Building Bigger Barns

18C-Bigger-BarnsOne of the interesting characteristics of the Hebrew language is that it has a relatively small vocabulary – especially in comparison to English. It is also a very concrete, practical language, with very few words that are merely conceptual. So when it comes time to try and describe something that is more abstract, Hebrew has to use a concrete word that hints at the deeper reality. So the opening line of our first reading today, from Ecclesiastes 1:2, is a perfect example of this. How do you describe something like vanity, when there is no word for this? Qoheleth, the preacher, the author of this small, mostly depressing book, chose the word “Hebel” – which means breath or vapour.

But even more than vanity, this word points towards the absurdity of life – something that is driven home in the Gospel today. A man in the crowd puts a demand to Jesus: Master, tell my brother to give me my share of the inheritance. It is not the role of the Rabbi to intervene in such disputes, so Jesus sets the man straight and then tells the parable of the man with a barn that is too small to hold the win-fall from a bumper crop. Unfortunately the man should not have got lost in his own thoughts and only his own concerns – but taken this problem to the rest of the community – who could have quickly pointed out that his bounty could easily be shared with the whole community, who no doubt would have been in desperate need of such abundance. But his anxiety would not let him see his own needs truly, let alone the needs of others. So he will be found wanting when the judgement upon his too-small-soul is made.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (10mins)
Sunday 18, Year C. Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Luke 12:13-21

Prayer 101 – 2 Beginning to Pray

Prayer101-2BeginningtoPrayWe are invited deeply into relationship with a God who as a good father wants to give good gifts to all of his children – and especially the gift of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was a little child, as was the tradition at the time, his mother Mary would have taught him how to pray to God. She would have shared the many stories of God and God’s people that she would know by heart from the Hebrew Scriptures and her own experience of praying and trusting in this good father. As Jesus grew, prayer to the father becomes so characteristic of his whole life that it is remarked upon, and it provokes the desire of his disciples and followers to pray in the same way – teach us to pray. The prayer that Jesus teaches us in Luke’s gospel today is not just a prayer that we need to learn and recite word-for-word – but an invitation into communion with the same father – an invitation to rest in his word and rest in his love.

Sunday 17, Year C. Luke 11:1-13

Prayer 101 – Learning to Pray

Prayer101-LearningtoPrayIn today’s gospel, we see Jesus arriving at the house of Martha, who in good near eastern tradition is very attentive to the hospitality of Jesus. But when Martha’s sister Mary is able to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him while he taught, Martha remains distracted by all the serving. Mary is commended for not multi-tasking and doing the one thing that was necessary – being attentive to Jesus in prayer. For this is what prayer is all about – lifting our hearts and minds in communion to God. Following on from out four weeks looking at discipleship, this week and next we will explore what prayer is – beyond simply saying formal prayers which use the words of other people – to begin to learn how to pray – to speak from our own lives and our own experiences and create the space for God to respond.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park (9.30am; 16 mins)
Sunday 16, Year C. Luke 10:38-42

Discipleship 4 – Moved by compassion

arton19176Arriving at the fourth part of this series on being disciples of Jesus, we are given the provocative question by a lawyer – what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come? True to form, Jesus does not provide a direct answer, but instead asks a question – what does the law say? What do you read there? In the other gospels, it is Jesus himself who provides this bringing together of two different strands of the law – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (only three of these are found in the original Hebrew text, or in the Greek translation) from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, combined with the call to love our neighbour as ourselves from Leviticus 19. Because this commandment is so difficult, we also want some wriggle room to evade being judged by such a strong teaching. Yet, the call of the Lord is very clear. It is only the one who showed mercy who was the true neighbour. And we show mercy not just in binding wounds, or providing food, but also whenever we speak truth into another person’s life – whenever we offer them the only hope that any of us absolutely need – to know and be known by Jesus the Christ.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (15 mins)
Sunday 15, Year C. Luke 10:25-37

Reflection video: Come be my light (Liturgically Sound)

View the Presentation Slides
Communion Reflection Song: Good Good Father (Chris Tomlin)

Discipleship 3 – Moments of Conversion

Jesus today sends out the larger group of his followers to become disciples – those who have learnt from the master and now share in his mission to proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is this passage of scripture (Luke 10:1-9) that was the inspiration for the new logo for the parish, that was launched last year during Advent in the first message series that I preached at St Paul’s – the Law of Four. The logo is broken up into four quadrants around the cross, the identify the various stages in our journey – stages that continue as we journey and mature. Surrounding the cross are 72 circles of various sizes, to represent the call of this parish community to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be, moving in and around the cross as we call others into life in Christ, and go out in service and discipleship.

It is important that we understand the various realities of what being a disciple is all about and the dynamics of our journey as friends and followers of Jesus. Fr James Mallon in his book Divine Renovation (2014) describes a disciple as “To be a disciple is to be a learner. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus the master, Jesus the teacher.” (Kindle edition, location 248) But the reality is that many people in our generation, although they may have even had a significant spiritual experience, are deeply disconnected from God and the Church. Sherry Weddell in her book Forming Intentional Disciples (2012) describes the spectrum of belief that we find in our world:

  1. I don’t believe in God – atheist
  2. I don’t know if there is a God – agnostic
  3. I believe in a higher-power or impersonal force – deist
  4. I believe in a personal God but have no relationship with God – census Christian?
  5. I believe in a personal God and have a relationship with God – believer

Even within the final stages of this progression, many variations exist, especially in the degree to which a person builds and maintains a healthy and life-giving friendship with the Lord Jesus. Weddell describes five thresholds of conversion – stages that I have been able to recognise in my own conversion and that initial movement towards faith that I experienced between the ages of 15 and 20.

  1. Initial trust. Can I trust you? There is at least a positive association with Jesus Christ, the Church, a believer, or something specifically Christian. Unless there is a bridge of trust in place, people will never move to active personal faith.
  2. Spiritual curiosity – a person is intrigued by or desires to know more about Jesus, his life / teachings / the Christian faith.
  3. Spiritual openness – a person begins to acknowledge an openness to the possibility of personal and spiritual change. Not yet a commitment to change.
  4. Spiritual seeking – a movement from an essentially passive position to an active seeking to know the God who is calling her/him. Something like ‘dating with a purpose’ rather than marriage! There is a seeker who is engaged in an urgent spiritual quest to know if they can commit to Jesus and his church.
  5. Intentional Discipleship – the decision to ‘drop one’s nets’ and make the conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of the church as an obedient disciple with all that this involves – including reordering one’s life around this commitment.

Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples (2012) – chapters 5-8

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Recorded at St Paul’s AP, 9.30am (16mins)
Sunday 14, Year C.