Archive for July, 2018

Pentecost 10B, 2018
John 6:1-21
Food sharing – Becoming What We eat!

An average New Zealand household throws out $563 worth of food annually,
according to a 2008 study by the NZ Government – and that figure doesn’t take into consideration how much is thrown out by shops and businesses. The study claimed that 1,048,993 tonnes of waste was generated by the residential sector and that equates to an average of 260 kg per person, over 44% of which was organic waste.

But what is the significance of this for a faith community, for followers of the Jesus Way?
Well! From all that we now seem to know about biblical culture, meals played an important role in both community life, and in the Jesus Movement tradition. Scholars tell us that Christian Jews regularly ate together, even before they began to conduct worship services. We are also told that Jesus himself was closely associated with meals and that one of the criticisms leveled against him was, of his being a ‘glutton and drunkard’ (Matt 11:19).

Our story this morning of the feeding of people appears in all four gospels. All slightly different, but the plot is very similar in all. This says that there was a strong ‘storytelling’ tradition about it. It is also fair to imagine that all the biblical storytellers had heard some of these meal stories, often from what we now call the Q Source, and re-imagined or re-invented them. They knew the power of a good story. “Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger” (Alves 1990:77).

One very popular New Testament Scholars a before my time was the Scottish scholar William Barclay. I remember coming across the red-backed paperback commentaries on minister’s bookshelves. He set out three ways folk have heard or responded to this story.
One: as a supernatural event of bread being multiplied. Two; as a sacramental meal, where each got a small piece of bread. And three; a different kind of ‘miracle’ where people’s hearts rather than bread, were changed. I suspect that for those of us who call themselves ‘Progressives’ the third option is the preferred option. This would see the story as not about an interventionist supernatural God, or as a forerunner to Holy Communion,
or the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’, but rather, everything to do with re-imagining the world and our relationships with others. And this implies an understanding that says that around a meal, food is shared not hoarded, friendships are made, and
relationships strengthened. And the work of the prophet, as Jesus was identified by John’s version of this story, is to encourage folk to see that and live by that.

In simple terms, the stories told about Jesus and in the words attributed to him, Jesus presents the realm of God as a new or alternate possible reality, to the world in which many found themselves trapped in. It contradicted the normal notions of who belonged and who did not, of who was worthy and who was not. It’s contradiction was given expression by the way people lived – that is, open to being changed by the ‘worth’ of the other, rather than the perceived ‘worthlessness’ of the other. So as in this morning’s story, we see and hear Jesus inviting ordinary folk to join him in the struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. To imagine and experience a different kind of world.

And one of the first steps in re-imagining a different kind of world to the existing dominant social order, was to overturn the ‘world’ of the disciples. This is the point I want to spend a bit of time on today. The world of the disciples and I want to equate it with what we understand as the church of today. Over the last few months I have been challenged to think more about this need than ever. We have embarked on the task of imagining the future for St David’s and we have spent huge amounts of time and energy on grasping a school as a means or a vehicle for our mission focus. We have done this because we are convinced that education is the best way in which we can affect change in culture be it political, economic or religious. Asking questions about what something means, how it has been applied and how it might be applied differently into the future seems consistent with the message Jesus gave us. There is an alternative and it needs to be liberating, transformative and love and compassion based.
When the disciples said tell the hungry to go and buy some food for themselves, Jesus said no, tell them to sit down and let’s share what we already have. When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes body. Our body. When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes compassionate deeds. Our compassionate deeds. When bread is shared and eaten, compassionate deeds become as God in our neighbour. Or put another way, what we believe about God and neighbour and relationships, can make a huge difference to how we care for each other interpersonally. Especially if our local communities can be developed positively around respect and care and worth for each other, rather than around fear of a so-called ‘enemy’.

I want to suggest today that our focus on a school is our response to the call to overturn our religious world or in other wards to change the way we think about church, about how we do church and what the church might look like in the future. The world of the disciples needs to be overturned. Stop avoiding the hard questions and share what we have.

