Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter: A letter to Jesus.

Dear Jesus

I heard that you were raised from the dead. 

Like anyone I find this hard to believe.  I mean it is supposed to be good news that you came back to life, but it is really hard to get my head around.  Not because it is such a fantastical tale, I don’t need scientific or historical proof, but because I really don’t see what difference it has made. People are still living with all their illusions and chasing their own dreams.

I mean it’s all very exciting to read the story about the women going to the tomb and finding it empty and then the disciple’s running back to confirm what the women had told them.  But even that’s a problem.  It’s so typical that the men didn't believe the women straight up.

And then you spoke to Mary.  You said her name.  How important was that for you... to say her name?  When you call any of us by name you open our eyes.  You open our eyes to your presence and your love for the world. That’s what you did for Mary, you opened her eyes and you affirmed her existence.

But Jesus even when our eyes are opened and we make claims about believing that you and your love for the world matter things just seem to keep going on the same.  I mean think about this whole Easter season for just a moment.

I was watching the news the other night and there was a story about Good Friday.  Phil Wilmington showed pictures of kids collecting chocolate Easter Eggs on Good Friday and said maybe we all needed “A place in the heart where joy and innocence hold sway over the trouble of the world.” And that maybe we could learn something from these kids.

But I kept wondering as I watched the kids running around filling their bags with chocolate about the issue of child labour and even reports of child slavery associated with the picking of cocoa beans in Africa.  I read something by Tim Costello the other day who said that there can be no guarantee that chocolate in our Easter Eggs wasn't picked by children.  How can we use one group of children in this way to make our children happy?  Shouldn't Phil Wilmington and Chanel 9 bring us a real news story about this?  But no I suppose we don’t want to hear anything that upsets us or interrupts our joys.  We only want to hear the so called good news stories.

So what do I do about Easter eggs Jesus?  Do I give my kids chocolate?  I don’t want them to miss out whilst everyone else has a good time?  I know I can buy fair-trade chocolate but even if I do then I begin to worry about the levels of obesity and diabetes in our culture, no doubt contributed to by the gluttony of our Easter celebrations.  Is this what it means to have my eyes opened to your death and resurrection?  To contemplate the things which are above as Paul suggests to the Colossians? 

When I contemplate the things which are above I always remember how you taught us to pray “on earth as it is in heaven”.  If things were on earth as in heaven I am sure no child would be exploited for the benefit of my kids. 

So I wonder Jesus what I should do?  Should I give out Easter Eggs at church, should I give them to my children?  It’s not as if you emerged from the tomb to speak with Mary wearing rabbit ears and carrying a basketful of chocolate.

Do you see what I am getting at Jesus?  I want to believe you died and rose for us but what I see around me is so confusing.

I mean it’s not just the kids who benefit from the exploitation of others.  On Hungry Beast the other night they did an expose about Apple.  No, not the apple that we think Adam and Eve ate, but Apple the computer company, the one run by Steve Jobs.

In the story it described how in 2010, 10 workers from the Foxcomm plant in China committed suicide. Now, as you know, Foxcomm supplies Apple.  I did a little further investigating and discovered that Foxcomm workers were working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week – that’s a 72 hour week.  That’s nearly double what is expected in Australia and we complain about our work hours! Thankfully their hours have now been reduced to 60 hours per week but they still only get about 50 cents per hour.  

I wonder who had made my iPhone, my iMac and my iPod.  How are they living now?  Are they even living?  

But the thing is without the exploitation who could afford the products?  Hungry Beast quoted a report which suggested if iPads were built by American workers they would retail for nearly $15 000.  Can we really live without our cheap technology?

Do you see what I am saying Jesus?  You came back from the dead but I really struggle to see how your resurrection has brought new life and hope for all people, not just from some privileged few.  I mean it was just like that back in your day too.  The rich lived off the exploitation and work of others.

Is what your resurrection means that I too can see the inequalities and inequities that you could always see and that I care?

Maybe this is what Archbishop Phillip Aspinall meant when he declared that we live in a “Kingdom of nothingness!”  I saw that in the Chanel 9 report by Phil Wilmington as well.  I thought that maybe the Archbishop was being a little too glass half empty, if you know what I mean, but maybe he is right.  Yet it is so hard to accept all this negativity about the world.  As long as I don’t look too deeply into the world I can just go on living this good life and not being concerned by what I am not exposed too, how our lifestyles are built on the suffering of others.

