26 December 2010

Family Models

On the feast of the Holy Family, we are presented with various images and models of family. St Paul encourages us to be clothed in love as we allow the message of Christ to find a home within us. In the gospel, St Matthew in Herod and Joseph gives us two figures that provide powerful reflections on the place of family in society.

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Recorded at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, 10.30am (7'37")

25 December 2010

The word revealed in the sight of all the nations

We are reminded in the prologue to the Gospel of John of the incredible power of the word of God - a word that changed the course of human history in ways that we will never understand. Some of the most defining moments in human history have been shaped and defined by human words - speeches like that of Abraham Lincoln at the declaration of the Gettysburg Memorial during the American Civil War (19 Nov 1863); or the words of Pastor Martin King Jnr on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington almost a century later (28 August 1963); or the words declared by Pope John Paul in Victory Square in Warslaw soon after he was elected pope, on his first visit to his homeland in June 1979. Human words have such power. How much more the word of God?

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Christmas Day - Mass during the day.
St JohnVianney Church, 8.30am (10'54")

24 December 2010

Rethinking familiar stories

When we hear the Christmas story proclaimed in the Gospel of Luke, we are more than likely so very familiar with the basic story line, that we simply switch off, or switch into sentimental childhood memories replete with lots of non-biblical details. When we actually look closely at the story, perhaps what we see in some of the deeply biblical details will surprise us. For example, who is the first person who is mentioned in the story that was just read (Luke 2:1-14)? And how does that fit with standard story-telling in the first century middle-east?

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Recorded at Mater Dolorosa Church, Balgownie, 8pm Christmas Eve (9'43") - including part of Michael Card's Overture to the Trilogy that I began Mass with.

19 December 2010

Big dreams and promises

In our final Advent Sunday, the magnificent prophecies from the book of Isaiah turn with a very specific promise made to a very specific king - the young man Ahaz (only 20 in 735BCE) who finds himself hemmed in from every side by enemies. He doesn't know where to turn and is most likely quite justified in his depression, when the Lord himself comes to him with a most extraordinary request - ask me for a sign. And no ordinary small one - as deep as Sheol or as high as the heavens. But Ahaz demonstrates a lack of imagination when he feigns humility and piety by saying it isn't right to put the Lord to the test. A strange response when it is the Lord who made the request. Listen to hear the rest of the story and how it connects with the Gospel from Matthew.

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Advent 4A. Isaiah 7:10-14; Matthew 1:18-24
Recorded at SJV, 6pm and 8.30am (9'25") with 'Waiting for the Child' by Michael Mangan.

12 December 2010

Waiting and growing

As we celebrate Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday, we remain with the figure of St John the Catholic Baptist - but now, we are not at the very beginning of his prophetic ministry, but almost at the end. He is in prison because of his objections to the marriage of the claimed king of Israel, Herod (who used a reed swaying in the breeze as his emblem) and perhaps he is pondering why Jesus is not exactly like the one that he prophesised about (which we read in the Gospel last Sunday). Or perhaps he is simply pushing the boundaries of his disciple's minds - wanting them to think more deeply and wait patiently for the answer to who Jesus truly is. Perhaps we are being called to do exactly the same?

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Advent 3A. Recorded at St Francis Xavier, 9am (9'06")

04 December 2010

Washed in the desert

As we continue our journey through this sacred season of Advent, we are again given the majestic vision of the glory of the Lord bringing peace and unity to all creation - all as the fruit of a small shoot that grows from the root of Jesse. As Christians, we profess that this shoot is the Messiah that we worship every time we gather for the Eucharist, our Lord Jesus. Before we can understand the place of the Messiah, first we need to reflect on the ministry of John, as he calls the people to join him out in the desert to confess our sins and be washed in the waters of the Jordan.

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Advent 2A. Recorded at SJV 6pm (8'50")

28 November 2010

Gathering on the mountain

As we begin a new liturgical season, and indeed a new year - the first year in our three year cycle of readings - it seems appropriate that the first image that is presented to us is something that is so deeply ingrained in my psyche - the mountain as a sacred place. I grew up in the shadow of a beautiful mountain - Mumbulla Mountain in the Bega Valley, a place that is sacred to my family and to the Aboriginal people. Our readings begin with the vision of the Prophet Isaiah of all the nations streaming up to the holy mountain of the Lord, and being changed and transformed by the law and ways of God, as we worship together. (7'19")

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Advent 1A.

21 November 2010

A king on a cross

Christ the King - the final Sunday in the Season of the Year. This feast, and the image of king, undoubtably invokes many images. This week it was announced that Prince William and Kate Middleton were finally engaged which caused many hearts to race in anticipation of a royal wedding in the middle of 2011. As much as I would like to be excited by such things, the British monarchy doesn't really do anything for me. When we think about a king, I am sure the many plays and movies that we have watched would supply a myriad of imagery - huge thrones, crowns with bling-galore, magnifent state rooms and equally splendid attendants bowing and scraping before the exalted presence. And although this image sometimes appears in scripture, the dominant image that is given to us this Sunday is so radically different.

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Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (7'04")

16 November 2010

Asteroids and kingdoms

Sunday 33 in Year C; Luke 21:5-19. In the Gospel, which takes place in the final days of Jesus ministry in Jerusalem, the country-yokel disciples remark on how magnificent the temple is. Thinking back to the impression that the very first time that I beheld the incredible magnificence of St Peter's Basilica in Rome some sixteen years ago, I wonder how I would have reacted if we had met a crazy Cardinal who told us that not a single stone would be left standing on another. Then Jesus begins to tell us of all the possible calamities that may befall the earth, kingdoms and families. Cheery stuff indeed!

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Recorded at SJV Vigil, 8'49"

06 November 2010

Life, death, hands, feet, bodies and couches

Now that our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem has finally reached its climax in the triumphant entry into the city, the tension only continues to increase. Likewise, as the liturgical year rapidly draws to a close, the church this week offers readings that invite us to reflect on what happens to us - and very specifically what happens to our bodies after we die. So why do our bodies matter? Shouldn't we only worry about our souls? Or is it okay to buy a new couch? Listen in for all this and more!

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Recorded at SJV 6pm

31 October 2010

The today of salvation

As we move into the final stage of our journey to Jerusalem in the gospel of Luke we  find Jesus on the move through the town of Jericho. On the wings there appears this short, wealthy chief tax collector who for some unknown reason decides that climbing a tree is a good way to avoid becoming the centre of attention. In short order, the despised and socially outcast Zacchaeus is hurried and welcomed into the presence of Jesus, as the Lord decides that his house is the place to be and all heaven breaks loose as the kingdom of God breaks into the life of this son of Abraham.

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Recorded at St JohnVianney, 8.30am (10'41")

23 October 2010

Religion binds us

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) invites us to reflect not just on what true prayer is about, but also on what religion is all about in the first place. The parable encourages us to ponder deeply about the truth of what we share in common - especially as we commemorate Mission Sunday and we are invited to understand our connection to the church around the world, and in a particular way this year, with the many needs of the people of Timor Leste. (8:30)

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17 October 2010

Trusting in God's goodness

The Gospel (Matthew 6:25-34) chosen for the feast of St Mary of the Cross provides an amazing antidote to the modern (and ancient) tendency to worry about just about everything - what we are to eat, drink, wear. Is the vision that Jesus expresses simply Utopian or does this teaching of Jesus and the lived experience of St Mary provide a most brilliant model for how to live in the present moment?