Rex hunt tells a story that says something about what that might look like. He tells of a family that went out for dinner one evening. Menus were passed to all including Kathy, the eight-year old daughter. The conversation started up around the table and it was an ‘adult’ one, so much so that Kathy sat ignored. And when the waiter took orders, he came to Kathy last. “And what do you want?” he asked. “A hamburger and a coke,” she said.
“No,” said her grandmother, “she’ll have the roast chicken, carrots, and mashed potatoes.” “And milk to drink,” chimed in her father. “And what kind of sauce would you like on your hamburger?” asked the waiter. As he walked away, taking the parents aback.
Kathy called out “Tomato,”. She then turned to her family and added, “You know what? He thinks I’m real!”

This self-examination, self-challenge to share what we have, is about being real as opposed to just going along with what seems confident and logical and expected. It’s what sets Mission and faith apart from ordered, logical and rational. It’s what says that “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another, have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship…

“Every time we share the peace by welcoming another to our table, hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together” (Fulghum 1995:81-82). The gospel storytellers know we become what we eat! So what does this mean for us today in our school project? What is the challenge to re-imagine and to celebrate. And in so doing, to be blessed, as we seek to go on the journey first chartered by the Galilean sage we call Jesus.

I want to start with a few assumptions that I think have authenticity in the bigger picture.
1. The first is that the church in New Zealand is in decline and that decline could be seen to be exponential in nature. In other words, the decline is getting faster with every year that passes.
2. The second is that certain doctrines, interpretations and teachings that we no longer subscribe to as followers of the Jesus Way. In other words, we think that what we believe, think and value needs to be real, applicable to today’s living.
3. The third is that we have been brought up in a church that has hidden the human Jesus behind a façade of supernaturalism, fear management and intellectual simplicity. In other words, We have been hoodwinked by a faith rooted in a story of a Jesus with the surname Christ as opposed to a Jesus who’s life depicted a Messiah, a liberator, a transformer of lives, culture and an understanding of what it means to be a child of God and a good human being.
4. The fourth is that Spirituality is not dead but just being serviced outside the church, in other words, where and what is the purpose of the church? Does it still have one? Can it again be the nurture of spirituality? Does it need to think differently about what it is, who it is, and how it is what it is?
5. The fifth and last assumption for today is that very little of what the church is doing, saying and offering has any value, in other words people are no longer joining the church to follow the Way of Jesus because what is being said about that Way cannot be sustained in today’s world. People no longer see the need for what is being offered despite our strong conviction that all they have to do is understand what we understand and make the decisions we have made.

Maybe its time we the disciples need to sit down and share what we have amongst ourselves? Look at it, ask questions about it, find out what it is saying to those outside the church. Maybe we need to discover what Spirituality is still alive without the church.
Do we need to think differently about the nature of God, of course we do, God is no longer seen in our image and we have lost sight of what it means to be made in God’s image.

Maybe we need to tell the Jesus story as it was before the church arrived? Maybe we need to become the moral compass of society, not as a keeper of the truth or an owner of the only story but rather as those concerned about human flourishing. Maybe we need to see that in the past the church, built hospitals, schools and universities. Maybe we need to celebrate that many of these functions have been taken over by the state or business and we might need to avoid being in competition with what has been created. Maybe the church has been so successful that it has lost sight of its purpose and become complacent in a role that just focuses on personal salvation without critiquing the existing culture? Maybe church has become just a place where people can go for an our to opt out of life, or be entertained, or feel good.

If this is the case then maybe the church has outlived its usefulness? And on top of that what I personally think is the crucial issue is that many of us who are disciples of Jesus accept uncritically many church teachings because we don’t want to have to reconcile them with our experience outside our religious life. We compartmentalize our faith so that we don’t have to live it. This either works or we leave the church.

And just in case you think I am being negative about this, I think that the church has an ethical, empowering and healing role to play in the 21st century and beyond but to do so it has to focus on the character of the message. It has to be intellectually satisfying, authentic as well as a place of comfort, fellowship and service. It has to be a table for 5 thousand where empathy and compassion are actions consistent with the Jesus Way. In other words, it is about salvation within this life, about a story that we can enthusiastically support and a welcoming of doubt as a means of sharing the nurturing meal. What do you think? Amen.

