As I sit here, at the dawning of a new day, it’s slightly weird, but in some ways refreshing.
I have been out for a walk, well a jog and walk, got to keep healthy, been up to woollies for some toilet paper, not for me but for my neighbourhood in case people have to go into lock down. I also got flour, as I thought, rather crazily, that I might bake a few things to give to people to cheer them up. I think as a reminder that they are not forgotten behind their doors! In this I take the example of Alex Sloan, who used to make pumpkin scones and delivered them far and wide.
I now am trying to learn how to use zoom, as I have to run tutorials tomorrow with my UWA students from home, and thinking up ways to keep the church congregation engaged, connected and positive. I have even thought of streaming or at least videoing our church services which have gone into recess, to put on our new webpage, soon to go live!
Suddenly, like many, I have to become more adept at IT, and the online world.
As I sit here the door is open and the breeze is flowing in, gentle and comforting. The sky is blue and the lake and trees where I walked this morning were glistening in the sunlight.
I hear the love shared from across the road as my beautiful neighbours say goodbye to their daughter and her son.
Yet I know, reinforced because I was a RPH last week, that there are many people working on our behalf. Doctors and nurses who have to don protective gear, which is incredibly daunting to wear, in order to properly nurse patients and care for those who are ill. I had to practise putting it on and off in case I am called as part of my role as an oncall chaplain. My anxiety levels went high just doing that!
So let’s do what we can to minimise the infection rates, and send our love and thoughts to all those working to keep the rest of us healthy and well. Not only the medical profession, but those in research, those teaching others, both in schools and universities, those looking after the marginalised, the homeless, and the less well off. Those who are delivering as fast as they can, food , and yes toilet paper, and those working still in shops and supermarkets and pharmacies.
I am lucky, as I sit here, for I know in my heart that life will go on, It may be slower, and less complicated ( although I think IT is pretty complicated) but it will go on, for life has a habit of doing that. Just when you think all hope has gone, suddenly a green shoot pops it’s head out.
Easter this year is going to be a lot different than normal. But the message is the same. There is death, but there is also resurrection. In our lives and in the life of the world.
Out of the darkness will come the light.
There is a poem from Wendell Berry, in which he urges people to practise resurrection. I love it. Here is an extract from it –
Excerpts from Wendel Berry’s Poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer liberation Front”
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mould.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Perhaps we to are to practice resurrection, as Wendel Berry says in his poem, today. We are to live as though resurrection is always possible, within ourselves but also within others, and within our world. And work towards it with God’s help, transforming life out of death, hope out of suffering, compassion out of apathy and community out of profound alienation. To create a new society, a new creation based on love.
In this extraordinary time, maybe that’s a good aim to have. Just a thought!!
John 4: 5-42
I was at Uni yesterday teaching evolution, it’s only for 1st years so the level is quite low. To open the lab I asked the kids to do a brain storm on the board, dividing the board in half. On one side they were to write all the reasons they could think of as to why one shouldn’t learn about evolution, and on the other side all the reasons one should.
On the negative, most said it was boring or there were too many facts, but they all had long positive lists, which included finding out more about who we are, where we have come from, and how we are to go forward. Some also included the idea that evolution gives us a window of how related we are to one another and to all of creation.
However, all my groups said that one reason not to learn evolution was because it clashed with faith. Or as one smarty pants put it, God says no!
Although I was expecting this, it still comes as a shock. They all think you can’t believe in evolution and God, as though the two are mutually exclusive.
I always like to address this idea subtly, and explain that while there are some people of faith, all faiths, who believe the bible literally and therefore might find evolution tricky, the vast majority of people see their scriptures as story, myth, poetry, prose and some history woven together into a message about what it is to be human and where and how we find the divine.. And they wouldn’t have a problem with the idea that we come from a line of monkeys or are even related to broccoli.
We didn’t discuss it further but it’s crazy how that idea persists.
