Send ones who love the poor,
For leaders arm the lands;
They buy their tanks and take the food from children’s hands.
With greed, we long for more
While others cry for bread;
Remind us that we can’t be full till all are fed.

Who are your prophets here?
We wonder, Lord, and search—
And then we realize you are calling us, your church.
Your kingdom, God, is near;
You show what life can be!
So, by your Spirit may we answer, “Lord, send me!”

Text: Copyright © 2011 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Expect the Unexpected.

For the nine and a half year before coming to Sydney we lived in a part of the country frequented by cyclones and previously I had experience of these storms in Darwin and the Solomon Islands. It was a rude awakening for this Kiwi who had lived deep in the South and started life in Australia in the South, and who grew up with cyclones being mentioned rarely on the news prior to moving to Darwin, the Solomon’s or Townsville. One thing I did learn about cyclones was to expect the unexpected.

More than once, a beautiful sunny morning has turned into an overcast day spent in locked inside one’s house waiting in front of the TV weather report with the echo of sirens warning us in the background. My previous storm experience growing up was rain, snow and the resultant floods. This included days of weather coverage, allowing plenty of time to head to the grocery store for bread and milk, prepare for potential power outages, and pray that the storm would only be bad enough to close school for a couple of days!

In terms of expecting and waiting for the Messiah, the Jewish people seemed to have more of this second kind of weather experience. After all, their Messiah was prophesied for generations, giving them theoretically plenty of time to prepare. Yet, what God intended for their salvation was something totally unexpected. Today as we begin our Advent season, we can read various scriptures about waiting. The scripture passages in Luke tell as part of the story of a devout Jewish man performing a sacred duty only to encounter something completely unexpected.

As a priest, Zechariah no doubt had spent his life waiting for the promised Messiah. Longing for the salvation of his people, he probably spent many hours praying for the fruition of God’s plan. He probably believed that he had a handle on what to expect from the Messiah. As he prepared for his once-in-a-lifetime service opportunity in the temple, Zechariah’s main concern was most likely performing his service as perfectly as possible. He surely wasn’t anticipating a powerful personal encounter with God. As Luke 1 opens, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, are what we might call “seniors or elders.” They are upright Jews who have lived righteous lives. Like other Jews, they have probably spent their lives expecting the Messiah.

Expectation has filled their home in other ways for many years, however. Zechariah and Elizabeth are childless. No doubt for years (millennia before medical science could address such things) Zechariah and Elizabeth waited, expected, anticipated a child, only to be disappointed year after year. I can imagine Elizabeth’s prayers to God as she remembered the miracle stories of women like Sarah and Hannah. By the time of Zechariah’s temple service, however, any hope or expectation for a child has long subsided. It is probably the farthest thing from Zechariah’s mind that morning as he prepares. He may be expecting, even hoping, for a God moment, but he never expects that God’s plan for the redemption of God’s people will personally involve Zechariah and Elizabeth, answering their personal prayers in a way they never could have anticipated.

Upon entering the temple to burn the incense, Zechariah encounters the angel Gabriel. Startled by the presence of the angel, he is immediately told not to be afraid and then informed of God’s plan to send a son (named John) to him and Elizabeth, including John’s destiny as the predecessor to the coming of the Lord. I have often thought at this point that the angel is a little hard on Zechariah. After all, this is a lot of information for a priest who thought he was going inside the temple to burn incense. He may have been concerned that the angel had the wrong person. After clarifying with he is struck silent until the time that his son is born.

I can imagine an excited Zechariah exiting the temple anxious to share his news, waving his arms around in a kind of crazy charades-like sign language, only to be stared at by the onlookers. Months will pass before Zechariah’s speech returns and he names his son John. Expectation was a powerful part of the belief system of the Jewish people. They expected God to send someone to restore their people to their status as God’s chosen people, evident to all through the strength of their kingdom. They expected God to operate as God had throughout the ages. They expected miracles and wonders ushered in by a powerful chosen man of God.

