Thursday, 26 July 2012

Concupiscence: in adundance and scarcity.

Peter Lockhart

Some of the earliest thinkers of the church, especially Augustine, thought that sin originated from a thing called concupiscence – which is really just a fancy word for lust. Not simply sexual lust but a deep desire for other things as well.

The readings today situate us firmly in stories which raise the conundrum and paradox of concupiscence in the context of abundance and scarcity.

I want to look particularly at the story of King David and his dalliance with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, but also to draw in that familiar story of the feeding of the 5000.

There are those who have painted the story of David and Bathsheba as a love story but for me it is a baser thing – it is a crude and cruel act in which a King causes a woman to commit adultery and arranges the death of her husband.

One of the things which strikes me about the story is what we are not told going into the story. If we go back a little further in the book of Samuel we find that David has at least 8 wives as well concubines. He has more than enough or maybe he has too much?

Despite all of the possible relationships David can enter into validly he chooses another avenue – he is not satisfied, he continues to lust.

Now whilst David’s lust was sexually orientated concupiscence is a broader issue and in David’s case it appears that abundance does not necessarily deal with the problem and this seems hold true in other settings as well.

Let me demonstrate in a different way.

(Give out Snickers bars)

Most of you will recognise these as Snickers bars and most of you being indoctrinated by the world of advertising will know the slogan Snickers really satisfy.

Given the context of the sermon today we could be tempted to think that we hold the answer to the problem of concupiscence in our very hands.

Sorry to disappoint you, I have already done the research on this one when I preached a similar sermon a few years ago.

During my research for that sermon I wanted to know the answer to the question ‘Do snickers really satisfy?’ As anyone does these days when they have a useless question like this and a computer I Googled the answer.

I was surprised by the number of sites that came up but one that stuck me had a comparison chart with how big a Snickers bar needed to be to satisfy.

The chart said that a starving person from Africa would only need Snickers about 2cm long; maybe about this size. Then the chart said that a catwalk model might only need Snickers this big to satisfy (smaller again). Then it said somebody who was a computer programmer might need just regular sized Snickers. Then it said someone who was an American might need an even bigger Snickers – a king size Snickers bar.

Do you notice something interesting here about Snickers bars? The people who probably need it the least need the biggest one to be satisfied. This is something that is not restricted to Snickers bars.

Whilst it may seem a trite example when we think about it the more people have the more they seem to want, ironically even when it may not need lead them to feeling any happier or more satisfied.

At National Assembly of the Uniting Church one of our guest speakers was Richard Denniss, the co-author of Affluenza with Clive Hamilton.

During his talk he spoke of the issues we face as human beings and then pointed out with a sense of good humour the kinds of problems we have devoted our time to. We have solved the problem of 12 year olds not having mobile phones, we have dealt with the embarrassing curve on our TV screens and we have made it so that no parent will ever have to travel on a long car journey without their children being suitably entered by a TV screen.

In the face of the numerous issues we have has humanity, issues of the distribution of wealth, extreme poverty, resources shortages, overfishing, pollution and the list could go on we seem to invest a great deal in satisfying the perceived needs those who already have so much. We are still pursuing Bathsheba and planning the demise of Uriah – this is what concupiscence is all about.

In a world of scarce resources this creates huge problems and at some level dehumanises our thinking because we are so focussed on building our own wealth, me included.

The other day on the radio I heard a report that wheat prices have sky rocketed and how this is such a great thing for our Australian farmers. The reason for the price hike is some of the most severe droughts ever experienced in the United States. Because we are so focussed on the mythical beast called the economy the reaction is not concern for the farmers in America, or for the poorer countries around the world who may suffer from a deeper inability to but wheat and so feed their people – no our reaction is a celebration for our Australian farmers. But scarcity is not a good thing when the consequences are life and death, but mired in our concupiscence and desensitised language of the markets it can be turned into something we celebrate.

