29 April 2012

Children of the Shepherd God

I am sure that if many parishioners ever bother to listen to the first line of the second reading today, they either choose to ignore it or doubt that it can actually be true. It is a rather extraordinary claim: 'think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called the children of God - for that is what we are.' If we imagine the love that God gives to us, I suspect that for many people 'lavished' is not the first descriptive word that would be chosen; perhaps 'grudgingly offered' would be closer. But this is something that John had experienced deeply in his life, so when he came to describe this reality, he wanted us to know how true the love of God was. To ask us to 'think' about it is not a great translation - because John uses a word that expresses that the love of God is something absolutely tangible - so much so that it could be seen and experienced directly - not just a concept to be thought about.
When we turn to the Gospel, we see the kind of shape that this love took on in the life and ministry of Jesus, when Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (8'45")
E4B - Easter, Fourth Sunday B - Good Shepherd Sunday

22 April 2012

Resurrected body

One of the lovely things about the Gospel today (Luke 24:35-48) is that it deals with the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus and demonstrates that the disciples did not share the same drug-induced hypnotic experience, or simply remember the warm and fuzzy experiences of Jesus invoked by a vision of his ghost, and then go onto bear witness to his resurrection and commission to be bearers of reconciliation and peace in the world. Jesus has already appeared to the women (Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Mary the mother of James, and the unnamed others), to Simon Peter as well as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas and another); when the two return from their encounter when their "hearts burned within us" as Jesus shared the scriptures with them, and after they had recognised him in the breaking of the bread, they returned that night to be with the Apostles and other disciples.
When Jesus turns up in the room, they are still shocked and amazed, and despite the witness of the two disciples, Peter and the women, they really don't know what to make of this Jesus who is able to suddenly appear before them. So they think they must be seeing a ghost. Which provides Jesus with a teaching moment to demonstrate by pointing to his wounds and asking for something to eat that he is not just a Platonic form of his former self, now that his soul or spirit have escaped from his body - which is still the most common and radically wrong understanding of heaven that way too many Christians believe. What does Jesus want us to know about the resurrected body and what it points to for our own future?

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm (9'27")
E3B - Easter, Third Sunday B

14 April 2012

A questioning journey from doubt to faith

Although in the debate on Monday night on the ABC1 TV program QandA between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell, it seemed that doubt and questioning of faith was a very recent and modern phenomena, if you study the scriptures and Christian tradition carefully such doubts and questions are immediately apparent.
The passage from John's Gospel that we have just read would originally have been the conclusion to the gospel; chapter 21 is an epilogue added probably by John himself sometime later. When we look at the gospel with the filter of doubt and faith, we see lots of the characters struggle to make sense of what John presents so clearly in the opening line: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In story after story, beginning with Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night (in the darkness of unbelief), to the Woman at the well, to the man born blind, and finally to doubting Thomas, insiders and outsiders alike are shown to legitimately struggle with making sense of who Jesus is, how he can be who he claims to be, and how to respond to these claims. Each one in turn is led - sometimes gradually, always through a process of questioning faith - to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and how best to respond to him. Like Thomas, we are invited to fall down in worship and take his same declaration upon our own lips: 'my Lord and my God.'

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm (9'49")
E2B; Easter, Second Sunday B

08 April 2012

Resurrection Sunday

Although we profess and declare that Jesus Christ is risen, and that through the resurrection, death has been defeated - sometimes it can feel like nothing much has in fact changed. Just this morning the news announced the discovery of a the dead bodies of around 100 young men killed in Syria - many showing signs of torture before being executed, and then some 125 soldiers killed in Pakistan when their army camp was overtaken by an avalanche. If death has been defeated - why is there still so much of the stuff around us. What does the resurrection mean and where can we receive something of the resurrection ourselves?

Play MP3

Recorded at St Mary's, Leppington, 8am
E1B; Easter Sunday morning

06 April 2012

Stations of the Cross Reflection

A brief reflection offered at the end of the Stations of the Cross, celebrated at St Paul's, Camden on Good Friday morning.

Play MP3

Length: 2'15"

A full recording of the service (slightly edited to reduce some of the silences and not including the final multimedia)

Play Full Service mp3

Length: 40'05"

Passover and redemption

Although John spends more time describing the events of the last supper - including the conversations across five chapters of his Gospel - he doesn't give us the details of the institution of the eucharist. He does give us plenty of details around the event, including ensuring that we know that it all unfolded during the celebration of the Jewish Passover. Of all the gospel writers, John is the most thorough in giving us seasonal time stamps for the events that unfolded in the life and ministry of Jesus - providing us with the feasts that provided the backdrop for the events. If we understand the background of the Passover and what took place during the meal - and all of John's first readers would have had access to that information - we gain many insights into what took place on that incredible night...

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's, 7pm. (7'15")
Mass of the Lord's Supper

Post #200

01 April 2012

The Hunger Games and Sacrifice

Last weekend I joined the throngs - not in welcoming the Messiah to Jerusalem - but in watching the new hit movie, The Hunger Games - based on the first part of the popular trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. The action takes place in a future post-apocalyptic north America, where all that is left after the unnamed devastation are the capital (somewhere deep in the Rockies) and twelve districts. The heroes come from District 12, where the main industry is coal-mining. We discover that to 'celebrate' the quashing of the uprising that had happened 74 years earlier, when there was a 13th district that led the rebellion [apparently no longer in existence] a contest is held to choose two delegates from each of the districts - one boy and one girl aged between 12 and 18 to compete in the so-called Hunger Games. The object of the games is to fight to the death so that of the 24 competitors that enter the arena, only one is allowed to survive - and all of this is captured by hundreds of cameras and broadcast as compulsory viewing to the whole nation. Charming!
As I watched the movie (and then read the book this week), I was struck by how often stories and movies set in some distant future are so dark - the world and its peoples are scratching to survive in an environment marked by violence, warfare and hatred. Dozens of examples come to mind. So this scenario - as horrible as it is - only joins a very long list from human history or societies and cultures that have demanded no less than mortal combat and human sacrifice either as entertainment or as an attempt to deal with the angst that we have felt and continue to experience. The Capital here needs a scapegoat to remind the citizens in these far-flung districts that it is in charge.
When we gather today to remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, welcomed by hundreds of pilgrims from equally far-flung regions of the Jewish diaspora - perhaps many of them from Galilee and other northern districts, it seems that the liturgy barely allows us to catch our breath before the action moves to the final anointing of Jesus, the last supper, the garden, betrayal and arrest, trial and then the crucifixion. The need for a scapegoat - seemingly so strong in the human psyche - is answered in Judaism by the annual remembrance of the Day of Atonement, where a goat is brought through the crowd of pilgrims and then banished as a way of acknowledging the seriousness of our sin and dysfunction. But the goat is not enough. To only allow another to take on our sins is not enough if we know that we have to turn around and repeat all this again next year. The difference that Jesus brings to this reality is that he is not only a scapegoat - he becomes something unique in human history, because he is able to make this offering once and for all. He is not only one like us, but he is also God. So when he offers himself for our sins in our place, this sacrifice radically subverts the standard model because he freely offers himself in our place. He is not the scapegoat for he offers himself - not as something that has to be repeated each year - but as the once and only sacrifice that we have the wondrous privilege of remembering so powerfully each year.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul's, 10am (4'45")
L6B; Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B.