Kit 2

Table of contents

  • Epiphany 1
  • Epiphany 2
  • Epiphany 3
  • Epiphany 4
  • Epiphany 5
  • Epiphany 6
  • Epiphany 7

Epiphany 1

10 January 2010

  • Isaiah 43:1-7
  • Acts 8:14-17
  • Psalm 29
  • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Jesus' baptism

I would labour hard to forge the link between Jesus’ baptism, and our own baptism. Raise the questions: 'Where were you baptized? Who was present? Who was the minister who recited the required words of this very potent ritual?' For this community is the baptized community, and each one has been baptized, or is a candidate for baptism.  The moment of baptism is when you are remembered and lodged in the memory of God – graced before you could ask, require, demand, claim, or plead.

Lukes ancient story of 2000 years is retold and re-imagined at every baptism, including your’s.  And Luke entices us into the story by requiring an alert audience to imagine the scenes and colour the pictures as the barest of line drawings go past.  Then the God who initiates the whole drama, moves off the page and into our lives, resurrecting dead words and thus re-imaging the jaded, the dispirited, the defeated people who entertain this story. 

Already, Luke has weaved into the story the elusive unpredictable, inspiration of God’s Spirit.

  • John the Baptist’s parents - barrenness no longer bound them.
  • Mary – how will she gift the Christ to the world? The Holy Spirit seeds the gift.
  • Elizabeth, cousin of Mary – something provokes her joyous cry on pregnant Mary's visit.
  • Old Simeon and Anna recognize a fresh stirring of God in our midst.
  • Fiery John the Baptist uses powerful rhetoric to describe the searing, demanding spirit presence of God.

The Baptism – a thin place where heaven and earth meet, described as gentle, dove-like, accompanied by a word from heaven.  The Baptised Community stands in the shelter of this word.

Luke phases John out of the scene, leaving the narrative and ourselves engaged in serious imagining.  Two sentences, four scenes (vvs 21 & 22) with marvelous, expansive riches for our spirits and God’s Spirit to co-mingle for our nourishment, growth, and challenge.

  1. 'After all the people had been baptised …’Who were they? Same as us? Different from us?  We know they were people dissatisfied with the current religious regime.  And they knew their behaviour mattered; how they conducted themselves in the world mattered; justice mattered.  Clean-started, they went home, presumably not alone, but looking after each other’s welfare (vs.10ff).
  2. '… and Jesus also had been baptised …’– along with the others?  Jesus submits to what we, the baptised, submit to. He is becoming one of us – a demonstration of incarnation.
  3. '… and Jesus was praying …' Luke draws our imagining selves right into the innermost movements of Jesus’ heart.  What was the prayer?  Or was it silent waiting – a hushed communion – a pause time seeking for a filling with the good life of the Creator? How often might we seek that?
  4. '… heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came …’Luke expresses the inexpressible, and language stretches beyond its limits, and our imagination must work at maximum capability.  Yet this intense, dramatic, and lovely communion is way beyond our normal, flat, managed, controlled, explainable, fact-laden interactions.  The speech seeds life within us – a double announcement, to Jesus who was baptised with the crowd, and to us who are the baptised crowd:  ‘You are my daughter, my son, my beloved one; and I am pleased with you’.

Prayer for ourseleves and others

God, as you imagine us,
how do you imagine we could be?

For you see people we know
passing through the depths of despair
and surely that is not how you imagine we could be.

You see people we know, consumed by passions and addictions,
and surely that is not how you imagine we could be.

You see people we know, who have sold themselves to their work;
driven themselves into the service of some ideology,
and surely that is not how you imagine we could be.

And our God, you see families we know who are divided and distanced,
and who treat each other as worthless,
and have no regard for kinship
and no desire to love –
and surely that is not how you imagine we could be.

God, you who created us in your image –
would you re-create us as you imagine we could be?
And of all those whom we know of tarnished image
would you re-imagine them.

So may the depths of despair not drown them,
and may consuming passions not destroy them,
and may the recklessly-driven be saved from fatality.

And may you call the distanced families
from the north and south
from the east and west,
may you call them by name
and give them fresh focus for communing in health-giving wholeness.

