Declare before God

Commitment Sunday

The Gospel today invites us as a church to ‘declare ourselves before God’ as good stewards. God loves giving – he gave no lesser gift than the wonderful gift of Jesus to ensure that we are not alone in this life. We are also invited to not be afraid – the most common commandment that the Lord tells us. When we think about our response to the Lord in the areas of time, talents and treasures, all kind of misconceptions and myths can get in the way. We imagine that (1) we need to earn God’s love – when we can do nothing that will make God love us more. We believe that if we (2) obey God we will not enjoy life and miss out on so many things – yet Jesus tells us that he came that we may have life in abundance (John 10:10). Finally, we think that God is angry and needs to be appeased, so we think that (3) we need to buy God off and try to do this at the least possible price – surely those few coins that we toss into the collection will be just enough!

In fact, giving shapes our hearts and lives. Giving is so much more about our need to give than God’s need to receive. He doesn’t need anything from us – but we certainly never grow until we learn to freely give. There are many places in scripture that teach the principle of the first fruits – beginning in Genesis 4 with the offerings of Abel and Cain – then the offering of a tithe from Abraham to Melchizedek (Genesis 14) and the instruction that God gave Moses to offer the first-born children to be redeemed by the Lord. This continues in the Exodus tradition of offering sacrifice, and culminates in the offering of the first fruits of the land once they take possession of the Holy Land (Deut 26).

Everything belongs to God!

When we think about our giving, we are invited to think about a few issues. The first is “How do I give?” – do I give intentionally, or only accidentally? The second is “What do I give?” – do I give my very best (the first fruits), or do I only offer the leftovers to God and the church community?

When we want to grow in any area of our lives, it is important to remember that it takes time to learn something new, and to become skilled and gifted in an area. So the first of the baby steps that we need to take is (1) begin to give regularly by making giving a priority in our lives. When St Paul teaches on giving (over several of his letters) he tells us that our giving should be Proportional and Regular (eg 2 Cor 8:1-3 and 1 Cor 16:1-2). As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, do not be afraid of this. It takes practice to learn to do anything that is truly valuable.

If we have been giving for a while, then we may be ready to move onto baby step 2. Which takes the commitment to not just give something regularly, but to consider our finances and carefully determine how much we can afford to give – and then increase that amount by 1%. Remember, it is not the whole dollar amount that we give that matters – it is the proportion of our income. If we only give from our excess, then we have not even begun to really give. If it is too easy – perhaps we need to add another 1% to what we give – or maybe even 5%?

Finally, if you have been committed to giving sacrificially for sometime and you are willing to really trust in the Lord, then you can really level up with step 3 – which is committing to tithe on your gross income. There is a strange economics that comes into play once you commit to tithing. Even with a degree in Economics and Accounting, I am not sure why my finances have continued to do so well after I made this commitment many years ago to give what is already God’s back to God, his church and his people. But I know that this is something that we can always trust in – we can put God to the test in this area and he will be faithful. Guaranteed!

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All resources
Video Reflection: We Give (Dan Stevers)
Song Reflection: Open Up Our Eyes (Acapella by Bammel Church)

Corpus Christi – Lessons in Love

This Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ does not only draw to a conclusion this extended season of Easter Feasts – it also draws together the whole of the mystery and wonder that we have been celebrating since the beginning of Lent. The twin feasts of Trinity and Corpus Christi hang uneasily at the conclusion of the Season of Easter. We have already returned into the Season of Growth and Discipleship with the return of the green vestments as a sign of the new life of discipleship. But these two feasts, although described as feasts of the Lord in Ordinary Time, are really best understood as extensions of Easter, from which they derive their context.

What we discover is that these days are all about lessons in love.

Beginning with Holy Thursday, the Lord strips himself of his garments to be a slave washing the dirty feet of the disciples as an example. Then he continues to offer this example and choice on Good Friday when love refuses to say no, and the Lamb of God is sacrificed for us and for our salvation. The day of Resurrection joy is the day when love has the final say and sin and death do not. The whole of the season of Easter provides a continuing reflection for us as disciples to continue to grow and learn in the school of love. As Easter draws to a conclusion, we move into this series of four feastdays that together celebrate this particular gift of love.

