A tale of two mountains

22C-2mountainsThe wonderful reading from Hebrews 12 today (second reading) may pass us by, because it presumes that we have a good understanding of the rest of the book, as well as Jewish history, geography, scripture and the Jerusalem temple. It probably doesn’t help that the name of the first mountain is not even given in the text, although the description makes it very clear what the author has in mind. The scene is from Exodus 19-20, when Moses leads the chosen people from the slavery of Egypt into this wilderness encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai. Although it was a wonderful event, it is so dramatic and overwhelming, that most of the people would have been left as a trembling mess after this theophany. What the author wants us to know, is that as wonderful as Jewish history, centred on these key events of Exodus, wilderness wanderings, settling of the promised land, and the building of a people, then a nation, then a kingdom, which culminated in the establishment of the city of David on Mount Zion, where his son Solomon would build a temple and begin the traditions of temple offerings and sacrifices that shaped the identity of the Jewish people. When he turns in verses 22 to 24 to this contrast that is found on Mount Zion, it is not primarily to negate all that had gone before, but to speak of the ministry of Jesus as being the true and better way – completing and perfecting the limitations of the first and necessary system that was the Mosaic law. The way that he describes the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem is simply stunning. The even more stunning thing is that this access to God the supreme judge is made available through Jesus every time and in every moment that we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (9 mins)
Sunday 22, Year C.

Understanding Loneliness

  • A biblical and anthropological look at loneliness

www.geodun.comThis talk was given to a group of young adults in Wollongong, in response to a request to look at why in an age of widespread online social networks, so many young people still experience profound loneliness.

The talk first looks at the biblical background to the concept of friendship, fellowship, loyalty and relationships – where they suceed and where they fail.

The talk concludes with the insights of Professor Robin Dunbar who has studied primates and early human societies to look at the brain science of friendship and its limitations.

While listening to the audio of the talk, it will be helpful to either look at the notes (available in PDF format) or better to look at the PowerPoint presentation (which I will refer to during the talk). The talk concluded with an open discussion, most of which is included in the audio.

The law completed

sun behind the bell tower. this is not a collage.The Jewish law, especially the 613 mitzvah or commandments found in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures / Old Testament) – with 365 prohibitions (You shall not…) and 248 prescriptions (Honour your father and mother; Keep holy the Sabbath day…), was a colossal achievement. The whole of the Jewish nation – and not just the scribes and Pharisees – were rightly proud of their laws and revered and honoured both the Law / Torah and the God who gave it to them through their father Moses. Jesus begins this section of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:17-37) by declaring that he had come not to abolish any of the laws, but to complete them. He goes on to declare that anyone who upholds the law and teaches the law will be considered blessed in the kingdom of heaven; but the opposite is also true.

Bizarrely, Jesus then goes on to make a series of six statements (four of which are included in the Gospel this week; the remaining two will feature next Sunday) where he cites the existing laws using the formula – “You have learnt how it was said” – but then he offers a reinterpretation of the existing law, beginning with an authoritative declaration: “but I say to you…”

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (11’49”)

Behold the Lamb of God

Lamb of GodWhen John the Baptist, sees his cousin Jesus coming towards him, it seems a little odd to declare “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Presuming that John has not simply forgotten the name of his cousin, there must be something much deeper going on. As we have often seen before, one of the best ways to understand a word or phrase that seems to be out of context is to begin by looking through scripture and see where the word first appears. This is called the ‘principle of first mention.’ So when we do this, we find that there is even more odd story in the pages of the book of Genesis, in chapter 22. The Rabbis called this story where Abraham is called by God to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice the “Akeda Sacrifice.” We recall that Abraham had been called by God to leave behind the security of his homeland to go to a place that God will show him, whereby he will become the father of a great nation. After many years of waiting, the Lord finally answers this promise when Abraham and Sarah give birth to a son, whom they call Isaac – the child of laughter. Some unspecified years have passed when the Lord calls Abraham to take “your son, your only son Isaac (in case Abraham is confused), whom you love,” and sacrifice him in the wilderness. Even though we are 22 long chapters into the Book of Genesis, this is the first time that the word ‘love’ appears in scripture. That has got to be significant!

