Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holy Family -27 December 2009 -Luke 2:41-52

I’ve always liked a wonderful one-liner from Mark Twain where he says that when he was 15 he thought his father was the dumbest man in the world, and when he turned 20 he was amazed how much the old man had learned in five years! That says something about the subjective element of our perception, that we see sometimes only what we look for. I’ve worked as a spiritual director and pastoral carer over the years, and so much of that work is simply listening, opening space so that people who see things clearly in black and white might , take a break and a deep breath to go beyond black and white thinking, be introduced to a wider spectrum of colors, shades of transparency and translucency, to shapes of encounters and ideas that they hadn’t looked for, relations with realities and relatives they perhaps hadn’t seen before, start to stretch out into where new possibilities.

When people have a chance to talk about their lives without immediate judgment to consider where they are and what they might wish to do with the degree of compassion and clarity, sometimes new things come into being, new options, new ways to be in love. Good books do as well, meditation is helpful there, and one of the reasons I love movies is that they can take you beyond words, using music color, visions, as well as irony, understatement and sometimes humor, to help you see things anew.

The Gospel of Luke, in his travel through the life of Jesus, will be doing something similar. I mentioned several weeks ago how Luke balances the characters in his narrative: old and young, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Greek. It might not be in an exaggeration to say there is a rhythm, almost dancing quality, in this gospel. He keeps you moving and he keeps you balancing with being slightly off balance as you move forward.

So let’s look at today’s Gospel where we fast-forward to Jesus at 12, traveling with his parents and larger family to a festival in Jerusalem. He becomes separated, lost and is found in the temple after three days “listening and questioning the teachers” there.

“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Then we go up close for a dialogue between mother and child:
“why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them

I would imagine somebody was thinking oh dear, here comes Adolescence!

“But he goes home with them and is obedient, and his mother treasures these things and Jesus increases in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

Let me note that in another translation the word “treasures” is “ponders.” I found that defined as “sustained and inconclusive thinking.” and there’s something to be said for that, for not having easy answers, conclusive thinking. But it’s not easy. I have never been a literalist in matters of Scripture but I often wanted clear-cut answers: what is the right way to go at this crossroad, what is the right ethical action for the situation, what is God calling me to do in my life and ministry at the present moment? All big questions!

But what I find when I look at the breadth of Scripture and tradition, and when I let myself take a breath of spirit, to breathe with God, is that the Scripture and tradition that Jesus shares with us, walks through with us in the glory of God the father, doesn’t have easy answers to these questions. What I do find instead is an assurance that the way of Jesus, the way of God, is a way in which we “live and move and have our being.” And that’s more than a simple answer, to a difficult question, it is more like an answer you can live into, as a pilgrim, to be on the way with hope and faith and love. And that goes back to Mary’s pondering.

It also relates to Paul’s wonderful words and letters to the Collisions, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patients. Bear with one another... Forgive one another... Clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

That makes our journey with Scripture into the life of Jesus less of a quest to find the right answer, less of a quiz for which we are graded; and more of a yoga, a pilgrimage, even perhaps a dance, where we partner with God in moving into and through the midst of the intricacies and the particular case of the rhythms of our lives, living and moving and having our being.

Somebody once said, “You have to know what the rules are so that you can know when to make exceptions.” That needs to be carefully handled, but there’s a great deal of truth there. I remember a number of tennis lessons as a boy learning to groove my stroke and where to put my feet and how to bring my arm back so that I could finally be free to move into each unique moment of contact with the ball, in individual real-time rallies and matches, being both grounded and centered, but free to move in every moment of the game as it happened.

When I came to Australia, and lived in the community at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, I learned more about cooking. In the first stage I stayed close to the recipe book; measuring according to directions and following the list of ingredients. Then after a while I became freer to add and subtract varying according to the seasons and what was available in the marketplace and how many people were showing up. Any relationship, whether with a skill or a place or a person becomes freer, paradoxically, when it is better known: more choices and options actions and motions come to be when we know more where we are, who we’re with, what we can creatively do, in the places where we work and love, where we live and move and have our being.

The poet Rilke once wrote, “Do not look so hard for the answers, first learn to love the questions, for the point is to love everything now; and then the answers will come on their own one day in the future.” I might have misquoted that a bit, but the sense is right. Life is not an examination to be graded, is not a task to be endured (though times of testing do come), but is a day to day walk with the Lord in the spirit in the midst of God’s creation and within the intricacies of our own lives. We are here to live our lives with God, joyfully, creatively, making life more livable and holy for ourselves and others, relating and redeeming as we can, calling things to greater meaning and participation in God, linking the all embracing love of God with all that is living in our everyday lives: family and work, poetry and politics, sadness and joy, birth adolescence and adulthood aging and death. The places where we live and move and have our being, where we find God and where God finds us.

The Gospel of Luke is a worthy companion on this road: the way of Jesus, in the breath and the light of the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Sermon, Beechworth

Christ Church
Christmas Day 2009
Luke 2: 1-20

The Revd Robert Whalley

The story I just read from the Gospel of Luke is a very strange one, though it is probably a story you’ve heard many times before; maybe memory connects it to other services in church buildings, connects to to old music and stained glass, or to family dinners, and times of joy or maybe frustration and dread; or maybe the story connects certain movies, either biblical spectaculars or family disaster-comedy ending with reunions in snowy villages with happy resolutions, starring Bing Crosby or Macauley Culkin, generally not in the same film, generally fiction.

But I would like to go back to that original story and retell it in a way that emphasizes its original strangeness the shock of the encounter, the journey, the discovery, and the moment of choosing where we might go from here.

The other background piece to what I’m about to say has to do with strange phenomena called “senior memory”. When I leave my glasses, when I enter a room and forget why, when I begin a sentence and pause, there seems to be more open space than it used to be. So I’m trying to be more methodical with memory.

There’s a wonderful book by Jonathan Spence called, “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci” about a sixteenth century Jesuit priest who went to China with a memory method where you visualize rooms inside your head. A memory palace: where each cabinet or picture, each chair or table in the palace holds the story of something you hold dear. That needs to be seen as part of the story I am going to retell.

So just imagine that all this is taking place inside your head. You’re spending the day minding your thoughts, watching your concerns, keeping busy shepherding the various constituencies that are part of your daily existence: whether that has to do with your job or family, parents partners or children; has to do with money, health, power or poetry; love, life or death: all those concerns wandering like sheep over the meadows and mountains of your mind (And I apologize if this sounds like a 1970s song).

Then something new happens. You are surprised by a message that comes from someplace you have never considered before. The word we translate as angel originally simply meant meant “messenger;” so pretend that a messenger (maybe several, or even lots of them) arrives on the scene and you have this intuition, insight, that they are coming from someplace that is both deeper, higher, larger than the world you usually inhabit. And they tell you something new: that there is a new way of being, of living, becoming, in the world, and you need to leave aside your taken for granted everyday concerns and attend to this new possibility. These messengers may have wings, they may be in space suits, they may be dressed in an unremarkable manner; but it is their message which matters, which surprises you into taking a new step in moving towards a new discovery of how to be in the world, of how to be who you are.

So you leave your flocks, those habitual concerns, and let them take care of themselves for a little while, and you follow this promising message to an incongruous destination and find yourself witnessing something that is absolutely newborn.

No birth happens in a vacuum. This one has been nurtured and mothered in the midst of surprise and miracle, there is a husbanding hope and help alongside, and all the animals of every day life are there as well. This all makes sense to the way you see the world: odd, but not too unusual. Yet there is something completely newborn in the middle of it. Something you never thought you’d see.

Any baby is a surprise. They all used to look like Winston Churchill, and even now they seem to bring a message from another place, they’re not quite with us yet. And this baby is like that, except more so.

An English theologian from the 1950s talked about something called “God-shaped events”: assume for the moment that the word “God” might mean something concerning holiness, justice, compassion, connectedness, truth, love. And sometimes we can see small packages containing those events or transactions carried, acted out in the life of others, as well as in our own lives.
Actually I would be surprised if there were anyone in this room today who had not been at least once amazed by some surprise of caring, a “God-shaped” event they have received from another person; an unexpected gift, a quality of presence, a reaching out in love.

And it is as if this baby, in this stable that seems surprisingly unstable, both carries and is carried by that deepest current of love. It is as if the child is both a wide window into and a window, a vista, in which a depth and height and breadth, of caring is face to face with you. If the earlier messengers spoke a word of hope and holiness, then this infant is a symphony, is Technicolor and 3-D and special effects beyond belief, and in looking at this child you see yourself and the world you thought you lived in, anew.

And this is all happening inside your head. Except that your head seems to be open to something bigger than itself, bigger than what you usually think of as the world, and you have this strange perception, call it a hope, that this is bigger than you know, that the baby may be the truth of how we are related to the center of everything, to the edge of everything, to everything and everyone we know. And it has to do with love, being born in love, traveling in love, making mistakes and failing miserably, and rising up again to begin again in the name of love.

