Sunday, November 28, 2010

Will you recognize the Christ Child? (Advent 1 Year A)

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44.

Advent is always an interesting season for me. It is a time when I try to get my head around the theme of the twofold coming.

1. We are preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ. It is traditionally a time of fasting and self-examination. We are reminded of the advent themes as we light the advent wreath each week. Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and finally, the Christ candle which is lit at midnight on Christmas Eve when the time of celebration begins.

2. Yet, at the same time we are looking forward to the completeness of the Reign of Christ when in the words of C.S. Lewis “all wrongs will be righted” (Narnia series)

I think these two aspects of advent can be summed up in one small phrase . . .

Christ is coming.

However, today I don’t want this phrase to stand alone I want to couple it with questions

Christ is coming . . . Will we recognize the Christ child?

Christ is coming . . . Are we prepared?

We have talked many times about finding God in all things and in all people.

I believe this is the message of advent. It is preparing our hearts and minds to recognise Christ wherever Christ is.

A brief look at the readings . . .

The Psalm and Isaiah both speak of peace. Isaiah is a tremendous passage, no more war, no more strife between nations. Yet, it doesn’t just happen. The message is actively seek peace, pray for peace, turn instruments of war into instruments of peace which encourage growth and new life. Peace will signify the presence of the Christ child. Seek peace in our homes, in our work, in those we meet. Peace will usher in the Reign of Christ.

On September 9, 1997 in Judiciary Square, Washington DC a crane lowered a four-ton sculpture to its permanent cement base. The sculpture is entitled "Guns into Plowshares". It is a 16-foot-high steel structure made from 3,000 handguns welded together to form the distinctive shape of a plough blade. Artist Esther Augsburger and her son, David worked for two and a half years with the Metro Police Department. They molded handguns that had been surrendered by local residents. (see photo below) Sadly, earlier this year the sculpture was removed and is seeking a new home.


Romans and Matthew both speak of preparation. Self examination, looking at our lives. This shouldn’t be done as a burden. It is not to depress us or see how inadequate we are. Self-examination should be done with excitement and anticipation. I think it is like when we have a party or guests for a meal or a weekend stay. We look around our home, we see what needs to be done to get ready. We put time and effort into the preparation. Then we are ready to greet our guests, to spend time with our guests and to enjoy our friends company. We need to be ready so we will recognise the Christ child. Enjoy the preparation!

Additionally, Romans and Matthew both convey a sense of urgency. Constantly, we hear or read of illnesses or accidents which remind us that life is short. Our time on earth is limited, let’s not waste it.

So as we journey through Advent 2010 let us look for the Christ child daily in all we do, in everyone we meet, in all the circumstances we encounter. Let us not be so busy and preoccupied that we miss the Christ Child.

Christ is coming . . .

Will you recognize the Christ child?

+Ab. Jane

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What makes you fearful? (Proper 27 Year C)

Today I want to offer a few thoughts which came to mind when I read the passage in Haggai. Haggai is one of the three post-exhilic prophets speaking to the remnant of the people in the Babylonian exile.

The verse which catches my attention is “My spirit abides among you; do not fear”. I want to ponder this relationship between fear and the spirit of God abiding amongst us. I think we all experience this on a regular basis.

Of course, we might want to be “spiritual” and say that because we have faith we are never fearful. But I suspect that for most of us the experience of being fearful is something that we do experience and live with. We may not get taken from our homes and exiled but we are human beings, living ordinary lives and things happen that make us fearful.

If we were sat together I could go around the room and ask, “what makes you fearful?” What disturbs your peace? What are you worrying about?

I suspect I might get a variety of answers . . . loss of job, loss of income, sickness of oneself or family, elderly parent, child having problems, school, things going wrong with the house, moving, flying to visit family, I’ll never get this project finished in time, I need to confront my boss about this, etc., etc.

Yet, the prophet tells us that God’s spirit dwells amongst us so we don’t have to fear. That is quite a thought! How do we make that a reality in our lives? If anyone has the answer I would love to hear it!

