Monday, September 15, 2014

Murmuring and grace

"The people of Israel murmured--and although I find it oddly fun to say murmured--I know from experience it was exasperating for Moses to listen to it. Having been a pastor for 30 years now, I am worn out from murmuring; and I suspect I hear even more of it than Moses, because we have emails, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, ever expanding venues for murmuring. People ask me sometimes if I might burn out; and if I do, it will be because I heard just one too many trivial complaints about nothing of substance. The Israelites weren't just grousing though. It's downright doubt. They're questioning God; they're rejecting God.
I guess what really annoys me about Exodus 16 is God's response.  The murmuring surges: Would that we had died in Egypt--really? There we had plenty to eat--really? Moses, you brought us out here to kill us!--really? And then the stunner, in verse 4--The Lord said, Behold I will rain...and I find myself hoping the next word will be "fire" or "big boulders, "something to shut up these murmurers. But no, oh no. The Lord said, "Behold I will rain...bread from heaven for you." Bread?!? Murmurers should get discipline, and only those who boldly kept their chin up should get the bread.
I guess this is another one of those bizarre stories of grace, like Jesus' story of the workers in the vineyard who came late in the day and got paid like everybody else or the young son who squandered everything having a party thrown in his honor. Bread for miserable sinners. I guess I've given the murmurers little pieces of bread myself.... I guess as one who murmured about the murmurers, God has rained some bread on me, too.
...St. Francis once visited a hermitage at Monte Casale, where the guardian reported that some thieves had just made off with a stash of bread. Francis said, "I must apprehend them!" So he took off down the road, caught up to them, and revealed he was carrying bread and a bottle of wine. "You must be hungry and thirsty, so here: eat, and drink, and come back to Monte Casale where there's more." The thieves, once they recovered from their shock, came with him, and became friars, friends of Francis and of Christ."

Then the Quail came

There we were, hungry and scared, wishing we never had come
Homes on our backs, dust in our hair, cursing the day we'd begun
"Tell me I ask you," a friend of mine said,
"Was it so bad where we were?"
"We didn't have to come here to be dead, was what we had so nsure?"
    Then the quail came, falling like dew on the ground
    The quail came, each evening our food to be found
    And taking our curses and turning 'em round
    And filling our ears with those ungrateful sounds
    Unworthy to stand
    I bow down
There we were, angry and naked, looking for someone to blame
Our bodies were aching, babies were crying
And each day was so much the same
"I tell you people, this journey is crazy."
I heard someone say in his rage
"How long will it be 'till we realize our folly
And get back to where we were safe?"
Here we are, alone on a desert, fed dawn to dark, dusk to day
Every morning we wake up to find just the measure
Of food we need for the way
Oh once we would ask if we could have more
To see that our future survived
But  we know now at last, that nothing is sure
Except that at evening the quail will arrive

Michael Blanchard
©1975 Gotz Music

(Sung by Noel Paul Stookey)

the Kingdom of Heaven knows there is injustice

The social justice issue in today’s readings is the right to have employment, the right to earn a living wage and all that flows from being given the dignity to provide, the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of creating. The Good News is that the Kingdom of heaven knows there is injustice, does something to correct the injustice and educates others in recognising injustice.

What is it that we most often grumble about? How often when we are grumbling does “It’s not fair!” come into it? It’s not fair that we have worked all day and they only had to work for one hour. It’s not fair that they are in effect getting paid for one hour’s work what we got paid for the entire day. Perhaps the latecomers had been sitting all day grumbling that they hadn’t been chosen and wondering how they were going to buy any food for their families for that day.
REv Julianne Parker
(for full sermon see sermons page)

Queue jumpers

Jesus, spinner of many improbable
and awkward yarns,
once told a story about vineyard workers.
The workforce grew steadily
as more pickers were recruited
at various points throughout the day.
In the end, the undeserving latecomers
are treated with generosity,
while the twelve-hour labourers
merely get what is fair.

The indignation engendered
by the travelling teacher man
sees his polite audience shaking their heads
in disbelief.
And with the way he put his tale together,
the heat-of-the-day workers,
can’t even complain that the lucky ones
are queue-jumpers.
We, who are theologically informed,
understand that this story is all about divine grace,
improbable and outrageous.

Two millennia on
such generosity still offends.
Unless, of course, it is extended to ourselves.
We, as everyone can see,
are deserving.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

All crosses are the same?

Tom protested that all crosses looked much of a muchness. Then he remembered  the variety he had seen and he began to think that perhaps the detective was right. There are dozens of different shaped crosses. There are even names for different crosses. The one we are most familiar with is called a Latin cross. Because we are so familiar with it, we may assume that it is the right shape for the cross on which Jesus died. However, nobody knows exactly what that one looked like. We only presume that this shape is a stylised version of what it actually looked like. The Greek cross is similar to the Latin cross but has four arms of equal length.  They each have a trefoil, to remind people of the Trinity.
Part of our responsibility as the Church is to encourage you to think ecumenically, to remember that you are part of a world-wide church that has many different forms of expression. This can be seen in the multiplicity of shapes for crosses which mean so much to so many people.  The detective was not far from the truth when he said that all crosses are different.
It is not just crosses that vary throughout the world.
Those of us who live together in the church will be familiar with the way we see the varying streams of faith and their practices. When we see the differences in the way people worship God, we may feel judged by each other, whether we literally are of not. Or we may well judge others according to how similar their expression of Christianity is to ours.  
Rev Julianne Parker
See sermons page for full sermon

How can we gloat?

At this time when so much is being said about the deaths of young soldiers in the First World War, how can we gloat over the destruction of the Egyptian army and the death of so many men, she asked? Their deaths would have been devastating for most of their families and it is likely that most of them had no choice in being in the army and pursuing the Israelites.
This story comes after the stories of how Pharaoh was persuaded to let the people go by God causing many horrible things to happen, culminating in the death of all the first born sons of the Egyptians. Is this how a God of compassion and love would behave? Sometimes I have an overwhelming desire to try to save God from the Bible and some of the ways in which has influenced our thinking and justified our tactics in war for centuries.
This story is linked in the Lectionary with the Gospel reading begins “Lord, if a member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive him?” It follows on immediately from last week’s reading about going to tell another member of the church when he has sinned against you and binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven.

Rev Julianne Parker
(for full sermon see sermons page. This week, at no extra cost, a bonus sermon!)

I will not dance with Miriam

I will not dance with Miriam,
nor sing her triumph song.

The winners have written
their history; victorious

but confronting.
Scrape away its many layers:

racism, nationalism, vengeance,
religious superiority, triumphalism,

indiscriminate killing,
no thought for the bereaved.

Not much grace,
even less forgiveness;

and the Almighty is conscripted
to justify the hatred.

It could be set in Palestine,


I will not dance with Miriam,
nor sing her triumph song.

© Ken Rookes 2014