In some ways it’s about knowing. They, as 17 yr olds, generally think the only way of knowing is through science. Give me the facts and I will understand the world. But there is another way of knowing, what Rob Bell called mythos, about what lies beneath the facts, that lies in our experiences and our awareness at a very deep level. It cannot be measured other than our outward reality, of how we live and interact with people.
I think this is what the reading today from John is all about. And because we see in Jesus the God of our experience, we understand it through his eyes, his life, his teachings. He leads us on the path of knowing.
Today we have the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jacobs well. This, while following the same theme as the Nicodemus story we heard last week, operates from a completely different perspective. Rather than a pious well off Jew, who could not get this head around the spirit of God being present in all, and giving life to all, regardless of whether you believed in his miracles or followed the Torah law, the facts of his day, we have a Samaritan women, despised by the Jews. A woman who had very little power or position in society, and was probably also a sinner and outcast, considering her marital status. So Jesus speaks to a Samaritan, a woman and a Jew. Already very countercultural and probably quite dangerous.
What is the message? Jesus quickly moves from his request for well water to his offer of living water. As with the born again statement from last week, the phrase has both earthly and heavenly connotations. Jesus is offering the spirit of life, the living water of God, that is more true than the well water, or a spring to quench the woman’s thirst. Rather this is a spring that leads to love and compassion, justice and peace. It is as essential as water, leading us to a life that can be rich and full of meaning, or as Nev would say, to fullness of life. A truth hidden behind his words.
But there is more to the story, that also speaks to us about how we should live with one another. Another hidden layer.
The Samaritan woman, thinks firstly that Jesus is a prophet, and then maybe the Messiah. Either way she bears witness to what he has said, which is itself shocking. Why would the town people take the word of this outcast woman about a Jewish man they had never met? The power of the woman’s faith alone, contrasting with Nicodemus’s official authority is amazing.
So the story today is also a story of inclusion. From Nicodemus to the Samaritan woman, God’s love is not simply for the Jews from whom the story begins but for the entire world. Gods spirit is in all and for all people, not just the rich and well off, not just the educated and elite, but all people. Black white, rich or poor, male or female.
And not just for those who are righteous, or think they are righteous. We are human and make mistakes, but the divine presence does not leave on a whim and return when we get things right. God is on the journey with us. Life is messy and the God of the universe is right there with us.
As Jack Spong says, “Jesus is a barrier breaker. Before him falls the human division first between Jew and Samaritan then between women and men and thirdly between sinner and saint. A vision of the realm of God begins to come into view”.
So whether you believe the story really happened or not, or whether the well is really “the well” found in Israel, doesn’t matter. For this is the essence of who Jesus was to the writer of John. Radical, inclusive, loving and compassionate. Jesus represented, reflects, embodies God in these characteristics, these qualities.
As Paul Tillich puts it, “the particularity of Jesus life and message points to the universality of God’s love and presence”. Every person is a God carrier, a tabernacle of the holy spirit.
So Jesus points us to a grander vision of life, for us and everyone and for all of creation, one that everyone can experience.
This is the truth of this story. A truth of his story. A truth as powerful as anything science can dish up.
This is one of the shortest posts I have written. In a time of uncertainty, when kindness and patience and love are needed, there is still also time for joy. Let me share a wonderful poem from the wonderful Mary Oliver. It’s called “Don’t Hesitate”, and it’s for everyone.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
I was trying to get myself organised the other day, a constant battle, and so was attempting to get rid of the thousands of emails that have piled up in my inbox, 20,000 to be exact!
I know, I know, it’s outrageous that I have that many, but somehow I can’t seem to delete them. And I was wondering why?
But pondering this question has led to me to some home truths about myself. Maybe I find I can’t let them go, not because I might need them one day (which I sometime use as an excuse), but because of my inability to embrace the something new in my life, which is largely unknown. So I tend to stay in the past, surrounded by reminders of it, hence the emails. The emails detail what has gone before, and show me the life I and my family and community and the world have had, rather than facing and embracing what is going on now and in the future for us all. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have memories or photos, but if we get stuck in the past, reliving times that have gone, it affects how we live in the present and is counter-productive to planning a future. While we can learn from the past, sometimes we have to let it go!
