Tag Archives: East Timor

The Mind of Christ

Readings
Philippians 2.5–11
Luke 23.1–49

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…the Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small. — Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

Jesus’ whole life is a life that moves from action—from being in control, preaching, teaching, performing miracles—to Passion, in which everything is done to him. He is arrested, whipped, crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross. All this is done to him. The fulfilment of Jesus’ life on earth is not what he did but rather what was done to him. Passion. — Henri Nouwen, From Fear To Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

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I once spent a week in Timor Leste, East Timor. A week is not a very long time; I don’t claim any expertise in the culture or politics of Timor Leste. But I was there at a very interesting time.

It was February 1998, just over a year before the East Timorese people won their independence from Indonesia. While I was there for this short time, Timor Leste was occupied by Indonesian armed forces. 

I was there to talk with people of the Protestant Church there about my then congregation’s support for young people in tertiary education there. I was with a man who had made the trip several times before and who spoke Indonesian fluently. 

Because I was with him, and also because I am a minister, I found myself in a trusted position. 

I learnt a few things about living under occupation forces that week. Things that Jesus and his contemporaries may have experienced too. 

I learned that while the Timorese people appeared to be relaxed and happy, this was very much a veneer. Their smiles didn’t always meet their eyes. Under the surface, there was a pervasive anxiety that infected everyone. 

I stayed at a hotel in the capital, Dili. There, the staff all belonged to the Indonesian occupying forces. They weren’t in uniform—it was supposed to be a secret—but everyone knew. One day, we were due to speak with some of the locals at the hotel; I started to head for a table in the dining room. My friend suggested we go out into the garden to talk. Why did we go out into the open air? There were bugging devices in the dining room. We didn’t want our conversations recorded by the occupying forces. 

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Love all the one anothers (Easter 6, 10 May 2015)

Readings
Acts 10.44–48
1 John 15.9–17

Love, and do what you will.—St Augustine, Homilies on 1 John VII:8

Before we go on today, I’d like you to close your eyes and be still. Just for a few moments… Ok, that’s fine.

I wonder what you were most aware of? Perhaps some of you just started to drift off. Others may have suddenly remembered they need to get milk on the way home. Yet others may have become more aware of their breathing.

Those last few may have also been more aware than usual of something we all take for granted. We are surrounded by air. It’s all around us.

I’m usually totally unaware of air unless I’m conscious of my breathing, or the winter westerlies are blowing, or there’s a cyclone.

But it’s there, all about me. And I am alive because of it. Continue reading

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Humility—a meditation for Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday eleven years ago, I was in East Timor (Timor-Leste) during the Indonesian occupation of that island. Early that morning, I walked the short distance from the Hotel Tourismo to the garden of Bishop Belo’s home for the Ash Wednesday service. The next year, 1999, the bishop’s house and garden were destroyed after Timor-Leste voted for independence. But that day, several hundred people were peacefully gathered.

I stuck out like a sore thumb. For a start, I only saw one other westerner there. But at around 1.91 m (over 6’3″), I also stood head and shoulders above just about everyone else there. I was obvious, and I don’t like being obvious.

When it came time to be marked with the Ashes, I stood in a line to to receive the Ashes from The Shortest Nun in the World. I had to bend very low before she could reach my forehead.

I was grateful that that was how it was. Because for me it was a sign of the one thing that is really needed as we receive the sign of Ashes: that one thing is humility, particularly among such a brave, proud-yet-humble people.

Jesus warns us against making a show of our faith. He warns us against the prideful attitude that says, ‘Look at me!’. When we walk away from here with the cross-shaped Ashes on our foreheads, we need to guard ourselves against wanting others to see how holy we are. We need the Spirit to give us humility.

You may not be worried about being proud. You may think you’re going to look faintly ridiculous. Good! Be ridiculous for Christ. Be a fool in his name. Remember the words of Scripture:

…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

We’re not too good at humility in places like Australia. Perhaps the current economic difficulties we face might give us some help. But in Lent we require humility rather than self concern. We lack the humility of Jesus, born in a shed, tempted in the wilderness, doing the Father’s will, dying on Golgotha. We can learn from the humility of the people of Timor-Leste. We need to let go of self-concern—for Christ’s sake.

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The one thing needed

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

 
Isaiah 58.1-12
Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21
 
On Ash Wednesday ten years ago, I was in East Timor. Early that morning, I walked down the road from my hotel to the garden of Bishop Belo’s home for the Ash Wednesday service. In 1999, after East Timor voted for independence, the bishop’s house and garden were destroyed, but that day, several hundred people were peacefully gathered.

I stuck out like a sore thumb. For a start, I only saw one other westerner there. But I was also taller than most; I stood head and shoulders above just about everyone else there. I was obvious, and I don’t like being obvious.

When it came time to be marked with the Ashes, I stood in a line to to receive the Ashes from a lady I think of as “The Shortest Nun in the World”. She stood not much higher than my navel. I had to bend very low indeed before she could reach up to my forehead!

As I thought about it later, I was grateful that it was that way. Because for me it became a sign of the one thing that is really needed as we receive the sign of Ashes: that one thing is humility.

I wasn’t humble that day; I was very aware of myself. Humble people are unaware of themselves. They don’t worry that they’ve got a smudge of ash on their forehead. In Isaiah’s day people said, “Why do we fast, God, when you take no notice of us?” The humble don’t do it to be noticed, or accepted.

Isaiah criticises those who serve their own interests while they are fasting, and don’t humble themselves. Jesus points out that some people are hypocrites. The word ‘hypocrite’ actually just means ‘actor’. They are acting a part, playing the role of being spiritual, when in fact they only want to be noticed. 

We have here tonight a time to humble ourselves. As you come to receive the mark of ash on your forehead, will hear some uncomfortable words, words that I find uncomfortable to say as well as to hear:

    Remember that you are dust 
    and to dust you shall return. Amen.

The ashes come from the palms we used last year to celebrate Palm Sunday. We use those palms because we rejoice to see the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem—but we also remember that our sins put him on the cross.

Perhaps you can imagine yourself, as I can, in the crowd cheering Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. And perhaps you can imagine yourself, as I can, a few scant days later, in the crowd jeering Jesus on the cross.

So today we humble ourselves, and we ask God’s help for us to do that in sincere humility. Today we begin the journey to the cross together. Today through the Lent Event we begin giving something up for the benefit of others, and ourselves.

Come, and receive the sign of ashes.
 

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