They were expecting what Isaiah 9 describes, one who will reign on David’s throne, establishing and upholding through justice and righteousness. They were not expecting God’s plan to begin with an elderly priest, his wife, and a young peasant girl. To be fair, this plan would have shocked no one more than it shocks Zechariah. As he processes this over his months of silence, I imagine Zechariah spends hours thinking about God’s plans, and how very different it is from what he expected. God was sending a Messiah for them personally and this plan may not have included a new monarch or a military victor. God may not have chosen to crush their enemies in some miraculous way.

Even better, however, God chose to send a Messiah to intersect their lives personally. Just as Zechariah experienced in the temple, God intended to draw God’s people closer than ever, by meeting them personally where they were. On this first Sunday of Advent, we are expecting the coming Christ. We are reflecting on God’s promise to God’s children throughout the ages to send One who will offer salvation to all. Let us remember as we begin this journey the great news that God is the God of the unexpected. Just when we think we’ve figured out how God works, God does something in our lives that is totally unexpected. Our God meets us in those places we least expect, just as our God met Zechariah.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Thoughts on a Feast for the King.

This week in the calendar of the three-year lectionary we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Even though this is what we mark and celebrate this week, I find, and I would think some of you also are left with a question about what it means. Back around the time when the Reformation was taking place, it wasn’t uncommon to hear clergy say, even lament, that confirmation was a sacrament needing a theology. In many parts of the Christian faith our understanding of baptism has changed, and with it, the understanding of confirmation.

With baptism leading to full inclusion in the church and welcome admission to communion, the rite of confirmation is no longer the rite of passage that people have to undergo in order to be considered full members of the church and to receive the body and blood of Christ – The Communion, the Eucharist. Confirmation used to be the necessary “ticket,” but with the change in theological understanding of baptism, confirmation is of more questionable need.

In similar fashion, the Feast of Christ the King is a celebration in need of a reason. In many parts of the Church we mark it on our calendars and in our liturgical celebrations every year on the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost. Some people celebrate it as a sort of “New Year’s Eve,” marking the last Sunday of the church year before we roll over into Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. For some, it is observed in a fashion similar to the Feast of Pentecost, when people sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, marking the beginning of the church, when the disciples were visited for the first time by the Holy Spirit.

So, what is this feast many will mark this week, especially on Sunday? What can we say about the Feast of Christ the King? Not much, even if we look to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.  So, really what does it mean for us today when we hear the word “king”? George, son of Duchess Catherine and William of Wales, newest prince of the realm, has been recently hailed as third in line for the English throne. King! It’s fine for the British to hail George as their future king, but here in Australia I wonder sometimes what our experience of kings leads us to think, especially if the person is a king of the political sort.

“The King.” Say that to Americans, and they think of Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll? Or for some who are somewhat younger,kl what about Michael Jackson, crowned the King of Pop? Some might say, the Americans have a king in the Whitehouse in Donald Trump, who certainly acts as if he thinks he is a king, there are teams named the Kings in in all sorts of sports, king snakes, kingfishers, king crab, chicken a la king, king of the mountain, the Rev. Martin Luther King. Is it starting to become clear? The Kings of Leon for rock and roll fans, and B.B. King for fans of blues, Stephen King, and Burger King (known to Australians as Hungry Jacks). Carole King, king salmon, the Lion King, Steve Martin singing “King Tut” and the King James Bible.

But, has the notion of “king” taken on a different meaning for us? It seems that “king” is no longer the most effective, most evocative, of titles. As Christians we could say, instead, “Christ the Messiah,” but isn’t that redundant? And lately “messiah” has become weakened, perhaps even trivialised, by its popularity as a name. I even hear that Messiah is becoming a popular name for children.  Prince and Princess are both becoming popular names as well, but the popularity of King as a baby name has risen faster than all other “royal” names.

Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of a book called, “Narcissism Epidemic,” told “Good Morning America” that the rising popularity of the royal-sounding baby names “mirrors a current preoccupation with money, power and fame.” That’s today. And remember: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in the 1920’s, to counter a sense of growing secularism, Pope Pius XI declared that there should be a celebration of the reign of Christ marked by a special occasion set aside proclaiming Christ as King. Other churches have done similar things in marking and keeping this observance.

