Monthly Archives: February 2012

Passion: Desire and Suffering (First Sunday in Lent, Year B, 26 February, 2012)

Passion: Desire and Suffering

Readings
Genesis 9.8-17
Mark 1.9-15

Create in us a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us.

Have you ever been to a passion play? There is one held every year not far away from here at Lake Moogerah, and of course there is the very famous passion play held at Oberammergau in Germany every ten years.

In a passion play, ordinary people act out the events of Holy Week—Jesus clears the temple, he disputes with the religious authorities, he eats the final Passover meal with his friends, he is betrayed and arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, hoisted upon the cross and buried. The stone is then rolled away and Jesus comes in resurrection glory, victorious over sin and death and hell.

We usually employ the word ‘passion’ these days in a very positive way. If we have a passion, we have a strong desire for something. It may be a person, a motor bike or an ice cream, we can have a passion for it.

But ‘passion’ also has a kind of opposite meaning: it means ‘suffering’. A few years ago, Mel Gibson produced a film called The Passion of the Christ. It was very much about Jesus’ sufferings. Too much for my taste.

So there is intense desire and painful suffering; both are passion.

We can easily have both at the same time. If you love someone, you make yourself vulnerable to them. The one your heart yearns for may also be the one who causes you great suffering. We can see today that Jesus combines both desire and suffering in one.

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Ash Wednesday (22 February 2012)

I’ve decided no sermon tonight at our Ash Wednesday service…I’ve found something that can say it better. Or somethings

Check out

Proost

Rachel Held Evans

Ash Wednesday and Lent in two minutes

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Light upon Light: The Sunday of the Transfiguration (Year B, 19 February 2012)

Light upon Light

 

Readings
2 Kings 2.1-12
2 Corinthians 4.3-6
Mark 9.2-9

 

I don’t often speak very personally, but I’m going to do it for the second week in a row. Don’t get too used to it though!

I want to tell you about my dad. Dad was born in 1931. His father was a Yorkshire tenant farmer, his mother was born in the west of Scotland. Dad’s father died of pneumonia; dad was three years old, and there was none of the antibiotic treatment we take for granted.

When it came time for dad to finish primary school, he was one of two students selected to go on to secondary education. It just wasn’t guaranteed in those days. But his mum prevented him from doing it, because she needed him to earn money for the family. He was the man. Times were tough; it was during the Second World War.

Dad was brought up a Methodist. He said to his minister that he’d like to be a methodist minister when he grew up. The minister told him to forget it; he hadn’t had enough education.

The unfairness of his situation caused dad to draft away from the church. Did he ever lose his faith? I don’t know—he never spoke about it. (But you wouldn’t expect him to, he was a Yorkshireman.)

Dad had mixed feelings about my practice of faith. He was wary of my getting over-involved in church things, but he was proud that I was choosing a moral way of life. And he was proud of my knowledge of the Bible.

Twenty one years ago last month, dad died of lung cancer. He was 59, and he’d been a lifelong smoker with a pretty heavy habit.

We spent what time we could talking together in those last few weeks. Time was limited; I was in Central Queensland, in Biloela, and I couldn’t get to Brisbane as much as I wanted.

To my surprise and to my puzzled delight, dad recovered his faith in his last weeks. He asked me to buy him a Bible, and a particular book of prayers. He read them and prayed them.

What I saw in my dad in that brief time astounded me then, and astounds me still. His body was wasting away, but he came to life. His eyes shone in a way they never had before. He was at peace with God again.

He was transfigured before my eyes. It wasn’t the vision that the disciples shared; his clothes didn’t shine ‘extra brite’, and neither did his face. But his eyes unmistakably shone.

When Jesus was transfigured, it was at a time that he had started telling the disciples that he would be put to death. They didn’t want to hear it. They wanted this wonderful man to go on to great things. And they wanted to go on to great things with him!

They saw a glimpse of his greatness that day. He was greater than their heroes Moses and Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet of Israel, and his time was drawing to an end. His successor Elishah had asked for a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit; he wanted to do even more than Elijah! Elishah may have received that double portion, but Jesus had even more than that. God’s Holy Spirit had come upon him in her fullness when he was baptised. Then God had spoken to him:

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

On the mountain, the voice said so everyone could hear:

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!

If Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, what do we receive from Jesus? We can’t receive a double portion of his Spirit, because his Spirit is the infinite Holy Spirit. But we can share his Holy Spirit. We can receive grace upon grace, hope upon hope, love upon love, peace upon peace, joy upon joy, light upon light.

And we receive all this in the midst of troubles and sorrows. We’re not spared them. I recall a Lenten home group in Biloela. People were sharing together about the troubles they had known, and the difficulties they had faced. It amazed me that as they did so, they were smiling and laughing and finding real support in one another. I said ‘If someone were to look at this group through the window, they’d think we were talking about happy things.’ God’s Spirit was transforming their spirits. As Paul says,

it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God’s light, the light of the Spirit of Jesus, shines in our hearts. It shone in Jesus, it shone in my dad, it can shine in us. Whatever our circumstances, because we have the light of Jesus Christ within our eyes can shine, our faces can shine, our lives can shine, all to the glory of God. Amen.

 

 

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The Sacrament of Touch: Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time/Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B, 12 February 2012)

The sacrament of touch

Readings
2 Kings 5.1-14
Mark 1.40-45

Let’s start with the Book of Leviticus (13.45-46; from The Message):

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean”. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

‘Leprosy’ was not a good diagnosis to get back in biblical times. It meant you were ‘unclean’. You had to live in isolation, away from human contact. The irony is that these ‘lepers’ didn’t necessarily have what we call leprosy. Today, ‘leprosy’ is the name we give to Hansen’s Disease, an infectious condition  caused by certain bacteria. But in biblical times, ‘lepers’ were a mixed bag of people: some may have had fungal infections; others weren’t even infectious, having things like psoriasis or eczema. But they were expelled from the community anyway.

Leprosy was a disease ‘of biblical proportions’. Even today we know what it means to be treated as a leper. And we don’t like it.

A leper comes to Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whatever he had, whether we’d call it leprosy or eczema, his wasn’t an ordinary illness. His was an illness that made him ‘unclean’—

  • unfit for normal human company;
  • unable to approach God;
  • unsuitable for the companionship of anyone—except those who were also unclean.

Despite what the Book of Leviticus says he should do, we don’t read that the leper cried ‘Unclean’, or that he covered his lip. What he did say was,

If you choose, you can make me clean.

Jesus’ response is

I do choose. Be made clean!

Be made clean.

Well of course, we’re sophisticated, we’re not like those people thousands of years ago. We understand germs and stuff. You can’t help getting sick. We can deal with Hansen’s Disease. We have quick-acting drugs with fancy names like rifampicin and dapsone. We also know that something over 95% of people are naturally immune to Hansen’s Disease. It’s hard to catch it.

We don’t call lepers ‘unclean’. Nothing and no one is unclean to us.

If that’s what you think, stop now! Don’t you believe it.

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Wait for the Lord (Ordinary Time 5/Epiphany 5, Year B, 5 February 2011)

Wait for the Lord

Readings
Isaiah 40.21-31
Psalm 147.1-11, 20c
Mark 1.29-39

Where is God?

Someone in India once asked a group of Hindu children, ‘Where is God?’. These Hindu children pointed to their hearts. That person later asked the same question of group of Indian Christian children. ‘Where is God?’ They pointed upward, to the sky. Where is God? Within us, or in heaven? Which group was nearer the truth?

Let’s see what Isaiah says.

Haven’t you known this? he says. Haven’t you got it yet?

It is God who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…

Sounds like the Christian children were right according to Isaiah. God sits high above the circle of the earth. Isaiah does mean a circle and not a sphere; we should think of the world like a pizza with a dome over it. And Isaiah pictures God, sitting, on his mighty throne, over this world. When God looks down, he sees us—but we’re like grasshoppers moving around.

Does God care?

Perhaps not. After all, God says

To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

What can we compare with God? Nothing. Every picture we have falls short. God is Father—but not like any father we’ve ever come across. God is judge—but God’s judgement is unlike anything you’d ever get in the Queensland Supreme Court. God is Lord—but not the kind of lord we’re used to.

God is more than all this. God is greater. God is so great we can’t grasp more than a tiny piece of God. Not even that, if the truth be known.

To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Erm, no one really, God…

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