Tag Archives: Holy Communion

A God who laments

I had already written this sermon on Lament before the horror of Christchurch on Friday. We heard the statement from the President of the Uniting Church and prayed together; but I left the sermon unchanged apart from one small paragraph.

Reading
Luke 13.31–35

Lament is a complex language of complaint, protest, and appeal directed to God. At times, lament may be subdued in tone as a poet wrestles with trouble; at other times, lament may be as loud and vigorous as any praise song.… laments share one commonality: deep faith in God in the midst of pain. — Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God, p.30

…the merciful humility of God [is] the most powerful force imaginable. — Jane Williams, The Merciful Humility of God.

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Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s already told the disciples why, though they will not listen:

Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands. But they did not understand this saying… (Luke 9.44–45a)

Jesus is going to the last great confrontation with the powers that be, a confrontation that ends with his death. 

In his mind’s eye Jesus sees Jerusalem, and he laments over the city: 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

We can say that a lament is a faithful expression of grief. In lament, we ask for God’s help. We know things should be different, we want God’s justice. We may even accuse God, like the Psalm 77 (verses 8–10): 

Has [God’s] steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

And I say, ‘It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High
  has changed.’

Here, Jesus is continuing this tradition of lament. He is pouring his heart out to God. Why does Jerusalem, the home of God’s great Temple, turn its back on God’s prophets? 

Jesus wants to embrace the people of Jerusalem as a mother hen embraces her chicks under her wings. In this queer imagery, Jesus shows what is in his heart: it is the salvation of Jerusalem. Jesus loves the people as a mother loves her children. 

And Jesus will do whatever is needed to protect her children. 

Jesus laments for Jerusalem. Jesus grieves, all the more so because Jesus knows just what Jerusalem needs: to welcome God into their midst. 

Anyone who laments is aware of their powerlessness. We have grieved over the boys and girls who suffered abuse at the hands of ministers and priests, and not only in the Catholic Church. We have grieved the choice of the special conference of the United Methodist Church in the USA to turn its back on its queer members. We have grieved because we care for the people involved; because we want a safe church; because we want an inclusive church; because we are powerless to bring it about ourselves. 

Most recently, we have grieved over the horror of Muslim believers killed while at prayer in Christchurch. We have asked ‘How long, O God?’

Jesus laments—but what about God? Does God lament? But surely God is almighty, not powerless? Couldn’t almighty God just fix things like *that*? And if God can fix everything but doesn’t, what good is God? 

What do you think about that?

I ask this question about God because the New Testament says things like this about the risen Jesus:

…the full content of divine nature lives in Christ, in his humanity… (Colossians 2.9 GNB)

Christ ‘is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…’ (Hebrews 1.3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… And the Word became flesh and lived among us… (John 1.1, 14)

In Jesus, in his humanity, we are met by ‘the full content of divine nature’. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, “Show us the Father”?’ (John 14.9)

So, that question again: Jesus laments—but what about God? Does God lament? 

There are plenty of people with a pagan idea of the Christian God: that is, the central thing about God is that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing. Oh, apart from that, and reassuringly, God does love us.

Yet perhaps the most profound statement about God in the scriptures is found in 1 John 4.16: ‘God is love’. 

That’s the first thing and the last thing we should ever say about God. Can God do anything? No! God cannot act against God’s nature. God is love—God cannot be unloving. 

So the way forward for Jesus is the way of love. Not to gather an army together. Not to plot and scheme. The Way of Jesus is the Way of Self-giving Love. 

So Jesus laments, and in Jesus God laments too. Is God almighty? Yes, if we are talking about the love of God. God is almighty in love, but love waits, loves serves, love gives and gives again to the beloved. And we, dear friends, are God’s beloved. 

A lot of people who say to me they can’t believe in God mean that pagan God, the all-powerful being who can slay, and punish, and put people in hell for eternity. Some parts of the Bible talk that way, but we see God in and through Jesus Christ. 

And anyway, I don’t believe in that pagan God either. 

The clear image of God our faith gives us is Jesus Christ. In him ‘the full content of divine nature lives…in his humanity’. 

We see God in the humanity of Jesus Christ. A God who loves to the end, who laments when God’s beloved turn away. A justice-bringing God, but only by the narrow way, the Way of self-giving love, the Way of the cross. 

One more thing to add, and it’s the end of Jesus’ lament. Jesus cries out,

I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Do you recognise that? We sing it every week: 

Blessed is the One who comes
  in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

We welcome Jesus as he comes to us in the Holy Meal of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion. 

Jesus (and we) are quoting Psalm 118.26:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

This psalm was a thanksgiving for a returning hero. But Jesus turns it upside down. When he comes to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, people are shouting these words; but Jesus is coming on a donkey, not a war horse. He is coming to the cross, which is the only throne he gets. He comes in peace. 

When we sing these words in church, we welcome Jesus into our hearts, we prepare to receive him in bread and wine. Not as a hero, but as the very love of God made flesh. We commit ourselves to follow his Way of self-giving love. 

And yes, we often grieve for the world that turns its back on the ways of peace, the ways of love, the Way of Christ. And we lament, keeping our hope in God, whose ‘almightiness’ is the Way of Jesus. Amen. 