So, what does all this tell us about ourselves, or about the Christ we celebrate as King on this day? Once upon a time, Christ might have been hailed as king in the midst of a people who understood kingship, and particularly Christ’s kingship over them. But we no longer understand kings, as evidenced by the naming of our children with this title. We need a corrective to our consumer culture that puts us at the centre of the universe, whatever our name. Maybe, the point of the Feast of Christ the King in this time is to remind us that we are not the centre of the universe; Christ is.

Maybe it is to challenge us to gird ourselves (now there’s an old-fashioned word) for whatever will come, whether the Day of Doom or Christ’s return in glory. To give praise and thanks and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We talk a lot about kings, name many things with this title, but in the end, there is for Christians only one King who matters for our life together in this world and the next: Christ the King. And that Christ the King is the pattern for our living and loving in this world.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Are We In.

As we reflect on the reading from Luke 21 this week, we find the bright sun stunning the disciples as they strolled out from the majestic temple onto the bleached limestone. Hand-chiselled, these giant stone blocks measured eight feet on a side. A grown woman could walk two or three paces per stone, and watch hundreds of people milling in the courtyards and patios outside the temple. Rising far above the streets, these massive boulders were hewn from limestone cliffs. They. Were. Big.

The stones were here to stay, and the delicate, gorgeous temple made you gasp. As this was the holiest place in all Israel, the disciples were surely in a state of awe. Someone said, “Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” Everyone marvelled at the grandeur. So, you can imagine the disciple’s dismay when Jesus asked, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

All will be thrown down. Really? Who invited Apocalyptic Jesus? All will be thrown down. What happened to “Come to me, you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”? Well, buckle your seat belts, good people of God, because Advent is around the corner, and Apocalyptic Jesus is at the wheel. Who does he think he is, talking about the temple’s demise when he’s at the temple?

Can we relate to the disciples’ frustration? We love our houses, cars and clothes, our health, our wealth. We like the occasional shiny building, the thriving city, the world’s most powerful military. They make us feel safe, these things. We’d rather not hear that moths destroy, and rust consumes, that our possessions are short-lived, temporary like mist. We don’t want to lose our material status. This economic system works – for some – and we move mountains to prevent its crumble. We have a dark fear: Eventually we will die, and we’ll go back to God with nothing. Everything we’ve built on earth will stay here, and we’ll be gone.

Mortality is a scary thing and talk of the end makes most people fidget. But the bulk of the gospels come from messianic and apocalyptic Jews who spent their days waiting for the end.  How do we live in the present when we do not know the future? As Jesus forecasts the temple’s destruction, the disciples also wonder: How do we live today when we do not know tomorrow?

As Matthew and Mark tell the tale, the disciples must have been nervous. They catch Jesus at the lunch break. Sitting at the Mount of Olives, they stare across the valley at the temple. They’re probably munching on bread and olives. Peter, Andrew, James and John ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Jesus’ response is less than helpful. He tells them, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place.”

Thanks, Jesus. We ask you when, and you tell us bad stuff will happen. How do we live today when we do not know tomorrow? Come on, Jesus, we really want to know. We’ve got plans to make! How do we live in the present when we do not know the future? This is a disturbing reading, and perhaps it’s unwise to release the tension. That’s not what church is for, by the way. Real life is more complex. In place of an easy answer, consider what Jesus offers all of us: the profound truth that God is still in charge. God calls us to love with radical abandon. This is less of a dream, more of a concrete movement.

We don’t know what comes tomorrow, but we know God calls us to love neighbour as self and to work indefatigably toward just society and loving community. How do we live in the present when we don’t know the future? We partner with God, giving all that we have. God has work for us to do! Jesus tried to start a revolution in which the last are first, the proud get scattered, the lowly are lifted up. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.

