Archive for August, 2018

Not Just Spiritual…

Posted: August 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 14B, 2018
Psalm 84, John 6: 60-69

Not Just Spiritual…

In the Celtic spiritual tradition, pilgrims often draw a circle around themselves before embarking on a journey. Initially standing still, the pilgrim points her finger outward, and then rotates in a clockwise direction until she completes the circle. During this circling today a contemporary ‘circling’ prayer is said. According to the Process theologian Bruce Epperly it goes like this…….

God protect me on this journey.
Surround me, whether I walk, drive, or fly.
Fill my heart and mind with surprising possibilities.
Remind me that I am always in the circle of your love.
Remind me this day, O Holy Adventure,
that your inspiration guides me in every situation.
Open my eyes to your presence in each meal,
as I turn on my computer,
as I start my car.
Awaken me to possibility and wonder.
Energise me to love and embrace all I meet.  

This practice of faith, the ‘caim’ or ‘encircling’, reminds the traveller that God surrounds him wherever he goes. “While [we] recognize that life is filled with risks and that faith cannot protect us from every threat, [we] also recognize that God is present as a force for wholeness and reconciliation in every situation” (Epperly 2005:80).

Today’s biblical stories, from the Psalms as reconstructed by Francis Macnab, and
from the gospel sermon-story by a bloke we call John, continue to reflect on God’s present-ness in the world, and in our lives.

When we read Francis Macnab, theologian and psychologist, in his presentation of Psalm 84, we see attempts to get into the mind and the experience of the writer
to see if he can discover or reasonable assume “what was bothering this philosopher of life, and what let him to say what he said” (Macnab 2006:ix).And this is what Macnab says he discovered: “I found [the writer] was emphatically and repetitively proclaiming a fairly revolutionary view of the world, creation, his beliefs about God, humanity, the human spirit and human potential. Again and again I found his psychology had long pre-empted our current psychological explorations and research on happiness, optimism, the positive human emotions, and the sense of awe and wonder” (Macnab 2006:ix).

He then says;

O God, from my place in the working world, and in the wide wilderness of life, I long for that sure sense of knowing what it is all about. I yearn for that experience of joy to come to my whole body and soul. I look for your presence as a pathway to life’s fullness (Macnab 2006). 

And then;

“Though we are often wounded and hurt in this fractured world, we discover that this world also has its source of healing. We are all enriched and our hearts are made stronger as we tap into that power that flows into us. The very sight of a spring of water arouses our anticipation of being refreshed and renewed. From all our external involvements, we hear the call of our inner spirits (Macnab 2006).

And finally Macnab says:

God – you stand in front of us when we fear the future. In our dark times you bring the sun to shine again. Out of our troubles you point us to the pathway of our best bliss. And as we receive: we are rich indeed! (Macnab 2006).

What do you think the Psalmist suggesting? Is it?

Experience the divine center in yourselves. In your bodies. In your actions. In your everyday lives? As a progressive Christian I want to agree with that.

But it’s a bit of a different situation when we come to John’s sermon-story. We’ve been wrestling with his concepts on and off for several weeks now. We’ve struggled with the language and the images. In and out of context, metaphorically and literally, communion and everyday meal, hospitality, compassion etc. And now, as a progressive Christian, I think we should challenge John, and reject his apparent denial of the ‘flesh’ or ‘body’ as useless. That has led us to horrific treatment of ourselves and each other as we separate spirit from body and reject the body as just a vessel for the real human. The spiritual and holy part as opposed to the mundane limited vessell.

With our understanding of biology, of language, of the mind and of science we can do better than John was able to. So, maybe we can support process theologian Bruce Epperly’s comments when he says:

“we need to redeem such passages for our time and place.  We can affirm that the spirit gives life, but the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’, it is also ‘embodied’ and ‘incarnational’ (Epperly/P&F web site-06).

This is not to say that John’s position on this hasn’t got a long history. But it is to say that just because it has such a long-standing case for understanding it doesn’t make it free from learnings and changes in understanding. We know that what we usually hear as history is often the winner’s reflection of debates and events but not necessarily the most accurate or even the most widely understood position. It is the popular or the view that enables control of the masses. It is usually the basis for an institutionalized view.

We now believe that the earliest views of people who followed Jesus did not have a single exportable view, in fact there were perhaps as many different Christianity’s as there were communities of Jesus followers. Paul’s letters allude to this as he seeks to export the Jesus Way to the gentile and to be understood is the Roman world. He is about the task of marketing the faith and it is easier to have a single product.