Let me briefly comment on where we might hope in the midst of this conundrum of our sinfulness. When the crowd was hungry, suffering from scarcity as it were, Jesus takes what little is available from a little a boy and after blessing it distributes so that all can share in what is available. Having fed the crowd we see the generosity of God expressed in the baskets of left-overs collected – there was more than enough for everyone to be fed.

Just as Jesus’ healings demonstrate God’s concern for those who are suffering in this life so too does his feeding of the crowd. God cares about our present existence and our current predicament. Jesus feeds the crowd but the abundance should not be misconstrued into any sense that by being engaged with Jesus we will be proved excess in our lives. We already know from the story of David and Bathsheba abundance does not seem to satisfy us as human beings

The scene which follows the trip on the boat in John’s gospel has the crowd turning up again on the other side of the sea and Jesus confronts them with the words “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

The food which Jesus ultimately offers is himself “the bread of life” he declares the to be satisfied in life, to truly live, to live eternally, to live abundantly, means accepting him as the Holy one of God.

No amount of bread fish, no increase in the size of our snickers bars, no addition to our number of wives and concubines appears to be able to satisfy our cravings, our concupiscence but partaking of the “bread of life” receiving Jesus can transform us as God forgives our desires and renews us in our lives.

So as we break bread together and as we make our offerings we celebrate our hope, which is Jesus himself, and pray for a release from our constant cravings in life. So, that rather than concupiscence and its consequences ruling through our reception of the true bread of life it will be on earth as it is in heaven and having received our daily bread all might have life.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A hero? Well... maybe!

Peter Lockhart

Prepared for airing on 96.5 Family FM Sunday 29 July.
I wonder who it is that springs to your mind when you are asked about heroes.

I must admit that growing up reading comics and watching TV I immediately think of super heroes. I think of Batman and Spiderman of Superman and Iron Man and so on.

In fact the last two movies I went to the cinemas to see were The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises.

So when I was asked to prepare a sermon on a hero from the Bible it was a little difficult to come up with an idea. I don’t really see Jesus as my hero that is simply not quite enough, it’s not quite right, so I thought a bit more about superheroes and was struck but how flawed many of them are in their own character.

Heroes don’t have to be perfect and certainly scanning the pages of the Bible there are few people spoken of in such high regard as to call them perfect.

In the end I decided to go back to my own namesake the apostle Peter who is regarded by many Christians as a saint and is identified by all as the first leader of the Early Church. A hero, well maybe!

Let me share one significant story about Peter, it comes from the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel and goes like this:

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Here ends the reading.

This has always been a powerful story for me.

Jesus was standing overlooking Caesarea Philippi asking who the disciples think that he was. It is pivotal point in Mark’s gospel and it happens in a pivotal place.

Caesarea Philippi was a major trading centre of the era and had many religions and philosophies present in the many different peoples that met there. It was a true intersection of humanity.

‘Who do people say that I am?’ Jesus asks and Peter’s answer hits the nail on the head, “You are the Messiah.”

Peter is right! He has been walking alongside Jesus watching him heal and teach and do miracles and now when so much is at stake Peter gets it right.

Matthew tells the story a little differently to Mark and in Matthew 16 part of Jesus response to Peter’s declaration is to say that ‘flesh and bone has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’

Matthew ramps it up and Peter is identified as the first leader of the church.

But this is only half of the reading that I shared, his moment of glory. In his moment of getting so right Peter does something which is almost inexplicable.

Jesus after hearing Peter’s declaration begins to teach the disciples that he must suffer and die.

Peter despite all his newly affirmed knowledge and authority draws Jesus aside to correct Jesus teaching. Surely Jesus is wrong on this point.

Jesus response is direct and revealing, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

In the moment that Peter gets it right he also gets it so wrong, so wrong that Jesus calls Peter Satan.

Many people think of Satan as a personified being, the devil as it were, but in the Hebrew language satan also essentially had a connotation of a legal adversary.

Peter is debating with Jesus, he is debating God’s will – he is God’s adversary in that moment – he is satan.