But there is something else going on with me, which I only just realised lately. It’s a bit like any artist or writer, you are only as good as your last song, or last book, or last blog. I keep all the things I have written over the years, and sometimes revisit them to remind myself, that yes, I could write back then, and yes, I did have some interesting thoughts that may have helped a few people. When you come to a new page, you are again in that space where doubt can enter through the side door. Can I still write, do I still have some good ideas, will people still read them? I sometimes have this feeling when I sit down to do a service or write a sermon ( as I work part time as a minister in a local progressive church). Even though I am supposedly channelling the spirit, it is often lonely when the page is empty of words and meaning. And the spirit seems quiet. It is easier to go back and look at what I have written in the past then to be brave and write something new.
But then I read a lovely column by the writer Anne Lamont, “The 12 truths she has learnt about life and writing”. Although they all spoke to me, there was one that I loved, number 6..
“Writing. Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honour. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little. When my older brother was in fourth grade, he had a term paper on birds due the next day, and he hadn’t started. So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book, paper, pencils and brads — for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads — and he said to my brother, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans and then write about pelicans in your own voice. And then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. And then geese.”
So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.”
I am not sure I was born to write, but I do get that urge to put pen to paper, regardless of the fear that people might not care.
Maybe that doesn’t matter, and we become who we are by doing what we are called to do, regardless of whatever other people think.
For me, I write how I see the world, how I see God (whatever that term means) and my faith journey, how I see how my community and how I see myself. And I try to do it honestly and with thought and with love. But I don’t confess to have any more answers than you, whether it is a sermon or a blog or even some notes on a page.
But I am going to do it more often, and stop looking back but look forward, for as Anne said, I am going to “keep my butt in the chair”, and edit that awful first draft until it’s a 10thor 100thdraft! For in the end its my voice and I want to share “the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of my heart”, with you all!
PS. By the way I am slowly getting rid of the emails!!!
Readings: Matt 5:1-20
Today, as I said previously, we are making a 2020 commitment. A commitment that leaves no one in any doubt about who we belong to and how we might live.
I feel it’s a bit like a wedding ceremony, that I often perform between people who have been living together for some time. Seems like that is always the way with my prospective couples, sometimes they may even have children. So what makes them suddenly decide to get married. It’s commitment, they want to make a commitment to love and cherish each other that’s public and binding. I often use a quote from the novel, The Brothers Karamazov in the ceremony. It goes like this …
“Love in your dreams is such a marvellous and glorious thing. Yet love in reality is active, labour and fortitude.”
The couple in question are making a decision to commit to one another in love, in good and not so good times. And it’s a beautiful decision.
So what is the commitment we are making today. It’s a commitment to the way of Jesus, to his life and teachings, which will be at odds not only with a lot of our secular world right now, but actually with many of our fellow Christians. So a commitment that is also made in good and not so good times.
The novel, “The Brothers Karamazov is a classic, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For those who are reading Jim Wallis’s new book, “Christ in Crisis”, this will sound familiar. Apart from the quote I used before, Dostoyevsky’s story within a story recounts the tale of the grand inquisitor. How Jesus comes back to earth during the days of the inquisition, when religious leaders were controlling, imprisoning and killing their fellow Christians and Jews, all in the name of Christ. The unwelcome return of Jesus results in his arrest, and the grand inquisitor himself comes down to Jesus cell to confront him. The inquisitor explains that the church of that time had been able to keep people in line and therefore create an organised and complacent society. Everything is working perfectly, the inquisitor argues, without allowing the people free with all its messiness. If Jesus is released, all he will do is mess things up. Throughout the encounter Jesus says nothing but simply responds with the kiss of peace.
As Bishop Michael Curry, the writer of the introduction to Wallis’s book remarks, “the contrast is a powerful one. There stands Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and teachings are a threat not only to the surrounding society but, sadly to the church that professes his name but tries everything possible to keep him and his message hidden away from view”
Maybe the truth in this story is the truth of today.
