Peace

Peace

Friday, 18 October 2019

Hopeful Expectation


We love to count and rank events, people, athletes, books, and so on. It seems that just about any time I turn on then Sports Channels or wait in line at the supermarket; I am bombarded with rankings and comparisons. Countless bookstore shelves and Internet pages are filled with sundry “Top Ten” lists. It’s not all that different when we come to our Christian Scriptures. Many of us probably have a verse that stands out and influences much of what we do, and that’s okay.

I think if we read the Christian Scriptures carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. This is not to diminish the lesser known, more minor elements, but there is no denying that certain parts of the biblical story give meaning to the rest and inform how the subsequent narratives are read. We would certainly argue for Jesus as number one on our list of “Top Ten Bible Characters.”

However, without previous events and figures (for example, creation, Abraham, the Exodus, and David), the narratives surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus wouldn’t be nearly as rich or meaningful. In fact, the four Gospels ooze complexity and meaning primarily because of that history.
Jesus’ own self-understanding was greatly influenced by his understanding of his own religious heritage.


Another event that should probably be in our top ten, is the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of Israel, for their theology, and for their future. The fall of Jerusalem fundamentally challenged the predominant view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of the Lord looks like. This has become an ongoing need and concern for Christians also.

The tragic failure of the Davidic royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanations and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presence. We remember from my blog two weeks ago that part of this painful search for meaning and truth includes authentic lament and truth-telling.

As devastating and traumatic as exile is, there is still a word of hope. This hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that it never ignores the past or present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn’t need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. In fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugar coated, fuzzy notion.

We may take this to heart when we hear the statement from Jeremiah 31:27-34 the remarks concerning the people’s current status? He says: “I have actively watched over you, my people, but not in ways you might have hoped or thought.” Now that sounds good. I like the sound of that as a follower of God. This spiritual path I’m on isn’t always easy, but it’s good to know that God is watching out for me. But God wasn’t done: “I have watched over [you] to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil.”


What kind of watchman does that? That’s not the kind of shepherd we want—certainly not the kind we think we need. The promised “coming days” are just around the corner, but they don’t erase a difficult past. Looking to the future means understanding how we arrived. Hopeful expectation means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we are powerless to make it happen

This knowledge is an indispensable ingredient of life in exile; this is a part of living away from one’s true home. But God isn’t finished with hope as we hear the powerful verbal images to describe the “coming days”: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all anticipatory verbs pointing to a new beginning, a new chapter. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins with the digging of a hole for a seed or with words like “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never really gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; troubled relationships don’t heal fully overnight; new habits are not formed in a day.

That’s probably just how most of our top ten biblical stories begin. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the reeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small but committed community of people who dare to bear the name Christian.



Friday, 11 October 2019

Gratitude.


This week I have been reflecting on how we respond to those who have treated us with care, loving and grace as we journey through life. Having lamented what, we have done to creation last week my thoughts turned to gratitude for the gift we have in creation and comes from reading Luke 17:11-19 from this week’s lectionary. Then I was reminded of the following little story I once heard and was struck by:

Her name was Edna Miller and she was about as plain as her name implied except when she was inside the walls of a classroom with chalk in hand. She stood barely five-foot tall yet could look eyeball to eyeball with the biggest bully in the school and stare him into repentant submission. And could she teach. Man, could she teach! She began teaching in 1922 and taught until she was compelled to turn in her chalk at the age of 65. She taught through the Depression, making fullness in the emptiness around her. She taught through World War II and was with the children as the telegrams, "we are sorry to inform you," began to arrive with the notice of their brothers' or fathers' death.


Through the years a middle aged woman with a parade of children and a husband would stop by her frame house and say, "you don't remember me, but you taught me in 7th grade and I just want to thank you for the difference you made in my life." Letters would appear around Christmas - "you probably don't remember me but you taught me in high school and believed in me until I could believe in myself....I have a good job now and a loving family and I just want to thank you." At the 50th class reunion of 1945, there was a huge celebration in her honour. And shortly after that, at the age of 95, Miss Edna Miller quietly slipped into the arms of God. But she died with joy. She had been thanked and remembered with gratitude.