So if that is the case, then this baby, this new beginning, isn’t just happening in your head. It’s happening in the world you live in day to day, in the world of history, institutions, expectations, culture, here and now as well is there and then. And you look around at this church and the people gathered, at the old books, the strange robes, the stained glass and see a tradition and community gathered in the hope that this is at the heart of reality.

A wise man once said, “Look at everything, look at anything, until it surprises you, until it tells you something you don’t know.” I’d say this: look at the story: Luke, Joseph, Mary, Bethlehem, the shepherd and the angels, as well as the tradition, and the hope of this place, and the hope you carry in your own heart; and see if this perception, tradition, community gathered over time and space can offer you a way to deepen your daily experience of connectedness and compassion and caring for yourself and your neighbor and the stranger too.

Then go back to your daily concerns, shepherding them in your everyday fields, but remembering the Angels as well, the newborn truth, remember the possibility of compassion and connectedness, that it all may be true.

In the name of Christ. Amen

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Advent 2, Christ Church, Beechworth

A few weeks ago, talking of Celtic Spirituality, I quoted a favorite prayer by an Irish poet who asks Christ to... “Keep our eyes heavenward and our pity fresh lest we grow hard,” and this season, this Advent moving us to the birth of Jesus, works well for all that. Advent is a stretching time; the lessons we hear in this season, the voices of the prophets, apocalyptic visions, mixtures of mystery and promise, all work to “keep our eyes heavenward and our pity fresh” as we wait for the wondrous child who comes to make our world newborn, stretching us out to Christmas and beyond into a new world of relationship with God in the life of Christ.

The season of Advent begins, and the seasons of the whole church year provide, a way to travel with Christ and the church into the very height and breadth and depth of what it means to be a human being in company with God. For our own journey, learning to live in the light of God’s love, which we see in the birth and growth, life, the teaching and healing, the death and resurrection of Jesus; all this can be joined in the church’s journey from Advent through Christmas to Epiphany, from Lent to Good Friday through Easter and on to Pentecost.

We sing, “Advent tells us Christ is near,” and our own Advent can come with a yearning to be closer of God, with an surprising urge to take ourselves more seriously, to an awareness that God is closer to us than we know, that God has gifted us (and this needs to be carefully said) with a kind of personal presence, a Christmas present in our souls. So that the birth of Jesus, might mean taking the chance that in the very centre of each of us there is a very specific and unique aspect of God’s love and focus and presence to be found, to be born. And we receive this gift as we accept the unique configuration of talents and trials and likes, dislikes, of who we are and who we are to be, in sharing the gifts of our own unique calling and identity.

So if each one of us carries a present from God, then letting God love the world through our unique love takes us to the Epiphany, the place where God’s light shines through, shows through, the ministry of our life: this means being where we are, living where we are, loving life as we can: simply sharing the journey wholeheartedly, telling our good news in God’s good light.

That good news means hard work, because every light throws a shadow; and to walk that walk, to take on Jesus’ truth (which is the truth about our own destiny, our own true face as well as the ultimate truth, the deepest face of our neighbor), we have to will to let God’s bright light shine on the darker aspects of our own life and the life of the world around us. We have to learn to look at all things - in us and around us - with two questions: What is this to love? Where does this live in truth? And some things simply don’t live in love or truth. They fade out and burn away in that bright light, as they should, because they aren’t really real. So sometimes our growing “enlightenment,” our willing participation to live in God’s light and truth, can burn, can hurt like hell.

I remember walking though a park in San Francisco some years ago and seeing a sign on a fence built to keep people from walking across a newly seeded hillside. It said, "Short Cuts Cause Erosion!" I take that as a four-word definition of sin: a history of people taking shortcuts across other peoples lives, across geography, history, politics, sexuality, ethics, economics and religion too. So to decide not to take shortcuts in living life with Jesus and his friends means wrestling with whatever problems, predicaments, manifestations of evil, "demons", come your way; whether from your own history or that of your people, your culture. This is often the next stop on the journey, the desert of Lent, not an easy place to be.

For Lent is the times when the sky gets dark and the shadows go long, a place where we can learn to meet and treat these demons and pains and questions as ways to God. Surprisingly often, even as if they were questions from God, ways and places that can lead us to live closer to the almighty love. It is not an easy road, honoring and caring for the pain of the world, in ourselves and in others, by witnessing the places where God’s love and God’s beloved are crucified, damaged, done to death to this very day. It takes effort and time, and it can hurt terribly - it made Jesus weep – for it takes us inevitably to the middle of Good Friday, the day when hope will die.

But by the gift of God and san always surprising grace we live through that Good Friday, that death-time, into a new certainty of life, an experience of Easter that somehow transcends death, comes from beyond ourselves, opens us into a continuing and deeper participation in God’s creativity, where we can sharpen up both our questions and our hope, can live larger into the answers.

So living life in the light of the resurrection calls for a new kind of language of passion and understanding, calls us to learn new words for God’s love and mercy, majesty and intimacy, calls us to be a new word for God, speaking to people and in places where that word might not otherwise be heard. And in that place we can come to our own Pentecost, where God’s spirit speaks loud in the witness of our daily lives. It will not always last, but we will remember.

But how can we live with life this large? Partly, I think, in mystery, through prayer, and as a willing part of a living community that is committed to share the journey over the years, through numerous seasons of bloom and drought, from Advent through Advent and Easter to Easter; a community where we can tell the stories, say the prayers, eat and drink in light of God’s recreation in the world as companions, “bread-sharers;” taking it one moment at a time with very small steps. And with a seasonal, but always growing hope that the end of the day, the end of the journey, the end of life itself, may be found in love.

John the Baptist, The Apostle Paul and Timothy, this coming Christ; all bright lights, bright stars that cross the skies, keeping our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, giving us good news that comes from a long way away, good news that will come very close.

Listen to Paul’s writings:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ

Advent is here; a time to turn around to be renewed in hope, that we may be awake and alert, watching, in the joyful task of responding to the love of God which we come to know in the whole life of Christ. It is time to begin again.

Friday, December 04, 2009

And here's a pic!

A sermon to be shared...

Ordination of Robert Whalley to the Diaconate. Wangaratta. 4.12.09
Ps 15 Gal. 6:7-10 Mt 13:47-52
Again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.

At weddings, I usually begin by saying that John and Jenny have already made their commitment to each other and that what they are doing today is making that commitment public, before family and friends and before God, asking for both God’s blessing on their relationship and the support of family and friends in their journey ahead as man and wife.

Robert has long since committed himself to Christian ministry and stands before us today an experienced teacher and preacher of God’s word, a wise practitioner in spiritual direction, prayer and meditation and - as a former chaplain to tertiary institutions - experienced in counseling and pastoral care. For quite some time, Robert has sought to have his baptismal ministry newly “ordered”; that is, to respond to and to test a calling to ordained ministry, with the visible authority and specific responsibilities it carries. The Church, in its turn, has found Robert both suited to, and fit for, the office of Deacon. Like the man and woman who have already made their commitment to each other, Robert is today asking for the support of us all in the household of faith and for the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands by the Bishop: an outward and visible sign of the grace of Holy Orders, in which Robert’s Christian discipleship continues, and under which his ministry as a baptized person is from henceforth re-expressed.

Today, the Anglican Church celebrates the witness of Nicholas Ferrar, founder of the religious household at Little Gidding, that tiny community of family and friends who in 1626 in rural Cambridgeshire dedicated themselves to a life of daily prayer and service to others. Though the community barely lasted 20 years, so profound was the sanctity of their Christian lifestyle that Little Gidding is still today one of those ‘thin places’ spoken of in Celtic spirituality where two worlds meet, holy places where one might encounter God as Moses encountered God on Mt Sinai, a place indeed immortalized by T.S.Eliot in the last of his 4 Quartets as a place where “prayer has been valid.” The liturgical guide to Lesser Feasts says of Nicholas Ferrar, rather summarily, that after his business collapsed “he took deacon’s orders and retired to the country!” What actually went on at Little Gidding was Christ’s mission to the world in microcosm - a daily round of prayer issuing in service to others - concern for the spiritual and physical needs of the local people and the education of their children.

In whatever arena - province or hamlet - the Church’s ministry to the world is a response to God’s love as revealed to us in Jesus, a response to Christ expressed in service to others, to work for the good of all as Paul says in today’s Epistle. Paul’s concept of Christian love in action is the renewal of all individual lives and, as such, he sees the whole world as our parish. The kingdom of Heaven is offered to all. It is” like a net” says Jesus “that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” - all sorts and conditions. And implicit in Christ’s saying is that all alike need that which is offered so that - as expressed in the Collect for Christ the King - all the “people of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his gentle and loving rule.” This is the work of Christ to bring health and healing, meaning and hope to all humankind; the work of the Church, “the only institution” William Temple reminds us, “that exists for the benefit of those who don’t belong to it.”

All Christians are by their baptism engaged in Christ’s ministry to the world, but those ordained into the Church catholic’s threefold order have a special responsibility because they serve a public and representative function. As representative of the Church in society the office carries enormous responsibility and accountability; and as representative of Christ, as an alter Christus invested with Christ’s power to heal, cleanse, and renew - powers given to the disciples - the sacred office of the ordained minister is one of immense privilege.

