Exclusion and Embrace on the Cross

cross-sunsetTo gather each Good Friday for prayer around an instrument of Roman torture is still a very strange practice to have. To sing songs and come forward in procession to touch, embrace or kneel before this sign of brutality and terrorism… It can also be a very difficult exercise to reconcile the fragility and weakness of both Jesus and the early church with the power and domination of the contemporary church – even if it has been dramatically weakened by the ongoing scandals of sexual abuse and the increasing irrelevance with which the rest of contemporary post-modern society considers the church. Although weak, the church continues to so often act against the basic impulse of the cross – to embrace sin and offer redemption to the whole world.

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Recorded at St Paul’s (11:46)
Solemn Commemoration of the Passion

Moving Mercy – part 3 – presence

Dan Stevers – Presence

The account of the encounter between God and Moses on the holy mountain can teach us so much about our journey towards healing – receiving and sharing mercy. It is worth reflecting on the divine name that God reveals to Moses – that he calls himself “I am”. This should remind us that the only place to truly encounter God is in this present moment – not in our past regrets or in our future fears. But God will also bring healing to our past relationships in the present and he tells us that this sacred encounter with the Lord is worth protecting through appropriate boundaries being put into effect.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, AP (first part is from 7.30am; second part from 9.30am – if you were there, you will know why! #godblesstech) – 14 mins
Season of Lent, Third Sunday. Exodus 3.

Slide presentation: Download moving-mercy-3.pdf
Video Reflection: Dan Stevers – Presence

The rubbish of the older brother

desert-5951683773_d8373e6bc1_bWhen I was in USA a few months ago, I visited the Great Smoky Mountains national park in Eastern Tennessee. It is a beautiful place, and the most visited of the national parks in America, attracting millions of visitors each year. And most of those visitors first go to the main entrance and visitors station located in a beautiful valley surrounded by parkland. I stopped and watched one of the park-keepers who was working very diligently to pick-up and collect the plentiful rubbish that the many visitors left behind. I have no idea how long the older man had been working at his job, but the way that his gaze never lifted from the ground as he scanned ahead and around him for the next piece of garbage to be collected and his inaudible muttering of what I imagine to be something like “all this garbage destroys this nature” seemed a sad contrast to the natural beauty that surrounded us. I imagined that the natural beauty had long ago been forgotten by this man; his only attention and interest was the next piece of garbage that waited to be collected. How sad this, and yet how common an experience it is at least on occasion in our lives. We can be surrounded by the most beautiful and grace-filled environments, but like the scribes, the pharisees and the older brother in the parable today (Luke 15:1-32), we are caught up in the duties and obligations that we imagine are all-important. Although we most-often call the third parable that of the prodigal son, it is the father who is the most prodigal, showing extraordinary patience to both of his lost sons.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (7’32”). Sunday 24, Year C.

Look at this woman

women_hairImmediately before our passage from Galatians chapter 2, Paul takes to task several apostles for their hypocrisy. For example, although Cephas (St Peter) was in the habit of eating with everyone, including Gentiles; but when some people associated with the Apostle James arrived he then drew back and would then only eat with Jews. This behaviour also had an impact upon Barnabas, leading him astray as well. Paul was not going to have a bar of any of this. He knew that if the cross and resurrection of Jesus meant anything at all, then it had to impact upon the whole of our lives – not just some small compartment that we might call our ‘spiritual’ lives or the way that we behaved with other Christians.

It is in this context that he gives us one of his earliest statements on the significance of the cross and redemption, which we read in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

We see the outworking of this integrated understanding of the Christian faith in the encounter between Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and the woman who had let down her hair in response to the amazing mercy that she had received from the Lord.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (8’09”)
Sunday 11C

Ascension and Mothers Day

mothercloudDedicated to my mother.

The first reading, taken from the opening verse of the book that we usually call the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, is clearly presented as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. As Bishop Tom Wright says, it could just as easily be called the Acts of King Jesus, part II. For although Jesus is only present for the first nine verses, it is experiencing his life and ministry, and above all else of the encounter by the disciples with the resurrected body of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that dominates the whole book.

Both the ending of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of his Acts focus on the Ascension of Jesus. But to understand the significance of this feast day, we perhaps need to look beyond the standard artwork that usually focuses on the upward movement of Jesus and his disappearance into the clouds. For what is at stake is so much more than the mere departure of Jesus and his flight plans.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’45”)
Sunday of the Ascension.

