Week 4: Wednesday Matthew 10:32-42

In Victorian times it was the fashion to have bible texts hanging on the wall in order constantly to remind people that God was keeping an eye on them.

Some examples:
“Bless this house” in the lounge
“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of they sleep?” ove a child’s bed
“Be sure your sins will find you out” could be seen on prison walls.
I did hear once that on the wall of a nursery in a great house the text was hung “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. I’ve never been sure whether the person who chose that text for that setting had a marvellous sense of humour or simply didn’t see the double meaning!

If you were choosing a Bible text to hang on the wall of your house, I wonder what you’d choose…
I wouldn’t mind betting it probably wouldn’t be the verse 34 of today’s reading, where Jesus says “Don’t think it’s my job to bring peace on earth. I didn’t come to bring peace – I came to bring a sword!”

What’s happened to the idea that Jesus is the Prince of Peace?

God’s way of looking at people and situations is not our normal, habitual way. It rarely fits with our deep sense of tradition and continuity and respectability.

The context in which Jesus spoke his words of division rather than peace is rooted in a particular historical moment, in a particular point in Jesus’ life.
He’d been travelling around, mostly in Galilee, experiencing the adulation of the crowds, healing the sick, casting out demons… he was only too aware the people were beginning to have ideas, beginning to see him as the promised Messiah.

The problem was, they had their own idea of what that meant and it didn’t chime with the reality.

Messiah, to them, meant a military leader to free them from political tyranny. That was the traditional view.

Jesus had continually tried to show them in his way of life that the Messiah was actually to free them from religious tyranny – from the tyranny of the Law, from the tyranny of self-righteousness, from the tyranny of trying to earn their right to stand before God.

Needless to say, this went down like a lead balloon with the religious authorities and all the pious Jews who took great pride in keeping the Law, doing things right… remember the story of the Rich young Ruler, one of the most privileged in Jewish society at the time?

He comes to Jesus and asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replies “you know the law…”
To which the Ruler responds “I’ve kept all the laws since my youth”
And Jesus’ response to that? “one more thing is needed – go, sell all you have, give to the poor and come and follow me”. Give up your security in anything other than your relationship with me.

Jesus’ message was not a comfortable one. It was an extremely uncomfortable one.  It challenged them to move beyond mere adherence to the letter of the Law. It challenged them to a change of attitude, a change of heart and mind. It called them to an openness before God which was prepared to admit that they did not have a monopoly on the truth, that they could not take confidence in their heritage or their history or their race or their wealth or their social standing or their total keeping of the rules of their faith.

It called them to an attitude of compassion and tolerance towards those who flouted the social norms – the loose-livers, the collaborators with the occupying forces, the beggars… the dregs and rejects of society. Jesus was also a devout, faithful Jew – but for Him, that led him to consort precisely with those who earned the disapproval of the worthy, high-standing members of society.

Jesus knew that the time was coming when individuals would need to make up their mind about him and about his real radical message which turned their preconceptions on their head.

People would be divided.
Households would be divided.
The nation would be divided.

Jesus was politically astute and could see the way things were going.
If he wasn’t prepared to water down his message, to be more conciliatory towards both Roman political leaders and Jewish religious leaders, it could only end in one way.

The Romans were ruthless in their squashing of any rebellion, and the Jewish authorities were appeasers – peace at any price, even at the cost of sacrificing an innocent man.

And as night follows day, this is always potentially the price to be paid by any true follower of Christ – opposition from friends and family, from neighbours and from the leaders of society.

Jesus doesn’t like what he can see ahead if the hearts and minds of the majority turn against him.

 

In the Gospels  we see a Jesus who is utterly human – God entering fully and deeply into the reality of what it means to be human.
Not just the joy of that, but also the pain.

We also see a Jesus who is utterly divine – God in Jesus holding fast to the truth of the gospel of love and tolerance and forgiveness whatever the consequences. And this is the Jesus who challenges us also to put His kingdom values first regardless of the consequences.

What are those kingdom values?
Feed the hungry
Clothe the naked
House the homeless
Welcome the outcast and the refugee
Heal the sick
Comfort the sorrowing
Stand up for the underprivileged
Speak truth to injustice
Forgive without counting

And do all of this, all of the time, for all whom we encounter.

Choose this day whom you will serve.

 

Week 4: Tuesday Matthew 6:16-24

Just five days before what is traditionally the biggest blow-out of the year in our over-commercialised Western celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, our reading begins with the three words “When you fast”.

Not if – when.

Fasting isn’t a fashionable discipline.
Come to that, discipline isn’t a fashionable concept.
In particular self-discipline and self-denial fly in the face of the current Zeitgeist.
I suspect the decline of discipline, in that sense, began
around the time that your flexible friend took the waiting out of wanting. Any of you remember that?access1978_85c

We are challenged in this passage to live by another standard.

Not “I’m on a sea-food diet. I see food and I eat it.”
Not “I’m entitled – why should I wait?”
Not “I’ve worked hard – I deserve to splurge on ……. (insert indulgence of choice)”
Not “My happiness depends on owning the latest piece of technology” (despite what the adverts would have you believe)

No.
The challenge of Jesus is summed up in those first three words – “When you fast“.