I referred earlier to thin places’ spoken of in Celtic spirituality. John Pritchard has described priests as ‘thin’ people in whom may be sensed a world beyond, where God is, where people can be made to feel “at home’ with God. Or to put it another way, to use the words of Jesus’ wonderful invitation to those who would come unto him, where people may find rest for their souls.

In describing his visit to the shrine of St Simon Stylites in the Syrian desert, Christopher Moody noticed on the plains below the shrine numerous hostels set up to welcome pilgrims and comments he suddenly became aware of the close association between pilgrims, travel and hospitality. First, the huge variety of people drawn to the shrine, fish of every kind; and as they approached that which they sought - nearness to God - places to stop and find rest, hostels wherein to find shelter, comfort, something of God’s hospitality.

The Anglican Tradition has it that ministry is primarily pastoral - designed to attract people into the love of God, to bear the grief's and carry the sorrows of God’s people, heal the broken spirit and bind up their wounds, bring Christ’s healing and deliverance to a broken, harassed and helpless world. The Need is universal; the response by the Church of Jesus Christ is to all God’s people, to fish of every kind, even if that response is sometimes met with by indifference, hostility, and rejection: As the poet R.S.Thomas writes: The Priest picks his way through the parish / Eyes watch him, from the windows, the farms/ Hearts wanting him to come near/ The flesh rejects him! But the sacred ministry - even in the context of this increasingly secular and agnostic society - still has the power to attract, to heal, cleanse and to renew lives, to offer people God’s hospitality, a place where two worlds meet.

In ministry to the sick and dying we see it again and again. One old chap in Cabrini’s Palliative Care Hospital said to me recently, “I’m C of E, Padre, but my wife and I never go to church. To be honest, I’ve never really understood it!” We avoid talk of God, but he tells me his story over and over, always accepts God’s Blessing and weeps at the touch of my hand on his brow.

A colleague told me of a man who declared he was an atheist and had no need of a supreme being. The Chaplain replied she wasn’t so sure about a supreme being either! But in the course of several conversations, in which Jack Spong proved to be of common interest, the fellow one day remarked, half jokingly, he no longer minded the crucifix in his room. When the Chaplain took her leave for the weekend and obviously couldn’t offer a Blessing to an atheist, she light-heartedly suggested instead a peck on the cheek. “Oh, please” he responded. Quite unexpectedly, the man died that night.

The person in Holy Orders is widely perceived as a God-person, an alter Christus, as someone with Christ’s power to offer rest, comfort, encouragement, mercy and forgiveness, the love and hospitality of God, proximity to the shrine, nearness to God, a place where two worlds meet.

There is, however, nothing special about any of us called to be ordained. It is a sobering reminder that we are no better than anyone when every day we come in contact with people of greater faith and virtue. And it’s encouraging to note that the first disciples, chosen, commissioned and sent out by Jesus, were fragile human beings like us.

Rob, may you continue to delight in your vocation as a servant of Christ, and may your ordination this morning mark for you a wonderful beginning in a new kind of ministry. May you rejoice and pray without ceasing to the one who has called you to this service, and in all circumstances give thanks - for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.

Stephen Miles

A Prayer to God the Father on the Vigil of Pentecost

Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you. The distant blue hills praise you together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praise you together with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers, and they all give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence and a diversity of voices.

You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am. In mew the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere. And yet I am “here,” let us say I am “here” under these trees, not others.

For a long time I was in darkness and in sorrow, and I suppose my confusion was my own fault. No doubt my own will has been the root of my sorrow, and I regret it merciful father, but I do not regret it because this formula is acceptable as an official answer to all problems. I know I have sinned, but the sin is not to be found in any list. Perhaps I have looked to hard at all the lists to find out what my sin was and I did not know that it was precisely the sin of looking at all the lists when you were telling me that this was useless. My “sin” is not on the list, and is perhaps not even a sin. In any case I cannot know what it is, and doubtless there is nothing there anyway.

Whatever may have been my particular stupidity, the prayers of your friends and my own prayers have somehow been answered and I am here, in this solitude, before you, and I am glad because you see me here. For it here, I think, that you want to see me, and I am seen by you. My being here is a response you have asked of me, to something I have not clearly heard. But I have responded, and I am content: there is little to know about it at present.

Here you ask of me nothing else than to be content that I am your Child and your Friend. Which simply means to accept your friendship because it is your friendship and your Fatherhood because I am your son. This friendship is Son-ship and is Spirit. You have called me here to be repeatedly born in the Spirit as your son. Repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence and in praise.

If I have any choice to make, it is to live here and perhaps die here. But in any case it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place: to speak your name of “Father” just by being here as “son” in the Spirit and the Light which you have given , and which are no unearthly light but simply this plain June day, with its shining fields, its tulip trees, the pines, the woods, the clouds and the flowers everywhere.

To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a centre in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being.

Therefore Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world: and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

To study truth here and learn here to suffer for truth.

The Light itself, and the contentment and the Spirit, these are enough.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Two Prayers from the American Prayer Book

Back from retreat, settling down to sleep and trying not to get in the way of what's happening tomorrow. The retreat was very good, now I just need to listen and pray, not necessarily in that order.

These two prayers in the American BCP have always meant a lot to me, especially tonight.

The FIrst one really hit me my first semester at CDSP in 1980 and still speaks to me:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look 
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred 
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry 
out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world 
see and know that things which were being cast down are being 
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made 
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection 
by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus 
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity 
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Then yesterday I remembered this prayer. I kept a copy of it around for years and used it as part of daily devotions during a short period when I had a disciplined intercessory prayer routine. I found out later that it was written by William Temple.

A Prayer of Self-Dedication

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord 
and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Review and Revision of my life on a Sunday morning!

I spent a few hours this morning, abed with coffee, looking at my life over some 10 year intervals. Here it is:


Almost 4 years old and two of earliest memories I can date. First, a late summer day with my parents and brother meeting my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin next to the Golden Bears at the California State Fair on the 100th anniversary of the Gold Rush. Then preparations for the New Years Eve party that year at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club. My parents were on the committee, and some people were dressing up a mannequin from Rich’s store dressed as the old year with white robe and flowing beard), when Heiney Catrow emerged from the men’s locker room dressed as the new year, 1950, with a large white diaper over his racing trunks.


Just into my terrible teens. I was not attending school, had dropped out of seventh grade the year before. My parents marriage was breaking up, we were living in a rented house on 41st street, after my parents had sold their house and his partnership in a printing business to pay back taxes, and my father was working for the State of California. My mother and I both saw therapists for a short while and then we were going to my uncles ranch some Saturdays and wondering about moving. This was the same year my 20 year old brother had an accident when an iron chip from a hammer went into his eyeball. I remember waiting with Woody Adams, my parent’s friend, in a car parked outside a market on 43rd and H streets while my father went in to buy some liquor, and looking at a hair growing on the my left big toe, knowing that puberty was coming and I wasn’t sure what that would mean. The next year my brother married his high school sweetheart and my mother and I moved to a house on my uncle's ranch, with my father coming down occasionally to visit.


I was 23 and had dropped out of the University of Oregon the previous year after a total immersion in sex, drugs and rock and roll. I spent the winter and spring working with my uncle on the ranch followed by summer school at Stanford, That autumn I took 2 classes at the local junior college and started making plans to get into the University of California at Davis. I helped my parents move from the ranch to a house in Fairfield where my grandmother would join us. In the next few years I would take some classes at Davis, then drop out again, after my grandmothers death, to join my parents in starting our own printing business.


I had been accepted for an MA in History and Phenomenology of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley; but couldn’t graduate from UCD because of what felt like a phobia in learning a required foreign language. I was still working part-time in the dysfunctional family business and finally got into therapy with a wonderful Jungian who did some very good and deep work with dreams (Thank you Beth Kennedy!). This might have been the start of seeing the possibility of making some substantial changes in my life and taking on the responsibility of working for further changes.


I had left an unfinished MA degree in 1985 and, after a mixed year as a youth minister and intern in a northern California parish (as well as finally leaving the family business), had finally graduated with an M.Div degree from CDSP (Church Divinity School of the Pacific). I had been turned down by the Diocese of California for ordination, where the Bishop said, “I am not going to ordain you, but I am going to use you.” I was smoking too much grass (and starting to see how that was toxic for me), working in customer service in a retail headquarters in San Francisco, and doing some teaching and preaching at Grace Cathedral where the Canon Pastor, Lauren Artress, advised me to look into University Chaplaincy as a vocation. I told her that it would be too easy. After a fairly bleak year, I made a serious commitment to therapy with a psychologist-priest, finally stopped smoking marijuana and, in 1991, started work at Campus Ministry at the University of San Francisco.


