Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermon for Christmas Eve (Greta) and Christmas Day (Moyhu and Whitfield) 2014

We’re here to celebrate Christmas, the time when we visit family and friends, celebrate love and life together, sometimes sing songs, and usually open gifts that are often given with great love, and that’s all good. So today I want to talk about receiving and giving gifts.

One thing that always surprises me is all the different ways that people open their gifts! For example, as a girl, my cousin Barbara used to be very careful with wrapping paper; opening gifts slowly, then folding and putting away the paper for possible re-use, even saving the box it came in for future use. I, on the other hand, quickly ripped off the paper, throwing it away to some empty corner of the room, and following that  with the box the gift came in. The only exception to this rule happened when I was around fourteen and I bought a small gift for my older brother Tom, which I wrapped and put in a small box, wrapped inside another larger box, inside one more carefully wrapped very large box. I put this under the tree and successfully kept from laughing out loud during the whole, quite extended, time my brother took to unwrap the three packages and got to the gift which in the end, he actually liked a lot. 

Years later, on her second or third Christmas celebration, I gave his first daughter, my oldest niece Lisa, a very large reproduction of a nineteenth century, brightly coloured English, High Victorian, stuffed rabbit. I thought it was great and she didn’t like it at all, and quickly and firmly pushed it away. But she dearly loved playing in the big cardboard box that it came in. 

So how do we deal with the biggest gift we get, the Christmas gift that God gives us? How do we make sure that we unwrap it carefully, not getting too caught up with the wrappings or throwing it away unthinkingly, how do we make sure we don’t just end up playing in the box. Ff this gift is given in great love, how do we receive it properly?

I think that some hints of ways to open it are contained in the summary of the Law where Jesus says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  [Matthew 22:37-40]

For living those lines out has to do with sharing the life that God gives us as mindfully, heartily and prayerfully as we can, and that takes us where we need to go. For if God is the maker of the meaning, the melody and the wonder of it all, if all this is a gift, then loving and living our whole life is the best  way of opening the gift; of making our whole lives a unique opening, a personal and present introduction to love. Because that is what the gift is. 

I’ve always liked the advice of the poet, Robert Frost, who said to “take the light things seriously and the serious things lightly.” So we can look at something that might seem relatively unimportant, like how we handle our introductions to people, and let that be a template to how we come to live in the Kingdom of God in light of this Christmas gift. Here are three ways we can understand this.

When I was a kid I remember my mother prompting me to use peoples name when i was introduced.This showed good manners and was a way to remember their names, to be polite, to start to honour, appreciate, be mindful. Now I tend to forget names. But I do remember stories people tell, their sadness, delight, travels,  the troubles they’ve seen and shared, and maybe that’s going even farther in the mindful direction too.

There are two quotes that have to do with the heart. Plato wrote, remember that "everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And to remember this, is to appreciate the struggles we all share, is to start to heartily honour what it means to be human, for as one great Hollywood movie put it, "You'll never be a first-class human being… until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty.” and that’s adding some strength from the heart to what it means to be together in the human journey.

But there can be more than that: I remember an organist and choir director, almost 50 years ago,  telling me that she always prayed for people when she first met them. That’s not only a sharing of mind and heart but adds hope and strength, compassion and care; that gets to be soul-sized! — and when we do that, in an initial introduction or afterwards, in any interaction; we’re opening, enacting, introducing Godly loving actions, and truly loving our neighbour, God’s neighbour, with all our mind and heart and soul.

And I am convinced that can finally take us almost all the way home, for when we are free to love our neighbours in these three dimensions, head, heart, soul; then we can finally figure out how we are to truly love ourselves, for, by the grace of God, there is only one love. But that isn't all.

Now, you know those tv ads where they're selling amazing appliances, super potato peelers and the like, and they always say, "And there's still more than this!"? 

Well, there's more here too, at least three more dimensions to the big Christmas present. For, first, if Jesus is a a kind of a moving picture of how God loves and deals with living life and death and loving neighbour and stranger with all heart, mind, soul, then the more we, read, research, reflect, listen to and live out his life (as presented in the Four Gospels, the New Testament, and reflected through the thoughts, prayers, traditions of the gathered worshipping community of the church), the more we can clearly see the scope, the breadth of His life, full of God’s love, forgiveness, patience and the full freedom to which we are called.

But there’s even more than that. For when, in the ancient rite of Holy Communion -- this Eucharist, we come to incorporate his passion and purpose, his life and death into ours; and just as intimately as we are nurtured by him, we aim to embody his freely given life, and to enflesh the holy freedom of love he offers us. 

This dimension is less of a thought process and more of a dance: we take up this gift to give it away and we take in this life to live it out. It isnt easy to get our minds around this, for we live in such a “heads up” culture, but to share Jesus’ life in this way can lead us to a complete and holy participation, sharing, head, heart and soul, in God’s own self-giving love. 

And there’s even more than that! Finally,as St Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he (she) is a new creation.” And that adds a whole other side to what we do here. We first work to incorporate Christ’s life and love into our lives, and to live that love out in our lives; but then Jesus, God in Christ, invites us live in that love, abide in the heart of it, spend our days within the universal heart of love; by  becoming a new being in the living grace of God.

And that is what this two thousand year old story, God’s gift of Christmas, is all about. And then finally the question is: how can we possibly begin to respond? Well, Christina Rosetti gave a simple answer to this in 1872 when she wrote...

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

May this Christmas season overflow with gift for you. Amen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pregnant virgins and being born in Jesus,

Saturday, the Eve of Advent 4, 21 December 2013

In today's Gospel the just man Joseph prepares to send his future wife Mary away because she is pregnant and it's not by him. I think we can all understand the difficulty of his situation pretty well. And  St. Matthew thinks this is important because he places this story in the second half of the first chapter, at the very start of his Gospel. It doesn't have to be like this. For example, when the Gospel of Luke tells this story, it starts out with an angel telling Mary about  this miraculous and forthcoming birth, It seems simpler for her: first, Mary says, “How can this be?” Then she simply says, “Yes.” But it is a little more difficult for Joseph.

