Thursday, 31 March 2011

Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

In the interactions Jesus has with people there is a constant issue of bringing light into dark situations, exposing that which may be hidden or possibly simply misunderstood. In exposing this darkness, things that we might classify as sin, Jesus invitation is to live a life transformed by God's love. Sin is no longer used to exclude but to show forth grace and invite people to journey again in communion with God and each other.

In this sense contemplating our sin should not be used simply as a guilt trigger to make us confess to God our wrong doings but as a way of seek to live our lives in God's time. With these thoughts in mind I have been contemplating the old "Seven deadly Sins" wondering how they might speak to us in these days.

Consider the sin of gluttony. I was interested to discover how Aquinas further elucidated the topic. You can read more about that here.

Whist this is interesting I consider it pertinent to view this issue of gluttony in light of the words of the Lord's prayer "give us this day our daily bread" which I hear as words of interecession longing for justice and equity for the whole world "give to all humanity the basic necessities of life".

In the West our consumption of food, our desire to eat so much meat, our demand for variety in our diet, our super sized meals, our feasts seem to contradict the words which we pray. I have been to so many church functions where the generosity of people have seen tables groaning because they are laden with so much food. Such generosity may be a sign of our encoutner with God but I wonder sometimes whether it is misdirected.

Of course some may argue that there is a fine line to walk here between celebrating appropriately God's providence and offering generous hospitality. Yet it would seem apparent that in a world where food shortages are so widespread and the potential for this situation to get markedly worse in the near future we are well overdue to contemplate whether we have embraced a gluttonness life and what Jesus might be saying to us about how we are to live now.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Pointing away from ourselves

I was in conversation with a friend recently about running a group associated with the church. Whilst he was interested in what I was proposing he made the comment that if he knew it was a church running it he wouldn’t come. He went on to say that he was not alone in holding such a view, not simply because of the bad things that have been done by the church in history but also because if he came to a church group he would not feel safe to express his own ideas.

This conversation is not unlike many I have had over the years which continually remind me that the church has a bad name in the community and bridging the gap means overcoming not only apathy but sometimes open hostility.

I suspect one of the reasons many of Jesus followers are trying to work outside the institutional churches is that they are trying to disassociate themselves from the stigma of being in ‘the church’. This appears to work to a certain extent but whether we want to acknowledge it or now being Christian means being church with all of the baggage that this brings.

As followers of Jesus owning the hurts and pains and doubts that the church has caused in peoples’ lives is not easy but unless we own our imperfection and continually confess it then we deceive ourselves. We cannot sweep our transgressions under the carpet nor can we point at how much we think we love one another as if we are getting it perfectly right.

As followers of Jesus we can only point away from our imperfect actions and at Jesus and pray that in the midst of our flawed witness God’s grace shines through and the kingdom of God come close.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The dangers of talking with Jesus

John 4

Consider for a moment the story of the woman at the well. The circumstance of her interaction with Jesus suggests she is a woman who might indeed have some significant questions for God about how her life has unfolded. Her conversation with Jesus certainly indicates that this is the case, but her questioning also involves a desire to listen and to find out more.

Jesus for his part thought speaks in cryptically symbolic language about living water and he names one of the key issues of her life:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

There is a danger in listening for what Jesus might say to us, because it is more than likely he will name some home truths about who we are and what we have done in our lives, despite the fact we may see ourselves as faithful church attendees.

Jesus constantly had jibes for those who considered themselves to be the upstanding members of the Jewish community – the so called holy people of his day. We should be wary of thinking that Jesus’ jibes no longer apply to us.

Jesus raised serious questions about the distribution of wealth and power and given that everyone in this room is rich we must hear Jesus words to the rich young man as particularly confronting “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”

Jesus preserved his blessings for those who were poor, those who were hungry, those who were mourning and those who were in prison.

And Jesus injunction to those who follow him was that they should go and share the good news in word and deed teaching others so that the world might come to believe.

The Jesus that many of us would want to follow is an upright citizen who would not ruffle our feathers and cause us to question our position and place but the Jesus who the woman meets at the well is the same Jesus who turns over the tables in the temple and challenges but the religious, economic, social and political systems of his time.

Put bluntly we have sought to domestic Jesus so that following him does not cost us too much.

I think that John includes the questions that are not asked of Jesus and the woman by the disciples precisely because they were the questions on their minds “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

In short the disciples were offended. Part of the irony of the story is that it is the woman with whom Jesus has had this chance encounter that goes off the to share the good news of her experience with Jesus whilst Jesus is teaching the disciples that this is precisely what they are supposed to be doing, “see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

The Samaritans of Sychar believe the woman and up the ante proclaiming that Jesus is not only the Messiah but he is indeed the Saviour of the world. This is the hope that we cling to despite our inadequacies as Jesus disciples that, as Paul declared, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Is the Lord with us or Not?

“Is the Lord with us or not?”

How common a question is this? In the story from the book of Exodus we are told this is what the people of Israel were asking, “Is the Lord with us or not?” At the first sign of trouble in many of our lives this is one of the first questions that slip from our lips as if we have been abandoned to some terrible fate that others excluded from. Sometimes it is expressed differently in the words “What have I done to deserve this?” Of course the reality is that people everywhere, those of great faith and those of none, face various trials in their life, or as Jesus puts it God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Trying to make a connection between these trials of life and God’s actions is a complex and mysterious matrix to traverse to the point at which many in our so called enlightened western community prefer to ask the question “Is there a Lord or not?”

The source of such questions is based on whatever our personal understanding of God is. Do we believe in a God who micro manages our lives, opening doors for us, providing opportunities or trials and tests according to God’s plan. Or do we believe that the world is independent of God’s action and that we have freedom in our decisions and there is a certain ordered randomness of the natural events which occur around us.

