Friday, 17 August 2018

Food for the Senseless

My blog is appearing a bit earlier than usual as having some time away. I was thinking about the readings from scripture that have been running over the last weeks has had a bit to do with food. After talking about the simple squashed sandwich last week, I was reminded that in the Eucharist, as in Baptism, simple elements reveal to us important truths about things deeply important to life. The Christian life has meaning as a life that is lived together in community. So, rituals and symbols remind us of things that are important. This is what the bread and wine, and water and oil, seek to express. That life is ours. Life by its very nature is plural. Life is lived together with one another.

So, life is lived together and for Christians, together with Christ. He dwells in us, and we in him. From the very moment we are baptised, such life is ours. Renewed and reawakened each time we take the bread, eat it, and say, "Amen."  Renewed and reawakened each time we look into the chalice and say, "Yes, I will share this cup with others as they share it with me. I will share this cup just as Christ shares his very life with me."

I am reminded of this through the following story. I’m not sure if it is true or apocryphal. A man came in off the streets obviously homeless, and just as obviously "different" than most everyone else present at that lunchtime Communion Service. It was just as the clergy were offering communion to the people. He came skipping down a long and glorious centre aisle, footloose and care free. Right up to the front of the church he skipped, stopping just in front of the Sanctuary party standing at the centre, one with bread and one with wine. He asked, quite plainly, "Is that there the body of our Lord Jesus Christ?" "Yes," answered the celebrant. "And is that there his blood?" "Yes," said the celebrant once again.

"Well then, I guess I will have me some of that!" exclaimed the man. And after eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, he skipped up the aisle and out the door filled to overflowing with what Jesus calls life. Then, in the familiar and customary fashion, everyone else said their own "yes" to share the cup with each other, with Christ, and with this most extraordinary Eucharist guest! Life lived sharing the common cup!

It had to be that way for Jesus' disciples the night before he died. Something they had done together every day with this man, breaking the bread and sharing the wine, suddenly and quite unexpectedly became a new and extraordinary experience. It was surprising when he said, "This is my body. This is my blood. Whoever eats this bread will live forever!" Suddenly table fellowship took on a whole new meaning.

Although we will never really know what happened that night, we do know it was as surprising and new, just like the homeless stranger who skipped into Church one day, extending the community of one flesh and one body in an entirely new way. We come to the table regularly, not finding it easy to come to it as something new and renewing and reawakening. Over time we tend to come, thinking: we know what this is; we know what this means. We come, we go. And life remains fundamentally the same as when we arrived.  But, God says to us, whoever is simple, let them turn in here!

We are to arrive in simplicity and check our bags at the door. Let go of what we "think" this is all about, and experience Eucharist as if for the very first time every time. Be open to whatever surprises our God has in store. The minute we think we "know" we are in trouble.  All my stale and old understandings are washed away. I want to preserve this moment and to hold onto this new insight into kingdom living. And then if I am lucky, I realise I am already creating new baggage to carry in the next time I come to this table.

Bread is not a mere commodity; things are not mere bits of matter. We can learn something of this from Jesus Christ, the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. When we allow ourselves to come to the table, in simplicity and awe, we find an abundance of life that can be experienced in no other way, at no other time, in no other place. It is food for life.  A life lived together in the body of Christ. It is a surprising new life. Life made new.

Friday, 10 August 2018

A Squashed Sandwich.

Food in the summer can be especially delightful. Probably not something we are thinking about now in the middle of Winter. However, what I am thinking about is a time when I was in my home town growing up and living with its seasons. If you live in the country or have a garden in your yard, in such a place the ripeness of the summer crop enriches all the senses; nothing can be more wonderful than a sun-warmed tomato off the vine or plump berries picked from lush bushes. The 30 plus Tomato plants of my fathers each summer bought the most tasty and wonderful fruit - ah the memories. Even city dwellers can get fresh food from farmers' markets: sweet corn picked early that morning from a farmer's field could be on your table for lunch.