Matthew’s Gospel goes on to say it is only when an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him, “Do not fear to take Mary for your wife because she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” then he decides to do so. So just as Mary's tentative response followed by a sure answer is one way to respond to faith, to the possibility of participating in God’s life and love working in us and through us; so the story of Joseph's doubt, the surprising dream, and his subsequent decision to take this new birth on faith, points to another way of being in a conversation with God.

Maybe all life is, at its most basic, a conversation with God that enables us to grow in and into love. Sometimes we can simply say yes, and other times — as in any relationship — we need further dialogue, we need to present our doubts, we need to sleep on it, we need to be awakened by a dream  or an insight that carries a message that makes the world bigger than we ever might have known. And the important thing to remember is that God has room for all these conversations with us to take place. The incarnation of Jesus means that God is willing to meet us where we are. If we are willing to do the same. 

Mary and Joseph will take this holy new life of God with them and bear it into being, father it forth, in everyday life; give him tools, teach him tasks, give him their very flesh and blood, as God’s child, God’s word, God’s human fave of love joins us in the very midst of the human family. And in these actions they are a model for us on this last Advent Sunday before Christmas.

Maybe every Advent, maybe every moment, God sends us a message, God asks us this question: "May my word of creativity, reconciliation, and renewal may be borne in each of our lives as it is born in the life of  Mary, for this good news of incarnation, God becoming flesh, means that God is willing to come into the very middle of each of our lives. God is always willing to meet us that intimately, to love us that much, so that he would be, as St. Augustine says, closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Almost 20 years ago in California I preached to a small group of deacons in the Anglican diocese there, and several people in the gathering laughed when I said that, when Christmas comes, we are all a bunch of pregnant virgins. It may seem shocking thing to say, but I stand by it. Jesus Christ is willing to be born in us, if we are willing to be born in him. God's love can come into the middle of our lives and make us new, give us new lives; though sometimes this can start in very small ways. But every little baby is a reminder of a very big promise, that Jesus wills to be with us and for us as we follow God in faith, grow in holiness and hope, and live in the light of God's love for us in our love for God, our neighbour and ourselves. 

Almost one thousand years ago St Simeon, the new theologian, wrote this; and it’s still true:

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisiably 
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightening.
Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then 
Open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him
We wake up inside Christ’s body. 

where our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it, 
is realized in joy as Him, 
and he makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in his light
we awaken as the Beloved 
in every last part of our body.
Symeon the New Theologian  (949-1022)

translated by Stephen Mitchell 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Advent Sunday Sermon, Final Draft...

Today at noon we will baptise three young people: Liam, 9, Hally, 7, and Marshall, 5, and I’ve been wondering what to say to them about what they are doing, the ceremony they’re part of, the gifts that it offers, the new community they’re joining. 
How can I say something they might understand and remember, as well as speak to the people  who are gathering to celebrate the gift this family wishes to share, people who might not know the ways of the church, who might see this as a colourful and archaic ritual. Like the psalmist  says, how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? And here’s what I decided to say:
What we’re doing today is telling a story, about one person, about every person, and about the whole universe. 

The one person was a man named Jesus: he lived a long way from here about two thousand years ago, and when he grew up he told some stories and taught some lessons and healed some people and shared food and hope and love in a world where there wasn’t much of that around. He seemed to live like there was more than enough, and that the liveliest thing that he, or anybody, could do was to keep sharing food and hope and love, and not worry about it too much. He lived like that was the easiest, truest, most joyful way to live and to love life for each person, for every person, for the whole universe.

And even when the people who were worried about many things told him he better be careful, he went on sharing food, hope, love like it couldn’t end. So some other people decided to kill him, partly because when people start giving like that, the world gets bigger, and gifts like food and hope and love can start people  doing new things, going in different ways, and that can be dangerous for people who want the world to be the same as it ever was. 

So they killed him, tried to wipe him away from life, from everyone’s memory, so that nothing would remain, and it didn’t work. Because of the simple truth, the deepest fact, that this kind of love lasts. It wasn’t long before a few people said they had seen him alive, others said that he had somehow gotten past death. some said he was still sharing like before, now even more, and it was as if his very breath was breathing everywhere, was willing to show up in everyone, and a few people, then more, then millions, tried to breathe life the way he did in sharing food and hope and love. 

It’s changed the world for the last few thousand years, sometimes it’s been like a great big party, sometimes like a really bad committee meeting, but there are still a bunch of people who are trying, as best they can, to share food, hope and love. 

So even though this Jesus is not around like he was two thousand years ago, he’s still here, in stories told, gatherings held, food, hope and loved shared, really in every moment and every breath in the heart of everyone — he still breathes this love of live, this life of love, for each of us and for more than everyone. Because he was, he is, a gift to remind us of what we deep down are: born of love, born to hope, born to share food; food for thought, for nourishment, for inspiration, to be part of a body bringing healing and hope to the whole creation. 

Because that’s what we were created to be; and we forget that, get lost in other stories, worry about many things, forget who we are, where we come from, what we’re to do: which is mystery and meaning and justice and joy and shared food and wine and life that is so much bigger than all our understanding and any kind of death that it is almost beyond belief. 

But it is in telling the stories, sharing the journey, the hope and healing, the bread and wine, the new and renewing loving life that Jesus said is in the heart of everything, that we experience what life and God is, even now.

So we come together to put these three people on that path, Liam, Hally, and Marshall, in that party, towards that purpose, this morning, and to pray that they may keep this kind of hope and love in their lives from here on out. This will be the first time they are washed and wiped and renewed and refreshed in their new community, and, as with any kind of love, we hope it will not be the last. 