May that be so in Iraq.
May that be so in Israel.
- and may that be so in Aotearoa, for so much divides us.

But you talk of restoration.
Restore us, our God, as you imagine we could be,
In Jesus' name,

AMEN.

Epiphany 2

17 January 2010

  • Isaiah 62:1-5
  • I Corinthians 12:1-11
  • Psalm 36:5-10
  • John 2:1-11

The morning after the wedding, Joseph woke with a terrible hangover. Too much wine the night before gave him a headache the likes he had not had before. 'Mary,' he groaned, 'I need a drink of water; I desperately need a drink of water.' 'We're out of water,' said Mary. 'We'll have to go to the well and get some.' 'Please do,' said Joseph; and then the pathetic plea, 'And oh, don't send the boy.'

At every wedding, the bride and groom are the centre of attention - unless the bride's mother upstages the bride. At this point in the sermon you might bring out a few well-chosen wedding stories, to draw attention to the sub-themes operating on such occasions - those stories which will be told at the 25th wedding anniversary.

John, the narrator, gives us access to one of the sub themes played out at this wedding. Few were aware of it; most knew nothing, some knew a bit, none fully understood the sub plot woven into this ordinary event.

The first three verses give us all we need to know:

(a) a wedding, (b) at Cana - a specific location of this generous intervention into particular people's lives (God stuff is not in universal, general principles, but in specific particularities), (c) Mother of Jesus a guest (never called Mary in this Gospel), (d) Jesus is a guest, (e) the disciples are guests, (f) Jesus' mother delivers the line of focal tension - 'They have no wine!' Four ways to go:

  1.  The liberal line of sophisticated rationality and conventional, sane reasoning, reducing the story to the explainable thus avoiding embarrassment that we might entertain such a primitive story.
  2. The symbolism/allegorical route.The water jars for purification used to make wine - rejecting Jewish purification rituals, thus rejecting Judaism, leaving Christianity with no religious rivals. Christians have successfully played that line for centuries. Or, the mother of Jesus represents the Church - the new Eve or the new Israel seeking good news. Here each part of the story stands for something outside the story itself, and the story itself dissolves before our eyes.
  3. The fundamentalist route, defending the story in its literalism, which ends up as flat and one-dimensional and monochromatic as the liberal line. The fundamentalists claim too much, even more than the story. None of the characters claim much. The MC knows he is sampling good wine, but doesn't know where it came from. The servants know where it came from but don't taste it. The guests didn't even know there was a crisis, and the groom has only a passing inkling. And nowhere are we told Jesus turned water into wine. The disciples know something, but not a lot. They do know they are on the edge of a beginning of Creation proportions.
  4. There is another way of framing a truth than liberal diminishing, allegory, or the fundamentalist excesses of claiming too much. Treat the text as drama; suspend belief mechanisms for 20 minutes; enjoy the drama, and let its truth work on us. Seek beyond the obvious, beyond the possible, shattering the boundaries of the conventional world; read life between lines where most seldom read.

The clues in the text encourage us to view life from a different angle:

A Vs.11 - the first of Jesus' signs - first as in Genesis 1 and John 1, first as in a beginning, not as in a sequence - different Greek word for that. Here there is a new creative happening on a par with God's move in creation. John/Jesus is inviting us into re-creating the world, re-shaping its life, re-configuring how we see the world.

B Vs.4 'My hour has not yet come.' What hour is this? A little code word used by John to alert us to the greater story engaging us. The greater story? Jesus' time of exercising God's excessive love of humankind - crucifixion and the counterplan of resurrection, and then God's receiving back the crucified one. As we entertain this drama, we are pushing at the edges of the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension hours.

These clues indicate that the drama is now theologically defined, and all who enter this theatre begin to slant life in theological ways. For those who view life from this odd angle of vision realize that every time there is loss, there is God-promised hopeful gain; every time there is deprivation, there is God-created restitution; every time there is depletion, there is God-given abundance.

So in our meetings, our Church, our work, our families; in our rebuffs, redundancies, retirements, griefs, apathies, depressions we will hesitate before we agree too quickly with those who say there is not enough, it can't be done, we have no future. The drama in our book questions the mindset and systems of scarcity, immobility and inevitability.