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Recorded at St John Vianney (08'08")

10 October 2010

Naaman's spiritual odyssey

Sunday 28C - The healing of ten lepers in Luke 17 is a classic Lukan story that has its proper place on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. But to truly understand the power of this story for our own lives we need to revisit the full story of the healing of Naaman that we read only a small extract from 2 Kings 5 to see what lessons we can learn for our own lives. The work of Russian linguist and folklore analyst Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) may also be helpful in understanding what is at stake when Naaman listens to the advice of a enemy and foreign slave girl to travel to Jerusalem to enlist the help of a prophet by the name of Elisha.

Recorded at St John Vianney (11'17")

19 September 2010

A hunger to be fed

Celebration of First Holy Communion (Readings from the feast of Body and Blood of Christ) in St John Vianney Parish. The final of two special Masses.

Like when Jesus gathered with his disciples, we continue to gather to be fed by the Lord in the readings and to be united by him in this meal of new life and new hope. Jesus fed the huge crowd first with his word of life and then with food. When the disciples ask Jesus to feed the crowd, he first asks them to give them something to eat. The disciples forget that Jesus can do anything - he did after all just walk across the water.

This is especially the case as we also are invited to allow the kingdom of God to break into our lives, so that we can be changed by our encounter with the very presence of the Lord.

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Recorded at St John Vianney Church, 12noon (4'44")

Before this Mass (like last week) I asked the Year Three children to suggest a few words that I had to include in the homily that I shared with them. Initially they suggested words like 'Jesus', 'bread', 'wine', 'bible', 'God', 'eucharist', but then their words became a little more left-field, like 'random', 'rubber suit' and 'chocolate'. Hopefully this may explain why there appear to be these slightly random words today and last Sunday ;-)

The decision of the dishonest manager

Sunday 25C - Luke 16:1-13

Across the Gospels, Jesus tells something like 40 parables (a good biblical number); there are 23 in Matthew, 9 in Mark, 28 in Luke but none in John; seven are found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) and various ones are found in two gospels; some are unique to Matthew (10); one is unique to Mark; 15 are unique to the Gospel of Luke. Among these parables that are unique to the Gospel of Luke are some of the most-loved of all the parables that Jesus told - ones like the Good Samaritan and the ones that we had last Sunday - the lost sheep (also told in Matthew), the lost coin and the lost son. But I doubt if there are many people (if any?) who would claim the Parable of the dishonest manager as their most loved parable. Do you?
The parable has perplexed scholars and saints across the centuries - in part because it is not absolutely clear where the parable ends and the words of Jesus begin. Is the master (Greek kyrios) in 16:8 the master in the story or the Lord Jesus? Mostly today the parable is considered to finish at 16:8a, and the words of Jesus begin with "for the children of this age..." which makes sense.
So is it possible to read this powerful parable in a new way so that it may even become your favourite? Probably not, but let's try...

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Recorded at St John Vianney (11'26")

12 September 2010

New life and new hope

Celebration of First Holy Communion (Readings from the feast of Body and Blood of Christ) in St John Vianney Parish at the first of two special Masses. Like when Jesus gathered with his disciples, we continue to gather to be fed by the Lord in the readings and to be united by him in this meal of new life and new hope. This is especially the case as we also are invited to allow the kingdom of God to break into our lives, so that we can be changed by our encounter with the very presence of the Lord.

Recorded at St John Vianney, 12noon (4'26")

Grace is found beyond justice

Sunday 24 (Year C) - Luke 15:1-32
I heard during the week of an Australian policeman who has been working for many years in the highlands of Papua New Guinea with the local tribes people there. For many generations their custom has been to seek vengeance for any slight or injury through violence, and consequently the incidence of injury by axe and machete is very high. But through this policeman, slowly this community is discovering a different way of dealing with conflict - the way of justice. We could dismiss this as just being the behaviour of people who are much more primitive then ourselves. And yet...
Today, many people around the world are remembering what we were doing nine years ago, when we heard about the events of September 11, 2001. I was on a silent retreat, so it was only when I went to Mass that morning that I heard the brothers in the monastery pray about the events in the Prayer of the Faithful. I am sure that everyone here is able to tell exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news; news that continues to have ramifications across the world, as Australia continues to be part of the so-called coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also heard during the week of an American pastor who thought that the most appropriate response to a mosque being built near ground zero was to burn copies of the Koran. All of these responses are simply one level of responding within the boundaries of justice.
But although we worship a God of justice, our God is so much more than just. He doesn't just deal with us according to the demands of justice - he treats us with the mercy that we never deserved. This is one of the reasons that the Pharisees - good, God-fearing, upright and religious men and women who are faithful to the demands of the law, and cannot understand how this Jesus person can bear to share with these notorious tax-collectors and sinners. Unlike St Paul, himself a former Pharisee, who knew that he never deserved to be treated specially or that he deserved to be saved, these people think that they merit the kingdom of God because of their good works and deeds. It is in that context that Jesus tells the three parables that comprise the whole of Luke 15 - the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

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Recorded at St John Vianney, 8.30am (7'50")

05 September 2010

Happy Fathers' Day - so hate your mother and father!

Sunday 23 - season of the year (C); Fathers' Day
In the Gospel today, we have this most striking response by Jesus as the crowds of people flock to hear him - 'unless you hate your father, mother, sister, brother, wife/husband, children and even hate yourself, you cannot be my disciples.' Clearly Jesus needs to go back to leadership training and reread those famous books on how to win friends and influence people. This Gospel was even more striking for me, since we celebrated this weekend with my family my parent's Golden wedding anniversary. It seemed a little odd as I began Mass last night with, "well, Mum and Dad, as we gather as a family to celebrate with you this incredible milestone in our lives, let me begin by being faithful to the Gospel today and declaring how much I hate you. Oh, and happy anniversary!"

So what is all this about then? What is Jesus asking of would-be disciples? What are we called to be and do? How can we find contentment, fulfillment and happiness? How do our relationships fit into this discipleship way of life?

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Recorded at St John Vianney, 8.30am (5'10")

29 August 2010

Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem

In the liturgy of this 22nd Sunday (Year C), we are given an insight into exactly what is really happening when we gather for the Eucharist, with this magnificent reading from the book of Hebrews. All that we see around us, as rich and as beautiful as it usually is, is only a glimpse of the untold beauty of the worship that is actually happening as we gather in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

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Recorded at St John Vianney, 8.30am (10'25")

22 August 2010

Entering the gate of Jesus

Many years ago, when I was a uni student in Sydney, I wanted to head back home to Bega for a family function. These was the days before the Internet (remember those?) so I bought the bus ticket from a travel agent and duly headed into the Coach Terminal at Central Station to catch the designated bus. I arrived nice and early at the terminal, and was a little surprised that there were no other passengers waiting around. I waited for the scheduled departure time, checking my ticket and the clock tower to make sure that my watch wasn't playing up. And so I waited. And waited. When more than thirty minutes after the scheduled departure time had passed and realised there was a number for the coach company on the ticket, so I gave them a call. Apologetically, they informed me that they had that week changed their departure schedule, and the travel agent had put the old time on the ticket. The bus I was supposed to catch had left an hour before and no other buses were running that day; so I had no other choice but to go back to my Sydney home and try again the next day. (My dear mother did write to the company and get a refund and a travel voucher, so all was not lost!)

So, do you have a ticket to heaven? Is it valid? Or has the salvation bus already left?

Have you ever had the experience of meeting evangelical or fundamentalist Christians who have asked you the question, "if you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?" There only seems to be one question that they ask. So, if you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven? What about your brother/sister/mother/father/son/daughter/grandchild/neighbour/friend/colleague?

In the gospel today, Jesus is asked the question, 'will there only be a few saved?' Although this is a question we rarely think about, it is one that many people, from the Rabbis in the days of Jesus right through the centuries have often pondered and attempted to answer. In the Gospel, Jesus doesn't answer, but tells us to 'strive to enter by the narrow gate.' So what exactly is going on?

