Sunday, April 25, 2010


Bill Countryman, who will lead our diocesan conference in Harrietville in November, talks about Jesus’ “obnoxious discourses” in John’s Gospel: when Jesus says thing that are so upsetting to the theological and spiritual sensibility of his listeners that they must either leave Jesus behind or forsake their old understandings of how holiness works in order to move into a deeper relationship with God here and now and face to face.

There are several of them: “Unless you gnash your teeth on my flesh and drink my blood you will not have my life in you” would have been highly offensive to his hearers. “Before Abraham was, I am” could have sounded close to insanity, but the last line in todays Gospel is the clincher.

Jesus says, “The father and I are one.” And there is no wonder that the people in front of him have trouble with that. How can you believe that this human being is a picture of ultimate reality, that the ultimate truth of love and grace and presence and what lasts is exactly what we see when we see Jesus? That’s stretches us beyond easy belief and beyond most modes of understanding. Maybe that’s why he says it.

An Irish poet of the earliest twentieth century wrote this prayer: “Christ, ...keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard.” and that kind of double vision is helpful in the practice of the Christian life: getting used to looking closely and compassionately at what is directly in front of us, as well as keeping one eye open towards the ultimate view, towards what finally lasts. C.S. Lewis writes, I think in The Screwtape Letters, that God wants us to be focused on eternity as well as on the present moment, for it is in the present moment that eternity meets time.

So when Jesus says, “The father and I are one,” the question is how we can live into it, and meet it in the give and take of our daily lives? An answer might be in watching for what one English theologian from the 1950s called “God-shaped events.”

The word “God” might mean “holiness, justice, compassion, connectedness, truth, love.” And sometimes we give or receive small packages containing those actions and events, or we see these transactions carried, acted out in the life of others. I’d be very surprised if there were anyone here today who had not recently given or received some “God-shaped” gift or event. They happen all the time: a casual but sincere “how are you going?”, a pat on the back from a friend, they are often surprising: my own lap is a frequent recipient of a package of furry brown cat-love from a Burmese named Snooks and his purr is an eloquent hymn of praise, I have no doubt he is a God-shaped event. Everyone carries similar stories and we are all called to be thankful witnesses of such occasions given and received by  persons, pets or places; whatever unexpected presence presents itself, whatever reaching out in love comes our way.

So maybe there are just three reasons why we are here today: to expand our capacity for participating in that kind of event; to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of Jesus as a fully fleshed out God-shaped event in the middle of human life; and to learn to hand on more of these Jesus shaped events in our daily life and ministries.

But to take part in receiving and giving that quality of love in our daily neighborhood means to hold on to a radical hope and a radical vision in the daily shaping of our life; requires a clearer and more disciplined picture of how God meets us today. And to have God’s eternal caring come into focus might mean a kind of expansion or even explosion in the ways we usually see the world.

Perhaps there are times for visions, at least for seeing things in a new way.  Two thousand years ago the taken for granted way of being in the world was worn out and a new vision was waiting to be born. Like now, the old rules and roles, the motives and mythologies, stories of success and failure, images and ideas of good and bad or right and wrong were all changing and there was a breakdown between past and future. Paul and Barnabas’ conflict with the Jewish and Greek in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows a bit of slippage between world-views. A bit later, when the persecutions of Christians start in the Roman empire, where people as well as institutions were dying, we find new and more radical visions in the Revelation to John where martyrdom is seen as the prologue to a future promise, a great hope for those who have died:

They are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

It’s a beautiful image but it I still think of Woody Allen wondering about how he could get to heaven on a New York Crosstown bus. Wherever you are, it’s the same question: how do you get there from here?

