Particularly those that occur when two people in disagreement appeal to a third person for support.
Specifically the one that occurred when hospitable but anxiety-ridden Martha appealed to Jesus to command Mary to leave her learning and come and help her. Jesus took Mary’s side – she had chosen the better thing and it would not be taken from her. See Luke 10:38-42. Classic triangle! Hearers have been taking sides ever since!
Those with Martha assert that she is left with all the hard work of many things. There is no help and little sympathy from the Lord on whom she had lavished such exuberant hospitality. Besides, practical down-to-earth service is necessary for the function of any enterprise.
Supporters of Mary endorse her breaking of the traditional domestic role of ceding the boon of learning and discipleship to the males of the human species. She receives the best of what Jesus has to offer and Martha can too.
Those with Jesus note how often he refused to play the arbitrator when difficult propositions were put to him. His habit was to answer a question with a question or a request for judgement with a parable. It is evident that he used this strategy, not to avoid engagement, but to draw listeners to fresh and Kingdom-inviting ways to see their situations. To chide Martha, a faithful supporter, in the way he did, seems atypical and puzzling.
Triangles can be unsettling. They can also be unifying.
Within the Christian tradition, the triangle describing the perfect union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit stands out. Ironically, it is a relationship into which all are invited.
Relationships are also a journey. The drama in the Bethany household of the two sisters can be recast as a necessary journey of the pathways to Gospel wholeness described in the Quadratos work of Alexander Shaia. Martha is on the second pathway marked by struggle through overwhelming anxiety about many things. It is typical for encounters with the divine on this pathway to be terse and confronting, but ultimately healing. Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, is on the third pathway of peace and joy, savouring union with her Teacher. Both sisters, however, are called to be on Luke’s road of costly ministry, the fourth pathway of mature service, the overriding theme for discipleship in Luke’s gospel.
We are in the Season of the Spirit so we might expect our texts to say something about that.
One is from the Hebrew tradition, speaking of the incident in the life of Elijah that transformed his perception of how God works with us. (See 1 Kings 19:1-15)
The next story comes 1000 years later. Luke’s gospel records how Jesus and his band entered foreign territory and caused a stir, healing a madman and producing an effect in the supply and demand of the local swine economy. (See Luke 8:26-39)
Is there a link between these two stories? Both speak of interaction between the Divine and human beings going through crisis.
Is Elijah experiencing a challenge to his faith? He seems to be experiencing a dark depression despite some spectacular victories. Is Luke’s demoniac a modern-day psychiatrist’s challenge, defying all the mental health diagnostic handbook’s categories? The outcome invites further pondering of the process of the transformative ways of the Spirit.
How do we read the Bible in a way that the Bible at the same time reads us?
May the written Word now brought to us through the spoken Word bring us into fresh encounter with the living Word.
When unravelling a passage through background reading, sifting commentaries, and considering various translations, I often find it helpful to let the story speak for itself. To do this and to get out of the analytical party of my brain I give reign to some poor bush poetry. Hence, I try to enter the experience of Elijah by imagining his voice:
Old Queen Jez, she was mad at me As mad as mad could be She summoned all her hitmen To force silence for a hefty fee!
Scared, I became a fugitive And fled into the outback The black dog kept me company my fears my soul did rack.
The horrors of those forty days Defy words to describe All that I had relied upon Mocked with scorn and jibe
From somewhere within a strength came through I could not name nor muster I found myself at God’s Mountain side E’en though I was full of bluster.
For might is great when all’s on show In earthquake wind and fire But YHWH laughed when I complained That no longer did these inspire
“Your authentic self no longer needs These crutches to perform your action My still small voice joined deep within Is all you require for traction.”
God’s voice with mine joined deep within Began to sound fair dinkum To Damascus, then, did I return To set up Hazael’s kingdom.
It seems that something of an evolutionary moment in humankind’s spiritual perception occurs in this account of Elijah’s experience. Divinity was habitually encountered as something out there, encountered in spectacular natural phenomena. The shamans and prophets who could manipulate such awareness could hold contests of power. “Anything your god can do, mine can do better!”
