Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Word became Flesh

John's narrative of the incarnation is as succinct as it is direct. "The Word became flesh and lived among us." It is a little more difficult to sentimentalise these words and produce romanticised images for Christmas cards or nativity scenes. John cuts through the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke to get straight to the point - God the creator has become created.

The mystery of this paradox lies at the centre of the Christian faith. Whilst we might want to take control of our spiritual journey as followers of Jesus, asking 'what would Jesus do', this paradox of grace is beyond our control. This is because what Jesus would do is what God does in our midst for our sake and the sake of "all things [that] came into being through him".

As Nicodemus will find out, in chapter 3 of John's gospel, to be involved in God's life involves being 'born from above' something which can not be achieved through our own doing but only through God's. As John writes in 1:16 "From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
Our celebration of this gift of grace, that is to say the incarnation of God in Jesus, may be to seek to follow Jesus and ask what he would do but it is God who shines the light into our lives and into this world.

This is the good news of a Christmas spirituality - we do not have to earn God's favour but through grace we can celebrate what God has already done for us in sharing our existence. We can do this as we enter into the rhythm of weekly worship, eating bread and wine, feasting on God's word, showing compassion for those around us and caring for this creation for which Christ came.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Jesus Emmanuel (Part 3)

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’

Matthew puts the words of Isaiah in the angel’s mouth and so declares that Jesus is also to be known as Emmanuel, a name which he points out means, ‘God is with us’.

Once again we are drawn into facing something truly wondrous, truly mysterious in looking this man in the face we will be looking into God’s eyes.

Once again we lose so much in translation for in the Greek this phrase “god is with us" is ego meth hemone eimi. In his choice of words Matthew captures the wonder of the incarnation.

In Greek the words ego eimi mean ‘I am’, which was the name of God in the Old Testament, simply ‘I am’! So in Matthew inserts between I and am, between ego and eimi the words meth hemone, with you.

The implication is that people are held within the bounds of the very name of God – God has drawn into God’s own life. Here we can find echoes of the promise expressed by that great church Father Athanasius who declared “He became human in order that we might become God with him.”

God in this genesis of Jesus not only saves us but opens the door into God’s own inner life so that we might share in his life. Rather than as people thinking that to be spiritual we must put God at the centre by our piety and efforts to be holy we discover a new and surprising thing God has put us at the centre of God’s own existence.

It is the revelation of this which enters our hearts and opens our eyes to the promise of a future determined not by our abilities or holiness or otherwise but by God’s choice to enact this amazing thing, this amazing grace which is announced by the angel in the dream to Joseph.

The implications of the incarnation are continuously unfolding in each of our lives as we discover the wonder of God’s grace for ourselves. For just as the genesis of Jesus life came into Mary’s womb unexpectedly so to the genesis of Jesus life for us grows within the womb of our faith and we celebrate this in the choices that we make to glorify and enjoy God in our living as we give thanks and praise in and through Jesus our Emmanuel.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Jesus Emmanul (part 2)

Less than a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus we begin to plumb the depths of the concept of God becoming human, which is also known as the incarnation. This Sunday we enter these depths as we consider the names given to this child by God’s messenger the angel: ‘Jesus’ and ‘Emmanuel’!

The angels declares, “She will bear a Son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

To hear the name ‘Jesus’, to use it, rolls too quickly, too easily, too unthinkingly off our lips because it has been our currency in the church in recent years. We have grown accustomed to the idea that power is attached to Jesus name or we have filled the name with sentimentalism and romaticised it.

Throughout history the name and its pronunciation have been explored in different ways Jesus – Jesu, Yesu, Iesous, Ye’shua, Joshua - maybe using one of these other appellations is more helpful because it empties the imagery and connotation we have attached to the name ‘Jesus’.

In the ancient world and especially in the scriptures the meaning that lay behind the name was all important. Iesous means something like ‘he who saves’.

Here is the good news that the scriptures reveal in the words of the angel to Joseph ‘he who saves’ is going to be born.

Who is he saving and from what and for what?

Jesus comes to save me, Jesus comes to save you, Jesus comes for all people from all times, from all places. This is the moment in of all of history which defines the world in its relationship with God.

Jesus comes to save me and you personally and us corporately from our desire to put a death to God and to do away with belief in God. Jesus saves us from our rejection of living our lives in tune with God’s wondrous acts of creating this world, giving us the gift of our lives and the gift of each other.

The coming of ‘he who saves’ declares that we need to be saved from our predilection to pursue our self serving ends as if the life given to me revolves only around ‘me’: the pursuit of becoming like gods, just as Adam and Eve did. It this reality, which despite our denial, pops up again and again: in our hedonistic pursuits; in our blindness to those in need around us; and, in our litigious society that expects perfection.

Ye’shua, he who saves, releases us from the consequences of what we leave out of our lives and fail to do as those things which we do which cause harm to others and dishonour the one who made us.

Saved from the consequences of our actions and inaction we are set free to live again for God, for each other and for the creation without any sense of judgement or guilt hanging over us. We can live with joy and thanksgiving expressed in our worship, in our commitment to follow Jesus, in the expression of our compassion and care of others as we share in Jesus ministry.

The genesis of Yesu in our midst is God doing this new thing through ‘he who saves’, beginning with this new act of creation of Jesus’ life in Mary’s womb. Set from sin, set free to share in his life and ministry.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Jesus Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25

The word genesis has strong overtones for us as people of faith. It takes us back to the beginning – when the Word of God spoke and the Spirit hovered over the waters and something was created out of nothing – a world, teeming with life and beauty, at the heart of which was ‘man and woman’ made in God’s image.