As I reflected on this I was also reminded of a teacher I knew in Townsville that finally retired in her 70’s and I wondered what all those students who began their schooling with her over the years would say about the loving grounding in life she sought to give them which was based on her Christian faith. It also reminds me that we need to ask the question: Do we remember God, do we thank our God, and do we turn back with joy and gratitude? Do we remember that "we are the Lord's and not we ourselves" and pause to remember that it is God who protects us, feeds us with honey from the rock, cares for and nourishes us?

Returning to Luke’s story for this week we have with the returning grateful healed leper even more blessing because of his attitude of gratitude. Jesus said to the leper, "Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well." There is healing within the act of thanksgiving. The medieval Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck, says, "Those who do not praise God here on earth remain silent in eternity." Praise affects us - forever.

We live in a materialistic, individualistic, opulent society. And we forget the one to whom we owe all that we have - the God in whom we live and move and have our being. All too easily we think we did it all ourselves and glory in our rugged individualism. We cast in gold the bootstraps by which we believe we pulled ourselves up. Those who do not need God cannot know God. Dependency and thanksgiving hold hands when we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts of our Creator.

One of those with the disease leprosy that had been cured turned back - and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. We are called to allow these proud hearts of ours to declare at the feet of Jesus that we love our God, need our God and thank our God. Praise and thanksgiving come from the same word in Hebrew. They can be interchanged, one word for the other. When we thank God, we are praising God. And when we praise God, we are thanking God. The word "yadaw" in Hebrew for praise and thanksgiving means literally "to hold out one's hands." It is both a physical attitude of supplication and of receptive thanksgiving.


It is the posture we see on Sunday’s when the celebrant celebrates Eucharist with us, hands lifted as the prayers are said.  At the liturgy we pray, "Lift up your hearts...we lift them to the Lord." And at these words I can’t help but lift my hands in thanks which some of my congregation may find a bit puzzling. Then there are the words, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... It is right to give him thanks and praise." And indeed, it is right and good that we should praise and thank our God with our hearts, our lives, our very being.

Eucharist means literally "thanksgiving". Thanksgiving is the central act of worship, through the Eucharist, for gathered Christians. It is the heart of our worship together. God gives to us all that we are and to God we return it with thankful hearts. Thankfulness is the key to all true spirituality. Above all Christian’s remember the love Jesus Christ had for us one Friday afternoon upon a cross. "Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice."



Friday, 4 October 2019

In a Cryin’ Mood


I’m as blue as anyone can be
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m in a cryin’ mood.             (Ella Fitzgerald, “Cryin’ Mood”)

Most of us obviously can’t sing those words like Ella Fitzgerald, but some of us certainly identify with the mood they convey. No doubt many of us have been in a cryin’ mood at some point in our lives. When one looks at some the events around our world leaders it’s hard not to be in a cryin mood. Various events— whether they were good or bad—move some of us to tears rather easily. Others of us (me, for example) have not been accustomed to crying. Sure, there is the occasional shed tear, but weeping has been foreign to us, particularly in our early lives. Our culture writes songs about weeping and produces movies that cause us to cry, but do we really talk about crying or shedding tears?

And, if we do cry, we may even try to do so in private or conceal evidence of the tears that have rolled down our cheeks. Yet this week’s readings from the Old Testament (Psalm 137 and Lamentations 1:1-6) will not let us turn our heads from those who weep or shy away from those things that demand tears. Indeed, these passages bring weeping to notice and may even call us to be in a cryin’ mood. Some of us might be tempted to wonder what there is for the Israelites to cry about.

The readings are set to a background where many people have survived the Babylonian invasion. Many families of lower social standing have been left in Palestine to farm and raise cattle. Granted, the upper echelons of society have been taken into exile in Babylon, but they’re alive and well. In fact, they might even prosper. Life is not perfect, but it could be a lot worse. For the prophet, however, what’s not to cry about? Jerusalem is empty. Zion is lonely. Majesty is gone. Princes have fled. Judah departed a slave. Priests groan.