So how many will be saved? Do we think that Origin of Alexandria (3rd century) was correct when he surmised that in the end, because of the love and mercy of the Lord, the goodness of creation and that we have all been created in the image and likeness of God - that all would end up being saved? Or do we more tend to think that St Augustine of Hippo was right, who wrote in the fourth century that most of humanity were going to be damned and only a very few would be saved?

When Jesus tells us to enter by the narrow gate - what makes the gate narrow, and who or what is the gate? Does the Gospel Acclamation today help us? - when we are reminded of one of the seven declarations of Jesus in John's gospel, usually called the "I am" statements - "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." But then what do we make of this final vision of the book of Isaiah with all the nations who do not know the Lord finally coming to see the glory of God; or the second reading (Hebrews 12) about the Lord correcting and training his children.

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[8'51"] Sunday 21 C

15 August 2010

Mary and the Ark

The liturgy of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin presents a cacophony of images to us: the Ark of the Covenant in the temple of heaven; a woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet and a crown of twelve stars; a pug-ugly, fearsome and hungry dragon; and then by contrast the ordinary and humble scene of a woman visiting her kinswoman which results in this most magnificent declaration of praise for what God has done by breaking into the world. Added to all these images is the equally striking declaration of St Paul when he writes to the Corinthians about the effects and consequences of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. What are we to make of all these images and how do they relate to the Assumption of Mary?

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Recorded at St John Vianney, 8'49"
Background music - Memorial (by Explosions in the Sky)

08 August 2010

It has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom

19th Sunday, Year C (Feast of Blessed Mary MacKillop)

It is appropriate that the Australian church remembers Blessed Mary MacKillop today, with the opening line of the Gospel (Luke 12:32-48) being a powerful reminder to us the idea of grace - 'There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.' In the Father's kingdom, there is the need to both give and receive - so sell your posessions and give alms. A great image of this that I have found helpful is the process that I like to do regularly - breathing. Because the only way to breathe well is to both breathe in and breathe out.

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Recorded at St Brigid's, Gwynneville, 9am (8'36")

01 August 2010

Vapour, riches and hell

18th Sunday (Year C): Luke 12:13-21 & Qoh 1:2, 2:21-23

We have in today's Gospel one of only two times in the parables of Jesus when he describes some action committed by a person that it deserves only one judgement - death. Like the other story (the rich man and Lazarus, also in the gospel of Luke, 16:19-31) the cause of this terrible judgement is not because the person has broken one of the ten commandments, but because of an incredible greed and a selfish disregard for the needs of the poor. This view is reinforced by the selection of the first reading - the interminably depressed writings of Qoheleth (also called Ecclesiastes, from the Greek translation) who at the end of a life filled with riches and pleasure, knows that all of these things are mere vapour ('hebel') - meaningless vanity. So where do we find our hope?
Recorded at St John Vianney, 8.30am (7'08")

25 July 2010

Praying honestly

17th Sunday - Season of the Year. Luke 11:1-13 - Lord teach us to pray.

If we are honest, I suspect that most of us would admit that we are not very good at praying, or at least that our prayer life is not nearly as good as it should be. So what do today's reading have to offer in answer to the question that the disciples put to Jesus?

What can we learn from the way that Abraham bargains with God - and how does that compare with the way that Noah responded in a similar situation - being told that the Lord was going to destroy not just a city but the whole world because the 'sons of men' had lost the plot so badly...

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Recorded at St John Vianney (8.30am, 7'54")

18 July 2010

Two visions of discipleship

The short story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) is often told in terms of the contemplative life versus the active life. Even though Mary seems to be the hero of the story, it is Martha who is honoured with the feast day (29 July) - perhaps that at least provides some balance for the weight of history going down in favour of her sister?

In fact, if we examine the story in terms of the practices of that society, we will be struck with the realisation that more than likely something else is actually at the heart of this story. This is especially the case if we remember that Luke seems to want us to read this story straight after last Sunday's gospel of the Good Samaritan, where we see Jesus tearing down the boundaries between who is in and who is out; who is acceptable and who is not. It was clear last week that Jesus was wanting us to identify with someone who was deeply despised in Jewish society - a Samaritan. Perhaps the boundaries that exist between nations is not nearly as clear as we once thought? Now this week, we arrive at the house of Martha and Mary - which in the other Gospel accounts is in Bethany, which doesn't fit at all with Luke's chronology or geography - so he doesn't tell us that detail. (Jesus doesn't arrive in the region of Jerusalem - where Bethany is - for another 9 chapters). So if last week we saw that the boundaries that divide one nation from another are being dissolved in the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, what boundary is being reviewed today?

In traditional societies, men and women both had very clear roles, positions, places and spaces - especially in public. In houses, there were areas that were reserved for men, and others for women. We quickly realise that what is at stake here is not that Mary is being passive or neglecting the place of hospitality, but that she is in fact positioning herself at the feet of Jesus as a disciple. More specifically, she is saying to Jesus that she wants to learn from him, so that she can be like him - a teacher and a Rabbi. (We see something similar when St Paul tells us that he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest Rabbi and teacher of his day.) And Jesus is happy with this choice. Suddenly it is clear that in this kingdom the old barriers and divisions are being broken down. As St Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians: "No longer Jew or Greek; no longer slave and free; no longer male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28)

This is the invitations that is being made to all alike - to enter into the worship of Jesus, by becoming first his disciples. This is the one thing that is necessary in each of our lives.

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NB. The homily was much shorter than usual today to allow for the reading of Bishop Peter's pastoral letter on Sexual Abuse, "When Trust is Broken"

Recorded at St John Vianney Church, 8.30am (4'30")
16th Sunday, Year C

10 July 2010

The Samaritan redeemer

In the parable of the 'Good Samaritan' in Luke 10, the Fathers of the Church saw so much more than a simple moral parable. They saw the whole story of salvation of every one of us as the one who stops and shows compassion provides healing, nourishment and redemption for every person who journeys down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

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Recorded at St John Vianney (10'23")

04 July 2010

On a mission from God

14th Sunday in the Season of the Year (C)

Having just moved from Nowra to Fairy Meadow parish, I can see why Jesus instructs his disciples not to move from house to house: for any of you who have moved recently, you will know what a pain it is to pack and move. In this Gospel (from Luke 10) we are given deep insights into the wider mission - not just of the apostles or leaders of the Church - but of the whole community to the world at large. Let us join Jesus as he continues his journey to Jerusalem and be consoled by the beautiful and lyrical image given from Isaiah 66 of a mother tenderly caring for her child.

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Recorded at St John Vianney's (7'48")

27 June 2010

Freedom and the iPhone 4

13th Sunday in the Season of the Year (C) - Setting our face toward the Lord.

In the first reading from I Kings, we meet Elijah at the end of his ministry, when his service begins to be more about Elijah than the Lord, so the Lord essentially tells him that his services are no longer required: go and anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet. To his credit Elijah is faithful to the Lord, and finds Elisha ploughing - not by himself but behind 12 yoke of oxen (a sign of hid great wealth) and places his mantle over him. Immediately Elisha leaves behind the oxen and follows after Elijah - requesting only that he can kiss his parents goodbye. Although Elijah gives him leave to do so, it is not clear whether Elisha does - but what is clear is that he makes a decisive break with his current way of life when he kills the oxen and uses the yoke and the plough to prepare a meal for his men - and then follows Elijah.

This becomes for us a sign and example of freedom - what it means to live in liberty. To have the freedom that St Paul speaks about in Galatians 5:1 doesn't mean being hard pressed to make the right decision - it means being so focussed on what is true, good and beautiful that we know when and where to do the right thing. The Gospel provides a powerful example of this in the ministry of Jesus - when he 'sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem.' (Luke 9:51) The remainder of Luke's gospel will now be about this journey - and we are reminded of this decision and movement towards Jerusalem again in Luke 13, 17, 18 and 19 (when Jesus finally arrives in triumph in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday).