Prayer

God, you came as one bearing signs of freshness, indicators for direction change,

cues for new communion among people.
Can the sign be replicated?
Can the indicator repeat?
Can the cue be re-cued among us? For the first sign brought joy to potential barrenness, and relief to possible embarrassment,
and amazement to half-believing followers. God, replicate your signs again in our midst, for our lives are running short of freshness, and direction, and cues for sweet communion. And our neighbourhood is low on joy, and high in shame, and lacking in wonder and amazement. We call it normal,
but we know the losses, the bitterness, the flat, wonderless leveling of life. God, we too look for new wine - a new sign, that grace and generosity is loose in our midst,
and we too would be candidates for servanthood, under discipline to carry out the Jesus requests of filling and distributing the newness on offer,
so that our neighbourhood may discover the joy, the freedoms,
the wonder of accompanying the re-creator of life. In the name of Jesus the party-goer,

AMEN.

Epiphany 3

24 January 2010

  • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
  • I Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • Psalm 19
  • Luke 4:14-21

Today's Gospel and next weeks' (Epiphany 4) run together. You may wish to read the two preaching notes before you write the two sermons.

I would run a series of parallels between the people of Nazareth and the people of your town. It depends on how brave or foolish you are as to how far you push the parallels. You could paint the picture of that Saturday Sabbath in Nazareth and allude to how similar it is to our Sunday Sabbath in your named town.

Nazareth - an ordinary little village with no great claim to fame. The people of the town came to worship as we do and followed the liturgy through, same as last week, warmly caressing the souls of the participants, but keeping the story alive in a secular world that does not care about the story. For both their's and our stories have been expunged from the public arena and have been consigned to private, in-house conversations.

The then super power imposed its will, its economic power, its military power, its institutions, language, its view of the world and life, designed to serve the super power, as Rome spread its influence across the globe. Religion became the silent handmaiden to the abusive politics rampant in the land. Life for the people of Nazareth was a life of compromise and humiliation, made tolerable by denial and accommodation to the secular world.

Formal religion had lost its public voice and so had lost its abrasive and transforming edge; the people had lost their focus for life outside, and had shifted the focus to inside. Get the worship service right! Every move, every word, every sequence, every reading, every prayer - not too long, not too short - get it right. Worse, indulge yourself, let its syrupy piety fatten your soft soul into ill-exercised apathy.

The new boy came to Synagogue that morning - one of ours. Let's see how he conforms to the liturgy as laid down by the forebears. Jesus reads from the prescribed scroll - Isaiah 61. There is a dramatic pause as the scroll is re-rolled and handed back. An anticipation of what our local boy may say. We knew his father, you know.

'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.' - A stunned hush! 'Today...?' '... has been?'

Jesus has unhitched from its historical mooring an Isaiah saying, and floated it past this congregation. Jesus has said, 'We once lived this stuff outside these walls, but now we settle for an in-house soul-massage parlour. Today, might we look and live outside these walls to make a difference for God's Commonwealth in the world!' 'It is fatal to guard the borders of the Church to protect the inside. Our life takes its cue from here but lives out there.' Who is in and who is out is not ours to manage - that's God's business. Our task is to count people in, not out - the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed out there, whoever they may be - they are our concern.

The bias of the Bible is to focus on neighbour questions, not correctness questions or discipline questions. One institution doing that now is Presbyterian Support - see Dennis Povey's publication through PSS Otago and Southland How Much is Enough?

Jesus had the courage to unhitch Isaiah's text from its historical moorings and let it float past the Nazareth congregation. It seems they let the rope go, and it floated by. Today the same text floats by this Church, and the lines are thrown out for catching:

  • rich ones and poor ones are neighbours together,
  • free ones and captive ones are neighbours together,
  • seeing ones and blind ones are neighbours together,
  • lively ones and the oppressed are neighbours together.

Will we catch those lines and hitch the Isaiah text to our living story, daring to neighbour ourselves with the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed?

Prayer

Neighbour care...?

O God, we know what it is to be un-neighboured
- to be alone in a city, a Church, a family even.

We know un-neighbourliness tears at our souls, and thrusts us into the forgotten class,
and heralds an illness of heart which soon emerges as illness of body.

