Mercy and Mission

The gospel that we have today is taken from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is another resurrection appearance, but this time, it is not in Jerusalem, but up in the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples, led by the apostle Peter, decide to go fishing. While seven are described, only three are named: Peter the denier; Thomas the doubter, and Nathaniel the skeptic. When Peter says he is going fishing, it could be simply because he needs time out for himself, to get away from all the crazy events that have been happening in Jerusalem. So they get into the boat, cast their nets, and spend all night in the effort, but catch nothing. As dawn breaks, they see this stranger on the shore. He calls out to them: ‘my friends, have you caught anything?’ When they answer, ‘no’, he invites them to put out their nets on the other side of the boat, and you will find something. So they drop their nets, and sure enough, they catch this extraordinary number of fish – which they later count as 153 large fish – so many that all seven of them can barely haul the net back into the boat.

That’s enough for the beloved disciple, the disciple that Jesus loves – and he tells Peter, “It is the Lord” – and with these words, Peter, who has stripped himself for the work, wraps himself in a cloak and jumps into the water to swim across the remaining hundred metres or so to the shore. There he finds Jesus, standing next to a charcoal fire, cooking some fish. It is very likely that the fire would have immediately evoked that night before Jesus died, when Peter had been warming himself next to a charcoal fire, besides which Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus on three separate occasions.

Jesus then invites the disciples to bring their fish to add to the already abundant supplies of bread and fish cooking for breakfast. After the meal, Jesus takes Simon Peter aside and asks him a most personal and no doubt painful question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” Simon answers, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Three times the question is placed before Peter, and three times he answers and receives a commission from the Lord to care for the sheep and lambs of the Lord. Peter needs to know that even in that darkest of nights, when he claimed so much bravado, but acted with such timidity and fear – even that act of denying Jesus is not beyond the mercy of the Lord. Three times Peter hears the work of redemption being spoken into his life. Three times he receives mercy that is transformed into mission. This gospel helps us during these Easter days to know that there is no sin, no shame – that is beyond the mercy of the Lord. All that we need to know is that the Lord will continue to call us to follow him – and his love and mercy will always be enough for us.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am. (8 mins)
Third Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 21:1-19

Journey Radio program also available.(text above)
Video Reflection: Igniter Media, Consuming Fire

My Lord and My God

Nail-Scarred HandsAlthough each of the Gospels is carefully crafted, the Gospel of John provides an extra layer of rich reflection which reveal the degree to which the beloved disciple as author has pondered deeply his own experience of the life and sayings of Jesus in the light of the experience of the early church and the vast richness of the Hebrew scriptures. The passage that we have today from the original ending of the Gospel very clearly points to this extraordinary richness.

The author – which tradition has unanimously called John – wants us to know that in this resurrection appearance – on the first day of the week – brings to a climax the whole of his gospel account and launches the whole merciful mission of the church throughout history. The doubting and questioning of Thomas provides the framework for the highest declaration of faith that you find in any of the Gospels and places on the lips of Thomas the imperial declaration, but now declared in worship before the wounded healer – ‘my Lord and my God.’ John clearly wants every reader to go on the same journey of faith and discovery, to ponder carefully and deeply the seven signs that he gave us in the first half of his gospel account in the light of the eighth and greatest sign – the empty tomb and the new creation Lord who returns as a bringer of peace and breather of new creation and new life and new possibilities.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (12mins)
Sunday of Divine Mercy; Second Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 20:19-31

Moving Mercy – part 5 – rocks and release

We conclude this series today with the beautiful gospel of “the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery” from John 8. The Gospel is intriguing on so many levels not least because of the manuscript uncertainty concerning its placement in this location in John’s gospel – many early manuscripts do not include it all, others place it somewhere else, others in the gospel of Luke (which seems closer in language and style). It can be removed from John and not interrupt the flow of the narrative, yet including it here provides the background for the increased tension between Jesus and the Jewish officials, and a great counterpoint to the end of chapter 8 where the officials are again picking up stones – this time to throw at Jesus.

Even though I am no expert in such matters (that is my story, and I am sticking with it) – it would seem that if she was caught in the ‘very act’ of committing adultery, then her accomplice in this act should also be standing there naked alongside her – this seems to be the suggestion for the phrase that the woman was positioned ‘in full view of everybody’ in the square that day. The absence of her partner suggests that the crowd has another partner in view, which very quickly becomes Jesus as the questions are directed at him. This gospel is also the only place where it is recorded that Jesus wrote anything – so of course there has been tremendous speculation about what exactly it was that he was scribbling in the sand.