The connotation of this wondrous mystery of creation and life is captured in the word genealogy. For anyone who has witnessed a birth or seen or held a new born baby will have shared that sense of wonder of the creation of a new life: tiny hands closing around an adult’s finger, wispy hair like strands of silk, utter dependency, living and breathing; a baby replete with the aroma of complete newness. The rhythm of one generation to the next heard in the tiny cries of new born life. Genealogy is the genesis of one generation to the next, created and blessed by God.

But now Matthew asserts there is something else arising in the midst of this rhythm of the generations: the genesis, the birth, of Jesus which took place in this way. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to announce the news that his betrothed Mary was with child, even though they had not had marital relations. This is something different again, something new: a new beginning, another genesis! The event of the virgin birth stands outside our common understanding of human reproductive processes and the generation of life from parents to child.

What occurs in Mary’s empty womb is a distinctively new creative act of God, through which God is coming to be with us, to live with us and to save us. This new reality of God’s relationship with the creation is reflected in the naming of this unborn child as ‘Jesus’ and ‘Emmanuel’.

Monday, 13 December 2010

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

When Mary meets with her cousin Elizabeth in Luke's gospel and Elizabeth names her as being blessed May breaks into song praising God and give thanks for God's promises, "My soul magnifies the Lord".

Here is an example of the movement of grace and faith that we might all reflect on as we approach the celebration of Jesus' birth.

God acts in love and mercy and Mary responds.
God acts in love and mercy and we respond.

Far too often we reverse this movement thinking that it is we who must act for God to respond to us with love but the Scriptures continual describe the movement of God to us in grace. God creates, God chooses, God saves, God redeems, God loves! It is this knowledge that inspires Mary's song and the zenith of God's actions of grace occurring within her very womb.

Ultimately it is God's movement towards us and for us in Jesus that opens the possibilities of life in all its fullness, eternity life!

As people living life in God's time, living eternity life now, we like Mary are called to share in her response. To magnify Lord as an expression of thankfulness for what God has already done in and is doing through Jesus' own life, death, resurrection and ascension.

What does it mean to share Mary's song, to proclaim "My soul magnifies the Lord" in how we live? For each of us our expression of magnifying the Lord may be different, for God has given us different gifts and contexts:

Maybe it means a commitment to attending the public worship of God, not jut when it is convenient but every week. Maybe it means sharing in Jesus concern for the poor, the prisoner, the hungry and the oppressed. Maybe it means engaging in challenging the powers and authorities which deceive and seduce us.

For me Mary's joyous song echoes the Westminster Catechism

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man (people)?

A. Man's (Humanity's) chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

For in giving glory to God, offering thanksgiving, magnifying the Lord do we not also discover the joy of God in our own life?


Friday, 3 December 2010

The Message of John the Baptist

Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist sought to expose the truth about the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and to challenge the status quo of power and authority.

John preached repentance and baptised those who were willing to confess their sin. When the Pharisees and Scribes appeared he called them names. He reviled them. He pulled no punches.

This wild man from the desert places with his camel hair clothing and unruly behaviour preached repentance and so declared that people were sinners who needed to turn back to God.

In this John becomes the midwife for the coming of Jesus. He is leading the ante-natal class as he prepares the people of God for the incarnation of God.

John’s message was that God’s people and even more so their leaders had strayed from God’s ways.

John’s message sits as uncomfortably now as it did back then. We live in a theological and spiritually stunted age which shies away from naming sin.

Yet naming sin, even in our lives, is not very difficult. It is easy for me to point the finger at us all in crass sentimentalism and consumerism through this Christmas period. I read this week this statement on Byron Smith’s blog:

Today is the first day of the liturgical new year. At this time of year, Christians await the coming of the Messiah; pagans go shopping. Christians yearn for a new world; pagans max out the credit card. Christians fast and pray; pagans hurry around in fear of missing a bargain or not having the right present for everyone.

Peace on earth: it's a promise based on the coming of the King; it's an experience tasted by those who wait for his advent.

I reflected on the behaviour of many people in the Kairos congregations, amongst my friends and even in my own family and decided that many of us look more like pagans than Christians.

But we are told not to speak of sin and of people as sinners because it is too negative, too demoralising. Don’t be negative, this is the season for joy, but my question is does everyone get a share in this consumerist joy?

We celebrate the ascension of humanity and our command of all things. Our scientific know how has made us arrogant. Those who speak of sin are seen as too conservative or old fashion – trying to give people a guilt complex and destroy their self esteem.

Yet the experience of many in this age which has been liberated from the talk of sin is not joyfully abundant life but anxiety and depression. The weight of the world is upon us for we are meant to be perfect. We use words like progress and growth to describe our journey as a human race to indicate we are getting better as people, but problems still plague us.

John’s message that we are a sinful people holds as true now as it did for the Jews so long ago.

This is difficult news to hear but it also explains a heck of a lot. Even when we seek to do good, often our actions can have unseen consequences which break down and destroy rather than build up.

The proclamation of the failure of Israel to be faithful to God’s promises and God’s faithfulness is to become the message on which the good news of the incarnation is to be built.

John is preparing the way for Jesus who comes to create the reconciliation needed between God and all people and ultimately the whole creation within his life, in his very flesh.