In the summer, you can be out-of-doors more, which makes the nature images in scripture that much more alive to you. Many go on long hikes up mountains that did not seem so steep on the map? Hungrier and hungrier, achier and achier, concerned that the sky will never break through the trees, the hiker longs for the assurance we read in Deuteronomy: "The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these 40 years," or in my case 60 plus years. Nevertheless, by following the path -- "walking in [God's] ways and by fearing him" -- the trail begins to level out. The summit -- and your picnic spot -- approaches and you see a vista more marvellous than you could have imagined down there at the trail beginning.

You are tired and relieved when you get there. You are exhilarated and awestruck by where God has led you and what you see unfolding in front of you. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing.

There are other summer images of abundance: I think of children dancing in the spray of water at a pool, or the ice cream truck that drives through the neighbourhood right up to your door and has just what you want. Think of free concerts in city parks. Think of the smell of bread right out of the oven, standing on the sidewalk outside a bakery. Images like those would be the ones used if the Bible were written today about places where there were four seasons: images of abundance and grace, ordinary, simple and ever available.

Jesus' words about the bread of life rang true with his hearers. The image reminded them of the ancient prophets who used the "bread of life" to mean the word, the wisdom, that comes from God to humanity. Those who long for the knowledge and love of the Lord will find it in abundance and simplicity. It is no mistake that words everyone understands -- bread, water -- are used to tell us what the wisdom of God is like.

Climb that mountain and nothing tastes sweeter than the simple Vegemite and cheese or pickle and ham or tomato sandwich you packed that morning, the one that got a little squashed in your backpack. No vintage wine could be better than flowing water from the mountain stream. Walk down that sidewalk on a hot day and find refreshment that no king could equal by plunging into the cold water of the city pool.

Jesus uses those old images of the messianic banquet, the abundance of the fruits of wisdom, to say this to his hearers: the banquet is here now. You no longer have to wait. Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, follow the love God has showed you by loving those around you. We are called to pattern our relationships on the relationship God has with us, exemplified by the love Christ showed to us in his offering and sacrifice.

If you ever get the chance, enjoy the summer. I suppose we could say for us here that we should enjoy the winter. It is our text for these months, showing us the abundance of God's unfailing love, the extreme depth and abundance of the bread of life and the living water Christ offers us. Out of that abundance, we are called to respond in love. Have another sandwich. Take another drink from the stream. Get another ice cream. There is more than enough to go around.

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Bread That Endures

I enjoyed the following old Japanese story - a fable actually - about Tasuku - a stone-cutter. Tasuku was a poor man who cut blocks of stone from the foot of a mountain.  One day he saw a well-dressed prince parade by. Tasuku envied the prince and wished that he could have that kind of wealth. The Great Spirit heard Tasuku, and he was made a prince.

Tasuku was happy with his silk clothes and his powerful armies until he saw the sun wilt the flowers in his royal garden.  He wished for such power as the sun had, and his wish was granted. He became the sun, with power to parch fields and humble people with thirst. Tasuku was happy to be the sun until a cloud covered him and obscured his powerful heat.  With that, he had another wish, and the Spirit complied.

Thereafter Tasuku was a cloud with the power to ravage the land with floods and storms. Tasuku was happy until he saw the mountain remain in spite of his storm. So Tasuku demanded to be the mountain. The Spirit obeyed. Tasuku became the mountain and was more powerful than the prince, the sun, or the cloud. And he was happy until he felt a chisel chipping at his feet.  It was a stone-cutter working away – cutting blocks to sell to make his daily living.

How many of you know people who seem to be driven - unable to relax - unable to find satisfaction for more than a few moments at a time? There are people, a majority actually, who are constantly seeking something - they work, or they play, they build, or they drink, they join clubs and societies or they party, hoping to find in these activities some form of peace, some form of inner quiet, some form of satisfaction. - Yet, despite all they do, they continue to hunger and thirst. What are you looking for? What will make you happy? What will set your soul at rest?