Someone once said that the world was a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel. We come here to flesh out our deepest belief that the world is finally a love story. We come to this place to reengage ourselves in the present moment at the exact place where it meets eternity, to keep our eyes heavenward and our pity fresh, because both are needed. This is not an easy way out

Thomas Merton tells about a left-wing French Catholic mystic who used to cry while riding in the Paris Metro; crying because people were so beautiful and there was so much misunderstanding! To really look at the world that God loves can break your heart open, can stretch it out to hold both bad and good; will open it wide to the tragedy and absurdity of those young men dying at Gallipoli 95 years ago, to the loneliness of old men and women dying alone now, for young peopled addicted to sex or drugs or money, consumed by unworthy passions, in the absurdities and obscenities in the exercise of world power and politics and religion. It made Jesus weep. We may also need to open ourselves to see this madness and glory mixed together in all our daily lives, but we can only let this happen in the light of a great hope.

This liturgy is where we begin. A Lutheran pastor named Jaroslav Vajda once started noting what happened in the Eucharist. It turned into a poem and then a hymn.

Now the silence/Now the peace/Now the empty hands uplifted
Now the kneeling/Now the plea/Now the Father’s arms in welcome
Now the hearing/Now the pow’r/Now the vessel brimmed for pouring
Now the body/Now the blood/Now the joyful celebration
Now the wedding/Now the songs/Now the heart forgiven leaping
Now the Spirit’s visitation//Now the Son’s epiphany/Now the Father’s blessing

And if all this is true, than this Eucharist, this story, this great community gathered over time is on the edge of heaven; and if Christ is the face of the Father rushing to meet us in human flesh, then every moment is suffused with eternity, every beginning blooms with love and every moment, bloodied and broken, lost and lonely as it may be, finds love at the end and a hope of Heaven. And that is our hope.

Several years after his first poem, Vajda wrote this as well. It works well as a coda.

Then the glory/Then the rest/Then the Sabbath peace unbroken
Then the garden/Then the throne/Then the crystal river flowing
Then the splendor/Then the life/Then the new creation singing
Then the marriage/Then the love/Then the feast of joy unending
Then the knowing/Then the light/Then the ultimate adventure
Then the Spirit’s harvest gathered/Then the Lamb in majestyThen the Father’s Amen

If Jesus and the Father are one, then God has come to the middle of all our daily lives and deaths, and we are all called to eat the bread of angels and drink in the surety of Christ’s call of light and love to all people, to all the world. For this is our homecoming feast and we must rejoice. In the name of Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last Sunday's Sermon

Today’s Gospel deals with Resurrection and reconciliation. How do you go back to the old life after Easter, when this new life seems so much larger, how do you weave this new light, this new insight back to the old way of living? It also relates to the situation that both Gamaliel and Peter are dealing with in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: how do you follow, obey and honor God in our human world. As Jesuit spiritual director pit it to m: “How uncomfortable will you allow yourself to be for the new creation?” How do we go back to the old life when what you understand life to be is all new, when what we thought was death and defeat turns out to be larger life and new victory? When there are no dead ends, all roads are open, all possibilities call out, it can be exhausting!

For the disciples and apostles the events of Holy week, the tragedy of Good Friday, and the great surprise of Easter move them beyond belief, beyond the way of life they had followed before into something both wonderful and very different!  A nap would have looked good! It is the same for us. Both Christmas and Easter can be demanding seasons for people in the church, bringing us to new birth and the possibility of life beyond death, and that’s a stretch.

I don’t know about you but after I am stretched, with joy, with sadness, with a new understanding of what life is about and where I am, then I need some time to relax and reconnoiter, I need coffee or chocolate or a hot shower or a good nap, Thirty years after giving up smoking there are still times when I think of how I would love a cigarette. Those old common comforts are powerful!

So how do we deal with life after Resurrection? The Gospels give us several examples for this post-resurrection transition: Disciples on the road to Emmaus are walking it out, talking it out, getting out of town and taking it on the road run for a bush walk: the old geography cure. Some other disciples try the closed room and conversation mode. There’s also the way of Thomas: hiding, denial and defense by erecting a new wall based of a lack of trust, “I won’t believe until...”. In each case Jesus shows up to remind them that life is different from here on, that all things are new!