Elijah had outwitted the priests of Jezebel and now she sought to conquer him with her political might. I suspect, however, that this is not what drove Elijah out into the wilderness in deep depression. I think it had more to do with the awareness that, as spectacular as the displays of YHWH’s power proved to be, Elijah felt empty, wasted, and abandoned.
The true power of YHWH was yet to be revealed in something that seemed to be small and inconsequential – the still small voice within.
It was revealed because Elijah was now ready. He carried the wounds of success – and he carried the wounds of failure. His voice had found a new authenticity. In it he discovered the voice of YHWH – quiet, intimate, and full of peaceful assurance. And with YHWH’s still small voice comes a new commission – Elijah is sent back to Damascus to attend to affairs of state.
In the same manner, my muse had me enter Luke’s so-called demoniac of Gerasene:
Elijah had his black dog; I had my demons One thousand of them partying, in fact, Inside my tortured mind. Not to say they didn’t entertain me, Like a thousand TV channels But to select one was beyond what I could find.
Their voices drove me crazy, my mind collapsed all hazy The demons focused on a voice without. That commanding voice outside became a quiet voice within Heard through the demons’ cacophony and shout.
The demons fled away and my mind began to stay In a place of peaceful calm and poise As I focus on the Teacher; behold I am a brand new creature My still small voice within he now employs.
For my people were afraid in spite of how it played Now that I had returned to my right mind So he told me to go home and spend time with them alone Maybe then their still small voice will find.
In my mind, a theme emerges. Elijah and the Gerasene demoniac, separated by a millennium, one a Jew, the other a Gentile, one a devoted servant of God, the other a deranged pagan, have something in common.
Both make the journey from control by some outside external source of authority to discovery and claiming of an inner authority from deep within – “clothed and in their right mind” – an inner authenticity.
Can this be the work of the Spirit?
This question enlivens me.
It takes me back to a time early in my ministry when my temperament was focused on “doing the right thing.” I was a people-pleaser, constantly looking over my shoulder to ensure I hadn’t stepped on someone’s toes. One day a mentor, stood up, looked me in the eye, pounded his fist on the desk, and shouted “Claim your authority.”
I had been lamenting a season of conflict with one or two of my church board members who had been critical of some of my actions.
“Why do you have to please your bishops?” he said.
“They aren’t bishops, we don’t have those,” I protested.
“You have made them your bishops! Claim your authority!”
That day began the journey from external to internal authenticity.
Elijah had been relying on spectacular shows to reclaim the faith of an errant Israel. Mt Horeb was a transition to inner authority that transformed him into the great prophet of note.
Luke’s demoniac of Gerasa was captive to outer chaotic forces that drove him insane. It took the presence and compassion of Christ to orientate and anchor him to the place where he, not the demonic force, was in control. Such was the claim to his inner authority and authenticity that Jesus commissioned him to stay and help transform his community through his story.
In these days following the celebration of Pentecost, these two stories perhaps provide insight into the way God, the Holy Spirit, continues to be at large amongst us. They invite us to see our life’s journey as a movement towards claiming our authentic selves in union with others and the universe of which we are part. For both Elijah and our Gerasene friend, the transformation was not just for their personal benefit, but for their respective communities.
Elijah had a big job a head of him. Israel was going to take some convincing to return to its covenant obligations.
The good citizens of Gerasa, faced with too much to comprehend and embrace in one day, begged Jesus and his band to leave them. Jesus obliged but left behind the restored man who wanted to go with him. He was restored well enough to carry Jesus’ voice to his own people. Some commentators name him the first Apostle to the Gentiles. As we ourselves come to terms with the authenticity joined to us by the still small voice, apprehended by comprehension of our creaturehood in God as Father/Creator, clarified through the teaching and example of Jesus as God’s Son, and enlivened within us by the Holy Spirit, so we too discern our daily commission in this world. The task is just as great. How shall we live in a world caught in insecurity and fear? How shall we serve? How shall we build?