As an aside, I have often wondered why men in general find these questions so hard to look deeply into. Why do men find it so hard to find some form of inner peace and quiet? Sadly, within Christianity one of the reasons I believe has to do with those denominations who pursue what Matthew Fox calls an “original sin ideology,” which seems to make men doubt their beauty and right to be here. These exclusivist and power orientated denominations seem to have this strange teaching about God as a punitive Father, which creates a toxic, punitive role model. These denominations also persist on a view of the Atonement called the penal substitutionary model that espouses an image of an angry vindictive God. No wonder our society is struggling to find inclusive cohesion.

Well back to Tasuku - he never found out - even though all his wishes were granted by the Great Spirit.  Nor - it seems did the people of Israel after they were led by God out of bondage in Egypt. They demanded water at Marah, - and what was once bitter was made sweet. They demanded bread and meat in the wilderness of Sin, complaining to Moses and Aaron that God had brought them out of the security of their bondage in Egypt only to kill them. To kill them with hunger, - and manna was provided - and meat - enough each day for each day. Yet within a few days, the people were complaining again to Moses and Aaron, complaining that God was trying to kill them, and their children and their livestock.

What were they looking for? They prayed, and God answered them. What would have made them happy? They complained, and God responded. What would have set their souls at rest? Their wishes were granted - yet they still were unsatisfied. What is it that you desire? Is it that which will allow you to "let go or is it that which will allow you to trust or even that which help you to face life with all its uncertainties? Or do you seek that which will only lead you to want more or to want something different? Do you seek the things of God or the things of this world?

When Jesus fed the crowd, all ate, and all were filled - all had as much as they wanted.  And they hailed Jesus as the prophet who was to come into the world.  And they sought to make him king:
   - for they realized that he could satisfy their hunger,
   - that he could free them from Roman control,
   - that he could put their nation on easy street.

Yet Jesus was not flattered by their interest in him when they sought him out after he crossed the sea. He knew what would last, what has the ability to truly satisfy, and what - by its very nature - is only temporary and passing, quick to wither and fade. "Very truly, I tell you", said Jesus, "You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life - which the Son of Man will give you."

Friday, 27 July 2018

Where Do Miracles Come From?

There is a contrast between the two apostle’s Andrew and Philip, that Jesus chose to accompany him and continue his ministry. Philip was the man who said: “The situation is hopeless; there is nothing to be done.” Andrew was the man who said: “I’ll see what I can do; (and after his experiences with God through Jesus) I’ll trust that through Jesus Christ God will do the rest. It was Andrew who bought the lad to Jesus, and by bringing him, made the miracle possible that we find written in John 6. If you like it, we could say Andrew enabled the event to take place. No one ever knows what will happen and what will come out of it when we bring someone or something to Jesus.

If a parent trains their child in the knowledge of God and in the love and fear/awe of God, no one knows what mighty things that child might someday do for God and humankind. There is a story of an old German school master who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. He was asked why he did this. His answer was: You never know what one of these boys may someday become. He was right – because one of these boys was named Martin Luther. This man was the man who encouraged the Church to re look at its direction and its relationship with God.

Andrew did not know what he was doing when he brought that lad to Jesus on that day. Today, we know that he was providing the material for a miracle. How often are we in the same position? How often do we have the opportunity to enable a miracle to take place? Do we instead miss those opportunities? We never know and may never know until we meet our God face to face. I sometimes wonder what if I have missed being there for Jesus but then remember that our God always provides us with new opportunities.