I was teaching part-time (Thomas Merton, Enneagram and Social Ethics) at USF, College of Professional Studies, had moved off campus and left campus ministry the year before to move around the corner from All Saints’ Parish in the Haight Ashbury, San Francisco. In the previous two years my father, mother and brother had all died after what seemed an endless series of crises taken from a bad soap opera. I was also mentoring one or two Spiritual Formation Groups for the Episcopal School for Deacons, and working at Henry Ohloff House, a drug and alcohol treatment centre run by the Diocese. In April that year I moved into a 4 month residency at the San Francisco zen Center and, in August returned to CDSP as the Visiting Chaplain for the student body. Within my first month there I met John Davis, a priest from Melbourne, who was to be (to put it very simply) the best friend I have ever known and (an Aussie term here) a mate for life. I starting thinking about a long visit to Australia.


I came for a Christmas visit to Melbourne 9 years ago (minus 2 weeks) and (with John’s good help) moved over the following year. I did some online teaching for USF and started the Merton Centre @ St. Peter’s Eastern Hill as a platform for teaching, preaching and spiritual direction around Melbourne; then went back to tertiary chaplaincy with encouragement and a ministry grant from a good and friendly Bishop (thank you + Philip Huggins!). After a few years I returned to teaching online and in-person at a local Anglican seminary. And then in the last year, with a hiatus in mental heath chaplaincy, have been moved (in vivid dreams, with helpful friends, and by a benevolent bishop who put my gifts to use in the Diocese of Wangaratta) to a new town, new ministry, new horizon.

So, 60 years in 7 paragraphs. I’ve left significant things off, either by choice or oversight, but that’s a fair summary of my life so far. Perhaps it wasn’t as busy as it sounds, there are a lot of hours spent when I sat in cafes with my journal and “measured out my life with coffee spoons.” There was far too much equivocation over the years. I should have stopped smoking grass, taken my studies more seriously and started therapy much sooner; and I haven’t talked much about sex, drugs and musical comedy as much as I might, but this is not that kind of blog.

What I really wish I could do is have a parade of pictures alongside these words; pictures of friends, mentors, benevolent pilgrims on their own journeys who shared and changed my life. The summary makes it sound like a solitary exploration and, by God’s grace, it wasn’t. Friends and from Davis, CDSP, and USF, Grace, S4D, All Saints’, St. Peter’s, Trinity Theological School, all were a part of it, Friends who all helped me accept who I was and what I could and couldn’t change, helped me to make changes where I could, helped me to move on. I mention a few folk, but there are so many more.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Facebook, because so many of them are occasionally online there, and I get the snaps and snippets of their comings and going, people and places that mattered in the past and that matter to them now. I’ve always liked the fact that the early Christians were called the "People of The Way.” Probably most of the people on my way are not “professional” Christians, but that doesn’t matter much. I have learned hope and acceptance and ministry and love from them over the years, and they (even you, my reader) have helped me find my way along with them.

Let’s bring it up to the present. In 5 days and 2 hours I will be made a Deacon. Eliot writes this in Little Gidding:

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,

Every poem an epitaph. And any action

Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat

Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

Quite honestly I don’t know what to expect at the time of my ordaining, or the one to priesthood now set for 13 February. It is both the end (meaning both termination and goal) of something and a beginning as well. I am trying to be open to both these facts, as well as to a grace I cannot get my cantankerous head around, a likely and blessed surprise.

But I know that I am not alone: again Eliot,

History may be servitude,

History may be freedom.
See, now they vanish,

The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,

To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

You will all be with me this coming Friday, both in prayer and presence, with all your history and hope, all these communities and callings, all one at the deepest level, and for this I am very grateful.

Thank you!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Poem for Monday

We don’t have to have a past today
Could simply follow the sun like certain plants
Face the light, turn to what is bright and warming; or, conversely,
Like a more delicate potted plant, move into the softer shade for the filtered light
Humankind cannot bear very much reality, nor should many other growing things.

Find the place that suits for this morning,
the ecology that supports enough growth,
(the life of significant soil), between reseeding (receding) and bloom.
But not being caught, rooted too deeply, in either of those beds.

Instead, stretch into the present like cats do, relaxing and
Letting the spine of the moment open like a shy smile,
An intake of breath, an increased delight, a touch of dancing
While you silently stay exactly where you are.

And all that carried history and expectation,
Heavy potential and the weight of undone deeds
Unfinished stories and long-dead parents and people
We never liked all that much; make it compost, treat it like dung.

To be left behind, discarded in a pile to decay, mulch,
To ripen into something that can feed new
Unthinkable, unspeakable growth that may
Bloom into possibilities in another spring

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday evening reflection

Two poems keep going through my mind.

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives 

Would never want to tamper, flows on south 
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, 

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, 

A way of happening, a mouth.

And this:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

I’m living in a place that’s much like where I grew up, where my family came from. And they were places I wanted, and felt I needed, to escape from when I was young; Auden’s raw towns: Sacramento, then the ranch during my teens when I felt terminally isolated and anomalous, Fairfield, Eugene, Davis. Then Berkeley, where I started to hit my stride; away from the family template, finally in a place where people looked and thought like I did, where I could become myself, not feel pressure to conform to ways of thinking and being that didn’t fit me.

So after years in Berkeley, San Francisco, back to Berkeley, and now over 8 years in Australia. I pace myself differently. Maybe now - to paraphrase Thoreau - the distant drummer I heard so many years has moved into my heartbeat, and what I needed to get to, to guard, has become the background music that I hear when I see this good world. Perhaps, in all my meandering, I met and made peace with who I was, so can return to where I started, the dry valleys, small towns with people who look much like the people I grew up with, places that formed me, and know them for the first time.

Two more quotes: first, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” then Merton writes something to the effect that an enlightened person is just an ordinary person who has nowhere else they have to go. I am not claiming satori, just saying that there’s a sweet and full freedom when the noisier heroics have quieted and there is simply the sound of cicada at the end of a warm spring day with good work and good people.

This week I joined the Beechworth Chorus and, walking home after the first rehearsal, I remember joining my first choir, Grace Church Fairfield, when I was 21, 42 years ago. I had such a hard time following the music then, leaning to sing in community: with all the voices in my head singing in disharmony and telling me I was both better and worse than anyone in the room. Now I am just another voice in the chorus. I have weaknesses and strengths, abilities and disabilities; and singing in community is the venue where all that can be both set free and redeemed in simply joining in the ongoing music we make in all our living and dying.

21 years ago when I did CPE, I came up with a four-sided picture of where and how I needed to balance with life; competence, passion, prayer and personality. Maybe in the last two decades these four have become one focus, one method of meeting life on life’s terms, in life’s good time.

In any case, I have much to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sermon, Christ Church, Beechworth

I want to look at the scribe and the widow in our Gospel reading, but first I’d like to talk about Religion and Spirituality a bit and then kind of work my way back. They are both big words, and the idea of spirituality is very popular though it might not be easy to easy to define; for me it is what happens when the air gets fresh and you feel connected again. There are lots of definitions for it, and in any case, lots of people who say, “Well, I am not religious but I am spiritual!” Some spiritualities - Benedictine, Ignatian, Franciscan, Celtic - might come under the label of Christian, some are New Age and some are very Old Age, but they speak deeply to people who are looking for rituals and routines to help them connect with meaning, hope, life.

Celtic spirituality is a tradition that has become quite popular in the last 20 or 30 years. As I understand it, much of what comes under that label streams from early Greek, Orthodox and and Coptic monks meeting the poetic and love of nature already deep in the Celtic soul in much of Great Britain and Ireland in the sixth or seventh century. This connection led to a theological, prayerful and mystical community bound together by a love for the Trinity, for Mary and the Incarnation of Christ; as well as in a simple and eloquent tradition and practice of music, art, poetry and liturgy pointing to a sense of the Holy, of God and the company of saints as a continuing, helpful, personal presence; with very thin boundaries between nature, the most sacred and everyday life. So in the last few years this body of word and music has given life to many people, helped them connect with hope and happiness, need and neighbor, call and community. So it can be a spirituality that breathes with meaning and promise in daily life.

And we need that for the traditional religions have fallen on bad times. With an increasingly strident fundamentalism on one side of the religious spectrum and dwindling attendance and energy on the other, we don’t look too good lately, and for many, the scribe that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel looks like the worst of what is feared in religion; a deadly formalism: an empty love for dress-up and ritual, too much emphasis on looking good in public, long prayers, private rituals, hypocrisy.

Now we all know people like that in the church, and some (maybe most) of us are people like that, or have been, at least a little, at least some of the time. Because sometimes we need to be formal, to dress up, to take on roles and rules that don’t quite fit us yet, as a support so that we can stand up and become ourselves again, become who we ought to be, who God wants us to be.

In a world noisy with the common gods of the marketplace, such as money, power, pride and public opinion, good religion practice offers places, rituals, stories and support to take ourselves more seriously in light of the love of God: and sometimes people overdo it, get it wrong as they’re learning to get it right. But that can also happen in any spirituality.

So maybe religion can be defined as the way we organize, prioritize, tie up our world; the rules and roles we follow, to (quoting an Irish poet) “keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, let we grow hard.” But maybe spirituality fits there too, for many spiritualities turn into religions over a few years. So whether you practice spirituality or religion, yoga or morning prayers, go to church religiously, write poetry at dawn, or serve God in your tennis game; it is a good thing if it gives you heart, encourages you, lifts you up and connects you with your deepest goals and God and your neighbor. If it helps you to keep it together, it’s a good thing. But it is very important to note that it is only half the whole story of living life.