So that’s what i am telling them. It’s true, though not the whole truth, but i hope it’s true enough to welcome them to the party and give them a taste for travelling together on this journey, but, if you've been around the church for awhile, for some days, when God’s Advent comes, it’s often not easy.  

For when seasons change it can be difficult, December, Advent, (to say nothing of Christmas), moving into summer, the last few weeks of the year as well can all be demanding, and finally, next Friday evening and Sunday morning and afternoon this congregation and the diocese will farewell Fr Michael, (and Kerryn, Nicholas, and Angela) after a decade serving as the Dean of this Cathedral, and as beloved members and ministers of this community. So many endings and beginnings, so many places where life turns a corner and a new journey emerges, so many moments when life asks a question, and the lessons for today  asks formidable questions of an open future that can feel like death and birth, ending and beginning, to take us to larger answers in order to start again.

Isaiah sees a future that opens room for delight: a vision of ecological wholeness and holiness, a place of prayer, justice, wisdom, compassion, a kingdom of peace to which the nations stream 

But the Gospel leads us to a demanding future where, instead of reconciliation, there may be separation, instead of a field seeded or a meal prepared, one will be taken and one will be left, and there is no way to prepare, but none the less, the lesson says, be ready. 

And finally good old Paul gives us hope for the present: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” 

Even nearer now.  And how can we, as the baptised body of Christ, be present to this wide open future? How can we prepare for this beginning, this Advent, this coming Christmas, the new year, once again. 

Dom Gregory Dix, in his classic book, The Shape of the Liturgy, says that the Eucharist we share has four parts: take, bless, break and share. Since the Eucharist is also a pattern of the countless ways in which God reaches out in love to embrace the whole creation, we take Eucharist here to allow that fourfold pattern to permeate our whole lives. 

So take your questions, the old memories, the new pain, the unknown future, the wanting faith, and present them all to God as an offering, lift up your life and let God bless it, share it with family and friends, and let their light and love lift it up too with thanksgiving as an offering. Then, knowing yourself to be surrounded by such a company of family and friends and with all the company of heaven, break apart the gift God gives you, look to it with faith, and let it be a message of hope and meaning for yourself and others

For I am convinced that every moment of life contains seeds of heaven, gifts of God, of hope, love and light, and that we are called to share these moments where life asks living questions and offers new answers in the midst of our lives, where we are called to celebrate  these new beginnings, to share food and hope and love, to make Eucharist as the gathered body of Christ.  

What a gift that life can be this big, what a gift that love can come so close. May the blessings of this advent season be upon each of us, and may Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon us all. Amen. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christ the King 2013

Years ago, a professor at my seminary told me that one of the main troubles with the church is that people start out to learn to be Godly and end up being sort of Lordly instead. Like the difference between religiosity and spirituality, and the difference between good shepherd-servants and bad ruler-kings as well. 

Lordliness might be "putting on" religion like a role or robe to wear: as a face or mask for meeting the world: maybe it’s like “Church-ianity" rather than Christ-ianity but the most radical difference between Lordly and Godly can be seen most clearly in the breech between word and deed. But the fact is that most of us talk a better game than we live, so we need to be understanding and forgiving when we see that in others, because we all fall into that kind of hypocrisy at one time or another, and there is nothing new about it.

Because there is the same disparity in Jerusalem in the sixth century BC, in our first lesson, when the people on their way to exile are asking Jeremiah "what went wrong?" Jeremiah answers that the shepherds who were called to protect and gather have destroyed and scattered the sheep of God’s pasture! And he prophesies both a small threat and a big promise. To the false shepherds, those Lordly people, he says that God, “will attend to you for your evil doings.” But to the people of God they were called to protect, Jeremiah prophesies that God, “will gather the remnant, bring them back to their fold, and will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing... “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

And that’s both very big and very good news: not only a new vision of shepherd, but a new vision of kingdom; not only a new way of being religious in the world, but a whole new world. 

So time passes, life goes on, and there are exiles and wars and new attempts to build the peaceable kingdom that don’t do all that well.  

And then this shepherd-king Jesus shows up and brings it together. First he does the deep work of mercy: he strengthens the weak, heals the sick and the lame, brings back the lost and those who have strayed. He searches them out and calls them home with infinite mercy in his voice; even calls them by name. 

But he goes further than this. He pours out himself for them as living water for the thirsty and hungry, the poor and those with no home, wanderers and beggars of God. He becomes sustenance, bread and wine for them. He not only acts out but he serves to flesh out, pour out, an understanding of how God loves us and feeds us, of who we are, and of how we are to be to one another.

For he is not only a servant and a shepherd, but a king and more than a king. He is what one Baptist preacher called “the place where God hugs humanity to himself”. You can say that Jesus is the absolute antithesis of Lordly; and instead the full picture of Godly: not only a real king but a true servant, not only a true servant but a full picture of what it means to be a human being alive with the glory of God. 

And in the end who he is -  as God and human, as a shepherd and a king -  says everything about who we are: our meaning and our ministry in the place where God meets humanity; in this kingdom that is coming even here and now.

Maybe that’s why we need four Gospels, because it’s so complex.  We can look at Matthew, Mark, Luke and John like four family photo albums with their collections of snaps on the life and ministry of Jesus. There are different pictures and various kinds of focus in each gospel, for each one has unique concerns, but in all there is a consistency of caring, of charity, that brings God's love home.

And when you really look at the pictures over time, then a strange thing happens; you start to see the paradox of what our Epistle for today calls the "fullness of God" dwelling in human form. It might even look like a double exposure! 

For here is our King Jesus, the good shepherd, the rule of God's love, as a human being; feeling hunger, thirsting, crying, having family problems, organisational difficulties, clashing with the prevailing political and religious establishment, and finally becoming one with homeless sinners, those who cry and cry out, one with people who have no voice and no name. And being put to death by the state as a false king, Jesus becomes one with those who are written off as officially expendable.