Today we have many people who are worshipping Jesus rather than living his way. People who confess to be Christian but act as though they hadn’t read the gospels. Somewhere along the way a disconnect between his teachings about the poor, about justice and compassion, and how people are to treat one another has occurred. Somehow this seems to have gotten worse in our global world. Right wing politics, fear and exclusion, out and out lying and misinformation seem to be the order of the day, and seem to be coming from people who are supposedly followers of Jesus.
Rev Prof. Bill Loader, at his talk the other night, showed how embracing the message of Christianity can lead to either inclusion or exclusion. It depends on how people see the good news, to be shared with everyone for everyone, or hoarded for a privileged few.
So sometimes we need to stop and review where we are, where we are heading. And remind ourselves what the good news actually is. As Jim Wallis says, we shouldn’t go right or left, but deeper.
In many Christian circles, both progressive and evangelical, and throughout the history of Wembley Downs Uniting the life and teachings of Jesus have been and are central to faith. Whatever you believe about Jesus death and resurrection Jesus was a man who lived a life for others. We hear this message mostly in the form of story, parables, which turned things upside down. Think of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, a persistent widow, the mustard seed and the sheep and the goats to name a few.
Yet it wasn’t just parables or shorter sayings that he used. It was also found in his actions, eating with people seen as sinners, including women, and in his speeches, most notably the sermon on the mount, which was last week’s reading but we read again today. While probably not given all at once as recorded, the sermon reflects a manifesto for life, a way of transforming and the making the world better. This list, the beatitudes, are the essence of the gospels for many of us.
Today we also heard what comes after the sermon on the mount. Jesus commands his listeners to go out and be salt of the earth, a light to the world.
This is where the disconnect occurs for me most strongly.
Jesus doesn’t say, go and worship me, exclude those who don’t believe what we believe, and by the way, heaven is waiting so don’t be too worried about what is happening here on earth. No, he says, go out and be salt to the earth, and a light to the nations. And follow my way of living. Protect and support the poor, the marginalised, the widows, eat with sinners, form communities, be peacemakers, speak truth to power, and unfortunately, possibly even suffer because of it.
I try hard not to judge those who understand the Christian faith differently to me, but somehow we have to reclaim his message and his way. Jesus did not come to save a few, but everyone, and he did it by showing us how to live with one another within Gods spirit of life and love. We are called to follow him in enhancing life while also shining a light where darkness has taken hold and where people suffer because of it.
Which leads me back to Jim Wallis’s book, “Christ in Crisis”. He along with many others also recognise that Christianity has lost its way. Jesus has become an idol which people worship, but not a leader who we are to follow.
He, together with a number of other church ministers have put together a public statement, in an attempt to reclaim Jesus for the world. It has everything to do about Jesus teachings, and the God of life and love he reflects and nothing about Jesus as a personal saviour. It was written for lent in 2018 and up to now over 5 million people have supported it.
It is called “Reclaiming Jesus: A declaration of faith in a time of crisis” and reflects how they saw we are to be salt and light to the world.
While It is firmly aimed at America and the current President of the United States,
I still want to show you what it says….
It’s not an easy thing, to live to these ideals, really live them .
What my young and not so young couples in my wedding ceremony are signing up for is not the love of a romance novel or a dream, but the mystery of love in real life. Love that requires commitment, fortitude and sometimes labour. Because the love that is affirmed at a wedding is not just a condition of the heart, that comes and goes, but an act of the will. And the promise that this love makes is to will the others good, even sometimes at the expense of our own.
When Jim Wallis calls us to reclaim Jesus what does it mean. It means joining all those who love what Jesus loved, whether they are people of faith, different faiths or no faith to become the best we can be, as individuals and as a community and a world. To be more inclusive, more compassionate, more loving. To will the others good, sometimes at the expense of our own.
A huge promise, but a beautiful, exciting promise. For it speaks to us of what human life at its most human and its most alive and most holy must be. Even through the ups and downs of our messy, chaotic, joyful and sometimes sorrow filled lives, we can all become bearers of Jesus’ vision that can change the world.
This is our commitment today and always.