And if we know that, the rest of the world knows that,
and suffers from un-neighbouring.

So this day we pray for communities suffering from neighbour-neglect and neighbour fracture.

With global perspective we pray
where neighbourliness excludes the Catholic, the Protestant, the Muslim, the Christian,
the black, the Afrikaner, the Pakeha, the Maori, the Pacific Islander.
With local perspective, we pray
for the close to home ones where selective neighbourliness excludes the Provinces, the rural, the south, the old, the young, the women.

We pray for those who wander our streets suffering neighbour neglect
- alone because of bad parents or no parents,
- alone because of skewed circumstances or malfunctioning body,
- alone because the current ideology demands no money be spent on offering neighbour care.

We pray for those who soon enter into new neighbouring
- for new classrooms of new students, and the teachers who teach them,
- for new entrants into kindergarten and Playcentre, and the J1 class,
-  for newcomers who seek a neighbouring community and neighbouring Church.

And in Jesus' contribution to today's liturgy we pray
 rich may neighbour poor,
 and free ones neighbour captive,
 and seeing ones neighbour blind,
 and lively ones neighbour oppressed.

Usher us into neighbouring future we pray
and give us your Spirit energy to sustain us beyond our good intention.

In Jesus' name, AMEN.

Epiphany 4

31 January 2010

  • Jeremiah 4:4-10
  • I Corinthians 13:1-13
  • Psalm 71:1-6
  • Luke 4:21-30

Luke keeps the narrative going at a hectic pace while we were away on holiday, if we were away. Commonsense dictated we should have a holiday break, while some still gathered here to keep the story alive. Now in Chapter 4 Luke quietens the pace - for a paragraph as we see the now adult Jesus intent on his itinerant preaching programme around Galilee, and the growing respect people had for him.

The narrative we have in front of us begins as an ordinary Sabbath. The gathered assembly walks into worship expecting the ordered liturgy to run its even course. But that Sabbath in the end, turns out filled with rage and mob violence willing to kill.

What happened?

The action begins by taking up the scroll (some Presbyterian Churches still 'take up the scroll' as worships begins); the action does not begin with community experience, or warming up the worshippers, or appeal to nature as some of the more esoteric philosophies and popular spiritualities would have it. The action begins with a text, a word, a word framed in speech and spoken out by a speaker. The action is beginning as the text is spoken out, and the spoken out text begins to settle in the hearts of the hearers, like a grain of sand in an oyster, and it tickles (vs.22), then aggravates (vs.28), then infuriates (vs.29) the hearers.

The pearl that could emerge - the sweet pleasure that more people will hear God's news-laden healing word - is drowned by an anxious, fearful response. The anxious, fearful ones on that Sabbath, are the ones who will not let the borders of their community be breached by any foreign influence.

The response was sparked by Jesus pointing to familiar Hebrew texts which figure the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, taking his ministry outside the Israel community, to some Gentile woman - a foreign woman unqualified to receive God's grace. And in quick succession, Jesus follows that with another example of Elisha, Elijah's successor who gave healing attention to a foreign dignitary who had leprosy; an outsider who did not deserve attention, one unqualified to receive God's grace.

The two texts when spoken out, provoke rage among the good people Nazareth. Yet in these texts, along with the Isaiah 61 text, Jesus puts out for public scrutiny the new programme of God's engagement with the world. But Nazareth worshippers would not entertain it - not for one hour. Commitment to community boundaries took precedence over the joy that God was among them, bringing freedom and healing within, and freedom and healing even to outsiders.

'Keep this community pure, guard its borders, tighten its regulations and discipline, make its worship predictable and unambiguous. Don't mess us up with an untidy future of coping with neighbours - foreign widows and leprous intruders' say the people of Nazareth; and they were ready to kill for it!

There is a little clue in the text that suggests why that is so. It is in the phrase on Jesus' lips as he retells the people's story. '... the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and there was severe famine over all the land of Israel.' There was no life stream from heaven to earth, and the life on offer from God was denied Israel, and the life on offer was for channeling through Israel to foreigners. People forgot God, and God's broad agenda for humankind.