I wonder if we need to find a way to hold the two in tension. I find it helpful to accept that as human beings we are going to fear, we are made that way. Our bodies respond to stressful situations and chemical responses happen. In my recent studies on communication I discovered that even if we are only faced with a conversation that makes us a little nervous our adrenal glands react. Adrenaline is pumped into our bloodstream, the brain diverts blood to our large muscles, (flight response). As the large muscles get more blood, the reasoning sections of the brain get less. Makes it harder to think reasonably about whatever situation we are facing.

So, to access the other reality, that God’s spirit is dwelling amongst us, I think we need to practice constantly the spiritual disciplines. We need to make them part of our lives. The when we get low and are facing situations that are hard, we have the resources to deal with them within ourselves. The habits are formed and are almost automatic responses.

It was always quite interesting that when we were teaching seminars the ones on spiritual healing, prophesy, the demonic and spiritual gifts were always well attended. The ones on spiritual disciplines were the least well attended. Yet are so important. These are the practices which will define our daily living and responses.

Richard Foster (Celebration of Disciplines) identified the twelve disciplines as meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Others could be added nonattachment, mindfulness, etc. I’m sure each of you could think of others.

As always, the Celtic saints and Desert Fathers and Mothers can be helpful in aiding us explore these disciplines.

Michael Mitton (Restoring the Woven Cord) cites Patrick as an example of prayer. Mitton quotes from Confessions, “ . . . in one day I said about a hundred prayers and in the night nearly the same.” (123).

Mitton again, talking about the Celtic saints and simplicity says, “many who are wearied by pressures and demands of this restless world will find themselves washed up on such islands where they can be reminded of another world which in its simplicity is full of abundant life.” (21)

Gregory Mayers in Listen to the Desert has a great chapter on nonattachment. He illustrates it with examples from the life of Abba Macarius. Mayers says, “Nonattachment is the attitude that comes from the acceptance of the fact that everything about my life and in my life comes and goes in its own time regardless of my preference or aversions.” (935)

I could include many more stories of how the spiritual disciplines were part of the lives of these early Christians but this is long enough. Maybe someone else has a favourite story to share with us.

I will end with one of my favourite stories the journey of Brendan. The story is one that can be found in Celtic Spirituality collaborated by Oliver Davies. Actually, I’m sure C.S. Lewis used these stories as the inspiration for The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. On his travels Brendan faced many fears and hardships yet drew strength from the rhythm of spirituality which was part of his daily life. I hope we can all find that same relationship between fear and spirituality

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Journeying and Resting (Proper 18 Year C)

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-18

Philemon 1-21


This week a phrase from the Psalm was especially notable for me. The phrase is in verse two, "You trace my journeys and my resting places". Perhaps, it was because we have spent some weeks journeying this summer that this got my attention.

I started thinking about my personal journeys and the amount of preparation needed. Sometimes I am just going a short distance, minimum preparation. Othertimes, as this summer, I was going to be away for several weeks. Then much more preparation was needed. I had to consider how I was going to get there, what I needed to take and what I was going to do about the dogs and kids. The longer the journey the more preparation is needed. Yet always some preparation is needed.

In the passage in Luke Jesus is preparing the people for a journey. It is a journey into discipleship. Jesus is telling them to be prepared. In a number of different metaphors Jesus urges them to look at the journey and make sure they can make it. Quite a preparation is expected . . . give away possessions, consider the cost, might even lose family!

Then I turned my thoughts to resting places. Resting places are necessary if a journey is to be successful. Actually, most of our preparation this summer was focused around resting places. I chose motels and cities for coffee breaks. All carefully calculated with mileage and driving time taken into consideration. I wonder how did people plan journeys without “google”!

I thought of resting places in two ways . . . planned or unplanned.