Here’s the other side. Thomas Merton writes that we have to know we have a heart before we can give it away. It’s a two part process, there are two parts to life: we take it all in and we give it all away.

There’s a joke I love that never gets a laugh: two people are attending the funeral of a woman, afterwards they start talking details of the estate. One asks: “Did she leave much?” The other replies, “She left everything” We leave everything! By hook or crook, whether we’re a tennis players, poets, third order Franciscans or fiddlers, Celt or Anglo-Catholic, in the end we give it all away.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” That’s the other side of the story. The large and little ways we give ourselves away. The greek word is kenosis, to pour ourselves out as a sacrifice to God. We don’t know why the scribe needed to look so good to so many, any more than we know why the woman gave so much of herself away, that’s their story, but how do we balance these two ways of being in our story?

Dag Hammarskjold, the secretary-general of the United Nations in the 1960s wrote in his personal journal, “I don't know Who -- or what -- put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone --or Something --and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.” He was killed not long afterwards in a plane crash, on the way to make peace in an African civil war.

He gave what he could, the woman gave what she had, Jesus will give all he has, Peter and Paul and so many saints and martyrs in the Christian tradition over the last two thousand years up to people we might know, people who might be with us today, will give all they have; not only in dramatic sacrifice, but in simple daily disciplined acts of mercy and justice, ongoing calls to community and commitment in following the way of Jesus, in his self-giving, as best we can in all our days and ways. Maybe that pompous scribe even gave what he could. 

Religion and Spirituality, knowing what you need to have and knowing when you need to let go; sometimes religion might be taking it in, giving it shape, and spirituality might a way of pouring it out with passion, letting it go freely. Maybe, in the end, life, our daily living and dying, is just like breathing, we take it in, we give it out; two sides of the same coins; like the life that Jesus lifts up and gives away, freely, and somehow shares with us on the cross and beyond, a mystery to which we need to say Yes, a living sacrifice, a contained and considered self-surrender that leads us to a union with God in Christ in all things, so that we may serve God, know God’s love, in all ways.

In the name of Christ.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bringing it up to date...

My life has changed a lot in the last year, and even more in the last month: new job, new car, new house, new location with new weather, geography, altitude and attitude. Moving from inner Melbourne to a small town (‘though not far from some regional cities). After years of University and Health chaplaincy in in the midst of a major urban area and on the edge of the urban archdiocese (even though near some sort of creative edge), I am now working in a country diocese and, as the Bishop’s Chaplain, close to the centre (yes, and a creative one) of the workings of the institution.

My office is is next to the Bishop in the Diocesan Registry next to the Cathedral, and I am busy on a variety of fronts: looking at plans, protocols and procedures for the diocesan institutions and culture; formulating some ideas for clergy and lay education and formation in the coming year; stretching my IT expertise by trying to bring Google apps and cloud technology into the way we calendar, document and share our work. It’s all a great stretch, but it has to do with things I love and people I am enjoying a lot.

The town and country are a surprise. I keep telling people that my great great great grandparents moved to California in the Gold Rush, building and living in towns much like the places where I am now living. So there’s a feeling of deja vu (all over again), of a return to the place where I started and knowing it, if not for the first time, at least in a different way. Now with the freedom of age, past the urgency of youth, past the tyranny of the years when I needed to name everything and get somewhere, anywhere else than where I was. There’s not much else to do or to go from here, so I can enjoy where I am. I am enjoying the expanse of the land, the sky, enjoying the fresh air and the smell of the fields, and the loud birdsong with Australian Magpies, Cockies and the occasional pair of blessed Kookaburras. Last night we were walking down the street at dusk when two of them started a series of shrieks so like a Hollywood special effect machine that it was hard to believe two birds could make so much noise, but they do! I am loving the fact that people speak to you on the street, wish you good morning and good evening, meet you eyes and smile.

And in 28 days I will be a Deacon. And I feel that accounts for a kind of deep and rich silence and resonance under all the business, that there’s a real reason for me being here, that the work have to do with an assent that comes deep in me, deeper than I ever knew, to doing what I do and giving what I can in a way that is both very specific and somehow universal at the same time. The universe seems pointed and broad lately, and it’s a very rich time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Sermon

St Jude’s Church, El Dorado.
25 October 2009

To introduce myself, I am Robert Whalley, and for the last 7 or 8 years I’ve lived in Melbourne where I was a University Chaplain (which has been most of my ministry as a layman for the last 20 years) and part of the ministry team at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill. I will be ordained as a transitional deacon in Wangaratta on December 4th (and you’re all invited!) and I will be working 3 days a week as the Bishop’s Chaplain and two days a week around Milawa, Ed Dorado, Beechworth Parish. I grew up in Northern California - and in the early 1850s my great great grandparents settled in gold country that looks so much like this that I have a real feeling of homecoming and return in moving here; for the first school I attended in Sacramento was named El Dorado!

For some years I’ve taught classes on Media and Spirituality and one of the reasons I take looking at television and movies seriously is that popular movies carry so many of the vivid morals and messages of our time; whether they’re good or bad messages is another question, but they’re important! The other reason I love good television and movies is that they open our eyes to see life differently, even to see scripture anew. So let’s look at the passage we just heard from Mark.

Look at it. They’re on the road together. I imagine it’s hot and dusty, towards the end of the day, the crowd’s caught up in the excitement, the amazing teaching, the healing presence of this man, Jesus of Nazareth; the question of who might he be? What can he mean? And as we’re heading out of Jericho, one of the people who are always there, on the edge of the town, a blind beggar in an old cloak, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, somebodies son sits there. Maybe he’s a kind of feature of the landscape, asking for sustenance and charity, banking that people will keep him fed, usually blending in like background noise, he starts yelling: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now a lot of us get tense when the less attractive people start making noise (especially in times when illness, deformity, deafness and blindness are often seen as signs of divine punishment), and common etiquette says; look, Jesus is important so, “Many sternly order him to be quiet, but he cries out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and Jesus stands still. It stops the action.

See that (maybe like the moment in John’s Gospel when the crowd wants to stone the woman taken in adultery, when’s he’s silent, writing in the dust), Jesus stops on the road (and if that doesn’t change the mood I don’t know what will) and says, “Call him here.” Notice that he doesn’t call him directly, but gets the community involved. And suddenly the man who was on the edge is in the middle of things. “And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Take heart! Encouragement is coming from everywhere, and maybe the people who had never really seen the blind man at the gate are looking at him in a new light, wishing him well. “So throwing off his cloak, he springs up and comes to Jesus. Then Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” What do you want? There are a lot of stories in the Gospels where Jesus asks that, as if he needs to hear our need, needs to have room to have compassion on our passion. What do you need? The blind man says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he sees again, maybe better than ever, but he doesn’t go, he joined the crowd, this Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Perhaps giving us a model for ministry and community as well.

A couple of quotes from others sources kept coming into my mind as I read through, prayed through, worked through this text:

First, from one of my favorite movies. The Philadelphia Story (1940, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart): “you'll never be a first-class human being...until you've learned to have a regard for human frailty.” Jesus joins us in human journey, here in the middle of life and death, to honor the hope of our heart, with a high regard for our frailty, and that’s something we can always practice alongside him, hospitality for those in need; the poor, the meek, oppressed, the lonely; and that really doesn’t leave many of us out.

Second, the priest and writer Thomas Merton writes that we have to know we have a heart before we can give it away. And maybe life was discouraging for this blind beggar before Jesus came along, but Jesus called a community to call him: “take heart, get up, he is calling you!” And maybe that’s when Bartimaeus started to see a new way to be in the world, and so maybe did everyone in that community. So perhaps that means we need to encourage one another, to honor what waits to be called for, born, healed and hoped for, seen clearly. This takes patience, but I am convinced it all can come in God’s time.

Finally, something my mother told me many years ago while I was going through what felt like the most painful adolescence in human history. She said, “Don’t judge anyone else, because you don’t know what their past has been; and don’t judge yourself, because you don’t know what your future will be, where it will take you, how it might work out.” I’d add one more thing; in times when judgment wants to come, let Jesus be there too, take heart, for yourself or others, let them be encouraged, keep yourself encouraged, keep hopeful together during the tough times.

For the sad truth is a lot of us don’t get healed right away, some blindness, disease, pain, remains, so we might limp on the way, we might need friends to guide us, maybe we can’t see the road ahead and there are days when Jerusalem might look to be a dead end. We have to walk that one together, towards a growing faith that helps us see how, by God’s grace, it will turn out. It’s all back there in Jeremiah:

For thus says the Lord: See, I am going to bring them... and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth... the blind and the lame... a great company... with weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them.. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.. and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

In the name of Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Orders and Sacraments, Mark 10:35-45

To start with some some good news and some good and sad news. This will probably be my last Sunday sermon at St Peter’s for awhile. My new work was going to commence in seven weeks, but I’ve been asked to start early. So tomorrow I will begin my job as the chaplain to the Bishop of Wangaratta, and in 47 days (and about 25 minutes) on the 4th of December, The Rt. Rev. John Parkes will - God Willing - make me a deacon, with ordination to priesthood hopefully to follow in the new year. There should be prayer cards around soon, and please know you are very welcome to both these celebrations.