The taken-up scroll finds grounding among us when we allow the messiness of life into our lives and worship place. Admit to the messiness of life - that stuff we leave at the Church door, because we cannot admit to it in front of all these good people. It is here, amidst the messiness that god's grace may rest; for these texts arose out of the harsh realities of life and fought for a place in the Gospel story, and so it is the harsh realities of life they address, for that is where the love, the compassion, the faithfulness of God is sure to pause, and snag, and tether.

The foreign material that irks your soul may be your greatest ally, for it is here that the God of the text, the God of love finds resting place.

Prayer

God, had we been present in that Nazareth Synagogue, what would our prayer be?

God, would we pray for the assembly, that it be kept clean, virtuous, and unstained,
 for surely that would be music to your heart?

Would we pray for better guidance for our youth, that they would learn our mor¨¦s and values,
 and traditions, and so make our lives pleasant, and our futures secure,
 for surely that is your hope for us?

But God, the outcome of the text is troubling, and leaves us troubled,
 for we are suspicious of angry young men,
 and we cringe where there is controversy,
and death talk, even if rhetorical, leaves a bad taste.

God, with the scroll unrolled, and the text talking in our midst,
 we cannot avoid the focus on the fringes, and ask ourselves,
 Who is the one with leprosy seeking attention?
 Who is the Gentile woman yearning for recognition?

God in Christ Jesus, open our blind eyes,
 give us the words of good news, release us from a bondage,
 so that we might proclaim release, bust open the oppression so heavy on us, 
 that we might become free, and free to advertise the Lord's favour.

And may our hue and cry be for the year of the Lord's favour,
 and not our own favour, risky as that might be.

In the name of this risk-taker whom we worship, AMEN.

Epiphany 5

7 February 2010

  • Isaiah 6:1-8
  • I Corinthians 15:1-11
  • Psalm 138
  • Luke 5:1-11

The text today begins with Jesus standing beside the lake, and ends with Simon Peter, James and John following Jesus to they are not sure where. The text begins stationary and ends with movement, and a lot happens in between. The text begins with a faceless crowd pressing to hear Jesus, and ends with named, particular people responding to Jesus.

It's as if Jesus must do the crowd thing, but Jesus' word only comes to life when this one hears, and this one hears, and this one hears. So while the word ranges over the whole congregation, it finds settling place with that attentive person, and that attentive person, and that attentive person. We might be crowd people today - listening and lodging stuff in the memory, or we might be one of the few who might respond specifically, because God might speak specifically to us; both stances are legitimate.

Follow the drama through and watch the verbs gathering momentum - from standing to washing to sitting to teaching; from teaching to putting out to catching to sinking; from sinking to falling in amazement to following. And in the middle, fearful confession, followed by assurance. (I make it a practice of underlining the verbs of a narrative, to see where the narrative is going, and watching the flow of energy in a story, and who, and who is not, the carrier of the energy.)

The tried and true ways of developing the themes here, are:
- lending resources - Simon lent his boat
- Jesus coming to people in the place of their ordinary occupations
- acting in faith - putting out into the deep, even when the evidence says it is a waste of time.

Here is another approach: 'Why is this narrative here at all? What function does it serve? What is the very human situation it is addressing? Is that human situation a crisis in Jesus' day and in our day?'

Initially it looks like we are going to focus on the crowd; they were '...pressing to hear the word of God.' But the narrator diverts our attention away from the crowd, to some fishermen engaged in their ordinary, mundane occupation. Who are these people?; what is their world?

They are proper citizens. They have a job; they produce enough to sell, and sell enough to buy - a decent consumer; diligent, hard-working, consistent, persevering. They are not poor, lazy, sick, blind, deaf, crippled, paralysed, dependent, or a burden to anyone. They are not a foreigner, gay, a woman, a child, a tax collector or sinner. Proper citizens, legitimate people, the ones with the right to occupy space on this earth.

Citizenship of the proper world has its religious expression - we saw it last week (Luke 4:16-30) - a religion of conformity which will not admit to any newness. A fixed doctrine handed down by the fathers, and only the proper people have access to its truth. A fixed morality, retributive ethics, intolerant theology.