Not knowing exactly what is to unfold, but trusting somehow in the creative goodness of God, Abraham does what he is told and journeys into the wilderness with his son and two servants. On the third day Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees the place in the distance. Leaving the servants with the donkey, he loads the wood upon Isaac and they travel the final distance to the mountain. It is here that Isaac asks the question that will burn in the hearts of believers until the day that Jesus offers his own life: “Father… behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answers in a most prophetic way: “God himself will provide the lamb.” Father and son arrive on the mountain top, and they build an altar and prepare the wood for the sacrifice. He binds his son (which is where the word ‘akeda’ comes from) – Isaac seems unusually compliant through all of this, especially if he could be a fourteen or sixteen year old man at this point and could easily fight back against this act of child cruelty – and lays him down on the altar, with hand poised on the knife, ready to slaughter his son. It is at this point that God intervenes – phew! Abraham looks up in answer to the voice of the angel ordering him to stay his hand, and he sees caught there in the thickets of a nearby bush – not a lamb – but a ram, able to be offered in sacrifice. Abraham names the place ‘Moriah’ – the Lord will provide. [It is on this same place that hundreds of years later King Solomon will build the temple.] So yes, God provides the ram – but not the lamb for the sacrifice. So the people of God began to ask – when will God provide the lamb? Who is the lamb of God?

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Recorded (badly) at QCCC Mt Tamborine, during Ignite Summer Camp.
Gospel proclaimed by Fr Morgan Batt, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Sunday 2, Year A. John 1:29-34

Christ the King on a Cross

cross-sunset

Today we come to the end of the year – the final day in what is called the liturgical year – as we celebrate the great feast of Christ the King. But the Gospel today helps us to keep our eyes focused very sharply on what Jesus as King is really going to mean and look like.

The scene that is presented to us is that simultaneously dark, dreadful and yet glorious day of the crucifixion of Jesus presented in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23. The cross was a terrible symbol of human cruelty and destruction that was the pride of the Roman Empire. The irony that it is on the cross that Jesus truly became their King is not lost on the early church. They knew all the prophecies and the rich scriptural heritage that had remembered that King David – that man after God’s own heart, and the truest and greatest of the kings of Israel had been a mere shepherd boy.

So it is on the Cross that Jesus bears the sins of all the sheep in his care. He also bears the many taunts and jeers of the criminals and soldiers who mercilessly mock and abuse him.

It is at this point that St Luke offers a unique remembrance. One of the criminals chooses not to join the rest of the crowd, but comes to the defense of Jesus, reminding the others that he deserved the punishment that he received, but Jesus has done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve this treatment. He then cries out in words that have been often repeated and often sung, as he addresses this great shepherd King with shocking familiarity: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The words remain an invitation to all of us to do the same. To approach the great and holy King Jesus with equally shocking familiarity and cry out to him with our deepest and most personal needs. For that is all it takes to receive the same reassurance as the good criminal received: “Indeed, I promise you – today you will be with me in paradise.”

Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden (9’04”) – on first Holy Communion weekend with 245 candidates at six Masses
Sunday 34, Year C. Luke 23:35-43

Resurrected temple

JerusalemSiegeThe long journey that we have been on with Jesus which began in chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke – the journey from Galilee in the north down to Jerusalem has finished and Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem – which the church celebrates each year on Palm Sunday. So all the gospel passages over the next few weeks take place during Holy Week – those final days leading up to the events of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Tensions, therefore, begin to rise!

The Gospel today is from Luke chapter 20. This is the only time that we meet this strange group called the Sadducees in this Gospel. The Sadducees were the conservatives and the aristocratic group of the day who scorned the more progressive views of the more popular Pharisees. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Torah.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 25, we find the law of levirate marriage, whereby a brother was supposed to raise up an heir for his childless dead brother. This was meant to protect the property rights of a family. 

Here, the Sadducees pose a case of a succession of seven heirless brothers that they think will force Jesus to renounce the resurrection by showing the absurdity of it. Instead, Jesus replies that the succession of husbands is a problem for the Sadducees, only because they have not thoroughly comprehended the meaning of the resurrection.

Resurrection life will not be exactly the same as the present one. Death will have been abolished, and so sexual relations, and especially the need to continue a particular family line, will be irrelevant. Those whom God counts worthy of ‘the age to come’, as opposed to ‘the present age’, will have bodies appropriate for the new world in which death will be no more.

And this continues to be good news for all who work for justice in this present world.

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Recorded at St Paul’s (8am & 5.30pm; 8’47”)
Sunday 32, Year C. Luke 20:27-38.

The Acts 7 Church

TheRoadLessTraveledThe speech that St Stephen gives in Acts 7 is the longest speech that St Luke records in the whole of the book – so clearly it is very significant for us. It reaches a climax shortly before the members of the Sanhedrin are so incensed by what Stephen says that they begin to pick up rocks (they always seem to be readily lying around in those days!) and condemn him to death. So let us listen to the word of God and allow the force of the story that Stephen tells carry us where the Lord would like to lead us today.

