29 November 2009

The coming of Christ

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Luke 21: 25-28;34-36.

Happy New Year! As we begin this new season of Advent (and new liturgical year), you might imagine that we would have readings that speak of preparing for the birth of Jesus, or that would take us back to the very beginning of creation. But no, the readings instead take us to the end of all things in the second coming of Jesus. We explore the different meanings of the coming of Jesus.

We talk about the coming of Jesus in three different ways. The first is his historical birth in Bethlehem as a child, in fulfillment of the many prophecies of the coming of the Messiah (and picked up in our first reading from Jeremiah); the second, which is picked up our first reading today, is our ability to allow the Lord to actually have life and existence within us, when we accept Jesus into our lives, or to come to birth within us; the third way is when we talk about the 'Second Coming' of Jesus at the end of history. It is this idea of the final coming of Jesus that unifies all the readings today and provides the focus for us as we wait with hope in this season of Advent.

When we read Paul's first letter - the first letter that he wrote to the Thessalonians, and the very first and oldest document written in the New Testament - we have a very strong sense that the return of the Lord is very near. Paul seemed to have believed that the Lord Jesus would return again RSN (real soon now) - certainly while he was still alive. That belief had changed by the time Paul wrote his later letters, and like him we continue to look to that day with hope and longing. Paul knew that everything in the world (defined by the sun and moon and stars) had changed because of that amazing and incredible event of the resurrection of Jesus. He also knew that as a Christian people our job was to bring that change and difference into the world through being changed and renewed by the presence of Jesus in the Holy Spirit in our own lives. This is the dramatic change and difference that Jesus can make in our lives. This is the only way that we need to prepare for the second coming - to live lives of virtue and holiness united to Jesus now.

Sometimes we may be like the captain of Oceanic flight 815 who announces to the passengers: "Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, and welcome once again to Oceanic 815. Thankyou for choosing to fly with us today. I wanted to give you an update on our flight status. We have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that we are having a slight difficulty with our instruments, so that we are actually not at all sure where we are right now, but the good news is that we are making excellent time." So many people today live like that - lost and uncertain as to where we are, yet racing ahead at full steam to ensure that we get wherever it is that we are going as quickly as possible!

Maybe it is time for us to take stock of where we are and work out where we are headed in our lives? As we continue in this season of Advent, let us prepare in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour - and allow the Lord to truly be present within us now...

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(Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am - 10'47")

22 November 2009

Building the kingdom with Christ the King

Sunday 34 in the Season of the Year - Feast of Christ the King (B)

Sometimes, especially when we live in a Constitutional Monarchy like we do in Australia, and we have strong democratic beliefs - and perhaps even more so if we are republicans - the idea of celebrating Christ as King can seem quaint and antiquated. When the King or Queen are distant and essentially irrelevant to our lives, how do we make sense of this feast and idea of Christ as King?

If Christ is the king, then we must be part of some kingdom. Perhaps we are also confused by what exactly this kingdom is all about? Sometimes we might think (if we do at all) that the kingdom has probably something to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know that through the Cross our sins have been forgiven and we are able to have the promise of another place which we call heaven after we die. But is that actually what Jesus was on about?

We have been reading through the Gospel of Mark this year, and you might just remember how when we began at the start of the year in Mark chapter one, we heard Jesus begin his public ministry by proclaiming that the 'kingdom of God' was near, and we should repent and believe. And then he began to call and invite people into the kingdom. Yet all of this was happening two to three years before the events of his death and resurrection. So if that is what the kingdom is all about, what were they doing during those years?

Perhaps we need to think about how to live in the kingdom and how it might fit with the whole story of God and God's people. How does this fit with the story of creation, sin, confusion, darkness and so forth. And how does a dance on the streets of Paris or the "parable of the public toilet" fit into this story? Listen to find out more...

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (10'17")

15 November 2009

The end of the world - of death

Week 33 - Season of the Year B
Mark 13:24-32

Often when we are presented with a passage like the Gospel that we have just read, we are left scratching our heads and wondering what on earth (or heaven) is going on. Of course there is a fascination in our world (like theirs) about the end of the world. Movies like 2012 - released this week - or other Hollywood blockbusters like Knowing, Independence Day, the Day After Tomorrow all attest to our interest and fascination with the subject, as do bookshelves full of prophecies from Nostradamus or the Mayan empire - or indeed of course from our own Scriptures.

So yes, we have a range of passages and whole books in the Bible that are samples of what we call 'Apocalyptic'. The first reading today was from the Prophet Daniel, and the final book in the Bible is the Book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse. And they are notoriously difficult to interpret. Especially if we imagine that they are to be taken literally, or that they are meant to be read as precise predictions of how the world will end. Which they are not.

First the title gives us a hint - it is called apocalyptic, which comes from a Greek word 'apokalypso' meaning 'disclosure', 'unveiling' or 'revelation'. Sometimes this refers to an unveiling of the future, but usually it means a revelation about what is happening all around us - which is the case in today's Gospel. Secondly, this kind of literature is usually written during times of persecution. So Daniel comes from the period of the Jewish exile in Babylon, when the people were suffering great persecution; similarly the book of Revelation was written at the end of the first century, during a period of deep persecution of the Christian Church by the Roman Empire.