And I believe this Royal gift, this shepherd ministry, the light of this life lived out in love is a way to insure that we are safe from being caught in the trap of Lordliness, but rather drawn into the deep embrace of Godliness, into our ministry in the reconciling ministry of Christ.

It isn’t easy. C. S. Lewis writes, in The Lion. The Witch and The Wardrobe,  when the lion Aslan, the Son of Emperor Over-Sea, comes to save the people of Narnia from the curse of a cold winter, comes to bring them a new spring, one character asks in a rather Lordly tone: "This lion, is he safe?" and the response comes immediately; "of course he's not safe, but he's good!"

Jesus is like that. He shows us that there is no place where we might be safe from the surprise of God. No place where the love and largess of God might not be found, no place where this ruler might be ruled out. For in the life of Jesus, God is hugging all of humanity to himself, calling out our names, bringing all stray sheep to be found in the heart of his love. And this is our salvation and our hope and our destiny and our ministry and the reason why mere Lordliness will never be enough. 

For we are a people finally called by God to be both completely human and fully holy, and that - I think - finally means that each of us is called to take up the risk to be prophetic shepherds and servant rulers: not safe, but good; not Lordly, but Godly.

As Bishop Athanasius said in the late third century, in Jesus, God becomes one with humanity so humanity can become one with God. 

In Christ, the inconceivable wholeness of God has come to be seen in the holiness of humanity, that God’s flock may be fed, God’s kingdom come, and God’s will will be done: and we are called, all of us, to join Jesus in that wonderful work. 

It is almost the season of Advent, our shepherd king, our friend and saviour, our Lord and God draws near. Come, let us adore him. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pentecost 26C - Un-preparing for life, death and love in Luke

So we’re almost to the end of Pentecost. Next Sunday is the Sunday of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the season; and the Sunday after that is Advent Sunday — when we start a new liturgical year, and I’m really ready for that. Because two weeks after Advent will make one whole year since I had my shoulder replacement surgery and I can then officially stop saying, “Did I tell you about my operation?”  But I’ve still got four weeks to go!

I just didn’t know it would take so long or take so much. The surgery was easier than expected but the recovery has been more difficult. And that surprised me. When I had gallbladder surgery when I was around thirty it was much easier. Even 16 years ago, when I had a deep excision on my thigh to remove a melanoma I was off to England a few weeks after the operation, but this has taken the better part of a year for recovery.

Actually, it’s taken all of the last liturgical year, which has made it a kind of rich experience. Because I believe that we live through the liturgical year every year, sometimes every day: that the journey from Advent and Christmas, through the bright spots of Epiphany and the drylands of Lent, the mysteries of Holy week, the surprises of Eastertide and Ascension and the ripening spiritual awareness we are called to live with in the season of Pentecost - that what we see out there in the liturgical calendar of the church, is also found in here, in the seasons on our individual lives and journeys in Christ. 

So last December I got through Advent and Christmas, with a vague feeling that the present I received wasn’t quite what I had been expecting, but still might prove valuable. I had no chronic pain in my shoulder for the first time in several years, but I needed a sling, I couldn’t move it very much, and dealing with the post surgery hangover was making me feel used, abused, confused, and more than a little depressed too.

But the season of Lent was extra-rich this last year. I felt pretty stretched out, but  the season stretches us out too as it always does between promise and peril, between life and death, between beginning again and a growing awareness that it might not end in a way we would like. I finished my official sick leave not long before Holy Week, and remember wearing a cassock, praying while laying prone in front of the high altar of the Cathedral during the Good Friday liturgy (which I couldn’t have done before the surgery) and thinking, “I always forget it is this big, this mysterious, and this intimate.”  

And then it all opens up in Eastertide, with big confusing questions like, “How do we deal with this possibility of resurrection? What does it mean that Jesus is alive? And if Jesus’s death and resurrection meet my life and death, how do I live right here and now?” It took the early disciples, apostles, some time to get their heads around this, and we are no different. 

Eastertide asks big questions, and it gives us an even bigger answer when it drops us into Pentecost.  So big, in fact, that it takes us almost 6 months of the season of Pentecost to begin to get our heads around it. For then the question is this: “If God’s very Spirit is in our heads, our hearts, our lives; then how do we live out our whole lives in a way that is true to that truth?”

And that’s where we meet the Gospel for this Sunday even if it doesn’t sound like good news at the start. 

Today’s Gospel according to Luke says the future’s going to be bad  and then it is going to get worse, But the toughest line (and maybe the brightest) in today’s reading is towards the end when Jesus says, don’t “prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom…” And then ends up with this great one-liner, “by your endurance you will gain your souls.”

And that’s a real stretch; but, looking back, it seems all through Pentecost the Gospel of  Luke has been stretching us in two directions: 

Sometimes we’ve heard some real raw requirements, demanding endurance  and tough choices: hate your life, put nothing between you and God’s kingdom, count the cost, take the risk, begin the battle and give up all your possessions; realise you are unhelpful disciples, miserable sinners, unprofitable slaves. Here, Luke’s gospel is about great effort: following God, following the commandments, loving, working, aspiring to make heaven on earth now: even if we are wicked and unprofitable. 

But other times the stories are about an unspeakable and unearned grace: the father of a prodigal son rushing towards reconciliation and celebration, a shepherd successfully searching for a lost sheep, the eagerness of a woman finally finding a misplaced coin. and always leading to a celebration at the end, for  the word has been spoken and the world has been saved, angels rejoice, the love of the Father and the word of Christ, the spirit of grace and truth, has entered deep into the human family, for God has taken saving action and the word we see in Jesus is love

So maybe Luke is saying; some days it will be good and others bad; some days you’ll want to lift up your head and shout “it’s gonna be a great day”; other days you want to hang down your head like Tom Dooley and just get ready to die… and it’s really not that important.