We can only answer by first listening for the still small voice within.
A man in the heaving crowd on a railway station in India noticed me, the lone Caucasian on the platform.
He called out to me earnestly seeking engagement. “One!” he shouted. I looked at him quizzically. He and his young son intently returned my gaze. “One!” he asserted, pointing skywards. I returned the gesture, pointing upwards. “Yes, One!” I responded with a nod.
The pair broke into wide grins. Victory asserted over this presumed interloping Trinitarian? Or rejoicing at a fleeting moment of union with a fellow spiritual descendant of Abraham?
I, an adherent to the mystery of the Trinity, like to think the latter.
Note: the illustration is from a stock photo, not from the incident described
They say offended deity confounded those who reached so high Scrambling their common tongue and scattering them far and nigh. And now a myriad tongues and ways Blight human communication And deity quietly kept the days ’til Pentecost’s liberation.
But what if grace was behind the scene Right from the very beginning. Spirit’s plan for fecund variety Confounded by such sinning. Spirit had her way with multiply of nations Each contributing to humankind Learned wisdom from unique foundations. Thus Pentecost’s miracle clears the way Her message deep throughout the nations For all now hear her good news clear Within their own deep language
Unity in diversity is Pentecost’s new flavour Christ’s Good News binds all in one A reality to seek and savour!
It’s a heady time. A change of government that swaps the barren ideals of economic rationalism for a more fertile social conscience. A new focus on the Uluru Statement as we head into Reconciliation week. Yesterday, following three years of housing insecurity following the scandalous collapse of Sterling First, Jenny and I were able to sign a new rental agreement while renewing our pursuit for justice and compensation for the cohort of retired battlers that were scammed.
No wonder the Greeks came visiting at 4 am. Their names are Kairos and Metanoia. They are as ancient as human awareness and figure large in both Greek mythology and the Christian sacred texts.
Bag with wallet, keys and phone are inadvertently left on the bus at Whitfords Interchange. Frantic discussion with Transperth employee. Both route number and bus number were miraculously memorised. Bus tracked on dry run on freeway to Perth CBD where driver will take a meal break. No passengers. Maybe he can locate the bag when he reaches his destination. Oh yes, he does! If we can meet him at the Central bus station within the hour, we can collect it. 40 minutes. How to get there through peak hour traffic on the freeway? Hop on the train. We make it with 10 minutes to spare. Buses are everywhere as commuters make their way home. Armed with gate number, route number, bus number and time of departure, we meet the bus driver. Bag handed over. A leisurely train ride back to Whitfords. How good is Transperth?
“A New Commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ
You’ve got to be kidding. Surely this is demanding the impossible. Surely this “wisdom” only serves to feed weak manipulative relationships and reinforce the kind of violence that is built on a toxic cycle of attack, remorse, forgive and repeat – because at least one party is given to a mistaken application of this highest of all commandments. Believe me, I’ve been around long enough to see how misunderstood and misappropriated these words have proved to be. Instead of building and inspiring, this disembodied commandment has rather been guilt-inducing and victimising.
After all who can love how Jesus loved? The first one to share a dish with Jesus at his final meal is the same who betrayed him to his executioners. “Go and do what you must do,” Jesus said to him. Even as he hung on a cross in mortal and spiritual agony, Jesus uttered, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” At a beachside breakfast, the Risen Christ restored a guilt-ridden and fallen Peter to responsible leadership. He had denied even knowing Jesus, abandoning him in his time of greatest need.
Who can love like that?
Election fever currently has the country in its grip. Love is certainly not high on the agenda. I myself am part of a group that has been all but consumed in lobbying hard for justice regarding a failed and fraudulent retirement housing scheme. Twenty of our number have died in the process, stress of losing secure accommodation and life savings due to deliberate regulatory dysfunction being a major factor. Politicians and bureaucrats have led this group up the garden path with promises, false hope, lies, deception and Machiavellian manipulation. How does one “love your enemy” and “those who despitefuly use you” under such conditions?