Here is my sermon I preached on Sunday, just before the New Year and New Decade. New challenges for us all!
The reading used was –
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
I had a sermon prepared for today, I thought quite a good one, and then I went to the movies on Friday night. I came home and wrote this one instead.
The movie was called Jo Jo Rabbit, a satire on Germany during world war two, told through the eyes of a 10 year old German boy, who wanted to be a Nazi. It was uncomfortable in parts, because it uses humour to show the complete ridiculousness of the war, of Hitler, of the propaganda about the Jews, and the horror of brainwashing young minds in order to control a population. Us and them is the name of the game, but in the end no one wins, least of all the average person.
The movie ends up being an extremely powerful statement about how history can repeat itself or not, how the influence of those around us can change how we see and understand things, and how the sacrifices of some allow others to live. Jo Jo Rabbit, the main character has a mother who is working for the resistance, and is hiding a Jewish girl, while Jo Jo is in the Nazi youth. He comes to understand through meeting the girl that things are not quite as they seem, and power corrupts. In the end, and I don’t want to spoil it, it is a tale of hope.
Today is almost New Year’s Eve, a time when we are beginning to think about 2020. Christmas is over, both the secular festival and the celebration of Jesus birth. It is a time when real reflection can occur. What is this new day, this new way of living Jesus is announcing. It is time to focus on the repercussions of his birth and life, not just its joy, for us and the world.
To do this it seems that stories help, stories that give us a sense, of where we have been, what is the current reality, and what is the future. I saw Nev the other day and he gave me a draft of his ultimate sermon. Now he has written a number of penultimate sermons but this is the first time that it may be his last. He gave it to me to read, which I took as an honour.
It is vintage Nev, and in the end he summarises the Christian faith in a way I think he has been talking about for some time. I don’t think he will mind me referring to it as it fits beautifully in a sermon given close to the new year.
It’s about past present and future, being one reality, based on a quote he loves from Albert Einstein. While Einstein was talking about physics, Nev applies it to the Christian faith. The distinction between them is just an illusion for Nev, for we are influenced by the past, live in the present and are being pulled or pushed into the future by a God who is leading us forward in hope.
In the movie, past, present and future are to be found. The past, the history of the German people, the history of the Jewish people, the remnants of the previous world war have all conspired to produce a hidden animosity, which is preyed apon and exaggerated until it becomes deadly. Jews with horns, Jew’s who conspire with the devil is the food that JoJo feeds on.
Then the reality of the current time hits. He befriends the hidden girl and his views become changed. He sees the sacrifice of his mother and others to protect them both. People who give their lives so that others may live. He finds out that the reality sometimes doesn’t match the rhetoric. And then there is the future, as Jo Jo survives the war, with a new vision of what it is to be a human being, influenced by all that has gone before. Hope rises from the ashes of the death and destruction.
A very powerful movie. As some movies are.
Today we have a very powerful scripture reading. Matthew is the only gospel to recount this story, and we hear the awful slaughter of the innocents as a sudden pause in our Christmas reverie. The writer of Matthew uses the story of Moses and other Old Testament prophesises to place Jesus within the history of Israel, the past, but also to show what the future may be like to people who question the system and those with power. What challenging it really means. We hear the cries of Rachel as the cries of the mothers in Jesus time. The current reality for those living then. But as the reading ends, we have Jesus and his family return to Nazareth, to begin the life we know, the life from which our hope in God arises.
Again Past, present and future, in one reading. A very powerful reading.
So today we have a scripture reading and a secular film, I love that, the sacred and the secular bringing a hidden truth to us.
So what to do with it. Well I would like us to examine our own lives, and that by focussing on our past, present and future, our faith and God’s call may become more real.
So let’s begin with the past, and for us as individuals it has a lot to do with our memories, full of joys, experiences and sometimes regrets. And it’s the regrets that are the most harmful.
