Moving Mercy – part 4 – two books

“A man had two sons. So begins one of the most moving and beautiful stories that Jesus told – Luke 15. We have often called this parable “The Prodigal Son” but that removes some of the richness – because all three characters are essential to this story – the prodigal son, the waiting father and the elder brother all add so much to the richness and beauty of this encounter with brokenness, mercy and grace. Reflecting on this story provides us with a beautiful illustration of the rich Jewish understanding of “T’Shuvah!” – the God who created us good, to share in his life through walking along the ways of the Lord – but acknowledges that we often wander away from the path. Always and forever, the Lord invites us to come on home and join in the feast. Unfortunately we are too often the older brother in this story and continue to slave away in service of a mean and stingy God. This is brought out in another story that Jesus tells in Matthew 18 – this time its the story of a king and two servants, one who owes a massive sum to the king and the other who owes the first slave a smaller sum. The king forgives the first, but the first is not able to learn from this grace and mercy and extend it to the one who owes him.

The God of the Broken continues to invite us to come on home and join in the feast with the fatted calf.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Vigil Mass.
Sunday 4, Season of Lent, Year C.

Moving Mercy – part 1 – rat poison

moving-mercy-screen‡ Week one – Overview

1.    What it isn’t

Mercy is not:

  • Condoning what they did. If they did something that was wrong, then that is not okay.
  • Waiting for them to apologise or repent for what they did or make amends.
    This may never come, so stop holding onto a likely dream.
  • Ignoring justice or eliminating consequences.
    You may sill have to call your lawyer, or the police, or seek an AVO on the person.
  • Forgetting what happened. Sometimes mercy requires remembering first. Boundaries may need to be established.
  • Pretending that nothing really happened
  • Reconciliation – at least, not necessarily. In the very best of circumstances and situations, yes, it will be. Reconciliation should be our ultimate aim, but forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.
    • Sometimes you can’t go back to what you had / what it was
    • Don’t pretend that it didn’t happen

Reconciliation takes two healthy people who have worked very hard to resolve this matter

2.    What is it?

You may need to forgive someone:

  • If you can’t or won’t say their name. How many people only speak about their former spouse after the divorce as “my ex”? You see something similar when you only speak about a person’s title or position, rather than using their name. Not to name someone separates us and reduces or even removes any intimacy. A clear sign that we are still holding onto stuff.
  • If a person’s name comes up in conversation – how do your friends react? Is there an immediate tension as people brace themselves for you to react?
  • If you hear of something good happening to that person and you are saddened, or angry, or hurt; conversely, if you hear that something bad happened and you are happy: these are strong signs.
  • If someone else is almost haunting you like a disembodied spirit or ghost; it is like there is an annoying buzz or static in your heart.
  • If whenever you think about that person, you always associate them with the memory of that thing that they did / that action that hurt you so much.
  • If you blame them whenever things don’t go well.
  • If you wish you’d never met them / fell in love / married them / worked for them / ministered with them / been in their parish / been inspired by them…
  • If you wish they were dead

3.    Who do I need to forgive?

  • You can’t forgive an institution
    • The Church didn’t wrong you
    • That company didn’t wrong you
    • That country didn’t wrong you
    • The government didn’t wrong you
    • Your family didn’t wrong you
  • It is always people or a person that we need to forgive

4.    What is forgiveness?

  • It is a process that takes time. Wounds do fester, so it takes time to heal.
  • The first step is the awareness of the problem.
  • If this week, you begin to be a little less angry or revengeful – then that is a victory. Let us agree to claim the victory whenever we can!
  • Mercy indeed moves. It moves us to respond; it moves us towards healing; ultimately it moves us to reconciliation.
  • Moving to mercy may happen in an instant; or more likely, it will take many days, or weeks, or years.
  • You recognise that you are beginning to move into mercy when you refuse to allow someone else to rob you of your joy.
  • Forgiveness is making the decision to set someone free, and discovering the person set free is me.
  • Someone said that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison yourself and wondering why the rat never dies! Not forgiving allows the other person to rent free space in your head or heart.
  • Moving Mercy is all about being set free.
  • If you want mercy for yourself, then you need to extend it to others as well. This is exactly what we pray in the Our Father each day: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

snorkelExample of a snorkel

  • How do you get breath when you are underwater?
  • You need to both breathe in and breathe out.
  • A snorkel lets air go both ways.
  • If you don’t forgive others it blocks the flow to yourself.
  • Our issues with other people often come back to us.
  • We first live in this flow and then share it with others.
  • This is what we will undertake over the next four weeks.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am Mass
Sunday One, Season of Lent, Year C (L1C).