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, Bomaderry, 9.30am (8'04")

20 June 2010

Jesus in 3D

Experiencing Jesus in 3D. Often we are content to stay with the images or ideas that we had about Jesus from our childhood. But there is so much more that we can experience about the historical and spiritual reality of Jesus of Nazareth, as he puts the same question to us that he put the disciples - 'who do you say I am?'

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (7'43")

13 June 2010

Hair and tears

11th Sunday in the Season of the Year. Also Immaculate Heart of Mary (Diocesan Feast) and Mission Sunday Appeal. Also the Sunday when my move to Fairy Meadow Parish was announced...
Like a great artistic masterpiece, Luke tells the story of the day that a Pharisee invited Jesus to a festive meal, and the party was crashed by a woman who only wanted to anoint Jesus in gratitude to the immense love that he had shown in the forgiveness that she received.

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (9'34" - The recording also includes the Gospel)

06 June 2010

A priest of El Elyon

The first reading from Genesis presents the intriguing character of Melchizedek, king of Salem, and priest of El Elyon (God Most High) who offers Abram a sacrifice of bread and wine. Why is this significant for the celebration of this feast of the Eucharist?

There are two significant points of distinction about the passage from Genesis 14:18-20. The central character, Melchizedek, is only mentioned in this one brief passage, and then again in Psalm 110 (the Responsorial Psalm today) across the whole Old Testament - and yet Melchizedek comes into the theology of the New Testament (through Hebrews 7) and the early Church as a symbol of the priesthood of Jesus and as a model for the ordained ministry.

The name Melchizedek comes from two Hebrew words - Melek meaning king, and sedeq meaning justice or righteousness. So already his name means the King of Righteousness (Heb 7:2). But additionally he is described as the King of Salem - a name that is connected both to the Hebrew word for peace (Shalom) and to the city of Yerushalem / Jerusalem. Genesis 14:17 says that this event takes place in the King's Valley which leads up to the site where Jerusalem was established. Finally, this king of righteousness, and prince of peace is a priest of God Most High (El Elyon) brings a sacrifice (that is what 'kohen' / priests do) of bread and wine. So it is no wonder that the early Church sees in Melchizedek a figure of Christ.

The second point is that when Melchizedek meets Abram (his name has not yet been changed to Abraham) he blesses (baruch) Abram in the name of 'El Elyon'. El is the most generic name for God or divinity in the Semitic languages, including Canaanite. Abram is returning after doing battle with the Canaanite kings to rescue his nephew Lot who had been captured by them. In the Canaanite pantheon, El is also the father of their main god, Ba'al. So perhaps you can understand the reticence of the Hebrews to refer to their God by the most generic name 'El'. Before the revelation of the sacred name of God to Moses, described in Exodus 3, YHWH - which becomes the most common way of calling upon the Lord, and is usually translated in English bibles as LORD - over 6000 occurrences - God was often referred to as Elohim (strictly the plural form of El) or using a descriptive word with El - such as El Elyon in the text here, or in forms like El Shaddai (meaning something like God of the mountains, but the exact meaning of the Hebrew is unclear; it is only when it is translated into Greek in the LXX text that the meaning 'God Almighty' is offered) or El Olam (Everlasting God). But this specific name for God - El Elyon, God Most High - is only used in this passage out of all the Old Testament. And we don't know why.

The descriptive Elyon is found regularly enough across the pages of the OT, but not connected to El as it is in this passage - until you arrive at the New Testament. There, (in Luke 1) when the angel appears to Mary, she is told that she will give birth to the son of the Most High God. Zechariah is told that his son will be a prophet of the Most High. And then right across the ministry of Jesus he clearly sees himself to be the fulfilment of the ministry of Melchizedek - the king of righteousness, the prince of peace, and priest of El Elyon. Paul understands these connections when he describes (20 years before any of the Gospel accounts) the Last Supper, using the language of covenant and sacrifice.

Jesus likewise in the Gospel today first welcomes the crowd and teaches them - as a king and priest was meant to do. Then he invites his disciples to feed the people - but they continue to be thick and miss the prophetic point; all they suggest is to send the people away. Jesus instead reminds them that a king is meant to gather into unity, so he takes what is available (the bread and fish) and says the baruch (blessing) over the gifts and then gives the abundant food to the disciples to distribute.

Although Jesus is the perfect fulfilment of the priest Melchizedek, he also shares this ministry with his disciples, and continues to invite us to be fed and nourished by no less than his very body and blood, so that we in turn can welcome others to share at this feast; as we are transformed by these most precious gifts, so also we are invited to transform all that we bring to the altar of El Elyon.

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (11'10")

29 May 2010

Trinity and wisdom

Trinity Sunday C
- The heart of our faith; everything flows from it and to it; the distinctive message of Christianity.
- The first reading from Proverbs personifies Wisdom (she in the Hebrew) comes forth from God, yet not a creature, since she exists before all creation (before the springs and the mountains)
- She is with God – by his side – as with an artisan / crafts(wo)men. We recite this in the creed each week – ‘begotten not made, of one being with the Father; through him all things were made.’
- Book of Genesis begins with the declaration of the community of God: In the beginning God created; and God spoke; and the spirit of God was over the waters… ‘let us make humanity in our image’
- Psychological analogy (St Augustine) – I can project myself as another. When we say something even as simple as 'I love myself' we recognise a subject (i), an object (myself) and a shared object (the love) - yet we maintain an essential unity.
- St Augustine - Mind. Self-knowledge. Self-love.
- “I was by his side, a master craftsman, delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in his world, delighting to be with the sons of men.” Importance of play.

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Recorded at St Michael's, 6pm Vigil (8'46")

23 May 2010

Pentecost and Mount Sinai

In the first reading from Acts 2 we hear a whole series of quite bizarre events - most of which we probably have no idea what they mean. To get a better sense of what we celebrate, we need to revisit the Jewish festivals of Pesach and Shavuot in the book of Exodus and remember the day that the Lord appeared in fire and thunder to all the people (including the erev rov - the mixed nations) to make covenant with his people on Mount Sinai.

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Recorded at St Michael's 9.30am (11'03")

16 May 2010

The same power

Ascension Sunday (Year C) | Eph 1:15-23; Luke 24:46-53; Acts 1:1-11

I had my washed car yesterday - at one of those automatic car washes. When the weather is a bit warmer, I like taking it through the do-it-yourself section, so that I can play with the power hoses! It is amazing the difference that you get from the normal water pressure that comes out of the hoses, and the cleaning power when you pull the lever and let the compressor do its work. I remember as a kid when dad, who was a builder, brought home the huge new compressor that was mounted permanently on the back of his work truck. Just about every job - from cleaning down to nailing timber together was made so much easier with the power of the compressor. (You'll also hear the story of the day my brothers and I were shooting at a target with an air-rifle and we got a much bigger blast than we expected!)

All the readings today talk about the power of the Holy Spirit being unleashed upon the disciples. Since Jesus had just spent the past few years teaching and preparing these boofheads, he knew they needed it! St Paul, when he writes to the community at Ephesus (from his prison cell in Rome) today is aware of the amazing power that was unleashed when Jesus was raised to new life on Resurrection Day and new creation began. But he also knew that the church there, like the church today, would need extra help - wisdom and understanding - just to know that the power was really available and real.

How would we be different if we knew the power that lay within us - the same power that conquered the grave lives in me and lives in you? Let us pray the prayer of St Paul today and expect the power of the Spirit to be unleashed within our lives...