There is another option proper citizens, secular or religious, may take - drop out into private life. A world organised to serve I, myself, and me, often because they are tired, and battered by the strenuous rule of people who formulate, regulate, and apply the truth system - secular or religious. Pain is these people's launching pad toward withdrawal and isolation. The world of the inner self is serene, but easily degenerates into self-indulgence, living the uninterrupted life which comes on my terms - no commitments, join nothing, let troublesome neighbours get on as best they can, deal with bothersome old parents, greed for me, and if it is bad fortune for you, that's your fault.

Religious life has its parallel - private, self-serving religious indulgence, where God endorses all I do, no cost, cheap grace. And it is probably pain that launched them. There is a faint trace of that posture in today's text - Simon, James, and John were not with the crowd; they were off by themselves attending to their own business.

So, two stances: one of hardened intolerant truth that knows too much; the other which comes out of pain - private , cushioned life, that requires life of my terms. There is no future in either of these; one ends in brutal oppression, and the other ends in isolated despair; one is hardened by the system, and the other pained by the system.

Jesus offers a third option. It's in Jesus' playful but intentional call to these three people. The call to fish is a brilliant and playful entry into the call to follow. And to follow Jesus into a life of people/neighbour care. God offers no other life.

Remember someone once asked him 'What is the greatest commandment?' And he said, 'You shall love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength.' But before they could draw a breath, he said, 'And the other commandment is like it; you shall love your neighbour as yourself.' They said, 'We only asked for one; we don't want two.' And he said, 'You will never get one; you will always get two.' So they said, 'Who is my neighbour?' and he said, 'The one who shows mercy to the one who needs mercy. Neighbours are mercy-givers and mercy-receivers.'

So Jesus says to Simon, James, and John 'From now on, catching people is our life.' - catching people with mercy, e.g. tax-collector Zacchaeus; the 18-year crippled woman - a son, a daughter of Abraham.

That's why the story is here - to begin this other way of faith expression. Catching people with mercy. Hardened system practitioners, and brittle system survivors both require a catching of mercy, or they die. Catching people with mercy outlives any oppressive system, and penetrates every despairing solitude. The calling one is the prime mercy-giver.

Prayer

Jesus Christ, catcher of people, mercy-lover, mercy-giver, mercy-practitioner, mentor of mercy,
 to you we respond.

We hear your voice penetrating our hardened selves,
 our jaded selves, our despairing selves.

We hear your voice to follow your way of mercy to any and all who cross our path,
 So that they and we may live in the arena of mercy.

So soften our truth with mercy.
Re-regulate our lives with a mercy clause.
Un-pain us with mercy therapy.
Free us to receive mercy and to give mercy.

In the name of the premier in mercy, AMEN.

Epiphany 6

14 February 2010

  • Jeremiah 17:5-10
  • I Corinthians 15:12-20
  • Psalm 1 
  • Luke 6:17-26

Scholarly detectives find this section of Luke quite fascinating; they compare it with Matthew's coverage of similar material. Some of it is the same, and some of it is different, and the differences seem too deliberate to be accidental. Each one has additions and deletions the other does not have, and we have to ask why. Luke says, 'Blessed are the poor ...'; Matthew says, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit...'. We, the rich ones of the world, who live in the big houses - we move quickly to Matthew; Luke is too unsettling. Did the early Church find Luke unpalatable, so coaxed Matthew to trim the edges of the text (and so trim the God of the text)? Did the early Church put paint thinners into the brush strokes, making it easier to apply?

Luke says, 'Blessed are you who are hungry now...'. Matthew says, 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...'. Matthew's reportage is more agreeable. We stick with Luke - we who are courageous enough to voluntarily place ourselves in a context where we are likely to hear unpalatable texts which prize us out of our comfort zone and give us a chance for growth. We are like the Disciples, and every disciple since, struggling for faithfulness among the world's peoples, where the world's peoples are not always kind, or benign, or just, or fair.

However, we have a text in hand which is often at odds with the world's texts and may offer a serious challenge to the world's texts.

Only occasionally will we exercise our bilingual ability to speak the language of the world, and then the language of the text, so stack one against the other and observe the outcome.

Most often we manage the world's texts in little tolerable bits. We keep violence at bay by pinning it to Iraq, or the road toll, but violence is resident within us and in our close communities and families. We keep disease at bay by hospitalizing it, and drugging it into submission. But disease rests on our excessive consuming of junk food, and fatty rich products we think are our birthright.

