Shining Clouds

sinaiWe read today from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Luke – a chapter which saints and scholars across the centuries have told us is the centre of the Gospel. Before Jesus begins his journey towards Jerusalem, he begins this process by gathering the disciples together (always a sign of the church) and he gives them all power and authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God. A rather impressive list of things to add to a CV! The disciples go out, and discover that they indeed have this power and authority. Then uniquely in Luke, we are told that Herod is perplexed by Jesus and asks the question: “Who is this man who does all these things?”

Jesus then takes the disciples away to be by themselves, and they find a crowd of people who have gone before them – so Jesus sets about teaching them and healing the sick. At the end of the day, the disciples – who only a few days before have been sent out with all power and authority to cast out demons and heal the sick – ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find something to eat and places to stay. The response of Jesus is to “give them something to eat yourselves.” How slow they are to learn or how quick to forget? Then, when the disciples are again alone with Jesus, he asks them “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and then after they give their answers, he asks again “who do you say that I am?” to which Peter replies “The Messiah of God.” So within the space of a few verses, the question of the identity of Jesus is posed three times.

It is then that Jesus introduces the outcome of his life and ministry – that it will all end in Jerusalem with his passion and death. Discipleship is about taking up the cross each day. All of these passages are then connected to the scene that we just read (beginning at chapter 9:28) by the introductory phrase (which for unknown reasons are omitted from the lectionary) that this happened “eight days later” – time signatures are always important in scripture, because it reminds us that these events are never disconnected and must not be read in isolation.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (11’04”)

Worship and Temptation

GrainOn the first Sunday of Lent each year, we remember why we journey through the wilderness for forty days when we hear about the journey of Jesus – driven by the holy Spirit into the desert – for forty days of prayer and encounter with God. We must first note that temptation should not only be thought of as the desire to break rules, just as sin is so much more than being naughty. When we sin, we fall short of God’s original plan for our lives – which is to know, love, worship and serve him as his image bearers and sharers in the world. At some level, to sin is to fail to truly worship and to miss the mark and settle on something so much less.

To understand the power of what Jesus experienced and overcame in the wilderness, we need to journey back into the wilderness with the people of God as they prepare to enter into the promised land – recounted today in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 26. Although the Lectionary gives us verses 4-10, to understand this passage more fully, we need to read a little more – chapter 26, verses 1 to 11, which happens to be the reading from the Common Lectionary. I will read and comment today from the TNIV version.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (12’55”)
Sunday, Lent 1C

Signing Sowing in Tears

sowingThe NSW Catholic Bishops released a Lenten Pastoral Letter in response to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, called “Sowing in Tears”. The letter itself is a fine example of authorship by committee and says all the kinds of things that one would expect such a letter to say. The opening paragraph begins: “Lent words are ‘re’ words:re-pent, re-turn, re-pair, re-new. All are called to repentance, not just the great sinners, because all are affected when any member is sinful or suffering. The Body of Christ is wounded.”

What I found more intriguing than the document itself, was the signature page – which says more about me then anything else! The first person to sign the document was, of course, Cardinal Pell, followed by the Auxiliary Bishops of Sydney (ranked by order of ordination seniority), then the other geographic dioceses are listed alphabetically, then the Maronite and Military Bishops, bringing up the rear, as it were. This ordering no doubt appeals to people who find hierarchy important. You could order the Bishops (and Administrator in the case of Canberra-Goulburn) in a range of ways, including simply alphabetically so that the Maronite Bishop Ad Abikaram would come first in this ordering, and Maitland-Newcastle’s Bill Wright last. (more…)

Sound the trumpet

Ashes10Ash Wednesday reflection – with the students of St Paul’s Primary School, Camden.

The short, three-chapter book of Joel provides a call and response by the people of God suffering as a result of a national calamity – a plague of locusts has destroyed their grain and grape crops, so the people are running out of food and are unable to offer their sacrifices in the newly rebuilt temple. The book is most often dated to around 500 BCE, after the people have begun to return from the Exile in Babylon. The people have been called together in a solemn assembly as the Lord, through the prophet, invites them to a time of renewal and grace.

