Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Modern Heroes of Faith: Dedication

Rev Peter Lockhart

One of the strangest aspects of congregational life that I have come across is how people who leave congregations to move into nursing homes, or have simply become to frail to attend, get quickly forgotten by the community. More often than not they get left as the business of the elders or minister, whose job it seems it is to visit the "shut-ins".

At one of the congregations I was part of the elders determined this was not to be the case. One particular elder, the 'communion' elder, orgainsed monthly home communions. When I first met her she was already 82 and month by month she would organise a day which involved doing visits with as many as 7 people located all over the city of Brisbane.

She herself had been a member of the congregation for her whole life but despite this some of the people we visited didn't really know her. I was always inspired by her dedication to the task, simply remembering those who had gone out of the sight of the rest of the congregation.

In her work, and the support she gave me to meet and know these people, I think of God's promise "I will not leave you or forsake you." As the church are we not called to those who find themsleves lost and lonely in the final years of their lives?

Her dedication continued for the 5 years I was with the congregation and despite reaching the age of 87 she continued to arrange the home communions so that these people would know that they were loved and that God still cared.

For me she remains an inspiration for dedication and love.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Modern Heroes of Faith: Patient & Kind

Rev Peter Lockhart

When I was a student minister there was a man in one of the congregations which I was attached to who has come to epitomise the example of Christian love, which so many hanker after when they use 1 Corinthians 13 at their wedding.

He was well into his eighties when I met him and his wife lived no more than 10 minutes drive by car in a nursing home facility, she suffered from dementia and no longer recognised him.

Because he could no longer drive the man caught 2 buses each day, taking over an hour each way, to go and visit with his wife, sitting with her talking to her her, feeding her, loving her despite the fact she no longer knew him.

As I look back on his commitment I feel privileged to have known him and to realise that there are everyday heroes of faithfulness and love who teach us the meaning of God's love.

These are people who rarely get recognised, nor mentioned for what they do, but people who inspire me to know that God is like this man who would, despite the frailty of age, catch multiple buses to sit with his wife in love and concern even though she failed to recognise him.

This the God who gives so much to come alongside us in Jesus even when we fail to recognise that God is closer to us than breathing.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Once you were not a people

In the gloom of the upper room after Jesus had predicted his betrayal and Judas had gone out, after Jesus had alluded to his death and Peter’s denial had been predicted, Jesus sought to comfort his followers. He said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

These words, which are so often read at funerals, are words to help the living go on living: living with hope, living with God, living with each other.

It may be that many people see that the heart of Christianity is the promise of eternal life, the promise of the many rooms in my Father’s house. Yet, from John’s perspective eternal life is, knowing the Father and the Son whom he sent, as we live in this world.

This means the aim of being a Christian is not simply what we get when we die but how we live as the people of God now.

We are people defined in our existence by our baptism into Jesus’ life and death, for this is what makes us truly what we are. Just as was read from Peter’s letter, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

As God’s people, people who have received mercy, we are called to live as grateful recipients of God’s grace in all that we do, believing in God and also believing in Jesus.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Living Faithfully: Collaborative Consumption?!

Peter Lockhart

“We believe we will look back and see this epoch as a time when we took a leap and re-created a sustainable system built to serve basic human needs... a revolution, so to speak, when society, faced with grave challenges, started to make seismic shift from an unfettered zeal for individual getting and spending toward a rediscovery of collective good.” (p. 224-225 Botsman & Rogers What’s mine is yOURS: The rise of collaborative consumption 2010)

So ends Botsman & Roger's book about the rise of collaborative consumption. The book explore emerging new ways of exchanging and sharing goods and lives. Ways which raise questions about our current preoccupation with personal ownership.

On one level some of the stuff which they explore reminded me of meeting people who still lived in communes near Nimbin when I was growing up at Kyogle, people who had caught a Utopian dream for alternative living in the 1960s. The book also had echoes of some of the emerging church models.

What challenged me most in reading the book was the irony that many who have sought to live differently have done so departing from a culture in which Christian ideals were supposed to be dominant. A culture in which personal achievement and individual success appears to have come to outweight the so called common good.

However, reading the New Testament one gets a sense that the early Christian communities were places people sought to live sharing their lives and goods in a more intimate and intentional way. The question then is how did we lose sight of this aspect of faithful living in response to the good news. Whilst the vision shared in the book is not Christian I believe there are some thoughts about who we are and what our priorities may be that may need revisiting as we consider how to live as Christians.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Acts: All things in common

by Peter Lockhart

Late last year playing golf one of my playing partners discovered that I was minister and proceeded to criticise the church in general until finally declaring something along the lines, “All Christians are communists”.

My response was to suggest that in reality the Bible paints a far more radical vision of life.

Consider for a moment Luke’s words to Theophilus in the book of Acts:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

I have always read these words as some of the most profoundly confronting in the New Testament. I once received a letter from a friend who had become a missionary in India who wrote to me something similar, obviously alluding to Jesus words in Matthew chapter 6, he said “sell everything you have, come and join me, and build up treasures for yourself in heaven.”