The Ascension opens us to the reality of love as gift and return. Pentecost draws us deeper into love that is as close as our breath. The Trinity reminds us of the dynamic union of love that exists in the very heart of God – a circle-dance union that we are invited to join. But all of these beautiful and powerful feasts can remain too abstract and distant from our ordinary lives and experiences. Which is where the gift of such ordinary elements – bread and wine – which are transformed and changed to become for us these beautiful and precious gifts. If we should ever doubt that God is close to us, the gift of food that we can eat and drink should be enough to tell us that our God is never distant, never alien. God becomes this ordinary bread so that we can hold him, and take him in our hands and place him on our tongues, that he might become one with us at even a molecular level. We could not even imagine something so intimate?!

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Trinity Love

For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…

The famous and beautiful Gospel today (from John 3 verses 16-18) is the last part of a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a man who is called a leading Pharisee and leader of the Jews. Even though he is a teacher of the law, it is clear that old Nic does not get some of the subtle distinctions that Jesus makes between earthly and heavenly realities and the clear gift that God wants everyone to have – the life of the age to come.

The whole approach of God to the world is rescuing it from its bondage to sin and death so that all human beings will be drawn into the communion of life and love that we can only find in God. Jesus tells us that this is the work of the Son.

Remember that in the Gospel of John, sin is not about morality – it is all about belief. So, judgement is not about some future reality or event, but about what happens in the here and now. Jesus brings it ‘down to earth’ and makes it present in himself.

Each person determines for herself or himself what their judgement will be. The only question that determines this is precisely the question of whether they decide or not to accept the revelation of God as a God of love, that comes to us through Jesus.

What we are seeing is exactly what God’s own love looks like. When Jesus died on the cross this was the complete and dramatic display of God’s own love. The cross was not a muddled accident. The cross was not God letting the worst happen to someone else. The cross is at the centre of this amazing new image of who God is.

He is now to be known as the God who is both father and son, and the son is revealed, ‘lifted up’, when he dies under the weight of the world’s evil. Evil which was and is in the world, indeed, which is deep-rooted within us all, was somehow allowed to take out its full force on Jesus.

When we look at Jesus lifted high on the cross, what we are looking at is the result of the evil in which we are all stuck. And we are seeing what God has done about it. In this amazing way, we are seeing what God’s own love looks like. We are seeing the gift of the Trinity of love – this community of love and life that we are invited to be part of.

Because evil lurks deep within each of us, for healing to take place we must each be deeply involved in the process. This doesn’t mean that we just have to try that much harder to be good. All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust: to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him.

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should have the life of the age to come.

The point of the whole story is that you don’t have to be condemned. God’s act in the death of Jesus has lodged a sign in the centre of history. And the sign simply says: believe, and live.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Trinity Sunday, Year A. John 3:16-18

Temple builders

The first question that Paul addresses today in I Corinthians 3 is whether he in fact is the founder of Christianity. It had been commonly claimed that Jesus only ever intended to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God by reforming Judaism, not to begin a new religion, and Paul is accused of being the actual founder of this new faith. In fact, Paul addresses this question by acknowledging that he was the founder of many different Christian communities, but in every instance all that he has done was to build on the work of Jesus the Messiah – using images of motherhood and farming to make his point. There can be no other foundation, other than his beloved Jesus.

He then talks about the different kinds of building materials that might be used, listing six types in two groups of three. The first three – gold, silver and precious stones – are what adorned the temple in Jerusalem and these will survive the pending fire; the second three –  wood, grass and straw – are clearly much more inferior and will not survive any kind of fire. His encouragement is to build worthily on the great foundation that has been given to us by the Lord, striving for something that will endure.