Planned are those resting places which we choose to visit. We choose to make a stop. For example, we left Atlanta in the mornning, stopped for coffee in Birmingham, Alabama, stopped overnight in Memphis Tennessee. It helped to break the journey in this planned way. We even had an approximate idea of the times we would stop. Although not in today's readings, the scriptures give us several examples of Jesus choosing to rest. A time to regain energy, a time to consider the next leg of the journey. Paul also talks about times of rest.

On our long car journey our bodies told us when we need to find a resting place. We need fresh air and to stretch our legs. Happily, our careful planning was in sync with our bodies. Spiritually we need to be equally in tune with ourselves. We need to recognise when it is time to take a rest.

Then there are those resting places which I am calling unplanned. We didn't choose to rest it just happened through circumstances.

Perhaps the first example of this is the womb. Our psalm today talks about formation in the womb. The resting place of the womb, a time for growing and preparing for birth and life.

Yet, most of our iunplanned resting places can be frustrating. We didn't want to stop! We wanted to keep going, yet circumstances prevented it. Just how long is this traffic jam going to last!

Of course, some are much more serious than a traffic jam. Perhaps, sickness, or loss of a job or some other circumstances that cause us to halt the direction we were going in. These are the resting places that we need to learn to make the most of. We need to recognise them as a chance to recharge and to assess the direction we are going in rather than an irritation.

Paul had many experiences of unplanned resting places. He was often in prison or stuck on a boat. Yet he obviously used the time wisely, he wrote to the churches, he prayed and when direction was changed accepted that as God's choice for him.

Sometimes in our various areas of ministry we seem to reach a stop. We feel unproductive, things that were once fruitful suddenly seem to dry up. This can be a hard time. We need to change our thinking, not worrying about why things seem to have stopped, but seeing it as a resting place, a place and time to prepare for the next leg of the journey.

In Philemon we see the cyclical nature of this journeying and resting. We see how journeying and resting interact and weave in and out of each other. We see how we need each other in this dance of journeying and resting.

Paul was in an enforced resting place . . . prison

Onesimus was sent on a journey . . . to help Paul and tend his needs

Onesimus made another journey . . . into discipleship

Paul, in his resting place, prepared the way for Onesimus' next journey . . . the journey out of slavery and into freedom.

I think here we have a helpful pattern for each of our lives . . .



help others prepare to journey

. . . and like a circle we just keep going round and round this pattern.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Significant Woman (Easter 6, Year C)

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

I want to look briefly at the Gospel passage and then move on into Acts. Today our passages are about the spread of the good news of God’s Realm.

Picture the scene . . .

Jesus is sat with the disciples. It is their last meal together. Jesus has already modelled leadership in the new community of believers. He served them as a servant by washing dirty, dusty feet. Now it is a special time, Judas has left, the end is near. I’m sure even those who didn’t fully understand sensed something significant was about to happen. Have you ever felt that? A sort of spiritual unrest, like the whole of nature is disturbed.

Therefore these last words of Jesus are important. I’m sure the disciples were hanging onto every word. Jesus’ mission on earth would continue through them. These words would set the way for the church to grow and develop.

Already a new commandment had been given. It was nothing to do with how they behaved, how they lived, what they ate, etc. It was so simple “love one another”. Love as Jesus loved, serving and willing to lay down one’s life.

Then (in our passage today) Jesus passes something onto them.

What would you have expected? If you had been there, what would you have hoped for?

The ability to heal?
The ability to raise from the dead?
The ability to change water into wine
The ability to multiply food and feed the hungry?

These would have certainly been good things to have and, indeed, we do see that the disciples on occasion were able to do miracles.

However, that is not what Jesus left with them on this auspicious occasion. They were not the most important things. That was peace

Peace for themselves, what we would call inner peace today (Do not let your hearts be troubled)
Peace for others, peace to pass on (do not let them be afraid)

I think that is wonderful. The message for the spread of God’s Realm is love and peace.

Then the passage in Acts gives a specific example of the spread of God’s Realm.

Paul and Barnabas were travelling together. The reading tells us they got a very mixed reception, from being welcomed and received with joy to being stoned. Eventually Paul and Barnabas separate and Paul takes Silas and Timothy along with him.