Such visions of the Christian life are positively Franciscan in orientation and certainly far beyond any concepts of socialism or communism as I understand them. The idea of “sharing all things in common” is about a new way of living and being human community which is far more confronting than communism.

However, when Luke writes these words to Theophilus it may be that what Luke is doing is idealising the situation of the early Christian community as a new beginning for humanity.

Luke would have come across a similar idea of people sharing all things in common in the Greco-Roman philosophical world. For example, in Plato’s Critias, Plato ‘pictures the early days of Athens as a time when “none of its members possessed any private property, but they regarded all they had as the common property of all.” Whilst in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses the description of the Golden Age contains similar themes of community.

So when Luke describes the early Christian community in the way he does to Theophilus one of the things he appears to be doing is capturing these ancient visions of utopian communities and declaring a new beginning for humanity, a new way of civilization.

In actuality the early Christian community, inspired by the Holy Spirit, may have lived a far more communal life although it may not have been quite as radical as Luke suggests. Nonetheless, the vision was for a different way of living based on a new beginning.

The new beginning was of course the advent of Jesus Christ in the world who claims a unique union with the Father in heaven and invites us into the peace and joy of that unity. The Christian community sought to live together in koinonia with each other in that new relationship established by God with human beings in and through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This concept of koinonia implies more than is often translated in the word ‘community’. I have often referred to our lives being intertwined in each other’s lives as we are drawn into God’s life in Jesus. My life in yours and your life in mine and ours in God: mutuality in existence.

As I suggested this implies far more than concepts of community and sometimes the word used to describe koinonia is communion, but that in itself can create some confusion as we also use the word communion in a variety of ways as well.

In the book of Acts by suggesting that the people held “all things in common” Luke is trying to help establish the understanding that Jesus Christ brings about a new way of human community and life. This way of life was clearly understand as a consequence of encountering God’s grace, a joyful response to what Jesus had done, as opposed to a way of earning God’s favour.

There can be no doubt it was counter cultural and a challenge to the accepted norms of life at the time – social, economic, religious and political.

Stone soup story (a contemporary adaptation).

If you can imagine for a moment that we are all living in the future, not too far in the future, but far enough that you are adults, in fact most of you are older than what I am now. The years have passed by and some terrible things have happened in the world. Climate change was real and the world is suffering from food shortages. Oil is running out and it is too expensive for most people to have cars and power has become very expensive.

People are finding it harder and harder to find the basic necessities of life – clean water and food. In fact people are so worried about feeding themselves they hoard their food and don’t tell anyone what they have anymore.

A traveler comes into the small community you are living in and everyone looks suspiciously at the person as he asks for some food. (Name for the person) Instead of sharing the frightened people go back into their homes away from the man worried about the little bit of food that they have.

So the man takes out his big pot and fills it with water and begins heating it over a small fire in the middle of the houses. People peer out of their barred windows to see what he is doing. From his bag he brings out a stone – just an average looking stone – sniffing at the stone a smiling he places it into the warming pot.

Humming to himself he begins to stir the pot, occasionally tasting the contents. Curiosity sets in and slowly a few of the people come out from behind their closed doors and gather near the man and one eventually asks what he is doing. “Oh”, he says, “I am making some stone soup. Would you like to share?”

Looking dubiously around one of the people (name) says “It looks a bit bland, I’m not sure it would taste any good.” The man says “I suppose you are right, it could do with some saltiness.” One of the people volunteers timidly, “I think I may still have a little salt.” “Yes that would be good,” says the man, so they person goes off to fetch the salt.

After adding the salt the man exclaims “Oh yes that’s better! But it still seems a little bit lacking, usually my stone soup is much tastier.”

Another of the people says I have some bones left from the chicken I cooked last night, so quickly they are brought and added to the boiling pot.

Another of the people watching the chicken going says “I remember loving chicken and corn soup as a child; I think I may have an old tin of corn inside.” This too is added to the soup.

Gradually one by one others of the community volunteer more ingredients noodles, onions, carrots, herbs and so on. One person even brings out bowls and spoons and a loaf of bread to share with the soup.

Soon the people are gathered around the fire laughing and enjoying the best meal that they have had in ages and one of them remembers what they had learnt in Sunday school about what the early Christian people did sharing all things in common and giving to everyone who as any had need.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Still Waters: Restoration for the Soul

Peter Lockhart

In John 10 Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd and so makes a particular claim on this Psalm. It is Jesus the shepherd who provides for our wants and invites us to relax and be restored and to find hope, even in the face of dark and evil times. Psalm 23 is undoubtedly a Psalm of comfort seeking God’s restoration for our souls.

In our contemporary Australian lifestyle our lives appear to be getting busier and more frantic even though we live in a world that appears bright with lights. But the light is artificial, neon and fluorescent, and whilst it may cast away the shadows the darkness lurks underneath. People are feeling overwhelmed in a rapidly changing environment as our souls are consumed in the business.

The amount of information which we are exposed to is immense, especially if we spend time on our computers surfing the net. Opening web pages and blogs has become an assault on our senses with a multitude of images and even sounds bombarding us with information.