Jesus tried to start a revolution in which the sick, get healed, the poor are blessed, and we are all beloved children of God. Jesus tried to start a revolution. But it depends, in part, on us. Are we in? Martin Luther adopted this posture when asked what to do if he thought the end was coming tomorrow. His advice? “Plant a tree.” In other words: Invest hopefully in the future. Something we need to take seriously as the recent Fires haven proven to us. Dealing with Climate Change and wise stewardship of creation is long overdue, yet we fail to listen to and see our God’s desire for us to stop the greed and abuse of power that is steadily destroying much of creation.

Have you ever prayed in a time of uncertainty, in a time of waiting? How do we live today when we don’t know tomorrow? We draw strength from God, who invites our participation and endures long after the cities and buildings and stones have crumbled. We adopt a posture that asks not what God can do for us but calls us to bring the Kingdom of God just a bit closer. We love neighbour as self, and we strive for just societies and a stable planet- new heavens and a new earth. This is the revolutionary Good News of Jesus Christ. Are we in?

Friday, 8 November 2019

Easy to Mock.

As is fairly typical, in the story from Luke 20 this week, Jesus replies to a conundrum with a conundrum. He’s given a sort of riddle about a woman who marries seven times – and just not seven times, but seven brothers, in succession. Each brother dies, leaving her a widow. After all, marriage vows are only valid while both partners are alive, right? “Until death us do part,” as we used to say, or “until we are parted by death.” And the Sadducees, who are among Jesus’ critics, want to know: “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?”

They don’t believe in the resurrection, you see, and so they are trying to mock him, to show how silly and unworkable an idea eternal life is. They are trying to demonstrate that the things we hold dear in this life, including the bond and covenant of marriage, will make no sense in the next life. And they are trying to depict Jesus as a kind of oddball faith healer and snake handler, whose fundamental claims just don’t make any sense. And, of course, they are right.

Jesus is very easy to mock. Eternal life is a silly and unworkable idea. And the fundamental claims of Christianity really do not make any sense – especially when compared with the values of the secular world. This was true in Jesus’ time, and it is still very true in our day.

Let’s start with the most striking of the implicit assertions made by the Sadducees: The fundamental claims of Christianity just do not make any sense.
Let’s see – love God and love your neighbour. That’s fundamental, right? But most of our world is obsessed with power, prestige, wealth and control. If we but admit to the existence of God, then we have to acknowledge that the things we have are simply lent to us. We are stewards of our possessions, including our earthly bodies. All that we have is a gift from God, and only of value while we are alive on this earth.

But the culture we live in says this is my home, my money, my whatever. And I can do with it whatever I want. But when we acknowledge the existence of God, we also acknowledge that we are not in control, not the ultimate judge, not the great power of the universe – or even the family. But the world says otherwise. Our society is full of people who insist on their own way, on their own individual authority. It happens at the simplest levels of human interaction, and it happens at the highest levels of government and industry.

And those two points – not owning things and not being in ultimate control – they are just the first two steps toward acknowledging that God exists. It’s still a long, long way before one can love God. And what about loving our neighbour? Our society doesn’t always uphold this, does it? So, loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself – these two great commandments to those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians: They are not the values of our country, of our society or of our world.

Then there’s the idea of eternal life – a silly and unworkable idea. The Sadducees have shown us that. When we think of eternity like this, we are failing to use our imagination. The problem is that they – and we – have failed to imagine it as something we will actually like. And yet we are promised ineffable joys, never-failing care, the strength of God’s presence, rejoicing in eternal glory, being received into the arms of mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and being reunited with those who have gone before in the paradise of God.

When you talk about those things, on that kind of scale, then wasting a lot of energy on whether we will live forever, or to whom we may be married, or whatever – well, it seems a whole lot more like another manifestation of that power and control thing, doesn’t it? “I demand to know, and I can afford to pay for the knowledge” or something like that. Yet, the fullness of God’s love and truth is not known to any of us – not yet. And that’s exactly why Jesus is so easy to mock.