This has all happened very quickly and slowly too: ordination is an option, a door I’ve looked at often for over 40 years, even knocked on somewhat softly in the past, and in the last three months the door’s opened wide and, with some fear and trembling, and a lot of delight, I’m walking through! The work in Wangaratta will involve education, pastoral ministry, even school chaplaincy; plus living and doing ministry in our sister parish, Christ Church, Beechworth (So come on up, Sunday’s at 10:00!). But the main work’s the Bishop’s Chaplain, and I’ve been looking at what that means. Michael Brierley, an English priest who served as Chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford, describes the job in this way:

“Like parish work, it's a job of great variety: first and foremost is prayer for the bishop...; then office-based administration; assisting the bishop with pastoral work, with research, and on some social occasions; representing him on some bodies; and acting as liturgical chaplain, and also as his driver.”

Then, quoting the Bishop of Salisbury, he adds this: 'Each of us needs to have an idea of what being a deacon and a priest [or Bishop] are about. I see it this way ...'  God in Christ does two things: he shares our life and he changes it. This... is what every Christian is called to do: to share people's lives, and to change them... people are made deacon to emphasise the sharing side, and [consecrated bishop and] ordained priest to point to the transforming side.”

Michael Brierley finds that “a helpful model for thinking about the 'cure' of the bishop's 'soul'. Much of the work is 'diaconal', quietly sharing the bishop's life and supporting him by doing what needs doing. But there is also a 'priestly' (and I would say Episcopal) side to it, saying or doing something that offers the possibility of changing situations (hopefully) for the better.”

And that connects with the Gospel for today. Listen to what Jesus says,

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

It’s interesting advice. I think he’s calling for a balancing act in an arena where we might often veer dangerously from one side to the other. To balance with both the wish to be great, to be on top, as well as the desire to serve, to slave, to sacrifice ourselves to the right cause. We know more about the excesses of heroism and ambition, but C.S. Lewis writes (I think in The Screwtape Letters) that if we realized how much trouble unselfishness can cause we wouldn’t recommend it so often. He speaks of the subtle tyranny of those people who “lives for others,” adding that you can often tell the “others” by the “hunted look”.

But it isn’t just an either/or situation; there is even room for trouble in the middle. One of the aspects of life in Australia that I love is a deep and humerous suspicion of the top dog, the tall poppy. Though sometimes it seems downright un-American, it is quite healthy. The other side of that is the idea that, “Jack is as good as his master,” the spirit that says, “I am as good as anyone here.” But the danger of this middle way might be what one of the apocalyptic angels in the Revelation to John calls being lukewarm, people who are neither hot nor cold, who are in danger of being spat out for their excessive moderation. So, going back to the Gospel (if you want to lead, then serve; if you want to be greatest, then be the least); maybe the solution is to allow both sides now, embrace the desire to be both the greatest and the first and the slave and the last? It is still quite biblical, for there’s some good scriptural ground found in walking with this wide possibility.

Remember: Jesus says that we are as Gods, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, the very salt of the earth; and that’s good, we’re good; and that very goodness, that glory, that gift of God in our lives needs to be shared with the world. So taking on the stewardship of giving your own gift means taking a chance to be a person with authority, an overseer, a bishop. It doesn’t have to mean you’ll be a fascist, it means to share the gifts you were born with, that delight and desire have sharpened and honed over the years. This little light of yours and mine, each of our particular epiphanies, should shine, because they are, in God’s good creation, essential. In God’s eyes your delight matters, and must make a difference! As the writer and chaplain, Frederick Buechner put it: "The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." That’s our vocation!

For there’s a lot of hunger out there. People are in need, and Christ’s mandate is that people need to be served, cared for, must be honored, and our lives must be shared. We need to have and to be saints who are willing to be servants, deaconos, whose perfection is yoked to mercy and service, blessing the meek, meeting the poor, celebrating in solidarity the very fragility of humankind.

Listen to this again, you know the words:

“we offer ourselves to you
as a living sacrifice
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory.”

That when I love the church the most, when we move out, all of us together, Bishops’, Priests, Deacons, Laity, all the people and places of God, taking on and being each and every one of the sacramental signs that fill this place, fleshing out that wholeness and holiness in the midst of this good-beyond-belief world. For this amazing church, St Peter’s Eastern Hill, with all the words and music, all the history and hope, all the smells and bells, with all of us gathered here (and those who have gone on) are all a sacrament, a sign, a bright reminder, of the holiness of the whole world. That is why we’re here! We get washed up, confirmed, ordered, married and buried, we bring our sins and illnesses, find forgiveness for ourselves and our neighbors, get touched for healing and hope, we get well fed and we take this meal on the road, so that we can be sacraments ourselves in this world of deep gladness and deep hunger. We come to believe that this place is holy so that we can come to know and live and act with the faithful conviction that the whole world is holy, and in great need too: worth changing, worth sharing, worth serving; worth wonderfully overqualified servants doing very simple things extremely well, dancing God’s discipleship all the days of our lives.

Let me end with this from the American Prayer Book. It comes in the middle of one of the Eucharistic prayers and it’s been on my mind this last week.

We praise you, we bless you,
We give thanks to you,
And we pray to you, Lord our God.

Do you hear the hight and breadth, the freedom, the humility and the hope here? That’s what and where we’re called to be, all of us, overseers and servants, bishops, priests, deacons, laity, people of God’s Good News.

And let me paraphrase those words for my own farewell:

Dear people of St Peter’s
I praise you, I bless you,
I give thanks to you, for the many mercies and ministries you have shared with me in the last 8 years,
And I pray with you to the Lord our God. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unashamedly stolen from The Shalem Institute Website

Shalem Society October Gathering: More than Images
by Tony Sayer

Sixty-nine participants joined Shalem staff members at the second annual gathering of Shalem's Society for Contemplative Leadership in October and were revived, inspired and renewed. The two major addresses offered there - Tilden Edwards' "Inspirited Pioneers: Probing the Frontiers of Contemplative Awareness" and Carole Crumley's "The Power of Shared Intent: An Opening for God in the World" - can be read on Shalem's web site.

At the rededication service, each person received a prayer scarf as a sign of mutual belonging and common intent and was asked to offer a first prayer for the Society, which has grown to nearly 200 members. This year we also borrowed large posters of various iconic representations to surround our meeting room and invited participants to bring their own icons, so that we could have a sense of the larger community of contemplative ancestors who inspire us with their witness. We asked Society member Tony Sayer to reflect on the time together and below is his response to the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounded the October gathering.

More than Images

...a desert-like spaciousness... (Gerald May)

A spacious room. A high ceiling. A world.
Candles flickering. Souls kindled.
Around the walls paintings, posters, icons.

But more than images. Presences.

Merton and Bonhoeffer are drinking beer.
Their bottles clink together as they confer.

Saint Francis and the Sultan play chess.
The Sultan always wins - Francis seems not to get the game.
Fiercely he protects his pawns, but gives his bishops up with glee.

Mother Seton, Sojourner Truth, and Hildegard of Bingen
are making a quilt. Hildegard wants to add
more and more green to the pattern.

Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks and Ignatius of Loyola
tread the turns of a labyrinth together.
Inigo's limp slows him down, and
the others keep to his pace.

Elijah and Julian share a barley cake. The raven on his shoulder
and the cat on her lap eye each other with suspicion.

Gandhi and John of the Cross and Martin Luther King are
swapping jailhouse memories. They want Bonhoeffer
to join them, but Merton keeps opening
another cool one.

Rumi and Meister Eckhart have been writing song lyrics.
Teresa of Avila rounds up John Woolman and Black Elk
and Frederick Ozanam and Simone Weil
to start a garage band.

Dorothy Day and Clare of Assisi want to sign up.
They want Howard Thurman to come too.
But he's learning Tibetan chant,
his deep-throated voice
growing ever more

Etty Hillesum looks upward, murmuring contentedly,
"So many stars."

William Blake is teaching an art class, but his students
aren't paying attention. Chuang Tzu and Albert Einstein
have gotten paint all over themselves.

"Angels," says Blake impatiently. "Ranks of angels
surround us."

He waves his hand in the air. He points at us.

For we too are here. Among these
witnesses, servants, pilgrims, martyrs,
in this patchwork communion of saints-we are here.

Holy One, by what fiery grace have we
come to join this company?

We praise you for the gift of guides and companions.
May we be such to each other.

Show us our walking stick and our narrow way.

Turn us to stillness and to hastening.

Turn us to doing the little righteousness
that is ours to do.

Give us strength to love.

Teach our hearts to break and break.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon, St, Michael and All Angels, St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne

How do we live with the possibilities of angels? How can we, in this post-post-modern, somewhat scientific, certainly non-poetic world, even speak about angelos, messengers and messages that come from places that are bigger than we know? How do we live with this possibility: that the Holy might wish to meet with us, in an intimate way, in the very middle of our daily lives. And yet it happens! There are moments when we wake up to a world filled with love letters from God, there are moments when we are called to take up a new horizon, a new destination, a new beginning.

