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?