We seek to patch up this broken world with tighter regulations, and more and better policing and counseling services, and identifying who to blame for the latest atrocity, be it the terrorist, or the overworked CYPS social worker doing her best at her job. The world teeters on the brink of major tragedy every day, but it won't do to privatize it and send it off for counseling, or to hospitalize it, or to give it to a Royal Commission, or to endure the grief and tragedy behind the closed doors of the home. That reduces the tragedies of human experience to private, in-house, closed off, disengaged events, all surgically removed and forgotten.

Jesus, via Luke's version, speaks another language, a new word. Jesus notices the outpouring of private anguish among the people of all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon (vs.17). That observation provoked him to proclaim to any listening disciple: 'Their poverty is your poverty; their hunger is your hunger; their weeping is your weeping. No, it won't all go away; it won't all work out, it won't all disappear into a Royal Commission or a Parliamentary Debate. The wounding hurts will remain until they are publicly recognized, and collectively borne, and co-operatively addressed.
For poverty (vs.20) is inextricably linked with someone else's richness (vs.24); hunger (v.21a) is inextricably linked with someone else's fullness (vs.25a); weeping (vs.21b) is inextricably linked with someone else's laughter (vs.25b). The world's anguished terror, and the world's excessive abundance, are all of a piece - different sides of the same coin.

Our delightful duty is to speak the language of the Gospel, and enter into a collusion with the Christ who notices the forgotten ones, and quit colluding with the forces that perpetuate poverty, hunger, and weeping. Alternatively, preach from Matthew on Sunday.

Prayer

God, we pause at the beginning of another week,
 not knowing what the week may bring for the people of the world.

Will war continue to destroy?
Will the leaders of the western world find force their only option?
Will terror burst again with its waste of human flesh?
God, we pray for a world intent on death that you might bring it life.

How many children will be abused this week? How many women will be threatened?
How many men will be diminished by loss of job, loss of self-esteem, self-worth?
God, is it possible for you to come into focus, in families and homes,
 and draw people together around love?

How many young people will die on our roads this week?
- or die by their own hand?
- or injure themselves through body neglect or abuse of their minds?
God, is it possible you might slip alongside, and bring a life-giving focus for hope?

How many destructive arguments verging on violence
 will range in our stressed institutions this week?
How many will fiercely defend their position, their staff, their ideals?
How many will doggedly seek justice?
How many will hide evidence, and shred paper, and perjure themselves?
God, may your quality of truth and justice find resting place in heart and voice
 of those who must make these management decisions.

How many bereft and new students will move into town this week?
How many tears shed, ties stretched, friends lost and found?
God, companion these lonely ones in a strange land, we pray.

And God, how many of us will keep your love alive and going through this week?
How many of us will resurrect
 resurrection life tomorrow
 to bring hope to ourselves
  and hope to any we engage?

How many, God?

For the moment, to this we pledge our lives,  AMEN.

Epiphany 7

 21 February 2010

  • Exodus 34:29-35
  • I Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2
  • Psalm 99
  • Luke 9:28-43

Transfiguration 

Every Sunday (?) in your Church, the voice of prayer utters these words '... your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ...'. The people recite the ancient and familiar prayer, perhaps too well known, so too easily forgotten, or overlooked, or dismissed. Yet hidden in these well-known words is an invitation to amazing freedom, and delightful playfulness, enough to put danger and release into our living.

We have probably discarded the concept of heaven being a geographical location on a cosmic map. Yet what could the metaphor of 'heaven' mean? Maybe the Transfiguration story is an attempt to introduce us to something that looks like heaven - an attempt to draw us beyond our rational, measured selves, to reveal another world where imagination may have a freer reign.

Here is an invitation to entertain another realm, another commonwealth - to explore a new and different world, unhampered by a distraught, fractured, old world. New promises, new configuration of how life might be and then to press those new configurations into service in the world as we experience it.

I believe Luke places these two stories end on where participants move and speak as in a dream on the mountain top, and then at the base of the mountain distraught participants are tormented by a recurring nightmare.