Alves, R. A. 1990. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. PA: Philadelphia. Trinity Press International.
Fulghum, R. 1995. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of Our Lives. NSW: Moorebank. Bantam Books.
Lucien Alperstein. “Dumster Diver” in Sunday Life, 17 June 2012, 12-13.
Gould, Sam. 2017. Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century. WIPF & STOCK Eugene, Oregon

Find the Spaces

Posted: July 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 9B, 2018
Mark 6:30-34

Find the Spaces

In 1st Corinthians we read; “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong-doing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In another writing we read; “Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music”.

I am sure you have heard Kahlil Gibran’s meditation called ‘Speak to us of marriage’, from his popular book, The Prophet, as it is much loved by folk wishing to be married, and who are looking for a reflection or reading that is not biblical. In fact, it may be that this particular meditation is as well known, if not more so, than some biblical passages.

Further on in this meditation Gibran writes: “Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music”.

Then towards the end: “And stand together yet not too near together:
for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not
in each other’s shadow.

All of this seems to speak very clearly to what we experience in a sound marriage. Each one valued greatly as an individual within a covenantal relationship that enables individuals to contribute complimentary to, with and for the relationship. But one of the things we might miss is the call to stand apart to renew oneself. This is not an opting out of the togetherness but an insertion of spaces as Gibran says, to “let the winds of the heavens dance between you”. All of us need ‘spaces’ – physically, emotionally, spirituality – in our busy lives. And getting married is not a bad time to be reminded of this.

It is also salutary for us to recognize that, according to storyteller Mark, Jesus was encouraging of the disciples/others to desist, to care for themselves, to reflect, and not to feel they must respond to every ‘squeaky door’ or appeal for assistance.

They were not God. They were not the saviour of the world. They were limited human beings who needed space. Like we heard from Giraud last week, “We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness”. Like the disciples we need time to be able to sort out what is important.

New Zealander Ian Cairns’ comment is another good reminder of this need: He says “This brief passage… gives us a fleeting but appealing insight into the natural rhythm of the lifestyle of Jesus and the circle around him: times of intense effort are succeeded by moments of unwinding, and of quiet relaxation.  The fact that the intention on this occasion was frustrated, detracts nothing from the attractiveness of the ideal” (Cairns 2004:87).

Ian Cairns asked; Do you have a ‘space’ – a place of peace and rest in the “natural rhythm” of your life, where you retreat for silence and re-creation? So, asks Bruce Epperly, co-author of The Call of the Spirit. Our so-called ‘space’ or ‘quiet place’ can be anywhere. Doesn’t this sound familiar and hasn’t it been said hundreds of times? It has and I wonder of that is because we find it so hard to do. To insert spaces into our lives? And then I wonder why it is so hard when it seems so easy?

We often hear people say of retirement that they have rediscovered the joy and peace of walking along the beach, on the sand, at water’s edge. Feeling the texture of both against the soles of my feet. Even on a cool and cloudy, winter’s day this time out, this space insertion seems to have some value so why is that we don’t take it often enough? Maybe we need to revisit what we mean by space or time out?

Epperly says ‘space’ places could include: a favourite chair or study, a meditation room in your home, a park, or the bush, and yes, the seashore. “The divine center is everywhere. That deals with the idea of space and place but we know that wherever our adventure of ideas or geography take is, God is our adventurous companion” and in his web site article Epperly says: “Your quiet place can also be a rejuvenating activity – gardening, walking, stargazing, journaling, meditating, praying, writing poetry, or driving in your car by yourself.  He says that health of body, mind, spirit, and relationships requires stillness as well as action, space as well as intimacy.  Even the most intimate friends and couples require time alone” (Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

Many advisors call this ability to create ‘spaces’ in our lives, ‘boundary setting’.
Indeed Epperly suggests today’s gospel story is just about that. “Jesus took time apart with his followers.  His ‘no’ to work, even the good work of healing and teaching, said ‘yes’ to spiritual growth and self-care.  His ‘yes’ to compassion was grounded in inter-connectedness with God and his followers” (Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

All this suggests there is an art and a discipline to finding ‘spaces’. It also takes practice. So Epperly offers some suggestions how we can create these ‘spaces’.