Some of John’s view dates back as a challenge to these early Christian communities, whose theology seemed to prevent them “from seeing Jesus as a God-infused human being (forcing) them rather to perceive him as a divine visitor who came from heaven” (Spong 2005:61). John wants to tell the real story from his point of view.

And some of John’s view has stuck around where as recent as the early 18th century when one, Charles Wesley, “penned his popular ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ which portrayed Jesus as not human at all, but one ‘veiled in flesh’…” (Spong 2005:61). The key thing here is to see that Wesley’s world and John’s world is dualistic. Our world is not. Or at least not as much because we question dualism as a limited approach to the complexities and ambiguities of life as we know it. It is a useful tool but not the only one and it is limited.

So, what do we do next? Well, perhaps a richer understanding comes with the mystics from the past, as well as from process theology in the present. We can pick up a panentheistic approach and say; God is in all things and all things are in God. Rather than God as supernatural miracle worker in the sky who can come (or choose not to come) to our aid in times of need.

As a progressive Christian I want to start with the former rather than the latter: God in all things and all things in God. But equally important for me is, we experience this Creativity we name ‘God’, routinely, quietly, mysteriously, and intimately, evolutionarily and creatively moving through life, our life. Epperly puts it as: “It is less like a hammer on the head than it is a gentle prod”, “a tickle, sometimes as gentle as a feather, touching each moment into being” (Epperly/P&F Web site-2005). While it may be easier to handle God as above, beyond and all powerful benefactor and judge it is not the view that Jesus had of God as his view was more akin to father, mother, lover, friend, partner, breath, bread, etc. much more of an incarnated spirit body dynamic.

Yes, we can affirm with John and Paul that the ‘spirit gives life’. It inspires personal creativity and transformation. It lures us to support the well-being of others. It challenges us to look beyond our own interests to an integration of our well-being and the well-being of the planet (Epperly, P&F web site 2006). But the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’.
It is also ‘embodied’, even in the rough and tumble of our everyday world. This is clearly in the biblical stories but it is usually found in the less read pages of sacred text!

Another John, Bishop John Shelby Spong, has some wonderful words in his book, The Sins of Scripture. Where he says:

“I experience God as the source of life calling me to live fully and thus to respect life in every form as embodying the holy. I experience God as the source of love calling me to love wastefully all that God has made, including the earth with its plants and animals. I experience God… as… calling me to be all that I can be and to affirm the sacred being of all that is” (Spong 2005:66).

Then the chapter concludes with these words:

“We have looked upward for a God above the sky for centuries, but we now know that this infinite universe is empty of supernatural invasive deities.  We need to shift our vision to look within – at life, at love, at being” (Spong 2005: 66).

May it be so with us in all our living. Amen.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Bruce G. Epperly, & Paul S. Nancarrow. 2005.  Call of the Spirit: Process Spirituality in a Relational World. Claremont. P&F Press.
Macnab, F. 2006.  A Fine Wind is Blowing. Psalms of the Bible in Words That Blow You Away. Richmond. Spectrum Publications.
Spong, J. S. 2005. The Sins of Scripture. Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. New York HarperSanFrancisco.

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No Fast Food Here…

Posted: August 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 13B, 2012
John 6: 51-58

No Fast Food Here…

Staying with the theme of Jesus as the Bread of life theme I want to share some little stories that speak to what this might mean. The first is a quotation from a book by Robert Fulghum, supported by some notes from a Brazilian Rubem Alves and another from My Australian mate Rex Hunt’s daughter.

Robert Fulghum writes…..

“Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history
– so far back that personal survival was the only concern –
a defining event must have taken place.
Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it,
but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others.
There must have been a first time.
A first act of community – call it communion –
in the most elemental form” (Fulghum 1995:79).

He also writes….. When my first son was in kindergarten, I was a parent volunteer
who visited the school once a week to teach folk songs to the children.
Singing came between rest-time and snack-time.

Regularly I was invited to stay after singing and join the class for milk and scones.
I gladly stayed. Not because I was particularly hungry, but because  I enjoyed watching the children carry out this ordinary task with such extraordinary care.

Two children set the table with serviettes and cups. Two others arranged the chairs.
Others went to the refrigerator for cartons of milk, while two more fetched the scones from the kitchen and arranged them neatly on plates.