The past holds many ghosts that can ultimately influence the rest of our lives if we are not careful. Regret for things done and not done, said and unsaid, and pride which prevents us accepting our faults, can break a spirit and destroy the love for ourselves and for others that makes us whole. This is why forgiveness is so central to the gospel and to Jesus ministry. Because without forgiveness the past keeps repeating itself until the flicker of renewal is diminished.
It has taken me a while to realise the link between the God we worship, who sometimes can feel a bit distant and the forgiveness we feel as part of the human race. For me God is the creative spirit that drives all of life, found within all of life, and in acts of forgiveness this spirit is truly reflected. Forgiveness for us, for others, and for communities is the essence of God. Forgiveness allows healing, it allows for a new start, it allows people to suddenly belong on the same team, to see each other as brothers and sisters instead of enemies. It allows relationships to develop and redevelop and the oppressive burden of guilt to flow away. We forgive not merely to fulfil some higher law of morality, we do it for ourselves. Quite often the only person to benefit from the forgiveness is the person doing the forgiving.
There is no greater sign of the creator God than the renewal that comes from forgiveness.
So as we approach the coming new year, it is essential for us all to allow Gods spirit to reach into our hearts, and through forgiveness, into our actions. Think of something we have held onto that we regret and yet keep revisiting, or something someone else had done which we find difficult to let go of. Let us close our eyes and see that event or action as a distinct entity, place it in a box and push it to one side. And when we leave church today, let us leave the box behind. Just one thing, because from small things, great things grow.
What about the present. The here and now. We, as followers of Jesus also have to focus on what we can and must do today to affect the lives of others, to better the lives of others.
The Christmas stories we have heard this past week confirm what we know of this Jesus, the man, the human one. He came for the poor, the dispossessed and the marginalised. Those are the ones who could see the light. Jesus’ life focussed on seeking justice and equity and compassion for all. Love was and is the key. He was not greeted by kings or the religious elite for they held the power. And when you threaten the people with power, there are consequences and they are bad. We heard it in the reading from Matthew and I saw it in the film I mentioned.
So the story of Jesus as a light that shines the love of God into the world for everyone, but particularly the poor and marginalised, continues long after Christmas.
And it’s challenging!
Yet even in our time people have taken up the challenge.
Like those who work for social justice and the rights of those poor and disposed and homeless in our society, people like my friend Dr Lisa Wood who spoke at our December forum last week, those calling for action on climate change here and around the world, including ordinary firefighters and children, and who sacrifice much to do it. Like our man Nev, who has been a peace activist, and agitator his whole life and still is at 90. Like the countless others who dance or have danced to a different tune in our world.
Yet I can already hear you saying, I can’t be those people, I can’t be Lisa, or Nev, I can’t be Jesus. Because I often say it to myself. But the reality is, you and I can make a difference. We can make choices about how we live in our time and place. And make a difference.
And we can start small, because from small things big things grow.
So I would like you to close your eyes again, think of something that you may be able to do or help with, or volunteer for in the new year, that will reflect your faith in God’s ever present love for all. It may be something you are already doing but that you will re commit to. Something that is attainable, that you will be able to sustain and maybe develop over time. Something that is done for others. But I also want you to see yourself explain why, for if we can’t explain why we respond to the gospel of love with love, then the message may not get through.
And finally the future. I believe our future could be one of cynicism and despair without a connection to God, the God of the universe and of you and me.
I think one of the great gifts of Christianity is that it gives hope. Not the pie in the sky when we die type of hope, but earthy and concrete. If we truly believe that God’s creative love is working in the world, everywhere, then we will live and act with hope. Particularly in a world as it exists today, with so much pain and grief. God is the one seen, heard, and experienced in the human Jesus, who calls us to a higher, deeper level and a different reality. It is God who will have the last say, as we and our world are reconciled to the creative spirt found in all of life.
Yet Jesus rarely spoke of an end time when all things would magically turn around, when the evil would be punished and the good rewarded. He spoke often, however, of living God’s kingdom into being, of being challenged by his message and letting the kingdom break into our world and our society. For we are called to enter the process with God. Christmas celebrates not just the birth of a baby, but the ongoing influence of Jesus life and teachings long after the 1stcentury. By us.