  • Sabbath time. Take a few hours a week, a day, a month, for silence, for retreat, for prayer. This might be a conversation with the mystery or the more.
  • Breathing prayers.  Breathing in.  Breathing out.  Remembering God’s present-ness, and centering in God’s companionship. Getting in touch with the wonderful mechanics of life.
  • Keeping meals sacred.  Install and use an answer phone. Feeding the body is an act of valuing community. Family and togetherness.
  • Cultivate intimate relationships.  Relationships take time and require leisure. The primary act of intimacy is to listen.
  • Distinguish the important from the trivial. Ask the question to discern the valuable.
  • Learn to say ‘no’. The no is not a negative when it makes a space for what’s valuable.

The storyteller Mark was clearly impressed with what he was told about the beginnings of the Jesus movement. Part of his story this morning describes in summary what he saw was the impact of Jesus’ ministry. For Mark, it seems the nature of the Jesus’ ministry was to offer leadership in teaching, and in acts of compassion that brings healing and sets people free from what oppresses them. The storyteller depicts Jesus as having spent a surprising amount of time healing people. Although, like the author of Job before him, he specifically rejected the theory that sickness was God’s way of getting even with sinners (John 9:1-3), he nonetheless seems to have suggested a connection between sickness and sin, almost to have seen sin as a kind of sickness. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;” he said. “I came not to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17).

This is entirely compatible, of course, with the Hebrew view of the human being as a psychosomatic unity, an indivisible amalgam of body and soul in which if either goes wrong, the other is affected. It is significant also that the Greek verb sо̄zо̄ was used in Jesus’ day to mean both “to save” and “to heal” and sо̄tēr could signify either “saviour” or “physician.” Jesus’ ministry was, it seems one of being there for others and the need for spaces is a recognition that such an orientation is intense, self-draining and energy sapping. It is demanding work. People who give of themselves get tired. They need time out. They are not God. They are not the only saviour of the world. They are ordinary human beings who need ‘space’ to continue on.

There needs to be spaces in our togetherness, our living, our busyness. Even our ‘good and helpful’ busyness. My own reflection on this is that the type of spaces required are often linked to one’s own personality and impacted by one’s chosen path or journey. The type of spaces for some are within one’s business and don’t always require physical extraction from tasks while for others only a physical separation works. So, this morning Mark’s story is not about the so-called ‘biggies’… such as feeding the 5,000, or walking on water, or grain that produces at the rate of 100 times, for example. It’s not about the sensational miracle but rather the everyday life integrated one. What we get from this story is an ‘OK’ for the very human need for ‘space’ in our lives. And the task is to learn how to create ‘spaces that work’ and to learn to use them well.

Kahlil Gibran when talking about self-knowledge says that our hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights, but our ears thirst for the sound of our heart’s knowledge. I think he is saying that we need to take time to find the spaces where our conscious activity is silent enough for our heart to speak and then as he says; our words will reflect what we know deep down and we will be able to touch with our fingers the naked body of our dreams.


In terms of Rene Giraud and our acceptance of the incompleteness of our humanity and our hope-filled engagement in this journey toward being fully human is a journey we are called to engage in with enthusiasm, with hope and a confidence that comes with taking spaces to reflect, re-engage with nature, with our spirit and as Gibran says: It is well you should. The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea; And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes. But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure; And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line. For self is a sea boundless and measureless. Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.” Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.” For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.


Mark wrote that Jesus said to them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Gibran wrote “…for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow” (Gibran 1969). I think, healing takes place when we find the spaces. Amen.

Cairns, I. J. 2004.  Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. NZ: Masterton. Fraser Books.
Gibran, K. 1926/1969.  The Prophet. GtB: London. Heinemann.
Cobb, Jr, J. B.; B. G. Epperly, P. S. Nancarrow. 2005. The Call of the Spirit. Process Spirituality in a Relational World. CA: Claremont. P&F Press.[Back To Top]

Who Does God Say We Are?

Posted: July 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

2 Samuel 6:1-19

Ephesians 1:3-14

Who Does God Say We Are?