The psalmist includes weeping as an appropriate response to the devastation of Zion. Zion is only a memory. Harps are hung on willows (listen to the song, “By the Rivers of Babylon sung by Boney M). Captors taunt and torment. Edomites are to blame. Neither of these passages’ recoils from the horrors of exile; both are brutally honest about the most pressing issues of the day: religious backsliding, military failure, and incapable political leadership. The prophet and the psalmist express the concerns, worries, fears, and thoughts while also giving voice to a communal consciousness of lament. Just as we have our young feeling so desperate, that they openly march and lament what previous generations and us the current elders still alive have done to creation – the earth we have to live on and in.

Lament may not be a practice incorporated into most contemporary Christian worship, but for followers of Yahweh in the ancient Near East, lamenting was a familiar and necessary practice. Somewhere along the way, I’m afraid we’ve lost our ability, or possibly the willingness, to lament. Maybe this has something to do with the rugged individualism and optimism that can be traced to the early Australian and Kiwi experience. Or could it be a rampant identification of the gospel with particular political parties or patriotic concerns? Whatever it is, we don’t know how to do it—and we don’t know how to be around those who do.

We are hesitant to pay attention to our world and the suffering and injustice that inhabit its many dark corners. We refuse to name inequality or admit our culpability. We refuse to accept or want to see the trashing of God’s creation for which we have been appointed stewards for. In our striving for things, riches and our desire for all consuming growth without considering the consequences of our actions. We are hesitant to lament the widespread greed practised and espoused in our communities along with the desire for power to lord it over others.


We somehow lack the will (whether it be spiritual, moral, or political) to be brutally honest with ourselves in private or in public. We don’t lament; I doubt we even want to know how. We’ve forgotten what it means to weep over devastation and injustice. And in the process, I fear we’ve come to settle for explanations and justifications of the status quo, a status quo that overwhelmingly favours a few and ignores the plight of the vast majority. We’ve come to settle for explanations and justifications of a gospel that is more obsessed with personal blessing than universal justice and the exercise of compassion that Jesus demonstrated to us.

We’ve (and I include myself in this) have settled for explanations and justifications of a gospel that falls short of acknowledging our own shortcomings and blames only the sins of others. Our politicians cannot see a wider good for all humanity somehow. I’m afraid we’re ignoring the raw nature of passages like Lamentations and Psalm 137. Or, maybe the church is just not in a cryin’ mood and it’s utterly annoyed by those who are. Now, just as weeping and tears are powerless to change the past, bear in mind that neither of our readings implies that such honesty directed toward God effects an immediate reversal of undesirable circumstances.

It is commonly assumed that a good cry can be quite healthy, whereas rigid avoidance of tears is unhealthy, which gives me hope that we are capable of recovering the practice of lament as seen in today’s readings. Individual and communal laments are voiced for us and by us, but they are ultimately directed toward God. God alone is the ultimate recipient of our honesty, anger, rage, discontent, and lament. So, come sit by the river with me and hang your harp next to mine; we’ve a song to sing of Zion, and I’m in a cryin’ mood. I’m in a cryin mood as I sit writing and reflecting on today’s world gifted to us by God and our failure to steward it wisely.



Friday, 27 September 2019

Do We Get the Point?


Prior to this parable in the second part of Luke 16 in the three-year lectionary, we have heard a lot of talk about wealth and poverty. Having heard or read these scriptures do we get the point yet? No? Backtrack to last week, where in the first half of Luke 16 we met a financial manager who was similarly caught up in the things of this world. This man saw his own economic stability fading because he squandered the wealth of one of his clients, and only upon finding out that he was about to lose it all did he become an imaginative and energetic financial whiz. This was due primarily to the fact that, like the man for w
hom he worked, he had made wealth his master.

This week we meet a rich man and a poor man. These two, along with Abraham, have taken up residence in the afterlife. Abraham was the consummate waiter, a man who was promised some land and some descendants, and then waited, and waited, and waited. After the long-awaited arrival of his son Isaac, Abraham was later willing to give up his own flesh at the behest of God. It seems, then, that Abraham is the perfect figure to mediate between the rich man and Lazarus.

