The secret of joy

Jesus makes today a series of fairly bizarre declarations about himself and his position. He tells the disciples – who at the beginning of this chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel are commissioned and sent out to share in his mission – that anyone who prefers ‘father or mother’; ‘son or daughter’ to me is not worthy of me. This must be read in context – because other places in the New Testament tell us how to have proper relationship with our family members – new and old. This is not a recommendation to ignore our family. This is about something greater. Jesus is not telling us these thing as some ego-filled dictator – but he is telling us this to prompt us along the way of life in the kingdom, and so that we are able to share in the absolute joy that he offers to us. Although it is not explicitly stated, these statements are claims about the divinity of Jesus and his share of life with the Father – and he invites us to share in this life by our placing the worship of Jesus as the first priority of our life. In this we are able to share in true joy – joy that abides in us, and not just at passing moments. There is only one way to experience this joy – and it is through having Jesus as the first gift of our lives. By sharing in his life, and receiving his love, then we have something to share and give to others and ourselves. Many years ago, someone shared with me the secret of joy – which is spelled out by the letters of the word: Jesus; Others; You. By remembering to keep Jesus first in our lives, then we open the door to true joy.

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Sunday 13, Year A. Matthew 10:37-41

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)

Two on the road

The story of two disciples walking along the 60-stadia road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is rightly considered one of the greatest examples of resurrection life and discipleship-in-community ever written. One of the problems with this text is just how rich it is. There is so much material here that followers of Jesus are able to join Cleopas (the only named disciple) along the road many times in careful reflection and meditation without ever depleting the rich well of connections and spirituality. Today we will pause to consider five different aspects of this wonderfully rich resurrection scene.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13 mins)
Easter, Sunday 3, Year A. Luke 24:13-31

I invited three different people to share their experiences of Alpha during term 1 and invited people to join the next session of Alpha which begins this week.

Passover Slave (Holy Thursday)

We begin these sacred days of Easter with this encounter on the eve of Passover – as we remember the meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples. The Gospel of John – which is our primary companion over these days – does not provide details about the elements of the meal itself – the bread and the wine. In the liturgy tonight, that role is given to the second reading from I Corinthians 11, which parallels similar accounts in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It is clear that although this community gathers to celebrate the Passover, what happens is a radical transformation of the meal into something that is no longer mainly historical, recalling the sacred events of the Exodus from Egypt, into something that is oriented towards the future. One of the ways that this transformation happens is when Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his clothes and begins to act in a most humiliating way as he washes the feet of his friends – something that is normally the activity of only the most despised of slaves.

Re-recorded at St Paul’s (original recording failed)
Holy Thursday evening, Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2017

Towers, Armies and Mission

Jesus is somewhat uncharacteristic today as he tries to win friends and influence the crowds by declaring that they will not be worthy to be his followers and disciples unless we hate the most significant people in our lives, including ourselves, take up our cross – which means to prepare to die – and give away all that we possess. Such strong stuff. To drive home the message, Jesus uses two images – both of which are very appropriate for Father’s Day – the Bunnings/Masters friendly man doing the DIY project of building a tower, and the very Game of Thrones friendly reference to two kings going to war against each other. The stakes are certainly raised. Jesus is deadly serious that this discipleship business will cost us everything. At the beginning, we must be ready to learn and grow – but he will ask everything of us – because it is only when we are free to follow him that we will find any freedom in life.

This weekend also marks the beginning of my second year at St Paul’s. So this Gospel provides the basis for this call to respond to the great commission that Jesus gives to us – to go, make disciples, baptise and teach. Only one of the four elements of the commission is central – and it happens to be the one part that the church has not been especially strong in – we have faithfully baptised people over the centuries, and built schools and educated children, and we have sent missionaries to new territories – but we have often failed to do the one essential thing – which is to make disciples. This has to change – because the central call of the church – the reason that the Church exists – is to evangelise and make disciples – which means that the reason that this parish exists is to evangelise and make disciples. So as we begin this new season of Spring, let us also make this a new springtime in the parish by embracing this call to make disciples.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am Mass (13 mins)
Sunday 23, Year C. Luke 14:25-33


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

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.

Discipleship 2 – Following Jesus

13C Discipleship 2 - Following JesusDiscipleship 2. Called to follow Jesus
Jesus sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The kingdom of God: We are called to follow
A time of Social unrest
• Violence by Roman soldiers
• High taxation
• Tensions within the Jewish community
• The Jewish people had returned from exile
God would become King
• There was only one God who was creator of all
• These were the whispers…
God at last was becoming King
Jesus preaching:
• Not be nice to each other
• Not future in heaven
• Not forgiveness for sins
But it was extraordinarily REVOLUTIONARY
• The long night of exile was coming to an end
• The great day of liberation was dawning
Jesus sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem
There is Freedom to follow
Do not be afraid
• As St Paul tells us: “For freedom Christ has set you free…do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (12 min)

Sunday 13, Year C. Luke 9:51-62; Galatians 5:1, 13-18

For more reading: Bishop Norman Thomas (NT / Tom) Wright, Who was Jesus (1992); Following Jesus (1994); Jesus and the Victory of God (1996); The Challenge of Jesus (1999); Simply Christian (2006); Simply Jesus (2011).

Discipleship 1 – Who is Jesus?

12C Discipleship 1 - Who is JesusDiscipleship: The path to knowing and following Jesus

The question

  • Today in the Gospel (Luke 9:18-24), Jesus asks these 2 questions:
  • Who do the crowds say that I am?
  • Who do you say that I am?
  • Peter answers: The anointed of God
  • How do we answer this question?
  • How would you describe your lived relationship with God?

The situation

  • There are 6,500 people in our parish who identify as Catholic (aka ‘census Catholics’)
  • Only 440 people come to Mass on an average weekend – which is 6.7% of potential Catholics
  • During sacramental preparation, that increases to around 570 on average or 8.8%
  • At Christmas, around 23% of people attend at least one Mass; at Easter around 18%
  • Perhaps another 20% attend other services – eg, baptisms, funerals, weddings, school Masses during the year
  • So about 4,500 people who still call themselves Catholic have essentially no connection to our church / parish
  • 93% of census Catholics don’t make weekly Sunday Eucharist a priority in their lives: around 6,000 fellow Catholics
  • Some will claim to believe / pray privately
  • Some will have problems with Church teaching
  • Some will have lost trust:– sexual abuse crisis
  • Some will claim to be too busy for church
  • Surveys indicate that around 33% of Catholics only believe in God as an ‘impersonal force’
  • Only 48% of all Catholics were absolutely certain that they could have a personal relationship with God.

Three spiritual journeys

  • The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Jesus Christ resulting in intentional discipleship.
  • The ecclesial journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation.
  • The journey of active practice – (seen in receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Church.)

Drawing near to God

  • We are a church that has settled.
  • We have settled merely with the possibility of salvation, rather than great spiritual fruitfulness.
  • The church possesses the means of grace… why settle for anything less than yearning for the fruitful manifestation of that grace?

St Thomas and the fire

“Therefore some receive a greater, some a smaller, share of the grace of newness; just as from the same fire, the one receives more heat who approaches nearest to it, although the fire, as far as it is concerned, sends forth its heat equally to all.” St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, q69, a8.

Jesus the Questioner

  • Who do you say I am? How do we desire to answer?
  • How do you hope to describe your lived relationship with God?

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (15mins)
Sunday 12, Year C

Video reflection: Life with God (Dan Stevers)
View Presentation Slides.