Spiritual wisdom of the ages reveals this highest of Jesus’ summons is best understood and followed as aspiration, the summit of a peak of what it means to be most completely and fully human. In the thick of conflict, in the bloodiest part of the battle with those who sneakily or blatantly strive against us, it’s hard to see the peak through the dust and fog. We know it’s there, however!
And to love is not to forgive cheaply or to fail to call abuse and injustice to account. To love as Jesus demonstrates can involve some very painful relationship surgery. Poison needs to be drawn so that souls may heal. To love as Jesus loves is also to build our own positive self-regard, in order to “love others as we love ourselves” (another commandment of Jesus).
So yes, we can love like that. We are serious! Read all about it in John 13:31-35, the set reading for this Sunday.
A small faith community in the western suburbs of Perth is grieving the loss of four significant members in as many months. Not only was their participation in the church’s witness and service strong, but they lived the church’s ethos of compassion and inclusion. In the wake of the latest funeral three days ago, we are looking at the text from John 10:22-30. It’s Good Shepherd Sunday.
These are my ponderings upon which I am basing my remarks.
We are asking “How does Jesus’ shepherd language speak into this congregation’s current experience of heavy loss? Particularly during this continuing Easter season?”
Here are some hooks to hang our hats on:
The Christian story is cyclical – it is about transformation from “one degree of glory into the next” The first few centuries of the church called this “theosis.” The resurrection reminds us that change involves something dying in order that the new may be birthed. Change, whether expected or forced, takes on fresh meaning when seen through an Easter lens.
Today’s text sees the Jerusalem Temple leaders demanding Jesus say clearly if he is the Messiah. It is during the Feast of Dedication, a commemoration of the successful Maccabean revolt that briefly restored a measure of sovereignty to Israel before the Roman occupation. Today it is celebrated as Channukah, meaning “dedication.”
Jesus replies to his critics’ loaded “gotcha” question with “shepherd language,” the long-time common practice of ancient middle eastern potentates, including David, the shepherd-king of Israel. Such shepherd language reflected the duty of the king to lead and protect his people.
Jesus completes his answer with the words “I and the Father are one.” The implications of his Messiahship extend far beyond Israel into timelessness and endless space. His shepherding role can now be experienced through the story of resurrection.
All this takes place in Solomon’s Portico, one of the series of Temple colonnades in which Jesus taught and where the early church in Acts met. Marriage of incident and place is not a coincidence in John’s Gospel.
Jesus’ shepherd language is about a “knowing” relational intimacy that challenges and absorbs external expectations. It is experienced as much as it is reflected on.
It is an inner compelling driving force within a faith community. “My sheep know my voice.” A grieving community is strengthened to realise that the departed are still united with them through the shepherd-king’ s voice. Just as “the Father and I are one”, so we remain one together in the living Christ.
This reality is glimpsed in our closest relationships and as our understanding grows into them through the living Christ. A retired missionary often reminded me we are all “little Christs.”
A Haiku Are you him? The king? Feel your grief and grasp my crook Become one with Me!
Today Jenny and I were inducted into pastoring the same church into which we were similarly inducted 26 years ago!
A bit different this time.
In 1996 we were returning to a state from which we had been absent for 17 years. We knew the church only by reputation and were anticipating a good fit. It must have been because we stayed 22 years before retiring midway through 2018.
Now we are back for a 3-month part-time interim. We were inducted once more, answering the charge “to share that which gives people the way to live the life more abundantly.” This time we know the people, we know the ethos, we know the challenges that confront an ageing and passionately active and questing faith community.
The set Gospel passage was telling – a grieving Peter summoned from his fishing nets to take up the charge to “feed the sheep” in response to his restored relationship with the Risen Christ. I don’t see the summons out of retirement in quite the same terms (I wasn’t grieving!) but am alive to the task that is driven by an ever-questing relationship with the living Christ.