Famously rich himself, Abraham’s willingness to part with Isaac makes it seem as though any other material thing would have also been sacrificed had God asked him for it. At any rate, he is clearly in a favourable position in the afterlife, and a man who was previously a beggar in his earthly life finds some comfort right next to this famously wealthy Old Testament figure. Meanwhile, the man who was rich in the earthly life can’t find any relief.

Do you find some comfort in the rich man’s eternal torment, in this reversal of roles from one life to the next? Do you, like me, even want to hear Lazarus taunt the rich man from the safety of where he is? The rich man, after all, ignored the hunger of others while having plenty of leftovers at home in the fridge. Well, the exchange seems just right to me. However, I would have to ask you not to confront me with the fact that I should be able to see that I too am among the wealthy (you, after all, are probably right there with me).

It might seem refreshing—this word about justice—coming from this man Jesus who is always preaching about grace. But most important, all of our passages from this series make the point that following God is not simply about intellectual belief. In spite of what many have said, belief in the right God or doctrine is only part of what it means to be a person of faith as it is depicted in Scripture. Jesus presupposes that there will be solidarity.

The faith presented to us by other Gospels and epistles talk of this. Paul implies in Romans that the renewal of our minds will lead to the transformation of our character. James emphasizes that “faith without works is . . . dead.” Or remember Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats. You know, the one in which he boldly teaches that in as much as you have helped or harmed “the least of these,” the poor among us, you have helped or harmed God and will be judged accordingly?

Christianity is a belief in the sense that you are so attached to a truth that it causes you to go out and do something. As James put it, you are to become a doer of the Word. Even in Jesus’ time, this understanding of following God was not new. Jesus could immediately envision Abraham saying to the rich man who wanted to “go back” and warn his relatives, “Listen, they have Moses and the prophets . . . you had Moses and the prophets.” I imagine Jesus himself saying later to a few of the disciples, “Look, some of this is old stuff, it is tried and true. I’ve just come to fulfil this.”

He knew that Deuteronomy 15 emphasized that the rich have a moral responsibility to help the poor, that Amos’s God is relentless in his criticism of the people when they do not care for the poor. Amos even proclaims that of such unthinking persons, the Lord says, “I will crush you.” All of Scripture, then, tells us that our faith doesn’t stop at intellectual belief, and that piety cannot end at our front gates. Justice and righteous as given to us by God and shown to us through his Son Jesus Christ don’t stop before it’s our turn to act. It doesn’t stop before it gets to our hearts. We are the bearers of justice and righteous for all God’s creation here and now.

Lazarus in his earthly life slipped right through the cracks, kind of like that old lost coin from our Gospel reading two weeks ago. Lazarus too is found by the great Searcher, but the Gospel for this week is just as tough: whereas we have found Lazarus, we meet a rich man who is utterly lost himself, and we must wonder whether he will ever be found. Not because of his wealth— again, Abraham better than anyone knew wealth—but because he was blinded by it instead of using it for good. Is this just? Is this love? May God use these difficult words to give us a heart for the lost—the poor and rich alike.



Friday, 20 September 2019

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.

Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England in 1512, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves. 


As the dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.


Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us see continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In Deuteronomy, Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.
The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 

Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Citizens of the Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. More “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. This day, may our prayers for ourselves and for each other be to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us, and, thereby, discovering the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.



Friday, 13 September 2019

The Disturbing Quality.


Fifty years ago, many of us were fascinated by a set of images or words coming from our media that became part of who we were. Images of the far away moon and representatives of humanity walking there have become part of who we are. Eighteen years ago, a set of images became part of our culture. The collective consciousness of the world expanded to include images of buildings and people falling, images of planes crashing and exploding, images of exhausted first responders. Alongside those images are sets of mental pictures, where we were and who was with us on September 11, 2001.

