Lost & Found

We read the whole of the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel today – which begins with this description of the annoyance of the religious types that Jesus was mixing with the wrong kinds of people – the tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus offers these three beautiful parables – the last two of which are unique to the Gospel of Luke. The first is the shepherd who has 100 sheep and one goes astray; the second is a woman with 10 coins who loses one; and the last and longest is a father with two sons and one leaves to go to a distant land. All three parables are odd in their own ways and all lead us further in our reflection upon the mercy of the Lord and our role as Christians to reach out to those on the edge.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (9 minutes)

Oily Mercy – revisiting the mercy movement

11C Oily MercyWhen I read this Gospel, from Luke chapter 7, verses 36-50, of the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman, two very vivid images come to mind, evoked by two songs. The first is the old song ‘Beautiful to Me’ by Don Francisco, which in his style is a powerful retelling of this story, told from the point-of-view of Simon the Pharisee. The song continues to repeat a refrain, which is “your sins were red as scarlet, but now they’re washed away; no matter what the world thinks, you’re beautiful to me.”

These lyrics certainly capture the heart of this strange but beautiful story. The contrast between the knowing arrogance of Simon and the simplicity and humility of the uninvited woman is palpable. But so also is the outrageous adoration of the woman, expressed in the abundant flow of her tears, wiped away with her indecently let-down hair, her kisses of his feet, and the anointing of the feet of Jesus by the perfumed oil from the alabaster jar. The focus and the action moves smoothly and masterfully between these three main characters, as Jesus, Simon and the woman of the alabaster jar each take centre stage and then move into the background.

For this is what happens when the love of God impacts upon an ordinary human life. Whatever our expectations of what it might look like when the kingdom of God broke into our world, what this Gospel scene portrays is a time of abundant generosity, surprising grace and yet the fierce opposition from the established order. For what we see in this story is that both Simon and the woman are revealed not as society and social conventions will portray them – but as both are seen in the eyes of God’s love and mercy. Unfortunately for Simon, he had never come to terms with his own heart, so he is not able to recognise or appreciate the depths of God’s mercy when he sits in person at his own table.

Which is what the second song tries to capture. It is ‘Alabaster’, by Rend Collective. It is an invitation to worship, lost in the depths of God’s love. I first heard the song a couple of years ago at a wedding I was celebrating on the mid-north coast. During the service, the bride left her seat to join the musicians, and sang this song of offering of their lives and marriage to the Lord. It was a most precious reminder of the depths of our need to receive God’s mercy each day. Nothing that we do will ever be a true offering of our love, until that glorious moment when we discover the absolute possibility of mercy without price. The only sign and proof of this is love.

Sunday 11, Year C, Season of Growth.
Luke 7:36-50

The above text is from the Journey Radio program podcast. Listen here or here

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

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.

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 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

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.

Christmas Day – the Compassion of God

PARAY1There is an extraordinary line in the second reading today – ‘When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any righteous thing that we had done, but because of his mercy.’ (Titus 3:4-5) We have often understood Judaism and its focus on the laws and commandments of Torah which included the 613 mitzvah to be about a religious system that emphasised the keeping of the laws and the rewards that this would merit. But this reading turns that whole emphasis on its head to remind us that to be saved is all about God’s kindness, favour and compassion – not our righteousness. And for this we can be eternally grateful.

Recorded at St Paul’s (7 mins)
Christmas, Midnight Mass (readings of the Dawn Mass)

Days of Darkness

Peace_for_ParisThe darkness of the readings today appropriately match the mood of despair and darkness after yet more senseless and violent attacks over the past few days in Beirut and especially in the city of light – Paris. The Gospel is taken from the longest discourse in the Gospel of Mark – the whole of the thirteenth chapter features a single discussion by Jesus and four of his disciples about the looming destruction of the temple and the days of darkness that would follow. It should be obvious that although this chapter is sometimes called a mini-apocalypse, the form is very different from the book of Daniel (our first reading) or Revelation. The predictions that Jesus is making relate to the immediate events that lie ahead for the community as relations between the Jewish people and the Roman occupiers would continue to deteriorate leading into the Jewish war of 66-70 CE, which would result in the siege of Jerusalem and the utter destruction of the city including the temple with an incredible loss of life. As the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus points out, the large death toll can only be partly blamed upon the Romans – infighting between the various factions led to more deaths than those inflicted directly by the brutal Roman soldiers. It is no wonder that Jesus encourages his followers to flee into the hills to escape such carnage.

Such predictions and the events overseas cause us to ponder deeply upon the meaning and reality of evil. There is never an adequate answer to such horrors. The best that we can do is remember that freedom brings with it certain responsibilities. The fact that we are free means that we can at any stage choose to exercise our freedom to cooperate with God’s invitation to the good or instead to choose to do evil.

Let us pray with great fervour for a true and lasting peace built in a genuine experience of mercy – for only in this will the wounds of past evil begin to be healed.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am. Vigil Mass also available.
Sunday 33, Year B. Mark 13:24-32