So that’s background for the overnight fishing trip we heard about in today’s Gospel, which might have four particular focal points on how to live into the new life: work, water, people and food. So I want to bring in some stories from my own life to consider how these four areas can help us in growing in faith.

Let’s go back to John: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others decide to go back to work! It makes sense, work is the main way a lot of us spend time and it can be a very reassuring ritual, except now it is different and it is night, and they really are in the dark! Maybe there’s a hint that it takes time in the dark, to figure out where you are and what you can do after a new look at life comes into view.

In the late 1970s my understanding of God deepened, a graceful sense of God believing in me more than I believed in myself started to flower in my life and, after a few years, I found myself in seminary working on an MA on prayer and mediation while working in a printing business my family owned. You’ve heard of family businesses and dysfunctional families? Well, we had a dysfunctional family business!

In my second semester I took a unit on “Theology and Work” and the question came: if God exists, then where is God to be found in my work? For a semester I read and worked and prayed and by the end I had built a series of strategies on how to explore the possibilities of God in the printing business. One took place in a small hallway between the backshop and the front office where I formed the habit of stopping to take a breath and ask God to remind me to look for a new way, to see with new eyes, to be surprised and ready for a blessing, and it worked! My belief and my occupation came together with more integration than ever before.

Going back to John. After the night shift a dawn light comes, and a stranger on the shore throws them a question: “why don’t you try it over there?” A change of mode, a great catch,  a surprise! John, the beloved disciple, says, “it is the Lord!” and Peter jumps into the water!

Water: our second focus, a place where you wash up your life, clean up your act, get baptized into new beginning. Here are three places where water marks renewal, think about where yours might be found.

First, In 1981, I was repainting my parents house and fell through a roof, compressing my spine, with a week in the hospital wearing a steel brace for four months which I could only remove when going to bed or taking a shower. I still remember the glory of taking off that metal contraption and standing naked under fresh warm water! I still have great joy stepping into a hot shower, embodied, alive, a bare beginning every morning!

In 1989 I was training to be a chaplain working in an acute psychiatric ward: intense, tragic, dedicated and wonderful work: often chaotic and always very busy. The only place where I could be along was the staff wash room, so I learned to wash and dry my hands carefully and prayerfully: creating a new and clean intention in that moment, a redemptive space in a noisy and sometimes dirty world.  Both purification and dedication, washing up God’s world.

Then last Sunday, when a family presented their one year old son for Baptism (and my first as a priest) I was reminded that it’s not a bad thing to get into church 10 minutes early on some days to reread the Baptismal covenant in the Prayer Book as a reminder of why we’re here and what we’re for: ministry, friendship, sharing the love of God.

The third place in our Gospel for today is the stranger who asks a question, who calls us to new tactics, who might just be our new best friend as well as a door to new awareness, new life. How do we look at other people?

In 2003, I led a Lenten quiet day atSt Peter’s Eastern Hill in he middle of Melbourne. I asked people to walk to a block to  the tram stop across from a major hospital and look for the “Hidden Jesus” hidden (to misquote Teresa of Calcutta) in the distressing disguises of his friends.  To look for Christ in people making peace, feeling pain, moving in love, doing all the diverse duties of everyday life in the middle of the world, and see the people who are loved by God in a new way. It can be a good exercise.

And finally in sharing Food.

Now I don’t know much about fish, though our Bishop does; but I do know that they’re from a place where I can only swim on the surface. I also know that what these disciples, and new apostles have been fishing in the nightwatch and the new dawn ends up feeding them in community, and that takes me to a Maundy Thursday sermon I gave in 2008.

Food means company, not just company for dinner, having friends in to share substance and spirit, though that is part of it: but company as in a group of people, many, different, working together in separate ways that come together in a common cause. The bread and wine we eat and drink has been touched, gathered, lifted up by workers in the fields, harvesters, processors, moved by ship, truck and train to market with many hands holding, refining the food from the land; bringing it all togethers. Bread and wine mean grapes and water: yeast and fat and oil and wheat mixed and kneaded, work of human hands, to rest and rise, to be taken away to warm and transform. All this before they come to the table to be broken and shared. Many backs have been bent; many hands have stretched out to give us food at our daily tables. Many have gathered to ensure this harvest. 

And Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” Jesus says I am willing to be known in this meal, this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you in everywhere, in everything, in everyone!

So through the ministry of work, the grace of water, the ministry of friend and stranger, and in the celebration of sharing food, we become ready to live in a world where God will go so far and come so close, and where it is time to make Eucharist.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Saturday morning, 17 April 2010. Today I am 64 years old, Happy Birthday! John Davis called me at 6:30 and sang the song, my cousin just called from California, and several people on Facebook wished me greetings, A friend here is taking me to lunch down the street in a few hours, and I will be in Melbourne tomorrow afternoon, all good!
I have a sermon to write for tomorrow, a bit of cleanup to do here, a little more thought and organization to give to some ideas under education and formation for chaplaincy, then drive to the other side of the diocese to where I am preaching and celebrating tomorrow, and I want to take time -- on my birthday -- for some quality reflection.
I think of several birthday’s in Berkeley in the 80s when I would take my bound journal and find a congenial coffeehouse to write about where I was, what was good or bad, and where I wanted to go from there. That seems both so close and such a long time ago.
In most ways I am in the best shape of my life. I am a priest, my work, interactions, aspirations, are all-hopefully found and grounded in Eucharist, prayer, kenosis, scripture, community, spirit.  It’s a wonderful feeling to finally arrive at the destination I desired (and thought God wanted for me) for most of my life. There are so many things to learn from here: discipline and dedication are important, as are following both duties and dreams. I saw some people from a parish where I preached a while back and they called me “The Happy Priest”! I don’t think I’m called to be unhappy, to be other than what I am, which is what God calls: and that is a real mix of good and bad, seasoned and new talents and liabilities. If I can just keep turning them over -- like compost -- and presenting them to God; receiving them back as gifts to be stewarded for the sake of a larger body, a greater hope, than that might to be enough.
I like working for Bishop John. He’s a complex man, nicely uneven, growing, creative, intelligent, interested, sensitive, smart. And in taking me along as his chaplain he’s gifted me with an opportunity, both in pastoral work and in education/formation, for a very creative and exciting ministry. I recently drew the bare bones of my job description in a kind of brain-mapping mode, and it is very good! I enjoy the people I work with, within the Registry and around the diocese. And we are finding the technology to work smarter and learning to work better together so both our focus and momentum are on the increase.
The celebrating, teaching, and preaching aspect of the work is wonderful! I blessed over 100 schoolchildren yesterday, and last Sunday performed my first baptism. The way I celebrate the Eucharist still feels unformed but that will take time. Yesterday I was asked to do some Friday morning Eucharists at the Cathedral and that will be good.
I am lonely a lot, that needs to be said.  It’s natural, being in a new place, without real reasons to be here in Beechworth now that I am not attached to the local parish, and away from all old friends and associates in Melbourne, home for the last 10 years. But it means driving up the hill I to an empty house and an evening in solitude. I’m trying to work with that, and there are other reasons to move out of here sooner rather than later, which will happen fairly soon, and that will be good. I think I will return to Beechworth in a different configuration in the future but it seems very lonely to live here now.
I decided against going back to the Beechworth Singers for the present.  I was going to go to the gym instead to work out some evenings but that hasn’t happened. In many ways I’m in the worst shape I’ve ever been physically: my right knee and shoulder are both giving me trouble and I need to look at exercise as well as physical therapy in the next month. I stopped checking my weight in the morning and I fear I’ve put on more weight. I’ve rationalized this because of some of the stresses and busyness of Lent. It’s time to change that.
The same with food: too many pizzas, too much frozen food, not enough fruits and vegetables, too much chocolate!  I have been reading Mark Bittman on “Food Matters” as well as his book on vegetarian cooking, but there is less incentive to eat mindfully at the end of the day. I did bring up my slow cooker from Melbourne recently and might start to make casseroles and stews or soups that can be frozen and eaten later.
There is lots of writing to do now and I love that! Sermons, brochures and articles regarding formation and education, drafts of letters and papers for the, planning documents for diocesan matters, even my regular bits on Facebook. And I still have a constellation of ideas and images around the title “spiritual directions”, though the content varies. It would be lovely to get a real book published.
I have mixed feelings about getting older. I await and find myself stiff in the wrong places! I get sore and tired more easily: and lifting, pushing, pulling furniture or packages seems beyond the pale. The other day I saw a movie where two guys wrestled for a while and I remembered when I had the faith that my body could do what was needed, what was salutary or salacious or just fun, without any worry at all. That is no longer true. And it saddens me.
So today I write a sermon, lunch with a friend, travel to the town where I celebrate Eucharist tomorrow, have dinner with parishioners there tonight. Tomorrow after church I will go on to Melbourne for a few days at St Peter’s. I got a massage scheduled for Sunday night, as well as a haircut Monday morning, might buy new shoes, eat out at a good and trendy Mexican restaurant, enjoy Melbourne friends, get good rest and enjoy myself. 
So I’m 64 years old. And in most ways I’m happier, more  fulfilled, more “self-actualized” than I have ever been. God has been good to me. I am deeply thankful for the good friends, especially John Davis, have made such a significant difference in the quality of my life, and that is putting it so mildly! I am very thankful to be alive today. I am having a Happy Birthday! 

