…some beautiful photography from my daughter in Chile.
Category Archives: Personal
This time last year, some of us were in Israel, walking streets that Jesus walked and gaining new inspiration for our journeys of faith.
I found one of the greatest places to be was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a sprawling place, with surprises around every corner. It’s one of the sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps it really is where he was put to death, and buried; perhaps not.
It was pretty crowded, and it was frustrating to navigate; so I think my report of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might strike a note of disappointment if it wasn’t for one wall, a wall of mosaics. It is a more contemporary mosaic, which was placed by the Greek Orthodox Church.
I took a few photos …
This scene depicts ‘The Deposition from the Cross’. We have Mary the mother of the Lord and Joseph of Arimathea supporting Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John kissing his hands, and Nicodemus removing the nails while the other women stand, weeping.
In the next part of the mosaic, Jesus’ body is laid out on the burial cloth ready to be shrouded.
In the third and final scene, Jesus is being laid in the tomb.
This is a stunningly beautiful mosaic. I stood before it in speechless wonder for a long time.
Let me point out two things. The first is the sorrow. Just look at the faces.
Even the angels weep!
The sorrow of Holy Week is profound. The loss is absolute, and it is felt even by the powers of heaven.
Jesus had healed the sick and brought sight to those who could not see.
But they crucified him.
He was the promised Messiah.
But they crucified him between two thieves.
He was going to bring in the kingdom of God.
But they crucified him on Golgotha, the Place of a Skull.
Now everything was gone. It had seemed so wonderful at the beginning of the week, but now it seemed a strange dream. What were all the palms for, all the cheers and the crowds and the shouts of ‘Hosanna, Save us Lord!’?
Save us? He couldn’t save himself.
The sorrow of Holy Week is profound, and we shouldn’t try to downplay it.
Remember I said I had two things to point out about this mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The deep sorrow is the first.
The second is this: the vibrant colours. This mosaic is a complete riot of colour. There are reds, blues, greens, oranges, purples. Oh, and lots and lots of gold.
Don’t you think it really should be more subdued?
I mean, come on, this is a scene of unrelenting sorrow, of cosmic sorrow. But it’s ablaze with colour!
What’s that about?
It’s about Easter. We can imagine that as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John and the others took Jesus’s lifeless corpse from the cross and laid it in the tomb that there was no light for them. Everything was grey. Perhaps Mary wondered if the sun would ever rise again.
Yet the dawn of Easter Day was just a few short hours away, it was just over the horizon.
What we see in this mosaic is no created light. It is Easter light, the light of the resurrected One. We see utter and inconsolable sadness, while the light of Easter shines upon the people without their being aware of it.
Some people speak of Lent as a time of ‘Bright Sadness’. Bright sadness.
It’s a time of sadness, which we should not try to diminish or avoid. Christ went to the cross to save his people. He died to being us back to God. He died on our behalf.
How can we minimise the death of God’s very Son? Well, we can try, by ignoring it, by commercialising Easter, by only going to Easter services if we feel like it. But we shouldn’t try to do that. And really, nothing we do or fail to do will ever truly minimise the horror of this week.
But Lent, and above all Holy Week, is a bright time too. Over it the light of Easter shines. Salvation is ours. Our sadness is illuminated by the joy of Christ’s resurrection.
Bright sadness is not optimism. It’s not about being a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. It’s not ‘looking on the bright side of life’, or ‘walking on the sunny side of the street’. Bright sadness is faith that the light of Easter shines in all situations. Bright sadness is faith that even death itself is not a full stop, but only a comma.
Bright sadness doesn’t avoid the sadness! It means that at this time of year above all others, we recognise the great price our Saviour paid, we acknowledge our shortcomings and sins, and we lift our voices in grateful praise. And this time of year reminds us to live to God at every time of the year.
This wall mural speaks to us of bright sadness. Can we embrace this bright sadness? We surely can, and we must. It is God’s gift to us, for the sake of Jesus our Lord and for the world that needs his peace, his justice and his reign as servant-Lord of all.
It’s 6 April. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty six years ago for the arithmetically challenged among our number). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. Today, I want to talk a bit about that time.
The night before, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.
I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man. I was distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. I felt confused about life.
I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit.
Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not knowing how to find them later.
I just couldn’t stay in my seat.
It struck me reflecting on the story of Lazarus this week that I can identify with him. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.
Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well be dead.
As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? After all, in the story Lazarus was dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?
I could simply say I was dead in my trespasses and sins, unable to know God. And while that may sound harsh, it’s an image that works. I was constructing a life that kept God at bay, while at the same time wanting to know God better. We could use other language too; I was AWOL, and I was afraid to return to barracks. The scriptures also use other language, and we’ve come across it the past few weeks. So with the man blind from birth, I too was blind from birth. I couldn’t see Jesus, the true image of God.
And like the Samaritan woman, I needed to drink of the living water. I was spiritually dehydrated. I was being poisoned at the wells of false hopes and plastic dreams.
I was in need of a new birth. Just as Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit, I needed the Spirit-wind to breeze through my life and turn me right around.
I think if I were telling a story like this for today, I’d use yet another image. I’d remind people of the frustration of trying to get your computer to work, asking around your friends for suggestions, finally gritting your teeth and calling the help desk only to be asked: ‘Is it plugged in? Is it switched on?’
Once you plug it in, everything is different. Just that one little change makes all the difference!
It seems a little grandiose to say that I was born again, drank of living water, made to see and brought to life that night. (Oh, and that I was plugged in to the transcendent Source of power.) Yet if you judge that night by the effect it has had on me, then these words are as good as any and better than most.
Those early days of April 1968 brought other discoveries to me.
Hebrews 13.1–8, 15–16
Luke 14.1, 7–14
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke quite personally about my journey as a person of faith, from my early life as a fundamentalist Christian to the current day. I don’t often speak so personally, so it’s quite unusual for me to begin today in a personal vein as well.
The Book of Hebrews says:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
I want to speak about hospitality today. I want to begin by reminding you of the hospitality you, the members of this congregation, showed Karen and me when we first came here. And those of you who weren’t here then, you can hear the story for the first time. Continue reading
Light upon Light
2 Kings 2.1-12
2 Corinthians 4.3-6
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.
The Sacrament of Touch: Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time/Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B, 12 February 2012)
The sacrament of touch
2 Kings 5.1-14
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.