Loved by the risen Son

risensunThe final chapter in the Gospel of John is simply fascinating – on so many levels. The fact that the beloved disciple, the author of this gospel, whom tradition has always named as John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, clearly finishes the gospel at the end of chapter 20 is curious in itself. This section of material has enough in common with the rest of the gospel in terms of style, language, theme and construction that it has always been identified with the same author. There is such richness here that it is difficult to choose what to say of this passage when there is so much that is deep and beautiful about it.

From the despondency of the disciples, the interplay of light and darkness, the recurrence of the charcoal fire, the nakedness of the apostle Peter, the reconciliation and restoration of “Simon, son of John” to once again be Peter the apostle, this gospel offers rich food for thought and reflection for our church.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil. (12’10”)
Sunday 3C Easter. John 21:1-19

 

Scrawny goat and fatted calf

luke15

The parable of the lost sons (Luke 15:11-32) is so rich and so regularly commented upon, that today I will note only a few things. We perhaps miss the extent of the insult that the younger son levels against his father when he asks for the share of the inheritance – not only is he wishing his father already dead, but he also shames the father in front of the whole local community, among whom the father will have to publicly and quickly sell a massive proportion of the family estate. Once the son has the cash, he heads off into the makran choran – which is often translated as a distant country, but literally evokes the vast empty lands in between places that you want to go. It is a great image of much of contemporary society – which seems so full and complete, and yet when push comes to shove, life is so empty. The emptiness of this land is what eventually provokes the change of heart and the discovery of being lost. The first readers would certainly have also heard echoes of the exile of the whole of the Jewish people into the makran choran of Babylon.

The search and welcome of the merciful and prodigal (wasteful) father is legendary. He holds nothing back. Not only is the son fully restored into the covenant of the household – not as a servant, but truly as a son – the robes, ring and sandals are all-powerful signs of this; but the return must be celebrated. For my son was lost, but now is found. The fatted calf becomes the defining symbol of the restoration. It seems that this is the thing that most annoys the older son. How could something so extravagant be chosen to celebrate the return of this ‘son of yours’? In the days before refrigeration, you needed a big party to justify killing a fatted calf. For although a scrawny goat is sufficient to feed a few friends – the best that the older son who sees the father (and thus God) as a slave master can imagine receiving, a fatted calf will feed hundreds of people in such a celebration. This is no small and token party – it is a sign of the abundance of God’s love. But for so many people, they still settle for the scrawny goat, and never imagine that we have been invited to celebrate with a fatted calf. But then, if you think you are already found, why would you need to celebrate in the first place? For the older son, the story ends with him still lost, still unaware of his need for mercy and reconciliation.

Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington, 8am (11’30”)
Sunday 4, Season of Lent, Year C

 

Resurrected body

 

One of the lovely things about the Gospel today (Luke 24:35-48) is that it deals with the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus and demonstrates that the disciples did not share the same drug-induced hypnotic experience, or simply remember the warm and fuzzy experiences of Jesus invoked by a vision of his ghost, and then go onto bear witness to his resurrection and commission to be bearers of reconciliation and peace in the world. Jesus has already appeared to the women (Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Mary the mother of James, and the unnamed others), to Simon Peter as well as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas and another); when the two return from their encounter when their “hearts burned within us” as Jesus shared the scriptures with them, and after they had recognised him in the breaking of the bread, they returned that night to be with the Apostles and other disciples. (more…)

A questioning journey from doubt to faith

 

Although in the debate on Monday night on the ABC1 TV program QandA between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell, it seemed that doubt and questioning of faith was a very recent and modern phenomena, if you study the scriptures and Christian tradition carefully such doubts and questions are immediately apparent.
The passage from John’s Gospel that we have just read would originally have been the conclusion to the gospel; chapter 21 is an epilogue added probably by John himself sometime later. When we look at the gospel with the filter of doubt and faith, we see lots of the characters struggle to make sense of what John presents so clearly in the opening line: (more…)

Breathing and forgiveness

On this tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, it is providential that the Church offers the profound reflection that Jesus offers to Peter in response to his question ‘how often must I forgive?’ The answer that Jesus gives to Peter’s already generous question – as many as seven times, when the standard Rabbinic answer at that time was three times – is stunning.

Whether we interpret the Greek text (ἕως ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά) to mean seventy-seven or seventy-times-seven, the point of this declaration and the parable that follows is clear – in the way of the kingdom of heaven, there can be no limit to the number of times that we forgive. Yet learning how to live like this – especially in the face of the world that we live in – requires a profound understanding of the nature of forgiveness.

Perhaps it is a bit like learning to breathe again?

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Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (8’54”)
Sunday 24, Year A. Matthew 18:21-35.