Saturday, April 03, 2010


Something happens to St. Peter between Good Friday, the moment in this morning’s Gospel reading when he looks into the empty tomb, and the time a bit later when he makes the great speech in Caesarea we just heard from the Acts of the Apostles, and I wonder what it is?

What happens to change the way a person lives and moves and has their being; the way they meet principalities and powers, their neighbor or the stranger, the way they wait for God? What happened to St Peter, to the apostles, the disciples, all those friends of Jesus, followers of the way, who saw their best hope die on Good Friday and still came to hope anew? It’s almost the same question asked of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea in the Gospel of John, “how can a man be born again? How can Peter, who was such a sook sometimes, so quick to open mouth and insert foot, how does he come to live in the power of the Spirit, so full of the conviction that Christ lives, and that we all live in him, and will forever. What happened to him, and more importantly,  how do we get there from here? How can we be born anew?

Recently I came across an essay on the web by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called “Faith Hope and Charity in Tomorrow’s World” and I want to quote it a lot this morning. He uses examples from St. John of the Cross to say that our Understanding, Memory and Will need to move into a newborn, God-given Faith, Hope and Love.  And perhaps that’s how and why the church gathers after the resurrection: to see understanding move to faith, to consecrate memory to hope, and to let human will be lightened by God’s love.

Williams says one of the most crucial parts of the process of a Christian growing up, one of the most difficult parts of the journey, is coming to lose our way. That’s good news for those of us who’ve spent many years in what seemed to be detours. Getting it wrong is the start to getting it right. Williams writes:.”What we thought we understood we discover that we never did; what we thought we remembered is covered with confusion; and what we thought we wanted turns out to be empty. We have to be re-created in faith and hope and love for our understanding, our memory and our will to become what God really calls them to be.”

Does this sound like St Peter? Does this sound like anyone you know?  A few years ago when I was emptying my parents house I came across a letter I had written when I was 19. I was quite clear about who I was, what I wanted to be, how I wanted to get there, and I am so very thankful for those detours!

What Peter and I both wanted - I think - was a system of how to make the world right: to know the right things to do, to say, to be. Instead Peter finds that having all the answers to all the questions is nothing compared with being in a relationship with the reality of God in human form, being face-to-face with love: but this is not easy to understand, and it takes time!