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Recorded at Sacred Heart 9.30am (8'20")

09 May 2010

It seems good to the Holy Spirit

Sixth Sunday in Easter (Year C). In Acts 15 we have a quite extraordinary moment in church history. At issue is how a Jewish community, gathered in worship at a Jewish synagogue around a Jewish Messiah, in the midst of a Jewish nation, keeping Jewish festivals and rituals - how does it welcome non Jews into this worship? What do these Gentiles have to do? Do men have to have that 'little operation' to be a part of this community? As they gather in Jerusalem for the Council, we read the decree that the disciples issue, which declares that "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and ourselves not to lay any unnecessary burdens on you" - which is an amazing thing in itself.

What might the teaching of this Council of Jerusalem (AD 50) mean for us today?

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (9'38")

02 May 2010

Everything is spiritual in the city of God

Fifth Sunday in Easter (Year C).

Sometimes we get caught in the idea that there are spiritual moments in our lives (when we are in Church; praying; reading Scripture; listening to music or whenever) and all the rest is just secular and to some extent doesn't count. But that's not the story of the Scriptures. We are familiar with how the story begins - with the creation of everything from nothing - and it is all declared 'good'. But we are less familiar with the end of the story. This is precisely what we have in the second reading - from the penultimate chapter of the bible (Rev 21).

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30 (10'22")

25 April 2010

Every nation, tribe, people and tongue

Fourth Sunday in Easter (Year C) - Commemoration of Anzac Day.

In the reading from the book of Revelation, John the Divine has this vision of an immense crowd - impossible to count - of people from every nation, tribe, people and language who have all been through the persecution / tribulation and have had their clothes washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. Although it has some strange imagery, I believe this vision has a lot to offer us as we commemorate Anzac Day today.

When John has this vision - almost an interlude between all of the calamities that surround the breaking of the seals on the scroll - we are catapulted into both the present reality of heaven, and the vision of the final fulfillment of all things when heaven crashes into earth in the great wedding banquet of new creation which is the vision of the final two chapters of the bible (Rev 21-22).

Everyone who has ever suffered, and especially those who have given their lives in martyrdom are united with the 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel in this absolutely inclusive vision of paradise as every nation, tribe, religion, people, and way of life gather in worship before the throne (God) and the Lamb (Jesus). All these people - our brothers and sisters - are united no longer by flags and creeds, but because we have allowed the Lamb to wash away our sins in his blood.

Because of this, then there will be no more hunger or thirst, no more pain or tears - but all will be united in the worship of God around the throne. An amazing vision that can lift our efforts to continue to bring heaven to earth and bring into effect this vision of peace and justice reigning here through our worship.

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (8'15")

18 April 2010

Called to follow in the light of the Son

Easter 3C - John 21

In this final chapter to John's Gospel - probably written later than the rest of the Gospel - John provides a magnificent summary of the Christian life. He starts with the disciples returning to Galilee and with Peter in the lead, they head back to their old way of life and go fishing. Without the blessing and presence of the Lord, they are fruitless and catch nothing. But then the new day dawns and now the risen Son is on the beach and invites them to cast out their nets for a catch. When they catch such a huge haul that it is difficult even for the seven of them to pull in the nets, this is enough for the beloved disciple to recognise who it is on the shore: 'It is the Lord.'

Peter at this then takes action. Strangely we are told that he is on the boat in the nuddy. Why this is the case is unclear. It probably is not the custom of Jewish folk to be naked around each other - usually in scripture nakedness is a sign of sin and shame, but perhaps he has been around enough Greeks or Romans - who did have the custom of working and playing sport naked - that he finds it easier to work unencumbered. Whatever the reason, when we find someone who is naked throwing on clothes (to jump into the water!) we should be reminded - especially in John's Gospel where the creation story is never far from view - of Adam's shame after he sinned when he covered his nakedness. So Peter - perhaps reminded by the charcoal fire that is burning on the shore - is reminded of the time some days before when he had denied Jesus while standing next to another charcoal fire (Jn 18:18).

So Peter swims ashore, while the others bring the boat and the fish. On the shore they find Jesus cooking breakfast - bread and fish. So although he doesn't need to fish that they have just caught, he invites Peter to bring the contents of the net to him. Whereas it took all the strength of the disciples to haul the net onto the boat - now in the strength of the presence of Jesus Peter is able to bring the net all by himself.

Finally, Jesus begins to question Peter. 'Do you love me more than these?' - which could refer to boat and the nets (his old way of life), or his love for the other disciples and friends, or their love for Jesus. As each question is asked and each reply is given, Jesus slowly restores Peter and commissions him to his role as apostle and shepherd - 'feed my sheep/lambs.' Then he calls him to 'follow me.'

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (11'58")

11 April 2010

Finding mercy and faith in the heart of Jesus

E2C - Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

In Acts we are given the strange detail that people were bringing their sick to lay them on the streets near where St Peter would walk, knowing that if even his shadow should touch them they might be healed. The power of his amazing shadow! Surely this power - which is all about the healing power of the mercy of Jesus - continues to be present in the Church today where the successor of Peter continues to walk. Regardless of our personal feelings about Pope Benedict, it is clear that he continues to walk among us a sign of this mercy of the Lord. For it is in the encounter with mercy that we are able to come to a deeper faith in Christ - and this is what we see in the encounter between Thomas and Jesus in John 20.

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (7'53")

05 April 2010

Why Resurrection Matters

http://www.robbell.com/ - Rob Bell presents a great new video on the difference that Resurrection makes and why it matters for us... all in 4 minutes. Well worth a watch!

Jesus is standing in front of the temple in Jerusalem
the massive gleaming brick and stone and gold house of God
and he says destroy this temple
and I’ll rebuild it in three days

the people listening to him said how are you going to do that?
it took 46 years to build this temple!
but he wasn’t talking about that temple
he’s talking about himself
he essentially says, listen
I’m going to be killed
that’s where this is headed
because you don’t confront corrupt systems of power
without paying for it
sometimes with your own blood
and so he’s headed to his execution
if you had witnessed this divine life extinguished on a cross
how would you not be overwhelmed with despair?

is the world ultimately a cold, hard, dead place?

Full transcript here: RobBell.com
Download video here: Mediafire

04 April 2010

What resurrection means for the world (Easter Sunday)

We celebrate that moment in human history when the stone was rolled away. A sign and symbol of the separation that exists between life and death. A grave-robber had come – but it was God the Father who had acted in human history to defeat death. Death is our greatest fear and worry – human death, but also the death of relationships, business, work, and hope. All of that was changed as a result of Easter. New creation. New life.

But the final line in the Gospel today is telling – the disciples did not yet understand the Scriptures. Perhaps that is still true.

The resurrection is about the transformation of human society. These things do not happen easily or quickly.
- It took 18 centuries for Christians to realise that slavery was wrong and had to be removed from society (a battle that continues – with more slaves now than ever before in human history – some 27 million) – even though there is clear teaching in the Old Testament as well as the New against slavery

- It took another hundred years before women were recognised as equal in dignity and the battle for women’s liberation began – again, even though there is clear teaching, particularly in St Paul, that all are one

- It took the terrible scars of the Holocaust that were the great blight of the 20th century for Christians to finally acknowledge and admit that the Church had deep anti-Semitic roots and had contributed to the many pogroms against the Jewish people and had systematically missed and ignored the deep Hebrew spirituality that is so deeply inherent in the NT

- It was Christians who were at the forefront of the civil rights movements, both in the US and here in Australia – but again this work to eliminate racism continues.

- It was only in the late 20th century that we began to realise and acknowledge that creation was a gift, and we were called to be stewards, not destructors of this incredible gift. We cannot continue to pollute and destroy our environment.

