Peace

Peace

Saturday, 9 December 2017

What do we hear?.

Advent is not an easy season, with its harried pace and busy schedule. Even non-Christians are surrounded by the holiday patterns of shopping, partying, decorating, and hurrying. Many people are haunted by grief: lamenting broken family relationships, deceased loved ones, and failed friendships. Even non-believers may find themselves yearning for connections with God and community that they seldom notice at other times of the year. And so, God offers the gift of steadfast love to the godly and ungodly alike.

The sinful Israelite's are offered hopeful words of comfort. Our reading this week from the second letter attributed to Saint Peter reminds us that God does not want any person to perish. And we are also reminded in Mark’s Gospel that John comes preaching not just repentance, but forgiveness. God’s gift of love is not just for perfect people, not just for loving people, not just for Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. God’s Christmas gift of love is for all people, so that “all people shall see it together.” We are given this season of waiting as a gift. For in the waiting, we are all invited to hear God’s glorious promise of love. 

In the waiting, we are all allowed to grieve absent loved ones and lament unfulfilled hopes. All the while, God is waiting with us— waiting for the godly and ungodly alike to hear God’s tender voice, to perceive God’s constant presence, and to accept God’s steadfast love. In this season of hurriedness and impatience, Peter’s words fall like the water of a soothing fountain: “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” God is in no hurry to force us into a realm of love and peace that we are not prepared to accept and embrace. God awaits the day when we will hear and believe: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”

In our “church world” today we take the concept of a gospel, good news for granted. We have heard the “good news” throughout our lives. Even outside the church, scriptures are quoted and biblical principles are espoused so that it is impossible to escape some level of “gospelisation.” What would it be like to hear the good news for the very first time? What might the stories of Jesus elicit in our hearts and minds had we not heard them over and over since childhood?

In the opinion of most scholars, the gospel ascribed to Mark is the “beginning,” at least of the written form. Truly, it was a “new thing.” Imagine yourself in a life of poverty, locked into a spiral of hard work for little gain, tied to one place for all time, under the sovereignty of a foreign power, denied basic rights and freedoms, and lacking any real hope of change or advance. For some who will read this, that is the life they live and it’s not hard to imagine. For others it is hard to imagine such situations. Yet they still exist all over our world today both overtly and subtly.

It is easy to frame such an existence as futile and desperate. But into such a reality comes a message of possibility, a story of a redeemer and saviour. This is a story of a champion rising from the common herd, someone just like us, but in very significant ways nothing like us at all— a man who possesses the very power and wisdom of God. Could the stories be true? Could the prophesies and promises of the ages come to fulfillment? Was there hope for the oppressed and the downtrodden?


In our modern world, it is difficult to imagine what first-century Jewish people heard when they first received the “good news.” Yet, in our modern world, we can reflect on what we hear as, again and again, we hear the gospel message. Do we hear promise? Do we receive hope? Does the gospel still contain power to transform lives?

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Keep Awake!

Christians have the somewhat regrettable habit of pulling readings from Isaiah out for the lead up to and during the Christmas break. It’s similar to the way we dig the Christmas decorations out of the shed, cellar or attic to put up a month or so before Christmas.  It appears from my experience that we read these passages from Isaiah as if he’s a fortune teller or a Nostradamus, making predictions about Jesus. But, maybe we should fight that tendency.  I say this because the writers of Isaiah weren’t writing about Jesus, per se.

No, writers of Isaiah were passing on the messages that they received from God, which were intended to provide specific comfort to specific people during a specific crisis. These people are in exile. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The very home of God had been destroyed. The writers of Isaiah weren’t writing to predict the future. They were writing to give courage to the people of Israel, so they could endure. So that begs the question of how we hear these words from the Isaiah’s if exile is our reality? Imagine we are little Israel and we don’t have military might.  We are now beginning to wonder if our God has also been defeated— where is God when he’s not in the temple?


These thoughts are quite challenging. I invite you this week to spend some time with the book of Isaiah. Listen to the words in their own context. Let them speak to you in your context. What is going on in your life such that heaven being torn apart and mountains quaking would be a sign of hope? Just imagine what is happening around our world politically with the rumblings of the USA against North Korea and other nations and the return rhetoric from those countries.

As Christians, we seem to have a hard time reading the book of Isaiah without immediately thinking of Jesus. Because while we are preparing for Jesus’ birth in four weeks, we know what happened two thousand years ago. God did tear open the heavens. And good, observant Jews, who had been hearing the book of Isaiah’s writings all of their lives, recognised a connection between Jesus and the words of the book of Isaiah. The Gospel accounts of Jesus were written down by people who often framed their understanding of who Jesus was through the lens of the book of Isaiah’s writing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

And God did come. God heard the cries of the people and changed the way we relate to the Divine. A baby was born in Bethlehem, in a manger, away from the halls of power and privilege. And the world was turned upside down by this man, fully human, fully divine. Once the Divine enters the world, even the heavens themselves will be shaken. By making reference to sun, moon, and stars, this weeks reading from Mark 13 is cluing us in to the truth that God’s reign is a cosmic reign, it isn’t just a change of administration like ion the political sphere of our worldly nations. It isn’t just new people taking over. It is an entirely new creation.