The question is, do we really believe this, for our actions will speak as to whether we live with hope or succumb to the widely held belief that nothing will change, so let’s do nothing. For to live with Christ is to live as though the ultimate victory of life and love has already been won.
As Dorothy McRae McMahan writes,
“This involves living “as if something is already in place. You live with justice, even if justice is not yet brought in. You claim the ground for it by the way you live, but you do not see yourself as a single agent for change, just one who demonstrates a change that will one day be visible and in place for all people. It gives us a sense that we are participating in a great and long term effort to make real something that was always meant to be and always will be”.
So as the new year approaches it is our call to live hopefully, trying to respond to the needs around us, while at the same time remembering that the divine presence is never limited by our human capacities for evil. God is present in the world, in each one of one, always has been and always will be. It is us who go missing.
So I would like you to close your eyes one final time and make a commitment to make time for God in the new year, for the inward journey, for without that hope will dry up amidst the miseries and frustrations of life. A place of quiet so that we may listen to the whisper of God, a place for silence so into that space the spirit may touch us. A place where Jesus worlds and teaching become real. What it may mean is dropping something that we would like to do but can’t, a challenge I know. But these are choices we make.
Both in the scripture reading and in the movie, past, present and future coalesce into one kaleidoscope of meaning.
When we apply these principles to ourselves, we see and know a faith in which no one is beyond forgiveness, including us, a faith that urges and cajoles us to act with love and compassion and to do so trusting that no matter how terrible and awful the situation seems, there is always hope that Gods spirit will have the final say, that the creative love of God will endure. That from a burnt out forest a flower will blossom. From the darkness a light will appear.
As Nev says,
“Faith enables us to see it, love puts us on the road and hope keeps us there. Jo Jo Rabbit represented a future for the German people, Jesus represents a future for us and the world.
This is the message to take into 2020.
I wish you all a very happy new year
While I received a beautiful Christmas gift in the form of the speech by Ester Sadiki who you just heard, I often feel caught between two worlds at Christmas time. The secular world with its tinsel, and gifts and family and the religious world, which wants to proclaim Christmas as a holy and sacred time.
Yet now with so much pain and anguish happening around us, both here in our own community but also in the eastern states where fires are destroying lives and homes, how do we make sense and find joy in the moment, whichever group we are in.
What to say and what to do?
Well, while Christmas was not celebrated fully until the 18thcentury and for early Christians only from the 4thcentury, after adopting a pagan festival called, Sol Invictus, I feel at this moment we all need Christmas, secular and sacred. Or more correctly what the birth stories of Jesus of Nazareth bring to us.
For they transmit some very deep and universal truths, not just for those who lived 2000 years ago, but for us today. They say so much about how we are to live in the world and with each other, and about God if we sit still long enough to listen. And so much about a man who brings this God alive to us, even in the 21stcentury.
But we need to really understand the stories and not take them at face value, for they are not meant to be literal. I want to suggest that these stories are so much more than a set of facts, which we regurgitate every year and then forget. Or worse still discount as being unbelievable.
I have spent many a Christmas day sermon talking about the birth stories of Jesus, how they only appear in 2 of the 4 gospels, how they reflect in miniature the world Jesus lived in, how they were written a long time after his death and how they have different accounts, representing both the time they were written and who they were written for.
They are not history, but rather the birth stories are myths, beautiful and powerful,
As Keith Rowe says, myths are the mirrors in which we see what we might become. They represent a way of human knowing that can be placed alongside scientific knowledge as two complementary pathways into life’s truth. They don’t have to be literally true to be true!
They give us insights we don’t see until we really see!
While both gospel accounts are full of earthly things, and some mystical things who is the child at the centre? The Gospel of Matthew describes him as Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is at the centre of the story, the character extraordinaire. A revelation to us about where God is to be found and who God is
This is the essence of the stories. A universal message.
For even in our cynical, secular world, it seems to echo a strange and beautiful and evocative call. Where is God? Tell us about your God.