As long as no one mentions all this bad stuff I can almost imagine that we are living your prayer “on earth as in heaven”, I mean my life is pretty great.

But to do this is to treat you like the buddy Jesus statue all smiling and happy and giving us all the thumbs up, as if nothing was wrong.  You know, I have an action figure of you Jesus.   You are just that marketable that people have made plastic Jesus action figures of you – mine was made in China. (That’s a worry!)

A friend gave me the action figure and I have never opened it.  It sits on my desk and reminds me that for many of us we like to see you around but prefer to leave you securely in the packaging, a poseable figure with arms and gliding action trapped so that you can’t do either.  And more important so we don’t have to take you too seriously either.  

But what if I were to break the wrapping and take you out, would you simply be a toy for me to play with, a toy made by some underpaid worker in China.  Is all that we have done with the news of your resurrection given you a gliding action and poseable arms?

Jesus, you know wars still rage, despite decades of ANZAC Days and Remembrance Days, which are meant to remind us of the horror and futility of war, not celebrate it. Why, Jesus, why don’t we learn Jesus?  Life is really confusing, I mean I have just scrapped the surface of a few issues there are so many others.  Jesus I see all these confusing things and I long for hope.  Hope that is bigger than the problems we seemed to have continued to create since you wandered up to Mary in the garden and said her name.

When you lived among us I know that you went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with you.  But despite the fact that God was with you, you were put to death.  This does give me hope that you God are with us in our struggles and maybe that is why you appeared again after you rose from the dead, not to give us the thumbs up and say everything’s OK, but to let us know that there is no where that we can go that you haven’t been.  You Jesus who are God even travelled into death.

Is this real hope?  No doubt, for when we die we can trust you are there, but what about hope in this life as well?  For those first disciples and early Christian communities following you seemed to transform their lives and bring hope to people.  Maybe in a way what those early disciples did was resurrect the lives of other people – just as you had done: doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.

Jesus, maybe this is the hope your resurrection gives me that you care enough to say my name, like Mary’s, and you to teach me to pray “on earth as in heaven”.  This has given me something to work towards so that life has more meaning than being simply a “Kingdom of nothingness”. Each time I see peace achieved in people’s lives, healing, love, compassion, empathy, justice achieved are these not signs of the hope of your resurrection which remind me that each day that unfolds is another gift created by God.

This is the hope I long to embrace, a hope that encourages me to live everyday as if this is the day that Lord has made, to be glad and rejoice in it, by living a life with eyes opened to what you see in world and still to have hope for the world.  To have hope because you loved it enough to be a part of it.  To have hope because if I look hard enough I can still see those signs of your presence and peace in it.  To have hope because I know that I am not alone but you are standing with me and that I am a part of that great communion of saints that spans both life and death.  You gave us each other as believers to be the church, which continues in its own strange way to share your love with the world and maybe, just maybe, to bring hope and resurrection to those who suffer.

Can you understand what I am saying Jesus?  I want that hope as I look on the confusion of the world.  Jesus, I heard that you were raised from the dead. I want to believe, help my unbelief! Amen.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Coming to the Table

Psalm 116:12-19

12What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
14I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
15Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.
16O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, 
the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.
17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
19in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. 
Praise the Lord!

Photo Creative Commons Licence. by Ian Britton

There can be little doubt
That what we do this night
Bears little resemblance
To the meal Jesus shared with his disciples
It is not a Passover meal
And is not meant to be

Where we sit at a table
They probably lay on the floor

Where we meet in a public place of worship
They probably met in someone’s home

Where we live in a time of perceived peace in this country
They were living as a conquered people

Where what we are doing lies at the centre of our faith
They were being introduced to new rituals

Yet here tonight in this place
As poor as the resemblance may be
We do as Jesus commanded his followers to do

We lift a cup in thanksgiving
And remember Jesus by eating the bread

It is a reflection of an ancient ritual
That we do not fully comprehend

Just as the High Priest offered portions
Of the lamb that had been sacrificed to the people
So Jesus offers himself to us

So come to the Table with hearts held high
Gather around for it is Jesus who invites you here

The Peace of the Lord be with you all
And also with you

As you gather around the table

I invite you to share the peace

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Turning over the Temple Tables

I wonder what image comes to mind when you hear the words, “Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.”