John’s call to repentance sets the context. As people who seek to turn to God, even those who repented and were baptised, we still need God’s help, God’s intervention in our predicament.

We cannot climb the ladder of holiness up to God, yet the good news is that in God’s grace God chooses to come and walk among us in Jesus and to heal our disease.

This may seem a negative view of humanity but God spins this negativity into a message of hope. Hope that our relationships can be reconciled, hope that we are loved in spite of our failures, hope that beyond our personal experiences of life and death God is and God loves and God redeems.

This is the good news that John prepares the way for. It is the good news that we prepare our hearts for as we approach the celebration of Jesus birth. It is the good news that we proclaim in a world that is so often blind to sin and its consequences.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Waiting in Advent!

I wonder if you remember waiting for Christmas when you were a child. The waiting seemed endless, and the days dragged. When parents tried to comfort us with “just eight more sleeps ‘til Christmas”, the words were meaningless. All we could think about was the wait! Even though the tree was up and the decorations hung, it wasn’t the ‘real’ Christmas until the day itself.

As we get older, and more experienced with waiting, it seems a bit easier to manage. If we are looking forward to an event, we can experience joy in the waiting, as well as in the real event. The waiting is a time of excitement, of anticipation, and some mental preparation, as well as a time of practical hands-on preparation for the event.

In Advent, the church focuses on waiting and preparing for the coming Kingdom of God. In the lead-up to Christmas, it may seem as though we are waiting for Christmas, waiting to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. But Advent is so much more. We recall the prophecies of old, we celebrate that after a time of waiting, God was faithful and came among us as a humble baby. We give thanks for what Jesus was able to achieve in his ministry and on the cross, and most significantly, we celebrate and anticipate the future fulfilment of God’s kingdom.

If we believe that we are still waiting for God’s coming kingdom, the waiting time could seem to be wasted time, a time of impatience or doubt, when we can do nothing to change or hasten the anticipated ‘event’. But if we understand that the reign of Christ has already begun, though it is far from complete, we can live as though Christ’s kingdom was here now. Paul encourages us to stop living as if we are in the dark, and be ready to live in the light.

How do we live in the light, as if the expected coming has already happened? We live with hope for the time when Christ’s love will encompass the whole world, and as a joyful preview of the kingdom, we live by the Kingdom values of love and forgiveness, justice and mercy.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

What gifts do we really need to give?

By now many of you will have started your Christmas shopping – running the gauntlet of getting the right gift for the right person. More often than not knowing that the person you are buying for does not actually need or want for very much at all.

During the week I heard the statistic that last year in Australia 25 million unwanted gifts were disposed of after last Christmas. This gives a whole new meaning to boxing day! The estimated cost of these gifts was one billion dollars! This amount of money is staggering and no doubt we have all given and received gifts that are not appreciated.

As Christian people the celebration of Christmas must find its way back to its roots – celebrating God’s gift of Jesus, a gift of abundant life and renewed relationships. Maybe this Christmas instead of absenting ourselves from family for hours on end to buy the gifts we could consider the gift of time shared: growing those cherished relationship; reconciling those relationship that have become strained; and celebrating our shared existence in the light of God’s love.

If you still have a hankering to spend money on gifts why not buy something from the UCA “Everything in Common” catalogue or the World Vision “Smiles” catalogue for someone who really does need a helping hand.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pronouncements from the King

As we celebrate the festival of Christ the King it is pertinent to reflect on Jesus words from the cross as if they are royal decrees.

Take for instance his words "Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing."

These amazing words of forgiveness are a blessing to that group of Roman soldiers and officers who had got up that morning and found that they were on crucifixion duty. They were a bunch of men doing their job, true an unsavoury one, but certainly a part of their work during the period. The Romans crucified many in the name of the pax Romana (peace of Rome).

Yet Jesus the Prince of Peace, the king whom we celebrate in this day, shows the true meaning of peace as he reaches out in forgiveness to these men. It is a declaration of God's grace and mercy that transcends the not only religious, political and social barriers but their very violent act against his own person.

Jesus' forgiveness extended to those who were not even aware as went about their daily duty of what they were doing and who sat at the bottom of the cross hoping to pick up a bonus for the day as they drew lots for his clothes. Not a callous act of disregard but more than likely an agreed way of dispersing any worthwhile items taken from their victims.

If Jesus throne is the cross and these words come as a royal decree to these men who are not grovelling and wallowing in their guilt hoping for forgiveness then are these words not also an expression of God's love and mercy for the whole world. Reaching out across distance and time to touch our very lives Jesus words bless us as we go about our daily lives "Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing."

We like to think we have a handle on sin and can respond to God faithfully yet our lives are not that clear cut and more ofte than we would probably like to admit as we go about our daily lives we are embroiled in acts and thoughts which turns us away from God. Yet as aware or ignorant as we might be Jesus words echo down through the ages to touch us with grace.

Maybe it was Paul's insight into this movement of God's loving forgiveness that inspired him to the Romans the "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners."

So as we consider our King Jesus, the true Prince of Peace, let us hear and celebrate his royal decree from the cross, forgiving those ignorant of their wrong doing and so drawing them into relationship with God.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Baptism in a secular age

It is commonly recognised that we live in a secular age – an age in which we modern human beings have departed from any sense of the divine in the world around us. It is not simply the rejection of God by militant atheists but the lack of spiritual connectedness in many people ensconced in institutional religion.