Then during the night Paul has a vision. He saw a man saying come to Macedonia.

He was obedient to the dream and he went. They met Lydia and the women gathered for prayer.

I wonder if Paul’s vision had shown a woman he would have still gone. What do you think?

I wonder if meeting this woman after his vision of a man (aner) had the same effect on Paul as Peter’s experiences which led him to proclaim “I truly understand that God shows no partiality”

Lydia, a woman who worshipped God, a woman in charge of a household, a woman who was in business. Probably not what Paul expected, yet obviously Paul recognised God was in this and stayed at her home.

Here is another significant woman in the life and development of the community of believers in Acts. Perhaps this story is a little more well know than the one about Tabitha. Yet, her significance as the first believer (or at the very least first named believer) in Macedonia is lost.

I think it is really important that we recover a part of our Christian heritage that seems to have been lost. That is the significance women played in the history and spread of the gospel.

+Ab. Jane

The Inclusive Nature of the Church (Easter 4, Year C)

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Today Acts and Revelation both give us an example of the inclusive nature of the church.

Revelation talks about “a great multitude . . . from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”

It is a great picture of the all-inclusive church. I love the picture C. S. Lewis gives us right at the end of The Last Battle. The mythical land of Narnia has ceased to be, the children are climbing the mountain to Aslan’s own country. Suddenly they are aware that people are streaming up the mountain from all sides. Different people, surprising people, even those they had thought of as enemies. It is a great picture. All finding their own way to God, all on different journeys yet all reaching the summit!

We could discuss the idea of all nations, all peoples, all tribes, all languages (a reversal of Babel) in much more detail. However, I want to move on to one specific example of inclusivity that we find in our Acts passage.

The author of Acts writes “There was a disciple”.

What a simple phrase, yet so full of meaning. A disciple . . . one who has dedicated their life to following Jesus. This disciple was a woman!

I believe one of the tasks of Feminist Theology is to bring to our collective consciousness stories of women which have, in the past, often been read over quickly and dismissed. I don’t believe that we should isolate such texts from the body of scripture but allow them to take their place within the whole. As Ann Thurston says, ‘my concern is to discover what energy there might be in these texts for the transformation of the Christian community today.’

I believe this is one such text. We need to consider it carefully and ask ourselves why is it placed where it is and what energy does it contain for us today. Therefore context is important.

This story is set within the middle of a series of chapters that contain a number of very significant stories. Key stories in the history of the church. They are stories that everyone who is a little familiar with the bible would be able to find easily. If I asked, I know you would all find them quickly. Yet, if I had asked, where is the text about the rising of Tabitha, I suspect most of us would struggle to remember where it is.

In this section of Acts we have Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, we have the conversion of Saul, we have Aeneas and Tabitha raised from the dead, we have Peter’s great vision and Cornelius.

Then Peter began to speak and said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality”

I encourage you to read the chapters preceding this statement and see what sort of people were included. You may be surprised!

However, I want to go back to Tabitha

It is clear from the text that this disciple was with others. Men and women who loved and respected her. Disciples who loved her enough to tend her in death. Men who cared enough to go and seek help and hope for her healing. In these few sentences we see a picture of the inclusive nature of the church. Women and men together, a woman’s life important and significant.

In this culture women were property, romantic love as we know it was not part of the picture, usefulness and childbearing (Or even we should say son-bearing) were important. Woman could easily be replaced. This story tells us that in the church the women were important, each was unique and irreplaceable. Tabitha was a special, needed person in the life of the church.

I hope that when Peter uttered that great statement, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” that he was also remembering Tabitha (a woman) as one of those who is fully included.

I hope that we too can say with honesty that we truly understand that God shows no partiality. That when we reach out to those around us it is regardless of their gender, their sexuality, their race, their colour, their age, etc.

