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")