Those gathered around Jesus and his disciples did not have much to offer but out of what he had Jesus found were the materials for a miracle. It does not matter whether we accept the food multiplied literally or whether it encouraged all those gathered to share what they had. There would have been one great and shining deed fewer in history if that boy had withheld his loaves and fishes. The fact is that Jesus needs what we can bring to him. God needs all that we are. God needs our ears, our eyes, our voice and our heart and soul for his work here on earth
We may not believe we have much to bring but our God needs what we have. We may not believe we are worthy, but our God needs who we are for the sharing of his good news of love. It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Christ what we have and what we are.

If, we were happy to put ourselves out in service and in the service of Jesus Christ, there is no saying what Christ could do with us and through us. Scary isn’t it. It makes me reflect on whether I have the trust in God to open myself to such a way of life. Yet, it is important for us to strive for this as we go on our journey in faith and love.

In the Franciscan tradition of the Third Order we have a part in our Principles that talks about humility and says: The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism. We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s. We are to be ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy, or incapable we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.

There is another that tells us that joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships and persecution for Christ’s sake; for when we are weak, then we are strong. But I digress a bit.

Andrew bought people and in this case the lad to a point of decision and from that decision a miracle was able to take place. Are we ready to be involved? Are we ready to be God’s tools for love here on our earth? We may be sorry and embarrassed that we have little to bring and might think ourselves unworthy. Maybe that is rightly so, but that is no reason for failing or refusing to bring what we have and what we are to our God. Little is always much in the hands of Christ.

Friday, 20 July 2018

A Life of Compassion.

Have you ever moved to a new city? There are many things one can observe that takes the gloss of the initial joy of the decision to move. In many towns or cities, today we will see many homeless and come across many forms of begging. Perhaps it is a sign of the changing economy or maybe just the differences in geography, but these people disturb us both by their behaviour and their look. So, what is our response?

Seeing such things hopefully challenges us. Do we decide to do mission and raise money with garage sales, bags of food or other supplies or do we even raise money and give it to them? If we have children, I wonder how they would react or become involved. Maybe we would search those in need out and give them what we have put together.  In such an exercise are we able to, through the act of giving, experience the beauty of childlike compassion. I ask this question because as adults, our compassion is often hampered by judgment and cynicism. Have you ever watched children exercise a strong desire to help the hurting, even if it meant going out of their way?

As I thought about this I thought it might be a similar kind of compassion we find in Christ. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus' compassion is everywhere. He is constantly healing and helping. Mark 6 gives us excellent examples of Jesus' love and compassion even as he himself is exhausted and in need of rest. In the chapter we hear that he has called twelve disciples, calmed a storm and attracted large crowds wherever he travelled. Jesus has even returned to his hometown only to realise that those who knew him best are not going to receive him.

As verse 30 begins, Jesus and his disciples reunite to talk about all that has transpired, including presumably the death of John the Baptist. As they attempt to get away to a solitary place to eat and talk, a large crowd finds them. Although Jesus is probably in dire need of a retreat to process all that is going on with his disciples, he feels compassion for the crowd and teaches them, eventually performing one of his greatest miracles by enabling the feeding of more than 5,000 people.

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus again attempts to retreat, sending the disciples ahead to Bethsaida so that he can be alone and pray. He joins them later by walking on water to their boat, an act that totally amazes the disciples even after all they have seen. When they arrive at the other side of the lake and anchor their boat, they are again encountered by people seeking Jesus for healing, which even in his exhaustion, he does. I believe that we can learn three great lessons in this passage.

First of all, ministry is tiring. Obviously, the pace of ministry that Jesus kept is not something that we will ever experience in our lives. Whatever the pace, however, following God's call for your life and serving with all your heart takes a lot of energy. Even Jesus was tired sometimes and needed to be recharged. Often in our lives, we allow ourselves to be discouraged by our exhaustion. Instead of taking the chance to recharge ourselves physically and spiritually, we often just continue to attempt service with depleted energies or just give up altogether.