When he pronounced any kind of judgement it was against the collected crowd, inviting any who were without sin to be the first to cast the stone. Beginning with those who had the greatest opportunity to both sin and reflect upon their sin – the oldest are the first to lay down their stones and make their exit from the scene – until only two are left: in the words of St Augustine, misera et misericordia: the miserable and mercy. And there is no judgement that he passes upon her as he looks up into her still scared and frightened face: neither do I condemn you, go and do not sin again.

Learning to receive the mercy of the Lord is perhaps one of the most difficult things that we will ever do. Learning to allow that declaration that there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) is beyond most of us. It just seems to be impossibly good news. So how can we lay down our stones and not exact revenge on others when we do not allow the mercy of the Lord to be received in our own souls?

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (12min)
Lent, Sunday 5, Year C. John 8:1-11; Phil 3:8-15

Download the slides (PDF) Moving-mercy-5.pdf

Video Reflection: Dan Stevers – Identity (based on the writings of Rob Bell – of course!)
Communion Reflection: Margaret Rizza, “O Lord, Listen to my Prayer” from the album Complete Chants (Kevin Mayhew, Ltd) or at 7.30am Margaret Rizza, “Calm me Lord” – from the same album.

The law of four – part 4 (The Infancy Narratives)

lawof4As we have wandered through the stories behind the stories of the gospels and their composition and connection to the church, life and our own histories, it seemed appropriate to think about how the stories that are told about the birth of Jesus would fit within this new understanding. So considering the writings of the New Testament, it is worth looking at how the story of Jesus was built up over time. For example, by the mid-60s, when the Gospel of Mark was being written in the city of Rome, the letters of Paul (presuming that all thirteen are genuine and written in the life-time of Paul – and I have never seen any truly compelling information or argument to doubt that) would all have been complete. What is interesting about these letters is how little they speak about the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, only five pieces of information about Jesus are found in these letters, most of which are fairly obvious and not all that helpful. Namely, Jesus:

  1. was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) – that is especially insightful
  2. was Jewish, “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4)
  3. was a biological descendant of David (Romans 1:3)
  4. had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5) – or near kin; both are adequate translations
  5. was crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22) and he died (1 Corinthians 15:3)

When you turn to the Gospels, you find that the first and last Gospels to be written contain very little about the infancy stories / narratives. Mark is completely silent, and John only gives us a single line as part of the beautiful prologue that begins his unique gospel account. In contrast, both Matthew and Luke provide two long chapters filled with information that tell the story of the birth of Jesus in compelling ways for the community that received these gospels.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am
Advent Sunday 4, Year C.

The law of four – part 3

lawof4We saw in the first week of this series that one of the places that we see the law of four is in every great story ever told as well as in the story of our own lives – the pattern of (1) Hearing the summons; (2) Enduring the obstacles; (3) Receiving the prize/favour and finally (4) Returning to the community. This pattern runs very deeply within our physical and spiritual DNA, and we can easily understand that this is something is good and God-given. So it should be no small wonder to realise that this pattern is also able to be seen in the order of the Gospels that the tradition of the church has given us to read them. Although the Gospels, as we saw last week, were written in the order of Mark – Matthew – Luke and John, and the Gospels are given us the order of Matthew – Mark – Luke and John in our bibles, the early church has read them in the order of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke – and this order is also expressed in our liturgical cycle of readings. This is because this order captures this cycle of life, addressing the fundamental questions of change; suffering; joy and service that we meet in our lives.

We also see more clearly how this four-fold structure is captured in the new logo that we have adopted as a parish community.

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View the slides | Read the explanation of the logo and summary of the journey so far

Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park, 9.30am (16 min 30 secs)
Advent, Week 3, Year C.

Video: Christmas Mystery (Dan Stevers)

Submission to the Messiah

risensunThe Gospel this Sunday concludes our readings from John 6 where Jesus now addresses himself only to his disciples, rather than to the whole crowd. We hear that many of his disciples draw back and grumble and complain about the teaching of Jesus. Not because they could not understand what he is saying, but because what he is saying completely upended their whole world-view. If everything that you’ve ever been taught to believe has just been demolished, and you are being forced to think about the world in a whole new way – many people will just politely excuse themselves and never return to listen to the message again.