Could it be that Luke is saying that love and life and death and resurrection is really that large, can contain these contradictions? Could it be that God and Jesus Christ and the Spirit are saying, I’ll meet you where ever you are, in the very middle of your whole life: whether you are hopeful or hopeless; In either end of anywhere? And that’s just not something we can prepare for, or fear either. We can just breathe and listen and endure, for God’s grace is that big, that mysterious and that intimate. 

In 1997 I was lucky.  After a battery of tests and a deep excision, I got the good news; that the melanoma had been contained, removed, and the prognosis was very good; but before (you might guess) there had been a few weeks of wonder and worry and “what if?” and I remember one day especially when after drinking a nuclear milkshake I was laying down on a cold steel bed while a machine flew low over my body with metallic music and the two lab technicians, recent immigrants, spoke to each other softly in vietnamese, and I felt like I understood nothing. 

Except that it was as if the air got very fresh in that little white room - maybe not just for me - and we were all breathing this good air, listening to the sweetest song and it was saying, “This is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” Singing to me, and maybe the lab techs and the whole world too, and I couldn’t tell you if Jesus was there, but he was here, and we were all giving our bodies, our blood and all our lives in learning about living and giving and forgiving and all that comes with the difficult and sometimes graceful business of dealing with life and death and loss and some kind of deep graceful love that sings out sometimes right in the middle of everywhere. 

I couldn’t have prepared for that: I could simply be surprised by the way it can be so big, so mysterious and so intimate, and that’s the way it comes sometimes, so you just listen and try to endure and let yourself be surprised. 

In two weeks we go to Advent. and the lessons will get even stranger, stretching us out again with the end of everything, and then the almost inconceivable hope held in the promise of the birth of a baby, newborn love, in the last place you’d ever think to look. Just when you thought it was over, it all begins again. Welcome to your life with Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Feast of All Saints', Ecumenical Praise Service, Wangaratta Jazz Festival 2013

All Saints’ 2013

Forty something years ago, when I was at University in California, I was told to read an essay titled, “How is jazz like skyscrapers?” My topic for this morning is wider and more melodious: How is jazz like Jesus? or, if you like, How is Jesus like jazz? Here are some easy notes to start with.

Some would say jazz can be joyful but demanding; it can give you strength and comfort, and surprise you too, but sometimes stretches you out more than you might expect or even like. And so does Jesus. 

At the start, jazz works, makes sense, gives light and life, for people in pain, for the lowest of the low, which is deep-down everybody. Jazz joins us together in an upwelling and an uprising; a revolution where those cast down get lifted up and people left behind rise to take pride and find their place in a new parade of love and justice and joy. And so does Jesus.

In the tight spots of modern life, Jazz is a riff for freedom and joy beyond power, improv for a peace sounding beyond easy understanding. Jazz sees, enlightens, even focuses on a world often overlooked; carrying memories not fully remembered and never forgotten: ancient villages, kidnapped journeys on leaky ships to unknown lands — trips no one would take were there a choice. Jazz clamours where people slave in dark places and city slums with a sky-light song singing out fierce freedom and jubilation and peace and power for those who need it the most. And so does Jesus.

Jazz makes room to listen and play with an abrupt and audacious hope, telling us to take on the tune in some new order, beyond the old chaos,  towards an inconceivable cosmos that lies right on the near side of now. Jazz calls us to take our place in the chorus, pick up our instrument, give our breath and talent to a loud loving noise, to the Lord of life, to our neighbour, and everyone at home and away, as well as the stranger who needs us. And so does Jesus.

He would play good jazz: it’s in the tradition. The reading from Saint Luke’s Gospel beats out a consistent rhythm of the overlooked being lifted up, top dogs being knocked down, and maybe everybody at home-base free at the last. Early on in that Gospel the Virgin Mary takes a solo about scattering the proud, filling up the hungry and sending the rich away empty; then Simeon beats out a refrain of falling and rising, lights up with revelation and glory;  and Anna finally sings a rift on praise and redemption before John the Baptist takes a turn jamming for right life and action, turning the world around with a new song where the crooked shall be made straight, the rough made smooth and all flesh see the wholeness of God's joy, and so does jazz.

Then Jesus takes centre-stage, singing that love song that  comes in the moments when you feel like you’re going to die right now, and you’re going to live forever, gathering his small group big-band sound to sit right there in the deep-down middle of life and taking that simple strong tune into a whole new neighbourhood; meeting dirty death with deep inspiring uprising and and renewal in the last places you’d ever dare look for light in the darkness. And so does jazz.

And Jesus still sings, sometimes sweet enough to break your heart, with all the healing and health and wholeness you could ever hope for; shaking it up and turning it all upside down and making it so there just might be room for everybody to wake up and see any Sunday morning like now where we’re looking at winning and losing and life and love and poetry and the possibility even of God for the very first time, and so does jazz. 

Then Jesus comes to the end of his solo: singing, Blessed are you if you’re poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, reviled, defamed; then you better leap for joy; because something better’s coming on to the earth, something that breathes deep and daring love and is going to last! But woe if you’re rich where there is so much poverty and full when so many live empty, for in the end you’ll mourn and weep, because all you thought you bought ends up going free and while you were worried that your brother needed a keeper, he only wanted a brother and you wouldn't want to ever lose that chance. And then He looks at you and says, "Do you want to come and join the band?" 

And well might you think, “How can anyone play that song, get the grace-notes, give it that light touch, see past all the shadows to take that risk that it all comes ‘round right. Where in God’s name do you get the gift to sing this great and glorious life, how do you get hold of that real good jazz?"

And Jesus says, "Love those who hate you, bless those who curse you… Do to others as you'd have them do to you. Act like a man who might die tonight and who’s going to live forever." And he turns it all over to you. 

And you know that music like that doesn’t last long, and it just might live forever. Sometimes It may mean a dirge where you can cry for all the world, and other times it may bring the blues to a birth you can’t see from here, it may pitch you in a tomb and deal you to death, where the only way home happens with a lullaby that’s larger than any love or life you ever knew, and leaves you wider awake than you ever were before. 

