Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter Sermon in the King Valley, Easter 2 at the Cathedral .

“…so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

And If this Good News is true, how do we respond to this two thousand year old tale with roots stretching back another thousand years. If it is true, how can we live it out today in our own lives. If Christ is alive then how can we rise up to live more like him today?

This morning I want to share a model of how we might continually respond to a God made, God met, God mended world with three somewhat fanciful images I’ve cherished and carried along for over twenty-five years to make sense, open my heart and keep me going on the Christian path at least most days. They are the images of a table, a journey and a breath of fresh air. Let me explain.
First, as human beings, we are builders, fabricators, mapmakers; that’s in our DNA. We build maps of the world with words and deeds and wood and stone and steel; and I believe a lot of us build a life-size map in the shape of a table in the very middle of our heads. It works like this for me: we each have - let’s say 12 - people seated around a table in the middle of our brains: they all think it’s a board of directors meeting, and they should be in charge, so it gets noisy. They’re making roles and rules and definitions for all the places and purposes in our lives: for models and mentors and friends and family, for success and failure, good and bad, right and wrong. They’re getting the signposts up, adding directional signals, deciding what goes with where and with whom. This isn’t bad: for in this we join the God who creates the universe from nothing, for we take the chaos on a new world and turn it into a cosmos, an ordered reality: that’s our turn in the naming game God shares with Adam in the first part of Genesis! Now that sounds simple, but it gets complex: and the temptation is to avoid the task by taking a shortcut, using other peoples ideas, maybe buying retail or downloading from online.

But the task, the responsibility of naming the world is what it means to be human, not just individuals, but families, countries, civilisations too. You find it throughout the Hebrew Scripture: tables furnished with psalms, songs and poetry, with laws and liturgy and love stories, war records, histories, mysteries, myths and memories made smooth by hundreds of years of retelling ‘round campfires  wherever we find ourselves: everybody builds tables!

So here’s a question to consider this Eastertide: what 12 people sit at the table in the middle of your head, what blessings do they offer, what curses do they convey, and who would you really like to live there? That’s image number one.

The second image is more dynamic; to be a human is to take an individual journey without a plan to survive. You reach a point in your journey where you see a turn in the road ahead and you don’t see how to get through: that’s the essential way of being human. Some of us love that sort of challenge and some us dread it, and it scares the daylight out of the table, which has worked hard to create order from disorder, to build a cosmos from chaos. So the table and the journey are at cross-purposes here —  the table fearing that it is incomplete  and the pilgrims rejoicing that the road is unfinished. You can see the tension between these two ways on both an individual and a corporate level: Jerusalem kills its prophets and Rome crucifies everyone who does not worship Caesar.

But they cant stop the flow of prophets and poets, people hungry for new life, exploring the wilderness, turning wandering into pilgrimage and pilgrimage into new homecoming. And one of the ways Jesus makes sense is as the pioneer and perfecter of this unfinished path. He follows the human journey and meets all the meanness and mercy and wonder and pain that comes with being flesh and blood,and  he shares it all with us!

Her’s a second question: name twelve journeys that have changed you beyond belief, opened you to a new way of being in a different world, shown you a new road forward. And how did the old table handle it?

So you can almost forecast trouble when Jesus travels into new definitions of friend and foe, insider and outsider, justice and mercy. Do you remember that great scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones has to walk across a blank space, a chasm, where the ground only shows up when you put your foot out in open air? Do you wonder why the table is scared to death of the journey?

Listen to this, for here's where the crux comes. Jack Kornfield, a modern Buddhist writer, says in the end there are just two kinds of people: those who aren’t afraid to kill and those who aren’t afraid to be killed. Most of us would avoid that sort of black and white thinking, but I fear it still may be close to what we see on Good Friday when Jesus Christ is murdered by the mob, which I fear may be most of us on a really bad day.

In his book called “The Crucified Jesus is No Stranger,” Sebastian Moore writes that when we see Jesus, this man of love and light, we see our all our shadows and our shortcuts, see where we have come close, taken part in evil. And in reaction to that unwelcome light we push him to the dark, pin him down to death, because we would rather kill him than where see we are already dying in our separation and sin.

But we realise, in the light of His love, that we are killing the best picture of what we look like, an icon of the life we are born to live; and so we move from being the crucifier to seeing ourselves crucified: from a living death — protecting our property, our table, the life we know — to a dying life, giving ourselves over to a future we cannot conceive. We let ourselves die so that a larger love may live. And by God’s grace resurrection happens.