Paul is writing to the little struggling church in Ephesus. This is nothing new and we can empathize with Paul because we have plenty of evidence that in every age and in every place at some tome or other churches struggle, and their issues and challenges are often very similar, even in very different times and very different circumstances. The commentators make this clear: empire, in one form or another; the surrounding culture, with its many and powerful messages; our drive to divide and be divided; and the questioning human spirit, longing to understand our lives, both individually and communally tells us that struggles are not just personal they are communal, tribal, national and in every form of human gathering.

I recall meeting with two presbytery people a couple of weeks ago, who wanted to know what I thought about establishing a network of parishes in the inner city and when I had finished one of them said to me; and what hopeful thing do you have to say? I was surprised that I had sounded so negative and I think it was because he only saw the struggle as a problem without hope, whereas for me it was more about realism and openness and honesty when facing questions of change in a human environment. No point in going into a task with one’s blinkers on. Perhaps this was not unlike the little church in Ephesus, note it’s a little church in the bustling metropolis of Ephesus. Paul’s letter to this struggling church would have raised the reality of their struggle and yet in this case the heady mix of reality lead them to experience Paul’s exuberant poetry as an uplifting message of both meaning and hope because it fixed them firmly on the sure foundation of God’s own purposes and love.

One of the challenges when confronting this text is to avoid seeing it as solely a catechism or a systematic statement of beliefs. It is not this because it is heart language as much as head language, as poetry and praise ought to be. Like all of our talk about God, it is partial, too, for our human comprehension is limited. Lewis Donelson says that Paul’s “propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They might be true as far as language is true, but God is still transcendent”

I am reminded here of a quote from Rene Giraud when he wrote; “It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human”. Paul’s, propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They might be true as far as language is true, but God is still transcendent”

This approach invites us think about context and even do a little exegesis in approaching this text. Who wrote it? Paul probably might be the nearest we get so to whom was it written? Again, the best choice is that may have either been a letter written specifically to the church in Ephesus or as a circular letter written for many churches eager to receive further teaching and guidance. The latter reason suggests it might be speaking to a common theme among struggling churches. And this might also suggest that it has something to say to us.

So, if this passage is poetic, it’s task is first and foremost inspirational, motivational and heart moving. It’s like our school vision that is both inspirational, motivational and seemingly so logical that one wonder why others can’t see its worth. Our text is a burst of exuberance from Paul where he gets wound up and launches into his writing. His sense of gratitude and wonder at everything God has done, is doing, and has promised yet to do, leads him to soaring heights of praise in which he acknowledges God as both blessed and blessing. How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! In fact, this text is so beautiful, especially in Eugene Peterson’s version in ‘The Message’ which makes the passage much more accessible and moving as well. He puts the text like this. He says “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone”. Again, it is less about an argument for a divine Jesus and more about a poetic rendition of the timeless presence of the Mystery we call Creativity God. Long before us. Long before our involvement, human life was part of the mysterious purpose.

This then leads us into todays poetic rendition of truth, life Creativity God. In recent years, for example, we keep learning more and more amazing things about the way the universe works. Something called “the God particle,” that is, the Higgs-Boson particle, has been discovered, but it seems to provoke both wonder and questioning more than clear and firm answers about “the meaning of it all.”

VIDEO- Higgs Boson

It might be a bit of a leap but Paul seems to be in a sense, exploring a similar question when he sings out his praise for “the big picture” of God’s purposes. He’s certainly not taking a scientific approach, or even a philosophical one, to his work. Instead, he sings from deep faith, from intuition that sometimes whispers and suggests, and sometimes bursts out in assured conviction of God’s goodness and mercy, of God’s amazing grace. That’s what this first part of the Letter to the Ephesians is about: God’s amazing grace. It’s about how things are put together in God.

While I might want to question the idea of objectifying human brokenness, Eugene Peterson writes evocatively about the brokenness of our lives and the way God puts things back together, as they should be: Paul “begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, ‘sets’ this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones–belief and behaviour–knit together and heal” (The Message).