He brings this section that began in chapter 1 to a conclusion by reminding the community in Corinth that they are already the Temple of God – indeed, “God’s spirit lives in you!” Lest we attempt to read this through overly individualised western 21st century eyes, Paul uses the plural for you throughout this section – reminding us that it is only together that this is at all true. So let no one boast in this. Indeed, ‘It isn’t a matter of knowing that you’ve got it all together; you haven’t. It’s a matter of knowing that somewhere it is all together—and that you’re part of it.’

Paul then concludes this section by repeating this quite incredible declaration: “For everything belongs to you…” providing a list that is absolutely and completely inclusive of time and space and then concluding with the declaration and invitation: “And you belong to the Messiah;
and the Messiah belongs to God.”

Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (12mins)
Sunday 07, Year A. 1 Corinthians 3:16-23.

Spirit Wisdom

Although it may seem that St Paul is having an each-way bet today, he is not. He says that although the Cross is foolishness for the wise and a stumbling block for the Jewish people, there is still a wisdom that is at work here – but it is not a wisdom that is available to everyone. He says that the wisdom (sophia) that the Greeks in general and the Corinthians in particular love so much does still exist – but only for those who are spiritually mature (teleioi), not for those who are infants who haven’t struggled deeply enough with these mysteries. This remains a challenge for us in the church today – when people are used to having everything shared readily pre-prepared and pre-packaged for easy digestion.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (7 mins)

Proclaim Christ Crucified

When pondering the nature of God, Paul could have spoken about the various ways that God had been revealed across the centuries, the different qualities of God, the effects of God, or the ways to encounter God, based on philosophy or rhetoric – common in Greek culture. Instead Paul focuses on one basic element – the cross of Jesus. He wants us to continue to understand that the cross is everything – until we focus on the cross and allow it to make sense of our lives, nothing else is going to make sense.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13 mins)
Sunday 5, Year A. Matthew 5:13-16; I Cor 2:1-5

Somebody boast

The liturgy presents us with the final section (26-31) of chapter one of First Corinthians today, which means we have jumped over verses 18-25 which provides the essential context of the passage. Paul speaks in a powerful rhetoric about the cross – ironically telling us that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise. It is a little like the scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where Marc Antony attempts – as a friend of the recently assassinated Caesar to speak without the rhetoric of Marcus Brutus – when Antony actually speaks in beautiful and compelling poetry in comparison to the pedestrian and uninspired prose of Brutus. Paul uses some of his finest rhetoric in this passage to convince us of the power and wisdom of the cross. None of this makes any sense according to the human wisdom that was so highly regarded by Corinthian society (as in our own) but God can transform what is weak and foolish into that which will shame the strong and the wise.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am. (12 mins)
Sunday 4, Year A. I Corinthians 1:26-31.

Preaching Jesus united

Corinth was located at the end of a neck of land attaching the Peloponnese peninsula to mainland Greece and having a port facing east (Cenchreae) and another with access to the west (Lechaion), Corinth was geographically predestined to be a corridor of commerce and a potpourri of cultures. Ships could be hauled across the isthmus on chariots on the 6km paved railroad-like diolkos, whose grooves can still be seen on a surviving strip. This saved mariners sailing 300km from Athens to the Adriatic, and 160km to Naples or Rome. It also spared them sailing around Cape Maleae, proverbially treacherous for seafaring.
Ships with cargo too heavy for the diolkos would unload at one port and either haul the empty boat over the diolkos or load the cargo into a different boat at the other port. For various reasons, much cargo passed through Corinth itself. Being able to excise duty on the shipping, and celebrated for its shipbuilding and its production of bronze, ceramics, and textiles, Corinth was a wealthy city. It was also one of the ancient world’s largest. Its 10km encircling wall locked into the Acrocorinth, a rocky hill rising to a height of 600m like an impregnable fortress.
It also had a reputation of being one of the most sensual cities of the ancient world.
Montague, First Corinthians (2011, p15).