But it’s awfully hard to talk about! You have to stretch language to account for the times where the corner turns and the whole world suddenly seems new. We need to be careful then and take it at an angle. To quote the American poet  Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---

Success in Cirrcuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind---

So we need to speak the dazzling things using the circuitous rhythm, the mysterious images, the surprising allusions of poetry to make light to see the heavenly realms in our own time , to see where we are and who we’re with clearly, not so we’re blinded, but somehow enlightened.

Heavenly messages, angels seem to show up when times are tough and they just might show up in a different realm of time. The Greeks had two words for time: Chronos, meaning time as historical process, a kind of march if you like, from which we get words like chronometer, chronicle and chronology, and contexts like: the meeting will be at noon…. We are planning that in the next... let’s have lunch on... It is time as schedule, utilitarian, built for the long run. If it were a car it would be a station wagon, or perhaps a ute. But Kairos is the right time, the timely gift of knowing - not just where but when you are - the time for sunrise, time to plant seed, time to make reconciliation, to make love.

If Chronos is a station wagon then Kairos is nothing but a convertible, where the top come down you can see the sky all around, everywhere. Angels come in Kairos! Angels come into view when we are ready to take the top off and have the world surprise us, when we are ready, even desperate, to be renewed. Even if we don’t quite know it at the time.

Last month I mentioned meeting a man on a subway platform in San Francisco some twenty years ago who, in a few short sentences, made me aware of areas where I needed to change, repent, grow up. I am still not sure if he was an angel. Some years ago, the night before the mother of a friend of mine was going to have surgery, she heard a voice saying, “it isn’t cancer.” Was an angel. Someone else, watching as a loved one approached death, heard the music of the Sanctus in the room. He said, “it didn’t hurt less, but I knew how much it mattered, and knew I wasn’t alone, that no one is alone, that nothing is lost.” Was an angel involved here?

Sometimes you wake in the morning having had a dream and know it is time to make a new choice, to be a new way, to take a new path. Because in some way the whole world, the whole cosmos, is watching with you, and to quote Rilke: “there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.” Is that an angel?

An angel, heavenly mesage, comes in each of todays readings from Scripture. Good news where old visions are passing away: truth slanted, circled with surprising symbols with a winged message of new beginning at the end of the taken for granted time. Scholars call this style of writing Apocalyptic, showing hidden things, revelation: the old civilization is failing, the civility you took for granted is on its last legs, people are perishing for lack of a vision, then there comes an insight, a new way of being in the world.

Daniel’s vision comes in the Babylonian captivity, when Israel’s in exile, lost in another country, when hope is scare and homecoming seems impossible. And Daniel sees one like a son of Adam, who comes with the clouds to renew the people and the earth with a new hope.The Revelation to John arrives when the early Christians are under severe persecution by Roman emperors, the church’s very survival is in question and Christ is not coming back as soon as expected. So John sees a new creation, new heaven, new earth.

And Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see the “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” He tells him the story of Jacob, that’s a surprise for Jacob’s not always a nice person. He steals his brothers birth-right and his father’s deathbed blessing and, after he skipping town, has a dream, sleeping with his head against a stone, where a ladder reaches from the earth to heaven; with the angels of God ascending and descending! And the Lord says, "I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you." He wakes from his sleep in the morning, places the stone pillow upright as a shrine, and names the place Bethel (the "House of God"). He cleans up his act a bit from there on.

But why that story? We just don’t know much about Nathaniel, he’s a bit of a shadowy figure, showing up once more in the Gospel of John at the very end, when Jesus meets the apostles by the Sea of Tiberias after the resurrection. Some traditions say he went on a mission to India, founded churches there, and ended as a martyr in Armenia. Perhaps, like Jacob, he’s a mixed bag, perhaps like Peter in the same Gospel, he will end up going where he does not want to go, yet still seeing angels ascending and descending on the son of man in the midst of his life.

Maybe angels give us light to see exactly where we are, and to know the place for the first time: maybe angels show us the height and breadth and depth of the love and compassion of God in the present moment: not taking away the long haul, the crisis, the trying ambiguities of chronological time, but placing them in the context of kairos the larger life we share with God and the whole creation.
That’s a stretch, to stay with the sad and beautiful business of being human, living with limits and loving and dying and still keep an eye out for heavenly lights, messages that the outlines are bigger than we can know on this side of the fence.

An Irish poet puts it this way:

"Christ, look upon us in this city

and keep our sympathy and pity fresh 

and our faces heavenward,

lest we grow hard."

Maybe that’s what Nathaniel gets, that “superb surprise.” To quote Eliot, “not the intense moment isolated, with no before and after. But a lifetime burning in every moment, And not the lifetime of one man only, but of old stones that cannot be deciphered.” Maybe Jacob’s dreaming stone is there as well. Maybe the angels are always there. Maybe they’re always here. Maybe we better pray to keep our sympathy and our pity fresh and our faces heavenward, so we can see the angels now.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Some wise words regarding the current Archbishop of Cantebury

"...the day before yesterday Rowan William published his latest missive on his church. It underlined the tragedy of the man once more for me.

Whenever he affirms the church's non-sanctioning of gay relationships, it's worth recalling what he previously wrote in The Body's Grace. Then he made the argument that the pivotal issue in any decent moral theology of sex is that of birth control, since once you allow that, as the Anglican communion long has, you acknowledge that sex has a good purpose independent of procreation. It's called love. From this it follows that:

'the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.'

This fundamentalism, problematic, non-scriptural, narrow and crude path is the one he appears committed to supporting in his church. Or putting it another way, he's sacrificing what he must privately feel to be the path to greater truth on the altar of mere institutional expediency.

Williams is an astonishing intellect and spirit. And all of it must bow down in loyalty to all too human concerns. I lament the loss of the prophet."

I don't think I can say it better. I have pointed to RW for many years as a sign of hope, of intellectual ability and spiritual grace in the service of an institution that has been important to me , I shall do so no longer

Sunday, July 05, 2009

When people know Jesus

In 1985 when I was at the end of my thirties, I took a year away from the Episcopal seminary where I had been studying to work as a youth minister in a parish in a small town in Northern California. It was a big step forward, meant taking myself more seriously than I had ever done before and, by the middle of the year, it seemed to be going very well. I was getting good marks for the teaching, preaching and pastoral work I was doing, I was working well with colleagues and congregants, making friends and influencing people, I had even been going to the gym regularly, even faithfully, and was in the best shape of my life.

So when it came time to go back to Berkeley and report to my seminary for the mid-year review everything was working well, except for a broken transmission of my car, so I found myself on a long bus trip from the Northern California town to San Francisco to catch a BART train to Berkeley where this black guy, African American came up alongside of me on the subway platform and it seemed that he wasn’t walking too steady and his clothes looked a little rough and he might have smelled, though from work or dirty clothes or booze I don’t remember. And he said, “Where do I get the train to Oakland?” and he was standing right next to me.

So I looked towards the track to the right and said, “I think you’ll find it over there.” And he raised his voice a bit and said, “I don’t want to know what you think, I want to know what you know.” And I thought, “Well, here it comes” and I looked down and said, “It’s right over there.” And he said, “Look at me!”

So I took a breath and looked at him – and I saw a man who was probably a bit older than I, and tired, probably harder working than I had ever been, who had a few scars and some real serious dignity that he had likely had to fight for over the years. And I felt sorry, for him, yes, but more surprisingly, I felt sorry for myself, and I wasn’t afraid anymore. So I said, “The train for Oakland will be on this platform. He looked at me for a few seconds and said, “Thank you,” then walked away.

And I saw clearly something about me that I hadn’t seen before. Something about how narrow I had become, how snobbish, self-serving, and insulated by my own concerns in a way that kept me disconnected from a world that was big and unpredictable and unsafe and full – maybe – of messengers of God that I might have overlooked in my narrowness of vision. I saw that day that I didn’t see much at all. It’s been over twenty years since then, and I can still see his face. I never knew his name, never will. But I do have a strong hunch where he might have come from and why he spoke to me.

There are some similarities in the Gospel for today. The people in the synagogue thought they knew Jesus well enough. They could tell you all about his history, his genealogy, probably his prospects too, all the stuff that mattered, and there were to be no surprises there. And that’s the saddest thing, because they didn’t see him clearly, couldn’t be surprised, couldn’t see the miracle in the middle of who he was, and who he could be for them. Even Jesus was astonished at their lack of belief, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”

Let’s link that up with two bits, pericopes that show up earlier in Mark: First, Jesus said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ That connects with last Sunday’s lessons with Mark’s story where the story of the healing of Jairus’s daughter and the unnamed woman who touched Jesus’ garments) are a world away from this insular little community. So what makes the difference? (and here I am quoting from the recent sermon of an American friend from those Berkeley days that I am back on touch with courtesy of Facebook).

“What brings these two people together [Jairus with his dying daughter and the woman with the issue of blood] is their shared desperation and pure, naked need. They have nothing to hide behind or to hide from. Nothing has worked for them, despite the fact that they have each played by the rules and done what they're supposed to do, according to their religion.