In an evolutionary, creativity approach this is what continues to unfold right before our eyes, if we take the time to notice, the great evolutionary reality is about bringing everything together in one marvelous unity, in Paul’s words this is unity in Christ. In every age, in every day, in each of us and all of us, together this great wonder is unfolding. And it is when we seek to understand our God and how our God works, we get a sense of who we are as creatures formed, lovingly, in God’s own image. Again, as Giraud wrote; We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human”.

The timeless nature of this view is that while it may be an ancient one, rooted long before the earth was created, it also stretches forward, too, far into the future, and we have our own place within it, in this moment of history. In honouring the mind, we recognize the human construction of this, in living the questions we live meaningfully in this moment, and in exploring the adventure of humanity we see ourselves not only as heirs, as those who receive these blessings, but as ancestors as well, for the mystery we call creativity God is part of all that will come after us, and with a grace-filled purpose for it all.

Returning again to our text we find Paul singing God’s goodness and it reminds us of our own human response to goodness, of which Paul also sings. We hear often today people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” yet they also speak of their deep longing to find a place and a community of worship where they feel both deeply moved and a sense of belonging. Interestingly, these are people who lead lives that have many marks of discipleship: healing the sick and broken, working for justice, sharing generously, forgiving and seeking reconciliation and peace. But they long for a spiritual community where they can sense, with others, the presence of this motivational, aspirational, comforting, purpose-filled existence in quiet moments in community, in ritual, in music, in worship. They seek a sense of connection with this Creative, evolutionary energy we call God.

What never ceases to surprise me is how many Spiritual but Not Religious folks are actually hungry for traditional ritual and liturgy. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of many writers who draw our attention to our worship life and to our spiritual hunger: in her sermon, “He Who Fills All in All” she wonders if we are offering the spiritually hungry “a place where they may sense the presence of God, among people who show some sign of having been changed by that presence.” And here we have the challenge of evangelism, proselytization, bums on seats, church growth and ultimately community. What is a faith community as opposed to a book club, a classroom or a rugby or netball club?

One Anthony Robinson has written that “People want to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery, and not for want of by-laws, committees, and sign-up lists. At least they don’t want those things instead of God”

What I like to think I do every Sunday is bring these two threads of worship and the unfolding of Creativity God’s great living plan for all things, together, I try to blend the sermon with images of the universe, photographs returned to us by our long-distance spacecraft of the heavens, the stars and the earth, which may inspire awe at times as effectively as our words and music and sanctuaries. And then we can picture our cities and countryside in many different settings, our neighborhoods and the people they hold, nature, including images of the very smallest things, even drawings of particles and other such incomprehensible objects. Such use of the visual and the imagination during our service along with the text, and the music, might make it a bit easier to ponder God’s grand living plan for all things, or in non-religious language, we might find an understanding of evolution and the scientific unfolding of creation.

And finally, and again returning to the text it is clear that Paul is making a case for those who follow the Jesus Way or he is introducing the ethics of discipleship in this letter to the church in Ephesus. Sadly, we Christians today seem to spend far more time talking about the rules than raising the quality of our time in connection with the mystery we name Creativity God. This might be especially true as we follow our passionate commitment to justice and healing for a broken world. It’s a good thing that we work hard on the issues, but we also need to be able to return to a base camp where we can renew our spirits, where we can tap into the deep roots of our tradition, ask questions of the ancient songs of praise and lament, the text and the blessings that we have received and will share with those who come after us.

We have, after all, been brought together not only to work but to pray and praise, to remember and remind, to celebrate and to hope as well. We can draw on that time together and find the courage to hope, as the Letter to the Ephesians will say in two more chapters, for “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (3:20). Amen.


Mark 6:1-13

We, The Least Likely Yet Called Out’

Today’s journey in scripture is made up of two quite distinct parts. The first part is Jesus’ visit to his hometown, Nazareth and the second part is Jesus sending his disciples out two by two. These two parts are distinct not only because each is a story unto itself, capable of standing alone, but also because they stand together held is a sort of logical challenge in their vivid contrast to one another. The first is a story of failure. After initial enthusiasm, the people of Jesus’ hometown, turned against him. He was, Mark tells us in verse 5, “unable to do any miracles there.” But the second scene is a story of success. The disciples, again Mark tells us, “cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people and healed them.”