We are here this morning because a handful of people, Mary, Joanna, Peter, later Paul, woke up to find that Jesus was not with their dead, had awakened to new and larger life, and was willing to share the journey with them. We’re here because people like Thomas, with all his questionable doubts, kept coming back. We’re here because a people keep telling their friends and compatriots, and this continues changing the world for almost two thousand years —  that love is bigger than hate,  life is bigger than death, God is bigger than the world we know — but how can we live that out? How can we get from there to here and now?

It is simple but not easy. The third image is simply a breath of fresh air: the art and practice of stopping to breathe, to pray, to begin again. When I ask people to name the table and the journeys it can get complex, but when I ask them to name twelve places where the air gets fresh I have to stand back because they want to share their lists. To awaken to the awareness we are breathed by the spirit that makes and meets and mends the world means we are built for a bigger life and a greater purpose than we know; that the rhythm of dying and rising, the very life of Jesus, is rich in our very blood. That Christ is risen from the dead and we are called to let him come to our table and feed us with the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation, so that we can exchange our stable tables for his faithful and mysterious journey, our living death for his dying life in every breath we take from here on.

And how do we get there from here?

One of the joys of being a retired priest, with no regular obligations, is that I have free time to meet with people who want to consider the table, the journey, the fresh air of the new life we are called to share with God. To discuss who’s noisy at the table, where the  journey calls us to change and grow, and ways where we can find the fresh air here and now.  It’s a place to build your own creed, your own map, your renewed roles and rules of life in Christ. I offer that to each of you as my own participation, my shared ministry, in this new life, this post-Easter mystery to which we are all called.

For Christ is risen from the grave. Alleluia!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday 2016

When I was in my mid-twenties, around forty-five years ago, my grandmother, who was in her early eighties, was close to dying. She had leukaemia for several years, going from chronic to acute, with a few remissions, and now it was coming closer.  I remember when my uncle, her eldest child, flew out from the East Coast, and I’ll never forget watching from the front window, when he — followed by my mother and my aunt - carried his mother in his arms from her home to the car to take her to the hospital for the last time.

I carry two things from that particular moment: first, something like the music of the Sanctus, a sense of bells and music sung by some great choir; “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” And then a surprising and joyful conviction came into my heart, right into the middle of the pain like sunlight in the centre of that dark day. “Thank God,” something in me said so deeply, “Thank God we matter this much.”

In the Gospel for today the crowds chorus moves from “Hosanna” and “Alleluia" to “We have no King but Caesar “ and “Crucify him!”  and we’re invited to watch and follow, to  participate as these actions are carried out in Jerusalem as if they were happening here and now.

Because in his journey through Jerusalem to Golgotha, to the cross and the grave and beyond, Jesus walks through all our fears and anger and anxiety, all  the trials and tragedies of our everyday lives, and carries us along like a son or a brother into the very crossroad where the heart of human tragedy meets the good news of God.  And that is I believe where we can find the very living heart of the Gospel.

An English theologian said that we are invited to exchange our living death for Jesus' dying life.  We are invited to stop holding on so tight to our fears and our hopes and our tensions and our ideas about the times we live in; and  cleave onto the living and breathing faith that Jesus will take us in his arms at those crucial moments and carry us through the middle of it all into a new beginning, the resurrection of the dead.

So the events of this Palm Sunday and of the coming week offer a pilgrimage, a walking tour, deep into the heart of the human condition: with sin and grace, violence and virtue, cowardice and courage, death and new beginnings. And, for each of us, that resonates with our own histories and hopes, stories we remember, times that stretch us and tear us apart, about people we miss and endings we fear. Holy week can be a difficult road to take, but Jesus knows his way and will follow it faithfully to the end.

But it may not be easy for us. We might find it difficult to hope that the holiest One will hear our  individual hopes and fears, we might not always think that the universe could be knit together so carefully. But here we are called to follow the faith that Christ can hold us close through these crises, take us through every turn, every tight corner of the human journey from birth to death and beyond to bring us home at the last.

So on this Holy Week we are called to wait, to watch and follow Jesus as closely as we can, in our uneasy witness. So stay close to your Bible and Prayer Book, stay close to your church and community, stay close to your feelings and your fears too - and watch and follow: because the heart of God, the God of love we see in Jesus Christ, calls us to join with Him to journey to Jerusalem to meet the fact of death, and carries us along to the hope of eternal life. And we must thank God that it matters this much.


Friday, March 04, 2016

On Ambivalence and the Prodigal Son, a Sermon for the Saturday night Eucharist.

