“The Rock from which you were hewn” (24 August 2014, Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 51.1–6
Matthew 16.13–20

 

There are a lot of references to rocks in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 32 calls God ‘the Rock that bore you’. And in 2 Samuel 22:

The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock,
and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation.

And Psalm 18,

For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?

Not to mention Jesus:

The stone that the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone…

It’s a rocky road we’re taking today, as two of our readings speak of rocks: firstly, in Isaiah we are encouraged to 

Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

Let’s ‘look to the rock from which we were hewn’. Sometimes when I’ve holidayed back in England, I’ve visited the church in which I was baptised, Christ Church Harrogate. And I’ve stopped by the font in which I was baptised, and offered a prayer of thanks. Here it is:

Font 

 

You can see that it’s made of stone; I remember the first time I went back, it was this verse that popped into my head:

Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

And why not? Whatever is happening in life, a rock gives you a solid place to stand, a firm place to be. And we need a place to stand.

For me, baptism is one such place. I suppose that’s why that verse came to my mind that day. Baptism gives us a new identity, a firm identity as daughters and sons of the God who came for us in Jesus Christ, and who sent the Spirit among us to bring us new life.

It is easy to feel lost today. Things are changing more rapidly than ever before. So much seems out of control. There are things that we can hold on to: family, friends, home. But so much is out of our hands.

We hear about

  • the way that the forces of ISIS are committing atrocities and terrorising anyone in northern Iraq who doesn’t support their particular kind of religious and political extremism; 
  • the horrors of the never-ending conflict between Israel and Gaza;
  • the way children in detention centres set up by Australia — by us! — are suffering chronic psychological trauma and even harming themselves.

How do we find a place to stand? Continue reading

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Spirit, open our hearts (17 August, 2014: Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 56.1–8
Matthew 15.10–28

 

When we began our service this morning, we sang

Gather us in, the lost and forsaken;
Gather us in, the blind and the lame…

Our lectionary scriptures today prompt us to ask some very important questions: How far do we go in gathering people in? Where do we stop?

Isaiah 56 relates to a time when the exiles are returning from Babylon and being gathered into Jerusalem. Remember, the Temple had been demolished and Jerusalem left in ruins in 587BC, and much of the population had been taken into captivity in Babylon. Today, the once-mighty Babylon is a pile of ruins about 85km south of Baghdad.

We say the exiles ‘returned’ to Jerusalem, but most if not all of them had never been there; it was their grandparents and great-grandparents who had been taken away. They knew Babylon, it was where they were born; they’d grown up on tales of the wonders of Jerusalem, but when they were gathered back in they didn’t like what Jerusalem had become.

Jerusalem was in ruins but worse still, it was full of foreigners! (I think the irony that they’d never seen the place before would’ve been lost on them.)

How did the returnees deal with the foreigners who had occupied their houses and land? They were divided about that.

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Faith, in silence (Ordinary Sunday 14A, 10 August 2014)

Readings
1 Kings 19.9–18
Matthew 14.22–33

 

silence fog

What do you see in this picture? It’s a wintry scene. It’s winter here now, but our Brisbane winters aren’t at all like this, with its tree devoid of leaves, and a weak wintry sun just managing to peer through the gloom.

The main thing I see though is fog. There must be something else in the distance, but we can’t see what it is. We can’t even see the horizon. How far away is it anyway?

This photo may not mean a lot to some Queenslanders, but it means a great deal to me. We do have fog here especially around the river and in low-lying places, but honestly it’s pretty unimpressive. The sun soon scares it away; I tease Karen that it’s just mist. However, I remember very well having to trudge to school through the dense Yorkshire fog, which was there from the time you woke up right until bedtime. I could hardly see in front of my face! — yet I recall marvelling that as I took each step, the fog would recede at the same rate. I could only see a couple of metres in front of my face. But I could always see that much. Sometimes people loomed up out of the foggy darkness, but we usually managed to avoid a collision.

That memory has become a strong symbol to me of the walk of faith. I’ve had times when I didn’t know what was going to come at me — times of illness or times of grief, perhaps. I didn’t know what was ahead of me, but then I would remember having to walk through fog. If you take a step, the next bit becomes clearer. When you take the next step, you can see enough to avoid that person coming right at you.

I don’t know if the prophet Elijah or the disciple Peter ever had to walk through thick fog. But I do know that they did have to walk by faith.

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Which meal, Jesus’ or Herod’s? (Year A, 3 August 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 55.1–5
Matthew 14.13–21

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the [one] with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes — promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit — come alive. The way in which the history of Israel and the history of Christ blend with that of the hungry and oppressed is quite different from the way in which they have often been linked with the history of the mighty and rich.

