Generous giving and freedom

boy-coinsThe Gospel today should probably carry a warning message before it is read. So many saints across the centuries have been cut to the heart when they have heard this proclaimed, and realise that Jesus is looking at us, no gazing with love at them and you and me. He is going to redefine the first three commandments for us in the same way that he did for this running man: go, sell all you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me. This is what it means that there are no other gods, no idols, no graven images, no other name that can claim our allegiance. He is the one. And he wants it all. Not because God needs our stuff – but because we will never be truly free until we can let go of everything else and cling to him alone.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, you find the idea first with Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14, then developed in the book of Deuteronomy in chapters 12, 14 and 26 (offering of the first fruits of the harvest) and then a much more carefully defined idea in the final minor prophet Malachi where the teaching on the tithe (ten percent of income) is presented the most clearly. In the Christian scriptures, although the idea of the tithe may still be presumed, the notion of giving back to the Lord is much more radical – to give it all away. So what should we make of all this?

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Recorded at St Paul’s (with a heavy cold – sorry)
Sunday 28, Year B. Mark 10:17-30

Lazarus / El’Azar – Unbound and unsmelly

stinketh03Death is something of a problem! The Gospel today, taken from John chapter 11, tackles the very real question of the significance of death full on. Jesus is good friends with this family of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. So naturally, when Lazarus is sick, the sisters send Jesus a message to tell him the man he loves is ill. The first curious detail in this story is that at first, Jesus doesn’t move. He stays where he is for two more days. Perhaps so that he can pray and seek the will of the Father about whether this was now the time for him to make his final move and finally reveal his identity in this very public way, with all the risks that involved. Eventually Jesus makes his way to Bethany, to discover that his friend has died and has already been in the tomb for four days. Martha greets Jesus with a declaration that so many people have said over the years – ‘if only you’d been here!’ It’s a terrible thing to say – to have such regrets: ‘if only I left work earlier’; ‘if only she’d gone to the doctor sooner’; ‘if only the other party had been elected…’

Really it’s a kind of nostalgia, for a present that might have been, if only the past has just been a little bit different. But something like death is so final that we are prevented from allowing this nostalgia to take hold. Here we are told that when Jesus makes his way to the tomb and experiences the intense grief of the sisters and the crowd, he also bursts into tears. Love and grief is like this. This God will cry with the world’s crying. And still he will reach into the tomb of death and decay and speak life once more into the four-day dead Lazarus.

stinketh04Nothing captures the reality of that death like the reminder of Martha that her brother will now stink. But even though so much of what we do and so much of what we say continues to stink, it will never prevent Jesus from shouting his commandment of life into every situation we face. Like every thought that holds us captive, Jesus will speak life and freedom this week into any situation we face. And the things that we are so afraid of – like death – will no longer stink.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’16”)
Sunday 5, Season of Lent, Year A. John 11:1-45

The text above is from the Journey Radio program. Audio is available here.

Remember and believe

empty-tombI remember a day when I was bushwalking in the coastal range down the South Coast, and I had been walking for a while just below the ridge-line – so I was unable to actually get a view of the breath-taking coast-line. At one stage I saw a rocky outcrop that was just above the track, and I thought that if perhaps I climbed to the top of it then I would get a view above the trees. So I found a way to scramble and climb to the top, only to again have the view blocked by trees. Then I spotted a large boulder that seemed to offer a possibility of a view over and through the trees. It looked massive and immovable so I climbed on to the top of it – and was rewarded with the most fantastic view of the coast-line below. No sooner had I climbed on top, but the damn thing began to move! As the boulder began to fall – taking me with it of course (dow’h) – my heart began to race and pound like the drum-beat of early heavy metal music. Thankfully the rock quickly resettled into its new position, and I was left standing there on top of it, shaken and vividly reminded of how small I was in a massive and beautiful world.

I remember a call to the hospital, and taking the lift to the fourth floor, proceeding to the nurses’ desk to find out which bed the person I was visiting was in. Then, upon entering the room, to see my friend with her husband as she held her new-born baby lying there in her arms with the look of love on both of them at this tiny creation of love and cuteness.

I remember the joy of friends as they fell in love with each other and shared such happiness and delight as they prepared for the day of their marriage. Then when first I spoke to the husband, only months later, as he began to grieve and sorrow about the way their relationship was going. Later you talk to her and there is the expression of grief and sorrow about how their marriage is failing – how could it turn out like this?