Again Williams: “ learn somehow to be confident -- or at least to be reliant – on a presence, an other who does not change or go away. You realize that when the signposts and landmarks have been taken away there is a presence that does not let you go. And that's faith, I would say, in a very deeply biblical sense. Look at the disciples in the gospels. Look at the number of times when they say something spectacularly stupid and Jesus says, 'Don't even you understand?' Look at the times when they ask the silly questions, the times when they try to turn away, when they manifestly don't know what's going on. But in the great words at the end of John 6 spoken by Peter, they also say, 'Where else can we go?'

At the end there is nowhere to go because Jesus become our home. And in that homecoming, coming in like the prodigal to be embraced by the waiting father, we both come home and are able to make home for others. Again Williams:

“By our faithfulness to the lost, the suffering, the marginal we begin to show what it is to have faith in the one who doesn't let go.”

So understanding moves to faith, and more, to faithful relationship, and this living relationship is what moves our memory towards hope.

Ah memories! I remember, some 30 years ago, laughing at my mother and father when I talked about Senior Memory, when they would pause, waiting for the right word or name or date to come to mind. If they could see me now walking into a room and forgetting where I’m going or what I want. In moments like that I have to go deeper, and remember, on the deepest level, exactly where I am, and whose I am.

Rowan Williams writes:

“Hope, when it comes to birth, is not just a confidence that there is a future for us, it's also a confidence that there's a continuity so that the future is related to the same truth and living reality as the past and the present. Hope is again hope in relation;
relation to that which does not go away and abandon, relation to a reality which knows and sees and holds who we are. You have an identity because you have a witness of who you are.... What you don't understand or see, the bits of yourself you can't pull together in a convincing story are all held in a single gaze of love. You don't have to work out and finalise who you are and who you have been; you don't have to settle the absolute truth of your history or story; because in the eyes of the presence which does not go away, all that you have been and are is still present and real; it is held together in that unifying gaze as if you were to see a pile of apparently disparate, disconnected bits suddenly revealed as being held together by a string, twitched by the divine observer, the divine witness...

Hope in Christ, then, not simply confidence in the future, but confidence that past, present and future are held in one relationship so that the confusions about memory – who were we? Who was I? Who am I, and who are we? -- become bearable because of the witness in heaven, a witness who does not abandon.”

So memory is made perfect, and can rest in hope, But what about will? How does our will, that power that makes us and move us towards what we want, turn to love?

Williams says that we have lost touch with the “deep desires that actually make us who we are...the sense that there is a current in our lives moving  [and our call and our destiny is this] discover slowly and patiently the direction of our life and to find the context in which we will grow as God means us to. To grow into love” and that is finally to come home.

So as our understanding is made perfect in faith, our memories made sacred in hope, our will is made perfect in Christ’s love for God, for us, for all. That is our call as the church, the gathering of God’s love. We are a new people in this faith, hope and love.

Listen: the stone has been rolled away, there is no dead body, he has risen from the grave, and all our understanding, memory and will are able by God’s grace and the love of Christ to be made new in faith, hope and charity, That is our call and our glory, for Christ is risen from the grave, and we are a new people. Alleluia!

Friday, April 02, 2010

DYING LIKE JESUS -From Good Friday 2004

You don't expect to end up in a deathwatch. Nobody does. It doesn't matter what your name is or where your from, whether Geelong or Melbourne, Berkeley or San Francisco, Jerusalem or Galilee. It doesn’t matter whether its here and now or there and then, you are just one more unnamed disciple. It doesn't matter much.

What does matter is that somehow you met this Jesus one day and things turned around. He seemed to offer a way into the mystery of life, a way through the accumulated smog of evasion and denial and obfuscation: all the tired and tried and less than true ways where we fail to meet life or each other: where we waste time. He seemed to come just in time, to speak a word, to be a way to get past all the dead ends in the world into something that was new -- both more holy, and more fully involved with flesh and blood and community and relationship. More life. New life.