“What brings them together is a decision to step outside the boundaries of their society [and I would add their taken-for-granted reality and their religious conventions] and to go directly to Jesus... Interestingly, Jairus and the woman make no confession of faith, no expression of belief in Jesus as Christ. They simply both bring to Jesus their wounded selves, and he responds with generous grace.

"And this is what [is going to] bother... the authorities of the day. God's grace as expressed in Jesus seems nearly wild, it is so far outside of the boundaries of society and religion...That God wishes to touch each and everyone personally and collectively through Jesus Christ. God's grace cannot be limited, even by the structures of...religion... God's generosity, expressed in the grace of Jesus Christ, goes beyond anyone's expectations.”

Unless you already have him all figured out. Unless your structure is built so tight and strong, your scripture, your tradition, your community, unless Jesus himself is so well wrapped that there’s nothing to learn, to see, to surprise, and then it’s all boxed up safe and tight. There is nothing to be learned here unless you can break out of that situation by the new light of Christ.

To quote that wonderful film “The Philadelphia Story”, “The time to make up your mind about people is never!” And the same may be true in the life of faith.

For faith and Love both come in waiting in hope for the unexpected, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. That’s where Paul’s line about “power... made perfect in weakness.” makes sense. In the loss of old certainties, new versions, virtues and visions, possibilities and people can break through. The bad news is that they often crack open in crisis, in those dangerous opportunities where old ideas and understandings stumble and die and new possibilities bear forth new beginnings, and it can hurt like hell.

But to reach for God’s light in the moment when we’re caught in an old trap can also open new doors of perception, new understandings, new revelation and new relationship to the reality of God. And that’s a paradox, and a good one. To quote Paul again, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me... For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” For God can be new, amazing, surprising, revelatory when we see him anew, when new possibilities emerge, when the old road dies and leaves us newborn again on another way.

The man on the subway platform in San Francisco forced me to look at him, and in that moment I saw parts of myself that I had never seen before. But I also realized that when we were looking at each other, when he forced me to meet him face to face, that he forgave me. It took me a little longer to come to terms with the depth of my racism and classism and the shallowness of my egoism: all that took awhile and in some way it is still working its way out. But that was my problem and my possibility, not his. He had already forgiven me. It was both all over and all new at that moment and he had left me seeing a world that was somehow all new. And for that I was very thankful. I hope that unsought got surprise happened to some of the people who were left behind after Jesus left that rather self-satisfied synagogue and went on his way.

So maybe that’s why we come together as church sometimes, in this particular subway station of the sprit, in the midst of our disciplined travels and well-planned lives, to be surprised enough to look for God in those we overlook, to be forgiven by those we’ve never seen clearly before, including our Lord: to be renewed in a new vision of the neighbor, the stranger, our very selves. Sometimes it is not easy, but it can be wonderful. So we stop here on in the middle of the journey of our lives, to come to the table and take the nourishment, bread and wine, living water, the flesh and blood and love of God into our lives. So that we can see it all – the world, the friend, the neighbor, the stranger, more clearly when we meet them all face to face, here in the outer suburbs of the Kingdom of Heaven and so that we can continue the ministry of Christ, to be messengers of repentance, refreshment, forgiveness and renewal, enlightenment. To see the world in God’s light and God’s love and God’s life. All in the name of Christ.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sermon 2009

Pentecost 2009
St. Peter’s Eastern Hill
Robert Whalley

Acts 2: 1-11
Galatians 5:16-25
John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

According to authorities, the easiest way to trap a monkey is to take a coconut, punch a smallish hole in it, empty it, tie it to the ground and fill it with a few pieces of good food. I am not sure what qualifies as good monkey food, maybe straw, and I am inclined to go for pizza and chocolate, but am prepared to see that as pure projection. Anyway, when the monkey comes exploring, he sees the food inside the coconut and puts his hand in. He finds he can’t grab hold of the food and get his hand out at the same time. And he won’t let go. Supposedly a monkey will try to hold onto the food even when the people with the nets come ‘round, even when he’s going to get trapped, lose everything, he’ll still try to hold on.

This story scares me a bit, because there is something in me that often wants to hold on, to an old idea, to an old idol, to an old plan or an old pain. But what is more important than saying yes to life and to God in the present moment? What are we trying to hold onto? Is there an old idea of failure or success? Is there a worn out list somewhere of people we tried to impress when we were younger? Is it an old idea of our religion, of how to act it out and live it out? What are we holding on to that holds us back, that can trap us, trip us up, keep us from turning around to say yes to the present reality of celebrating life and love right now, when that’s what might matter most?

Now most days I believe the kingdom of heaven, the realm of the spirit, the way of Jesus, the reign of God, is not a place to be tight-fisted. It is also not easy to get hold of, not easily condensed into a book or a creed, not a winning ticket, not even just a place to rest. Don’t get me wrong, none these things are bad or wrong; we need benchmarks and rest-stops, records, starting points, places where we can turn around and begin to live again. They are all valuable, but they are not the way, and there is even a danger that they can turn into detours, get us out of the way. There is such a deeply human tendency to think that checking out the cookbook is like eating the meal, or looking at the map is like moving into the territory.

But the way of Jesus is a way to live and move and have our being: it’s more of a walking tour where you start right here! Because in life in Christ there is so much “here” right here! Here in a way you walk, inhale, exhale, accept, receive and give over every minute. Every time that you take it in, turn it over, put it out, love your neighbor as yourself, heaven happens here and now. A way that is forever new and renewed in the making and giving and taking the gift of the moment. Again, nothing you can get your head or hand around, less like a bank account or a lesson plan, more like a flower or a fresh breeze, or love: Jesus sings a song of the intimacy of God breathed by the spirit in every moment of creation. That’s the gift, that’s the way the way works in each of us as well as in all of us together. We can’t lay hold of it easy, but that’s the way.

That’s why I think we have four Gospels which don’t quite fit together, to show us how wide the way is, because the truth of it isn’t tailored to suit us all the time. I’ve said this before, but I figure the evangelists have four family albums, four sets of snaps from different sides of the family tree, with different vantage points, different focus, pointing towards a different purpose with different results. So when you look at all the records together you find important stuff that doesn’t add up and won’t fit in your outline. You can’t use it easily for as a morality to suit your own mentality. And that’s good!

For you get something far better; a kind of moving picture that emerges by living with the Bible, looking into it and through it, like a kids flip book, that you can use as a kind of moving-picture of faith in motion. So you learn the way of Jesus by watching him move, you learn by moving with his rhythm, following his lead, walking his walk, learning to dance, to partner with him: both companions in the intricacies and rhythms of your own life and times as well as that of all the disparate and communities where he loves to be found: the communities where you are bound to find love. And that can be good news.

Because if God’s openhanded way and truth is the way to follow; then the self-directed documentary of who we want to be and where we ought to go, all the plots, hopes, fears, memories and desire, or follies and forecasts that we hold on to, we can let all that go! For then we can be held in the free-gift of God’s true love, right here, right now. In a way willing to be filled with "God-shaped events," instances of creativity, redemption, blessed mercy and surprise; when the world ignites with Pentecostal connection, compassion, wisdom, justice, love.

But there is something is us that wants to fight that, keep our hand in, get what we want. That relates to what Paul is talking about in the Epistle to the Galatians with his nasty little list: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing” are all attempts to grip power, passion, come to control, to make the world our way. But listen to the other list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” All openhanded ways to be companions, neighbors, lovers, freely giving without the need for control or power. A bright dance, a procession from the heart of creation, from the deepest heart of love in the fragile centre of the human journey.

We see those instances shining brightly in the life of Jesus, a moving pattern of the will and the love of God, and learn to breathe that spirit here, in the middle of our lives. We come here to learn to walk that way, walk in that hope.

And that takes us to John’s Gospel. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Perhaps what this spirit declares in the Book of Acts, where each person hears it anew in the tongue of their tribe or family; is that the biggest of those “deeds of power,” is that the tender power of love will win, will live forever. But for most of us these are only “hints and guesses.” We will only know this fully in walking the way and see it clearly at the end, finally, in the light of heaven, under the kind eyes of the saints and through the grace of an empty cross, under the wide sky of eternity where we will eat the bread of heaven. We are here on the way to ease into that truth.

So don’t let your hand be caught in holding on to what you wanted in life, instead let yourself come home to Christ in the midst of the world of living and dying, in the hope of heaven. Deitrich Bonhoffer writes, “Christ bids you come and die,” and that is not easy, but it can be very good. Die to the fiction of a controlling life so that you can live for the truth of abounding and outpouring love. Stop grasping at dried straws. Give up a lonely living death, and begin to lose yourself in the hope of Christ’s dying-rising life. Live to breathe, move, dance with all the wild, incomparable, highly unlikely, quickly passing by, possibilities, in a stewardship, partnership, friendship, kinship with God in Christ, in communion with everybody else, a dance that will breathe us, neighbors to the last, and, lay us to rest, take us along, raise us up and bring us home.

Welcome to Pentecost!