A few weeks ago we heard in Exodus 15 about the Hebrew people grumbling in the wilderness out of hunger. The disciples who grumbled then are like those who grumble now that we should only be interested in the spiritual truth that the gospels present. The whole of the Gospel of John is about the Word becoming flesh – not the Word becoming only an idea, or a spirituality, a feeling or an experience. Part of what John is telling us is that history matters; the actual story of Jesus matters.

Verses 62 and 63 remind us that the flesh by itself is of no value; but when the flesh is indwelt by the life and spirit of God than anyone who eats this flesh is able to be as equally at home in both earth and heaven – just as Jesus as the Word of God is and was.

We are urged to go beyond a one-dimensional and basic appreciation of all that Jesus is saying and doing. We need to break through to truly listen to the Word that is within the flesh. The only way to do this is with the help of the Spirit of God – which John will write so much more about later in his Gospel. It is only when we receive the life of the Spirit that we are able to move beyond the unbelief of the crowd.

When we are open to the Spirit, then we can join Simon Peter in his declaration of faith: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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Recorded at St Columbkille’s (Vigil and 9am, plus radio program – text above)
Sunday 21, Year B. Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

Called and chosen to love

tumblr_nm6telHK2j1qzmz4co1_500We often struggle with some very basic questions – like who are we? When we meet people for the first time, conversations invariably begin with a process of classification – so, what do you do? Where do you live? The Gospel today takes us to a much deeper place in our relationship with God. It begins with the declaration that we have been loved into existence by a God who is love. Although God has no need of our love or friendship, the love that is shared by the Trinity is so abundant that it longs to overflow and share it with us as well. It is this love that called us and chose us so that we might experience something of the very joy that Jesus already experiences as a result of his relationship with the father.

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Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am available)
Sunday Easter 6, Year B.
Acts 10:25~48; I John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Connected to Life

cross+vineToday we hear the final of the seven “I am” declarations that punctuate the Gospel of John – “I am the true vine.” This declaration is also unusual because it is the first time one that is explicitly relational: I am the vine; you are the branches. We should be in no doubt after hearing this declaration about the sense of connection with the divine that has been opened up to us as a result of the ministry of Jesus.

Across the centuries, but especially since the rise of individualism and capitalism, Christianity has been infected with the same idea that ‘the gods help those who help themselves.’ This tendency reached a high point in the teachings of the British monk Pelagius, who was condemned by various councils and especially in the writings of St Augustine. Pelagainism as his school of thought was called taught that the first moves towards God were always our initiative and we could basically move towards a life of holiness and grace with just a little assistance from God. The Gospel today should clearly show that it is never enough for Jesus to be merely an inspiring moral figure or teacher for us. No the Christian life is not about our response to God – but about participating in the very life of God organically.

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Recorded at St Col’s, 9am (8min 53 sec)
Sunday 5 in Easter, Year B. John 15:1-8

Believing not unbelieving

Source: http://www.shinheechin.com/art_quilt/imago_dei.htmlHave you ever been asked to do something that was so totally beyond you that couldn’t even believe you would be capable of doing the task? That is exactly how we should feel after hearing the gospel today. When Jesus speaks to the disciples gathered in the upper room, it is only right to feel overwhelmed. After all, to be told not only that those whose sins we forgive they will be forgiven and those whose sins we retain they are retained. To which we immediately protest that surely only God forgives sins? Which is absolutely true; and still the Lord commissions us to do for the whole world what he had done in and for Israel. But of course we could never share the mercy of the Lord with anyone – except in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Easter Season, Sunday 2 (Year B)
Recorded at St Col’s 9am (9 min)

 

God proposes a new covenant

Ringed Stem“Then, I will be your God. You will be my people.” This line from the declaration in Jeremiah today is so easily passed over – and yet this covenant declaration lies at the heart of the Hebrew scriptures. Our Lenten journey has been examining the idea of covenant – its achievements and its failures – across the last five weeks. We began in the first week hearing the promise of the rainbow – that God would not punish the world again by flood. In the second week, we saw the covenant with Abraham tested by the request to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son that he loved, Isaac. In the third week, we arrive with the people of God at the holy mountain of Sinai and the fulfillment of the promises as God calls this people and nation to be his special possession: a royal priesthood and a holy nation. But we also know that this covenant promise was not fulfilled because the people were not faithful to the laws and commandments. This is why the promise to Jeremiah in 31:31 is so precious – to receive a new covenant and a new chance to be the people that God has called to himself.

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Recorded at St Col’s, Vigil and 9am (10mins)
Fifth Sunday, Lent, Year B