We don’t know everything. As St. Paul says it, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly.” Remember, that in the first century, a mirror was not likely to be one of today’s manufactured, perfectly smooth and clear glasses. Looking into a mirror was like looking into a brook or stream, or into a highly polished rock. Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but when the end comes, “we will see face to face. Now, I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

So, we have a call to live the way of truth, the way of hope, the way of love. The journey of faith is not a life lived without doubt or questions, the life of a Christian is not one without trial or travail, and the earthly pilgrimage is not about control and power. It’s about truth, hope, and above all, love. And all of this begins not with “I insist” or “I own” or “I want” – but with the simple, elegant and hopeful proclamation, “I believe.”  

Friday, 1 November 2019

When the Saints.

“Oh, when the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.” Many of us have sung this old gospel hymn with such joy and gusto and our Men’s Group, I believe will be singing it again this year. But really when you reflect on it, sainthood is not a fun-filled path. I would suggest that you look up the verses to this popular song about saints, and you’ll find words that are not nearly as joyous as the refrain. The verses remind us that the path toward God is not usually an easy one.

In this week’s readings from Daniel 7, Daniel’s spirit is troubled, and he has a vision of kings arising like beasts from the earth. Yet God promises that the holy ones will inherit the earth. And in Luke 6 the writer offers future blessings to the poor, the hungry, and the righteous of God. However, the timing of all this blessing is unknown. Luke cries “woe” upon the successful and satisfied of this world, but his promises of later laughter for the saintly are not all that comforting when one is racked with grief.

I’m not sure I do want to be in that number with the saints as they go marching toward God. They march with burdens of martyrdom. They march with the weight of the world. They march with suffering for the needs of others. They march with a willingness to carry earth’s deep sorrows on their back. They march all the way to the cross. They march with persistence and perseverance against all odds, working for God’s realm to come to this earth. Okay, well honestly, maybe I do want to march with them. But does the cost have to be so high?!

I read somewhere and reflected on this thought and was challenged deeply. It goes: “Woe to me, for yearning for an easy path, for I am destined for a bumpy road toward God.” I don’t know about you, but the road toward God being a bumpy has certainly seemed to be my life pattern

Anyone can love when life is good, when the path is easy, but can I love when it is risk-filled, when I will not get a fair return? If we look at his life, Jesus does not back off in proclaiming woes to the rich and self-satisfied in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, and most of us would be happy if he stopped there. In the next breath he calls us to love those whom he has just denounced, that we are to be merciful as our God is merciful. Loving my enemies is the hardest part of the gospel. Jesus is naming the reality that if you want to bring the Beloved Community—you will upset a lot of people.

Have you ever thought about the fact that most of what we admire about Jesus made someone angry? “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” has been Jesus’s bumper sticker since before there were bumpers, and we all love our nice neighbours. But what about those Samaritans? Or Muslims, or Gang Members, or immigrants, rednecks, socialists, Trump followers—you name them—are they the neighbours I must love? When Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword, he is not saying pick up your sword; he is acknowledging that if you want to follow him in the way of love, then expect conflict.

Despite the Beatles claim that “All you need is love,” humanity doesn’t always want to love. We are often a greedy, selfish, suspicious species. Jesus did not say, don’t make enemies. Sometimes you can’t help having them; clearly Jesus did. The point is to not let your heart be consumed with hatred, for that dehumanises you and the other. Don’t destroy yourself by fighting battles you cannot win, and don’t destroy yourself from within by giving in to hate. Continue to bless, even if your neighbour has earned woe.

So, the call of Jesus is that God wants us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The amazing thing is that if you live this way, people will be shocked. You maybe even be declared a saint. Some of what you do will seem to go unnoticed, but there are those who will never forget. Your actions will be remembered. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is exactly what it says. It’s not really a golden rule.

It’s a sweaty, frustrated, teeth-gritted, trying-not-to-be-resentful effort toward acting in the right way toward your neighbours, your co-workers, your family. It makes a nice platitude, except that you know that’s exactly what Jesus did not mean for it to be. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not mean be a doormat. It is not an excuse to accept abuse or poor treatment. It is a creed for all who believe their worth has been determined by God—that they are valued and beloved. Thus, you treat others with the respect they may not give themselves.

