Monthly Archives: February 2015

Living in Covenant (Lent 2B, 1 March 2015)

Readings
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4.13–25
Mark 8.31–38

 

There is something very precious that our western, neoliberal society is in danger of losing. I am speaking of the need human beings have to live together in covenantal ways. We have a need to make covenants with one another.

I have a bible dictionary that defines ‘covenant’ as

a formal agreement or treaty between two parties in which each assumes some obligation.

When someone says ‘covenant’, many people think first of the covenant of marriage. You know,

Mary, will you give yourself to Fred,
to live together in the covenant of marriage?
Will you love him, comfort him,
honour and protect him,
and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him,
as long as you both shall live?

Marriage fits the bill. It is certainly ‘a formal agreement […] between two parties in which each assumes some obligation’. (And there really are times when marriage may seem to be more like a treaty…)

Marriage isn’t the only relationship I would describe as a covenant. Let me name friendship as an informal kind of covenant. True friendship can join people together in ways which involve a mutual obligation on both parties through time, perhaps through a whole lifetime. In covenantal ways. The companionship of friends in good times, and the support good friends offer in hard times therefore has a ‘covenant’ aspect.

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The Cross, that strange sign of Life (Ash Wednesday, Year B, 18 February 2015)

Readings
Isaiah 58.1-12
Matthew 6.1-21

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

So the psalmist prays in the Ash Wednesday psalm, Psalm 51. We don’t know if this is so, but tradition tells us that David wrote this after his adultery with Bathsheba and his engineering of the death of her husband, Uriah. It doesn’t really matter if that’s so or not; whoever wrote Psalm 51 had a very keen sense of what it means to sin greatly against God.

I imagine there was a great deal of disorder in their life; the knowledge of their shame and guilt, the dread of God’s judgement, and an absolute inability to put things right.

I suppose we all know something about that.

We gather tonight to acknowledge several things.

  • We are mortal, and our lives are like the grass of the field in relation to the earth, the universe, to God;
  • we are finite, and we cannot grasp much beyond our own experience of life in the time and place we are in;
  • like sheep we have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way (Isaiah 53.6).

We may not have done anything like David did, but we know about sin and brokenness.

And it gets worse when we look at what is done in our name as members of a democratic society. So much cries out for justice and for reparation.

  • Children are spending their formative years in detention centres; in the years to come, there are likely be Royal Commissions which will cause us to hang our heads;
  • the gap between first and second peoples in our country is not being closed;
  • sixty women a year are murdered in Australia by their partners, more than one a week;
  • we are in danger of bequeathing an unliveable environment to our great-grandchildren.

It’s a mess.

And what are we doing tonight? We have a bowl of ashes to remind us of our mortality, our finitude, our sin. What use are they?

Yet: we have them with the Scriptures through which God calls, through which God wails for justice. We dare not close our ears to God’s cry.

And we have the cross, that strange sign of Christ’s victory—through what means?—through death!—through the very worst that can happen. The cross is the sign that proclaims God can take the very worst situation and turn it to good.

And those ashes will be placed on our forehead in the shape of that cross. Think of that. We could just put a blob of ash on our foreheads in any old shape, but we place it in the form of a cross.

The ashes on our foreheads will be in the shape of the cross through which the living God conquers evil and sin and even death.

The ashes on our foreheads will be in the shape of the cross that Jesus commands his disciples to carry on the way to life. Think of that.

We are dust, we will return to dust, but we bear the sign of victory. Thanks be to God.

 

Our liturgy  then goes to name the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded in Libya by Islamists. Their crime was to be ‘People of the Cross’. As we say their names, we give thanks for their witness; we pray for their families; we pray for Muslim people of faith; we pray that peace will come.

Milad Makeen Zaky

Abanub Ayad Atiya

Maged Solaiman Shehata

Yusuf Shukry Yunan

Kirollos Shokry Fawzy

Bishoy Astafanus Kamel

Somaily Astafanus Kamel

Malak Ibrahim Sinweet

Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros

Girgis Milad Sinweet

Mina Fayez Aziz

Hany Abdelmesih Salib

Bishoy Adel Khalaf

Samuel Alham Wilson

A worker from Awr village, whose name is known to God

Ezat Bishri Naseef

Loqa Nagaty

Gaber Munir Adly

Esam Badir Samir

Malak Farag Abram

Sameh Salah Faruq

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Transfiguration happens all the time (Year B, 15 February, 2015)

Readings
2 Corinthians 4.3–6
Mark 9.2–9

Today, we heard that odd story we call The Transfiguration.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them…

It may appear to be a strange story, but you know little transfigurations, ‘mini transfigurations’, happen all the time.

By that, I mean that something quite ordinary can easily become truly significant to us in a life-changing way. It becomes a moment of transfiguration for us. We don’t control it, it just seems to happen, but we know that it is so. We may know it at the time, or we may realise it later as we reflect back on what has happened. But there it is—a moment of transfiguration.

We often associate these mini moments of transfiguration with love.

I remember first seeing Karen. At the time, I was just looking at a pretty girl. (I doubt she remembers the occasion at all.) In retrospect, as I look back, that moment has been transfigured for me into something full of meaning.

Two other people may lock eyes across a crowded room, and they just know there and then. This is the one. Their hearts skip several beats, and the moment transfigures their lives. They know it straight away.

A mother or father holds their child for the first time. Their heart melts with love, and the meaning of this event is one that changes their lives forever.

It’s a little moment of transfiguration. The new mum and dad see more truly what their lives truly mean.

A young person finally realises that they have vocation in life, which may be to teach, to nurse, to be a gardener. They feel elated. They want to share it with others. That’s a moment of personal transfiguration too.

These little, personal moments of transfiguration happen when something ordinary reveals itself as something meaningful.

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Is God too great to care? (Year B, 8 February 2015)

Readings
Isaiah 40.21–31
Mark 1.29–39

Isaiah the prophet gives us a grand, a great, a wonderful, image of God today; a God

who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;…

God is a God of greatness and power. God needs no sleep, God is the Holy One, the Sovereign One. God disposes of the fearsome, powerful leaders of the nations:

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

Well may God say:

To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal?… The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

God is infinitely above us, God is infinitely beyond us. We just can never know what makes God ‘tick’. We are only created beings. We have a beginning, and we have an end.

Butt when Isaiah says that God looks on us like grasshoppers, does that mean God is so great, so powerful, that we are nothing in God’s sight?

Is it like the cosmologists who tell us how many billions of galaxies there are, how totally mind-bogglingly strange and huge the universe is, that even if there is a god or a creative force of some kind then we just don’t matter to it at all? That we’re mere nothings, less than specks of cosmic dust?

This is an argument that has been used by people who don’t believe in God. If there is a God, they say, he is so great that he is totally indifferent to us. Very simply put—too simply put, really—it says that God has so much to do, why would he bother with the likes of us?

You know, that sounds like what some of the people said in Isaiah’s day:

My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God…

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