In John’s gospel, this story is located at the very beginning of Jesus ministry and has a stronger sense of violence about.  Jesus makes a whip of cords to drive out the animals.

It is understandable that the image might be built up in your mind of some kind of rampaging righteous hero who total disrupts the activities in the whole temple forecourt and is challenged by no one.

The Biblical scholar Douglas Hare questions this kind of image suggesting that this notion of Jesus interrupting the activities of the temple may be more than a little fanciful given the size of the temple forecourt where the market was said to be.   It was simply too large an area for a single man to take control of.

Moreover, the presence of temple authorities, guards and possibly even Roman soldiers nearby raise significant doubts about how extensive Jesus actions may have been.  This is not to suggest that Jesus did not engage in these actions but that the images we may have of the event are probably overstated.  The fact Jesus was not arrested on the spot might be an indicator that Jesus’ action, whilst significant did not entirely disrupt the temple operations.

The importance of the event for the gospel writers is not the extent of Jesus’ actions but the symbolism contained within them.

They are a challenge to some of the aspects of the temple system, its secularisation, and the corruption of institutions which potentially disadvantage even more the marginalised groups within the community.

In terms of symbolism the turning over the money changers tables seems to raise issues about the connection between the temple and Rome and the way this relationship was being handled.

As for the dove sellers chairs this may be Jesus making way for a different approach and understanding to religious practice and how God was to be understood.

It struck me as I was considering the symbolism of this event to wonder what it might have meant for your everyday kind of devout but ordinary Jewish person.  To us the old phrase the man on the street.

I would suggest that if you weren’t a follower of Jesus and neither a particular fan of the religious authorities Jesus actions were disruptive and confronting and made your life difficult.  In the practice of their faith the average person knew they could not use Roman coins in the temple, the needed to use the temple currency, and if they wished to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving or purification or atonement they would need some doves.

Jesus’ action interrupts the everyday life of the average person and asks serious questions of how they understand their relationship with God and the community they are part of.

The symbolism of this action of Jesus whilst having specific meaning in the moment in time when it happened is also transferred into our present reality.  Like most of Jesus actions there is a specific context and meaning but the scriptures also operate to make them parables of truth for us.

What this means is that just as Jesus presence in the temple raised issue for the average Jew on the street so too Jesus actions are a parable of God’s confrontation with our lives as well.

As I dwelt on this week I considered quite a long list of issues in which Jesus might be said to be confronting us in our religious, our social and our political practices.

Given today is Palm Sunday I have chosen to highlight just two of these issues that I have grappled with this week.  One for each hand, one for each palm as it were:

On the one hand there is the whole Easter chocolate extravaganza that we have in Australia.  I read a report on the IBIS World website predicting that that this year Australians will spend $190 million on chocolate this Easter: that’s around $9 of chocolate for every person in Australia!

Anyone can look at The Australian Bureau of Statistics website and be reminded about the growing number of children and adults overweight and suffering diabetes and question whether our Easter chocolate splurge is warranted.  In general most kids that I hear talking about Easter are counting the days until they get their chocolate. Is this really generosity? Does it really help people in their faith?

Added to this issue, there is of course the issue that much of the chocolate sold comes from sources where children are used to pick the cocoa, sometimes in conditions that we would consider slavery.  Each year I follow the anti-slavery and anti-child labour campaigns like STOP THE TRAFFIK to see what progress we are making in these areas.  As much as these issues are coming more into the public’s mind the changes at the checkout are not as significant as we might hope.

Now I believe Easter should be a celebration and that generosity is a good thing.  We usually have a couple of Fair Trade eggs in our house and I have given them out to congregation members in the past.  But what happens when our celebration and generosity get misdirected? 

This is exactly the kind of social and systemic norm Jesus challenges as he turns over the tables.  It is not that celebration and generosity are wrong but when the unintended consequences are revealed maybe, just maybe, Jesus would encourage us to think again on how to engage in celebration and generosity and possibly more importantly to whom our generosity should flow.

So that’s one thing for us to think about this week as we prepare our hearts, our souls and our children to celebrate Easter.

On the other hand a second issue I would raise is the way we approach our faith.  At some point in the period between the beginning of the Enlightenment and now we have been taught to believe that “faith is a private matter” something not for the lounge room but rather in the privacy of the more hidden spaces of our lives.

The question raised by Jesus in the Temple forecourt was both political and religious.  How are you practicing your faith?  How are you engaging in the rituals and the conversation and how is that shaping your day to day lives?