It is the paradox of Peter that makes him a hero for me. The same man who can get it so right can get it so wrong – he was human, he was fallible, he was head strong, yet he was chosen and he was loved.

If we scan other stories about Peter many of you may be aware of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus just prior to Jesus’ death. Despite promising Jesus that he would lay down his life for him Peter declares three times that he is not one of Jesus followers.

Maybe you know that after the resurrection appearance of Jesus in John’s gospel Peter goes fishing, he goes back to his old life.

Later in the book of Acts we find that Peter had to be shown visions and coaxed into accepting gentiles into the church and that he found himself at odds with the apostle Paul.

Peter was not perfect. In fact far he was from it. So, despite Peter being called the rock in many ways that foundation stone has cracks in it.

Yet the good news found in the scriptures is not that Jesus came to turn us into perfect people, people who get it right all the time, but that Jesus shows God’s love for even people like Peter who can declare the truth of God yet at the same time in a moment of pride can become Satan, God’s adversary.

This is the kind of hero the Bible gives us – people like Peter who is in many ways not a lot different to any of us; sometimes he gets it right, sometimes he makes mistakes, sometimes he has great faith and sometimes he seems to waver. It is people such as Peter whom God chooses and this can give any of us hope.

I know in myself that there are times that I get it right and there are times that I get wrong, very wrong. More often than not it takes someone else to let me know when I am getting right or wrong and even then I am careful to weigh up what this might mean.

Peter didn’t have to earn his place beside Jesus; there was no course to complete, no doctrine to tick off, no creed to say, not even a willingness to follow anywhere that Jesus would go (remember his denial of Jesus). Rather it was Jesus who came alongside Peter, it was Jesus who kept him there even when he behaved as Satan and it was Jesus who entrusted Peter to look after his flock.

There is no doubt that Peter did do great things, he lived in an extraordinary moment in history when God walked among us in Jesus and his encounter inspired him to do many things in Jesus’ name, but he did the them as a human being not perfect yet chosen and loved by God.

This has implications for me as follower of Jesus and especially as a minister. Peter serves as reminder that Jesus followers are not perfect, I am not perfect and none of us are. The conundrum of living in this Church which was founded on Peter is that we are all a bunch of cracked stones and we should always be wary of how we view others and how we think they are travelling in their faith.

Ultimately it is Jesus who chooses disciples whoever they are and with all their faults. It is Jesus who forgives and includes and guides and teaches. It Jesus who shores up the walls of this fragile cracked structure called the church.

It is in knowing all this that Peter might be described as a hero. Not because he was morally perfect. Not because he knew everything there was to know. Not because his belief was flawless. He can be described as a hero, as someone for us to look to as an example of faith, because in God’s love and grace he was made holy in spite of all of his flaws. If there was a place beside Jesus for one such as Peter then we can say with hope that there is a place for any and all of us. God bless you all.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Come away to a deserted place

Peter Lockhart

As I considered the different readings set down for today the phrase that jumped off the page and hit me was this. “Come away to a deserted place.”


The answer is twofold:

Firstly, to put it bluntly as I look around these mostly empty pews this place has a deserted feel especially when I compare it to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night where there was around 50 000 people.

Secondly, as deserted as it might be or feel, we come away to this quiet as people who have heard Jesus invitation to come, to come away and be with Jesus, to learn from him and find ourselves again to be his disciples.

So here we are again, listening for Jesus to speak to us, eager to taste his goodness in bread and wine, seeking comfort and hope and inspiration, ready to be sent out to do his work in the world.

What occurs here is the most significant event of our week; it is the most significant event for us every week.

There may not be the 50 000 who were gathered the other night at the football; there may not be the special effects and glamour of going to the movies to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster or maybe going to the theatre; there may not be the fine dining experience of eating out in the city or at Portside or on Racecourse Road.

Yet here in this space the greatest event of our week and of our lives unfolds as the drama of God’s love is played out. The communal stories of God’s faithfulness found in the scriptures are retold to we who collectively suffer amnesia and wander so often like the people described as lost sheep in Mark’s gospel.