Video: Preparing for Lent
Slides: Moving Mercy 1

The Baptism of Jesus and ours

baptism-jesusWhen you come to reflect on the baptism of Jesus, the first thing that you need to take account of is how odd an event it must have been. The primary significance of the baptism that John was offering was a washing from sin and a ritual of repentance. It was in direct competition to the sacrificial system of the temple which was all about cleansing a person from personal sin and recognising how terrible sin was – to be cleansed involved the death of an animal – that should tell us how seriously people understood sin. And yet Jesus was here, asking John to baptise him. We profess that Jesus was like us in all things – except sin. So why is the sinless one presenting himself alongside all the other riff-raff of the day to be washed clean? There is no universally agreed answer – which is why the early church considered the baptism of Jesus as such a scandal – even if it is attested by all four gospels. Perhaps the best answer is that it was part of his call to be in solidarity with all people – especially those who knew themselves to be far from God.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (10mins)
Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, Year C.

Cross of Glory

cross-sunsetA few verses before our passage today we read that “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10:32, RSV) Then Jesus takes the twelve aside and announces to them what is about to happen when they arrive in Jerusalem – being handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn him to death, deliver him to the Gentiles (Romans) who will mock him, spit on him, scourge and kill him; and on the third day he will rise again. So this is the background to the question that James and John request of Jesus – to sit on his left and right when he comes into his glory. Amazed and afraid. And stupid!

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Recorded at St Paul’s.
Sunday 29, Year B. Mark 10:35-45.


Believing not unbelieving

Source: 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)


Bruised but not broken


The baptism that St John was offering in the Jordan River was a great challenge to the Jerusalem Temple. The main practical function of the temple was to provide a place on earth where worshippers could go and be cleansed by ritual baths and offering sacrifices. John was indicating that he did not accept the efficacy of the whole system of worship that his own father had been a priest for. Instead he offered a different way to be cleansed of your sin and to start in a fresh and new way, by being immersed in the waters of the Jordan River as a sign that you were turning away from a life of sin and choosing to follow in the ways of the Lord. So when Jesus presented himself for baptism in all his perfection and you-know – all that godliness stuff – it would have been a great shock to his cousin John. He knew that Jesus was different from everyone else in Galilee. He knew that his heart had never turned away from the ways of the Lord. He did not have anything to repent from. But Jesus will not listen to his objections and he wades down into the water and stands there in the middle of all the other sinners.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (8’05”)
Baptism of the Lord, Year A. Isaiah 42″1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Image: © Plsa | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Salvation has come to this house

jericho-sycamoreTo fully appreciate the story of Zacchaeus you do need to understand how despised he would have been within the society of Jericho – itself already on the outside of acceptable Jewish society, given its reputation as a city of sin and its history of standing opposed to the kingdom of God. There were three strikes against him, the main one being his profession. He was not only a tax-collector, but a chief one – meaning that he was not only a collaborator with the oppressive Roman Empire, but he not only made his usual cut from the collection of taxes from the people, but he also made a cut on all the other tax collectors who worked under him. Second, he was wealthy. He is usually pictured as being middle-aged, somewhat portly, but well-dressed and presented. The final blow is that he is height-challenged – something which I find difficult to relate to!

But despite all these obstacles, he has one thing going for him. His curiosity leads him to climb one of the sycamore trees that even today line the streets of ancient Jericho. And this leads him to a direct encounter with Jesus who was passing through this city of sin.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden 6pm (11’56”)
Sunday 31, Year C. Luke 19:1-10

Dealing with disfunction

may6Although St Paul tells his young disciple Timothy that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refuting error, guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy” (2 Tim 3:16) it is hard to see how that can be applied to our first reading today, taken from Exodus 17:8-13. Like so many other passages from the Old Testament it describes a bloody battle that ends with the line “with the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people.” (Ex 17:13) Charming. To which we all replied: The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Like many other difficult passages the best way to understand and interpret this passage is by reading commentaries written by the Fathers of the Church – those saintly men who lived in the first few centuries after Christ and who spent their days pondering deeply upon the word of God. In addition to Origen, St Augustine and St Justin Martyr, there are wonderful insights by St Gregory Nazianzen, St Gregory the Great and St John Chrysostom. First, they point us to the other places where the Amalekites are mentioned, which give us knowledge of their origins, the meaning of their name – a sinful people – and their battle tactics. They also remind us that the whole of the Christian life is a battle and battle passages like this one speak into the truth of this reality. Let’s face it – there are certainly areas of our lives that we need to deal with. If we have a cancerous tumour, then to be told by the doctors after we have had surgery that they have successfully removed 60% of it would not make us completely happy. Likewise, when our state is faced with bushfires today that are burning on a 500km front, we would not be completely happy to learn that this has been reduced by only a few kilometres. 

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (10’44”)
Sunday 29, Year C. Luke 18:1-8

After my homily I played the reflection video Identity by Dan Stevers. Watch it and buy it here

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.