And that’s why we’re here this morning at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival, why the music plays, the voices sing out, why we lean into Jesus in a place where the song leads us on, new rhythms make a new home, and even that old demon death learns to love a new life, in an almost unbelievable coincidence of opposites coming together and waking us up to a foreign land right  in the middle of everywhere, where, by grace, everyone may be home free. For that’s what Jesus is about, and so, by God, is jazz. 


Sunday, October 06, 2013

Pentecost 20C

 There are two sides to so many things, even the Gospel of Luke, in the last few months Gospels, Sunday by Sunday; His Gospel is leading us on a demanding walk. 
Sometimes we’ve heard some real raw requirements, demanding tough choices: hate your life, put nothing between you and me, count the cost, take the risk, begin the battle and give up all your possessions; even today: realise you are unhelpful disciples, miserable sinners, unprofitable slaves. Here, Luke’s gospel is about us following God, loving the commandments, loving, working, aspiring to make heaven on earth now. Even if we are wicked and unprofitable. 

But other times the stories here are  about the father of a prodigal son rushing towards reconciliation and celebration, a shepherd successfully searching for a lost sheep, the eagerness of a woman finally finding a lost  coin. A celebration at the end. But other times the light comes from elsewhere. The word has been saved, angels rejoice, the love of the Father and the word of Christ, the spirit of grace and truth, has entered deep into the human family, for God has taken saving action and the word we see in Jesus is love

Maybe it is not either/or but both/and. As the Roman Catholic nun Joan Chittister writes:  

The Talmud [an early commentary on the Hebrew scripture] teaches that every person should wear a jacket with two pockets. In the one pocket, the rabbis say, there should be a note that reads, "I am a worm and not completely human." And in the second pocket, the rabbis say, the note must read, "For me the universe was made." 

But I think there are at least four places, patterned in the Gospel of Luke, found in the beginning of our own liturgy, in the Prayer Book too. Four sides to the way he tells his particular take on the good news of God with us, of Christ’s message to each of us, that we also find in the liturgy, 
1 We call out to God, 2 we hear his call, 3 we come clean and clear, we confess where we fall short, and 4 we start to hear the heart of his hope. 
Listen to how we start our time together, liturgy means peoples work, and this is how we begin to work it out. 
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is one of the oldest texts in our Prayer Book: based on a Latin prayer that was part of the so-called Sarum Rite, originating in Salisbury, England, and was said by priests in preparation for mass. It goes back to about 800 AD and some think it was written by the English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher, Alcuin of York who was attached to the court of Charlemagne, and that it may even have been written for his coronation in 800. Then, at the time of the 16th century English Reformation Thomas Cranmer made it part of public worship, 
In it  we call out, we reach out to the god to whom we are utterly transparent, who sees us as we are, heart, desires, secrets, and we ask to be cleansed, by God’s breathing intimate love, so that we may join in the work of redemption, that we might magnify God’s truth, power, name,  as messengers, (angels in the greek) as lovers alongside Christ. 
So 1 We call out to God, and then we hear his call, 
Hear O Israel, … you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus sad, This is the great and the first commandment, and a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. 
I hope I am not the only one who falls short on this one, I try to be decent, act likably if not lovingly to my neighbor, respectfully to God, and stop being either so easy on myself that I stop trying to improve or so tough that I just want to give up for lack of hope. But (except for these occasional moments of grace when, by God’s grace I seem to love my God, my neighbor and myself  with a God-like love, and we all have those, coming from somewhere) I generally fall short of that upward call of Christ. And that’s nothing new, the community of the church has gathered around that tension for two thousand years.
Listen:  Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus wrote this towards the end of the Fourth Century, it’s still true, very true, this very week. 
Since we ourselves are human beings, we must set before others the meal of kindness no matter why they need it – whether because they are widows, orphans, or exiles; or because they are brutalized by masters, crushed by rulers, dehumanized by tax-collectors, bloodied by robbers, or victimized by the insatiate greed of thieves, be it through confiscation of property or ship-wreck. All such people are equally deserving of mercy, and they look to us for their needs just as we look to God for ours.

in God’s presence we’re forced to see our own absence; the places where we don’t measure up, the times when we don’t show up, the moments where we don’t look up but rather keep our gaze down -- avoiding the obligations of the neighbor, a friend, a stranger, of our very selves;  we end up looking away from someone who deserves  by grace to be the beloved of God, even ourselves. 

That’s why we need to confess! We’re at point 3: 1 We call out to God, 2 we hear his call, 3 we come clean and clear, we confess where we fall short, Listen again…

Merciful God our maker and our judge, we have sinned against you in thought word and deed,  and in what we have failed to do: we have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.; we repent and our sorry for all our sins. Father, forgive us, Strengthen is to love and obey you in newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen, 
And then we are forgiven! Point 4 we start to hear the heart of his hope. 

Almighty God, who has promised forgiveness of sins to all who turn to him in faith, pardon you and set you free from all your sins, strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in eternal life., through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Perhaps the only thing greater than God’s majesty is God’s love, perhaps the only thing greater than God’s justice is God’s mercy, perhaps the only thing greater than our total inadequacy for any relationship with God is God’s great and graceful overwhelming love for us. 

So; 1 We call out to God, 2 we hear his call, 3 we come clean and clear, we confess where we fall short, and 4 we start to hear the heart of his hope. 
Go back to the prodigal son, with his canned speech and half-baked repentance see how thoroughly inadequate he is for any kind of real reconciliation, then see the father rushing down with open arms and heart, offering forgiveness and renewal and a feast full of love for this obviously unworthy servant. Lord we are unworthy, Lord, by your grace, we are forgiven, Can you see that it may even be a gift?

Again, some more Joan Chittister: 

“We come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft. To be small is to need, to depend on the other. Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from the arrogant isolation that kills both the body and the soul. To be empty is to be available inside to attend to something other than the self. We become full of the blessings of life.