Twelve years ago this very week, about an hour into an evening Bible study on the Gospel we just shared, something happened which I’ve never forgotten. We had prayed, read the story aloud, talked through the social background, the family expectations, with major themes and minor points: forgiveness is good, first and second sons should be honoured in their different roles, and father knows best even in this difficult episode. But we decided look at the more uncomfortable bits of the story.

Then we decided that the father was almost unbelievably forgiving; that the second son, coming home with a canned speech to get some support was lucky (even graced) to be fed, to say nothing of forgiven; that even though the first son had a case for being somewhat ticked off for not getting rewarded for his commitment and obedience, he was visibly hard-hearted and unforgiving; and that all the villagers must have been fascinated having a first row seat for this family drama.

But we also felt sort of short-changed at the end of the story because none of us saw a lasting happiness for the future of that family: you could see the brothers keeping a suspicious eye on each other and the father’s love at least stretched after the younger son’s packaged repentance and the elder’s outburst about rights. It was safe at least to say there wouldn’t be another spontaneous party in the near future. And yet mercy had been served, repentance seen, forgiveness happened; a celebration enacted even while the neighbours watching this family wash their dirty linen on the public footpath and wondered what would happen next.

It reminds me of the worldwide church right now. We’re having disclosures and discussions, arguments and outbursts, about inclusion and abuse, refugees and human rights, headship and heartfelt understandings about the ways where the church lives out our discernment of scripture, tradition, reason and community. People are not only talking about “What would Jesus do?”, but “What did Jesus (and Paul) mean in the first place?” It is a difficult time to be part of the institutional church and the vast majority of our former members, friends and neighbours have already voted with their feet. But I think the question we have to stay with is close to the ones in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Forgiving Father: how are we to continue the story?

And I feel that we have, like the people in the Bible Study 12 years ago, to  ask, where do we go from here?. And I think Jesus offers an option that is not an easy out or a sacred shortcut, but it is also not the route we would like to choose ourselves. So I think I know where the Good News is here, and I need to tell you it is awfully close to the bad news.

Because it’s right in front of us in the actions of the Eucharist. In this feast of God’s way, truth and life, we are invited to nurture the daily fabric of our unfinished story - just like Jesus - by giving our lives over to a future we have mixed feelings about, accepting the betrayal by friends as well as the fear that the message shared has been lost, cast underfoot and scattered. Because while Jesus goes on, accepting the death sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, he invites us to take both our present doubts and our doubtful faith and join him on to a road that goes past that dead end to a new life larger than we can ask for or anticipate.

Now I find it hard to lean into this, but when I am honest I find I am still hungry for that bread of heaven, that cup of salvation, which both quenches my hunger and increases my appetite, both for holiness and for wholeness on the dry road we are called to share together in this journey through Jerusalem.

But it’s not the most convenient Good News and it isn’t meant to be; remember there is a repeating rhythm in the whole church year threading through light and darkness, triumph and tragedy. Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, highlight birth but follow with the shadows, the darkness, defeat and death that come from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday. And even when the Easter uprising assures us that God’s life is bigger than our fear of death, there is then the task to translate that hope into a new message in the pattern of Pentecost that we can both follow and can share with our friends, family, neighbours, and the stranger. That's actually where this dangerous opportunity occurs.

Thomas Merton writes that the paradox can only comes to promise when we realise we are totally incapable of meeting God — and that God is for us. running to meet us, calling us home for celebration, in all our incapacity.

The Good News comes in that crossroad of this fearful and faithful pilgrimage where our all our earthly hopes fall short so that we might witness something larger than the life we know: a new life where our hope, our faith, our capacity for love and forgiveness can come as a gift from God.

And this is not only our “personal relationship” with Jesus in the spirit, but our corporate way of understanding and speaking about who we are as the church. The world is watching for our fresh responses to both the wrongs we are guilty of and the rights we stand for.

It is time to tell our truth anew. While the world has turned in innumerable revolutions in the last 100 years we’ve often shared the Gospel in time-bound language and outworn concepts. Now we all, clergy and laity, newcomer and old-timer, believer and skeptic alike, need to ask God for new ways to articulate this eternally compassion love in the contemporary world where we are called to minister.

But I believe the answer will only come when we turn towards Jerusalem, when we gather both our hopes and hypocrisies, our questions and concerns, and carry these crosses into the place where our living death can be transformed by Jesus’ dying life: to that upper room where we can meet our fear, quench our appetites and renew our courage and commitment for taking on this high hope and wide horizon to which we are called. In the end that is our way, our truth, our life.