We may not be that savvy in our understanding of the Mark’s community and the people he wrote his gospel for. We may have forgotten or even never heard bits and pieces of the drama of King David’s story recounted in the book Samuel. We may not have our fingers on the pulse of the early Christian community in Ephesus and the message about being one body through the cross may seem obscure.

Yet here, little by little, week by week, as we listen to the stories and contemplate their meanings God acts: to remind us of the good news of Jesus Christ; to remind us of whom we are and of whom our neighbours are. And, as we remember these things the Holy Spirit transforms us and inspires us to live as God’s people.

Now you may or may not feel the strength of the power of God in our midst doing these things but that same power that raised Jesus from the tomb flows in and through us in this time and space and every day in our daily lives.

Whilst God can act in miraculous and earth shattering ways more often than not I suspect it is a movement as slow and powerful - as tectonic plates grinding against one another. Or possibly a movement as slow and powerful as an ancient Karri tree, growing over the centuries as it reaches to the sky.

Often trying to detect the power of God in our midst is as difficult as trying to observe these things of the natural world occurring and only rarely is there an earthquake or tsunami of revelation in our midst.

Yet as we listen again and as we open ourselves to that encounter God is at work in us changing us and drawing us closer.

It may be that as we eat the bread and drink the wine we feel no perceptible shift in our existence, yet w neither do we feel the nutrients of our regular meals energising our bodies.

We do not constantly acknowledge the air that we breathe and the marvel of the conversion of that air into the oxygen we need for life. Even as we sit here listening the process of pulmonary respiration is converting the oxygen we need and it is being taken into our bloodstream and helping us to live.

In this space, where we have “come away” we are renewed spiritually: we listen, we eat, we breathe and even though these actions may not appear to have massive impacts they no less give us life than those natural processes to which I have referred.

Here we encounter and are renewed by the wondrous steadfast love of God described in the Psalm. Whatever our concerns, whatever our experience of life and of this moment in worship with one another God is with us; beside us, not absent but present in loving faithfulness. It is this God who in Christ promises to journey with us to the end of our lives and beyond.

Coming away to this place week by week Jesus looks upon us with compassion and he teaches us whose we are and gives us hope so that as we go our into our daily life we go engaged to confess the truth of Jesus and of God’s love in how we live and what we do.

In the letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that God has drawn near to us in Jesus so that we who were once strangers, aliens, without hope are now made one with God. Jesus came and proclaimed peace to we who were far off and peace to those who were near so that all may have access in the one Spirit to the Father.

Come away to a deserted place, listen, learn and be renewed and go and sharing the good news. This is the heart of our existence. Church is not where come on a Sunday but who we are, not an optional extra in the smorgasbord of spiritual experiences of our faith but is where we come to remember God and who we are. It shapes us and sustains as much as does our eating or breathing.

This is where we find our life and our hope so let us embrace this moment, as the one who made us and renews us, embraces us in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Psalm 24 Putting things in perspective

Peter Lockhart

Just in case you had forgotten Psalm 24 puts things in perspective for us:

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it”

The scope of God’s reign, of God’s concern, of God’s love is not narrowed to humanity but to the whole of creation “heaven and earth”.

It is so easy for human beings with all of our presumptuous intellect and command of nature to think more highly of ourselves in the scheme of things. Often I have come across Christians who seem to think that the world has been created simply to be a testing place or stepping stone for human beings to make into some eternal heavenly existence. It is a world view that completely devalues the wondrous creation which God has made and which God values.

How can we as human beings ignore the wonder and plight of God’s creation “for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers”?

There is no doubt the God gave humans a special place within the creation, yet it seems pertinent to constantly be reminded that the special place is within that very creation.

God’s concern for all that God has made is not simply expressed in the poetic meanderings of the multitude of Psalms which speak of God’s relationship with the creation but in the promise of Christ.

Paul writing to the Christian community in Ephesus recognises the importance of humanity and God’s love for people and particular for those who he has chosen in Christ. Yet it appears that choosing is not a choice about exclusion but witness and hope.