“Then, emptied out by the awareness of our own smallness, we may have the heart to identify with those whose emptiness, whose poverty of spirit and paucity of life is involuntary. Then, we may be able to become full human beings ourselves...” 

So our little lives, striving to be a light from God, as small and timid and unfinished as we are, are still a precious gift, and God still calls us to live more deeply and love more freely, right in the midst of being small and human and living and dying. And this means that we, by Gods grace, as we are, in the midst of our smallness and our limits and our humanity, have enough and that we are enough and we are called to be and share that Good News. Amen

Monday, August 19, 2013

On the Virgin Mary

Mary, Mother of our Lord. 
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:1-7
St Luke’s Yea, 2014

Let’s start with a prayer by Thomas Ashe, an Irish poet, patriot, martyr of the early 20th century who wrote these words...

“Christ, look upon us.. 
and keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, 
lest we grow hard”

I hold that prayer close to me lately because I am trying to relearn how to get a balance between human, having compassion and pity for what I do and see and how I live as a human being in my day to day world; and somehow holding onto a kind of holy and eternal hope. And that’s where I might be able to meet, to make sense of Mary. 

And so my question is, how might Mary matter, what does Mary mean for us today? Can she be in part an icon of that kind of balance she lives: in her innocence and her virginity, her discipleship and her work; does she witness a   deeply practiced and informed pity and hope that can inform us, keep us from getting hard?

Its been a few years since I saw the 1960s movie, “The Gospel according to Matthew.” and my memory may be faulty, but there are some scenes that I will never forget. It’s a bold and thoughtful film, directed by Paolo Pasolini; an atheist, marxist, murdered under mysterious circumstances, but he  came across a Gideon Bible in some hotel room one morning and put together one amazing movie. It’s filmed in Sicily, in glorious black and white, with amazing Italian faces, dry empty hills, moving crowds, wide sky, ancient ruins. Mary is almost a child; at that age where children start to show the the hope, beauty, potential they might bring forth as an adult if things go right. And she’s in this ruin of a garden, for some reason I think she’s reading, and suddenly there’s a sound and you see this angel. I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl but this beautiful long-haired delighted angelic kid is shining with hope, delight, almost audacity; and the angel looks at Mary and she looks back and they both smile, maybe because there’s nothing else you can do at a moment like that. And the angel starts to speak and says what is still almost unspeakable:

“Hail Mary full of grace, charity, love beyond deserving or measure...the lord is with you!”

And Mary says Yes!

And you can see why; partly because she's young, she knows no better than not to say Yes, and partly because she gets the full orchestra of something we might hear dimly, occasionally, but mainly because she is young enough to know thats what life is about; that there are times when you just have to say Yes. 

And I think that’s not true for us too, for each one of us gets an occasional look into the face of a loving eternity looking back at us right in the face, calling us to take the chance to be servants, messengers, to show pardon, mercy, hope, to be  birth-givers in new instance and occasion of love. The truth is that we, like Mary, are called to say yes, to be obedient, to some new unimaginable but always almost seen and always hoped for future. 

And in the end I believe  we are more faithful than we might first know or imagine:, we so often give our lives over to be open to a gift, to give a gift or to be a gift, to a future we cannot completely conceive; and we mutter, “I'll try,” and, when we do (even with the delay, the doubt, the evasive mutter) something does take birth within us, within the world. 

So Mary stands as a model to each of us as virgin and birth giver, to be pregnant with compassion and pity and heavenly hope, to be a sign, an instance of a loving eternity, happening just in time.

Mary models... what Isaiah says, the young and willing joy, “rejoicing in the Lord, exulting in God, ready to be clothed with salvation... willing to be covered with righteousness, as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up…” We might just try to say yes to a task, a troubled friend, someone in need, 
We might just say yes, To carry compassion, pity, hope, but it is the same
“Let it be to me according to your word.”

So remember this isn't just about her, this is for us. She opens the way for each of us to receive and give God's mysterious gifts, in so many ways, and I say this with some great respect: we are so many pregnant virgins. Because we know in our hearts that we also come here to say yes!

We cannot plan for this, but we can prepare: remember that we are born for advent, we too are born to be “theotokos” -- bearers of God, keeper of Christ! 

For, as Thomas Merton writes: 

"At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is, so to speak, His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence,"

And I would add, as our virginity; and Mary is the model for the way this intimate ministry takes place, gives birth, in all of us.

 But there is more than birth, young people, the holy family.  That icon only lasts so long, even with Jesus and his family. There is a moment when Mary and her family go to be with Jesus, and his disciples say, “‘Your mother and your brothers, your sisters are here.’ And Jesus says, ‘My mother and brothers and sisters are those who do the will of God.’” It isn't always easy to be the mother of god,  Holy families can be icon, but icons can break, into a transition time when things get tender. It happens in relationships when a parent, model, mentor must become a fellow worker, simply another disciple sharing hope, caring, pity, being a friend.

And so Mary must become more than a mother, she is now a disciple doing the will of God. But perhaps she was the first disciple: listen to Matthew's gospel for an outline on discipleship and ministry.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

And she had been there at the start, giving food and drink, sharing substance and spirit, giving him body and blood, bound by love and born forward by grace to share his life. She had shared her confinement at the start, and she would witness his confinement as it all seemed to end.

For those disciplines once begun, abide, do not easily leave you. Again, that's why were here: to get those actions, that love, that dance, deep into our own heart, soul, mind, strength. The love of God and neighbor; even God as neighbor, even God as a neighbor we carry in our body, into the  deepest heart  of who we are.

And Mary was a witness at the end too. We all know there are dreadful days when eternity seems to die in time, we all have lived through those days when, no matter who or where we are, the hope we lived to love might come to fall and die. And yet I cannot imagine what it was for her. 

