Monthly Archives: March 2014

What do you see? (Lent 4A, 30 March 2014)

Readings
1 Samuel 16.1–13
John 9.1–12

I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

CS Lewis

Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

John Newton

When you look, what do you see?

In his quest for Israel’s next king the prophet Samuel went to Jesse’s place in Bethlehem. Jesse had eight sons; Samuel first saw Eliab, a fine, strapping young man. He would make a fitting king for Israel! After all, a king had to be worthy of respect from his men. Samuel liked what he saw.

But God saw things differently. God said to Samuel:

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

As he went through the list, looking at one son after another, I can imagine that Samuel may have started to doubt this whole enterprise. Perhaps he wondered if he were really on a wild goose chase.

Perhaps there was a note of exasperation in his voice when he asked Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’

The youngest was left, the runt of the litter. Good-looking, but just a kid.

This was the one. Who’d have guessed?

‘The Lord does not see as mortals see …’

So how does the Lord see? Continue reading

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Bono on faith in Christ

A simple faith.

 

 

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4 Warning Signs that You’re Stuck in a Rut (And What to Do About it)

The Souls of My Shoes

Stuck in a Rut Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/

There you are, at the job you were once so proud to call yours, bored out of your tiny little brain, watching cat videos on YouTube and continually checking your phone to see if 5 o’clock – that precious hour when your life once again becomes yours – is any closer to crawling into reality.

A millennia later, the magic hour arrives and you make your way home (probably in eye-pokingly terrible traffic), scanning your frankly uninteresting Facebook feed and dreaming about the packet of salt and vinegar chips you’re going to inhale as soon as you step in the door.

Half an hour later and you’re all but surgically attached to the couch, that crisp packet long since followed by the remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway. You entertain yourself by channel surfing and aimlessly wonder if this afternoon might just be the one where you pick…

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No room for shame in Christ (Lent 3A, 23 March 2014)

Reading
John 4.5–42

I think it was my first day at school. If not, it must have been the first week.

We had been asked to draw a picture. I drew a picture with my crayons, in blue, green and black. I did my best.

I looked at the boy sitting next to me, who also lived next door. Gary was drawing a nicely-ruled picture of houses. I could see it was very good, and so much better than mine. I had no idea he could draw like that. I looked from his picture to mine and back again. I had thought mine was ok, but I began to think maybe it wasn’t. My heart sunk.

Then the teacher announced that we had to line up and show her our pictures. I hadn’t known that would happen! My heart sank further still. I was behind Gary in the line. When he showed his picture, the teacher couldn’t praise him enough. It was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then with a bowed head, I showed her my picture. She was dismissive. She called it ‘scribble’, and asked why I couldn’t draw better at my age. I knew it wasn’t as good as Gary’s, but I also knew I had tried. I was ashamed; I was officially Bad At Drawing; Gary and I never talked about it.

This is what my picture looked like:  Continue reading

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Being born of the Spirit (Lent 2, Year A, 16 March 2014)

Reading
John 3.1–17

 

Today, I’m telling the story of Nicodemus from the point of view of someone who may just have been there: his servant. Let’s call him ‘Jethro’…

Hello! Yes, I’m Jethro, and once I was Nicodemus’ servant. You’ve heard of Nicodemus, right? I was with him when he first went to see that rabble-rousing rabbi from Galilee, that Jesus of Nazareth.

You’ve read about that just today? Well fancy that! I bet I wasn’t mentioned? Of course I wasn’t, I told you I’m just a servant. But I was there. We servants are always around in the shadows, waiting to be called, listening for a snap of the fingers, just pretending we’re not there and not hearing everything. One evening, with no warning, my master told me we were off to see Jesus. You don’t think a wealthy man like Nicodemus would walk through the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem alone at night, do you? I was there in case thieves tried something. I was ready for them. I was a young man then, and well able to look after myself. That was my job. We didn’t chat on the way there, I was too busy keeping my eyes peeled for trouble. Anyway, Nicodemus didn’t chat with me at that time. As I said, I was the servant in this relationship.

That night, Nicodemus went in to the place Jesus was staying and I followed him. There were some candles lit inside, so Nicodemus could see where to go. I stayed near the door.

I wondered why Nicodemus wanted to see Jesus. I mean, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin! He had a reputation and a position to protect! And Jesus wasn’t exactly flavour of the month when it came to most of the Sanhedrin.