The second lesson we learn from this passage is about the depth of Jesus’ compassion. Even in spiritual and physical exhaustion, Jesus was moved to help those he encountered. He was so moved by their desperation that he stayed and taught and even fed them. In our lives, we rarely allow compassion to move us to that degree. Most of us, seem to find ways of successfully compartmentalising our ability and our willingness to help to the times that we believe we are ready and willing.  Jesus' compassion for the crowd motivated him to stay and be with them, even when the timing wasn't right. Our compassion it would seem to me needs to lead us. However, we must have times of rest from our labours, but we must not use that as an excuse to turn away from those in need.

There's one more thing we can learn from this passage. It's easy to read this story and wish that in our suffering we could see Jesus as the people during his life on earth did. The great news is that the compassion Jesus displayed for people during his life on earth is the same compassion he has for us. Just as he did for the crowds, Jesus cannot stand to encounter our suffering without helping. Whatever our situation, whether we are going through a temporary struggle or something more serious, like illness or poverty, like many of those we encounter by the side of the road, Jesus is moved by compassion for us. Jesus is there for us just as Jesus was there for the people in Mark 6. That love and compassion you show by not ignoring the needs of others is so important.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

'This Man is Disarmed and Dangerous.'

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. When Herod heard of Jesus and his works, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

In the early 1920s, Gandhi and India's National Congress Party began moving more and more towards civil disobedience as a political strategy to achieve independence from British colonial rule. In spite of violent setbacks to the cause and regular clashes with British authorities, which frequently landed him in jail, the founder of modern India never gave up his vision as he continued to walk his way throughout the country preaching the gospel of non-violent resistance.

As he did so, his reputation began to spread such that both Hindu and Muslim villagers would come from long distances on foot, with their bedding on their heads and shoulders, on bullock carts, and on horseback just to catch a glimpse of him. Never before, it seemed, had any political or perhaps religious leader, while still alive stirred the masses to their very depths throughout the country and received the homage of so many people.

Even the civil authorities had to sit up and take notice. Although they resented deeply what Gandhi was attempting to do, they could also not help but admire what he had come to represent. Eventually, the sceptical British Governor of Madras, who lost no love on Gandhi, was forced to declare that British Home Rule was now dealing with an entirely new political phenomenon. And this new phenomenon would bring fear because that this love is the kind of threat that the rulers of this world fear most.

In our reading from scripture Mark 6 this week we are taken into the world of Real Politick. Jesus has just finished giving instructions to his disciples about how they are to embody God's love in the world. Expect opposition and trouble, he tells them, but the only thing you need to take with you is the gospel and a confident faith. And then, Mark, as if to "slam dunk" his point reminds us of the story of John the Baptist; and he does it in a very deliberate way. He does it by reminding us of the fear of King Herod who is not the Herod the Great from the birth story, but his son who was called Herod Antipas.

Herod was despised both by his Roman masters and his Jewish subjects. He was the kind of ruler who thumbed his nose at Israel's religious laws. The particular political controversy that really stuck in John the Baptist's craw was Herod's marriage to Herodias and John publicly accused them of "living in sin".  Apparently, Herod feared John almost as much as he feared his wife. He knew John’s popularity and at least in prison he could keep an eye on him, as well as keep the peace in his own house.

The portrait painted of Herod is of a man who is transfixed with the very thing he fears and despises. Unfortunately, this fascination was not enough to convince him to change his life.  Although Herod apparently didn't know Jesus, he knew that something equally as powerful as John was stirring out there among the people. This reading is not just to remind us of the dangers of preaching the truth. It is to remind us of the delusions of the powerful.

What people then and today would have had doubts about was the effectiveness of truth-telling. Just listen to our politicians and those who lead our huge business’s.  Truth-telling is something they don’t seem to understand or be able to do. Would following Jesus and speaking the truth to loveless power ever make any difference in the end? Mark reminds us that even defenceless, unarmed, decapitated, dead men, like John the Baptist, come back to haunt the powerful of this world. They do, and recent Royal Commissions in Australia show us this.