TV’s occupy prominent positions in households tutoring us to be consumers, increasing our desire to own more stuff, and indoctrinate us to a lifestyle pursuing individual happiness.

Walking through the streets and in the shops immerses us in the rush and bustle of society, lost in a sea of faces. We can sit alone in a food court with a thousand other people, isolated in our independence from one another.

For families the list of events and demands turns parents into taxi services and children into slaves of the next activity that they must attend to have a well rounded life.

Psalm 23 calls to repose again by the still waters of God’s presence ad to restore our souls. This is about rediscovering whose we are and what is important in our lives. Drawn into the community of God’s presence breathing deeply of the Spirit our lives are reorientated and our souls are restored so that we declare with hope:

you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Violence and the Bible

by Rev Peter Lockhart

In the story of the walk to Emmaus Jesus helps open the eyes of the disciples by explaining to them the scriptures and how they related to who Jesus was and what he did. As Jesus disciples we are called to share in this task, but this is not always an easy task.

I was teaching year 6 religious education this week and we are looking at the story of Cain and Abel. One of the students asked the question “Why is there so much violence in the Bible?”

In answer to the question I asked the students what the main story had been on the news the previous night. They knew it had been the death of Osama bin Laden. When asked to describe the scenes that they saw they told me that they had seen people cheering and partying and celebrating.

I suggested that whilst Osama bin Laden may have committed some terrible acts celebrating anyone’s death, or the need to kill anyone, reflected the kind of violent world in which we live and so the scriptures explore the kind of people that we are and expose that and challenge that.

I did not have an opportunity to continue the conversation with the children due to time but to interpret the scriptures a little more closely on the point. Maybe the celebration at someone’s death, even a so called bad person, reflects the kind jealousy and hate that occurs in Cain and causes him to kill his brother. But the violence has consequences and they are not good ones.

As mothers, as fathers, as uncles, as grandparents, or simply friends of children our attitudes and ideas about violence and war will be one of the defining building blocks in a child’s life and so reflecting on it spiritually is important.

The challenge for the disciples who were walking to Emmaus was that they had imagined for themselves a Messiah who would seize political and even military power. One who would throw down the corrupt leaders among the Jewish people but even more importantly defy the Roman imperialism.

It is the response of violence with more violence, power with greater power, and there is no doubt that there are parts of the Old Testament which seem to point in such a direction.

Yet Jesus interprets things differently for the disciples asking them, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

Jesus, and God’s response, to the violence of the world is not to respond to the violence with more violence but to traverse the way of death and so make a new future for all humanity.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Mother's Day

by Peter Lockhart

In some ways it is strange to have days like mothers day – a day that we remember and give thanks for the place of mothers in our lives. Why strange? Well one would think that if mothers constantly were given the respect and love as human beings we would not need a special day to remember what they have done for us. So maybe part of Mother’s Day is a kind of confession that we don’t always appreciate mothers as we should and maybe also a recognition that it is harder to thank some mothers than others.

This problem of how well we love one another is constantly before us as people and human communities have long invented days of celebration and thanksgiving to remember mothers, fathers, widows, war veterans and the list goes on. The church does this as well in its calendar in the rhythm of the liturgical year as we have celebrations at Christmas at Easter and Pentecost, along with the many other feasts days that we can have. All of these celebrations are about jogging our communal memory as we remember people and events in the history of our lives and of the church.

So, as we say Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers associated with our congregation today we remember that mothers everywhere are people with gifts and graces, as well as faults and foibles, and that as people loved by God mothers are to loved and valued and respected not simply this day but everyday of their lives.

Friday, 6 May 2011

On the Road to Emmaus

by Peter Lockhart

When the disciples are talking to the stranger on the Emmaus road one of the things which they say to him is that they had hoped in Jesus. What goes unsaid is that now they are hopeless.

“We had hoped”, but now our hope is gone.

This hopelessness is not simply the sense of grief which overwhelms them as they mourn for their friend but a more engulfing hopelessness. For them the promised Messiah was to restore the fortunes of Israel, he would bring an utter and complete change in their lives giving meaning and purpose.

For the disciples Jesus’ death undoes hope, shatters meaning and confuses purpose in life. It means a massive change in perception for them.

Changes in life and the world around us can always have a big impact and when the fundamental building blocks shift, as they did with the disciples, there can be a loss of hope.

For me this means the kind foundation and the building blocks a person constructs their life around are vital.

Today is mother’s day and whilst it is a day to give thanks for mothers it is also always a day filled with ambiguity. Yes, some of us have great memories of our mothers but the reality is that for many people the relationship was strained. For some of you your mother is no longer with you or maybe your children are no longer with you. Whatever your situation the relationship and bond between a mother and child is an important one whether it is a good one or bad one and it certainly contributes to formation of person’s life.

This is a big responsibility thrust on mothers but not them alone, fathers, teachers and other significant role models also contribute to the formation of children into functioning members of our society.

Children come with curiosity and desire for understanding that can be quite blunt and open. They want to how and why and who because they are looking for meaning and purpose and hope.

The question for us on this day is what kind of foundation and building blocks are we to use to give them that meaning and purpose and hope.