As Paul writes, “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

God’s intention is not the destruction of things but renewal and recreation, it is reconciliation and reconstruction.

For those of us who know Christ now we are given this insight into God’s love and intention for all things – for creation and as people who are called to participate in Christ’s life and ministry through our union with Christ in and through the Spirit we live as people oriented towards that renewal.

Whilst these words may sound somewhat esoteric should not the pragmatic expression of our Christian hope involve our choices about how we live within the creation which God so values and with others whom God has created and loves.

This has implications for our personal behaviour and attitudes as well as our political and moral choices if we are to witness to God’s love for all things.

We do not have to go too far to begin to think about the issues:

This week scientists have been meeting in Cairns and deliberating about what is occurring to coral reefs around the world. The news is not good and continued overdevelopment, pollution and climate change could see and end to the Great Barrier Reef. This would not simply be the destruction of something beautiful but an expression of human disregard for something which God values as part of the creation formed in and through love.

Two weeks ago the Australian government introduced its so called “carbon tax”. It has been much debated and is a flawed policy. Maybe there is no perfect policy but it would seem if the aim is to get us all to think about reducing our levels of consumption and carbon footprint then compensating us seems to miss the point. If some of the climate change predictions are true we are in for far worse than increases in the cost of living. What would it mean for us as Christians to take more seriously our levels of consumption and the carbon pollution that each of us produce? I know I find this an uncomfortable question.

How are we educating and nurturing our children? What is the goal and purpose of life as they understand it? Most education appears to utilitarian and focussed on economic outcomes, be they personal or national. Is success in life to be measured by the size our houses, the hours we work, the things we own, the title we have. What might it mean to think again of the values that are being instilled in our children and how they are formed?

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it”

These are words which implications for how we live within the creation and with others who live in it with us as well.

As people who have our hope founded in Jesus Christ and God’s place in the fullness of time to gather all things into himself to be faithful to this witness and this good news means living our salvation now with integrity and hope as we care for not only one another as human beings but this creation which God made and looked upon and declare “ it is good.”

Monday, 9 July 2012

Atheist Delusions: A Rollicking Good Read

By Peter Lockhart

David Bentley Hart sets the tone of his book “Atheist delusions: The Christians Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies” from the outset. He names his bias and intent – there is no mistaking his position: he will be ardent in his defence of the faith.

Hart also suffers from no illusion that any survey of history is anything but subjective and I appreciated this candid approach – history is always an act of interpretation.

As his key antagonists, Hart names, in his first chapter, activists atheists such as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris but also mentions Dan Brown and Phillip Pullman as other targets of his work.

In his engagement he notes that his asperity is driven not by unbelief, per se, “But atheism that consists entirely in vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness, [which] is as contemptible as any other dreary form of fundamentalism.” (P4)

There is an air of academic superiority in Hart’s tone but rather than finding this annoying I found it refreshing as he staked his claim on the issues at hand: enlarging a vision and understanding of the past with honesty and openness. As one who has felt frustrated by the poor logic and tired arguments that are trotted out to refute belief in the Christain God, Hart’s addressing of the clichés was helpful.

As someone who has not read too much of the “new atheism” I cannot say precisely how well and specifically Hart addresses some of the points made by his opponents but certainly his arguments and vigour provided insights as to how to deal with some of the common aspersions thrown my way as a minister about Christianity.

The book was a jaunt through Christian history, particular early christians history, and the dvelopment of Christian thought which contained correctives not only for atheists but for those who are more fundamentalist in their faith and also those who find themselves in the more progressive group.

Regardless of your thoughts about the topic of athiesm the book introduces readers to many interesting aspects of Christian history.

In a world in which Christianity is being marginalised books like this one serve as a helpful tool and reminder about who we are as the church and to whom we should be listening. For any who are finding the avalanche of anti-Christian sentiment in the culture depressing this is a vital read and whilst it does not contain all the answers provides a good foil to the naysayers of our day.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

How familiar should we be with Jesus?