You remove yourself from harm, from danger, from trial. You do not allow others to grieve their hearts by hurting you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not a saint make. Instead it is the motto of our adopted family—the family that has received us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is the work of our family and the family who will help us to live out this verse. Sainthood will be for those who do this and never see it as work.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Persistent Justice

The parable of Jesus found in Luke 18 is commonly called the story of the unjust judge and the widow. It is a troubling parable. It ends with the promise that "justice will come quickly." If you are satisfied that justice has come, then you are excused from listening. Please pray, while not listening, for those of us who have some doubt that justice will come quickly. The parable also gives the impression that we can "wear God down" by praying. There is no easy resolution of the difficulty in today's Gospel lesson. So, what is the good news in it? Also the parable that follows it raises questions about how we see ourselves and the the way we view our status.

Here are two stories, both true. They do not resolve any questions, but they point to the truth in the Gospel. The first is a prayer story. A congregation had an old, tiny, historic church that was falling into serious disrepair. It could be Marsden Road Church where I serve. As much as they loved it, and they did love it, they prayerfully decided that God wanted them to move to a new place and build a new church that would enable them to minister and grow. They had few members and little money. There wasn't any way in this world that the dream could be realized. They prayed.

The Minister prayed every morning about this for 5 years. One day, a wealthy member of the congregation summoned the Minister. The question asked the Minister was, "How much money can I give to this project?" A year later the congregation moved into and consecrated a beautiful, spacious new church facility on 9 acres of well-located land. And, it was all paid for the day they walked in it. Somehow the prayer and God and the generosity of the wealthy person are connected. But this can't be turned into a formula. Five years of daily prayer equals a miracle. If miracles could be predicted they wouldn't be miracles, they would be science.

Now, let us look at a real justice story. Two very different people, one the Captain of a Slave Ship and the other the son of a rich and powerful English family who were heavily involved in politics were brought together by God to bring justice to those who were slaves. Now, that justice is not fully here. But there is more of it now than 200 years ago and it is coming.

The Slaver was John Newton. Off the coast of Africa, in a slave ship, he experienced conversion. God seems to have a sense of timing and placement that is beyond logic. Newton became an Anglican Priest and, among other things, the author of the much loved "Amazing Grace."

John Newton was serving as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London when Wilberforce, the rich young man, came to him. Wilberforce experienced conversion while reading and discussing the New Testament on a stagecoach, going across France to the Riviera for a holiday. After that experience, he came to Newton seeking guidance. Newton told him to go into politics. He did. His cause was the end of slavery. A brief time after his death the British Parliament passed legislation that outlawed the Slave trade for British Citizens and gave the mission of enforcing that to the British Navy. That fed the Abolitionist Movement in the United States of America, which led to a great war to end slavery in the United States. Legal slavery ended in the 19th century when Brazil became the final nation to act.

Only God could achieve this by entering lives that were unconnected and joining them for holy purposes. But what if people had not prayed for years for a new church? Or what if Newton had rejected Jesus in favour of the money to be made in the slave trade? Or what if Wilberforce had rejected Jesus and decided to live as an idle, rich gentleman? Or, what if he had accepted the Lord and then entered the ministry rather than politics? Or what if he had yielded to the temptations of political power? How many of these holy plots to bring justice has God launched? How many were derailed because someone responded rationally, rather than faithfully? We can't know.

However, there is good news in this text from Luke 18. It is displayed by the good news in the two stories. The good news is that we can pray a lot and respond faithfully to God's call to us to join him in bringing justice quickly. We don't have to. That is the kind of freedom God gives us. God has such abhorrence of slavery that we will never be forced to do Gods will. God has such respect for our freedom that it will not be transgressed, even for the holiest of reasons.

That is troubling news. We don't always choose the right way and live in prayer. One only has to read/watch the News or listen to it to see the number of different forms of slavery still being practiced in our world. The way some employees of franchise groups and other industries are treated and paid is one example. The best news is that we can respond to God, pray a lot and live faithfully and work to removing the stain of these forms of slavery. God is helping us. So, where do I fit in this? What is the part I am to play in healing the injustices of this world? I will leave you to ponder those for yourselves.