In this secular age we have an overblown sense of control over our lives, of our community, of nature, and of the world. This is reflected by both our faith in scientific progress to fix the massive ecological crises we face and the litigious nature of our society in which we seek to blame others for anything that happens.

In his book Requiem for a Species Clive Hamilton explores the denial of global warming. A supporter of the science surrounding global warming, Hamilton says, “If the great forces of Nature on our home planet turn against us, who will not feel abandoned and alone in the cosmos?”

As followers of Jesus the question is whether or not we would find ourselves answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Hamilton’s question. What will happen if everything goes bad? Will we lose faith? Will we feel abandoned? Or will we find resolve and strength in our faith?

Jesus warned his disciples that there were trials and tribulations that lay ahead, both on a grand scale (wars and earthquakes) and on a very personal scale (when parents and brothers would betray them).

Yet in the face of the trials and tribulations that the disciples faced and the ones which we might face Jesus promise is to give us words and wisdom, to be present in our lives through the Spirit and to shape us for his will even in context of great persecution and hatred.

When we baptise children or adults in the context of this knowledge we are declaring a great hope in the promise of God, in the victory of Jesus over death and the promise of new life. As baptised people the purpose and meaning of our life is grounded not simply in the good or bad experiences we might have but in the promise of the unconditional love of God shown to us in and through Jesus.

Baptism sets us on a different life direction and puts us out of step with much the world around us would have us be and do. Helping one another to live out our baptism requires wisdom and patience, commitment and passion, love and humility all of which come to us as gifts of the Spirit.

Greed as idolatry

The message of Jesus and of the scriptures challenges the very core of our culture. A core which Clive Hamilton in his book Requiem for a Species indicates is the growth fetish. He says “In affluent societies religious value seems now to be invested in the most profane object, growth of the economy, which at an individual level takes the form of the accumulation of material goods.”

Our whole culture, its society and economy, is built on the assumption that we cannot resist the desire for more and that we can create our own identity by what we own. Advertising trains us to covet. Not only does this showing complete disregard for the 10th Commandment, it denies our identity and life coming to us as a gift from God. If we are to set our minds on things that are above there is deep spiritual and personal challenge here for me and for you. To use a phrase coined by Byron Smith “To make wealth history”.

This is no easy task but if we are to ask ourselves what kind of faith we are passing down to our children and the answer is to help our children be good citizens in a culture that is built on denying our life as being in the image God and encouraging them to find our own identity by what they own then I believe we have completely lost sight of the gospel message. So in this matter of greed, which idolatry, how do I put death to it? How do I set our minds on the things which are above? How do you?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

What are we passing on?

None of us like hearing difficult and confronting news and all of us have a skewed understanding of who we are. This reality reminded me of a great line in a song written in 1993 by the Australian Band Things of Stone and Wood, who sang: “I have self-deception tattooed like a flag across my back.”

For me this self-deception was challenged this week in many ways but particularly in an article on the internet by Rev. Tony Sundermeier: "We must be intentional with the kind of Christianity we are practicing and passing down to the next generation."

This week I struggled with the question what am I passing down to my own children as the heart of life, is it the good news of Jesus, as the centre and meaning of all things, or is it simply a set of nice middle class 'good citizenly' attitudes? Of course this is not simply a question for me it is a question all Christians must ask themselves for each one of us has made promises before God and each other about nurturing the children in our midst, and each other with the Christian faith. It is a mission we all share in - handing on the tradition.

What disturbs me is looking back over the last generation and looking ahead. Looking back the children of my parent’s generation, my contemporaries, for the large part have rejected the church. And the majority who have not, for the large part, are engaged in churches which affirm wealth as a sign of their goodness. This is prosperity theology and as you will hear today it is a theology that I believe distorts the gospel. Looking ahead my expereince of teaching Religious Education in schools is that even fewer of the next generation will be followers of Jesus.

I wonder if part of the problem is that the kind of Christianity we are practicing and passing down has somehow lost a solid connection with the passion and hope of the message of Jesus. How can we once again set our mind on things above and be trasnformed as God's people?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Mostley Harmless

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Growing up I had clear view of what it meant to be a Christian – it meant to be a good person, a nice person, a good citizen. I have discovered that this idea of what a Christian should be like is a fairly common view both within regular committed Church attendees and people who want to express their view about what Christians should be.

To suggest that being a Christian is about being a nice person or good citizen means in my mind that Christians are meant to be people who conform.

This assumption means that Christianity is a lifestyle choice in which we all take an attitude of “don’t rock the boat”.

For me this sort of Christianity and people who act like such Christians reminds me of the indifferent words describing the planet earth in “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” – it is “Mostly harmless”!

Is this what it is to do the will of God —what is good and acceptable and perfect? To be ‘mostly harmless’?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Minister’s Desk: Living with Hope
By Rev Peter

I am currently reading one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is called “Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus continuing in us” by the Czech theologian Tomas Halik. Halik presents an interesting thesis that the issue of atheism is an issue of impatience: impatience with a seemingly silent God. He asks:

“Are we to dread the age of secularism, atheism, and the ‘cooling of many people’s faith,’ or can we perceive it as a mysterious contribution of historical time to the Easter drama, to the silence of Holy Saturday, when on the surface nothing happens?”