Jürgen Moltmann,
The Church in the Power of the Spirit

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

Hélder Câmara,
Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings

 

The first half of Matthew 14 is a tale of two meals. One is obvious; one is not. Let’s start with the obvious meal, the Feeding of the Multitude.

There are thousands of people in the wilderness. They have come to be where Jesus is. Perhaps we’re like those people, confused about things, wondering if everything will be ok, if we’re stuck in the wilderness, but — we’ve come to be where Jesus is.

Some of us saw the Judean wilderness last year. I wouldn’t like to be out there at night with nothing to eat. It’s not surprising that the disciples came to ask Jesus to send them away so they could find food.

What is surprising is Jesus’ answer: ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’

They know what they’ve got. Five loaves, two fish. It’s not enough. They are living out of a sense of not having enough, a sense of insufficiency, a sense of not-enough-ness. Jesus wants to teach them — and us — to live out of a sense of being enough with Jesus.

Jesus made that small amount feed the multitude. People often get hung up on the ‘how’ question: Is this a creation miracle, did Jesus the living Word of God create enough bread and fish for the crowd? Is it a miracle of sharing, that people brought out the food they’d hidden from others in case they wouldn’t have enough? Is it more a parable in story form?

People come down in different places on the How questions, but these questions don’t matter as much as this: Jesus takes what little we have and multiplies it to feed many others, even to feed people we don’t know and will never meet.  Continue reading

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The weeds within (20 July 2014, Year A)

Reading
Matthew 13.24–30, 36–43

 

Last week we heard a parable about seed, the Parable of the Sower. The sower throws seed all over the place, like it’s going out of fashion. Some of it — only some, mind — lands on good soil, where it takes root and grows fruit.

Today, we’ve heard another parable about seed, the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat. The “weeds” are most likely darnel. Darnel is a poisonous weed that looks just the same as wheat in the early stages of growth; it’s only when harvest comes that you see the difference. The head of grain of the wheat plant is quite different to that of darnel.

As I did last week, I’d like to tell another story as well as the parable. This one comes from the early centuries of the church, when men and women ran away from the cities to the bush to form monastic communities and live in prayer.

They did that because they thought the church had become too lax. Its standards had dropped too far. The church was letting anyone in! As you can imagine, some of them were pretty judgemental. Here’s the story:

A member of a monastic order once committed a fault. A council was called to determine the punishment, but when the monks assembled it was noticed that Father Joseph was not among them. The superior sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.”

So Father Joseph got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water, and carried it with him. When the others saw this they asked, “What is this, father?”

The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the error of another?”

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Sowing no condemnation (13 July 2014, Year A)

Readings
Romans 8.1–11
Matthew 13.1–9, 18–23

 

Jesus was a storyteller.

A great storyteller.

His stories are called “parables”; among the best-known are the parables of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan.

One of the things about Jesus’ parables is that we need to respond to them. Think of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was a member of a hated group of people. Today, Jesus might tell the story of the Good Moslem or — in some places — the Good Gay Man.

The Samaritan helps the man who was beaten up and robbed, while respectable people like a priest just pass by on the other side.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan leaves us with questions: do I pass by people in need? Do I stop to help? Which side am I on, am I part of the problem or part of the solution?

In an age of people seeking asylum and finding no welcome — is there “no room at the inn”? — these become very real questions.

In the same way, the Parable of the Sower brings a question to us: what kind of “soil” am I? The sower scatters the seed, but will the seed grow? Will the seeds of God’s Good News take root in my life?

Let me tell you another story. It’s the story of a woman who had the strangest dream.

In her dream, she is wandering around in a large shopping centre. Suddenly, she notices a shop which takes her fancy. She wanders in — and of all people, she finds Jesus behind the counter. Jesus says the most wonderful thing to her: “You can have anything your heart desires.”

Astounded, amazed, but excited, she asks for “Peace, joy, happiness, wisdom, and freedom from fear.” Then she adds, “and not just for me, but for the whole earth.” Jesus smiles and says, “I think you misunderstand me. We don’t sell the finished product, we only sell seeds.

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My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner (6 July 2014, Year A)

Readings
Romans 7.15–25a
Matthew 11.16–19, 25–30

 

My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner.

Have you ever been to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous? I have. I went to an AA meeting many years ago—just as part of my medical studies, let me quickly add. In AA, when someone starts to speak, they introduce themselves by name and then say “I’m an alcoholic.” You know, “My name is Cyril, and I’m an alcoholic.”

My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner.

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