Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Psalm 22 Remembering God

In Psalm 22 we read these words of hope:

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.”

The loss of our personal memories can be a devastating experience and can have wide ranging consequences for many of our relationships.  No less so our collective amnesia as human beings can have terrible consequences.

Last Monday on Q&A the panel discussion focussed in on domestic and family violence in Australia.  During the discussion it was said that 1 in 3 Australian women will experience violence against them simply because they are women.  And, even more disturbingly, 1 in 5 will suffer some form of sexual abuse or violence. As a man I found these statistics staggering and wonder at the culture we have created which so demeans women – What will this mean for my daughter and her friends? What does it mean for people in my congregation?  What does it mean for the young women I meet as a Chaplain at the University?

Whatever else it means I believe it is a symptom and sign of our collective amnesia as human beings? 

We have forgotten God and we have placed ourselves as human beings at the centre.

We have forgotten that each of us is a precious creation loved by our maker.

We have forgotten that God’s promises are for all people.

We have forgotten that God’s desire is that all people encounter and experience an abundant life.

We have forgotten that in Christ there is no male or female, rich or poor, slave or free.

The symptoms are not simply in the treatment of women but seen in our predilection for violence based on any difference race, class, religion or gender. Our inhumanity towards one another is rife.

Far too often people of religious persuasion interpret their relationship with God as an invitation to violence and there can be no doubt there are images of God that portray a picture of an angry and violent God, but remembering God’s promise of love and mercy in Christ transform these difficult images.  Jesus commitment was to life in all it wholeness for people, even those who had been pushed to very margins of society.

Remembering God is important and remembering God’s concern for the poor, the orphan and the widow is vital.  God’s vision expressed in Psalm 22 is that the poor shall eat and be satisfied.  God desires all people to live life in freedom and abundantly, not just some!

When people gather for worship one of core aims is the act of remembering – the technical term used is anamnesis.

The word has the opposite meaning to one which sounds more familiar, amnesia.  Anamnesis is about recovering our memory – our memory of God.

In coming together we are reminded of our common bond to God and to all created life.  We are reminded that despite what we may think God has not forgotten us.  We remember that God’s response to the violence of the world was not retribution but submission to the cross in Christ.

The violence of the cross is not the act of an angry God, rather it is the invitation to new life as God accepts the violence we commit against Jesus and transforms it through the resurrection.

Psalm 22 which is quoted by Jesus on the cross reminds us that God did not abandon Jesus but quite the opposite: “he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”

As we remember God and turn again towards God’s love in worship we are transformed by our remembering – God’s compassion, God’s mercy, God’s desire for abundance in our lives infiltrates our hearts, our minds and our souls as we invited to follow Jesus and love one another.

The psalmist cries ‘As for me I will live for the Lord” – remembering changes us into God’s people, called to bring wholeness to the lives of others.

God remembers us in grace what does it mean for you to remember God?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Lent 1: God must be looking at the Rainbow!

Reading Genesis 9:8-17

8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Reflection: God remembers the rainbow

God said to Noah

“When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is
between me and you and every living creature of all flesh!”

God’s commitment to remember the promise God makes is an act of amazing trust and grace and as we enter this period of Lent I want you to think deeply on the consequences of God’s promise.  Lent is a time for repentance and owning the faults of our humanity – not simply our personal faults but our collective ones.

The story of Noah and the ark is one of the more disturbing and difficult ones of the scriptures.  It is also a story found within many ancient cultures – the story of a great flood sent as a punishment on human beings for their waywardness.

No children’s play set of Noah includes the multitudes of people and animals destroyed and floating dead in the waters surrounding the Ark – these images are too graphic and pointed because they speak to us of a God who seeks a new beginning and is willing to destroy lives to do so.

Yet at the end of story God’s heart and mind is shifted to focus on opportunity and grace and whilst the narrative does not suggest it I do wonder whether part of this is the realisation of the horror that has unfolded.

Yet my thought is that we do not need God’s intervention to wreak horrors on ourselves and it can only be God’s continuing to gaze at a rainbow that stays God’s hands.

Think about life in our world at the moment and how God’s heart must despair at our inhumanity.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

At the beginning of this week 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by members of the Islamic State.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

We have been following the story of the two young Australians who sought to smuggle drugs through Indonesia.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

So far 14 women have been killed in domestic violence incidents in Australia this year; that is two per week.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

Children are still being held in detention by the Australian government and our border policy demonises people who are fleeing terrible situations.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

Indigenous people are still disadvantaged in Australia and in many places around the world those who were colonised struggle to live.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

At an individual level people are self-interested and anxiety is rife.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

For me these continued tragedies of our humanity are signs that God sees the rainbow – God stays God’s hand.

But as we travel through Lent God’s rainbow coloured viewing of the world – allowing us to go on in all our depravity - is match by God’s own commitment to change our suffering.

We travel towards the cross where God rather than seek retribution shares the consequences of our depravity. In Jesus life and death God says that retribution and destruction are not the final answer.

Jesus resurrection is the promise of new life.  It is this fulfilment of the promise of the rainbow –God’s desire for the creation is a life and a future living in the peace and harmony that God desires for us.

So this lent as God sees the rainbow and remembers his promises let us repent not just for ourselves but on behalf of all people everywhere. 

Let us throw ourselves on God’s mercy and be his people.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Reading Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

We have already heard the good news of God’s promise to see the rainbow and remember and as God’s people in this time and place we have heard and believed that Jesus presence in the world is good news.

His very baptism is a sharing in the lives that we lead so as to transform the suffering and horrors we experience into hope.

We have taken our theme to be followers of this very same Jesus in the hope that as we follow temptations will be resisted and the kingdom of God will come close for the sake of the entire world.

This is our response to the promise of God to be for us and with us and not against in the face of the great challenges of this time and of every time.

So as God looks at the rainbow and remembers let us remember and be his followers.

In the words of the Psalm today there were some phrases used by the Psalm which I believe can be helpful in our response to God’s presence and our commitment as followers.

They are:

·         I lift up my soul.

·         My God, in you I trust!

·         Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.

·         Lead me in your truth, and teach me.

·         For you I wait all day long.

·         Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord.

·         Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.

·         All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.

Each of you has the opportunity this Lent to commit yourself again to God, to turn back and journey towards God’s ways as a response of thanksgiving for what God has done.

I would invite you now to choose one of these phrases and for the period of Lent make it your slogan, make it your mantra, make it your prayer.  Let it shape your existence!

After the service I will hand out a suggestion with each phrase as to how you might enter more deeply into the journey of Lent as you commit yourself again to God.