Peter Lockhart

I can remember a visit from a guidance officer to the school I was in when I was teacher. He came and ran some lessons in with the high school students I was teaching.

As part of what he was doing he ran some group work and brainstorming techniques that I did not regularly use in the classroom. They were not completely new techniques to me but I saw that the students responded well so I thought I might try some of the same teaching strategies in the next few weeks.

Now whereas the guidance officer seemed to keep the students compliant and on task the moment I tried some of the more creative strategies and techniques things simply fell apart and I had to abandon my plans.

On reflection there maybe something to be said about my capacity at the time to employ those strategies but I have always suspected what was more likely is the novelty of the visiting teacher gave them a scope to try things and get the students learning in the new ways than their everyday teacher.

I have seen the same to be true not simply in school settings but in college and University settings, in congregations, presbytery and synod meetings. The visiting speaker or preacher can often say things and challenge people in ways that the more faces can’t seem to do.

The saying usually associated with what is going on here is that familiarity breeds contempt and it has been often suggested that when Jesus returns to Nazareth to teach in the synagogue that this is exactly what happens to Jesus.

According to Mark’s gospel Jesus has already out and about doing great miracles like healing the daughter of Jairus and the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years. Now he heads back to his hometown and goes to teach in the synagogue.

Among those gathered are his relatives and friends, people who knew him as their carpenter. No doubt he had fixed tables and fences and chairs and feed troughs for them but now he was out of character and it jarred for them.

Jesus taught them challenging them. He taught with authority and depth and wisdom that the people simply could not rationalise.

In fact we are told that they took offense at him. There is a similar story told in Luke’s gospel which has the townsfolk so offended that they are ready to throw him off a cliff.

Now whether Mark, along with Matthew, is playing down what happened in this instance or whether Luke embellishes his version of events, or even whether there are two different incidents is by the by: the reaction of the people is rejection.

What really strikes me about Mark’s version of events is Mark’s comment, “And he could do no deed of power there.”

The inference that Mark is making is that the people’s response limited Jesus ability not only to teach them but also to heal them and help them. Or as the biblical scholar David Lose puts it, “their refusal to receive him limits what they can receive from him.”

For me any suggestion that divine power can be limited by human behavior is illogical. If God is all powerful, which I have a tendency to believe then to suggest that Jesus was limited in what he could do as the incarnate son of God seems fallacious.

What all this raises is the question of how we perceive and understand the way in which God relates to the world. It raises the old chestnut of divine and human freedom.

Is God in control of everything, micro managing our lives like some grand puppeteer in the sky?

Is God arbitrarily intervening in our existence, blessing some randomly whilst ignoring or directly disadvantaging others?

Is God holding back simply allowing the creation to roll on, simply letting it go and not intervening?

Does God’s intervention require an appropriate relationship or not?

I have to admit that these are really difficult questions, questions which can turn God into a tyrant controlling every moment of our existence or, alternatively, into an uncaring and absent diety.

This scene does indicate some things which I think are fundamental about the divine-human relationship. I want to mention two.

Firstly, there appears to be a level of openness and co-operation required to receive the fullness of what God is offering to us in the lives that we lead. I don’t necessarily think this should automatically cause us to think that this equates to those who believe will be blessed with a good life. Any student of Christian history knows that some of our most inspiring figures were martyred and suffered greatly in the course of entering more and more deeply into their relationship with Jesus. Nonetheless, living in the relationship with God impacts our lives and the decisions that we make.

Secondly, it is possible for any of us as we seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus that our familiarity breeds contempt: maybe not contempt for Jesus per se, but certainly for Jesus teaching.

For me, this raises a question about how any of us view our relationship with Jesus and how much we personalise this. There is within contemporary Christianity a real push that each of us has a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s not necessarily an unhelpful approach but it can be problematic.

