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")