- Perhaps the great shame of the abuse and violence against children and the most vulnerable in our society that has begun to be uncovered in the past few decades will continue to humble the Church and lead to a more realistic and honest return to the ways of Jesus.

- We cannot tell how long it will take for other deep wounds that exist in our world to be transformed. The deep inequality that exists between nations; the power and role of women within our Church; the dignity and respect that is due to homosexual people. These are among many, many issues that cry out to be addressed within our world.
And it is only in the power of the resurrection that we are able to have our minds transformed and renewed so that we are capable of being bearers of the truly good news of human freedom through forgiveness and the defeat of death.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15)

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (6'55")

03 April 2010

Death and new life in Luke (Easter Vigil)

Luke 24:1-12

Hey! I’ll let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? (whispering) Dead people – well, they usually stay dead. We didn’t need the insights and advances of medical science in the past couple hundred years for humans to know that.

The scriptures make it clear that no one who was following Jesus – his disciples or the many women who were travelling with him and stayed with him right through those terrible last hours of the passion, death and burial of Jesus – none of them expected to find anything other than a dead body in the tomb when they went back there early on the first day of the week – Sunday. And Jesus was certainly dead. It was not his disciples, friends or the women who certified that – it was the Roman soldiers who declared him to be dead. And let’s face it – they were the experts in killing people. That was their business and trade.

Hans Holbein – painting of “The body of the dead Christ in the tomb”, 1522 (Kunstmuseum, Basel). Fyodor Dostoyevsky fell into a feint when he saw this painting. This Jesus is so dead - humanly and in every other sense - how could he ever rise again? That is what the women were prepared to see when they went to the tomb that first day of the week.

But Luke wants us to know something else. Indeed a whole lot of other things as we are given in our reading from chapter 24 – the first movement in his magnificent three-part symphony of the story of the resurrection. He first wants to address a number of clues that he gave us last Sunday (Palm Sunday), when we read his passion story – and particularly the final section from chapter 23.

There the centurion who was overseeing the crucifixion declares that Jesus was innocent (he was a victim, not a villain and didn’t deserve to die). The crowds return home after his death shocked and sad. Those who knew Jesus watched from a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee.

When his body was taken down from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea came and took the body, wrapped it in a shroud, and placed the body in a new tomb – ‘where no one had been laid.’ The women – who are finally named in the Gospel today – go with Joseph and see the tomb and how the body was laid. All of these details are carefully spelled out, just as Luke promised in the prologue to his Gospel.

Burial practices in the ANE varied widely. Here, the burial was to be in two stages. First the body would be laid on the ledge in a cave (natural or constructed); it would be wrapped up with spices and ointments to cover the smell of the decomposing flesh. Although this was expensive, it was necessary because a given tomb would be used many times, and in the coming months other bodies would more than likely be laid to rest on other shelves in the same tomb. (But again Luke makes clear this one was new – and hadn’t been used before – so there was no risk that the women had mistaken which shelf the body of Jesus was on – it was the only one in the tomb.) When all the flesh had rotted away, the remaining bones would then be reverently collected and transferred into a small bone-box, called an ossuary. The initial burial was always temporary and only the first stage in saying goodbye to a beloved friend or relative (unlike our practice where the burial is the end of the road). So it was always crucial that people knew where the person had been laid; they would not make a mistake about that.

So when the women went to the tomb, very early on the first day of the week (Sunday), they were going to finalise the preparation of the body, to place more spices around the body to mask and cover the smell when the body decomposed. So they knew which tomb to go for, and also knew that the body of Jesus was the only one there. All they had to worry about was that the stone would not be too heavy to roll away from the entrance. When they arrived and the stone had been rolled away and there was no body inside – what were they to think? The only conclusion is that someone had stolen the body. The possibility of resurrection is so removed from their understanding: yes, they knew that it would happen someday – but it was for all the righteous, all together – not for one person ahead of all the rest. No one had even dreamed that this was a possibility. So yes they are utterly surprised, shocked and shaken.

The women, and perhaps even more so, the disciples are full of surprise, shock, astonishment, fear and confusion. But the saving grace of the women is they remembered the words of Jesus and they shared them with the eleven (Judas is now gone) but they don’t get it and dismiss the words of the women as stupid idle talk. At least Peter cares enough to go and have a look for himself – he stoops down and sees the grave clothes (signs that the body at least had not been stolen – why would anyone unwrap a dead body?) – but the best he can come up with is amazement and to be perplexed. Clearly this was well short of the growing faith of the women.
So what about us? What will we make of all this? The evidence is rather clear: that has been demonstrated again and again over the centuries. “Why look for the living among the dead?”

How will we respond?

Do we join the thousands of voices today that dismiss all of this talk about miracles and the resurrection of Jesus as first-century ‘stupid idle talk’? Do we stay perplexed and amazed? Or do we accept the evidence and remember the words of Jesus – and then come to believe and be transformed by the power of the risen Lord, ‘from glory into glory’?

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Recorded at St Michael's, 7pm (8'52")

02 April 2010

Stones and the Cross - Good Friday

On Good Friday we reflect on the amazing love that was shown by Jesus. Last night we remembered the nature of our call to be a Eucharistic people and to respond to the call of our baptism through lives of service. Today we continue that reflection by remembering our call to be ministers and priests. Each of us is called to be like Christ and to serve and love the world. But it can be a sad and shocking realisation to be reminded that this is not necessarily the way that others see us as followers of Jesus. A survey was conducted recently and it asked the mostly unChurched participants to say what were things that came to mind when they thought of Christians and Christianity. They were not given a multiple choice test, but instead were presented with a blank sheet of paper and asked to write what came to mind. Shocklingly and saddening, the most common response that was given by participants was not the cross, or love one another; the most common response was 'hates gays.' What a terrible indictment upon the Christian church. You would think that as followers of Jesus, the lover of sinners and lover of humanity, that we would be known as lovers of life, freedom, forgiveness, justice and truth...

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Recorded at St Michael's Hall, 3pm Commemoration of the Passion (6'59")

01 April 2010

Namaste - Holy Thursday

Jesus was an endlessly fascinating character and a simply amazing human being. Across his whole life he never failed to love and bring life to the people that he mixed and shared with, as he taught and healed and forgave sins.

In more recent years we were inspired by the example of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, still better known as Mother Teresa (of Calcutta), who taught “We can do no great things but only small things with great love.”

“I am on my way to heaven”- a sign on the wall of the dying and destitute in Calcutta – on the morgue. On the other wall it said ‘thanks for helping me to get there.’ Everyday we would hold the sick and dying; we are allowing someone to die with someone loving them. Everyday people would die – in the arms of someone who loved them.

Into the ears of each person who was dying the sisters and helpers would continually whisper: Namaste – ‘I bow to you.’ Mother Teresa knew that the true reason to bow to another was because of the presence of Christ within them, so Namaste developed an even richer meaning: “I honour the holy one who lives in you.”

In the example of Christ serving his disciples and washing their feet we see the very presence of God in our midst come to life. We are invited to reverence the holy one who indeed lives among us - in the Eucharist, but also in the least who live in our community and neighbourhoods.

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Recorded at St Michael's Hall, Holy Thursday (4'49")

28 March 2010

Dining and dying with sinners

Palm Sunday = Passion Sunday (Year C)

The criminal on the neighbouring cross cried out - 'This man has done nothing wrong'. Pilate had a sign attached to the cross above the head Jesus - as was the custom in the Roman Empire, to provide the charge that had been made against the victim of crucifixion - this man was a rebel; thief; murderer; run-away slave; etc. The accusation against Jesus reads 'King of the Jews.' This was meant to be ironic, since clearly he was not the king of the people who accused him of making claims to deny support to the Empire, and leading the people astray. The criminal was correct - no, this man had done nothing wrong - except forgive sins, heal and offer new hope and life to a people who desperately needed it.
There was an appropriateness in the fact that Jesus died between two sinners / criminals. He had after all spent the last few years almost exclusively in their company. He seemed good at finding all the wrong kind of people to hang out with. He even seemed to prefer the company of sinners. Perhaps he was trying to teach us something there?