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Recorded at St Paul’s – Easter Vigil (9’59”)

Holy family saints

40kWhen you drive around in Sydney’s south-west, with all the road-works around, you are bombarded by an increasing array of signs – some permanent, some portable, some flashing and variable. Road signs can help you to know what the speed limit is, or if there is a sharp corner looming, or a change in the road conditions. Signs point to the road rules that underlie our experience of driving around, and the rules themselves are very helpful for ensuring that people are able to drive safely and efficiently from one place to another, without having an accident or causing injury or death to another person or property. Sometimes the signs can be very unhelpful. For example, I drove back from the city one night before Christmas along the M5, through the section where the motorway is being widened. Signs on the left-hand-side of the carriageway indicated that the speed limit due to the road works was 40km/h; but signs on the right-hand-side of the carriageway indicated that the speed limit was 80km/h. So, I guessed that since I was driving in the right lane, then I could go at 80km/h, but the ‘suckers’ in the left lane had to stay below 40. Well, that would have been my argument to a copper.

I also recently watched a documentary on the Woodstock music festival, which in many ways epitomised the spirit of the sexual revolution and the mantras of personal freedom to smoke or ingest whatever one desired, with whomever one wanted, and wearing (or not wearing) whatever clothes seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps society needed to break free from the puritanical constraints of earlier generations, but there would be few who could honestly maintain that the results of this revolution have brought about true freedom or the full flourishing of life.

St Paul writes about a similar set of laws – which like the road rules are meant to allow the true flourishing of human life and family within society. Earlier in chapter 3 of his letter to the Colossians, he contrasts the vision of a way of life which seems very like the Woodstock festival. In the passage today he begins by reminding the church that they are called to be saints, and they are already deeply loved by God, as he calls them ever deeper into true life with God.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 6pm Vigil (10’59”)
Holy Family Sunday, Year C

Ten words of freedom

To soften the hard edge of these sacred commandments that are presented in Exodus 20, the Rabbis’ would often tell a joke – such as ‘when Moses came down the mountain, he began by telling the people: well, there is good news and bad news; the good news is that I managed to talk the Lord down from 20 commandments to ten; the bad news is that adultery is still on the list.’ Or, when Moses had a headache, what did he do? He took two tablets. Or, when the Lord asked Moses if he wanted a tablet of the law, Moses asked him how much they were. When the Lord replied that they were free, Moses said, ‘okay, I’ll take two.’

 

All jokes aside – and especially those jokes aside – what we encounter in this text, which simply presents God speaking ‘these words’ – it is not until Exodus 34 that the title of the Decalogue, literally, the ten words is given – is a sacred covenant that is deeply founded in grace and freedom. Scholars tell us that the covenant is an example of a Suzerain treaty, and it is God who first identifies the parties: ‘I am the LORD your God’ and we are ‘you’ who he brought out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

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Roll the stone away from the stink

This most powerful healing story – perhaps the ultimate miracle with the raising of a man four-days dead – begins so simply with a description of the fact that a man called Lazarus was ill. Most of our English biblical names have come to us via the Latin Vulgate translation. In the original Hebrew, Lararus would have been called El’Azar – which means God helps and he lived with his two sisters Miryam and Marta in Bethany (or Biet’Anyah, which means ‘house of the afflicted’) – an appropriate place for someone who was ill. El’Azar then becomes a sign for anyone who is afflicted in anyway, and who needs the help of God. So why does Yeshua (Jesus) wait two days to visit his beloved friends?

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Recorded at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, 9.00am (12’06”)
Lent Sunday 5A. John 11:1-45

Garden and wilderness

As we begin this new season of Lent, we are taken back to the garden of Eden to witness both the life of tranquility and peace that originally existed and then the condition during and after the fall. When the serpent entered into the picture, the lies and deception begin to flow and the consequences are immediately felt. The coexistence of heaven and earth – with God living in peace with the humans in the garden and sharing life and enjoying each others company – all of this changes, and the man and woman discover they are naked. Now shame becomes a reality and they try to hide from one another by covering up behind their fig leaves. We think we are more sophisticated and hide behind titles, honours, work, houses, toys and gadgets. But the choice that Eve and Adam made are still open to us. Will we stay with the Lord in the garden, or will we allow the exultation of human freedom to drive God out of lives as we flee into the wilderness?

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8’02” (St Brigid’s, Gwynneville)
Lent 1A

(Last week was the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter for Lent, which was played in the place of the homily across the Diocese.)

Worry, money and insurance

The fact that Jesus repeats a phrase seven times in our Gospel reading today perhaps suggests that there is something he wants us to learn. In a world that values money, security and wealth much more highly than the glories of God’s creation, the words of Jesus invite us to embrace a different way of being. One imagines that when Jesus preaches the sermon on the mount, he was surrounded by the lilies of the field in the Galilee spring and as he gestures upwards to the birds of the air there were many wheeling and flying free – just the same as Jesus lived and calls his disciples to live in the same freedom – embracing the amazing gifts of creation and the bounty and generosity of God.

Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (8’45”)

Sunday 08A. Matthew 6:24-34