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Recorded at Young Adult Weekend, 29 June 2013, in Brisbane. (32’22”)

New exodus worship

tree-riverOne of the challenges of anyone attempting to read through the Bible are the encounters with the chapters that contain bizarre laws or content that seems to offer no significant spiritual content. For example, if you start with the book of Genesis, the pace and scope of the narrative will carry you through the book fairly easily and through the first half of Exodus. But once you arrive on Mount Sinai and have made your way through the Decalogue, you strike laws that are massively irrelevant – unless you really do want to know how to sell your daughter into slavery or who is responsible if an animal falls into an open-pit that you have dug.

But the great pity of this is that the chapters that describe the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) are about much more than the furniture or vestments of the priests – they really present the reason that God wanted to rescue Israel in the first place – so that he could make his dwelling within them. Eventually – after a number of missteps, including the massive one when Aaron doubts that Moses will return from the mountain and invites the people to turn their gold into a false idol in the golden calf – the sanctuary is made and the dwelling of God does indeed fall upon the camp and the Lord is now present in the midst of his people (Exodus 50).

All of this background is essential if we are to understand the book of Revelation properly. Otherwise we miss so many of the images that so richly illustrate the points that the seer John receives and shares with us about the new Jerusalem.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (9’15”)
Easter, Sunday 6C (Rev 21)

Church rescued

huge-crowdAfter these things I looked, and behold, a great crowd that no one was able to number, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. Rev 7:9 [LEB]

Two weeks ago I mentioned that our companions during the season of Easter this year are the Book of Acts, Revelation and the Gospel of John. Although Revelation can at times be a very confusing book, this week provides a powerful interlude in the narrative of the book. After setting the scene in chapter 1, Revelation 2-3 provides a series of seven letters to seven churches in the region of Asia Minor – representing thereby all churches across all time. Then, in chapter 4 and 5 we have the beginning of the Revelation per se that John received, as he is transported into the throne-room of heaven as it is now. In chapter 6 through 20 there is broadly a description of the great cleansing that has to take place to prepare the world for the final consummation, when heaven comes crashing into earth – described in the final two chapters of the book and the whole bible, 21 and 22. 

In chapter 5 we are introduced to the scroll that the one who sits on the throne is holding – written on the front and back. But no one is worthy to open the scroll, except the lion of the tribe of Judah. Then in chapter six we watch as one-by-one the seals are opened by the Lamb and great calamities are released. So, when chapter 7 opens, the early church community would have expected that John would have moved straight onto the end times and the opening of the final seal, since that was so much a part of their own expectations. Yet he doesn’t. Instead there is an interlude when we are told of two ‘visions’ where John first hears then sees this great multitude of all those who have been sealed by the Lord because they are the slaves/servants of the Lord. This is the vision of the church – coming from every nation and tribe and people and tongue – which John understands is the way that God is beginning to clean up the world and prepare all creation for the final revelation of God’s glory.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’45”)

Revealing mercy

curtain-opening

I love going to the movies. There is something great about being in a dark theatre, waiting for the curtain to open and the movie to ‘roll’ so that you can be transported into another world. One of the most memorable experiences of this is almost twenty years ago, during my first trip overseas. It was in Paris, and it was a freezing cold Christmas Day (even the fountains were all frozen mid-stream); after midnight Mass at the parish of Sainte-Trinité and then sharing in the orphans’ lunch a group of us headed to the movies to see the newly released Le Roi Lion. It was a beautiful old multi-tier theatre dating to the time of Napolean with elegant fittings and fairy-lights in the ceiling. As the lights dimmed, we were expecting the kind of pre-show mix of ads and previews, but here we were treated to a light, music and water-fountain extravaganza that set the scene for the transformation that continued when the curtains finally opened.

During this season of Easter, the second reading for the first 6 weeks is taken from the Book of Revelation, the final book in our scripture. It can be a very confusing and misunderstood book, and yet as the opening passage ‘reveals’, John the Divine is wanting to share this most extraordinary experience that he has had while in exile on the Island of Patmos. On the Lord’s day – perhaps immediately after celebrating Mass? – he is caught up in a vision that is often impressionistic and dream-like and at other times quite surrealist. But what John has received is not meant only for himself, which is why he prepares this letter written initially to the seven churches of modern western Turkey but meant for all Christians. He is a seer – one who has seen the inner reality of heaven, and like the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, feels compelled to share his insights with the whole church.

http://www.frrick.org/docs/2013/20130407_E2C.mp3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’30”)
Easter, Sunday 2C – Sunday of Divine Mercy