As Keith Rowe suggests,
“There are no facts upon which we can say for certain that God is with us or that God even is, but over the centuries those who have taken the stories of the birth of Jesus and the life of Jesus into their hearts and imaginations have been changed. And maybe they have glimpsed this God”.
Not a God in the sky, not a God who intervenes in human affairs every now and again, but a presence hidden in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world, as Frederick Buechner would say. A presence found in all of life, from the smallest molecule of the universe to the complicated but beautiful creatures we have become. A presence found in Jesus.
The reading today from the Gospel of John speaks of this. We hear what the early Christians heard. Jesus has come into the world to reveal God’s light and life.
So the birth stories are not really about a baby at all but about a man, called Jesus and about his life in God and in the world.
They are about finding God in a human Jesus, who lived and died in 1stcentury Judea, but who more than anyone since has shown a new way to live with one another. A way of love, grounded in the earthy world that he knew and in the indwelling spirit of God that guided him. A kingdom of love, compassion, forgiveness and deep joy irrespective of race, religion, class, gender and age. Where everyone was to be included and no one went without. A kingdom of justice.
The stories of the poor shepherds who were the first to hear of the birth, of a defenceless baby, of parents who were refugees, of a smelly stable, and animals and women and foreigners and angels reflect Jesus’s life and teachings in miniature. An inclusive life. One that so challenged the authorities of the day, the Roman Empire, but also some of the religious leaders that he was ultimately killed. Instead of power and violence and injustice and exclusion, hallmarks particularly of the Empire, we get a Jesus who was a man for others. He taught and demonstrated that to find meaning in life one must learn to live for others. It is a message that resonates with the lives of all human beings everywhere, not just those in the 1stcentury.
So what do we do with Christmas in 2019? What do we do with the message the birth stories represent. That Jesus represents.
The Church and the world are at a crossroads today. We are at a Kairos moment, a crisis hour, when new possibilities need to emerge out of the old. It marks a time to take back the voice and way of Jesus, and gather together as one. Because as we have seen this past year, we have dictators who rule with power and fear, we have governments who protect the rich at the expense of the poor, we have huge wealth hoarded by a few, and we have massive poverty in many countries and unending wars in others. We have religion being used to kill and enslave people, rather than making them free. We have earths creation in crisis, burning uncontrollably, And we have people seeking protection from the horrors of war or this terror being locked up in prisons Many of us ask, where is the humanity, where is the love and compassion. Where is the hope?
I believe our hope lies in the message of Jesus. And the God we meet in him. Not some otherworldly God confined to the outer reaches of our reality but the life force that surges through all living things, that drives us to be better than we are, more loving, more compassionate and more forgiving. Our hope lies in people touching and connecting to God’s spirit in ways that make a difference to everyone. And by doing so, living the way of Jesus in the world.
People I have seen this week, this month, this year. Who battle fires, while their own homes burn, who care for the homeless and those without food and shelter, who care for the sick and dying in our hospitals, who donate money and time for others, even those they haven’t met, and those who try to change the status quo by advocating, protesting and generally being annoying to our politicians. Let’s continue to pester them!
But even small acts of kindness and compassion make a difference, and I have experienced these as well this week. From the person who offered me a drink, a beer first, but after I declined a glass of cold water, and a seat on their balcony when our car broke down in their driveway, to the mechanic who opened up the garage when on holidays so that we could get our car home to Perth, these acts of kindness made a difference to us.
Whether people are from a church or not, whether sacred or secular, today our hope lies in the transformation possible in the everyday moments of life by ordinary people. Moments that reveal God as ever present. Our hope is about commitment, not wishful thinking or false promises.
As Martin Luther King has said, “hope comes in many forms, mostly not supernatural. Rather in the shape of people, people helping people. God is found in the midst of this action, not separate from it.”
This is the promise and the provocative challenge of Jesus.
So today let us not push Christmas aside but celebrate the Christmas season, all of us, with renewed vigour, giving ourselves space to be warmed by the light and love of God. For God is still here, working within all of creation and in you and me and in all people everywhere, in our precarious and complicated world.
The only gift required is ourselves.