In the Pasolini movie, on that Good Friday, you see this old woman, wearing the weight of years, walking up the hill, hoping the stone might be moved so she can do deaths duties to the very body she embodied, the hope she held to tightly; so she shows up there too, a model for all of us at the times when love seems to die, 

And the stone is taken away, and the old woman looks, and the music comes up, and she sees the same angel! The beginning and the end are all held in the same love: eternity wins! And Mary  remembers all the moments when time turns and something new is born, and now she sees the time when death itself falls dead and she know love is bigger than death and love lives forever. And she holds that truth for us as well.

The tradition states that she did not die, was taken up to be near her son, some would say the Queen of Heaven. Given her record, I'd say that would not be surprising. She had said yes to so much: she had said yes to love living in her, yes to be the messenger, the vehicle bringing God's word of love and life into human being, God's body and blood into our kind, her assent enfleshed god, making us kin together. She also said yes to discipleship to watching, guarding, serving God's love in the very middle of all the art and pain and necessity we call life. She even said yes to witnessing the end of all that, looked at death and loss and and found a message: that love is one and that God's life will wins; that the love of Christ shall be all in all.

So, even if she didn't get a direct flight to heaven, I would think that woman could pass through death like "light through a window"; her love, obedience, discipleship, all bear witness to life larger than death, that would not, could not,  does not end, a love that is always beginning, even here and now.

And that's our task today. Today we are called like she was; to say yes to giving life to God's love, to being the birthplace, the bearer, of the body of Christ here and now and always, in the birth, the living, the dying, the rising up again of God’s love in human life. That’s what church is about: it is here in the stories we hear, the substance and spirit we share,  the body and blood of Christ we come to incorporate here  so that we might give it away on purpose everywhere.

And that's Gods own truth, that by here by grace we can see that the world is full of the most unlikely and wonderful pregnant virgins, that each of us is invited to share in giving birth to God’s word of love and grace; that, with our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, we are called to take on holy.   enfleshed living, dying, rising in love, for we are highly favored and the Lord is with us..

“And Mary said, let it be to me according to your word.”

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Pentecost 11C

Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them about a rich man who decided to pull down his barns, build larger ones, store all his grain and goods and relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves  but are not rich towards God.’

That reminds me of a story about the easiest way to trap a monkey which 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, although 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 desired food inside the coconut, he 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. He’s that greedy. Supposedly a monkey will 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 more than a bit, because there is something like that greedy monkey in me that often wants to hold on, to an old idea, to an old idol, to an old pain or an old plan. Those things matter! I want to hold on; 

But as today’s Gospel puts it: “And the things you have prepared [the stuff you try to hold on to], whose will they be [when you die] ?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves  but are not rich towards God.” I believe that’s true, even good news, but I can understand the  frustration felt by the reading from Ecclesiastes we just heard.

“All is vanity [and] all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, [and] I must leave it to those who come after me – and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet…. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest.  This also is vanity. “

Don’t you hate nights like that? But it’s true! 

It also reminds me of the story of two men talking after a third man’s funeral: One said, Did he leave much? 
The second said, Well, yes, he left it all! 
In the end we leave it all. 

But maybe we get it all too. Maybe, if the Epistle to the Colossians is right, then, by God’s grace, we are stripping off “the old self with its practices and have clothed… ourselves with the new self… [and] being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. [then] … Christ is all and in all!”

That’s not a bad consolation prize!  And if that is true, what is more important than saying yes to life and to God in the present moment? 

What else are we trying to hold onto? Again, 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 do we hold onto today 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? What keeps us away, if we are being called by God, as Jesus tells us, to be rich towards God, to mindfully walk with God in the openhearted possibilities of the present moment?

Part of it is that this openhearted process is not easy to get hold of, is not easily condensed into a book or a creed, a dogma or doctrine. And don’t get me wrong, none these things are bad; we need benchmarks and rest-stops, records, standards, starting points, places where we can remember, turn around and begin to live again. But they are not the way, and there is even a danger that they can turn into detours, get us out of God’s own way, keep from from being that new self-in-Christ … who is being “renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

And this is less like a bank account, a barn, or a lesson plan, more like a flower or a fresh breeze, or love: Maybe Jesus’ ministry is breathing the breath, singing the song of the intimacy of God breathed by the spirit in every moment of creation. Maybe that’s the gift that lasts, maybe that’s the way the way works in each of us as well as in all of us together. We can’t get hold of it easily, but that’s the way I believe we’re called to follow. 

And if God’s open-handed love, which we see in the life of Jesus, is the way to follow; then the greedy, self-directed documentary of who we want to be, where we ought to go, and what we want to hold on to; all those plots, hopes, fears, memories and desires, follies and forecasts that we cleave to: why, we can let all that go! 

For here we can be held in the free-gift of God’s true love, right here, right now in the middle of the way, willing to be filled with renewing acts of creativity, redemption, blessed mercy and surprise; when love lights us up with spirited,  surprising connections of compassion, wisdom, justice, love. 

But there is always something in us that wants to fight that light, keep our hand in, hold on to what we can, get what we want. That relates to what the letter to the Colossians is talking about with that earthy, dirty little list: “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)... [to say nothing of]  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth” all of these are tight-fisted attempts to grip power, passion, grab control, make the world work our way, the places where sin is so often found. 

But that’s not where we are, as the writer of the epistle goes on to say: instead,  “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

So if Christ “is all and in all” risen, if we are renewed in knowledge according to the image of our creator, if we are invited to share in that resurrection life,  then we are all called to open our greedy hands, our grimy hearts, our grasping lives, and leave ourselves open to be companions, neighbours, lovers of the life God gives us, freely giving without the need for control or power. We can be something as light and lively as a bright dance, a procession from the heart of creation, from the deepest heart of love, to be found and offered in the fragile centre of the human journey.

So don’t let your hand be caught in holding on to what you wanted, or feared, or planned for your life, instead let yourself come home to Christ in the midst of the world of living and dying, in the hope of heaven. 

For we are called to  strip off the old self with its practices and clothe ...ourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”