“What a friend we have in Jesus!” Sounds nice, cosy, familiar even, but I also know that I can sit with a friend and chat about life and then walk away taking or leaving what they say. Friends are great, don’t get me wrong, and there should be an implied intimacy in our relationship with Jesus but I wonder if we hold him too close we domesticate what he saying to us.

Viewing Jesus as a friend has become even more endemic and personalised through much contemporary Christian music which has the overtone of modern love songs. Many of my colleagues speak of this as “Jesus is my boyfriend music”. The style of music and the choice of words lead us into a romanticising of the relationship we have with Jesus. And as much as our passion and feelings are a part of our faith over-emoting about our intimacy with Jesus may be unhelpful to our discipleship.

Most young people approach a romantic relationship with a checklist of what the other person is meant to be doing for them and how the other person satisfies their needs. There is a danger in approaching Jesus with such a checklist that instead of receiving what he actually offers we reduce what he offers to the bits that satisfy me and if he doesn’t then I can ‘dump’ Jesus.

Jesus’ presence in his hometown and the reaction to him is a constant reminder to me not to become over familiar with Jesus, to accept that there is a mystery to this person that is beyond a simple friendship.

At the same time it also reminds me that to receive from Jesus requires openness, including the uncomfortable confession that the way in which the relationship between God and me plays out in this life always has an element of mystery about it. I am as uncomfortable with a God who leaves us completely alone as I am with one who acts arbitrarily or even worse determines everything.

Yet despite this risk of not knowing and being able to say definitively how God is and acts the relationship remains and leads me on because Jesus very presence in the village as God incarnate emphasises that cares enough to become one of us.

The promise of Jesus presence is the promise that God is not absent from our lives and that God’s love can transform us.

As the scene progresses Jesus sends the disciples out to share the good news with others, to bring and hope into the lives of those who are suffering. At this point in Mark’s gospel the disciples certainly do not grasp the depth of Jesus identity and the meaning of his life in the world – yet still they go.

This also gives me confidence to encourage you to go out week by week to live and share the good news as you have experienced it, carrying with you the mystery and ambiguity of your faith but confident that God cares enough about our lives that God shared in our very existence.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Wholehearted living: The Gifts of Imperfection

by Peter Lockhart

"I think most of us have developed fairly well developed bullshit meters when it comes to reading self help books."

Brene Brown in this respect is dead right when it comes to my opinion of self-help books. I am not normally the type to pick up a self help book, I think they can cause as many issues as they solve. Yet, when David Lose mentioned Brene Brown in one of his reflections on the lectionary I did some digging and found a TED talk by Brene.

Interested in what she was saying I actually purchased the book The Gifts of Imperfection and found me self reading it. In the struggle of understanding life as one in which I find myself simultaneously a sinner and righteous the discovery of my self worth comes from God's love, not any inner place.  Yet Brown's concept maintained some appeal in how to live from such a place. She sees that, "Wholehearted living is about engaging in life from a place of worthiness."

Brown, who is a Christian, whilst not engaging explicitly in any theology on some level expressed for me the process of the liturgy which involves a recognition of our imperfection, a conscious admitting of that through confession and reception of God's love and grace in the midst of that. When we declare the peace and share it are we not accepting ourselves as worthy and each other in our shared worthiness?

Brown's approach is pragmatic. At the end of each chapter using the acronnym DIG (Get Deliberate, Get Inspired, Get Going) Brene outlines simply how one might engage in 'wholehearted' living. Again and again it came home that this was not about finding perfection or fitting more in or pleasing others but living life to the fullest.

And again and again she pointed out the traps in our thinking and behaviours. For example the idea that we can truly control how others think about us, "Being in control isn't always about trying to manipulate situations, but often it is about the need to manage perceptions. We want to be able to control what other people think about us so that we can feel good enough."

I am not a huge fan of the whole "self-help" genre so maybe it is a testament to Brown that I actually read the whole book. Or maybe it is because at the heart of Brown's book I found something fundamentally connecting with my Christian anthropology - we are imperfect people (sinners, if you will) yet God loves us and calls us to live abundantly.