Paul first went to Corinth as part of his second missionary journey, travelling there after an unsuccessful visit to the nearby city of Athens, arriving there around the year 50. Given the melting pot that Corinth was, having been re-established and re-built as a city by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE with people from all over the world, with the top of the Acrocorinth crowned by a temple dedicated to Aphrodite that was served by one thousand sacred temple prostitutes (known as Corinthian ladies) – it would not seem to be a natural setting for a thriving Christian community. Yet this becomes Paul’s home for the next eighteen months (Acts 18). It was not without its problems, which so much of this letter is dedicated to after Paul hears from Chloe about some of the problems that have unfolded.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 mins)

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Grace and Peace in Corinth

Each liturgical year, the second readings for the first eight weeks of the Season of the Year are taken from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. In Year A we read sections from chapters 1-4; in Year B from chapters 6-10; and in Year C from chapters 12-15. The letter is also read at key points in each of the seasons and feast days.

Like in every one of the 13 letters that are found in the New Testament that bear the name of Paul as author, this first letter to the church in Corinth begins with a greeting:

May God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ send
you grace and peace.

Every time that Paul wrote a letter to either a whole community or to an individual, he began with this declaration that he wanted the people he wrote to know. He wanted them to know that the gift of God that was revealed in the person of Jesus, through the unity of the Holy Spirit was all about grace – “The absolutely free expression of the love of God finding its only motive in the abundance of God” – and peace – “the creative and life-giving gift of everything that is good and harmonious in this present moment.” Which sounds rather good to me.

Recorded at Ignite Summer Camp, Mapleton (14 mins)

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Four Transcendentals: One

a1a-transcendentalsOne small piece of wisdom that has come down from the ages (it was first stated in Greek philosophy, and then offered into the Christian tradition through the writings of the Eastern fathers, St Augustine, and then codified in scholastic philosophy through the writings of St Thomas Aquinas) is the Latin phrase: omne/omnia ens est unum, bonum, verum et pulchrum. Literally translated this means: All being is one, good, true and beautiful. Since I first discovered this teaching, it has deeply impacted my life. So as we begin this new season of Advent and this new liturgical year (in fact as we restart the six-year Sunday and weekday cycle from the beginning*) it seemed to be an appropriate time to begin with the very fundamental teachings that an understanding of the transcendentals provides.

The transcendentals remind us that God leaves traces of Godself in everything that has been created – that is everything. We may have learnt in our childhood through the old Baltimore Catechism that the answer to the question “Where is God” with the answer “God is everywhere.” Yet, although we have taught this, we have often minimised this belief, saying rather that God, although everywhere, is really only truly present in much more limited ways – like in our church, or our sacraments, or in the people who are part of our group (and then probably only when we really like them!). The transcendentals can help us to break out of this stingy and narrow understanding of God.

This week we begin with the concept of God as one. ‘One’ is a very common word in our scriptures – used 2,222 times in the Hebrew scriptures (most in the book of Numbers), and 1,569 times in the New Testament (most often in the Gospel of John). Most of the time the word one just highlights that something is in the singular, rather than the plural. But at times it points to something deeper, emphasising the very nature of Gd, such as in Deuteronomy 6:4, which is the Shema prayer recited each day by Jewish people: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word ‘one’ here is the word ‘ehad and is the basis of the Judeo-Christian belief in monotheism. But this belief began to become more nuanced with the claim made by Jesus (for example, in John 10:30) that “the Father and I are one” which would become part of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

All of this is pointing to the dynamic nature of God. Too often we have limited God to a very static and boring understanding, when there can be nothing that is more dynamic. The only way to know God is through relationship as a subject, not an object. If we begin to grasp this, then we can begin to live in an elevated sense of freedom, goodness, truth and beauty.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am Mass. (14mins)

* The Sundays are arranged in a three-year cycle, starting in Year A with the Gospel of Matthew; Year B with the Gospel of Mark; and Year C with the Gospel of Luke. The weekdays are arranged in a two-year cycle, with the same Gospel readings, but different first readings (drawn from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures). Over the six years the cycle runs: Year A/I; Year B/II; Year C/I; Year A/II; Year B/I; Year C/II.

If you want some background reading, the following articles may be of interest: