There is still time…here’s a fig!

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It has been a distressing weekend. The sheer man-made horror of the Christchurch massacre and the posturing of politicians on our side of the ditch has occupied much of our attention. Like those present to eerily similar events in next Sunday’s gospel text, we turn to our faith (and some of us, our non-faith) stances to ask the same questions, “How do we make sense of this? How shall we respond?”

Jesus’ response doesn’t let us off the hook. We are all caught up. We all bear the consequences of a broken society, much of it of our own making.

Jesus gives us a fig tree. Is it bearing fruit? If not, cut it down. But a gardener says “Wait! There is still time …” A little tending, some fertiliser, some pruning – it will come good!

Over the weekend, we observed a little tending, fertilising and pruning of our fig tree. Compassionate and decisive nurture by a visibly affected Prime Minister, a swelling of community support for grieving mosque congregations around the world, a prophetic egg splatter that cried “No more!” There is still time…

When Despot & Teacher Clash

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It’s no secret that Herod Antipas and Jesus of Nazareth don’t get on with each other. One has a transient realm to champion and protect; the other points to a realm that transcends time and space and that is centred in the most intimate depths of the human heart. One works from the outside in to entrap and enslave; the other works from the inside out to release and liberate. One sets out to destroy the other; the other holds up a fearless mirror that reveals insight, yearning and a different kind of winning.

On this 40 day Lenten journey from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday which is itself encapsulated by the greater one hundred days from Ascension to Pentecost, the mirror reveals both the yearning and the victory. The journey of Atonement is absorbed into the journey of Election which catches up the whole universe (and any multiverses of which we are yet to become aware!)

See it for yourself in this coming Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Luke!

What glitters in those ashes?

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I heard of a priest who will mix glitter with the ashes he will place on children’s foreheads tomorrow.

As we present ourselves for daubing on Ash Wednesday, the traditional launch of the 40 day period of fasting and self-reflection leading to Holy Week and Easter, we may well ask, “What glitters in those ashes?” We are accustomed to Lent as a period of self-denial, some taking it to the extremes of self-flagellation, either metaphorically or literally.

But maybe there’s gold in them thar ashes that confront us with our mortality as we hear the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (as if that’s the whole story!)

Author Alexander Shaia reminds us that the ancient rite marked a more inclusive journey, beyond the 40 days from Lent to Holy Week and Good Friday, but 100 days from Transfiguration (last Sunday) to Pentecost. Yes, we are mortal, but we also bear the stamp of that which is eternal. Our story embraces not just the hardship of the journey to Calvary, but the anticipation that begins with an incomprehensible hint of glory and travels through chaos, opposition, death, resurrection and flooding of the Holy Spirit that marks us all as sons and daughters of the Highest. That’s what glitters in those ashes!

We see it in next Sunday’s account of the testing of Jesus in the wilderness.

The temptations are the short term fixes of the world of ashes. Jesus responds from the viewpoint of the realm of the Holy One, to which service the teller of Luke’s gospel summonses us all.

There’s gold in those ashes!

Hang on to your crowns!

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Next Sunday we will be on the Mountain of Transfiguration with three of Jesus’ lieutenants, Peter, James and John, watching agog as a larger than life dazzling Jesus converses with the long-dead patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. This event traditionally marks the shift from the season of Epiphany to the season of Lent. Traditionally, the Christian faithful trade in their epiphany crowns as sons and daughters of the Highest for the sackcloth and ashes of introspective penitence leading to Easter. What a downer!

Ancient Christianity, I’ve just been reminded, did it differently, just by shifting the kaleidoscope. Same story, same drama, different perspective. You can hang onto those crowns – they are permanent!

Apparently, Transfiguration Sunday begins the Rite of Election, a period that embraces the journey through Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Enquirers intending to commit their allegiance to Christ participated in this drama of learning and preparation culminating in a mass Pentecost Baptism. It eclipses the Western journey that often leaves us stuck in Good Friday as the climax (and Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, as an afterthought).

We had a saying where I last served – “We are an Easter People!” – meaning we lived in a state of Spirit-inspired resurrection vitality. We meant to take in the full story. As Lent approaches and many readers of this blog begin the 40 day period of introspection, remember not to cast your crowns aside. Yes, we must embrace our humanity and explore and learn humility through our weaknesses. We will follow the sombre procession led by the man with the cross and lament the high cost of love at the foot of that same cross. We will rejoice at the empty tomb and the alive Man who now walks in our midst. We will receive the Pentecost pouring of the Spirit and the reminder that we are now and always have been created in the image of the Highest. We wear crowns. We are Easter people!

Yield to the Energy of Epiphany!

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We are used to seeing Jesus’ utterances in the Sermon on the Mount, or in next Sunday’s Luke version, the Sermon on the Plain, as moral maxims to which to aspire. As day to day challenges catch us on the hop, we default to passive-aggressive pushback against those who cross us and we conclude that Jesus’ words are very nice but a tad idealistic.

It takes regular time out for cultivating awareness and attention to both our inner and outer worlds to become aware of the transformative energy that sees these words, not as a summons to exercise our determined will, but an invitation to surrender to a cosmic stance that living in Christ offers. As the season of Epiphany, (the revealed glory of all things in God) draws to a climax, we see its practical outworking, particularly with Luke’s emphasis with service to others on the road. Yield to the energy of Epiphany!

Doctors’ medivacs for offshore detainees. Blessing or curse?

20180325_130320For those who have lobbied long – a blessing on the long and steep slope as our country claws back some semblance of humanitarian treatment of those who come seeking help. For those who stand fast on border security and deterrence – a curse that weakens a tough stance that is mandated to sacrifice the liberty of the few to preserve the well-being of the many.

It is an interesting background for discussion on the lectionary gospel reading for next Sunday, Luke’s truncated version of Matthew’s Beatitudes seasoned with a series of woes. How are we to understand the nuances between Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain? The difference lies between the purpose for which each gospel was shaped.  Matthew’s version has us seated on the mountainside reflecting on the call to a change of perspective. How do we respond to the revelation of the Cosmic Christ in Jesus in a way that alters our orientation to our life? This is our initial response to an epiphany (the unmistakable “lifting of the veil” to see all as it really is). Luke has us moving along the road of service and mission to the world in the name of the same Christ. The task is more urgent and our fresh perspectives are calling us to practical application. Blessings are immediate and so are the curses. It’s just the way of it, for we know immediately when we fail the epiphany. The good news is this immediacy of awareness, for it’s easy to see the way back onto the road. It’s not so easy for the will to catch up with the insight, but eventually, it can get there.

Yesterday, our parliament took a step in that direction. The blessings and woes, however, continue to remain part of the package. Epiphany keeps us on the road.

Fishing Incident Attracts Light, Power, And A Summons

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It can sneak up on you in an instant. The extraordinary, epiphanous moment can invade your most ordinary activities, your most mundane routines. You may be at the end of a day’s tiresome chores, just wrapping things up and going through the tedious checklist to make sure that things are put away “just right.” All you want to do is go home, put your feet up and relax.

But then something intervenes. Suddenly you are awake, alert, caught off guard. Your senses jump to full attention and the adrenalin bursts forth from its dam. This ordinary thing has become momentous, even life-changing. Horizons are broadened and you stand on the threshold of a hero’s journey. A quest opens before you and beckons. Things will never be the same again.

It happened to a fisherman known to us as Simon Peter. You can read about it here.

It’s on the lectionary for this coming Sunday; we are still in the Epiphany Season.

When revenge ain’t so sweet

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Homeboy comes home and does good! He’s one of our own and has become something of a regional celebrity. His words tickle our ears and we are proud of the charisma that is winning him a wide following and putting us on the map. Good for trade! Good for tourism! Good for kudos – for it takes a village to raise a child and we can bask in the reflected sunshine. His influence is our influence!

But what happens when he starts to go off script? He is telling us parts of our story that we have forgotten and don’t want to hear. He is facing us with obligations that we not only do not want to own but that we find repugnant. And in doing so he holds up a mirror into which we would rather not gaze.

Bring out the tar! Gather the feathers! Grab a rail! We will pay him back for betraying us to ourselves and calling us to who we are meant to be! But what’s this lingering sour taste in our mouths?

Luke 4:21-30 reveals the shadow of epiphany.

Practising Epiphany

torah-scroll-torah-parchment-sephardic-ashkenaz-new-usedNext Sunday’s text takes us to Jesus’ inaugural address in his hometown synagogue. He tells it straight and the people don’t much like it. Such a short and simple address – less than two minutes! Most of it was quoting that oft-repeated passage from Isaiah. Many had heard it so often they could quote it by heart. The clincher was the assertion that followed,  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The selected text ends here – you need to read on to see how the Nazareth congregation responded and how Jesus’ sermon turns dialogical.

But next Sunday, we are the congregation and it will be our turn to react. Think of the space Jesus speaks from – the Epiphany season has honed us. This is the Jesus who, as an infant, was acclaimed in mysterious universal fashion in the visit of the magi, who evoked divine pleasure as he joined thousands of others in the River Jordan’s cleansing rite, and who drew back the curtain on the messianic banquet at a certain wedding in Cana. The congregation will never hear this text the same again, for the words now live in a way that invades and infuses their awareness, and challenges their orientation and practice. Some will welcome this, and others, many others, will resist because the status quo is more predictable and comfortable. But once seen epiphany cannot be unseen. We practise or perish!

 

Third sign of Epiphany

On Saturday it was my privilege to officiate the marriage of two widowed friends of advanced years. It has been a whirlwind romance of deep mutual respect and much fun and laughter together, catching up friends and family alike. The ceremony and wedding feast celebrated years of life, wisdom and experience, forged on particular journeys, coming together as one.

The wedding feast at Cana comes readily to mind, where Jesus’ sign of water transformed into wine points to the presence of union at a depth that speaks of the completion and realisation of the messianic banquet. This is the third sign of Epiphany, following those of the visit of the Magi and the divine delight expressed at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.

Ponder these things to gain a grasp of the wonder begun at the celebration of incarnation, where God became as us in Christ that we may, in Christ, become as God.