Ash Wednesday. (8’22”)

Resignation of a Pope

b16Late last night, as for most major breaking stories in these days of the prevalence of social media, I saw through Facebook and Twitter notifications on my mobile phone that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, had announced his resignation, to be effective at 8pm (Rome time) on 28 February 2013. Since the first source that I saw quoted was from CNN, I went hunting for a more solid source, and went with the BBC, which confirmed the story. Within minutes, there were dozens of stories jostling for space on the Facebook news feed and just as many tweets. Perhaps the latest tweet from Benedict XVI on the previous day could have alerted us?

We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy.
We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.
Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) February 10, 2013

As the text of his announcement became more widely known, people began to reflect on the physical health of the Holy Father. Unfortunately, it only took a few more minutes before the shock of the announcement settled into the opportunity for puns, such as “the Holy Father sets a high bar for things to give up for Lent”, or “The Vatican orders ex-Benedict for breakfast”. You have to admit, both are pretty sweet. 

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Woe is me yet here I am

fishingI consider myself to be rather good at designing and maintaining websites, so perhaps the equivalent scene in today’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) would be if – for example – Bishop Peter happened to drop into the parish office after a frustrating day of work, where new components or installations were not working on the Diocesan website. Although he doesn’t have any experience of programming, perhaps he might suggest that I move from my chair and let him have a go at seeing if he could fix my problem. I suspect that I would have good reasons to be hesitant in taking the good bishop up on his offer to fix the website, just as Simon-Peter was hesitant in putting the freshly cleaned nets back into the boat so that he could launch out into the deep. But the difference in this scenario, is that Simon did allow the Lord to call the shots and he did pay out the nets for a catch – despite the fruitless effort of the whole of the previous night. It is that decision that changed everything in his life, just as the decision that Isaiah makes to move from ‘woe is me’ to letting his unclean lips be cleansed.

Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (11’39”)

Sunday 05, Year C. Isaiah 6:1-8.

Heaven, Hell and God’s love

Heaven, Hell and God’s love

Presented over a two-day seminar, these workshops open up the theme of the place of the resurrection of Jesus in the life of Christians, considering what society teaches and understands about death and what happens after death. The seminar looks at the teaching of scripture and the church on such ideas as eternal life, paradise, heaven, hell, purgatory and new creation. It is based on the writings of contemporary authors including Pope Benedict, Bishop Tom Wright and Rob Bell.

Given at Summer School of Evangelisation, Bathurst – January 2013

The notes from the seminar are also available: Notes – PDF

The Prezi presentation is also available: Prezi.com

Sex, money, power and Jesus

sportbetIt is said that the majority of newspapers and magazines sell with stories about sex, power and money – and the corruptions that these cause. The headline on the Sydney Morning Herald today certainly bears this out. Both readings today – Hebrews 13:1-8 and Mark 6:14-29 – certainly also focus on the effects of these, with the description of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, and the practical advice that is offered by Hebrews to overcome these three temptations. Our passage from Hebrews 13 concludes with “Jesus the Messiah is the same, yesterday, today and forever” – offering a way to focus on our own desire to live lives that have true purpose.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, during the opening Mass for the new academic year for St Benedict’s College (08’13”)

Coming to Mount Zion

mountzionIn Hebrews 12 we arrive at what can be argued as the climax of the letter/document with a description of two mountains. The first, although unnamed, clearly refers to Mount Sinai and the place of the reception of the great covenant by Moses. The frightening scene is related powerfully – complete with a blazing fire, darkness, gloom and whirlwind. By way of contrast, the readers are told that no – you have come to Mount Sion/Zion – to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We discover here a vision of heaven that is strikingly similar to the vision that the pages of scripture closes with, in Revelation 21 and 22.

Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington, 7pm Mass (Thursday, week 4)

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