What Jesus is not saying is that it is inherently wrong to have nice things or to enjoy nice things. Remember – he liked going to parties – even provided the best wine they’d ever tasted. So go ahead – enjoy your Christmas feast.
Just don’t make the consumption of things the main goal of your life.
The discipline (that word again) of the Christian year includes two seasons of fasting – Advent and Lent.
Two seasons of putting the wait back into wanting (unless of course you succumb to mince pies in October and Hot Cross Buns in January  winking-smiley)

Fasting isn’t just going without food or alcohol.
Fasting is about priorities.
It’s about putting prayer – simply being in the presence of God – higher up the list than anything else.
It’s about not allowing your appetites to rule your life.
It’s about allowing God to rule your life.
It’s about discipline – remaining steadfast in prayer for our broken, hurting world including the perpetrators of the latest atrocities as well as giving thanks for all that contributes to building God’s kingdom .
It’s about being Christ to the world by the power of the Spirit.
It’s about building the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

Week 4: Monday Matthew 5:38-48

What this passage doesn’t say:
“Ignore injustice – accept it, embrace it, submit to it”

What this passage does say:
“Break the cycle of violence, of hate – but do it in such a way that the perpetrator has the opportunity to realise how their action is attempting to dehumanise you. By your reaction, be fully human – as Christ was fully human – the way God intended all along.”

And as for “pray for your enemies”… here’s a prayer you might like.
But be warned – something deep in you may resist at first, and then you may be taken to places you wouldn’t have chosen. You will, without doubt, be transformed.

“Jesus, help me to love X just half as much as you do.”

Try it. I double-dare you…

praying

Another offering from Richard Rohr: Your True Self Is Love Sunday, December 18, 2016

Those who have gone to the depths—of suffering, awe, or silence—discover an Indwelling Presence. It is a deep and loving “yes,” an “amen” or “let it be,” that is inherent within you. In Christian theology, this inner presence is described as the Holy Spirit: God as immanent, within, and even our deepest and truest self.

Some saints and mystics have described this presence as “closer to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself.” This is what Thomas Merton called the True Self. It is inherent in all of us, yet it must be awakened and chosen. The Holy Spirit is totally given—and given equally—to all; but it must be received, too. One who totally receives this Presence and draws life from it is what we mean by a saint.

That is how “image” becomes “likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We all have the indwelling image, but we surrender to the likeness in varying degrees and stages. None of us are morally or psychologically perfect or whole, but a saint or mystic nevertheless dares to believe that he or she is ontologically (“in their very being”) whole and that this wholeness is a gift from God. It has nothing to do with “me” in my separateness!

The Holy Spirit is never concocted by our actions or behavior. The Spirit is naturally indwelling from the moment of our conception (Jeremiah 1:5); it is our inner being with God (which, by the way, is the basis for the sacredness of life in the womb!). With that understanding, we sometimes called the Holy Spirit “Uncreated Grace.” Culture and even religion often teach us to live out of our false self of reputation, self-image, role, possessions, money, appearance, and so on. It is only as this small self fails us—and it always eventually does—that the True Self stands revealed and ready to guide us.

The True Self—where you and God are one—does not choose to love as much as it is love itself already (see Colossians 3:3-4). The True Self does not teach us compassion as much as it is compassion. Loving from this core of your being is experienced as a river within you that flows of its own accord (see John 7:38-39). From this more spacious and grounded place, one naturally connects, empathizes, forgives, and loves everything. We were made in love, for love, and unto love. This deep inner “yes,” that is God in me, is already loving God through me. The false self does not really know how to love, in a very deep or broad way. It is too opportunistic. It is too small. It is too self-referential to be compassionate.

Throughout this year’s meditations I have explored love as the very foundation of reality, God’s character, and our own selves. This week and next I’ll try to summarize how everything is connected by this unbreakable thread throughout history and in our short lives.

Gateway to Silence:
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation (Franciscan Media: 2014), 46-48.

For all who are not yet ready for Christmas…

Christmas is coming…

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…
Time to go out shopping for the tinsel tat.
Don’t forget the turkey, the pudding and the cake –
Better buy the mince pies, there’s no time left to make…
Stilton, cheddar, camembert, brie and Roquefort too –
Better get some port and whisky, red wine, white and – phew!
‘most forgot the stuffing, brandy butter, clotted cream –
And walnuts and pistachios, almonds, pecans also seem
Essential for the feast, with salmon, smoked, and sausage rolls.
But where, in all this great long list, is succour for our souls?
…..
All this to celebrate the birth
of He Who made the universe
yet left His throne and came to us,
was born in poverty?
How can we feast when others starve?
When prisoners still aren’t freed?
When sick still suffer, can we laugh
And dance and shout with glee?
Why, yes, we can – for so He did,
At weddings and at feasts.
And we rejoice for He has come
For all of us, not just for some,
To cleanse and heal and bring release
And calls us now to share our feast,
Our riches, with all those who still
Are captive, sick and hungry.
…..
For still He comes to earth, is born
In humble places – hearts so torn,
And binds and heals and brings release
And calls us on to share His peace,
To feed the hungry, heal the lame,
To give, and never be the same
As all the tinsel-tangled world.
And so His standard is unfurled
And flies above the dirt and shame
And through us others hear His name
And the whole world will be aflame
With Love come down at Christmas.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Matthew 1:18-25

Emmanuel

In heart of clamour
Silence grows
In midst of turmoil
Peace flows
Beyond all logic
God draws near,
Takes on our flesh –
Christ is here.