As I consider the hidden, private nature of faith – a faith forced into the shadows I believe we have as Christians lost both some of our basic disciples and stunted our growth.  If we do not converse, how to do we grow? If we do not engage, how do we share God’s love?

If we simply look at the specific context of what Jesus was doing in the Temple on that day we can be left floundering in our own mediocre approach to our relationship with God.  Jesus challenge to the way the Jewish faith was being lived out can easily be converted to being a challenge to how we are living our faith out.

In both examples, in the two hands, I would suggest Jesus is continuing to push us in our understanding of ourselves and God.

The reason the specific context is so important is because Jesus confrontation at the Temple is a step in a bigger journey through which we see God moving towards the world in love and reconciling all things to himself.  As we may find these moments of confrontation uncomfortable the good news is that Jesus has made all things new including our errors and misdirection.  As people who hear this message of good news we are invited to share in that message by considering again how we might live as followers of Jesus now.

So I would invite all of you during the week as you look at your two hands to bring them together and clasp as you pray and consider how we can celebrate and be generous and how we can live our faith more openly and therefore make our lives an example of God’s love for others. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Raising Lazarus!

In the ancient world death was done differently.

The gathering of people at Lazarus tomb is a reminder of this.

The image of the bystanders mourning and weeping by the tomb openly expressing their grief is more than a little detached from most of the funerals I have conducted over the years.  Our culture seems to cling to the vestiges of the idea of the stiff upper lip and exercising a certain level of control over our emotions as we grieve.

In our modern culture we have come more and more to hide death and deny its hold on us.  Far less often do we see a gathering at the graveside or crematorium, and even more unlikely than this is the possibility of actually handling the body of someone who has died!  Most people have never seen a dead body, let alone prepared it for burial.  In all of this, I wonder whether we are trying to hide from death and avoid its reality. 

But in the ancient world things were different, members of the family anointed the body for burial and open displays of grief were commonplace.  Whole communities gathered around to mourn and grieve together. Tears and weeping and wailing were accepted parts of the process, even for people with such a faith as Martha’s, who expressed her hope in the day of resurrection.

Jesus response to death, and so God’s response, to all of this is not to stand separated from the awful experience of loss that we have when someone dies but rather to stand alongside us and share in our grief.

The story tells us that Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit, and deeply moved, when he saw the grief of the community, so much so that Jesus wept.  It is interesting to note that Jesus compassion is for the living more so than Lazarus – he saw their grief and loss and this is what moved him.

Jesus was so moved by the moment that we are told that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life.  Of course John’s telling of the story hints that Jesus had been planning to bring Lazarus back all along, so that God’s glory might be shown.

Yet, even with this being the case Jesus compassion and empathy for those who were struggling with the death of Lazarus is clear.

It appears that Jesus understands and feels the pain of people who grieve and ,more than that, in grieving are confronted by their own mortality, which this is a fundamental aspect of grieving.

The Biblical stories we hear during Lent, like the story of the raising of Lazarus, and the confrontation with the cross itself on Good Friday, raise for us the question of our mortality in an intimate way.

In each funeral that I conduct I am personally drawn into the grief of a family and community and, so also, into contemplating the meaning of my life, in the face of the idea that there will come a time when I too shall die.  I wonder ‘what does this means for me and for my family?’  It is not simply a question of what occurs after death, but am I living life as I am meant to now?

Time and again we hear stories of people who have had a brush with death, either through an accident or illness, whose lives are fundamentally changed by the experience.  They begin to live differently, sometimes, but not always, in a more meaningful and inentional way. 

The movie “The Bucket List” follows the escapades of 2 men who are given terminal diagnosis.  In their last months of life they seek to cross items off the list of things that they want to do before they ‘kick the bucket’.  After the movie people began talking about their own bucket lists.  You can go online to all sorts of websites with suggestions of things to do before you ‘kick the bucket’.  On one level the idea is good, but on another there were aspects of the movie, and of the subsequent movement, that seem more than a bit self centred and shallow.

Still, being confronted by our own mortality raises the question of the meaning of our lives.  How are we to live? When we come to the time of our death and look back what will we see?  Will we have regrets as we lie on our death bed?  What will they be?  How will others view our lives? What will others say about us in our eulogy? Would we live differently this day if we knew this day or tomorrow would be our last? Or if we knew there was only a week or a year or two left?  How short does the time span need to be for us to have a sense of urgency to change our lives and live more abundantly?