But maybe you were wrong (and maybe he was too) because here you are at the end of the week, where what you thought would be the new beginning and the final goal of your life will soon be turned into a tomb with a stone put across the way.

And you saw it all: the betrayal by friends, the sham trial, the worst aspects of religious and civil society, the hierarchy at its lowest. Though none of that is really new, and you can see it on your television every day. But what was different here, what showed up with such contrast, is that this death-dealing happened to the liveliest person you had ever known.

The man shone with hope! A hope that enabled you to see your own life, path, ministry and meaning with a clarity and depth you never had managed before: an enlightening love that connected you with yourself and others too; extending out like a beam of light widening out to exclude nothing and nobody! Because this Jesus made it all seem new. It was like you saw the world through his bright eyes, and all were connected, cleaned up and clarified, everyone and everything somehow born again. And now all that has gone dark and dead.

The liveliest human being is dead. After the speedy execution, the friends peeling off to their confused solitude, the rich man offer a resting place for the one who had seemed to be such a beginning. You're standing there because there seems to be nowhere else to go from here. But where can you go from here?

What do you do when hope dies? Where do you go when the ideals and ideas, the stuff, the breath, the face, that gave you joy, started your heart jumping, led you to live; when all that falls away, and you see the dead-on possibility that personal, social, corporate, religious, political, bureaucracy, mediocrity, evil might just win after all?

You turn away from the cross and look back to the City, Geelong, Berkeley, Jerusalem, here and now, then and there, wherever. And it might not be too late to go back there, to follow the herd, merge with the majority, carefully avoiding any confrontations that might lead to more blood flow, because next time it might be yours. So the safer way from here is to avoid excessive hope, stay away from too much love, keep to the shadows, live life low.

But maybe it is too late for that now. Even if Jesus is dead, even if it is or was just a glorious daydream; the idea of expecting less than a miracle of life, even in the face of the death of hope, looks like a kind of living death. And that just can't happen now. Maybe you have seen too much light, remember too much of the sun, even in this benighted land, to put on spiritual dark glasses and play it safe.

You look at the waiting city, and just for an instant it is as if you are seeing it the way he saw it, as if the light were still there, coming from somewhere behind you, but stretching out like the start of some indefinable kind of sunrise. Even if it is in opposition to everything you have ever known, there might be another way.

Maybe you will just have to die to that old way of life and try to live like Jesus too. Even if it doesn't last long, even if you end up here again, in your own time. It is not the worse way to go. It is learning to live and die in the sight and light of love. And maybe, just for a little while, his dying life can live in you, and you can remember him in your limited days.

You will go now, into your own city, carrying the seed of something you cannot understand, something that has to do with love and life and death and what will last. You will return to the city that does not know how much it has to lose or gain. But you will remember what you have heard and seen. And something more.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

An old sermon, but I learned a lot from writing it...

FEET, FOOD AND GARDENS – Maundy Thursday 2004

Sometimes in the last part of a movie or play that is otherwise action packed with drama, intrigue, special effects, there will be a very quiet scene. This gives the audience a chance to breathe, to catch up on the themes and motifs of the drama, and to get ready for the final part. The events we remember here tonight have that flavour about them.  But this is not a simple night, and each of the actions we see and hear here point to something that is rich and complex and not easy to perceive, almost beyond belief. But let’s start simply, and talk about feet, food and gardens.

When you were a kid did you have someone, parent, grandparent, family or friend, take your foot in their hands and say, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home…. “Do you remember that?   And have you ever held the foot of a child, and wiggled those little toes and listened to that child laugh? Have you ever considered the beauty of a newborn child’s foot?