Maybe it is because we ask such questions of God and ourselves that we can find a place within the church not because we are people who have discovered the answers but because we ask questions and so like the Israelites quarrel with God who as a track record of responding.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Looking up with Nicodemus

In the midst of trying to understand all of the darkness and uncertainties and terrible events that the journey of life can bring a Pharisee, a well known teacher among the Jews, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night seeking answers. Answers from a man said to be close to God in the midst of the Roman oppression.

Nicodemus searches out a deeper understanding of life and of God and Jesus challenges him to look up at the cause of his affliction, just as Moses lifted the snake in the desert so too the Son of man shall be lifted up.

The serpent lifted on the pole by Moses was God’s healing for the Israelites afflicted by snakes in the desert. They looked upon the cause of their terror and they were released from the fatal bonds of the venom.

So too Jesus instructs Nicodemus to look upon him lifted on the cross: dying, dying and dead Jesus becomes the source of our healing.

To look upon Jesus on the cross is to be confronted by our own mortality and our own fear of death and godforsakeness and to be given hope: for the one who dies on the cross, also rises to live again.

This man, this Jesus, in whom we are called to believe came into the world not to condemn the world but in order that we might have life.

Here is hope, that God does more than watch our coming in and our going out but in and through Jesus, God lives with us through our coming in and our going out.

Does believing in Jesus lead us into some sort of utopian existence and idyllic life without any troubles? Is this what is promised? No, but being born from above and so lifting our eyes to see Jesus we find hope that God goes with us on all our journeys.

This is the good news for all those who have set out on journeys in the these days and months that have past, God journey’s is with us and God will lead us in God’s own time into that safe haven and refuge of eternal life.

In this time of Lent then we are called to hear and obey just as Abram heard and obeyed.

For some this will mean listening for God’s command to set out on a journey which may involve traversing new territories, or even going to Jesus in the midst of our darkness. Whilst, for others of us it will mean being the ones who faithfully declare our prayer and hope that whatever happens and wherever we go God will be there.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

From where will my help come?

I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Is this what we think today as we set on journeys with our travel itineraries, GPS trackers and travel insurance? Do we believe our help comes from the Lord in our journey through life? Journey’s which we are far less in our control than we might think. Consider the journey’s undertaken in recent days and weeks.

In Queensland many have journeyed from their flooded homes, some still echoing with the lives of loved ones who were drowned in the torrent.

In Christchurch as the earth shook many have journeyed away from the city where the destruction has made many their homes unsafe, suburbia unliveable and left many without livelihoods.

In Japan the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear reactor emergency have devastated lives and prompted journey’s filled with sorrow and terror in the midst of a cold winter.

Terrible and catastrophic events beyond the scope of our control, prompting journey’s many filled with danger and sorrow and mystery – what comes next? What do we do now?

In the midst of these natural disasters, and may I emphasise not ‘acts of God’ as the legal fraternity like to define them, many other people have set out on other journey’s of great risk and terror. Journey’s generated by humanity’s madness.

There have been those who have journeyed out of Libya, and of other countries where refugees flee persecution and war, hoping for not even a new life but simple to save their lives. Often only to find themselves lost amidst vast seas of refugees in overcrowded camps or risking journey’s on leaky boats to find themselves detained, incarcerated in strange lands.

There have been journeys away from families where relationships have broken down, children taken from homes where they have experienced nothing but abuse, wives leaving husbands and husbands leaving wives. The journey’s of the broken hearted.

There have been journeys of young girls and women into other countries lured by the promise of work to find that when they arrive their own bodies are what are for sale.

And for many of us there may have been new journeys as well.

There may have been a journey into uncertainty as medical tests reveal the sickness or disease which might be wracking our bodies.

Or possibly a journey into a new life without someone we have loved, our hearts filled with mourning at their death.

Maybe it has been a journey into unemployment of retirement.

And for all of these journeys and the ones we do not know about we hear the words of the Psalmist givign hope and comfort.

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Noise of Life

For some it is not so much the silence of God which interferes with the hearing of God but the overpowering noise of life.

It is the noise of the rhythm of an alarm clock waking you day by day to go to a job where you work hard and earn a decent salary.

It is the noise of rich friendships and close family who take up so much joyous time gathered at social events: reposing with glasses raised and clinking in toasts to the great things that are happening.

It is the noise of the parental taxi going from swimming lesson, to ballet and cricket, from school to piano practice and plays in the park.

It is the noise of the luxurious life of entertainment: of movies, shows and concerts, of radios blaring and TV announcing the (good) news, whilst the computer whirrs the world into the lounge room.

Not so much an evil din as a distraction from entering the depth and purpose of our human existence as children of God. How and when and where can silence by found in this diarised cacophony? Kairos: living life in God’s time.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Death & Change in Lent

For most people change is not readily embraced, especially changes in behaviour and lifestyle. However, again and again people who have survived whether it be through an illness or accident often speak of how their lives have changed.

Maybe this is why on Ash Wednesday people are confronted with their mortality: "from dust you came and to dust you return". It sets the context for the Lenten journey which is about self examination and changes in life direction.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately,
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
To put to rout all that was not life
and not when I had come to die
Discover that I had not lived.”

Maybe a Lenten spin on Thoreau's words could say
"I observed Lent because I wanted to live an abundant life"

Of course the abundant life offered by Christ is not something we can devise or attain for ourselves but is comes to us as gift. Yet to receive and celebrate this gift involves a willing ness to go deep as we listen for the implications of that gift and live out our experience and celebration of God's grace.