Turning to the Gospel itself, this chapter 13 begins with Jesus and his disciples sitting in the temple forecourt. Now, especially for country bumpkins like this lot, coming from Galilee the Temple was an amazingly impressive building. As a country kid myself, I remember vividly the first time that I went overseas. As a good Catholic boy, my first stop was Rome and we went straight by train from the plane to St Peter's. Man, that place is just amazing. The building is simply massive and so beautiful. It is 220m long and seats 60,000 people. But the temple of King Herod was just as impressive - or even more so. The whole complex was nearly half a kilometre long - 485m along the Western wall. At the south-eastern corner the wall is 130m about the valley - that's like a 40-story building. And it was all decked out in white limestone, marble and stacks of gold. So it would take your breath away! And Archeologists have discovered that some of the foundation stones would have weighed around 4000 tonnes - so it was certainly enough to blow away these country kids. And Jesus simply says that not one of these massive and beautiful stones will be left standing on another. And to declare that he really didn't even need to be a great prophet. He knew how central the Temple was to the whole scheme of things - how it lay not just at the centre of Jewish religious life but also their whole cultural, political and national identity. He also knew how much the tension was building between the Jewish zealots who were pushing for a national uprising and the Roman Empire. This all came to a head in the last 60s, leading to the complete destruction of the Temple in 70CE.

So Jesus is alluding to this - and to some extent he is also alluding to the eventual end of the world. But he talks about all of this coming about during the current generation - that the disciples would all witness it. If we take all this literally, we are left wondering if Jesus got the details all wrong. So what was he talking about when he mentions the sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling?
First we need to remember the centrality of these 'heavenly bodies' in everyday life. Now, if I want to know what the time is, I just look at my watch. If I am wondering around and want to know where I am I pull out my mobile phone and turn on the GPS. The same in my car. If it is getting a bit dark, I flick the switch and turn on the lights. In those days the sun and moon provided their main sources of light. You used them to know what the time was. You used them and the stars to navigate and to know what season it was and what the weather was going to be like. (Hence the example of the fig tree.) So the sun and moon and stars represented what the whole world was like. The symbolised the existing structure of the world. So when Jesus says that all of that is changing - all of that is coming to an end in this generation - he is talking about events that are much closer at hand. Remember all this happens in Jerusalem during what we now call 'Holy Week'. The great events of Jesus' death and resurrection are only a day or two away. Jesus wants his disciples to know that what is about to happen will not just effect him - but it will change their whole world (represented by the sun, moon and stars). Why will everything change? Because until that time the whole world has revolved around death. Death (like taxes) is the one thing that every empire has always held over its citizens and subjects. Fear of death has remained a constant across human history. In one way we can understand that all of our sin and dysfunction is linked to this fear of death and our feeble attempts to overcome it - whether that is by pursuing health, wealth, beauty, power, sex or simply distracting ourselves with new toys or experiences. But all of that world came to end - or began to end - the moment that Jesus took all of our sin and dysfunction on-board when he stretched out his arms on that Roman cross.

The old world did in fact end on that glorious Easter Sunday morning. All of our fears and failures were caught up and redeemed by the work of God in the person of Jesus. The world that the disciples knew did end that day.

But the end was also a beginning. Because realities are of little use unless we know about them. Unless we live in their truth. So while death no longer has a hold over us, we need - as a Christian people - to live in this truth. And we need to take our place in proclaiming and living as an Easter people.

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Recorded at St Michael's Nowra, 9.30am (12'51")

08 November 2009

The gift of the widow

Sunday 32 in the Season of the Year (B)

Mark 12:38-44 and I Kings 17:8-16.

The gift of the widow who has nothing to give.

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Recorded at St Michael's Nowra 9.30am (14'30")

01 November 2009

Blessed by God

All Saints Day (Matthew 4:25-5:12)

The gospel passage that we usually call the Beatitudes seems to be one of those passages that is 'trotted out' for almost any occasion - from weddings to funerals to commitments of ordination and religious profession. But what on earth is it about? What does it mean to say that someone who is mourning is to be declared happy or blessed? Is it telling us that we have to be poor in spirit to be part of the kingdom? That we need to mourn and be meek? Is this a series of yet more commandments that we need to fulfill? Or a new list of ways that we will be judged? Or are these statements something else entirely? Perhaps in these statements from Jesus - addressed to this strange crowd of people from the backwaters of Galilee to the more sophisticated citizens of Judea and Jerusalem, as well as the pagans and gentiles from the Decapolis - we actually meet what is truly good news. An announcement of Jesus that we can indeed be part of the kingdom of God - or maybe that we already are precisely because we are somewhat scattered or simply somewhat ordinary?

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Recorded at St Michael's 6pm (13'40" - including final blessing)