And so, we wait in patience, knowing that not every act of God resounds like a pounding sledgehammer. In the book of Isaiah’s metaphor, God does not always split open the heavens. Whereas even his closest disciples longed to call down fire from heaven and to brandish swords, Jesus compared his coming kingdom to tiny mustard seeds and to the imperceptible but certain fermentation of yeast.


As we enter Advent, we begin it with a revelation that a change is coming. And we are told to wait for it. To watch for it. In the coming weeks, as we light the candles and prepare for Christ’s return and for Christ’s birth, watch, wait, and keep awake. Or for others, as we put up the decorations and select the gifts we are still to watch and wait and keep awake. The Good News is at hand.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Maybe Mum Was Right

As life has gone on I have found that it turns out that often what my Mum said was right — One of these sayings was that we are known by the company we keep. When I was growing up in Timaru, Aotearoa (NZ, I would often get taken into the rural areas by our Father. The rural areas where the closest living neighbours were often livestock. Out in the bush where our Father took us, it wasn’t hard to keep company that our parents would approve of, because we were spending most of our days around family.

Surprisingly in those early times of my life, even at school, the rules were pretty easy to figure out. The boys played with the other boys and the girls played with the girls, and the only bleeding over of those two groups was that the very athletic girls sometimes played games with the boys, if the boys were feeling conciliatory on the playground that day. It got a little more complicated, in high school for some when students from various schools came together as one class, and suddenly there was a little variety— just a little, though, maybe one hundred twenty students total at each level.

Even though I attended an all-male high school suddenly I could hang with the smart kids, or the arty kids, or the sporty kids, or the rough kids or what some called the no-hopers. And to my wonder and amazement, I was told that at the other High School old friends found it was suddenly okay to befriend the opposite sex. Although if I’m being honest, girls rarely came to the Boys High. I’ll also admit that the boys who got to hang with awkward, twelve to thirteen-year-old girls were those who came for specific things like Music and German language classes.

At the beginning of High School, one could say, is an exciting but sometimes excruciating time to figure out who we are. It is also a time much less when we find out who our friends are supposed to be. Yet, we haven’t quite figured out that the choices we make when we are adolescents need not rule the rest of our lives. Everything feels so weighty, as if our making one wrong choice would disrupt the course of our whole life. At least that is what I thought I had understood when I was twelve or thirteen years old.

At first read, our text from the final verses of Matthew 25 for this week seem to be about how to earn a place in heaven with Jesus, how to be judged favourably by the Shepherd King: be a sheep, not a goat. The original hearers of this sermon would have understood “sheep” and “goat” to be very specifically coded words with deeply ingrained cultural meaning.

Matthew reinforces this with the use of “left” and “right.” The right hand was the socially acceptable hand, used for eating and greeting. The left hand was used for unmentionable, private tasks, and was never used for public greeting. For all intents and purposes, everybody was a right-handed person, whether they wanted to be or not. To be on the left was a very bad thing, and everybody hearing this story would have understood that.

So really, it seems as if Jesus is simply saying, “Do the right thing.” The problem is that the sheep don’t really understand why they are sheep, and the goats don’t know what goat-like behaviour has left them in the predicament they are in. Since, in reality, sheep and goats grazed together and travelled together and acted as one herd until it was shearing time or sacrifice time; it is almost as though everybody ended up surprised when the sorting happened. It can’t really be as simple as that, can it? The secret here to being favourably judged can’t be just “Don’t do anything stupid.” Don’t we wish.


Are we humans called to act in this way or is that we are called to respond differently? Well, as Christians we are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison. Christians are called to speak out against the injustices and inequities that plague society. They are to work to ensure that the message of God’s love is not subsumed by the much louder, more forceful noises of the secular world. These actions are to be done out of love for God, love for each other and oneself as well as out of the spiritual centre that develops from spending time with God. 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Depth of True Love.

“I was afraid.” Too many times those words have been a door closing against an invitation to grow. I was afraid to love. I was afraid to let another love me. I was afraid to reach beyond the familiar, to share my faith, to raise my voice, to stand apart, to move beyond a stereotype. In the terrain of the heart, “I was afraid” is buried in a place both deep and yet highly accessible.