The gospel passage today tells us that ‘my sheep hear my voice’. Our lives and actions are God’s voice on earth today. I hope that in the Lindisfarne community we will all reflect the inclusive nature of the church. All are welcome, there are no exceptions!

+ Ab. Jane

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thomas’ Plea for Inclusion (Easter 2 Year C)

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118: 14-29
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20: 19-31

Imagine the scene:

The disciples were locked together in a room. I imagine a variety of mixed emotions would be going through their heads as they ponder the events of that first Easter.

Fear . . . will the religious authorities think we have stolen the body?
Terror . . . will we be crucified too?
Excitement . . . Is it true what Mary told us? (Luke and Matt have more women)
Incredibility . . . . Mark tells us the disciples didn’t believe.
Hopelessness . . . only three years and it’s ended, it’s all over .
Confusion . . . What’s going to happen to us now?
Shock . . . think how traumatic the weekend has been
Guilt . . . didn’t we all scatter and deny Jesus
Regret . . . I wish I’d stayed at the cross

Suddenly Jesus appears and says “Peace be with you”

Wow, amazing, what an impact that must have had . . .
Jesus was once again amongst them.
Jesus understood their inner turmoil
Jesus understood their weaknesses but didn’t condemn
They may have abandoned Jesus but Jesus didn’t abandon them

Then Jesus breathed on them. The Holy Breathe was breathed on them and into them. And something happened. Suddenly they had direction and strength and purpose.
Jesus mission hadn’t died on the cross. They were going to carry it on.

I believe this is the Johannine account of pentecost. I think here is a perfect example of what James Dunn calls ‘Unity and Diversity’ in a book of the same title. This is John’s account of the giving of the Holy Spirit. It is not spectacular and noisy as in Acts but quiet and relational.

However, I really want to focus on Thomas. I want to rethink the image of Thomas. I want to shake off the doubting label that has been upon him for centuries
Not a doubting Thomas but a Thomas who is so desperate for inclusion, desperate to share the experience, desperate not to have missed out.

Can you relate?

Has anyone ever told you about a great spiritual experience they had and you wanted it for yourself? (Not in a selfish way)
Have you ever felt excluded on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, etc.?
Have you ever felt you missed out on something?

Maybe Thomas who represents all who have ever felt excluded.

I think we can learn from how Thomas behaved:

Thomas stuck around in spite of missing the initial experience.
Thomas didn’t need the same experience (he didn’t get to touch the wounds)
Thomas was included in his own way.
Thomas saw his own vision of the risen Jesus.

This way of viewing contains hope for all of us. Even though we might not get to see and experience Jesus in the same way as others we are still blessed.

Some questions to ponder:

Can we identify with Thomas? (Have we ever felt excluded, that we missed out?)
Can we be content to be included in our way rather than seeking another’s way?
Can we find our place amongst the Christian church?
Women, can we find our place without striving to be one of the men?

Two Final Comments on Thomas:

1. Thomas wrote a gospel. It is older than the gospels we have included in the Bible. Pheme Perkins, in Searching the Scriptures ed Elisabeth Fiorenza.

“ The sayings in the Gospel of Thomas presents a Jesus who reveals a hidden but timeless wisdom . . . Jesus is not an end-time judge who rescues believers from the wrath of God. Rather Jesus mediates the discovery of a wisdom that enables persons to recover the integrity of the human person as created by God”

A great resource for looking at the Gospel of Thomas, various translations and commentaries.

2. Thomas is supposed to have evangelized India

According to legendary tradition St. Thomas was invited by the King Gondophorus to India to build a palace for him. St. Thomas came and declared that he would build a heavenly palace instead and distributed the money among the poor. For this he was put into prison, but later pardoned. He evangelized the region of Malabar, then was martyred at Mylapore, near Madras. In 394 his remains were brought to Edessa. Another version that his remains are still in India at a place now called San Tome.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost and Found (Lent 4 Year C)

Joshua 5: 9-12

Psalm 32

2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

On reflection, I wish that today’s gospel reading had covered the whole chapter and not jumped from verse three to verse eleven. Then we would have seen the story as part of a whole series of ‘lost and found’ stories.