6.00pm - Play MP3 | Download MP3 - 6'31"
9.30am - Play MP3 | Download MP3 - 6'08"
6.00pm - whole liturgy

Recorded at St Michael's (9.30am and 6pm)

21 March 2010

Skubala - and knowing Christ

Week 5 in the Season of Lent (Year C)

Paul, the Pharisee, after giving us his impeccable credentials for ministry within Judaism, then goes on to say why all of that - as impressive and amazing as it is - was as nothing compared to knowing the power of the resurrection at work in our life. We can know the same. And we can move beyond the need to have scapegoats and people to blame (like the crowd dragging the poor woman caught in the very act of adultery - by herself?) to experience the true nature of the law and righteousness.

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (9'24")

14 March 2010

The lost sons

The fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C) - Luke 15.

We have been pondering during Lent what it means to be in right relationship with God. Today we are reminded in the readings of the desire of God for us to have a full and complete life. We begin with the book of Joshua and the movement from the wilderness and the manna in the desert into the settled and rich life of the promised land - which is a sign of the new creation (2nd reading). Finally the Gospel gives once again the richest and perhaps the most famous of all of the parables of Jesus. Over the centuries even the best name to call this parable has been the subject of considerable discussion. Its most common name in the English-speaking world comes from a marginal note in an early edition of the Latin Vulgate Bible - the parable of the Prodigal Son. In German it is usually called 'Der Verlorene Sohn' - the Lost Son, which goes well with the first two parables in Luke 15 - the lost sheep and the lost coin. But what is clear, is that whatever name we give the parable, it needs to acknowledge that this rich parable is about more than a single character: all three (father and both sons) are significant and teach us invaluable lessons across our journey this Lent.

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (10'16")

07 March 2010

Encountering the Sacred Tetragrammaton

Lent - week 3 (Year C) - Exodus 3:1-16

During Lent we travel with specific characters. In the first week we have journeyed into the wilderness with Israel as they pondered their past and looked toward their future in the promised land - and then stayed in the wilderness with Jesus as he spent 40 days facing 'the satan.' Last week we looked at the faith of Abraham cutting a covenant with God, and then the glory of Jesus as he was revealed (with Moses and Elijah) before the disciples on the heights of a mountain. Now, we focus on one of those witnesses and we observe Moses as he encounters the Lord in the burning bush on the side of another mountain - Horeb/Sinai. Moses has been in the wilderness for some years after fleeing the household of the Pharaoh and lived with a priest of Midian. So he was familiar with the area and with the worship of the local gods. So when he comes across this bush that is ablaze - yet not being annihilated or destroyed - he must wonder which of the gods is responsible. So he moves forward to investigate and instead encounters the one that the Rabbis will only ever refer to as the Sacred Tetragrammaton - the one who knows him by name, who knows his ancestors and has seen the affliction of his people; he has heard their cry; he knows of their suffering. So what might happen when we encounter the one who identifies himself as 'yo he va he'?

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Recorded at St Michael's 6pm (11'25")

28 February 2010

Called through a covenant of trust

Each year on the second Sunday of Lent we are taken from the wilderness temptations to the heights of the mountain top experience in the transfiguration of Jesus. But in Year C the Church combines the transfiguration with the story of the Lord cutting the covenant with Abraham from Genesis 15. We shall see that there are a number of parallels between both stories that invite us also to join Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Peter to trust the Lord and join him in the great adventure of faith and living in the fullness of life.

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Recorded at St Michael's 9.30am (11'56") using a new Zoom H2 recorder.

21 February 2010

Purification in the desert

First Sunday in Lent - temptations in the desert. Deut 26; Rom 10; Luke 4

We begin the forty days of Lent by journeying with Moses and Jesus into our shared history, so that we have time away from all the distractions that we so often fill our lives with, to reflect on those questions that are actually at the heart of everything that there is. Questions like 'who am I?' and 'who is God?' Questions that resonate with the majestic reading from St Paul to the Romans (chapter 10) that the word is very near to us, and if we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord we will be saved.

It is this spirit of laying aside our distractions that we can join with Jesus in the desert, to confront the accuser, the Satan and address these three temptations. The first, in changing stone into bread, addresses our desires to use sensual pleasures to answer our deepest needs; the second is the desire for power and control; the third is making the ego the centre of the whole world. Jesus addresses each temptation directly through the power of God's word - reminding us that when we take time to be alone with God, we will have the same power to address the most central and pressing questions of our own hearts and respond to the Lord in the same way.

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Recorded at Sacred Heart (11'26')

14 February 2010

Trusting in the Lord alone

6th Sunday in the Season of the Year (C) - Jer 17:5-8; ICor 15; Luke 6:17-26. St Valentine's Day.

The question that lies at the heart of our readings today is - where do you place your ultimate trust / faith / hope? Jeremiah rather starkly tells us that if it is in the world of people and things than we are cursed. In a similar way, the 'beatitudes' as given by St Luke in the Sermon on the Plain are in series of blessings and curses which are much more stark and confronting than the equivalent in the Gospel of Matthew.

In Luke, Jesus tells us that those who are poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted are blessed. So what on earth is Jesus getting at in this sermon? How can it be a good thing to be poor or hungry? When is it good to weep or be persecuted?

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (12'33")

07 February 2010

Grace and call

On this fifth Sunday we hear the call of three central biblical characters - Isaiah, Paul and Simon-Peter. The first reading (from Isaiah 6) and the Gospel (from Luke 5) offer many insights into the nature of biblical Christianity and the primacy of grace in the life of all who are called to be disciples of Jesus. Isaiah begins with the sense that he was just minding his own business, quietly praying in the temple of Solomon, when SUDDENLY the Lord himself appears in all his glory, his throne surrounded by fiery Seraphim in an ecstasy of praise and worship declaring the holiness of the Lord. The very foundations of the temple begin to shake and everything (other than God) is shrouded in cloud. It is probably no wonder that Isaiah attempts to intervene and remind the Lord that he is a sinner and unworthy of such attention.

When Simon is likewise minding his own business on the shore of Lake Galilee, washing his nets after a long and fruitless night of fishing, no doubt he is somewhat surprised and taken aback when this Rabbi takes a break from preaching to invite him to push out into the deep - in broad daylight - and pay out the nets for a catch. When the nets are soon so full of fish that it takes two boats to begin to haul them in, it is no wonder that Simon reacts the same way as Isaiah - 'leave me Lord, I am sinful.' But the Lord knows this and only wants to heal and forgive so that he can commission Isaiah and Peter. He wants us to make the same response - "Here I am - send me."

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (10'00")

31 January 2010

Actions and words

4th Sunday - Season of the Year C.

When we were baptised we were Christened - that is, we were anointed with Chrism and the priest prayed, "God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life." We are reminded of our call as prophets in the readings today, when Jeremiah is called to be a prophet to the nations.

Jeremiah was only a young man when he was called to be a prophet - in the year 626 (13 years into the reign of the last reforming king of Judah - Josiah, who reigned from 639-609 BCE) A few years later Jeremiah was there when Josiah attempted to reform Israel in 622-621 - but he emphasised only the external worship rather than looking to convert the hearts and minds of the people.