The odd part about the two stories held together is that Jesus, who up to this point in Mark, had been teaching with power, healing, and casting out demons, could do nothing, while the disciples who are so often missing the point, even missing in action, are powerful and effective. The two parts are so different and their difference so unexpected that it will come as no surprise that many commentators urge the preacher to pick but one of the two stories or parts to preach on — and not both . . . Still, in the text they stand together and maybe the author, Mark was onto something?

Maybe together these two scenes have something to tell us, not only about God and God’s agency, but about our agency in God’s. Together these stories tell us about the efficacy of trusting the Jesus Way and also something about the struggle to understand and make good decisions. Together they tell us something about what happens when ego and pride get in the way–when we get in the way–and what happens when hope, faith and expectation clear the way, in traditional language ‘when God takes central place’.

Two stories, two distinct stories, set cheek by jowl. In one it could be said they thought too small and in the other they saw the big picture. Looking at the first story we find Jesus visiting his hometown where new assume things should go well, the homecoming of a hero, the place where he is known among the wider family, he knows his way around and we imagine that things would go well. We might even assume that here Jesus would be received with joy and affirmation by those who knew him well. And this was probably so, initially he was. The people of Nazareth, those who had known Jesus as a boy and young man were surprised–astonished–by his wisdom and power. But quickly their surprise turned to offense. The tall poppy syndrome kicked in, Hey ‘the know it all’ has returned, and “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? And they took offense at him.”

Why do you think this happened? What happened to turn them? He was one of them–at least he had recently been one of them. Maybe that was the problem: that one who had so recently been just one of them should suddenly now be so far above them. Did that feel like a slight? Remember we are not talking about a huge city of millions of people. Its Jesus home town. “Who does he think he is? Why him and not me?” Just yesterday, it seemed, they had looked down upon him as a boy. But today his words and demeanor asked that they look up to him. Was that hard on their pride?

Maybe there’s a warning here to us all: don’t let an earlier companionship or an earlier understanding or belief get in the road. Don’t let a different relationship blind you, or at a later time you might miss the new message, the new point of view. The new approach.

Maybe the matter at hand goes even deeper than this all-too-human tendency to envy another or to feel slighted by the success of someone whom we knew, or thought we knew, back in the day. Maybe its our understanding of being church, or congregation. Maybe as last week we heard that the Christian Church didn’t exist until the 4th Century and if that’s the case then who was Jesus before then? What was the understanding of the Jesus Way before the church existed? Why did people want to keep the story of him alive and keep gathering to talk about their understanding?

Who do we today think of when we talk about Jesus’ hometown crowd? Who do we think of as his own people today? Maybe, that would be us, the church of today? And does it ever happen that at least sometimes we are those who are blind to God’s presence, indifferent to God’s power? Is it even remotely possible that we who think we know Jesus best may at times honour him least? In his spiritual autobiography “Now and Then,” Frederick Buechner writes of his off-the-beaten-path (at least for a seminary-trained, ordained Presbyterian minister) encounter with Agnes Sanford, a Christian healer.

“The most vivid image she presented,” writes Buechner, “was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do any mighty works because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them . . .” Last week we heard of how clergy, me included were not brave enough to share the doubt we had been taught existed, how we had opted for the comfortable easy way and stood Jesus in the corner, untouchable by creative doubt, unassailable by creative questioning, and locked in permanent absolutes of truth.

That’s quite an image: Jesus standing in the church, his hands tied behind his back. Then Buechner like some of us today add their recognition of their kinship with the Jesus in the corner. Is it possible that we in the church, Jesus’ latter-day hometown crowd, are sometimes the least likely to call upon him, the last to turn to him, less likely than many others to be open to his message and promise, his mystery and his grace?

Often today we in the church seem more focused on ourselves–whether our proud accomplishments, our current projects, or our persistent problems–more on these things than on God’s power and truth.  Just think about the energy we here have spent in the last few years on our buildings and our survival rather than the growing need around us.

I want to tell you a story. It’s not about me or you but it could resonate. It’s not about what was done right or wrong, it is just a story that can be applied to many places today.