In the days of the exodus, a set of images became part of Israelite history. God’s chosen people amassed images of their escape, of the destruction Yahweh brought down in plague after plague, of an angry pharaoh chasing after his slave labour as they fled into the desert. The exodus created images of walls of water piling up for the weary nation to cross a riverbed; and in the journey to their freedom, the people of God gathered up images of pharaoh’s great army swallowed up in an unforgiving sea.

Yet in Exodus 32, we struggle to understand a people who conspired together to form a more concrete image of a god, one they could create and touch, one they could understand and control, one they could move and manipulate. The images of past deliverance were not sufficient for their faith. They sought more than the image of a past experience. They pursued an image of God’s presence; but like many of us searching for certainty, they shaped an image of God’s absence. The disturbing, living quality of Yahweh, God is that no image can hold God’s full presence.


And, while images of our life and world will replay around us, we are challenged to see God somewhere in all of them— in that first step onto a far celestial body by humanity, in the first responder’s courage, in the trembling wall of water on either side, in the idea that sometimes we need to change our minds. But as we come back to earth and focus on what is important what are we asked to do by our God.

As we pick up on the reading from Luke 15, we are given a challenge to our focus in life. What do I owe the ninety-nine? I wander far, slipping heedlessly over sliding gravel, jumping doe-like over crevices, relying upon my own grace. Maybe not so much wandering as running away. Panic obscures my memory and my motives. I descend through the canyons until I’m immobilised by abysses that stretch too wide to cross, rock buttresses too narrow to squeeze through. Weakened, I can’t retrace my steps. Just as I surrender to despair, there you are. You sought me and found me and carried me home. Our God has been with us and supported us as we have taken this journey to seek those who are lost.

Here’s my question and a challenging question for us all. What do I now owe the other ninety-nine? The ones waiting patiently, staying obediently with the flock? Did you see their looks of envy and reproach? How do you get to nuzzle against his shoulder, carried on his sweet back? You don’t deserve it! We were faithful, we stayed with the flock and look at you carried shoulder high like a triumphant athlete, laurel leaves for your lies and selfishness!


Like the prodigal’s older brother, they refuse to come to the angelic party given in my honour. What do I owe them? I’d drink to their happiness—if I hadn’t given up drinking. They reject the gift of my gratitude. The ninety-nine banish me to the solitude I sought in the first place. They turn me into a fool. A fool for love. And wiser than I was. Our world can gape in awe at events both positive and challenging in our history, but they pale in the eyes of our God and yet again the question comes of how we acknowledge our God’s presence.

In these scripture readings Jesus and the writers tell us that there is a God who comes to save the lost. God knows us, knows our hiding places and the little nooks and crannies that we slip into from time to time, and he comes to save us. Salvation always looks different than we expect it to—sometimes pleasantly different, and sometimes it looks like rehab, marriage counselling, a job you wouldn’t ordinarily want—but a job is a job is a job.  

We should also never forget that God has a body, the church, and that sometimes God retrieves us through this body. Pastor is Latin for “shepherd,” and in a sense, we are all called to be pastors, shepherds— gatherers of lost people—through our comings and goings, our liturgies, our various gifts. As Christians we ask that our God may give us the diligence to search for the lost and the wisdom to know what to do after we find them.



Friday, 6 September 2019

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.


Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves.

At that time, the medieval style of interpretation of scripture had concentrated on identifying an element of church doctrine, enumerating it point by point, and developing a supporting argument through the use of selected biblical texts and quotes from Church Fathers. In contrast, Colet began with the biblical text and developed a direct interpretation of it. He focused on the writer of the text and its context, rather than focusing on doctrine and tradition.

Colet felt that the teachings of scripture could be taught in such a way as to be easily understood by almost anyone. His approach was to read a whole unit of text, as opposed to an isolated passage. Then he tried to discover what the original writer had tried to say.  In Colet’s hands, the Epistles of Paul were not a string of riddles but the letters of a real people. Colet wanted to understand for himself, and to help others understand, what the writers intended.

As the Dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though, his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.

Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.

The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 

Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Generally citizens of Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. It seems that more “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put

the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. I wish that this day our prayers for ourselves and for each other be prayers of seeking to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us. This would then enable us to discover the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.