Going on to describe his own spiritual journey Halik describes his experiences in Czechoslovakia:

I live through a period in my country’s fairly recent history when religion and the church were virtually eradicated from public life. State atheism, civitas terrena, the ‘secular city’ seemed to have triumphed. I first encountered a living church when I was at the threshold of adulthood. I sensed that ‘something was happening’ in some of the churches still, that they were not all simply museums, and that somewhere something still survived of the world of believers.

It was in this context that Halik encountered the God of Jesus and found faith and so from his experience he is able to speak with hope for us all who face difficult times as the church. He is not so concerned for the future of the church saying

Whenever I see a church in decline somewhere – in whatever sense – I do not despair. After all, I personally have lives through a great deal, and Christians in the course of the twentieth century saw and lived through much more than I have. I don’t shrink from the holes left in the church roof by some tempest or other. I recall that it was through those gaping holes that I first glimpsed God’s face.

These come as words of comfort to me as I consider some of the issues we face at Kairos. Issues that are far bigger than what is going on just our little congregation and the possibilities we may face a limited future in our current arrangement.

Halik’s book reminds us all we need to draw back and get a different perspective, to cease worrying about “our” church and find faith in God’s work in us, among us and around us. We still have so many resources available to us to engage in Christ’s ministry! We believe in God’s faithfulness that even from death new life can emerge! We can trust that whatever happens to our properties God’s plans are bigger than our personal desires. We can find hope that people can catch a glimpse of God even in ramshackle churches devoid of images and in people who still have something present in their memories or subconscious of the God who loves us and in of Jesus who call us by name.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Unity in God and in each other

"May they be one as we are one"

These 8 simple sounding words, of Jesus' prayer found in John 17, lead us into the depth and mystery of the Christian faith. They express that God's life is a communal life. Jesus indicates that he is in the Father and vice-versa. A relationship of indwelling that also incorporates the Holy Spirit. So in the prayer we get a glimpse of the one God who exist in an eternal communal relationship.

These bonds within the life of God are the bonds which prays believers will have - existing in one another. This complex relationship of existence is then further extended in the prayer when Jesus prayers that they (the believers) may be in us. Not only are our lives related to one another in an intimacy which reflects God's life but our lives are linked into God's own life.

These concepts are all a bit difficult and theoretical but have big implications for Christian people in our unity with God and one another.

As people living witnessing to God's love and existing in God and one another Jesus prayer is that through this oneness the world will believe.

Of course for most of us our experience of our Christan relationships does not coalesce with this prayer. There are many disruptions to our relationships with other Christians both personally and communally - our experience is that we are not one as God is one.

This has led many people to reject God and the message of grace carried within the church. So what can we do?

In a sense we can only do what we have always done. Turn to God week by week - coming to confess that we are sinners who are out of kilter with God and with each other and so acknowledging the brokenness of our lives. And as we come to pray that as we are sent into the world week by week we might find signs of that oneness to celebrate and name as hopeful signs to God's love and life within us.

Our unity in God's life and in one another's lives comes to us as a gift , yet it is a unity that we are called to live out and witness to. Living together is hard work, we are diverse people and sometimes difficult people, yet to be Christ's body in the world means constantly struggling with disruption between our experience of life and this gift of unity we have received in Jesus prayer:

"May they be one as we are one"

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Houses in exile

In the 29th chapter of Jeremiah the prophet encourages the Israelites who have been dragged off to Babylon to settle in for the long haul. To build houses in exile. And, more than this, to seek the welfare of city where they find themselves. This means to seek the welfare of the Babylonians who have dragged them off into exile.

It is in the context of this hardship that the Israelites are directed to recover their faith - to seek God with all their heart, in order that God will allow them to find him again.

As Christians in the West our prosperity can easily divorce us from the reality of such harsh suffering as exiles and from the concept that we too are strangers in a strange land. Does our ease of living mean that we are less like to seek God with all our heart? The decline in numbers in many of churches would seem to indicate that this is the case.

Maybe we need to go and meet Jesus again in the face of those who suffer as refugees. Jesus once declared, "I was hungry and you fed me... I was a prisoner and you visited me", maybe these days he would say "I was in mandatory detention and you visited me".

In meeting people such as these we might rediscover what it means to be people who live as strangers in this world awaiting a coming kingdom. To walk alongside them as the build houses in their experience of exile might also cause us to pause and think again about what sort of houses we are building in exile as Christians - exculsive holy clubs or the body of Christ?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Social Isolation

by Peter Lockhart

I grew up in country towns where you walked down the street and for the most part got a nod and smile from people as you walked past. People you knew stopped to chat. Even driving on the roads people gave an acknowledgement lifting a hand or even simply a few fingers from the wheel as they drove past. Even if you didn't know people there was a basic acknowledgement of our shared existence.

Living in Brisbane I marvel at the notion that we are socially isolated beings in the city. Walking through a shopping centre which has 100s even 1000s of people you can feel totally alone. No one looks you in the eye and if you try to acknowledge another passing consumer more often than not their eyes dart away to some point of oblivion off in the distance. Even interactions with people on the check out in some stores is being taken away from us in the ever greater quest for expedience.

Yet God made us for community and relationships. God invites us to get to know the stranger and to help each other be all that we can be. God sends us out to share good news with others, but if we are not allowed to communicate apart from via electronic means like facebook how do we really grow in a relationship well enough to say what difference Jesus has made to my life.