These questions, of course, are not about our death per se but about our life and its purpose.  What gives our life meaning?  What purpose do we have?  Is our life simply about ticking off as many things as we can before we kick the bucket?

Jesus, in response to Martha’s hope in resurrection, declares those mysterious words:

‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’

These words, which have long been an integral part of the funeral liturgy, are also not so much about death but about life and its purpose.  Life in Christ is about life lived in the light of eternity.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he encouraged them to set their minds on the Spirit, for the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives within them.  This is life lived not bound by the constraints of death but empowered by resurrection hope.  This is the same Spirit which is in you and I who have set our minds on Jesus.

In this the confrontation with death during Lent we are reminded that our life is to be shaped not by thinking about what we want to do before we kick the bucket, but how we are to live faithfully in response to God’s love and life lived for us in Jesus.

Martha hearing Jesus words of hope declares her faith in him: ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, is recognised by Martha as the one coming into the world.

This is God’s movement into our lives, affirming our created existence – Jesus, who is God, is coming into the world.  We do not have to wait for death.  Life is not a simply a test about where we spend eternity.  Life has meaning affirmed by the one who is coming into the world – Jesus.

Not only this but this notion that Martha speaks of as Jesus coming into the world reminds us that we do not need to go somewhere else to find God.  As imperceptible as it may seem for Martha, mourning Lazarus death, God is with her.  Jesus is there and he shares her pain and loss.

Martha’s comment about Jesus coming into the world should not be frozen as if it is only this moment in history, Jesus was coming, but the coming of Jesus is a continual event for us who share in the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus is coming into our existence as well.  In John 14 we hear Jesus promise, “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

We do not have to go anywhere to find Jesus, rather simply to open our eyes and hearts to his presence where we are now in our lives: day by day looking to see Jesus around us, in others, in the moments of our existence. 

It is Jesus coming to us and his promise of life that should shape our decisions about how we should live rather than out of concern for crossing things off some list before we die. In other words: living life in God’s time.

The purpose and meaning of our lives is found in Jesus promise of life, which is a promise which does not deny the pain and loss and suffering of death but neither is it controlled by these things.  So, as we grow in Christ to understand these things, so we will also be led to serving others.

Jesus restores communities and relationships, even in the face of death as he raises Lazarus! This is the same Jesus who, by the power of the Spirit and the will of the Father, is raised from death, and is the same Jesus who is coming to us.  It is this Jesus that we are to listen to as we contemplate, ‘What gives our life meaning?’ A question so often raised in the context of our confrontation with our mortality is transformed into a question of faith and hope and life and love. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Driving out the blind man.

John 9:1-41

“And they drove him out.”

Undoubtedly these are the saddest words in the story of the healing of the blind man.

The Pharisees having dragged the healed man in for questioning reject his witness and ostracise him.  This man who had lived his life blind, begging as a marginalised member of the Jewish community is healed and then through no fault of his own re-dealt the same cards.  His lot in life remains on the edges of the community determined by those who hold power and influence. Their words effectively damn him:

‘”You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.’

The contrast between this story and the story of the woman at the well is remarkable.  The Samaritan woman, estranged in her own community, is able to share the good news of Jesus and people respond whereas the Jewish blind man is more or less dragged in, vilified and thrown out.  In the blind man’s own words the Pharisees would not listen.

How ironic are these words of accusation given that when the disciples had asked the question about the man’s sin and his blindness Jesus had declared: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

The correlation between a person’s lot in life and their sinfulness is brought into stark relief in this story and a challenge is issued to the traditional views of the time – sickness and misfortune were not necessarily to be viewed as a consequence of sin.

Whilst the story revolves around a particular healing event it is clear that John is also seeking to explore deeper issues concerning Jesus.  How to live life in relationship with God and to see God’s ways?  The final few verses of the passage underline this paradoxical situation in which those who claim to see – cannot.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

The claim by the Pharisees to be able to ‘see’ indicates their misunderstanding concerning Jesus identity and a denial of God’s miraculous works occurring through him. This issue aside their inability to recognise the blind man and his identity is also something of a concern.

One Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer remarks on her blog. 

It may be that the most damning point this Sunday's gospel has against Jesus' accusers is one that we easily miss: they did not know the blind man who was healed.