The stories are deliberately linked - see the signal phrases 'On the next day ...' '... when they had come down from the mountain ...'. Up the mountain has to do with down the mountain (Heaven has to do with earth). When we put the two stories together, new conversations take place, new freedoms are revealed, new energies are on the move. This is theologically crafted stuff, not sequential reportage; the wonder and amazement of the up top vision has to do with the terror and constraints of the downside realities.

The narrator gives us permission to enter the mountain top vision. It looks like a dream; - appearances suddenly change, and figures suddenly appear, as they do in a dream. The disciples are weighed down with sleep, and a misty cloud overshadows them. Jesus is transformed - dazzling white, and two other recognisable characters appear - Moses and Elijah.

Who is with and behind these two? Try probing the misty curtain cloud - push the curtain aside a little, and adjust the edges of the text. What might we see? Miriam, Moses' sister, and Moses' un-named mum, and these distraught women conspiring to save the child three months old, from certain death. We might see a grown Moses embroiled in delicate life and death negotiations to save another group of children - of Israel. We might see Miriam's finest hour when she led the women of Israel in song and dance - leading them into joyous freedom. We might see a courageous Moses, not afraid to mix it with God, and ready to form a new dynamic social grouping out of slaves whose only experience was to conform.

And through the mist, we might watch Elijah, a compassionate prophet, revive a young boy, son of a distraught widow - and the same prophet confronting a crooked king, a prophet dedicated to putting right, what was intolerably wrong.

We peer into the dream-like, heaven-shaped experience on the mountain top, seeing fresh interpretations that we can press into service at mountain base - in the world we live in. We see communities of people behind these figures, who lived by liberating promise, and struggled with the promise of abundant, healing life. Their historical truth was destructiveness and brutality, oppression and aggression, yet they lived above these forces; and they discovered a relentless hope which out-paced the flat, measured, managed, hope-less truth of the well organised empire. They knew the nurtured heartbeat of neighbour care, and neighbour love, of release from oppression and restoration of life.

Now to the mountain base, where we are confronted (daily) by the rawness of life looking like death. Up the mountain we were called to listen to God's son; down the mountain another father begs us to listen to his son (see vs.38). In the face of such human terror and sorrow the word of the mountain dream may now speak in the valley. The spirit of the mist now lingers among our earthly spirits. The will of heaven may now have grounding on earth.
 
Two words. We are not alone. We are held by the big names of the faith community who urge us to live on earth as if God's whole commonwealth was in attendance. Second word - love. Love strong and powerful, that holds a community including its saints. Love enough to notice the yearning to be noticed. Love enough to notice the loneliness of the human spirit, and will overcome shyness, superiority, crowded schedule, to give time to filling the empty void of a fellow human being. Love which will love where love is undeserved. Love in a community which actively and joyously demonstrates its love, sings its love - enough to subvert the power of the incessant demons among us. Then God's commonwealth may come, and God's will might be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Prayer

Transfigured Christ - Christ bathed in glory,
 you, still with feet on ground, come in to our midst we pray;
 we who are short on glory with limited perspective and only embryonic holiness,
 we need your presence in our lives.

For we tolerate a murder a week in Aotearoa,
 and the road toll maintains its steady reckoning, and our youth still suicide.
So families are devastated and communities are shocked - shattered,
 and our nation begins to accept such killings as normal.

God, come in to our communities and families, and nations we pray,
For our sense of community is diminishing, and our understanding of mutual care and  neighbour love is shrinking.
So we need you to intervene and save us,
 to act in our world of silent acceptance, and toleration of ignoring neighbour,
 and our practice of isolating the ones we don't like.

Our God, we pray for those in charge of our New Zealand mental health system
- those who administer the resources,
- those who know how it once was and long for a restoration,
- those who have new insight as to how it could work.
And we pray for those now who receive care, and those who receive neglect.

Our God, we bring to your attention and to ours, relations of race.
We pray for our fellow citizens who pay attention to ensuring good relationships
- those in government
- those in trade unions
- foremen and forewomen on factory floor
- the professional people who realize they are not the only ones in their profession,
  and their way is not the only way.

Our God, open our eyes to the richness of our diversity,
 and nurture us through to appreciating the life of the other.

In the name of the Christ who could, AMEN.

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