As I look at my own interactions I wonder how well I am doing. How well are you doing? Do you know your neighbours names? Do you talk to strangers you see regularly and build a relationship? Or do you live in relationship ghettos which keep the curtains firmly closed and the security code on the door? What is an appropriate Christian response to this manufactured social isolation?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Love your enemies

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 27-31)

This weekend sees the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and there has been some controversy emerging from the US as to how these events might be remembered. One evangelical Pastor has even suggested burning copies of the Koran.

The portrayal of all Muslims as evil is on one level naive bigotry but even if Christians chose to view Muslims as an enemy then responding with hatred is a denial of our Jesus words. A point made by an Imam who went to meet with the American Pastor who had been threatening to burn the Koran.

"We came to have a peaceful conversation with the pastor, to hear his grievance, to ask him to follow his own Scripture about his enemies. His Scripture teaches him to love his enemies." - Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, after meeting with preacher Terry Jones, whose church is planning to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday. (Source: USA Today)

Christianity began as a religion oppressed and persecuted, hundreds of martyrs gave their life in the Colosseum. The response of the early Christian community was not hatred and violence but to continue to proclaim the love and peace of God.

Jesus injunction to love our enemies is one of the most difficult and demanding teachings for us to live out. Jesus doesn’t encourage us to tolerate or put up with our enemies but to love them and to love them without forsaking the core of our faith – God’s love for us expressed in Jesus sacrifice in that while we were yet sinners (enemies of God) Christ died for us (see Romans 5).

In this sense any Christian who propagates hate is turning their back on Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies, for God has loved us even while we were still his enemies.

In an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity and religion in general it is more than possible the words of Jesus will take on a greater meaning and challenge for us all: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Elders

Wordle: Elders

From a recent brainstrom at our Elders meeting - thinking about the qualitities of an elder.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Who do we respect...

In Philippians Paul tells the early Christians that they are citizens of heaven. This means that if we are citizens of heaven then our lives and thoughts are conformed to a different way of thinking.

Despite this we are easily seduced by the thinking that prevails around us. I was struck again this week by the insidious nature of the saying that “respect has to be earned”. It is a saying that many of us use.

This saying could suggest that my starting point with other human beings should be one of disrespect. When I looked up the meaning of respect this would mean that I would not honour or give deference to another person. I would not esteem them or be polite to them.

But God’s gift to us in Jesus reverses this saying. God’s decision is to honour us, to give esteem to us in our brokenness, to give deference to us and lift us into feeling truly human by treating us with respect. All this even though we have not earned it for as human beings we have so often lived without respect for God, for one another and for God’s creation.

God’s choice to respect us as people in Jesus does not earn God respect and love back it actually results in Jesus on the cross. We need to not deceive ourselves into thinking that in showing others respect this will be reciprocated – this was not Jesus experience.

The way of following Jesus challenges us to reflect on whether our engagement with those around us will be dictated by the morays of a secular society which says “respect must be earned” or, on the other hand, whether we will live respecting others and so as witnesses to our citizenship in the kingdom.

If we are to be people who live our lives in God’s time then approaching all people with respect and regard would appear to be part of our shared purpose in Jesus ministry, even when that respect is not reciprocated nor even earned. When we can do this we witness truly to God’s unconditional love for us and God’s grace.

Friday, 6 August 2010

An induction of a Traditional Minister

At an induction I attended recently the minister being inducted responded to his induction with these thoughtful words:

"I want to be a ‘traditional’ minister – that is, a Minister who is deeply rooted in our tradition, not bound by traditionalism.
You see Tradition calls us to be the church; worshipping and trusting in God and serving the world
Traditionalism calls us to worship and trust in the church; afraid of the world and serving our own desire for security

Our tradition calls us to never cease praising God with psalms and spiritual songs.
Traditionalism says – “Yes, but only from the Methodist hymnal; or the Scripture in Song books”
Tradition reminds us to cling to the Word of God, and use it for teaching and instruction
Traditionalism says – “Of course, using the proper Queen’s English”
Tradition convicts us of the truth that the way of Christ is the way of the Cross – of giving one’s life for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Traditionalism says that this way is adequately lived out in committees, fetes and working bees.

Our tradition also causes us to pause when the latest and newest thing comes along, promising to revolutionise life as we know it; and reminds us that it is just as foolish to worship technology instead of God, as it is to worship a particular style or era of church life.
So in my unfolding discovery of how I am going to be a Minister here I will be seeking to hold fast to the riches of our tradition, and prune away my temptation to traditionalism; so that we can together discover how to be the people of God for today heading into the future that God continually calls us into."

Friday, 30 July 2010

Thinking about the Lord's Prayer: "Our" Father

When we begin the Lord’s Prayer with the word ‘our’ it says automatically that it is about us, not me or you separately as disassociated beings but us together. In this our faith is not a private matter between you as an individual and God but is an engagement in communal life.

The prayer confronts us with our own relationships and the gift that we have from God that together we have been joined into one family. Just as Paul wrote to the Romans so long ago when we say ‘our’ we affirm that:

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17)

Of course this why in early Christian communities and even now today Christians speak of each other as brothers and sisters. We have an intimate relationship – a relationship as siblings which has been given to us as a gift.

For just as we do not chose our biological brothers and sisters our brothers and sisters in Christ are given to us as a gift.

Take a moment to think how brothers and sisters behave towards one another. To pretend it is always good would be naïve but often the conflict arises out of that intimacy. Of course, I do not believe that God’s intention in binding us as brothers and sisters is to have us squabbling, but through acknowledging our intimacy to acknowledge our shared responsibility for one another in the context of our relationship with God – “Our Father”.

