27 May 2012

Becoming the people of God

About a month ago I accepted the invitation of one of our parishioners - Peter - to go gliding with him. It is certainly an incredible experience as you are towed up a couple thousand metres by an old crop-duster, and then once you reach the designated height the cable connecting you to the plain is released and then you are on your own - somehow managing to glide and soar up there - and not crash. Rather cool - especially because the only noise (still fairly considerable) is of the air rushing past - you don't also have the vociferation of motors. As we flew around above Camden, Peter gave me a quick run through of gliding theory as we attempted to source any available thermals so that we did not just glide but also soar - the real object of modern gliding/soaring.He also explained that contrary to what I probably (and did) learn in science, that it is not really accurate to say that hot air rises, but that cooler air, being denser and thus heavier than warmer air, falls and causes warmer air to be displaced - and thus rise.
This started me thinking about the feast of Pentecost that we celebrate today - enriched with the imagery of the wind and fire of the Spirit - and celebrated by the first disciples as the festival of Shavuot, which also became known as the Harvest Festival or the Feast of Weeks, and celebrated seven weeks (or a week of weeks) after the Passover (Nisan 14), so that it usually fell on Sivan 6 or 7. [Today it is always celebrated on Sivan 6, so that it falls on the same day that we celebrate Pentecost this year.]
After being rescued from the slavery of Egypt and travelling through the wilderness for seven weeks, the people of God arrived at Mount Sinai - and for the first time in recorded human history - and perhaps the only time - God addressed himself not just to an individual, a family or a group of people - but to an entire nation (Exodus 19). God called this people as a treasured possession of the Lord - a chosen nation and a royal priesthood - a people who would be covenanted and be the people who received the law of God.
After the people settled into the promised land, this festival also took on the character of a harvest festival, when the first fruits of the summer harvest would be offered to the Lord. So both dimensions would have been in the minds and prayer of the disciples as they gathered in the upper room to celebrate Shavuot. The events of Pentecost could never have happened to only one or two holy people - it only made sense in community. And it could only make sense in a community that were caught up in the harvest and the desire to go beyond their own little world and their own little walls. Maybe this is what we are missing in the contemporary individual church?

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Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (9'41")
EPB [E8B] - Pentecost Sunday (Year B)

20 May 2012

Seated at the right hand of the Father

The Feast of the Ascension can strike us a quite bizarre affair - especially to one who grew up on a diet of science-fiction and imagined that Jesus somehow managed to add flying and living outside of the atmosphere to his walking-on-water and multiplying food - as well as raising the dead and getting through locked doors (after being resurrected from the dead). So today I want to allow St Paul's powerful prayer in Ephesians to inspire us to look deeper into the truth behind the feast, and particularly to consider what it meant for Jesus to be seated at the right hand of God. We begin with the description of the burnt offering in Leviticus 1.

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Recorded at St Paul's, 5.30pm (12'29")

13 May 2012

Love beyond walls

In the first century, the standard expression of the Jewish faiths was strongly influenced by the Pharisees, the most populous of the many forms of Jewish sects that were active at the time. Unlike other groups which were often on the fringes of Jewish society or groups such as the Sadducees which were deeply embedded in the very narrow world of the Jerusalem temple and its rituals, the Pharisees were widespread and mainstream, and consequentially able to influence most pious followers of the kingdom of God.

One of the characteristics of the Pharisees, is that they firmly believed that the one thing that still needed to happen to bring the Messiah and the establishment of the reign of God - was a people to so perfectly fulfill the law of Moses by keeping themselves ritually pure and isolated - that there would finally be a people capable of being the image bearers of God that the original creation intended. It is very likely that Simon Peter and the other apostles would have been deeply influenced by such religious thought. Even though Jesus showed them that it was possible to break down this ritual wall that surrounded Israel (and the current Rabbi-proof fence that surrounds Israel is only a contemporary exemplification of this ancient ideology), sociologically we know that such massive paradigm shifts do not occur quickly.

We see this manifested at the beginning of Acts 10, when Peter is up on a roof praying, mid afternoon on perhaps a warm day. As he prays he begins to be conscious of his hunger. As a bloke he would no doubt have been pleased that his prayer then became actualised when he receives a vision of a cloth descending from heaven containing all manner of food, accompanied by the voice of the Lord addressing him and asking him to 'get up, kill and eat.' Perhaps it is only then that Peter is able to focus enough to realise that the cloth does not only contain the usual forms of clean animals that the law allowed to be consumed, but also animals that were declared by the same law to be unclean and ritually forbidden because they would render the eater to be outside of the kingdom of God. It takes the Lord three goes before it begins to dawn on Peter that the Lord was making an actual offer and beginning to expand Peter's mind and categories. God was not bound to the walls that the thinking of groups like the Pharisees created. 'God does not have favourites.'