 

West End Uniting Church, 17 March 2019

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Bread of life (1): Not like the others

O God, satisfier of hunger,
you sent your Son
to turn our hearts and minds from evil;
help us to steadfastly look to Christ
in times of plenty or famine,
that we may never hunger or thirst
for any other;
in the name of our Saviour Jesus. Amen.

Readings
Ephesians 4.1–16
John 6.24–35

 

… The next day (6:22) dawns with the promise of the new bread from heaven, even as it refocuses the cosmic presence of the Word in the scandalous particularity of the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus’ self-giving love. — Anthony Kelly & Francis Moloney, Experiencing God in the Gospel of John, Kindle Ed’n, loc.2388

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Perhaps sometimes you’ve watched Sesame Street with a young child. (Or maybe you’ve watched it on your own…!) If so, you might recall the One of these things is not like the others song.

Did you get which thing was not like the others? I’m sure you had no difficulty. But you know, sometimes it’s harder to guess which thing is not like the others.

Once on a short trip to Norway, I was told that there are four related Scandinavian languages: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. But one of these things is not like the others. Do you know which one? It’s Icelandic. People from Norway, Sweden and Denmark can understand each other, no matter which language they’re speaking. But they can’t understand folk from Iceland.

Why not? It’s a similar language—but it’s not like the others. People went to Iceland from Scandinavia a thousand years ago and settled there; the Icelandic language has developed in isolation from the others.

We’re in a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ place today. We all know there are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But one of these things is not like the others. In the Sesame Street video, there were four items—one was a strange hat, while the other three were quite odd sunglasses. And the languages of far northern Europe are all ‘Scandinavian’; three are very similar, while one is different.

It’s like that with the Gospels. All four are telling the Good News about Jesus. Three are similar: Matthew, Mark and Luke. They tell pretty much the same story; in fact, the evidence is that Matthew and Luke adapted Mark for their own purposes.

We call these three the ‘Synoptic Gospels’. That means they all see the events of Jesus together.

All four are Gospels; they each tell the story of Jesus. But John is not like the others. And for a few weeks, we are delving into John chapter 6. Do you know some of the ways that John is different?

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All for transformation

Reading
Matthew 17.1–9

The new heavens and the new earth are not replacements for the old ones; they are transfigurations of them. The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order—all of it—raised and glorified. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

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My wife 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 and flocks of cockatoos.

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 surprised and 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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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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Which meal, Jesus’ or Herod’s? (Year A, 3 August 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 55.1–5
Matthew 14.13–21

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the [one] with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes — promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit — come alive. The way in which the history of Israel and the history of Christ blend with that of the hungry and oppressed is quite different from the way in which they have often been linked with the history of the mighty and rich.

Jürgen Moltmann,
The Church in the Power of the Spirit

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

Hélder Câmara,
Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings

 

The first half of Matthew 14 is a tale of two meals. One is obvious; one is not. Let’s start with the obvious meal, the Feeding of the Multitude.

There are thousands of people in the wilderness. They have come to be where Jesus is. Perhaps we’re like those people, confused about things, wondering if everything will be ok, if we’re stuck in the wilderness, but — we’ve come to be where Jesus is.

Some of us saw the Judean wilderness last year. I wouldn’t like to be out there at night with nothing to eat. It’s not surprising that the disciples came to ask Jesus to send them away so they could find food.

What is surprising is Jesus’ answer: ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’

They know what they’ve got. Five loaves, two fish. It’s not enough. They are living out of a sense of not having enough, a sense of insufficiency, a sense of not-enough-ness. Jesus wants to teach them — and us — to live out of a sense of being enough with Jesus.

Jesus made that small amount feed the multitude. People often get hung up on the ‘how’ question: Is this a creation miracle, did Jesus the living Word of God create enough bread and fish for the crowd? Is it a miracle of sharing, that people brought out the food they’d hidden from others in case they wouldn’t have enough? Is it more a parable in story form?

People come down in different places on the How questions, but these questions don’t matter as much as this: Jesus takes what little we have and multiplies it to feed many others, even to feed people we don’t know and will never meet.  Continue reading

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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.

Continue reading

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Bread of Life 3: You are what you eat—Sunday 20, Year B (19 August 2012)

Reading
John 6.51-58

 

Almost 2000 years ago, people had some very strange ideas about what went on in Christian worship.

This tirade against the Christians comes from a book written by a Christian in the second century AD. It’s called The Octavius of Minucius Felix (chapter 9):

And now as the world grows more wicked, your abominable shrines are sprouting up throughout the whole world. This entire impious confederacy should be rooted out and destroyed! You know one another by secret marks and insignia. You love one another almost before you know one another. Yours is a religion of lust. You promiscuously call one another brothers and sisters. You apparently do this so that your debaucheries will take on the flavour of incest.

Your vain and senseless superstition revels in wickedness. I would apologise for passing on the reports I hear about you if I weren’t so certain that they are true…

…The stories of your initiation rites are as detestable as they are well known. Your priests place an infant covered with flour in front of the new convert. Then they tell the convert to strike the harmless-looking lump of flour with deadly blows. Thereby the convert innocently slays the infant and is initiated into your horrors. The Christians present then lick up the infant’s blood and divide its limbs among themselves to eat. They are united by this unholy meal, since they are bound to mutual silence because of their wickedness. Your sacred rites are more vile than any imagined sacrilege.

All I’ll say is that Uniting Church Communion services aren’t very much like that! Continue reading

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