One child was responsible for placing something in the middle of the table to talk about during the snack – a sort of ‘show and tell’. For half the class, their job for the day was being good ‘guests’. The other half were the ‘hosts’. Each ‘host’ took a scone off the plate, broke it in half, and gave it to a ‘guest’ before eating the other half.

During this snack-time, they discussed the ‘show and tell’ object in the centre of the table.

After the scones and milk were consumed, the children who had played ‘guests’ for the day cleaned up and put away everything, before they went out to play.

It was a high-point of my week.  For me, Fulghum writes … it was communion.

Fulghum then goes on to add some comments… He says; “the sacraments are often defined by the church as ‘outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace’”.

Scones and milk with those children became a sacrament he says. Grace was clearly present. It was a ritual reminder that civilization depends on sharing resources
in a just and humane fashion.

We understand that Jesus often talked about, or is represented as talking about, food.
And as he moved from place to place, the various storytellers declared he would seek rest in a house. Rumour has it once there he would make his way to the cooking space
because there he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose. I was reminded here of the visit to the Marae. In my early ministry when I was wondering what to do when going on to a Marae and aware that the establishment of a relationship with the people of the Marae was the most important thing I asked a Maori colleague what to do. His reply was, “the first thing you should do is head for the kitchen and wash dishes.

Robem Alves suggests it is the cooking space – the kitchen – that is the place of transformations. “Nothing is allowed to remain the same.  Things come in raw, as nature produced them.  And they go out different, according to the demands of pleasure.” (Alves 1990:79). The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear. “The hard must be softened.  Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out: cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures…  Everything is a new creature.  Everything is made anew.” (Alves 1990:79).

And here’s the link with my title. Jesus often talked about food, but it was always slow food rather than fast food. And we know that the gospel storytellers often put words in the mouth of Jesus to have him speak about food and eating. Bread and wine.
Body and blood. But Jesus was no literalist.  No fast food here …. And we know that religious language is primarily metaphorical or poetic.

Robert Fulghum suggests milk and scones at kinder snack-time is communion. Milk and Scones is grace enacted. “Since the beginning of time,”

Fulghum writes, “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… (Pg 81).

“Every time we greet, get to know, 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.” (Pg 81-82

In other words, Jesus spoke so words would be eaten. I have said this already in the last few weeks but I say it again. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Rubem Alves suggests that we are what we eat; that “One eats and one’s body is resurrected.” (Alves 1990:86).

Traditionally, this morning’s gospel story from John has been given strong sacramental overtones. Holy Communion or Eucharist overtones, that is. We remind ourselves that this is the institutionalized development, this is the need for a transportable ritual, a common story that could travel across cultures and find a place in empire and an ordered church. It was not a true reflection of what took place in Jesus community but it was a ritual to preserve the essence of what it meant and how it was expressed. This does not diminish its value but rather but very much reflects John’s community many years after the life of Jesus. When things were getting organized and rules – dos and don’ts – were being put in place. But whatever the sacrament of Holy Communion is, “it is an act that arises out of our humanity, not organized religion.”

So we are again reminded that it is in the mundane, every-day basic need of humanity, the need to eat to survive, to nourish our bodies, that we find what drew the earliest followers of Jesus followers to gather together over food and it was not fast food, it was the bread of life sort of food common to our shared humanity and this is what we experience again when we eat together and this is what we remind ourselves of when we celebrate community in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We need to get beyond the literal and re-engage with the metaphoric and poetic to value the ritual as a reminder that as we share bread and the wine, civilization depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.

And perhaps to contextualize sharing the bread and wine we conclude with the story from Rex’s daughter. It is a story of her invitation to a friend’s place where each guest was to prepare their favourite dish as the gift. She decided that her gift would be to share her feelings of food and cooking in a personal story to her friend…

She said to her friend; “Food and cooking has been a major influence in my life, from childhood until now.  My mother worked with food and preparation, so meals in my house were from all origins and always a feast.

As a child, my mother had us cooking in the kitchen, learning and creating – of course, back then we thought of it as a game, not knowing the importance until we were much older.

As a teenager growing up in Sydney, I learned very quickly that not everyone has the same ‘Apple Pie’ family.  Every friend who walked through our doorway was greeted with home cooked smells – some they had never smelt before – and learnt that home-made Lasagne was a great afternoon snack.