True love is anything but shallow. But it is not gorgeous and glamorous and perpetually young. The last servant, in this week’s reading from Matthew 25, fearing the shape-shifting dirtiness of love, paradoxically buries it in the ground to preserve it as it is. By protecting love from change and tragedy, adventure, wildness, and the sheer awe of engaging in life, this servant loses the very gift he had, through simple lack of imagination.

You have to give this third servant credit. He was only following what was, in his day, a sensible and responsible course of action. A talent was one of the largest values of currency in the Hellenistic world, a silver coinage you’d want to get help carrying home— it weighed between fifty-seven and seventy-four pounds. This is fifteen years’ wages for a day labourer, about a quarter of a million dollars when adjusted for inflation. In ancient times, the safest place on earth for something of such great worth was underground. 

Josephus, a first-century historian, said that it was not unusual for people to bury their treasure during times of military conflict. Further, unexpectedly discovering underground treasure, a scenario we stumble upon in one of Jesus’ parables, was not uncommon. “If you want to secure your money,” advised a rabbi from antiquity, “bury it.”

St. John of the Cross wrote that “in the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” The two servants in this week’s reading from Matthew 25, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of the sheer fool-hardiness of the project, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master’s wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point. The poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness because he was clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground.

John Wesley comments, “So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation!” Love begets love. The more you give the more you get, exponentially. But investing in love can seem counterintuitive, because true love can be mundane, ordinary, passionless, plodding. And love shape-shifts to fit circumstances of tragedy and necessity, loss and age and death, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.


What I pray for is that the Master of the house may find you and I adventurous in our loving.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

No Vacations.

Can you imagine a scene in which there are ten contestants, pitted against each other at an international piano competition? Imagine further that five of them have constantly practiced their entries to perfection, and remained ever ready to be called to play. Meanwhile, imagine the other five contestants spending their time watching television and eating pizza and doing everything but practicing. If you can envision this, it won't take much imagination to figure out who would meet the approval of the judges.

This might be an example through which Jesus would approach us in our time, to make an important point about the ways of God. But, of course, Jesus was not aware of piano competitions, so he drew from what he knew. In this week’s gospel from Matthew 25, we find him telling about some maidens who were called to serve as attendants at a wedding.

In that time, weddings were great moments in the life of a village, with every resident participating. If the bridegroom came from another village, as seems to be the case here, there was no way to know exactly when he would arrive, and therefore it was not certain exactly when the wedding would begin. To compensate for this, maidens kept the bride company, awaiting the arrival of the groom with great anticipation. Of course, when it grew dark on such occasions, lamps were needed to see.

As soon as the bridegroom arrived, a festive welcome was made, and a torchlight procession led the couple to the place of the wedding. When the procession reached the appointed place, all entered, the doors were locked, and the festivities began. No one was admitted late. Jesus used this familiar setting for his listeners and us, to present a parable about ten maidens, five who were prepared for the eventualities and five who were not.

The wise ones had prepared. They had enough oil to last until the bridegroom came. They were ready. They knew what was required of them, and they did it. When the time came, they could act in a manner that was faithful to their culture.  The foolish attendants were unprepared. When their moment came, they lost the opportunity to help light the way. They were unable to act out their appointed role in the community. They lost the chance even to witness the wedding. 

Repeatedly Jesus shows us what God is like. Our God takes no vacations and never takes a break from offering love to us graciously. God never stops forgiving us and never ceases to watch over us. God never rests from the desire that we follow in his way. God never lets up on loving us, no matter how much we may rebel and stray. God is always ready.

For our part, as we seek to stay on the journey of faith, we live and move by doing and being what Christ has shown and taught us. We are to take no vacation from being prepared to act in keeping with the values we have been shown. We are called to imitate the wise maidens, remaining prepared, moving in accordance with our training, when the time comes to act.

And like the maidens in Jesus' parable, we do not know when or how we will be called upon. But if we remain always prepared, we will be able to act in accordance with the values we confess.  We are called to act our values and practice them, more perfectly, and with more dedication, than the wise maidens.

Although God's gifts are free, we are still challenged to be like the wise or the foolish
maidens? Will we be prepared to recognise and accept what God offers us? Will we recognise God's love, God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's joy, hope, and the wonders of God's creation? Are we prepared? As God presents us daily with challenges and choices, will we be ready?


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Practice What You Preach.

“Why don’t you practice what you preach?” Have you ever said those words? Maybe someone has said them to you. Hypocrites are people who pretend to be something they are not. They may say one thing and then do the opposite. They may act one way in a certain setting and then act another way in a different setting. It is very important that as Christians, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with. The words we speak and the things we do should always reflect our faith. Sometimes we are good at telling other people what they should do and how they should live, but we fail to follow our own instructions. We need to, as the saying goes, “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Some time ago, I saw a Peanuts comic strip that had Snoopy on top of his doghouse with a flock of baby birds. The time had come for the baby birds to learn how to fly, and Snoopy was their teacher. Snoopy flapped his ears and walked to the end of the roof of the doghouse. He leaped into the air and continued to flap his ears. Unfortunately, he landed right on his head. He got back up onto the roof and shared this lesson: “Do as I say to do and not what I do.”