In this when we say ‘our’ we should hear a common bond with each other and responsibility to each other as people who share in God’s grace.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The din of the hustings!

With an election looming the bombardment of our senses with political spin has begun. For many people trying to work through the campaign spin and listen for reasonable and sound policies which may in fact bear some element of the good news of Jesus Christ is more than just a little difficult. For others the ability to think beyond traditionally held political loyalties is almost unimaginable, especially for those of us who are card-carrying members of a particular party.

The myth that politics and religion don’t mix is contrived and ignores Jesus’ own life, but how they mix and what that means as we approach our Federal Election is a more difficult issue. If we are to take seriously our call as Jesus’ disciples this call transcends our national and party political loyalties.

At the 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church the Assembly produced a document entitled An Economy of Life: Re-imaging Human Progress for a Flourishing World. This challenging document raises serious issues about the assumptions prevalent in our current economic systems in relationship to the gift of God in Christ, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The Assembly has now produced a document entitled An Economy of Life: The 2010 Election which draws on the issues outlined in the above paper to help us think about how we exercise our vote in the light of the gospel. It asserts:

“Christians have a responsibility to actively engage in the political processes of their country. As Christians, however, we have a particular responsibility to think about how we do this in a way that answers the call to be good news in the world: to bring justice, peace and hope to those processes and to seek justice, peace and hope as outcomes.”

These documents do not tell people who to vote for but raise the issue of how our faith may guide our considerations. These documents may be accessed through the Assembly website http://nat.uca.org.au/election2010.html or by contacting the Kairos Office.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Listening to Jesus!

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

The amazing gift of God is that Jesus has come into the world and this means that like Mary we can sit at his feet and learn about who God is from God himself, in God’s own words artiuclated in human language.

To sit at Jesus feet now involves a willingness to be present to Jesus presence in gathered worship, in daily refelction on the scriptures and in prayer where the Holy Spirit draws us into Jesus very life.

Consider again how much time you put aside to sit at Jesus feet each day in the midst of your own busy life...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

"What are you doing here?"

by Peter Lockhart

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

In the story of the prophet Elijah, Elijah decides that he has had enough and he runs away hoping to find a place to die. In this somewhat deserted place God shows up appearing in the sheer silence outside Elijah's cave.

For many people the interest in this story has been about lsitening for God in sheer silence and teaching the discipline of silence. Yet Elijah wasn't seeking God's presence, unless you can call asking to die seeking God's presence. So at the heart of the story is a more fundmanetal question "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

This is a far more confronting question for any of us "What are we doing where we are?" How did we come to be here? Were we running away from God? Were we seeking death, or life? Do we even know how we got to be where we are?

The discipline of answering this question that God asks of us "What are you doing here?" in an moment of our lives should not be about navel gazing but hearing the challenge of what God has asked of us in creating us for a purpose.

As people touched by God's grace in Jesus' life this question is not about justifying our own existence but celebrating God's love for us through living out our baptism in our discipleship.

I wonder if you heard God asking you now "What are you doing here?" how you would respond.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Where do we meet Jesus?

by Peter Lockhart

So often we as Christians take a stance of superiority in our engagement with the world around us. We assume that we are the ones who have something to offer - that we have Jesus. Yet Jesus speaking to his disicples about how we will be judged in the future suggests that it is not we who have Jesus but we who are to meet Jesus in others. In Matthew 25, Jesus declares:

"I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcoemd me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

Whilst we may be gathered into being the body of Chirst when we worship each week on a Sundayand know Jesus' presence there through the power of the Holy Spirit. What might it mean for us to seek to meet Jesus, incarnated (made flesh) in the lives of others - possibly even the "least of these" and the "lost sheep" for whom we believe Jesus came into the world and who so often remains anonymous to us in these situations?

Friday, 28 May 2010

City Lights

by Peter Lockhart
A poem inspired by Psalm 8

When I look at your heavens;
the work of your fingers;
the moon and the stars that you have established,

I wonder why the number of stars is diminishing:
the moon is not so bright
and the stars are fading...
...and disappearing

Thank God for the flourescent stars,
stuck on my child's ceiling,
a dim and facile sign
to remind them of what is:
the wonder of your creation,
to which we are blinding them
with our city lights
and landscaped lives.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Mother's Day

by Peter Lockhart

Days like Mother's Day are unusual. Why? Because:
  • In one sense they can serve to remind us of our failure to honour our mothers appropriately every other day of the year. They become a confession.
  • In another sense they can bring up painful memories of childhood, of a difficult relationship, of loss, or even the inability to have children. The become a lament.
  • In yet another sense they draw us into celebrating our own gift of life and the miracle of our birth. They become thanksgiving.
Mother's Day is not a liturgical celebration of the church, although it is becoming so more and more. As we celerbate Mother's Day this Sunday take the time to reflect on what it means to do so in terms of confession and lament as well as in celebration and thanksgiving.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The other side of "Thou shalt not lie"

by Peter Lockhart
Miroslav Volf in his book The End of Memory suggests "we fulfil the prohibition against bearing false witness when we love our neighbours (including our adversaries) as ourselves by speaking well of them." So often when we think of the Christian faith it is easily interpreted as a whole pile of rules and regulations - "thou shalt not", but what happens when we look deeper into the intent of the commandments. Are they not an invitation t live positively? "Thou shalt"! Martin Luther suggested that the 9th commandment was not simply a manner of speech which was to harm no one but a manner that "benefits everyone, reconciles the discordant, excuses and defends the maligned." This means that thinking about how I communicate with others is not simply abut avoiding lying but speaking in ways which can transform their lives by the gracious words which I choose to speak. This is no small challenge but certainly something worth reflecting on. So the question we should be asking ourselves is not what we are not allowed to do but what maybe we should be doing!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

I don't want volunteers in my congregation! by Peter Lockhart

I continually strike the language of volunteers in the church. It usually runs alongside the differentiation between those 'paid' to do ministry and those who 'volunteer'. If we put aside the whole notion of what a stipend is actually meant to be there is a huge problem with talking about volunteers in the church.