When I moved out of home at 20, my mother gave me her Woman’s Weekly recipe card box.  Back in the 70s she collected those tokens to get the complete set.  It was important to her back then so I knew how important it was to pass onto me.  It took me 10 years, but I cooked every dish on those cards (except the odd scary meatloaf).  It’s funny, cooking for myself every night made me feel so independent.

My feelings on cooking have changed again.  I now have a wonderful man to double my portions for.

My favourite pass time of all, is throwing dinner parties.  The food has to be exciting, for me too, and always different.  I plan for weeks and can’t wait to start the prep.  Then I get to share it all with my friends as I watch them having a good time, knowing my little dishes of love have put them all in the same room as me.

So to add to your collection is a Donna Hay magazine.  I’ve been collecting them for years.  She is my favourite cook, as she has similar traits that I recognise – food symbolising comfort and love, and bonds of family… friends… lovers.

My wish for you is that you experience how important you make others feel through your cooking… the first lesson I learned from my mum”.

No Fast food there…..Amen.

Alves, R. A. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. The Edward Cadbury Lectures Philadelphia. Trinity Press International, 1990

Fulghum, R. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Oxford. Ivy Books, 1995.

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All About Perception

Posted: August 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

All About Perception

Pentecost 12B

John 6: 35, 41-51

I chose the title for today because it suggests that the way we view the world can either limit our horizons or it can expand them to eternity. It also touches on the dilemma we face today as we wrestle with the nature of truth as being less about certainty than it used to be. We begin our look at this with the story in John about Jesus being the bread of life and along the way I want to show you a comic clip that I think suggests why perception is important to consider and how it influences our world view. We begin with the gospel where the crowd that surrounded Jesus became angry at what they perceived as arrogance, if not blasphemy, on his part.

How dare he call himself the bread of life? The way they saw him didn’t fit with this claim. Wasn’t this the kid that grew up down the street? Wasn’t he the same one we used to have to run home when it was supper time? You know, the one who was so smart. Wasn’t this that carpenter Joseph’s son? How can he satisfy us? Do you remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem? How is he making such a claim? After all, he is one of us. In John’s story he told of himself as the bread of life, something that would last far longer than the bread we eat or the bread that had been fed to the multitude, something that satisfies the hungers of our souls. But they couldn’t see it. Do we have the right perception?

This talk of having come down from heaven only confused them. They had seen him grow up like us all, though he had been born during that oppressive census the Romans took that made people scatter all over to the cities of their heritage. They thought he had a mother and a father just like all of them. If they had seen more than the carpenter’s son, they might have heard and understood the depth of the good news. The challenge is that when we limit our world to what we know or have experienced, we can miss the vastness of God’s grace. Karl Barth wrote, “Were we to hear only of a god who measures up to our rule and is able to do what we can also do for ourselves without him, what need have we of such a god? Whenever the church has told us of such a tiresome little god it has grown empty. I wonder if that’s why the western church is in decline? Is that why people are not coming to church anymore? Because of our perception perhaps? And it seems to be happening despite our radical daring, our yearning for the living God that will not be denied.” How can we find the bread that will satisfy?

I want to show you a video clip now that I think asks us to examine a perception that might be getting in the road. As you watch notice the feelings that you have about its appropriateness, about what it is saying about God and Jesus and what it is showing of their nature and of their humanity.

Watch video

In the lectionary letter to the church at Ephesus for today, there is a challenge at the first of the fifth chapter that sets a high standard:

“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice for God.”

There is an ancient legend of a man with a scarred face who in trying to hide his scars had a mask made to cover his face. It appeared as a saint. He falls in love in the legend. Years later his past is revealed, and an attempt to reveal what he really looked like was made by ripping the mask away. His face had taken on the form of the saint’s face.

This is a claim that we become what we habitually imitate. We become what we make ours just as the bread we eat. The thoughts that fill our minds, the loves that fill our souls–these are creating who we are. If we fill our hearts and minds with the trivial, the faddish, the debase, we’re making ourselves a smaller person. When we accept without question the perceptions that drive us we risk developing the wrong ideas about ourselves and our potential as human beings. That is why it’s so important for what role models we choose for ourselves and our children. If the all blacks are the only role models we will benefit from the value of sport and good sportsmanship but we will also accept a high level of physical on life as a norm. We will become the patterns by which we live. Alternatively, if we fill our hearts and minds with the Jesus Way and attempt to love as he loved and to care as he cared, we are creating a perception based on values that can seek with confidence a peace filled world and a world where love is the motivator, vehicle and purpose of life. We get a glimpse of eternity, a glimpse of the possibility of the impossible. We becoming imitators of God. And I would say co-creators with God. We become one with a Creativity God