In this week’s scripture from the gospel of Matthew 23, Jesus tells the crowds and his disciples to do what the Pharisees and the scribes teach them to do, “but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” In other words, the leaders talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Why is it important to practice what we preach? The most basic reason is the integrity of our faith; as we who call ourselves Christian are the body of Christ for the world.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” People should be attracted by the light of the way we live and the words we speak. Whether we like it or not, people are watching us and seeing how we respond to the ups and downs of everyday life. Children watch adults and then imitate what they see and repeat what they hear. Are our words and actions something we want repeated by our children? Our friends, neighbours, co-workers, family members, and classmates are watching us.

What evidence do we offer of our profession of faith? Are our responses any different from those of persons who don’t profess to know Christ? Not only are nonbelievers watching us, but so are other Christians. Persons who are new to the faith often look to more-mature Christians. Do our words and actions encourage and build up other Christians?

How do we all as members of humanity practice what we preach? One way is to be careful about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about a person by the words they use. You can tell even more by the words they use when they are distressed, angry, or threatened. In the letter called James, the writer tells us the tongue is very dangerous. It can set a great forest ablaze. Humans can tame, all kinds of animals, but we cannot tame the tongue. People are listening to the words we speak. Do our words build people up or cut them down? Do our words bring peace and calm to a situation or do they add fuel to the fire?


The words we speak are meant to match the person we claim to be. If we profess that we are followers of Christ, then our words need to reflect that relationship. We practice what we preach when we live our lives as reflections of the life of Christ. The way we act at work needs to be the same way we act at home, at church, around other Christians, in the supermarket, or waiting for a bus. I like the saying, “What you see is what you get.” It reminds us to try to act the same wherever we are. When people see us, they need to see a reflection of Christ. Do we live our lives in ways that reflect him?

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Spirit of Love in Touch.

The Spirit of Love in Touch.

“Would you like for me to pray with you?” I asked the elderly person I was visiting in the hospital. Without hesitation, “Yes, I would like that.” “Is it okay if I hold your hand as we pray?” “Please,” they smiled. I have no idea what I actually said in my prayer. However, after my “Amen” I heard the words softly offered, “I felt the Spirit through your hands as we prayed.” And as hesitant as I am to acknowledge it, I have come over the years to understand that they were right. I have often felt something too, when praying at the bedside with people facing the end of the life through either age or trauma.

The Spirit of God has expression in and through our touch. How we touch one another, when we touch, who we touch evidences our relationship, or lack thereof, to the Spirit of the Living God. In the Pentateuch, the Law was practised by the people of Israel as a way of life. It ordered the boundaries and social structures and the governance prescribing what is holy and profane. Profane— for all practical purposes, is defining “good” and “bad” touch. Though Moses and Joshua had been called by the Lord to the tent of meeting for the transfer of leadership, this week’s text from Deuteronomy states, “Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him.”


Christians baptise with touch. We offer the gifts of bread and wine with our touch. We anoint for healing, confirm, and ordain with our touch. Though we must, with preference and compassion, tend with great sensitivity those among us abused by unholy touch and those at risk of being hurt, the Church cannot deny the gift of the Spirit that can be revealed through our touch. God’s breath gives our bodies life, and Christ embraced our flesh. Let our touch testify to the Spirit of Truth at work in us and in the world.

Touch also signifies love and connection. Love begets love. It seems the more love you give, the more love you have to give. Love by loving. The way of loving God and neighbour is by loving God in neighbour and loving neighbour in the love of God. And loving the most difficult neighbour at that. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?”

John of the Cross says that in the end we shall be judged by love alone. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the world offers plenty of opportunity for the challenges of love. One only need to consider the behaviour of our brothers and sisters in the world let alone our leaders to see love, true love, the love of our God is desperately needed. The treatment by one gender to the other needs a lot of love and work as witnessed recently by those in whom we have put trust. Many of our politicians sadly do not show love and compassion to others in their day to day lives. Yet, we are called by God to respond to these people with love.


We hear in our scriptures, but here is “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The very foundation of that world is love. And, every step toward loving builds up the foundation of the kingdom of love. Often, I express that love of God deeply with touch. I share the love of God with contact. Sometimes I do so unaware of how that touch affects the other person, how it moves them, and they feel supported and loved. I hope and pray that my love is positive and of God. I hope and pray my touch is not negative in consequence but shows the love of our God. Without grounding in that love, I am nothing but not only that I disrespect the other. But with love . . .