One of the things that kept such moral and religious giants like Gandhi going in the face of such overwhelming odds was the profound conviction not just that love would eventually conquer, but that evil would defeat itself.  "When I despair," he said, "I remember that throughout history tyrants and dictators have always failed in the end. Think of it. Christians are part of what the prophets called a "saving remnant", that is to say, those who are called and do cast our lots with the courageous victims of this world.

If we then only do so, from the point of view of human survival, it seems that this is something better to do than allow wrong. The very nature of the predators of this world that must, by force, disturb the balance of nature in order to survive, eventually becomes too big to survive. They fall on account of their own monstrous weight. Resurrection, therefore, belongs to those who want it badly enough. So, does extinction.

Friday, 6 July 2018

When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong.

In the reading from the gospel of set for this week from Mark 6 we have the story of Jesus's rejection in his own town is a classic one - it is a story that most of us can identify with because it is a story that has happened to most of us. Often our families, our childhood companions, our husbands, or our wives, fail to listen to the wisdom and accept the words of grace and love and encouragement we offer - because they are too familiar with us. The people of our home town know us too well, and therefore they simply cannot accept, at times anyway.

Maybe we were that the boy who used to leave his dirty socks sitting on the kitchen table, or the girl who used to skip school and go hanging around the mall
can be for them God's appointed instrument. However how can we be the agent of God's healing and saving grace or how can they be that for us. I wonder if that is partly for this reason that the royal family of England strives very hard to prevent too much detail about the private lives of the royals from becoming public. I wonder if they fear that the more that is known about them, the less effective they will be able to be as the representatives of the nations of the

Queen Elizabeth calls the royal quest for privacy "not letting too much
sunlight into the magic". Consider the grumbling of the people in Jesus' home town when he spoke to them: "what is this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren't his sisters here with us?" And the scriptures go on to say that they took offense at him, and that as result Jesus was not able to do any miracles there, expect lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by his own and all because his own thought that they knew him, and it is often for the same reason that we are rejected, - too much sunlight has been let into the magic. But there is more to this story of rejection,
for the story of Jesus' rejection by his villagers, is also a story about how we ignore and reject God. We do reject because the call to a positive, loving and compassionate way of life may be too much for us to accept.

It is also a story about our unwillingness to be helped by God, or by anybody else;
an unwillingness which comes out of our own certainties our own knowledge, our own strength. For the people who lived in Jesus' home town, their knowledge of him as a youth prevented them from seeing God's power in him as an adult. But for most others the grace of God is shut out, not because they know Christ so well, but because they think they know what is best for themselves, and because they refuse to accept that perhaps they need help, that perhaps their understanding, and their own strength is getting in their way.

The road to spiritual wholeness is not travelled by exercising our own human powers, but rather by acknowledging our human weaknesses, and then, in that weakness, allowing God to exercise his power in us. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous probably understand the gospel better than most theologians - and indeed than most regular church goers. They will tell you that the key to turning their lives around was admitting their weakness, admitting that they were, are, and always will be powerless, powerless over alcohol.

Until we admit our weakness, until we stop being afraid of it, until we stop denying it, we can't find the help we need. There is nothing wrong with being out of control -  as a matter of fact it is good - for now there is room for God to    control you - room for God to help you - and room for us to show you that we love you too." After such a time a change can come.  We may not become perfect.
But we can become a little more sensitive to the needs of others. A confession of weakness became the occasion where God's grace, God's strength, finally could get a grip on our lives. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

To the world this is nonsense. Power and strength are worshipped by most people, and weakness is despised above all things. Sadly, the world teaches us to conceal our vulnerability, lest we be hurt, and it teaches us to hide our weakness, lest we be taken advantage of. The world teaches us to camouflage our inadequacies with self-confidence, self-reliance and self-assurance, so that we can build a heaven for ourselves here on earth.