Rest for the weary,
For hatred, love.
For sin, forgiveness,
For warfare a dove.
Hope for despair,
Comfort for grief
For sorrow, joy –
Such sweet relief
When dawns the Dayspring
On our sight,
Dispersing gloom,
Bringing light.

The King is born –
We own His sway,
Kneel in homage
On this His day.
Thoughts are stilled
Words fall away.
Gaze in awe
In silence pray
Before the Babe
Asleep on hay
Emmanuel

Week 3: Saturday Matthew 27:27-38

This passage came as a shock.

Wright’s commentary gave new insights – I’d never before made the conscious connection between the Sermon on the Mount and the events surrounding the crucifixion, although I’d always seen in the crucifixion narratives a deep integrity with all that Jesus lived and taught up to that point.

Powerlessness. That’s the word that sprang to mind as I read the penultimate paragraph on p89 of the book where Wright ponts out that similar atrocities continue to happen and asks what our response is.

Powerlessness.

Jesus, who had demonstrated such authority and power over sin, guilt, sickness and even death, was in this moment powerless – this is, above all, the moment when he, “though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2)

Powerlessness.

The disciples looking on could do nothing – the full might of the occupying forces was ranged against their Lord and Master, and would crush them instantly, like an insect underfoot, if they gave any sign at all that they objected.

Powerlessness.

Maybe above all, the powerlessness of his mother.
Mary, who had born him in her womb for 9 months, facing herself the possibility of condemnation and rejection for her “immorality” (an angel?? the Holy Spirt??? yeah, right… who does she think she’s kidding???).
Mary, who had nurtured him as only a mother can, held him to her breast, watched over his development, disciplined him when, an unthinking adolescent, he caused her and Joseph heart-lurching anxiety when they couldn’t find him following his Bar Mitzvah.
Mary, who had looked on as he left the carpenter’s bench to which he’d been trained by Joseph and began to wander the country – claiming, at one point when she and her other sons came to speak with him, that all the needy people crowding around him were his family.
Mary, who had given her life to love, cherish, nurture this precious gift from God.
Mary, now powerless to mitigate the suffering of the man who was once the baby inside her womb.

Powerlessness.

Ours, as we look around our deeply troubled world today.
There seems so little we can do – and certainly we are powerless to change the big picture.
Ours, as we watch those near and dear to us suffer physically and psychologically.
Ours, as our own bodies begin to fail or develop life-limiting conditions.
Ours, as our nearest and dearest or indeed ourselves, approach the end of life.

How do I respond to the cross? How does it touch my life?
It proves beyond doubt that God is in all things – including the unspeakable, the unthinkable.

This is Incarnation.

God in all things?

Truly?

Is God in all things?

A beautiful sunset, a sleeping child,
A rose in bloom, a mother’s smile…
A father’s strong hand, a lover’s caress,
A hug from a friend, my deepest distress…

Hold it right there! What’s that I just heard?
My deepest distress? When the sun is obscured
And the lightning strikes, the tsunami floods in
Sweeping all life away – or so it seems…?
When grief shreds my heart, when my body is wracked
With pain, when for lust a child is attacked?
When I’m sinking in mire, when I can’t find firm ground,
When all hope is lost, when the darkness surrounds…

Is God in all things?
Is God truly in all?
Is God?
Dare I say it?
Is God at all?

Is God in my doubting, my darkness, my fear?
Or does God hide away when the fog fails to clear?
Does God simply watch from the side-lines, wait
For the act of destruction which settles my fate?

Is God in the darkness?
Is God truly in all?
Is God?
Dare I say it?
Is God at all?

A child in a manger,
A refugee flight,
A victim of prejudice,
Sought out by night
For fear of the others –
Yet offering sight
For the blind, healing, hope
For those life leaves behind…
A man in a courtroom,
Falsely accused…
A whipping, a taunting,
Face battered and bruised
By a crown of thorns
Pressed down on his brow…
As he hangs on a tree
Is God in all things now?
If not now, then never…
At this moment of death,
Of defeat, the man says
With his last gasping breath
“Into your hands, my Father, my God, I commend
My spirit” – and still the night had no end
As darkness encompassed the earth at noon,
As the sun was obscured, earthquake rumbling on.
Grief, despair, darkness had won the day.

Until three days later the stone rolled away…

Yes, God is…
In darkness as well as in light
Yes, God is in all things,
In both day and night.
As I face the tsunami of life I proclaim
That God is in all things,
In both joy and pain.
Yes, God is…