John Wesley once wrote, “First let us agree what religion is. I take religion to be, not the mere saying over of so many prayers, morning and evening, in public or private, but a constant ruling habit of the soul, a renewal of our beings in the image of God, a recovery of the Divine likeness, a self-increasing conformity of heart and life to the pattern of our most holy redeemer.” The week before last I suggested we are what we eat and again today that fits. We have come to make some hard choices that fill our days and thus fill our hearts and minds. We have to be selective about what will be the bread on which we feast. It is one thing to survive, to just get by…like the manna that got the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is another to feast on that which will last forever.

We have to ask, “What is our perception of God and Jesus and how does that perception shape our world view and how does that perception influence our thinking? What do we have to change to move out for God to move in?

In our letter to the church in Ephesus–in the chapter before the challenge to imitate God we find a list of things not compatible to God being the bread on which we feed. In verse 25 we read, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours….” But what is this truth. In Jesus time it would have been less about literal certainty and more akin to perception. They did not have such an obsession with certainty as we have. Such certainty was not likely let along expected.

I suspect that when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He was speaking less about himself and more about a perception of what he was. It is the Way, the common and eternal and the purpose of living that he is on about. We are first of all challenged to deal honestly about what we know, think and do. Truth or humility, authenticity and integrity or if you like faith or trust that builds humanity and is the bond that makes community possible. Mark Twain put it well, saying, “When in doubt, tell the truth.” In other words, say you don’t know, that’s the truth. Anne Lindbergh wrote, “The most exhausting thing in life is to be insincere.” I want to suggest that to be absolutely certain is to be dead.

In verse 27 of that fourth chapter of Ephesians, we read, “Do not make room for the devil.” The challenge is that if we will fill up our lives ahead of time with the right things, we’re answering the questions in advance. This need for certainty can hide the truth.

There is the old story of the farmer and his mule. In order to save money, he tried mixing in sawdust with oats. About one-fourth seemed to work. Then he tried half. That seemed to work, so then he tried three-quarters, which seemingly had no effect. The farmer went to all sawdust. Two days later the mule died. The farmer commented, “That mule ate himself to death.” We need to be cautious on what is filling our lives. At first it may not seem to matter, but what we are filled with will be what we are.

Søren Kierkegaard told a parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left commenting on the message and waddled back home. But they never flew. The perception of what souring was and needed was limiting fulfillment.

The challenge is also to realize the power of our words in creating our perception. Our words have the power to tear down or build up. Jesus used his words when he saw something of value in others. He saw stability in old Simon, a disciple in Mary Magdalene, a friend in Zacchaeus, and he say these things as build their self-esteem.

The power of words to encourage, to show appreciation, to express care–these same words can be twisted to tear down, to hurt, even to destroy. And, of course, the way to control the words is to make sure we are filled with the right things. We need to feast on the bread of life and to remember to build the loving, the measure of which we are filled with will show in our lives.

Then as we further tease out this living the way of Jesus we see that as we fill ourselves with the bread of life, we develop a skill of forgetting and forgiving. We can’t move on until you unload. Bitterness and wrath and wrangling leaves little room for God. Arguing over the certainty of something is unhelpful.

In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom recounts the moment when the experience of such forgiving came to her. It happened in a church in Munich where she was the guest speaker. Out of nowhere there stood before her a former Nazi SS agent who had guarded the shower floor at the prison camp where she and her friends had been processed and exposed to many indignities and cruelties. The man reached out his hand to shake hers as he expressed his appreciation for her message, but Corrie ten Boom kept her hand at her side. Angry feelings surged through her, but she realized how wrong they were. She prayed, tried to smile, struggling to raise her hand but nothing happened. She breathed a silent prayer, “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.” She described what happened. “As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that overwhelmed me. And so, I discovered that it’s not on our own forgiveness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

I think I would want to say that she discovered that when we love our enemies we discover the depth of love that forgiveness invites. And thus, we are both forgiven and forgiver, challenged to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

Jesus’ promise in our Gospel from John today is if we will eat of such bread, if we question our perception, if we avoid the trap of a certainty that is oblivious to perception we will live forever. Amen.