This follows as a rather logical consequence of the realisation that St John brings us to in 1 John 4 - that it is not that God simply feels love, or that it is one of his attributes - no, God is love. Not sometimes; not when he feels like it - but it is the deepest reality of God. And it is into this love that the Lord Jesus invites us. 'You did not choose me; no I chose you, and I commissioned you to go forth and bear fruit - fruit that will last.'

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Recorded at St Paul's, Vigil Mass. (10'14")
E6B - Easter, Sixth Sunday B

03 May 2012

Prepared for heaven

Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, 18 April 1996 - 26 April 2012

It is always with a certain hesitation that I attend to a call like I received last Thursday evening, to visit a family's home after the death of a loved one. Although you have been invited, you are never quite sure what will await you when you arrive, and I am keenly aware of the sense of barging in and intruding on what has to be one of the most intimate and sublime experiences that any family will journey through. As the priest, you are not sure what level of faith will await you, or what level of antagonism or anxiety or anger concerning the church. When I was led into Bastien's bedroom and saw Joe and Claire and Michaela and Alexis gathered around his bed, it didn't take long for me to realise that I had been invited into a most sacred encounter.

The first thing that struck me that night was the extraordinary love that emanated from each member of this most incredible family. But as we began to pray and I offered the prayers after death, then it became clear that the evident affection and devotion that each and every person there had for Bas was founded in a deep faith and trust in the God of life.
After I had finished the prayers assigned to me, and we had prayed together for a few minutes, I tried to move into the background, and practice the very ancient tradition of the simple prayer of presence.
I hoped to allow each member of the family to continue to say goodbye, as I silently prayed as a member of St Paul's Parish in this sanctuary of the domestic church.

I prayed in silence and commended Bas into the merciful arms of our dear Lord Jesus; meanwhile the family prayed in a similar way, asking his guardian angel to escort him along this part of his journey.
Later that night, and then especially the next day, I began to get an insight into the enormous impact of the life of this young man - through the flood of tributes on facebook and then the silence and respect - along with the tears and the weeping of hundreds of students at Magdalene last Friday.
I have no easy answer to the question that has been asked so often since Bas was first diagnosed with cancer on 21 October, and especially since his death - why? As one girl asked me after Mass on Sunday - if God loves us so much, then why does he kill people? Why does he allow such suffering?

Of course, I do not believe that God is vindictive, or that God does kill people. I believe that God has created us in love as part of his natural order, but it is an order that is tainted by the wounds of sin and death. So yes, we experience the horrors of diseases such as cancer in this present world - but we are never meant to suffer them alone. We are always in the presence of a God who does love us unconditionally and who continues to lavish his love upon us.

When we suffer, Jesus is there suffering along with us. He did announce his name was Emmanuel - God-with-us. Not only that, but the place where the church should be most evident is when one member of the body suffers. It is then that the love of God's family should be most clearly experienced through the physical presence of the hugs and kisses, the touch and embrace, the love and grace of the body of Christ on earth. This is something that Bas so clearly received both implicitly and explicitly through the obvious love, faith and grace of his immediate and extended family.

Undoubtedly the reason that he touched so many peole with his love, was because he learnt a lesson that so many others can take decades to learn - if at all - the lesson of the gift. The lesson of grace.
Perhaps the reason that so many people were so deeply touched by the life of Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, was because somehow he allowed himself to be touched deeply by God's love, and in so doing, he became a very sign and presence of the kingdom of God, here on earth. Somehow he discovered the secret of being a citizen of heaven much more quickly and with greater ease then so many thousands of others.

So why did Bas die so young? Because he could. Because he was ready for heaven and eternity in the new creation. Let us pray that we can learn to be citizens of heaven and allow the gift of love to mark our lives as well.
Bastien - rest in peace.

Play MP3 - Homily

Recorded at the Funeral Mass for Bastien. (5'36")

  • Tribute - written by Joe and Claire Madrill for their son Bastien, which I read out during the funeral liturgy (20'48"):
  • Play MP3 - Tribute letter