Literally a volunteer is an 'unpaid helper'. It is the underlying definition of what it means to be a human being that is particularly disconcerting. So often when use the word volunteer we risk reducing human beings to commodities, as is done in our Western society.  Moreover, to speak of the idea that 'time is money' elevates the dollar over the a life well lived.  If we view people who give time to the church as volunteers, as noble as this may sound to some, we are reducing the church to an insitution and the value of gifts to how much money is given.

When Jesus invited people to follow him he was looking for disciples not volunteers. Morevover, when we are baptised we are drawn into Jesus Christ's ascended life and transformed to be his body in the world.

This means that as we engage in our 'works' for the church, our engagement is as people living out our baptism in the power of the Holy Spirit, not as volunteers doing work for nothing.

The prevalence of the idea that church members volunteer is yet another sign of the subordination of the gospel and following Jesus to our Western culture. Is it not time to recapture something of what it means to be baptised people not volunteers!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

What do you want...

by Peter Lockhart

The beginning of Psalm 23 challenges the very core of our Western culture. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Yet wanting things drives our Western consumerist culture, and dare I say even the Church in the West. We are consumers par excellence and we are taught to want, we are goaded into coveting, and without our continued consumption our economy is headed for disaster.

How do we as Christians live with this tension of wanting so much and finding that our true contentment and peace comes as a gift from God? How do we consider our wanting in terms of the issue that so much that we consume is produced by people who live in abject poverty? How do we understand our not wanting in relationship to the Lord being our Shepherd?

Hear Peter's sermon on Psalm 23 on 'Family Worship' on the Brisbane Family Radio Station 96.5 FM Sunday 11 April at 9am.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

What do Easter Eggs stand for?

by Peter Lockhart

Traditionally Easter eggs have been seen as a sign of new life and hope for Christians at Easter time but I am beginning to wonder if they are beginning to represent something a little darker.

It was reported that this year $230 million dollars would be spent by Australians and New Zealanders on Easter Eggs, bunnies etc. Walking around the shops just before Easter it's not hard to see why - with mega eggs and bunnies enticing us to engage in what could only be seen as unhealthy over-eating.

If we add to this that at least a proportion of the chocolate we eat in the West comes from cocoa beans picked by children who are treated like slaves (see the World Vision 'Don't Trade Lives' campaign) then our Easter binge on chocolates seems to be coming to represent something quite distrubing: greed and gluttony!

It is not wrong to want to celebrate Easter or to use symbols which promote and express our hope in Jesus resurrection. But when those symbols become distorted by the commericalism of the West, maybe we as the church need to take a step back and ask again, how can we share the message of the good news of Jesus in symbols that give life, not take it away?

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Easter Day Services

Celebrating the crucified and risen Lord!

Wavell Heights 8am
Hamilton 8:15 am
Toombul District 8:15 am
Clayfield 10 am
Geebung 10 am

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Don't rush ahead!

We in the West live in an impatient culture, a culture in which we can have anything and have it now. Why wait for the hot cross buns, they have been in the shops for months? Why delay on the Easter eggs, its only chocolate after all?

This weekend it would be easy to want to rush ahead like the disciple who leaves Peter in his wake on Easter morning but to do so we may be left wondering what to do with the empty tomb when we get there.

The services of Easter weekend invite us to swim againist the stream of our culture and take the time to reflect deeply on who this God is who would share in a human life and allow that life to be taken away, just as ours ends. What kind of God is this whose power and glory are seen in a condemned man hanging on a cross?

Rather than rush ahead and skip Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday enter in to this time to know the fullness of God's grace.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Elders Get Together!

Last night we had our first gathering of Elders from the different congregations which formed Kairos. We began by sharing in a communion service and then spent time getting to know each other using a great resource called "Faith Talk" cards. After this we reflected on a discussion paper about how to renew and reinvigorate our elders and leader. In general we thought about raising the bar of expectation in the role and finding ways to educate and equip people to meet our current challenges. The sharing of the whole group was great and more than one person commented about how good the meeting was. It is wonderful to think that you can have a good church meeting!

Friday, 19 March 2010

A new beginning...

Kairos Uniting Church is a group of congregations in the inner northern suburbs of Brisbane. It includes 6 worshipping families: Clayfield, Geebung, Earnshaw Rd (Banyo), Hamilton and Wavell Heights (Saturday Night @ Wavell and Sunday morning).

Each of these small congregations is distinctive in character and has a desire to grow and serve God.

In coming together we have taken the name Kairos a Greek word which means the opportune time. As a people of faith we are trying to understand what it means to be people 'Living life in God's time!'

We hope the blog will become a place that we can offer helpful reflections on faith and spirituality in our cotnemporary setting.