He sat and begged there daily, and every day they walked by him, but when the time came, they couldn't be sure of who he was -- others had to fetch his parents before they could be sure of the identification

Maybe it is that when we associate sin and suffering too closely, or when we assume that our prosperity is due entirely to our own efforts whilst others suffering is due to their sin, laziness or ineptitude, that we can turn a blind eye to what is occurring in the life of others who are right under our nose.  The man would have begged in the temple courtyard but the Pharisees did not see him.

We as people who claim to have seen Jesus and been transformed should hear the words of Paul to the Ephesians as an invitation or maybe even an injunction to live as people who were blind and can now see:

Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

As the days and weeks of Lent go by I am personally being challenged more and more in my own faith as to the lifestyle that I live as I ask myself ‘where are the blind spots in my life?’, ‘where am I turning a blind eye to those in need?’  These are uncomfortable questions and unless the discrepancies between how I live and how I am being called to live are exposed by the light of Jesus love it is too easy to go on living in the humidicrib of this wealthy and so called enlightened Australian culture.

Last week I watched a confronting documentary available free on the web called “Home”.  It is made by the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Home depicts the history and plight of this earth we call our home.

The cinematography is beautiful, the message confronting.  It raises questions which have been themes in my preaching concerning the care of our environment, pollution, deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, global warming, over consumption and the like.

Whilst I do not believe doomsday saying is necessarily that helpful recognising inequity and the seriousness of global issues is certainly a responsibility of us as Christians, more so as people, who were given dominion over the creation.

With this in mind I was lead to considering the 7 deadly sins which have been a part of the churches history since the fourth century.  Whilst they may have not been a part of the protestant tradition I was struck by 3 which seem to confront me in terms of my responsibility to live as a child of the light and where my blindness might lie and need more healing.

Gluttony and
Acedia, usually called sloth

It is not difficult to make the connections.  Our overconsumption of goods in the west and desire to own more are grounded in an economic system built on the phrase made famous by Gordon Gecko “Greed is good.”  Advertising is designed to have us buy things we do not need, when we buy the next item are we not simple buying more stuff, are we giving in to greed?

In my mind gluttony is one expression of our greed, an expression that many of us fail to recognise.  The great Indian philosopher Ghandi once said “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed”.  The distribution and availability of food on our planet is a massive issue as millions go hungry every day.

Acedia or sloth is not simply laziness or lethargy but not doing good.  It is the sins of omission – the things we don’t do that we should.  Seeing the suffering of the nameless millions and like the Pharisees failing to recognise that here is a person who is just as loved, just as valued in God’s eyes, who may need our help means that as enlightened as we might think we are we are still blind.

When we live in the light of God’s love, when we like the blind man can say I once was blind but know I see, we see not just physically but we see through the eyes of people who hope in a coming kingdom of justice and peace and love and equity. 

It is interesting to note that in his great hymn “Amazing Grace” John Newton captured the words of the blind man.  Of course we who know the history of the hymn know that the blindness of John Newton from which he was set free was his blindness to the evils of the slave trade.  Newton’s encounter with Jesus, his healing from blindness, leads him to become an activist and advocate in the context of the tyranny of his age and ours as well: slavery.

This of course raises the issue for me what are the key social, economic, religious and political issues of our day and age that God is calling us to respond to. How are we to live faithfully, seeing, hearing and obeying?

Seeing again brings a response in how we live.  It begins for the blind man in his belief in Jesus and in his worship of Jesus.  But the witness of the New Testament and of Christian history is that an encounter with Jesus also leads to a transformed way of living, a way which may brings us into conflict with the powers of this world and the way things are done. 

Of course we may hesitate to change our lives because we ask ourselves ‘Can one person really change the world?’  My answer to this would generally be ‘no’ but the issues for me is whether I believe I am living as a faithful witness to God’s love in Jesus and the promise of renewed creation.

It is possible that the consequence of living our lives in God’s time, we will find not a welcoming embrace in our community, but that like the blind man, we are ostracised.  In fact, I sometimes find it surprising that more Christians do not find themselves being driven out by a community which is largely not Christian.  But, if we see as Jesus calls us to see, and, if we live as our faith drives us to live, then it only makes sense that we will live differently to others.

For, if we revel in singing the words “I once was blind but now I see”, we should also live as children of the light, because we have been healed and set free by the immense and unending grace of God that has touched our lives.