The story begins when a well-known preacher visited an old once prominent church a church that had for decades been known far and wide as the home of great preachers and a center of great social causes. Like many, however, this church had declined in recent decades as people had moved away and community demographics had changed. When he arrived to give a lecture there, the preacher was met by an officer of the church. And as he was early, the church officer asked if I would like a tour of the grand facility. As they walked the officer told the preacher that twenty years ago he had feared for the future of his church. In fact, he said, “I was pretty sure that by now they would have closed their doors. You see, he said, we were just fifty elderly people left in this great sanctuary.” Then he brightened. “But something happened. Something changed. They were experiencing a kind of renewal, a revival.”

“Really,” the preacher said, “that’s wonderful.” “Yes, said the officer; these days we have four or five hundred people in church. We have new ministries in the community. We are seeing new people, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight.” “How do you explain this?” the Preacher asked. The officer thought for a moment, then he said, “Well, it wasn’t all our new minister, but he has made a difference.” “What’s he done?”

“Well, he got us studying the Bible . . . yes, our minister gives a wonderful Bible Study. In fact, he can give you the entire message of the Bible in just six words.” The preacher inwardly groaned and though Oh dear “Another fast operator?” “And what might those six words be?” he asked skeptically. His host, an older man grinned broadly. “The six words that summarize the entire message of the Bible of course? ‘I am God and you’re not.'” They both laughed. But what was it they were laughing about and why?

“I am God and you’re not.” Sounds very clear and simple at a social or cultural level. It also sounds clear in a sort of fundamentalist theistic level. It speaks of a supernatural God up above in charge yet it rings true in that it speaks of our propensity to bring everything back to ourselves, to make ourselves central to everything that exists. It’s not about you, not about us. It’s about God. I remember Graeme Ferguson often speaking of Mission as God’s Mission and not the churches Mission. One of the sad things about our Church is its obsession with its own mission as opposed to the mission of the gospel. We get so consumed with our survival in a world that seems to no longer need us. The figures scream this at us but we seem to hide behind the idea that the world must be wrong and isn’t listening to us. Maybe we are in our hometown with blinkers on? Maybe our once great church has become so focused on its past glories and singular prominence that we have forgotten, the church officer said; the real source of the church’s power and of its life . . . the power of the living God. Had been given over to their collective pride and ego.

But be careful; listen again to the story. Humbled by their decline yet blessed with the insight that it wasn’t really about them, they had turned to God afresh, calling upon their God who is known in and through the everyday, known in and through the great picture of the universe alive they had acknowledged their own need for healing and for change. They had come to know this divine energy and power in a new way, in a new time. They had taken risks in faith. They had taken the risk of change, the risk of oblivion and they had stepped out two by two.

When Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, he did not–though it must have been painful for him–reject them in turn. He did not take offense. He only sadly shook his head and then moved on. He moved on, sending his disciples out, two by two, to preach, to heal and to teach. He said something interesting to them: they were to travel light, to “take nothing for the journey” but the clothes on their backs. In these times of change and challenge for the church or in times of challenge in our personal lives,

The message might be to “lighten the load,” Let go of some weighty assumptions about how we have always done things. Leave behind those big, bulky suitcases stuffed full of tradition and outdated interpretations. Note I said interpretations and not outdated stories. Maybe we are being asked to surrender some truly heavy stuff. Not only the old conflicts we’ve been bearing or the grudges we’ve been nursing but also the very truths we have not tested before, the very values that have become intrenched in culture so much so that we are afraid of losing our culture.? Maybe we are being asked to strip these things away so that we might travel light again, maybe like going back beyond the 4th Century and looking at what motivated Jesus and his earliest followers, the men and women who heard him not only with their minds but also with their hearts.

Having said all the above I need to say that I do not think you are hometown people. You are two by two sent people on the verge of oblivion. You have bought the lotto ticket and the price has been your faith, a wild, risky faith, bold and trusting faith not is a belief system, not in an institution grounded on creed or doctrine but in a real and incarnate power of God in a Jesus of Nazareth who made all things new. Yours is a transformative world changing faith, Amen.