Adults are different that way. A lot of people are shy about their feet. It makes sense. They aren’t real pretty and yet they are - I think - amazingly unique to each individual, containing biography in all the lines and curves, remembering all the journeys where we were pinched, stepped on, stretched. It all shows in the feet. They are also an incredible complex of nerves and muscles, delicate, powerful bits of engineering. Built to take us on the road, to link us to the ground, turn us around; set us on the way home. Feet are at the base of it. In the world of the body, feet are workers, not intellectuals. They contain no theories, have no theology attributed to them– unlike heads or even hearts – but they are crucial for knowing the difference between theory and practice, feet know the crucial difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.  And  - to make a pun – that’s no mean feat. Still, they are drab, utilitarian, very everyday necessary accessories, and I think it is significant that Jesus should choose to touch and wash our feet.  It says something about how God loves.

Because tonight we remember and re-enact the Lord of all washing the feet of his gathered disciples and friends, to see how God cares for each of us particularly, how God wills and wants to touch us individually, in each of the unique places where we live and move and have our being. For Jesus wants meets us where we meet the road. God is holding us close here, touching us in the specific parts of our lives and journeys, and enjoying us more deeply than we might ever know. Yes, there is the cleaning up of it, yes, there is the work of hands and a fresh towel, but the chief ingredient is love: a particular loves that is both so big and so small that it comes to us to meet and love and touch each toe, arch instep, heel and sole of each of us. This transaction gives joy to God and it is a picture of love in action for each of us. It tells us something very important about the immediacy, the intention and the innocence of God. God does will to touch, wash up and love each of us. Because the love God has for us is like that we have for a newborn, no matter how tired, sore, dog-tired and sour we feel, God’s love see us as precious, innocent, newborn and creative and connected, created in that same image, and part of that same love!

Now if feet are unique to individuals, food means company, not just company for dinner, having friends in to share substance and spirit, though that is part of it: but company as in a group of people, many, different, working together in separate ways that come together in a common cause. The bread and wine we eat and drink has been touched, gathered, lifted up by workers in the fields, harvesters, processors, moved by ship, truck and train to market with many hands holding, refining the food from the land; bringing it all togethers. Bread and wine mean grapes and water: yeast and fat and oil and wheat mixed and kneaded, work of human hands, to rest and rise, to be taken away to warm and transform. All this before they come to the table to be broken and shared. Many backs have been bent; many hands have stretched out to give us food at our daily tables. Many have gathered together to ensure this harvest.

And Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” Jesus says I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you in everywhere, in everything, in everyone! So we celebrate God meeting us in the particulars of or own skin and in the wideness of the whole world. As the hymn says, “Oh love how deep, how strong, how wide!”

And soon the scene changes and we will come to a garden. If this were a play we would think back to the beginning: Act One Scene One: the first chapter of Genesis. Maybe not the best action, but whatever happened it got the plot rolling and the scenes changing. The focus got very wide after that first scene in Genesis.  And now the action is getting tight again.

What is it about gardens? They are unpredictable places of work and mystery, seed falling into ground, summers with rich harvest or years when fire and drought kill growth and the field lie barren. There are hidden winters when nothing is seen to be happening, and warm springs when life burst into sudden bloom and promise. Gardens are like the whole world. They take time, show history, need much work, can cause calluses, break your heart and back, and yet we love them so. For time comes to bloom in a garden, it is where we see our history. And Jesus comes to meet us there. Comes to toil in a garden where
there are many weeds, sign of much neglect, much rot, much to be pruned, much that must meet the fire and die. Jesus comes to turn the ground over so that he might even be hidden in the harvest. He comes to meet us in the history of all things.

Have you ever planted seeds and waited for the harvest? God does. God’s seed is planted deep in all that is around us: all that is reasonable, holy and living. Even now, God is casting it wide to fall into all ground, letting the seed break apart in darkness, letting it be nourished over time, working the field, nourishing the crop, never ceasing to weed and watch, that nothing may be lost in life, not even death shall be lost! Jesus will walk into the garden where all hopes bloom and will defeat every falsehood with the power of that deepest truth.

So here we are. And Dame Julian says there are three things about the world that are important: God loves it, redeems it, and sanctifies it. That’s a big truth and one that is sometimes hard to get the head around. But watch, tonight, tomorrow, the next few days; walk and watch and see!