Jeremiah is a fascinating character - and of all the old testament figures, he is perhaps the closest to the person of Jesus. Indeed, while we look at the words of the prophets, in his case it is much more significant to look at the person and life that form the message. Like Jesus, Jeremiah suffered; taught in parables; was scourged, put on trial and put to death; he wept over the people; he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem.

Like Jeremiah the Lord will continue to call and challenge us to be a prophet to the nations...

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am

24 January 2010

Finding the right walls

Third Sunday (Year C). When adults attempt to teach young children how to ride a bike, they sometimes cry out decidedly unhelpful comments like - 'just keep pedaling' or 'ride straight' or 'don't crash into that parked car.' When we think back on our first attempts at riding a bike, we may have very vivid memories of scrapped knees or worse. Chances are the comments that are shouted at us are also not all that helpful in actually mastering the art at hand. What is interesting is that at some point we do actually begin to master the art, and all of the instructions begin to be internalised. At some level, the words that we have heard simply become part of our lives. Perhaps it is something like what we read at the beginning of John's Gospel ('And the word became flesh' - John 1:14)

In the first reading from Nehemiah, something similar is happening. The Israelites who are returning from Exile in Babylon and are attempting to reestablish life in the once great city of Jerusalem. The temple has been rebuilt (515 BCE) and the walls are now finally rebuilt (445 BCE) but Ezra realises that more is needed - and that is a re-commitment to the law of the Lord. So Ezra gathers the whole people and reads the book of the law to them so that they know what it is that they believe. This is the first step to their internalising the word so they can live it out within their renewed understanding of their commitment.

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Recorded at NET training (Iona College campsite, Peregian, QLD)

17 January 2010

Water and wine transformed

Second Sunday (Year C) - John 2 captures the prophetic sense of the new life that is missing from the experience of Israel's life. The 6 stone water jars represent the very best of life that humans can accomplish. What is missing is the joy and vitality of life - and that is why Mary comes to Jesus to say that the wedding guests have run out of wine - that extra dimension that the Spirit of God provides to transform ordinary human experience into something extraordinary.

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Recorded at Zero Gravity youth camp (Yandina, Qld) 11'54"

10 January 2010

The grace of baptism

The Baptism of the Lord (Year C): Luke 3; Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7

As we finish the Christmas season and then start a new year, it is natural that we should look ahead. Our second reading today provides a brilliant way of doing this. Paul writes to his co-worker Titus, who is on the island of Crete (where everyone seems to be enjoying a permanent summer with everyone lying on the beach rather than working - not that this teaching would apply to us at all?). Paul reminds the church that what happened at the moment of Jesus' death and resurrection was a sign of God's future breaking into our present. Everything was different because of this. So don't get caught up in inaction and sloth; God's future was now clear and was already breaking into our lives now. Let us live them anew and afresh.

In Titus 3:5, Paul addresses himself to this people. Something incredible had changed because of his new life in Jesus - being saved by him. Everything that had happened before that point - even though as Paul tells us in Phil 3 he had kept the law faultlessly and as perfectly as was humanly possible - was worthless and no better that garbage. God didn't save us as a result of our ability to fulfill the commandments or as a reward for how good we had lived our lives; no, God saved us because of his compassion for us; because of his own mercy. This verse, like its cousin in Eph 2:8-9 starkly and wonderfully proclaims the Christian difference. When we were baptised into Christ, we were saved not because we did something amazing and so God rewarded us. No, God saved us simply because that is the desire of his mercy. His very nature as compassionate, loving and merciful means that his deepest desire is for us to experience the fullness of life in him. God takes the initiative.

This desire is expressed in the regeneration offered in the sacrament of baptism. But baptism has little effect unless we live it fully which requires our response - to live the sacrament of baptism according to the plan and promise of God; to live it with an understanding that it is a concrete sign of God's future breaking into our present. Like Paul we are invited to look back over our lives and see the moment of our baptism, or more normally that moment in our lives (our conversion) when we began to discover the personal love of Jesus the Saviour for ourselves and so truly began to live out our baptismal calling.

This is the invitation that we are given at the start of the year - to fully live out the grace of our baptism. Will we allow this washing of baptism and the renewal and regeneration offered to us by the Holy Spirit to be at the very centre of our lives?

Paul provides a wider context for this in the first part of the reading (in chapter 2) when he asks well how do we actually live this out and how do we bring this future of God into effect in our daily lives. He offers us several suggestions when he says (2:12) that we should live in this present age 'sober, just and devout lives.' Such words can strike us as very pious and seem to belong more to a Victorian era, but when Paul writes these they are very dynamic, positive and active. These are some of the good works that we need to live in the fullness of life (a beautiful, rational humanity) that is promised us.

Let us live this call in the year ahead - to allow the changing and renewal of our own hearts call us more deeply into the beauty of God. This is the challenge for us. To live lives of truth because of the compassion and mercy of our God that has been revealed in Jesus. This is the story of a God who calls us first; who saves us before we can ever earn it; who lavishes his love upon us; a God who calls us to live out the grace of our baptism; to share in its richness and its power and to proclaim its wonder to the world.

Let us accept the love of God more deeply this year and allow the Lord to continue to call us to conversion. In this way we can begin to live more fully in the kingdom of God and begin to be true examples of the wonder of God's presence among us.

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Recorded at St Michael's 8am (10'45")

03 January 2010

A new kind of king

Feast of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12)

This great feast evokes and inspires so many different things in so many different people. The sight of these strange strangers at the crib has given rise to so many attempts to fill in the details of who these magoi / magi / wise men / astronomers / astrologers / scientists were. Yet the Gospel of Matthew refuses to divulge any details except those that are essential to the story. But the speculations continue. So we imagine that if they come from the East, then the most likely candidate country would be from the empire of Babylon, since they have the history and expertise in the field of studying stars and constellations.

If that is the case, then the Magi would have been travelling for at least 40 days, since it is about 1300kms from Babylon to Jerusalem, and even in a caravan of camels, you could only travel around 30-35kms a day. Thankfully the journey from Jerusalem to the house that the holy family were now staying in would have only taken a few hours - it is only 10km from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem. So we don't know when they actually arrived in Bethlehem. Had they been travelling for a month before the birth of Jesus, so that they would arrive only a few days later (as in the tradition of the twelfth day which celebrates Epiphany on 6 January) or did they arrive much later? Such questions are cute, but clearly are not theologically central to the story.

These foreigners came to 'pay homage' to this new king. Now that is strange all by itself. Why did they travel to find a new king? Did they do this for other kings? Had they travelled to pay homage to their own king? Were they king groupies?

One thing that is clear, is these magi come to pay homage (to worship) this new king of Israel because they know that there will be something different about the way that he will be king. He wont be like their own king, and certainly will not be like Herod the tyrant or Caesar Augustus, who maintain the peace of their kingdoms through military might, intimidation and fear. These magi travel because in a sense they have to travel. They have to see with their own eyes what birth gives rise to this sign in the heavens. So they come, as foreigners and aliens, following the star.

They seem to know that this new king will not be a ruler only for one single nation. They seem to know that when they come to him, they will worship before their own ruler and their new king. The kingship of Jesus will not be limited to a single nation - but in fact Israel will be called to finally take on-board her full call and identity when God had first made covenant with her. Jesus is not just the king of this one people - but he is the king of all who desire to come and worship; of all who are prepared to lay their gifts and lives before the manger and become the children of God.

Surely this is one of the reasons that a star is the sign that leads these magi in pursuit of the truth? Because even in our world, a star can never be the possession of a single nation (no, not even yours Obama). A star is always meant for all nations - all people can look to the heavens to see this sign. And the Lord Jesus will be a sign for all people. For all who look to him and worship can become sons and daughters of God, and therefore citizens not of a single nation, but of the family of God's people. And this is the great hope of Epiphany...

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (12'41")