So I want to briefly cast a glance at all three of the ‘lost and found’ stories. (The shepherd with the lost sheep, the woman with the lost coin and the parent with the lost child.) These stories were told as a response to the grumbling that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.

‘Eating with them’ is significant. This is more than just accepting sinners, this is a sign of real friendship. In almost every culture inviting people into your home, sharing food and eating with them is a sign of intimacy and true friendship.

In these stories Jesus is showing the value of lost things. Jesus is revealing the seeking and compassionate heart of God. A picture of God as represented by a shepherd, a woman and a father.

Even the order the stories are placed in is interesting. They seem to subvert the expected positioning. First it is 1:100, then 1:10 and then 1:2. Surely we would have expected it the other way round, ending with the message that even one out of a hundred is important. Even one in a hundred is worthy of care and consideration.

I want to look, firstly, at the man with two sons. (Two sons perhaps representing the two groups of people mentioned at the outset of the chapter — tax-collectors & sinners and Pharisees & scribes).

Right at the beginning of the story the reader (or listener) is alerted to something unusual about this story. The man divided his property amongst his two sons. Surely that wasn’t quite right. Surely the elder son was entitled to more (a double portion at the very least). Right here at the outset of the story is something that will challenge and need careful consideration. This is pointing to a generosity that exceeds law.

We all know the story. The younger son squanders everything until his poverty and desperation cause him to realise that he needs to go home.

I want to look especially at how he is received. His father sees him and runs to meet him. Look at the heart of compassion. Compassion with its root meaning in womb. A God of womb-like love and nurture.

We are told that the son is repentant, but the father did not know this. He merely sees his child in the distance and ran and welcomed him with a kiss. This is another reversal of the norm. Shouldn’t forgiveness follow after confession and repentance? Not here, this is unconditional love poured out. Forgiveness precedes repentance.

Anne Thurston in her book Knowing Her Place comments that “It is love which creates the possibility for repentance, for true metanoia ‘change of heart’. Conversion is not a condition but a consequence of God’s love.”

In addition, several commentators have pointed out that it would be shocking for the first century readers to hear that the father ‘ran’ to the son. This would not happen. It would be considered undignified. This would certainly cause a ripple of shock through the early readers.

It seems that in this story both the sons have missed the aspect of true relationship. The younger son had planned to return as a servant. His elder brother had talked about himself as working like a slave.

Thurston comments, ‘”The language of servant and master, the relationships of patriarchal household have been replaced with the offer of unconditional love, ‘all that is mine is yours.’”

The father throws a party and the invitation to celebrate is open to all. No-one is excluded. What a wonderful offer of unconditional love to all!

In conclusion I want briefly to glance at the other two ‘lost and found’ stories.

A shepherd responsible for 100 sheep leaves 99 to seek for one lost one . . . madness! Not at all logical. Why leave 99 sheep unprotected to search for one? That is not even good shepherding. It is another unexpected view. Then when the sheep is found the shepherd hosts a feast. Perhaps costing more than the value of the sheep.

Then the second parable, the woman with 10 coins. She is obviously a rich woman, a householder, responsible for her own affairs. She does all the correct things in seeking diligently. What a great picture of God, a woman seeking for that which was lost until it is found. Yet again, when the lost thing is found the woman threw a party to celebrate finding the coin. Again the party may have cost more than the value of the coin!

Thurston again, commenting on this second parable, “the woman diligently searching portrays God, who even when there is no urgency, goes out of her way to seek out the lost. The woman hosts the feast with the prodigal generosity of God . . . the idea of a woman hosting the feast, which suggests the eschatological banquet prepares the way for the final subversion of the patriarchal model of God which we saw in the third parable.”

I want to end with two thoughts to ponder . . .

Can these three stories of ‘lost and found’, sheep/coins/sons help us in re-imagining our view of God?

Can we receive people with unconditional love?

+Ab. Jane