There were others on the Council who would like to see Nicodemus brought down. Seeing Jesus could have been enough to bring suspicion upon him. That’s why he went at night and in secret.

I didn’t know why he wanted to see Jesus. It wasn’t my place to know.

Jesus smiled at me when I came in. At me! I thought, He has no class at all! Imagine smiling at a servant! Jesus went right down in my estimation.

Of course, I heard what was said.  Continue reading

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Walking contradictions (Ash Wednesday, Year A, 5 March 2014)

Reading
Matthew 6.1-21

Here we are once more, it’s Ash Wednesday and Lent begins again. I think it’s the eighth time we’ve had an Ash Wednesday service. Yet it still strikes me that the way we enter Lent is odd when you look at the Gospel Reading set for this day. Jesus says:

Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.… whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Yet here we are, not one of us in our room with the door shut. We are gathered together. We see who’s here. And who is not.

And Jesus says,

whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret…

We’re not exactly going to disfigure our faces, but—a smudge of ash is never going to be a fashion statement, is it?

We are walking contradictions. We gather when we should stay in our room. We put ash on our face when we should look squeaky clean. The charge of hypocrisy always dogs our steps. How do we escape?

Our first instinct is to escape the charge of hypocrisy by trying harder. We want to be right, so we walk the walk and talk the talk. Too often we do it too loudly. We become like the person without love that St Paul talks about:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Our own efforts lead us to a dead end.

If we fast, even if it’s just giving up choccies, it’s hard not to look at ourselves. Will I lose a kilo or two over Lent? Will I avoid having to buy a bigger size? Will my doctor be pleased with my blood sugar next time?

I suspect we can’t really avoid some of these thoughts. But we put them to one side, to fast with Christ. We are called to fast to deny ourselves, and put our attention on him and his needy people.

We’re also called to pray. When we pray, it’s hard to let go of distracting thoughts. So we put them aside, perhaps by imagining them floating down a stream. And it’s hard for some of us to avoid checking how well we’re going. I’m praying much better now! I think. Am I really?

We’re called to give. Not so we can be proud. But because we have so much more than so many do, and we can share.

The journey of Lent teaches us that Jesus Christ has walked the way before us; that he accompanies us on the way; that we go in the right direction as our eyes are fixed on the goal rather than on ourselves.

The story of humanity is that we have each fallen short. Each one, except Jesus Christ. So let’s keep our focus on Jesus.

The next step we take will be to pray a version of the Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem, a Syrian saint who lived in the 300s. Remember—as we do, we focus on Jesus Christ.

Lord of our life,
take from us the spirit of laziness, discouragement,
lust for power and idle talk.
Instead grant to us, your servants,
the spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.
Merciful God,
grant us the grace to be aware of our own sins
and refrain from judging others;
for you are blessed forever. Amen.

 

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‘All for transformation’ (Transfiguration of Jesus, Year A, 2 March 2014)

Readings
Exodus 24.12–18
Matthew 17.1–9

‘All for transformation’: The Offering of bread and wine in the light of the Transfiguration

Karen and I are very fortunate in that we live by the river. Every day, as I leave the house I see it. We live on a bend in the river, and we see the gentle flow of the water, and often there are pelicans on the river.

Quite often, I get surprised that I live in such a lovely spot. I seem to forget after a night’s sleep. So I might step out of the house, and I am once more amazed by the river’s beauty.

Sometimes, I it moves me so much that I am transfixed. I have to stand still and gaze, or walk over the road so I can be closer to the river. Being transfixed is not the same as being to transformed, even transfigured; but I think it may be the first step.

Beauty can do that to you.

On other days, I just leave the house, get in my car and drive without a second glance. What makes the difference? Is there something different about the river—perhaps the light plays on it in a way that catches my attention? Or is there something different about me on the days I pause, maybe I’m in a mood to be amazed?

Or possibly it may be both the river and me? Perhaps sometimes it is.

When Jesus takes the disciples up the mountain, they see a vision of him transfigured and they are afraid. At least that’s what happened there and then. But I wonder what happens deeper in someone’s heart and soul when this happens? I wonder if the disciples were now taking baby steps on the road to their own transfiguration?

Because that’s what the Transfiguration is ultimately all about: the disciples being transfigured. ‘Transfiguration’ is about our transformation into the people God made us to be. Our transfiguration into being God’s children, bearing the image of Jesus Christ.

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